One thing I have always found amazing about those people I have encountered in my life who are mad and pissed off all the time is how the hell do they stay so consistent? Think about it, to wake up every single day and make the decision, “I’m pissed off and angry as ole hell so I need to make sure every person I encounter today knows it”. You almost need to admire the work and effort it must take to stay mad all day and not slip up by accidentally smiling or saying a nice “hello” to someone.
I use to try and avoid people who were angry all the time because not only did it make me feel anxious and on edge to be around them, but after too much time in their company I would start feeling negative and angry as their attitude and personality would tend to rub off on me. As the years have gone by one thing I started to appreciate about pissed off people is you usually know where you stand with them and they aren’t usually the type to talk about you behind your back, they will say it right to your face. I never considered myself a angry or pissed of person growing up. Unless someone really went out of their way to get my attention in a negative way I always kind of thought of myself as a pretty happy and easy going person. I have always been a bit obsessive and compulsive about the way I did things which could easily come across as uptight but I wouldn’t say anyone close to me would have described me as a angry person. Even while participating in sporting events growing up it would usually take quite a bit to upset me or make me mad and even when it would happen I could rationalize it away and calm down fairly quickly. That all changed over the years for me as I moved further and further into my policing career. It happened so gradually that I didn’t even notice how the normal feelings I could experience growing up like happiness, excited, sadness, loving, etc was slowly being replaced by feelings of anger and bitterness. I didn’t know or realize at the time this shift in my emotions was even occurring, it happened without me being conscious of it until one day I woke up and came to the conclusion that I was a hateful, bitter, and unhappy person. Before policing I could usually deal with situations with a very positive outlook and believe the outcome would always work in my favour. That all changed as my policing career began. I started relating to TV and Movie characters like Oscar the Grouch, Grumpy Smurf, George Jefferson, and the Hulk. Characters who pretty much hated the world and everyone in it and appeared to rather live alone away from everyone else. I too used anger as a excuse to distance myself from those activities I use to do and the people I once enjoyed socializing with. Initially I would no longer attend recreational hockey games that I once played in, I wouldn’t go to any type of social get togethers whether it involved my friends or family, and even allowing people into my house was almost impossible without me feeling very on edge. I never explained to anyone why I didn’t want to go to a party, or wedding, or out to dinner, or even to go watch a sporting event even if the tickets were paid for. There was nothing anyone could say or do to convince or threaten me into socializing anymore with anyone. My job as a police office became so stressful and overwhelming for me as the years went on, seeing all the terrible things people could do to themselves and to others, having people tell you how much they hated you based on the uniform I wore as soon as I walked in their door, having the isolation of dealing with the worst society had to offer on a daily basis and everyone looking to me to fix their situation for them took its toll on me to the point that I began to dislike people in general. My civilian friends who use to ask me to tell them exciting or crazy stories from work became a source of upset for me for two reasons, One I was jealous/envious/mad that they had “normal lives” with normal jobs and that they didn’t have the burden of seeing and dealing with the things I had to deal with at work, and two I no longer wanted them asking me about work, I definitely stopped talking about work to them, and yet I felt this pressure that I needed to play hero to them or always keep them up to date of all the exciting and cool things I was involved with at work. The pressure was not brought on by them but by myself trying to give myself a hint of happiness or excitement by watching their reactions while I talked about things I was seeing in my every day job. Because I no longer wanted to talk about my job and how negatively it was affecting me I slowly started to pull away from all my civilian friends. I never explained to them that I was sick, or that I started to hate my job, or that the career I choose was starting to chip away at the person I was and the things I was experiencing at work not only was affecting my career and how affective I could do my job but it was bleeding into my personal life. I did the same thing to my own family members including those closest to me like my wife and children. I would come home from work and as each disturbing call built on top of the other I no longer knew how to communicate with them and separate the calmness and safety of my own household with the chaos and trauma I was experiencing in other households. I would come home from work and shower right away in the hopes I could wash off the death, destruction, hate, and breakdown of society that I witnessed each and everyday. Like a odour or stain I believed if I jumped in the shower as soon as I returned home from work every day that I would spare any of it from rubbing off on my family and that they would never have to peak into the world I saw every day. The problem was the darkness that I was trying to hide and protect my family from was already inside me. Like a flower that darkness grew day by day, shift by shift, month by month, until the years rolled by and I felt like I became not the same but worse than those people I saw inflict terrible things on each other every day. I could no longer give my own children a hug and feel actual love inside me like I believe most parents would because I began to feel guilty that I wasn’t able to fight the darkness from taking over me. My way of dealing with my darkness was to begin to isolate myself more and more from everyone. I didn’t want anyone to discover my secret, that I was a very angry person and worse of all I didn’t know why at the time I was so angry or who I was angry at. My ex wife use to say to me all the time, “what are you mad about?”, but I never had a answer for her because I didn’t know the answer myself. I recently attended a 2 month Post Traumatic Stress Recovery Program in Guelph Ontario called Homewood Health. One day we spoke in group discussion about the topic of anger and how it relates to PTSD. It was the first time in all the years I was a police officer that someone was finally able to explain to me that I wasn’t crazy, well PTSD crazy maybe but not crazy crazy, and that anger is a very normal reaction and feeling in someone with PTSD. In careers like police officers, we are often exposed to trauma that triggers that famous fight, flight, or freeze reaction that all human beings experience when they are faced with a life/death or traumatic situation. In jobs like police officers, fire fighters, paramedics, military personnel, nurses, correctional centre officers we rarely are given the opportunity to choose flight or freeze because when we choose to flight or freeze we are unable to do our jobs effectively. So what choice is left? Fight! It is trained into us to fight, fight the threat or work through the threat until the treat is over. It doesn’t matter if you are trying to break up a fight, deal with a family who just lost a loved one, or racing to a call where someone is hurt or being hurt we are not given the option to not go to the call and we are also not given the option to show any emotion when we do arrive at the scene. It wouldn’t be very comforting or helpful if a police officer, paramedic, or fire fighter arrived at a scene and joined a family or complainant in crying over the death or destruction they were just a part of prior to your arrival. People call 911 because they are not able to deal with some situations in life because either they don’t have the training or they don’t have the tools needed to fix the situation they are facing. They expect when you show up that you will not only be able to fix the situation but make it all better again, because thats what we do right? Sometimes yes, but there are more often than not situatio
ns that we as first responders or military personnel cannot fix for people and its difficult when you have to be the one to tell them that the person they called to help them with their problem, me, is not capable or able to fix it for them. I don’t know how to bring people back from the dead, I can’t undo a destructive car accident, and I alway can’t fix a situation in minutes that may have taken days or years to develop. Not being able to express normal emotions and having the overload of adrenaline constantly dumped into your system over the years, call after call eventually damages what I was told is the limbic system, the part of your brain that control emotions and emotional regulation. Its almost like there is a short or misfire in the brain of those who suffer with PTSD to the point that, “Normal” emotional responses to situations is replaced by the only emotion that appears to be left, anger. My biggest fear is I will explode and get upset disproportionate to what the situation calls for and in turn traumatize someone else and so more often than not I choose to stay away from most people to prevent this from happening. This is how the anger isolation cycle works for me, I isolate from people so they will never see me angry and in turn that isolation makes me further angry because I know that isolation from others only makes anger worse. So is there a solution? I’m working on one for myself as we speak. Writing down my thoughts in this blog has already proven beneficial for me. Having other friends who also suffer from PTSD reading these blog post and providing me their comments and feedback has been therapeutic for me because like going away to Homewood I am learning that I am not suffering alone and that what I have experienced and feel is very similar if not exactly like others have felt before or are still presently feeling. For me it’s the connection to others thats going to help pull me out of this isolation and anger cycle. Taking on the world alone or feeling like you’re the only one out there with a problem is often the scariest and most lonely place in the world. Please reach out and share with me your story, perhaps we can find solutions together.