I didn’t retire from law enforcement, but I worked the job long enough to bare the internal scars. I loved my job and I did it well. I was passionate about ensuring people got the help they needed and knew what the next step was. I treated everyone with respect.
I believed it was better to communicate and take the extra time than to rush through a call or investigation. When I arrived on scene, it was usually that person’s worse day; especially when I worked in the homicide unit. I have witnessed and absorbed more trauma than I should have. Death walked with me everywhere I went. After a while dealing with death seemed easier than dealing with life.
I excelled at work, yet failed in my home life. I could easily identify and counsel abused women at work, but didn’t recognize it in myself. I thought it was normal to be controlled and my time regulated. I thought it was normal to have my wardrobe monitored and friendships cutoff. I dismissed all the mean jokes and insults because he was drunk or showing off for friends. Plus, he only hit me once in public. The holes he punched in the wall were just him expressing his feelings.
One day my work and home lives collided. I was working third shift with my homicide squad. As I waited for dispatch to advise where the next body was in the city, I checked my Facebook. My friends may have been oblivious, but My husband tagged me in a post expressing how much he loved me and missed me. Fear welled up in my heart, I knew he was drunk. It was his code language. I was scared to go home. Soon after I got a phone call from him. I told him to go to sleep… he said he was going to shoot me in the back of the head while I slept, his son, our dogs, then himself. He confirmed my fears. I broke down and finally told a supervisor what I going through. I got help.
After a few months my blue family helped me move out safely. I was free, but didn’t feel safe. He was still too close. My mind began to race. My mind kept telling me he was going to kill me. I thought of different ways to get away. Eventually I left the police department and moved out of state. I couldn’t be anywhere near him and feel safe. I was right. He continually harassed and threatened my life. I was forever thankful for the encouragement I received from my blue family to leave and protect myself. I got away.
While out of state and on my own for the first time, I started having extreme problems with anxiety. I would have panic attacks for no apparent reason. Deciding what to eat or wear could trigger an attack. I consulted a doctor and she advised I had General Anxiety Disorder possible from the stress of moving.
Shortly after I began to fantasize about my death. I would hold my gun and imagine my crime scene. I wanted to die. My husband’s constant cruel words were getting to me. I felt I had ruined my life by leaving the police department. I felt worthless, useless, I lost my purpose. The first time I sat in a closet about to shoot myself, I had a vision of “detective me” talking to myself. I handed myself my business card with the suicide hotline phone number on it. I took the vision seriously and called the hotline. They were very understanding. They saved my life that night.
I continued to struggle with suicidal thoughts and couldn’t understand it. I was so confused. I had never had thoughts like this before. I had seen so much death, murder and suicide, death was a part of me. I reached out for help and was able to secure a mental health assessment with a psychiatrist, but it would take 3 months to see someone. I waited. I tried to kill myself with pills the second and third time and failed. Then the fourth time, I barricaded myself in a shed. I covered all the windows. I wrote a long suicide note saying how I failed and goodbye. I put the gun to my head. Then worried I might miss, so took a practice shot across the room at a trash can. My ears rang… the smell of gunpowder filled my lungs. I snapped out of my daze and didn’t kill myself that night either by the grace of G-d.
Finally I was able to see a psychiatrist. That’s when I finally learned my years of dedication to law enforcement and my abusive spouse resulted in my diagnosis of (c-)PTSD and bipolar 1 disorder (w/psychosis). I felt a bit relieved to know why my mind was making me feel so out of sorts, but I also felt a sense of loss. I still mourn for the person I used to be yet wonder if pre-diagnosed me was really any better. I come from a long line of war veterans with PTSD (aka shell shock).
A big part of me misses being in law enforcement. I loved using my brain power for good and helping people problem solve. However, (c)PTSD makes it nearly impossible for me to be around strangers and handle stress like I used to. I now suffer from anxiety, hallucinations, physical symptoms like agitation and all kinds of problems when trying to focus too long or even when watching the news. I get so frustrated because my knowledge base is still fully in tact and I am capable of the mental parts of the job, yet my body lets me down consistently. I feel paralyzed by my brain. I even journal, chart, study, actively participate in counseling and just can’t seem to return to my former self.
September is suicide awareness month and I wanted to share part of my story just to ensure others that even if you are having thoughts or have past failed attempts, we are here for a reason. Reaching out for help is okay. The trick is to live moment by moment and not overwhelm yourself with the big picture.
My future will not lead me back to the career path I love, but I can still help others. I feel comfort knowing that my brothers and sisters in blue were there for me when I needed them. I can return the favor in my own way and that’s enough. I do my best to be there for them when they need me. It’s not easy for my former, fellow officers…they are facing a mental health crisis like never before. I have already been down that road and can help guide them along the way. Many of them will find recovery. I have a genetic predisposition and I’m okay with this being my new “normal”. I will always be “my brother’s keeper”. If you feel no one is in your corner, know that I am.