Milestones, as we all know, are significant events. They tend to measure how we as a society or individual have grown or changed. They are rightly honoured and celebrated. That said, there are other milestones that are just as symbolic but not so celebratory. These demand reflection and renewed commitment for change. Such is the one that I honour this month.
Ten years ago my journey from PTSD to recovery began. Although I had already been on a 12-month medical leave from the VPD I was far from showing any signs of healing. Despite the psychosocial education I had to seek out on my own, nightly panic attacks, anxiety, depression and perpetual fatigue were constant reminders of what I had felt on the job. To further exacerbate things my employer denied any responsibility for my health issues—they had actually deemed me fit to return to work. By all accounts I was going through this journey alone.
As I lay awake those first few days of 2010 I confirmed what my body already knew, I couldn’t go back to policing. The shame and loss of that final realization was overwhelming—I had failed; I wasn’t good enough; I lacked the mental toughness to be a cop. But in that shame, I knew something else. It wasn’t so much the stress of the job that held me back as it was the thought of going back into a toxic environment. I had worked through many traumas as a constable but most of my PTSD came from being constistantly bullied while in a stressful environment. The bullies were two of my colleagues, one of them a supervisor.
That first month of 2010 became a milestone for me. Before that I had never quit things. I was a survivor— a tough, athletic woman who made things work. Now I felt broken, tired and dispirited with little energy to move on, let alone care. I just wanted to be left alone. When I realized my mental health was at stake, however, the survivor part of me kicked in. I decided to fight back. I thought that by declaring the truth about the environment in which I worked I would not only support my own healing but perhaps encourage others to speak out. In February of that year I launched a formal complaint against those that had bullied me.
It wasn’t easy writing that report. I struggled with my memory for exact details and the names of witnesses who could corroborate my story. There were days of inner turmoil when I questioned my decision and other days when I was consumed by fear in not knowing how those I named in the complaint would retaliate. But I did the job, I submitted my report. Then I waited. And I waited some more. Nothing. I made numerous phone calls to HR and my union. I went in person to follow up on my claim. Nothing. Finally, in July of 2010, 5 months after the claim had been received, a resignation letter came in the mail. To this date, it is my final communication with the VPD on this matter.
Being a First Responder requires an intense trust and bond between team members and supervisors. The department becomes your second family. When there was no phone call or email to follow up on my complaint or health status it was like my 14 years on the force never happened. I felt completely abandoned by those to whom I had dedicated my life. I was devastated.
I share this now to mark this milestone. Ten years ago I experienced a series of injustices and, as a consequence, my health suffered. Back then I knew intuitively that my story was not a solitary event; that others had similar tales that needed to be told. A spark was ignited. I worked through my symptoms to be seen and heard only to be stonewalled by the bureaucracy of an old boy’s club. Years of disappointment and exhaustion won out. The flame died down. After that I started lying to myself that it wasn’t that bad, that there were others who had it much worse, and who was I to make trouble. I couched my story in half truths and went out of my way not to offend anyone or any organization. In choosing not to assign blame I ultimately blamed myself.
For ten years I have stood by listening to other First Responders tell of their suffering, of not being acknowledged or validated; of not receiving support. For ten years I have read about people taking their lives. For ten years I have witnessed little change in police and fire departments, the military, the RCMP, Corrections, Paramedics, Dispatchers, Nurses and Other First Responders.
I declare 2020 the year of kicking ass. This year I tell my truth.This year I go on the offence rather than looking out to protect those that were offensive. This year I know that hiding my inner fire does no one any good. This year, I know without a doubt, that my truth can help: that I can be the person that I was looking for as I struggled through PTSD.
It is time for First Responders to know there is hope. It is time to begin healing. This year, 2020, the ten-year anniversary of a personal milestone, myself and Standing Six will be at the forefront of that healing.
We welcome you to join us.