*Profanity Warning* Please be aware that my potty-mouth is pretty rampant in this post – please do not read any further if swearing offends.
That famous quote by John Lennon, ‘Life is what happens when you’re making other plans’?
People keep asking me lately, “Are you still studying? What’s it like being an ambo? Where are you stationed?” Well, I thought it was about time to give people an update on what happened on the way to my dreams. Part two! Because part one starts a few years ago.
This is a photo of me from 2 years ago at my final paramedic placement as part of my training to be an ambo. But that’s not where this story starts….
This current journey kind of began back in 2009 when the worst bushfires in Australia’s history claimed 173 lives - I was a volunteer fiery at the time and, like many others, was moved to consider doing this professionally after what happened.
However, I had to make a choice - career or motherhood, because at that time in my life this was a 100% either/or question. Either I could enlist the wonderful help of my dad for the entrance exams, or I could do IVF. No in-between. Either choice was a 110% commitment, with no room in between to manoeuvre. In the end, I put career goals on the back-burner, chose motherhood over a career in Emergency Services and pursued the IVF route. After all, who was going to be there on my death bed at the end of my life? My career? Motherhood was more important.
As some of you know, however, that choice – those *sliding doors* - ended in unthinkable heartbreak with miscarriage and a cancer diagnosis. Pretty much more heartbreak than I could handle.
Somehow, over time, I scraped myself out of the gutter and walked towards a different future, all the while the fear of cancer coming back always in the back of my mind. That’s something not many people are aware of: once you hear those words, “You have cancer” that fear never quite leaves you. And, as it turned out, for good reason. But not for the reasons I thought it might. After I finished my treatment, Dad was diagnosed with melanoma. His skin cancer was managed negligently by his treating doctor, and as a result of this negligence, Dad’s cancer spread and became terminal. He died one year after diagnosis.
I wound up writing my second book (A Year of Medical Thinking) from the experience of babyloss and my own diagnosis – I love that my Dad lives on in those pages. The book was also something to show for the emptiness and loss.
Interestingly, I pulled up and out of the grief enough to be able to turn my attention to career options once again - if I couldn’t have motherhood (my cancer was hormone receptor positive which put an end to IVF, and you can’t adopt or foster with a cancer diagnosis in Australia, for 5+ years - surrogacy was our only option) then my love of emergency services would prevail. I wanted to be a fire-fighter, ambo or cop. You either have that gene or you don’t. I had the Emergency Services gene.
I applied and was one of the fortunate ones who got into the Bachelor of Paramedicine Degree, vigorously pursuing my Plan B. Let me tell you - that was one of the most gruelling things to undertake. There were subjects with exams where, if you didn’t pass, you’d have to take leave because you weren’t able to continue without re-sitting that exam the next year so the whole progression of training was incredibly high stakes. I was running on empty. I didn’t have another year in me to wait, so passing was non-negotiable.
And the placements? Being sent anywhere in the state to do rounds. Working with some amazing people. Never EVER knowing what you would get when that pager tone dropped. Would it be blood and guts? Suicide? Heart attack? You name it, it was on the table. Would I help save a life? Hold someone’s hand while they died (that happened)? You just never knew.
And during all of that, more tragedies happened - our path with our surrogate ended in further unthinkable heartbreak, my one-time bff killed herself, and during my final exams, my beloved cousin took her life. I had been planning to fly to America to see her after Uni finished.
I was too late.
And there is my triumphant smile! I am SO DAMNED PROUD of this photo! Because this day happened in spite of a whole bunch of serious obstacles.
Life Is What Happens When We Make Other Plans
So, in 2018, when I’m finally ready to apply for ambulance or fire brigade, instead of getting ready for the new chapter of working in a field that I loved so much, I became gravely ill.
Instead of driving a fire truck or ambulance van, I wound-up in hospital. Several times.
I’m not going to bore you with the details, but rather than my Plan B coming true, something I had worked bloody hard towards and made enormous emotional, mental and physical investment in was taken away again. Heartbreak? I’ll tell you about heartbreak! This was supposed to be my triumphant accomplishment after the cancer deprived me of my right to be a mother!
It has taken me over 18months to get to being nearly well. I’m still struggling. I did apply for fire-brigade again this year but no luck cobber! I’m shit at math and I really needed Dad to coach me – he was the only teacher I ever had that could make it make sense to me. He coached me through math when I studied Fire Technology and I passed! Not having him as coach was a last straw for me.
This October, on top of the anniversaries, the window for me to apply for ambulance closes forever. You only get 2 years to apply.
Freaking hell guys! What the heck? I’m gutted about this! I thought I would be able turn this ship around and steer it back on course. In time.
But I’m almost out of time.
Appearances Can Be Deceiving
The moral of this story, is, well, firstly, I’m not who you might think I am ha ha - I’m somebody totally different under my polite exterior – I’m really the ‘Spirit of Emergency Services’ past and present. I’m a wannabe kick-arse Warrior in disguise lol.
But more than that - how does this relate to others?
Because I want to shout it from the tops of the tall buildings! Sometimes shit happens to people! Bad shit! For real! I’ve lived it. I’ve witnessed it. My mates and family in emergency services see it on a regular basis. Why else is PTSD (or PTSI as it is now known as) such a serious problem? You can’t ‘un-see’ some things.
Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how hard we try, how persistent we are, sometimes things DO NOT GO TO PLAN and we are tiny specs on this planet in some flicker of time-space. That’s it! And it can be over in a flash! Trust me! I’m not saying this to be negative. I’m stating fact. Take a walk through a cancer ward or an ED or on the battleground or similar.
If you don’t think bad stuff happens, or if you think that it is attributable to your mind-set, ask the people who lost their lives in Japan this past week what their thoughts are right now. They didn’t ask for the storms.
The world sometimes spins out of control. And there is little we can do about this.
But, there CAN be a way through. And it’s about embracing the grief. The hardship. The challenge. It’s about honing our skills to be able to navigate our way through the tough times. Otherwise we live in denial or we drown.
Denial has its place, but not for the long haul. Reality is the long haul, and shit happens in reality.
The other side is not a place that is heaps better necessarily, nor is it about winning, or to getting the baby or having that career etc - but this other side is ESSENTIAL for anyone who is broken to the point of not knowing if they can survive.
Because that was me. One heartbreak too many. To be able to get up and face another day meant I have had to deal with the difficult stuff not pretend it isn’t there.
By the way, I don’t have the answers.
All I have are the lessons.
And the experiences have taught me some things.
Like, little things mean so much now – my four-legged babies. A sunset. The river. They always did, especially after the cancer crap – but in a whole other way now.
I see my mates with babies and families or being ambos or fireys or cops and I have to experience that envy and discomfort in order to be able to move past it. Easy to say. Tougher to do. The grief stays. But I get some functionality back. There is room for both.
But if it’s just the grief? Then there is the risk of drowning under the weight of it.
Denying how this makes me feel only serves to crush me. That’s why being open and honest about my grief and my pain is so critical. The functionality, therefore is crucial. It is lifesaving. Its thinking about tomorrow, not being dragged into an eternal now where the abyss is.
Here’s what I learnt after having my heart smashed one too many times.
It forced me to look within. It’s not that all the answers there. But there are clues.
Once there, I had to make friends with my Inner Warrior. You know the one – I’ve talked about her in the past. But I never really talked about the whole picture….
My inner warrior?
She’s a ruthless task master!
And she is also my best and most important ally.
She is the one who dragged me up out of the gutter to face another day.
She is the one who told me, when people dismissed my grief or heartbreak as inconsequential, you know, when someone would invariably point out that someone else was in a far worse predicament than me, Warrior would tell me “Fuck them! What the hell would they know!”
She is the one who said, “Do not let those sods define you or belittle you because you aren’t all *Happy Jolly Woo Woo Shit*, or because they think your experience or your cause isn’t worthy, or they don’t think your pain matters. Or that pain isn’t real. Or that bad stuff is an illusion or state of mind.
If it matters to you then that’s what matters.
And I’m not talking trivial shit. Let me be clear. I’m talking about life-changing situations, often of life and death, and of grief and heartbreak of epic proportions.
Because trivial shit is just that.
It always amuses me how many self-appointed Gurus haven’t yet experienced these kind of life lessons. I don’t trust ANYONE with the authority to impart advice or guidance if they have never experienced loss or grief or serious challenge. To me, what can they know?
But that heavy stuff? Until you face this stuff, until you own your mess, your hurt, your bruises, you can NEVER think about peace or strength or a 7th Brand New Normal (as in, my New Normal again and again and again).
When The Only Way Through Is Through.
My Warrior is the one who points out to me who my friends are and who they are not.
She is my guide when I can’t see where the heck I am going.
She is the one who reaches out her hand in the darkness.
And she will be the one who stands by me when I’m on my death bed. Because there won’t be any kids there. Or grandkids.
She is the one that tells me that while my world and while THE world spins out of control, she will stay true. She is my True North.
She is the one who shows up when everything fails, silently waiting in the wings, for her cue to step in and show me the way.
Without her, I’d be stuffed.
How Did You Survive?
Have you ever been in that proverbial gutter? That place of extreme pain or grief or struggle where you seriously doubted you would ever survive?
I don’t ask lightly. Too many of my people have NOT gotten out of here alive! They have taken their life because they did not find the way out of their pain. So I truly do not say this lightly.
How do people get out of that emotional hell hole?
Did you find that rainbow after the storm?
I think if we could distill that essence and bottle that, the world might be a happier place!
© Copyright SK Reid, 2019, All Rights Reserved
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