Dark Days

Everyone gets depressed at some point, and whether you are simply recovering from a loss or bad event or suffering from true clinical depression, here are some thoughts on what to do.

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Illustration: Sequoia BlankenshipIllustration: Sequoia Blankenship

I hear you all complaining about this and that today. The public, the media, the courts, the bad guys...and the litany of tough times goes on and on. But when I was a young patrol officer things were really bad. The anarchists were planning a revolution on July 4th, 1976, and all we had were little old .38s with six in the cylinder and 12 in our "dump pouches," no .40s with 16 in the mag and one in the chamber.

Man, things were hard. We didn't have people offering psychological support to whine to, and when we got divorced we just sucked it up. No PTSD counseling or peer support or anyone who understood. Nope, I was just sitting there alone during my divorce; my kids were gone, I had no real hope for the future, and I woke up at midnight and lay in bed listening to my heart pound, wondering if I would just die. But what do you know? You've never suffered like me. You don't know what I do about…

But wait…you say you do understand? Maybe if I'd had someone to talk to like you I wouldn't have been so alone in those dark days.

Unfortunately, one of the brain's nasty little tricks is making us focus on ourselves when we are sad or depressed; we feel we are alone, isolated, experiencing things no one else could feel or understand. But this is just a false perception. I am not saying you weren't sad or depressed; we all feel that way sometimes, and I am compelled to confess what I have felt and how I have learned the hard way that shutting down and finding yourself on an emotional island is NOT the way to cope. I learned that from Dr. Kevin Gilmartin. He isn't my friend because he wrote the book "Emotional Survival," or was a deputy, but because he was my salvation.

Everyone gets depressed at some point, and whether you are simply recovering from a loss or bad event or suffering from true clinical depression, here are some thoughts on what to do.

First, get a checkup. Physical ailments affect our mood and thoughts, so make sure you aren't suffering from some medical problem. Second, evaluate what is stressing you out. If your mom just died and you aren't upset you are in serious denial and it will catch up with you. Next, realize the nasty trick our brain pulls on us by giving us the illusion of isolation. Many people have suffered what you have, or something similar, and just knowing that fact helps us heal. It isn't an accident that when the VA started putting vets suffering Post Vietnam Syndrome into peer support groups they started getting well. We need each other.

Don't let inertia keep you from action. Move, get out of the house, see a movie, work out, and then get help. I pray we are past the days of stigmatizing each other for getting help. You would yell at a rookie for handling a dangerous call and failing to call for backup, right? Why would you expect your brothers and sisters to suffer pain alone?

If you are lying in bed listening to your heart pound waiting for your heart to just explode, then grab the damn phone and call someone. Just talking breaks that sense of aloneness. "Who?" you ask? How about Safe Call Now (206-459-3020), an organization that exists for veterans and first responders; they know how you feel, what to do to help, and where to find resources for healing. Today most agencies have resources to help, but if you don't wish to use them there are many outside tools to help you. So get off the couch and get help.

OK, maybe you don't have any such problems right now. Take action now to keep it that way. Do the things that help us cope in life and stay healthy and strong like keeping your faith, surrounding yourself with a loving family and friends, and realizing that your life is a mission. A mission that gives us meaning and purpose and strength—the understanding that you make a difference in an indifferent world—is an emotional shield against life's storms.

And finally, if you have a friend who seems isolated and alone and is going through something tough, take a risk and reach out. You wouldn't hesitate to rush into a melee to help your friend, so don’t hesitate to be there for him or her in a crisis of the soul.

Dave Smith is an internationally recognized law enforcement trainer and is the creator of "JD Buck Savage." You can follow Buck on Twitter at @thebucksavage.

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Officer (Ret.)
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