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Jennifer Grigg   

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April 7, 2016, Port Severn, Ont. - Why challenge ourselves?

Last weekend, I had the distinct pleasure of presenting the new Road to Mental Readiness (R2MR) training program, along with eight other R2MR-certified trainers, to attendees at the Northeastern Fire Education Conference in North Bay, Ont.

It was a fantastic experience for me both personally and professionally, although not without some challenges. The training itself went very well in spite of a few audio problems – small hiccups are generally par for the course when rolling out a new program. I was very fortunate to be partnered with Deputy Chief Mark Berney from Clarington Emergency and Fire Services who kindly took me under his wing and offered words of wisdom and encouragement along the way; not unlike what any other R2MR trainer would do. I’m very proud to be part of a group of such dedicated and compassionate fire-service members.

The teaching experience was powerful for me because it was my first time as an instructor/facilitator for such a large group of my peers. I had done some training in our fire department years ago, and was comfortable doing public education as a fire-prevention officer, but I have never taught at a large fire conference before. As many of you who follow my blog know, I struggle with anxiety, which reared its ugly head more than once last weekend.

People who suffer from anxiety – whether it’s generalized anxiety disorder or social anxiety disorder, both of which I had been diagnosed with in the past – feel a great deal of unsettling emotions and physiological effects in their bodies. I’m not a doctor, but I have learned a lot about anxiety from living with it and working to overcome it.

While trying to explain feelings of anxiety to my husband, I compared it to being all jacked up on Red Bull (which I’ve never actually consumed – not a good idea for an anxious person), or way too much coffee. You feel jittery, unable to relax and your mind doesn’t stop. We obsess over preparing for an upcoming event, reading everything we think we need to read, envisioning various scenarios that could happen and trying on a million outfits – we ruminate on it all. Sometimes tunnel vision is a good thing if it helps a person to focus on something, but it’s absolutely exhausting to have tunnel vision caused by anxiety.


We obsess because it makes us think that we’ll have more control over the unexpected; it seems reasonable enough, but it is actually counterproductive and causes stress. Obsessing is a coping mechanism that we’ve developed and, as we all know, any ingrained habit is difficult to change.

Fortunately for me, I somehow found my way through my anxiety and was able to relax. During our trainers’ meeting Saturday night, I was quite surprised to realize just how at ease I felt, which was such a contrast to how I’d been feeling all day. People with anxiety cherish feeling relaxed and comfortable in their own skins.

I have no doubt that my ability to get through the experience was due in part to the people who surrounded me. My carpooling partner and fellow R2MR trainer Jeff Tanner from West Grey Fire Service was able to talk me down during the three-hour drive to North Bay and during a dinner when I apparently lost all colour in my face. I can laugh at that now, but I sure wasn’t seeing any humour in it at the time.

So why am I sharing the awfully uncomfortable details of my anxiety in such a public forum? I hope my story encourages people and shows them that challenges can be overcome. I said many times to Jeff, “Why do I do this to myself? It would be so much easier if I just stayed in my bubble – my comfort zone.”

But there’s no growth in the comfort zone.

When I finished the training, I felt like a rock star. The experience was fulfilling, rewarding, inspiring and fun. I caught a glimpse of what others had been telling me for a long time: that I could do it, that I had it in me if I could just believe in myself.

And that, my friends, is why you challenge yourself.

Jennifer Grigg has been a volunteer with the Township of Georgian Bay Fire Department in Ontario since 1997. Email her at and follow her on Twitter @georgianbayjen

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