If there’s one thing that veteran paramedic Chris Henning wants you to remember about self-care, it’s this: don’t just bottle it up or try to push through it when you’re troubled by depression or suicidal thoughts.
Chris – a former advanced life support paramedic of more than 35 years – was medically retired in 2018 after he was first diagnosed with severe PTSD in 2010.
“I started crying about things a lot,” Chris said of his experience with PTSD.
“I’d be watching telly with my wife, and I would cry about something I saw. My wife said, ‘you have to go see someone’, so I saw a psychologist and was diagnosed. But because we are wired to be tough and help people, I was trying to push through it and just kept pushing and pushing, but it was getting worse.
“I tried to commit suicide twice because I thought there was no way out.”
Around that time, Chris attended the Moving Beyond Trauma program at the Quest for Life Foundation in Bundanoon NSW, a 5-day residential program for people living with the effects of post-traumatic stress that is frequently attended by many former or current front-line and emergency services workers including paramedics like Chris, police officers, firefighters, and Australian Defence Force personnel. However, the program is open to anyone and each 5-day session frequently includes people from all kinds of backgrounds.
“It saved my life,” Chris said of the program.
“It opened my eyes, I’m alive today because of it. It taught me there is a life after what I’ve gone through.
“The thing is, you’re not alone. You go in there thinking, ‘I’m the only one suffering from all of these things I’ve seen’, then you go in there and there’s all these people suffering the same thing. You learn how to pull yourself out of that black hole and to not be afraid to talk about it.”
Quest is an organisation that Chris remains passionate about – it’s where he still volunteers today as a rapid antigen tester for participants arriving to attend their own 5-day programs.
Chris said whether you attend a program like Quest’s or simply speak to a friend or confidante, the important part is just to keep talking.
“Please remember that there is always somebody there to talk to, and that this is not the end.”
This article first appeared in Ambulance Active magazine, the Official Journal of the Australasian Council of Ambulance Unions.
Support is available: speak with someone today
Lifeline Australia: Available 24 hours. Phone 13 11 14 or access their Crisis Chat service.
Beyond Blue: Phone 1300 22 4636.
Healing PTSD: How can Quest for Life help?
The Quest for Life Foundation offers a range of 5-day residential programs and online courses to help people experiencing issues like depression, anxiety, PTSD, cPTSD, and burnout:
- Moving Beyond Trauma – For people living with the effects of post traumatic stress (PTSD or cPTSD). Moving Beyond Trauma is designed to assist people with post-trauma stress symptoms to reclaim their lives and create greater control over their emotional equilibrium and their lifestyle choices. It is based on the latest research into neuroplasticity and epigenetics and provides you with a clear pathway towards healing PTSD.
- Healing Your Life – For people living with depression, grief, loss, anxiety, chronic fatigue and burnout.
- Beyond Burnout – An online course to help you learn healthy habits, effective tools and develop your own personal plan to move beyond burnout. This course will support you to not only survive through challenging times, but to flourish.