I drove my car into the garage and sat there, still trying to digest what had happened in the very early hours of that day. Before I realised it, a half hour had past and I needed to go inside and tell my girlfriend.
But how much do I tell her? This is not the sort of news that anyone should hear first thing in the morning. And she is a sensitive person, opposed to confrontation and violence. Generally speaking, I tried to shield her from the reality of what I dealt with on a daily basis.
However, there was a good chance that this incident would make the news and she would know right away that I was involved.
I couldn’t think clearly so it came out blunt, “I was involved in a firearms incident last night.”
She didn’t know what I say either, the shock in her eyes. “Are you okay?” “Yeah. I think so.”
But was I? I didn’t know. I was accustomed to burying emotion at work, mostly to remain effective in my performance. I felt uncomfortable, but I guessed that this was a natural reaction to an extreme event.
I prepared to go to sleep while my girlfriend got ready for work. I maintained a normal demeanour but inside my senses were alive. After she left, I didn’t sleep, I was much too wired for that.
I kept telling myself this was normal and that I would get past it. The rest of the week seemed to pass me by. Then the end of the month had arrived before I knew it.
I always had very good situational awareness from an early age and it had served me well in my police career. However, I became obsessed with safety, constantly watching, listening and smelling. My senses were overloaded constantly and it started to affect my concentration and focus. My usually good memory started to falter over time.
I found myself constantly checking my equipment at work, checking locks and windows when at home, mostly because I would forget if I had. Noises at night left me awake for hours and at times, I “patrolled” my house inside and out before returning to bed.
My nightmares got steadily worse during this time, often thrashing around when I slept. My girlfriend started to sleep in another room to get her own sleep, and so that she didn’t become collateral damage to the demons I was fighting unconsciously.
I had problems with weight fluctuations and I was worn out after my shifts to the point that I lost interest in doing anything outside of work and socialising was limited.
I tried to maintain a good level of performance at work but eventually my correspondence sergeant noticed a change in my paperwork. I am lucky that I had a supervisor who was attentive and empathetic. He pulled me aside one day at work and, without judgement, asked me how I was going.
It was at that point that I realised I was slipping in my demeanour at work. My fuse was short at times, I had no patience for incompetence and no interest in dealing with trivial disputes. I admitted that I was struggling, but I was really concerned about how this would affect my career. I had seen how other members with mental health issues had been treated by the hierarchy. It was disgraceful and I didn’t want it to happen to me. My sergeant assured me that the counselling would be best and arrangements were made for me to see a counsellor through police welfare.
The sessions with the shrink did help with my motivation and anxiety for a short time, but most of my symptoms remained and I just maintained better control of them for another year or so.
Over time, I tried to manage my symptoms, including changing work locations and duties, but I was slowly drowning. My health was deteriorating and my resilience was breaking.
After a particularly sleepless night, I got up late on an everyday morning, I was spent. I was scheduled to work the afternoon shift, but I couldn’t. I was done. I was just gripped with an overwhelming sense of dread. I rang the station and spoke to my boss, saying I was unable to come to work. When he asked if I was okay, I didn’t know how to answer, I was shaking uncontrollably and just said no. I don’t remember the rest of the conversation, I was completely lost at that moment.
That was the moment that I considered my career over. I was so ashamed at my situation. I had lost control and my emotions came spilling out all at once.
I just wanted to disappear.