Oct. 4, 2022

1st Responders Conferences- Retired Law Enforcement Shawn & Jeff Thomas

1st Responders Conferences- Retired Law Enforcement Shawn & Jeff Thomas

Shawn is a deputy for the King County Sheriff's Office in Seattle, WA. Shawn has been a deputy for 24 years and Jeff recently retired  from the King County Sheriff's Office after 32 years.


In September 2016, Shawn's peer support captain suggested she organize a health and wellness conference for first responders and their families. The conference was a huge success and first responders reached out for assistance. That is when Shawn realized how important the conference was and other department's and organizations asked for her to organize a conference for them. In the first year they organized five conferences in Seattle, North Carolina, Florida, Texas and Arizona. Now they have had twenty-five conferences and have many more planned in the coming year. Shawn and Jeff are passionate about helping first responders because they have experienced their own difficult times and want to help guide others so they can maintain an enjoyable career and live a healthy life. 

Please feel free to contact us if you are in need of confidential assistance. We are here to help refer you to any resources you may need.



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Hi everyone, and welcome to this week's episode of the Enduring the Badge Podcast. I'm host Jerry Dean Lund, and I don't want you to miss an upcoming episode, so please hit that subscribe button. And while your phone's out, please do me a favor and give us a review on iTunes, our Apple podcast. It says, Hey, this podcast has a great message and we should send it out to more people.

So please take that 30 seconds to a minute to do that review and just maybe by doing that, it'll push this up into someone's podcast feed that really needs this message. Hey, room before we jump into this next. I wanna talk to you about something else I'm committed to, and that is supporting you to living up to your greatest potential.

I also want to uplift you and assist you in your self discovery, creating true connections and personal growth through my personal coaching program. And that coaching program is gonna help you with things like your relationship, not just on and off duty relationship, but your intimate relationships.

It's also going to help you with burnout so you don't get burned out doing that job that you got into because you loved it and you lost yourself in it, and now you're feeling burned out. If this is something that you would like to explore, please just go to my social media platforms and message me there, or go to the Enduring the Badge podcast website and there'll be a little red icon at the bottom that you can leave me a voice note.

Now, let me introduce you to my very special guest this week, Sean and Jeff Thomas from First Responder Conferences, an amazing couple going around the country, putting on conferences to help. Find the resources and the tools you need if you're struggling with your mental health and other issues. It's also a conference that invites your significant other to attend.

Now let's jump right into this episode with Jeff and Sean, either one of you, it can start. Just kind of introduce yourselves a little bit and then just what are you guys doing? Well, good morning and thank you for having us on your podcast. Yeah. Um. My name is Sean Thomas and I, um, let's see, retired or, well, I just retired in in April, um, from the King County Sheriff's Office after 25 years.

I was hired in 1997. My dad retired after 30 years. Same department. Jeff retired 32 years, same department. So, um, been in and around law enforcement pretty much my whole life. Uh, in 2006, I became a member of our peer support team. So I started responding to all the critical incidents that our deputies were involved with and helping them and their families through that process.

Fast forward to 2015. Um, Jeff had been on the department for. 18 years, no, 27 years at that point on the SWAT team for about 18 years was undergoing some organizational stress as well as cumulative stress and was coping with alcohol. Um, it got to the point where he said, I need help. I said, Great, now we're now what?

You know, we didn't feel comfortable reaching out to the department, so we searched and found a confidential resource. We got him the help that he needed. But during that whole process, we realized if we're both first responders and we don't know where to get help, there's gotta be other people out there.

So my peer support captain, uh, was aware of everything that we had been through and suggested that we put on a mental health and wellness conference for first responders and their families. And I thought, well, sure. How hard can a conference be? And then I realized it was a lot of work, but we had around 150 people attend the first conference and at least five people after the conference reached out for help.

So it was clear to us that there's a lot of first responders that were suffering in silence, and we knew that our department really didn't have any proactive wellness programs other than, you know, peer support, which was. More reactive. Um, so I had other first responders from different states reach out and say, Hey, I like what you're doing.

Um, can you help us put a conference on here? And so I just started working with the local boots on the ground folks to make that happen. And now we just finished our 31st conference in Boston. That's impressive. That is so awesome. Jeff, What, what do you got to add to that? Uh, nothing. She, uh, spelled it up well, though.

I always feel like the little Guinea pig there when she's talking about her situation. Uh, I started in 88. I had a plan to do 35 years, and when things got weird in 2020, I said, I've had enough for this. So I, I gave it up. But, uh, had one of those careers, like a lot of guys do. I, you know, I was athletic. I wanted to play pro sports.

It didn't work out. Next thing you know, I'm a deputy sheriff. So, um, tactical side was probably the where I spent most time. Um, I enjoyed that until it became kind of un enjoyable for a lot of reasons. Um, um, but other than that, like I said, in 2020, I had got to the point where I just didn't feel like, um, It was worthwhile anymore.

I just felt kind of vulnerable and said, I've got enough time on, luckily, and, and so I, I, uh, I hung it up and I don't have any regrets whatsoever. . Yeah. That's awesome because spent a lot of time in, in the service, like, and it sounds like you're, you know, Sean, he had your family spend a lot of time at the same department.

That's definitely, definitely unique and I think it's kind of a little bit unique. Jeff to say that you wanna stay 35 years? Yeah. Well it was, like I said, it was, uh, in the heyday of law enforcement. I like to say like in the nineties or something, you know, early two thousands. It was a, it was a ball. I mean, it was fun.

I enjoyed going to work every day. You know, I worked five, 6,000 hours of overtime a year. Oh. Enjoyed every moment of it because it was fun, you know, it was, We were doing the right thing all along. Uh, the, you know, 2020 kind of gave this weird picture all of a sudden that, you know, law enforcement was bad.

I completely disagree with that. Right. Um, and so it was, it was tough and it got tough really quick. And, and, uh, I'm a little vulnerable to, um, you know, departmental organizational. Organizational question marks. You know, they, they, as it happens, you know, it's in law enforcement, fire service, et cetera. They do weird stuff and sometimes they just do it because we, this, this is what we've always done, or, Yeah.

So, and you're like, that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. So, uh, So in 2020 I got frustrated and quit. So yeah, I retired. Yeah, . One thing I always wanna say is that, you know, Sean said, you know, I did 32 years, she did 25 and her dad did 30, but obviously we were in kind of a different generation, so Sure.

This makes me sound like my, her dad and I are the same age and we're not . Yeah. Um, he obviously started earlier than we did, but. Yeah. Yeah, we put a lot of years in, but it, it was a really good place to work. Uh, this was a really beautiful area for a long time growing up it was just like paradise and it's kind of changed a little bit, but what are you gonna do?

Yeah. Yeah, I think so. Like how did it change? I guess, I mean, I have a picture in my mind, but I just wanna. Well, I mean, I'm obviously just stating opinions, but uh, you know, things got really, really liberal here and I don't know if that's a bad word, but. In, in, in, in a sense. To me it is. I mean, we, we don't, nobody is held responsible for anything.

Right. You know, there's no rule of law. Everybody does whatever they wanna do, and we don't enforce anything. So therefore, and then we stand there and question why, why are things like they are, you know, And as, as a law enforcement officer, it's impossible to work in that, in that situation. I mean, sure.

When I quit, I felt seriously felt like I was like painted into this corner. And, uh, you know, we lost all our indemnity and we lo, you know, good faith meant nothing. And you know, they, in Washington, they were hunting for cops to indict. Yeah. And, and if you're out there doing your job, you, you, you're putting in that position.

And if you're not, you know, if they're not backing you. When you're acting in good faith, I mean, how do you do, You just can't do it. I mean, I don't see how right. I still got friends that are working that had as much time on as I did that I just like, how can you do it? I, I just don't see how you can do it anymore.

Yeah, no, I, I can, I can totally understand that, and that that does paint a, you know, a lot, a lot better picture that's happening and. We don't, we don't grow good citizens here anymore. That, that's the, that's the sad part. You know, people, we don't parent, we don't do, you know, people don't do the right thing.

And I know human beings are kind of wired that way to pu push the envelope. I get it. But it's like, you know, in the old days, you know, it seemed like people were like more, more liable to err on the correct side. And now it's like, Right. It's almost like a sport to go against the, the grain. Yeah. Yeah. I think sometimes in life the pendulum swings one way and then it comes back so far and so hard.

The other way that I think now we are so far over there, um, that I'm sure which good's gonna come from it. Yeah, that was part of my disappointment is I think that we. When we could have, when people could have stepped up and spoken up, they didn't, you know, cuz they felt like they didn't wanna be, had a finger pointed at 'em and be accused of anything.

But we did, I mean, we got to a point where, as a citizenry need to stand up and go, you know what, no, this is not gonna happen this way because, you know, what you're basing it on is gonna exist as far as I'm concerned. Yeah, Yeah. So I, I just, you know, got real. It got tough to go to work. So yeah, when it gets that time, it got the years on.

I think that's perfect. Time to, to retire and leave. Change. Change what you're doing. No, that's, I mean, it's good, you know, it's one of the things that I found too is that it's not that I didn't, I loved my job, but the politics that go along with it is just, I mean, it's crazy and exhausting at times. You know?

Um, just going to work and then things change on a daily basis and you can't do this, or now you have to do this, and it's just like, you know, you feel like you're micromanaged and you know, it's just like, it's hard when you know, you. Uh, you know, one way and then, you know, through the time. Yeah. I mean, things change a little bit and I get it right.

There's reasons. Yeah. But when it's every day you're going to work and it just feels toxic, that's, you know, it's, Good. And so for our self care, um, it was time to retire, you know? Yeah, yeah. I remember getting it, um, my first full time or our first part-time fire job, and I was running with some medics had been on for Wow.

I think. It's close to 18 to 20 years and you know, we, we were running like 10 calls, 10, 12 calls a day. And I was so excited about it. Of course, I'm just a, you know, the, the low man on total pole. I just gotta run calls and have fun. Don't do any paperwork or anything like that. I'm just having fun. And they told me they're one day, they're like, You know, what's, what's really gonna get you is the politics in this job.

And I was like, I don't really see that. Like, I don't see that happening. Like from my point, like being a young, you know, first responder, I don't see this happening, but it happens. , it definitely, definitely happens. I, I don't know too many people that can get through their career without having, you know, some issues.

You know, with the way that things are changing and stuff, Sean, so during, I mean, they were talking about self care and how showing up to work and being like a little bit challenged by that. Isn't that dis mentally fatiguing? Oh yeah. I mean, absolutely. Like I said, it was, it's just got to the point where, You know, I, it, I would come home and I would tell Jeff, you know, oh, guess what happened?

And on and on and on. And then I was just venting to him, and then it was stressing him out, , you know, So it wasn't good for the family at all because it just, you know, and I, I got tired of, you know, always trying to do the right thing, but not really being appreciated for it, you know? Yeah. That, that gets super.

Super tough, Jeff. So during, before this time, you had some struggles, um, and then you're trying to deal with them with, uh, alcohol. Is that correct? Mm-hmm. . Yeah. Uh, you know, I grew up in that culture of. You know, drinking. That's what we did when we were kids, you know? I mean, that's, it. Just, I don't know how else to explain it, you know, just, uh, you know, my family went through that a little bit and I, I guess maybe it's genetic or whatever, there's that argument or whatever.

Sure. But, you know, along the way, and it wasn't, you know, this insidious, horrible thing, you know, And, and I, and I always say to. Don't sound like you're rationalizing cuz I'm not rationalizing. I'm just saying, you know, it wasn't, uh, you know, didn't wreck. There was no wreckage, there was no, Yeah, yeah. Um, you know, they sort of have those kind of, um, Pinpoints, you know, along addiction is, you know, there's always some financial loss or some horrible, chaotic thing or, you know, breaking up families, stuff like that.

It didn't come down to that, but it's just that, Yeah, I, I, I got tired of. What was going on at work is what it came down to, you know? So I just, and I just got into this habit of where, you know, I'd come home from work and I'd be irritated, so I'd have a drink or two, and then, then it just got to be this habit, I guess.

And like I said, I mean, there was. Just there. I mean, I mean, I guess you could say there was dysfunction, but there wasn't dysfunction. I, I didn't not go to work. I didn't supposed to do, just so I, I would call it a, you know, alcohol light or whatever, you know? I mean, yeah. It, it could, it could have went there.

Oh, yeah. I guess time, right? Potentially. Yeah. So eventually, um, Of course you could say that about anybody, but like I said, I don't wanna rationalize it. I just wanna say that I, I'm thankful that, you know, we, we were able to get some help and, you know, and it, the, the one I went, I went to rehab for 30 days, uh, was rehab.

A good thing. Sure. It was a good thing. Um, the greatest part about the whole thing was being taken out of this environment and putting another one for 30 days. And that really, really helped me as far as, you know, getting some perspective on stuff and Yeah. And, uh, and. As if I was gonna pick one thing about, about making those changes, it was just a change of scenery for a while.

Yeah. I mean it really, really helped me. So, um, but like I said, we were, we were lucky enough to be able to find something. We were scared of going to our department because you know that there's a stigma. Yeah. Where there was, we're, we're really working hard to get rid of it. Uh, I dunno that one it works , it's.

We we're, I think we're doing a hell of a job as far as the stigma goes. You know, it differs from area to area and state to state and people, you know, there's right to work stuff and that kind of thing and sometimes people who wanna get help are scared to. Sure. Yeah. So the one good thing about retiring is when Beat that dead horse is that now we can like full time do helping.

First responders is enjoyable. Yeah. Sean does a lot more than I do. I, I'm kind of the behind the scenes guy, you know, do, do this and do that and stay outta the way type stuff. But it's, it's, it's very enjoyable now lifewise to be able to do that full time instead of having it beat your head against the wall at work and then come home and try to do that too.

You know? And Sean was working like, you know, it's like two jobs. Yeah. Yeah, trying, trying to do conferences and, and, and help first responders and then be a first responder. It's, you know, you're talking about 20 hour days, you know? Yeah. So, yeah. I wanted to touch on something about, uh, perspective, and I would imagine that would be a little bit harder to have some, like maybe some broader perspective of some things when you are both so emerged in your jobs and been there so long that probably it's your perspective of the outside of world.

You know, might be a little bit different than others when you're just both, you know, like if I was bouncing stuff off with my wife, you know, she comes from a totally different perspective and she will, you know, not hesitate to like, you know, bring up things that maybe I see it one way and she's like, Well this is really how, you know, I see it.

So try to come up with something that works in between, but two law enforcement officers living and working together, I would imagine it's tough. Am I wrong? Yeah, it's interesting because, you know, when you go to the police academy and they tell you all these statistics, right? If you're a good cop and you're married to a cop, good luck.

You know? Um, but I don't know, I think I found it to be the opposite. Um, I, it was, it was nice to come home and be able to talk to Jeff about what I had been through, and he could do the same. Although sometimes, you know, it got to the point where Jeff would come home and tell me a story and I'm like, I don't care, like

or, you know, I probably did the same thing. So it just got to the point where you're like, Well, you know, you live it 24 hours a day, so it's just like, let's stop talking about it. But I think we had a really good balance as far as that went. And, you know, Jeff could understand me, I could understand him. Um, and it, you know, it, it wasn't our lives.

It wasn't, you know, it's what we did. It's not really what we were. I think that's awesome. But, and like I said, it, it, it changed for me over time. I mean, uh, I was just thrilled to do it for years and years and years, and then things kind of changed and, and then, then it was, you know, almost. Wanna pull yourself out of that because you just, it was such admired in such a, you know, miserable, not miserable.

So, Yeah. Yeah. Uh, we, I, I always tell the story when I was in the academy, my academy buddies and I, we always laugh, you know, I'm never gonna go out with a. You know, a female officer because what, what did we talk about? You know, I mean, things you did today and how many, you know, And, uh, so, and I kinda stuck with those guns for quite a while, and then Sean and I started seeing each other.

And then it, like I said, it, it worked well because we had this understanding that we just both know. And so, you know, I, it's, it's tough to come home and explain things to somebody who's completely. Outside of that world. Yeah. You know, and, and I, and it seems like that's, a lot of people have trouble with that because, you know, I mean, one partner doesn't understand the other partner and why they are, because why They act like they act because they just don't get it.

And, and so we have benefit and I mean that's one of the reasons why we encourage spouses to attend the conferences because I hear a lot from spouses. Obviously we come home and we don't share Sure. Information with them, right? Cause how, How are you supposed to explain. Suicide that you just saw, or, you know, I mean, it, it is just one of those things where you just really don't even wanna talk about it to anybody else.

And especially, I mean, somebody that doesn't get it right. Um, so we encourage the spouses to attend because I really. They don't get any training. Um, they're not really included in anything. And so, Right. The, the feedback we get from them when they attend is, Thank you so much for including us because we're never included, and I had no idea why Bill was such a jerk every day.

Right? Like, I mean, they get a different perspective on, Oh, okay, now I know what it is. They endure day in and day.  and they listen to other people tell stories about, you know, themselves and things that they had been through. Um, and, you know, some post traumatic growth from that. So, uh, it's just, um, I think it's an eye opener for them.

I think that, you know, we do include a lot of communication in our, in our conferences, like how to communicate with peers, how to communicate with spouses, um, Yeah. Or partners or, you know, So, um, it's just, uh, yeah, I mean, it's. It's important for them to be included and, and know, like I said, what we endure day in and day out.

Um, you know? Yeah. Yeah. I think speaking for myself, I think I try to, um, minimize my exposure to my family about, uh, things that happen or I, if I minimize or dose, don't even talk about it.  and then certain conversations will come up with, with certain people and then things come out. And then my wife's like, Well, you never told me that.

And I'm like, Well, why didn't you tell me that? And I'm like, I don't know. It just didn't come out like I just like, And now it did come out and now mm-hmm. , that's upsetting to her to like, I'm your person. Like you should be talking about, you know, these things. And sometimes I just, even for me, like I.

Still on the job, just don't wanna talk about certain, certain things, you know, the aspect of, or how much it may bother me or bothers others or describe it into, she's a very detailed person and I'm not, a lot of times like very detailed in some of my communication and so it's, they poses some challenges, so that's a very awesome that you include spouses.

I think that needs to happen. Like all the, all the time, Like more often . Well, you, you mentioned min minimizing stuff and, and we all obviously do that, but you know, like when I started this job I was 23 years old and I was just naive, you know, kinda change the world type of person like, like everybody else in law enforcement, everybody starts out that way.

Sure. And then you just, I mean, I am a completely different person now. . You know, I, unfortunately, I lost a lot of those traits. My, my emotional ability sometimes lacks because I, you just, you condition yourself to not. Have it harm you, you know? Yeah. And, and I work, you know, my last 10 years of work, I worked in the busiest place that we have in this part of the world.

And so we're just running from call to call to call to call. And you, after a while, it just, nothing bothers you. You know? You're like, you can see this horrible, People would just faint, you know, or whatever. Yeah. You make your psychiatrist cry by telling, you know what I mean? Yeah. Well, and we, we talked about that a lot too, because, you know, Jeff, when we, when we first heard compassion fatigue, right?

He laughed. He's like, Oh yeah, whatever. And then he's like, No, I think I have it. Like, you know? Um, and so, yeah, I mean, it is, it's one of those things where I, it's just, you know, how do you do this job? You know, without having some. Yeah, I think I just had a guest on that's coming out and he talked about there's a study about N Y P D, about their officers in one year.

They see like 18 times more trauma than a normal citizen will see in their life. Mm-hmm. . And so, yeah, I, I could see that, I mean, like, you're in a busy place. I mean, there's not really much you can do about stopping to go to the next call and then, and then you catch yourself though when you hear something like that.

I mean, I could not, there's no way I could compare where we're at to New York, you know? And so you kind of catch yourself and go, Oh geez, you know, maybe you gotta quit complaining because, you know, there's a lot worse places to be. And, but, you know, you're, you're, you. Assimilate yourself into whatever situation you're in, and that's what your situation is, you know, and, and so, yeah.

I don't know if I could do, I could do it in New York, you know? Yeah. I, when I, I went back there, um, a few times and talked to some officers and firefighters and you know what, they always have the greatest respect. They're like, We do, This is the exact same job you guys do. That's what they always say. And we, we did.

We're just in a different location. Yeah, and I'm like, yeah, I mean, to an extent, yeah, right, , But if you're in a busy place, like you're in a busy place and you're still seeing crap, I mean, whether it's, you know, on the west coast or east coast. Yeah. It's one of the unique, unique things about this area is that there is from one end of the spectrum to the other, and depending on where you work, Just, you know, in our, I don't know what our square mile, our square miles as far as our county is like 2,700 or something.

Wow. It's a fairly big county. It's like one of the bigger counties on the west coast. But like one end of it, you're, you're in million dollar homes and you're, you know, on the Puget Sound and it's beautiful, and then you go five miles down the road and you're in some other horrible place that I, you know, I, I don't even wanna describe to you.

So, yeah, it's, it was just that, that was unique in. Working area. Um, you know, but like I said, you, you hear these places, like if you wanna use New York for instance, there, some of those places, those guys are mired there and stuck there and they don't get any changes. It's just bad the whole time. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

You know? Yeah. There's bad to deal with. Yeah. So let's dive down into your conferences a little bit and talk about a little bit more what happens at them and. Um, yeah, so the conferences are two days. Um, we have breakfast together, we have lunch together. We have a networking social after the first day and it's in one room, so it's not breakout sessions.

Um, I never wanted to segregate against professions cuz at the end of the day, stress is stress and trauma is trauma. And I feel like a firefighter can learn from a police officer or a police officer can learn from a dispatcher. So I try to balance out the schedule with different professions, different topic.

You know, we have anywhere from, uh, you know, finances to sleep, to yoga, to every conference is a little bit different. Um, when. Uh, an agency contacts us and says, Hey, we wanna have a conference. And I just try to work with the local boots on the ground folks to make that happen. And if they have recommendations for local speakers, we like to use some of them, number one, because they know the area.

Number two, when we leave, they're still there, so they have that connection. Um, but then we also have national speakers that come in and, and speak at the conferences. Um, and it just, it's a nice. Networking, uh, feel we, we wanna provide, uh, education, um, and tools and resources to get our first responders through these professions and live happy, healthy, and retire, so.

Right, right. Isn't that the goal that we all get into this with and, and then seemed to struggle along the way to, to meet that end? Yeah, it, it's a journey for sure. You know? Um, some, some journeys are tougher than others, but, you know, I, um, it's just we meet so many great, fantastic people throughout the country and, um, on the same mission, you know?

Yeah. And there are a lot of resources out there for first responders, and I guess our goal is, you know, we never. Anybody to feel the way that we felt when we needed help. We were like, who do we call? We, we had no, we didn't know who to call. And so I don't ever want anybody to be in that situation. And so we, we have like a resource guide of, of resources, um, that everybody gets at the conference.

And, you know, I tell them, you know, keep this information because you might not need it. Yeah, maybe later or maybe a coworker or a friend or a family member. Um, but I don't want anybody to be in a situation where they're like, I ha I, I didn't know who to call, so I didn't call anybody and then become a suicide statistic.

Right, right. That's awesome. What kind of tools do you teach them? Um, well, I mean, it just depends on which conference. Like when I, when I say tools, like, you know, maybe yoga might work for you, but sure. Maybe it doesn't work for me. So maybe there's a therapist or a clinician that talks about different, um, therapy modalities, um, maybe that works for you.

Um, you know, meditation or, So each conference, like I said, is a little different. Um, but all of the speakers and, you know, Especially the ones that have the personal stories, what we wanna hear from them is, how did you get to where you are now? You know, what tool did you use? And let's talk about that tool because it's not a one size fits all.

Right? Right. Yeah. Do you see a common theme? I've just been thinking about this later lately, and I've had a guest on that does a lot about sleep. Mm-hmm. . And I can, I can tell I've gotten to the point where I'm like, I know how valuable my sleep is. Like I can't control it at work, at, at all. Um, But like lately, it's just like I put a priority of coming home if I'm just off of a fire shift, and then I, I'll come home and, and try to get like a couple hour, hour nap.

But I can tell, and everybody else around me will tell like, by my mood and how much tolerance I have for, for things and how much just, uh, things bother me emotionally. Yeah, for sure. Yeah, I mean, sleep is huge and, um, you know, that's, The, we were, I was just, you know, in Boston having a conference. And of course, uh, there's some lack of sleep that goes on because you know, the anticipation and just all the things that you have to do.

And, you know, I just wake up in the morning and. Not feeling refresh and it Yeah. And varies with you all day long. And then like when I get home, I'm just exhausted. Right. And so, yeah. And then you have to balance out, Okay, well make sure that I'm not, you know, moody or

Yeah. But. Yeah, no, I, I, I know where Jeff and I have been talking about sleep here lately too, cuz, um, I struggle with sleep still. Yeah. I still, I, and I think it's from the years of work and the job I worked is my brain doesn't turn off. You know, I have hard to turn my brain now, so I, I go through these different stages of where I'm trying, I try this or I try that or, Or whatever.

I try to stay away from anything artificial. I just not into that. I don't wanna go down that road. Um, but it's, it's hard. I mean, it's just, I'm, I'm, I, I'm one of those guys that goes to sleep for a couple hours and during the night, then I wake up and I got that 10,000 things going through my head and I, you know, so it's, it's, I still struggle with sleep.

You. So, and I hate it too cause I know it's just taking years off my life, so I know, I know it. I, I'm jealous often of the people that are like, just like you have a little bit of a downtime and they're like, I'm like, Oh my gosh, that's amazing. Like, you know how, how, how'd you get to that point? Well, you either completely exhausted or you've like figured out your, your, uh, mechanism to get you to, to sleep.

But I. And I think that's one of the things like, you know, at the conferences that we're trying to relay to people is you have to do your own homework, right? You have to. I mean, you know, we're hoping that something sparks somebody at the conference, but, um, you know, look into it and you gotta take care of yourself.

Right? You can't just wait for somebody to give you this magic pill. Yeah. Um, and that you have to keep on trying. To get to a, a place, you know, where, where you feel better. Um, so whatever that looks like, like Jeff says, you know, I don't wanna do anything artificial. Well, there's a lot of different things that you can do, but it's easy.

Sometimes it's just easy not to do anything and suffer. Yeah, yeah. Well, some of the people that I, I've had a chance of dealing with one and one who were having some sort of issue. I mean, don't, don't get me wrong, I'm not a doctor clinician at all. I just, you know, I have some experience . So, um, You almost tell 'em the same thing we used to tell people on the street was that, you know, who were involved with either, you know, narcotics or mental health or whatever, but we just, you, you try to convince 'em, Hey, if something doesn't work, try something else.

Don't stop crying because you know, these, you, you, you daily. It almost seems like we, we hear about these people who. Who wanna take their own life. And you just, how could, you know your, your thoughts are, how could that successful person be in that spot? And I guess if you're not in that spot, you can't certainly, you know, pretend like you are.

Yeah. You know, people deal with depression and all that kind of stuff and I, you know, I, I, I don't have depression, so it's hard, you know, it's hard for me to know. I can't, it's hard. I can't tell them, Hey, I know how you feel cuz I don't, you know? Yeah. Yeah. So, But we always try, you know, the people I deal with, I'm like, Hey, try this and if this doesn't work, try this and keep trying, you know?

Cause you will eventually find an answer. Right. Right. And I, I think you're right. It, it, there's, there's no one size fits all. There's a lot of things you just have to keep, keep trying to do. And I think it's just a lot of it is just a huge mental game for us as first responders is just finding a way to end that, that mental game so we can actually shut our brains off and relax because yeah, it does take years off our lives by and not having our bodies recover properly.

And it's, you know, not only years, it, you know, just like physically, like you can feel it, but on the, on the inside too takes years off your life. It's always very envious of people who could go through a situation and just. Be past it and have, have it run off their back and not have any issues over it.

You know, you run into those people who, who just nothing, It doesn't bother 'em, you know? Yeah, yeah. Sometimes you wonder does that really not bother ? But, uh, but they, they just have that ability to be able to go through a situation and move on to the next one and not have any ramifications from the last one.

And, and that's what I always wish I had more of, You know, things bother. And, and I wish they didn't. And I, and I see those people that act like, Oh, who cares? You know, let's move on. You know? Yeah. So I, I, I've recently seen somebody who had, had, uh, shown that kind of persona and, uh, it, there will be a time that something bothers and, Yeah.

And. Unfortunately, not everything can run up your back. And I think when we think that it is, we are just figuring out a different way to compartmentalize it maybe than someone else's. Compartmentalize it for sure. I think that you need to process through things each, Each and everything, right? Yeah.

Because if you don't, your box fills up and it overflows and then, then, you know, it can lead to really bad things. So, um. Yeah. I just, I think, um, you know, that's important to learn how to process through those events and not to bottle them up. Yeah. Is that something you teach or have someone teach in your conferences?

Yeah, I mean that's, you know, like I said, every, uh, speaker, you know, speaks on different topics, but that seems to be a constant theme and that people, you know, are trying to. Yeah. Yeah. I think it's, it's like, again, like once you said it's not a one size fits all, you have to figure out, at least to me, it's like how to empty, empty your box and do it in a, in a healthy manner.

And I think it's a little bit harder, and I try to tell the newer guys, gals is if you let that box fill up fast, you know, let it fill up and without kind of like unburying some of the things. It's gonna be a lot harder down the road. So being proactive about your mental health is, I feel like, is so much easier than, you know, being reactive.

Yeah. Is there, so in some of your conferences, do you have some upcoming conferences that you're gonna be doing? Yeah. Um, like I said, we just finished in Boston, um, in our next conference is in Alaska, uh, Anchorage, um, October 6th and seventh, and then November 9th and 10th and Cobb County, Georgia, and then December 1st and second in Tempe, Arizona.

And then we go to Florida in January in Orlando. And then, February and, um, Co d'Alene Idaho, March and Ocean City, Maryland, and April and Ventura, California. Wow. So, yeah,  impressive schedule. It's filling up fast. . Yeah. Yep. Um, yeah, it's, uh, I guess that, I mean, these conferences were supposed to be one and done, um, but 31 conferences later, we're still, you know, moving forward and, um, I just, you know, It's a passion of mine.

Um, and I'm glad again that we can meet so many great people and just, you know, provide whatever mental health tools and resources for, um, our everyday heroes. Yeah. Let's talk about your website, What's on your website, and you know how people can find it. So it's, um, first, so the number one st responder conferences, which is plural.org.

Um, and, uh, you know, of course it has all of our upcoming, um, conferences and, um, we have a great newsletter that, uh, I have assistant director, Amanda. Um, and she lives in Boise and her husband's, uh, police officer there. Um, but she puts together an a wellness newsletter, um, every week. And so people can sign up on the newsletter and, um, just get some wellness information and, and tools and, and more about our conferences and what other people are doing.

Um, so, uh, that's a great resource for folks. Um, Yeah. And other than that, just usually just has all the conferences and what's going on and where we're gonna be. And there's a great video on there though, too. Oh, yeah. Yeah. I forgot about the video. Thank you, . Yeah. Talk about that video a little bit. Um, yeah, I mean that video was shot here in Seattle, um, at a conference that we had at the Criminal Justice Training Center.

Um, and it just is a, a recap of, you know, basically why, you know, we're here and what, why we're doing what we're doing. Um, but yeah, I think they did a pretty good job on it. Yeah, I think they did a really good job. Where else on social media can people find you? Um, LinkedIn. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, all the, you know, places.

Is it all under first, First responder conferences? You know that? I don't, I'm not a big, so social media  though, they would have to go on our website, the link to get there. . Okay. Okay. Yeah, very, very fair. Any, before I let you go today, any last things that you want to, would like to talk about that maybe some first responders can get some value from?

You know, again, I, I mean just we were talking about it's not a one size fits all and that, you know, I want people just to be reminded of that there are many resources out there, and if you can't find one, contact us. We'll help you get in contact with a resource that you need, um, but you're not alone.

Please don't give. Um, and be proactive, like you said, with your wellness because nobody else is gonna do it for you. The department's not gonna do it for you, and when you leave, you leave. You know? So I guess, uh, prepare to retire  , um, and have something to do. And, um, yeah, just again, if we can ever be of assistance to anybody, we're.

Yeah, I wanna talk to you, just something and, uh, real quick, you said prepare to retire. What, what is, what do you mean by that? Well, I think that, you know, uh, a lot of people, this is their life, right? Mm-hmm. , and you have to find something outside of the job, um, because it, it truly is when you leave, you leave.

Like, I mean, people, I, you know, Jeff and I talk about how, um, We liked our jobs, and I don't necessarily miss going there. Um, but I miss some of the people. I miss those fun details. Yeah, I was a canine officer quite a while, and so I got to do some pretty cool things. Um, but it's just one of those things where it's, you know, It's, it's a, the day you leave, you leave.

Right? It's not like, Oh, okay. You know, I mean, of course you, you, you probably stay in touch with some, some folks, but yeah, I think, um, you know, everybody's like, Oh, I have, you know, one, uh, one year, five days, and, you know, 22 or minutes or whatever to require. And then it gets there and they're like, Okay, now what?

You know, what, what am I gonna fill my day with? I think, uh, it was. A process for both of us, because you have to get back into a routine, right? I mean, it is like, you're like, Oh, this is so nice, not going to work. Right? And then you're like, Okay, now what? . So, um, to be sane, I think that you have to, you know, find something to do that's enjoyable and, you know, live life to the fullest, right?

I mean, it's, it's, yeah. Now you have a chance to do whatever you wanna. And, um, but I think it's better to have a plan and kind of, you know, be flexible, um, just in case Plan A doesn't work. My, my my son, he's so funny. He tells me the other day, he's like, Hey, well you have to have a plan B. He goes, Well, plan A doesn't fail, then you don't have to have a plan B.

And I'm like, Okay. All right. Well, that's a good way to think. But, um, plan a fails a lot. So, um, but yeah, just, you know, Knowing, having something to do and, and keeping busy, I think is the key. Um, what do you think? Yeah. All of that. Yeah. And, uh, you know, for like young people, uh, I wish somebody would've emphasized more finances and we, and we try to do that in the conferences.

Yeah. Because, I don't care what anybody says, dollar bills where it all, you know, that's where your comfort comes from unfortunately. Yeah. So, uh, we, we incorporate that into the conferences and, uh, I think it's very, very important because, and it's not that hard to do. You just have to have some discipline and everybody, usually that's a first responder, has some discipline.

So, um, Yeah. I don't know. Like I said, I think it varies with people. I do. I miss, I don't, I don't miss a lick. I just don't, you know, I mean, I, I put my time in, I did my thing. I, I left a little disappointed. I, I left in a different, in a different head space than I thought I was going to. It's not what I envisioned, cuz I just went to work one day and said I'm not coming back.

So, I mean, that's kind of weird. I think, um, like Sean says, if you have a plan it probably works out better, but Yeah. Yeah. I think when that time comes, um, I think as it would stand if I left today, I would be disappointed. Like in some things, some opportunities that. That I wanted to do that I actually didn't get to do.

But before I, before I let you go, I wanted to talk to you about something you'd mentioned early in the beginning. Like, you know, this job becomes a lot of your life. Do you feel like somewhere along the line did, did you guys like feel like you lose your lost, your maybe identity or this became your identity as like being police officers in law enforcement?

You know, Not for me. Um, you know, I mean, I, I, my dad was an officer, right? Um, and so I grew up in and around it, and I just, I, I, it was a way of life, which, you know, I ultimately brought, brought me into the profession by him being in it. Um, so it was, sure, it was exciting when I got into it, but it was just something I had been used to.

Um, so. Did, I think it was cool, you know, to be in law enforcement and, and be, you know, doing what I was doing. Sure. Um, but I, I never was like, you know, when people asked you, Oh, what do you do for a living? I remember my girlfriend and I, before Jeff and I got married, when we, when I first started, we went to a bar and these guys were like, What do you doing?

And we didn't wanna tell him. You know, we're like, I go, I'm a garbage man. . Yeah. Um, you know, so it wasn't like, Oh, I'm a cop and, you know. Yeah. Um, so yeah, I, I, I just, it never was my identity. Sure. I liked it and I was proud to do it, but yeah. I, Not for me. What about for you? I don't think it was for you either.

When I was young, a young officer, pretty brand new. I have some wild man cousins on the other side of the state that I go and hang out with. And, uh, one of the, you know, this guy I'm thinking about, he, at first he didn't like me being a cop, cuz he was just the opposite. But we used to run around together and have a great time, you know, And he, he said, Uh, to me that's, that's what you do.

That's not what you are. Right. And I, and I really, it kind of stuck with me and then, and that's kind of, sort of the way I always tried to make it out to be. Although when I was in, on the tactical side and we were, we, we honestly thought we were really actually doing something to help the community to, to, and we were doing all kinds of stuff, not just tap swat stuff.

We were doing all kinds of stuff. Uh, you know, we're. Finding bad people and putting 'em in jail. Cause that was our jobs. I got wrapped up with that and that, that, that kind of became what I was there for a while because it was just, it was fun. It was fulfilling. It was, it was, is, is what I signed up for.

You know? Right, right. And that, that eventually went away, you know, administratively or whatever. Yeah. You know, where, where, where. That's kind of where I checked out and said, you know, I'm not, this is not my, this is not what I do full time. You know, this is just a job. And, and it became that for me. So I guess that's where my disappointment lies, you know, cuz I, I enjoyed that part, you know, and life changes, you know, I mean, yeah.

You have any kids and. Responsibilities were less and blah, blah, blah. It's a whole different ball game. So it's just, it's the way life evolves and, and, uh, but yeah, I don't feel like it's what I was, I just feel like there was times when I thought it was, you know, that's what, this is what I do. I, this is what I was born for.

You know? I'm sure if you're out there chasing the bad guys down, right, you're spending basically 24 7 doing it. So I could see how you'd be wrapped up. Yep. That's the way it became, it became, when we were in that situation, uh, you know, yeah, you were fielding phone calls at midnight and you know, when you weren't working and stuff like that, cuz you're like, you're right.

It was 24 hour a day deal. So, you know, like I said, it was fun, you know, after I had kids and, and started having more responsibilities and that and the other, I don't know if we could have done it, you know, . So, so things change and, and. Um, overall it was a great job, you know, and we always get asked, would, would you recommend it to anybody else?

I'm like, No, . I wouldn't. . Yeah. Well, I mean, not now, but, um, back in the old days I would've. Yeah. But, you know, I mean, one of the nice things that I tell Jeff, you know, what I don't miss is getting called out. Yeah, the call outs, you know, after a while you're just like, Oh, you know, when the phone rings at o'clock in the morning's.

Not good. Those were fun. Those were fun back then. That was, I mean, you could, you used to have pagers and they'd go off. You were just so excited, Man, let's go. You know? Cause you thought you were, you thought you were changing the world, man. You know? You thought, you thought this. Everything counts on this call right here.

Yeah. Yeah. And then pretty soon you, your perspective when that goes. Are you kidding me? Nobody cares. You know, I mean, . Yeah. You know, I mean, it's that situation right there, and then it's over with and, and, you know, Well, I think that's a good point though. I mean, like, when it comes that time, like, you know, when you're getting tired of the pagers, who has pagers anymore, But, um, I mean, I guess some departments still look very , but I mean, when you, you, when you're getting called out and it's getting tiresome, Maybe it's time for a change.

Now it doesn't mean that, you know, maybe you can do something different in the department. You don't have to quit. But, um, I think that, you know, for like tactical, um, you get so good at your job and you have so much training that people stay in it way too long, right? Um, and then they're burned out. Yeah.

And so I think that recognizing. That, you know, that's, that's not, and maybe you're really good at it, but maybe you do need a change. And you know, that's kind of what I was trying to, when tell my department when Jeff left, because he left so abruptly, I said, You know, we have to do something different.

These folks are like, Jeff was in patrol and he was tired. He was tired of being in patrol. And I said, Could we. Look at something where when people are burned out, could we put 'em in a different position for a certain amount of time to give them a break, you know? Yeah, yeah. Um, because I like our, our, um, uh, uh, homicide, What, what do we call them?

Major crimes. Major crimes, , our major crime unit people, uh, are. Just burned out. Right? Sure. There, you know, and the whole department is because we only have so many people, and then those folks are getting called out all the time and there's nobody that can really replace them because it's a specialized training.

Right. Um, so, but I think that, you know, at first when I heard about, you know, departments changing, like, okay, well you can only be in SWAT for five years or, and then, you know, you have to cycle out. Quite honestly, I don't think that's a bad thing. I mean, I know it takes a lot of time to get trained, but I think we're doing disservice to people keeping them in there, you know, for that amount of time.

And I'm sure that people will disagree with me cuz I know that some people just really, really enjoy it. Right. But I mean, you do enjoy it. Yeah. I get, Yeah, I mean, but you know, maybe. Or maybe you get to the point where you say, Okay, look, you know, let's, you're, you've been in here for 10 years, you know, how are you feeling  mean?

Are you feeling, you know, like how, how, you know, how's your life? Like, you know, at least talking to these people Right. Um, and evaluating them. Right? Right. Yeah. Because I know that when you love something so much, you just do it. Do it, do it until. Yeah. Until you can't give money lost. No. Yeah. It's, it's, it's got something to do with the, just being a first responder too, you know?

I would say law enforcement cuz that's what I was in. But I, I, I, I had, uh, when I started I told myself I'll do this for five years and then I'll reevaluate to see if it's really what I wanna do. Cuz I didn't grow up saying I wanna be a cop just happened. And uh, and the next time I thought about it, I had 11 on.

And I thought to myself, Oh, I forgot to figure this out when I had five years on it, you know? And by that time you were really entrenched in it and you almost couldn't get out of it. So, so it's, there's some good points to that. But like I said, it's, it's hard to train a good SWAT guy. So you , you don't wanna kick him out after five years.

We have some apartments, right? Anywhere that do that, you know, like you cycle out and it's like, God, what a waste of time. You know? What a waste of, you know, training. Yeah. Yeah, I guess that that'd be hard to sign up for that in a way, knowing that you'd be cycled out, that there's, like, there probably is a time or way to handle that, that better to give people breaks and, and stuff like that, and change things up for 'em to extend their careers and their health.

We had an old major that when I, when I first got on the SWAT team, he and I was working detectives in his precinct and he came and said, I heard you're on the SWAT team. He said, Yeah. He's like, You only wanna stay on there a couple years and then you wanna move on. And I was kind of, you know, I shook my head and said, Sure.

Major. What I was thinking was, what are you kidding me? You know, No. Hard it is to get on here. I'm not gonna ever, I'm not gonna quit ever if I don't, if I can, you know? Yeah, yeah. In the, in the hindsight, he was probably right. You know, , you should get in there and get some experience and move on. Keep things fresh, you know, So.

Yeah. Yeah. Well, Sean and Jeff, I appreciate you so much for being on today. Um, I love the perspective and love what you're doing. I'm sure this is just gonna keep getting, uh, bigger and bigger cuz it's a big need. Well, we enjoy doing it and uh, like I said, however we can help, you know, that's what we're here for.

I appreciate that. Thank you so much. All right. Thank you.

Thanks again for listening. Don't forget to rate and review the show wherever you access your podcast. If you know someone that would be great on the show, please get a hold of our hosts, Jerry Dean L through the Instagram handles at Jerry Fire and Fuel, or. At end during the Badge podcast, also by visiting the show's website, Enduring the badge podcast.com for additional methods of contact and up to date information regarding the show.

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Shawn ThomasProfile Photo

Shawn Thomas


Shawn is the founder of 1st Responder Conferences and a retired deputy from the King County Sheriff's Office in Seattle, WA. She worked for the King County Sheriff’s Office for 25 years. Shawn retired as a Wellness and Resiliency Detective and a therapy K9 handler. During her career, Shawn worked patrol, as an undercover detective, a detective in the warrant unit, transit patrol and as an explosive K9 handler. She was also on the peer support team for 16 years and was a team lead for several of those.