In 1972, Jackson Browne collaborated with Glenn Frey to write the song Take It Easy. This iconic song was released on May 1st of that same year as The Eagles first single. I have probably listened to it hundreds of times, always getting lost in the Glenn Frey vocals and lead guitar of Bernie Leadon. However, the other day I heard something that I never took note of before: the banjo. It may seem odd that I want to start a blog post discussing an Eagles song, but it is the fine details that fascinate me. Now that I know this instrument is present- it provides greater depth and awareness to the little things. This got me thinking about self-care.
In June of 2016, I penned a post titled We Are Not Teflon. In that post, I raised the question about whether all we are exposed to as a 1st responder and/or peer supporter will stick to us (more specifically, our psyche). Unlike the coated Teflon pan, what we bear witness to, can or may “stick” with us- depending upon our level of resiliency and grounding as an individual. In that discussion, I made this call to action:
“It has always been my understanding that professional counselors and psychiatrists . . . need someone to talk and debrief with to cleanse and avoid trauma to their psyche. If they do it, why not us? . . .”
“I think it would be prudent to reach out and debrief with someone, even if it is just to say, “I am doing okay”.
I now want to take it one step further (or backwards) and talk about the little things that lead us to this check in.
In the 1st responder world, a common safety practice (that is ingrained early on during the academy) is to maintain a high degree of situational awareness at all emergency scenes, or “knowing what is going on around you” “Taking in the big picture”. This entails focusing on critical elements, using our senses, which allows us to hone in on mission-oriented success. If we do this at every emergency, then why not an examination of our own health and wellbeing?
For instance, maybe you had previously engaged the services of a behavioral health specialist and came to a successful “termination” of this professional relationship- and could readily engage with the demands of personal and occupational living. You began to move along as a 1st responder/peer support person when out of nowhere, you became weighed down. Things began to “stick” to your psyche once again. What did this feel like? Intellectually, you told yourself- “I got this, no problem”. Emotionally, it’s altogether a different story. Emotions: the little things that can make or break us. To maintain balance, we must get down to the heart of the matter by: recognizing the signals, identify the effect on the psyche, and create a game plan to support a lapse.
The following are potential signals that all may not be well:
- Extended period(s) of sadness
- Loss of sleep due to ruminating thoughts
- Overwhelming anxiety/fixation on future events
- Absorbing the negativity of local, national, or world events
- Feeling like a hamster on a wheel with no end in sight.
This is just a very short list to say the least, but never the less it provides a way to check in with yourself occasionally.
The next step is an examination of said emotions/feelings once they have been identified. Ask yourself “What do they feel like?” “What are they really doing to my overall wellbeing and psyche?” Keep in mind, it may be a spouse, family member, friend, or significant other that recognizes the changes before you do. It is all the better if you can recognize it in yourself.
The final step/question to ask yourself “What do I want to do with these emotions?” “Is this a lapse or relapse?” “Am I in the same or worse position than when I first began my healing journey?” We need to have a strategy in place to support us in the event we must cross this bridge. Here are a few ideas:
- Utilize the peer support system
- Contact a qualified behavioral health specialist
- Talk to a spiritual advisor
Speaking of strategies, this past February, while in Toronto, I met retired Ontario Provincial Police Officer Dan Bowers who created the First Eyes Proactive Mental Health Program. Dan offers a 6-hour workshop to 1st responders, their families, spouse, significant others, and friends. By the end of the day, all attendees will have a plan in place should they recognize changes in their public servant. It is called “First Eyes” because it is the stakeholders that live or interact with us every day, who will recognize the changes first. Currently, the program is available to residents of Canada.
I encouraged Dan to apply as a presenter at next month’s Rosecrance Symposium to bring his program to the States for consideration. Dan was accepted and will be speaking about the First Eyes (https://firsteyes.ca/) program on September 21st, 2017. Also speaking on that same day will be our own team members Matt Olson and Jada Hudson (Creating a Firefighter Peer Support Team), Leah Siwinski (There’s Life in Her Yet), and Colleen Murphy (Spouses and Families of First Responders).
I highly encourage anyone from the team who has not heard these speakers to do so. Go with the intention of picking up at least one take home (including CE) that will offer you guidance on your own healing journey. There is no shame or stigma attached to a lapse or relapse when it comes to your own wellbeing. Remember, we are not Teflon, and it is the little things that truly do matter. Until next time-
Here is Take It Easy- see if you can pick out the banjo.