First Responder Family Resilience with Kimberly Williamson, RSW, CYPT, CYT

Kim shares her story of recovery and resilience and is passionate about educating and supporting others to do the same.

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The word resiliency these days can feel more like a buzz word than an actual state of being. While a lot of people are talking about it, it’s important to remember the crucial step is the practice of resilience.

Today we are talking with fellow mental health clinician Kim Williamson and her journey surrounding missing the signs of her husband’s post traumatic stress injury. She is now spreading the message of resiliency for first responder spouses and couples.

Kim owns the First Responder Family Wellness Center in Alberta, Canada and we first connected through Instagram when I saw information about her resiliency support group and workshop. Her personal experience and what she’s now doing to impact other first responder families is just amazing.

Kim is a Registered Social Worker in a clinical practice as well as a certified EMDR therapist, Family Trauma Therapist and a Trauma Yoga Therapist.

Changes Throughout a First Responder Marriage

Kim tells us, “It feels like we’ve been married to the same person but different marriages.  We both changed and had to adapt but I changed because I had to.”

“I didn’t want to marry a police officer because my uncle died in the line of duty as a police officer. During our pre marital counseling it came up that it was my husband’s dream to become a police officer. This was a “bomb” for our therapist who had actually written her graduate school thesis on how 80 percent of law enforcement marriages don’t make it and end in divorce. And coincidentally, she was in the process of getting a divorce from a police officer.”

Kim says she found herself  in the “double whammy of the d’s – death and divorce.”  Because her husband loved her and wanted her to feel safe, he didn’t become a police officer for a while, which she now realizes was him denying his own passions and dreams in order to please her. She had to do the work on her own to face her fears and watch him go live his dream.

Kim realized something extremely important in any marriage:

If each spouse is living out their passions, it has a positive effect on your own marriage and your family.

“The Frog In the Pot”

Kim says her greatest fear is incompetence, both as a mental health professional and as a wife,  which was highlighted in her personal experience with her husband. She says she feels shameful for missing the signs but looking back, she was too subjective to realize the signs.

She says, “When I was in it daily I was surviving it and just trying to cope. I look back and see some of the things that made it worse that I chose to ignore or didn’t see. Like washing the sheets every day from sweat and not taking the time to think that maybe this is a problem.”

For Kim and her family it was a pressure cooker situation. Out of nowhere the stress was at a ten out of ten and they were looking at exploding.

In therapy we refer to this as “the frog in the pot.”

If we put a frog in a cold pot, the frog will stay there. If we turn it up to high heat all of the sudden, the frog will jump out! BUT if we slowly turn up the temperature the frog will adapt to the temperature that it’s in and not realize that they’re under distress and they will stay in the pot until they die.

Noticing the Signs of Post Traumatic Stress Injury

For Kim, she realized that her husband was having panic attacks during hikes and waking up in cold sweats at night. He was irritable and angry and all of these things contradicted their current situation – they had just moved out to a farm where her husband could decompress. What they thought was a good mental health decision slowly started to hurt their family.

What Kim now knows is that her family lost support that was crucial to them. They weren’t being proactive because they didn’t go to yoga as a couple every week. They didn’t go to conferences or retreats as a couple that was helping them to be proactive.

The tipping point, though, seemed to be when their four year old daughter needed open heart surgery. While that was happening, her husband was also working a gruesome homicide case involving a five year old boy and his grandparents. Kim even mentions the little boy looking like their younger son. She could tell how much the case impacted him and imagines how helpless he must have felt on top of their daughter needing major surgery.

She recognizes that the behavior went on for about six months after this and even his panic attacks and rage accelerating quickly.

Kim knew that this behavior wasn’t him and mentions, “hurt people hurt people.”

I didn’t want the rage in my home and I knew it wasn’t him.

Addressing the Issues of Operational Stress Injuries

In order to talk to her husband Kim knew she needed to use facts. Being married to a police officer and homicide detective helped her realize that she needed to document what she observed. She also knew she couldn’t talk to him about her feelings in the moment, but that if she wrote everything down she could address it later when he was more receptive.

That moment was during their walks outside on their farm. She said they’d talk and she would give him the facts that she had been noticing. She said police officers often feel immense guilt when they learn that they’re hurting the people that they love most.

It’s important to approach these conversations with love and grace. The need to know that their spouse realizes that they’re hurting, but it’s also hurting and impacting their family.  When that conversation happens there’s facts attached to the problem and it is easier to realize.

Recovering from PTSI

After being confronted, Kim’s husband talked to his supervisor at the police station and he was a huge support to him. He even had blood testing done and learned that his cortisol levels were dangerously low. He got on medication and now swears by it and how it helped him. He had a therapist that helped him “do the work.”

Kim even saw a therapist on her own and so did her children. She recalls them becoming a family stress team.

In their family they use a “stoplight” for recognizing their emotions and triggers. Kim says, “Green means go and it’s obviously when you’re feeling good and calm. Yellow means caution and that is when you need to ask yourself what you need to do to move back down to green. The trick is to notice your emotions before you move into red. We try to recognize the yellow and identify our “window of tolerance” which means being able to notice when we leave the calm zone to work on the coping skills before we hit red.”

We all have different coping skills that work for us. We need these skills to stay resilient.

 The Biggest Parts of Resilience

 1. Your mindset – how you will stay positive.

2, The practice of gratitude and appreciation every day

A lot of people think that resilience is something you do after something bad happens, but it’s a practice that is something we can do on the daily.

 Operational Stress Injury

 This phrase is used in Canada for first responders like military and police officers. It’s a physiological or psychological term that is a direct result from trauma and stress. It can be one event or it can be cumulative. OSI presents itself after witnessing death, experiencing violence, or the threat of safety to oneself or another.

 Obviously these things are something first responders may experience more than once a day.

Kim says the use of this term helps to raise awareness around the mental health stigma. You have to normalize OSI because in those job fields it’s going to happen and there need to be more conversations surrounding it. Your body is not made to do extraordinary things everyday in the way that first responders do.

Mental health is not a lifetime sentence. You can do things to help yourself, you don’t have to suffer with it your whole life. When it comes down to it, there are no awards for suffering.

Resilience Academy

Kim offers an online global program. The numbers of this group are kept small to build intimacy between members but there is a waitlist you can join.  She says, “We come together to connect as first responder spouses. We share the things that have happened in our families and support each other through that. We share skills that work and can help. We can encourage each other to do the work.”

 Kim’s Contact Info

 [email protected]

 https://www.firstresponderfamilywellnesscenter.com

 The Resilience Academy

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First Responder Family Resilience with Kimberly Williamson, RSW, CYPT, CYT

Kim shares her story of recovery and resilience and is passionate about educating and supporting others to do the same.

Share:

Share:

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