When you finally get your dream job and it turns into a mental health nightmare, what do you do? As a young adult entering the workforce, Danielle Louis started working at her dream job as an emergency medical technician, an EMT.
Like most first responders, Danielle endured tremendous pressure on the job – physical, emotional, and social. Keeping a hero’s brave face on the job was the norm, leaving no room for human emotion, and left Danielle and her colleagues emotionally tapped. She found the mental health challenges first responders endure a major public health issue and decided to take the system head on. Danielle decided to go back to school to arm herself with knowledge and combat the stigma of mental health among first responders.
More about today’s guest:
• Find Danielle on LinkedIn.
Explore these related stories:
- David Sack, M.D. recommends how first responders can deal with trauma.
- Rene Ebersole shares what a first responder’s struggle with PTSD is like.
- Occupational Health & Safety – Mental Health and First Responders: How Their Jobs Can Cause More than Just Stress.
- American Addiction Centers— Firefighters & First Responders Risk of Substance Abuse.
Announcer: [00:00:00] Support for the following podcast is provided by the user experience specialist at Johns and Taylor. More information follows this episode. Joe Taylor: [00:00:12] What would you do if your dream jobs started turning you into someone you didn't like? I'm Joe Taylor, Jr. This is Search and Replace. Today's story hits close to home on a few levels. Our guests Danielle Louis is the sister of our series Producer, Nicole Hubbard. A few years ago, Danielle started working in her dream job as an emergency medical technician, an EMT. Like most first responders, Danielle endured tremendous pressure on the job, physical, emotional, and social. She started observing the effects of that pressure on the people we depend on to help save our lives. Danielle Louis: [00:00:50] The first things I started to notice were just, you had to always be abrasive. Oh don't cry or you're tough, you don't need to let this get to you. And it was just like, wow, I felt shut down in every way. I'm functioning as a paramedic. It's a hard job, but in the opposite realm of my life, I'm a human and I was just being made fun of, for kind of having these emotions, like, in-tune reactions and responses to things. And one thing that really sticks out was I had lost my mother to cancer and I came back to work two days after her funeral and had to work a 12-hour shift. And I remember going into this office that we had after my shift and I was crying and someone actually came up and was, like, making fun of me for crying. It was a coworker, and it was just devastating. And there was this reality that I'm not going to be putting up with this. Like, this is not what I want. I don't want to feel like who I am as a human isn't going to be respected because my job is as hard as it is. Every other aspect of my job is hard and if I can't feel like I can be my whole self, I don't really want to choose that anymore. Joe Taylor: [00:01:59] So Danielle started thinking maybe it's time for her to quit her EMT job, but that's where the conflict really started. She loved her job. She's still wanted to play that role in her community. And she wanted to be there for her colleagues. Danielle Louis: [00:02:13] I had to ground myself in my decisions. Making sure it wasn't, like, too quick of a change. You're like, Oh I'm just going to leave because it's annoying me. Or I don't like this job again. And like, you know, it's just not just a bad day at work that I knew it was something big. And after about a year, I knew and that's when I left and transitioned out. So that was monumental. And I still loved the field. I still loved the job, but I knew it wasn't good for me anymore. I could feel it deep down. I knew it in the way I was interacting with people in my life. My loved ones, my friends, the misery of, Oh I have to go to work again. Like I knew it. So it was just starting to listen to that. And then I finally was able to make the change. Joe Taylor: [00:02:51] Danielle tell us that she wasn't alone in making this huge decision. Danielle Louis: [00:02:55] I am extremely lucky. I have a very supportive family. And we had all gone through a hard time with my Mom passing. And a lot of us had these things starting to brew up in us. Those moments where you're like, am I doing what I want to do with my life because I can see how quickly it can end. As soon as I offered that up to my loved ones they were like, yes do it. Because this has been bothering you for so long. You're talking about it. You're being honest about it. You obviously know what you want to do now. You feel better about it. Why not follow it? Yes, it's going to be scary. Change isn't great. The possibility of leaving a job, your big girl job, you're getting paid. You have a career and you're leaving it. Yeah, that's scary. But you want it and it's important to you and your meaning is important. And if you believe that and trust in that and see a journey for yourself, you have to take it because you don't have forever to make these changes. So as soon as you feel like it's time and you're ready, it's definitely time. That's the true feeling. You follow your gut. That's never bad advice to give Joe Taylor: [00:03:56] So, what do you do when your dream job doesn't live up to its ideals? For Danielle, her journey involves going back to school for the degrees she'll need to work as a counselor, specializing in helping first responders overcome the same challenges she saw on the job. Danielle Louis: [00:04:12] That is the best opportunity for me to be able to learn about so many different aspects of the mind and cognitions, and learn coping mechanisms and skills to integrate. But also I think I still have that personality, the understanding of what it's like to be in their shoes. The understanding of the pressure that comes from community, society, your agency, from every other side of you. And then you're left with, well, I have to take care of myself, too. But I also experienced seeing my coworkers and my friends just get run into the ground and become versions of themselves that weren't the best version of themselves. I saw relationship fall apart. We see people get addicted to substances. And I've been given all of these tools that I feel well prepared to go right back in and be like, let me help you because I know how hard it is to feel like you're the only one suffering. There just needs to be this ability to talk about it, and to learn about it and to be in it together. And I feel like I can offer that as soon as I finished my degree and I'm willing to jump right back in because I feel like it's worth it. Joe Taylor: [00:05:23] Danielle's experience reflects a conversation many of us are having about the health and wellbeing of the people we rely on to see us through accidents, emergencies, and natural disasters. Danielle Louis: [00:05:33] I love the community that I worked for and I loved the County. But it is so important for community members and society to start asking questions. Start asking questions, how agencies are taking care of their employees. Start advocating for first responders because they need it. We're all saying thank you to our first responders, thank you during this pandemic, thank you for all you do. But it's time to advocate and ask, but what is the community doing for them? How are they being served? How is their mental health? What kind of wellness is their agency giving them? Is it okay that they're not giving them these skills? It okay that these agencies are getting away with this? We are doing so much research on Veterans and PTSD and how we serve that community. We need to advocate as well for first responder communities. And that's extremely important because it's going to keep them being that quieted and stigmatized area if we don't talk about it and bring it forth to community members and decision makers in our community. And that's how we all can help serve our first responders. Joe Taylor: [00:06:36] That's Danielle Louis, former EMT and current Columbia University student. There's much more to this conversation about the mental health of first responders and about what you might learn from Danielle's experience of shifting her views about her profession. Follow the link in our show notes to our companion series, Everything We Found. There we've posted our full conversation. You'll find that on our website at searchandreplace.show. I'm Joe Taylor, Jr. Announcer: [00:07:04] This has been a Podcast Taxi radio production. 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