One would think after attending a Dr. Kevin M. Gilmartin presentation hosted by a local police department, I would have a better understanding of the importance of self-care. One would think after attending the previously mentioned presentation and later being assigned to read Dr. Kevin M. Gilmartin’sEmotional Survival for Law Enforcementin a work course, I would have an even better one two punch system for self-care. Guess what? Nope. Not at all. I listened to Dr. Gilmartin talk about being multi-dimensional and having more than just the title of “Krystal the Cop”; heck, I even read the book cover to cover! Here I sit, writing this blog post, after six weeks of discussions on trauma and crisis intervention realizing I am heading down a road of broken relationships, self loss, and walking right into being the victim of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder caused by my job and those in it.
The emotional changes take place first: Anger can become a prevailing and ever present state in a police home. Then, as the years pass, physical changes can appear. The constant anger and the physical upheaval it causes, combined with years of shift-work-induced sleep deprivation, poor diet, and a sedentary lifestyle, can lead the now veteran officer to face physical changes in addition to emotional issues. (Gilmartin, PhD., 2002, pp. 4-5)
Yep, this is where my life is at. A ten-year veteran of a small town agency where the last five years were spent working a swing shift (1300 hours – 0100 hours), raising a now 7 year old boy, one failed marriage, working on trying to save a five year relationship with another man and his soon to be 7 year old son, looking around to realize I don’t have friends to call at any given moment in time. Clearly I am rocking this self-care! So what do I do? How do I change it? What steps do I need to take?
I have to get rid of the “I usta” responses. According to Dr. Gilmartin (2002), “It describes what they “used to” do before becoming police officers…the things that have been lost from the officer’s life, the things that are not work related…” (p. 69). Recognizing that I need to do things for myself outside of work, to include my family, and to not let the bitterness of my job continue to ruin my life.
Yoga for First Responders shows how implementing yoga for police and/or firefighters is important for emotional wellness and mental-resiliency (Yoga For First Responders, 2016). The benefits of yoga – stretching, meditation, breathing techniques – can be beneficial for me. Here is a “I usta” for me, I used to practice yoga long before I was a cop and I enjoyed it so very much but now with my schedule it is so hard to find the time. Physical fitness is another “I usta” for me, I used to go to the gym regularly but again my work schedule and having a child that cannot be home alone made it so difficult to maintain my gym schedule. A simple thing as going for drives, listening to music, putting my feet in the ocean and feeling the sand between my toes, all things that can help re-center my well-being and promote self-care.
But what it really comes down to is action. All the strategies in the world won’t mean a thing if I or another is not ready to make the move, to recognize the self-destruction that is occurring by not taking care of one’s self in this line of work. Going out to dinner with NON first responders, having friends that are not all first responders, doing activities that bring joy, being present in the moments with family and making the time to do things other than the job. I truly hope that everyone recognizes the importance of taking care of themselves, regardless of the job they do or regardless of their history.
Gilmartin, PhD., K. M. (2002). Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement.Tucson: E-S Press.
Yoga For First Responders. (2016). Yoga For First Responders. Retrieved from Yoga For First Responders: http://yogaforfirstresponders.org