“Only a crowd can make you feel so alone” Line from “Before They Make Me Run” from the Rolling Stones’ album – Some Girls, -Keith Richards
November 17, 2015 – “Beyond the Fire” Entry 2
Guest writer: Retired Fire Chief Matt Shobert
As the fog began to clear after two initial, major surgeries, and as I weaned myself off the heavy-duty painkillers, I began to realize my life was different – substantially. I was the guy who used to wake up at 4:45 AM to get in an eight-mile run before work; now it took me two hours just to get out of bed. I literally felt like I was attached to my bed with Velcro. While I don’t think it was ever a viable option, I contemplated suicide. The thought of facing the day seemed unbearable. Feelings of depression, anxiety, sadness and anger replaced my life as Fire Chief and Ironman Triathlete. I often wished I had died in the field, on July 2, 2014. For those of you who have been to San Diego, I couldn’t (still can’t) drive over the Coronado Bridge without visualizing myself pulling over, stopping my car and jumping off the bridge.
While shopping at the super market one Sunday afternoon, shortly after my second big surgery, I thought I was having a massive heart attack (Fred Sanford style)! I had all the telltale signs and symptoms: DB, CP, anxiety, numbness in my hands and fingers. I thought I was dying. My wife wanted to call 9-1-1; I let her take me to “my” closest fire station, where “my” Firefighter/Paramedics diagnosed me with my first real-life anxiety/panic attack. Trust me; these are no fun! Oh my God, I thought, I have become one of “those” people, you know, the kind of person, where we would roll our eyes and pass judgment on, when we get called to their house at 3:00 AM for their panic attacks and anxiety issues.
A few days later, we went back to the hospital on a post-surgery follow-up. I came clean with the surgical team about my “mental issues.” They directed me to my personal physician and cautioned me that I may be suffering from an Acute Stress Disorder (ASD). The next day I saw my personal doctor. He referred me to a psychiatrist and counseling. Soon I was on two different medications for depression and anxiety. I had great difficulty finding a counselor who specialized in fire service Post Traumatic Stress (PTS). ASD eventually becomes PTSD after a few months, if it doesn’t go away. Even on the new meds, things were a little better, but I was still angry, sad, anxious, depressed or preoccupied with the thought that maybe I’d be happier if I were dead.
I realized I was still in trouble with no real end in sight. This 29.5-year fire service veteran, with lots of accolades, degrees, experience and knowledge, ten years as a fire chief and Ironman Triathlete needed additional help. Thankfully, I knew where to turn and had the strength and courage to do so.
Jeff Dill and I had become acquaintances about a year before my tragic accident. You know how these things happen in the small world of the fire service. Luckily, I had Jeff’s number and I knew his mission. I called him and told him exactly where I was physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. He advised me to hang on and called me the very next day with the contact information for LMFT Tina Casola, who had been working with battle-scarred veterans for the past several years. She agreed to take me on as her new client/project.
Maybe some hope… Again, “when in doubt – reach out!!”
“Today’s physical, mental and emotional preparedness, determines tomorrow’s performance. Train like your life depends on it – because it does!
-Matt Shobert, Fire Chief Retired