I Had to Fail
Over and over again, I had to fail. I made the same mistakes over and over and over again.
Maybe I need to start with the mistakes I made along the way.
After that first day of the fire, the peer support team had a presence at the incident base. They were hard to miss being near the chow line.
Mistake #1: I avoided them like the plague (okay, maybe a poor analogy to use during Covid-19, but you get the point). One day, a member of the team intersected my path and informed me that I was invited to a debrief later in the week. I assured him I would attend, and I did.
Mistake #2: I thought I had unpacked enough of my angst at that debrief.
Mistake #3: I attended another debrief that only included chief officers. This one was led by a pair of psychologists well informed (I now know) on the first responder culture. When they asked if anyone was having problems sleeping, no one else said anything. My insomnia was already running roughshod over my brain, and the nightmares most certainly weren’t helping any. But I didn’t want to appear weak in front of my peers, so I kept quiet.
Mistake #4: A few weeks later, when my primary care physician wanted to put me onto anxiety medicine, I declined the opportunity. All I wanted was to sleep, and the prescription I wanted was for that, and that alone.
Mistake #5: My doctor referred me to therapy. I was late to the first appointment. I didn’t always fully explain what I was feeling. Sometimes I purposefully led the conversation on a wild goose chase. Instead of thinking about the session just ended, I would crank up the stereo as I drove away.
Mistake #6: As my symptoms became ever stronger, my decision-making skills eroded. I found myself making rookie mistakes way too often. I once asked my dog for advice out of desperation.
Mistake #7: As my apathy towards life grew, so did my disdain for work. I would “forget” to take my sleep medicine until nearly midnight, knowing damn well that I would not be able to drive until mid-morning. Essentially, I guaranteed I would be noticeably late for work.
Mistake #8: The last couple months before I was finally diagnosed with post-traumatic stress, I went from an occasional beer, to a nightly cocktail (or two). It didn’t matter that I knew I was going to take a sleeping pill an hour later.
Mistake #9: I probably wrecked a few friendships along the way.
Mistake #10: My pride almost destroyed me, because I was unwilling to trust one person and say, “I need help.”
Yes, mistakes were made. I had to fail because only then, could I turn the shipwreck of my life around.
I had to learn to take life one day at a time; sometimes, one hour, one minute at a time. I had to learn to trust people again. I had to learn healthier ways of dealing with strong emotions. I had to learn to trust myself again. Yes, I failed along the way, sometimes on a daily basis. Here’s what I learned though.
Success is built on failure.
Fall Seven Times; Stand Up Eight.
~ Japanese proverb ~