WELLBEING. Whats the big deal?
This section may not be for everyone. I have included a few details that might be upsetting. But It is to reach out to blue light responders people who might be experiencing wellbeing problems
The trip is a challenge I set myself during an episode of poor wellbeing. The medical people called it Post Traumatic Shock Disorder. Firstly, I agree with experts like Rosalind Townsend, it’s not a disorder, not to me. I broke my collarbone once. I never considered it a disorder. Well, I broke my wellbeing. It took me a long time to realise that what I went through was kind of a normal reaction. Most people couldn’t do what I have done, witnessed what I have. We are all wired differently, that makes us who we are. I was empathetic. Things bothered me. And this won’t surprise anyone who has worked in emergency response, but things don’t always go well. We can be just too late, equipment can malfunction, an address can be wrong, a car blocks access – a thousand reasons why the outcome was not what we wanted. Sometimes it’s hard to deal with. And lets just say there can be strategic errors that can be hard to accept.
I was one of the first fire fighters to attend an out of control 32 ton tipper truck crash on Lansdown lane, Bath in 2015. I thought I was resilient and immune. I thought I was mentally bulletproof, but everyone has a limit. Forty eight hours after the incident and no sleep I had to go to an evening drill at our central station, roof ladders. But I had to stand next to RTC car compound where all the smashed up cars were. I was suddenly overcome with flashbacks, even the sounds and the smells. Despite requesting it, I couldn’t be excused from the drill. My service didn’t have a policy on post traumatic care. I did the drill, but the seeds of a problem were sowed. Thankfully, things have changed. There are management policies, well being gardens and spaces. But for me it was too late. I was the “stand on a line and put your hand up if you had a problem” era.
I did over 20 years in the Fire Service. There were many distressing incidents. I summarise it like this, if you put all of what I witnessed into a short film, few could sit through it. They say sometimes the cup just gets full and starts to overflow. Don’t misjudge me, I signed up to deal with trauma, to give hope to people who were in dire need, to try and change outcomes. Lastly, to give people some dignity in their passing when their situation didn’t offer it.
The kayak trip will be the mirror image of my wellbeing struggle. It will be a journey of physical and mental effort. The hardest part of the trip will be first looking out to the horizon and realising that hundreds of miles of sometimes uncompromising coastline lie ahead. As with a mental health comparison there will be good and bad days. Great days when the weather is good, the tides and wind favourable and everything seems to go right. Long may that last. But, there will also be days of bad weather, strong winds, and equipment malfunctions. Like no matter what I do, everything goes against me. These days I will just have to overcome, to keep going.
All I can promise is that I’ll push off the beach and start the adventure. That will be success in itself. The hardest part of my well being journey was admitting a problem. Making that first phone call. One of my darkest days, though, was when two people I knew didn’t make that call. I think I understand a bit of the ‘why and how’ it could have happened, but I just wish it could have been different. The trip is for them and anyone who might suffer in the future.
I plan to post some thoughts on wellbeing at relevant points on the trip. Questions like “why I think I was affected”, “was I weak”. All the questions that you ask yourself and struggle to deal with. My thoughts, some may disagree but some might agree and realise it’s ok, and begin a conversation.
I would like to be clear though, I do not speak for the fire service or the people of the emergency services. My message is based on just my experiences. Most will process what they see and cope. But there will be a small few for whom there is a trigger that begins a reaction. And who can say what that will be, an incident involving a child, or someone the person knows. It could be anything, a single event or an accumulation. So my thoughts may be useful to just a few. That still makes the effort worthwhile
I think communication could be one of the key things which if I am being honest, I wasn’t good at. My attitude was to always be self reliant, endure, not burden other people. After the lorry incident it was about 3 years before I spoke to a professional, and then I don’t think I really listened. Even when I was facing a probable malignant melanoma I was keeping it to myself. This got hard to do because of the number of NHS letters that kept arriving, the ones with the big blue logo. I was doing it again, not talking. When I finally spoke about the cancer, it was like a weight had been lifted. All this writing and admission is for me to finally come clean and hope others learn from my mistakes. Communicate, and do it early. It’s so much easier if you don’t let problems build.
You might well ask, “what is in it for him”. Does he want his 30 seconds of fame? Want to show what a great guy he is. The simple answer is I made a promise to raise awareness and I want to help emergency workers. And yes, I also think it will be good for me. And no, I am not a great guy, just a bit of good and bad. Hopefully it will be a bit of redemption. To rediscover some of the old me. For over 20 years I did my best for people who experienced some form of tragedy. Sometimes there were happy endings, sometimes we made things a bit better and sometimes we couldn’t make a difference. It would be nice to end this chapter. Fingers crossed I will complete it, overcome a lot of stigmas. All this was never about being brave or tough, it was empathy. Just remember though, the success of this trip will be met by just starting it. After that it’s in the hands of the weather and a body that has seen better days.