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 (…/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 BackupHumanizing 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.

An Important Conversation About Cops, Soldiers, PTSD and Suicide

There is a private group on Facebook that a number of us who run law enforcement related pages belong to. We use it to discuss all sorts of things that we cannot talk about in public, from stupid jokes to stressful things going on in our own lives or with our own agencies. Not every member is a cop. Some are former cops, some are cop spouses, some are just highly outspoken supporters of law enforcement. Cops generally get other cops, but these folks also understand all the other crap that comes along with running a pro-LE social media page, the good and the bad. It truly is one of my favorite places in all of social media.

Every once in a while, a conversation in that group touches on something extremely important and should be shared publicly. The following fairly long conversation is one of those. I am sharing with the permission of the members who wrote these remarks, although most of their names have been removed for privacy.

Be forewarned, this was originally a private conversation between cops and warriors not intended for the public, so the language is raw. I chose to leave it that way because that is real life, and cops and warriors all know and accept that.

Landon Steele: (In sharing this ^^^ news article about two vets killing themselves at two different VA facilities in Georgia)

Goes double for you (cops). No deployments. You deploy everyday. I’m at a homeless shelter for vets and these guys are bitching about the VA. You guys/ ladies don’t get shit.

Longest rant ever. Been asked about this a few times today by several veterans on the ranch. Here’s my take.

Most vets aren’t fucked up because of some shit they saw or did, they’re fucked up for a few other reasons. They were sent to war by a society that abhors violence to the point squirt guns for a 5 year old is bright orange and the taking of it to school will get a call for SWAT. However that same society can’t get enough killing and war on Netflix.

Strange right?

So these young warfighers come back from the military (not combat necessarily) where they literally were taught to be appropriately violent, as are a lot of healthy, functional societies and that tribe is now gone.

They don’t miss war or killing or any of that shit, they miss the closeness of the tribe. Gender, race, sexual preference didn’t matter because their life depended on everyone in their tribe.

Now they come home after fighting the LONGEST fucking war in American history and their tribe is gone.

To add insult to injury they return to a society that doesn’t have a roll in what they did in war as the native Americans did, or Israelis do, because everyone in those societies had to fight so everyone understands and PTS was, or is, pretty much non-existent. But in America its kinda assumed now that if you did some shit overseas you must have the PTSDAIDS so eventually troops think they do.

There’s nothing wrong with our troops, there’s something really fucked up about what they come back to.

The VA is the largest medical system in the US, funded by people who voted for politicians who literally wish we would all go away. Over worked, underfunded. The employees at the VA for the most part are vets or civilians who literally care beyond words, but the system is dicked up because our society is dicked up.

Notice I didn’t say anything was wrong with America because we still have enough people who knowingly sacrifice their safety or lives and fully expect not to get a fair health deal after.

Before we point the veteran finger of righteousness at the VA, let’s look at who funds them, who did you vote for?

When we fix us as a society then the VA won’t have these issues. In the interim, your best, brightest and most motivation Americans will be killing themselves because we ALL failed them.

Landon Steele: I would say there are compounding factors that actually make your (cops’) current job harder and reintegration harder because it’s every time you get off shit, not a 6 or 9 month break. You roll two deep or alone so it’s gotta be more fucked then when I worked.

“AJ”: There’s just so much wrong with America right now. The entire United States focus is on sexual identity, racial tension, and police brutality.

Day in and day out I see mental health problems. Often I see veterans who have been pushed back and back over and over by the VA, and they aren’t allowed to see any other MD or psych. Men are stubborn. If you push us back enough times we just say fuck it and fix it on our own, which is resulting in all of these suicides by military and LE. 

There’s so many options, but those options get burned out so fast because once an option opens, everyone flocks to them because in the beginning they actually give a damn about patients. Govt. needs to realize the mental health issues we have right now and throw triple the amount of money into the pot because it is rapidly becoming a life and death issue for them, and people they want with them. Never did you hear about suicide by cop until the last 10 or so years. Now it’s almost daily.

Landon Steele: bro, what fucks me up is my guys (soldiers) not being able to do it and do crazy shit on purpose to get blue (cops) to shoot them. It fucks the officer up when they find out why the weapon was empty. It’s the same team. Bridging that gap is huge and problematic. (emphasis added by me)

“AJ”: Yep. And it blows bringing them in for a psych and the doc releasing them, only to get re-dispatched to that residence days later to them with their skull in pieces dead. These people specializing in mental health fail these people daily because they reject the “maybes” cause all the fucking facilities are full

Landon Steele: Why there isn’t a med system for LEO or a preventative clause that says just because an officer has PTS doesn’t mean the chief can pull your shit?

Me (Matt): I never served in the military, but I think you might be onto something brother. As for cops, I’ve said the same thing. We don’t get a 6 month deployment, we are deployed for our entire career, and being in condition orange all the time is not good for you. It helps you survive the day, but in the long run, that level of heightened awareness for extended periods of time is very bad for the human body and mind.

LT: Hits home Matt. I was in D.C. for police week few years ago. In D.C. I found that I couldn’t relax, even in the company of cops, because I was in fucking D.C.

I couldn’t relax enough to sleep thinking someone was going to break in the house we rented or steal my car parked in the alley. I was on vacation surrounded by my own team and was basically standing sentry the whole time. It robbed me of actually enjoying police week.

“KD” (a cop’s wife): The only place I’ve ever seen my husband (the cop) completely relax was vacationing with our son at Shades of Green; 100% ID check and a closed campus was a whole new world. It was amazing.

“Paddy”: I did all 3…

Military (didn’t do shit- peacetime Army).

Cop (saw my fair share)

PMC (private military contractor) in Iraq (on the road or taking IDF every day)

Came back seriously fucked up- physically and mentally. What kept me together (barely at times) was the brotherhood.

Men & women I knew calling up randomly to say hi and see how I was doing. I did the same for them. All of us were a bit off- but it didn’t matter.

Guy named Boone Cutler before he came up with the Spartan Pledge coined another term:

Unassimilated Warfighter (emphasis added)

It resonated with me and addresses the societal issues anyone who runs towards gunfire deals with.

We are our own society, our own class, and we look after our own. We have our own codes of behavior, our own ethical standards, our own moral standards. 

IMO fitting into modern society and culture, or trying to, is a bad thing. Square pegs in round holes. Modern society is diametrically opposed to the values most of us hold.

Individual accountability, personal responsibility, honor, loyalty, steadfastness… these words at best have no meaning for society at large and at worst are derided and mocked.

They hate us because we don’t care about race, religion, sexuality, or gender. Our only metrics are “Can we trust you” and “Are you squared away”.

We look down on those who seek to play the victim, to portray themselves as weak as possible. Society celebrates them and makes them heroes.

Fuck that noise.

Honest question: Would the average Veteran, cop, firefighter, or medic ever come up with “I was out and two guys who voted for someone else beat me up- feel sorry for me”?

Now if I said would we come up with “I was out and got jumped by 4 dudes and I knocked them all smooth the fuck out”…. 😂

Shit- after Trump got elected there was a 17% spike in “hate crime” attributable to false reports.

I think that a lot of the stressors (outside of financial ones) come from trying to fit into a society that stands opposed to what we carry in our souls, who we are as human beings.

When I finally realized that my society consists of those who have walked the line, not the whining bunch of intersectional dipshits that colleges churn out, shit started getting better.

“Chuy”: Damn Bro, This.^^^

Me: No fucking shit, Chuy! You (Paddy) need to post that somewhere that I can share it on my page.

In fact, the combo of yours and Landon’s should be a blog post somewhere (after that, they all gave me permission to copy and paste it here)

“KD”: Most ancient and tribal societies had a warrior class; they weren’t expected to be ‘like everyone else’ when they weren’t in the thick of the fight. It’s like expecting a high drive Malinois to *also* be a Golden Retriever the minute the harness comes off.

We’ve been so safe here, for so long, society has lost touch with why you’re needed. It’s why Kipling wrote ‘Tommy’, in 1890.

And Landon, I’ve seen you defending LE on other threads when their experience is minimized and belittled, and I appreciate you so much for that.

I honestly believe this is a very important conversation that needs to be shared both with soldiers and cops. We don’t have the same jobs, but we do have the same kind of brotherhood. We are all on the same side, and we need to look out for one another. That starts with recognizing what causes the problems we both face, which is essentially the same problem: modern society does not want us, does not want to be reminded we exist, and we generally don’t fit in. 

In my opinion, and clearly that of some others, that is what is causing the very high suicide rate among soldiers and cops.

(For those wondering who Landon Steele is, he is not a cop. He is a US combat medic, PMC, and has worked private, armed security in conjunction with cops. If you don’t know who he is, it might be worth a google… Plus, there is this video.)