Meeting My Psychotherapist

by Rob Leathen

I went public not for any sympathy and not for any pity but because I firmly believe that silence does nothing but strengthen stigma. Rob Leathen

Rob Leathen

So my first visit with my psychotherapist. How did it go? It was amazing! I was early, very early, as I always am. I sat in the waiting room looking around at all the signs, posters and books dealing with trauma, PTSD, support systems and the like. In that 20 minutes while I
sat there (yes I was that early), the gravity of why I was actually there set in and manifested itself as what I call an “almost”. For me an “almost” is defined as a welling up of emotions to the point of almost uncontrollably bawling my eyes out but then, as I have done so often before, stifling back those emotions and tears until those emotions and tears are no longer visible to the outside world. All part of that “mask” that many wear. Continue reading “Meeting My Psychotherapist”

Life Altering Event: Addiction

by Peggy Sweeney

At one time, I served as a consultant for a local hospital by providing help for adult and adolescent/teen in-patients recovering from chemical dependency and emotional trauma by way of one-on-one conversations and group support meetings. The patients shared their personal stories of grief, abuse, and other misfortunes that had influenced their need to find a way to cope with these events.

Flashbacks from a childhood of sexual, physical, or emotional abuse were common themes as well as feelings of abandonment by a parent due to death, divorce, incarceration, or the unwillingness to care for their offspring. Some adults remembered the shame they felt as children or teenagers when classmates and neighborhood bullies belittled them because of their appearance, physical abnormalities or social status. Continue reading “Life Altering Event: Addiction”

There Is No Superman! The Role of the Spouse in the Fire Service

by Peggy Sweeney

Over the years, I have been very fortunate to not only instruct firefighters on coping with traumatic loss and grief, but many of their wives and family members as well. When I would ask them for comments, questions or feedback, I usually got little or no response. Understandably, because spouses are very reluctant to talk in front of their firefighters about their feelings, their fears, or what is in their heart. Many of them wonder why the warm, loving and carefree person they married does not come home like that anymore.

I know what many of you fear: your spouse, partner or family member may be struggling mentally and emotionally with the traumas of his or her job. You realize that what they see, hear and feel on a recurring basis is beginning to play a major roll in how they view life, living and their job. When the call goes well, life is good! When their best efforts to save a life or protect property from ruin do not end positively, it is a BAD DAY! Continue reading “There Is No Superman! The Role of the Spouse in the Fire Service”

Line of Duty Death Survivors: What Do They Need to Cope With Their Grief?

by Peggy Sweeney

Funeral arrangement announced for local detective fatally shot in the line of duty

This newsworthy article is often overlooked by the casual reader. Local newspapers and e-news headlines report the sad event of another fallen hero; the tragic death of a brave police officer or firefighter who has died in the line of duty. A dedicated professional who sacrificed his or her life to serve and protect or that homes and property would be saved from the ravages of fire, floods, or other forces of nature. Continue reading “Line of Duty Death Survivors: What Do They Need to Cope With Their Grief?”

Five Questions on Department Mental Health Every Fire Chief Should Review

by Peggy Sweeney

The job of a fire chief is never easy. Whether you lead a volunteer company of 10 or a career department of several thousand, your bottom line is, or should be, the physical safety and mental and emotional wellness of your men and women.

I ask each of you as leaders of your department to take a step back and candidly review your attitude about the mental and emotional wellness of your department:

peer abuse… any figure of authority or power which may use intimidation as a primary means of motivating others… could rightfully be referred to as a bully” —Bullying/Wikipedia

1. Do you criticize or shun a firefighter because he or she struggles with the emotional aftereffects of traumatic calls? Do you turn a deaf ear when members of your department make fun of or bully them (also known as “peer abuse”)?

The mantra “suck it up and go on” is a cliché of the past. Continue reading “Five Questions on Department Mental Health Every Fire Chief Should Review”

‘Never Let Your Fear Decide Your Destiny’: A letter to a friend who is struggling with addiction

by Peggy Sweeney

I know you are fearful that people will be disappointed if they learn you are an alcoholic. Most of your family members and close friends already know.

Dear friend, I think of you often. Tonight, I decided to put my thoughts on paper.

When I was in my early forties, I was a young wife and mother of three small children. Due to circumstances at that time, I planned my suicide because I thought that everyone would be better off without me. I felt hopeless. Helpless. I believed I was a failure to my children, to my husband and to everyone who loved me.

That changed one morning. I awoke determined to make something of my life. I vowed that I would never let anyone suffer alone with depression without offering them my help. Continue reading “‘Never Let Your Fear Decide Your Destiny’: A letter to a friend who is struggling with addiction”

Invisible Wounds

by Anonymous

Author’s Note: I would like to thank this brave officer and their spouse for sharing this article. I know it was not easy to lay out their lives as  they did. If they can help one officer to get help, the mission was accomplished. I encourage all who read this article to please share it with an officer or other first responder you may know. You may be saving a life.

I can’t un-see what I have seen

Ever since I was a little child, all I wanted to be when I grew up was a police officer. My parents would listen to my tale over and over again. After graduating from college, I accepted a position as a Director of Finance. My parents questioned me about my career choice knowing finance was not what I aspired to do. At 22, I knew this wasn’t going to be my permanent career as most people who just graduate take a transition job until the right one comes along.

Fast forward 10 years and I thought it was time to live the life I was meant to live…..to finally achieve my dream of being a police officer. I worked in a busy police department and eventually made rank. Continue reading “Invisible Wounds”

When Serving Becomes Surviving: PTSD and Suicide in the Fire Service

by Peggy Sweeney

Author’s Note: This article was previously published on the Grieving Behind the Badge website which has since been closed. Some information has been updated, but the overall article is noteworthy.

While watching a news report about a major apartment fire with many casualties including several children, I became aware of a group of professionals who regularly experience grief and traumatic stress; specifically, the men and women who serve their communities as firefighters. In spite of their dedicated service to their communities, few people in the civilian world are aware of, or seem to be concerned about, their physical, mental, and emotional struggles. Soon after that newscast, I outlined the Grieving Behind the Badge program and set my sights on offering help. I had expertise in grief and loss, but that did not prepare me for the obstacles before me. Continue reading “When Serving Becomes Surviving: PTSD and Suicide in the Fire Service”