Charlie and K-9 Penny
I have been a police officer for nine years. Over those years I have seen and done things the majority of the population will thankfully never have to. There is no way to go through a career as a first responder without some sort of mental scarring. The past two years of my career have been the most challenging both physically and mentally.
During the course of my duties I was in the thick of the recent riots. I stood on riot lines taking hits from rocks, bottles, bricks, and anything else you could possibly imagine for hours at a time. Crowds of thousands yelling and screaming, aiming their vehicles at our lines, and shooting off fireworks directly at us. On top of that, frequent gunfire from the crowds.
We were also sent to patrol the streets by a seemingly unsympathetic command staff. Our shift was forced to convoy around the city and go to one incident at a time. At almost every stop, no matter how remote or far away from the main action of the riots, people would find us. If one person found us, only minutes later we would be surrounded again as they called in friends to harass and attempt to agitate us and keep us from doing our jobs. It felt like we were being hunted. Driving through a large city surrounded by angry mobs, burning buildings, and military vehicles all over is not "normal" police work. I've been to dozens of violent deaths, car accidents, baby not breathing calls, fights with suspects, and shots fired calls. But this was different in a big way.
I spent almost 4 days straight thinking I was going to be seriously injured or killed at any moment. That stress eventually broke me and I physically could not get myself into a squad car anymore. One night, after hearing another unit saying they were being shot at, I was at my mental breaking point. I felt ashamed and like a coward for not being able to get myself to help my friends and partners when they needed it the most. I had been in many other situations where my partners needed help and never hesitated. I handed over all my pistol and rifle magazines to my partners because at the time I thought they faced certain death and needed it more than I would. I broke down crying and left work and didn't return for over 2 weeks.
It took me several days to figure out why I felt a constant pressure in my chest. Why it felt like a dark cloud was hanging over me anytime I even thought about work. Why I didn't really want to talk to anyone. I had never really felt that way before. I realized I was having anxiety attacks. All the stress and anxiety I was feeling also started bringing back bad memories of other events I have witnessed and experienced over the course of my career.
I went to the doctor and he diagnosed me with anxiety and PTSD. I also spoke with a therapist for several months to help me process my feelings and figure out how to cope.
Although the support of my doctors and family have helped, to this day I still experience feelings of anxiety when around large noisy groups. Even around large family events if there is a lot of noise and commotion in a small enclosed area I can feel the pressure build in my chest.
My wife found this organization and contacted them on my behalf, believing it would be a boon to my mental health. She was right. Although I do not yet have a dog just the thought of it brings a smile to my face and makes me feel hope.