|I Can Feel "It"|
|By Corporal William Young|
When I wake up on Monday mornings, I begin my emotional spiral. As I get up and let my dog out I know that, in less than 16 hours, I will be back at it. My 48-hour furlough is over. Back to the salt mines.
As I sit on my back porch trying to enjoy my first cup of coffee for the day, I can feel my mind gearing up for all of the ridiculous arguments that I’m pretty sure are going to happen. I steel myself for the barrage of insults and threats and accusations of unfair treatment and racism. My dog sits at my feet and the birds are chirping and the air is fresh and the coffee is terrific and I have my feet up but I am not at ease, I am not relaxed.
I can feel “it.” Everyone that has worked in a correctional facility knows what “it” is. “It” is when your mood starts to darken and you feel the agitation and I hate it. “It” is when you don’t want to be in a bad mood but you are. “It” is when I’m short with my wife and the kiddos and all I want to do is lay on my couch until it’s time to put on my uniform and head to work.
This is a ridiculous ritual if you think about it. When I’m at work all I can think about are all the things that I’m going to do on my weekend (most of which I won’t actually do) and when I’m at home, I spend a lot of time thinking about the job. Why do I do this? Call it fatigue. Call it burnout. Call it institutionalization. Call “It” whatever you want to, but “It” sucks.
The worst part for me is watching my family tip toe around me for fear of me lashing out at them because they know that I’m in the throes of my spiral. Not only does my job affect me in a negative manner, it affects my family as well and that adds to the guilt and the anxiety.
So, there I am, feeling extremely guilty and anxious and inadequate as I sit and stew because no one around me understands what I am going through. I feel guilty and anxious and inadequate as I pass on playing basketball with my boys or discussing the budget with my wife. I feel guilty and anxious and inadequate as I over react to the small things and cause irreparable damage to the ones that I love the most.
As I sit at my work station staring at the beige cinder block walls I swear to myself that I will be better. I swear that I won’t yell or cuss as much and that I will go to the next family get-together. I make a list of all the things I want to accomplish on my weekend and I promise to myself that I will do them. The vicious cycle continues and will continue to do so unless I do something about it.
So what can I do? Well, the first thing that I can do is admit that I have a problem. To admit and identify that you have an issue that needs some attention is the very first and in my humble opinion the most important step that you can take. Being aware of your emotions and acknowledging your triggers can help you understand what is going on and what you need to repair yourself.
Finding the time to decompress or transition from work to home is paramount when battling correctional fatigue. I use the time that it takes me to travel from work to home to decompress. I don’t turn on the radio or talk on my cell phone. I just roll down the windows and drive.
I also have a strange exercise that I do during my commute home to work on my patience. I purposely drive the speed limit in the right hand lane. I don’t pass anybody, I just drive. I just drive and I watch all of the other commuters speed and slam on their brakes and whip in and out and switch lanes—and I just smile. I find that there is a perverse sense of control when others are going crazy around you. It doesn’t work every day, but it does most of the time. You should try it.
The other thing that I did is I had the very awkward conversation with my wife, who is a working mother of three, that I need “me time.” I explained that because of the nature of my job I need to have some time that is dedicated not only to my physical health but also my emotional health. She took it well, probably better than I would if she told me that she needed some “me time.” So, that conversation was the easy part. The hard part was and is actually taking the “me time” that I need to recharge my batteries.
Sitting alone in your den with a stiff drink in your hand may sound enticing, as we often talk about how much we love our quiet time, but the truth is, isolation as a practice enhances the effect of fatigue. We often talk about all of the things that we used to do. We speak fondly of the activities that we used to participate in and quickly rattle off excuses as to why we no longer participate in them.
Have hobbies, coach a little league team, go to church or lodge, and for heaven’s sake take your family out to the movies or the amusement park or to the mall. Trust people. Put yourself out there, in the community, and help others. Re-connect with the friends that stopped inviting you to their parties because you always found a reason not to go. Call the brother or the uncle or the father that you haven’t talked to in seven months because of some stupid argument that the two of you had over something stupid that neither one of you remembers. Force yourself to get out of the house and live life. The world is not that dangerous. You will be fine.
The beautiful and terrible reality is that NO ONE can make you do any of these things. You have to make the commitment to yourself to help yourself. No amount of pushing or prodding or arguing can make a person care. So make time for yourself and for your family. Get good sleep when you can. Exercise and try to make good food choices. Be compassionate, optimistic, and respectful. Allow yourself to be happy. Allow yourself to unwind. Be more active and smile.
This article as been reprinted with permission from the August 2017 Issue of Correctional Oasis, a monthly e-publication of "Desert Waters Correctional Outreach".
Corporal William Young is a 13-year veteran of the Douglas County Department of Corrections in Omaha, Nebraska. Battling Corrections Fatigue himself, Officer Young is determined to assist his fellow brothers and sisters by helping them identify, manage, and reverse the damaging side effects and symptoms of working in such an environment.
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