2013 has been a year which has tested many first responders’ resiliency, mine included.
The test for me began on April 15, while I was attending the ILEETA conference in Illinois. I received a text message from an out-of-state friend telling me that a bomb had gone off at the Boston Marathon. The Boston Marathon comes straight through the middle of my community. I started calling some of my officers who were back home to find out what was going on. I started was barraged with more text messages from family and friends checking on me. The initial reports were confusing, but I soon found out that my community 14 miles west of Boston was safe.
I experienced mixed feelings through the rest of that week. Many friends at the conference, my family and personal friends assured me that I was where I was supposed to be.
My anxiety kicked up on that Thursday night as I learned the news of MIT Police Officer Sean Collier’s assassination, the ensuing chase, and the midnight shootout in Watertown, Mass. By early Friday, I watched on television with others around the world as the Metro Boston region was locked down as the search for a terrorist(s) was underway. As a LEO stuck in Chicago, I felt like a helpless benched player on the day of the big game that I have prepared for over the past 28 years.
My family and friends once again reassuring me that they were fine, it wasn’t until a lunch time telephone call with my 14 year old daughter that Friday which brought me back into reality. In a nutshell, she reiterated to me the next evening when she told me that she was glad I was in Chicago.
She went on to tell me as we sat alone in my car, “Dad, knowing you, you would have gone to Watertown and you would have gotten shot”. What a gift it was to hear my daughter tell me for the first time ever that she was scared about my job safety.
I was able to contribute in the following weeks as a volunteer member of a regional CISM team which still continues to assist many first responders in the Greater Boston area today.
As for the metro Boston community, we are bouncing back stronger than ever. The victims and the people involved in this tragedy are remarkable and they are the real examples of resiliency. They are truly, BOSTON STRONG!
As I entered the summer, I became frustrated with some work issues. I had the opportunity to attend the Trauma in Law Enforcement conference in Albany, N.Y. which was previously rescheduled due to Hurricane Sandy.
One of the many LEO speakers discussed his personal experience dealing with his own professional frustration and how he sought out professional mental health assistance.
When I returned home, I made a decision to contact a police psychologist who returned to my community after serving nearly two decades within the U.S.’s 3rd largest police agency..
Working with this gentleman has been an eye-opening experience as he set up various exercises for me to look at the sources of my frustration. I was amazed to learn about my job performance through feedback with subordinates, peers, and others. My agency does not conduct performance evaluations, which I have come to realize are vital for an individual to set goals and make positive changes in performance.
I had the opportunity to meet this same conference speaker again in July while I was attending additional training. I had the opportunity to thank this gentleman personally for sharing his story. He thanked me for using the suggestions he presented earlier.
In late July, our family experienced an event that caught us totally off guard. This incident disrupted the various beliefs and values I’ve had as a LEO. For 28 years, I’ve been going to other people’s home to assist them in a crisis. Now, the crisis was inside my own home.
This incident threw me off emotionally. I needed to take some time from work to regroup and reprioritize what was really important. Many of my activities changed suddenly, including my semi-annual studying for our promotional exams. For the first time in 20 years I did not register for this exam.
During this time, I learned so much about myself while asking for more help. My family and I were blessed with the assistance of our neighbors, family and friends who stepped in to assist us.
When we are resilient as first responders, we become flexible and we learn to adapt to the constant changes in our work environment and our personal lives.
To develop this resiliency, we must be open to continuous training while building our personal safety net. It is up to each of us to develop our safety net consisting of family, friends, peers, clergy, CISM Team, and a mental health professional who understands the LEO and public safety culture.
I am asking you to prepare this safety net now before events such as a critical incident, natural disaster, family illness or death; any situation that can overwhelm us occurs. Plan out and discuss your expectations of how these individuals will assist you. These people will be holding the ropes to your safety net up.
I was very fortunate to get through the fall season while meeting weekly with this clinician. The various discussions and exercises reminded me of the things I have no control over and what I do have control over. These new skills prepared me for a recent action professionally that left me disappointed but more emotionally resilient.
I have received many compassionate and complimentary messages from friends within my community, which have validated and reinforced my desire to serve within this honorable profession.
I am a grateful and wealthy man. I don’t have much money but I am blessed with many invaluable family and friends. They are all part of my resilient safety net.
Happy New Year! REMEMBER: WE ARE THE HONORABLE PROFESSION. Stay safe and be well.
Sgt. Mark St.Hilaire is a wellness contributor to L.E.T. He is 28-year police veteran working in a busy metro-west suburb of Boston, Massachusetts. He is a volunteer peer with a regional CISM Team. You contact Mark by confidential email:[email protected] You can visit his site: www.rescueteamwellness.com or follow him on Linked-In or Twitter: @NPD3306.