Golden Handcuffs


10 Sep
10Sep

I hope if you are struggling, that after reading this, you know you are not alone - like I felt I was.

It is so hard to complain when we get paid so much money to, sometimes, do so little. Someone once told me being a paramedic is like wearing "golden handcuffs". I didn't understand that, until now.


2018 - Every day I went in to work a shift, I felt an increasing hatred for my job. I had no rational reasoning as to why when people asked me, "Do you like being a paramedic?" My response would be, "Fuck no." But, I told myself I felt this way because so many people call 911 for bullshit reasons - and my compassion was finally getting tired of smiling and biting my tongue. The bouncing back and forth between nights and days, being a part-time paramedic, made it even more tiring. 

Over the course of the following year, 2019, I found it increasingly difficult to work more than four shifts in a row. So, I would set my availability with scheduling accordingly and ensure that never happened. As the year progressed on, I found I had good days and bad days. The good days were usually the first two shifts I would work. The bad days were the following two shifts where I felt mentally and physically exhausted and filled with hatred and anger for, most of the time, pretty dumb reasons. 

December 2019 - I worked as much as I could in December. I had the motivation to get as much money as possible for Christmas presents, as well as to save up and pay off my remaining debts that I was pretending didn't exist for too long. I worked lots of shifts - bounced between nights and days - got little sleep - and ignored all the warning signs that were inevitably creeping up on me. I pushed through the month, telling myself how I felt was only temporary.

January 2020 - My four shifts in a row turned into three shifts in a row. If I was scheduled to work a fourth, I would lay awake at night, anxious for the morning to come, and then I would pick up my cellphone and call the Superintendent and call in sick. Immediately after calling in, I felt the anxiety dissipate, and I was able to breathe, close my eyes, and fall asleep. As the month went on, the three shifts in a row very rapidly turned into two and a half. I would work one day, and the next day as well, but on the third day I pushed myself until I felt like crying and then I would call in sick and leave 6-8 hours into a shift. I told myself it was because I simply hated this job.

February 2020 - As January melted into February, I was working no more than two shifts in a row, then taking a break before I went back in. Unaware of the severity of my decline, I would sometimes push to work three to five shifts in a row, convincing myself that the money is worth it. Before I was able to realize it, I had formed many bad habits and avoidance techniques I used to get me through each day. Not long after, my stress-induced night terrors and sleep paralysis haunted me almost every night I slept. Having just moved in with my boyfriend, I felt bad and embarrassed for waking him up almost every night with screaming and thrashing limbs. I dreamed of dark forests and bodies hanging lifelessly from trees with tight nooses wrapped around their necks. I dreamed of people jumping off buildings - their brains scattered across the dirty pavement. I dreamed of old men mourning over their dead wives - and blaming me for their death. I dreamed of a lot of work-related nightmares and regular nightmares. They were countless, but with my history of night terrors, I ignored the real reasons why they came vengefully back.

March 2020 - My boyfriend and I would watch TV together - he would laugh at a funny part that just happened. I would look at him with confusion. I don't know why he was laughing - I missed the joke. For the hundredth time this week, I asked him to rewind so I could see what I missed that was so funny. My concentration was declining - and I did not realize it until months later when the fogginess finally became clear to me this present day. I lost concentration for things I once enjoyed, like reading and writing. I couldn't concentrate on anything - my mind was always turned on and turned up.  

I worked as many shifts I felt I could, and called in sick on the days where it was just too unbearable for me to get there. On my days off, I drank cider and vodka. On the days I was at work - I counted down the minutes, not hours, until the shift was over and I could go home to a loving boyfriend, adorable cat, and a fridge filled with food and alcohol. Food and alcohol post-work became something that I looked forward to. I used it as motivation to stick with the shift - if I made it through the whole shift, I would be more deserving of the food and alcohol in our fridge. I would get home and fill the knot I felt in my stomach with as much food, preferably junk food, and alcohol as possible. A crazy unhealthy habit of emotional avoidance.

As the month progressed on, I started to have feelings of deep sadness and anxiousness at the same time the night before a shift. I would go to bed at a ridiculously early hour, and lie on my side listening to depressing music while I cried. Every emotion that I bundled inside for so long would leak the night before a shift. Eventually, I would fall asleep, wake up screaming at 3AM, fall back asleep, then wake up at 5AM to get ready for a shift. I would look at my uniform, feel that annoying knot deep in the centre of my stomach again, put it on, and then leave for work. As I drove to work, the knot in my stomach would persist. My palms would become sweaty and gross. I would feel my heart quicken. Sometimes I cried. When I drove in silence, I felt like shit. So, something that I found made me feel nothing inside, which is what I wanted, was music. Not nice music that most people might listen to in the early hours of the morning before the sun was even rising... But hard - angry - pounding in the ears music. I would max out my sound system in my car and listen to dubstep and screamo - my ears were ringing and screaming at me to turn it down - but I only turned it up. This loud music was the only thing that calmed my anger and nerves - despite the lyrics and instruments screaming about rage. I even had a small Bluetooth headphone that was in my ear 24/7 at work - hidden to most people - but all the time I had these screaming songs playing in my ear at a ridiculous volume. It kept my mind quiet and calm. If the headphone would die, which on a few occasions it did, all of a sudden I felt the anxiety and sweaty palms and nerves and anger and sadness flood back in at an alarming rate. I needed the music.

April 2020 - Early on in April, the nightmares, concentration issues, alcohol drinking, junk food binges, out-of-body angry outbursts, random crying and eardrum damaging music volumes all persisted and worsened. The anger was the worst of it all. While at work, to avoid getting angry at patients, dispatch, my partner and bystanders, I would attempt to meditate (definitely did not know how to do this properly, but I tried) any moment I had. I would sit in silence at base away from colleagues and try to calm myself down. Waiting for the tones to sound would break me out of a meditative state because for some reason I was terrified to hear the tones go off, even if my ambulance wasn't up next for a call. I tried to calm myself down, but it was to no avail. When the anger came, and it did, I was not able to stop it. It was like I was looking down at myself as I raged towards innocent people. I would rage at dispatch and embarrass myself over the radio. I would meditate walking up patients driveways, trying to calm myself down. And again, I would watch myself turn into someone I did not want to be. I helplessly watched myself become an angry, swearing and unhappy person - My mind would tell myself to calm down and relax, but my physical body was doing the opposite.

Not long after, I was driving in my parking garage headed out - I wasn't at work and I wasn't headed to work. I felt fine and happy. But as I turned the corner to exit the parking garage, a car blocked me because he was driving in. Now, I could of reversed and let him go by first. That is what I wish I did. Instead, I felt my skin begin to heat and burn red - and I couldn't stop myself from becoming insanely angry. I began to honk and yell and swear and call him every name in the book. I told myself he should reverse, not me. I would have to reverse down a steep ramp, but he has a ton of room behind him to easily reverse. I had no idea where the anger was coming from, but it fucking came. I lost my shit. I am incredibly embarrassed - because I know this is not me, but in that moment, I couldn't stop myself. This yelling match lasted way longer than it should have. Eventually, he reversed and I sped out of there wishing I could crawl in a hole to die.

April 17th, 2020 - The night before, I crawled into bed at 9PM feeling sad, scared, annoyed and angry for no reasons I could think of. I had a few days off work - so why did I feel so horrible about going in tomorrow? I slept and woke up early and did my regular morning routine. I blasted my ears with screaming songs as I drove in with my sweaty palms and nauseous stomachache. I cried while I gripped the wheel tightly, looking at the clock and calculating the hours until I get to be back at home, all before the shift has even started. I arrived to base, and all of a sudden, before I even put my helmet in the truck, I felt like crying. I felt the pit in my stomach grow bigger and my whole body started to sweat. I felt that lump-in-the-throat feeling and out of shame, I felt my face go hot and red because I was embarrassed that I was even feeling this way at all, even though no one knew except me. I went out to the ambulance and put my stuff in the truck. Two medics were out there, one was my partner and the other was the night crew I was relieving. They both started talking to me, and without control, I felt the need to cry disappear and the anger take over. I started to rant to them, saying "fuck this" and "fuck that" - I'm sure it was exactly what they wanted to hear this early in the morning. They asked if I hated this job right now because of this pandemic - I told them I've hated it for a lot longer than that. Despite my inner voice telling me to be quiet and stop talking, I continued to rant and swear at 7:30AM. 

Shortly after, I sat in the chair at base, headphones in blasting my regular too loud music, and I tried to meditate. I was one hour into the shift. No calls had come in. I was first up, and I felt anxious, sad and angry all at once. My emotions were so intense, I knew I should go home. I texted the superintendent, not wanting to speak face-to-face for fear of crying, that I do not feel well and am going to go home. She quickly replied and asked to talk. In this moment, that was the last thing I felt like doing. Looking back on it now, that was the best thing she could of done for me. 

We went into the girls bathroom and something inside me told me to trust her and tell her everything. I told her exactly what I was feeling. We spoke for a little while. As I was talking, I was astounded that I was opening up this much to someone, especially a supervisor. She told me to take the rest of the day off, and to fill out a WSIB form. I had filled out a WSIB form before for physical injuries/near-misses, but never for a mental health issue. I felt stupid and embarrassed, but I did it anyway because I wanted to at least get the rest of this shift paid and then I could go back to work in a few days, as the superintendent advised me to take the next couple of days off work. 

Before I was able to work my next scheduled shift, I got a surprise call from WSIB. Last time I did the form, I didn't get a call from anyone. They told me they wanted me to get an evaluation from a psychologist before they would allow me to return to work. They also needed me to contact my family doctor to get him to send a form to WSIB. I have never had any medical or mental health issues or problems in the past, so when I called my family doctor and confided in him with the situation at hand, I was shocked by his response. My family doctor, over the phone since this was mid-pandemic, said to me, "WSIB will take one look at your case and say, a 24 year-old part-time paramedic for four years? Yeah, she doesn't have PTSD. If you want me to send them the form, I will. But, I don't see a point in it." I cried and told him I never said I had PTSD - I said I do not know what is wrong with me. After hearing that from a medical professional and after hiding how I felt from everyone for so long, I wished I never filled out that WSIB form. 

A week went by and I completed the required testing WSIB requested. I was diagnosed with both PTSD and anxiety. The psychologist requested a minimum of three months off work for therapy. I felt like I had been forced off the road.

I felt broken.

I felt undesirable.

I felt ashamed.

I felt helpless.

I felt embarrassed.

This was the lowest point in my life. 

This was also the beginning to my recovery.


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