by Andi Colker
Five years ago, American Police Beat published the story of how I was terminated from my small-town police department due to work-related post-traumatic stress disorder. When I learned APB was planning an issue dedicated to law enforcement mental health, I wanted to write in to share my journey and provide an update on how I was able to find light at the end of the tunnel.
In 2006, I was the first responder to assist an ambulance call that resulted in a homicide of a 3-year-old boy and great bodily harm done to his 2-year-old brother.
Fast-forward to 2014: I was self-destructive. I was going out drinking, working overtime, staying away from home as much as possible, living as though I was single, and I thought everyone else was the problem!
I had been married in 2005 to my saint of a husband. Throughout the years, we have raised five kids together, and by the grace of God, he still stands by my side today. He is a deputy sheriff and knew I was battling PTSD. I blamed him for my issues! An ultimatum was given to me: Seek help, or he was moving out with the kids. The next day, I called a clinic to set an appointment.
In December 2014, I was diagnosed with work-related PTSD. I cried. My husband thanked the Lord that I had finally listened to somebody and realized that my issues stemmed from not dealing with my feelings surrounding the homicide of that 3-year-old little boy.
August 2015: The deputy chief arrived on my front porch with a letter in hand — you know that thick envelope. Inside was my termination paperwork, right in front of me. “Effective today, August 7, 2015, you are no longer a law enforcement officer with the City of Waupun.” Another devastation. I had served the community in which I lived for 15 years. I had pled to the city and its officials to allow me unpaid leave while I received treatment. It was denied. They turned their backs on me.
I was lost and didn’t know which way was up. I was in full-blown crisis mode. The only people there to support me were my family, friends and God. Without God, I would not be here today. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. I couldn’t make a decision to save my life; I forgot simple tasks to complete around the house, such as laundry. I would forget to turn the machine on, and not just once — numerous times. I had problems communicating. I couldn’t find words to speak, even elementary words. I thought for sure PTSD was making me dumb and useless.
In 2015, I participated in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). After God, EMDR is the second reason that I am here today! It took a lot of work and persistence, but I took part in three different sessions. Now, I have feelings. At first I thought, “What the hell are those? Where did they come from? Why do I cry about everything?” I was a child learning how to deal with my feelings again, and it was hard! But I did it and am here to talk about it.
Moving forward, I participated in many court proceedings in Wisconsin to try and change the law. Law enforcement officers should have the support they deserve after doing the daily job that we do. Unfortunately, the law has not changed here. Mental health injuries are not observed unless a physical injury comes with it.
I received my master’s degree in social work in 2018. I wanted to be a licensed clinical social worker so I could help others like me. I knew what they were going through and it only made sense to me to help others, as that is what I have always done.
In 2018, I was accepted into doctorate school in Illinois. I figured, “Shoot, I should just be a clinical psychologist, as that will open more doors for the future.” I attended school for eight months. It was beyond tough trying to balance family and school. I lived in Chicago part-time and with my family part-time. In March 2019, the school abruptly shut down due to bankruptcy. Seriously?! I was accepted at another school in Chicago. However, my young boy asked me not to return. I have learned you cannot bring back time. I stayed home to enjoy my family and life, which is too short the way it is.
I am now a licensed Realtor in the state of Wisconsin and also run my own small business, a retail shop in a nearby town called 0638 The Clothing Collection.
I have also helped others through crisis since my own. I always said in my cop career, “If I change one life, I will be proud.” I am now able to say that in my post-cop life as well. It was great helping a law enforcement brother be able to return to service!
I want all of you to know that there is help. There are more resources now than there were five years ago. Blue H.E.L.P. does a tremendous job for all law enforcement officers and their families! I thank them for their support. I also thank all the officers and chiefs who reached out to me and fought for me during my termination. I am forever grateful to you all! Post-traumatic growth is where I am at! If you need someone to reach out to, I’m available at firstname.lastname@example.org. You are never alone!