TYLER, TX (KLTV) - The Christmas tree was lit outside ETMC's main hospital Tuesday night. And with its lighting, the hospital is raising awareness for a problem that extends further than most people think. The lighting ambassador was Norman Frazier. He is a paramedic who suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, until he found help with the ETMC Behavioral Health Center.
"I had just reached a point in my life that things were just dark," Frazier said.
Frazier is lighting the tree Tuesday night to raise awareness about the condition and what people who suffer from it can do to treat it. Dr. Daniel Williams with the Behavioral Health Center says it's not just a disorder that affects military veterans.
"It affects EMS, fire fighters, law enforcement, [and] even civilians," Dr. Williams said. "Serious crime victims for example."
Dr. Williams treated Frazier when he sought help with the program. Williams says there are two broad steps to treating the condition. Patients first learn about the disorder itself, then learn how to manage it.
"It's an ongoing process," Norman Frazier said. "It's not something you can take a pill and just get over."
Frazier says the problem never completely ends, but by expressing his feelings about events he experiences, he says he feels "a new sense of life."
"Things are so much brighter," he said.
Dr. Williams says that many people who suffer from the disorder are hesitant to reach out. He says that's the hardest, but most important step.
"They think they're weak," Dr. Williams said. "One of the saddest things that I see is that trauma in the past has a way of stealing people's future," because they're afraid to reach out for clinical help.
Dr. Williams says it's normal for people with traumatic events in their past to repress their memories. But he says ignoring the problem results in insomnia, nightmares, hyper sensitivity and can ruin relationships.
"More than half of [PTSD victims] turn to drugs and alcohol to cope," Dr. Williams said.
While struggling with accepting the condition, Norman Frazier says he would want to turn around and go home almost everyday while driving to work. He says for years he was used to the usual comments surrounding the tough experiences paramedics encounter.
"Suck it up, do your job, move along," he said was the usual rhetoric. "Never did I know how wrong those words were until it came back and hit me."
Frazier entered the program when his administrators noticed his stress spilling over. He says he let the stressful events he encountered as a paramedic build over the years with no outlet. But now that he has finished the program, he says he is able use tools he learned to help express those feelings. And he sees his work in a different way. For example, he says he now makes sure to take great joy in helping families who are preparing to have a child. Since he finished the program, he has been able to re-engage with people around him.
"Being able to interact is a wonderful thing," he said. "It shows I have feelings now other than isolation."
Frazier is smiling wide Tuesday night as children line up to greet Santa outside the hospital. The Christmas tree is a tall Eastern Red Cedar, with gold-colored ornaments catching the evening light. Red ribbons are tied in bows on its branches. Frazier jokes about how he even ironed his shirt for the event, then says this experience lighting the tree is an important step in his continued therapy.
"I've never been to one of these," he said. "So I feel really nervous, but I'm nervous in a good way."