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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Thank You Emergency Dispatchers!!

D668-2(Photo Credit: PoliceTees.com)

Personally, I went into a career in dispatching to help people. I do not do it for the applause, nor the recognition. However, it is nice to have some of each now and again!

This April 10-16, 2016, is the “National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week”. This second full week of April is set aside each year, to recognize and honor our Dispatchers across the country (U.S. & Canada). So, it is with profound pride that I say “THANK YOU” for all the work that is being done in all 911 centers. Whether, you dispatch for all three services or just one, for a small agency & have only dispatch partner, or in a large center with numerous partners on the floor, you are appreciated!!!

Without naming my agency or center (as you know who you are), I would especially like to thank my coworkers and our management team! I personally think that I work with the best in the business (I am a little bit biased though)!! The professionalism that is shown on a daily basis is amazing, not to mention the teamwork here. Our management is also very supportive of our team, ensuring not only open communication, but they are also concerned with our mental well being.

I encourage all of our Police officers, Medics & Firefighters to make a visit to your comm. center to show the dispatchers your appreciation. We are all one big family that does “battle” together in some of the most stressful situations. Don’t forget the Thin Gold Line, “The Golden Glue that holds it all together”!

Thin Gold Line

(Photo Credit: Families of the RCMP for PTSD Awareness)

APCO International National Public Safety Telecommunicator’s Week

Forgot the Chocolates

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One Valentine’s day, around 0130 hrs, I took a call from a female reporting that an unknown male was knocking on her door. As I was gathering info, the male had walked away. So, I continued with my questions and asked for a description & a direction of travel. The caller proceeded to tell me that the subject had stopped at the doghouse, and I thought she said “sleeping ON it”. At first, all I could think of was Snoopy and how he would sleep on the peak of his doghouse. I then asked her to confirm and she actually said “sleeping IN it”. I finished with the info, trying my hardest not to laugh and sent it to the dispatcher.

The dispatcher that it went to was one of our newer trainees, that had recently finished her coaching. Of course, she started to giggle when she read the file. As I listened to her attempting to dispatch, she had to keep pausing. Finally she got out the dispatch, let go of the channel and started to laugh. This of course caught the attention of the rest of our partners in the room.

After the laughing had subsided some, we asked her to play back the recording of the dispatch. Listening to it, we understood why she had such a difficult time getting it out. After the initial, “Caller is reporting an unknown intox male at her door, now sleeping in the doghouse”, nearly all of the officers chimed in with some answer or another. It started with “Oh, this is gonna be good”, to various other responses including, “Dispatch, did you say sleeping IN the dog house?” and finished with another saying “Well, it is Valentine’s Day, maybe he forgot the chocolates”

This call completely made our night, and we all had a good laugh. In fact this call made our whole set!

Dispatch Monkey

 

Everyone loves Cinnamon Buns…

DM cinnamon buns part 1

One morning, we took a 911 call from a hotel staff person reporting a “robbery”. Thinking that the hotel had just been held up, the questioning took on a sense of urgency. The difficulty with this call, was that the caller had a very thick accent and didn’t have a strong command of the english language. Now, there is nothing wrong with this, but it does make it hard to understand the nature of the call at hand.

After a few questions, it was actually determined that the hotel staff weren’t “robbed” at all and what had actually happened, was that the cinnamon buns from the breakfast bar had been “stolen”. These delicious buns had been set out on a tray, ready for the morning buffet and a short time later, a couple of female guests came down and took the buns. Further questions were along the lines of why the staff thought this was a crime, because after all, “Don’t the cinnamon buns come with the complimentary breakfast?” and “Did they take them before the breakfast bar was open?”. Eventually, it was determined that the staff were upset that the guests had actually taken the ENTIRE tray. These “thieves” had decided that their love of cinnamon buns, trumped anyone else being able to have one.

When the dispatch was sent out, it  went something like this: “Patrol, a 911 call from hotel staff, reporting the theft of cinnamon buns from the ‘free’ breakfast bar”. To which there was an awkward silence, then an officer asked “Dispatch…did you say, ‘cinnamon buns?’…and they called on 911?”. Of course the answer to both questions was “10-4”.

Shortly after the initial dispatch, the hotel staff called 911 AGAIN. This time they were reporting that the subjects had come back, returned the buns and apologized profusely to the hotel staff. Apparently, these “hardened criminals” were so racked with overwhelming feelings of guilt about their “crime”, that they were crying as they returned them.

The officer dispatched was then updated about the return of the cinnamon buns. To which he replied, “Mmm…I think I’ll go have a cinnamon bun!”

Seriously…You can’t make this stuff up.

Dispatch Monkey

DM Cinnamon buns part 2

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

 

 

Lost Drunk Love

Winters where I am can be very unpredictable. One moment it might be mild and a few degrees below freezing, and within hours it could be 40 below. This can be very difficult for someone who is walking and lost, especially if they are intoxicated. So, we take it very seriously when someone calls asking for assistance when they find themselves in a situation like this. You just never know when the weather could take that ugly turn.

Fortunately, this particular story takes place on a relatively mild winter night. It wasn’t yet late, but it also wasn’t early either. In fact, it was just prior to when temperatures could quickly begin to drop. So, we were definitely concerned for the wellbeing of the caller.

Initially, when this fellow called 911, one of my call-taking partners took his information. The caller told her that he didn’t know where he was, that he was cold and needed help to get home. Apparently for most of the night he had been trying to walk home and was somewhere between his starting point and his destination. To top it off, he had also been drinking. Somewhat fortunately for him, his phone was GPS active and it gave us a near approximation of where he could be, but it was a wide radius.

The officers were then dispatched to the primary position of his GPS, which appeared to be just inside one of the towns that we take care of. However, their initial patrols were fruitless in locating our caller and with such a large GPS radius they couldn’t easily narrow it down. So, the officers requested that we call the cell phone provider, to have a new ping done on his cellphone.

While another dispatcher was calling for the new ping info, the same guy called 911 again. This time, I happened to be the call-taker who took the call. As I began my line of questioning, I quickly realized that this call was indeed from the same lost caller. Fortunately this time we had a much tighter radius on his phone, of approximately 25 meters and it placed him along one of the busiest highways in the region.

Upon realizing this, I immediately updated the dispatcher with the narrowed location information and then went back to the caller. Since he was walking at night on the busy highway I asked him what he was wearing, to determine if he was visible to traffic. Of course he told me that he was wearing all black clothing, which then caused me more concern for his safety.

With his location, as well as his not very visible clothing issue in mind, I told him that he needed to get right of the pavement. I advised him that he should go further down into the ditch, onto the grassy area for his safety and we would let the officers know to look for him off of the pavement. He then told me that he just wanted to keep walking, because he was cold and needed to stay warm. I told him that I understood that, however he should not move from where he was, to make it easier for the officers to find him. At first, he wasn’t quite comprehending what I was saying (no thanks to the alcohol), so I tried to explain it again.

Now it goes without saying, that intoxicated individuals take a little more time to have things explained to them and we had a discussion about the merits of his personal safety. Finally, the explanation made it through the alcohol daze and he said that he would stay put. I told him that the officers would be there soon and they would make sure that he made it somewhere safely. However, I didn’t tell him that would likely be in cells for the night.

As I was ending the call and to ensure that he understood, I once again said, “Now just stay where you are, OK?”. To which I thought I heard him reply, “Ok, I love you guys too”. Now this took me by surprise and I wasn’t sure if I had heard him correctly and I said, “Pardon me?”. To which he once again replied, “I love you guys too”.

Needless to say I paused, trying to process what I had heard and trying to think of what to say next. In my moment of utter confusion, all I could muster was, “Umm…bye now” and then I abruptly disconnected the line.

True Story……

Dispatch Monkey

DM_drunkcaller

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