To start off, you are not alone in how you feel, there are others! Are you one that puts on a happy mask for the world to see just because you are a spouse of a Firefighter? For all they know, you’re married to a Hero. Yes, of course we enjoy the perks of it all, and for a while, we choose to see the good and overlook the bad.
Twenty-twenty and 2021 have been difficult years for us all. As a spouse of a first responder, we must temporarily assume the role of a single parent while our Firefighter is away. These long periods of isolation can change the family dynamics and shift roles. It can also cause periods of loneliness, role overload, role shifts, financial concerns, needs of family/friend support, and increased parenting demands. Feelings of lack of control and concern about our Firefighter’s safety can all exacerbate the burden placed on us—the spouse. The stress may trigger or exacerbate our mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety. Left untreated, these problems can affect our long-term mental health, which in turn, affect the well-being of the children, and marital support for our Firefighter when on duty and their return home. After a while the load gets heavy, and at times you feel you are alone mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We as spouses are integral to the health of our families, we too have elevated levels of stress, depression, and anxiety.
Fortunately, there has been an increased awareness for the mental health of our first responders and available treatment for PTSD that so many are silently suffering with. Are you one of them? Some of us enter into a relationship with a Firefighter with plenty of our own unresolved junk in our head and that can add to the relationship hardships when they arise. Many Firefighters come home to spouses that are not prepared on how to handle or cope and are in need of support themselves. If we are struggling with depression ourselves, we may find it hard to provide the supportive role that can ease our Firefighter as they come home. Our depression may lead to marital conflict which can exacerbate our Firefighter’s work stress and adjustment issues. Out of love, our desire is to support and care for them, and it initially starts off that way as we put our own feelings aside, but because we may have our own personal unresolved issues, along with being exhaustive and having tiresome days tending to the kids on your own, our fed-up attitude can creep up and meet your tired Firefighter when they walk through the door after having a sleepless night or traumatic call. I’ve been there and thankfully we both survived!
There is not much awareness to the mental health of the spouses of first responders. Unfortunately, our Department has experienced some great loss and tragedies. As a spouse, we may not be on the front lines but we are on the home front. Empathetically we care with love and support and we too can acquire secondary PTSD. As a fire wife, I personally have found it important to ask how his shift was and if there were any disturbing, lingering feelings on his calls. I’d prompt him to dump it on me not realizing that I too have created visuals that can negatively affect myself. Unknowingly, we take on their burden by becoming fixers and may become hyper vigilant to all their triggers. As time goes on, we collect it all just as they do, piling it on top of the load we are already carrying at home. After years, it all adds up because it is not one call that affects them, it is years of numerous calls. I came to a point where I realized I needed some support and so I searched for a first responder spouse retreat. PTSD cannot only damage our psyche but it can also impair our marriages. Luckily, I was in a good place in my marriage and my firefighter was more open to seeking the support for his PTSD and it has been a great benefit. This fire life can get to you. Learn to prioritize your own health and well-being. A healthy fire family unit is integral to our Firefighters and so important in doing their jobs. Do not be afraid to seek help if you feel you are in need of emotional support. There are Department resources. Seeking Help is a Sign We Are Human, Not That We Are Weak!
Submitted by the Housewives of the LAFD