Medical Retirement: How I Handled My Inner Liar
Welcome to 2018, where resolutions are put into effect (for a month at least) and change is on the menu.
For me the biggest change comes with my retirement! I served my department for 16.5 years and due to an injury I was medically retired.
There is definitely a transition period from being a cop to not being a cop anymore. I’ve been off work for about 8 months and at home trying to rehab my injury. I’ve had a bit of time to get used to the idea of not going to work anymore but even during that time, I was still a cop. I still identified as a police officer and it brought me a little comfort.
Once I realized that a medical retirement was more than likely, I knew a huge transition was ahead. In order to somewhat ease that transition I told myself to “live like I’m retired” in advance. Now, it’s not really possible to live like your retired when you still have responsibilities BUT there are ways to ease the transition to the big day and I was determined to use them.
If you are in the process of medically retiring or even if you are just out on injury, maybe you can relate some of these thoughts I found myself having to work through:
They are watching!
Who is “they?” Workers comp? My department spies? I have a back injury and I was constantly worried that if I worked out or exercised one of “they” would see me and think I was faking my injury. Or, if I went grocery shopping one of “they” would see me lifting a gallon of milk and somehow come to the conclusion that I really wasn’t that injured after all.
Let me tell you, living this way is exhausting and not realistic. SO, I went ahead and lifted those gallons of milk, in public, and told myself TRUTH. Even if that one day, that one outing, I am able to do that one thing, it doesn’t mean I can do it on a regular basis without some rehab. The doctors and decision makers know this.
I’m not one of “them” but I’m also not one of “them”.
When you are a cop you are part of the family, not one of the public. You are one of the people who knows things, not one of the “sheep” who go about blindly. That thin blue line that separates us is a very real barrier. You might find yourself thinking “I don’t belong on the inside anymore but I also don’t fit on the outside.” Once you are retired you now fall into the category of “those that USED to know.” You know who I mean, the guys or gals you come across that used to be cops but you listen to them all the while thinking “you have no credibility because you’re no longer in the mix.” Once you retire you might be left feeling “where do I fit in?”
As I’m typing this I just read a Facebook post from my dept celebrating, with great fanfare, the service retirement of a K9. Now don’t get me wrong, I am in NO way devaluing the contribution of a K9 officer but after 16 years of service all I got was this lousy spinal injury.
When we get hired there is so much pomp and circumstance. There are swearing-in ceremonies and celebrations galore. When we service retire there is final sign offs, retirement parties, public acknowledgement for the career we devoted so much to. When you retire out on an injury you will be lucky if your department calls you in person and tells you, let alone be celebrated by those you worked with for so many years. This can set you back mentally. I found myself battling this thought “Maybe, I wasn’t that great of a cop after all and don’t deserve to be celebrated? I’m weak because I couldn’t hack it. It’s somehow my fault I got hurt.”
Becoming a police officer or corrections officer or FBI agent or ANY role in Law Enforcement is a tremendous accomplishment. It requires self-discipline, stamina and a ton of personal sacrifice. Just the fact that you had the gumption and bravery to join this profession is more than billions of other people are able to do. That alone sets you apart and I celebrate you for that. Let’s say your career was not marked by huge drug busts or by doing CPR on babies and bringing them back to life. In fact, maybe, the only thing you did as a cop was to write one measly ticket for a traffic violation. Don’t listen to that inner critic that says you didn’t do enough. You may have saved a life with that one simple act. Your very presence in uniform may have served as a deterrent for a horrible criminal act that was about to happen. Your career had value and even if your department or your city or your co-workers don’t celebrate you, you can celebrate yourself. You did an amazing thing by taking on this career choice!
If you are retiring out on an injury you have probably been suffering with some serious chronic pain that has you already a little depressed. You can’t do your job anymore and your hurt. That lands a lot of us on the couch or in bed for many months. It’s so easy to take those pain pills the doctors so freely prescribe, turn on the tv and veg the day away. Holy cow, how this only disables us even further!!
If I have one word of advice in this area it’s “Move!”
Get out of bed, move your body, GET OUTSIDE! Trust me when I tell you that a little change of place can make a huge difference. If you can, go for a walk outside. If you cannot walk then park a chair outside and just be. Take a book with you or a journal. Start small and only do five minutes at a time if it’s all you can handle. It is so important to find ways to feed your mental health through and after this process and if you fail to do it WHILE you are going through the injury process you will find it even harder AFTER you are officially retired.
Financially, you get put through the ringer when you go out on injury. Maybe it’s easier for some but for others they have experienced complete financial ruin while workers comp and the city you work for try to figure out what the other is doing. Physically you get put through the ringer. There are tests and doctor visits and physical therapy and possibly surgeries that go on for months and months. And in between those visits there are long periods of waiting while the bureaucracy tries to catch up.
Start saving now if you can. Live as frugally as you can because inevitably a few months will go by with zero paycheck and you still want to be able to put food on the table and pay the mortgage.
No one from your dept keeps up with you because lets face it out – of sight out of mind. This might not be true for everyone but in most officers experience, the longer you are gone, the less people think about you or reach out to see how you are doing. Now add to that the fact that your dept effectively “throws you out” with zero acknowledgment – it can be a difficult mental hurdle to overcome. Emotionally you are left to deal with the fact that you aren’t a cop and no one gives a fig.
I am an introvert by nature and quite content with my own company. I do not feel the need to socialize one bit! Big crowds or social gathering make my nerves jangle. I need a lot of alone time to re-energize. While this ok in healthy doses. it is not good to isolate yourself. We as humans are made for connection with other humans.
I am not kidding when I tell you that I had to FORCE myself out of the house. I told my human nature “no” and told my soul “yes” more often. Instead of locking myself away in the house I forced myself to become more involved with others. Calling friends for coffee dates or lunch dates, getting involved with my church and womens bible study groups, volunteering at my kid’s school, these all became ways for me to interact with others and combat any depression that was trying to sink in. It was super uncomfortable at first and still is to a point. But you know what I found? I found a totally new community of people who I had been missing out on my whole career! I’ve made new, wonderful friends! I’ve found some pretty cool ways to serve in my church and community and when that depression threatens to sink I have a great set of people ready to help me out of the dark.
No matter where or how you find yourself retiring, whether it’s medically or through a service retirement, I want you to know there is life after cop work! Keep an eye out for my upcoming post that includes words of wisdom from those who have been retired for some time and how they found life after their career. I have quite a few resources at my disposal regarding financial planning, mental health and spiritual guidance. If you find yourself needing or just wanting some additional information please feel free to hit me up in the comments and I’ll point you in the right direction.