Sleep – Get it while you can.

A topic so dear to me that it warrants a post, even if it is the second post of the day.

Sleep……….  Its great when you get it and sucks bad when you don’t.

I know you’re thinking yeah, so what.  I don’t have PTSD and I feel the same way about sleep.  That’s nothing special.   That’s true.  But there is a twist and it is fair to say that PTSD is the reason for the twist.

A PTSD mind has issues functioning at the best of time because of how things are disorganized and you are basically living in the craziest rollercoaster you could ever image mentally.  Add the lack of a solid night sleep and you are adding fuel to an already burning fire.  Instead of a few twists and turns throughout the day, you are no heading into an unknown number of twists and turns with a less functioning PTSD brain.  Oh how fun!

So where am I going with this sleep and rollercoaster talk?  Well, last night I had an absolutely shitty sleep.  As I was falling into sleep land, BAM………  I was presented with a very graphic and detailed overhead image of the baby dying.  I awoke with a startle and spent the next few minutes convincing myself that it was only a dream, it wasn’t real, it can hurt me.  But, it didn’t really work.  I laid there pondering the image for a bit.  I clearly remember getting pissed off at myself for letting this happen and saying to myself “okay, drop it, time to move one”.  Yep, the internal battle with yourself can happen at 1130 at night too.

When I finally fell back to sleep it was restless.  Lots of tossing and turning with a few wide awake moments thrown into the mix just for fun.  The end result?  I got out of bed before everyone else, let the dogs out and made myself a cup of coffee.  I then proceeded to spend the next 20 minutes getting myself together to face the day with minimal sleep, a graphic image still sitting there in my mind and Noah’s first hockey game of the year after lunch.  You see, I have decided that even if I don’t get sleep and even if I have PTSD looming over my head, I still have to be productive.

I  am proud to say that despite being exhausted mentally and a wee bit physically, I am doing okay.  Heck, I even got to the gym today to try to turn things around (the gym has been my refuge – more on that later).  But, I will not lie.  I am looking forward to trying to get some sleep tonight and I have been advised that tomorrow is my day to sleep in.  We will see how that goes.

A Curious Thing about PTSD

This post isn’t what you might think. In fact, it is one that I am not sure the title is right for but here we go anyway……

I have noticed a strange and curious thing about PTSD, and it has nothing to do with symptoms, triggers, reactions, emotions or any of the other PTSD things that happen. It has to do with the perception you get from others when they find out you are dealing with PTSD.

In most cases, when people find out that you are dealing with PTSD, the reaction is similar to telling someone that you have a disease or a long-term physical illness. And of course, as soon as most people hear PTSD, their minds right away skip to “oh no, he’s going to kill himself” or “the depression is going to get him”. The funny thing though is that even if suicide and depression are two major effects if you will of PTSD, they are definitely not the only outcomes or effects. Many more people get diagnosed with PTSD, take action and find treatment, learn to cope with their PTSD and start living their new normal.

But there is something else that happens when you get diagnosed. You end up getting “branded” in some way, shape or form with a mental health stigma. Something that I laugh at regularly and make jokes about. In fact, I have decided to embrace the stigma and wear the brand proudly. I see it as the result of what I have been doing for a living. Something that I earned by stepping up to the plate to serve. And this is where that curious thing happens.

Because I have embraced my PTSD, I’m vocal about it and I don’t hesitate telling people. The more people who know about it, the better for me and others. Here’s an example. The other day, I ran into another police officer from a different Agency. As we chatted, he asked me if I was working on anything good lately. I took a second to shore myself up and then said “I havent been working since May after I was diagnosed with PTSD”. The other member was shocked and a bit taken aback. I explained it was an od incident that surfaced in an ugly way and now I’m dealing with it. Realizing that I was serious, the other officer looked at me and told me that last week he went off sick after trying to hide and deal with his PTSD.

An immediate bond and connection. A safety knowing that you are not alone, another cop is open about their PTSD and is living, and thriving on a PTSD journey. Not everything resulting from PTSD is bad and sometimes just telling people about it can be the best thing you can do for yourself and them.

More about Silence

Well, I figured I couldn’t just leave my last post where it was as I frimly believe that Silence in the PTSD journey is a huge red flag and deserves more attention.

Many first responders go through training being told that their jobs and what happens when working is “secret” and you don’t talk about what happens to your family or friends.  Unfortunately, this message is skewed and the source of great difficulties for first responders and our families, even before PTSD sets in.  In this day and age, much of what first reponders do is known by the general public mere moments after it happens but what I’m talking about is the dirty little secrets, the details in which the devil thrives.

I truly believe that we, as first reponders, don’t purposely withhold information from our families.  I believe that we all have drank that age old koolaide and beleive it is in the best interest of a happy home life that we don’t share what has happened to us during our shift, the things we have seen, what we had to do and even how we are feeling after the fact.  In fact, we begin to beleive that we will hurt our loved ones if we actually told them just exactly what we do day in and day out.  We try to protect them from the evil we face and simply keep it in and put on a mask to hid behind.

Well, the only thing that comes out of that is silence, and as I wrote about yesterday, silence is bad.  In attempting to “protect” family and friends from our reality, we end up causing damage to ourselves.  Over time, this damage builds up and reaches a point that it can no longer fit into that nice little box we tried to contain it in (for me, it took 12 years for the incident to come out).  But, I’m not just going to beat first responders up about trying to protect our loved ones.  I’m going to offer a solution.

Here it is, are you ready?  Talk.  Tell your loved ones about your day, the good, the bad and the ugly.  Tell them what you did and how things felt, how you responded to them and for fuck sakes, cry if you have to.  But talk.  You are in control on how much detail you provide (omit names, addresses, anything that could identify those involved) but share what went on.  Many of our loved ones already know we deal with crapy situations day in and day out, they see the rips in our uniforms from fights, the scrapes and bruises, the blood.  Tell them how those things happen to let them know what you are going through and make sure you talk about the emotions involved.

In other words, make sure you bring your family and friends into your life.  And the good news is that it is never too late to do this.  Whether you are new to the job or coing to the end, healthy emotionally or into the PTSD journey, it doesn’t matter.  You can start talking and let them know what is going on.  Spare them the ugly details if you think you have to but share.  For me, I shared that I was involved in a baby death investigation with my wife but I didn’t share the uglies.  Now, after 12 years of holding it in and keeping it to myself, I have opened up and provided some of the ugly details that I purposes left out before.  Why, becasue I needed to as it helps explain why it has hit me so hard.  And you know what, I didn’t cause any trauma to anyone by doing it.

As much as we think we are good at hiding how we are doing, in reality, we suck at.  Everyone around us knows that something is up so maybe its time to just talk.

The Sound of Silence

Here is the hard fact of PTSD and for simplicity, I will write it out like a math equation:


Sorry but that is the cold hard reality.  As soon as we are silence in our struggle, we turn to death as the option to end our pain.  I’m not going to sit here and discuss my views on suicide other than to say that you are never in this battle alone.  Even if reaching out for help is hard to do, it will be so worth it.

It is for this reason that I have been aggressively vocal about my PTSD.   I am letting everyone know that I have PTSD and that my family and I are dealing with it.  Heck, that is the whole purpose behind this blog.  Just like any other disease you might face, confronting it with the full support and knowledge of you family and friends will alway make the difference.  And, PTSD is no different.

So, let me officially break my silence by saying “Hi my name is Jason and I have PTSD.”

Where’s My Journey at?

So, hopefully I didn’t lose too many people after that last post.  I won’t lie, it was hard to write and put out there for people to read.  Partly due to the fact that I think I come across as fairly callous in my actions that night of “sitting, waiting for death” so that I could get on with the rest of my shift.  I can assure you though that that is the furthest from the truth.  The reality was, I wanted to get the hell out of there as fast as I could because I knew it was a messed up situation.

I have purposely left out a lot of the details as they are the cornerstone of my current therapy.  Let’s just say that there was a perfect storm of action and inactivity that night that has haunted me ever since and pushed me to this point.  it is truly possible that as I continue to write this blog, more of the story will come out.  But for now, that’s as much as I can give.

So where does that leave me now?  Well, once a week I meet with my Psychologist to work through this incident  IN DETAIL…….  It is not pleasant and it sure as hell is not easy.  But it is a necessary evil if I want to get to the other side of the rabbit hole.  I’ve also had a Psychiatric consult / assessment as well as contact with the RCMP Health Services, Veterans Affairs Canada and a number of other support.  I have sought out groups to attend to help me normalize some of this and I have done a tonne of research on my own to try to wrap my head around this.  I have also been vocal to friends, family and coworkers about what is going on.

All that to comfortably say that I have PTSD.

As I have found out, once you are diagnosed with PTSD, things change.  The way people interact with you, the way you interact with people, the way you process things, the way you enjoy things and how you do things all change.  And lets not forget the biggest one, with PTSD you also get awarded a beautiful thing called STIGMA which changes everything mentioned above and so much more.

PTSD is considered a mental illness in the DSM 5 and the stigma towards mental health issues is huge.  Luckily, I don’t give a shit and I make fun of it all the time.  I’m also fighting against the stigma by being vocal and open.  I’m not hiding my PTSD and I’m making sure that everyone knows that I have it.  Hell, I’m going to wear it as a badge of honour.  A badge that reminds me of everything I have done in my service to the communities I policed and to the country as a whole.

It’s a badge that no one can take away from me.