Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Dispatches: July 2014

Jennifer Grigg   

Features Health and Wellness Wellness

In January of this year, Bell Canada actively promoted the use of social networking to raise awareness and funding for mental health initiatives and raised almost $5.5 million

In January of this year, Bell Canada actively promoted the use of social networking to raise awareness and funding for mental health initiatives and raised almost $5.5 million. This was Bell’s fourth annual Let’s Talk day. I thought it was the first.

I’m not sure how I missed it the last three years, but this year I was actively tweeting, re-tweeting, posting and sharing. This year, it was personal. I am one of those people Bell talks about in its  campaign.

In November, my family doctor had me take a stress leave from work, which also meant a leave from the fire department since it’s the same municipality. Although I understood, I felt that I had just been removed from one of the things that made me feel good about myself and my life and gave me the opportunity to help others. The fire department is a positive outlet for me and that’s exactly what you need when you are trying to redirect your focus away from the stressors in your life.

As stressful as the fire department can be, it’s a different kind of stress than the stress that was affecting me at work and personally. When we respond to calls, it’s almost as if we flip a switch and kick into help mode. You go to the call, do what you need to do to help someone, and then you go home. You don’t take the rest of your life with you to the call. This may not be something that is easy to understand for those who are not involved in emergency services. However, I understood the need to take a break from everything. I didn’t like it, but I understood it.


I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do with the time off to “help myself,” aside from trying to de-stress. My mindset was that I would just find a way to fix it; typical firefighter mentality.

I read books about dealing with stress, anxiety, and depression. I did things I thought would relax me. I even went to see a naturopathic doctor in addition to seeing my family physician. I tried a couple of naturopathic remedies for stress and anxiety and changed the way I eat to help my body function better based on my blood type. I even used the employee-assistance program at work to see a therapist in hopes of learning strategies to deal with stress.

In December, I returned to work. I was unsure about going back, but I decided that I needed to just bite the bullet. Neither my doctor, nor I, realized the depth of my stress and anxiety. I worked two partial weeks and ended up off work again two weeks before Christmas.

It was then that the downward spiral picked up speed. I sank into a depression that kept me in bed for almost five days. I had no interest in anything and would spend long periods of time doing nothing. I ate very little. When I couldn’t sleep, I would sit in the living room and watch the snow fall. It was one of the only things that gave me some sort of peace.

I also took great comfort in and from my two black labs; they would snuggle up beside me and look at me as if they could see into my soul. It was as if they understood the gravity of the situation even when I didn’t understand what was going on.

My poor husband felt helpless, as did I. Not only did he have to watch me struggle with something that he didn’t fully understand, we as firefighters are in the business of helping people but neither one of us knew how to help me. It made me wonder what to  do when the helper is the one who needs helping.

It was a life-skills counsellor I had worked with over the past couple of years who recognized the severity of the situation. After a brief conversation on the phone, she instructed me to see my family doctor ASAP. Not only was I dealing with a deepening depression and a paralyzing anxiety disorder, she recognized that I was also experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

When I went back to see my family doctor, my husband went with me. I had trouble remembering things and wanted to make sure that I told my doctor everything I had been experiencing. I pretty much needed him with me whenever I left the house, just to  feel safe and secure.

My family physician too saw that my symptoms had gotten worse and confirmed the depression, anxiety and PTSD. I’d lost weight, I was pale, and I was despondent. The good news was that he was able to give me something to help me get through it.

I had been being adamantly opposed to medication to help me cope when I first went off work. I did not want to be that person – the one that couldn’t help herself, the one who couldn’t handle it. I didn’t want to need help. I was ashamed and embarrassed by my perceived inability to navigate my own life.

What I’ve learned is that everyone needs help at some point, in one way or another. Ultimately, my quality of life and wanting to be a healthy role model for my two daughters were the deciding factors. I had a lot to be thankful for – a loving husband, and many wonderful people in my life, and I was missing out because I was unable to feel the connection to anything due to something beyond my control.

As we all know, life is about connections. Connections to our family, our work, our experiences, and even the ups and downs.

And I’m not ashamed, I’m human.

Jennifer Mabee-Grigg has been a volunteer with the Township of Georgian Bay Fire Department in Ontario since 1997. Email her at and follow her on Twitter at @jenmabee

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