Fool me Once…Never Again – Bearded Cop & Mental Health

I had made a subconscious promise to myself that I will never be caught again unprepared when someone decides to harm me. – Bearded Cop

Over the next few posts, we will discuss 7 false beliefs associated to PTSD (Taught to me by my therapist).

1-Since something terrible has happened to me, it will keep on happening.

One of the most frightening situations of my career happened during a routine traffic stop. Both the driver and passenger had drugs in their possession. My partner arrested the driver, while I arrested the passenger. Upon realizing he was about to have his liberty taken away, the male turned towards me and attempted to grab my gun from my holster while threatening to shoot me in the head with it (in not-so-polite terms). To make a long story short, a struggle ensued along with a foot pursuit to which I was able to apprehend the male using my Taser. It turns out, that this person had no prior criminal history and was on a drug induced psychosis. The attack had come out of nowhere with no prior warnings.

This is but one of several situations in which someone tried to inflict physical harm towards me. Some people who don’t want to be arrested will do anything to prevent it, including trying to injure or kill the officer. Due repeated exposure to traumatic events (yes, I use the term traumatic; although this is part of the job for most officers, the amount of “normal” violence an officer endures during their career would be traumatic for the average citizen)… anyways, due to this repeated exposure to people trying to hurt me, I developed a false belief that most people were “out to get me”.  This is a false belief because although it may be true that a small percentage of people have an intent to harm me during the execution of my duties, it certainly isn’t the case with the vast majority of people I meet.

Because of this false belief, I developed a form of hypervigilance. In other words, I was always on guard, always waiting; expecting another attack. This became normal for me and took over every aspect of my life. While it can have its advantages during certain situations, it certainly takes its toll on you physically and mentally.

For example, going into a coffee shop is a normal and routine activity. Staring at every individual, analysing them and looking for weapons, looking at their hands and sitting down facing the entrance could be arguably normal for an officer. In fact, my wife claims she can spot a police officer out of uniform just by the way we tend to stare at people longer than the average person.

What isn’t normal is graphically imagining or foreseeing an attack while sitting down and trying to enjoy that coffee. What isn’t normal is going to work and having that impending sense of doom that something terrible is going to happen to you today. What isn’t normal is jumping up in the middle of the night screaming and getting in a Bruce Lee fighting stance, when your young daughter enters your room….that being said, the squeaking door and those tiny rapid footsteps running towards you in pitch black would scare a lot of people. Why the hypervigilance? Because, overtime, I had made a subconscious promise to myself that I will never be caught again unprepared when someone decides to harm me.

One way to challenge this false belief

My therapist recommended I challenge my false beliefs by facing the situations which trigger the hypervigilant symptom. Specifically for the coffee shop situation, I now purposely enter the crowded establishment vs. avoiding it by going through the drive through. Instead of grabbing the coffee…NO DONUTS… and drinking it in my police car, I try and sit down with another officer for 5-10 minutes. When I feel a symptom coming on, I focus on the mindfulness principles and even engage in diaphragmic breathing (a form of breathing to slow the heart rate). The little steps go a long way in challenging these false beliefs. It takes time to re-program the way your brain works.

Stay tuned and keep the conversation going.

Your Bearded Cop

One thought on “Fool me Once…Never Again – Bearded Cop & Mental Health

  1. Although in my day to day I don’t continousuly experience traumatic events like police officers do; it is uncanny the similarity of PTSD symptoms.

    I’ve had 4 life threatening situations in the last 4 years. I became so hyper vigilant that I was constantly predicting how to defend myself against any person around me. I thought I was being wildly careless before everything happened and thought this hypervigilance was the “normal.”

    Multiple panic attacks later I realized, it’s not. Thankfully after practicing mindfulness, deep breaths and continuously exposing myself to my normal everyday activities, things got easier 🙂

    Awesome blog! I love learning about mental health for first responders and military. Thanks for the post!

    Liked by 1 person

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