As A First Responder, is it Okay to Ask For Help?
February 8th 2021Blog Post
Disclaimer: I am not a mental health or medical professional. Everything written in the blog post below is purely suggestion from what I have found to work in my own life journey and the journeys of those I have met along the way. Use your discretion if you choose to integrate it personally.
The answer to this question is a resounding YES. It is more than okay to get help as a first responder, in fact, it's imperative.
For over a year I was struggling and battling. Battling with my closest friend and worst enemy…myself. All I kept thinking to myself was, ‘If I do this, if I ask for help… my gun, my shield, my ego, my reputation, and my life… will all be taken from me.’ Unfortunately, these are common thoughts for First Responders. Now let’s get this straight right off the bat. I suffered for a while and was constantly beating myself up in my own mind. I used alcohol as a band-aid, albeit an unhealthy, counterproductive band-aid, which impacted the way I felt physically and mentally and how I behaved.
In my last blog, I wrote about surrendering, which should not be confused with quitting, as there is a HUGE difference. Reaching out and receiving help, and just as important, ALLOWING myself to be helped, was the best thing I have ever done. Not only for my career, but my personal relationships and ultimately myself as a human being.
Now, not everyone will feel the need to reach out for help, and that’s okay if you have your own method and strategies. This blog is really for anyone who is suffering right now and doesn’t know where to turn or when.
The takeaway is this: You do not have to endure what you are going through alone. You are not a burden to anyone. You are important, and worthy, and deserving of peace. And there are people and groups (like Reps For Responders) who can and want to help.
The type of help someone is looking for differs based on the individual and their perceived experiences and needs. A good way to understand it is by taking a look at professional sports athletes. Every professional athlete has a hitting coach, a throwing coach, a personal trainer, or a speed and agility coach, and so on. They’re the best of the best, and yet they still seek out support to improve. They also see sports psychologists and nutritionist, to make sure their mind is right and their bodies are fueled appropriately
As first responders, we too are PROFESSIONALS. Hell, we put our lives on the line for others willingly! And so, we need to take care of ourselves just the way a professional athlete would. Our mind is one of the tools of our trade. Of course, we may not get paid the big bucks like them, but we can seek out specific services to help heal and grow our minds so that we are always improving. Because there is always room to be better than yesterday.
Before I really allowed myself to be helped, I ended up being admitted to the hospital for 6 weeks. It was terrible, and I promise myself I’ll never go back. This is a very extreme example, but it happened, and I am sharing this because I DO NOT want anyone to go through what I did all because they are afraid to reach out for help. The notion that first responders should suffer in silence must end. Hence why Reps For Responders was born. Soon after my stay at the hospital, I volunteered to go to rehab for 6 weeks.
What can I do?
Let me preface with another reminder that I am NOT a mental health professional giving professional advice, so please, take what you need and leave the rest. These are just suggestions from what worked for me, making me a better Officer and individual physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
You are not alone:
No matter the situation, whether it be problems arising from boozing, a breakup, an unhealthy relationship in your life, you’re finances, feelings of depression… you do not have to make the journey alone. Pick up the phone and call a family member or a really close friend. Lean on them, confide in them.
Be clear in your communication with them by telling them what you need from them in that moment. It’s also great practice to ask them if they are able to and have the capacity to listen and show up for you, before unloading on them. Tell them what’s going on, and ask them to “hold space”, which just means to listen without judgement and without trying to resolve or give advice. If you are looking for advice, tell them that you need help.
Once you do this, your best chance at a successful conversation is being completely open and honest with them about how you are feeling. But before you can do that, you have to be completely open and honest with yourself. In AA, Step 1 of the 12-step program is admitting that you are powerless over alcohol and that your life has become unmanageable. You can replace alcohol with gambling, sex, overeating, over-exercising, or something that isn’t inherently addictive, such as a relationship or negative thoughts. Step 1 is difficult, but it’s a huge push in the right direction.
What if that’s not enough?
If you didn’t get the answers you were hoping for or that were helpful, it might indicate it’s a good idea to seek out a mental health professional. Remember, HIPPA law is your friend, and any professional you speak with cannot share that you are under their care unless of course you injure yourself or another person, or plan to. You NEVER have to tell anyone on the job that you are under the care of a mental health provider.
Another more casual pathway of support is to find a meeting or support group. You can find a support group easily online or even by word of mouth. Many of our members were referred by friend of colleague. There is a support group for everything out there these days! Many on instagram find us through hashtags, so that might be something to try also.
We can help!
Here at Reps For Responders, we have Responder Talk every Wednesday at 12:30 PM EST and Sunday at 7:00 PM EST both via zoom. These meetings are open to all First Responders/ Military (active & retired) and for their family members and are for intended for anyone who wants to join. We have newcomers weekly and a solid crew who have been attending since day one. We're building an amazing community and think you will find real value as a first responder. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or DM us on Instagram @reps_for_responders for the dial in zoom info.
Surround yourself with positive people and be open to challenging your current belief systems, patterns and behaviors. Allow yourself to learn positive coping skills. It may be in the weight room, cycling class, CrossFit, art/creating content, playing music, a book club, or anything else that allows you to be your authentic self.
If you are having suicidal/homicidal thoughts reach out ASAP. There are tons of professional service phone numbers you can call. If you are in the NYPD, EAU, POPPA, and the Health and Wellness section are a few. These units are 100% confidential and here to help you. They will guide you to receive the right professional help and start your journey on working to feel better. If you are determined to act out on suicidal thoughts, please check yourself into a hospital.
If I knew these steps would improve my quality of life tenfold, I would have gone to AA (my personal way of growing emotionally) when I was younger. But, that’s part of life. Our egos take over and sometimes we don’t know to or even want to get help. We think what we are doing is 'normal' or just 'how it is'.
There are hundreds of nonprofits all over the Country here to help you. Remember God or your Higher Power did not put 7 billion people on planet earth and expect that we journey alone. I refuse to be a statistic, whether that be of alcoholism or suicide. Reps For Responders is here for you. Reach out.
- POPPA: 1-888-267-7267
- NYPD EAU: 1646-610-6730
- Copline: 1800-267-5463
- National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255