It’s time to be honest. People’s lives ARE on the line. Families, generations, they all hang in the balance, and our very profession is crumbling from the inside. Still, we’ve been lying to everyone for years.
It’s time to come clean.
We’re locked in. Twenty years at least. Most departments where I work are twenty-five or more. Forty hours a week, minus vacation time, not including overtime, and your average police officer is working in what anyone in corporate America would consider an extremely, EXTREMELY, toxic work environment for about 42,000 hours minimum over a career.
We soak in, internalize, and experience higher than normal levels, if there really are “normal” levels, of stress, depression, anxiety, paranoia, anger, fear, violence, mental health issues, death, despair, and on. And that’s just every day at work.
I haven’t even touched on our home environment, which I know for you is probably perfect. But mine had a wife, three kids, a dog, and everyday issues and conflicts over “normal” stuff that even our civilian neighbors and families can’t get right. Then add on the existing 42,000 hours minimum of constant toxicity on top. Not a great recipe for success.
But this is the world we live in, signed up for, and it’s a world many of us thrive in. Until we don’t. Until we see the writing on the wall. Until our lives implode.
Our families, spouses, and kids have needs. And they don’t understand what you saw, what you dealt with, or how tired, depressed, drained, weary, or burdened you are.
Your daughter needs a hug, your son needs you to throw a football, and your spouse needs quality time. But what’s the last thing you want to do after you walk in the door from an 8, 10, or 12-hour shift? One thing I know isn’t on that list is making more decisions, or dealing with more drama and problems. Especially our own. The ones that really hit home. Ones that force us to look at ourselves and our lives, deeply.
You’ve just dealt with someone’s worst day, probably a few times over, and all you want is to come home, be at peace, and let your mind relax. But if you have a family, or at least a partner, you know this isn’t how the rest of the day or night is going to go. And sometimes, if it’s just us in our own minds, it’s even scarier what’s going on wayyyy in the back, in the dark thoughts and meditations, alone.
So, it’s time to get real. PEOPLE ARE DYING. Families are imploding. Generations are being jacked up. And many people in the mental health and wellness sphere will lead you to believe that police suicide is one of the greatest problems we face.
It’s not. Suicide is not a problem, at all.
Suicide is a SOLUTION. Suicide is a by-product, a result, an outgrowth from a root problem. The real issue, the thing that leads those struggling down the path to produce thoughts of a suicidal nature, is pain.
Pain is the problem. More specifically, it’s the things that cause pain. Suicide is simply a solution. And a very effective one.
And the type of pain I’m talking about here is “brain pain.” Emotional pain stemming from work, life, experiences, traumas, issues, and on.
Pain is a biological response to aid you in self-preservation. Get your hand out of the fire before you melt off your skin. That punch hurt so you may want to get out of this fight, or at least make sure you win, fast. You just ate a giant serving of fried crap. Your stomach hurts. You may want to avoid that in the future. It’s not good for you.
If it hurts, pain in your body tells you to stop, do something different the next time. Pain is talking to you. Pleading with you. Most pain helps keep you safe and in one piece.
But what about cognitive pain? What about “brain pain?” What about a job that forces us to see pain, immerses us in heartache every single day. Our jobs are constant pain and suffering. Maybe not our own, but as humans we have (or had) empathy, so someone else’s pain becomes ours as well. Until the job and experiences finally turn those receptors off after so many calls. Our emotionlessness becomes the new “normal.” Some of us become robots.
That’s when we jack up our personal lives, relationships, and find ourselves at the bottom of a bottle or some other addiction. Trying to quiet the pain. Trying to stop it screaming at us. We’re emotionless. Uncaring. Dead inside. Because it’s not “normal.” It’s not how it was supposed to be. You weren’t created for that. Originally.
And we know it. That’s why we try to shut it up with all different means. But it will kill you. At least, inside. And sometimes outside as well. Unless you fight back.
How do we avoid the “brain pain?” We don’t. We can’t. We signed on to be immersed in it, constantly. Officer suicide, it’s just a solution to the real problem, the thing we don’t talk about. Suicide is the quick escape hatch.
Pain is telling you the problem.
Need help? Going through issues? Having problems at home? Tired of seeing death and destruction every day? My friend, so are we all. Is your mind finally numb, negative, and robotic? Yep, we’re all there too. We just don’t talk about it. Us officers are good, great, fine. We’re anything but weak, needy, and emotional. And it’s not just officers.
Stop lying to yourself, and others.
Like it or not we are weak, needy, and emotional, just like everyone else. We’re just not allowed to show it. It’s bred out of us. Partially, to a point, because it has to be. Because of the job we do. We can’t be crying and consoling victims while there’s a madman killing people.
We’re forced to make the choice of stepping over the critically injured and moving on. Eliminate the threat from killing more. Focused, hard, uncaring, in certain situations. Then we’ll go back and see what we can save.
And if we need to talk, if we admit to issues, we’re probably not fit for the job according to superiors who can take the badge and gun and make us take an unwanted vacation that could last forever. We’re stripped of who we’ve become and what we’ve worked for over so many years. We can’t take that chance.
So we don’t talk to anyone.
Instead we live on Facebook, Insta, or whatever social media we like and see all the smiling faces and feel good stories of vacations, happy people, and great lives. Why am I out of that loop? What happened? I must be the only one suffering. I’ve royally screwed up. I can’t go back. I can’t fix it. I’m in pain… Dealing with this is PAINFUL.
The pain is telling us something isn’t right. And the SOLUTION for some is suicide.
How do we fix it?
There are only three responses, and yes, you’ve heard this all before.
Freeze – You stay where you’re at, live in your sorrow, self-pity, anger, and eventually lose it all, slowly, as you push people away and everyone leaves while your life implodes.
Flight – (This was my own personal choice as I “dealt” with my issues) Run away, change what you have control over, replace your spouse, move to a new place, get rid of responsibility and let your kids be raised by someone else while you maybe even change jobs or departments. Then just keep running.
FIGHT – Do what you were trained to do. Fight for your family, your wellbeing, and to get your life back. You signed up to be a warrior, and that applies outside of the job as well. You’re worth it. Your family is worth it. LIFE is worth it.
The battle isn’t easy, or short. But it is WORTH IT. But this isn’t a normal battle. You can’t see the enemy standing across from you with a defined level of expertise.
Because you, my new friend, are the enemy. The battle is within and with yourself. If you don’t have the light, even the smallest desire, no one can force it. You have to be ready and willing. It has to start inside you, no matter how small the desire.
And the tips, tricks, and all the things these new mental health and wellness experts recommend as many see dollar signs in the first responder sphere may help, a little. They may mask the deeper issues, for a bit. But they will fail in the long term. Because you can never never run far enough away from yourself. You will always catch up.
(And let me be clear, there are some very good, effective, and caring people in the mental health and wellness sphere.)
It’s time, Officer. Get up. Do what you were trained to do. Use that mindset for your own good, for your family’s wellbeing, and for the future success of generations that started with you. They matter just as much as those you find help for on the street. YOU MATTER. YOU ARE IMPORTANT AND LOVED. (I know, feelings, my bad) Yes, you matter. Even if your entire career you’ve been told you’re just a number and the ship won’t sink without you. Maybe it won’t. But you might drown if you jump.
So, get up. Go out. And get ready for one hell of a battle. With yourself. I won’t bore you with details, because the plan isn’t for everyone. And like it or not, (just in my opinion of course) it all starts with a spiritual base, and some honest, deep, and frank self-examination. Without the spiritual, the other components of health and wellness don’t matter. It is the one base that holds everything else up.
So, if you think you have even the slightest interest or desire, get with me. We can go through it together. You start by just answering one question. Easy and simple. That answer will tell you everything you need to know.
Nothing that’s worth anything was ever easy. And having done it myself, and seeing the success of it in so many others as well, I CAN promise one thing.
It’s worth it. For you, and for everyone you love. It’s a win, for everyone.
And you’re trained to win. At all costs.
Chad Campese is a father, husband, police officer, blogger, and author of the book Confession of a Christian Fraud. He holds a BA in Christian Counseling and psychology, is heavily involved in peer support and recovery when it comes to first responders, and is an expert in living his life and faith as a fraud. These days he simply relies on the leading of the Spirit as he tries to slowly and purposefully take life one day at a time.
Grab a copy of Chad’s book here, then get on his email list here, or shoot him a note at [email protected]. You can connect with Chad and join his upcoming program at his website, Facebook, or LinkedIn.