Well, my story is a lengthy one but for the purpose of this forum, I am going to concentrate on the journey through my career, PTSD, and growth in recovery. I have never written my story out before and only spoke about it publicly once so please bear with me as I try to navigate through this process.
My career in Federal Corrections started in 2009. Three and a half months of exams, training, stress, and sacrifice and I finally was able to start my full-time career. Little did I know at the time that the feeling of accomplishment, being proud, and feeling ready to take on anything would not last long. I remember walking into the institution and being told “everything you have learned up till now, forget it”. Things are much different from Core to actual daily routine inside the prison walls. I also remember listening to some “veteran” officers and thinking how jaded, cynical and angry they seemed to be. I thought to myself that if I ever became this way, then someone needs to tell me to quit. It was probably only 4 months into the job when I first had thoughts of why I went into this profession. I felt that it was not what I had signed up for, was a negative and toxic environment and I wanted to quit. I sat one evening and spoke with a senior manager and told them my thoughts. She told me to go home for the weekend and think about what I was doing this job for and whether I was willing to quit. I came back the following Monday and told her that I was not going to be quitting. I was not a quitter and I did not sacrifice and work as hard as I did only to walk away. I just needed to “pick up my bootstraps” and keep moving forward.
I continued in my job for about 4-5 years before the nightmares, flashbacks, anger, and irritability started to kick in. I was having trouble sleeping, I was constantly focused on the negative, I was withdrawing and isolating and poured myself into work as much as I could. It seems crazy to say now but amid all the chaos inside the prison walls, it felt like my work and who I was at work was the only thing that I could any longer control. I knew I was struggling but felt that there was no way to change what was happening around me. At this same time frame, I had an opportunity to move out to a permanent line in the Minimum unit outside the fence. At that time no one wanted these lines as it was a new concept for us, and everyone worried about what was going to happen out there and what would be the consequences when something went wrong. I decided to take the line as I figured maybe getting away from constantly responding to incidences, sitting on suicide watch or being surrounded by negativity and a toxic environment might help alleviate some or all the symptoms that I had been struggling with.
I worked the Minimum unit for several years and thought that I was managing for the most part. Most shifts were spent on the unit and it was only occasionally that I had to work the main building when on my sub-boards. I was able to physically avoid a lot of major incidents during that time, but your head is never out of the game. The politics were still going on, co-workers were still being injured, injustices were still occurring, and it was almost worse listening to incidents occur rather than responding to them. I found myself throwing myself into the job. I would take every overtime shift possible, agree to stay late, come in early and take any extra assignment handed down to me all at the same time as hating what I did for a living. But it paid good money, had a good pension, gave me benefits, and was a great schedule with a lot of time off when I wanted it. Who could leave that???
I continued like that until the afternoon of November 27, 2017. I was working an overtime shift in the main building when I was assaulted by an inmate. I still to this day do not remember a lot about the incident itself except what I have been told and what was documented in statements. As a result of this incident, I sustained a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), whiplash and strain to my neck, and a torn rotator cuff in my right shoulder that accumulated into a frozen shoulder. I was immediately off work and WCB was contacted and began their assessments. Between November 27, 2017, and April 05, 2018, I sat at home while completing testing, assessments and awaiting prosecution of the inmate. During this time, I had severe vertigo, had a constant shake, had an appearance and sound of someone intoxicated, was depressed, extremely anxious, and was struggling with processing information and concentration. I felt very alone with no contact from anyone and thought that I was never going to get better.
„It’s not the person refusing to let go of the past. It’s the past refusing to let go of the person.“
Through Neurological assessments, it was determined that I now had some cognitive deficits and needed to participate in the WCB 8-week Head Trauma Program. I began the program on April 05, 2018, at Millard in Edmonton. Throughout the program, I had an exceedingly difficult time as I was surrounded by strangers and was forced to participate in conversations or exercise while feeling paranoid, fearful, withdrawn, and confused. Most clinicians just wanted to concentrate on getting me physically better and re-training the brain to work properly again. I had no idea what was happening to me, but it was a constant daily battle to manage my feelings, thoughts, and my day. I was fortunate enough to have a community psychologist who recognized some signs and pushed for my team at Millard to complete a Traumatic Psychological Injury (TPI) screen. I rated severe on the depression and anxiety scales and was diagnosed with Complex PTSD.
Once I completed the 8-weeks in the Head Trauma program, I had one week off and then was admitted to the TPI program at Millard on June 11, 2018. I participated in this program at Level 3 until October 10, 2018, at which time I fell down my basement stairs and severed a ligament in my ankle. At this time, I was then reduced to a Level 2 as I could no longer participate in the physical aspects of the program. This continued until December 2018 when I went home to my mother’s house in Saskatchewan for Christmas. While there, my mom had a massive heart attack on Christmas Day. As a result, I stayed with my mom in the hospital and was discharged from the TPI program as there was no timeline of when I would be able to come back. After 3 weeks with my mom, I came back to Edmonton and was immediately admitted back into the program at a Level 2.
I continued with the program from the end of January 2019 until my eventual discharge. During this time, I saw a psychologist 1/week, Occupational Therapist 1/bi-weekly, and a physiotherapist 3-4/week. In March of 2019, a situation occurred involving the siblings in my family over the future care of my mom and a verbal argument happened which involved my adult daughters who were my only supports and the only ones I trusted. In a miscommunication on both sides, I believed that the only people I had in my life were no longer there for me. At this same time, I had been in a serious car accident in which the other driver had run a stop sign and my car had been totalled. Through a series of unfortunate events, I had come to my rock bottom and had decided to end my life. Fortunately for me, my OT at the time recognized the signs, took the time to listen and care, and refused to let me go through with my plan. I am extremely grateful that I was not able to follow through with it.
I had known since February of 2019 that my time at Millard in the TPI program was coming to an end as most First Responders are allotted a maximum of 40 weeks in the program. I was desperate to find somewhere to go after the program finished as I was terrified of what would happen next. I found a support group that was meeting in St. Albert called Project Trauma Support and started going to try and find somewhere to belong. I was discharged from the TPI program on April 23, 2019, and my report stated that I was discharged untreated. This was devastating as once again I felt that I was a write-off and no one could help me to get better. I continued to attend the support group in St. Albert as I felt that I had nowhere else I could go and no other supports. It was during one of these meetings that the leader of the group suggested to me to take part in a Cohort with Project Trauma Support. It is a 5 ½ day residential, experiential treatment program for PTSD in Perth, Ontario.
To make a long story short, I went kicking and screaming knowing that this was my last hope of ever achieving something better. They do not tell you anything about what goes on before you go there…so I was terrified. I knew no one there, I was formulating escape plans in my mind and I was as skeptical, withdrawn, guarded, and angry as you can get but I went. The first 2 days, I do not remember much as I think I was in survival mode but day 3 changed my life forever. The doors opened, the light came on and I got my soul back. It did not erase everything or give me all the answers, but it helped me to be open, to trust, to have hope, and begin the healing process. I came back from that program a completely different person. One that now knew there was a possibility of change, of healing, and of a future.
The next day after I arrived home from Ontario, I went to a support group in Leduc called All Services Kinship (ASK) which was held at the Legion. My psychologist had been recommending me to go for quite some time and I felt that I was ready. I walked in and sat down with 3 men…a veteran, a firefighter, and an RCMP officer who made me feel accepted, equal and relaxed. They treated me as if I had always been there and I felt like I had found a place and a community where I belonged. A short time later, ASK joined a partnership with OSICAN and became OSICAN ASK Leduc. I kept attending meetings for some time building strong relationships with the people in attendance. In January of 2020, the founders/ provincial coordinators of OSICAN Alberta approached me and asked me to be the Support Group Lead for the Edmonton group. At first, I was overwhelmed and thought that this was way too much for me but through their encouragement, support. Leadership and friendship, I have taken on the position and have loved every moment of it! I have been facilitating online zoom meetings since early 2020 and for the last few months, our meetings are running weekly with an amazing group of people.
As for my Career…I still do not know what happens next. I have already been told that I can never return to a uniform but maybe there is a possibility of an Administrative position. I am not sure if anyone else but to me, it seems a slap in the face after everything that I have already done. I am still employed through Corrections Canada and currently still on WCB. I continue to attend physio and chiro weekly and am supposed to volunteer in order to get out of the house and do something. I think about the job and the people constantly. There is a lot that I miss but there is a lot that I do not. Right now, I am happy to give back and being a part of my peer community. I hope to someday be a part of a bigger change that erases the stigma of Mental health illnesses and allows our organizations to recognize and provide help to those in need. In the meantime, I will continue to be extremely grateful to the people, the opportunities, the moments, and friendships that I have in my life…something that I did not think possible at one time.