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“Originally published in Moods Magazine, Winter 2013 Edition (www.moodsmag.com). Reprinted with Permission”
Gary Rubie: a police officer’s struggles with work-related PTSD- they just didn’t get it!
My journey started over 28 years ago working in law enforcement, 19 years plain clothes covert and all alone. In 2009, after 25 years of service, I was knocked almost into my grave by the crippling affects of PTSD-related depression, concurrent disorders and related severe cross addictions… anger, rage, fury, deep sadness, anxiety, panic attacks, heightened alert, disassociation, isolation, lost confidence, insecurity, loss of self-worth, shame, guilt, bankruptcy, reoccurring night terror and sweats, insomnia, crippling fear, three attempts on my own life. I had tinnitus that went from the hum of bees next to jet engines between my ears from the moment I woke up, to the moment I fell asleep…suicidal, homicidal, arrested, incarcerated, bail denied, released, house arrest.
TREATMENT… cared for, understood, loved, and handled gently, given hope, taught about PSTD, given some coping mechanisms, recovering, clean, sober, shameless, and vigilant in my self-care.
I live with hope. I move forward one little step and one day at a time, slowly and quietly, alone but no longer lonely. The war is over and I lost, but I have hope. I have a caring family and friends. I am recovering, slowly. Little broken pieces have been placed in the right order and the glue is slowly drying. I am healing, I have hope.
My story is not to bring a negative impact on those who struggle with management or suffer alone with their job-related PTSD, my story is of hope and redemption.
August 26th 1984 was the first on-duty murder of a Peel Regional Police officer from the department I was about to join. Monday, August 27th, 1984; my first day as a recruit Police Constable for the Peel Regional Police Department.
This was the start of my career. I learned immediately that to live with stress was common place, to cope with it alone was another.
I was fortunate to have met with early successes in my policing career and to have the opportunity for rapid movement throughout the Police Department and its various bureaus. Assignments over my career included enforcing street level narcotic and liquor violations, detective work, emergency response, murders trials, undercover drugs, outlaw motorcycle gangs, internet child exploitation and child porn, and terrorist trials, to name a few.
All of these experiences and 10 lifetimes of darkness and pain were buried deep inside of me. In 1998 while working in undercover drugs, I suffered what I believed to be a small nervous breakdown or minor burn out. I was treated by my doctor for depression and anxiety and began to notice my temper shorten and my panic and fear growing. I was then that I began to suffer night terrors and reoccurring dreams. In 1999 I transferred to a “safer” unit but never regained my self-confidence. I was suffering alone and quietly. My drinking escalated from 1998 to 2000 and in January 2000, I joined a 12-step recovery program. I lived in constant fear.
On September 3, 2001, I resigned from the Police Department after 18 years of service and one week later the terrorist attacks on NYC sent me running back to policing. I lasted another seven years until being diagnosed by several psychiatrists and clinical psychologists with severe, job-related, career-ending posttraumatic stress disorder.
I entered into two lengthy treatment programs in January 2009 and my supervisor filed a WSIB claim on my behalf. My union provided me with legal assistance. The Police Department fought the WSIB application and the WSIB eventually declined my first claim. While in treatment, my medical team advised me they would not sign a return-to-work letter, advising that I would likely never return to policing due to the severity of my PTSD.
My legal representative launched an appeal. By 2010, while under the care of a psychiatrist, who was prescribing high levels of several different medications and anti-psychotics, I was directed to create a document that would assist in proving my case to the WSIB. I began this document in the spring of 2010 and titled it, The History of Trauma. This work required me to sit alone on my living room floor, with no outside support, and go through several hundred notebooks, one page at a time, one day at a time, recording every disturbing incident I experienced as far back as 1984. While in the throes of full-blown PTSD, I was forced to relive my entire career alone and re-traumatize myself. I completely relapsed, began abusing my prescription medications and drank heavily. I became homicidal and suicidal and on May 18th, 2010 I exploded. I sent the 43-page document to the lawyer and the Union, and then set out to find a gun. Full of fear and paranoia, I drove north with a yellow homemade noose around my neck, intent on driving to Port Elgin, Ontario, where I planned to drive my truck into Lake Huron. After several phone calls and interceptions, a chase, and a couple of near fatal head-on collisions, I finally crashed my truck and suffered a closed brain injury. I was arrested and charged criminally. I was also charged under the Police Services Act. I felt I was being punished by the organization that caused my PTSD. I took full responsibilities for my actions, but it was my PTSD that caused me to act in this suicidal, homicidal manner. No one seemed to recognize this!
In September 2010 my WSIB application was again declined, however, I was told it would be reviewed further if I could provide report numbers for each of the listed occurrences on the 43-page document, along with the names of the officers who I was with on all these calls. Being asked to break the ranks of the “thin blue line” and give names was more than I could bear and, once more, I set out to end my life. I was again arrested for drunk driving and for breaching the conditions of my previous charges. After being physically mistreated by the arresting officer, I was incarcerated, denied bail and held for six days in segregation in Maplehurst Jail.
Policing, based on my 25 years of police work in the GTA, is run like a paramilitary organization with managers who have traditionally ruled by bullying and intimidation. Stigma is strong.
“If a police officer shows any sign of weakness they will be eaten alive by the bad guys, and within their own ranks, co–workers will chew them up and spit them out.”
Will we ever break the stigma within the ranks? Perhaps not, given the nature of the profession. If a police officer shows any sign of weakness they will be eaten alive by the bad guys, and within their own ranks, co-workers will chew them up and spit them out. Policing is a profession for hardened men. On the surface there may be “help available,” but once one has admitted “perceived weakness” through mental health issues, things will never be the same.
People are affected differently by stress and trauma. There is not one single diagnostic tool which can determine if someone is suffering from PTSD. What affects one man may not affect another — not everyone falls into the same mold.
So, in my opinion, preventative measures are extremely important — early recognition, diagnosis and treatment. One may still become labeled, but early recovery may prevent a person from slipping as much as I did — having suicidal and homicidal thoughts, becoming addicted and devoid of all hope and self-worth, and experiencing bankruptcy and incarceration.
A example of the culture’s unwillingness to help their struggling officers is again in my own experiences. I journalled for over eight years prior to being placed on permanent disability and compiled a great number of “prose” written in rhyme. Each a short story of my life. I published a self-help book of my story of hope and redemption — a therapeutic process encouraged by my treatment team and doctors. However, when my Police service heard of this “small” emotional victory they immediately communicated to my WSIB adjudicator that if I was able to “author” a book, I must be healed. They suddenly had a modified return-to-work position awaiting me. In their own minds I was fit for duty. They clearly lacked knowledge about my crippling disorder.
I didn’t write this article to slag or throw stones. I simply want all managers to understand the need to educate themselves about mental health and to place the health of employees ahead of bankbooks and egos.
I was placed on disability in 2008 and was awarded my WSIB claim for job related PTSD in 2010. I remain on WSIB and hope to retire in 2014 with a reduced pension. In the meantime, I am unable to secure a mortgage or life insurance due to my mental instability. Should my children lose their father they would face great financial debts? Whose responsibility is this? Should WSIB, the Police Department, or my insurance provider pick up the fumbled ball here? When I became a cop, I didn’t sign on for this. So for now I let time do what it was meant to do; pass. Time passes slowly and I practice faith and patience. I live with hope. I move forward one little step and one day at a time, slowly and quietly, alone but no longer lonely.
Interested in Gary’s book?
Submitted July 22, 2015
Gary Rubie was born in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada in 1962. He joined the Peel Regional Police Department in 1984 where he served for 25 years on a variety of front line and plain cloths units. He enjoyed many successes in his career being recognized 64 times with police commendations, awards and letters of appreciation from the public,. He continued his studies taking 33 job related courses over his career. In 2008 in his 25th year of policing he was diagnosed with job related career ending Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and was placed on permanent disability.
Henk Rubie was born in the Netherlands in 1931 where he was educated and joined the air force for 2 years. He worked as a toolmaker until he married his wife of 53 years Antonia Rubie. Together they immigrated to Kitchener, Ontario, Canada in 1959 where they raised three children. Henk worked as a skilled machinist for years in the Rubber Machine Shop (RMS) at the Uniroyal tire manufacturing facility in Kitchener. He retired in 1991. A hobby boat builder and artist he further honed his artistic skills and began oil painting, creating intarsia wood crafts and continued building scaled model sail boats.
Gary’s journey to writing poetry began just over seven years ago as a method of journaling. With no formal training he found solace in rhyme. It was a therapeutic way of putting his feelings on paper about the struggles and challenges he faced during his Policing career and in dealing with the severe job related Trauma (P.T.S.D.) and his addictions.
Gary asked his father two years ago if he would consider drawing images to go with each poem and the result is this one of a kind collaboration between father & son. The poems have all been complimented with a Pen and Ink Illustrations done by Henk.
Gary’s father believed in him. He felt this was his small way of working with and helping his son to find some relief from the crippling symptoms of his P.T.S.D. With poetry and illustration, this memoir describes Gary’s life journeys through intense introspection and self-discovery to reveal a very intimate and personal path to recovery and a light of hope for all who may struggle.
Sadly Henk passed away in 2013 after a short but courageous battle with cancer. On his deathbed he told Gary to never surrender and keep fighting for all those who continue to suffer. “Son if you get knocked down 7 times you better get up 8”.
Gary continues to write and is in the process of completing a manuscript for his second book and is also championing the fight to change presumptive legislation in Ontario for Police Officers.