‘I got my life back’: Four years into his recovery from PTSD, Frazee firefighter Scott Geiselhart spreads message of hope
By Marie Johnson
Mar 6, 2019
“It took a suicide attempt to find out I had PTSD,” he says. “It was very unfortunate… I lost control of myself, so my suicide attempt was an attempt to regain control. But that was the worst decision I ever made in my life. I was confused. I was looking at things different than I do now… When I was in that place, I thought I was doing everybody a favor. That’s the darkness. That’s scary. When you lose control, you feel like you’re all alone.”
Scott Geiselhart, a longtime volunteer firefighter with the Frazee Fire Department, has been symptom-free from his PTSD and depression for about four years. He is pictured here with his service dog, Sarge. (Marie Johnson / Tribune)
Editor’s note: This is the second in an 8-part series of weekly feature stories written in conjunction with the “Inside Out” community campaign to normalize mental illness. The second “Inside Out” video, related to this story, is available to watch online at www.beckercountyenergize.com.
Imagine arriving at the scene of a bad accident. You see two crushed cars laying on their sides in the road. It’s your job to extract the crash victims from the insides of those cars. They’re hurt, and scared. One is just a child — about the same age as one of your own.
You do your job, you do everything right, but still, one of the victims doesn’t make it.
You step in and out of awful scenarios like this, over and over again, year after year after year. You can’t talk about any of it with your loved ones; it’s not allowed. You don’t want to talk about it with your colleagues; it’s not “macho.” So you swallow your emotions and carry on with life as best you can.
That’s what Scott Geiselhart did, for almost 20 years. As a longtime volunteer firefighter with the Frazee Fire Department, he witnessed trauma after trauma, and kept his feelings about it all bottled up. One day, that bottle got too full, and things started to spill over.
He started having horrible nightmares and jarring flashbacks of the accident scenes. To suppress the dark thoughts, he turned to alcohol, and to stay awake after sleepless nights, he started using meth. He isolated himself from his loved ones, trying to hide his addictions.
He felt scared, confused, and ashamed of his behavior. People around town always knew him as a good guy with a big heart, but at home his temper would flare, and he became verbally abusive toward his family. That led to more feelings of shame and guilt, and more drug use. He was spiralling out of control.
All the common signs of PTSD and depression were there, but he didn’t see any of that.
After more than 15 years of his symptoms getting progressively worse and worse, the bottle Geiselhart had been so desperately trying to contain everything in, finally broke open. Alone in his office one night, he picked up his gun, pressed it to his head, and pulled the trigger.
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