Regulating Stress Levels

**Warning note:  Many of you read these blogs to see the crazy way that I see the world, and I’m not going to disagree with you…I am pretty hilarious after all.  This one is a little different and it gets pretty real and speaks to some pretty traumatic events in the recent past.  Just be mindful if you chose to continue, there are possible triggers.  Thank you.**

Stress levels do play a role in this whole IVF deal.  Apparently a stressed uterus is not a happy uterus, so one is supposed to calm the fuck down before they undergo this ridiculously expensive and stressful in itself ordeal.  It is probably horrible that this had been a running joke since we started, but the fact is that it is a coping mechanism in the midst of all the chaos.  I don’t like talking about it and in fact avoid it as much as I can, but the fact is that it is very much intertwined with my IVF journey and apparently it is “healthy” to talk it out.  The problem is that my entire purpose in life is to protect people.  When I share the horrors that I have been a part of, both personally and professionally, in the recent past I actually feel guilty.  I feel like I am lifting up a corner of that protective blanket I try so desperately to provide and it allows the evil that I have seen and felt to seep in,  bringing residual trauma to anyone who hears it.  Even my veteran psychologist, who has been working with police throughout her career, had a hard time finding words as I tried to be proactive with my treatment.  I’m not going to go into too many details, but still I want those who are going through the processing and mourning with me to just be mindful of themselves too.  We are all trying to heal in our own ways and on our own time.

I consider myself to be a fairly resilient person all around.  I am a US Army veteran, I am a seasoned police officer, and I have seen things that I don’t wish others to see and have memories that will always be with me.  I can’t sit next to a camp fire without memories of horrendous files coming back, but I compartmentalize and keep going.  I have been lucky enough that these things have been few and far between to allow my brain to digest and heal in between.  Recently I learned that even the strongest armor can break down if you hit it with enough hard blows back to back to back.

A few months ago, I was scheduled to take a week off with the family.  Naturally the work week before that just went to shit.  We received a call of an unresponsive toddler and attended with fire and ambulance.  Any time there is a death, police have to investigate.  Any time it is a kid, it is just that much harder and I had been lucky to have not been to one of these so far in my career.  I arrived just in time to see the little one being taken to ambulance.  I didn’t want to look, I didn’t want that image in my head as that could just as easily be my child, lifeless on the stretcher surrounded by a group of men and women that were trying desperately to bring them back…but I had to.  I’m a trained investigator and I know that once they go in that ambulance evidence could be lost and the only thing left would be my memory of what I observed as they went past.  It was necessary, and I will never be able to forget it.

The child was escorted into the ambulance and I went inside.  I might as well have walked into my own house with the clothing and toys that surrounded me.  The mother as in shock and after a brief conversation, all I could do was hold her as she broke down in my arms.  One mother trying her best to comfort another through our worst nightmare as a parent.  We did what we had to do and then I left the rest to our victim services unit to help guide them through this tragedy.  I was clear to go back to the office and there were no other calls.  After bringing my members coffee in a futile attempt to try and show my support as a leader through that, I went home for lunch.  I walked in, gave my daughter an unreasonably long hug and went to the kitchen where I broke down to tears.  My wife and I have been together for several years and she had never seen this happen before.  How could I tell her what happened?  I didn’t want her to feel what I was feeling, but I had to explain this extremely out of character reaction.  I told her the generalities, but not the details because I wanted to at least protect her from that.  As it was, I didn’t get much sleep the following weeks, I didn’t need both of us to be zombies…but that was just the beginning of the week.

That night I had to stay late for a sensitive file.  Just part of the job, but the morning was still lurking in my mind.  I monitored a statement that one of my junior officers had taken and despite the horrible incident being described by the victim, I was proud of him and his professionalism.  The statement was well done and would make the victim’s portion of trial so much easier down the road and the bad guy was identified and picked up that night.  I was proud of my team and all they accomplished that day in the face of such tragedy.  This file ended up being the success story of the week as bad guy went to jail and a solid case was built.  It was nice to have “victory!”  Although, I feel horrible to look at it that way because I would rather that the victim had never experienced it at all, but I knew that my guy did a great job standing up for the victim.

End of the week!  Only one day and then vacay at last, what can go wrong right?  Wrong!!!! Went for coffee with one of my guys right as I came on shift.  While we were there, we got a call for a suicidal, barricaded person with potential hostages and a firearm.  Awesome….luckily several hours later it was peacefully resolved and the only injury was suffered by yours truly.  I bailed hard on the ice and had an instantly swollen thumb, that I had to deal with for the rest of the file.  This is one of the first times that I was able to work with my new team in a high priority setting, so I hoped that I earned some cred with the crew. Finished the work week with an exceedingly awkward splint and a few hours of overtime.  Freedom!!!!

Unfortunately, my not-so-fun work week was not over just yet.  While driving out of town with my family in tow, dogs and everything, we stumble upon a fatal collision.  We came so soon after it happened that I took over the 911 call from the first witness.   I went straight into work mode and went through the motions, making phone calls and securing the scene.  What a weird situation for me as I was dealing with this scene and I look up to see my daughter giggling in the front seat of the truck as she is just hanging out during the wait.   After frying my brain all week, I was so disconnected to the fact that a human life was lost, but didn’t even realize the extent until a couple of days later.  Luckily after all of this, I got a week off to give the brain a break.  I have to admit though, it was obvious that something was lingering but I just kept trying to push through.

Couple weeks later I was back to work, and the regular scheduled programming.  I thought that I was good, and although I still had residual thoughts, and the occasional rough sleep, I knew that life must go on and just told myself to ignore it and push through.  Little did I know that an even harder blow was about to come.

I was at work for a couple hours, when I got a text.  A friend was asking if I had heard about a friend of ours.  I had no idea what it could be, because this woman was just amazing, so I was expecting to hear about some amazing accomplishment…but I was so very wrong.  Innocently, I wrote back “No, what’s going on?” and then my world shattered.  I was told that this amazing person had been killed by her boyfriend before killing himself.  There must be a mistake…that can’t be.  Then I was told that there was another body found.  My only response was, call me!  I was trying not to panic…this just couldn’t be true.  I got a call almost immediately and was trying to process the information coming in.  My friend, a person that I looked up to and who meant so much to me was gone.  There were now rumors that her 15 year old daughter was also killed.  This thought terrified me even more and I held out hope.  This girl meant so much to me, I wanted so desperately for this to not be true. It could be someone else…they haven’t confirmed it was her…then I got a call on the other line.  I knew who it was, and I knew the news was coming.  I couldn’t breath, my chest was tightening as I ended the one call and picked up the next.  As soon as I picked up, I told my close friend on the other line that I didn’t want to know.

I don’t remember how it went down, I just remember feeling my heart being ripped from my chest, falling to the floor and crying out in just complete horror.  Everything that happened after that was a blur.  I wanted to throw up and it felt like I was wandering around the office like a hot mess for hours, just lost as my brain tried to comprehend how this incredible woman and her beautiful daughter could be gone.  Then it hit me, I needed to tell my wife.  These two meant so much to me, in both my personal and professional life, and they were just so important to all of us.  We loved them so much and my daughter just adored them both.  I told my boss who was so understanding, and just went home.

I had only been at work a couple of hours.  It was too early to be home for lunch and way too early to be home for the day, so when my wife heard the garage open she came to the door with a confused look.  When I stepped out, she knew instantly that something was wrong and then the horror overtook her as soon as I shared the news.  Our daughter was so confused as she didn’t know what was happening with both her moms crying uncontrollably.  Our daughter is so young, how were we supposed to explain to her that her friend that she loved so much was gone.  The youth was our babysitter and my daughter and her were like BFF’s.  We didn’t know what to do and felt so useless being so far away.  This all happened in our old detachment area, approximately 6 hours away.  We had just moved a few months earlier, and it was very trying being so far away from all our family and friends while sorting through this shock.  My command team was amazing and knew that nothing was going to hold me back from going home to honor these incredible souls.  We just had to sit and wait for when that would be.

That week was probably the most quiet our house had seen.  We would randomly cry, but tried our best to keep it in to not confuse our daughter more.  Each day brought memories, as well as nightmares as we tried to digest the evil that had entered into our lives and took these amazing people from all those who loved them.  There were a lot of sleepless nights and a lot of feelings that were eaten.  I have lost people around me before, but even losing my best friend didn’t bring the level of emotions that I was feeling.  I thought the army and the academy beat all these emotions out of me…but apparently not.  It is a rarity for me to get angry, so it was hard to comprehend the wave of feelings that came and went like the tide.  We were stuck in limbo until it was time to go, but there were some moments of comfort as we were able to connect by phone and tried to do what we could from there.  We needed the time to past and just go home!

I would write a novel if I went into all the details and the fact is, that I’m still trying desperately to process it all.  My family and I traveled back and were welcomed back into the community with love as we all grieved together.  I had been asked to take on two very important roles, and was honored to do so.  I have to say thought, that had to have been the hardest thing that I have ever done in both my personal and professional life.  I was the urn protector for the wonderful 15 year old that we loved like our own family and that my daughter just adored.  We escorted these beautiful souls in side by side and I just wanted to see their smiles one more time.  Further to that, I had the honor of delivering the eulogy for this crazy girl as well.  Anyone who knew her, knew she had a lot to share with the world, so it was a difficult task to speak on her behalf.  But, I knew that I just had to carry on in the same manner as our conversations always went.  There was usually a lot of laughter, a little teasing, and ultimately a mutual respect.  I hate public speaking, so when I got up and saw a packed hall with people standing and lining the walls, I just asked for these two to give me some strength and be my back up and went at it.  Somehow I made it through, and I just hope I did them proud.  As great as it was to see everyone, we went home exhausted and equally as lost as when we came, but we said our goodbyes and did our best to honor our dear friends.

After getting home, we thought that we could get back to normal.  Had a few days off before heading back to work and the sound and conversation was slowly making its way back to our house.  Day 1 happened, and I had a call with the fertility clinic as we went over the game plan for the next month.  This is when I was told to try and “regulate my stress levels” which was received with an uncontrolled laughter.  I confused the nurse, so I explained everything above.  She didn’t know what to say, and definitely wasn’t expecting that!  Thus starting the ongoing joke…I was just happy that the time was coming and the ball was in play because we had been waiting for this for a while now.

The first week back to work brought another unexpected blow.  First day back, started with another sudden death of a young child.  Unfortunately, the two other supervisors were personally close to the family, so that meant that I was up.  Being surrounded by grieving family and a lost child just pulled me right back into the grieving the week before.  I had to apologize to the family for the tears in my eyes as I could not control my emotions due to the raw feelings it stirred up so close to the tragedy I felt in my own life, but I did my job.   I knew that things were catching up with me when I was tearing up while writing my report.  I called my psychologist for a check in, and she could not believe my luck (or lack there of).  She wanted to pull me right then, but I said I couldn’t.  If I left there would be no one to fill my spot.  We work in the middle of nowhere so we are it.  There isn’t some emergency backup personnel to come in and cover us off, so I just sucked it up and pushed through.  I spent the rest of every shift that week just praying that nothing else like that came in.

On my last day off before heading back to a new block, my attitude was going downhill and I was definitely not the most patient person.  I had a headache that just got worse and worse as the day went on, and I couldn’t sleep at all that night.  In fact, I spent the majority of the night trying desperately not to get ill.  I am not an anxious person, but I was so afraid of what might come into work the next day that it was eating away at me.  My alarm went off and I was supposed to get ready for work, but my body shut me down.  I got violently ill almost immediately and at that point realized that I was done whether I liked it or not.  I texted my boss, and told him I would come in later to explain, but that I was not working for at least the next couple of days.  I had more than just work to think about, I had my potential pregnancy at stake and I couldn’t let my pride get in the way of that.  I needed to regulate those damn stress levels!  It’s like my body knew to keep me away because there was another file that day that my boss was grateful I was not there for, and I was too once I heard about it.

I am a soldier, an officer, a warrior, a protector…the fact that I am in this state scares the crap out of me.  I can deal with sprains, bumps and bruises, because I know how to deal with those things, but this I can’t see.  I also don’t know how to deal with it, and I am at the mercy of those who do to help me out.  I fear the stigma that is associated with this and the fact that my co-workers might think I am weak, despite me demonstrating my whole life that I am anything but. My command team has been amazing and ridiculously supportive, but I’m still paranoid that this somehow lessens their confidence in me.  It’s not a logical thought, and I realize that, but it is there.

Some time has passed and that has helped.  I am not 100% by any means, but I am confident that if these incidents were spread apart more, I wouldn’t have had the same response.  I have been lucky to date, and these 6 weeks in question just turned into a perfect storm paired with the timing of my scheduled IVF.  I’m still working my way through it and I am thankful to my wife who has been living it as well right next to me.  I space out some times as things sneak into my consciousness and pull me away from reality.  I have sudden spurts of anger that make me want to flip tables (I haven’t actually done this, just fyi….) that come out of nowhere and I can not currently predict or identify the cause.  My patience isn’t what it normally is and unfortunately my family takes the brunt of it.  Sleep is a challenge on its own…I have homework to read a book, but the book itself causes my heart rate to accelerate and my breaths to shorten and chest tighten as the initials on the front scare the crap out of me and I’m actually forced to acknowledge, not ignore the crap that I’m feeling.  I have professionals that are telling me to take more time while all I want to do is go back to work.  I am riddled with guilt every moment I am away and feel like I am failing the team that I should be leading.  Lastly, I’m a damn good police officer and love what I do.  But now I’m worried that this will somehow restrict me in my career, prevent me from working in small towns, which is what I have come to love. Keep in mind, I know this is ridiculous and I just can’t help it, especially when the current time off was pre-planned for my IVF so I would’ve been gone from work anyway.  Thank goodness I have had my IVF to focus on because I am very task driven so it has been a welcomed distraction.  With the break before the transfer, it has opened up these lingering issues and I will need to sort them out!

Why share this?  Anyone that knows me, knows that I don’t usually talk about my feelings.  However, when I started this blog I decided that I was going to provide a straight up account of the gong show that I was taking on.  Due to the timing, all of this is now a part of my IVF journey and both me and my various doctors need to acknowledge it.  I have referenced the running joke of regulating stress levels throughout and now you know why.  I am extremely humbled by this all and I know that I am stubborn and determined and I will get through it all.  I just hope that it will help me grow and my armor will come back even stronger.  My thoughts are with the family and friends of all the incidents mentioned here.

I’d like to take the time to dedicate this one to two amazing souls that were taken too soon from this world.  Linda Watson and Krystina Haggard.  I miss your infectious smiles and hope that I can make you both proud.  Words can not explain how much you mean to us.

4 Replies to “Regulating Stress Levels”

  1. Raw, honest, and terrifyingly beautiful. Thank you for sharing your words and your experiences. As a CISM responder I can tell you, that this is a huge step in healing. Keep sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for sharing, and for what you do. This took strength and courage. I have had trams that as given me various diagnoses that I don’t like, and ttc can bring lots of feelings to the surface. This I am sure will help many people who struggle.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. I know what a rollercoaster this is, and I figured I would offer the uncut version. Provide the commentary that so many are thinking but don’t dare say. I truly hope that it does help in one way or another.


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