THE LOVE BEHIND THE BADGE
A Police Families Journey with PTSI
"PTSD is one of the most widely recognized anxiety disorders experienced by police. PTSD emerges following exposure to traumatic events that involve actual or threatened serious harm to oneself or others. Symptoms of PTSD, such as flashbacks, nightmares, hyper vigilance and aggression usually occur within 3 months of exposure to trauma, but sometimes take years to appear. PTSD can be triggered by a single traumatic event or may develop after repeated exposure to multiple traumas."
CAMH - Police mental health: A Discussion paper
This is my story, both personal and familiar to most who will read it. Sadly, there is not a lot of help for the family of these hero’s but being able to articulate my experience so far, I hope will allow others to know they aren’t alone on this journey when PTSD takes hold of the person you love.
I didn’t fall in love with my officer because he was an officer. When we first met we were at a local coffee shop both bundled up in the cold air. I didn’t know then that he was battling an injury that neither of us would be prepared for what it would take to win against this injury.
The first signs of his injury showed early in our relationship. He had been involved in a case at work and wanted to get away for a weekend. He just kept saying I just need to get away, I just need to get away. Little did I know he was trying to run away from something that would always follow.
For months I watched my officer complain that he didn’t like his job but then say he loved being an officer. For months he would work his assigned shifts and went though the motions of the job. I would notice the lack of sleep at night and the negative comments related to his job a little bit more regularly. I confided in his shift partner one day that I thought he was not himself and it was agreed that we both were seeing him spiral into a man we both did not know. I can never thank his partner for all they did for him during their time working together. Not only were they his safe place at work but took some of the worry from me when he went to work. I remember one night giving my officer a thin blue line ring to
show my commitment to him and his job. He later told me that night was a night he was struggling, and the ring and my commitment brought him back from an ugly place.
There will always be that one situation/call that makes your officer to realize that something is wrong and that they need help. My officer’s trigger wasn’t a gruesome call which you would think could cause someone to go “I’m not right, I need help”, it was a missing persons case that most officers deal with on
a weekly basis. That night when he finally admitted he needed help; it was a relief but also the start of a life I did not choose but have embraced.
My officer hates doctors and when he decided he needed help he went to his family doctor and was placed on leave from work. There was never any doubt that it was work related Post Traumatic Stress Injury and his doctor was amazing working with him to get the assistance he needed.
Once his service was notified of his injury so began the paperwork. There is more paperwork for suspect PTSI, anxiety and depression then there is for most medical conditions I believe, or at least how it seemed to me when we began our journey. This part of the process (paperwork) is the most painful but yet the most important so that the officer is able to access the assistance that is need to begin healing. It was almost a month from the time the paperwork began to when my officer first got his appointment for therapy. All the while I was working to ensure my officer was dealing with his injury safely and with understanding.
The clinical psychologist has been an integral part of this whole process. He is able to guide my officer through the process for understanding his PTSD. The biggest relief during those first few weeks was when I heard my officer say he trusted his psychologist which is key for healing. During those first few weeks we learned that not only was my officer suffering from anxiety and depression but also from PTSI.
PTSI – the most hated term in my world. I hate PTSI. No matter how much reading and watching videos I do now and after my officer’s diagnosis, you can never totally understand the grip this injury has on a loved one and yourself until you live with it. Every day is a battle to not give up, for him and for me.
I have mixed feeling about therapy, I know it is healing him but not fast enough but that is my own wants and having to trust in the experts is key. I have always advocated for more therapy appointment for my officer. I do not believe the officers are receiving enough for the complexity of their professions,
a once a week one-hour meeting in some cases only scratches to surface of the issues at hand. My officer sees his therapist once a week and most weeks I think two visits would be nice to help them navigate the injury and thoughts that happen. I went to the first therapy session and sat outside while it
occurred. I was there as a support to my officer in case he needed his safe place to calmly hold his hand and bring him back to realty. I met the psychologist and he was very nice with an almost calm demeanor. My officer instantly seemed to bond with him and that is the key. We all know our officers probably don’t tell the whole story to the therapists but if they trust them, they will at least give 85% of what is
going on. About a year into treatment, I was invited to sit in on a secession with my officer and it proved to be very eye opening as there was some tears, but it enabled the therapist to hear what was happening at home from another point of view. It also opened my eyes as to what my officer was doing during these therapy sessions and realized that therapy was working albeit not as fast as I hoped but
that it was helping my officer.
Do not push your officer into talking about therapy, this is a private conversation between them and the doctor but hopefully they will share some insights as they feel safe to do so. Also know that your officer is safe there and to trust the process of therapy. I always meet my officer for a quick hug and kiss after his session when he is on his way home from therapy and let him know how proud I am of him doing it. I do know on therapy days that he exhausted and to do my best to allow him to rest as an hour of conversation can bring up some much mental and emotional pain that rest is needed.
Your officer’s partners at work are their safe place while there and you officers’ greatest protectors. They are the ones they feel comfortable around and trust the most as it has been ingrained in them since joining the service that your partners have your six. It is not saying that they do not trust you as a loved one but the coworkers are a different family bond that only those in the profession can truly
understand. Again, I can’t thank my officers partner for watching out for him and letting me know when they noticed the change in his moods prior to his diagnosis.
Triggers will be a word you hear a lot when PTSI comes into your life. Triggers can come in many forms, sights, smells, sounds and actions of people. I have seen them all with my officer. And most times only after the trigger and incident of flashback does my officer tell me when he feels safe to do so. My officer is triggered by a lot of different items but the most concerning is my officer is triggered by me. Yes, I am a trigger and that will happen, its not a bad thing but something I have to work on in order to assist him.
I am a trigger because:
I ask him how he is feeling about 100 times a day - best not to ask that much,
I am a trigger because I ask him if something triggered him - let me tell you what triggers them.
Again, triggers are different for every officer. I am only starting to notice when flashbacks happen as my officer is great at hiding them. Most times you will have no idea the trigger. Only recently my officer finally told me my new hair color reminded him of a suicide victim he dealt with years ago. Needless to say, I went the next day and changed my hair.
Flashbacks happen with your officer. I call them his off to neverland moments. One minute he is talking and then next he is off in his own world. Other times he could be in an ok mood wise and then the next he isn’t talking and you can see his anxiety mounting. Flashbacks happen because of the triggers which you cannot control as the partner and cannot make better. All you can do is be supportive.
I thought I was just caring for my officer the first year of his injury by doing a lot for him. Caring can be confused with enabling. I would always offer to do items for him from paperwork to booking appointments. Some days yes I had to, as my officer did not have the brain functioning to do that on his own. I am now getting my officer to do more on his own, and some days is a fight to push him out the
door or to make that phone call but its these small steps that help.
I call it the Jekyll and Hyde phenomena. One minute your officer is a happy go lucky person, almost to the point they remind you of happier times prior to the injury. Then the next they are a different person who is unhappy, critical and just sad. This will happen and you will want to scream or call their therapist to say the therapy is not working. It is working believe me, just there are days of set back. I know when my officer is struggling with the injury, I am getting good at seeing triggers and or mood changes. He will become almost manic in the sense that his voice will raise, and he will keep talking and talking almost to the point people start staring if we are in a public place. I now approach him by asking if there is
anything I can I do for him as I see his anxiety is elevated. It is not a nice feeling when people come up to you and say how strong you are as they couldn’t live like that when you officer is in that state but you know if only for a short amount of time .
The days when your officer is at their lowest are the hardest, they will completely shut down and not want to be touched. Again this is a safety tactic your officer does and nothing to do with you which is the hardest to understand. When your relationship has been built on the need for contact all the time it
is tough when this happens. I have learned recently when he’s at his lowest to just leave him alone and do my own self care while ensuring the children are looked after.
This is the hardest subject to write about as I have been lied to by my officer during our relationship. Some of the lies were the little white lies where I’d ask if he was ok and he would reply, “yes I'm fine, no its all good “ and then I have been lied to the point of complete heart break and mistrust in my officer. We worked hard to get the trust back and daily I am reminded that we are a team.
I’ve read a lot of posts online and did some research and sex life can go a few ways. There could be no change in your sex life. Congrats on that if you are one of the lucky few. Most relationships will see a slump in their sex life and you have to understand that this will happen due to medications and mental exhaustion. You cannot battle an injury when all you can think about it fight or flight and expect to get aroused.
The first hint that nightmares would be a normal occurrence was when we first started sleeping in the same bed but more so when he started therapy. The constant talking in his sleep to screaming and kicking. This will happen and it is a normal occurrence, but I wish it wasn’t. These nightmares are horrible to witness and more so to try and bring your office back to reality. I am lucky so far as I do not fear being attacked in my sleep. I get kicked now and then but the constant talking in his sleep keeps me up most nights. What nobody tells you is that sleep will become a rare occurrence for both you and your officer. They may be asleep but the talking, moving and sometimes kicking happens which can keep you up. I snuggle up to my officer every night but move away once he is asleep, so I don’t get kneed as he dreams of someone attacking him.
They will nap a lot. Their brains are in overdrive and in a constant state of fight. My officer slept all the time after the diagnosis. Eventually the therapist will say do not sleep as it does affect their night sleeping but really, they don’t sleep at night. A caution when they are sleeping, I am the only one that can approach my officer and touch him when he is asleep. It is almost like he knows its me and he calms. If he is having a nightmare, I calmly call out his name and say wake up, you are safe. There are times when you will have to rub a foot or leg to get them awake and out of the nightmare. Beware when they wake as they will still be somewhat asleep. Always let them know they are safe. I say rub a foot or leg cautiously as your officer may be in a fight mode and grab you thinking you are the nightmare. Again, it hasn’t happened to me but I also take the precautions.
As police family, you are always living with some sort of worry for your officer. They have a dangerous job, but they are trained and have coworkers that will take care of them. I never really feared when my officer went on shift until PTSD came into our lives. My officer confided to me that he almost ended his life a few years ago while on duty, the emotional pain was too much. It was easier to do the deed on shift then at home to save others from finding him. My heart sank and my stomach was in knots. That was when I truly understood the hold PTSD has on officers and the pain they experience from the job. I know that because of therapy my officer is in a good place but know at any time PTSD can win this battle we are fighting.
So far my officers service has been great. They have worked with all agencies to ensure his time off to receive the help he needed was smooth and once he was approved to return to work that process was fair and understanding. The level of understanding now within the service of PTSI has increased and more officers are finding it easier to articulate their issues. My officer has become an advocate to other officers explaining that it is ok to have bad days and to admit you need help. The service is a family and they all watch out for each other.
I am one of the lucky ones as my officer does not have a drug nor alcohol additions to try and numb the pain. My officer is addicted to nicotine and depending on his bad days will smoke a lot.
Another known addition for officers suffering from PTSI that most partners do not realize is for tattoos. My officer was getting tattoos a lot when his symptoms of PTDI began and I never put it together until I
read an article stating tattoo were a way of experiencing pain for pain they cannot feel such as PTSI.
Its ok to not be ok
ITS OK TO NOT BE OK. Repeat that again. ITS OK TO NOT BE OK. You cannot be the strong one within the relationship all the time. You can and you will need to completely collapse some days. I find my safe place to collapse is the shower when I can stand/kneel and cry. Some weeks it happens all the time while other times I can go weeks without shedding a tear. It is all dependent on how busy life is and how my officer is doing. I also find working out a great stress reliever. It can be hard to have friends understand what your going through as PTSI is never straight forward but learn to let friends in to your life and explain the challenges. Be patient with your officer but advocate for yourself to get help, a therapist who has experience with PTSI would be a great help but this is tough as help for PTSI partners is so hard to find. It isn’t easy living this life but I love my officer and will fight for him to fight this injury.
PTSD will not win.
The love behind the badge.