“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”

-George Bernard Shaw

From Cop Life to Civilian Life 

The Blood-Brain Barrier.

As defined by the National Cancer Institute:

A network of blood vessels and tissue that is made up of closely spaced cells and helps keep harmful substances from reaching the brain. The blood-brain barrier lets some substances, such as water, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and general anesthetics, pass into the brain. It also keeps out bacteria and other substances..”

According to the Queensland Brain Institute in Australia, the blood-brain barrier’s purpose is to, “…protect against circulating toxins or pathogens that could cause brain infections, while at the same time allowing vital nutrients to reach the brain.”

Here we will attempt to draw parallels. The association between a police officer’s blood-brain barrier as a protector to their mental health is vital to understand. It is an important filtration process that can simplify the constant balancing act between being an officer and having a normal civilian life.

In a world of constant controlled chaos that bubbles inside of a police officer’s head, the blood-brain barrier’s nature of semi permeable properties is vital to their mental health. A police officer’s life teeters between the necessary confidence to do such a job, and offsetting the potential self destruction caused by the job.  

The things that are allowed into their minds as opposed to what they filter out can be a matter of life and death. 

Throughout a cops career, they must decide on what they hold as important and what they must throw out as hurtful.  These decisions are not so clear cut.   It is how these personal choices and internal perspectives are filtered that make up a cop’s symbolic blood-brain barrier.  

How We Find Meaning in Life

To be part of something powerful and amazing can give an individual’s life tons of meaning.  The feeling of positive self-worth and importance is often the gasoline that drives a person’s daily life.  This is a beautiful phenomenon that occurs with people and societies.

These conveyances for meaning in one’s life usually come in the form of groups.  Microcosm societies within our larger society framework.  They come in many sizes as well.  

Congregating with like minded religious groups is one example.  Praying can bring people together in powerful ways.  It gives meaning to individual’s lives and allows them to reciprocate that feeling to others by a demonstration of their own faith and dedication.

Being a part of various sports teams is another sub culture within our society that delivers major confidence and self worth to people.  Through competition and coaching, the group’s bond becomes filled with unbreakable pride whether they win or lose games.  The reliance on each other to protect from the woes of losing a game is a strong cultural adhesive which ultimately delivers a sense of belonging to people.     

In other ways that are not so obvious, people find meaning to their lives through things such as shared musical interests, hobbies, political positions, clubs and practically all extra curricular passions one can imagine.  

An important vessel for meaning that is often overlooked is a person’s career. Whether someone’s profession is a passion or simply a paycheck, much of their day-to-day life outside of work is affected by what they do to make an income.  Things like where a person lives, who their social circle is and even how someone carries themselves in public.  A career can be, and in many instances is, a defining role in who they are.  

Ventricles & Valves: An Identity Interwoven with Temporality

The Blood Brain Barrier must be permeable to the right ideals.  Having the best possible perspectives allows a buffer for a police officer who is about to leave the force.  The fallout of existence that occurs when an officer suddenly is no longer an officer can be damaging to the psychology of an individual.  

The daily grind and mental workload officers take on never ends.  As I described in my blog post titled, Slumber Me This, this accumulated stress has the potential to cause damage to ones personal life.  It is up to the individual to manage and mitigate a healthy life perspective.  

Like in a beating heart, strong ventricles & valves allow healthier blood to get to our brains.  Officers must keep their ventricles and valves squeaky clean so that their blood can be as healthy as possible when it finally makes it to the blood brain barrier.  

Most cops join the force with dreams of helping the innocent.  Putting innocent people’s lives before their own is respectable in many ways.  However, in a culture that is truly thankless and punitive to the very people that take those risks, the road to self importance and meaning in one’s life is a slippery one filled with blind drops at every corner.  

Police officers usually have a meaning to life that is more dense in its core.  This petrification of self identity in a copper’s life is due to the extreme sacrifices they endure in their career.  After building a hardened belief system, they can have that identity taken away at a moment’s notice.  Sometime’s there is zero lag time from being part of something powerfully important, to being left alone and cold with nothing familiar to comfort them.  

Here are 4 examples of such scenarios:

  1. DEATH: Cops live a life where everyday can be their last day alive.  The emotion of never seeing their kids again is bottled deep inside of each police officer.  This drives meaning in each individual at a level stronger than most.  The camaraderie tends to be a stronger one than in most professions.   
  2. MEDICALLY FORCED RETIREMENTS: Cops get shot or suffer serious injuries that cause them to be medically discharged.  This puts an individual in a position where they go from Mr./Ms. Superhero to Mr./Ms. Vulnerable is a split second.  Quite often, they soon find themselves outside of this powerful circle which gave them a strong sense of meaning for a many years before their injury.  
  3. ISOLATION: Cops often become victims of the job-related PTSD.  The alcoholism may bring a DUI which can lead them to being fired.  Perhaps high absenteeism or lack of motivation due to job related stress puts them in positions where they cannot promote.  They can lose their sense of belonging in a culture whose foundation is teamwork, togetherness and camaraderie.  This negative perception can lead to a downward spiral of depression and detachment.  All of a sudden, the individual no longer feels they are a part of the police sub culture that once upon a time brought them so much positive meaning.  
  4. HONORABLE RETIREMENT: When cops do make it to retirement, it is celebrated.  The group is self aware of the hardships their collective careers call for.  This demands major respect to those who are retiring.  When done correctly, the retiree is setup for a life of relaxation and freedom.  What is often seen with retirees is how often they talk about their police work.  Usually, they like to share with active LEO’s that they are retired.  They jump at opportunities to talk about their own experiences as a copper.  But the support system is no longer there.  No one in their sub culture is around to nod their heads in empathy as they speak about the good old days.

After 20-30 years of police work, the blood-brain barrier is now left with what it has sifted out and allowed into the brain.  There is no going back, so hopefully what is left is a positive perspective.

If detachment from this career is negative, the fallout and personal regret is a slow painful emotion.  One can only hope they filtered out the evil and kept in the righteous as they step into a new world without their long held identity.  

The Heart of a Warrior: Bracing for Tsunamis of Bad Blood

A cop’s heart bares many battle scars.  Being aware of the dangers before they come and learning how to brace for the inevitable is a valuable concept I wish I had learned as a young police officer.  Accepting the battle scars and making sure one stays positive despite the violence and political muck a police officer’s heart must wade through is a skill that must transform into habit.  

In order to do so, a police officer has to learn this from even before they apply for the position.  As they go through their careers they must keep reminding themselves of the hidden dangers that can surface in a delayed fashion.  

We need awareness and positive perspective to be priority! 

Many retired police officers find comfort in their grandchildren. Motorcycle buddies and fishing groups can be quite uniting. Others continue work in the private sector.  Some have finally reached a point where they can be alone with their spouses and travel the world.  

Many great things come with retirement.  The pensions and medical benefits allow for this type of life to be possible after leaving police life to civilian life.  It’s not all so negative and scary.  

Social media has played a huge role in giving retirees comfort and belonging after leaving their agencies.  They are able to share memories, talk about how it used to be and vent about how current politics has ruined the art of police work.  

Podcasts and blogs have given a voice to many retired officers.  It has made the transition to civilian life so much easier by providing connection to their identity as a police officer.

However, the process of positioning oneself for a happy retirement can be a difficult one.  Mostly, they are successful stories of happiness.  But what about the other scenarios that play out much too often?  Like for example, the unplanned detachments from law enforcement as mentioned above.   

This profession demands a level of soul-commitment that is unparalleled to most professions.  When the job is ripped away from a person, the fall can be devastating.

That being said, it is vital to actively filter the good poisons from the bad.  Filter them from the blood so that it may pass freely through the ventricles and valves of the heart.  Filter them so that the burden beyond the badge may be easier to cope with when that blood finally passes through the police blood brain barrier.

Let us actively do what we can to settle down the waves. 

Let us be supportive to one another in making sure the waves are only as big as small splashes. 

Let us be a driving force of positive perspective for future generations in law enforcement so that we are not drowned by a tsunami of bad blood.  

Let us reinforce our lives with awareness so that we can have a strong and healthy mental state…

Along with a strong and healthy blood-brain barrier. 

-Tom Ludlow