The Realist Eats the Donut

An optimist, a pessimist, and a realist walk into a donut shop . . . Give me a few minutes, and I promise I will explain how this relates to being a police officer (besides just the fact that it mentions donuts!).

I would say that the majority of police officers enter the profession with a great deal of optimism about what the future holds.  After all, the main reason people become police officers is because they want to “help people.”  If you have a sincere desire to help people, and are willing to commit a significant amount of effort toward that goal, what could possibly go wrong?  Indeed, the law-abiding people in our communities, and especially children and other vulnerable members of our society, deserve to be helped.  Police officers begin their career by placing very high expectations on themselves about what it means to be in a position to help people, and how true they intend to be to that special commitment.

Your expectations on yourself may be legitimate.  Society’s expectations for you may be legitimate.  But soon the weight of those expectations begins to overwhelm you, and you begin to realize that you have placed yourself in a position in which you are not permitted to hurt, or to fail, or to simply be human.  Sure, there are days when you may be able to shake it off, regain a sense of hope, and push back against the negativity.  But eventually you find yourself becoming more pessimistic than optimistic about the difference that you are making as you perform your job in your community.  You become depersonalized, demoralized, and detached.  Soon you find yourself:

  • Developing a preoccupation with stress-producing people or situations
  • Overindulging in escape behaviors like alcohol, drugs, or overspending
  • Avoiding intimacy and seeking fantasy over reality
  • Seeking to control everything and everyone as a means to survive
  • Justifying your actions by blaming other things and other people
  • Choosing simply to leave the profession

Just as optimism is not the problem, pessimism is not the solution.  The answer is found in developing the ability to be realistic – about the profession, about your abilities, and about how to respond to the stresses that, if left unchecked, will result in a steady decline of interest in your job and ultimately in burnout.  This means that you should learn to find joy in your work without letting your work become your identity.  This means taking time for yourself, too, like making sure you get plenty of rest and watch your diet.  This means engaging in some productive activities that keep you fresh and positive.  And it also means identifying one or two people in your life to whom you can be accountable, who will listen and offer feedback and encouragement, to help keep you focused on what is important in your life and in your profession.

If you need help figuring out how to do any of these things, feel free to reach out to us by sending a message at   We’re here for you.  Meanwhile, remember:

An optimist, a pessimist, and a realist walk into a donut shop.  The optimist sees the donut; the pessimist sees the hole; the realist eats the donut!  Be safe, be well, and enjoy your donut!

Is there such a thing as a “suicidal personality?”

Have you ever wondered whether there is such a thing as a “suicidal personality?”  Science has made some great strides, and quite a bit of research has been done on personality traits and their possible link to suicidal thoughts.  If we could only predict which individuals, based on personality, were more likely to consider suicide, wouldn’t we be able to do more to help them change their thinking and prevent that tragedy from happening?  If only it were that simple.

Let’s make a distinction here, because there are a number of diagnosable personality disorders or mood disorders that can be associated with suicidal thinking.  The good news is that if you are a first responder, or someone who cares about a first responder in your life, the pre-employment screening that is performed will catch those disorders and eliminate those candidates from the pool before they ever get the job!  So, if you think you have antisocial personality disorder or borderline personality disorder, the chances are you do not.  But . . . you can have a lot of different symptoms associated with the stresses of the job that can often mimic certain personality or mood disorders, and that’s where things begin to get tricky.

One of the most common mood disorders, of course, is depression.  The link between depression and suicidal thoughts and actions is irrefutable.  Data published by the Centers for Disease Control show that half of all people who complete suicide have at least one diagnosed mental health condition, and that the most common one of those – 85.2% – is depression.  Of course, the link between chronic stress and depression is also irrefutable, so much so that the American Psychiatric Association says that depression itself is a chronic stressor.  The significance of all this, of course, is that first responders often suffer from the effects of chronic stress, which in turn makes them more vulnerable to depression, which in turn may result in the increase of suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Let’s add some additional behavioral traits to the mix that are not uncommon among first responders:

  • Internalizing – the tendency to adjust so that attitudes and behaviors that may be considered abnormal under most circumstances or for most people become normal.
  • Emotional dysregulation – the inability of a person to manage his or her emotional reactions to provocative stimuli, leading to the development of inappropriate coping mechanisms for stressful conditions. One example would be the tendency to self-medicate with alcohol or other drugs.
  • Somaticizing – a condition in which anxiety (also related to chronic stress) is converted into physical symptoms. Persons suffering from chronic stress are more prone to anxiety, making them more prone to physical illness.  Carry that a step forward, and people suffering from prolonged physical illnesses are more likely to experience suicidal thoughts.

Long story short, we all must certainly keep an eye out for ourselves and for our loved ones and notice any changes in behavior and thinking that may be warning signs of an underlying problem.

This article is not intended in any way to serve as a replacement for professional intervention in cases where that is needed.  Meanwhile, if you are struggling, whether you are a first responder, family member, or friend, please feel free to reach out to us at we can help you understand what you are experiencing.  And as always, if you are having suicidal thoughts and are in crisis now, please call someone to be with you, then call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK (8255).

Grief After Suicide – Part 3

The pain of grief can often cause you to want to withdraw from others and retreat into your shell.  But having the face-to-face support of other people is vital to healing from loss.  Even if you’re not comfortable talking about your feelings under normal circumstances, it’s important to express them when you’re grieving.  While sharing your loss can make the burden of grief easier to carry, that doesn’t mean that every time you interact with friends and family, you need to talk about your loss.  Comfort can also come from just being around others who care about you.  The key is not to isolate yourself.

 Finding support after a loss

 Turn to friends and family members – Now is the time to lean on the people who care about you, even if you take pride in being strong and self-sufficient.  Rather than avoiding them, draw friends and loved ones close, spend time together face to face, and accept the assistance that’s offered.  Often, people want to help but don’t know how, so tell them what you need—whether it’s a shoulder to cry on, help with funeral arrangements, or just someone to hang out with.  If you don’t feel you have anyone you can regularly connect with in person, it’s never too late to build new friendships.

Draw comfort from your faith – If you follow a religious tradition, embrace the comfort its mourning rituals can provide.  Spiritual activities that are meaningful to you—such as praying, meditating, or going to church—can offer solace.  If you’re questioning your faith in the wake of the loss, talk to a clergy member or others in your religious community.

Join a support group – Grief can feel very lonely, even when you have loved ones around. Sharing your sorrow with others who have experienced similar losses can help.  To find a bereavement support group in your area, contact local hospitals, hospices, funeral homes, and counseling centers.  You can also search on the website of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention for a support group near you.

Talk to a therapist or grief counselor – If your grief feels like too much to bear, find a mental health professional with experience in grief counseling.  An experienced therapist can help you work through intense emotions and overcome obstacles to your grieving.

Using social media for grief support

Memorial pages on Facebook and other social media sites have become popular ways to inform a wide audience of a loved one’s passing and to reach out for support.  As well as allowing you to impart practical information, such as funeral plans, these pages allow friends and loved ones to post their own tributes or condolences.  Reading such messages can often provide some comfort for those grieving the loss.

Of course, posting sensitive content on social media has its risks as well.  Memorial pages are often open to anyone with a Facebook account.  This may encourage people who hardly knew the deceased to post well-meaning but inappropriate comments or advice.  Worse, memorial pages can also attract Internet trolls.  There have been many well-publicized cases of strangers posting cruel or abusive messages on memorial pages.

To gain some protection, you can opt to create a closed group on Facebook rather than a public page, which means people have to be approved by a group member before they can access the memorial.  It’s also important to remember that while social media can be a useful tool for reaching out to others, it can’t replace the face-to-face connection and support you need at this time.

When grief doesn’t go away

As time passes following a significant loss, such as the death of a loved one, it’s normal for feelings of sadness, numbness, or anger to gradually ease.  These and other difficult emotions become less intense as you begin to accept the loss and start to move forward with your life.  However, if you aren’t feeling better over time, or your grief is getting worse, it may be a sign that your grief has developed into a more serious problem, such as complicated grief or major depression.

Complicated grief

The sadness of losing someone you love never goes away completely, but it shouldn’t remain center stage.  If the pain of the loss is so constant and severe that it keeps you from resuming your life, you may be suffering from a condition known as complicated grief.  Complicated grief is like being stuck in an intense state of mourning.  You may have trouble accepting the death long after it has occurred or be so preoccupied with the person who died that it disrupts your daily routine and undermines your other relationships.

Symptoms of complicated grief include:

  • Intense longing and yearning for your deceased loved one
  • Intrusive thoughts or images of your loved one
  • Denial of the death or sense of disbelief
  • Imagining that your loved one is alive
  • Searching for your deceased loved one in familiar places
  • Avoiding things that remind you of your loved one
  • Extreme anger or bitterness over your loss
  • Feeling that life is empty or meaningless

When to seek professional help for grief

If you recognize any of the above symptoms of complicated grief, talk to a mental health professional right away.  Left untreated, complicated grief and depression can lead to significant emotional damage, life-threatening health problems, and even suicide.  But treatment can help you get better.

Contact a grief counselor or professional therapist if you:

  1. Feel like life isn’t worth living
  2. Wish you had died with your loved one
  3. Blame yourself for the loss or for failing to prevent it
  4. Feel numb and disconnected from others for more than a few weeks
  5. Are having difficulty trusting others since your loss
  6. Are unable to perform your normal daily activities

The information in this article is not intended to replace professional help for those who need it.  If you’d like to chat with someone to help you understand what you’re experiencing and determine whether professional help is necessary, message us at and one of our specialists will be happy to connect with you.  If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts and are in crisis now, please call someone to be with you, and then call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1(800) 273- TALK (8255).


Grief After Suicide – Part 2

Grieving is a highly individual experience; there’s no right or wrong way to grieve.  How you grieve depends on many factors, including your personality and coping style, your life experience, your faith, and how significant the loss was to you.  Inevitably, the grieving process takes time.  Healing happens gradually; it can’t be forced or hurried—and there is no “normal” timetable for grieving.  Some people start to feel better in weeks or months. For others, the grieving process is measured in years.  Whatever your grief experience, it’s important to be patient with yourself and allow the process to naturally unfold.

While loss affects people in different ways, many of us experience the following symptoms when we’re grieving.  Just remember that almost anything that you experience in the early stages of grief is normal—including feeling like you’re going crazy, feeling like you’re in a bad dream, or questioning your religious or spiritual beliefs.

Emotional symptoms of grief

Shock and disbelief – Right after a loss, it can be hard to accept what happened.  You may feel numb, have trouble believing that the loss really happened, or even deny the truth. When someone you love has died, you may keep expecting them to show up, even though you know they’re gone.

Sadness – Profound sadness is probably the most universally experienced symptom of grief.  You may have feelings of emptiness, despair, yearning, or deep loneliness.  You may also cry a lot or feel emotionally unstable.

Guilt – You may regret or feel guilty about things you did or didn’t say or do.  You may also feel guilty about certain feelings you have had either before or after the person has died.  After a death by suicide, you may even feel guilty for not doing something to prevent that suicide, even if there was nothing more you could have done.

Anger – Even if the loss was nobody’s fault, you may feel angry and resentful.  You may be angry with yourself, God, the doctors, or even the person who died for abandoning you and your family.  You may feel the need to blame someone for the injustice that was done to you.

 Fear – A significant loss can trigger a host of worries and fears.  You may feel anxious, helpless, or insecure.  You may even have panic attacks. The death of a loved one can trigger fears about your own emotional stability, your own mortality, of facing life without that person, or the responsibilities you now face alone.

Physical symptoms of grief

We often think of grief as a strictly emotional process, but grief often involves physical problems, including:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Lowered immunity
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Aches and pains
  • Insomnia

Take care of yourself as you grieve

When you’re grieving, it’s more important than ever to take care of yourself.  The stress of a major loss can quickly deplete your energy and emotional reserves.  Looking after your physical and emotional needs will help you get through this difficult time.

Face your feelings. You can try to suppress your grief, but you can’t avoid it forever.  In order to heal, you have to acknowledge the pain.  Trying to avoid feelings of sadness and loss only prolongs the grieving process.  Unresolved grief can also lead to complications such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and health problems.

Express your feelings in a tangible or creative way. Write about your loss in a journal.  When you’ve lost a loved one, you may wish to write a letter saying the things you never got to say; make a scrapbook or photo album celebrating the person’s life; or get involved in a cause or organization that was important to your loved one.

Look after your physical health. The mind and body are connected.  When you feel healthy physically, you’ll be better able to cope emotionally.  Combat stress and fatigue by getting enough sleep, eating right, and exercising.  Don’t use alcohol or drugs to numb the pain of grief or lift your mood artificially.

Try to maintain your hobbies and interests. There’s comfort in routine and getting back to the activities that bring you joy and connect you closer to others can help you come to terms with your loss and aid the grieving process.

Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel, and don’t tell yourself how to feel either. Your grief is your own, and no one else can tell you when it’s time to “move on” or “get over it.”  Let yourself feel whatever you feel without embarrassment or judgment.  It’s okay to be angry, to yell at the heavens, to cry or not to cry.  It’s also okay to laugh, to find moments of joy, and to let go when you’re ready.

Plan ahead for grief “triggers.” Anniversaries, holidays, and milestones can reawaken memories and feelings.  Be prepared for an emotional wallop, and know that it’s completely normal.  If you’re sharing a holiday or lifecycle event with other relatives, talk to them ahead of time about their expectations and agree on strategies to honor the person you loved.

This information and these tips will be helpful for most people, and most people have enough natural resilience that a new sense of “normal” will come with time.  Grief, however, can be a very complicated thing, and some people need additional help to get better.  In part 3 of this series, we will talk about what to do when grief doesn’t go away, and where to go for additional help and support.  Meanwhile, if you’d like to chat with someone, message us at and one of our specialists will be happy to connect with you.  If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts and are in crisis now, please call someone to be with you, and then call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1(800) 273- TALK (8255).




Grief After Suicide – Part 1

Coping with the loss of someone you care about is one of life’s biggest challenges, especially if that loss was due to suicide.  Often, the pain of loss can feel overwhelming.  You may experience all kinds of difficult and unexpected emotions, from shock or anger to disbelief, guilt, and profound sadness.  The pain of grief can also disrupt your physical health, making it difficult to sleep, eat, or even think straight. These are normal reactions to significant loss.  But while there is no right or wrong way to grieve, there are healthy ways to cope with the pain that, in time, can ease your sadness and help you come to terms with your loss, find new meaning, and move on with your life.

While experiencing loss is an inevitable part of life, there are ways to help cope with the pain, come to terms with your grief, and eventually, find a way to pick up the pieces and move on with your life.

  1. Acknowledge your pain.
  2. Accept that grief can trigger many different and unexpected emotions.
  3. Understand that your grieving process will be unique to you.
  4. Seek out face-to-face support from people who care about you.
  5. Support yourself emotionally by taking care of yourself physically.
  6. Recognize the difference between grief and depression.

Grieving is a highly individual experience; there’s no right or wrong way to grieve.  How you grieve depends on many factors, including your personality and coping style, your life experience, your faith, and how significant the loss was to you.  Inevitably, the grieving process takes time.  Healing happens gradually; it can’t be forced or hurried—and there is no “normal” timetable for grieving.  Some people start to feel better in weeks or months.  For others, the grieving process is measured in years. Whatever your grief experience, it’s important to be patient with yourself and allow the process to naturally unfold.

In 1969, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced what became known as the “five stages of grief.”  These stages of grief were based on her studies of the feelings of patients facing terminal illness, but many people have generalized them to other types of negative life changes and losses, such as the death of a loved one or a break-up.

  • Denial:“This can’t be happening to me.”
  • Anger: Why is this happening? Who is to blame?”
  • Bargaining: “Make this not happen, and in return I will ____.”
  • Depression: “I’m too sad to do anything.”
  • Acceptance: “I’m at peace with what happened.”

If you are experiencing any of these emotions following the loss of a loved one due to suicide, it may help to know that your reaction is natural and that you’ll heal in time.  However, not everyone who grieves goes through all of these stages—and that’s okay.  Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to go through each stage in order to heal.  In fact, some people resolve their grief without going through any of these stages.  And if you do go through these stages of grief, you probably won’t experience them in a neat, sequential order, so don’t worry about what you “should” be feeling or which stage you’re supposed to be in.

Kübler-Ross herself never intended for these stages to be a rigid framework that applies to everyone who mourns.  In her last book before her death in 2004, she said of the five stages of grief: “They were never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages.  They are responses to loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss.  Our grieving is as individual as our lives.”

Instead of a series of stages, we might also think of the grieving process as a roller coaster, full of ups and downs, highs and lows.  Like many roller coasters, the ride tends to be rougher in the beginning, the lows may be deeper and longer.  The difficult periods should become less intense and shorter as time goes by, but it takes time to work through a loss.  Even years after a loss, especially at special events such as a family wedding or the birth of a child, we may still experience a strong sense of grief (Hospice Foundation of America).

In Part 2 of this series of articles, we will talk about grief symptoms and how to take care of yourself as you grieve.  In Part 3, we will talk about what to do when grief doesn’t go away and seeking support (including professional help, if necessary) to help you through the grieving process.

If you’re struggling with your emotions and would like to chat, please reach out to us at and we will be glad to respond.  If you are having suicidal thoughts yourself and are in crisis now, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1(800) 273-TALK (8255).