My interview with Robert from Skulls For Hope
Robert === Stack: . All right guys, today, we're talking to Robert. He's out of Albuquerque New Mexico. He's been 19 years in EMS total, and he's 17 years with his department. Currently he's a paramedic Lieutenant, and you guys might know him better as the administrator behind the page of, at skulls for hope on Instagram. And he's also connected with next rung. And I'm gonna let him talk a little bit about those as we get through the story. But for now, I'd just like to let Robert introduce himself and talk about his family history, maybe some professional history, and we'll get into the story. How you doing Robert? Robert: I'm doing well. Thanks for having me on. Thanks for being here. As you said, I've been a first responder for total 19 years. And as far as my story goes people probably don't really want to hear why I got into the job, but I think it's always the same for almost all of us that kind of want to do more, want to help people and to just make a difference in the way that we can. And that was my main goal. And I think things started out pretty mundane for the, about the first seven or eight years of my career. And about I'd say, gosh, What would that be doing the math 11 years ago? A little bit more. I had the little girl that drowned, and I think those of us that have done the job long enough can probably pinpoint the one particular call that we went on that was different or changed things for us, whether that be bad habits of self-medication, whether that be flashbacks, a new diagnosis of PTSD, whatever you want to call it. There was a drowning of a little girl that was the same age and size as my son at the time. So she was three years old and I don't know, there was just something about it that really stuck with me. And she was the beginning of the flashbacks. She was the first pediatric call I'd ever had. And for those of us that have been on those calls, especially when you have children, it just doesn't make sense to me. It's one of those things that like visually, even though I've seen quite a few since then, I don't know, they don't connect to me. It's not something that you normally see or that should happen. I think we can justify when you respond to an adult, that's passed away. Maybe our logical mind thinks, oh, they're adult they've had their lives. They lived their lives or whatever else. And it's easier to process, but with her, I just couldn't let it go. Around that time. I couldn't, I didn't know what to do to, look past that. And I wasn't going to counseling at the time, which was actually what part of what saved my life and put me in the right direction was going to counseling. But back then, it wasn't even bigger stigma that it is now. And I had always had something on my. Or there's a live strong bridge bracelet or a rubber band or something like that. And it calm me down to make my own bracelets. And when I was making those bracelets I came across the meaning of. skull and the Tibetan culture, which was the impermanence of life, that everything that lives dies and you have to live every day to its fullest. And so that really hit home to me with a job that we do. And so in the bracelets, I started integrating a skull in each one, hence the name skulls for hope, which at the time was nowhere near existence, nor did I ever want it to be at the time. But it was something that I had that I could wear something that was concrete that I could touch and recenter myself in those bad moments. And for a very long time, that was the very private story. And I was convinced by some friends that the story needed to be shared. And I honestly didn't think anybody would really care about what I used to call my silly bracelets, but it's created a community and it's a. It's nice to have it. We tell our brothers and sisters I'm here. If you need anything, I'll reach out to you or reach out to me if you need anything. But a lot of times when we're in crisis, we don't do that. We don't reach out. And this gives you something concrete to have. I know that in the moments I've had panic attacks or been in a horrible situation. I can touch it. I can run it through my hand and it helps to remind me that I'm not alone, especially now with the community growing. Like it is. It's just a constant reminder and something physical that you can touch, when people have challenge coins or you have a necklace that's been handed down to you, something that's concrete that you can touch. And then I keep using the word concrete, but it's just something hard something you can hold on to. So that's the. The start of that part of my journey. And it sounds tidy to say that and to say, oh, everything's great now. But I had a very hard time after she drowned. And I'd go on more calls. Obviously the job doesn't stop and. I wish I could tell you that it was just like, oh cool. I made bracelets and everything was great. It absolutely wasn't. I still struggled. I think that was the beginning of self-medicating. When I was having the flashbacks, I wasn't used to it and I didn't like it and I just wanted to sleep when I went to bed. I didn't want to see her and remember every part of that call. And so I was drinking NyQuil and it's funny how our logical mind works because. I knew that was a bad thing. I knew that drinking cold medicine to sleep wasn't really accepted. It wasn't really a normal thing to do. But what's one thing that is readily available that everybody does is that there's not really a stigma behind and that was. alcohol so I think that was the start of me using alcohol. Self-medication obviously we all drank and like to have fun and enjoy ourselves with friends. But that I think was unbeknownst to me at the time was the start of my transition to alcoholism. And I think it was manageable for a few years. But for whatever reason The more that I advocated, the more that I put myself out there, I think the more vulnerable I felt, and I didn't know how to handle it. And so probably about four years ago, plus I did local Ted talks and. Before that I shared my story pretty regularly with other first responders or people that I thought might benefit from some of that. This was the first time that I ever did it publicly, like with people that just, I had no knowledge of, or just complete strangers. And I kinda just turned the corner with my drinking after that, and just really went from once, twice on my days off to every single day. And it just got to the point where unintentionally I was pronating my life. I was ruining relationships. I hurt people that absolutely shouldn't have been hurt because of my drinking. I put myself in dangerous situations. Those calls that we respond to. I think that we have that mindset as most people do that. Oh, I'm just a block from the house or I can have one more drink or I can do whatever else. And. I was basically playing with fire, no pun intended. And so a little over two and a half years ago. I finally had enough. I, like I said before, hurt some people that I shouldn't have hurt and did some pretty horrible things in my mind. And instead of waiting for the other shoe to drop, I realized that it was time for me to get help and that I couldn't do it by myself, which is a, I know I'm going all over the place with it. Kind of the point of this kind of the point of doing this podcast and what your mission is and what all of our kind of collective mission is that it's okay to ask for help. It's okay to talk about your issues, whether it's individually to somebody or sharing your story. But the more of our brothers and sisters that know that they're not the only ones suffering are the only ones going through something. I think the better and. Two huge stigmas, I think, to the general public or alcoholism and rehab. And unfortunately I did both. I shouldn't say unfortunately because rehab actually saved my life along with the community, along with family that still cared about me. And along with the counseling that I continue to go to, but point of all, that is, it's a lot of work that you have to put in, but it's very well. When we go through these things I think it's a heavy burden to not talk about the struggles that we have and tried to hide them. And the more that we do it and the worst that it gets and the easier it is to see through it. I think that burden just becomes overwhelming and I lost three friends locally over the last three years to that I guess, burden if you want to call it that. And I just think that mental health is such a complex thing. And I think asking for help personally, is a strength, not a weakness. And I've just been blessed. I've been very lucky to meet people like you to be a part of organizations like Skulls for Hope and Next Rung. Next Rung is actually the place that found my rehab facility. And I went there and I've been sober now for a little over two years. And I can tell you that I used to stay. I was lucky. But I think I'm very blessed in that the last two years of my. Not only through advocacy and through what I do with the two non-profits, but just like in my own personal life, the fulfillment and the way my life has become. And even more so than that circling back to the job, it gives you the ability to. I understand and maybe have a better or different perspective of these calls that we go on when that little girl drowned. I took it very personally and I thought it was my fault, even though she had already passed before we even got there. And I just, I didn't understand for a lot of a long time, I questioned, like why do I keep seeing these horrible things? And the transition has become, as I think. We're all put in these positions for a reason, whether we understand them or not. Those children those families, those situations that we respond to that are out of the ordinary from our everyday calls, I believe we're there for a reason. And the people that go on those calls, even the ones that those of you that are struggling with them, I believe you're meant to be there, not as a punishment, but as a blessing for those people, because. How profound is it that in our day to day job, we're in situations where we are in these intense unbelievable moments for these people and whether it's to be there with them when they pass or whether it's be to even make that difference to where they have a little bit more time with family and friends. It's truly a blessing. Like my biggest struggle with this little girl drowning became my biggest, why I couldn't understand why I had to be there that day, why I had to respond to that call. But she's my reason. She's the reason why I advocate. She's the reason that Skulls for Hope he can. She's the reason that I became a part of Next Rung, like every single thing that I've done in the past couple of years is not only in her honor, but it's. She motivates me. And if you'd ask me that 10 years ago, I would have laughed and cried at the same time. So I don't know. I think we all have our own struggles and our own journeys, and I think we're very blessed in the job that we do. And we sometimes forget that because of how heavy it can be. But given the, being, given these opportunities and being given the ability to have a. And to have a community that I'm a part of you included we wouldn't have met if it wasn't for social media and I don't know, it's just, everything happens for a reason. And I know that sounds cliche. But I really believe that our ups, our downs it's all part of our journey. It's a matter of what you do with it. And I think. These conversations, the, these podcasts, these one-on-ones that you have at the fire station or with somebody that you meet, and that understands your struggle, even though they're different, have different calls, we all go on different calls. We all have different feelings. We all have different families. But I think we all boil down to the same thing. There's a reason. They say we have type a personalities or that we like to party. We like to drink. We go through divorces. We have these troubled relationships. I think it all can be factored back into certain forms of self-medication or just not dealing with the things that we see and being able to process them. It's ridiculous to think that you should be able to go on a call. A child that dies or a massive car accident at three in the morning and get off work at eight in the morning and have a smile on your face and just be a normal person. You have to be able to create this community. You have to be able to tell your family and loved ones. I'm not okay today instead of throwing on a face like you do for your patients and act like you're okay. And go hide in the corner and do whatever you do to. Decompress. That's not healthy. The healthy mechanisms are great, but we all know it's very difficult to come home and act normal. But for some reason we still try to do it. Stack: Yeah. We definitely try to act normal. We all come home and we don't want to I guess maybe the term would be to infect family or infect friends with the bad that we've experienced, but we definitely try to act normal. We're definitely not normal. Robert: Absolutely. And I don't, it's a such a strange term to say normal because I think if we normalize that it's okay to not be okay if you come home and don't worry about, like you just said, infecting your family members, but saying, Hey, I had this horrible call. I'm not going to go into detail, but whether it was a child or a bad car accident or somebody that reminded you of a family member, if you give them the bare bones and let them understand, like I'm struggling today, if I'm a little short with you, or if I. Cover up my sadness and my frustration with anger. And I lashed out just let me know and I'll do my best, but at least give them an opportunity to understand that there's something wrong. And that they'll support you. I've talked to so many spouses and family members that were like, I just wish you would tell me just a little bit and not details. We tell each other. Our stories are not in the greatest detail, because it's a way for us to let go and release some of it. But we're afraid to do that with family. And just remember, you don't have to, you don't have to tell them details because people that don't do this job, people that haven't experienced, the things that we've experienced, they're not supposed to know what it's like. And as we all know, we don't want them to know what it's like. But if you just tell them. I had a horrible call. I don't really want to talk about it right now, but just give me a little bit of grace. You'd be very surprised how much grace that family member would give you. Stack: Yeah. And that's a good point. Cause we do like to share those details when we're with each other and it almost becomes, . It comes that dark humor with the details and you want to add that to a family member. And so you add the details and the dark humor. It's shocking for a family. Robert: Absolutely. Stack: So you mentioned that you had, you were in, you had a therapist before the incident with the little girl, or did you find one Robert: after that? No. No. Like I said, I've been doing the job total of 19 years. And when I came in and for a very long time up until I'd say probably about three years ago, in my opinion it was. A huge stigma to talk about it, period. Like you could talk about the call and like you said, have the dark humor, but to say I'm not okay, I'm having a hard time and I'm drinking too much or I'm getting divorced, because my anger issues and my drinking and everything else on pile on top of each other has caused my happy-go-lucky self to change. And the person that loves me or loved me. cant any more, because I'm just this different person. We, you were taught on the job, you suck it up. If you can't do it, but then quit. And that was all that it was. And so I very much didn't talk about it. I very much didn't say how much I was struggling with it. And probably about three years after that call, it's the most ridiculous thing. I was doing laundry in the laundry room and I don't know what the trigger was, but I started bawling my eyes. And it was like, I just couldn't hold it anymore. And to my then wife, I went and told her, I was like, I need help. Like I need to go talk to somebody. And one of the most interesting things about counseling is I wanted to go because I wanted to be in for those three years. I was trying to be the person that I was before. I just wanted to go back to that. And she said the simplest yet most profound thing to me. And she said, you will never ever be that person again. You can be happy. You can be regular functioning and normal, but you're never going to be that same person because trauma changes the calls that we go on, the things that we see just in life, you don't have to be a first responder if. Part of a bad accident, if you witness a bad accident, if you see somebody get shot, all these crazy things that most people don't end up seeing, but when you do, you have trauma and your life changes, it's what you end up doing with it. But I think we're fixers. We as first responders try to fix things. And so I'm, I was constantly looking for a fix, so I'm like, cool, I'm going to counseling now. She's gonna give me the tools. Like I'm good to go. And it's just absolutely not the truth. And it's not a bad thing either. It's just the realization that we as fixers do things in absolute mental health is not an absolute, it's constantly evolving, constantly changing, and you have to constantly put in the work. But the difference is that this work is worth. It just, I would. I don't want to say caution. I would say, just want to verbalize to people that like, if you get the help, if you're doing the right things, you're still going to see those calls. You're still going to have to deal with things. And it's about how you deal with it. Whether you're going to talk about it, whether you're going to counseling, whether you stay connected, like advocacy for me is what keeps me going. It's what keeps me like people say, thank you for speaking to us. And it's no, thank you for having me. And letting me get this off my chest and letting me share my story, because selfishly it's just as much for me. But that's the biggest thing they even tell you in recovery is that you stay sober, you stay on the right path by staying involved, whether it's going to meetings, whether it's advocating, whether it's doing anything, that is your why. You have to stay involved, you have to stay connected. And it's like I said, I can't tell you how many people I've spoken to in different parts of the country that our stories are all different. We all come from different backgrounds. We all have seen different things, but when you filter it down our coping mechanisms are our feelings, our emotions. If you talk to 1, 2, 3, 4 other first responders that have had a pediatric code or seen something horrific happened to a child, especially those, like I said, that have families, our feelings are exactly the same, but what do we do? We're storytellers. So you tell me about a horrible call that you had in that. What's the first thing most of us first responders do. Oh my God. I know what you mean. Let me tell you about the five bad calls that I have. Stack: One up each other. Robert: And it's not intended. It's trying to have a brotherhood and say, yeah, I get it too. But what I'm learning to do is I'm learning to listen is when somebody tells me that they've had a horrible call, you just listen, you just be a friend. One of the amazing things about Next Rung as an organization is we're a peer support team and we're here to listen. We're here to judge. Whatever you're going through. We'll be here as your brothers and sisters. We'll listen to you and you tell us you direct it. You say, I want to go to counseling. We'll help you get counseling. You say, I just need somebody to hear me out because nobody's listening to me. That's what we'll do. So it goes from something as small as that to needing help with counseling, needing help with possibly going to rehab. If that's the journey that you're on. But the great thing is. Just listening, just being a friend. And I think that unintentionally, when others of us are going through trauma, it's part of our recovery process too, to say, oh my God, let me tell you about what I went through as well. And there is a time and a place for that. And I think it's what we do best with each other. But I just know that sometimes people that are down it can go from them, trying to pour their heart out to you, to them just closing off yet again, because. They weren't able to share their story or they weren't able to get everything out. If that makes sense. Stack: That makes total sense. Actually, one of the things, and we talked about it before we started recording, is the fact that I try to stay out of the way of people's stories and what they want to say on the show. And part of that is I don't want to be, I don't want to do an a one-up. I don't want to share a trauma when they're sharing a trauma. I there'll come a time for me to share some of my story, but it's not. While someone else is sharing their story. And so I completely understand what you're saying there. So you talked about rehab and you're pretty open about it. You're on your page. You talk about it. You talk about your struggles with staying sober, which is, has to be an immense amount of struggles at times, especially if you're still in the job. And you talked about. W, how did that work for you? How did you decide? You talked about, you took some risks and you figured that it was time to do something, but how'd, you reach out Robert: as far as just admitting I needed to go. Yeah. Stack: And what are the logistics for, you said you found help. And so let's talk about some of Robert: that. As I said, I. I believe is out of my character, but some of the people that I've hurt, you could say that they would think the exact opposite is I was just because of my addiction to alcohol because of my self-medicating. I wasn't myself. I didn't have control of my emotions. I was hurtful. I was doing things that were, what I believe were out of my character. And you trip up enough times and you make enough mistakes. And I think you either go left or right. You either are going to end up making that big mistake where you hurt yourself or hurt somebody else. And as most of us know, when you do that, obviously it's going to affect you. It's going to affect your job. You're going to lose your job. I think I had just had enough. I just. You create enough chaos and collateral damage in your life. And you have to make a decision either. You're going to keep going down this road. And let's just say, I made it through my career as an alcoholic, and I continued on that path. Okay. What's the end goal? What do I do when I don't have this job? Do I just drink every single day til I end up in the medical ICU and ended up dying of kidney failure, liver failure. You have to take a step back from your own life. And when I did that as I told you before I, I unfortunately lost three friends. To suicide and or to friends and the person that I didn't know, but that was a supporter of skulls for hope. And I became friends with our widows and hearing their intimate details of the home life and the struggles and that there were amazing people. But they had all of these things that they couldn't just get past. It was like looking in a mirror. I wasn't as far down that path, but It is just so many things in my life started like glaringly pointing me in the face saying you have to make a change. And if you don't make a change, then this outcome is not going to be good for you. And I know that had I not gotten the help and I did not gotten sober. I probably wouldn't be here right now. And everybody's journey is different, but for me, I knew that I needed to go to rehab because I had the best intentions. We, in this. If you're drinking and you're drinking heavily, I think you become what we call a functioning alcoholic, where you have to you have to be sober while you're on shift. Don't you? So every time I'm on shift, I'm thinking cool. Like at least these four days off, I'm going to just not drink. I'm going to do a reset. I'm going to be good to go. And I just couldn't. I just spent every single day because of habit because of need drinking and. I just didn't want to wait for that one gigantic thing, bad thing to happen. And being blessed to be a part of this community, being blessed to be a part of the Next Rung. I came clean to the founders and I told them, I said I think I need to go get help. I think I need to go to rehab because this isn't this isn't working. And it was very interesting because one of the founders, Blake, I was talking to him and I was so ashamed. 'cause I told him, I said, look I'm a part of this peer support. And I can't even help myself. Like I need to go get help. And he told me something that just kinda broke down all my walls about like accepting the help. And he said, Robert, you already have a story. You already have this amazing journey that you've been on. Imagine how much better it's going to be after you do this. And imagine what it's going to be like to fill from a full cup and an empty cup. And I think we suffer from that quite a bit in this job is that we think helping others is helping ourselves. Or we think that focusing on others is a way to just not worry about ourselves, but you're running on fumes and something's got to give. And so I knew for me I had to make that step. I had to take that journey and go to rehab. And like I told you, it, it saved my life. It's not for everybody. And that's a big thing. I don't want people to think that, oh, I drink a little bit when I'm off duty and maybe I need to go to rehab. Everybody has to go out their own journey. And for me, it was an absolute, I was just at a point where for years before I went to rehab, I wanted to just get to a point where I could have a couple of beers with friends and it just didn't work for me. But what I learned in rehab for my personal journey was that. It was a medication for me. It wasn't even a, an enjoyable thing anymore in my life. And that's what I reflect on now. It's not a struggle to stay sober for me because I figured out my why I figured out why I was self-medicating and what I needed to do. What I will tell you as the day-to-day struggle that I do have is. As horrible as it would feel the next day, the self-medicating and the numbing and the escaping and not having to feel in those moments. It's hard to replace that when you don't have that vice, when you have to feel, and you have to go through those emotions, but I can tell you as exhausting as that is, It slowly gets better every single time. And if you create that support system of friends or family members like you, for instance, I know. And we've had that discussion that we haven't met. We really don't know each other that well, but I know for a fact that if I'm struggling, I can reach out to you. And that goes for so many other people that I know. And part of Skulls for Hope. And part of what I do is it's an online diary is I just share my pain. I share my struggles because it hurts. And because I don't know what to do, and I don't know how to deal with it sometimes. And this community always takes me up and always reminds me that, Hey, I needed to hear that today too, or I know exactly how you feel. Just not feeling alone is the biggest saving grace for me personally. And I think not numbing is the daily struggle. But I learned enough in my own personal journey that. I just know what'll happen. I know that even today, if I were to pick up a beer it wouldn't stop with that. And it's just because I wouldn't see the point. I wouldn't see the point of cool. Like I'm just enjoying this social time with my friends. It's okay, I need another. And then in another and indeed in another, cause I want that feeling and I want that. But whether euphoria obviously comes and I can't speak for everybody, but I know for me, I could be having a great time, but the more that I drank, the darker, my thoughts would become and I'd end up in a very depressive state, or I ended up in this place of helplessness that I couldn't get out of because obviously I wasn't in my right mind. And so it's just an absolute for me. It's not for everybody, but I know that for my personal journey and for others that I've spoken to That's the why that's why we don't drink anymore. And to be honest with you it's almost more a challenge and more, I don't want to say exciting, but every single day you do that it's just a better and better day. And I think I just mentioned to you the ability to share my story, that the fact that I'm not hiding behind advocacy or the job, or picking up over times to not deal with. As exhausting as it can be. It's beyond rewarding what we do through peer support. What we do through advocacy is so fulfilling and it's such an amazing thing to just meet other people that, that have been on the same, or that are struggling with the same thing and are absolutely not okay with being public about it, which is understandable. But that can listen to these podcasts so they can go to the skulls for hope, or they can reach out to the next rung and know that they're in a confidential space and just share. And that's huge. Stack: You just finished talking about next rung, why don't you explain a little bit about next rung? W we don't need to go too in depth, because I think that could be a show in itself to talk to the guys from next rung including yourself again about it. But maybe if you can just touch on some of what they do and what they offer maybe how they, how it was started. And we'll just cover some of that real quick. Robert: So as far as how it started, I'm going to leave that to the founders Blake and Charlie. But what I can tell you is I met Blake probably, gosh, I don't even mess that up. It's been years, but time flies, right? He's probably we still to this day have not met. But I can't tell you how much I love him and how much I consider him. Literally a brother. He. It was a godsend. He's just been there. He's been amazing. And what was great about him is within the three tenants of next rung, his family faith, family, and first responders. And it's a Christian based organization, which we don't necessarily throw out there. But one of the great things about it with him was that he's your faith, whatever you're going through is your own journey. I know who you are, I believe in who you are. And I think I want you to be a part of this organization and what's been great about it. Is my faith has continued to grow because of the things that I've seen. I know that for over a decade I was very angry at God. I didn't understand why he would let certain things happen, why we would see certain things. And so I had this tumultuous relationship and it was the funniest thing. And again, when I say all this is my journey. Not anybody else's, but I really. It's above my pay grade. I don't make these decisions. I met people and heard stories of people that were in the church or Christians and pastors, and they lost their children. And I'm like, oh my God, like, how do you even do that? How do you, I have my own problems with believing in faith and you yet here you are preaching and you lost your child. And it's It's not up to us. We don't make these decisions. I think my mistake I made as a first responder, as I thought I was saving people. I thought that I would make that difference. And an amazing officer I worked with told me, you don't, we don't save anybody. We buy time, whether it's five minutes, whether it's three weeks. So family can say goodbye to somebody or 10 years because somebody had a heart attack. We all eventually die. And so my faith grew and grew. And to give back to the next. All this stuff combined together, but the big thing that we do as peer support it's just a support in line, whether you can reach out over text, over a phone call it's what we do with CISD. It's what we do in our own departments where we say, Hey, here's the peer support team. Here's the line. But we're nationwide. And we're here just to listen. And like I said, It's confidential. It's this thing where anybody across the country can reach out and just share their struggles, share their stories, share what they're going through. And we're just here to be that lifeline to be that extra helping hand to whatever your journey is. It can be something as simple as just having a really quick phone call. It can turn into there's people that are a part of next rung that have been calling the line or reaching out that I've given my personal number to that I'm friends with now that we regularly talk, it's building that brotherhood. It's just letting people know that, that they have family here. And it grows all the way to what I did. If you need to go to rehab, if you don't have the funding to pay for that, or you don't know how to the first step of doing. We're there to help you with that. If you want to go to counseling, but you're afraid to reach out, or you don't know who to speak to, we'll do that for you. And it's always, it's funny to me because there's quite a few people that haven't heard about it next rung, and it always catches me off guard because we're free. We're here. We're your brothers and sisters. And. We're waiting. We're waiting to talk to you or willing to help you. It's just taking that first step and what's nice. Like I said, I've mentioned it multiple times, but all of this confidential, everything we speak about, if you say you have a drinking problem, et cetera, we don't go past being a friend. We don't say we're going to have to do this. We're gonna have to do that. If we're worried about you, obviously we're going to take the necessary steps to help you. We're here for you, not against you. And that's huge. I think that we get worried that when we talked to admin, when we talked to our higher ups, that there's stigma, that's going to be placed on us or that we're going to be pulled from the job or X, Y, and Z. And people could need to understand that if you start taking those steps on your own it's all gonna work out. But the important thing is just taking that first step and asking for help. And I think we should be trying to end the stigma of it being a weakness. I think it shows a huge amount of resolve and strength to reach out at all. And that's what next rung is for, is to be there when you reach out, what's Stack: the easiest way for people to reach out to the next rung? Is it online? Is it by phone? W what's the easiest, Robert: whatever works for you? Honestly, a lot of people reach out to us through social media. If you want to call us, we have. The phone number that you can reach out to the website. If you go to the nextrung.org you can go there. You can text support to 1 8 3 3 6 9 8 7 8 6 4. It's whatever is easiest for you. Some people prefer to talk on the phone. Some people prefer to text. Some people prefer just to go onto the the website and kind of proves around it. But if you go to the website a little, explain the why the resources and what you can do, Stack: and I'll link to that in the show notes. So people can find it pretty easily from here. And then also if they have Instagram, they can find it @nextrung on Instagram, correct? Yes, absolutely. So that's pretty simple. Let's talk about some of your family history, Robert: I grew up in Albuquerque. I've been here 31 years. Prior to that, I was my dad. I was a military brat, so we moved around quite a bit. But I definitely call this place home and this obviously where I start my entire first responder career. Stack: All right. So you moved around quite a bit before then. Robert: Previously I was born in England. We lived in Sacramento, San Antonio, Stack: and then ended up here. Oh. So not too many places, but enough to get some movement. . Has always been EMS or how's it work in your department? Robert: It's EMS and fire and my department for me personally I did a ride along on a fire truck, loved it. And I knew that's what I wanted to do, but EMS was not even on my radar. But in our department it's the majority of our calls are EMS. And as I started my journey, I kinda, I, when I was a basic I did that for about five years and I enjoyed it a lot. But I started noticing on cardiac arrests or bad calls or things like that. I would watch paramedics and just seeing the amount of tools that they had and then the things that they would do starting IVs, pushing medications I realized I wanted to go that route and that's what I wanted to do. And so I did I've been a paramedic now for about 14 years. I've been a Lieutenant for, I think, a little over five or six. And I'm going to stay a paramedic Lieutenant until I retire. Stack: And how far has retirement? Robert: Two and a half years. Stack: Oh, so that's easy. Robert: Yeah, the light at the end of the tunnel. Stack: Let's talk about some of the things that you would suggest people start today. What can they do today? So people are starting to feel some stress starting to feel anxiety. What are some key things that you think people could start to do today to start to alleviate some of that? Robert: To take a deep breath and realize you're not weak. You're not the only person going through this struggle. You're not the only person that's in pain or suffering but so many of us are suffering next to each other and not saying a word where that weight of the world, that you feel like nobody understands, or your peers and the Lieutenant, you work for the captain you've worked for that. They feel nothing that they've nothing affects them. And for whatever reason it's affecting you, like I promise you, it affects all of us in different ways. Mind you, some people handle this completely fine. I've talked to people at a very. Good childhood. I was upper middle class. My family has always been amazed. And I don't know that I was prepared personally to see some of the things that I did or how to process it. But I've noticed that a lot of people that do this job that have had a very traumatic childhood or have been through a lot prior to the job, this is like par for the course or easier for them to deal with. But even those people. Are an amazing resource of, Hey, like life can be hard. Things can be hard, but there's a light at the end of the tunnel and you're not alone. But I think for those people that are starting, that it doesn't matter if it's the peer support line at next rung. It doesn't matter if it's your coworker that you know, and love and trust. It doesn't matter if it's complete stranger . That you believe might understand it like me. I, and I always mentioned that you're always welcome to reach out. I'm always going to be here. If I am not able to talk at the moment, we'll figure it out. But it's just letting that person know. That they're not alone. Again, and it's not a sales pitch. It's just that was the point of the bracelets. Was that for that particular individual, if he wasn't ready to do anything, he could anonymously order a bracelet. He could wear that brace. And when he's struggling, she's struggling, they know that they're a part of a community or that they're understood, or that they're not alone on this journey for Harvard, it takes. But the one thing I have to say is people always need to understand their journey. Is there. It goes as fast as you want as slow as you want. I would love to have help somebody avoid the pitfalls completely. But I think that's very difficult to do. I would just caution and say, whenever you're ready, we're here. And whenever you're ready to talk, we're here to help you start the conversation. Stack: Those few points that are key. It's. Let's accept the fact that we are all struggling at some point, and we should all normalize that and talk about it. One of the things we've tried to do around fire departments and my station specifically is to open it up to where it's okay to just talk, pull one person aside and talk it's okay to check in with a coworker. If that coworker looks like something's wrong. I know that I've had plenty of people pull me. Before and say, Hey, what's going on today? And it's appreciated beyond, beyond anything that you can't explain when someone reaches out and that's good. That's a great thing. Robert: No, I completely agree. And it sounds cliche, but I have a veteran friend of mine that he's really good at it cause we don't want to burden people with our issues. We don't want to burden people with our problems. And I saw him at the gym the other day and I have my ups and downs. I have my struggles. This is not all sunshine and rainbows. And he's Hey, how are you? And I'll tell everybody right now, if I say I'm good, then I'm probably not really that good. But it's just the cliche that I'm good. I'm good. And he knows that and he looked at me, he says, okay how is Robert? And it sounds silly, but it opened that door. And I was like, you know what? I'm okay. And this is what's going on. As simple as I think it is, or as not, it's not a huge deal, but, and there's always a, but, and I told him like, what was going on in my day and what was going on in my life. And I gave more than a. I'm good , it was a very short conversation, but it was very freeing. It was very comfortable and it was just the simple thing of okay, but how is Robert? And it just caught me off guard, but I've tried to implement that with my friends, with my peers where I think we can all generally tell when we're not good, but we say we're good and we don't have to push it. We don't have to keep pushing somebody saying, you need to tell me exactly how. But if you ask them just to readdress themselves and really understand. That it's okay to not be okay. Even if you can't pinpoint it, but that you're not alone in that struggle. That can be the gist of the entire conversation. Stack: That's a fantastic way of personalizing it. I it's, it sounds so simple, but I can see how that works and it should work well. Because it's so easy, like you said to say, I'm good. Or in my case, I love to say someone asks me how I'm doing and was like, just fantastic, and cause that can come off any way you want it to. And absolutely. And it puts. It almost puts people at ease or it just, it keeps them at arms length enough to not get real. But when you personalize it, it's almost impossible not to get real. Absolutely. Yeah. I like that. I started doing some of that myself, so that's a good little nugget. Is there anything else you'd like to talk about before we get to the last two questions? Robert: No, like I said, I love doing these things and having these conversations because it's a start, like all, this is a start. You're going to do so many more podcasts to so many more people and evolve. And that's how I feel. This always goes is that you want to leave something on the table. And if there's this, isn't something that somebody heard that just really caught on to them. Or if there's something that, that, that started here that they just want to know more about what do they do, they're gonna reach out to. They're going to reach out to me. They're gonna reach out to next rung and be more inquisitive. And I think that's how we do this. I That's how we grow is having these conversations and unintentionally or not leaving something on the table to where it can be talked about later, or it can be like, this started the fire inside me to, to get that help. And I want to know more. Stack: That's wonderful. I love that idea to, like you said, okay. I've got a question that makes me reach out because I've reached out to you with questions before and it started more conversations. So that's always been appreciated. So then let's wrap up with my two final questions. I'd like to ask everybody and I'll talk about it in everyday carry. Since the title of the show is the things we all carry and we know that's all emotional, what we're talking about normally, but let's talk about something physical that you carry day in and day out. What are you? Something you feel naked without? Without my bracelets. Honestly, like I said, for the last 11 years, I've personally had them. It became a business about five years ago, as far as starting the conversation. And a non-profit, but to me I just have to have the bracelet. It's just, it's an extension of me. And if I'm not wearing it, I just, I do feel. I personally have three of these. I think that I'm pretty rough on them and you probably roll your eyes every time I contact you. I had two of them on my lunchbox that I carry to work every day and then one on my wrist all the time. And it's the one thing that really just doesn't come off of my body unless I want to hold it and use it as a meditation beat or, cause I'll play them out as I just sit and think, and it just keeps me busy Robert: and that's exactly what they're for. But especially those malls that's that was created because I would wear it in counseling. And as I was talking to beginning I call them my adult fidget spinners, but it's based add to. Stack: Play with that. That makes sense because that's naturally where my hand goes. So I just slide it off my wrist and do that. And I just find myself sitting there and mindlessly, and it just turns into an a, to a meditation, so it's perfect. So what's the website where they can get the bracelet. Robert: Yeah. If you can go to www.skullsforhope.com and that's the website that we're continuing to build and grow. You can also go to either Facebook or Instagram at skulls for hope, and there'll be a link that you can go there. And one of the things a lot of people do is you can just arbitrarily order one. If you have some, that means something to you, like a certain color. Things like that. We can't always promise. And it's not something we do regularly, but if you go on to the web page, I'm sorry, the social media page, and you go through Instagram and you see some of the bracelets on there and they speak to you or they just, you like that color. You like the design. You're always welcome to message us. And we'll see if we can take care of, at the very least, you get an idea of what they look like and what they. Stack: I know for a fact that I've special order three different ones from you and you've not blinked and I, and you fulfilled them without any kind of questions. So I appreciate that. So next thing I like to ask is something you want to suggest to people. I, I wanna, I kinda like it to be a book, but if it's not a book, then a person or a, or even another podcast, a movie something that you'd like to put out there to say, Hey, check this Robert: out. Probably maybe the only first responder that'll say this or very few of us. But I don't know if you've heard of the author Bernay brown. Yes. So a friend had just pushed and pushed for me to read any of her books. And I fought it for so long and I don't know why maybe it was the cliche stigma or just saying what do I want to go to a self-help book or something like that? And the big thing for me what. That she just speaks so much volumes to me as a first responder and as a person. And one of the books that I read where the first one that I read in treatment was called braving the wilderness. And it's the quest for true belonging and the courage to stand alone. And the big thing I feel is even though we're community, we do still stand alone. We do still have these struggles that we have to have the ability and the, I guess you'd call it the resoluteness. To stand on our own. One of the things she says is strong. Soft front. And I really gravitated towards that because you don't have to, it's not a weakness, it's a strength, but to show kindness, to be vulnerable to stand on your own two feet for what you believe in spite of the rumors, in spite of people talking badly about you for, or saying you're weak because they're not ready to deal with their own struggles. It's easy to say. It's unbelievably hard to do. And so her books have softened me a little bit Stack: that's awesome. That's I would not have expected that her to come up as the author, but I appreciate it. And I'm going to link to that also in the show notes, I'm going to cover skulls. We're hope next rung the your website for the bracelets and the book. And I'll be in the show notes for listeners to find. And if my list. And my followers aren't following you. I hope that they find you on Instagram and find next wrong and add you to the list because I think they're both well worth following and the mission is unbelievable. Unbelievable. And I hope you guys keep going at it. Absolutely.