It becomes commonplace in emergency services to have dark humor. Everyone thinks that this is how we cope with the everyday stresses of the job. This is the culture of emergency services. We look at this as being acceptable, and to a point, it is. When does that dark humor become more than just jokes? This is a common thing that occurs in emergency services.
This can become very confusing and difficult to deal with. We look at this as normalcy, but we all have a point where we may become concerned. The very difficult thing that can happen here is how does one, who has been joking about things as well, intervene with a friend or coworker? You have been joking with them about the same things and now you want to tell them that their jokes have you concerned. This makes you look and feel very hypocritical.
What choices do you have? Ultimatums? Law enforcement? Work superiors? Are these really the best options? By joking along with your friends and peers you have immediately discredited your concerns. At least that is how it feels. Hindsight is always 20/20. You could have not joked with them, but it’s too late now. The truth here is that it does not matter. Yes, we shouldn’t joke about things like suicide and death like we do. We need to stop doing that, but that is not what we are trying to deal with. I have been on both sides of this equation, and I can say that being the one who feels that they need to intervene is much harder than being the one who needs someone to intervene.
First, get over yourself. Stop worrying about what you did or how you acted. This is not about you anymore. This is now about someone that you care about that clearly needs help. Now is the time to step up and be a better person. This becomes a big personal learning experience about your actions of the past, but like I said, deal with that later. So how do we intervene and help someone we care about?
How you are going to approach the situation and intervene is very dynamic. It will change, and it will change very quickly. There is no answer as to how to do this. Many feel that ultimatums are a bad thing. Sometimes they are and sometimes they get things done. Many feel that an ultimatum will push someone over the edge, and maybe it will at times, but other times they are needed. When I first began to show serious signs of PTSD, I ran into my boss on my day off at a hospital. When he asked when I was working next, I told him tomorrow. He looked me in the eye and said, “No you are not.” I told him that I needed to work to “get my mind off of things.” He knew how much my work meant to me and how dedicated I was to my job. He stood strong and told me that I was not coming into work. I disputed this with him and he gave me the option to not go to work, or show up and he would suspend me. I was unbelievable angry at this point, and he knew it.
The next morning, as I was at home and not at work, I was still angry. I stewed about it for most of the morning and then went about some errands. As I was driving I completely broke down. I was angry, sad, scared, nervous, anxious, depressed. My phone then rang. It was my boss. He asked one simple question, “How are you doing today?” He asked me in a normal tone of voice. He asked it as a person and not as my boss. One simple questions that allowed me to really accept how I was feeling. I replied very simply. I said, “I need help.” He then gave me all of the contact information for our employee assistance program and told me what time my appointment was. He had already taken care of contacting them and setting up an appointment for me. The amount support that this little bit of work and compassion gave was unbelievable. He then let me tell him everything that I was feeling. And he told me about a very traumatic event that he had been through recently that I had no idea he had even happened. At the end of our conversation he then said something else that impacted me greatly. He said, “You can’t come back to work until you can get psychologically cleared by a doctor.” I felt total desperation at this point. I was worried about bills and missing work. Before I could even ask, he told me that I will get a full paycheck and none of my sick time of vacation time would be used. I have no idea how he did this, but I was out of work for two weeks and received my full pay the whole time I was out.
This was a mastery of an ultimatum, but not just an ultimatum. This involved planned support, personal experience exchange, personal connection, planning, and compassion. He had no obligation to do any of this. He chose to help me and he saved my life by doing so. Do not look at ultimatums as bad things. When done correctly, they may be the only thing that can get someone the help that they need. I am forever grateful for being told that I was not allowed to do something.
Do not make excuses. For yourself or for others. Never feel like you do not have a right, or DUTY to step up and say something. You do. There is not right way to go about intervening and helping someone, so stop saying that you do not know what to do. Do what is right. Stop being selfish and actually worry about others. Do not worry that you will ruin a friendship. In time, what you did for someone will become apparent. Do not accept unusual behavior as being acceptable. Do not allow people to act in a way that concerns you and not say or do something. You are enabling them to accept how they are feeling as normal, when it is not. Support your friends, family and peers. Friendship and love is not always joy and happiness.