Thanks to all that have helped!!!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Inside the Bell Jar

I decided when I started this blog I would not only chronicle my triumphs but also my defeats. Tonight will be the latter I'm afraid. 

Let me start with this. There is a certain stigma attached to mental health in America, yet an untold amount of us suffer from some sort of mental illness. We are quick to judge those who have a mental disease, saying that they should "just get over it," "Have you tried to just get up and decide to stop being [fill in your choice of mental ailment here], and the like. This is wholly unacceptable. Would you ever conceive asking a person with a the flu (an ailment that we all suffer from eventually) to "just get over it," or a person with cancer to decide to not have cancer anymore...that is how ridiculous we as a society need to see the stigma associated with depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder, and the like. 

I have been battling depression since I started having the issues with my prosthetic. I began to feel handicapped for the first time since losing my leg. These feelings started building with the loss of my job and the impending holidays. The feeling of not being able to provide for my family, and relying on others to ensure that my children had a wonderful Christmas. Don't get me wrong, I am thankful for my friends and family that helped us provide a wonderful holiday for our boys, we were able to give them a very Merry Christmas and continue the illusion that nothing is different. We have made it our goal, as I believe my family did when I was young, to never have our boys feel like they are "poor." When I was growing up I had no idea that we lived in a "poor" area in West Virginia, we had food on the table and I never needed anything. I want to ensure that my children have this and more. 

While searching for jobs I came to a realization. The way I see myself, and as I have come to realize, the way most people in public safety and medicine is directly tied into our job title. I am a Paramedic, Kate is a Combat Medic/EMT, John Smith is a Police officer, etc....We are so entwined with our profession that we cannot disconnect ourselves from it. So...What happens when that disconnect is forced? How do you sort through what is left and find out who you are without your title.? This is where I am currently. I am still holding out hope that I can return to work as a Paramedic, hopefully as a flight medic (which I believe would be much more challenging mentally, but a little less physically tasking). Yet, I am mourning the loss of my identity. I focused so much on returning to work as a medic, that I never considered how to cope with the day that I cannot return to work as a medic. Don't get me wrong, I'm not giving up on my goals, I'm just faced with the reality that even if I was a healthy bipedal Paramedic, there comes a day when EMS is no longer an option. 

This leads me to the early hours of Thursday morning. The past week or so I have been in the throws of a full blown PTSD/Depression downward spiral. It got to the point that Kate was worried about me, being honest, I'm not suicidal by any means, I just felt as if I was drowning. I couldn't get up, I haven't wanted to do...well anything. After some coaxing by Kate and Janelle (for those who have been reading for awhile, Janelle was the paramedic I did my ride time with when I first started back as a medic). They convinced me that I have had some personality changes and they were very worried about me. I checked myself into the ER to be evaluated and set up with a therapist. The difficulty in being well known in the Emergency Field in a relatively small city is that you know most of the people that work in the Emergency Departments. This was no exception, making it harder to walk in and admit that I have a problem (knowing the stigma attached to mental health). 

Today, I took my first steps towards fixing myself. I went and spoke with the therapist they recommended. I feel the same as I did a few days ago, but I am going to try to fix these problems inside of my head. I urge you, especially those reading this in EMS who are kept up with the nightmares and constant thoughts of "It's my fault, I could have done this or that better", or just those runs that you can't let go of, go talk to someone. There are options. A study was recently posted on facebook showing that Paramedics and EMTs suffer from PTSD in drastic numbers and do not seek help. I'm guilty of this, we are told to suck it up and move on. Clean your truck, get your gear ready, and go on the next run, no matter how traumatic the run before was. Don't be afraid to use the resources available to you, you have options. Talk to someone. 

I'm still "in the bell jar" as my wife puts it. My job prospects aren't panning out, and I'm not sure how we are going to make it, but we will. I have always been told that when you hit rock bottom, it's a great place to build a foundation...I just didn't realize that sometimes life wants you to build a basement as well....

This has been one of the hardest posts for me to write. If it's rambling I apologize, honestly, I just had to get this out of my head and onto paper. I hope it helps someone out there...I'll post updates as I continue on this new journey. 



  1. Joe, your honesty, as always, moves me to tears. I am in the same kind of struggle of figuring out my "identity" or maybe more accurately, my "active" identity as an AK amputee. (It's not always all it's cracked up to be, no matter what support we have!) I have to say I am glad you are working on the PTSD issues which are there for (probably) all of us...and by sharing your vulnerability, you educate and inform us all. We're with you. Thank you so much for this blog. ~Liz

  2. I think that you are a good man, a good husband from what I see and a great dad. I know God loves you and your family and by his Grace he will bring you up and rest you on a foundation that no other can bring you down. I have my own trials running to the Brown C.C., but if ever I can help or have coffee and talk, I'm sure Kate would not mind, I am a Grandma. You are right, it does help to have a sounding board. You and your family are on my prayer list. Blessings, Beckie

  3. I have an idea of what courage -- or desperation -- it took for you to go into that ER in that small community, and I applaud you. Loved your wisecrack about hitting rock bottom/building a basement. I'd share my shovel but you're kinda far away. I used to work as a clinician, and my specialty was PTSD, and you keep your head up high, buddy. Absolutely no one has the right to judge you for having a hard time. (That's one of the nice things about rock bottom -- you can really figure out what matters.) Best wishes to you, will check in now and then and see how you're doing.

  4. Dear Joe,

    Thank you so much for your profound, honest, moving words. I have no doubt that by sharing your thoughts as you're beginning your new journey, you truly have helped so many. I also hope that the very act of giving voice to your feelings here has been helpful to you. :) (Though my breast cancer diagnosis was now 7 years ago, I continue to find that writing and blogging is so helpful to me in processing the feelings of loneliness that can come with such a diagnosis, the ongoing fear of recurrence, and how a serious illness or injury can change how we see ourselves--for better or worse or both--and our life's journey.)

    Please know that I'm keeping you and your family in my prayers and that I wish you the very best.

    Debra M.

    "Musings of a Cancer Research Advocate":

  5. Joe, I think you're amazing, you're one of my heroes. I am so sorry you are struggling with this. Depression sucks (I've struggled with it off and on for years), and you are so brave to share this with all of us.

    I'm so glad you've started treatment, and hope you see some improvement soon.

    Seriously. You're a rock star.