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Under the shield

Guest Author: Ed

This content contains explicit and sensitive information that may not be suitable for all ages.

As a police officer I have seen a great deal of suffering over the course of 18 years, including: suicides; homicides; death of children; drug overdoses, and; violent acts etc. 

It is that human suffering and death that has taken its toll.  

In September 2016 I was diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which has been the toughest experience of my life, bar none.

I was angry and scared but I couldn’t let anyone know.

I became hyper-vigilant, and responding to serious calls was a way for me to bury the ones before them; a distraction.  The horrific things I saw did not go away.  They lay there in my subconscious, waiting for me to break.  I added layers to the “shield” by becoming numb to the world around me.  I was angry and scared but I couldn’t let anyone know.  I was afraid of the stigma and I was ashamed.  I was also afraid to admit there was something terribly wrong.   

I turned into a good actor, but as a husband, father, hockey coach, friend and colleague, I felt like a fraud for pretending I was fine. Being there, but not being truly present.  I managed to keep things together for a very long time, but it was increasingly hard.  I was hurting from the inside out and “trapped” in my own mind, which would not “shut off.” I was physically and emotionally exhausted, but I just could not get out of overdrive.  My brain would not shut off, and adrenaline was coursing through my veins.  Waking up to vivid scenes from incidents past and soaked in cold sweat at all hours was (and sometimes still is) my reality.  

I now understand the reality of “triggers” and “flashbacks.”

In my mind, there was no “flight” or “freeze” option.

I was stuck in “Fight or Flight” mode.  In my mind, there was no “flight” or “freeze” option.  And so, I “fought” my way through each day in pain.  I had helped others with their problems so many times, I believed: “I don’t have problems, I fix them.  I have to fix my own.”  It’s ironic when the tangible threats like suspects with knives and emergency response calls are welcome distractions from the “invisible terrors” in your own mind.  It is easier to deal with what is actually there in front of you, because no matter how bad it is, it’s not half as terrifying as what is happening inside your head and body.

The problem is, they all keep adding up.

In March 2016 I made a decision that was probably the most difficult and simultaneously important one of my life.  I needed help.  I needed to stop pretending everything was fine. I needed to stop hiding behind the mask and pretense I had created. I decided I had to put myself and my family first. I told my doctor. Despite my misguided objections, she wisely placed me on leave which lasted for three months.  In September 2016 I was diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Staying stuck is not an option!

Recovery is tough. Going from coordinating major investigations, arresting dangerous criminals and successfully de-escalating crisis situations to not wanting to get out of bed in the morning is extremely humbling.  I am fortunate to have an amazing family and an employer who takes mental well-being very seriously.  I take medication and am working hard with incredible doctors who I trust. It has taken a huge toll on my self-confidence, but with the guidance of God I’ve come to this realization:  Life is hard.  Extremely hard, but it’s worth it.  And although it takes a great deal of effort and faith to keep moving forward (I cannot emphasize that enough), staying stuck is not an option!!!  

Recognizing that facing a mental health challenge is no more a weakness or cop-out than having a broken bone or other “physical” ailment is KEY.  Taking actions to address it is absolutely necessary.  I used to view what was happening to me as a weakness.  I saw Michael Landsberg speak, and when he uttered the words, “I am sick not weak”  It resonated with me.  

There are dark days, but I must do what it takes to fight my way back into the light and encourage those who must do the same.  With the conclusion of each difficult period comes the knowledge that I made it through, and I am not weak.  It doesn’t mean that there won’t be more difficult times to come, but if by talking and dispelling the stigma makes those times just a bit less difficult – then it is worth it.    

Comments

albino rhino
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brother, thank you for articulating that so well! i can’t imagine the horrors you’ve seen but know the symptoms all too well (25+ years). our brain tries so hard to protect us but for you to have the strength to ask for help and to put it down in words, says so much of your character and the man you are.

stay strong and safe!

Deborah
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Thank you! You are a warrior! The words staying stuck is not an option resonated with me. Recovery from PTSD was my only option. I was a single Mom with 2 kids to raise. 24 years later so grateful to folks who guided and supported the healing of my invisible wounds.

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