First, I had to admit that things were not going as well as would have liked. For me, that was the hardest part, admitting to myself that the job had gotten to me. Once I allowed the fact that the accumulation of everything I had experienced was sticking around in the dark recesses of my brain I was able to let go of the facade. Letting go started the healing process, had I continued to pretend that everything was hunky dory I would still be miserable.
I just wish I had admitted that I was getting beatenÂ down while I was still working.Â Denial is epidemic in the public safety world. We do not like to show vulnerability, even if only to ourselves. Putting on a brave face and acting as if the things we see are just another day at the office is no way to operate when our very lives are at stake.
EMT’s, cops and firefighters take their own lives at a disproportionate rate than the general public. I think the reason for that is our unwillingness to allow ourselves to be affected by what we see and do. We look up to the people who keep their cool, and never sweat, and don’t let things get to them. We act as if everything is just fine as we wash some poor souls blood from our hands, and get ready for the next one. We portray an image of calm while we are dying inside, and we don’t even know it.
To those of you still in the fight, you have my utmost respect. Please understand that the journey that you are participating in need not end in a miserable heap of stifled emotions. You don’t have to let anybody else know that you are a complex human being that bears witness to and are involuntarily troubled by horrific events, sickness, neglect and despair. We have no control over our emotions, they come at us full speed when we are doing the job. It’s what we do with those feelings that will dictate the rest of your career, and even more importantly, the rest of your life.
My advice; accept the fact that you are a human being with a limited capacity for handling the onslaught of emotions that accumulate as the hours, tours, days, weeks and years add up. When you have had your fill, recognize it, and give some of it to another human being. You will be amazed at how many people are willing to listen, and not judge.
Stay safe, people, we have a lot of living to do.