Unknowingly for years, possibly for the majority of my life, I have had PTSD. First from my parents divorce, setting the stage for me to be more susceptible to later trauma affecting me to a greater degree than some others in similar circumstances. Then as a police officer, dealing with death, high speed chases, drawing my weapon on suspects, and many other intense experiences. Now follow these up with a moderately severe car wreck that left our family vehicle totaled and me in physical treatment for months while still going to work.
Since I never received the help I needed from the first, and then subsequent traumas of the work I chose, when I had the car accident it pushed me over the edge. I spiraled down pretty quick. I had panic attacks while driving or riding in a car. I did not handle simple stress well, not that I ever had. I took it all out on the ones I love the most, my kids and wife primarily.
I wanted to share this not for pity or compassion for me. I hope to bring awareness to a prevalent issue in our society. Most of us already have a basic understanding of what PTSD is, but at least in my case I was not aware that people outside the military could get it. With divorce our children are experiencing PTSD more and more. Many don’t get help dealing with the emotions and trauma that occur with divorce, at least not when I was growing up. So, now we have an entire generation without having treatment for a very serious experience in their life. One that is likely affecting them and those around them negatively without their even knowing the extent of it, or how to fix it.
I had always believed that PTSD was something the troops experienced. That you had nightmares, woke up ready to defend yourself, hallucinations of the trauma recurring, and so on. This is only the extreme example though. Many people will have heightened stress and/or anxiety, insomnia, depression and so on.
I was one that would get depressed, have a hard time sleeping, I would not handle stress well, get anxious about simple things, and then with the car accident I started getting flashbacks and anxiety attacks when on the freeway. Having not been aware of what was going on, not getting help, it only got worse. My anxiety and angry outbursts with the family increased.
Finally on the last day, my wife and I took our four kids to our local zoo where we had a membership. We went a couple times a month usually. It was a very normal event for us. My eldest daughter got excited about the exhibit we were at and tried pushing her way passed other people to get a better view. I lost it, over a simple mistake by a little girl who was not even in school yet. I yelled at her, I insisted she apologize to the ladies she tried pushing passed, I made my baby girl cry. I made her cry because I couldn’t handle the stress of someone thinking I was a bad parent or my kids were out of control. Looking back now I see how stupid this was, but at the time I only made it worse.
My wife stepped in and took my daughter from me, telling me to back off. I didn’t. I was in the right, or so I thought. In truth I was in a rage, out of control of my own emotions. I eventually stormed off leaving my wife to wrangle all four children on her own. Once she caught up to me at the train station I don’t remember being willing to speak to her, if I did it wasn’t nice. The whole trip home my blood pressure must have been dangerously high. I was boiling still, over something so small.
Once home I retreated to my room for a long time, not being helpful with the children at all. This has been a coping mechanism for me ever since I was a child. While time to yourself can be healthy, I would take it to an extreme. While by myself I was continuing to build in my anger for some reason this day. Normally I could calm down and let things go. Not that day. I was planning and plotting terribly violent things in my mind. Not something under normal circumstances I would ever feel toward my wife and children.
After an hour or so of this rage building I realized it was crazy and wrong, but did not know how to control myself. I resolved to separate myself from them entirely so as to protect them from harm since I could not trust myself to not hurt them at that time. I called my father and made arrangements to fly to him and live halfway across the country just so as to not hurt those I love the most in the world. It was the only thing I could reason out to do.
I hid these plans from my wife until they were solid. The kids went to bed early, I told her we needed to talk. And that is when I broke her heart and shattered her world. I told her I was leaving her and the kids. I was flying out a couple days later. I quit my good paying job overnight that had been looking to only get better. This really hurt my relations with some amazing people I worked with.
While moving so far kept my family physically safe from me, it did not fix my problems. My problems only grew. I went back into law enforcement immediately. Big mistake. Most departments won’t hire anyone recently divorced, I now understand why and support it. A person is not in their right mind, they are distracted, and for me I still was experiencing PTSD without treatment.
It took another year and a half, and three more failed jobs for me to slow down and think about what the problem was. At this point it was clearly me. I was not coping with stress at all. I had burned more bridges. A couple months later someone told me it was possible to get PTSD from a car accident. From there I did my own research to confirm it. It became apparent that was not my only source though. I had already been dealing with it from my time in law enforcement and possibly earlier. I was married less than a year when I became a sheriff’s deputy.
One of the times I had tried to apologize for my actions at the end of our marriage my wife told me that while it was bad, there had been big issues all along. Now this all makes sense. I was already experiencing PTSD, even if to a lesser amount, all along. I did not have proper knowledge on how to deal with stress in a healthy way, which for me usually meant taking it out on the family.
At this point I will be seeking professional treatment since I have reached the extent of self growth in this area without it. I do believe I have come a long way. I know my triggers. I know healthier ways to manage stress and to reduce stress. I have recently made the move to be closer to my children and am working on renewing my relationship with them. I only hope I have the chance to help teach my children what I have learned so as to help them avoid repeating the same issues.
For all the children of divorce, victims of traumatic accidents, and my brothers and sisters in blue, please get help if you see yourself experiencing any of the signs of PTSD.