Halifax Police Chief Jean-Michel Blais speaks about PTSD diagnosis
Blais said anxiety attacks, problems sleeping, nightmares and intrusive thoughts took over his mind
Halifax Regional Police Chief Jean-Michel Blais says he owed it to the officers that serve under him to reveal his diagnosis of PTSD.
Recently, Blais shared that he was diagnosed with PTSD in January 2012. The diagnosis came two years after his third trip to Haiti with the United Nations.
Blais worked in the Caribbean country, first in 1995 with the United Nations and returned again in 2008.
During those tours, he witnessed violent rioting and numerous hurricanes.
Most difficult was the collapse of a school. As commander of the operations, he had to order the body of a victim be cut in half so a young girl could be pulled alive from the rubble.
His third trip, in 2010, was to help with the devastating outcome of the earthquake that destroyed much of the capital city, Port-au-Prince.
In that earthquake, more than 230,000 people died. Blais helped search rubble for missing officers and people he worked alongside when he was stationed in the city.
The earthquake in Haiti continued to haunt Blais after his return to Canada.
He first noticed a change in himself in 2009 and thought all he needed was a career move, so he requested a transfer to Nova Scotia.
But the problems didn't stop.
Anxiety attacks, problems sleeping, nightmares and intrusive thoughts took over his mind day and night.
He describes it as a veil.
"It's like a veil that makes everything grey around me. A veil that doesn't allow me to appreciate all the subtleties and the beauty of life," he said.
Blais said he cried when he finally was diagnosed with PTSD in 2012.
Although he felt relief, he was also concerned about the stigma. Five years later, he said attitudes have changed.
"People have a tendency to think that just because we are police officers, we can't, or shouldn't have any issues or any problems. Well, we're human beings as well," he said.
Spending time at the lake near his home with his two dogs, helps Blais find peace.
Doesn't sleep well
"A peace that will allow me to start my day off right, to end my day off right," he said.
"It gives me the chance to get that bit of energy I need in the morning. I find that overnight, I don't sleep very well, I wake up five, six times in a night. Sometimes I'll wake up out of nightmares, so it doesn't allow me to be rested enough."
His two dogs are a big part of his coping with PTSD.
"They don't ask me questions, they are good companions … and they're pretty well there when I need them," he said.
Blais said the daily walks are also a chance to hit the reset button.
"More than anything else, it's something I eased into naturally, that I saw that I needed to do and get out there," he said. "These dogs take me for walks everyday."
Blais says working out is also a big part of managing his PTSD.
"It's a critical part of it in order to get the stress away," Blais explains.
"It's almost to burn off the adrenaline. I also referee hockey, which, strangely enough, gives me chance to completely forget about everything."