Monthly Archives: January 2012

How to have a care-free life.

I was recently in a conversation where the subject of suicide came up. “Suicide is for the weak.” And I have a confession to make, I didn’t stand up and say that’s not true.

If you’ve been around me long enough, suicide in Law Enforcement and Fire/EMS, you’ll know that I talk about this from time to time. In some cases, It’s like fighting an uphill battle. Cops and firefighters put on hard exteriors. You are not easy trusting in most cases. And a lot of times, you push their feelings out of sight so others can’t see them. The problem is, that feelings are part of the human experience and need to be dealt with.

I’ll be further honest. You see a lot of things as “routine” that I honestly pray that I never see. I’ve been on 16 different ride-alongs. And I’ve been fortunate not to see anything so horrible I dream about it at night. Mangled car crashes…brutal deaths of children…blood-soaked rooms from murder/suicides. Not only do they have to deal with that, they have to tell the person’s family. (Death notifications are something no one wants to do, but I may cover some things I’ve found while preparing myself for this. More on that in the future).

Who do you talk to? Sometimes meeting with “the guys” and talking it out may serve to get it out of your system. But what if it doesn’t? What if you are still having nightmares 6 months after a “critical incident”? If so , your trauma may run deeper into PTSD. Now I know some of you may be thinking “PTSD? That’s a load of crap.” Actually, it’s not. It can be diagnosed and TREATED. If you want to hear about it from a cop, read this article.

Now, I’m not naive. Not all stress leads to PTSD. Not all people with PTSD commit suicide. And not all people who commit suicide do so because of trauma.

My grandfather “papaw” as I called him, almost got me hurt once. Seems that I had a great uncle who did not like loud noises. So he puts me up to walking behind him (you know whats coming right?) and yelling Boo! Before I could finish getting that out, he had wheeled around and covered about 10 feet in seconds…coming towards me. I was about 6 and that scared me silly. He felt bad for it later, and I had no idea what happened. WWII soldiers called it “shell shock” or “battle fatigue”. Today, it’s called PTSD. My uncle had nightmare for years, and still to this day. I visited him in the nursing home and he was recalling (or re-living) this while he was sleeping. If we knew as much about PTSD as we do now, maybe we could have made his life better. Maybe his dreams wouldn’t be filled with horror.

So what does that have to do with you. On a scale of one to ten, your stress may be a 3. Count yourself fortunate. Find ways to combat stress now. And have people in your life that you trust and can see if you are fighting a battle bigger than you. And give them permission to say the hard things to you, things you may not want to hear. And when trauma comes, know where to turn for help.

If your stress is more like an eight, seek professional help. Seriously. If you want to keep it “unofficial”, there are ways to do that. If your department has a chaplain, talk to them. If not, call someone in your area who can help.

And if you have thoughts of suicide, get help now. Pick up the phone. Call someone. make an appointment. Contact me and I’ll do whatever I can. You can be happy.

There are some good sites with information about suicide, the facts and just how many people are tempted. Most of these are geared toward my First Responder friends, but there are lots of good tips anyone can glean from them.

Jeff Shannon has some great articles about stress and how to beat it at http://policementalhealth.blogspot.com/.

Dr. John Violanti (Former State Trooper) contributes articles on Police Suicide Prevention.

The Badge of Life has stats and prevention tips.

Peggy Sweeney has some help for firefighters.

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My time between the Lines

If you know anything about my story, you know that 9/11/2008 was a life-altering day. I had taken time that day to remember the sacrifices of that day. A gratitude for our law enforcement and fire crews really “came to life” so to speak. That evening I called my local department (Huber Heights, OH) on 9/11 and asked if they could let the officers and fire fighters know my appreciation for them. I was informed that they had not had that request in over 14 years. So that’s when I decided that I would reach as many as I could and let them know they are cared about.

In the more than three years since, I’ve had some really memorable experiences, like my first “lights and siren” trip in Trotwood, racing to Pizza Hut. I’ve learned some lessons, like why some cops won’t eat at a drive-through in uniform. And why they have to sit with their back in a corner and facing all the doors. I’ve met some really great people. And have helped say good-bye to others.

I’ve grown a lot as a person in that time, and my police and fire friends have helped make me aware of what the world is REALLY like. I had some home-made desert at the Sugarcreek Township Fire Department (which if you hear that some firefighters really know how to cook…listen).

They have let me into their world. Some were hesitant at first, but I understand. I have had discussions and when they find out who I am , they can relax (at least a little, because a cop never relaxes on duty).

I’ve had my perspective changed at funerals and memorials. I was privileged to hear Paula Kalaman speak at the Law Enforcement Memorial in 2011. Her son was a Centerville officer killed in the “Line of Duty” in 1998. Sacrifice. Pain. But also of healing. You never forget, but you learn to live, sometimes in spite of the pain.

I have adopted these fine individuals into my heart and life. And in the process of helping them, it’s helped me. In the process of comforting, honoring, and encouraging them, I’ve received from them those same things. There’s a quote by Joseph Campbell that really rings true, and it goes like this: “Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.”

I sometimes think of myself as a missionary. Some people go to far away lands to reach people for the Kingdom of God. I get to stay right here and do that. I don’t do sermons from a pulpit, but I encourage from notes, bring peace in hospitals, comfort at funerals, and help by being there.

I’m looking forward to reaching more of these fine people in 2012 and spending more time with them.