Operational Readiness: Stage for Self Rescue

4 mins read

Operational readiness is vastly discounted as a natural process. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak at a couple events toward a model for envisioning the mental health landscape. One was at a local clinic that was hosting the local CMHA chapter’s Mental Health Week. The other spot had me standing in front of the newest batch of paramedic recruits. In both instances, I was offered the chance to speak on resilience as a tool for building out our capacity for mental health challenges.

Here’s the main model: imagine a river.

Everybody – by nature of being a person who exists – is cast into this river. The river has a running current. For some people, that current is moving a little (or a lot!) quicker. The current itself is life, or, the things that can present challenges to us. Trauma, problems and so on.

Now, we all have the natural inclination to swim. Despite the running water, we turn towards it and start to figure out how to move against it. The problem is, we have to figure it out while we’re fighting it. That is, unless we have a coach along the shore to shout better instructions at us. No matter how many ropes are thrown, it is our own arms and legs that have to keep us floating.

So, we’ve got to swim.

When we run out of viable techniques to keep swimming – or – when the current itself starts to wash over us, we’re carried down river. As we’re pushed, an edge is seen where the water falls over, toward the rocks below. See, that’s the thing. Resilience skills offer us the tactics, techniques and procedures to keep swimming but, we can still be overtaken. If that should happen, we risk a steep drop over the edge of that waterfall. Lucky for us, society has built a giant net just beyond the bluffs. Professionals, policies, agencies and organizations are constantly tying knots into this net to hopefully catch everybody on their way over.

But, my friends, hope is not a plan.

Some will inevitably miss the net. Some will fall through.

Under the net is where depression, suicide and substance abuse is found.

Building baseline resilience is the very action of staging for self rescue. Practicing techniques to keep swimming against that current makes us better swimmers and means we don’t have to hope for the net.

Operational readiness is a term I’ve been using to describe that process. Figuring out how to swim, in this case, means tying together the physical, emotional and mental threads that keep us on the trucks, ready for our families and conditioned, despite the current. Sometimes, I figure, the phrase ‘mental health awareness’ is married to the idea that simply talking about mental health struggles in the community is doing the work. Operational readiness, however, means moving forward. It’s the action required to be ready for the current.

See, resilience is something you can practice by doing. You can learn about 4 key tools in another one of our capstone posts, here:

Article: The Big 4 Tools of Building Mental Resilience

Bill Dungey is a volunteer firefighter in Ontario, Canada. He is focused on fitness, mindset development and finding training opportunities to help the fire service make things better.

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