Caring for the ‘invisible wounds’: – A former Paramedic’s mission to help build Resilience in the lives of Emergency workers.

So, I have to admit – the last 3.5wks has been a bit like a rollercoaster. Highs, lows, still strapped in and wondering if someone’s going to come and let me off….and having several moments in my head of the “Oh Shit!!! Have I made the right choice?!!”

But I knew within my heart….that I had.
It had all started when I hit that ‘Enter’ button on my keyboard…one email to the boss – and I had finally said goodbye to a career of 14yrs and 9mths. Then again, it wasn’t really just a career….it was my life, my family that I had chosen, my heart and soul.
So here it was…my Facebook post to my friends, family and colleagues about why I finally resigned from my career as an Advanced Care Paramedic within the Qld Ambulance Service.

blog number 2 unless you've been there

https://dimcmath.wordpress.com/2015/02/10/unless-youve-been-there-you-wouldnt-understand-a-paramedics-farewell-to-the-job/

The main reason I posted it was in an attempt to prevent getting any of those ‘judgement looks’ anymore….the ones that scream out to me without saying a word…. “Why the hell are you giving up a good job?!!”
Because ‘Unless you’ve been there, you wouldn’t understand’  I would think in my head.

I knew that it was a healthy decision for me to leave. I knew the signs, and I didn’t want to end up ‘broken’ and ‘unfixable’. I actually give myself a pat on the back for knowing when enough was enough…..even if I am now swimming solo in the ‘owner business’ world and surrounded by uncertainty!!!
So…. I linked the blog onto my Facebook page, and then had several moments of contemplation “Do I? Don’t I?” “Are they going to think any less of me? What if I get judged now more than ever, after posting it?!!” But I just had this overwhelming feeling that I needed to spill my guts, blurt the words out and explain, because if I didn’t….it would continue to sit inside me and ‘fester’ forever.
So, I took a deep breath…..and thought of the quote:
‘Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter…and those who matter don’t mind.”
-Dr Seuss-
And hit ‘POST’.
…….then I cried.
I just said thank you and goodbye to an awesome chapter in my life. I was allowed to cry….after all, it was like ending a relationship! Probably one that I’d hung on too long with, (I was never any good at ending those either- so no wonder it took me months and months to create the courage! Ha ha) but nonetheless!
The crying didn’t last too long – I said to myself “Ok, it’s not like you’re never going to see your mates again. You’ve closed the chapter, it was a great one – now get your shit together and keep looking forward to the next chapter!”
So I took a deep breath, and started getting on with my day.
Ding.
Ding.
One after another, I was getting notifications that my friends/family were leaving lovely messages on my post.
Then – I started noticing something.
The blog was getting ‘shared’….and not just around my mates.
Wow. Really? – I was thinking.
Turns out, my deepest thoughts and raw feelings about my last few years as an ‘Ambo’ – resonated with so many others within health organisations and emergency services around the world.
I think it surprised me as much as it surprised everyone reading it.
I was speechless.
Dumbfounded at the thought that just by ‘being honest’….it obviously struck a chord with others. There was obviously others struggling out there.
Then poured in the emails, Facebook messages and comments on the actual blog.
People were saying ‘Thank you!’……surprisingly – this still confused me. “Thank you?” I thought. “What for?” – But as I read on, message after message – it was quickly sinking in to me, that my thoughts and feelings were not ‘just mine’.
Even family members of emergency service workers – thanking me for sharing my story, because they now “Get it”.
And then, a few days later….the unthinkable happened.
Whilst on my way out to dinner, my phone began ringing through Bluetooth in the car.
At the other end of the phone, was the sombre voice of my best mate in the service…..
”Have you read my message buddy?
“No – I heard it come through, but I’m driving….what was it?”
“An ambo in the states posted your blog onto her page,
……..and then suicided.”
And just in that moment……………I think my heart stopped momentarily.
My foot came off the accelerator and I started to pull over.
Suddenly that awful feeling in the pit of my stomach when I was told on those few occasions….of people I cared about – ‘gone’.
And then…as quick as those feeling entered my body, the next feeling came over like a tidal wave.
The guilt.

blog number 2 picture of crying
Did I do this? Were my words too honest, and caused her too much more pain?

Then, reading a posts from other websites, I learnt of some of the immediate details prior to her passing.
Now, I didn’t know her– and out of respect for her loved ones – I will not post any details, but after reading so many posts from people who obviously did know her…..she sounded like she truly was an ‘angel on earth’. A dedicated officer, and a big advocate for helping other staff members.
So, – like so many others have suggested to me since…..

”Maybe I was her voice?”
Maybe…..
There can be so many ‘maybes’ and ‘what ifs’….but she will be the only one that will truly know what led her to that fatal and devastating decision that day.
But one thing is for sure.
Her death was not in vain.
And to all of those who in the past –who have fallen at the hands of their dreaded demons….
Their death was not in vain either.
**My deepest condolences to loved ones, friends, colleagues, and wider community during this latest public tragedy within ‘our Emergency Services family’. **
XOX

blog number 2 love heart water droplet

‘May your tears of sorrow, unite to create a sea of love and strength amongst those who need it most.’

Emergency workers (and I include all Police/Fire/Ambulance/SES/Armed forces/Health Professionals) have their own culture…
They are ‘family’…and I’d like to believe that families stick together.
Families may have their ups and downs and bitter disputes, but as a ‘family’….when someone is sick, injured or in need of help – they come together and are there for each other.
As the spotlight shines bright once again on this issue in the Emergency Services across the globe,
my hope is for one thing….
That all past, present and future staff – will ‘UNITE’– together as a ‘family’…..and make sure that
WE WILL ALWAYS BE THERE FOR EACH OTHER.
If you fall over and cut yourself, – there are visible wounds.
However, the emotional and mental scars that exposure can cause (and I won’t say ‘overexposure’ – because it’s different for everyone) ….can often go unnoticed by colleagues/friends/family. It can commonly be hidden (or even brushed off by the victim – for fear of feeling ‘weak’ or other various reasons) and sadly can be a lot harder to treat than visible wounds. Then there’s the issue of if they are actually noticed by anyone.
They are the ‘Invisible Wounds’.

IMG_0241

If YOU or anyone you know – are struggling with ANY issues…..please – take some advice:
1. Stick your hand up.
PLEASE!!!
If you don’t feel like you can speak the words….then have a ‘CODEWORD’ with a mate. A word that….if either of you were to say it – that the other will just know – that you’re NOT OK.
You could even make yourselves some RED and YELLOW cards. Like in soccer (Football – for my UK friends). So that if you get to the point where you feel like you need to ‘off load’ something – or take some time out…..you can just hold up your yellow card without having to say a word.

Blog number 2 pictures

Because I’ve been there, and sometimes the first step can feel like it’s not a step at all – but more like a giant leap across the Grand Canyon!

But you’re not alone.

You’re never alone.

We are all there to support each other, and there is professional help only a phone call away.

Hopefully – when the time comes to hold up your ‘Red’ card…the decision is yours, and it’s a healthy and happy one, and it’s not because you are broken beyond easy repair.
And I mean ANY issue that’s causing you stress….because let’s face it – it’s not only what you see in the job that can take its toll on people. Relationships, finances, health (your own and/or others close to you), career, ANYTHING at all – can cause an overflow of stress and pressure onto other areas of your life.
Put your hand up!
…..please put your hand up!
When a swimmer needs help out in the ocean…..what do they do?!!!

blog number 2 picture of sticking your hand up

They put their hand up!!
So ‘put your hand up’….you’ll be relieved you did.

I am also suggesting that – as a ‘united family’….we make a slight shift in the way we have been looking at things, in an attempt to make a BIG positive shift in the outcomes.

An example of what I mean by that is:
Mother Teresa wasn’t ‘anti-war’….she was ‘pro-peace!’
She said:

Blog number 2 pictures Mother teresa

It makes sense right?
I mean – whatever you focus on….you tend to get more of, right?

So, what if we were to focus on building staff ‘Resilience’? – As opposed to putting the words out there of: preventing suicide?
I’m not only talking about ‘preparing them for the jobs that they will see, hear, smell, or experience in any way (even it be through hearing it from others around them). Because there is obviously still research that needs to be undertaken. The Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health guidelines state that:

Research Recommendations:  ‘There is an urgent need for carefully controlled research to study the content and possible benefits of preparedness training prior to trauma exposure .’

http://guidelines.acpmh.unimelb.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/851489/ACPMH_Full_ASD_PTSD_Guidelines.pdf

I’m talking about building resilience in general.

We all have a range of categories in our life- and if the scales aren’t balanced in one, it can have a catastrophic flow on effect to the rest.

Because when you think about it….if you know anything about defensive driving, if you focus on hitting the pole (when you’ve lost control), where are you most likely to end up?! – that’s right….hitting the pole!
Yet, if you focus on where it is that you want to go, then you are more likely to go there!
‘Where your focus goes…..energy flows’
-Anthony Robbins-

So, if we think of it as like exercising our ‘Resilience muscle’ (metaphorically, – obviously!)– so that it becomes stronger and more of a natural habit to respond with…. Then when an event happens in our life (work/health/relationships/finances – anything), we are more likely to know what to focus on – to get us on the path to a happier/healthier mind.
By putting systems in place such as things like: mandatory ‘therapy/counselling/emotional ‘dumping’….(whatever you want to call it) throughout your career, then we’d possibly be preventing staff suicides anyway wouldn’t we?
And I say mandatory so that it takes away that pressure of having to make that ‘sometimes difficult decision’ when something is given as an option. You know…like when someone might feel like they want to go to something – but they are worried about what other people might think of them if they do?
Isn’t it interesting that as adults…..this still occurs?!
And don’t get me wrong…..I would love nothing more than to be able to read a research article when I’m 80yrs old, telling me that statistics have shown that there has never been any suicides amongst the emergency services wider community since early 2015.

Because after losing friends/colleagues in the service, and a family member – I’m quite aware of how it feels to have lost someone this way.
I just think it might be helpful to change our perspective on how we try to prevent it.
So -here’s an example of what I’m trying to say….
Imagine that your life was represented by you being the driver of your own truck.

blog number 2 picture of a truck

Now that truck you are driving –picks up your emotional baggage along your journey of life.

blog number 2 picture of an overloaded truck

The chances of your truck becoming dangerously overloaded, and potentially ‘detrimental to your quality of life’ – are pretty real, if you don’t have sensible ways to offload some of that baggage.
You may CRASH at some stage, if you aren’t sensible with the ‘load’ that you are carrying.

So, if I can leave you with a message for today it would be this:

1. Take note of your current reality.

See your life as a whole. Is any particular area ‘weighing you down’ with its baggage?
See it exactly how it is. Take each category one by one – don’t try and look at it all as ONE …there are several areas of our lives. (Eg: don’t try to eat the pie whole – cut it into slices, to make it more manageable).
Because often we just feel so ‘overwhelmed’ that everything just seems to feel like BLAAUURRRLLGH! (a big mess that you have trouble even visualising or expressing!)
So – does it feel a bit out of control?

If so….

2. Stick your hand up for help / or ‘raise your yellow card’

Help is ALWAYS available.
A friend, a colleague, a family member, a counsellor, your boss, a church member…..literally anyone can be a sounding board for you – and if they don’t know how to help….then they will probably be in the right frame of mind to find someone who does.
You are never alone.

3. Notice who you are spending your time with

There is a well-known saying (and probably research done somewhere) that;

‘We become, who we spend time with’

So notice what type of people they are! Are they whingers, whiners, negative, self-absorbed type people? You know….the type that leave you not feeling very uplifted when you leave their presence?
OR
Are they light-hearted, fun to be around, always happy/smiling, positive people….who leave you feeling light and uplifted when you leave their presence?

4.  Start an attitude of gratitude

Every day, set aside 5mins (at the same time every day) – and write down at least 3 things that you can be grateful for.  Make it specific. The more often you take the time to make your mind search for things that you have in your life to be grateful for…the more often it will naturally gravitate to looking for the wonderful things in life. It’s the little things in life that you look back on – and realise that they were actually the big things!

There is plenty more steps to take….but at least here is a start, and I hope it helps. .
So, it doesn’t matter if you are 20yrs out of the job,

if you’re still in it after 20yrs ,

or just beginning your career…

– we are all family.
My promise to you is – that now as a ‘former Paramedic’, I will not only be there to support – but I will do whatever I can to help support staff in creating and maintaining healthy ‘mindsets’.

Stay safe out there – and always look after yourself first.

xox

Various pics off Camera downloaded 2013 009

Di McMath is a qualified Life Coach and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) Practitioner and Author, who has a passion to help educate others on how to live their best lives.
Having founded ‘Platinum Potential’, she now conducts workshops that help to ‘maintain healthy mindsets’ through various coaching and NLP techniques. With her ‘Emergency Services’ background, she has a keen interest to enrich the lives of emergency personnel through building resilience via her inspirational coaching and compassion.

Di has just released her first book – and it’s become an ‘Amazon.com Number 1 Best Seller’!

amazon best seller

‘ICEBREAKERS: How to empower, inspire and motivate your team through step-by-step activities that boost confidence, resilience and create happier individuals.’

Website: www.platinumpotential.com.au

Email: di@platinumpotential.com.au

Facebook: www.facebook.com/platinumpotential  & http://www.facebook.com/icebreakersbook

28 thoughts on “Caring for the ‘invisible wounds’: – A former Paramedic’s mission to help build Resilience in the lives of Emergency workers.

    • I am one of Her family members. I found your blog very enlightening. She wasn’t suicidal. She was making plans for her future after retirement. She had plans for the next weekend, for the next week, for the coming summer. Then 2 EMT calls later something snapped.

      We figured your FB posting she shared was her suicide note because no other note was left. We figured she used your posting to tell her co-workers to Wake Up & do something before it was too late for them, too.

      Thank you for your post.

      Like

      • Dale, my heartfelt condolences to you and your family during this sad and tragic time. She sounded like such an amazing woman, with such a big heart to help others. I have no words…. please just know you are all in my thoughts. Thank you for your message. xx

        Like

  1. I have read your words & I must say they are my feelings also, as a former paramedic that left the job in December 2014 after 26 years, you have put down my feelings. I also have found that taking that final step one of the hardest things to do, as after the time I had spent in the job I had feelings of deserting my family ( you know what I mean ) but it was a disusion I had to take.

    Thank you

    Like

  2. Feeling it with you….. 20 years….. I LOVED the “Ünless you’ve been there, you wouldn’t understand” It describes a Paramedic perfectly. It made me cry… but it did make me realise that I was not alone, different or unique. There are a world of others out there who do understand.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great article! I’m a Paramedic aswell. My passion these days is helping frontline workers increase resistance. My hope is to eradicate suicide amongst Helping Professionals.
    Thanks for sharing your story.
    Sandy

    Like

  4. Well Di i didnt know you had left and congrats on realising enough is enough that was one of the reasons i stepped down to do mainly Patient transport as i realised similar ideas, i too had enough and needed time out so to speak, good luck in the future

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this. My SO and his mother are both in EMS and I in Heath care as an RN. I am so glad to see that I am not the only one who struggles with the many ” side effects” that come along with being in an EMS family, you all sacrifice your time with your personal family to save the lives of others, and in the long run that takes toll on your marriage, relationship with your children, and so on. I’m so glad to see that I’m not alone in feeling/dealing with this. Thank you again for this wonderful post.

    Like

  6. Thank you for sharing what we all feel. I retired last May with 29 years, and most of my sanity.
    I think the thing that kept me emotionally healthy was a great counselor, and wonderful co-workers. You have to know when to ask for help. Our profession tends to try to “blow things over” instead of dealing with them. I hope when others read this article they realize that it’s okay to ask for help, and yes to walk away when It gets to be too much.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. After an almost 9 year Paramedic career, I took a few weeks off work after an incident while employed with QAS. Their 7 page response to my work cover claim saw my resignation on their desk 48hours later. As an organisation, they showed their true colours and lack of respect to their own members. They never once called me to ask “are you ok”. The only response I received was “We received your resignation…” – It broke my heart, but I’ve never looked back.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Di, I am one of the many across the globe who have read your posts and “get it.” I’ve been there for the last ten years and I occasionally consider looking for another line of work for exactly the same reasons you did. I want to say thank you for writing your farewell post. I know you never intended it to go viral but the beauty of it is that we all have the same struggles no matter where we work. Across the world, we are all one and the same… A family. We all struggle with the things we have to see and handle and without a pressure relief valve, sometimes people snap. The upside is that finally in 2015, the momentum in the fire/police/EMS field is beginning to surge towards admitting these struggles and publicly fighting to help each other rise above the deep dark times. We are not out of the woods but with posts like yours and many others, we as a profession are finally admitting that we are not alone in these feelings. The first and hardest step is just speaking up. So again, I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. Keep up the good fight and as we say here in the states, KTF and RFB. Keep the Faith and Remember Fallen Brothers/Sisters.

    Jason from Texas

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you for sharing your story. I have a “battle buddy ” our code word is “ledge “. I pray for this family of ours that each one of us can find someone to reach out to at that overwhelming moment.

    Like

    • My thoughts go out to you, your colleagues and all loved ones affected. I’m working on a programme that can hopefully be implemented throughout all emergency services – to help build resilience. Obviously not soon enough…but I hope it can make a positive difference in the lives of our emergency workers. Sending you all strength. xox

      Like

  10. I wish I were brave enough. I really do. I have tried repeatedly, nothing else pans out, and oddly enough, nothing else pays as well. I saw a movie once that had a line in it where the main character said “You have to be willing to die, to even do the job.” I never minded the idea of dying in it, it’s dying from it that bothers me.

    Like

  11. WOW! It’s almost as if you saw my life through your eyes. Your words were the unspoken words that I didn’t have the strength to say. 32 amazing years in EMS has taken its toll on me. Having that said, I wouldn’t change a thing. I feel it is time to turn the page In my life to a new chapter. That is the hardest thing I have ever done…. But it’s time. I am emotional spent!

    Like

  12. Hi, I just read this just now and can I just say THANK YOU!! Finally someone within the service opening up!! Telling it like it is.
    I,myself, am not a paramedic but in fact a daughter of one. My dad is my hero and always will be!
    However a few years ago he decided enough was enough and tried to commit suicide( not only due to work but family issues also). He left a letter and went up the hills. Thankfully he came to his senses but by this point he had pneumonia and was confused, therefore couldn’t find his way home. We are lucky as he was found and brought to hospital but his temperature was so low he had to be put in an induced coma. Days passed but thankfully he was ok.
    This was not the end though as a few of his so called peers left him ‘high and dry’ didn’t go near him for the fear – he may do something stupid’ and the depression came back to the point he couldn’t speak and still has a huge effect on his mental well being (Eventually after long term sick he was dismissed from the service). He will go days where he can’t physically get out of bed and the ambulance service didn’t help him in the slightest. I didn’t realise how bad it was until recently as he has begun to open up to me a bit more. He was in a really bad place and like I said people who had known him for years, who knew him well, began to act differently around him as if depression could be caught.

    The main point I’m trying to get across is that even within the ambulance service mental illness has a stigmatism attached to it. Thank you so much for opening up and hopefully a few of the people who knew my dad will realise what he was going through alone- with no help, and begin to recognise the signs so this does not happen again. I just wish there was other ways to make what you all have to go through wider knowledge as I wish I had known before my dad became Ill.

    Thanks again it means a lot! X

    Like

  13. Thank you so much for posting this. I read this in the summer, and have thought about you and this post often. You have given me the inspiration to write my own story, and am considering leaving job i love as well. Your post has resonated so strongly with me as a mother and paramedic.

    Like

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