Life of a Fire Wife

The Emotional Switch

You would think it would be really convenient to have a paramedic for a husband, right? Sometimes it is. Not always…

Johnny has this really nifty internal switch in the emotions department that I used to find really annoying because he usually has it in the “off” position. I understand completely that it helps him deal with the stress of job. That’s fine. It’s a survival thing and I get that. Sometimes, though, when I think he should be showing more emotion he doesn’t and it drives me nuts. Sometimes I’d really like him to get a little teary-eyed or emotional over something. You know – like when we got married. Stuff like that. But he doesn’t. Not always.

Other times, when I would expect that he’s completely under control, HE’S NOT! Those are the times that really shock me. I just don’t expect it at all.

When I met Johnny I had two kids from my first marriage. I’d done the whole natural childbirth thing and totally knew what to expect. He was a paramedic and had delivered a few babies himself. Plus he’d taken Anatomy and Physiology so he knew how everything worked. I figured we had enough experience so I didn’t bother to take any childbirth classes when were pregnant with our first child together. And with his schedule I probably would have ended up going alone anyway, right?

When the day came, though, that I went into labor with our first child it was a much different experience than I had anticipated. I really thought I was going to go through the whole labor and delivery drug-free – I’d done it before so I could certainly do it again, right? But a few hours into labor when the pain started getting pretty rough Johnny started “excusing himself” from the room and he’d be gone for quite a while. It took me a while to figure out what was going on. At first I was just mad because he was abandoning me when I needed him most. I’d stand and put my arms around his neck and kind of hang on him through a few contractions (really the only thing I found to be very comfortable) and then he’d be gone again.

Johnny, you see, has a very temperamental digestive tract. When he’s stressed that’s where it shows up first – his poor tummy. And by the time I figured this out, he had gone through the majority of a BOX of Imodium AD…. and I was picturing him passed out on the floor from stress and dehydration as our son came into the world. But what in the heck could I do about it? Like pre-eclampsia, the only cure for this condition was delivering the baby. Or was it?

Pain – or more precisely seeing ME in pain is what was doing this to him. So remove the pain, right?


Sure, enough, as soon as the epidural took affect he was fine. Right as rain. Eager to tackle anything that came his way. The relief on his face is a look I’ll never forget.

Johnny once intubated a 4 month old baby boy and saved its’ life. He started an IV on a 3 year old snake bite victim that was so solid they used it at the hospital to deliver the anti-venom. He has retrieved electrocuted bodies, still smoldering, from trees. He has saved lives, declared an end to others, and seen horrific things during his career.

But the thing that takes him over the edge of control is seeing someone he loves in pain.

Last night our youngest daughter cut her thumb pretty badly and it was obvious she needed several stitches. I was at a late meeting at work when I was called by our oldest daughter, briefed on what had happened, and asked to meet them at the local ER.

I arrived at the hospital before them since it’s not far from my office. When Johnny walked through the door carrying our crying baby girl in his arms and saw me already standing in line to check her in I saw it again.

That look. That relief.

Firefighters, Paramedics, EMS, Police Officers………they aren’t heroes. Whether they show it or not, they have the same capacity for emotional pain as anyone else. The ones who have the ability to flip that internal emotional switch into the off position are the ones that survive the longest in their profession.

They’re HUMANS. Humans who need permission to not always be strong. Humans who need to be taken care of too, sometimes.

That’s where I come in. The Fire Wife. That’s my identity. I’m not a Firefighter’s Wife – he doesn’t possess me. I am not an object. I’m a member of OUR TEAM.

My Confession: I FAKE IT!

Oh get your minds out of the gutter!  Not THAT!!

When people find out that I suffer from depression they really can’t believe it.  “But you’re always so happy!  You always have a smile on my face!  How can you be depressed?”  Well my friends…’s why:

I put on a happy face every day and pretend that everything is ok.

I pretend that I’m a wonderful Mom, because it scares me to death that I am being  judged by other Moms.  The truth is, I don’t know how to be a good Mom.  I didn’t exactly have a very good example to go by.  But I try as hard as I can.  I know I make mistakes.

I pretend that I am a perfect wife, because it scares me to death that my Mother-in-law disapproves of almost everything I do.  I don’t sew, cook, take care of my husband and kids or clean my house as good as she thinks I should.

I pretend that I am a perfect wife because the thought of another divorce is more than I can stand.  I wasn’t good enough the first time – what if I’m not good enough this time either?

I pretend I am a happy wife because if Johnny knows I’m not… he will blame himself.  I can’t bear that.

I pretend to be a good friend because I can’t bear to lose the one person who knows me better than anyone.  But there are times when I just can’t do the good friend thing. It’s exhausting.

I pretend to be happy and supportive around my friends because they have problems of their own and shouldn’t be weighed down by my inadequacies.

I pretend to be a good employee because I honestly CARE about the people I serve.  Sometimes, though, (actually often)  it’s just more than I can take.  60+ hours a week, always “on call” in case of  an emergency.  Listening to everyone’s problems even though I have so many of my own and nobody to listen to them.  I’m exhausted from being afraid to fail them.

I pretend to be happy because I can’t face my unhappiness.  I have  memories that eat away at me in my dreams.

I pretend to be happy because it’s all I know how to do.

But when I am alone….the doubts, the fears, the anxiety and the inadequacy eat away at me.  They consume me.  In those moments I believe those things I heard constantly from those who I looked up to.

I will never amount to anything.

I will never be good enough.

No one will ever love me.

I am a terrible Mother.

I should have never had kids.

I am a horrible human being.

I have to prove that they are wrong.  So I pretend.  I fake it.  And sometimes….a LOT of times….I believe it myself.

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