It has come to my attention that the over-arching feeling by people who have read my guest blog is that I am angry and bitter – therefore likely lashing out, and therefore this is unprofessional of me.
I would like to take this opportunity to explain to the readers of Darren’s blog, especially those from first responder organizations and persons seeking peer support, the cause of the anger that some may interpret in my writings below, and the reality of where I currently ‘live’ in both my personal and professional spaces.
For many years I lived in a place of perpetual anger, untreated and unchecked. Anger at everything and everyone around me that was not 100% perfection. It was the first symptom to evolve and show its ugly head when PTSD was developing.
In the original blog post below, in the section where I talk about the training and professional expectations of being 100% perfect, 100% of the time as a 911 operator and dispatcher, this was an organizational/professional and peer expectation that ultimately I placed on myself as a professional that was talented and dedicated to her work – this expectation is at the root of the development of my anger.
The very fact that we as first responders cannot save everyone, cannot fix every situation we are involved in, and that despite all our best efforts people will die breeds a sense of helplessness in the face of a death that is happening at that moment, right in front of you be it in front of your eyes or through your ears. It was this helplessness and the resulting moral injury that made me so very angry as a result of the incident on May 12, 2000.
Now, when I write about it and because my PTSD is both chronic and complex, the anger = the symptoms of PTSD will often rear their ugly heads again especially when I am writing about my story and lived experiences of trauma, moral injury, sanctuary trauma and triggers. This is because I still live with chronic complex PTSD and my lived experiences still cause me pain and suffering.
However, I do not live in this place of perpetual anger in my daily life, nor in my professional life. I live in a place of post-traumatic growth, and while I am nobody’s hero my path in this process of recovery has quite closely followed The Hero’s Journey as depicted in the photo here.
For many years this has not been a question that I answer in the mirror in the morning, but an affirmation.
In order to move forwards into the adventure, I went back to university. Learning many things in many new ways and this helped my brain to rewire itself. My ability to cope, grow and learn has helped, and while this has also not completely healed me, it has helped me to rejoin the ‘human race’ and work towards the transformation phase.
While in university I sought and found several academic mentors (Supernatural aid). I followed many goals and aspirations, some of which have been realized and others I learned are not a practical fit for me. Many of these mentors are still part of my life, still cheering me on from the sidelines and providing support whenever/wherever they can. I have both publicly and privately shown my gratitude to all of them for without their guidance I would not be who I am today.
This process of academic education created many tremendous changes in me, in what I believe, how I behave, how I treat others and how I expect to be treated. The very core of my being has changed. I have accepted my injury is now a permanent disability, accepted that I cannot change the past and learned how I can change my future and contribute to the change for future 911 operators and dispatchers who develop stress related injuries. Contributing to change for the betterment of human life has become my over-arching goal, my bliss.
Near the end of my academic adventures I met another mentor, Peter Platt (RIP), founder of Badge of Life Canada. It was Peter who brought me through the last two years of my academic adventure, through the challenges of achievement and the temptations to say ‘fuck it’ and quit. Most importantly Peter taught me that I am still a human being worthy of living this life, of receiving kindness, love and empathy through providing me with his support and the connections to an entire country full of people just like me, like us. We are not alone. ~Strength in Numbers~
The revelation (death and rebirth) occurred for me when I successfully completed my Master of Arts – Criminal Justice and sadly Peter passed from this world shortly after (breast cancer). I needed to achieve this goal in order to prove both to myself and others that I am not lacking in intelligence, that I can meet goals and deadlines, conduct research, publicly present and defend the results, work proactively in groups towards a common goal, and behave in a manner that is socially and publicly acceptable; all despite the pitfalls of graduate degree level academic stressors, social stressors, triggers, and all the symptoms of chronic PTSD that I still experience.
The research that I completed as part of my Masters’ degree was the first of its kind in Canada, and it is my hope that it will assist in informing organizations of the reality that is the development of PTSD among Canadian 911 operators, the lack of knowledge of supports available to them and the other factors that contribute to their stress. In other words, I hope that my research will assist in creating change so that those now working in this profession do not suffer as I did.
The core values, purpose and implementation of peer support either one-to-one or groups were taught to me by Peter, informally, and formally by Syd Gravel, M.O.M. (another man who has quietly cheered me on, providing guidance and support as he is able). I have much respect for Syd and for the work he continues to do to advance peer support programs across Canada.
Another person that came into my life who has become the helper, mentor - personal peer buddy and my ‘brother from another mother’ on this journey in life is Darren Gregory.
Atonement, I have never received although I am wide open to accepting it. I do accept that it may never happen for this is something that I am not in control of. I am no longer angry with my former 911 employer. I hope for the opportunity to provide them with feedback, education (of my lived experience on this journey) so that they may be better informed and thus can (if they choose) change the way they ‘do business’ for the betterment of their current 911 operators and dispatchers. I believe that persons with lived experience have much to contribute to these conversations; I also understand that all I can do is offer. You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink.
***Note: proof of my statement regarding my former employer and my feelings regarding atonement can be seen by understanding that in this very public venue, where I have carte blanche to write whatever I wish… I am not slamming or slandering or even naming my former employer and this is because I no longer feel a need to lash out in anger or to seek revenge; I only wish to achieve my own growth, transformation and return to contributing to my former profession and my community in a positive way. I am not naming the individuals still working there that played a very real part in the demise of my career.
This is because while I ‘own my own shit’ it is not up to me to force anyone to own theirs and it is also because I have every respect for the work that they do individually and as an organization.
Return – I am on the path towards my return now, working diligently to realize it fully. Practically speaking this takes many forms via the attainment of many more goals that I will not get into in more detail here at this time – but I will once they have been achieved! If you would like to be a part of my Return goals, *grin* I am wide open to new ideas, suggestions and offers.
For those of us who have not and will not fully recover from the symptoms of PTSD due to the length of time between injury and treatment – the knowledge that we will never recover is in itself a hurdle to overcome and get to the place of acceptance of the reality that is now ours to live. Living with chronic PTSD does not mean that we cannot achieve post-traumatic growth; nor does it stop us from fully realizing the Return phase of the Hero’s Journey.
The Return does mean that organizations and individuals will need to learn how to accommodate, communicate with and understand those of us who live with chronic PTSD, because the numbers of us are growing and more and more of us are choosing the Hero’s Journey as a positive path towards realizing post-traumatic growth.
Please feel free to post comments or ask questions… or to contact me directly via my email at the bottom of the original guest blog. Yes, I do guest speaking presentations and they take various forms, feel free to email me for more information.
Rae-Lynne Dicks, MA
Original Article-Oct. 2017
I am a former 911 emergency communications operator and dispatcher who has lived with chronic PTSD and major depression for 15 years. My injury is due to repeated exposure to traumatic incidents in the course of my duties and it began with one single incident on May 12, 2000. Between May 12, 2000 and my diagnosis in 2002 there were many more traumatic incidents that contributed to my mental health injury, some of which I do not fully remember, or major parts of them such as date/time/location are lost to me.
My career ended only when I was no longer able to function as a human being, unable to get up, eat, shower, dress and go to work; unable to care for my children, or even feel parental motherly love for them.
As such was my dedication to my profession.
I gave it everything I had… and lost myself.
Excerpt from my ‘under construction’ book titled, “Just a Dispatcher: One 911 Dispatcher’s Journey Through Hell on Earth”.
"In 1995 I was hired as one of a class of 12 who began a two week rigorous in class training program to become a 911 emergency communications operator in a large Canadian city. Our trainers were two extremely smart, talented, highly articulate and experienced 911 communications operator III’s. They began the process of our training by telling us that not all of us would survive, that only the best would complete the training program and for those of us that did, it would merely be a first step towards proving our skills, knowledge and abilities as auxiliary call-takers.
They explained that we would then have to log 1100 hours before we would qualify to apply for a full time position, when/if one came available. If successful in attaining one of the coveted full time positions, this meant that we were trusted to become a part of the team and after a short period of settling in our radio training would commence to become dispatchers.
We were forewarned that very few select people are ever successful in getting through all of this, that it is not personal, but they fully expected at least half of us to fail. During the training we had regular written and practical exams and at each one we were required to achieve a minimum of 90%, those that did not achieve this high standard were relieved, permanently.
The program culminated in a full day of examinations both written and practical. This training program was very well developed and set at such a high standard that it was well known in the industry; so well-known that upon completion several of us were ‘head-hunted’ by other organizations with lofty offers and left. I however did not, I had seen the expertise, the willingness to go the extra mile, felt the pride in being employed by one of the organizations most highly regarded in the country for its excellence and I felt honoured to be a part of it. Mentored by the very best I strove to be as good as they are, as professional, as perfect in the performance of my duties as they are… to be one of them, one of the team. Respected.
Of my original training class of 12 new hires, only 10 of us survived the training program and I was the only one successful in achieving full time status. I completed 1100hrs in 13 months, was hired full time on my first attempt and then radio trained within 6 months. I was the only one left from my original training class after 5 years’ time had passed.
I have earned several letters of commendation, been promoted every time I applied for a new position and if not liked personally I was well respected on my team.
Well… I wasn’t there to make life-long friends and bosom buddies, I was there to work."
As a result of the incident on May 12, 2000 my marriage began to crumble. I was so angry that my husband did not and could not understand or show me any compassion for the trauma I had endured that it bled out all over our marriage and my ability to parent our two sons was seriously compromised.
I became isolated, not just at work where my co-workers avoided me but also at home… the one place where I was supposed to feel safe and supported – till death do us part. My marriage ended in 2002 and I had to take time off work due to the combined stress of trauma from work and the breakdown of my marriage.
During this time I began being treated by a psychiatrist and I stabilized on medication. I also went through the division of assets and set up of a shared parenting plan between myself and my soon to be ex-husband.
It was decided between my psychiatrist and my family physician that I was stable enough to return to work, that the medication for the PTSD was working and that the stressors from the demise of my marriage were resolved. For the most part this was true, upon reflecting back, my ex-husband and I did successfully share parenting and raise two wonderful, smart and compassionate sons.
Sure we had struggles over the years just as any two people with opposing views on parenting will have whether they are, were, or never will be in a marriage together. The only difference in our struggles was that I have PTSD and am triggered by many things; things that my ex-husband does not and will not try to understand, and that he is incapable of learning how to communicate effectively with me.
I know this sounds rather snotty, as if I am putting all of this responsibility on him and taking no responsibility for my own actions or ability to communicate, so let’s think about this another way:
An adult is in a car accident and breaks a leg. The leg is in a cast and crutches are necessary in order to hobble around. Would you expect that person to walk unaided? Carry a load of laundry? Go grocery shopping? How about expecting that person to go without medical care, to just heal without any treatment… no cast... no crutches. Would you berate that person for not just sucking it up and powering through it?
For you see, that is what my husband and my employer expected of me. It was expected that medication given to me by my doctors would fix me, and that it would solve not only the trauma but also the damage that the trauma did to my brain. Any doctor worth his/her salt will tell you that SSRI’s are not a cure for traumatic brain injury; SSRI’s are merely a cast and if you are lucky a set of crutches.
I was lucky, the SSRI’s were both cast and crutches for me and I was able to return to work, purchase my own townhouse and carry on in denial that there was anything wrong with my brain. Safe in the denial that other treatment was not necessary, and that given time it would all be just fine.
The anger I still felt, I was still so very angry, only meant to me that everyone around me was wrong. For you see, I was a 911 operator/dispatcher expected to be 100% perfect, 100% of the time… how could I possibly be wrong?
If I was ever wrong, not 100% perfect, then it could cost someone their life. This expectation of perfection very nearly cost me my own life.
Between 2003–2005, my career ended because I could not function as a human being due to being forced back into a position by my employer against my doctor’s orders. I was triggered by a current call on November 3, 2003 due to the injury that developed as a result of the May 12, 2000 traumatic incident and despite being medicated.
The trigger smashed through the cast and crutches that the medications provided. I was denied both an ambulance and the opportunity to go home after the trigger and I was forced to return into accommodated duties for the rest of my shift.
Hearing from my doctors that I should never return to working the 911 lines or dispatching ever again was devastating to me. It was my ‘bliss’, my heart and soul, my identity, my sole method of support, my life. I crashed, and by that I mean that it was head first into a really big brick wall that left me in a crumpled heap on the floor.
I began drinking… vodka.. and lots of it. I joined a church and prayed, supposedly found God and waited for my own redemption. It never came.
I argued with my psychiatrist about getting some other types of treatment, therapy, anything. We had several big arguments about it, but what it came down to is this;
My then psychiatrist believes that PTSD = a traumatic brain injury the same as if I had suffered a physical injury to my brain and therefore, no amount of therapy would fix it, it was permanent. I was to simply show up at his office once a month for a 10 minute appointment and get my prescriptions refilled.
That was it.
Medications and vodka were to be my life, for the rest of my life.
So, I made a plan. Sold my townhouse, took my kids on a fabulous vacation to Jamaica – blew shitloads of cash. Put my affairs in order, wrote a new will, and got drunk… really drunk and did some really stupid things.
One night I was so drunk that my upstairs neighbour called the cops, and the cops called an ambulance. The mix of booze and pills and stress… not a good combination.
Once sober the migraine hit me like a tonne of bricks all smacking me upside the right side of my head.
Off to the CT scan I went, they actually thought I might have a brain aneurysm because the pain was so intense. I actually hoped it was because then there would be a real physical issue that would either end my life or be repaired… either would have worked for me.
Results were negative and I was sent home, but before leaving the hospital the nurse suggested to me that water would be a better mix with my medications than whatever it was I had been drinking because I was severely dehydrated upon arrival.
The funny part about all of this… nobody asked me if I was suicidal. All I learned from this experience was to be quiet next time.
The next time was about a month later. I spent four days on my bathroom floor consuming alcohol and pills.. puking and passing out, sometimes at the same time. I was done, waiting for death to take me.
On the fourth day my cat Tomi (may he rest in peace) got really pushy with me, refusing to leave me alone because he was hungry. He had eaten all the food I left out for him, and I had fully expected to be dead by that point. I got up to feed him, no need for him to suffer, after all I truly felt that he was the only being in this world that gave a shit about me. Standing there watching Tomi gobble down his food,
I noticed that the sun was shining and the sky was blue. Realizing that I stank.. really badly… I went and had a shower, then sat outside in the sunshine.
On a crappy lawn chair at the end of my driveway, in shorts and t-shirt, wet hair, is where I decided to stay alive.
I realized then that as much as I love my cat, even though I treated him badly sometimes, he still loved me or at least wanted me around to feed him… and this was likely much how my two sons felt about me (in those days I did not treat them very well either).
I remembered the devastation in my family when my Uncle Sam ended his life, on my 13th birthday, and I decided that I was not going to do the same thing to my sons… not ever.
This was the first time in more than a year that I actually felt love for my children. I have realized since then that the medications I was on, the SSRI’s, were in my opinion the cause of the suicidal thoughts and the lack of loving feelings for my children.
Since stopping the medications, I have not felt these ways. I love my children with all my heart.
Daily I check in with myself, I reaffirm my loving feelings for my children and other friends and family members, even the ones that I don’t personally like…lol. I also reaffirm that I will stay alive each day, no matter what the day brings me it is my life and I do not have the desire to end it by my own hand.
Sometimes this means that all I can do in a day is breathe and eat a meal. This has to be okay because it is just the way it is… I have had to accept this.
Part of this is accepting that I have a permanent injury, that I am disabled. Several doctors and psychologists have now told me that they agree, I will likely never recover no matter how much treatment I receive and that this is due to the passage of time since the injury that I have gone without therapeutic treatment.
It sucks and brings tears to my eyes every time I say it, or type it, but there it is. I am disabled.
I don’t look disabled. I don’t require physical aids or a parking spot near the door, nor would I expect one. Unless you know what PTSD, anxiety or depression looks like you wouldn’t recognize it in seeing me walk down the street or shop in a store. Even then, on a good day it takes a practiced eye to see it, but on a bad day people just think I am weird or an angry unreasonable bitch.
Even those who know me and maybe care about me do not put two and two together.
When I have had a situation occur and after the fact am trying to make my amends and explain, I am regularly asked, “Well if you know this is what the problem is why don’t you just stop doing it?”
As if knowing means I can change the behavior that is caused by being triggered and ergo no more disability.
All that knowing means is that I can do my best to avoid the triggers. The response is automatic, caused by my broken autonomic nervous system and issues with cognition, it is broken and no amount of medication or treatment is going to fix it.
Most of my former peer and friend type relationships and many of my family relationships have ‘blown up’ at least once, and many are irreparable. I say irreparable not because I am not willing or unapologetic, but because the other persons involved do not want to understand, learn about my injury or how to communicate with me in my disabled state.
I have spent a good many years apologizing, automatically assuming that if there is a communication problem, or even a difference of opinion, that it is my fault. I spend a lot of time saying that I am sorry and taking the blame for whatever the issue is. Recently a dear friend of mine actually told me to stop it… lol… that my injury was not my fault and to stop accepting blame for being disabled.
This actually makes a lot of sense to me and I am working on it.
I attribute all of these losses to my mental health injury, not as an excuse but as a fact.
The Struggle. . . . .
I struggle every day, sometimes just to stay upright and do something, accomplish something, each and every day. Sometimes this means that my accomplishment for the day is eating 3 meals and taking a shower. Other days I can do more and when I am in a supportive environment I can flourish, and I don’t just mean for a day or a week but for an extended period of time.
For example: I attended university and although I required accommodation I successfully completed 3 degrees over the course of nine years. Yes, I had to withdraw a couple of semesters due to increased stressors in my personal life, i.e.: an unexpected death in the family. I did so in a responsible manner because I knew I could not keep up to the expected workload and successfully complete the course work. In the working world however, this would have only meant taking a week off to grieve just as any other person would require.
Yes, when asking for accommodation it was sometimes for deadline extensions to complete an assignment, but I knew about needing the extension when the assignment was given and in the working world this would mean asking for a later due date as well, not an unreasonable thing to ask for in managing your workload.
Now however the ‘battle’ is, you have a higher education = you cannot possibly be disabled. It’s as if because my disability is in my brain that means I must also be stupid, lacking intelligence. Potential employers view me as a liability because my disability is invisible to them and they are unable to trust that I will do my very best to work hard, to ask for accommodation when and where I need it and that I will not lie about it.
Finding employment as a disabled person is difficult, equally for those physically disabled and mentally disabled.
Real Lived Experience-Smashing Glass. . . . .
I do not remember the date, time of day or location other than it was a substantial jewellery store that was not in a mall and it was sometime before 2002. I received the call initially from the alarm company as an in progress armed robbery and the alarm company patched me through to the store.
A female employee was screaming incoherently and the sounds of smashing glass almost over powered her voice. The suspects where smashing the showcases full of jewellery. I could hear a lot of male voices yelling, women screaming, and smashing glass… then coughing and shrieking due to difficulty breathing began and someone screamed that the suspects were spraying pepper spray.
I know that I did everything I was supposed to do, and I know that we got there quickly but I do not remember if we caught the guys or not.
Now it is at least 15 years later and I am still triggered by the sounds of smashing glass and females screaming.
Place this trigger into real life and imagine sitting in a favorite restaurant full of people, busy waitresses dashing around with trays containing glassware and plates of food. Imagine a waitress stumbles and drops the tray of glassware and it smashes on the tile floor and she shrieks, everyone around her gasps and maybe the female manager comes out and starts yelling at her.
In the confusion, I get up and make a dash to the bathroom because I am coughing uncontrollably and am about to puke and lose control of my bladder at the same time (I know this, it has happened hundreds of times).
You sit there wondering if I am okay and what happened, maybe after 5 or 10 minutes you come to the bathroom to find out if I am okay. I am standing at the sink trying to clean puke off my sweater and hair and there is an old lady in there nattering at me… I end up being rude to her because she won’t shut up and grab my purse and leave for the safety/security of my car and thus you have to pay the bill.
You come outside and after I have controlled my breathing I apologize and try to hand you some cash for my share of the bill, you refuse… tell me not to worry about it, that your main concern is my health.
I can’t really talk about it because if I do the panic will return and start all over again, so I just leave and go home cancelling our afternoon plans.
Now, imagine that this happens again a few months later and again a month after that.
How long will it take for you to get ticked off and stop making plans with me because you think that I am just scamming you for free food?
Or maybe it’s because I was rude to the old lady in the bathroom and you don’t think there was any reason for that and I should be able to control my words, after all I am an adult right?
Does this mean that I should never go to a restaurant again?
How about if I list ALL of my triggers and explain where in my community these may happen… the list is longer than my arm. Are you willing to be a friend to someone who might have an issue every time you go out in public?
What about when she is triggered even in your home, or her own home?
The fact is this:
I can’t turn it off and on, it is permanent and goes with me everywhere I go.
Moral Injury. . . . .
We all have morals, we grow up learning our parent’s version of what is right and what is wrong. Some are based in a religious faith, others based in what our society has agreed is right or wrong = laws.
As we become adults we may change our learned morals, join or leave a religious faith and make our own decisions as to what societal laws we agree with or disagree with and we can work to change them.
One such moral that is based in religious faith, confirmed by societal law and that I personally hold dear is that I will not take the life of another human being. It is the reason why I decided to become a 911 operator instead of a police officer, because no matter what I could not actively take another life, not even to save my own.
On May 12, 2000 in the course of my duties as a 911 communications operator, my actions likely caused the death of a human being. I say likely because I have been unable to confirm/deny, but what I heard and the fact that I was unable to confirm either way leads me to believe that it is true.
I did not sign up for that, and am angry that it happened without my being able to make a decision in the moment . . . . .
I was not aware of the deadly actions that I was sending a person into… a person who did not want to go, who was rightly afraid of what might happen… and it did happen.
It is my fault. I wear the guilt for this every day and will for the rest of my life.
It is the source of my anger, doubly so because I was congratulated for my skill by my employer and the police department we provide service to.
Excuse my language here… but are you fucking kidding me?
Giving me an ‘Atta Girl' thank you letter because I killed someone?
I never received workers compensation for my injury.
Sanctuary Trauma - Organization denial or selective support . . . . .
We are starting to see in the media stories from first responders who have successfully received the support from their organizations and who are either receiving treatment, compensation or who have successfully returned to work. This is fabulous, but it is selective.
We are also still seeing first responders ending their lives, which tells us that they did not receive the support, treatment and compensation that they were entitled to receive in a timely manner.
Regardless of whether the first responder put his/her hand up and asked for help, those who did not receive it due to stigmatization within the organization are still failures of the organization. I say this with confidence because if an organization has done its due diligence, broken down the stigmatization within through education then there would be no issue for a first responder to put their hand up and say I need help.
Yes, I understand it is a process that takes time. But, how much time and how many first responders will lose their lives while organizations futz about?
This problem has been going on for 15 years from my experience and far longer for many others, i.e.: 1992 for a police officer that I know from Ontario.
There is simply no longer any excuse and failure to do so causes first responders to also suffer from Sanctuary Trauma.
First responders all work or volunteer for the government, be it municipal, provincial or federal. We are all helpers who have dedicated our lives to the service of our communities and nationally to our country.
We are highly trained, heavily screened, and placed into positions of trust and authority. Systems are in place for us to be compensated for our work (paid), for our health and wellbeing to be taken care of (medical/dental/extended benefits) and for our families to be supported in the event of injury or death (workers compensation, life insurance, pension plans etc.).
First responders agree to all of these systems that are in place for us when we agree to the terms and conditions of our employment.
When we are injured and our employer does not support us, stigmatizes us due to the nature of the injury, and either by denial of fact or by actively refusing to cooperate we are again injured by our employer. This is sanctuary trauma:
"The systems that we trust, our sanctuary, deny us the help we need and it causes our entire world view and sense of self to fall apart. Everything we knew and trusted to be true falls apart and is now false."
Need For Access To Treatment . . . . .
It is a fact that all first responders are exposed to traumatic incidents regularly in the course of their duties. Which traumatic incident will cause an injury is unknown, and for some it will never happen due to their own personal views, systems of support, personal resiliency etc. etc.
The kicker is, that nobody can predict who will and who will not be injured as a first responder, it can and does happen to the best, the strongest and the smartest.
For most first responders taking care of our physical health and fitness is a normal thing to do, a requirement of the job and even something mandatory i.e.: police stations and fire departments have physical fitness equipment for their first responders to use daily.
Why is it not also mandatory to take care of our mental health?
We all go to the doctor for a physical check-up once a year and for many first responders this is also a requirement of the job.
It would be SO EASY for an organization to make it mandatory for first responders to get a mental health check-up once a year as well. Simply put it into the contract, it is covered by extended health benefits and therefore would be of no extra cost to the employer.
This way every first responder, whether they like it or not, will have to establish a relationship with a mental health provider i.e.: psychiatrist, psychologist, or a registered clinical counselor – someone who specializes in first responder mental health.
There are LOTS of them out there and even if there isn’t one in a smaller community, if every first responder in that community has to see one… there soon will be one available, a current therapist in a small community will see the need and decide to specialize.
This way a relationship is established, one of trust, before a problem arises just like at a physician’s and therefore when a problem begins to develop then someone that the first responder trusts will be able to tell them AND treatment can begin right away.
I understand the concerns of first responders for privacy regarding their mental health – get over it, if you are not mentally healthy you have no business working at full status and ought to be accommodated into positions suitable for your health = if your mental health provider says that you ought to take a break from your job for some ongoing treatment then get off your high horse and do it, you are not infallible.
I also understand the need for an organization to be able to confirm the mental health status of a first responder if it is mandatory to be done, there is no need for a full report that invades the first responders privacy – a simple receipt showing payment for services rendered ought to be sufficient.
Barriers To Getting Help. . . . .
One of the biggest barriers to getting help is stigmatization both from the organization and from self. It’s as if we feel like having a mental health injury means we are lesser than or weak, not as good as our peers.
I have to tell you that I have done this battle with myself and still do it sometimes. The overcoming of this self-stigmatization for me is this:
I have earned a masters degree WHILE having a mental health injury = this is an achievement that many of my peers will never be able to achieve and they are mentally healthy or at least believe they are.
I am not lesser than or weak and neither are you.
The key is to have the will to persevere and you have to find it within yourself.
Perseverance does not mean that you will heal from a mental health injury, but what it does mean is that you will not give up.
Lack of support from your spouse, family and friends is another barrier. This is where early education about mental health and the need for support should be implemented within first responder training programs at colleges and universities, at the RCMP depot, etc.
Educating potential first responders about the reality of mental health impacts that occur on the job and the resiliency that can be built up within their private lives by the choices they make in a spouse and friends can make all the difference. I did not have the support from my spouse, my children were too little to be of much support and my family were uneducated about the realities of first responder work and mental health.
It has taken many years to span this educational divide and unfortunately for some of my family/friends refusal to learn has cost us our relationship.
Financial barriers are huge – once a first responder can no longer work due to a mental health injury they are then subject to the workers compensation system in their province. While attempting to get treatment they must simultaneously fight with compensation to prove that their injury is caused by their work (in provinces without presumptive legislation) and this can take years.
This ‘fight’ causes the sanctuary trauma and the first responder’s injury is increased, sometimes doubled.
While going through all of the above they have NO income.
Now I don’t know about your financial situation; but my personal finances ran out in about 6 months. Financial problems increase stress levels for the already injured first responder who has a traumatic STRESS injury and all of this reduces their ability to communicate effectively with worker’s compensation, causes problems even in the best of marriages, restricts their ability to seek out social supports or even treatment i.e.: benefits run out when not working and psychologists/therapists cost money.
So, even for the proactive first responder who has begun therapeutic treatment before waiting for worker’s compensation approval they will soon have to choose whether to feed their family and pay the mortgage or get treatment.
Workers compensation systems rely on this fact and take full advantage of it, i.e.: if a first responder goes back to work out of utter financial destitution then workers compensation will point the finger and say:
"Ah ha! See… this person was faking it."
Poor decision making – this is often a symptom of a stress related injury for first responders and is caused by many different things. For me is was the complete devastation of self, everything I believed in, and zero self-confidence combined with stress made me look for solutions that are the easiest and not necessarily the smartest.
Something like this:
It was easier in my mind to sell my townhouse so that once I was dead it wasn’t so difficult for the executor of my estate to dispose of my assets, plus it provided me with the means to have an actual vacation with my children – something positive for them to remember about me. In reality, the rate of my monthly mortgage payments were no different than paying rent for all these years except at this point I no longer have any equity to speak of. It was a rash decision in hindsight and one that I now regret making.
Another reason for my own poor decision making skills is because as a 911 operator everything you do is a decision that you have to make and every keystroke you make or word you utter on the recorded phone lines you are accountable for i.e.: are we going or not, if yes at what response level, asking all the necessary questions in order to make these decisions and basing them on the responses of someone who is highly stressed and may be incapable of being accurate.
As a result of my injury my internal systems of decision making are broken because I made a poor decision that cost someone their life – yes it all bleeds back to the moral injury.
If you remember from above, we are expected to be 100% perfect, 100% of the time – ergo how could I possibly make a poor decision?
It has taken many years to consciously realize this part of the problem, where it came from and to agree with myself to seek help with decision making and not to be humiliated by it.
I know now, after so many years of living with PTSD, that I cannot make split second decisions and I must actively seek help to make any financial decisions, especially the major ones.
Impact of Poverty. . . . .
Living in poverty is humiliating. Try explaining to your professor that the reason you had to skip his/her lecture is because you had to go and stand in line on the street at the food bank so that your children would have dinner tonight and lunches for school tomorrow.
For many first responders, addictions are also an issue, so when living in poverty what is more important – eating or smoking? A drink or new shoes for you child?
How about applying for welfare and when you get to the office to drop off paperwork the lady behind the counter, who knows you were a 911 operator/firefighter/police officer, asks you about volunteering your time at your child’s school – with the assumption that since you are not working that you have all the time in the world to do it?
Then the next time you go to your child’s school she is standing there in a group of women who are all looking at you with pity in their eyes and you know she gossiped.
Being poor while suffering from a mental health injury is extremely difficult i.e.: if you make a poor decision and buy ice cream so your kids can have a treat it may mean that you have to go without a meal or two.
I cannot count how many meals I have missed so that my children did not have to go without even regular food never mind ice cream. As a result I now have IBS and my blood work has actually shown several times that I was suffering from malnutrition – at the same time I have been unable to quit smoking cigarettes.
I still have and wear clothing that is older than my 27 year old child. Never mind style or fashion, I replace things only when they are completely worn out. The oxymoron here is that I still have a pair of eel skin Italian designer shoes that in 1986 I paid $395.00 for and wore once... I can’t even sell them for $5 and cannot afford to go anywhere that it would be appropriate to wear them.
When I do need clothing that is not sock/underwear, I shop in the online auction groups. While many do this for fun or to simply be frugal, I do it out of necessity.
My best buy is a pair of Calvin Klein stretchy jeans, they hardly look to have even been worn and I paid $10 for them. That is $10 worth of food I was willing to go without that month, ie: the need to cover my ass with something that doesn’t have holes in it was greater than the need to eat food for two days.
Presumption of Illness Legislation in BC: The Reality. . . . .
Stigmatization and 'Cover Your Butt/Budget At All Costs' runs rampant throughout our BC provincial government, WorkSafe BC, and first responder organizations. In order to fully understand this statement, please let me explain.
When a first responder is injured on the job, say breaks a leg, both the employer and WorkSafe BC know that this will fully heal and the first responder will return to work. It is clear that the physical injury occurred at work in the course of their duties. WorkSafe BC will instantly approve the claim and the employer will cooperate fully... both will participate in rehabilitation and a temporary accommodated return to full time work plan.
When that same first responder develops a mental health injury however, this is NOT what occurs. The onus of proving that the MH injury occurred at work is solely the responsibility of the First Responder - the one suffering from the MH injury. The very first step that WorkSafe BC will take is to advise the first responder that ALL their medical files and mental health information will be shared with their employer - this causes more than half to withdraw their claims fearing stigmatization, loss of their careers and poor treatment should they attempt to return to work.
Both the employer and WorkSafe BC will then elicit information from the first responder and utilize it to deny the claim... citing that something other than work caused the mental health injury.
Some employers will even lie, withhold information, and falsify documents in order to have the claim denied.
WorkSafe BC will lay the blame on the breakdown of a marriage, a death in the family, and even claim that the first responder is malingering. Any and all moves made by the first responder to help themselves via education, public speaking in support of first responders, and attempts at returning to the work force either with the original employer or a new employer will be viewed as the first responder is all better now, fully recovered.
It is incomprehensible to both the employer and WorkSafe BC that a first responder with a mental health injury can still have goals, receive accommodation from other sources in order to achieve these goals and have a life while still living with a MH injury.
Why you ask?
This brings us all back to the CYB - Cover Your Butt/Budget part of my above statement.
Government organizations and their Crown Corporations do NOT submit payments to WorkSafe BC like regular organizations do based on a per diem, i.e.: number of employees and type of work they perform, risk assessment basis. ALL costs paid out by WorkSafe BC for injured workers who are employed by Government and Crown Corporations are charged back to the organization directly dollar for dollar.
(Editor's Note: This may well have changed in British Columbia. However we in the survivor community to date see no evidence of abandonment of the practice to date.)
For a mental health injury, this could mean the lifetime of the first responder staying on the budget books of a Government or Crown Corporation = the cost of that first responders' injury will remain on the books even though that employee has been replaced.
If that first responder is determined to have a permanent disability and is pensioned out by WorkSafe BC, the costs of that pension through to retirement will also remain on the Government or Crown Corporation budget books until such time as the first responder reaches the age of retirement and is pensioned out.
BOTH the Government organization and WorkSafe BC know that mental health injuries are difficult to heal, if not impossible in some cases. Government organizations do NOT want a person with a mental health injury working, facing the public, and them facing the risks that either re-injury or an incident due to the MH injury may occur.
Stigmatization feeds this along with many violent and unpredictable matters involving persons with mental health issues are portrayed in the media.
It's a hot potato, first responder organizations pride themselves and are accountable to the public and legal systems for the behavior of their first responders... and so they should.
But they are doing so at the expense of their injured employee.
So rather than face all of the above, both will instead deny-deny-deny; shun-ignore- and push the first responder out/away in the hopes that it will never come back to bite them in the arse.
That the first responder will eventually find some other work or source of income other than them, and they do not care if that means the first responder lives on welfare or CPP-D, in abject poverty for the rest of their lives because their BUTT/BUDGET matters more than the health and well-being of the first responder.
Money and public approval matter more than a first responders life, health and well-being. It matters not that the first responder is a professional, was highly trained, screened, polygraphed, fingerprinted, background checks etc. in order to get hired in the first place.
It matters not that the Government spent years providing ongoing training and publicly congratulating the first responder for their professionalism and talents, their bravery and for saving the lives of hundreds of people...including themselves.
First responders are trusted, highly ethical and moral people...unless they have a mental health injury.
The Solution. . . . .
More than 30 days ago I sent an email to MLA Bains and I have yet to receive a response. I will believe it when I see it.
If you are a first responder or work in any profession that is regularly subjected to traumatic incidents please establish a relationship with a mental health professional NOW, before it is too late. YOUR life depends on it. YOU are no good to yourself or your family and friends if you are dead. Ending your own life is not the solution, it only passes the suffering on to those who love you.
Disclaimer: This blog submission forms a part of my knowledge and a part of my personal experiences, not all and not exclusively and should in no way be interpreted as being anything other than me sharing some of my experiences, knowledge, opinion and education with the reader.
I am a kind, compassionate easily empathetic person to those injured or marginalized (as I have been) and will never turn away or cause harm to someone seeking peer support.
For me being who and what I am, I will no longer apologize. It is who I am and what I have become due to chronic and complex PTSD, general anxiety disorder and major depression.
~ Rae-Lynne Dicks, MA
The Sanctuary Model: Dr. Sandra Bloom
"What is the Sanctuary Model? The Sanctuary Model® represents a theory-based, trauma-informed, trauma-responsive, evidence-supported, whole culture approach that has a clear and structured methodology for creating or changing an organizational culture."
~ Dr. Sandra Bloom
Disclaimer: These materials and resources are presented for educational purposes only. They are not a substitute for informed medical advice or training. Do not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem without consulting a qualified health or mental health care provider. If you have concerns, contact your health care provider, mental health professional, or your community health centre.
Darren Gregory © 2017. All Rights Reserved
Certified: Community & Workplace Trauma Educator Traumatology Institute.
Associate Member American Academy Of Experts In Traumatic Stress.