Reliving the Nightmare
Time – 2200 hours
Remembering you have an appointment with your shrink at 0900 hours, you take your regiment of nightly medication; Trazadone for sleep, Prazosin for nightmares, Duloxetine for depression. You lay down in bed hoping you will get some rest. You begin recounting your day.
First, the guy at the gas station. How your heart leaped into your throat when he looked at you. The beard . . . he had the same beard as your attacker.
Next, you remember the anger and fear you felt when your girlfriend accidentally broke a glass, spilling her water. The sound multiplied exponentially in your mind. Although you know it is irrational, you cannot shake the irritation. Your family is familiar with this behavior and steer clear as to not become the next victim of some unreasonable verbal tirade.
Although most of your day went well, you cannot shake these two memories. It is late and you know your night will not go well. You notice your elevated heart rate and you are sweating. So you take a Xanax hoping for calm.
Time – 2300 hours
The Trazadone has not done its job. You continue to lie awake recounting those same two memories. Therefore, you take a second Xanax hoping for calm so you may fall asleep. Somewhere around midnight you think you smell the faint odor of gunpowder.
Time – 0030 hours
Startled, you jump up and awake instantly. Was it fireworks or gunfire? Did you really hear anything? You check the house, ensuring you locked all the windows and doors. Upon returning to bed, your mind reverts to the attack along with the lingering questions.
What is going on? Why couldn’t you have just ignored that vehicle? Could you have been better prepared? Why didn’t you stop the threat?
Suddenly, your wound throbs with a deep pain.
Then, the irrational guilt persists. If you would have ended the threat, the attacker could not have wounded the FBI agent. You shot another human being. How do you reconcile this with your religious beliefs? Could you have done better?
You lie awake for two more hours battling these thoughts. Finally, you take another Xanax.
Time – Unknown
You are getting McDonalds in a drive through. You are in your squad car again. Oh s***, you remember this. PLEASE NOT AGAIN!
Now you are standing next to a building. Your wound burns, yet you realize it’s a nightmare . . . but you can’t wake up. As a result, you feel trapped, panicked, yet your body is not responding.
Eventually, you fight through the medication and wake yourself. It appears you had been swimming in your own sweat.
Time – 0500 hours
You lie awake another hour, afraid to sleep because you do not want to experience another horrific nightmare.
Time – 0630 hours
The alarm goes off. You lie in bed recounting the night. You are exhausted, feeling like you have been beaten. Why get up? Why get out of bed? None of this matters anyway!
Now begins your daily battle with depression.
Nineteen Percent Suffer
What you’ve just read is recounting a single night in the life of a person suffering from PTSD. And it’s my story!
According to an article posted in Psychology Today, as many as 19 percent of approximately 900,000 sworn officers suffer from this debilitating illness. That is approximately 171,000 of our brothers and sisters suffering.
Are we standing beside them?
If we want to claim some form of “Thin Blue Line” camaraderie, it is time our actions mimicked our words.
First, we must remember there is a person behind every badge. Second, we need to bring more awareness to PTSD and its effects in the law enforcement community. Third, we must then push for legislation aimed at making resources available for officers suffering from this horrific ailment.
Finally, we need to monitor the effects of any such legislation, to ensure it is reaching those who need help in the most efficient way possible. Together, in partnership with our brothers and sisters in the military and all first responders, we can beat PTSD.
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.