One of the myths about PTSD is that it only develops from a single traumatic event. While that may be true for some, it can also be developed from overexposure to repeated traumatic life events such as death, violence in all its forms, marital disputes; to name a few. When we look at PTSD in this manner, it is easy for us to understand why first responders such as police officers develop PTSD (Brillon, 2013). – Bearded Cop
Some of you may be wondering how I came to be diagnosed with PTSD and Depression. I have been a Police Officer for 11 years. Although, retrospectively I’ve suffered with symptoms of PTSD earlier on in my career, I only officially sought help in 2016. During that summer, I had a coffee with one of my friends & colleagues; let’s call him Jack. I had known Jack for quite some time through work. Nothing could have prepared me for the discussion we were about to have.
“Brother, I have PTSD,” he said. I swallowed the burning hot coffee in shock. Sitting across from me was a friend and colleague who revealed something which is shrouded in negative stigma. Due to this stigma, I felt awkward, embarrassed yet somewhat intrigued. Sure, I’ve heard of PTSD; who hasn’t? I’ve always associated PTSD with war veterans or victims of traumatic crimes etc. To my knowledge, Jack hadn’t been involved in a shooting, been oversees during a military posting or had been a victim of crime. When I saw Jack, I didn’t see the stereotypes about PTSD that occupied my mind. “How do I respond to that?” I thought to myself.
I look around the crowded coffee shop and then and asked him in a hushed tone if he’s alright. He smirked and replied that he’s ok to talk about it and there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. According to Jack, his diagnosis, was the best thing to happen to him recently. He was performing well at work but his family life had been suffering. Finally, something I can relate to; I thought. Work was great for me as well, but I was going through a rough patch at home with my wife and kids. During our conversation, Jack was telling me about his PTSD symptoms, which is when things began to get scary for me. I wasn’t fearful because of what Jack was going through. The scary part was that Jack was describing me, my personality, things about me which I thought were normal. We spoke for, what felt like, hours about work and the hard things we’ve had to deal with and see throughout our careers. We spoke about our symptoms such as rapid thoughts, dreams, extreme anxiety, angry outburst, aversion to loud noise, insomnia, hypervigilance; and the list goes on (topic for a future post). The discussion ended with Jack smiling as he made me promise to go speak to a psychiatrist.
I felt strangely good that afternoon. I was on a high. I spoke to my wife and told her that I wanted to get some help because of the symptoms I was having. She smiled with tears of relief coming from her eyes and gave me a giant hug….You see, she had been begging me for years to get therapy to which I told her that would never happen. I believed that I was normal and that my symptoms were part of my personality due to my job. Cops are tough. We aren’t supposed to feel emotion, and being hypervigilant is my way of staying alive….How wrong I had been all these years. Furthermore, I had always been scared that any type of mental health diagnosis would be detrimental to my career. After all, how many times have we seen the question “have you sought psychological therapy” on a job application questionnaire? My discussion with Jack appeased those fears.
Weeks went by and I still hadn’t made that phone call to my doctor’s office. RRRIIINNG. It’s Jack calling me to follow-up on the promise I made him. My procrastination was due to a fear of wasting the doctor’s time. Despite of the conversations I had with Jack and my wife, I still had doubt about needing any psychological help. To honor my promise, I made an appointment to see my family doctor. She immediately diagnosed me with PTSD, however she still referred me to a psychiatrist for further assessment. The psychiatrist confirmed the PTSD diagnosis and also added Major Depression to the list. “Good grief” à la Charlie Brown.
Fast forward half a year later to present day, and I understand Jack’s optimism last summer over that coffee that rocked my world. I too can say that my diagnosis with mental health issues has been the best thing to happen to me recently. The road ahead is full of obstacles, but I’m equipping myself with the tools necessary to overcome them.
Stay tuned and beard on,
Your Bearded Cop