This Emergency Responder Suffered From PTSD. Then A Spur-Of-The Moment Decision Transformed His Life

Tristan Ribera had been struggling with his mental health after working as an emergency responder. The young man had found it difficult to get his life back on track and turned to alcohol. But what he didn’t realize was that a spontaneous decision, made following a few drinks, was about to change everything.

Ribera lives in Wasau, Wisconsin and enjoys gaming, writing poetry and making music and films. He worked as a firefighter for the Rothschild Fire Department and became an Emergency Medical Technician because he wanted to help people. The 23-year-old also vowed to start taking better care of himself.

“I decided to change my life for the better. As a health provider and firefighter, I decided to start training and eating better,” he shared on Instagram. “I love every moment of it, and also love my job and making others smile.” But working in emergency scenarios became difficult for Ribera and his mental health began to suffer.

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The young man turned 21 in July 2016. A few months later, Ribera would do something on the spur-of-the-moment that would have an unbelievable impact on him. At that time, he had been battling post-traumatic stress disorder and it was affecting his relationships.

“I was told I had PTSD from working as a paramedic/firefighter after only three years,” Ribera posted on Imgur. “I couldn’t sleep without nightmares; couldn’t drive down the road without seeing something horrific that wasn’t real. Me being the young adult I am, [I] turned to drinking and ruining relationships to cope with my mental turmoil.”

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That October, Ribera and his friends were drinking to celebrate Halloween. They were lying on the ground and having a discussion when one of his pals said they knew somebody who was giving away kittens for free. Ribera wasn’t a fan of felines to say the least.

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“Little known fact – I hated cats,” Ribera confessed. “I used to get attacked by them as a kid and I was extremely allergic.” But because he was drunk, he agreed to take one of the animals. However, by the next morning, the EMT couldn’t remember what he had done.

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“[I] woke up to text messages asking where I wanted to meet to pick up this cat,” Ribera recalled. “I was utterly confused but met the person.” The breeder handed over an eight-week-old kitten. They then said that he was male and had eaten recently, at which point, they left. And it dawned on the firefighter that he was now in charge of making sure this animal was safe and happy.

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“That’s when it hit hung-over me. I have a kitten. This life is my responsibility now,” Ribera explained on Imgur. The EMT decided to name him Shiro. He then took the eight-week-old cat to a PetSmart store. Once there, he asked one of the employees to show him exactly what he needed to take care of his new pet.

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Ribera admitted that he “had no clue” what he was doing but wanted to make sure the animal had plenty of food and supplies. “I brought him home, set up his own little room and [did] everything Google told me to do. And [then] we just sat staring at each other until I decided to take a nap,” he explained. After he woke, the EMT started to fall in love with Shiro.

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“I woke up to him curled around my neck, but no allergic reaction by me. So I let him sleep with me. I taught him basic commands [and] I watch him learn about the world everyday,” Ribera wrote. “I never understood how much you can love such a small, furry, fuzz-ball of a life until I had one.”

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Ribera decided to share his story on Imgur in May 2017. He also posted snapshots of Shiro throughout the six months that he’d had him. And almost a year later, the first responder provided an update. In April 2018, he revealed that the white cat was doing well – and he had since adopted another feline.

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“[Shiro] has a friend now named Luka. They both love to wrestle around and cuddle together,” Ribera explained. He added that while he still had bad days, Shiro helped him get through an extremely rough patch.

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“This little kitten has been able to sew up what I thought was unsewable,” he shared. “I do still struggle [with] sleeping [from] time to time. And life isn’t always going the best, but it’s always worth living.” Indeed, Ribera’s heartwarming tale touched many others.

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“Awesome, wonderful story. For both of you,” one Imgur user shared. Another added, “Sometimes it’s the most unexpected things/people [that] save us. I’m glad you’re happy.” Others praised Ribera for speaking out about PTSD and depression.

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“PTSD is no joke and I wish it was taken more seriously,” one person commented. Someone else added, “Been struggling with depression, got a cat. Now he’s my main concern and everything else slipped away.” And another user shared, “Was diagnosed with PTSD a year ago (military), it really is a tough battle. Glad Shiro is helping you.”

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Ribera’s family were pleasantly surprised to see him become so committed to a cat. What’s more, the EMT revealed that taking in Shiro was the “best drunken decision” he has ever made. His decision to share the story of how Shiro had helped him through a dark time came after the suicide of a friend. The young man revealed that he hoped to raise awareness about mental health issues.

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“If you know anyone struggling with PTSD or even depression, console them,” Ribera advised readers. “PTSD is a very real thing and it affects more than just soldiers. If you know someone in public safety/military, tell them how much they mean to you.”

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Although Ribera had used Imgur for three years, this was his first time sharing a post. But the the positive responses he received moved the EMT. He even encouraged other users who are suffering to speak to someone about what they’re going through. “You guys have shown me so much love, it leaves me with a lump in my throat and teary eyed,” he wrote. “If anyone needs to ever talk, please don’t hesitate to message me.”

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Ribera believes that people having similar experiences should also consider getting a pet. And now that his mental health problems have improved, he feels that Shiro may have stopped him from harming himself. The EMT wrote, “I can honestly say that if I didn’t have him in my life, I’m not sure I would even be standing here.”

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