As I look at the calendar, there are exactly 10 days, until Christmas. It can be an exciting and celebratory time for people, but it can also be a very difficult time. People who suffer depression or perhaps lost a loved one around this time of year can find it difficult to cope. I know for me, this time of year always makes me think about my Dad, who passed away over a decade ago. The pain and suffering never truly goes away, we just learn how to cope and continue moving forward. This isn’t the case for everyone. Whatever it is, post-traumatic stress, the added stress of the season, or you’re just having a difficult time, it can be a struggle.
Firefighters are not immune to feeling down during the holidays. We all have our own stuff to deal with, and sometimes we have to put that stuff aside to carry out our duties to serve others. The people we serve can be having the best day of their lives, such as the birth of their child, or it can be one of the worst days of their lives.
This time of year usually sees an increase in suicides and attempted suicides, something firefighters and public safety in general are not strangers too, unfortunately. Life can be difficult. Sure, we have our good days and bad days. Sometimes we put a smile on our face and struggle to get through each day, often not revealing the truth about what may be going on in our lives. Maybe we are struggling from post-traumatic stress, and don’t even know it. Life can be difficult.
Unfortunately, society has got a number of things working against it as of late, which doesn’t help our wellbeing. Our political climate has got folks on both sides frustrated and irritated for one reason or another. Social media gives a microphone to everyone wanting to exercises their freedom of speech. Regrettably, many see these occasions as opportunities to simply be disrespectful or mean to each other, sounding off without boundaries. I enjoy a healthy debate as much as the next person, but I appreciate when people can exchange their beliefs, ideas and opinions without threatening tones and vulgar language, without trying to make others wrong when they don’t necessarily agree, and without feeling as though they have to be divisive.
Earlier today, I read a social media post from an acquaintance who clearly had reached his boiling point with his family. He felt he was contributing to his family in a meaningful way, but it was apparent he did not feel appreciated for his efforts. I don’t know the background, but evidently he was having a stress reaction. Perhaps he needed to step back and take a breath. It sounds easy, but when we’re in our “stuff” it can be difficult to think objectively and to maintain our composure and sanity.
At Thanksgiving, many of us likely saw media coverage of people fighting in the isles of department stores as they argued, and in some cases, fought over TVs and toys. Thanksgiving, the holiday we recognize as a day to give thanks and to be appreciative for the people in our lives, not the merchandise in our lives, the day that begins, for most of us, the holiday season. Human beings are complex, but more and more I see examples of people that are simply losing their minds.
I would like to recommend we all take a breath. We know what this time of year can be like, how the commercialization of it can add to our stress. We know despite the stresses of the season, people all around us, including us, are struggling with something in our lives. Life can be difficult. Take a breath. Everyone is dealing with their own stuff whether we realize it or not. Control you. Don’t give in to impulse and stress triggers. Don’t try to feel good by attacking others. It doesn’t work. Focus instead on the person you see in the mirror. Be the person that makes conscious decisions to be respectful of others, even in your upset. Say something nice, and if you can’t do that, don’t say anything. Give yourself and others time and space. Love your family and friends in your actions and in your words. The holiday season is about the people, not the stuff.
Finally, look out for each other. You may be able to notice behavioral changes in family, friends, and colleagues who may be struggling before they even realize it themselves. Offer them support and encouragement to seek assistance. If you’re having a difficult time, seek assistance from your Employee Aid Program, peer support groups, or other professionals that can help you cope with whatever isn’t working in your life at the moment. Help is available. Take a breath, be patient, and be nice. You’re not alone; we’re all dealing with something.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
IAFF Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery
NICK J. SALAMEH is a 36 year veteran of the fire service. He was a Fire/Emergency Medical Services Captain II and previous Training Program Manager for the Arlington County (VA) Fire Department, with which he served 31 years. He is a former Chair of the Northern Virginia Fire Departments Training Committee and was a former volunteer firefighter for the Fairfax County, VA Fire and Rescue Department. Nick is a contributor to Fire Engineering www.fireengineering.com and Stop Believing Start Knowing (SBSK), https://www.facebook.com/StopBelievingStartKnowing/.