After devoting more than three decades to Victoria Police, Ian struggled to deal with the lasting effects of the job. Then, an instant bond with an unlikely companion began rewriting his story.
Ian Clark was sure he had another ten years on the job, bringing him to 45 years of devout police work.
He didn’t know how quickly the job he loved – something he could do in his sleep – could become an impossible feat.
“I don’t know where my PTSD came from, but it hit me like a brick,” he says.
“I’d seen many things that I hope the average person never has to see. And they shouldn’t – that was our job, not theirs.”
That’s when Ian’s nightmares started; something he remembers as being “vivid, vicious and angry”, bringing on “massive anxiety” doing the job he’d always loved.
“Two weeks,” he says. “That’s how quickly it hit”.
“It continued, and my ten-year dream disappeared quickly. I had the support of my bosses and was putting in for promotion. Suddenly I just couldn’t function.”
Fast-forward to September of last year, and Ian had finished up a 35-year stint with Victoria Police after his anxiety had become too much to handle. He sought out help at the Melbourne Clinic, completing a ten week course for emergency service workers.
“My bucket had filled, and one unknown drop pushed it over,” he says.
Then along came Ben.
All but two kilos, Ben is a pint-sized Cavoodle who was given to Ian by Cavoodle Love Sydney. The organisation posted the proposition of offering a puppy to a Police member, as a mark of appreciation for work they do for the community.
“I already can’t imagine him not being part of my life,” Ian says.
“The generosity of [Cavoodle Love] brings tears to my eyes,” he says. “I have a long way to go in my recovery – a very long way – but to donate puppies for a cause like this, it just doesn’t save one person; it saves families, friends and colleagues.”
Ian says Ben has already begun to recognise the onset of an anxiety attack, something he can suffer from unexpectedly.
“I was playing fetch with him in the kitchen. I was cooking as well, and because he’s always around my feet, he instantly noticed when I started to have an anxiety attack.”
“Out of the blue I just started crying,” he says, “and he just kind of stopped playing and came straight over.”
In addition to seeing a psychologist and a psychiatrist, Ian receives support from the Victoria Police wellbeing service and Veteran Peer Support. Ben, Ian says, is proving to be an important component to improving his wellbeing.
“I’ve gotten so much out of him already, and though I’ve got a long way to go, I can see him being a great companion to me for a long, for a long time,” he says.
“To those suffering from PTSD, please reach out for help. There are more out there experiencing exactly the same thing you are. And there is help, there is.”
“A dog seriously changes your life…if you’re a dog person, of course.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, call Victoria Police Wellbeing Services on 1300 090 995, Mental Health All-hours Support Line on 1800 628 036 or Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.