Kimberley Hardy’s Story – Communicator, Waterloo Regional Police
My career as a Dispatcher began with the Waterloo Regional Police Service in February 1998. I felt I had finally found the job that was perfect for me. I didn’t dread going to work; in fact, being a dispatcher didn’t feel like work at all. The Communication Centre is a very interesting place to work. It can go from calm to chaos in minutes and never knowing what that next call might be what added to the allure for me. The job was full of challenges, was so rewarding, and I loved it.
As much as I loved the job, I know it changed me. I was so fixated on being the best I could be at work that I let myself be less at home. Work became my happy place because I felt in control there. I started signing up for as many overtime shifts as I could and began volunteering with Victim Services. As my home life deteriorated, I became even more focused with work.
By my 15th year, I wasn’t sleeping properly, I was cynical, moody, mentally exhausted, and constantly annoyed with life. I was no longer able to have a normal conversation with people. I was so used to getting the important details from the callers as quickly as I could that I found I was irrationally irritated at anyone who had a story to tell. I just wanted the facts and no fluff!! My marriage was falling apart and my relationship with my children was suffering. I had a blended family with 4 children, which would be difficult at the best of times, but the years of shift work and the job itself left me with little to no patience and emotionally drained. I felt like I was left with little for me to offer them. I am a very private person and not one to ask for help, so I foolishly kept my struggles to myself and forged ahead as best I could.
As I found myself in this downward spiral, my oldest daughter was also struggling in her own battle with mental health. As a dispatcher, we deal with people with mental health everyday, but this was my daughter and I didn’t seem to know how to help her. I registered for any workshops or courses I could find in my attempt to understand how to help. By the end of 2016, I was barely keeping it together, my daughter was in and out of the hospital, and I honestly felt ashamed and defeated because I wasn’t able to help her be well. My youngest daughter was living in the States for school on a hockey scholarship. Almost all of my days off were spent travelling to Michigan to watch her play hockey, which didn’t leave me much down time and it also caused tension with my other children. For me, I think in my muddled mind, this was my escape. I could go to the rink, drink lots of beer and try to forget about what a mess my life had become.
Unfortunately, in 2017, my oldest daughter completed suicide and my life eternally changed. I still don’t have the words to describe the months that followed. I returned to work after only five months and it was incredibly difficult. People don’t understand that when you are mentally injured, there is no quick fix and you can’t tell someone when you will be “better.” My return to work did not go as smoothly as it should have and perhaps a lot of that was my fault as it was hard for me to articulate my needs. I didn’t know what I needed. I didn’t even know if I was really ready to return to the Communication Centre, but even with all I had been through, there was still a part of me that was drawn to return. Being a dispatcher is something I’m good at and I’ve always felt compelled to help others.
It’s been four years and honestly, some days I still fight to get out of bed. I still have days at work where I sit at my desk and feel apprehensive about answering the next call and what might be waiting for me on the other end of the line, but I think I have more compassion and empathy in dealing with the callers now than I ever did. I am still a work in progress. I have my service dog, Deke, who comes to work with me. Deke is a tremendous help to me. He keeps me grounded, provides support and alleviates a lot of my anxiety. He senses when I need that nudge to bring my mind back to present and away from the dark places it sometimes lingers.
Working in the Communication Centre can be rewarding, but I have learned you cannot let it become your life. As a dispatcher, you are the first point of contact for people in desperate need of help, and the lifeline for the front-line officers; that’s a lot of responsibility and it’s important that we learn to take care of ourselves so we don’t get overwhelmed. We must remember that to be able to help others, we need to take care of ourselves and to acknowledge we also may need help along the way. Be honest with yourself and if you are having a hard time coping, reach out for help. Pay attention to each other and if you see someone that seems to be struggling, touch base with them. Sometimes it’s as simple as asking if they are okay. Be kind and caring, because you never know what is truly going on in anyone else’s life.