A letter I wrote to my wife telling her I had PTSD

I know how difficult it is to find the words to tell people you care for about having PTSD. What follows is a letter I wrote to my wife’s family and some may find it disturbing so read with caution. Maybe it will help someone else. Letter: I learned a long time ago that if I have to start with; “I am trusting you to keep this between us”, I shouldn’t be saying anything so with that I am trusting you to only share this with those you feel need to know. In September of 2013 much to my surprise I was diagnosed with Chronic (repeated exposure over a long period of time) Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. When you see the news and the behavioral extremes of people who suffer from PTSD I can understand it may concern you to know I have PTSD. What the news doesn’t report on are the cases where people are able to manage to deal with it in other ways as in my case. I have had a hard time deciding if I should say anything or not but I think it is only fair to my wife and children so they don’t have to walk around on egg shells trying not to let anything slip or answer for me when I disappear because I need some space. I also hope this helps you better understand what PTSD means for me. I’ll try to explain it this way: Since my first transfer I have boxes that have never been unpacked. Over the years each time we moved they have been re-tagged, taped and then stored someplace out of sight out of mind. Then out of nowhere for some unexplained reason something reminds me of what is in a particular box. In some cases the tape and the box itself get to the point it is no longer able to stay together to keep the contents inside and when you least expect it the box breaks and everything crashes out. When this happens I take the time to re-pack the box and put it back out of sight out of mind until I am reminded of it again. It is the same with some incidents I have dealt with over the years, at points in time things happen reminding me of extremely disturbing incidents I have had to deal with. Anything from sights, sounds, smells or actions by people can cause it. Sometimes they pass quickly without much more than a momentary thought and other times they don’t. Whether it was dealing with a parent on how their infant/child died, having a teenage girl die in my arms on the side of a grid road as her sisters lifeless body lay 25 feet away in the ditch, having to ask witnesses who a person is because they have been beaten beyond recognition while trying to be the cop, EMT and ambulance driver at the same time, or the countless times I have had to knock on a door and explain to someone their loved one is never coming home and everything in between. How they affect me varies depending on what else is going on in life but it’s always worse when I am stressed over other things. I am now trying to unpack the boxes so they don’t break unexpectedly and I can control how I react as things come out. For me this means accepting I am not invincible to the types of things I have had to deal with over the years and continuing to convince myself “Nothing bothers me” is not possible. Over the years I have dealt with many people who I now know were suffering from PTSD. I, like many others thought there were other reasons for their trouble at home and at work. This fact further complicates having PTSD for me. I know there are many people who have it far worse than me and I feel guilty about that as some are people who worked for me and I wonder if I did anything to make things worse for them. I do not need people to have all the answers or ask the right questions and I definitely don’t want people worrying about me. What I need if anything is just do your best to treat me as you always have (before you knew about my PTSD). You can talk to me about pretty much anything but please be prepared to accept a limited answer sometimes. It is the reason I like to be alone, only visit for a few days and often come by myself as it makes it easier to hide my reactions when they occur, don’t have to explain things and gives me time to recover when things do get to me. I finally figured out why I am ok with people one on one or small groups but have a hard time being in larger groups and crowds. I have managed this on my own for years without knowing the reasons and I am still able to but now I have help. To most people, PTSD means experiencing something distressing previously and then flashing back to the event later and being distressed about it. That description barely covers it so here are a few more things that complicate it for me: Having PTSD is distressing and knowing I have PTSD is more distressing for me than the PTSD itself. I am told PTSD destroys your normal brain activity and makes it function in ways you can’t control (so when someone tells me it’s all in my head I know they are not totally ignorant on the subject). For me PTSD makes my mind very active and I experience things like flashbacks, distressing images, hyper-vigilance, waking up in the middle of the night with a memory from 30 years ago that feels like it just happened and at times get extremely angry over minor things that normally don’t bother me. Since I became a cop my whole life is/has been about living on the edge waiting for something bad to happen (If you always expect the worst, anything else is a bonus). It is why simple things like an unexpected tap on the shoulder, phone ringing in the middle of the night or somebody standing to close to me causes me to be very edgy. Fortunately or unfortunately, I am/was well respected by my former and current colleagues but they do not know I have PTSD. I ask myself daily if telling them would help them better understand PTSD or if I would become an outcast like so many others. Hearing comments about current and former police officers “curled up in a corner sucking their thumb” or going to some doctor to get a diagnosis to “curl up on a couch for a few months” is extremely difficult for me. I am none of the above! (neither are those they speak of). When I hear these comments I become extremely angry and want to lash out with the facts but I learned a long time ago doing things out of emotion never works out well. It is why I limit the time I spend with people I worked with. I have read the RCMP’s plan/policy to deal with PTSD/Mental Health in the force. Unfortunately I have my reservations when I continually hear the conversations I have described, the RCMP’s Champion for Mental Health state: “We carry guns and if someone is seeing a psychologist 26 times a year we need to know about it.” and have the Commissioner’s finger twirling, whistling image etched in my mind makes me wonder; How serious can they possibly be? I am also not sure they actually understand many people with PTSD can and do perform very well. I was one and if it wasn’t career ending to say something I am sure you would find many more. In my case I think it made me a better police officer and certainly made me a better supervisor because I could relate to what people I dealt with on calls and those who came to me with their struggles at work were going through. I would be more concerned about the members who aren’t talking to someone than the ones that are. For me the symptoms magnified once people I trusted left the force or transferred to places where they had bigger issues than I did so I no longer had that outlet, one way I coped with it over the years. Now I see a psychologist for that because they are legally bound to keep their mouth shut and I don’t want to burden anyone else with it. It is one of those situations where people ask you to talk about it and hope you don’t. I understand that logically these thought processes may not make a lot of sense however I am unable to control it. If you haven’t noticed I like places that are not very noisy or crowded and I prefer to sit facing the door so I can see what is going on. Forgive me for not wanting to make minor decisions about what to eat, what to do or where to go. Over the years I have made so many difficult and life altering decisions affecting people’s lives forever I don’t want to make anymore decisions than I absolutely have to. When I say “I don’t care”, I really mean I don’t care. If I abruptly change the conversation on you or stop talking it’s probably because you are getting into topics too close to something I experienced that I find extremely disturbing. If I do not answer your phone call or return your text message or e-mail forgive me, it is sometimes a struggle for me to talk to anyone and I need time to get myself in the right frame of mind to talk to people. I will get back to you but if I am not as fast as you want then I hope you will understand why. I want to thank you for taking the time to read this letter and hopefully better understand me. Knowing the reasons I go from being okay around people to wanting to be alone in mere minutes is helping me understand myself. You will likely never totally understand what PTSD means for me but you will understand why I sometimes act the way I do knowing it isn’t because I am angry, don’t like you or the other people present or that I am an arrogant jerk. Take care, R.T. (Bob) Miller S/Sgt. (retired)

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