.And Then You Die – Opening Up on PTSD.

“Seek the truth for yourself, and I will meet you there” 

[Disclaimer: not an easy read]

I suffer(ed) from PTSD for a while because I have dealt with a lot of difficult things in my careers as a police and security officer. I have seen many people die and there were many traumatic experiences when I pretended everything is fine but deep down, I was not fine at all. I could not “just” fill out that “dead-person-intake form” while I stood next to a person who jumped off the 9th floor of a building with parts of her brain stuck to my uniform and shoes.

Before that particular incident, my colleague and I were laughing in the police car. Everything was okay. We contemplated were to have coffee and a pretzel next. I remember it was a nice afternoon and I looked forward to the Metallica Concert that evening. The radio kept playing Metallica songs all day to promote the concert. The music in the police car droned on, but we stopped listened after the dispatcher told us to drive to the location where, according to neighbors, a woman climbed out of her window and tried to get to the top of the roof of her apartment.

I still did not put two-and-two together while we hurried to the scene. Maybe she wants to escape from someone who threatens her in the apartment? Maybe she tries to get into her apartment from her neighbor’s balcony because she forgot her keys? I was still gnawing on my lunch-sandwich. As a police officer, there are not real times to take a break. “I think something terrible is about to happen,” my colleague said. I did not acknowledge him but chewed ahead. I tried to put two-and-two together but my mind was blank. Blank as a white canvas. The woman took her own life. She jumped off the roof while my colleague and I drove around the corner. I saw her eyes while she jumped and I see them to this day. Wide open, terrified and scared. This is how I felt when I arrived at the scene. In her apartment, I wanted to find out if there were any screams for help. Anything, that could have explained what just happened. I did not find anything. I just saw a glass of red wine (still half full) with lipstick stains on it, a CD playing (Jazzonova) quietly in the living room and the window wide open. On the floor,  her black high heels.

It took me several hours to cry. I did go to the Metallica Concert that night because I purchased the tickets a long time ago. I was on my bicycle riding back home when I felt like screaming, crying. When I arrived home my neighbor asked me, “Why are you crying, what happened? Is everything all right?” And this was the point when everything came out: the complete waterworks. The wails and the screams and the snot. I went into some sort of depression this year and I knew I have to change my job. It was a sadness so deep that it physically hurt. I did not want to deal with suicidal issues and death on a daily basis anymore. I woke up crying sometimes because I thought I could have been able to save one suicidal person. In my reoccurring dreams, the suicidal people always laugh. I remember one particular dream when a person said, “Why do you care if I am dead when you are still so afraid to live your life?” I woke up crying. This all happened many years ago, yet it all seems so fresh.

Death scares us and because of this, we avoid to think and talk about it. Trying to figure out how some of the suicide victims I got to know personally must have felt, I can just say that I always saw and felt an endless and incomprehensible nothingness that they experienced. This made me think and come to the realization that if there really is no reason to do anything, then there I also no reason to NOT do anything; that there is no reason to ever give into one’s fear or embarrassment or shame since it is all a bunch of nothing anyway. By spending my life avoiding what was painful and uncomfortable previously, I had essentially been avoiding being alive at all. This woman’s suicide marked the clearest before/after point in my life. I really knew I had to change or turn my life around. I morphed into a new person while still carrying some of my insecurities, struggles, and baggage.  But this made all the difference and was transformational. Strangely, it was someone else’s death that made me appreciate life so much more.

The other day I went for a run. Running steadily, my leg muscles stretched and ached since I just started to train again. The cold wind screamed across my face but I kept running. I looked up. The sky was bright and beautiful. There was even a bit of sunshine. I was sweating, yet cold. Excited, yet nervous. Can I run away from it all? I stopped for a moment. Who is that at the horizon? I saw his familiar green jacket, his bicycle and I smiled. He smiled back and signaled me to run towards him. What if this is it? What if this is all there is? Then I would be happy. I shuffle on. In his direction. Against my mind. Against my thoughts and fears. One foot forward. Everything is okay. Being alive is so awesome.

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