Mental Health Month: Let's Talk About PTSD in Law Enforcement
Editor's note: In honor of National Mental Health month, we are using this opportunity to shine a light on mental health issues related to law enforcement with a four part series. Supporting Minnesota law enforcement officers and their families is a cornerstone of our mission. A very special thanks to the Backing the Blue Line Family Support Committee leadership for all their work bringing these stories to life, researching mental health issues and gathering resources to share with our community. Read Part 1 here.
Having nowhere to turn for help. Hopeless. Scared. Lonely. Helpless. So incredibly helpless.
That's how it felt for me when my husband's PTSD got so bad that I felt I had no choice but to give him an ultimatum and say "either you get help, or I'm done with this marriage."
For the years leading up to that, I tried my best to save him from himself. I was very careful when he was around, not bringing up anything that might set him off. That usually wasn't successful, because I had no idea what little thing might make him angry. It felt like I was walking on eggshells around the house.
I thought I was being a good wife. I would go above and beyond to help him feel safe and comfortable in the house. I didn't ask him for help with raising the kids, housework, going over finances, or other things that I thought would add more stress to his life.
I was terrified most of the time because he was buried so deep in depression and he often talked about killing himself. Naturally, I would say that I was going to call 911 but he would say something like "No you aren't! I'll act normal when they get here. Who are they going to believe, their own partner or you? Obviously they'll believe my story over yours. I know how the system works"
Or he'd say "if they find out that I'm depressed I'll lose my job. Who will pay the bills if I'm not working?"
It left me feeling SO helpless because I thought he was right.
I thought I didn't have any options, so I tried even harder to create a place in our house so he would feel safe.
It was a vicious cycle. It took a toll on my own mental health.
I remember holding my kids after they'd fallen asleep in my arms, and I would cry and wonder what kind of life I had brought them into. I didn't tell anybody what was happening at home. I "wore a mask" anytime I was around other people. They had NO clue what my life was like. At the time, we had no idea he had PTSD.
It was a very, very dark place.
After giving him the ultimatum, we worked on finding a place for therapy. We found a therapist for him and worked on doing couples therapy. His therapist was the one who diagnosed him with PTSD and recommended doing a treatment called EMDR. It was amazing!
It was during one of our couples therapy sessions that the therapist recommended that I start seeing my own therapist. That was the best decision EVER. Finally, I had someone that I could talk to without the fear of being judged.
She guided me through those dark days, and I had hope for the future again.
She helped me see that by helping him avoid his demons, I wasn't protecting him.
I was making the problem worse.
I learned that his actions were on HIM and didn't mean I was a bad wife or that it was my fault.
Together, my husband and I came up with a safety plan. We agreed on what to do when his depression hit different levels (level 9 or 10 was where I'd call 911 for help). Finally, I felt like I had some control over situations when I felt his life was in danger.
One would think that after a year of intensive therapy and coming up with solutions to different problems in our lives, the path would be easy.
I hate to break it to you, but that's not true.
Over the years since he was diagnosed, we have gone up and down on the roller-coaster of life. We still see therapists to this day. I realize that PTSD has played, and will continue to play, a big role in our lives. Thankfully, now I have the tools that I need to help myself when it tries to take over our lives.
As hard as it's been, I am thankful for what we've gone through and everything that I've learned because of PTSD. It has made me who I am today.
My hope is that if there is somebody out there who is struggling, please know that you aren't alone.
Reach out for help, whether it is for you or for your LEO. Please contact Family Support CoChairs Jeni or Melissa if you would like to connect with the police wife who wrote this article or if a law enforcement officer you know is showing signs or struggling with PTSD.
Your actions could help save a life.
About the writer: This brave and beautiful member of Backing the Blue Line has asked to remain anonymous. She lives in Minnesota and has been married to her law enforcement officer for 15 years. Join Backing the Blue Line: We invite MN police wives/significant others to become members of Backing the Blue Line to take advantage of all available membership benefits and have additional opportunities to give and receive support. We also invite MN police wives/significant other to join our private Facebook page to belong to a community of support through friendships, networking, and discussion. It is also for raising awareness of the need to support our unique lives and share the bond that comes with being a law enforcement family. Find out more on our About page.
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