Suffering in Silence

You always wanted to be a police officer. You didn’t know what kind of police officer you would be but when you finally joined the force, you excelled. It felt like it was where you were meant to be. Being part of the police felt like being part of a large, extended family. You’d heard people joking about wearing your pants on the outside, and it started to make sense. Because at the end of the day, although you felt tired and overwhelmed, you knew you’d helped the world in some way…
You remember the first time you saw a dismembered body, the first time you saw someone hanging… You knew it was part of the job, you’d seen these things on television, on the news. But nothing quite prepared you for the expression on their faces, the smell of their flesh, the fleeting thought of how fragile life is, how easily it can end.

You understood that death and violence was part of the job and most days it was just that – part of the job. You were good at what you did. You were resilient and efficient and it didn’t get to you. You wore your uniform like a suit of armour and it didn’t get through. Up early, into work, arrests, paperwork, home, repeat. Some days it felt like you were running on pure adrenaline and it felt good and exciting.

But some days you saw something and it got through. You went home and it was there, in your peripheral vision. You weren’t always really sure why, aware of what made it different. You reflect now that maybe it was because something seemed so cruel, so futile that you couldn’t push it to one side, couldn’t laugh it off in the pub.

The drunken man dead at the side of the road, the woman killed in rage by her husband. Sometimes it was a child and that child was a similar age to your own at home. And it stopped you in your tracks, made you catch your breath ever so slightly. A glimpse of an unimaginable horror. Something you didn’t want to take home but it lingered, even after your uniform was taken off and you were sitting down for dinner with your family.

One day something changed. And it felt like the flood-gates had opened. The straw that broke the camel’s back…You hadn’t even realized that you’d been storing your collection of horror in a box, the lid tightly fastened. But now, for some reason that you didn’t understand, the lid was off– the opening of pandora’s box, the ghostbuster’s ghost trap and it was all there with you in the room.

Your days and nights changed. You were plagued by memories from the past. The look on a woman’s face when you told her her son had been killed, a body part in the road, an old man dead in his home, washing up piled up at the sink, the glazed vacant stare of someone who didn’t look quite human…

You were taken back to things that happened years ago, often without warning. A surge of adrenaline, fear, panic, a sense of overwhelming sadness. It didn’t male sense that all this would be coming back now. You worked hard, you coped, you were good at your job. You pushed it away, into a corner, told yourself that you were just feeling stressed, that it would pass. You got up early, put on your uniform, went into work, made some arrests, completed the paperwork, went home…

But you feel frightened, on edge, like your nerve has gone. You can’t concentrate on the computer screen, can’t quite pull yourself together. And you start to worry that people are noticing, that they can see that something isn’t right. And it has to be right. Because you’re a police officer, you’re good at what you do…

You get up early, put on your uniform, go into work, make some arrests, complete the paperwork, go home.. the days are manageable, you can hold it together, get up, man up and wear your uniform like a suit of armour. You worry that your armour is torn and broken, that people can see. But you push that thought aside, make some arrests, complete your paperwork, go home.


But the nights are terrible. Nightmare on Elm Street, horror movie terrible. You toss and turn and cry out, you wake up sweating from some unimaginable horror and it takes you a long time to realise where you are. At home, in bed, safe and sound, not on the battle-field, not being pursued by the man with that glazed, vacant stare.

You’re up and out and everything feels threatening. You check the doors and windows, monitor every face, every car. You might as well be a caveman, a gazelle wandering across the African plain. Because your mind is telling you you’re in danger, that you’re face-to-face with a tiger… But when you turn your head, the tiger isn’t there. You’re up and out and your spider senses are heightened, Final Destination brain where it feels like something could fall from the sky and end it all in an instant.

A day spent checking and watching, monitoring for danger. You’re on red alert, a rabbit in the headlights and it’s exhausting. But you make your arrests, you complete your paperwork and you head home. You try to relax, to focus on your family but it feels like a pressure cooker inside. The slightest thing makes you see red and the anger rises, you snap and then you feel sad, guilty. But you don’t talk about the horror. Because if you start it might contaminate the room. If you start, you might not stop. And you have to get up tomorrow, put on your uniform, go into work…

You agree to go out to the pub, just for a little bit. As long as you can sit in the corner with your back to the wall. As long as you can see the people around you, can monitor the door. You hands are shaking as you put down your drink and as you look at them, they don’t really look like your hands. Everyone seems to be moving, talking, laughing in slow motion. You’re there but not quite there. You know you should be feeling things like happiness, joy, love… but you’re numb. Alone, disconnected from the world. Suffering in silence.

So you get up, put on your uniform and head into work. You tell them you’re not ok, that something’s wrong. They tell you you’re ok, to get back out there and get on with it…

They say you’re ok, you must be ok.

They say you’re ok, you must be ok…

 

This article has been written by Dr Georgina Clifford of londontraumaspecialists.com in conjunction with the closed Facebook support group PTSD in the emergency services UK.  This is the first of a series of articles aimed to highlight the effects of PTSD and what we can all do to recognise the symptoms and support our friends/colleagues who suffer from this often debilitating illness. If you recognise the symptoms in this article or you know a colleague who is in need of support please contact an admin of the Emerge People Support Page and we’ll assist in signposting you to one of the many charities/organisations Available and ready to assist.


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