How many of us have needed help but not asked?
Maybe just a shoulder to lean on, a hand up off the floor, or even just a listening ear? Or maybe just to be left alone for a few hours to sleep, to be able to shut down and recover, to process what's going on and then maybe heal. Sleep is so important to aid our immune system and recovery and yet we dismiss it readily. Remember, sleep deprivation is classed as torture. I am sure my kids can recall me reading bedtime stories to them and having to wake me as I had fallen asleep in the process, sorry kids x. I was working sometimes 100 hours a week to provide for my kids, doing 3 jobs and not getting enough sleep, and working between night shifts almost cost me dearly. Having been out on a barn fire all night on the second night and a busy previous night shift, driving home the next morning I actually fell asleep at the wheel of my car. Fortunately, I had avoided the Motorway and taken the back roads, but I was a risk to myself and others. That was my, literally wake-up call to start looking after myself properly. I was so lucky not to have involved anyone else. Bouncing the car off the curb at 30mph can still kill and cause damage. This event plagued me for days, what if this and that? I could have killed someone else. I am a firefighter, here to save people. I beat myself up over it, and still do hold it in my mind when driving. Yet we run these thoughts, along with the problems over and over again and still don't act on them by asking for help. Why not?
It's a sign of weakness and 'come on get a grip' is the response you are expecting. This is the environment I was working in. A place of bravado and braver, hurray, tea and medals. Laugh it off and keep going attitude.
Or worse still for a man, is "man up!" It is expected of you, you're a firefighter, aren't you?
Or maybe when you've found the courage to open up, you get banter and ridicule from those you thought would understand, or even maybe comments of, "is that all?", thus making you stop and go silent again. Feelings of being insignificant and unworthy taking over your self-esteem and quashing it down again. I can be my own worst critic, so adding to them doesn't help.
What do we do when this happens? We learn to dissociate from pain or feelings, becoming desensitised to life and not only ourselves, but to others too. This affects relationships at work, with friends and at home. This isn't healthy for anyone. This I have experienced and witnessed.
Or worse still, and I think this can be said for a vast majority, we condition ourselves to tolerate the pain and anxiety, becoming comfortable in its presence and living under that cloud. Enduring what is wrong and allowing it to be the norm.
If it were a physical injury to our body we can see it, feel it and experience the restrictions and limitations it is putting on us. Who hasn't cut their finger or stubbed a toe? Now, this has your full attention to every little task, walking or putting on a shoe, or if it's your hand, turning a key, writing and almost everything you touch, you will most likely knock this injury. But we can quantify this and validate it, we know how we cut ourselves or what we stubbed it on, (a door or lego, who hasn't stepped on a lego?) we have a time and date and we can see it and feel it healing as days progress. The pain lessens and mobility gets better. Discomfort sides. We can see improvements. We want it to stop hurting. We are charting it down and journalling mentally the improvements.
Mental health and issues can be harder to quantify and just because someone else has had a worse experience, it does not take away the significance of yours. It is how it has affected you and how you respond to it, not how anyone else may respond or react.
We can all witness the same incident or experience an accident, and we all have different pain thresholds and tolerance, but this greatly depends on coping capacity at the specific time when it occurs, this is how we then respond.
The smallest of issues may bring out the biggest reactions. It is the toppling of the Genga stack, just by 1 single block. The height is dependent on what you have been dealing with.
Having been here and vulnerable, especially after writing 3 books, although I didn't go into the real depths I went to, as it is my 'stuff' to deal with, but by being open and honest and showing others that intrusive thoughts and feelings can and possibly will arise out of nowhere at any time.
For anyone who knows me from my career, yes I was stressed, but always in control and coping.
I had responsibilities for family and crew members and the public and plenty of distractions.
What I have learnt since leaving the service is just how resilient I am. I have reached out for help by studying, firstly learning the basics of PTSD and then Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), to see why I was having intrusive thoughts out of nowhere and why now after all this time. Then this progressed onto Anxiety and Stress courses, Healing the Chakra's, ( the body's internal energy fields,) as I know how important energy is and how we can affect others with ours and likewise they can affect us back too. And now through Rewire Therapy, studying courses on how to use Somatic Therapy (movement of the body,) as it has been proven that talk therapy for some doesn't work so well. The vagal nerve shuts down, in the Fight, Flight or Freeze state and messages are no longer flowing. Trauma is felt and stored in the body. Blocked or stuck in our tissues and joints, gut and skin. We quickly blame it on stress, but IBS and skin issues are generally caused by stress and anxiety. It is incredibly complex. There is no right and wrong way, it's what works for you in helping to move stuck or trapped trauma energy. So, here I am continuing to become a Trauma Informed Somatic and Yoga Practitioner. Why not? I've been an instructor or coach in Football, Breathing Apparatus and Karate, so why not do something to help heal people too? I have the life experience and life qualifications.
I have to admit I am surprisingly happy, as the more I have studied, I can see that the majority of the movements I have intuitively been doing for many years, in the guise of karate and cycling, standing out in the fields, with my birds of prey, connecting to nature. The biggest difference is that the movements I am doing are with intention and awareness. Subtle and controlled and mindful of what is happening and felt. Remember your system has shut down and not been recognising these signals for maybe years. Unlocking these feelings may not be what you want to do. Take the stone in the shoe example again. You stop because it hurts and you take a look, find the stone and the decision is yours, do you put it back in and continue with the known discomfort or remove it completely? Now the foot will have to adjust to it not being there and will feel strange for a while. With somatic exercises, we are noticing how it feels before and after, what feels natural and what doesn't. This time rather than ignoring any discomfort, I am just noticing and allowing it to be there. It's been stuffed down for years, with plenty placed on top remember.
When I was in the service I had an identity, a uniform and camaraderie, hey I was lucky I also had my Falconry during this time and I was set to continue, but whack, life had new paths for me to tread. I was lost, a nobody and unheard. We lived so remotely no one would hear me call out anyway, this was our choice. Being forced to sell the birds and nothing left of our dream, we decided to up and leave. But only after starting to write my thoughts down. Reading them back to my wife back then, brought up so many emotions. Why? I have no idea, but clearly, it was a release of energy.
Fireman's Tired Eyes became a reality and others were telling me they needed to hear it, they were grateful that they were no longer alone in these thoughts and feelings. Maybe it was normal after all whilst dealing with Service life.
The more I wrote, the easier it became. Clearer in my thinking and more energetic in my body and towards life again. It was time to rescue me!
So asking for help now feels ok.
I am 2 years on, cycling the Algarve in October, 164km in a day to raise awareness of PTSD and mental health, but also funds for the Firefighters Charity and AlertaAlgarve Bombeiros. When you speak to the Bombeiros here and openly tell them about how it has affected me, they quickly open up too. There may be a language barrier, but mental health has no boundaries. It takes one person to stand and others will see it's ok and will follow. Not to follow me, just to follow their path, knowing they are not alone anymore. Someone can relate to them.
Through consistency and gentle movements, including exercise, I have helped the healing process I deserve. The goal is to encourage more to join me in exercise and to help coach others through their healing journey. This doesn't necessarily have to be Service personnel.
Asking for help and support should be easy. I have to admit I have been stressing about organising this cycling event, there is so much to organise! It is just little me remember.
But when I asked doTERRA for help, how was I to know they would not only meet the request of small items, but they would go over and above to help as they can see the message I am trying to raise is huge and can indeed help so many more.
Having support makes a massive difference. I cannot thank them enough. Something I am struggling to do without help. We all need assistance, so if it's offered, take it.
So when asking for help, consider this thought for a moment.......
What if it was me standing by you as you sat on the floor?
I reach down an outstretched hand and ask, can I help you up?
Am I asking for you or for me?
I may need your support to stand next to me.
I may be needing a companion, I may need to be heard too.
I may even be so tired and exhausted that if I sit down, I may never get back up.
It is about perspective.
We all need encouragement and support, at any age and at any time in our lives. Collectively tasks and problems can be overcome, talked about and heard. This is when creative minds will pull together to assist. Positive energy allows us to feel positive. It is infectious after all.
So releasing our trauma energy, hence Fireman's Tired Eyes has been renamed to FTE, in a way to relate to Free Trauma Energy, we can make a difference by voicing our concerns and by moving our bodies, we can shift and release energy by engaging mindfulness and movement together. Awareness is key. I was very aware I couldn't do this event on my own, without support.
When we evolve, we move. We move our mindset and thought process.
Healing starts with awareness.
What is it that you want to heal?
Taking the time to sit still and just be, takes courage as many thoughts will arise. You have given them space to do so. When you can look at a problem for what it is, you may see it differently.
Don't rush, condition your body into enjoying the good things in life.
Choose to listen to upbeat music.
Listen to the ocean or forest noise with bird songs, or better still go there in person.
The earth has healing energy. Staying on heightened alert, responding and reacting for long periods isn't healthy.
Give yourself permission to have 5 or 10 minutes out to just sit and be.
Notice how it feels to breathe. Notice the difference from when you started to when you finished.
Take gentle exercise, and do it in a way you will wish to continue.
This is meditation, sitting still and allowing thoughts to come and go. Don't hold on to them.
Keep showing up, it's about consistency.
Asking for help is not a sign of weakness.
It is a sign of strength and courage.
To take yourself from where you are now, to a place where you are grounded and relaxed is exactly why you may want to ask for help.
I am far from weak. I am probably the strongest and fittest I have ever been.
Physically and mentally.
Because I chose to make time for myself. I needed rescuing.
You will know when it's your time but ask for help.
Being heard is powerful.