At the age of 25 you think you are invincible, that nothing can touch you. I was always a free spirited hippie soul with a love for helping others, and somehow I fell into my job as a 911 operator for the city of Fredericton at the age of 20. I absolutely loved every minute of it. Answering emergency calls and sending the help they needed. I was caring and compassionate and was not attaching myself to any of the calls. It was quite an experience. Honestly it felt like nothing bothered me, that I was capable of staying detached from those people but still care about each and everyone one of them.
Over time yes the job was wearing me down, I mean you can not go unscathed everyday listening to the worst day of people’s lives and get away untouched, but it wasn’t until a couple years later that I realized just how fragile life can be. In 2013, I worked on shift with a woman who was conniving, manipulative and well poison. She did everything in her power to make others look stupid, she picked on those who were “beneath” her, and she brought it to everyone’s attention if you made a mistake no matter how small or big. It defeat my self confidence but only because I let it. I developed shingles at least 2 times while on shift with her, because I always felt like my guard was up, and could never bring my nervous system out of the fight or flight response. Our job is already challenging enough without the added stress of someone who might be bipolar.
On June 4 2014, something terrible happened. I was at home, enjoying my 2nd day off when my husband woke me up at 5am. He told me 3 police officers in Moncton (my home town) had been shot and killed. I was ripped from my sleep and thought of my father automatically. He proceeded to tell me that he talked to my dad who was alright BUT he was still at work dealing with other issues. Well that was that, I was awake and there was no going back to sleep after that rude awakening. I turned on the television to the news and stayed in my bed all day just watching. The guy who killed these police officers was my age, but I did not know him. He was only 24 years old, why would he want to kill the people whose job is to serve and protect us? I wondered. The police had not apprehended him after the shooting. He was hiding in the woods near where the incident had occurred, just a few blocks away from where my mother lived. When she called to talk to me I got the feeling she was terrified of being alone. I called my husband at work and told him we were going to Moncton after his shift. For the next 8 hours I just stared at the television in disbelief, trying to understand why? The truth was I could never understand. I was not aware at the time, but the reason he decided to kill these police officers is because just before this all unfolded, his friend was killed by a cop. This was all for vengeance.
When my husband arrived home, we packed our bags and headed in the direction of Moncton. It was a 2 hour drive from my current home in Fredericton. My husband and I discussed our day on the drive and when we finally arrived close to the city it was complete stillness and silence. There was not a car on the road, and not a sound to be heard. It was the most eerie, earth shattering silence I had ever experienced. My heart started to race, and I could feel the tension in the entire city. We pulled into the driveway at my moms house and did not waste any time getting inside. Every so often you could hear the helicopters circling overhead, probably using there thermal camera to detect a person in the woods. When I let my dogs out just before bed, my entire body was on fire, my heart pounding, anxiety filled my entire being, and my mind was racing to all these different death scenarios. This lasted for months after. To say that I slept that night would be a gross overstatement, the helicopters circling overhead, and any sound at all kept me from my slumber.
When we woke up we found out that the killer was captured sometime during the evening of June 5 2014. Not only were all Moncton’s officers searching for this one guy, so were police officers from multiple agency’s across New Brunswick who came to help resolve the situation. There were many who thought for sure it was going to end in a shoot out, but thankfully it did not. He surrendered, gave up, and turned himself in. This whole situation began to stir something inside of me, that I did not even know existed. By the end of June I had developed shingles for a 3rd time, while working in Moncton to relieve their operators in order to get counseling and help for what they had to go through. One of them, a good friend of mine from College. We had been in the same class together, I found out she was working police dispatch the night of the incident. We heard a lot of rumors but one in particular was that while police were screaming for help on the radio, there was nothing she could do to help. She was unable to send in the ambulance for fear they would be shot as well, until other officers were able to contain the issue. It is the scariest thing in the world to be a dispatcher. You sit in a chair and sometimes have to make very hard decisions. Do I send the ambulance attendants in to help & get them killed or do they sit and wait it out until we can get them in there? Imagine you having to make that hard decision. Clearly I was thinking too much about the situation, attaching myself to people who were directly involved and making that connection of what if that had been me.
It hurt so much, I was filled with so much sadness and pain that my shield had now been put up, and all that hurt and pain was pushed way down deep inside. I returned to my normal duties. I worked until September of 2014 when I just could not hold in all that pain anymore. It was a call very similar to the one Moncton had received. We received a call for a man walking down the street with a rifle. I remember I took the original call, did all my duties as required, and when they arrived in the area and were unable to locate the individual I went to the bathroom and cried for at least 15-20 minutes. It brought back all the anxiety, the sadness and the fear that came with the original incident. I remember I became very angry for a good chunk of the time and I would become overwhelmed at the drop of a hat. One day I dispatched a call to an officer of a low priority and my Sergeant on shift became a little bit frustrated with me and said “87 (thats what they call dispatch), I requested to have that call held for alternate response.” He was giving a slight bit of attitude mostly because he was frustrated but unfortunately that did not matter much to me at the time, because it sent me into a crying fit. I was not able to stop. My Supervisor at the time told me to go home, so I did. I did not return to work for 2 months after that. I did a lot of yoga and walking to help with physical stress, but unfortunately the mental stress remained.
One day on my walk with the dogs, we saw a bear. I was so terrified we ran home. I stopped walking alone with my dogs after that. The reason being was because it initiated the same response as when I was at work, fight or flight. I knew I needed something, I could not go on living life this way thinking everything around me was trying to kill/hurt me all the time. This is when my Doctor suggested medication. I started Celexa, an anti depressant/ anti anxiety pill. It did help a bit to bring me out of my slump and provide me with enough juice to go back to work but only for a short while. I knew I needed something big, and this is when I found yoga to be the answer all along. I had been practicing for 3 years and before that I had been a cheerleader/gymnast in high school so I was pretty flexible and agile. I knew it would not be so much the physical but the spiritual that would help the most.
I told my husband I wanted to do a yoga teacher training because I knew it would help me develop tools for my well being. He told me if I was able to go back to work then he would give me the green light. I forced myself to go back to work, before I was ready in order to gain this experience. Before leaving, there were many issues. The first one being that they were not sure whether I could get the time off because 2 other people on my shift were off due to illness and pregnancy. It was giving me so much anxiety, that I said I don’t give a flying FUCK I am leaving and none of you will stop me. What can I say, I am a little dramatic.
In the end, I did go to Costa Rica for my yoga teacher training. It was the most healing month of my entire life. It filled me up with so much joy, and help me reset my entire body. This entire time however I was on medication. I truly believe I did not get the full experience of his true power because of that fact. Everyone felt a release while in Costa Rica. My roommate Manon cried one night at one of the practices, and I remember thinking wow, I wish I could let go just like that. It was impossible for me to feel that deeply at that time. I believe it inhibited me from truly letting go. Even though my heart was open to the wonders of the rain forest it did not enable me to stir up those deeply hidden emotions of turmoil, anger, sadness and fear.
When I returned after a month, I went back to work in the communications center I felt rejuvenated to some degree, enough that I could start back to work. November 2015 was when I decided to stop the medication (gradually) in order to deal with the issues still present. At this time I was at another training for Military, First Responders suffering from PTSD. It was very insightful and had lots of great information. Juliane one of my very best friends came with me to California to take the training. We were having so much fun, learning, shopping, and laughing. We did lots of yoga while there, and played on the beach too. I learned so much about my condition, and the physical way to help restore the nervous system back to rest and relaxation but until I deal with the mental reasons behind why it keeps returning I will never find peace.
Finally in 2016, Overwhelm took over. After being off the medication for about 6 months, and having more calls flood my memory, the sea of overwhelm returned and the undertow was pulling me down to the very bottom. This time I was put off work again, but work safe NB intervened. They got me a psychologist who officially diagnosed my condition as PTSD. Before being diagnosed however, I went to a PTSD healing retreat in Windom Texas, they provide you a safe environment, surrounded by nothing, to do yoga, breathing techniques, visualizations, meditations and mantras to help with the physical symptoms. They fill you with nourishing vegetarian food, that is tasty too, and explain how beneficial it is for your body to eat and sustain this way of eating. When you eat meat, it stays in your system between 24-36hours just resting there, as the toxins build and pass around the body, including in the mind. This causes the chemicals in the mind that fire for response to be slightly altered. When you hear the explanation from Acharya Schree however he explains it much better than I can.
I had been working on myself for 2 years to help find stability, but I never really processed all the events that have caused me trauma. It will be a long hard road of reliving trauma over and over again. Not only this incident, but childhood trauma, and all the calls that have left an imprint in my mind. It will be hard, draining, and I will want to quit and run away every step of the way, BUT I am determined to be better, no matter what it takes. I want to feel the hurt, the sadness, the anger if it allows me to let it go. Perhaps this will enable me to return to the job that I once loved, or perhaps I will begin again.