Updated: Jun 27, 2021
A little-known fact about first responders is that they are highly creative people. Rarely seen by the general public, I am genuinely delighted that so many of them have chosen to share their work with me. I have read beautiful poetry written by cops, inspired by a horrific loss on the job. I have held in my hands the pottery of a paramedic who comes home from a long day and reaches for something he can mold from the plain and formless into a stunning, functional piece of art. I have watched as a fireman walked through a long-forgotten building and envisioned its future as the centerpiece of the historic downtown district. It is this drive to create and restore that helps them heal from the challenges of the work they have chosen to do in service to us. And it is this creative spirit that dissipates as the stress compounds and sleep becomes a distant memory.
Creating and restoring are as vital to the first responder as being spiritually connected to a powerful, unique purpose. When that desire fades, it is a warning sign that must be taken seriously, immediately. In a chaotic world – which for public safety professionals is a reality most of the time – the need to make sense of it is a driving force behind self-care. Fixing, building, capturing the perfect moment from behind the camera lens, sculpting…these are refueling activities that calm the racing mind, center the body’s systems, and allow for rhythmic, almost meditational breathing. Even one hour spent creatively expressing the intensely spiritual part of who we are can heal a week’s worth of toxicity.
Interestingly, it’s not usually the first responder who notices the diminished creativity…it’s the loved one. Questions like, “Why haven’t you painted in awhile?” or comments like, “You haven’t spent much time writing lately,” should raise the alarm for both that something is blocking the need to create. Most often, that something has to do with either the job or the organization. Ignoring it or blowing it off as “just the way it is” does us all a disservice.
We need our first responders to take care of themselves. We need them to prioritize themselves first. We need to push our city leaders to break the bonds of the way it’s always been done and step forward with a new attitude…one that re-educates our first responder workforce that you don’t have to buck up and accept losing yourself to do this work. Instead, you must watch for warning signs of distress and intentionally adjust your self-care regimen to hold on tightly to the creator, the builder, the artist within.
Our guest on this week’s podcast, Sarah Rosetti, is an experiential artist whose work has captured the heart of the military and first responder community in its raw, emotional depiction of the impact of selfless service. I hope you’ll join me in appreciating her gift, both by listening to the show – Black Canvas and White Bones – and perusing her work on Instagram. She can be found by searching _invadergirl_ or Black Canvas, LLC.
Dr. Renee Thornton