The following is based on the combination of experiences from myself, those I work with, and those who have gone before us.
I have had many teachers throughout my years of education – both in, and out, of a classroom setting. Some of them were mere voices feeding me information, and others were much more. They were the definition of an educator, a mentor. Looking back now I am blessed to have sat in front of these men and women and be a sponge to the water they gave me. They have helped me find a path in life and taught me how to lead and teach others along the way.
The best teachers I had focus not only on the material covered but also gave years of experience-founded insight. Once I officially punched in for service, however, I realized the full reality of the job.
I recall hours of classroom time listening to teachers talk about the lifestyle of a public servant. For a long time, I thought I understood. Little did I know I was in for one of the biggest lessons of my life once the clock said “go” and that was: while I understood the words I had been told, I quickly learned the feeling of being a servant.
Highs & Lows
The extreme highs of adrenaline became an addicting sensation, and just what I’d imagined growing up and daydreaming about a selfless profession. But accompanying those feelings are equally intense waves of emotional pain.
Once you decide to live for someone else you are making a commitment to putting yourself, and often
your family, at the end of the line. The instantaneous switch from calm to chaos can be not only disruptive to your personal life but also extremely fatiguing. Plenty of people I know who are “in” respond to this fatigue through irritability, heavy drinking, depression, or even a general hatred towards people.
Fatigue that leads to irritability can make a restful night nothing more than a mirage in the desert, even on days you aren’t working. Your body becomes so ingrained in the routine of inconsistent sleep patterns that there is no point to adjusting a resting schedule on your off days. You soon decide it’s better to suck it up, be tired, and rest on the memories of a solid night’s sleep. This often leads to the solution of alcohol and/or medication to help shut your body down when you hit the bed. The problem there is that you wake up in a groggy haze, worse off than you were prior to self-medicating.
Depression sets in for multiple reasons. You grow accustomed to seeing things that the human brain is not designed to see. Your “normal” is a front row seat for suffering, trauma, violence, and death. While this experience gives you the ability to truly grasp and appreciate life, you also begin to understand death. Soon you’ll look at people in your life differently; you’ll be reminded of your work life when you look at every face you meet.
To make it even more personal, you may very likely shut down to those you care about. You’ll rationalize it as protecting them. They won’t understand, you’ll say. Or they are better off not knowing my perspective. As they say, ignorance is bliss. But you have chosen to sacrifice bliss, and normality, for the good of maintaining a stranger’s. This lack of communication can easily lead to a feeling of isolation at home.
The irony of hatred is that you can actually grow to hate the people you, in the beginning, vowed to help. This happens commonly with the “regular customers” – people that try to scam the system, the repeat offenders, the ones who will never get it. The hatred generally results in snap judgements of others, including people you meet off duty, and lack of interest to really communicate with people.
There is a lot of truth to the mentality that the protective service community marries into itself. We find it easier to maintain relationships with people who think like us, live like us; people who are the same shade of jaded.
While it may be easier to connect with those in our field, relationships are not any easier. Your significant other may understand what your job entails – the long hours, frustration, pain – but you have now connected two people who are independently susceptible to being a time bomb. If my math is correct this doubles the chance for relationship failure. Your relationships, on any level, will require more effort than those of the civilian life.
This article is not to deter you from choosing this lifestyle. I, myself, have chosen to take a life path of helping others, and am continuing take this mission to higher levels. I am simply hoping to shed some light on the reality of this work. As you read this, like I was told by my teachers, you will understand and consider the words I say, but until you step out into the field, these words will be nothing more than points to consider.
Why It's Worth It
I will close with this, the highlights of the job are indescribable. The experiences you will gain, and what you will live to succeed in, cannot be quantified with mere words. And the coworkers you will grow to consider family are the closest-knit relationships you will ever establish.
If you decide to pursue the job, hit it hard, because it will take all you’ve got.