by Jewel Leann Williams
I wrote a little while ago about courage, and how I had something I knew I needed to write about, but was afraid to.
Well, I started it.
Right now, it's not really Saturday. I'm writing at 4:30 am on a Wednesday morning. It's the 10 year anniversary of one of the worst and longest--and yet proudest--nights of my life. I was one of the dispatchers working when an officer responding to a homicide was shot and paralyzed after a pursuit with the suspect. I won't go into details because that's not the point.
What this has to do with my writing is that this incident is one of the many--we'll call them wounds to my soul for lack of a better term--that I received during my career as a 9-1-1 operator and police dispatcher.
I retired in 2011--okay, I took one of those severance packages that my city was offering everyone to tighten the budget belt, I didn't formally retire. The plan was that if my grandiose writing plans didn't work out, I would come back in a few years. I never went back.
In the past couple of years, and more this past year, I've been having nightmares, I'm hypervigilant, I am very, very irritable, and my poor kids can't go out in the front yard or jump off of things without me fearing for their lives. The realization that this wasn't just tiredness or getting too old to be chasing a two-year-old came when I was at lunch with my old boss, and we talked casually about me going back, or rather how I had decided I was not going back. Just the thought of returning had an effect on me. I had to get up and "refill my soda" to hide that I was sweating, my hands were shaking, and my heart was pounding through my blouse.
Later I started reading through all of my materials from when I was on the Critical Incident Stress Management team at my department.
It couldn't be.... but maybe it was? Was I suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
I toyed with the idea, and it explained a lot. It explained why I never saw my old friends from my work, even though I was very close with some of them. It explained a lot of my personality and mood changes. The inability to sleep, the nightmares, the irrational fears...
Something else happened a few months ago. A good friend who I'd worked with, was making some comments and posts on Facebook that led me to believe that she was also suffering PTSD symptoms. I asked her about it and we started a conversation about dispatchers and PTSD. We decided that we needed to do something to help.
I personally decided that this needed to be something I wrote about on my own website.
That's where we were when I wrote about courage. Why do I need to be brave?
Well, PTSD is a big deal. Many people think that it's just for people "out there" in the field, the thick of the battle. For me to suggest that dispatchers, 9-1-1 operators, could suffer from it as well, is insulting to some. There is research to back it up, but that isn't going to change feelings.
It's also sort of "crazy talk"-- I'm not crazy. I'm not going to do anything drastic, I'm not suicidal, and I would definitely say that what I'm dealing with is mild compared to most sufferers. I've not been to a psychologist--yet--that takes courage and great medical insurance, a little more of both than what I have right now. So I'm not necessarily saying that I am suffering from PTSD, but something is going on. And in retrospect, I can see how it goes on for a LOT of the dispatchers I've worked with over the years, in one form or another.
I also was trained in methods to mitigate the effects of the years of trauma. A lot of dispatchers aren't, not by a long shot.
The reason it's important for me to speak out is because there are dispatchers out there who think if they even entertain the thought that they might need help, they will be cast out, deemed as a sissy or crazy, and lose the respect of their coworkers in the dispatch center and on the road.
I'm away from that now, and I can point out places where I could've sought help and it would have changed my trajectory a little. Maybe they can do some of those little things and help themselves. Maybe it will start a conversation. Maybe I can help someone.
So, I am going to talk about dispatchers and PTSD on my webpage. I'm going to tell some stories, and say some things, that might stab at some sore spots. I might lose friends, because of how close to home some things might hit.
It scares me, but I'm doing it. I'm doing it in honor of that cocky 22 year old who thought "I speak Spanish, I can do this 9-1-1 thing," and then fell in love with the profession and never looked back. Until I did.
Anyway, my first post is here: http://www.jewelleannwilliams.com/uncategorized/longest-nights/