PTSD – Ending The Stigma Starts With Me. I have P.T.S.I. (Post Traumatic Stress Injury), I dropped the D which stood for disorder quite some time ago. While many in the medical world still refer to it as a disorder, I do not. Personally I feel that the term disorder contributes to the negative stigma surrounding the condition. And I suspect that it might serve as an obstacle that prevents many from reaching out for help. To me the term Injury is far more accurate than a disorder.
I don’t wear my P.T.S.I. as a badge of honor, nor am I ashamed of it. Way back in the early days I was very ashamed, embarrassed and even felt guilty about my condition. I have since learned that those negative feelings about the condition came very close to costing me my life.
I don’t speak about it with everyone, because, to be totally honest, not everyone has earned the right to hear about it. My story isn’t for everyone! I talk about it when I encounter someone who either has the condition, or if one of their family members does. I will also speak about it if I feel that my experience will help them. This is one of those times.
The sole purpose of writing this is to let everyone know that P.T.S.I. is not only survivable, but it is possible to have a very high quality of life. I can tell you that the latter part of this is true because I have a very enjoyable life, even with P.T.S.I.
Some of you might ask, well why isn’t the author sharing their name? Rest assured it isn’t because I’m ashamed, or that I try to keep it a secret. The answer is simple, I live a high profile life and am in the public eye. It is my belief that if I told you my name, it might take the focus off the story and place it on me. Because I want people to read the story, I’m making it not about me. Do I want publicity because of this? No! Do I want someone to feel sorry for me? No!
My Post Traumatic Stress Injury was caused by many incidents of extreme violence as a police officer. At this point in the story many people will go into great detail about the incidents they went through. I will say that I went through 4 Officer Involved shootings in a little more than 10 years. Fortunately everyone survived. This is in addition to the countless murders and traumatic injuries and deaths that most Law Enforcement Officers witness during their careers.
What happened to explain how we receive our Post Traumatic Stress Injuries should never be a comparison or competition. It is my opinion that the comparison game, or thoughts that what I went through wasn’t as bad as someone else’s experience, is one of the first barriers in breaking down the stigma.
I have received much help and understanding from combat military veterans that definitely helped me make the progress that I have acheived. It is also my opinion, from my own experience, that if I had not gotten help from professionals that were experienced and well versed in Police related trauma that my life, if I was still alive, would not be as happy and productive as it is today.
I was first diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which I now call an Injury, back in 1989, 30 years ago. I’m not an expert in the treatment of P.T.S.I. but I know several people who are. Trust me when I tell you that there are many effective treatments available today that were not available in the late 80s and early 90s.
To look at me, no one would be able to tell that I have P.T.S.I. and better yet, the symptoms don’t dominate my life. Back in the early 1990s it was a very different story.
Due to a line of duty injury, which occurred during a violent assault I was retired on a physical disability pension. The injury led to 3 orthopedic surgeries a and a couple of steel plates. The assault contributed to my P.T.S.I., but the recovery from the surgeries and adjustments from the injury serves as a template for my recovery from P.T.S.I.
In the early days I had extreme problems sleeping due to nightmares. Another frequent problem was hearing a gunshot right next to my ear as I was falling asleep. The gunshot sound was accompanied by what I can best describe as a violent jolt in my head. I imagine that it is similar to the physical effect of a strong electric shock to the head. Drinking alcohol in large amounts on a nightly basis helped knock me out.
I was never able to relax, I was in a constant state of physical and mental alertness, ready to fight at any moment. The Doctors used the term hyper-vigilance to describe my state of mind. I was so alert and hyper-vigilant that many would have said that I was bordering on paranoia.
I was either very depressed, or extremely rageful. It is difficult to accurately describe how short my fuse had become. Mental health professionals repeatedly called it irritability, which is an understatement. That would be like calling the Grand Canyon a hole in the ground.
I had become so hyper-vigilant and so rageful that I became fearful about leaving my house. Not that I was afraid of other people and possible threats, I was extremely fearful that I might snap on someone and over react to the slightest provocation. I never did snap, but rarely leaving the house helped insure that never happened.
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The term flashbacks is used often, but that was a very rare occurrence for me. If my memory is correct those only happened to me a few times over the past 30 years. What did happen quite often in the early years is what the Doctors called disassociating. Dissociation is described as “a mental process of disconnecting from one’s thoughts, feelings, memories or sense of identity”. In my case I would zone out, (dissociate) and be totally disconnected from everyone and everything around me. The zoning out would occur several times a day.
Between the ever bubbling rage, the dissociating, isolation and drinking my marriage began to suffer dramatically, which eventually ended in divorce.
Add into all of that my physical health was deteriorating quickly, even though I was only in my early Thirties. I was drinking alcohol heavily and also had a great deal of difficulty eating or sleeping. Eating problems became quite frequent, I would eventually become hungry but when I started to eat I would immediately become nauseous. So I learned to adapt by eating a couple bites quickly before the urge to vomit came over me. The other solution was to eat small junk food snacks when I could. Compounding that issue was that the thought of having to rely on anyone, even my Wife for food, made me extremely depressed.
I lost about 35 lbs, of course I wasn’t eating the way I should. Sleep was a real problem. I was drinking excessively and my personal hygiene began to slip. At that point my marriage was failing and the thoughts of suicide became quite frequent.
In an attempt to save my marriage, I gave into requests from my spouse that I seek immediate help. The half measures I had been doing with mental health therapists wasn’t working well at all. Both she and I continued to suffer a great deal.
I should also state that I was in a state of denial, not that I had P.T.S.D. I knew that I had it, it was obvious. I was in denial, because I was more focused on what and who caused the condition then I was about accepting personal responsibility about making sure I got the help that I needed.
Fortunately I found a treatment center that was only for Law Enforcement Officers, they have since closed. It was there that I got the expert help that I needed and I learned that I was responsible for cooperating with and following through with my therapy.
I’m responsible for making sure that I complete my therapy and that I make the needed adjustments to have a full and happy life in spite of my P.T.S.I.
Here is a comparison, many of us have suffered line of duty orthopedic injuries, I’m no exception. My injury required that I have 3 separate surgeries and then three separate long term periods of physical therapy. Plus, I had to learn to do things differently as part of my recovery.
With the P.T.S.I. it is no different, I’m responsible for seeking the therapy, following through with the therapy and then learning to do things differently because of my Post Traumatic Stress Injury.
The good news is that there is a treatment program for Law Enforcement, First Responders and Military Veterans at Transformations Treatment Center. Transformations Treatment Center has a world class treatment program for Law Enforcement Officers, First Responders and Military Veterans. . Transformations Treatment Center provides a comprehensive range of treatments for substance abuse, co-occurring mental health disorders and PTSD. In addition to multiple rehabilitation and holistic treatments for all those suffering from substance abuse problems. It is a separate program for Law Enforcement, First Responders and Military Veterans, where law enforcement, firefighters, veterans and all first responders receive the separate and highly specialized treatment. Their program features first responders and veterans helping first responders and veterans. Call (888) 991-9725.
One of the other problems, due to the stigma associated with these traumas and conditions is that many Law Enforcement Officers, either active or retired won’t reach out and speak to anyone. Even though many great peer support options are available through their Departments. I totally understand that many don’t trust any group that is associated with their agency, due to possible reporting concerns. Therefore, I highly recommend Blueline Support from the Wounded Officers Iniative. Their number is (855) WOI – BLUE, (855-964-2583).
For most of the past 30 years I have lived in state that I would describe as symptom free, where the P.T.S.I. doesn’t dominate my life. That doesn’t mean that I am back to being the old guy that I was before those incidents. It means that I have a happy productive life. I can do what I want, and travel where I want. However, I am responsible for following through with treatment. Which consists of doing the things that I was taught to make my P.T.S.I. manageable. I have to be self aware and had to learn to do things differently. Just like the orthopedic injury I told you about earlier, I can’t do everything with that limb that I used to, but I can do a lot and most people won’t even see the injury.
For those who are struggling with P.T.S.I., substance abuse and, or other co-occurring mental health disorders, make the call and remember…Ending The Stigma Starts With Me.