Is it going to hurt? How much of it am I going to experience, is it instant? What if I shoot myself in the chest, how long will it take to bleed out? If I shoot myself in the head there won’t be any chance of the guys saving me, and that’s probably best, I don’t want them to work me. Ok, but I don’t want to make a mess in the station, so I’ll do it outside in the park next door. I don’t want the guys to have to clean this up. I’ll go out and sit next to a tree and put the gun in my mouth and use the tree as a backstop so nobody gets hurt. Good plan, I have my keys and it’s time. I’ll get the gun from my car and go do this now. Dammit, there’s kids playing in the park. It’s a school day, why aren’t they in school? I can’t do it with them there, now what the hell am I supposed to do?
It was at this point I had a brief moment of lucidity, keys in hand 20 feet from the gun that I was going to kill myself with. I sat down and called the Chief and all I said was “Can you come to the station, I need help please”. His response was “I’m on my way”. As the buggy pulled up to the station, I met him in the parking lot, keys still in hand, and told him what I was planning. His response was simple yet perfect, “Get in.” I lost it all the way to the hospital, blubbering like a baby. 15 years in the fire service, 5 as an officer and I was a mess. The Chief helped me get through triage and into a room right away so I didn’t run into anyone I knew. Thoughts of losing my job, losing my guns (I love hunting), almost losing my life all were overwhelming. My family wouldn’t have ever been the same, always a big void.
I had been struggling with depression and anxiety for a while, and I was too proud to ask for help. That pride almost cost me my life, and I regret not getting help before. I thought I would be less of a man, less of a father, less of a husband, less of an officer if I couldn’t handle the stress of the job.
From a clinical standpoint, it is interesting to look back and see just how quickly things can go from under control, to justifying and planning. I had suicidal ideations for some time, but they were always just that, there was no plan. In a matter of a few hours, my brain changed from realizing there was no way it would ever happen to me, to spiraling quickly out of control and it being something that just had to happen, like brushing my teeth or taking out the trash. It was just another task that needed to get done, and I was going to do it. There was no emotion over it, no fear, just a feeling of calm once I had the details all worked out. If those kids had not been in the park at the time, I would be another statistic, another of the already-too-many first responders that take their own life.
In the time since this happened, I spent a week in an in-patient facility and meet with a counselor on a regular basis. I take a very low dose of anti-anxiety medication as a preventative. I spend time doing things that I love when I’m not at work. I appreciate the support that anyone who truly knows the story has given me. Most of all I’m thankful of the Chief and how he handled it. No questions asked, no judgement. “I’m on my way” and “Get in” are probably the two most important things anyone has ever said to me. There was no better way to respond to me, nothing more or less could have been said or done to make it better. Had he said he was in the middle of something and would be out in a bit, or been even a little judgmental it would have changed the outcome completely. Simply put, the Chief saved my life that day.
I’m doing very well now, and someday I’ll share this story with the rest of the department as a cautionary tale. For now it’s still too difficult to talk about in person but anyone reading this who needs help, get it. Anyone reading this who has someone come to them in a crisis, respond just like my Chief did and you are very likely going to make a difference.