Symptoms of the Invisible Injury – PTSD
September 11, 2016 by Stuart Rawlins
“Drop the gun, Drop the gun, Put down the gun NOW!” My voice was loud, authoritative and piercing in the night air, so I was told! But I couldn’t hear how loud I was screaming this phrase over and over again at the drug crazed man with the large black semi-automatic handgun.
With my partner around the back of the premise it was just me and him, with only the glass pane of a shopfront window and about 10 metres between us. His drug fueled eyes stared straight through me like I was invisible.
My whole world had slowed down and was literally moving in slow motion. My brain had entered fight or flight mode and shut down my non-essential sensory mechanisms and my peripheral vision. I could hear someone screaming at the man with the gun, but I couldn’t hear how loud it was and it didn’t feel like the words were coming out of my mouth, it was like I was listening to someone else screaming.
Of course I wasn’t, it was me. It was me standing in the middle of the road all alone that night in my bullet proof vest on, gun pointed, screaming at the man with gun. The man who had just pointed the gun directly in the face of a 16 year old girl. Tunnel vision had kicked in and I was hyper-focused on just him and him alone.
Please put down the gun, please put down the gun I don’t want to have to kill you kept running through my mind as I continued screaming for him to put it down.
Having attended and been involved in the investigation of a justifiable homicide (Police Shooting) previously I know how peoples lives change forever when they are forced to take another’s in the line of duty. It can never be taken back and no-one wins irrespective what side of the situation you are on.
As he got up and walked out of the shop directly at me I squeezed the trigger to rest at the first and last load point and continued to scream my demands. I knew if I pulled just that bit more life would change forever, and not just his!
I can still remember thinking this is it, this is it, he is either going to shoot me now or I am going to have to shoot him!
Thankfully neither of those situations eventuated and he put down the gun and I managed to get to a point where I could holster my weapon and crash tackle him to the ground.
It was over. So I thought!
Pumped full of adrenalin was the reason I thought my hands were shaking so much that I couldn’t write in my Police notebook. Stupid adrenalin was my initial thought process, that was until it started happening again and again. Each time I would respond to a high risk situation like a siege or a person armed with a knife, I found that afterwards my hands would shake. They would shake that much that I simply couldn’t use them to even record witness details in my notebook.
Quite an easy one to hide when you are Sergeant, as you can rely upon more junior officers to get those basic details for you. Unfortunately they weren’t the only symptoms I was experiencing from being constantly exposed to trauma and high risk incidents.
Most of my increasingly annoying symptoms where being experienced outside of work when I was at home with my family. I think this assisted in allowing me to hide them from my work colleagues for such a long period of time.
The main symptom that was evident at home was my increasing emotional reaction to sad or distressing scenes or stories on the television. I would often tear-up at a news stories involving children being hurt or people displaying grief over a bombing or an accident. It was when I started to tear-up when reading emotional news articles in the paper or a magazine that my wife piped up and told me that this wasn’t good and couldn’t go on.
It was only some years later after I had left the Police Service and was answering some questions from a medical professional that I pieced it all together. All of the different symptoms I had been experiencing were text book PTSD symptoms.
It was almost like reading the actual medical definition of PTSD symptoms!
It wasn’t until I was told that they weren’t just part of getting older, that they weren’t just normal experiences that emergency workers went through, that I wish I had had the courage to speak up earlier – much earlier.
What feelings and experiences am I referring to? Well below is a list of what I personally felt and experienced over about a five year period.
Insomnia – Not just bad sleeping patterns from years of shift work, I mean a constant inability to get a good nights sleep.
Hyper Vigilance – A feeling of always being super sensitive to my surroundings. Who is doing what, where, when, why.
Irritability – Perpetually being in a bad mood, or it not taking much at all to get into one.
Upset Stomach – Going to the toilet up to 8 times before going to work of a morning. Yes a great way to lose weight but not one that you will get recommended by any weight loss expert.
Inability To Handle Stress – Getting flustered, cranky or overwhelmed when given multiple tasks to handle or when the one you are doing doesn’t go to plan.
Flashbacks And Nightmares – Having flashbacks of murder victims whilst watching television shows like Criminal Minds, NCIS or even the news. Waking up at night after having a nightmare that a murderer that I had arrested was trying to kill me or one of my work partners.
Being Withdrawn – Not wanting to socialise with friends or with groups of people. Also going into my ‘Cave’ and totally withdrawing from conversations or activities at home.
So ask yourself. “Do any or all of this symptoms resonate with you or someone you know”?
Living in today’s busy world it can be quite easy not to put together all the pieces of the puzzle and see the true picture of what is going on right in front of our own eyes.
By simply taking the first step of going and speaking to a medical professional about the symptoms that you are experiencing, you are miles in front. Miles in front of someone like me who pushed them all to the background for years and years whilst they built up, until they forced themselves out.
Take it from me if you are experiencing some or all of the symptoms I have mentioned in this article then get off your butt and take some action.
Why? Because You Are Worth It! Because there is an alternative to just sitting back and living with it!
Without the assistance of a number of specialised medical professionals I would not be where I am today. I would not be in a position to talk about my experiences to help others.
Admitting that you possibly have a mental health condition is certainly not easy, but it is far better than the alternative and all that comes with not admitting it.
I can assure you from personal experience that taking that first step was the best thing I ever did.
If you are reading this article and can identify someone close to you that may be experiencing some or all of the symptoms, can I ask a favour of you?
Take the initiative and start a conversation by asking that person RUOK? Asking this simple question can have an amazing affect on someone going through a tough time in life and can be the catalyst for some positive change.
Stuart Rawlins | Healthy Mind Healthy Future
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