The Journey Continues

I’m still here.

I know I’ve been M.I.A. for a little bit, but I had to step back from writing and focus on my mental health and sanity. Basically, I’ve been working at Anderson County Dispatch for almost three years now and each time I have sat down to write in the last year or more it has been too difficult to form the words on the page. Part of it was the stress that writing brought through my job. Part of it has been the fear of not saying the right thing that I am feeling. The truth.

I’m going to be completely honest: Dispatching is hard. While it may not be physically difficult, it has been spiritually and emotionally draining. Dispatching is like being on an active disaster response every single day you walk into work.

Years ago, I walked into the Volunteer Reception Center in Joplin, MO about 24 hours after a EF-5 tornado ripped through the city and found myself sitting alongside survivors, listening to their stories of that night. As we worked alongside one another to input volunteer information into a database, I listened to the heart-wrenching stories of destruction, loss, and survival.

It took me months to come to terms with what I heard that evening and over the next two weeks in Joplin. It was weeks before I was able to talk about it with my teammates who witnessed the same experiences, the same sights, sounds, and smells.

Now take that experience and apply it to every night that I put on the headset.

People talk about Dispatchers (my official title is Telecommunicator) as secretaries. We have been told that we are not first responders, that monkeys could do our jobs. But we are so much more than that.

I’ve been cursed out more times than I can count. I’ve stopped keeping count of how many times I’ve walked someone through CPR. When I have that headset on, I know that one mistake could mean someone’s life or death.

All that stress builds up. All that stress weighs you down. And no matter how much you try to leave work at work, it follows you home and you wake up in the middle of the day (because you work night shift) in cold sweats because you can’t stop thinking about that voice on the other end of the line.

You wake up questioning if there was more you could have done or said to bring a better end to the call that will haunt you for the rest of your life.

Each night we sit down and answer call after call, not knowing what will come next. We send out our officers and paramedics and firefighters with what little information we have and we are expected to know exactly what is going on without being there. We disconnect with one caller, just to have the phone ring again. And without ever knowing how things turn out, we do it all again. And again. And again. Until our 12 hour shift is over and we return home, thinking about everything we could have done different.

Over the past three years I have struggled, asking myself if there was anything more that I could have done. I find myself lying in bed for hours wondering if things would have turned out differently if I did something different.

But I go back to something that someone on staff asked me after I returned from the wreckage of Joplin, when I struggled with that same question: In the moment, did you do your best? As long as you are confident that you did the best work that you were capable of in that moment, the doubt you feel is fear of things that could have been different, that may be different next time.

I do not doubt that I’ve made a difference in someones life over the past three years as a dispatcher. I know that my actions have changed, even saved lives. I do not doubt that.

But this season as a dispatcher in Anderson has come to an end.

Soon, I will be setting off on a new adventure. I will continue dispatching, but I will be heading down south (further south than South Carolina?!) to dispatch for the Antarctic Fire Department at McMurdo Research Station for the Summer Season.

And while I will miss the family of dispatchers that is Bravo Shift, I will not miss the stress that comes with dispatching here in Anderson!

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The Struggle of Joy

I thought it was fear that was holding me back from writing, but recently I discovered something that was lost many months ago. I had convinced myself that I was afraid to put pen to paper or to sit down with my laptop and put words down on the page. That I was too anxious to focus on writing.

So I put them aside to pursue other passions and even though I continued to tell myself that I would come back to them, I left the words unspoken. I allowed the empty page to remain unfilled. Instead, I focused on drawings. On tablet weaving. On costuming. On biking. And photography. And community. And storytelling.

But I let the page remain empty.

There was a time when I could sit down and pour out my soul through these words, like a spring emerging from the ground. I was able to let the words flow, allowing myself to process everything that I have felt and experienced. But over the past two years, that river has seemed to dry up. And for the longest time, I thought it was fear that was holding me back from forming these words.

And while I have enjoyed these other pursuits and adventures, I keep on coming back to writing. Or at least staring at a blank page.

I have come to discover that it was never fear that kept me from writing, but a deeper emptiness that has been yearning to be filled once again. It was joy. More specifically, the lack of joy that I felt as I sat down to put words onto the page.

I think part of it is my job as a dispatcher, but I also know that this is an excuse. Perhaps I’ve been avoiding sharing because I don’t know what to say, but I know this is an excuse as well.

What I’ve come to realize is that there was a time when writing made me happy. It brought me joy. It made me smile. And I find myself struggling for words now because the joy that the words once brought has become a battle for survival.

Don’t get me wrong, the joy is still there (or here?), it’s just more difficult to discover.

I still enjoy writing. I still like putting words onto the page. It just takes me longer to process the lines and marks that fill the blank space.

I recently had someone ask me how I can remain so happy and joyful after I hear and witness everything that happens over the phone and radio at work. There are times when the darkness of the world seems like it is pressing in on me, but still I smile. There are times when it feels like the walls are crumbling down around me, but yet, I still see light in the darkness.

I’ve come to understand that the moments in which we live can cause us to be happy or sad, they can bring us to our knees or lift us up to our feet, or cause pleasure or pain. But despite all that, no matter what, I have the choice to live a life of joy or sorrow.

And I have chosen joy. And hope. And love.

I can smile through the pain and focus on the light because my faith has given me strength to live life to the fullest. I can stand after the weight of a soul crushing call knocks me down because my God has already given me victory.

And when it becomes difficult to write and to process everything, I know that nothing that I do can ever overcome the struggle, but I don’t have to, because my relationship with my God has already given me joy in the process.

I’ve come to realize in the past couple days that, while I struggle to find the words to put on the page, nothing can change the joy that the process has allowed me to discover once again.

We tend to think that life should be easy. We expect to be given the prize without the fight. We don’t want to get our hands dirty or be bloodied in the fight. But it is the struggle that teaches us so much about the mercy and majesty of our Father in heaven.

This is where I find myself with writing.

Perhaps one day it’ll be easier as it once was, but until then, I will continue to smile through the struggle.

The Struggle of Writing

I haven’t written for a while because writing has become difficult. I sit here staring at the blank screen and so many words pass by, but so few have been captured by the key strokes or the pen.

It has become a challenge because every night that I go into work, I sit and I type away trying to capture the worst moments of peoples lives. I listen to their fears and as they cry and plead for hope, it is my job to document. To type. To write. To gather information and make sure it gets passed on.

What is the location of your emergency? What is your phone number? What is your name? Can you tell me exactly what has happened? Are there any weapons involved? Do you need medical attention? Are there any drugs or alcohol involved? Which direction did they go? Can I get a description of that individual? The vehicle?

These are the questions that echo onto the page every time I try to write.

I am haunted by the stories that I hear every night. It’s the voices that I cannot escape, even after a week away from the headset.

And yet, here I am writing. It is a struggle to form the words that I type. It is difficult, but we persevere.

Today, I made a conscience choice to write. To choose to use words. To express a struggle. Instead of keeping it hidden in my thoughts.

And honestly, that’s all that I can do at this point. Sometimes that’s all that we can do, put one step in front of the other and make the conscience choice to move forward.

Taboo

I’m about to write something that is difficult for me to put into words. It is difficult for us as a society to talk about. It is something that we too often want to push beneath the rug because we feel that it is to painful to talk about. I am about to talk about depression, suicide, and that new show that came on Netflix that everyone is talking about (13 Reasons Why).

DISCLAIMER: Trigger Warnings going off here.
Let me preface this before anyone continues reading. If you struggle with depression and/or thoughts of suicide, you are not alone. This is not something we can take lightly.

If you need help, do not be afraid to seek it out. There are many resources out there for you, including people who are willing to sit and listen to you (including, but not limited to, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)).

It seems like every day we get rocked by the news of another promising life cut short by violence and bloodshed, but the sting is so much more potent when we discover that the person lost the battle against themselves. Suicide brings a pain of regret because those who are left behind will forever ask themselves if there was something that they missed. Something they could have done to prevent this tragedy.

We cry because looking back, we can see the signs that led up to this point. And the more we ask and seek the answers to why, more is revealed. More evidence that, if we had only known … and we find ourselves taking on the burden of death. If feels as though we were the ones that, through our words and actions (or the lack of them), killed them.

Here’s the thing: We, as human beings, are good at hiding things. As someone who has struggled with depression in the past, I know how easily it is to hide behind the mask of a smile, a laugh and have people not see. It hasn’t been until recently that I began to be open with myself enough to start talking about the struggle I faced all those years ago. I talk about it in terms that I understand, my darkness within, because it makes it easier for me.

For years I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want to discuss how I felt or how close to the edge I had gotten. I didn’t want to share it because it scarred me. But here’s the hope that I share now: while that darkness never fully left me, by talking about it, it has become easier to carry within me.

This is something that is important for everyone, no matter if you have been in the shadow of depression or not. If someone comes to you, it isn’t your job to fix the problem. It isn’t your job to burn away the darkness. What your job is, in that moment, is to listen. To be still and be present with them. If someone shares, through words or actions, then it is your place to journey with them. To let them know that you will help shoulder the burden of the darkness that they face. That you will be there for them as a refuge of light.

I started talking about my personal struggles because I knew I could not shoulder it alone. Even after all these years, there are moments when I feel overwhelmed by doubts and fears and it feels as though the night is physically reaching out to drag me down.

Reaching out to talk does not make me weak. Asking for help does not make me stupid. Having thoughts of self harm does not make me a coward.

A couple weeks ago Netflix released a new series based off a book by the same name, 13 Reasons Why. It is a powerful and painful story that follows the main character who receives recordings from a friend and classmate who had committed suicide. As he listens to the tapes, he begins to hear the reasons why she took her own life.

I watched the entire season in the course of one weekend. It was painful to watch at times. But not because of the darkness that I hold within, but because years ago, I found myself in the position of asking if it was something I did or didn’t do that led a classmate to attempt to take his own life.

Recently, the show has caught a lot of criticism because of the graphic details that it portrays. It covers topics about shaming, jumping to conclusions about people, bullying, turning a blind eye, depression, teenager drug use and drinking, rape, and, yes, suicide. I’ve heard it say that it glorifies death. That it doesn’t give people hope. That it doesn’t provide the resources necessary for people who are standing on that edge. That it pushes people.

But it’s a story for the survivors, not for those who are in darkness.

LISTEN: If you have thoughts of self harm or suicide, DO NOT watch this show. If you have been traumatized by your past and still struggle finding the light of each day, you may want to skip this show. Or watch it with someone who is willing to have an open conversation with you. Even if you have never struggled with depression, with bullying, with rape you may find this show difficult to watch.

Let me say it again: the show is not for those who are struggling with depression, with darkness. The show is for the rest of us. Those who may not realize how our lives intersect with another’s. How a little comment can break someones spirit. How an action can seem innocent, but destroys the confidence of friendship. How much damage our words can cause, even when we speak it as a joke.

The show is about how everything we experience can pile onto our souls and drag us down into darkness.

I’ve always believed that if I was strong enough, I could survive on my own. But I know now how dangerous that way of thinking is. It wasn’t myself that rescued me from my darkness, it was the love of those who were willing to listen. It was the strength of others who encouraged me to talk. To talk about anything. To write when speaking was too difficult. It was the people who stood up when I was unable to on my own. It is all the individuals who have poured out their love.

Depression is something that our society tells us to keep hidden. If you can smile, they tell you, then you can get through it all. Laugh. Get out more. Be active. Put the darkness into a box and lock it away. The world tells us to lie and say that everything is okay. But sometimes pretending is not enough.

Sometimes talking about it is not enough. Sometimes, no matter how many people pour out their love into our lives, it is not enough. Sometimes, despite the smiles, laughing, and activities, it isn’t enough.

There is a stigma about mental illness, about depression, that causes us to do more harm to ourselves by trying to hide it. Depression is more complicated than an emotion. It is a chemical imbalance. It is an illness that can be treated.

If you struggle, there is nothing wrong with seeking help. Just know that you aren’t alone.

Struggle To Make Words Go

I used to love writing. I looked forwards to it because it allowed me to discover the language of words. It was another form of expression when painting and drawing didn’t work out as planned.

I used to enjoy putting words down on the page and share my story.

In a way, I still love and enjoy writing, but so much has changed.

Over a year ago I started working as a Telecommunicator. I am a 911 operator and a dispatcher. For 12 hours at a time, I sit in front of six computer screens and follow the stories of peoples worst days. I put on the headset and listen to their voices and the cries for help. And I document what information I can gather.

I write down their stories in every call. And in my head, I continue to write long after I leave the communications center.

Writing has changed for me. Stories have changed me. But the words must be put down.

So, when I return home, it is a struggle to continue writing. But sometimes we must press on. There are stories that must be told. Stories that must be shared with the world. And while it has become a struggle to find words at times, I continue to push through to put words onto the page.