Emerg Services My just retired Aunt (Police/Parole) is showing signs of PTSD and something else - I need advice

My Aunt retired early because her husband contracted Covid and after she was isolated for 30 days (he was in ICU) she was not the same. She tried to return to work but her job required her to make her subordinates work with Covid positive recently released prisoners and she wouldn’t do it, so she retired. After her husband recovered she didn’t get better, she became worse. She won’t go out to grocery stores or run errands. She microwaves all food that he gets from restaurants - in general is showing high anxiety in the form of OCD. Her husband is becoming very agitated with her. Last night we talked for a long time and she is typically very even, not your sensitive type, and suddenly she confessed that she “feels dead” that she “thinks she is in purgatory”. And then tried to change the subject. She admits she is suffering PTSD from the trauma of his COVID and near death hospitalization and recovery, but won‘t seek help for a number of excuses. These range from “it won’t help” to “they might put me away.” I googled what she said and found this site. I‘m unsure how to proceed and realize she needs help. Her husband isn’t very touchy feeling, a tough guy. This is probably why he is ready to get back to living. I feel helpless and am concerned she is going down a rabbit hole. They have guns - lots of guns. She lives in a very isolated and mountainous area.
 

Changing4Best

MyPTSD Pro
I don't know what to say, but I think maybe if they could be talked into marriage counselling, she might eventually agree to therapy for herself.

Please keep us posted on how things go.

Oh, and welcome to these forums.
 
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LuckiLee

MyPTSD Pro
Hi and welcome.

There isn't much you can do. It is up to her to decide what she wants to do or not do. A lot of times people have to hit their rock bottom before they want to make any changes. Reaching out for help is incredibly hard and painful.

If she was my aunt, I would let her know she could talk with me about anything and I'd get her a few books about trauma and PTSD. Maybe you could let her know about this forum. There is a private section for first responders.

All we can do is support what they decide to do. Or not do. Good luck!
 

Friday

Moderator
Welcome to the community!

If you scroll over to Military & Emergency Services, or take a look through the Supporter’s Section for family members of Cops, Vets, EMTs, etc... you’ll find what your aunt is going through is reeeeeeeally common. Both in what’s happening, and how it kicked off. (Long term exposure to countless traumas, any one of which could cause PTSD much less hundreds/thousands of them, but “you’re fine”...then a sudden great big huge honking stressor, new trauma, or loss of coping mechanisms... and KABOOM! Everything goes sideways, then gets f*cked sideways, then gets all serious about reeeeally getting bad >.<) So how common it is, isnt in a “no worries” kind of way, but in a “deep breath, totally understand, we’ve got this” kind of way. From both sides of the line.

I had my own PTSD (combat then first response, to keep it simple) completely under control for over a decade. Then I couldn’t protect someone I loved. They lived, but Pandora’s box still got kicked wide open with it. I might have been fine, except during the same time period? I also lost all my coping mechanisms (work, school, exercise, friends, passion/purpose, routine, sex life, sports/hobbies/fun of all kinds, ALL out the window over the period of just a few months...and coup d’égras decided it would be the *perfect* time to quit smoking... unhealthy coping mechanisms? Are still coping mechanisms!), got kicked in the teeth with huge stressors, and then added new trauma into the mix. <<< This kind of perfect storm? Is reeeeeeeally common with Vets & First Response. Any teensy tiny little spark can lift the fuse, but it takes all of our safeguards also falling over like dominos to really lose. our. shit. But it happens. >>>

Husband nearly dying, losing her career on a matter of principle, being suddenly & profoundly isolated, whilst under constant threat (from the virus, and losing the people she loves & is responsible for via carelessness)? Yep. TBH? I’d be a helluva lot more surprised if she DIDN’T lose her shit. From a living & working & excelling in Trauma-Land (but having difficulty with so-called “normal” life // what makes a person fantastic in life&death circumstances is often problematic outside of that) perspective? What she’s going through is toooooootally normal.

Drats... I have to run for a bit, so I don’t have time to link resources & shit right at the moment... but I’ll come back & do so as soon as possible.
 
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Freida

Sponsor
I was a 911 dispatcher for 20 and ya, ptsd is a real thing in emergency services that isn't being handled very well. Mine came from the military, but being a dispatcher added it's own fun filled level of hell.

Sadly public safety has the Suck it up Buttercup mentality -- if you end up with PTSD it means you are somehow less than everyone else. It means you aren't tough enough for the job. You see and do things that "normal" people can never even imagine, and then you are expected to immediately go on to the next thing. So you keep yourself busy enough that you never stop to think about it.
Then one day you stop working and BAM! It all comes crashing in


Obviously I'm not a therapist - but I would guess that covid didn't cause her ptsd. Not to say it didn't add to it - but working police and parole is probably where it started. Shes just noticing it now because the world has stopped.

That whole "dead" feeling? Yep. That's the numbness of ptsd
The purgatory? Yep - that's probably because she feels wrongly placed guilt about things she did on the job AND the guilt of leaving her co-workers behind to face death without her.
The OCD? Yep - trying to create a sense of control so she doesn't' have to think about how vulnerable those around her are.
The fear you will be locked up and it won't help? Yep - because we see it happen all the time

And Yep ---all of that pretty much describes me. ?
Like @Friday said --- It's pretty normal in our messed up lil world.

How can you help?
You really can't.
She has to be ready to want help - which could mean things may have to get much worse before they get better.
Letting her know you are there to listen is a good start -- but make sure she knows you don't expect her to talk about the details. It's pretty common that the reason we don't talk about our jobs is because we know the person we are talking to can't handle it.
But it's still helpful to have someone offer

Pointing her here is a great idea because you can tell her there are people from emergency services here who get it. But. To get her to come here will probably require you leaving because it's so embarrassing to admit that there is something wrong.The last thing you want is someone you know watching what you have to say. So give some thought to that - because I know this places is really good for supporters too.

Heres some sites you can give her that can help her see that PTSD in cops is really common

Police toolkit
police and ptsd
this one might be good for you
Ok - one more LOL

Oh -- and I think it's wonderful she has someone like you looking out for her...
 
I'm really sorry for your aunt.

She tried to return to work but her job required her to
So I reckon she'd see this as yet another betrayal of a system that is not operating well.
and she wouldn’t do it, so she retired.
This is the nub of her pain. I know it well. Having to retire out early for whatever reason is like stepping off a cliff. Any dedicated first responder who is ...for one reason or another... retired... etc or has to walk the plank bc of issues they cannot control will definitely suffer badly. It is an extreme stressor and very much is the cause of profound anger/depression and likely other dysfunctional behaviours.
she confessed that she “feels dead” that she “thinks she is in purgatory”. A
She is in purgatory. This is her own version of hell and feeling dead is probably a very simplistic way of describing that she feels no purpose in her life anymore.
These range from “it won’t help” to “they might put me away.”
And the fear of failing at getting help, being unable to realise what that help would look like dwarfs when compared to the unbearable prospect of being locked up for mental illness or in any way controlled.

You gotta remember you have a woman who was the rescuer not the rescued. It's a dreadful place to be when through no fault of your own, you're without your career and faced with a life-time of (in comparison) nothing.
 
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