That Darkness Known as Depression

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I am an Emergency Dispatcher and I must do something which is very difficult for me to do. I am admitting that I have PTSD, depression and anxiety. There, I said it, it’s now “out there” and I will no longer be ashamed to admit this. I also know that there are many others in the Emergency Dispatch community, that are quietly struggling as well. Although we do not see the scenes that we send our officers, firefighters and medics to, we are not immune to the trauma. In finally admitting this, I am hopefully helping to put an end to the stigma that surrounds these mental health issues. I would also like to share some of what I have learned through my own experience, in walking through this darkness.

I was officially diagnosed late last year, but I believe that I have struggled with PTSD for approximately three years now. I have also struggled off and on with depression and anxiety during this time and likely earlier in life as well. There are times when depression seems to really take a hold. Unfortunately sometimes, I am not really aware of how much of a hold that it has taken. Other times, I am so aware of the symptoms that I feel lost. Compound this with the issues that are a part of PTSD and you have a recipe for a long trip into darkness. To keep from going too far into that darkness can be a battle, to say the least.

At times when depression has it’s claws in me, I can become blind to how I am dealing with life. I become somewhat disconnected and tend to place priorities in the wrong order. Long ago, I determined that my priorities should look like this: 1. God (my self-care is corner-stoned here), 2. My wife, 3. My children, 4. Other family & friends, 5. Work. Then after these everything else would tend to fall into place. However somewhere along the way, these priorities started to look more like this: 1. Work, 2. My children, 3. My wife, 4. Other family & friends, 5. God. Then after these everything else had been falling apart. My priorities became so out of order, that I was not even registering on the scale and I would end up neglecting self-care. I would tell myself, “I am doing this for others” and “This is what is the best for now”. I would completely disregard what really was best and often missing how it affects life around me. The result of these mixed priorities is a very disjointed and unbalanced life.

Unfortunately, I can be a very stubborn person and at times it takes someone else, usually my wife, to give me a good swift kick in the behind to tell me that I am in the wrong. When this occurs, I basically have two choices in how I respond. One choice is to listen to the concerns being brought to me. The second choice is to try to turn the tables, in an effort to deflect the fault from me. Sadly, that defensive response had been my default setting as of late. Then, when I would attempt to change, I would try to do it on my own. My pride kicks in and says, “You can fix this yourself” and that turns out to be a complete lie. I have learned and continue to learn, that I need the help of those who love & care for me, to come back from the darkness.

For the past few of months, I have been in therapy to heal the PTSD and that has been compounding my depressive symptoms. When I started the therapy, I was told that due to the nature of the type of therapy, that I should expect that. Basically, what they meant was this: I will feel worse, before I feel better. That brought me to a point like I described in the last paragraph. Initially I did react defensively, especially when I was told that I had to listen to how I have been affecting others. During that conversation I gradually came around to see the light and took their hand to help me come back from the darkness. I am not going to sugar coat things and say it has been easy to do this. In fact, it has been very difficult. However, the more I consciously rearrange my priorities to where I need them to be, the more I am seeing the difference that it is making for everyone.

If you are struggling, you are not alone. We are not meant to be solitary and handle these things on our own. We are not weak, because we have asked for help. It is also not shameful to seek professional help, such as a counsellor, or therapist. Please, listen to those who love you and take their hand to help you come back from the darkness.

If you find yourself in a situation, where you don’t have a loved one to reach out a hand, please start by reaching out for help through your agency, or one of the following links:

911 Wellness Foundation:  www.911wellness.com

Ivegotyourback911: www.ivegotyourback911.com

Tema Conter Memorial Trust: www.tema.ca

Under the Shield: www.undertheshield.com

Badge of Life Canada: www.badgeoflifecanada.org

Badge of Life: www.badgeoflife.com

Canadian Mental Health Association: www.cmha.ca

Mental Health America: www.mentalhealthamerica.net

Operational Stress Recovery Program: www.operationalstressrecovery.ca

North American Fire Fighter Veteran Network: www.firefighterveteran.com

Safe Call Now: www.safecallnow.org

 

 

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Sometimes…We Lose

The feelings of helplessness, sadness, failure and at times, feelings of despair, are an unfortunate byproduct of this line of work. People get hurt and people die. Sometimes that includes the officers, medics and firefighters that we are responsible for.

The fact of the matter, is that we speak with people who may be experiencing the worst day of their lives. Maybe someone’s loved one has suffered a heart attack and CPR instructions are being given over the phone. Maybe a woman’s husband is beating her, while on the line with 911. Maybe a father has just rescued his family from their home that has gone up in flames. Maybe…just maybe, the worst day of their lives.

Then, there are the times when it’s the officers, medics, or firefighters who are the ones in trouble. Maybe the officer has just arrived on scene and the dreaded “Shots fired!! Shots fired!!” breaks across the air. Maybe the firefighters have been given the “fall back” order, but they are trying desperately to locate the “man down” alarm sounding on a fallen brother, or sister. Maybe the medic on the scene of a collision has been struck by an intoxicated motorist who did not heed the flashing emergency lights. Maybe…just maybe, we lost “one of our guys” today.

As dispatchers we sit, we listen and we prepare to send whatever help which may be needed. We are not able to reach out and physically help. This is one of the most difficult tasks that a dispatcher has to do and we do it to the best of our abilities.

However…Sometimes…despite our best efforts…we still lose.

And all we can say is, “I’m sorry…I tried…”

Dispatch Monkey

 

**If you are experiencing difficulties relating to your duties, please reach out for help. There is no shame in asking. We are human too. There are many resources available. Contact your agency representative, or one of the links below.**

911 Wellness Foundation:  www.911wellness.com

Ivegotyourback911: www.ivegotyourback911.com

Tema Conter Memorial Trust: www.tema.ca

Under the Shield: www.undertheshield.com

Badge of Life Canada: www.badgeoflifecanada.org

Badge of Life: www.badgeoflife.com

Canadian Mental Health Association: www.cmha.ca

Mental Health America: www.mentalhealthamerica.net

Operational Stress Recovery Program: www.operationalstressrecovery.ca

North American Fire Fighter Veteran Network: www.firefighterveteran.com

Safe Call Now: www.safecallnow.org

 

 

PTSD911: An Evening of Hope

On February 5th, my wife and I were given the awesome opportunity to attend a gala called “PTSD911: An Evening of Hope” in Calgary, AB. The evening’s events were hosted by Dr. Jennifer Primmer PhD. with Involution Inc, along with Wounded Warriors Canada. The primary purpose of the gala was to raise awareness about PTSD, the effects of it on our First Responders and Military personnel, and to help put an end to the stigma surrounding it.  Dr. Primmer spoke about the physiology of PTSD and the physical affects on the brain. She also gave some very sobering and staggering statistics relating to PTSD and First Responder suicides.

It is unfortunate that there are negative perceptions and stigma surrounding PTSD. Due to these, many First Responders and Military personnel feel like they are alone and may not be aware of the type of help that there is available for them. This is why Dr. Primmer organized this gala to promote the supports that are available for those with PTSD, as well as for their families.

There was also a silent auction in support of the Sheepdog Lodge and the Firefighter Assistance Charitable Society. There were numerous items that were donated, from groups such as “Ivegotyourback911” (https://www.facebook.com/Ivegotyourback911-1475963476000604/) and Paramedic/artist Daniel Sundahl, of DanSun Photos (http://www.dansunphotos.com). There was also a draw from WestJet (www.westjet.com), for a trip for two, anywhere that they fly. This draw alone, raised over $2000 for the Sheepdog Lodge.

Overall the evening was absolutely fantastic! Thank you to Involution Inc. and Wounded Warriors Canada for your support of First Responder mental health!!

Following, are the presenters from the evening, including a short description of what they were sharing about and their website links (if provided).

Dr. Jennifer Primmer (Involution Inc.)www.involutioninc.ca.

Dr. Primmer was the driving force behind the evening. She had a vision to include as many agencies as possible to share what they provide for First Responders. Dr. Primmer put together a team and they collectively worked hard to bring the gala to reality.

“Dr. Primmer is a Cognition and Emotion Specialist at Involution Inc. She is also a motivational speaker in the areas of emotion, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), effective communication, conflict resolution, non-verbal behavior, motivational interviewing (MI), and personal and professional wellness. Dr. Primmer also provides lifestyle and wellness mentoring/coaching in her specialty areas of conflict resolution, effective communication techniques, PTSD, and emotional trauma (especially as it relates to first responders and their families). ” – from Involution Inc. website

Shawna Stewart (Behind the Red Serge)https://lovemymountie.wordpress.com/

Shawna shared about what it is like to be the spouse of a police officer who has PTSD. She shared her’s and her family’s experience about the journey of her husband finding wellness again. Shawna also spoke about not being able to easily find supports during that time in their lives. This is why she started this website, to help point spouses and families to the supports that they need, while on their own PTSD journeys.

Phil Ralph, CD (Wounded Warriors Canada)www.woundedwarriors.ca

Phil Ralph is the National Director of Wounded Warriors Canada and a Canadian Forces Chaplain. He has had to be involved in more than his fair share of next of kin notifications to families of soldiers killed overseas and in domestic situations. Phil has ministered to and provided support for our injured soldiers for many years. He has been involved with Wounded Warriors Canada since it began in 2006, to help provide these same soldiers with the support they need in integrating back into civilian life and dealing with PTSD. He also serves as the Senior Pastor at the Ajax Baptist Church.

Jason Curry (Calgary Firefighters Association) –  http://calgaryfirefighters.org/index.cfm?section=1

Jason is a firefighter with the City of Calgary. He shared about how the Assoc. has been supporting the firefighters of Calgary and how they are working to reduce the stigma surrounding PTSD and mental health.

Natalie Harris (Simcoe County Paramedic)https://paramedicnatsmentalhealthjourney.wordpress.com/

Natalie is a paramedic for Simcoe County, in the Barrie, ON area. She shared about her own personal struggles with PTSD and how she became healthy again and returned to her duties. Natalie writes a personal blog about her journey to mental health and about how she is working to support First Responders with PTSD. She is the founder of the Wings of Change Peer Support group (https://www.facebook.com/wingsofchangepeersupport/?fref=ts). Natalie is also very active on social media with her Twitter and Facebook pages.

Diana Festejo (Legacy Place Society)http://legacyplacesociety.com/

Diana spoke about the Legacy Place Society, which provides safe places for First Responders and their families to stay at, in times of crisis. This not only includes times during family, or marital strife, but can also include times during medical crises as well. There are a number of Legacy Place homes that can be used by those in need. Check their website to see locations and additional services offered through the society.

Deanna Lennox (Badge of Life Canada, Mood Disorders Society of Canada, and Warhorse Awareness Foundation)http://badgeoflifecanada.com/www.warhorseawareness.com/www.mooddisorderscanada.ca/

Deanna Lennox is a retired RCMP Constable. She had to retire after sixteen years of service and being told that she could not medically continue in her chosen profession, after suffering irreparable hearing loss. Deanna is also the author of “Damage Done: A Mountie’s Memoir”, in which she shares about her experiences (good and bad), in Canada’s national police force. After her retirement, Deanna launched the Warhorse Awareness Foundation, which uses equine therapy for First Responders with PTSD. She also shared about Badge of Life Canada and their role in supporting officers with PTSD, regardless of the colour of their uniforms. Deanna also represented the Mood Disorders Society of Canada for the event.

Allan Russell (SheepDog Lodge) – http://www.sheepdoglodge.com/

Allan Russell has literally done every job of a First Responder. After serving in the Canadian Military, he became a police officer. He then left that after a number of years, because he wanted to branch out to become an EMR and a firefighter and he is currently serving as a full time firefighter in Alberta. The Lodge came to be, after a family member of his, gave him a cabin in Central Alberta. Allan had the vision to put this cabin to use for First Responders and Military personnel, as a quiet getaway from the noisy world of being a First Responder. Sheepdog Lodge does not offer therapies, but it is a place to “just get away” and allow them to come and decompress. Sheepdog Lodge provides training to First Responder volunteers, who would like to be involved with hosting their colleagues while at the Lodge.

Sgt. Doug Wasylenki (RCMP) – http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/fam/meap-pame-eng.htm

Known as “Wasy” to his colleagues, Doug has been a Mountie for over 31 years. He shared that he has spent most of his career on traffic patrol and admittedly “loves running laser”. He recently took on the position of the Peer to Peer program co-ordinator for the RCMP Employee Assistance Program for all of “K” Division. He very much enjoys supporting, as well as training other members (Regular and Civilian) to support their peers. Doug shared with the attendees at the gala, how the RCMP EAP works and the supports that are available to all the employees of the Force.

Nancy Snowball (CFA)

Nancy is a non-firefighter employee with the Calgary Fire Dept. She shared statistics about Calgary firefighters and PTSD, as well as the what the Dept. is doing to reduce the stigma and support their members.

Jeff Russell (Alberta Health Services EMS) – http://www.albertahealthservices.ca/ems/ems.aspx

Jeff is a paramedic with Alberta Health Services. He shared how he was one of the First Responders, to one of the most grizzly scenes, that the City of Calgary has ever seen. Jeff had to take some time for leave after the incident and after going back to duty became very active in trying to help improve the supports within Alberta Health Services. He is on a committee which has been overseeing the implementation of PTSD and Mental Health strategies for Alberta’s Medics (both public and private).

 

Here are some pictures that I was able to take. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get photos of all of the participating speakers.

The evening was presented by Involution Inc & Wounded Warriors Canada:

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Dr. Jennifer Primmer PhD, with the opening address and intros for the evening:

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The new “Wings of Change Peer Support” group model that was the designed and presented by County of Simcoe paramedic, Natalie Harris. I was a part of the focus group that she had formed to help design the model. She is also the author of “Paramedic Nat’s Mental Health Journey” on wordpress.com, known as @ParamedicNat1 on Twitter and she can also be found on Facebook at “Paramedic Nat’s Mental Health Page”:

gala_wingsofchange1gala_wingsofchange2gala_paramedicnat

Badge of Life Canada, represented by Cst. Deanna Lennox (RCMP ret.). She is also the author of “Damage Done: A Mountie’s Memoir”, the founder or “The Warhorse Awareness Foundation” and also represented the “Mood Disorders Society of Canada”:

gala_badgeoflifegala_deannalennox

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meet Dispatch Monkey

Emergency dispatching can be an odd creature in so many ways. One moment, you can be laughing at the most ridiculous of calls and the very next moment can be the most serious call of your entire career. In my ten plus years as a police dispatcher, I have literally heard the extremes at both ends of the spectrum.

One reason that I believe that I have basically “survived” for this long in this noble profession, is because I generally came into it with my “eyes open”. You see, I am the son of a police officer. Right from my formative years, I could remember my dad in uniform. I don’t really remember him doing anything else except being a policeman. He was (and still is) my hero and I did have the dream to wear the uniform just as he did, but alas it was not meant to be, for various reasons. However, I was able to enter into the career of a police dispatcher, which I believe to be just as equally rewarding.

While I have “survived” to this point of my career, I am not without my “scars”. I have experienced some of the most horrific calls that one could imagine. Even though I have never been physically present at the scenes, I have still been there and seen them in my mind. These have left me with some memories and feelings, that I would prefer to forget, but I am not able to completely do so. Despite my “scars”, I still believe that I am able to make a difference. Not only with the caller’s that I deal with shift to shift, but also with my fellow dispatchers and the officers that we work with.

Now, this career definitely does provide us with some quite funny moments. These moments, are actually more frequent than one who is not in this profession may think. Some of them are from caller’s, some from the officers and quite a few are provided by my fellow dispatchers. These light, comical moments, can be a major stress reliever. One such incident, is how I came up with the idea of “Dispatch Monkey”. I started to create funny posters (the younger generation might call these “memes”) and sharing them with coworkers and some officers. I received quite a few compliments and it was suggested by some, that I should create a Facebook page, or Twitter account for him. So, that is how Dispatch Monkey was officially “born”.

After creating the Facebook and Twitter pages, I found that I was connecting with quite a few fellow dispatchers and other emergency service personnel from around the world. Places such as Queensland Australia, the UK, South Africa, The Good Ol’ USA from California, to Illinois, to Connecticut and of course from across Canada as well. It has been interesting and fun to connect with so many first responders from around the globe!

Initially when I had started Dispatch Monkey, it was to share humor, with the added goal to also help smash some misconceptions about emergency dispatch. However along with the humor that I shared, or saw from others, I also began to notice another trend amongst first responders. I was seeing stories shared of issues surrounding the mental health of dispatchers, officers, medics and firefighters struggling with the effects of PTSD, depression, anxiety and even suicide.

The part of me that went into this career to help others, now wanted to help my fellow first responders. Since I have had my own struggles with mental health related to my career, I have tried to keep myself as healthy as possible. Due to my own experiences, I do not like to see other first responders struggling, especially my dispatch compatriots. So, as a lay person, I began to share through Dispatch Monkey, about resources that I have found helpful for me and hoping that they could also possibly help other first responders.

Due to the importance of maintaining my mental health, I am now regularly going for treatment at the OSI clinic near me. I have become involved with a couple of support groups, one of which is a non-official online group with members from my police service and another is through my church. I have also been working with a paramedic from Barrie, ON, who has had the vision of a setting up a network of support groups across the country and put together a focus group of first responders & nurses, to create a working model for her idea. (I will be sharing more on this at a later date…..stay tuned!)

So, what you can likely see by now, is that not only my own mental health, but the mental health of all first responders is important to me. With Dispatch Monkey, I have been trying to strike a good balance of the serious side, with just enough of the humorous side, that can be experienced in this job. My goal for this new blog, is to expand on that and to also share with other first responders, about my own mental health journey. I want to do this, so that they may know that they are not alone. I will continue to share the poster/memes that I create, on Dispatch Monkey’s Facebook page and Twitter account, because that is what started this whole crazy journey. Hopefully, you might find these posts helpful and that you will continue to have a few chuckles, because of my weird and wacky humor along the way.

Thanks for coming along on the journey!

Dispatch Monkey