Healthy Living: 'It's all good being vulnerable,' Kirkland firefighter encourages other men to open up

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Growing up, we all had different experiences, and a lot of times, that difference is pretty evident when it comes to how girls and boys are raised.

While it isn’t intentional, a lot of times the "brush it off" mentality is carried into adulthood, and that is just one reason why mental health experts say men in our society can struggle to be open when it comes to emotions.

One Kirkland firefighter is working to break the stigma surrounding mental health and encouraging other men to be open about mental health and PTSD.

"It’s all good being vulnerable… It is all good!"

9 years ago, Ryan Sheaffer left his job in finance for a job in public service.

Which was a very big jump, "I think there’s a lot of compounding effects that can come from this job."

Ryan quickly learned his role as a firefighter with the Kirkland Fire Department would not only include helping the community but also helping his fellow crew members, "We see a lot of trauma, we see just a lot of things that people probably aren’t meant to see on a day in and day out basis."

Working as a first responder can open men and women up to mental health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder.

Ryan says it is easy to get into the game, but harder to leave it at work, "The call is over then all of a sudden you sometimes start processing it and thinking about it."

Mental health experts say PTSD can impact us all very differently,  "It is something that has been traumatic in one’s life and that traumatic event, or series of events, it could even be a loss, a significant loss, could be a form of abuse, it could be a form of trauma of really any kind."

Dr. Greg Jantz is the founder of The Center: A Place of Hope in Edmonds and he says oftentimes we can already be vulnerable from a past experience, "There is a line that gets crossed…"

He says something then pushes us over the edge… triggers us, so to speak and then we start to see symptoms like anger or flashbacks and nightmares, "It can be like a ticking time bomb, you try to just go along and ignore it for a while…"

Ryan says while he doesn’t necessarily battle PTSD day in and day out, he isn’t exempt from the mental struggles that can come with the trauma they experience, "I think we do all have our triggers… It’s maybe when you are on a call that can somewhat be parallel to your own life, where you can kind of feel that cross over a little bit."

It is because of that harsh reality that Ryan is working on reducing the impacts of trauma within the department through their peer support team.

"I feel honored that they would look at me as somebody that they can talk to and then it does become a very healing process for myself as well, that I can have somebody that I can listen to and talk to and share some of my own experiences… Here I am somebody that is an open resource for others and maybe, yeah I am just one of the people I’m talking about all the time."

Ryan says it is important for people to seek help if a strong support system isn’t in place, "It’s no different to me than someone hiring a personal trainer or a nutritionist to help with their physical well-being. No one gives that a second thought."

He encourages other men to be open saying there is strength in vulnerability, "Be open, be honest, be brave around your own weaknesses, and through that, we can all grow and help one another out along the way."

Dr. Jantz says trauma impacts men and women differently and with the added stress of the pandemic, it won’t be surprising to see more people with PTSD in the future.

Ryan says when it comes to dealing with the stress, he works out often, drinks plenty of water, and tries hard to stick to a sleep routine. he does have a podcast where he discusses stress and trauma, it is called, "The Bravest Kind" if you are interested in adding him to your support system.

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