I Saw The Signs
On October 29, 2015, I saw the signs. I witnessed something that took me more than a week to be able to articulate. I was invited to attend the Visions of Courage Seminar hosted by the Wellness Committee of the Waterloo Regional Police Service.
The person I attended with suffers from PTSD. A person I care about very much. I am not an expert on PTSD. I am not an officer. I am not a first responder. I thought about saying that I am not a sufferer of PTSD but that’s not true. I do not carry the diagnosis but I do indeed suffer. I suffer watching someone I care about struggle daily.
I have come to recognize certain traits and behaviours that emanate because of his PTSD. The worst ones are the insomnia and the flashbacks. I’ve come to know some of the signs. I’ve become friends with the empty place in bed where he should be sleeping. I have learned how to brace myself through flashbacks knowing that I have only lost him in the moment and that its’ temporary. He’ll return to me when his clarity does.
When we arrived, we sat in the car for a few minutes. I wondered if he’d have the courage to walk inside. The strength it took was enormous. He did it though. He walked through the doors and straight into some familiar faces who greeted us. A sign that he was having a good day and perhaps was edging closer to wellness.
One of the first things mentioned was that they hadn’t anticipated the amount of people who came out. I saw his jaw tighten just a little. To him, that meant more people to face. Sure enough, the room was filling up. A sign that people are interested in this topic.
We walked in and mingled. I met some of the people I have only ever heard about and I was touched at how warmly they greeted him. I was hyper sensitive to their reactions and I suppose I was even looking for signs of judgment. I saw none. I saw only the true spirit of genuine care and concern. A sign that there really is a brotherhood among these officers and that they truly are family.
We sat at our table which was near the front of the room. I noticed that for the first time ever, I was able to sit in a position that my back wasn’t turned towards everyone. He did. I sat turned at an angle so that I had a full view of the room. Normally that would be his position. That typical “back against wall” spot. A sign that the other people in the room were truly watching his six.
The speaker was introduced and immediately I knew I was going to love him. His southern drawl and charm were a hit. I watched Dr. Bobby Smith talk about his life. I heard him as he spoke of tales that only other officers could relate to. That was affirmed by watching their heads nod as he described some of the events that brought him to the room full of his brothers and sisters to speak.
As Dr. Smith spoke, I hung onto every word until a slight shuffling caught my eye. It was then that I noticed my date for evening. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him start to fidget. Beads of sweat were forming on his forehead. It wasn’t hot in the room. His leg started shaking like someone who has anxiety or their patience has run out. A sign that Dr. Smith’s message was hitting home.
I didn’t want him to know I was watching him so I started looking around the room whenever I thought I was about to be caught in my stare. I watched several people looking as though they were experiencing the same thing that I was witnessing at my table. It wasn’t constant. It seemed to be dependent on what the Dr. was saying in the moment. When he spoke about watching his partner take his life, I saw heads bow in sorrow. That would expected I guess.
What I didn’t expect was the number of people who looked at their hands during those few minutes. It was a look of anguish and guilt. Then they looked up towards the ceiling instead of looking down like the others. A sign that maybe they could relate somehow? A sign that they recognized the emotion in Doctor’s words?
As the Doctor moved on from topic to topic, I became intent on watching the reactions. I couldn’t take my eyes away because I was smack dab in the middle of finally understanding something that many never will and that includes those people who I watched. When the Doctor spoke of losing his children, it was so easy to see the difference in behaviours. Most people looked sad and I could see empathy everywhere. But for some, I also saw hands move to wipe foreheads. I saw clenched jaws. I saw legs shaking under tables. I saw eyes darting around the room looking panic stricken. It was much the same as he spoke of the unspeakable horrors of the job that they all had to face.
When the topic moved to describing his family and his wife who he has never seen, I could feel the relief and see it on those faces who were previously filled with emotions they couldn’t even label. It was like watching them wake up after falling asleep in class. They jolt awake and scan the room to see who was watching. They adjust clothes and posture. They clear throats and pour water. They then tuck their raw emotions back into the deepest pocket they had. That, right there, was a sign of stigma. Afraid to be caught in the struggle.
What I am describing are triggers. The trigger that sends someone who is battling PTSD into the hell they are trying to claw their way from. It was surreal to see it happen at so many different times and to so many people in one room. Most of which are not even diagnosed with PTSD. Dr. Bobby Smith said so many times during those couple of hours “the signs are there”, “the signs were there” and “did you see the signs”?
I saw them. I saw the signs that there is much more work to be done to combat PTSD. I also saw the signs of hope and progress. I saw signs that people are interested and that they are not willing to watch their brothers and sisters suffer in silence any longer.
Thank you…Dr. Bobby Smith…for showing me the signs.
About the Author: Kimberly Pinheiro provides legal assistance and support to legal counsel with respect to various services offered through a respected law practice, including: Family, Criminal, Real Estate, Corporate/Commercial, Wills & Estates. Passionate about law and driven to succeed for the greater good Kimberly has become a huge supporter of all First Responders for the thankless work that they do on a daily basis while in the service of others. Kimberly strives to assist first responders who are suffering operational stress disorders. Included in those efforts, is eliminating the stigma surrounding PTSD. Kimberly encourages those who suffer, to step forward in an effort to get the assistance that they require for the betterment of their personal, family and employment situations.
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