Motorcycle and camera helps paramedic beat PTSD

Paul Harnish shares his story with other first responders. He uses his passion for photography -- and his beloved 1200cc motorcycle -- to battle post traumatic stress disorder.

Paramedic's journey maps road to recovery

Paramedic Paul Harnish demonstrates how he copes in his off-hours with the pressures of his job. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

Paul Harnish hit rock bottom 10 years ago. He was a paramedic and educator, working in Nova Scotia.

But post traumatic stress disorder had cost him his job and marriage and it was about to take his life.

"It ended up in me leaving the job I loved for nineteen years," said Harnish. "And a year later I was on the brink of taking my own life. The gun was on the bed. The bullets were in my hand. And it's a picture of my children on the dresser that turned me back, turned me away and got me back on the straight and narrow."

Harnish believes PTSD is a 'generic' risk faced by all first responders. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

Harnish told his story Tuesday in Hunter River Community Centre, at a gathering of first responders. Hosted by the Paramedics Association of P.E.I., Harnish's talk was intended to peel back the stigma, and help others avoid occupational stress injuries.

"We're all at a higher risk for becoming injured, operationally from a stress perspective," said Harnish. "And my experience with my illness and my recovery is generic among all responders."

Harnish now travels the world, capturing images of the places he goes and the people he meets. (Submitted/Paul Harnish)

For Harnish, healing was found in the saddle of his 1200cc Harley-Davidson. Recovery included touring extensively in Canada and the U.S.

It was during his travels that he first put his eye to the viewfinder of a camera.

He says the images he began to collect -- landscapes, still life and architecture -- paint a picture of a man seeking solace.

Harnish now includes portraits in his photographic work. He believes it is a sign of continuing progress in dealing with PTSD. (Submitted/Paul Harnish)

"The development of healthy coping mechanisms ...  can be anything. In my case camera time and Harley time," said Harnish.  "Others, it's meditation, it's yoga, it's gym routine. It's healthy activities."

Harnish has published a book on his experience, "Life; After the Sirens."

He has resumed his career as a paramedic, travelling the world on a petroleum exploration ship, and continues to take photos.

In recent years, those photos have begun to include portraits of the people he meets in his travels. He believes the inclusion of people in his photography is a sign of his continued healing.

He wants others to discover healthy coping mechanisms, too.

"Unfortunately we don't always do that," he said.