Friday, June 23, 2023

Q&A with Christy Warren


Photo by Kevin Neilson



Christy Warren is the author of the new memoir Flash Point: A Firefighter's Journey Through PTSD. A retired fire captain from the Berkeley Fire Department in California, she lives in Pleasant Hill, California.


Q: What inspired you to write this memoir?


A: I really didn’t set out to write a book. I found myself writing about specific calls that were haunting me and I just kept writing. When I began to struggle with PTSD, I burned a hole in Google, searching for information on what was happening to me. I spent hours on Amazon looking for a book written by someone like me.


The only book I found was written by Clint Malarchuk. He is a former All-Star NHL goalie who had his neck sliced open from a hockey skate. Needless to say, he almost died. They put him back on the ice several days later when they knew the stiches would hold. From this and his difficult childhood he got PTSD and later wrote a book about it.


Reading his story was the first time I didn’t feel alone, like I was the only “tough person” going through this. I realized I needed to turn my writing into a book and make it available so others could have something to read so they wouldn’t feel so alone.


Q: The author Tom Satterly said of the book, “Warren has captured...every human's struggle to feel safe, secure, attached, and connected. This is a life-saving book with the understanding that we must take care of ourselves along the way.” What do you think of that description, particularly regarding the balance between caring for others and caring for oneself?


A: I am extremely honored by Tom’s words. He is the toughest of the toughest, he served in Delta Force, and he struggled with PTSD. After retiring from the military he came very close to killing himself.


So many of us first responders get into our line of work to have connection with a team that does very important work. PTSD robs of us our connections by isolating us behind a wall of shame and our losing the ability to do our jobs with our teammates.

Throughout our careers we push and push without sleep or recovery for 10, 20, or 30 years, constantly putting the needs and priorities of others ahead of our own. There is no balance. After a certain amount of this, our brains just cannot take the pounding anymore.


Q: In the firefighting community, is it difficult to ask for help with problems like PTSD?


A: So much of our value in being a firefighter is our toughness and ability to push through lack of sleep, physical pain, emotional pain, or any kind of discomfort. We can’t quit, or those we serve, and our teammates can die. Because the stakes are so high, any weakness, perceived or real, causes fear.


Q: What impact did writing this book have on you, and what do you hope readers take away from it?


 A: After writing and rewriting and revising this manuscript for several years, by reading it over and over and over, I have finally realized just how much trauma I have seen and gone through. I had always minimalized it thinking, I shouldn’t be affected because it’s just my job or I compared my career to someone else’s who has seen more. Now it blows my mind how much tragedy and anguish I have seen and had imprinted on my brain.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have two irons in the fire. My mother-in-law was a very special person and very special to me. At age 46, she had a major stroke where she had to learn how to walk and talk again. She continued to struggle with strokes and health issues but also continued to laugh and enjoy life.


As a side job I have been working as a substitute teacher. I have learned so much about the condition of education, the kids and the teachers. I feel I can shed some impartial, street level perspective of what’s happening in the classroom. Kids are also mean and hilarious, so I have so many stories to tell.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: PTSD has by far been the most difficult and life-threatening experience I have ever been through. But now that I have reached the other side and am mentally healthy, I have to say PTSD was the best thing that ever happened to me. I was forced to deal with so many unhealthy aspects of my life and heal. I have never been as happy as I am now.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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