In the past 10 years I have gone through some major ups and downs, related to my PTSD. After being diagnosed, I did work on counseling with professionals with minimal results. I continued to work as a and handling the day to day calls, working graveyard shift (10pm-6am). I was given some medication to help try and control the anxiety that I was experiencing. Even with medication, I continued to have chest pains and shortness of breath but I was determined to work through it. I went to work, went to counseling, tried to talk to my wife and other Officers who also had experienced some of the same things that I had. None of it seemed to help. I did find comfort with my fellow Officers but it did not calm my symptoms. My hypersensitivity continued to grow and my anxiety would become severe during some calls but it would feed my need to find that exhiliration that I loved about the street. Some call it adrenaline junky, thrill seeking, etc. It made me feel like I was alive and still had a purpose. I never ran into a situation without thinking. I was always careful but I was always at the “hot” call. If there was a robbery, chase, fight, I was always looking for it. I’m sure that I have taken 10 years off the life of my heart, because my anxiety would be through the roof. I didn’t care about the report calls, traffic enforcement, stats. My new commander, who was a serious brown noser and quite the racist if you were not hispanic, was on my ass more and more.
I started to miss alot of work. Some was at the order of Doctors, some was because I just couldn’t face what I had done, taken a life. The Doctors thought that I may have a cardiac problem, causing the chest pains and I was out a week having tests completed. They found nothing concerning and I was released for work, again. My wife was concerned, of course and worried constantly. I tried to console her but we all know that wasn’t much help. I don’t know how many Doctors and Specialists that I saw during this time but it was a lot. I even had a visit from my Sergeant at my home. I’m not sure if it was at his choice or an order from the command but it was a surprise. My work began to deteriorate and I was followed around by supervisors. I tried to explain to them what was happening and that I had been diagnosed with PTSD but it didn’t seem to matter. This new commander was trying to make himself look good. He had scammed his way into this position and forced out a commander that we, the troops liked very well. He wanted stats, tickets, arrests, etc. Being that the area of the City that our district covered was primarily Hispanic, he was sure that he was a shoe in for being excepted but he found out it wouldn’t be that easy. The old commander was tight with the community and they were upset with his removal. I was quite vocal about this as well. I was also vocal about how the department was moving from being an active crime deterrent to a passive taking a report after the fact place. They didn’t want bad press, excessive force complaints, citizen complaints/gripes, etc. Now, we all know that this is all politics as far as within the department. I was given a couple of awards for bravery and life saving during this time. I am not one for pomp and circumstance but I was ordered to attend a small ceremony at my station after shift one morning. The new commander was there and several of the Chiefs and pertinent command staff. When I was presented my awards, there were other Officers as well that were on the same calls and received them as well. We were presented the awards and the handshaking began with the command staff and when it came to me, my commander would not shake my hand or even look at me. Well that showed me what kind of man he was. It made me even more angry than I already was. I had been approached by Sergeant on a couple of occasions that the commander wanted me to do certain things to show that I was a company man. These things were strongly suggested to me. I was an Officer of quality, not quantity. Tickets to me were nothing more than a number. Stopping someone that was casing houses/businesses, getting guns off the street, taking a wanted felon down was what I wanted to do. I spoke with people in my area, would stop in to the few businesses that were open at night and kept an eye on the bars. My belief in police work is not seeing how many tickets you can write but trying to minimize the impact of crime on an area. If you are visible, actively watching people, movements, businesses, drug areas, etc. then you are going to slow or even stop crime in an area. That was what I did. In my area, the crime stats went down on my shift. These numbers were not what this commander looked at or cared about. They had started to implement a computer program that tracked an Officer’s stats, tickets, arrests, use of force reports, complaints, etc. This was what this commander was looking at, even though it had not been fully implemented and was given orders from the Chief that it was not to be used for reviewing an Officer’s performance. Again, I became quite vocal and was approached by my Sergeant being told to watch myself, that the commander was watching me. I was not in the least caring about this. I was told that he was wanting me to increase my tickets. Some of the things that I had said had made it to the commander and he was upset over them. The Sergeant, poor guy, was given the job of carrying out the commander’s dirty work. I told the Sergeant that if the commander wanted to say something to me, that he should grow some balls and tell it to my face. My sergeant was a meek, mild mannered man and unfortunately, I caused him some grief, which I feel bad for but it his job to take that and buffer his Officers from these things.
After several months of this, I was still suffering from my severe symptoms and was having no relief in site from them or from the grief that the commander was giving. I decided that it was time to try and transfer to a slower assignment, less stressful duty. I tried to transfer to the information desk at Headquarters but was refused because it was being used for disciplinary desk duty and I was not bad enough and I was labeled a trouble maker by the commander and he was not going to push his trouble off on someone else! I put a transfer request to go out to the Airport, Denver International. It was a much slower and quieter assignment and maybe I could get my act together and recover from my anxiety. I was approved for my transfer and was set to go, even being contacted by the administrative Lieutenant to schedule my shift and days off. I was set to report a couple of weeks later but wasn’t contacted to get my report time or what my days off would be. I found out by calling the station that I was not going to be going but of course the Lieutenant couldn’t tell me why. I found out that my commander stopped my transfer because I was a problem child. I was never allowed to explain why I wanted to go, why I needed to go. I was kept in the district under his thumb and my anger became worse and more vocal. The same old BS continued and so I decided to change the game plan. I decided that if this idiot wanted stats, I would give him stats and the BS that came with it. In the department, we had 3 options for a traffic stop, verbal warning, written warning and a summons, where you had to pay a fine or go to court. Written warnings were tracked the same as a regular ticket so I decided I would write warning citations. Finally, after a couple of months of running radar on the highway and writing an average of 10 tickets a shift, I was given my transfer. They were so proud of me because I had written more citations than anyone else in the district, even though these were warnings and had no court enforcement, fine or point assessment against a driver’s license. Ridiculous! Did it do anything for public safety, improving crime or improving the department’s image to the community? No. The majority of these offenders didn’t even live in the area or within my City’s boundaries. All of this had done nothing for me except increase my anger towards the department’s command and showed to me that I was just another number and not a valued member of the department. It continued to increase my anxiety, depression and hopelessness.
I moved to the Airport and started my training. Training was important because there are specific and strict rules that apply to airports regarding access, security and driving on the airfield. I came to find out that this command wasn’t any different than the others. I went to work and did the best I could do, trying to keep my symptoms in check. I continued to have the anxiety and depression and feeling of worthlessness. I continued my work on minimizing my symptoms, from self help books to counseling to meditation and excercise. None of it would relieve the symptoms completely but it would help to minimize them. I worked the graveyard shift again, which didn’t help any but my seniority was at the bottom of the barrel. I became very knowledgeable of the rules and procedures of the airport and would be a training officer when there wasn’t a Field Training Officer available. I had a couple of run ins with the command over time, some my fault and others were circumstance. Those that were my fault, I accepted full responsibility for and took my punishment with a smile. I was not liked by a couple of the administrative command and so I tried my best to hide and stay off the radar. Other than my fellow Officers, I had no friends on my side in command. This, I am sure is no surprise from what you have read so far. I won’t bore you with more tails of ridiculous attempts to control me. After, about 5 years of working in the Airport division, I was attempting to get a spot on the explosive K-9 detection team. I went through 2 or 3 interviews over my time there and each time was not selected. That last time was it. I was denied the position for a younger, less experienced Officer who had never even worked in the aviation field. I had experience with dogs, worked with them on a regular basis on the street and at the airport. I was liked by the Officers in the unit but it was politics once again that played the hand that I didn’t have. It caused me so much stress that I had a break down. I wasn’t able to work and forced to take medical leave. I returned to my counselor and was not allowed to work until I showed some signs of improvement. It was a month later when I was allowed to return to work. After about two weeks, I told that I would have to go the Photo Radar unit because there was some problem with my paperwork provided to return to work. Nobody could even tell me what it was that I needed to correct. For about a month, I worked on a desk dealing with ridiculous public calls complaining about receiving a citation. This continued to drive my symptoms and increase them. Once I finally was able to find out what was wrong with my paperwork, I was able to correct it. It was about two months later that I was able to return to the airport. I continued to try and work but after about two months, I again was feeling the stress. I finally gave in and decided that it was time to hang up the gun and badge. I filed for a medical retirement.
I was given a packet of papers that I had to fill out, my Doctor had to fill out and then submit it to the retirement board and see if they would approve it. In the process, I had to see three different Psychiatrists for the board and an additional one for the City for my worker’s compensation case against the City. After about 6 months, I finally received approval from the board and was granted my medical retirement. It was a great day and relief, because I had run out of sick and vacation time and wasn’t receiving a pay check any more. The pension was 50% of my base salary, which turned out to be less because it didn’t take into consideration my over time. I went from making $90,000 a year, to less than $30,000. It was quite a shock. As a result, we lost our house, almost lost our car and were forced to file bankruptcy. I lost my health insurance, unless I could come up with $1400 a month for Cobra to kick in. Fortunately, my wife was still working and we were able to get coverage through her work. My retirement was conditional, on that I could never work again as a Police Officer, Firefighter or Paramedic. I will never be able to perform the work I loved. It was a happy day that I was able to retire and not have the stress and now I could concentrate my efforts on healing myself. I have left all the negative behind me from the job. It has been almost 3 years since I retired. I have regretted every day since but I am happy that I did it. My family is happy that I did it. I have adjusted my priorities. I have been diagnosed with numerous health issues that can be directly tied to my PTSD and stress. One of them that effects me the most is Fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition. Every day I wake up wondering if I am able to get out of bed, if I will be able to walk to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee or take the dog for a walk. I moved out of state, closer to my wife’s family, since I have none left alive. I rent a house because no one will give me a mortgage loan. I scrape each month to try and pay my bills. I still suffer from anxiety, nervous twitches, nightmares, insomnia and depression. When I was being evaluated for my retirement, I was told that I will never see an improvement in my symptoms and will suffer with it the rest of my life. It is a depressing and scary thing to be told that you have a chronic syndrome that you will suffer with the rest of your life. What do you do, where do you go, how do you cope? If I come up with the answers I will let you know. The one thing that I am glad for, is that I was able to be with my Father in his last days. He was diagnosed with Lymphoma about 2 years ago at age 83. He decided against having any aggressive treatment and Doctors were agreeable because of his age and health condition. I stayed with him, took care of him and was at his side when he passed away. Had I still been working, I would not have been able to do that.
My point behind all of this, is that it isn’t just the trauma that effects a person with PTSD. Stresses of many different kinds can cause a flare up of their symptoms. Many things that people deal with on a daily basis, become huge obstacles for someone with PTSD. It is difficult for me to be in large crowds, going to the market, driving in heavy traffic. If I become involved in a heated discussion, I can feel the anxiety build and the nervousness becomes almost impossible to bare. I start to sweat, I become fidgety, I start to tense up my muscles and want to strike out. I am able to control it but many times I just have to walk away. Anything that I perceive to be a personal attack, is the worst. My flight or fight syndrome kicks in much earlier than it would in most people. I start to feel like I’m being backed into a corner and junk yard dog in me comes out. So, I do everything I can do avoid these situations. I have a very loving and understanding wife who has put up with me and my problems for many years. She has stood by me and continues to stand by me. This has been just as stressful for my family as it has been for me. That is a story for another time.
The American Reality