#TransformationTuesday: THD Edition spotlights members of The Healthy Dispatcher community who have made positive changes to their physical or mental health while working in the demanding field of 9-1-1 telecommunications.
This week, we’re featuring Crystal B. from Florida. Crystal will celebrate 13 years in 9-1-1 on June 4, with nine of those as a CTO. She’s spent the last six years as a comm center supervisor with shared responsibility over three — soon to be five — individual centers spread throughout South Florida.
What unhealthy (physically or mentally) habits did you used to keep?
I was someone who liked to suffer in silence. I stuffed my stress into boxes in my head and locked it shut. I didn’t want to take it home to my family, or burden my friends. This was my career choice — what I signed up for. And if I whined and cried to my friends and family, then [I thought] maybe it meant I wasn’t strong enough to do this job. I turned off my emotions and locked everyone one out because if I let anyone in, they would see my weakness.
I was also a stress eater. I would snack all day (and not on fruit or veggies). I gained weight, which affected not only my physical wellbeing, but my emotional and mental wellbeing too. Because now (to me) I was a fat, fake failure.
When did you notice these habits were negatively impacting your life, at work or at home?
The stress snacking I noticed about six years ago, and I worked on recognizing when I was eating out of hunger versus [when the eating was] stress-induced. I started keeping only healthy snacks on hand. If I started to feel the stress controlling things, I would take a mental or physical break if possible. Do some breathing or stretching to clear my head and destress.
The emotional bottling…that one took some work (still working on it). I knew that it wasn’t good to keep all that buried, but I felt like I had no one I could talk to. No one that would understand. When I became a trainer, I told all my trainees, “Don’t bottle it up. Don’t compartmentalize. If you don’t have anyone to talk to, talk to me. Let it out and let it go.” Great advice that I forgot to tell myself.
The main problem with that advice was that they took me up on it. I was everyone’s garbage can. I got everyone’s problems and tough calls and stressors. While I was grateful they listened to me, it was making me worse because not only was I full of my own stress, I was full of theirs too — with no outlet.
So last year I attended the Florida APCO conference in Daytona where I sat through two sessions that screamed to me. One was “The Power of Resilience” with Adam Timm. [My first thought was], “Wow, my co-supervisor needs this!” Stress and burnout is so much easier to see in someone else.
But then I remembered a conversation I had with my mom, where she said that while she could see that I still had compassion, my job had made me detached, cynical and unemotional. Talk about a wake-up call!
How did you change these habits?
[For] the stress eating, I learned to recognize the things that caused me stress and developed better coping mechanisms. The [emotional bottling], though, that was a little more difficult to address.
I am an introvert by nature, so talking to strangers is not for me. I’m not one to reach out for help, but at that APCO conference, I met a wonderful group of people that pulled me in and adopted me as one of their own for the week. Through them I was able to network covertly and make connections that introduced me to wonderful social media groups where I found out I’m not alone in my struggles. I have found a place to vent and release all those stressors.
Sometimes, though, things still just build up and I need a physical and emotional release. So when things start to become overwhelming, I go take a long, hot shower and have a big crying pity party. But as the tears fall I [verbally] name the stressors and watch them wash down the drain. Whether it was a bad call, an argument with a loved one, frustration with command staff or with a difficult situation…I name it and then watch it wash away.
What are some of the ways you stay healthy now?
I walk a mile four days a week. I have a short workout routine I do on the other three days. I plan meals and eat healthier. I look for a positive in all things — boy, is that hard sometimes!
I recognize stressors and either avoid them or change my approach to make the experience more productive. I’m a cheerleader for my people, uplifting and encouraging them, recognizing pitfalls that could be problematic and helping them see and address it. I don’t want them to become what I was. I have a 40-minute commute one way, and I use this time to pep talk myself before I get to work, and to decompress before I get home.
What’s the biggest difference you’ve noticed in yourself as a result of these healthy changes?
I’m happy more often. I have reignited my passion and drive for my career. I’ve noticed that my passion and attitude are contagious. My center is a happy place. My people enjoy coming to work!
My family also actually enjoys spending time with me now — while I was happy before, I wasn’t always fun.
I have learned that I’m not a failure. I’m damn good at what I do. I’m smart. I’m funny. I’m perfectly imperfect. I am ENOUGH!