Playing it Safe
Back before I published the Standing Six website in 2017, I shared my story with a friend and fellow First Responder about why I left policing. She read it with compassion but at the end cautioned me to be a bit more judicial. She was concerned about the way I wrote about the lack of support I received for my PTSD. She asked if I was sure I wanted to lay blame on the Vancouver Police Department.
I knew her instincts were to protect me but still, her concern was disturbing. I stepped back and reconsidered my words. Maybe she was right in that the department didn’t know how to support me and maybe there wasn’t enough mental health support training for management. But it was her final question that made me change my story: Why would the VPD support Standing Six if they read you were finding them at fault?
Feeling deflated and somewhat embarrassed, I conceded and chose new words — less intense words — to describe my journey. Even though it felt like I was betraying myself I changed the story by writing only half the truth: I put myself second, perhaps even last. I turned my doubts inward pointing the finger at me. Should I have tried harder to be believed? Could I have pushed a little more to make someone listen? Would things have been different if I was different? And then, if I was offered support, would I still be a cop
For ten years I made a practice of softening my words in order not to offend or lay blame. At times, I even denied that there was an injustice, that I had left the force for other reasons. I stopped looking for answers, except from within. Why did I feel compelled to couch my experiences? Why did I feel I had to diminish the impact of the job? Why couldn’t I just say I was wronged?
These last ten years of self doubt has left a sense of incompleteness. It is as if I had done something wrong or had failed in a way that was not quite clear. Between bouts of anxiety and depression I researched PTSD, its multiple causes, its unique and varied symptoms, and its ripple effect throughout families and communities. I talked with other First Responders and counsellors, took courses and read books. And now, after ten years of questions I have come to my truth. I know I was in the right, that my health mattered, that they failed me.
It’s 2020 and I’m out of the protective shell I created for myself. I will no longer hold back my words and no longer deny the wrongs I suffered. I now understand that despite the lack of training HR and management teams have historically had throughout Canada, our leaders should have known better. Common sense should have prevailed that those working on the front lines of increasing violence, pain and tragedy would eventually pay the price. We knew this after WWI and then forgot. We knew this after the Vietnam war but then didn’t transfer that knowledge to our police and medical teams. And we knew this after the recent suicides from our Persian Gulf war vets, police officers and paramedics. Even today, the will to combat PTSD is just barely scratching the surface. We need to do more.
Over the last ten years I did what I thought I needed to do to survive. Despite my misgivings, I maintained a loyalty to the VPD and kept quiet. Through those years of silence, however, I learned, I grew, and I began to thrive. I found there was much more healing to be had in team work and open communication then there was in finger pointing. Today, with the support of my equine team I reach out to police departments and other First Responder management teams to say let’s work together. Let’s face the past with open eyes, take responsibility for those who were hurt, and walk together towards a future that cares.