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This is where I live, and all I see is grey… My body pulses with electricity like current that activates every fiber of my being. My mind begins to panic, yet it, receiving stimulus from my senses, should be reporting to me that everything is ok; there is no threat.
Then why do I just want to explode out of my body, so tense… ready for action, taut as a wire and pulsed to manage… something.
But, there is no threat. No something… just the grey, foggy, unreal reflection of what my eyes are seeing at that moment. Today, the tears came again finally when talking to a former colleague about the worst aviation fatality incident in wildland fire history. Iron 44. To me, it matters, yet the story is not necessary to tell. It was traumatic, stressful and life threatening. It involved fellow firefighters (9) perishing in the line of duty, in a horrible way. There was chaos and confusion. It all happened in an instant and the aftermath begins. Hundreds of people counting on me, depending on me to keep my shit together… So, I did.
And so does each and every First Responder, Police Officer, Wildland Firefighter, EMT, Paramedic, and all the likes… Volunteer or paid, these men and woman are the front lines of this countries community safety and well-being, risking life and limb, placing themselves in harms way, so that others may come through, whatever the threat may be. These people give all of themselves in selfless service; putting mind, body and spirit through enormous amounts of stress, trauma, fatigue, and physical and emotional extremes. These are our countries unsung heroes; veterans in service of managing domestic incidents.
In the line of duty, each and every service has it’s own very unique and distinctive threats and situations that personnel must deal with, along with the things that they will see and experience. Most people not in these lines of work, will likely have no idea what these men and woman face each day and the things they must do in order to do the work and keep their shit together. But, that will only matter if you choose to serve them and you begin to see the anguish and pain in their eyes. Then, empathy will be your friend and allow you to guide these fragmented beings into a place of peace.
I can now officially say, I have suffered from PTSD. It has had a debilitating effect on my life, relationships, work… absolutely every aspect of life. I have experienced anxiety and panic attacks that have put me to my knees. I have had suicidal thoughts and put away sharp objects. It is very, very real. And, at the same time, it isn’t. I haven’t been on an incident in over 2 years and it has been 6 years since Iron 44. Every day stresses can put me over the edge and I have come to find out, that when that happens, something occurs in my neurophysiology that makes me believe I am back there, where the real stress and trauma happened. In that instant, now and then becomes a reality that at times, I can witness and talk myself through. Others, I can’t and then it is freak out city…
No human being should have to experience this… No One should have to wonder each day if today’s the day I lose it… Hurt my family, my friends… Loved ones.
Will today be a good day or a bad day… Will something trigger me and I lose track to where I am… That there is no danger right now… Yet all my physiology is reporting to my messed up mind is DANGER… And my body knows no different.
I can’t tell you how disturbing it is… How powerless and lost it makes me feel. And how enormous the climb out of this pit of despair looks…
That is the conundrum… Life goes on… Passing me by.
So, here’s the thing: the efficacy of Yoga, Meditation and other mindfulness practices as treatment and prevention has been beyond proven in our scientific community, as well as described in the ancient texts of this thousands of years old science. Whether known, diagnosed or not, our community service men and woman are, will or have a strong likelihood to experience some form of Post-Traumatic Stress and its related illnesses and mood disorders. Having experienced first hand the devastating effects this issue can have on peoples lives, on families and communities, I strongly believe that no one should have to suffer from these cumulative stresses that have such profound effects on the human body, mind and spirit.
We have the ability to manage this; there are many tools available, most rooted in Yoga, Meditation & Mindfulness. We have the infinite ability to heal. Our bodies, minds and spirit ,life itself, imbibed through form known as I… This is an energetic fact. As the sky is Blue, Mark Whitwell would say. Undeniable. So, how do we get there? “This training bridges the gap between the yoga community and a population that may not have considered yoga as an effective and accessible tool to address their needs,” says Olivia Kvitne, Program Director of this year’s SYF Gives Back training. “I am proud to bring together top authorities in psychology, neuroscience and trauma-sensitive yoga to create a down-to-earth and science-based yoga system that can benefit our nation’s everyday heroes.”
But, how weird is that? There can be resistance from this population, so used to suppressing and muscling through.
Rob Schware, Executive Director of Give Back Yoga Foundation says, “No one should feel weird about doing yoga, especially first responders who experience injury, trauma, and death. This is the first intensive training to mobilize hundreds of yoga teachers and yoga therapists to come out of their studios and offices and bring their knowledge and skills into police and fire departments.
So, again, here’s the thing: there is no “my trauma is better/worse than your trauma…” or “just power through it…” or “it can’t happen to me…” or “I’m Fine…” Cause matters not. Trauma and stress-inducing incidents, that often involve actual life threat create the same physiological response. And, therein, lies the solution.
One faculty member, Bhava Ram aka Brad Willis, is a former award winning network news war correspondent. A broken back ended his career. After a subsequent diagnosis of terminal cancer he embraced mind/body/spirit medicine and the deeper sciences of Yoga and Ayurveda, through which he ultimately healed against all odds. As a yoga teacher he now shares the message that we all have the inner power to heal. “As one who was on the front lines of conflicts and crises in Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa and Central America, I can attest to the fact that yoga gave me the strength to lift myself out of an abyss of profound physical and mental anguish and ultimately find new meaning and purpose in life.”
I am getting better. Over the years in service there were perhaps 100’s of close calls, life threats, death, trauma and stress, I just buried it all, apparently. I have sought help and receive enormous support from my family, friends and community. I have personally experienced the wisdom and guidance of Bhava Ram and with his, and many others assistance am making progress. There is a solution… and I invite you to please share, comment, post, repost, talk about in your community and in general send out the blessings to these men and woman who put it on the line for us… May we never forget.
Marc Titus, Founder & Director
Sedona Yoga Festival
Former Wildland Firefighter & Aviation Manager on a SW Area Type 1 Incident Management Team