I Was Not Okay!
Before diving into this article, it would be helpful for readers to know I’ve been shot in the line of duty. This fact will provide an understanding of my perspective and where I’m going with this piece. You can read my story “The Enemy From Behind the Blue Line,” which outlines the event.
Moreover, anyone who has been shot in the line of duty will have demons to battle. In “Reliving the Nightmare” I provide my personal account of the ravage nature of post-traumatic stress.
Understanding one’s feeling is one’s reality, I wonder, how long can one withstand the pain accompanied by walking with each foot in a different reality.
The first, a reality in which logic and reason prevail. One in which you may recognize irrational behavior, mitigate anxiety through reason, and understand safety is the standard rather than the exception.
The second, a reality in which logic and object reason escape one’s grasp. A reality where irrational fear rules one’s actions and motivations. One in which “triggers” are everywhere and emotion rules one’s behaviors.
This is the daily reality for those struggling with PTSD.
According to version 5 of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, symptoms of PTSD include, but are not limited to, nightmares, vivid/upsetting memories, flashbacks, emotional distress, physical reaction to stress and/or traumatic reminders, trauma related thoughts/feelings, memory loss, depression, anxiety, exaggeration of blame to one’s self or others for causing the trauma, isolation, difficulty expressing positive affect, irritability, hypervigilance, difficulty concentrating, and difficulty sleeping.
In addition, these must persist for more than one month, the symptoms must cause functional impairment, and the symptoms must not be related to substance use or illness.
Many who fall victim to such a debilitating injury as PTSD, have never experienced the exaggerated feelings they now experience. I knew I was not right, but I had no way to understand what was happening to me, let alone deal with the symptoms. As time went on, the symptoms became worse, eventually leading me to plan my own death.
For whatever reason, someone higher than me decided it was not my time. I was able to refrain from physical self-harm, instead resorting to alcohol to cope. I began drinking much more than I had previously. This only worsened my depression, anxiety, memory loss, and hypervigilance. Had I continued drinking in the fashion I was, I understood it would end my life.
In the immediate aftermath, many officers from my area reached out to see if I was okay. Some calls from my department, others from neighboring agencies, and additional calls from officers I did not even know. Yet, within a month after my incident, these calls ended.
Trapped in my own head, not knowing how to respond to people, not knowing where my life was going, and trying to understand what the hell was happening to me all took its toll. I withdrew from friends and family and stopped replying to messages that simply said, “Hey, if you need something, let me know.”
I knew I needed something, but didn’t know what, did not know how to ask, and let my pride stop me from explaining my deepest fears and emotions.
I told too many people, “Thanks, I’m fine.”
While it is easy for one to say, “I sent him a text, he said he was fine.” Nevertheless, we must do a better job of recognizing how PTSD effects its victim.
While the thought is wonderful, is it truly supportive simply sending a text asking, “Are you okay?”
Should we expect the injured to be the best advocate for themselves or should we recognize the severe anguish and psychological chaos?
We do not expect someone with depression to reach out and ask for help. Furthermore, we do not expect someone to recognize their isolation and illogical thought patterns when they suffer from schizophrenia or manic depression.
Generally, family and friends recognize the issues and fight tirelessly to get the person help. But, even if the individual recognizes his own failures, he may not have the logical thought pattern to self-correct.
While family and close friends tried to remain supportive, I was unable to connect or make progress until speaking with others who knew what I was feeling. This took effort on the part of my supporters.
It was true camaraderie from those who really wished to be supportive and effect change. They were the people who made the difference. These brave souls did not listen to me when I said, “Thanks, I’m fine.” They recognized the canned nature of my response and called B.S.
As a result, they were the individuals who held me accountable for my actions and motivated me to get better, both physically and mentally.
Finally, and most importantly, they were the lifelines who showed genuine support and did not allow me to isolate myself further than I already had. I never experienced the “Thin Blue Line” as traditionally thought. I only found it after my incident, in those supporters who never gave up on me and would not let me get by with, “I’m fine.”
Jeremy Scharlow currently lives in Illinois. He obtained his bachelor’s in business administration and is currently completing work in completion of his Master of Arts in legal studies, both at the University of Illinois at Springfield. He is medically retired from the Mahomet Police Department where he served as a patrol officer for 10.5 years and as a METRO SWAT member for 9 of those years. After his line-of-duty injury, he began advocating for PTSD awareness in the law enforcement community.