by Chip Boehm RN / EMT-P/Firefighter
Today marks the year anniversary of a very long and tough odyssey; it also has also been one of rebirth and growth. For those who may not be aware, post-traumatic stress/compassion fatigue is real, debilitating, isolating, and desolate. As a caregiver for the last 40 years, I found myself in the deepest, darkest emotional depths I had ever experienced. I have been faced with the reality that my “profession” and way of life since adolescence has changed forever. All throughout my career, I knew at some point that I would have to switch gears. However, I never expected it to take on the process it did.
I thought I had done a pretty good job of protecting my Self. In the end, coping mechanisms as I knew them were not able to totally protect my physical and emotional well-being. This last year has been spent attempting to heal both mind and body through self-reflection, mindfulness, intentionality, and emotional connection. While not always the easiest way, maintaining positivity and letting the universe just “happen” has been a route of learning and understanding about my Self and a “work-in-progress” towards a better balance.
It has been interesting in the last year to experience the stigma associated with PTSD and Compassion Fatigue. Emerging or “coming out” over the last few months, I have discovered that most of my colleagues do not fully understand the implications of this process. Insurers work on a negative feedback loop, never really desiring wellness. There is virtually no support network for those in our situation.
Awareness, education, and prevention have never been fully embraced or implemented. I believe the time has come to fully support the emotional well-being needs of caregivers. We have, in our profession, touted prevention: fire prevention, physical health prevention programs, and physical fitness improvement programs. We have forgotten our emotional well-being. We are seeing the effects of this lack of attention in our caregivers as many are experiencing these same issues.
Unfortunately, resources are virtually non-existent and sufferers are left to fend for themselves. This is difficult not only for simple medical issues but also because depression and confidence are intensified in PTSD/Compassion Fatigue. Being able to advocate for one’s self becomes draining in the face of having to justify one’s condition in order to attempt to get the needed assistance.
Each day, I continue to heal and make progress, but the process will be life-long. As a caregiver and an educator, I will be directing my energies to PTSD/Compassion Fatigue awareness, education, and improvement programs and patient navigation services. While many may not want to acknowledge or act on the need, there is a face to post-traumatic stress and compassion fatigue. That face is ours.
Silence is not a protection nor does it promote healing.
There is no failure or mistakes, only learning, and understanding. You may see a program or two in the future regarding these issues. Keep an open mind and remember to take care of your Self.
About the Author: Chip Boehm is a registered nurse and an eighteen-year veteran paramedic/firefighter for the City of Portland Maine Fire Department and has been involved in Fire/EMS for the last forty years as both a volunteer and career professional. He has had a good fortune and opportunity to work at the national, state, and local levels from curriculum development to clinical practice. He recently decided to end his silence about post-traumatic stress and compassion fatigue. Chip has started a campaign to conduct PTSD/Compassion Fatigue Awareness programs for caregivers in his area.