As I stood looking in the mirror, the person staring back at me was a complete unknown: bloodshot eyes, dark circles, exhausted. I realized things had gone too far. I needed help. That evening, I took the number for our
employee assistance program (EAP) and tucked it in my pocket.
Later that night was the last straw. I snapped at my peers.
This traumatic incident was not the worst I have responded to and
not nearly as bad as what many other brother and sister responders
have seen or been through, but it did affect me deeply. The intrusive
memories, for me, were the worst. The incident replayed in my
head, like a tape on a loop. It wouldn’t stop. Once the “tape” got
to the end, it started over again. This was a continuous loop, never
stopping, no matter the time of day or night. The smell, the sound,
everything was replayed in living color. I was filled with sadness and
anger. I began to avoid talking about the incident following a discus-
sion with my wife. As caring and loving as she is, she didn’t under-
stand. She suggested perhaps “it was time to do something else.”
My response to that comment was to shut myself in. I decided that
no one would know what I was going through. I felt as if discuss-
ing how I was feeling would become burdensome. The strain of my
trauma was a strain on my family. I became very withdrawn. I began
to avoid the things I loved. I didn’t want to go to the firehouse. I didn’t
want to see my friends. I began to have problems experiencing positive
emotions, often feeling emotionally numb. I was losing the ability to
see the good in things. My relationship with my family was becoming
strained, and my physical and emotional responses to this stress were
affecting my family. My family began to suffer the same stresses as me.
My wife was suffering from secondary traumatic stress. She began to
mirror my stress. We both became cynical. We were disconnecting. I
was irritable, I was angry, I wasn’t sleeping. I was on a downward spiral
and needed help. Yes, I said it … I needed help.
I have been a firefighter for 30 years. I have seen more trauma
than I could have ever imagined. I have seen more sadness and
death than I could have ever imagined. What was it about this
An open letter on mental health
to my brother and sister responders
BY JACOB ORESHAN III
ASK for HELP
Every time we respond to an incident,
we are responding to the unknown. (U.S.
Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Stephanie