Well, shit! Apparently I’ve been dealing with the adverse effect of “cumulative PTSD” for about seven (7) years, but I had no idea it was even a thing, let alone that I was dealing with it. I just knew some things were not right, but did not know why.
Before I go any further, this is not intended as a “woe is me” story. This is a “if this sounds like you, please get some help so you can get better” story. Preferably, do it BEFORE you leave the job, unlike me, so workers comp or some other insurance will cover it, hopefully.
Let me back up a few weeks and fill in some blanks. As I have mentioned before, I am friends with a number of folks who run other pro-LE Facebook pages and we have a group where we can privately talk amongst ourselves. Oddly enough, this group has turned out to be one of the best things to happen to me, on the internet that is. We are able to share things with each other and get honest, no BS answers, and in the best cop fashion, with absolutely no sugar coating.
A couple quick notes to make what will follow make more sense. I retired back in January and the plan was to escape California post haste. Sadly, a few things have come up family wise that have delayed our great escape indefinitely. While my retirement is more than adequate to live on in Texas, in California it is barely enough to scrape by, so I decided to seek part-time employment to get me by until we can vacate, and since I know and love cop work, I figure why not find a part-time cop gig. With that in mind, I submitted an application with a small local agency.
That was when I ran into problems, again. What follows is a post I shared with the group I mentioned above. For those easily offended by curse words, this is your warning that some will follow.
I mentioned about 2 weeks ago that I had applied for a reserve officer position with a small local agency. After I spoke with the chief, a man I have known a long time, I got scheduled for a formal interview, to be followed by a complete background and a psych.
Within hours of getting scheduled for the interview, I was in full-on panic mode, completely mentally imploding, lying on the couch unable to do anything. It was like a full on panic attack or something. I have never felt anything like it.
The next morning, still barely able to function, I emailed the chief and pulled my application. Almost immediately, I felt better, and by that evening, I was back to normal.
What the fuck?
I’ve not said anything to anyone, other than my wife, about this up until now.
My bizarre mental meltdown freaked my wife out to the point that she asked me if I was feeling suicidal. Just to be clear, I am absolutely NOT remotely feeling suicidal. She just sees stuff on TV and movies about cops and vets committing suicide so she that was the first thing that went through her head.
I’m really not sure what is going on with me. I know it is not PTSD. Nothing about this fits the criteria for PTSD. I’m not having nightmares about shootings or calls I was on. I am not remotely feeling suicidal, or homicidal. I am not reliving incidents. None of the things that would bring about a diagnosis of PTSD, but there is definitely something going on.
I have specifically noticed that since my most recent shooting in 2011, things that never used to bother me much, if at all, really get to me. Interviews for jobs used to be slightly stressful, but not incapacitating like they have been since that shooting.
Back about 5 years ago, I was one of four candidates for a spot in our air ops division as the observer (TFO). During one of the trial flights while working as the TFO, something I had done a number of times both before and since, my brain decided to implode on me and I started having a similar incident to what happened 2 weeks ago, just not to the same extreme. My heart rate was up, I felt short of breath and nauseous. It got so bad I had to have the pilot take me to the hangar in the middle of the flight. At the time, I played it off as airsickness, but it wasn’t.
A couple years later, another spot at air ops opened up and as soon as I submitted my application, I felt that same feeling coming on, so I pulled my application within hours.
Then 2 weeks ago with that reserve spot, it was the same feeling, only times about 100.
I don’t fucking get it. Shit that should stress me out, like going to active shootings before I retired, never fucking phased me at all. When I was at the shooting where my academy mate Bob French got killed (http://www.those-who-serve.com/…/tired-of-burying-coworkers/) I was calm as fuck, handling business as if I had never left patrol.
But now, just the simple act of applying for the position of a reserve officer causes me to melt down and completely incapacitates me.
So I say again, what the actual fuck?
Much to my surprise, a number of the replies I got were “sounds like PTSD to me.” One person in particular alluded to something I had never heard of, cumulative PTSD. You see, I was looking at my symptoms and comparing that to an older clinical diagnosis model for PTSD from 15+ years ago, a list I got from the shrink I saw after my most recent OIS. Turns out, not surprisingly, some things have changed and there has been a lot of research done on PTSD during those years which has yielded a better understanding of the subject.
We all have long known that first responders get changed by the things they routinely encounter on the job. We deal with stuff that is not normal on a daily basis, things that can cause a normal person to experience a traditional onset of PTSD, but to us it is just another day at work. Add to that the stress of 1) dealing with groups that exist solely to share their hatred of cops, 2) a media that makes us a constant target for not only those cop hating groups, but thanks to their biased reporting, the general public as well, 3) politicians, up to and including the former POTUS, that love to throw us under the bus in order to curry favor with their voter base, 4) the constant social media onslaught against our profession, and 5) burying our coworkers who were murdered, time and again. That prolonged exposure to unnatural shit and negative attitudes is not good for us, and they are now considering the results of that prolonged exposure to be “cumulative PTSD.”
I found a good article about cumulative PTSD on PoliceOne (not a big fan of theirs lately based on the AP articles they have chosen to publish, but this particular article is good info). If you have been a first responder for any length of time, I highly recommend you read the article and look at the list of symptoms. I was shocked as I went down the list and found that about 60% of them described me.
This is where I talk about how lucky I am. My former union has a counselor they deal with for this type of stuff, and they also have a fund that allows them to offer this service free to members. While I am no longer a member, I was when I incurred this “injury.” I put that word in quotes because many of us don’t want to admit we are injured, but that is exactly what PTSD is, an injury. Thankfully a union rep that is in the group I mentioned contacted me and offered to get me to the counselor they deal with, and I took them up on it.
I met with the counselor for the first time yesterday, and she told me that I am most definitely dealing with some cumulative PTSD. In talking to her, I remembered another issue I encountered. About the same time that I was putting in for Air Ops the first time, I was dealing with some major digestive system issues that caused me to lose about 20 pounds and be on light duty for about 6 weeks. My doctor thought it was Crohn’s Disease, of which I have a family history, but all the extensive and highly invasive tests came back negative. At that point, they could not find a medical cause and told me it was “just stress.” Eventually the symptoms went away, so I just forgot about it, until yesterday.
Cops are great for just rubbing some dirt on it, ignoring what bothers them, pushing it down and pressing on. But take it from me, that won’t make this better. In fact, doing that makes this worse. I am writing this piece in hopes that it might help someone dealing with the same issues realize you are not alone, and you are not abnormal.
My wife had been telling me for a long time that she thought I had some PTSD, but not only did my symptoms not match the traditional PTSD diagnosis list, but dammit, I did not want to admit I might have a problem. Turns out, she was right, again.
For me, it took my recent job application meltdown to wake me up. Please don’t let it get to that point for you. Look at the list of symptoms. If you see yourself in that list, do not ignore it. Do not just rub some dirt in it and press on. Get some help, so you can get back to normal. If you are worried about potential issues on the job, there are confidential resources that you can reach out to on your own. No one at your employer needs to know.
You have dedicated your professional life to helping the public. You owe it to yourself, your family and friends to take care of you also.
Resources (not remotely comprehensive):
- Safe Call Now – Safe Call Now is a confidential, comprehensive, 24-hour crisis referral service for all public safety employees, all emergency services personnel and their family members nationwide
- Call For Backup – Humanizing the Badge’s unique #CallForBackup Suicide Awareness and Prevention Campaign seeks to address those concerns, and to teach officers how to help one another – and themselves – deal with the unique stresses of their chosen profession.
- The Wounded Blue – The mission of The Wounded Blue is to assist injured law enforcement officers who are injured physically and psychologically
- Code 9 Project – Our mission is to provide education, support and viable self-help tools to all Public Safety Personnel and their families for the purpose of managing and reducing the compressive stress effects, such as PTSD and suicide.
There are lots of resources out there. If you know of another, verified, legitimate resource, please feel free to provide us with their information so that they may be added to the list above. The best way to do that is to message us at our Facebook page.