Post Trauma suffering to happiness and thriving

Enlightenment in the nick of time when rolling toward destruction - The balance of caring for self and others.
collage of nine pictures with scenes of traumatic events and realization of the way to happiness and thriving.
Suffering to happiness and thriving - by RRP design with Canva & stock photos

Welcome to a Mind Wise video podcast, presenting perspective and information about holistic mental health, health care, wellness, neuroscience, philosophy, and spirituality. I am your host, Ron Parks, M.P.H., M.D., writer, teacher, and consultant.

Today's video-podcast interview is with Rob Hosking, an inspired teacher and lecturer who shares his hero's journey, recovery, and awakening from his difficulties with traumatic exposures while doing public service and police work.

Rob is a previous frontline police officer who became an inspiring motivational speaker. Rob’s two main areas of expertise are happiness and mental health. He is a motivational TEDx Speaker on happiness, mental health, and workplace well-being. Through a traumatic last shift, which saw him witness a suicide and his colleague dying in front of him, Rob awakened and looked into his happiness. Rob speaks about his own depression and mental health struggles. He is the Co-Founder of Rise of Happiness, a movement to become happier. Rise of Happiness publishes free happiness magazines, including inspirational and uplifting stories, expert tips, and research on happiness. He is a trained mental health first aider on a mission to ensure people figure out what makes them happy and change their lives. (See more about Rob at the end of the presentation.*)1

Rob tells about himself and his journey in his healing process.

Ron: Rob, it’s fascinating. I listened to your TED Talk, which was quite good. And so, why don’t you tell us a little about yourself and your journey in this healing process we all go through?

Rob: I always say my story begins at 22 years old. When I joined the police force, I set the scene. It was never a job I wanted to do. I never thought I was gonna be a police officer growing up; I never thought this was the job for me. My family were police or military, so you probably would suspect I would end up in something like that.

It was never my passion, but one thing led to another, and suddenly, I ended up in the police force and was at a crossroads in my life. At that point, I was in my last year of university. I was studying history, not knowing where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do, and the police force was recruiting. And one thing led to another, and I joined the police.

And I was in the police for five years, from 22 to 27. And it changed my life. I saw a lot of traumatic incidents left, right, and center, which affected me. It changed me as a person; so many things happened in those five years, and I awakened on my last shift. After that, I left the police force and focused on who I wanted to be for the first time in my life.

What did I want my life to look like after the police? This has led to a TEDx talk called Always Choose Happiness, and dedicating my life to improving mental health out there, breaking down that stigma of mental health and just this idea of happiness. And I speak about happiness in all my talks and the idea of happiness.

And that’s, that’s my journey. That’s a, in, in a condensed way. That is my journey from 22 years old to where I am today.

Talking about trauma and exposure in public service work.

Ron: Rob, I’m always interested in trauma and anything related to well-being and mental health. So, were there some traumatic things with the police work?

Rob: Yeah,

Ron: My brother-in-law was a state trooper here in the States for years and occasionally shared some incidents with me. I was just aghast at some things.

Rob: Yeah. Yeah. Like that’s the thing where you, you’ve hit the nail on the head there with your brother-in-law where the things that police officers share, no matter what country their police officer in, whatever they share to members of the public, members of the public are always aghast by—the casualness of what these police officers are witnessing on a day in, day in basis.

And you know, the things like seeing dead bodies, seeing murders, seeing people hanging from garages. All this trauma going into road traffic accidents where you’re pulling people out of the car, you’re giving them C P R, all these incidents build up. And in a five-year career, you can imagine how many traumatic incidents build up through these years.

I saw the stats, and it says that a police officer will experience around 400 to 600 traumatic incidents in their career, and we compare that to an average member of the public who will experience between two and three traumatic incidents in their entire life. And that does hit home the nature of policing, which we can never take away.

Of course, there are going to be trauma traumatic things that you witness, but it just highlights. The nature of policing and the effect that this can have on the people doing that as a job. This is where my passion comes in with mental health because I do not believe enough is being done to help the police officers as individuals, as humans, to deal with all that trauma.

Ron: Now, Rob, you’re in England?

Rob: Originally, originally Ireland. I’m originally from Belfast but now living in England; I was in the police force in Scotland, so I’m doing my tour around the United Kingdom.

Ron: I’m asking this too because my brother-in-law will say, what country is he in?

My experience from the very beginning was that I’d never seen things like those constantly confronting me. I was one of those students that when they saw the first sight of blood or, you know, they’d order me out of the surgery suites. Because I was pale as a ghost, or I remember the first time I witnessed them needling somebody in one of their procedures, they looked over, and I was on the floor. When I was early in my training, one of the senior residents put his arm around my shoulder, said come with me. I want to show you a dead body. And, you know, he, just with no feeling, was pointing out all the vital signs that weren’t there.

Careers, especially frontline workers and healthcare workers, have seen so much.

You’re saying that what you found is a way forward for somebody who has had a lot of traumas, which often affects people,

Rob: Yeah, and you’ve hit this; you’ve just said, thereby witnessing your first dead body that never leaves you, does it? That memory of seeing your first dead body will never leave you. And for me, Back when I witnessed my first dead body, it was the thing they wanted you to see early in your career. Like, there’s, there’s, a deceased person, right? Quickly, let’s get the new person in because he needs to see this. I’ll never forget going into that house and seeing this individual who’d been dead for about three weeks. This cat was on him, eating his flesh. He was an alcoholic, and you can imagine the smell that met me when I opened that door.

Ron: Yes, all the different things, sensory and everything, it stays, it stays, it gets buried in the, in the system, in the memory mind.

Rob: Definitely. And you can still, you know, the smell of death is so distinct that, yet again, it never leaves you. And, for the police, you know, you witness traumatic events daily, just like most frontline emergency services. But how do we deal with this trauma? And that’s the question that we need to look into a little bit more of.

No matter what, we cannot take away the trauma. Someone has to witness the trauma. Someone has to do that job, and it’s vital in society. We need our police officers; we need our fire service; we need our paramedics. But how do we equip them to heal from the trauma they’re witnessing?

That’s the question that we need to look into more because for me, in my experience, I find myself going from one trauma to the next trauma to the next trauma to, you know, and within a day, you could have three traumatic incidents, and then you’re going the next day, and you’re going again. You’re going again.

How am I healing from any of those traumatic incidents? When I’m just going from the next one to the next one, I become so desensitized.

Ron: Yes, it is the desensitization process, and that was a problem as a practitioner or public servant. I think you become too desensitized to yourself and others, and it creeps into the rest of your life.

Rob: That, and that’s a great point that I mentioned quite a lot that it creeps into your personal life. It does; it affects you. No matter what part of your life, it has an effect. Your relationship, your friendships, and your relationship with yourself have a knock-on effect because it can’t have a knock-on effect because of what you’re witnessing. You have a coping mechanism, which might be dark humor, which is fine. In those situations, you know that dark humor exists and is perfectly acceptable. However, it’s only unacceptable when your only coping mechanism is dark humor.

You know, it’s fine to have your jokes, but are you then understanding what you’ve just witnessed, and do you understand the levels of seriousness of what you’ve just witnessed, rather than just making a joke and moving on because with the trauma you can’t outrun it. It will always come back to you if you don’t heal from it.

And understand what you’ve been through, talk about it with somebody, or accept it yourself. My goodness, that was rough. That was tough. Just cutting that body down from the guards that was tough and talking it out, or whatever it may be to you. If you don’t do that kind of thing, it will always come back, and it will then come back in different ways.

So it came back in. Like your health, it could affect your health down the line; whatever it may be, you can’t outrun trauma. So, more must be done to ensure that the officers, or whatever emergency service it is, better cope with the trauma. They’re getting the right support network.

They’re getting psychologists, counseling, whatever it may be. That support network is there more frequently than not.

Ron: I can speak for healthcare workers. There’s no ongoing support group. There might be now, but there wasn’t anything constant like meetings, support groups, processing things.

It was just all assumed that was it. The words, “It is a dirty job, but somebody’s gotta do it.” And you know, you have to be, get proficient at it. Get desensitized to it.

Rob: Yeah.

Ron, I’ll mention, with the drawing of blood and all that and needling people, I mean, by the time I was early in my career, I could draw my blood and inject myself or do an IV on myself.

I’m not bragging about that. I’m just saying that I got desensitized to that part.

Rob: Yeah.

Ron: I don’t know about the systems in England or this country, but it’s more about the job; it’s like training a soldier; you don’t think you pull the trigger. It’s like that.

Rob: Yeah, definitely the job. The job needs to be done, and you’re there to do the job. And unfortunately, the bosses don’t see you as a human 99% of the time. And I’m just talking about my own experiences, and I know people may have a different experience with whatever police force they’re in, but when I was in the job, you’re almost seen as a robot.

You will go again, and you’ll go again, and you’ll go again. No matter what you’re seeing or witnessing, there’s not that deep reflection of, hold on one second. How are you doing as a person? Are you okay? Do you need time off? Do you need to talk about it? And, you know, you get offered these counseling things if you witness a traumatic event, so let’s say I’ve seen a murder, and I’ll get offered those traumatic events at traumatic services.

But I get offered those traumatic services for an email. They get emailed to you saying we understand that you’ve witnessed this. If you want counseling, we can arrange that: an email, an email. High desensitization is that, and you know, that stigma also exists. And it did exist for me where You didn’t want to be seen to be using that counseling service.

‘cause other people would say, “Oh, did you get that email?” And you’re like, yeah, yeah, I just deleted it. And they’re like, yeah, me too. And that exists. So you would never want to be like, oh, I’m thinking about it because you, you could, you know, most of your people around you, your colleagues, and all will say to you that they’ve deleted it.

And it’s a waste of time. So suddenly, they’re creating that idea that it’s not important to talk about. And because you’re in that environment, of course, you know you are the average of the five people you spend your most time with. So you then get affected by those people. So you have similar thought processes, negativity, and pessimism; I was like, what’s the point then?

Ron: Well, another thing that comes to mind, and I, I think of the military and, well, like the police force, with the emphasis on the group. You know, the group you, you do for the group; you sacrifice. It’s one for all. And if you’re feeling, you know, tremendous panic or anxiety, you’re, you’re going to pull it together and go out there and do your job.

And so the emphasis is more on that than on the individual.

Rob: Yeah,

Ron: I think that’s shifting slightly in different services today, but that’s a problem. And also some people that get in positions of authority or trainers can be, you know, get the mission so much in mind that they can be abusive or abusive anyway, just across the, the power and authority.

And, of course, that’s another issue.

Rob: Definitely. Why it is the culture, isn’t it?

Like culture exists in these places, and culture gets affected top-down. You know, the top of the chain dictates your culture, and if you’ve got an individual who may not be the most pleasant of individuals, guess what? They’re setting the culture because it’s not what do what you say.

It’s do what I mean. People will do what they say. It’s do what you do. People will do what they are doing in their job with how they act, rather than if they said, oh, you know, well-being is important. But are they showing that in their actions? Because if they’re not showing in their actions, people will follow your actions before they follow your words, especially as a leader.

So culture and getting the right people in the right jobs is important.

Ron: Oh yes.

 You had these experiences, and, in my mind, I can compare it to other people doing frontline service-oriented jobs. And there are the elements of trauma and so on. But again, there is Post-traumatic stress disorder and all those things, which, once I saw a statistic that most people that developed that were people that were in auto accidents, you know, something happened, blew up and could be one incidence.

And they have to come to terms with it. I imagine with people that had, and I guess the term they use is complex trauma, where, and where you have layering and layering on not only of your experience, can go back to your childhood and see where it builds.

All these things intertwine, which is why they use the word complex trauma.

And that’s a problem I mentioned. I passed out when I had the first needling demonstration, and then I remembered we had a very traumatizing pediatrician when I was a little kid. They used to get my whole family to sit on top of me to give me an with me screaming and everything.

So anyway, there’s an entire history of that, and for helpful therapy work, you can go back and understand all that. I think you suggested that the solution might be to do some practical things or do things that will shift from your old culture and ways of thinking to positive steps for healing, thriving, and happiness.

You mentioned the word happiness; it’s always interesting to discuss.

Talking about happiness, the importance of self-awareness and self-care, and wise advice from Rob.

Rob: Yeah, yeah, yeah, definitely. And this idea of happiness and what, what is happiness? And I try to promote as much as possible in my talks for businesses or individuals. Don’t look at what happiness is to other people because happiness is an opinion. Your family will have an opinion of what happiness is.

Your friends will have an opinion. Social media will have an opinion. Society will have an opinion, whatever it may be. Everyone’s got an opinion. But what is your opinion? And your opinion is what counts. Because it’s your happiness, it’s individual to you. And you know what? I’ve spent so much of my life before I did these, this personal growth that I was helping.

I was making sure that everybody else was happy. I was making sure that their cups were full instead of my own. But by making sure that everybody else is a priority. You’re, you know, you’re letting yourself down. You’re not focusing on you. And if you don’t focus on yourself, how can you give to anybody else the best way possible?

Because you need to be thriving to give everything of yourself to other people, you need to figure out what makes you happy as an individual. And that could be anything. It could be, you know, so many different things. And if it’s different from what you see in other people, that’s okay because It’s your life, and we’re only here for a short time, and I’ve found all that the hard way. Unfortunately, I had to go through traumatic events in my career that awoke me to a happy life. And it was unfortunate. But I look back on these times and think they had to happen for a reason.

They had to; they had to shake me to live. At that time, I was just living on autopilot.

Ron: Right. And whatever you speak and talk about certainly will be helpful to others to break out of their narrow mindset and think about that and how they have to go day by day with more balance and awareness. So, are there any personal things you would have to say to people in stressful lives? They’ll listen and say, it’s nice to say, but I have, you know, this situation, this situation. And I have to hang on and survive.

Rob: Yeah. And I, you know, whatever it may be you may do, you could be running a business, you could be in a high-stress job, whatever it is, your happiness is intertwined no matter what you do in your life. So you need to make sure that you don’t put your happiness off. You know, you could say, oh, I’m stressed, I’ve got a stressful job.

Or young kids, whatever it may be, and you’d be like, I’ll need to focus on everybody else for the next couple of years. Unfortunately, that’s not, that’s not going to work. So, what I promote in my talks is to do something for yourself each day. If you’re a business owner and it’s a new business, you’ll have to put a lot of your time and effort into that new business, building it up, but also make sure that you do something you love each day.

And that could be something simple like going out for a coffee or a lovely walk in nature, whatever it may be. At the end of each day, just write down one thing you’ve done for yourself. Write down something that you’ve done for your happiness that day. And if you can do that, then all of a sudden, you know, you’re, you’re still focusing on you amidst all the chaos, depending on what it is in your life.

Yes, there will be chaotic moments in our lives, but. There, you know, 10 minutes of meditation, a yoga session, going out for a walk, whatever it may be. It can be as little or as long as you want as long as you do something for yourself. I think that’s the main thing. Each day, whatever you’re in, you can do something for yourself.

Ron: That’s terrific advice. But it is also like in journaling; you can put in some things for which you feel gratitude.

Rob: Yes. Yes.

Ron: And also some things maybe about where you’re helping others, where

the focus is more about that, or at least that, you know, there’s a balance in there.

 I say anything that brings awareness or mindfulness or insight into what you’re doing,

Rob: Yeah

Definitely. Yeah, definitely. And that’s the thing, like I’ve, you know, I’ve, I’ve gone through it. I advise people on what they can do to have their lives because I’ve been through an unhappy life, and I’ll tell you the story about how I got that. So, in the police, I was in for five years; I would describe myself as a functioning depressive. That’s the best way to describe why I lived my life: sleeping on my days off, not really having much of a life, and then suddenly working cold. I’d get dressed, get ready, and go to work. You know, work consumed me, and when I was outside of work, I didn’t live much of a life, especially for periods within those five years.

You know, my mental health suffered dramatically because I was in an unhappy life. I was living an unhappy life, starting with my career, and so many different aspects of my life made me unhappy. And as I said, it affected my mental health severely. And at the end of my police career, my last ever shift changed my life forever.

I witnessed a young male take his own life in the morning, and I was there for him as he took his last breaths in this world, and I was unable to help him. I, you know, was watching the blood spreading out of his life as he was losing his life, and I could not do anything. I couldn’t get to him because of the distance away.

There was a lot of it; he purposely crashed his on this big banking, and I couldn’t help him. But all I could do was watch. And it’s a very traumatic event to have, to witness. However, five years, sorry, five years, five hours later on the same shift, my colleague had a heart attack on shift and died, and my colleague had 29 years of service, one year left until retirement.

And this idea is what society would tell me: Don’t worry, you have a good pension, please. You’ll get a really great pension. All of a sudden, these ideas of what happiness and success were to other people came to my head, and I thought, tomorrow’s not promised. Why am I living a life today for a tomorrow that’s not promised? And it changed. It changed my life. It changed my perception of life. It changed my outlook on my own life. It was the biggest transformational experience to date that I’ve had in my 31 years on this planet. It was so transformational that it had to happen for me to open my eyes to what happiness was to me because I’ve just witnessed how, in two incidents, on the same shift, on the same day, how tragic and how short life can be.

Especially with my colleagues, like it was so close to home. You know, watching a colleague there having a hard time and dying. It’s so close to home that you think, wow, it changes. It can’t not change you. For me, it just changed my perspective, and after that, I decided to do things that made me happy.

Ron: It’s almost like you had it pushed you to, and, and a different level of enlightenment or, or just a more profound perspective about things.

Rob: Yep, definitely.

Ron: There is an effort in the mental health area now to sort of create experiences like in workshops, intensive things where people get a chance to break out of a sort of this miserable, durable mindset, well, we could talk for hours, especially start comparing the different experiences and things. But the important thing is that it’s a forward trajectory, and I, I think you realize there are a lot of things where there’s gratitude and being in a place where you felt you were providing service, but realizing there are many ways to be of service to yourself and others.

Rob: Yeah, definitely. And I would say that. For me, if you’re not thriving, how can anything you give thrive in your life? You can’t. You know, each aspect of your life can’t thrive if you’re not thriving internally, and that has to do with your mental health and your well-being. So you must ensure that you are 100%, your well-being is up there, and all the rest of it will take care of itself.

Ron, it was just wonderful talking to you, and I’m sure it’ll be a wake-up call and inspiration for those who tune in. Thank you.

For a consultation with Dr. Parks, for help in gaining clarity and perspective, go to parksmd.com/scheduling/

I appreciate your interest. Please share with others. Subscribe to my Substack newsletter and podcast at www.inmindwise.com. All content is created and published for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice or to be relied on for medical decisions. Always seek your healthcare provider's guidance regarding medical or mental health conditions. Thank you.

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*Rob Hosking wants you to unlock your potential and embrace a happier, more resilient version of yourself. As a motivational speaker, he would like to take you on a transformative journey, delving into the depths of mental health, happiness, trauma, resilience, and self-belief. He shares his personal experiences and insights, hoping to empower people to navigate life’s challenges with strength and positivity and to break down any barriers to finding happiness. He hopes to inspire his audience and unlock their growth, healing, and self-discovery potential—to rewrite their stifled inner narrative. The goal is to create a life filled with happiness and purpose. For more information about Rob Hosking: https://speakerhub.com/speaker/rob-hosking

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