Resilience is such a big word. Its a word that we as people have assigned so many meanings to, but truly, resilience is simply about the ability to recover quickly and effectively. This may seem too big a task to take on when in the throws of living in darkness as so many of us do, but it really is possible...and whats more, its realistic!
Finding a sense of purpose is one of the key components to resilience. Sometimes life is not all about the literal sense of what we are experiencing, but the greater lesson in the bigger picture.
In my own career and within my own life, I lived for my job. All 18 years of it. At the time, I couldn't even begin to imagine a life outside of my work. I birthed 2 children, had a couple of marriages, enlisted and completed military training, accomplished some pretty cool things, and still, nothing held a candle to my job in commercial EMS and police dispatching. I can remember laying in the hospital bed after delivering my oldest daughter, and I should have been thrilled. I should have been over the moon that I was holding a baby in my arms who was healthy and screaming like she should - but all I could think about was how long 8 weeks really was, and how I could not wait to get back on that truck in the city and start pushing calls again. This went on for years! I truly don't even remember much in my previous marriage. I was married to the job rather than the person waiting for me back home. Never in a million years did I ever think I wouldn't be doing this job I loved so much. But....like all things in life, we get thrown curve balls that change the trajectory of our beings, and I was no different.
My anxiety and mental trauma was too great for me to safely continue my life in EMS & public safety once I realized I was beginning to battle an addiction, and at the time, talking about mental health was still something we did only in hush tones. It was time for me to go. I floundered for a long time...years actually...trying to regain some footing and find myself again, and it wasn't until years later that it all started to make sense. The bigger picture was coming into focus, and I finally stopped seeing only the small bits and pieces.
I began learning about PTSD, mental trauma, and all the "stuff" that we accumulate over the course of our careers, and how we carry that with us for what feels like forever. I started to see that there was a bigger lesson here. Resilience. I began to reframe how I was thinking and experiencing life. I began to force myself to see the positives in negative situations. I started to appreciate the moments of pain because it made me appreciate the moments of joy I was beginning to experience. I started to find a new purpose, and I began to push myself to try new things. Some were successful, others not so much, but I was getting out of my comfort zone...the bubble I lived in, clad in uniforms, sirens, and sheet metal.
Over time, I discovered that my life's purpose was not really to be an EMT and a dispatcher 'til the end of my days, but to experience all of those traumas myself so that I could learn first-hand how to process them, and to work with those in public safety in a different way. I reframed my way of thinking so that I could feel at peace with my life's equation.
The point of my personal story is simply to show the successful mental transformation that can happen, and the importance of finding your purpose. We all have a purpose outside of the uniform, and its important to find that, even while you're still working! I happened to find mine at a different time. For my husband, a police officer of 17 years, his purpose is photography. Taking photos all over the state and spending hours at the computer editing them brings him great joy, re-balancing the negatives that happen at work.
Nothing in life is perfect all of the time. The downside to being a human is that we all much endure some imperfect experiences, but its the positives we give ourselves in life that make those negatives worth it.
This week, I challenge you all to give some thought to your own life's purpose!
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My name is Steffani Franek, and I am a now-former first responder of 18 years. My background consists mostly of commercial EMS, 911 dispatching, and military time. I have struggled for the past 10 years with PTSD and anxiety, and I have also faced addiction and the difficulty of overcoming it. Resilience is something I started really getting into about a year ago and I have found that its concepts have really helped me on my own path. Here, I offer my own insight and viewpoints on the topics surrounding resilience, and how to employ it within your daily life.