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When a Portland police officer fired his gun at a 'demon,' his troubles were just beginning

“We were alone for so long, living in shame and secrecy," he said.

SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — For Jamie Beecher, the nightmares came first.

They haunted his sleep, which came as little surprise. Trying to make sense of lives shattered by anger, poverty, substance abuse and violence, which he saw all too frequently in his job as a Portland police officer, was not something that could be left neatly behind at the end of a shift. Without realizing it, he had been changed by trauma.

Then came the hallucinations.

Jamie was at home one night with his wife, Lisa, who was also a Portland police officer, when she heard two gunshots from upstairs. She immediately knew they came from his police weapon.

“Jamie, what are you doing?!” she yelled. His response was eerily calm. “It’s OK,” he told her. “A demon came after me. But I believe I got him. So we’re safe now.”

Jamie had experienced a psychotic break. Doctors concluded he had post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar 1, a form of mental illness often marked by extreme mood swings. That was decades ago, and the Beechers’ lives have never been the same.

Lisa tells the story in her new memoir, “Living With Mr. Fahrenheit: A First Responder Family’s Fight for a Future After a Mental Health Crisis.” It is a harrowing tale. Jamie had to quit his job, she nearly left him on more than one occasion, and growing up their two children did not have a close relationship with their father. But it comes with important lessons, especially for first responders and their families.

“We were alone and isolated for so long, living in shame and secrecy,” she said. “Shame can kill. There are more police officers who die of suicide every year than are killed in the line of duty. There’s a reason for that. If they can’t talk about [their trauma], if they can’t go for help, if they can’t feel supported by their departments, we’re not going to see an end to that. And I hope my book starts some conversations.”

Married in 1981, the Beechers are still together. 

“Jamie stays home for the most part,” Lisa said.

 After years and years of being on psychiatric medications, he’s now so sensitive to them that he can take only about half of what would normally be prescribed, and his mental health issues still affect their lives.

“I’m used to it, the kids are used to it,” Lisa said. “We know how to handle it. Everybody’s close. The kids are over here all the time.”

And yet, the clouds that came into the Beechers’ world more than three decades ago have never really departed. 

“I don’t look for happiness,” Lisa said. “I stopped looking for that a long time ago. Contentment is my happiness. If there’s contentment and nothing needs tending, it’s a good day.”

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