So where to begin. I started as a firefighter as a volunteer when I was around 16 years old in a rural community called St Clair MO about 50 miles outside of St. Louis MO. I moved closer to St. Louis years later and volunteered with another fire dept for a few years, and was hired as a paid firefighter/emt for more than 25years.
I am married to my amazing wife Angie and I have a daughter Bailey. My wife is an RN for a rehab hospital, she works with brain and spinal cord injury patients and Bailey is a pharmacy technician. OH, and we have a little bundle of joy we call Jitterbug (bug) she is a 4yo Pitbull French Bulldog mix.
Ok so that is my Family, so what’s Old Man Bay Signs?
In November of 2018 I was suffering from severe nightmares, Depression, Anxiety that eventually led to a major breakdown that led me to a trip to the hospital and was diagnosed with PTSD Anxiety & Depression.
I had a real hard time with this diagnosis, PTSD is military guys that fought in wars. It took military guys to tell me that yes, they saw bad stuff real bad stuff, but they did one tour or two maybe three. They would ask me, how many years have you been a firefighter and how many bad things did you see throughout those 25+ years. That is when I was able to understand the diagnoses and to really begin my road towards healing through therapy and medication. Boy what a road that was, well still is. At the time of my diagnoses I was at my rock bottom, severely depressed, my anxiety was so bad I couldn’t even ride in a car without major medication, I was having suicidal thoughts, yeah, I was in a very dark place. Thankfully, I have an amazing Wife Daughter Family and Friends for support. I couldn’t and didn’t want to get off the couch, I wanted the house dark all the time, didn’t want to talk to no one but my wife and daughter, many days of nothing but crying and wondering what was going to happen to me, I was a firefighter all my life and that’s all I know, I have no purpose and nothing to fall back on. What’s going to happen to me and my wife, will she grow tired of me being this messed up, she work’s all the time to make ends meet, will she hold this against me and start to resent me because I cant work? These are all things going through my mind, emotions, and thoughts that I could not control. It was horrible.
Nope she did not leave me, as a matter of fact our love for each grew stronger in way that I did not know was possible. She so caring by nature, that is why she is the most amazing nurse on this planet. She would do anything to get me off that couch, get up and get moving, puzzles, going for walks whatever it took to get moving.
We are getting closer to the Old Man Bay Signs Part I promise.
One day she asked if I could make a Welcome sign for the porch. Well I guess I could I had some old fence boards by the shed and some ¼ plywood in the garage so yes, I can do that. I got a cheap scroll saw from Harbor Freight and there I went. I cut out the letters and made several for her and some family members. Ok that was cool, I was off the couch, in my garage all by myself listening to my jams. I liked it.
Another day she was out shopping and she text me a picture of a sign at a store that read, Grow Old Along With Me The Best Is Yet To Be (there’s that love growing stronger) and I thought hmmm I still have more fence planks and plywood I’m going to surprise her with a sign with that saying. So again, here I go, in the garage, by myself, jams cranking and now these letters are a lot more intricate, so I have to be very focused and pay attention closely. WOW I am not thinking about all the other stuff that is usually going around in my head. I think I like this. Then my best friend Josh bought a place in the historic neighborhood of St. Louis called Soulard. Home of the St. Louis Blues music. Ok I am going to make him a sign for his new place but this time I’m going to carve it with a Dremel tool. OH MAN it came out amazing compliments after compliments, my buddy was blown away by it and wow that felt good.
Oh man I am going to make a St. Louis Blues Hockey sign (I love hockey and our Stanley Cup Champions St. Louis Blues) but there has got to be a better way than a Dremel tool. It is so slow, and the bits wear out quickly and they are not cheap. So, I go to YouTube and search how to make a wood sign. So, when you search How To Make A Wood Sign this guy pops up on a channel called oldave100. His name is Eric Rhoten he is the son of the Godfather of Sign Carving Dave Rhoten. Eric and Dave make YouTube videos that shows you how to carve wood signs with a palm router and they sell bits and other items for sign carving on their website www.makeawoodsign.com. Heck YA I need a router and some bits. After getting my router and bits, I kept getting request for signs and the more signs I make the better I get, the better I get the more request I get.
SOOOOOOO, I am in a much better place today than I was almost 2 years ago, a lot of the issues were my meds, those are straightened out. My team of Dr’s are amazing, and what began as a means of therapy (and still is), carving signs, being in my shop (no longer a garage), listening to Cas Haley’s fun, wonderful, inspirational music is something I look forward to doing. I get up in the morning drink my cup of joe, OPEN THE BLINDS, and get excited about the sign(s) I get to make and to see and hear the excitement and ah of what I made for them…LOVE THAT!
I still have some bad days, I still struggle with anxiety, I am man who had no fear to someone who struggles with fear most the time, I startle very easy and I have to be facing forward all the time. Will this stuff ever go away? I don’t know but I can tell you this I heard a song the other day about going down a road that you were given, this road has burning pain and broken dreams, you have to find meaning, lessons always come rearranged, you have to face the facts and the only plan you have is here right now! I could not have said it better myself.
If your a Fire Fighter, EMS, Police, Dispatchers, Military, or just anyone who struggles with mental health illness, GET HELP, Talk to someone and start down the road of a new beginning. Find your thing, maybe its sign carving , or painting, whatever its find something that will bring you joy and purpose. I'm so happy to I have found place of peace and it just happens to be Old Man Bay Signs!
To Angie and Bailey, I love you both more than you'll ever know and I thank you both for caring for me, loving me and supporting me and helping me down this new road I'm on.
To my parents, family, firefighter brothers, and dear friends I want thank you for all your love and support, I didn't know then but I do know now the support you all gave Angie during my crazyiness, she kept it all to herself protecting me, so thank you being there for her giving your love and support it means so much to us both.
To all my family and friends that "ordered" signs you may have never knew it and maybe you did, but making your sign helped me in my darkest hours, it showed me that I do have a purposeful presence still in this world and I love and thank you all for that!
If you have made it all the way to this, thank you for reading this, my hope is by sharing my story that maybe it will help someone like me to know that it can be better, you just have to be willing to accept the help and love of others to find it. Never Give Up!
The OLD MAN of Old Man Bay Signs
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