Sleep…you magical creature. You make me feel so good when you are there, and so shitty when you turn your back on me. I would love to be able to put you in my pocket and pull you out when I am ready, but instead I feel like a slave to you…poor me, no sleep. I am such a drama queen when I am up late battling with insomnia!
Why can’t I sleep tonight is a question I have asked myself so many times over the last couple of months. For the last 10 years I could not sleep because I was working insane hours, sometimes I would work from 5:30pm until 7:00am and some days I would work from 2:45am until 5:00pm. Working those hours made my sleep deprivation make sense to me, but now I search for reasons on why I am still up while my family is asleep in their beds.
Here is a small truth…I suffer from PTSD. For 10 years I answered 911 calls and dispatched police officers and firefighters to locations. I listened to people take their last breaths and sat there feeling helpless while waiting for the medics to arrive. I listened to mom’s scream while I gave them CPR instructions to try and revive their baby. I listened to kids hide while their parents hit each other. I instructed people to go back to cars to see if the person involved in the crash really was dead. I instructed people to close their bedroom door while their house was on fire and just prayed that the firefighters would find them quickly. I have listened to one horrific thing after another, I have had to explain to people in their time of need that police officers were delayed or that the ambulance got a flat tire and there would be even longer of a delay while someone was trying to break into their home or while they were giving CPR instructions. It is a heartbreaking job and there are so many times of feeling helpless. Helpless because there is only so much you can do over the phone, helpless because the responders want the person on the other line to do one thing and the person on the phone is bawling because they cannot. Helpless because I could not magically zap myself to the person in need’s home and help take over chest compressions when they could not do it anymore. Helpless because the person told me one location and responders are yelling that no one is there. Helpless because anytime something goes wrong it falls back on the 911 calltaker or dispatcher. Now do not get me wrong, it is also a rewarding profession but the truth is PTSD is real and brutal for us.
I have been away from taking 911 calls for almost 4 months and I spend several nights a week woken up hearing cries, yells, cuss words, agonal breaths, or phone calls that ended really bad….most the time its just audible dreams, but it is real and it brings back the racing pulse, short breaths, and knots in my stomach.
I was once told (by a psychiatrist..) that a calltaker/dispatcher could not experience PTSD because they did not actually see what happened. Well to that I say bull shit. I know I am not alone in the insomnia, dreams, and anxiety that I experience. What I do know is that it takes a courageous person to work for 911, and in order to make it through the rigorous process a calltaker must be able to compartmentalize their own emotions and feelings about calls. I envision my brain as a bunch of suitcases and I shoved as much crap as I could in those suitcases….like I was sitting on those suitcases to get them closed after 10 years. My uneducated theory is now that I am not shoving more crap in suitcases that I am starting to release some of the stuff that was shoved away in all the compartments of these suitcases. I cannot say it feels great…I would prefer to stick all those suitcases in a giant landfill and set that landfill on fire. Yes, I would prefer to pollute the earth over dealing with this stuff anymore!
What now? I have no freaking clue! I have done therapy, I have done EMDR therapy also. It helped me with 2 specific incidents temporarily, but then my ego and short attention span took over and I stopped going. Yes, I may have that personality of “fix me now, or I am done”…that is all I use to have time for. Well that is how I use to think. If I could go back I would have made therapy as important as getting my eyebrows waxed (I am a French-Irish woman with a great ability for body hair)…I wish I had taken more care of my emotional side while I was working for 911. I could give a hundred excuses for why I did not go to therapy, but truth is it falls back on my ego. I did not want to be thought of as one of the “head cases” or “mentally unstable” or “weak” people by my coworkers. So my ego and persona were more important than my long term mental health.
Instead I yelled at my kids and my husband, cried at random times, and some days barely got myself out of bed. Instead I bottled it all up tighter and tighter as the years went by. This is not a normal way to live! It really isn’t, it is miserable….
So here I am 4 months post-911 career and scared to go to sleep because I do not want to hear some of the horrific things that I have heard in my career, I do not want to wake up with that helpless panic feeling because I already know the outcome of the call, I do not want to continue to relive it. So glad I did not continue with that help when I had health insurance (sarcasm here)…
To my friends that are answering the call of need; talk to someone, get professional help. While your coworkers are great listeners and great drinking companions they do not have the training of a mental health professional. Get the skills of how to open those suitcases and let stuff out so that you are not dealing with it late at night when you should be listening to an awesome thunderstorm. And, get out when you are ready to get out. It is an amazing job, but your sanity is the most important thing in this world.
Thank you to all that answer the call, you are the ones that keep the 911 system running.