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Constable Jeff Elvish – Thunder Bay Police, Uniform Patrol

Like many who start this career, I, too, felt that I had it all together, and that I could handle whatever the job threw at me. After all, all the hardnose veterans could just “suck it up”, and so could I…or so I thought. Twenty-eight (almost 29 years). Uniform patrol, K9, tactical, CIB, now back to the best place to be…uniform again! It’s a lot.

I’m going to jump forward to where I am now, in hopes that it makes what happened to me make a bit more sense. Today, I’m doing good. Really good in fact. I understand a lot more about myself since being diagnosed with PTSD in March of 2018. And I’d like to say that tomorrow I’ll be good, or next Thursday I’ll be good, but I can’t.

That’s the demon that PTSD is for me. I’m learning to control it. I have an incredible fiancé, Laura, that I know I put through hell some days. Not on purpose. Not because I don’t love her like crazy. She’s a Godsend, and saved my life, and keeps me going every day. But sometimes, for some reason, I have one of those days.

I describe it like the movie “Twister”. Sometimes my mind just spins. And the craziest things pop in and out. No rhyme or reason, they just do. Just like the tornado in the movie, when objects appear at the periphery of the funnel randomly. That’s how my mind works. So let me work backwards, to try and help make sense of all this.

I spent two months at Homewood in Guelph in 2018. After spending 13 days in adult mental health after being apprehended March 14 of 2018. My drinking was out of control. My life was in shambles around me. And my ex-wife called the police to have me apprehended. I guess the irony of it all, was I wasn’t even suicidal at that point, but I knew I needed help, and knew that was the best way to get it.

Don’t get me wrong. I was suicidal in January of 2018. And had I not gone away that day in March, I probably wouldn’t be here now.

In January, I was struggling to hold it all together. My marriage of a few months was crumbling, my drinking was fueling the spiral, and I had enough. After a huge fight with my ex-wife, I took my dog (always a source of issues), my handgun and drove to the cemetery where my parents are buried. It was time.

I had it all planned. I’d shoot my dog, then it would be my turn. (As I would find out later, the sudden death of my father when I was 11 would really be the start of my PTSD, and I’ll elaborate on my thoughts about that and its effect). So here for me, it would all end. I loaded two rounds, one for each of us. I pointed the gun at my dog, and he just stared at me down the barrel. I will never, ever forget the look in his eyes. Sadness? Confusion? Both? But his eyes said, “what the hell are you doing?” I don’t recall how many times I pointed that gun, but every time it was the same. The same look. The same question.

Fate plays a role in everyone’s life, and as fate would have it, I had a phone number in my phone that would change my life. I had met Laura prior to all this happening. Her father was the president of the Thunder Bay Therapeutic Riding Association, and I had taken her number because I had a friend who is ex-military and I thought horses may be of help to him.

I texted Laura, begging for help. Her response was immediate. I don’t remember how many times I called and hung up, or didn’t respond to texts, but Laura never gave up. She talked me down. She gave me the opportunity to go forward, learn about this monster. To learn that it’s not me. To get help. Laura made me realize that I was not broken, as I had been told. She didn’t tell me I needed to be “fixed”. Laura made me realize I needed help.

That’s the message we need to get across to everyone!! It’s not about being “broken”. It’s about getting help!! The way I see it now, sometimes it’s ok to not be ok. The important thing is realizing that and getting the help to fix it. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. In fact, that often takes more strength than many things we do! It means we’re human.

When we go to OPC, we don’t get a chip implanted that takes away our feelings and emotions. We will see and experience the worst of the worst. The things that nobody is ever supposed to see. Add to that the stresses we experience from the small percentage of the public who don’t support us, the pressures from administration, higher and higher call volumes. It’s a recipe for disaster.

The analogy that stuck with me is the theory of being born with a backpack. Every day we are alive, we get rocks in our backpack. Some days they’re pebbles. Some day they’re boulders. Eventually the backpack fills up. It begins to overflow. And the problems really begin.

As I mentioned earlier, my PTSD began when I was 11. I never realized it of course, but as I learn more about PTSD, and I look back at myself, I see it in many behaviours. What I’m saying is that I don’t believe PTSD (I really dislike the “disorder” part) is only something that military and first responders suffer from. Traumatic stress can occur at any point
in our lives, and PTSD can be cumulative, as well as being caused by a single incident. So many of us come to the job with an overflowing backpack, and we need to manage it.

My suggestions, especially for new cops? See a counselor, sooner, rather than later. A counselor can set a baseline and can monitor and see changes in you as you have regular appointments. Remove the phrase “suck it up” from your vocabulary. If something bothers you, talk with someone about it. It’s ok not to be ok, remember? Never, ever just let it go.

Leave your uniform and your job in your locker. It’s ok to talk if something is troubling you, or to fill in your spouse/significant other on how your day went, but leave it at that. People in social settings always love to hear the gory details of your job. The more you talk about it, the more you relive it, and the more effect it has on you. It’s a way to make a living, it’s not a way of life.

Don’t gossip. I get angry when I hear people talk about someone “scamming the system”. Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t, but who cares? Just remember, the person whose back people talk behind can’t hear them, but others around can. Maybe that cop sitting a couple of computers over is struggling and contemplating something and has just been re-assured that if they go off for help, they’ll be talked about. Personally, I have enough to worry about in my life
without worrying about someone else.

Watch out for each other. The best peer support group we have are the people we work with on a regular basis. We know families, likes, dislikes, just about everything. So, if something seems off, ask. Maybe we’re afraid of the answer to the question? Be prepared. We carry tourniquets, fancy bandages, stop bleed powder, etc. for a first aid emergency. Carry a couple of crisis line phone numbers in your phone. Make the call, stay with the person. Every cop’s fear: “will they take my gun?” Yes. They will. But when you seek help, learn and grow, you can get it back. I spent two weeks in adult mental health, and I got mine back, and am back doing what I love. It happens!

We can’t change the past, but we can learn from it. We can’t guarantee the future, but we can plan for it. All we really have is today, so live it to the fullest! Laura and I now run Blue Tarten Stables here in Thunder Bay. Our facility is a safe place to come for help for first responders and the military. Laura is a certified animal therapist specializing in equine therapy.

At work, I’m enjoying my time in uniform. I’m an outspoken advocate for mental health, and am a member of our IMPACT (integrated mobile police and crisis team) to use my path to help others. I have also been selected to be a member of our peer support team for anyone who needs to talk. For anyone reading this, if you need that ear to listen, my phone number is 807 631 6236. No judgment, no risk… perhaps the voice of fate working its mysterious way like it did for me in January of 2018.

Just remember, not all storms come to disrupt your life…often they come to clear your path.

Be well, and be safe.

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