Recovery road: Former firefighter says therapy helped him come back from suicidal depression, addiction

DETROIT LAKES — Scott Geiselhart used to keep a scrapbook of his years as a Frazee firefighter.

But unlike most scrapbooks, it wasn’t filled with favorite photos, awards he’d received, or any kind of positive memories at all. Instead, it was filled with newspaper clippings, detailing the scenes of accidents, fires and other emergency rescues where people had died — people he wasn’t able to save.

“I wasn’t counting the victories,” the Detroit Lakes native told an audience of about 100 people who gathered in the First Lutheran Church sanctuary on Wednesday, May 17, just to hear him speak.

“I was the common denominator — I was on those scenes (where people died),” he said. “It had to have been something I was doing wrong. I was trained to save lives, but I wasn’t saving lives. I was failing them.”

That negative voice in his head, telling him all the things he was doing wrong in his life — as a firefighter, as a father, as a man — eventually became so loud that it was all he heard. He didn’t want to sleep at night, because he was afraid of the nightmares that would haunt him when he did so.


“I was drinking a lot and started messing around with some meth. Some of my friends did meth, I figured, what the heck, I’ll party a little bit more. I told myself they were business people also. It wasn’t affecting my job, so it’s OK. I’ll do a little meth, just to keep awake and party longer.”

Then, he started using meth so he could stay awake — and wouldn’t have to face the nightmares at all. It got to the point where, by 2010, he was staying at the shop 24 hours a day. He’d go home just to prepare meals and pack them up to take back to the shop with him.

The lack of sleep and drug use took its toll on his temper as well, and he began heaping verbal abuse on his two sons and girlfriend — “the three people I loved the most. I didn’t understand what was going on. I was a monster.”

“After two years of that, in 2012, my girlfriend had enough; after 18 years — and they weren’t all bad — but the last ones, I put her through hell,” he said, adding, “the verbal abuse was out of control. I never got physical with her, but the verbal abuse was horrible. The things I told my kids, I can’t even repeat the words. So when she left, I had an empty house. She took the kids with (her). She had every reason to.”

Though he had “moved up the ranks fairly fast” in the Frazee Fire Department, eventually becoming the assistant chief, that was as far as he got before he realized, “I didn’t want to be a firefighter anymore … I didn’t even want to live.”

He began falling back down the firefighter ranks, even more rapidly than he’d risen up through them. “I was not making fire calls, not making the trainings. I was the negative person on the fire department.”

The drug use had also escalated, he noted, adding, “For two years, I was snorting a line an hour. I wasn’t going to go to sleep again until I was dead. I told myself I wasn’t going to live anymore. I knew I was going to be dead.”

He had hidden caches of meth all around his shop, Geiselhart added. He even had shell casings that he’d cleaned out and filled with meth, so he could carry them with him out on calls. “I was not only lying to myself, I was cheating everyone around me. I was not seeing my kids anymore.”


He actually told his kids that he “was going to burn the house down with myself in it.” And though he didn’t follow through with that threat, specifically, on one dark night in July 2014, he did try to take his own life.

“I went back to my shop, sat down at my desk in my office, reached in the drawer and pulled out my .44 Magnum, put it to my head and pulled the trigger,” he recalled.

It was at that point that a miracle happened. Though he heard the hammer come down and click, the gun didn’t go off — “on a revolver with no safety,” Geiselhart said. “I slammed the gun down and I was climbing the desk, literally up against the wall behind me. I didn’t understand what just happened. … I chose that weapon because it was going to be final.”

But when he heard that hammer click inside the gun, something clicked inside himself as well. He sat down at the computer and began Googling his symptoms — flashbacks, nightmares, difficulty sleeping, short temper, drug use, etc. — and what came up on the screen was something called “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” or PTSD.

But he thought, “There’s no way I have PTSD. I was never in the military. That’s what I told myself.”

When he clicked on the link on the screen, he saw something else: “First responders and veterans, high risk. How could that be? Nobody talked about mental health or PTSD in the fire service.”

As he looked further, he saw that he had pretty much all the PTSD symptoms listed. But then he saw something else — that there was therapy for it. “It wasn’t a death sentence. It was exciting because I had a name for this monster. I had a way out.”

Though it took quite a few phone calls to make the right connection, and he struggled with some more suicidal thoughts along the way, Geiselhart finally found one last phone number he hadn’t tried — the National Hotline for First Responders.


When the guy on the other end of the line answered, Geiselhart was screaming, “I’m going to kill myself! Nobody cares! Nobody wants to listen. Nobody gets it.”

“He said, ‘Scott, we’ve got you. We’re going to get through this together.’ It was like he reached through the phone and picked me up into his hands. … I talked with him for a very long time.”

That phone call began Geiselhart’s journey back from the darkness. “It felt good that somebody would listen, that somebody understood what I was going through as a firefighter.”

During his conversations with some of his fellow first responders, Geiselhart heard about a type of therapy called EMDR — eye movement desensitization and reprocessing.

Though he was skeptical at first, Geiselhart agreed to try it. He made an appointment with a therapist the next morning. And though it didn’t happen overnight, the EMDR therapy eventually did work.

He started talking about all of the memories and thoughts locked up inside him.

“I felt all that darkness coming out,” Geiselhart said, likening it to purging an infection. When he was finished with the therapy, “I felt like I was 18 years old again. I could hear the birds, see the white, fluffy clouds. My world was so dark … now it’s bright — like neon.”

The three lines of meth he did in the parking lot before that first therapist’s appointment were the last that he took, Geiselhart added. “I could sleep again without having nightmares. … I learned coping skills. I got my smile back.”


Though he no longer works as a firefighter, Geiselhart still does his part to save lives — by helping other first responders who struggle with PTSD. He gives a lot of talks like the one he did at First Lutheran on May 17 — he’s even set up a website, , where people can book him for a presentation, or connect with resources to help with their own struggle.

He has also developed two important relationships — with a Patriot Assistance Dog named Sarge, who helps him with his PTSD, and with a woman named Michelle, who is now his fiancee. “To have that safety net, between Sarge and Michelle … it’s like a different life.”