My law enforcement career was more or less average I guess. I have the laundry list of calls that everyone who has spent any amount of time in public safety has; the list of calls that you remember. Some were funny and some were awful; there were always a few that stuck out. I
won’t go into detail, because we all have those calls and why put them in somebody’s head? Those things need to have emotion tied to them to impact a person, and what bothers you, may not even phase me and vice versa. There are no “better” or “worse” calls. Your trauma is your trauma and it’s up to you to own it. It doesn’t matter if the person that was on the call with you seems fine. It’s ok to not be ok and to get yourself some help. I spent ten years in uniform patrol. In 2016 I got an opportunity to come off of the road and work in investigations full time. I was ready for a change.
Looking back, I was already struggling then. Too much alcohol, not enough exercise or sleep. Of course I didn’t know it then. I had been married for about 7 years at that point and had two young kids and a mortgage. This is the American dream right? I considered myself so lucky that I knew what I wanted to do at age 16. I went on a ride along with my local agency and was hooked right away. So, I put my head down and kept grinding. This will get better right? Everybody has stuff that bothers them, it’s no big deal.
I threw myself into work, hoping that I could get promoted someday. I became the guy that didn’t say no. I continued to take on responsibilities and there were some major incidents in my neck of the woods that I had a significant role in. No, I wasn’t out on the road anymore, but there were other things to experience. I started investigating Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC). I was lucky that the agency did not take a huge volume of those types of cases, but I saw enough to know that these were adding fuel to a fire that had been started a while ago. I had been around too many “kid” calls and none of them were anything that I wanted to remember
I think it was in 2017, maybe it was in 2018. I had so much anxiety surrounding going to work everyday that I was throwing up before going in. A few years later I would get nauseous just hearing the work phone ring while I was off duty.
I ended up in the emergency room in December of 2018. I was in to see my doctor and my blood pressure was through the roof; think 200/160 range. He sent me to the ER, where I got a variety of meds and was discharged. My blood pressure never really came down for any extended period of time. I remember the doctor asking if I had blurred vision or a headache or any other symptoms. I responded that this was how I felt pretty much every morning. Which was true, it was a normal Thursday morning for me. A racing heart, increased blood pressure and occasionally even sweating became the standard when it was time to go in.
I had an assignment change at work in 2019. I’m still struggling, but I’m “advancing” at work so things must be ok. I got this right? Things were getting worse and I was having to hide these symptoms from my coworkers. The new position was a plain clothes assignment that afforded me much more flexibility on the schedule. My yearly evaluations were fantastic, I was well
connected within the region, and I was building an impressive resume. There was the side I showed at work and then the other side that was an absolute mess at home.
I have been in therapy since late 2018. The wheels started to fall off the bus. I couldn’t focus at work at all and was basically going through the motions. It was now 2021 and something had to change. I was still under the impression that I could make it to retirement. I was 37 at the time and the retirement age in Minnesota for LE is 55. I remember telling my wife that I already had almost 15 years in and that I only had 17 or 18 left. This was absolutely polluted thinking. How I thought that I was going to make that work is an absolute mystery. When she suggested maybe it was time to get out of police work, I would respond that I wasn’t finished yet. I didn’t want to leave.
I met with my doctor and explained that usually my blood pressure was well controlled, with meds, but that it would spike around work events. I explained that I was already in therapy and he told me, without hesitation, that I had PTSD. He described my symptoms as “textbook” and left no doubt that this (PTSD) was at least one of the issues. He offered medications and advised that I continue meeting with the therapist.
Once again, Minnesota does things a bit differently. At least in terms of how the process goes. We worked with a law firm that specializes in public employee benefits and workers comp. They helped me get in front of a psychologist who, after confirming that he believed that I had PTSD, signed the paperwork that started my FMLA time off. The union that I had paid dues to for years was basically nowhere to be found. This process is adversarial from the start but it wouldn’t have to be.
The Workers Compensation process is a nightmare. Nobody believes you and you are forced to constantly “prove” your symptoms. I continued to seek treatment via my therapist and also started some medication with my physician. Things should be getting better now right? I’m off work, we are gathering a support system of folks that can help, surely the worst is behind me.
About three months after all of this, I spent a few nights in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). My blood sugar, when I was admitted, was about 700. I had been in for regular blood work and got a call at home telling me that I needed to get to the hospital immediately. I don’t remember much of that, other than it was a second trip to the ER and then a short hospital stay. The diagnosis was diabetic ketoacidosis. I had never been diagnosed as diabetic prior to this.
The day that I got out of the hospital, I had a letter from my agency in the mail. The short version is that my FMLA time was used up, they had granted a short extension but it was time to go back to work. Of course the caveat was that I would need a doctor to sign off that I was fit for duty. That of course wasn’t going to happen and my last day as a police officer was July 1st, 2021.
I continued treatment, but things were not improving all that quickly. I was incredibly depressed and anxiety stricken. I spent most of my time indoors, probably in bed sleeping or trying to. I
was just sort of floating through life, waiting for the process to be over so we could move on. I was broken. All I had wanted to do since I was a young man was to become a police officer. Now, I was unemployed, struggling greatly and had no direction. I felt like I had done something wrong, but nobody could tell me what that might have been. After I separated officially from the agency, a few of my partners reached out, but there are plenty of them that I haven’t talked to even years later.
In December of 2021, I attended a deposition regarding my case with workers comp. Imagine sitting in a room and rehashing a list of the awful things that you had seen and been exposed to, a whole career condensed into a few hours. I started the downward spiral. My claim had been denied months ago, despite being diagnosed by two psychologists and my physician. I had been granted a disability pension by this time, so at least we were able to pay the bills. Not receiving a paycheck for several months with three kids added stress to an already overburdened household.
I was scheduled to attend an independent medical examination (IME) with a psychologist that was hired by the work comp side in January 2022. It was too much. I was tired of being told what to do, tired of feeling like that, just tired.
I had devised a plan to end my life about a year before that day. I had a spot picked out in a neighboring county and a plan on how I was going to do it. I had a bottle of Crown Royal and a Glock. You can’t kill yourself where you worked at because you don’t want your family or former partners to find you. I stopped by a former partner’s house, he is also a very close friend. I have no idea why I stopped there. I ended up not leaving for several hours and I’m still not sure exactly how all those folks showed up. Either he was making phone calls, or friends of friends were calling around, but pretty soon we had a room full of folks that cared about me and wanted to help. I had been isolating heavily and had not seen several of those people for a year or more. A third trip to the ER was in order.
Two days later, I was in Florida at a rehab center that had a program for first responders dealing with PTSD. Things got better. The alcohol was clearly not helping anything, but it was the only thing I found that would relieve anxiety, even though it was temporary at best. It kept the nightmares away and I knew it wasn’t a long term solution, but I was at a loss as to what else I could do. I met some great folks, several of whom had the same issues that I did, but they lived in other parts of the country. I had felt like I was on an island for the last several months, I didn’t know where I fit in or what was next, but I had at least found some people that had some idea what I was going through. This was the start of the healing process for me.
Things got better and things are still getting better. Those things will get better for you too. . It takes work, I still have hard days and there are sights/sounds/smells that will sometimes bring me back to places I don’t want to go. But those events don’t run my life any longer. They will always be part of my life, but a much smaller part. It’s time to write the next chapter. The one about my time as a police officer is surely worth reading, but it’s not the finale. There is life after public service and I am looking forward to experiencing all that it has to offer.