Dream or is it a reality?

It always seems to happen when I am feeling that my life is good. No, let me rephrase, it always happens when I feel as though my life isn’t just going good or well, but great.

It sneaks in through the night using a cover of darkness and a weakness associated with slumber. Knowing the intended victim (myself) doesn’t stand a chance because there are no walls, no observance of its presence until it is too late.

Sometimes it masks itself using my family or friends as an intended target. Other times it drags up memories of the past, the atrocities associated with a long career such as mine. Either way it has a way of tearing me down, leaving me feeling spent both physically and mentally. Other days, it leaves me wrecked beyond belief and I wonder just how much more one man can take. I am confident and strong, I always have been, but there are days I want to curl up and cry for no reason at all.

Dreams of death.

Last night as I slept, Jake my second son came to me in a dream. I was fishing and he appeared in front of me from nowhere.

I said: Jake what are you doing, how did you get here?

Jake: I came to say goodbye dad

Me: Where are you going?

Jake: It’s time for me to go, just wanted you to know I love you

Me: what are talking about?

Jake: Goodbye dad (as he vanished)

The rest of the dream consisted of me doing everything I could to get home! To find my son! And as with most hectic, disorganized dreams every obstacle was put in my place! When I finally got there, he was in fact dead. Gone from this world. It was a nondescript death, a combination of every horrible thing I have witnessed over the life of my career. It was horrendous.

I haven’t been able to shake it.

Here is my problem. I know what it is, I know what these dreams manifest from, I know that it is not a reality.

But

I also knew every single thing about my first wife’s death before it happened because I had in fact dreamt about it over a several year period. I knew everything about where to go and what to do at Stanford Hospital because in my dreams I had been there even though I had never set foot on the property once.

I knew after my second wife was diagnosed with Leukemia that it wasn’t going to go well. Oh at first I believed it was my cynical side, you know that part of us that is carefully crafted from years of getting burned?

But as we went along I did my best to keep faith, to suppress my feelings of dread, to be the most important person in her life during every hiccup or stumble. All the while knowing, not guessing or having a feeling, but knowing she was in fact going to die. Why? Because I dreamt about it over time. From the hospital visits to the pharmacy runs, to her addiction to opioids. I dreamt it all. I knew she would die at home, I knew she was going to suffer and I knew she would leave a huge mark on this world. Not just because of who she was as a person, but because it always came to me in a dream. The only thing my dreams got wrong was her dying in our dining room. In my dreams she died surrounded by family at her dads.

So what is it about me that this happens too?

Is this a curse that only I can live with and if so, do I embrace the knowledge or cower from its implications?

I have so many wonderful people I talk with about my life, my emotions and how to deal with the past.

I have someone very close that I love who lets me talk openly about those last two years while watching the woman I cared for deteriorate and die. The ramifications of being alone but not alone, a caretaker, a warden, a nurse, a pharmacist and surviving nightmare after nightmare. Who listens to everything and anything that comes to mind while I am venting about these crazy notions in my head, understanding completely without thinking any less of me as a person. A beautiful safe space in my life.

But these dreams, these damn dreams, I just need them to stop! I’m weary of death, I am weary of pain, I no longer wish to carry the sufferings of so many in my head only to be replayed over and over again at the whim of nightfall’s grace.

So what do I do?

I do what I have always done.

I write about it for you.

If you are suffering in the slightest I need you to know you are not alone. I need you to understand it doesn’t feel ok, but it is and you are fine. I want you to feel as though you can talk about it, express those very same feelings without judgment or remorse.

I am blessed with the ability to write, to share, and to explain things in a way that you can understand. Everyone has a gift, a talent, something they are particularly good at, I have been told this is mine. Writing allows me to get these feelings out, to purge them from my mind, to let them go even if it’s just for a little while.

If you have something that allows you the same freedom you need to act when you feel down, you need to grab whatever gift you have been bestowed and make it your ritual. It will help I promise.

If you can’t, please find a professional to talk with, to council.

Now, I am going to try and call my son, I think he is out of class by now.

I just need to hear his voice.

So? You think you know.

A smile, a laugh, a hug and some jokes, you see me as I am and you think that you know. It’s the same old ground I’m always walking, with a head held high, false face, and fading reality.

You think you know.

This shadow of mine casts a dark reflection for which carries my soul. Walking side by side, flesh, muscle and stature tells you a tale, but my shadow harbors the truth. It’s darkness and rage, horror and fear, a shadowed jail that no one sees when peering at it’s presence upon the ground but me. Yeah I see it; you only see me.

I pray for cloudy days, for rain filled with pain, pressing so very hard upon my skin like needles tearing flesh from the bone. Helping, this searing sensation creates a neural overload strengthening my resolve when ever my shadow is gone. Building up future energy and tolerance for when the sun shines around me so I may survive it’s golden rays for just one more day. I have no place to hide.

You think you know

You think you know me when we meet, my smile and kind looking eyes but it’s all an act. My laughter and tears are played for an audience, I have become a master actor at life. Doing what I can to appease my shadow, to help hold these demons within. But much like an actor I must retire into solitude, and darkness, to a place inside my head where I can safely practice my lines. It’s a moody uncomfortable place where people can and do get hurt. But regardless it must be.

What you don’t know or will never understand is the sheer context of my life. I feel like a broken glass. Shards chipped, broken, then broken again. Placed carefully inside another glass for all to see.

You think you know

You mean well and want to help, but you have no way to reach inside this jar, pick a shard to begin putting me back together without hurting yourself, without bleeding and breaking just a little each time you try. Blood mixes with pain to become rain that falls back down on me. It hurts to much to try.

It’s all there for you to see. I’m all there, confined within the very transparency of glass for all to witness, not fix. Ultimately it is my gift to you. My way of helping you to never become broken, and for those already broken to understand it is ok to accept the truth and to be seen by those who care but don’t know.

So next time you see me, please don’t act like you know.

Because you can’t……

Wins and losses = PTSD

fire 6

 

It is by the numbers they say, we live our lives in columns of wins and losses. Every day we, the human beings walking this gigantic greenhouse we call earth walk out the door and in the blink of an eye easily break down our existence to nothing more than wins and losses.

From the time we can understand the gibberish coming from our parent’s lips we are told to pick our battles, get along with others, speak only when spoken too, judge not lest ye be judged, and we can be anything we choose to become yet be prepared for the struggle that may lay ahead.

Every one of those tidbits of wisdom revolve around wins and losses.

It further convolutes our mental wellbeing as we grow older. For we no longer look to our parents for sage advice. These challenges be it work, relationships, sports, after hours activities, projects and dreams of our own that must be chased can all be boiled down to wins and losses! We take them on; lumps to the head, body and mind be dammed! We are adults now and can handle our own business.

We hear it all the time! WINNNING!!! Or man you are such a loser. An assumption made upon a moment, movement or emotional situation resulting in an action, deed or punishment.

Therefore our societal needs dictate we win! Nothing brings fame, fortune, happiness or simple satisfaction more than winning! When we are younger and we win at a team sport, that moment of exhilaration is breath taking, amazing, a real high produced by natural endorphins leaving us exhausted upon its retreat from our system.

But when we lose if we are truly driven individuals we strive harder for success, fighting, clawing, learning, adapting, becoming one who grows and develops into that winner or winning individual again. Why? Because we crave that sensation, we lust for that endorphin rush, we yearn to be someone or something special, not just in our own eyes or the eyes of the ones we love but in everyone’s eyes!

So no matter what we chose to do in life, thanks to the imprinting our parents and society have placed upon us (and this not a bad thing mind you, just stay with me) we are left with wins and losses, our whole life can be simplified into easily accessible columns of wins and losses.

It is what makes us as human beings strive for the very best. It is what I believe keeps us getting up every day and moving forward, no matter how difficult life can and does become.

I read a story the other day about a fire captain in southern California who took it upon himself while out driving to stop his vehicle upon a highway overpass, place the vehicle in park, walk to the security fence, scale that fence and jump to the freeway below. He met his untimely end at the front of a semi-truck. It should never have happened.

Last year according to the National Fire Protection Agency or NFPA 132 firefighters took their own lives in this great nation. One Hundred and Thirty Two firefighters woke up one morning and could no longer bear the thought of waking up another day.

We as a firefighting family are not doing a good enough job.

Those 132 human beings who sacrificed their lives for their community on a daily basis were let down by us their firefighting family. 132 lives taken, more than by injury or illness last year. Gone forever.

WE ARE LOSING

Firefighters take the wins and losses columns we are engrained with from childhood and we amplify them, placing them under a magnifying glass within our heads. Those win and loss columns mean more to us than our sports rec league basketball team, or our children’s baseball team. Winning at a football fantasy league or winning by finishing the build on your deck. Everything in life fits into these columns of success or failure and when it comes to our chosen profession they mean so much more because lives are attached within each column.

The way I see it we are failing to recognize that although we will never feel as though it is ok to lose, we do lose and we need to talk about it. We need to talk about those losses and how they affect us emotionally when we pull off the uniform. We need to quit treating these losses as if they are the elephant in the room everyone sees but no one wishes to speak about.

Imagine everyday going to work, trying hard and though you have minor wins here and there the losses over time begin to pile up. In the beginning of your career its ok, you rebound well and pretend to not keep track. But after several years those losses begin to wear you down and after a while you can no longer pretend they don’t exist. You stop waking up each morning thinking like a winner! You begin to dread that first cup of coffee where before you would grab it on the way out the door thinking today is the day for another win!

The wins are there, don’t get me wrong, but soon stopping the spread of fire through a structure quickly or rescuing a family from an overturned vehicle doesn’t equate to the loss of life you have been party too. You feel remorse for not having done the job better, or quicker because in the end people are still injured and some things just can’t be unseen! The feeling of success slowly becomes fewer and father between.

Someone once told me that each incident truly bothering me is like a rock, and I am coping by placing those rocks in an emotional back pack. The problem is no one has taught me how to unload the back pack, so I walk around with more weight than I can bear on a daily basis and someday it will be so heavy the thought of just giving up, no longer wishing to carry this backpack will enter my mind.

We wear the wins on the outside, we carry the losses in our backpack. We are no longer well balanced and what we carry around is just our work, let alone what we load onto ourselves from our personal home life. Like a rat in an unwinnable maze we become emotionally trapped.

The faces from our past begins haunting us, showing up at incidents, during our family time, holidays and worst of all in our sleep, our dreams. We transfer guilt and blame, death and loss onto those we love and we hate ourselves for every minute our psyche allows participation in this pointless mental interaction.

This Christmas when you are with family and friends look around, is there a firefighter, police officer or emergency medical worker with you? Talk with them, show them love, let them know how very grateful you are to have them in your life. They may not be reeling from stagnation within the wins and losses column, their back pack may not be full, but if they have been doing any of these glorious jobs for any amount of time they might not yet recognize its ramifications. They only need an ear, an ability to tell a story, and be allowed to feel everything is ok.

If one of these people you know shows any signs of depression, withdrawal or strange behavior, don’t be afraid to lend a hand. Don’t be afraid to tell them you love them and find the assistance they need. Be that pillar of strength they are looking for.

I don’t have all the answers, but I know this; on this Christmas Eve 2016 it is all I can think about. That somewhere out there a person such as myself is wondering if another is ok. If they need help, and is there anything that can be done to help them. We can’t keep losing, we can’t keep feeling as though we are losing and we can no longer turn a blind eye to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the emergency services field.

1 firefighter lost is one to many, 132 is simply unacceptable! I don’t have the numbers for Police or Emergency Services (ER rooms, Ambulances) but we are one large family. Let’s work hard to make 2017 the breakout year for PTSD acceptance. Build programs so our own can reach out to help our own who are struggling.

No firefighter should feel as though the only option they have is to scale a fence and jump. Leaving behind everything they ever loved, everything that fell into the win column on a daily basis.

Be thankful for what you have, for who you love and for who loves you in return. Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year..

Betty….

If you sense someone is in trouble:

Call 911

The National Suicide Prevention Line: 1-800-273-8255

Contact the 10-33 foundation for more information

www.1033foundation.org

Betty’s AKA:

Fire Engineer James Franceschi

22 years of service to the citizens of Dixon California