Behind Blue EyesA Police Officers Resiliency Journal By Sergeant Kathy McMahonI started my career in policing in 2005 because I wanted to help people and make the streets safer. I believed that I would make a difference and wanted to be a calm and comforting presence when people needed help and support. I started out in this career as a naive 23-year-old with big dreams to save the world and help people. I believe that I am making a difference overall, but some days I have to search for the good — the silver lining. Some days, I feel like I am thriving. On other days, I feel like I am simply going through the motions and surviving.I wrote Behind Blue Eyes: A Police Officers Resiliency Journal as a way to help myself, other police officers, and first responders heal. My journal is a tool and resource and was created because my 23-year-old self would have benefited from the wisdom, insights, and life experiences that I have now. I was not prepared for the death, trauma, and suffering that I would see in my career. Since I was not prepared for it, I didn’t know how to navigate it or to handle it effectively.Difficult CallsI have spent the majority of my policing career in investigative units and have interviewed many children and adults that were victimized. I have delivered notifications to family/chosen family/friends that their loved one has died. I have comforted parents when their child has died, including adult children. The loss of a child, no matter the age of that child, is profound. As a mother myself, the conversations I had with other mothers were so personal and hit me so deeply and profoundly.In my experience, the most difficult calls and investigations were always the ones that involved children hurting and ones that I related to personally. It wasn’t just the one call/investigation that impacted me. It was the compression of adding more, and more…and more. It was dealing with too many things (and too many similar things) and adding more without dealing with the calls I had to manage previously in a productive or helpful way.I never took the time to really feel the emotions that came up after these events or to sufficiently deal with how I was feeling physically, emotionally, or mentally. I just forged forward — as is the general expectation when you’re in a job like mine — and I kept working hard. But I was existing in survival mode. I was moving away from dealing with the pain that I was holding onto. It was easier to pretend it wasn’t there than to spend the time processing it.This journal was created with first responders in mind, but it is for absolutely everyone who is looking for help to release pain, trauma, and heaviness from their mind and body. The intention is for you to express and not suppress your feelings. I want you to release your feelings and not continue to compress them until they get harder and harder to manage.Police officers are taught to assess, plan, and act. We are very good at showing up and doing whatever needs to be done. We are good at explaining what happened, what the facts and issues are, and providing details such as who, what, where, why, when, and how of a situation. We are not always good at talking about the thoughts, feelings, and emotions that first responders are feeling. We often ignore, hide, or suppress our feelings from everyone, including ourselves.This journal was created to allow you a safe place to feel, to express and to work through your emotions and feelings. My wish is for you to feel, so you can heal and live a happy, healthy, grateful, and peaceful life.I didn’t really notice that I was suppressing my thoughts and feelings until I sprained my ankle a few years ago and could no longer run as a mental release. When I injured myself, I had to come up with a new way to release stress and tension and thoughts bouncing around in my mind. I had to go inward and take a deep dive inside myself and learn about myself. I had to pay attention to how I felt and what needed to be healed. I asked myself questions like, “What am I feeling?” and “Why am I feeling this way?”.My journal was created mostly in the middle of the night after I was awoken by night terrors from calls I attended years ago. I began to write down what was on my mind, what I was thinking about and what happened. I started to acknowledge that I hadn’t dealt with how I was feeling and forced myself to process the suppressed feelings. I started to notice that writing things down released the thoughts and pain from my mind and body. I started to sleep better which helped me to feel better throughout the day. I also realized that I wasn’t just suppressing the negative emotions; I was suppressing the positive emotions of joy and happiness, too.Seeing Your ThoughtsJournaling is a way to see your thoughts on paper. It sounds very straightforward because it is. It is a way to reflect on the day, on an event, a person or something that is lingering in your mind. Many people write out shopping lists, to-do lists, and other written reminders. Writing things out helps you to unpack it and to “talk it out” on paper. It allows you to start on a surface level and dive deeper into it if you want. You can also go back and read it over later and have an opportunity to see your growth on the page.It will show you some of your own blind spots and things you have avoided working on. Journaling regularly can help uncover the truth about how you are really feeling and coping.My journal discuses the importance of self-care and self-reflection, it explains why I journal, things I added and removed from my life on my wellness journey, like asking for help and making meditation and journaling a priority. I also share my experiences with going to counselling to “normalize” talking to someone.There are also daily journal prompts to help guide you to release the thoughts and events in your mind. Filling out a journal page can be something you do daily, or something you do only when you feel called to. Release the pressure to write something every day if it doesn't feel right. It doesn't have to be consistent to be impactful. Set yourself up for success by committing to writing regularly— even if it isn't on a daily basis.I hope your own healing journey helps you to focus on your overall health, on being present and on creating the life of your dreams. I know it is common in the police culture to say: “I’m living the dream”, but it is usually said sarcastically or with a negative undertone. Take a moment to reflect on your thoughts noted within these pages and see what areas of your life have been improved and what still needs more attention. Your physical, mental and emotional health are equally important to care for. Please continue to honor yourself and work at feeling your very best!Sergeant Kathy McMahon of Toronto Police Service is the author of Behind Blue Eyes: A Police Officer's Resiliency Journal: A Space to Reflect and Respond to Experiences and Events as a First Responder, which was released on October 5, 2023, by LeadHer Publishing
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