I spent 14 years as a dispatcher. I used to be impatient with people who would call 911 when they were having a panic attack and thought it was ridiculous we had to waste resources on “those people”. After suffering my own personal tragedy I became all too familiar with the beasts called anxiety and depression. I struggled to keep the beasts at bay but eventually “those people” became my people.
I began attending as many classes as I could find about Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) and started teaching classes to other departments about stress management. I got back into horses and even started volunteering at an equine therapy program for active duty military and veterans suffering from PTSD. I myself was diagnosed with PTSD and continued to see a therapist.
I tried yoga, meditation, religion, diet changes and anything else that was recommended. I thought I was doing everything right to manage my symptoms but, for some reason, they kept getting worse. It got to the point I couldn’t make it through a shift without breaking down in tears. I hid it from my co-workers even though I considered some of them close friends. I felt weak, ashamed… broken. A few days before Christmas, 2013, I left the building after my shift and never went back.
After a couple years off and much reflection (hindsight really is 20/20), I decided I wanted to use my journey as a warning for other first responders. I started working with my dad, who has over 45 years in the fire service, putting together a curriculum to teach resiliency in emergency services. In October of this year, we attended a conference called “Beyond Career Survival” put on by 1st Responder Conferences at the Criminal Justice Training Center in Burien, Washington.
We heard several of the speakers talk about having done EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) and how effective it had been for them. Progress was made quickly and the effects were lasting. I had first heard about EMDR when I was working with veterans but hadn’t done any research or known anyone who had done it. My curiosity was piqued so I asked my new therapist what she thought. Not only did she know all about EMDR but she herself had done it some years ago and referred me to the same clinician she had used.
I thought it was going to work like magic. You talk about what happened while you watch these lights flash across a screen then bata-bing bata-boom – you’re all better. Not exactly what happened. I don’t want to scare anyone off from trying this but it is difficult. You have to go back and pick scabs you’ve worked really hard to try to forget. But here I am, less than 2 months later, and I feel like a different person.
I can be happy without feeling guilty. I am enjoying this holiday season, which I usually dread. I sleep well, have energy and actually find enjoyment in my hobbies again! There is no one thing that works for everyone but there is something that will work for you. Keep pressing on and find your path back to a healthy you. I just got a call from Thurston County 911 and I am going back to dispatch starting in February.
– Story written by Erin McMicheal, Pierce County Fire Comm, 14 years on the job.