Hello, my name is Renee.

Project Nightlight has always been of interest to me. The obvious reason is that I have been subjected to psychological trauma throughout my career as a paramedic. I don’t disagree that this has had an impact on who I am today but the main reason why I want to share my story is to commend all individuals who have struggled with mental health and have reached out, or published their story. I truly am amazed at the courage and the strength that is exemplified by sharing their stories publicly.

I find myself surrounded by coworkers who are leaving the job because they are no longer able to mentally fulfill their duties. They are drained, depressed, anxious, many have been diagnosed with PTSD. Some are going through a divorce, custody battles.

They’ve devoted their lives to helping others and now, they are too tired to tell their story and they suffer silently. I, on the other hand, often have feelings of guilt and fear. Guilty because they are hurting and I’m not. Fear, because my time may come to get a diagnosis. For me, this is a story about being a paramedic and always wondering when I will be next. When will I get ‘’that’’ call that will just put me over the edge and end my career?

I’ve been in EMS for 17 years. I started my career in Ontario and spent most of it working as an Advanced Care Paramedic in downtown YYC – still do.

From the outside, my life looks like this: I am happily married to my husband Shane who is a firefighter, we have 2x amazing kids, I am fit, both mentally and physically, and I am a successful business owner.

Let me give you a snapshot of what my life actually looks like:

I moved to Alberta from Ontario without a friend, family member, a job, or a place to live. I needed a life overhaul as I was in a funk. I had been a medic for 3 years at that point in Ontario. I went to counseling as I was lost and scared and couldn’t shake this plateau I had reached in my life.

I worked 3x jobs (all shift work) and put myself through school. I went to counseling because I was overwhelmed and broke.

I met my husband and we had our kids. My oldest was diagnosed with 2x rare diseases. That was a huge stressor for our marriage. We spent the first 5 years of her life seeing specialist after specialist. We went to counseling together as we had no idea how to handle any of this.

We do not have any immediate family in the area to support us – It’s just the 4 of us. I went to counseling because I felt isolated as a new mom.

I couldn’t go back to full-time shift work because it wasn’t fair to my kids, my husband, and myself. I fought for 2 years to have a 0.5 position. I almost lost my job in the process but I won. I went to counseling as I was so stressed out, exhausted, and burnout from EMS. I was put on beta-blockers to try and control the shaking.

I did bad call, after bad call. In fact, I am known as the black cloud at work. I go to counseling every time I have those bad calls – the truth is, I can only handle them if I talk about them and let them go.

I was violently assaulted at work by a patient just before the holidays last year. (deep breaths here… I’ve never actually shared that story publicly). I went to counseling because that’s all I could think of rather than enjoying my Christmas holidays with my family.

My husband, who is a firefighter, will come home from work and has a bad call – I listen and validate him. He then goes to counseling as I can’t take on his struggles.

I started my own personal training business out of my home last year and I love every minute of it. I still go to counseling, even though I am happy and well as it always amazes me the stuff that my brain can store without me even realizing it!

I can honestly say that seeing my psychologist time and time again, has saved my life and my marriage. It wasn’t always easy – I did feel shame in the beginning for getting help but that was short-lived as I recognized that I needed it.

The other lifesaver here? Exercise. It changes the chemistry of my brain. Dopamine and serotonin are released, and cortisol drops dramatically. That said, first responders specifically need to be careful with which type of exercise they engage in as we are all so depleted of cortisol and run on “high” all the time. HIIT type training after a night shift, for example, can be detrimental to your health and success in the gym. I often train first responders here in my gym, and this is one of the main topics of discussion.

While I know that everyone’s experience of our complex lives is unique to us, we all need to find our own path. I am certain that this path works for me and my family but I didn’t find it overnight. I wouldn’t be where I am without my past struggles and failures- they have lead me to my successes today. I don’t regret one day in EMS, I regret the days that I chose not to take care of myself and made a promise to ME that I always will make myself a priority.

Listening to everyone’s story has given me the strength to post mine. For this, I thank each and every one of you for your courage as you’ve inspired me to step out of my comfort zone. I wish you well in your journey.


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