Why get out of bed? What’s the point? The walls, floor and ceiling are made of steel and it’s ice cold. There’s no windows, doors, cracks or vents. Essentially, I’m in a vault. It’s pitch-black, air tight, and it feels like I’m about to run out of air. There’s no door, hence . . . there’s no escape. Each corner is a dead end. I’m trapped. This is my life. This is what I face every day, it’s relentless. My pain is invisible, so I go it alone. I’m my only witness. There’s no one here to help me. I feel like I’m locked in a room with my only friend and right now he(she) is my worst enemy – it’s me. I’m hopeless. Why get out of bed! What’s the point!
Are you feeling stuck, weighed down, immobilized? If you had an SCBA on would the PASS device be sounding for lack of movement? Is it time for a “Mayday?’
Since writing my last chaplain’s column there’s been a few questions. This is part two of what might become a series of conversations on firefighter health and wellness. Statistics show that in 2017, more firefighters died by suicide than by line of duty death! Unfortunately, we – the LAFD – have had our share of loss of life as a result of fatal self-harm. I understand that for some of you this is a painful topic and for that I apologize. By shining light on a current issue, in the end I hope these articles will provide hope, lead to change and ultimately save lives.
My first article spoke to the need of increased awareness of behavioral health. Today, I’d like to speak to the person deep in despair. I’m speaking today to anyone within reach of this article who is feeling overwhelmed by life. Are you isolated, haunted by depression, feeling hopeless and helpless? Do you view yourself as a failure? Are you buried in shame? If so, let’s talk. We have three licensed psychologists, a full-time employee assistance program professional, approximately ninety trained members of the newest peer support group, ten of whom are also Department Chaplains. Your Peer Support team is comprised of women and men of all ranks stationed throughout the City ready to help you! Are you ready to help you?
Are you sleeping too much or too little? Are you getting angry over little things? Edgy and irritable? Are you filled with a sense of sadness? Are you obsessed with worry? Always tired? Eating too much or too little? Maybe drinking alcohol, smoking or using tobacco or prescription drugs more than usual? Do you feel it impossible to connect with others, even those “closest” to you? Have you lost hope of ever being happy? These are a few of the signs of severe distress.
Suicide is on the rise. In the 21st century our training as first responders must include an awareness of the growing trend of suicide, how to recognize the warning signs and how to access help. As a family, let’s agree to work together to nurture and maintain our own and a department of good mental and emotional health. I want to apologize if this topic and any of my words provoke hurt or seem careless. It is not my intention, nor that of the editors of the Grapevine to embarrass, insult or harm anyone. I hope that the tradition of brotherly and sisterly love within the fire service, the LAFD, the Relief Association and Chaplain Corps will provide enough relational safety to support the weightiness of today’s topic. Thanks in advance for your patience, courage, understanding and most of all trust.
If you identify with the content of this article. If you are miserable, feeling alone, are thinking of suicide or have plans to commit suicide please . . . stop the silence. Please accept this article as evidence that people care about you. Think “RIC team,” we are suited up and ready to come in after you. Hit your emergency trigger. Send out a “Mayday.” Let one of us show you the way out. Let us help.
You are loved. We are ready to help find solutions to your specific need. Believe me there’s hope.
By Chaplain George Negrete
All contacts are confidential.
• Peer Support roster with phone numbers; https://www.uflac.org/peer-support/peer-support-roster
• Chaplains; Rick Godinez (213) 797-2404 or MFC floor Captain (213) 576-8920
• Dr. Krystle Madrid, Psychologist LAFD Behavioral Health (213) 718-0768
• Audrey Martinez, Ph.D Psychologist LAFD Behavioral Health (213) 435-3996
• Dr. Steven. Froehlich, Ph. D., Psychologist UFLAC Local 112 (818) 645-9027
• Nancy Mraz, CEAP, UFLAC Local 112 (213) 598-8794, Director of Chemical Dependency and Behavioral Addictions
• Valerie Lawrence, LAFRA Family Support Group (323) 259-0996