Chris Sweeney's Story
Three years ago my life changed for the worse. After 23 years as a Firefighter/Paramedic and many bad runs I had changed and not in a good way. I thought it was everyday stressors causing my unusual anger outbursts and depressed mood. Then the nightmares started. I was reliving a lot of bad runs from years past. I became agitated with my family, my children, and coworkers, where eventually I started to isolate and stray away from hobbies and family events that used to bring me joy.
Fall of 2015, after numerous arguments with my wife Lauren and coworkers, it was brought to my attention that I was different and needed professional help. My typical response was “ I’m fine”. Given how unhappy Lauren was I agreed to seek help. I reached out to Employee Assistance Program for answers. After a couple meetings with the clinician I was informed I needed more intense help from services they don’t offer. I was given references for a Psychiatrist and Psychologist.
I began weekly treatments with Psychologist Debra Goran P.h.d and monthly treatments with Psychiatrist Brian Masterson M.D.. Both doctors gave me a diagnosis of PTSD, Depression and anxiety. I was placed off work Dec. 2015 and was started on a multitude of different medications. After months and months of medication and treatment I wasn’t getting better. By 2018, I was more bitter, angry and exhausted from lack of sleep and suicide seemed like my only answer. I had hit rock bottom of hopelessness, embarrassment and loneliness. I made a plan, set up a timeline and had the means to an end. I informed Lauren, while she was at work, details about my plan. Within 30 minutes my in-laws were knocking at the door. Tom went straight for Cole and Luke and Cyndi started to hug me. We talked for about 20-30 minutes about what was going on in my head. The nightmares, crazy dreams, lack of sleep, anger, judgement, and shame. I was asserted suicide is not the answer as Lauren walked through the door from work. Full of worry and tears, I was asked to be checked into Psychiatric Emergency. I agreed to have Lauren transport me to University of Cincinnati Psychiatric Emergency. I was placed on a 72 hour hold and was transported by ambulance to The Linder Center of Hope in Mason Ohio. There I was placed on a lock down floor and I felt like a prisoner. How did I get my self here? How did this happen? What the hell do I do now? While at the Linder Center I met with Psychiatrist, prescribed new Meds and had a lot of time to think. I thought mostly about my family and how much torture and hurt I have put them through. Why did I do this? Why……
Ever since my diagnosis in 2015, close friends and family have been trying to get me to go voluntarily to the IAFF Center of Excellence. Typical from me, No, I’M FINE….. I had been lying to myself for 3 years and being at Linder Center, I realized I should have gone months and months ago. After a couple days at Linder Center I was told by social workers that there was going to be a meeting between Lauren, the doctor and myself. It was decided I needed intensive in-patient treatment for my safety and the safety of my family. Reluctantly, I finally agreed to attend the IAFF Center of Excellence in Maryland.
December 15, 2018, I was on a plane with Jo Terry (widow of Covington Fire Asst. Chief Alan “Chip” Terry). Lauren had told me while I was in Linder Center, she was receiving a ton of support from Jo. It was asked of me to allow Jo to escort me to Maryland, absolutely!!! During our flight we had a lot of good conversation and I was given a lot of confidence and words of encouragement. Waiting for my ride from airport to the Center, I was crying, I was scared and I had no idea what to expect. It was then Jo reached into her bag and pulled out the most beautiful rosary I have ever seen, opened my hand and said take care of this for me. My ride showed and I was off to the Center of Excellence. I had arrived, getting checked in and being shown around. I then went to my room and began to cry uncontrollably as I looked at pictures of Lauren, Cole and Luke. Firefighters from all over the US began to welcome me with open arms. Sat and talked, cried and laughed with me for hours. I was thinking positive and for once in a long time, HOPEFULL!! I began attending many classes, meeting a lot of very intelligent doctors and was assigned to Remi, my personal clinician. I received my diagnosis and treatment plan which included attending every mental health class scheduled as well as trauma class 5 days a week. Everyday meeting new guys, learning others stories and their symptoms, I quickly realized I was not alone after all. This was a safe zone where the plan is to break up your puzzle pieces and rebuild. I shared things with complete strangers that I have never shared before. I was feeling better. I felt different, I felt happy and most of all I felt hopeful. I learned more about PTSD in 33 short days than I have ever learned in 3 years. The IAFF Center of Excellence saved my life!!! I continue everyday enforcing what I have learned and only wanting to keep getting better for me, my wife and my boys. I stay in touch with other guys I met at the Center and not only do I have my local support network, I have gained a national network.