As a 9-1-1 Dispatcher, my job is to triage emergencies. I decide who to send, where to send them, and I get help where it is needed most. I talk to people in crisis call after call-sometimes for 12 hours straight. I am no stranger to Critical Incident Stress or the effects it has on my team of call-takers, dispatchers, and first responders.
When I got into this line of work, like my peers, I did so to serve and protect my community. I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself. I wanted to HELP.
It is my strong desire to help and my natural resiliency that has given me the strength I need to put my head set on for 40-60 hours per week over the last 13 years. I have saved lives. I have made a difference. I have also lost the fight. I have been with callers and responders in their darkest, most hopeless, most frightened moments. I have listened to desperate cries for help. I have listened to last breaths and first cries. I have heard it all.
If I said that this journey didn’t take its toll on my heart and soul, I would be a liar. While I don’t suffer like some of my peers, I have had my moments. What keeps me strong is always knowing that I am a part of the solution. I know I make a difference. I have healthy coping mechanisms and a lot of support. Others aren’t as lucky. The rate of PTSD in call-takers, Police Officers, Fire Fighters and Paramedics is staggering. Their suicide rates are stunningly high. It is heartbreaking.
What makes one responder better able to handle the “daily grind” than another varies. Many are aware they need some help but are afraid to ask for it or they simply don’t know how. These people are at risk. They have nightmares, depression, head aches, insomnia, fatigue, digestive problems, mood swings, short tempers, loss of appetite, lack of interest, lack of joy. They self medicate with alcohol, sleeping pills, caffeine, food, gambling, shopping. They feel a loss of self. A lack of control. A loss of hope. They withdraw. They lash out. They push everyone else away and at worst, they take their own lives.
Does this sound familiar? Like a loved one? A friend? Yourself? If so, there is light at the end of this long, dark tunnel. Life doesn’t have to be like this. There is help. You don’t have to live your life a minute at a time.
The first step in healing is understanding that all of this is your body’s normal response to trauma. Yes, it is bull shit, but your body and mind are wired to respond this way. There is nothing wrong with you. You feel like this because you are human.
Your next step is to ask for help. Ask for a Critical Incident Debrief. Talk to your pastor. Find a counselor. Find resources in your area and use them. Talk to someone. Please. Keep a healthy routine. Get sleep. Drink a lot of water and eat healthy food. Get exercise. Get out of bed.
Are you trying to help someone through their pain? The single most important thing you can do is LISTEN. Don’t judge. Don’t try to fix them, you can’t. The best thing you can do is let that person know they are important, valuable, loved and needed. The most powerful thing you can do is walk with them in this journey. Be an ear. Be a shoulder. Be a friend. Be there.
The next post will be about knitting, I promise.