For those who have spent any amount of time working in the Emergency Services, we all remember how, by and large we started out with good intentions. Essentially we joined our respective Service, be it Police, Fire, Ambulance, Medics, Nurses, Search and Rescue, Lifeboats, Coastguard or whatever service you may be in. We joined because deep down we wanted to help people and to make a difference.
Many years ago when I was first asked by an ‘Old Sweat’ why I wanted join the Police, I replied ‘To make a difference’. He laughed at me. However at the time I truly believed that and didn’t understand the cynicism. I was also told never to forget my reason for joining either.
As time has gone on, I can, with some degree of confidence say that I have made a difference in many people’s lives and even along the way, saved some lives too. However, alongside that there has been the continual drain on the psyche from the incessant waves of leeches, the continual callers who never take any advice or are willing to get the help they need despite your best efforts.
It all starts off well enough. You see each one as a challenge and you take them on with vigour, believing you can succeed where others have failed. But the energy you give each person doesn’t last long and you soon find yourself drained as you’ve simply spread yourself too thinly. But it doesn’t stop, because in your desire to help, the bosses just keep piling the work onto you.
Yet you keep going because you want to do the best for the public.
Until one day you wake up and you go to a job and you find yourself wanting to care but you have nothing left. As someone commented, it looks like you’ve reached the bottom of the empathy barrel. And yes, I do believe in many ways I have. Does it mean I no longer care? No of course it doesn’t. However in my role and I am sure, in yours too, you only have so much giving of yourself to people to give before you run on empty.
A colleague in Green I spoke to at a crash recently, confirmed this. He is passionate about what he does. He found that all the rubbish drains him so that when he goes to little old 86 year old Mavis with a broken hip, he has to pretend to care and be sympathetic as he simply has nothing left to give.
So after all these years, I now fully understand where the old sweat was coming from. Had he stopped caring? No, not in the slightest. In fact when I look back he really did give a very big damn about what he did. However, I now know what was going on inside him. He was running on empty, he had nothing left to really give as he’d given his all for years. The problem is that when we have nothing to give and people constantly want more, we go on the defensive. That I believe manifests itself as being cynical. To me, being cynical is a defence mechanism as it protects what little we have left.
For those of us who have been doing what we have been doing for any number of years know, we need time out. We need humour. We need to sometimes withdraw. We do this, not because we are antisocial. No, we do this to maintain our sanity. We do this so that we can still have something to give to our family and our friends. We do it so that we can continue to let the public take what little we have.
So let me assure you that when you are feeling bad because you have little empathy left, it’s because you have already given so much of yourself to those you serve…
Written by NZCop – An Admin of Emergency Services Humour on Facebook, and also a regular contributor to our popular entertainment eMagazine, ‘S__ts & Giggles’.
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