Derek is currently an active police officer with York Regional Police Service and this is his story…
Cop shows are great, aren’t they? filled with car chases, shoot outs, heroic fights and fancy medals and awards. Then they go out have a couple drinks and do it all again the next day, as if a small part of hell was not just brought upon them the day before. They seem stressed but quickly turn it off like nothing happened. I think to myself, why can’t I do that?
I started my career in 2015, It had taken me 7 years of applications, interviews, testing, volunteering and rejection. I had almost given up my goal of becoming a police officer when I received a call from our recruiting unit asking if I wanted to re-apply. I hesitated for a moment before agreeing to give it one more shot. Needless to say, I was successful and could not be more excited.
After police college I began riding with a coach officer, our very first day I saw a dead body. I had seen dead bodies before and it really did not bother me. Even if it did, I couldn’t possibly say anything, I was a rookie and it was my first day. I experienced a variety of calls over the first few years of my career, from gun point arrests, drunk drivers and the occasional fight. It was great, I was working with friends and enjoying every second of it……but there are calls that haunt me to this day. There are two in particular… the second one sending my life into places I never thought imaginable.
– Michelle Groth
I had just passed probation and was riding on my own. This is when I experienced a trauma that still haunts me to this day. I attended a mental health call where ultimately, I determined that there were no real concerns. At that point his parents kicked him out of his house and I asked him if I could drive him anywhere. He said no thank you, shook my hand and left. A couple hours later a call came in. I opened the call and saw that it was the same address I had been to earlier. I read the call and saw that their son had committed suicide after being kicked out. I panicked, what did I miss? How did this happen? I was just there. I began getting phone calls from officers asking if I was okay and reassuring me, I had done nothing wrong. To me, it didn’t matter, I just spoke to this person….a human being, no more than 3 hours prior. Yes, sure, great, I brought in multiple resources to help, but how can I possibly pretend that this is okay….Right?. The service I work for has many resources I could have used but I chose not to. I didn’t want to be looked at as weak.
Years went by where I thought about this call, I didn’t tell anyone not even my wife. I began drinking heavily and acting like it was not a big deal. A short 9 months after my divorce, living alone and drinking heavily, the day that changed my life happened.
I won’t get into the specifics of the call but I will briefly describe it. It was a slow Saturday morning and I was sitting with my partner when the first call of the day came in. We attended a house for a silent 911 and was greeted at the door by the owner. He invited us in to talk, as we stepped in, we were attacked by his son. I took multiple strikes to the head and then started fighting on the ground. We were fighting for what felt like an eternity, when I felt my pants being pulled. I looked down, noticed he had his hand on my gun and was trying to get it out of its holster. I panicked and called over the radio that he had my gun. A short while later, our back up arrived and got the situation under control. I was transported to the hospital and was diagnosed with a concussion.
I had been off for a couple months, I had stopped drinking and was starting to feel better, I had told work I should be back in a week or two. That’s when I started to experience the nightmares, the thought of him standing over me, the fear of, what if he got my gun. I stopped sleeping because he consumed my thoughts and I was rarely able to leave the threshold of my house. I had a constant fear that someone was behind me and I would continuously look over my shoulder. I started crying all day, spending 19-20 hours a day in bed and stopped talking to friends and family. It got to a point where my friends (who were also my back up on the call) got concerned and entered my house when I refused to open the door. I was in bed crying, feeling sorry for myself, depressed but too scared to do anything about it. They were incredibly supportive but all I could see was how my life felt like it was falling apart. I began to see many doctors, ultimately being diagnosed with those evil 4 letters P.T.S.D. I had become a stereotype for police, failed marriage, heavy drinker and has mental health issues.
I began to see a psychologist who I immediately trusted and felt like I could talk to. He challenged me and listened to what I had to say. I was still not sleeping, eating, I constantly panicked, cried and spent countless hours in bed. I then started to develop anger and resentment. I was angry at myself for being like this and angry at him for doing this to me. This ultimately took me down a darker path. The thoughts of, “this will be easier if I am not here”, “I cannot possibly keep living like this”, ran through my head.
I woke up one morning feeling rage and anxiety like I had never felt. I got in my truck and began to drive, no idea where, but I drove. I was so angry that thoughts of running my vehicle off the road filled my head. I got scared and drove home. I went inside and could not shake this odd feeling; my brain was telling me to calm down but my body was telling me “you need to feel something else”. I could not process what my body was telling me and I ultimately grabbed a knife and turned it on myself. I called my friend in a panic who took me to the hospital. That was by far the worst day of my life.
Mental Illness had taken over my life and I had spiraled out of control. I continued to experience moments of extreme anger and depression. But slowly I began to see signs of improvement. I then met someone that changed my life and propelled me in an upward trajectory. She was an immediate support system, someone who had knowledge of what I was going through and if she didn’t, she researched to understand. My life began to change, I was able to go outside without being scared, I was sleeping better and was no longer spending hours upon hours in bed. She experienced my extreme bouts of anger and depression but still remained completely supportive.
One year and one month to the day, I returned to work, I was scared and not excited to be back. My bosses were incredible in making me feel comfortable, but ultimately, I still had extreme bouts of anxiety and the constant reminder of what happened. I felt that whenever I walked into the room, people just stared at me and judged. I could not have been further from the truth, many people reached out to me offering support and sharing their experiences. This brought me comfort in knowing that I was not alone and that I do have resources out there.
Throughout this I learned that only I can advocate for myself. I felt very alone for a long time, when I did not have to. I had friends and family that would have been there at the drop of a hat but I had chosen to suffer in silence. It took me to a place that I had no idea my body and mind could get to. Once I accepted that I have a strong support system and started utilizing them, things began to get easier. I am far from where I want to be and maybe it will take years more. But I no longer feel alone and that was the biggest hurdle to get over.
That’s my story,