Brent Pilkey, Author

WRITER, COP, SURVIVOR

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Brent PilkeyThe tale I’m about to share with you is not a happy story, although hopefully, it will have a happy ending.  It is my story, and it has shaped my life for the last two decades.  I debated for a long time on whether to include it on the website, for it is a subject scorned by many, and could affect my workplace and how I am viewed by others.  But it is also an illness a great many people suffer from, usually in silence and shame.  It is for all those people who like myself, fight a daily battle, sometimes literally for life and death, that I decided to tell my story. .

I’m talking about depression.

About five years into my policing career is when the depression began slowly, but inexorably, to wrap its coils about my life.  Pinpointing its exact onset is like asking an alcoholic when his drinking became a problem.  It is not an overnight development.  You do not wake up one morning after a night of pitiable sleep, suddenly thinking, “Damn it, I’m still alive.”

But I did reach that point, that horribly dark place where each day, every hour, is filled with endless suffering, and the future holds nothing but despair and hopelessness.  A time when the emotional pain is so great, ending your own life seems not only preferable, but logical. 

Twice in my life I have fallen to that depth, the first time planning to make my death appear as an accident.  Who better than a cop who has investigated murders, suicides, and accidental deaths to disguise his own suicide?  I survived because of a close friend who is no longer here, and his name is tattooed on the blade of a sword—a symbol of honour—on my forearm.

Years later, when I actually believed I had beaten the depression, I found myself under a bridge—ironically searching for a dead body—with my gun in my hand.  What stopped me that day?  I don’t really know.  Maybe I lacked the courage, perhaps I wasn’t quite there yet.  Sometimes I feel it was simply the depression making a suggestion, reminding me that I always had a solution sitting on my hip.

Did the job contribute to the depression?  How could it not?

There is a Meatloaf song that says, “They give you a paycheque every week, and steal a piece of your soul every day.”  And that’s what police work does to you, as far as I’m concerned.  The big, horrific events that jut up in the timeline of your career like axle-busting speed bumps on a road are what you remember.  Fatal road accidents, messy homicides or suicides (dead bodies quickly become common place, so only the really gory ones, the ones that make for great party stories, stand out), the shootings and stabbings, the domestics where some asshole has beaten his wife or girlfriend so badly, her face isn’t recognizable as human any more. 

I believe that as impacting as the big, memorable events are, it’s the day to day, constant exposure to human suffering, injustice, and sheer contempt for anything good or decent that wears away at the soul behind the badge.  Hurricanes can pound a shoreline, inflicting great damage, but storms of that strength are few and far between.  It’s the never ending, smaller waves that erode the stone and earth, creating cracks and weaknesses so that when the hurricane does strike, it can rip out great chunks of earth.

A good friend I met while working in 51 once told me that most cops quit between five and seven years on the job.  Apparently, that’s when reality starts to sink in, when the knight in shining armour who joined the job to save the world realizes he’s covered in mud and blood, and the world is as shitty a place as it always was.  I was right on schedule.  About five years in, I had gone from loving the job to hating it.  I was ready to give up, to quit the whole policing bit and start something new.  I was tired of dealing with the same criminals every day, and was sick to death of the revolving door that is our legal system.  I refuse to call it a justice system as there is very little justice done.

I never quit.  Like a cigarette addict, I was always saying that once it got bad enough, I’d leave.  But how many smokers keep puffing, even after seeing the x-rays with the blots of cancer on them? 

I should have stopped, or at least gotten out of 51, gone somewhere in the city where decent people actually existed.  But 51, like cigarettes, is addictive.  You get hooked on the pace, the action, and yeah, there is a warped sense of pride in dealing with the worst that the city and life can throw at you, and coming out on top. 

The depression cast a heavy shadow across my life, my job, friends, and family.  A lack of knowledge of the illness nearly cost me my life.  I fought a similar ignorance, both intentional and innocent, with the police and its medical bureau.

But I am alive today to say there is hope.  For the first time in over two decades, I’m optimistic about the future, that there will be a future, and it could be a bright one. 

You can fight the bleakness.  It is not a death sentence. 

You are not alone.

Brent Pilkey is available for book readings and motivational speaking. Please contact him at brentpilkeyauthor@gmail.com

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