Monday, October 30, 2017

It's OK to be Not OK

I wonder how people perceive me. When they look at me do they see a strong, confident person?  Do they see someone who is happy and content and mentally well? I feel like when I am at work, doing my job, I see capable of handling the stresses that come at me from all sides.  And, honestly, while I am at work actively doing my job, I got it. I've got control of it.  I am swatting at the stresses as they come, fighting them off with fury and amazing agility.

When I walk out those doors at night?  All bets are off.

I am not a full-time superhero. I'm not a superhero of amazing, mutant-like capabilities that are just part of my genetic makeup. I'm more like a Batman-hero, minus the money.  I wear armor. It's not visible armor. It's more like an invisible shield I pull over myself like a second skin when I am wearing my headset. Picture it, a bunch of thin criss-crossing green lines like a grid all over my body.  More specifically, around my heart.  With this invisible armor, I am able to hear horrible things over and over again and successfully do my job. This armor took years to build. But, it's just armor.

Who am I really?

Well, I am incredibly sensitive. I am incredibly insecure about myself. It may not seem that way because I am confident in my job skills, I am confident in some tiny things that I do. I am horribly insecure in every other way. I am a worrier like you wouldn't believe. I worry CONSTANTLY. Ugh. It's quite awful. And, I am terrible at taking care of myself. I am selfish, yet I am a people pleaser.  How can I be selfish AND a people pleaser?  It's probably why I am so messed up.

I don't want to upset people, I can't stand the thought of people being mad at me. I know I shouldn't care. Right?!  Isn't that what we drill into people? Don't worry about what others think, yadda yadda yadda, take care of yourself.  If you're on an airplane going down, put the oxygen on yourself before helping others.  It's everywhere.  But, I struggle. Sometimes.  It's almost like I am Bi-Polar with that. I am either worried terribly about what someone is going to say/do/react, etc about something I did OR I am like "Fuck it, it's what I want".  Although, while I am thinking about a time that I was full on selfish, I realize I was freaking out and throwing a temper tantrum about it in my head.  I don't often act it out.  Or, I talk about it ... and say things that are selfish but when it comes down to it, I give in and bow to what someone else wants. I don't know. Clearly this is something I am struggling with.

I give up ALL my days off.  Why? Two reasons, I need/want the money and I don't want people to not get their days off and somewhere along the line, I developed this idea that if I didn't work for them, they wouldn't be able to get the hours covered and they would get mad at me.  Yes. They would  be at only ME.  Not the 25 other people we work with. See where this is all twisted up in my head?

I learned at a very early age that if I did what people wanted of me, no matter how much I didn't want it ... people would be nice to me.  This lesson is now forever ingrained in my head and I can't shake it off. I find myself doing things I don't want to ... A LOT.  Like, working all my days off. Even when I don't need the money because I have enough overtime on my days off. 

I keep harking on work when it isn't just work.  That's just what I seem to only ever be doing so ... it sticks out for me.

I am not OK. I am depressed a LOT of the time these days but, that could be because I don't ever have any fun. I am anxious ALL THE TIME. But I was that way before the fire too. I worry all the time. I am full of jealousy when I see people doing fun things with their days off on Facebook. But, not at them ... nope ... no reason to be mad at SMART people who set aside their time to do fun stuff.  I get jealous because I backed myself into a corner with debt and stupid shit so I can't have a lot of days off to go do fun things.

It is MY responsibility to make sure I get time off.  After all, our schedule structure is 3 12s and then 4 12s so every other week I have a 4-day weekend that I can use to do something. Do I?  NOPE!

So, this adds to my depression. I have nightmares about dying a lot.  I did before the fire and now? I do even more. If I am not having a nightmare, there is something on fire in my dreams.  I worry about leaving my animals at the house when I leave for work and Dan isn't home.  I cry all the time for no freaking reason. I saw an adorable Donkey by my  house on the way to CrossFit the other night and I started to cry.  The Donkey was perfectly healthy and hanging out with the horses he's always with but ... I think something in my brain reminded me of the horses that didn't make it out of the fire, or the animals ... and the people.

I feel like this fire, as HUGE as it was, has dropped a 7000ton brick on my psyche, which was already struggling to hold the other bricks steady.  I am not as happy as I portray myself to be. It's not that I am UNHAPPY. But, I struggle with things mentally.

I have a good life.  I have a blessed life.  I live in a nice area, I am married, I have three wonderful fur-kids. I have an amazing job. I am lucky to have come out of the fire with my home intact as it was prior to the fire. Mentally?  Meh.  Not so much.  But ... that's beside the point.  I am not unhappy with the majority of my life. Do I need more days off and fun?  Yes, yes I do.

But ... and the real reason for this long winded entry is this ... I have a LOT of things that I have lugged around all my life.  A LOT of things that have broken my spirit in many ways.  I've patched up the holes and kept moving for 37.5 years.  I don't talk about things that happened to me. I shrug off the intense sadness that still hovers over me from my parents dying when people talk about it. I don't know why I do this.

I don't deal with things. I tell myself "I'm fine." I plaster a smile on my face no matter how much my heart hurts inside, or how much I feel like absolute shit.  People have made it clear that they need me to be the way I am. They need me to be available to work, to keep smiling, to knock talk about being sick. So even when I feel like absolute crap, I often say I am fine. I don't think my medication took too well this time around ... I am not as well as the last time around.  My heart hurts and I can't shake it off but I don't want to talk about it because I worry ... like with my illness, people don't want to hear it.

I feel like I have to be this smiling work horse and if I am not, I am letting people down.  And, we are back to the root of the problem again ... I HATE that!!!!

I am planning on calling our Employee Assistance Program and trying to find someone to talk to. But here's where I struggle. I can't open up.  I am a writer and a storyteller, and I find myself putting on that hat and telling it from a storyteller perspective. I can't break down those walls and really let them in and each time I have tried this ... I haven't told them the darkest part that started me down this path.  I have a hard time talking to people I don't know.  I AM going to try.  In the meantime, I've started trying to write again ... because I have been able to throw some of my emotions into that.

This is very long. I'm sorry.  But I just sort of rambled.

To sum up: I am not completely OK ... and that's OK. There isn't anything wrong with that. I need to embrace that and face it head on.  And ... I need to start taking care of myself. But, I've said THAT before and failed myself again.  Making that phone call will be the biggest step ... and hopefully after that, I'll find someone that clicks and I'll be able to actually take care of myself.

It's worth a try.

Thursday, October 26, 2017


I have a feeling I am going to be writing in here again. I do better vocalizing the things in my head by writing them down.  I have tried but I never feel like the things that come out of my mouth accurately convey what I am feeling, or thinking. I don't know how to describe it ... and I feel like saying it is opening myself up way too much. So, I write ...

Does anyone else have an inner monologue? I don't "talk to myself" but I do go over things in my head and sometimes talk myself through things. I like to think it's my dad's way of somehow reaching me from beyond or whatever.  Even that sounds a little crazy.  Bear with me.  If I am nervous about a situation, my inner monologue might be saying "It's OK, Nik, just remember to breathe".  This happens a lot when I am working out.  During a WOD when I feel like giving up, I start chanting to myself in my head "Just finish, don't worry about your time, just finish". Well, the inner monologue has been talking a ton since this fire began.

It started with the drive to work.  It was a constant "What the F" over and over.  Then, it was "Please God, make it stop" which was more of a prayer than any voice talking to me. Yes, I was praying up a storm in the midst of all that, hoping that there would be some relief.  I even dropped to my knees in the stairwell on my way out to the porta-potty, pleading with God to make it all stop. But then, after the praying stopped and the monologue kicked in ... I was torn in half.

My heart aches, and I feel sick and I honestly do feel like I am having some sort of reaction to being in a crisis-mode for over two weeks. I can't sleep, I wake up constantly in the middle of the night.  I am having nightmares and if it's not a nightmare there is still some sort of flames in the dream. I cry all the time ... I think about it all the time. And, for reasons I can't put my finger on, I find myself shaking at times. I want to go out of town for a day, but I can't fathom leaving my cats in the house unattended without someone there that can evacuate them if needed.  I am more irritable than normal, and more sensitive than normal.  I know ... me?  More irritable and sensitive?  Look out world.

So this is where the inner monologue comes in. I keep lecturing myself. Over and over again, I find myself telling the rest of me to 'get over it'. I remind myself that I still have a place to live, my pets and family are OK. I have a job. I am OK. So why do I feel this way?

I need to remind myself that it is OK to feel the way that I do. I am not alone in this AT ALL. Our community is broken even if we physically came out of it unharmed.  It was a HORRIFIC, DEVASTATING, DISASTER. Once the first threat was over ... for me, at work, it continued because there were evacuations in different areas in what felt like days.  Not only did I constantly have to hear about evacuations, and go through logging them, etc ... I was also talking to people who I knew had lost family members, I was talking to people who lost their homes, their pets, their cars, their jobs ... it was constant devastation over and over and over again.  For days into weeks on end.  My regular routine of work was completely flipped on its head.

Everything I knew about the daily running of my job (as unpredictable as it is) was different. We had all the other agencies, we had upstaffing in the room, our channel lineup was different. Instead of the usual briefing by co-workers about specific calls, there was a huge fire update, and just general weirdness.  The building still smells of smoke, there are still fans running downstairs to try and fix that. We still have roads closed in some areas.  While things are slowly trickling back to the regular day to day operations, there are still HUGE work-related reminders: Missing people, closed roads, thank you notes hanging up ...

Not to mention, the reminders that I see moving about Santa Rosa. I grew up here.  Born and raised in Santa Rosa.  I have spent almost 38 years moving about Santa Rosa. I lived in Coffey Park on Crestview Ct from 2001-2002. That was the place to trick or treat growing up (I never did myself but it was the place!).  We used to park up on the newly created roads of Fountaingrove and look out over the views of Santa Rosa while that area was under construction.  I remember how sad we were that a house was then built in the spot where you could see the best view.  My ex-in-laws lived on Linda Lane. Sadly, their house was lost in all of this. I spent many a day there and I have fond memories of the house.  My heart breaks for them whenever I think about it.  Our friends who lived both in Fountaingrove and Coffey Park, I can't even ... the day after this all began, my husband drove over to try and get eyes on the part of Coffey Park where a friend of his lived ...we were able to see it.  It was gone.  I felt sick.  I don't even know how to react to that.

Don't even get me started on the businesses.  KMart hit me hard.  We shopped there a lot when I was growing up. It was like all these memories going into the abyss. The McDonalds on Hopper was where we purchased many a cheeseburger and hot fudge sundae on graveyards. Arby's and their Market-something sandwiches had fed me on many days I didn't make a lunch and realized that on my way to work when I worked swings.  The Applebee's?!  That gorgeous red Round Barn, the Hilton where we rented a room on my 19th birthday so that we could hang out and possibly drink things I wasn't supposed to be drinking when I was 19.  I remember a friend of mine mentioning using Peppermint Schnapps for mouthwash because we didn't bring toothpaste!!! Don't worry - we were all very very sober when we left the hotel room. 

Santa Rosa is my hometown. It is my home.  I know that it will rebuild and houses and businesses will sprout back up in the spaces they were knocked down but it still doesn't alleviate the pain I feel in my very being.

The only way I can describe it is ...  I see each house as a living being. Because, if you think about it ... they are.  Each house either sheltered a family, or a group of friends/roommates. The houses sheltered the memories all together, birthdays, Christmases, any sort of celebration. Funny moments, food fights, sleepovers. There were the same trash cans lining the streets on trash day, the same cars in the driveways at night as everyone was tucked in for the night.  When I see the destroyed homes, I just see a loss and it feels to me like the loss of life, even in homes where no one passed.  I can't explain it properly.  Maybe because I can't quite get my head around it.

I am not alone in feeling this way. I know this. I know that eventually, I'll be able to get myself put back together again. This isn't forever.  It's a processing thing.  We are all going to have to put ourselves back to whatever normal we are going to have going forward. Some have a monumental journey ahead of them, as they have to rebuild and actually put their whole life back together.  I just need to rearrange the puzzle pieces in my head, to shift certain fears back into a realistic spot. Alas, it is still a sort of adjustment of my own.

Thankfully, this didn't affect my love for my job.  I don't walk in here and have any sort of adverse reactions to things I experienced during the melee.  If anything, coming to work made me feel secure.  I knew what to do, even having NO idea what to do ... I knew how to do my job, I knew that I just had to dive in, and I was able to do it.  It was when I wasn't here that I wasn't feeling in any sort of control.  And yet, I still love this ... even in the face of all of that. I never, EVER, want to go through that again.  But, I do know that there is a chance that I will have to. I work in public safety.  That is my job.  I answer 911 calls, I talk to deputies on the radio as they face down dangers. This could come around again in some other sort of way.  It's life.  It's unpredictable.

For the time being, I will work on putting the pieces of my heart and mind back into a manageable shape.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

A Living Nightmare (warning: foul language ahead)

I've been trying to find the words on how to explain how everything went down on October 9th in the dead of night. I was sound asleep. I heard the buzz of my phone ringing on the nightstand, I looked at the screen and saw "Private Number", this usually means work is calling so I grabbed it. 

"Can you come in?  We need help." said the shaking voice of one of my oldest friends and the only person I'd want to call me in that situation because she conveyed exactly what I needed to know. Get Here Now.

I flew out of bed, dressed in the dark, brushed my hair and ran out the door.  I didn't brush my teeth, I think I put on deodorant but ... I'm not sure I did that either.  I was part way down Guerneville Rd almost to Stony Point when I remembered that I should tell my husband that I left the house for an emergency at work and to not call me when he woke up.  I didn't know what I was responding for.  My fear was an officer involved shooting where a deputy was seriously injured or worse.  I was stopped by Guerneville and Stony Point and couldn't go any further because there was a fire truck blocking.  I mentioned to my husband that there was a small fire there and turned and headed northbound to Piner Rd.  I made some remark that I had been looking forward to sleeping in that morning but that I would be at work. Looking back, I am so irritated with myself for being so flippant. 

But honestly ... I still had NO idea why I was going to work.  I'd looked at my phone and seen several pages from work asking for help but I don't wake up to the page.  I set my ringer to ON because the SWAT callouts come through as a regular call.  When I did scroll through my texts as I was leaving the house I saw several Nixle pages that led with "Evacuation" but most of them were also from SRPD.  Still relatively clueless to why I was going.   My head was like "there's a fire somewhere that the PD is dealing with"

I turned onto Piner Rd and everything was dark.  The power was totally out.  No stoplights, etc.  I drove slowly (lots of traffic) and made my way to where Piner Rd and Coffey Ln intersect. It was here that everything I know changed.  It was very very dark, and there were people literally RUNNING across the road and down the sides of the roadway.  I remember thinking "What the fuck is going on?"

We all drove slowly, dodging people, using stoplights that weren't working as stop signs and then when I turned onto Bicentennial to come over the overpass to work ... I saw precisely WHY I was coming to work and what the shit was happening all around me.

The sky burned a hellacious red I have never seen before.  I've only read about that kind of sky in writings of the apocalypse.  My stomach sank to the my feet, and my entire body began to shake.  For the first time in my career as a dispatcher, I was one of those people heading towards the danger while the rest of the world ran the other direction.  I drove up Ventura towards the Sheriff's office and the lights in the parking lot went off, and then came back on, but then went off again.  The wind whipped everything around.  I parked haphazardly and leaped from my car thinking "This is it.  The world is ending ..."

Sara was getting out of her car, with the flu, and I remember calling out to her "WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE!  YOU'RE SICK!' She just shook her head and replied something to the effect of 'they needed help!'

We went inside, I ran up the stairs and ran into the dispatch center.  I found a desk and dropped into the chair, logging on the computer.  WHile it was still booting, I began answering calls.  I still didn't know where the fire was (other than just about everywhere) because there was no official way to brief me on what was happening considering the phone lines were out of control. I picked up calls and asked people "Do you see flames?" and when they said "YES!" I almost yelled back "GET OUT OF THERE"

I took call after call after call, telling people to leave, telling others we would try to get to those they were asking us to check on.  The first hour and 20 minutes FLEW by and I made eye contact with that same shaky voice that called me and she asked if I was comfortable taking the radio.  I jumped right in and the next 7 hours went by in a slow moving, yet incredibly fast moving blur.  Evacuating people from another two very different parts of the county for two completely separate fires than the first, deputies watching fire approach them once again, one deputy reporting lines down in a spot and another replying that that was their only way out.  But, thankfully ... they were all able to get out of their just fine and it wasn't a repeat of what my friend had to go through with a deputy trapped with 35 civilians as the fire raged around them and being forced to just wait and see what happened.

During this craziness, my eyes kept flicking up to the angry red sky. And then, flames burst into the air and appeared quite close to the building I was sitting in.  Our power was out, our water wasn't working, the air in the room was very thick with smoke.  I told our sergeant on the air that there were flames outside. One of the deputies responded to the intersection near our office and told me that it was further away.  The fear in my heart eased a little bit. We were also told that the fire dept would defend our building because we were the source of communication for everyone out there fighting the fires.

That sky was so red. Those flames were so high and kept going. I remember looking at my co-worker, John, and asking where the planes were to help.  He replied that they couldn't fly until the sun was up.  My whole body shook because it was after 7:30am.  The sun should have long been up by then but it was still completely pitch black outside (and red). 

As dawn finally broke and the sun finally was able to lighten the smoke so that we could see ... the reality of that nightmare began to fall upon us. Countless people I know lost everything. Deputies I spoke to repeatedly throughout the night and morning knew their homes were lost but never stopped moving.  People I spoke to may not have made it out, and the fear of a rising death toll made me feel physically ill. And, it wasn't over.  We were still actively evacuating people, still actively chasing the fire as it raged all over.  It felt like a nightmare that would never stop.

I had started shaking with that red sky and I didn't really stop for days. I live in Northwest Santa Rosa, west of Coffey Park by about 3.5 miles where I was safely out of harm's way for the time being.  But I was fearful because every day it seemed like the evacuation area spread, and we just couldn't get any containment on that fire.  I never would, in a million years, have expected a wildland fire started almost near the Napa County line to take out houses in Santa Rosa. It was no longer out of the realm of possibility that I could be in danger. We were ready to evacuate if we needed to.  I begged the husband to stay home until we knew there was some containment because I needed him to tend to the animals.  I was committed to work ... I couldn't get them out if something happened.

The first night, I leaped out of bed with every sound my phone made, I kept jumping up to check the sky for that same red. When a nixle would come out, I'd devour every word, wondering if I needed to go back to work. I was OK, my house was OK, but the way I looked at the world had completely changed.  People I know well were devastated by this and I can't even begin to pretend that I understand what they are going through, or that I can even imagine what they are going through. I was coming in to work every morning at 2:30-3:00am because I couldn't sleep. I'd see that drive all over again, I'd see those flames and feel that terrifying feeling of the horrific unknown staring at me.  I can still see it and still have dreams that involve flames.

I've never felt so helpless and scared in my life. I would take those calls at work and ... not have answers for people.  I still am in a position where I don't have the answers that people want from me.  I still shake when the words "red flag warning" are mentioned on the news, I was shaking while watching freaking Spiderman: Homecoming, because there was a wall of flames and I just saw that view out the window at work ... where I felt like a sitting duck ... waiting for it to get closer.  I got nervous last night because the wind was blowing when I took the dog out.

I am also a major Empath.  I feel for other people WAY too much. So, my heart is constantly broken for those that have been absolutely destroyed by this.  For the animals lost, the human lives lost, knowing we did absolutely everything we could do but it still wasn't enough to beat this monster.  I've been head down, dialed in at work, hour upon hour of fire fire fire. Constantly having to tell people that I can't accommodate their request, knowing that it's not what they want to hear. 

It is going to be a massively long road ahead.  Our community needs to stick together, help those that need help ... be kind to everyone you come across. Everyone has some sort of struggle in this. While someone's home may still be standing, they could be affected in other ways. It's just better to be kind. We are one County. We are all in this together.

Stay strong, Sonoma County.