Turning Pain into Purpose – Pia and Alana’s Journey to Create Emerge and See.
Pia and Alana first met in the police academy while they were studying together. They were close friends, but drifted apart when they joined different forces after graduating. When they reconnected years later, they realised they had more in common than they’d previously thought.
Both women experienced significant workplace trauma while working in the police and were diagnosed with PTSD. Their experience highlights just how many emergency service workers go through similar things, and together, Alana and Pia started their charity Emerge & See to help others in a similar position.
The impact of workplace trauma
Police officers experience a huge number of traumatic incidents through their work protecting the community. Alana says the variety is what drew her to the profession in the first place as she enjoyed doing something that was different to many traditional career paths. “I had more interesting stories, my experiences changed every day,” Alana says. This was a double-edged sword.
“You come out of the police academy, and you’re guaranteed to see a traumatic incident on your first shift,” Pia explains. “No one can prepare you for the emotion that goes behind that trauma.”
Across a combination of almost four decades, the two saw countless incidents that compounded the difficulties of their work. “It changes your beliefs,” Alana says. “It changes your perception of the world.”
Pia describes the numbness that settled over her. She was hyper-vigilant, always on edge, and unable to process her emotions. At one stage, she was drinking a bottle of wine every night just to calm down after a shift.
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Knowing when to get help and what help looks like… it’s not easy
“I just kept saying ‘this is my fault, this is my issue, I’ll get help’,” Alana says. “But I didn’t know what help was. It wasn’t until a few months later that a psychiatrist said that I had PTSD.” It got to the point where her psychiatrist recommended that Alana should spend some time in an in-patient facility.
When Alana told her family, they agreed it was for the best. “I was so broken that I couldn’t even look after them anymore. The impact that I wasn’t even aware of that my mental health was having on my family.”
When Pia was diagnosed with PTSD it actually helped the pair reconnect. Pia and Alana received treatment at the same in-patient facility where they realised how many others were going through the same experience.
A charity is born to help others through shared lived experience
Alana and Pia decided to make a change. That was when they founded Emerge & See, a charity dedicated to supporting emergency services workers experiencing similar struggles. The community that they’ve created offers the connection and validation they both sought after their diagnoses.
Billy Brooks is a former ambulance officer and a member of Emerge & See. Billy explains what the organisation means to him: “They’re filling a gap that I had realised existed, and they obviously realised it and did something about it. It’s only because of Alana and Pia that I’m here.”
Helping others creates new purpose
“When you’re in a career of service, you never lose that,” Pia explains. “Our service is now to our members.”
Emerge & See offers mental health support services, education, well-being information, and legal and financial advice to emergency service workers and their families. “It gave us a reason to keep going, it gave us a reason to look forward, it gave us hope that the future would look better. Not just for us but for other people experiencing the same thing,” Alana describes.
“I still struggle. I still have treatment,” Pia says now. “But I can honestly say that I’ve fulfilled my purpose.”