Ed Jermol’s Story – Sergeant, Waterloo Regional Police Service
I always thought it was something that only happened to soldiers. I never thought it could happen to me. Until it did. In 2016, I was diagnosed with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSD). Like the majority of first responders, I’ve seen an abundance of human suffering (fatal collisions, homicides, suicides, child/infant deaths, etc.). It is that human suffering and death we experience in this career that can take its toll. Sworn or civilian, no member is immune.
They say that accumulating traumas is like adding rocks to a backpack, which left unchecked, overloads and breaks. Adding more “rocks to the backpack” can become a way to self-rationalize, and convince ourselves we are fine. That was my way of coping; volunteering for tough calls subconsciously became a way for me to bury the ones before them, a distraction and another shot at a much-needed positive outcome – trying to prove to myself I was fine. Slowly and gradually, I became accustomed to the stress and detrimental effects, until one day it overwhelmed me. I added layers to the “shield” and became numb to the world around me, viewing my pain as weakness, not something I wanted to share. I was afraid of the stigma and scared to admit I was not ok, so I buried it and told myself, “Suck it up and soldier on.”
I got good at hiding it to some extent, but felt like a fraud for pretending I was fine. “Being there”, but not truly present and slowly slipping further into sadness and anger. I managed to keep things together for a long time, but it grew increasingly difficult to conceal. I was hurting from the inside out, trapped in my own mind, which would not “shut off.” Hyper-vigilant and not sleeping, I was physically and emotionally exhausted, and in pain. I couldn’t get out of overdrive and the adrenaline fueled anxiety and fear. Flashbacks and waking up in cold sweats after night terrors of vivid scenes from calls I attended became my new “normal.”
Calling for backup on the road was a no-brainer, but asking for it in this context was overwhelmingly hard (as evidenced by years of unwillingness to do so). In March 2016, I made one of the most difficult and important decisions of my life; I reached out for help. I called for “back-up.” Accepting I was hurt and admitting to myself that I needed help was the hardest thing I have ever done. It was also necessary, and changed my life for the better – probably saving my life.
From managing major investigations, emergency response and dealing with crisis situations, to not wanting to get out of bed in the morning was truly humbling. After 3 years of weekly exposure therapy and ongoing treatment, things have improved immensely. I have learned (and am still learning) how to live with PTSD and proactively manage its negative effects. Gratitude and awareness of the blessings in my life is key. Knowing I am not alone and being able to reach out when I require “back-up” is an absolute game changer.
It is difficult to lower our guard and step outside of the personas we create to “protect” ourselves.
We have to realize that taking care of ourselves, our families and each other, is not optional. Starting a conversation with someone you trust – a family member or a mental health professional – can make a world of difference. Although it may feel counter-intuitive, it is through vulnerability that we allow ourselves and those around us to ask for, or be, the “back-up” that we all need from time to time. This is much easier “said than done” but, in doing so, we find true courage and healing. These are tough times, and now more than ever it is so very important that we support each other and know that it is “OK to not be OK.”
“When we find the courage to share our experiences and the compassion to hear others tell their stories, we force shame out of hiding and end the silence.” — Dr. Brenee Brown