by Robert R. Devonshire Jr.
Diagnosed almost two and a half years ago, I am finally at a place that I feel good again. I feel like I can now deal with my issues on my own and have been for a while. I am not sure what worked to get me here, but I do have some ideas.
By far one of my biggest concerns has been the stigma of having PTSD. It took me some time to figure out that I just had to tell people about it and if they have a problem with it that it is their problem and not my problem. If you have been following me in Firefighter PTSD – a closed group on Facebook – you know my story and you know I felt a need to talk about my experiences in hopes of helping someone else.
At first, I hid behind the title of the page and was simply “firefighter PTSD” to the world. I confided in my closest friends and they listened to me when I needed to talk and they supported me when I needed it. Some stayed strong and true to me and a few drifted. That’s ok, I still appreciate them all.
Eventually, I had a desire to speak up about PTSD so that others would feel comfortable in dealing with their PTSD and would step up and not only seek the help they need, but begin to break down the stigma that goes along with PTSD. I eventually opened up and, in one press of the send button, I put it all out there for the world to see. That wave lasted a short time and then I was sort of back on my way to working through this. It was really a good kick in the butt for me to find something positive to work on. I sort of found my camera again.
Photography has always been a hobby of mine. I have had a camera since I was about twelve years old or so. I picked up my camera and started shooting again and stumbled into what would become a huge step forward for me. Slowly, I started finding new things to photograph and things to try. I started using more and more of the features on my camera and slowly found things that work and things that did not when it came to creating a shot. I started to see the shot in my mind and started to dig deeper into what my camera could do. I was finding simple, happy moments when I would see a shot come out the way I envisioned it.
I would continue to push myself to improve on the next shot. To do better than the last one and each time I would see something new, I would find that happy place we search for. Eventually, a true test of the strength of this find would be put to the test. December 14, 2012. Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut got in my head and in deep.
I left work and went to a local park. I parked my truck and decided to walk around the park and try to get myself under control. As I hopped out of my truck I grabbed my camera. I started walking and started taking pictures. Some deer, a stream, shots of a trail I was on, some tall grass and some other scenes I would come across. Within an hour or so I was no longer thinking about the school shooting and was so engrossed in my photography that I somehow got myself back to “normal”. But it was not over.
I left the park and stopped at a local minute market and, while standing in line, I overheard a conversation about the school shooting that would bring me down again. But this time I was not as bad as I was earlier and I was able to talk to a friend who helped me out and I was soon back to a good place again.
I know the camera was just a distraction, but it was a tool that I found that allowed me to come back to reality and gain control over my PTSD. It was a victory.
Victories come from all over the place. I found one in photography and have been able to develop it into more than just a tool to fight PTSD. I have started to make some money doing what I enjoy. I started a Facebook Page called PHOTO-5 Imagery. It started off as a place to park my photos and share them with my friends, and before long friends of friends and beyond started to follow my photography.
I started to shoot more photos at emergency scenes and on a whim I sent one into the local newspaper. They published it. It was really a feeling of accomplishment that I felt when I saw that first picture in the newspaper. So I continued to send more in. Not all that I sent in were published, but a few made the paper. Little by little, I was growing more confident in my photography and I was also starting to feel like my old self. I was happier and not living under a black cloud as much. The good days started to outnumber the bad days.
In June of 2013, I started a yearlong project of posting a photo each day to represent my 43’rd year. I am posting photos of things I come across each day and when I am done I am thinking about possibly putting a book together to share my project and my story. Time will tell. That will be a big undertaking.
An amazing thing happened in August of 2013. I received a call from the newspaper and they were asking me to come into the office to talk to them about coming on board as a freelance photographer. To say I was blown away would be an understatement. I jumped at the opportunity. We talked and I signed on and in late August I officially became a freelance photographer. I started to get paid for what I loved doing.
Things have been going great. In January of 2014, I was lucky enough to not only get my first front page photo but I landed two! Both caught me by surprise and I was totally pumped the first time I saw the first photo. The feeling of happiness and contentment in something I was doing was as high as it has ever been.
I never would have guessed that picking up my camera and finding the enjoyment of being behind the lens would bring to me, not to mention the positive impact it has had on my PTSD. I have not had a major PTSD issue in almost a year.
I am sure that photography will not have the same result for everyone that fights PTSD. This was something I found that works for me. I am hoping that you can take something away from this and that would be to search for something that you can put positive energy into and get positive results out of. A good solid foundation of doing something constructive that gives you a positive result will help you work through the stresses of PTSD. Look back to a time before your events happened. Find things you enjoyed doing. Fishing, painting, golf or any number of things that you enjoyed. Try something new and don’t be afraid to work outside of what you would normally do. Be creative.
Most importantly, remember this if nothing else. You have PTSD, it does not have you. You have the power to control it. You have the power to keep it in check.
Stay strong and stay safe out there. Look out for each other.
About the Author: Robert R. Devonshire Jr. is a Past Fire Chief of the Strasburg Fire Co #1 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Robert has written several articles that have appeared in Firehouse and Fire Chief magazines and has presented “Working with your local fire department” at the National Facilities Management and Technology (NFMT) conference in Baltimore, Maryland. He is a PTSD survivor with a 27 year career as a volunteer firefighter/EMT. He currently runs the Facebook site Firefighter PTSD as Editor in Chief. Robert is also a freelance photographer for the Lancaster Newspaper and owner operator of PHOTO-5 Imagery.