PTSD survivor finds 'haven' at the Y
Even in the wake of the violent events, Jim Page didn’t realize at first how much his life forever changed in one night. It ultimately led to his early retirement as a police officer with the Onalaska Police Department, where he served 20 years. He made the difficult choice to hand in his badge this spring 2016, around the six-year mark of an incident in which Page shot at a suspect. The district attorney ruled Page acted in self-defense, but the experience took a huge toll. Page was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) a few months after the event.
Growing up on Brice Prairie and graduating from Holmen High School, Page admits he had encountered challenges as an officer having family and friends living in this area. He’s responded to fatal traffic accidents and suicides involving people he knows. Therefore, it would’ve been totally understandable if he quit working out at the YMCA, where he’s a familiar face, and the case ran all over the news for several weeks. Yet today Page wants to share that he found respect and encouragement at the YMCA-North Branch, Onalaska. With gratitude in his voice, he describes the Y as a “haven.” Members didn’t bombard him with questions and comments. “Everybody was so supportive,” Page says. “I knew I could come here and go my way and do my exercise. The Y has been that haven for me.”
Returning to duty about a week after the shooting incident, Page says he tried telling himself he would be OK, that he could continue serving as a police officer, a position he inspired to since his high school years. Before working in Onalaska, Page served in the Military Police Corp in Germany and departments in Sparta and West Salem. “In the police academy, we’re trained up to the point where you pull the trigger,” he says. “They don’t tell you how to handle it after the shooting.” Page now makes it his mission to fill in the gaps, using his own painful experiences. He speaks to college students and police officers not only about officer involved shootings, but also about PTSD. “I don’t want to waste what happened to me,” he says. “I want to tell people that it’s important to get help, whether it’s PTSD, drug addiction, or mental health issues. It’s necessary if you want to live your life. Ask for help.” Page worked with police officers as part of the Emergency Response Team. He also volunteered to educate students, teachers, and parents about local drug trends. He carries on his mission with the Critical Incident Stress Management team, helping to debrief emergency personnel after they work under highly stressful and traumatic circumstances. Studies prove that a debriefing after a critical incident reduces negative impacts. “The biggest point I want to make about PTSD is having it is not a weakness,” Page says. “PTSD is a physiological disorder. Get help when you’re suffering.” The suicide rate for police officers involved in a shooting incident is seven times higher than the general public.
Along with going to the YMCA about three times a week, where he enjoys spinning classes and lifting weights, Page finds support from his church and family, which includes his wife of 20 years Angela, and their five sons, ages 8 to 28. Early in his 10-year membership, he built his physical and mental strength by completing a half- and a full-Ironman. He also finished the Y’s Got Energy Triathlon and a full marathon. Page credits his vigorous Y workouts for helping his endurance through those accomplishments, the shooting incident, and his recovery efforts with PTSD. He’s especially thankful that his passion for helping people hasn’t diminished since retirement. “I love being able to help people, and I’m glad I still can,” he says. – by Kim Seidel, Seidel Ink, LLC