Alice Fox stood in front of her Cloverdale apartment building, the plaid sleeve on her left arm rolled up to the shoulder.
“This one is, ‘Our lives begin to change the day we’re silent about things that matter,’” she said, looking down at the cursive words tattooed along her arm. “Right. That hit me so hard.
“And this one’s God’s work in my life,” she added. It’s hard to tell whether she’s referencing the shackled hands clasped in prayer, the church steeples hiding behind rays of light or the dove rising in flight along her inner bicep. She points to more and more. The words “PTSD Warrior” spilling down past her elbow. The image of St. Michael, archangel and patron saint of police officers, looking down to her wrist and fingers.
“And then angel wings back here,” she said, turning her head to catch a glimpse of her back, “but that’s going to be, feathers of my fallen friends … That’s my tribute.”
As an RCMP member, Fox has seen her friends fall under the strain of post-traumatic stress disorder. She attended the funeral of one friend on her birthday, after that RCMP member committed suicide. She’s responded to late night phone calls from countless others.
As a member suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder herself, she said “the miracle is the fact that I’m still here.”
PTSD isn’t uncommon in the RCMP and the Canadian Armed Forces, where Fox worked before she became a Mountie. According to a 2013 Canadian Forces Mental Health Survey, 11 per cent of people in the regular forces met the criteria for PTSD at some point in their life. Clinical psychologist Greg Passey said RCMP “rates of PTSD are actually higher than the (Canadian) military.”
According to Passey, 46 per cent of people with PTSD will think about suicide, and up to 19 per cent will attempt it. Individuals with PTSD have an 80 per cent higher risk of other mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and alcohol abuse, and their reports of physical ailments skyrocket. Dysfunctional relationships are also more common with PTSD: the divorce rate doubles, and 15 per cent of relationships for people with PTSD are in trouble.
Fox experienced that firsthand.
“I lost everything,” she said. “I lost someone I was with for a very long time, because they couldn’t handle my PTSD, my symptoms.
“I couldn’t handle — like, you know they’re lying about you,” she added, referencing management members in the RCMP. “What do you do?
“You go crazy.”
For four and a half years, Fox has been on stress leave from the RCMP, which she said was related to conflict between herself and her supervisor, Staff Sgt. Marc Alexander.
Fox alleged her supervisor Alexander harassed her based on her disabilities during their time at the Greater Vancouver Integrated Road Safety Unit (IRSU). Fox has dyslexia, dysgraphia and visual perception disorder; under her previous supervisor Insp. Manjinder Kaila, she received additional support in dealing with files related to her above-average number of impaired driving cases.
According to Fox’s notice of civil claim against Alexander, she was “often openly chastised for (her) paper work, file management, hand writing and exhibit handling.” Alexander could not be reached for comment, but his response to Fox’s civil claim stated he met with her “approximately twice per month” because she made mistakes in her exhibits.
Neither claim has been proven in court.
In January, 2013, Fox took a leave of absence from the RCMP. In February, she filed a formal harassment complaint against Alexander.
At that time, Fox had been dealing with nearly a decade of low-level PTSD. It started small back in 2004, she said, when she worked in general duty at the Ridge Meadows detachment.
On her first night shift, she confronted a man with a sawed-off shotgun. On another shift, her partner was dragged across an intersection by a car. She could hear the screaming over the radio.
Later, Fox was called out to a domestic dispute and found herself surrounded by six Rottweilers, two of which she said were involved in the attack on three-year-old Cody Fontaine in December 2004.
“I could feel the shift,” she said. “A little more nervous.
“In hindsight, that would be probably when the PTSD was starting.”
It wasn’t impairing back then, she said. It was the series of bureaucratic and legal struggles that happened after she filed the harassment complaint which Fox said left her with PTSD symptoms that were “through the roof.”
“How do you deal with this?” she asked.
One answer: “Medication. It changes you forever,” she said. Another: running. Hanging above her computer are overlapping medals from marathons across North America. At one point she said she ran a marathon a week — “lost a couple toenails,” she said. “That was a crazy year.”
Her third coping mechanism? Tattoos.
“I never had a tattoo before that and I can’t stop,” she said.
“We need to. We just got to bleed out our pain, we don’t feel no more.”
These have helped her avoid becoming a suicide statistic — they haven’t dealt with all the symptoms of PTSD.
“I couldn’t settle,” she said. “Dude, I wasn’t sleeping. For days on end.
“And my nightmares, when I did get sleep, was me fighting the RCMP in court, saying, ‘Why did you do this?’”
For four and a half years, fighting Alexander and the RCMP in court for damages, that’s what she’s been trying to figure out.
This is the first in a series of articles on Alice Fox’s journey through the RCMP and her struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder. Next week we’ll be looking at her experiences as an RCMP member, and why she feels the RCMP has let her down.