Dear Amy: I am a retired fireman. I spent my career solving problems and not thinking about the underlying stress I was experiencing.
I just did what needed to be done.
I recently had a parent die (not unexpectedly), but then my best friend died as well.
I am not afraid to say it has taken its toll on me. I’ve felt withdrawn and depressed — not to the point of self-harm at all, but I just feel down and grumpy, starting from the moment I open my eyes in the morning.
I can’t find any enjoyment in anything I do and do not want to continue having it affect my family. I know they understand that I’m in a crappy mood — and the reasons for it — but it’s not fair to them.
The bottom line is I want to enjoy life and laugh again, before I get too old to do it.
— Really Sad
Dear Sad: You deserve much credit for putting all of this together and for describing your symptoms, along with your stated goal to feel better in the future.
As a first responder, you experienced high stress on the job, including physical danger and trauma, as well as sleep deprivation. You were an occasional witness to intense human suffering.
Now you are using your training and insight to triage your mental health and response to these very tough losses.
I believe a multi-pronged approach would help you, including a clinical assessment regarding your depression, individual counseling, peer support from other first responders, and mindfulness work on your own (meditation, movement, and spending time each day in nature).
Also, you are grieving! For many people, this is what intense grieving feels like. Sadness plus anger equals grouchiness. Self-care for you would involve learning how to be as gentle and generous toward yourself as you have always been toward others.
I hope you will let your family soothe and take care of you for a while.
The Code Green Campaign (codegreencampaign.org) was founded out of concern for the unique mental health challenges of first responders. They host a helpful state-by-state database of mental health professionals who work primarily with first responders, as well as a Facebook group.
I hope you will keep in mind that you are strongest when you recognize that you need help, and that you absolutely deserve to receive it.
Dear Amy: I’m responding to the question from “Exasperated Mom,” regarding children wearing masks in school.
My mother died in 1957 in the Asian flu pandemic. I caught the virus at school (I was in kindergarten) and passed it on to her.
We lived in Aurora, Ohio.
My teacher didn’t know there was at least one student in her classroom who passed it on to me, and perhaps other students. No one was masked.
I remember being quite sick, and I remember my shock and sadness as a 5-year-old on the morning that my mother died.
Catching that illness at school created deadly havoc in our home and has haunted me my whole life.
I’m 69 years old now, and the loss of my mother certainly changed the lives of my sister and our father.
This COVID-19 pandemic has brought back many memories, and I am a strong advocate of masks and vaccines.
Please continue to emphasize masks and vaccines in your column.
— Reverend Dr. Kay Palmer Marsh
Dear Reverend Marsh: I’m so sorry you carry this loss.
Quoting from a fascinating article about the 1957 pandemic, published in Smithsonian Magazine (in 2020):
“The pandemic of 1957-58 ultimately caused 1.1 million deaths worldwide, and it follows the 1918 crisis as the second-most severe influenza outbreak in U.S. history. Some 20 million Americans were infected, and 116,000 died. Yet researchers estimate that a million more Americans would have died if not for the pharmaceutical companies that distributed 40 million doses of [Maurice] Hilleman’s vaccine that fall, inoculating about 30 million people.”
Maurice Hilleman was a researcher with the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. He identified the H2N2 flu strain, raised the alarm about the approaching pandemic, developed the vaccine, and pushed companies to rush vaccines into production.
As of this writing, so far almost 4.9 million people have died of COVID-19 — 716,000 in the United States.
According to a global study published by the CDC (“Children: The Hidden Pandemic”), an estimated 2 million children worldwide have lost a parent or caregiver to COVID.
So far, 140,000 children in the U.S. have lost a parent/caregiver to the disease.
(You can email Amy Dickinson at [email protected] or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)
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