Police Psychology | A Toe for Mickey
Mike went down to the floor a couple of times. Doubled over, holding his stomach, wrenching, trying to catch a breath between the strokes of thesword that was ripping out his insides. Mike had a serious anxiety disorder compounded with a quadruple vial of hubris. He didn’t listen when I told him not to go back to work yet. “Life takes awhile to heal; medicine takes awhile to fully work,” I said. He didn’t listen when I said “your mother had this and you brother had this, it might be in your family.” Rather he listened to a boss who said “get back on the horse, psychologists don’t know about being on the job.” He got his medicine and had a flight to health, a flight that made a quick stop in the “relapse zone.”
In police psychology, we understand that some accidents and injuries are to be expected. People get injured all the time. Whether it’s stubbing your toe against a stair, twisting your ankle while stepping off the sidewalk, or accidentally walking into clear glass doors (just me?), the occurrence of accidents is largely inevitable. This same phenomenon can extend to larger
incidents as well, in which people walk away with more than just a bruised toe or a scraped knee. People break bones, sprain ankles, blow out knees and shoulders, and even need stitches for numerous types of injuries. Following each type, there is always a recovery time. Yet, when it comes to any mental injury, there is a huge double standard, and allowing sufficient recovery time is unheard of, a sign of weaknesses.
Police Psychology: Physical injuries
When someone hurts their knee or ankle, the first thing that all doctors recommend is something called RICE (a process I made great use of during my football days). RICE stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Most notable in this acronym is the need for rest. You are told to rest that body part and disengage from participation in strenuous activity from anywhere between a few days and a few months, until you are completely recovered. If you hurt your shoulder, you are sent to rehab. If you hurt your neck, you are sent to rehab. If you hurt your back, you are sent to rehab. Indeed, all physical injuries involve a recovery time where you are recommended to rest and avoid using that part until complete recovery, which often does not happen until after some intensive physical therapy to help you transition back to normal use. Any employer will respond with understanding and sympathy when you tell him or her you need a few days off because you pulled out your back. Any employer would encourage you to take it easy when you sprain your wrist or need to recover from a bout of the flu. Or, even spent too much time around a bottle of bourbon at your niece’s wedding last night. But take one mental health day….
Police Psychology: Disney Toe Uncovered
When people experience a mental “injury,” when they have panic attacks, bouts of anxiety or depression, or anything of the sort, many times people are ashamed to say anything, knowing the looks of disapproval they will receive from their employers when they ask for some time off. It’s odd that this should be the case when excessive stress, anxiety attacks, and even PTSD can have physical manifestations. Recovery time for any and all mental injury is equally important for true recovery, as is the rehab or therapy. When you allow yourself to become an emotional pinball, you experience physical symptoms. When you overtax yourself through hard work and stress, you may feel headaches or nausea. But rather than ask for this “special treatment” they instead jump right back into work. This is hugely detrimental for your well being, as resting and therapy are two of the most important steps for recovery. (By the way, psychologists are the worse at this.)
The age old “get back on the horse when it throws you” philosophy is not just wrong; it is dangerous. When someone is struggling, forcing people to suck it up, or “just deal with it” is extremely unhealthy. When it comes to police stress and police psychology, improper rest and rejuvenation from mental injury is like running a marathon after a broken ankle.
In 2014, I had a year from hell. I had gotten Disney Toe at the end of 2013 and had to take time to recuperate from that. What is Disney Toe you may ask – well I went to Disney with my subclinical high-energy older brother (great guy, just at a different speed than the most of the world) and he ran us ragged. My then seven year old LOVED IT. My feet didn’t. I had a blister on the bottom of my big toe. I put some over-the-counter cream on it and kept it in band-aids for the rest of the trip, figuring I would wait until I got home to go to the doctor if it got worse. Went to the doctor and he rushed me to the hospital for four days of IV antibiotics and a month more as an outpatient. I had a reaction to an antibiotic and got bell’s palsy, which is like having a stroke on one side of your face and lasts about 6 weeks. The antibiotics didn’t work as it was a strep infection that got into the bone, and I was back in the hospital just as the bell’s palsy went away. I lost the toe in an operation that had me in the hospital for another 2 weeks. I was on a walker then crutches until May, when I hired for a speaking gig in Iceland. Yes Iceland, I thought “things are turning around.” In July, I couldn’t breathe in two incidents and found out I had blockages in my heart that they couldn’t stint. I had open heart surgery, quadruple bypass. I went back to work three weeks after bypass surgery because I had lost so much time with the foot, I didn’t want things to get worse. I had the physical treatment, but didn’t attend to the mental RICE. I struggled through last year with PTSD, all kinds of emotions and some physical problems, until August when I went on a vacation to Canada with my wife. Yeah, I started this blog then just to add to my stress. At least something good came out of something not so good. And it actually helped me stay out of “the relapse zone.” I also learned the hard way about how important it is to recuperate from the mental side of an injury or an event.
When you rest, you need to maintain movement. The rest that I am recommending you to take following any mental injury is not a rest of inactivity and laziness. Rather it is a time of rejuvenation and peace, where you take time to focus on yourself and fully recover. It is a time where you can rediscover your passions and the daily pleasures in life. Take time to reconnect with your spouse, your children, old friends, and for some people, even their spirituality. Take a few minutes to plan for the future, smell the roses, appreciate some fresh air, take a walk, maybe even prepare a couple of home-cooked meals. Take some time to appreciate the simple things. It is a time far from being unproductive and wasteful. It is a beautiful and important time of renewal, and a time in which you can return stronger and healthier than ever.
Just like any physical injury, mental injuries of all sorts require proper rest before you can get better completely. This is true whether you work as a teacher, a lawyer, an athlete, or in police psychology. Sometimes, you or your patient may have both a physical and a mental injury. Make sure both get time.
Blog Administrator: Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP
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