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Artwork by John P. Weiss

Mental Health

How I found peacefulness

Solitude and creativity have been in my arsenal for some time now. They’re the best way to confront the inhumanity and sorrow one witnesses in law enforcement.

Suicides. Murder. Accident victims. Child abuse. Such things are obscenities that crush the human spirit.

I was a cop for over twenty six years. The last ten years I served as Chief of Police. The years of shift work, little sleep, fear, moments of pure adrelanine and stress took their toll.

Cops learn to be stoic. We bury our feelings, mask our emotions and get the job done. It’s only later, in the sanctuary of our homes, that the demons come. Memories, images and scenes of carnage that reside persistently in our psyche.

Each of us has to find our own way. Our own salvation and methods to process it all and stay healthy.

For me, my family played a crucial role. Exercise helped. But mostly, solitude and creativity were the ballasts that steadied my course.

It became politically difficult

I was constantly drawing as a kid and served as an editorial cartoonist on several newspapers. I did the cartooning on the side while working full time as a cop.

Unfortunately, as I rose through the ranks, it became politically difficult to continue with my editorial cartoons. So, I turned to landscape painting.

I didn’t have time to go back to school and study art, so I sought instruction from one of the best landscape painters in the country, Scott L. Christensen.

I flew to Idaho and took a workshop with Scott. The next year I flew back for an advanced workshop. The year after that, Scott invited me to a private salon with one other artist.

I was a bit of a novelty

I wasn’t like most of Scott Christensen’s students. They had art backgrounds, worked in design or were full time professional artists. I was a full time cop who liked to paint. I was a bit of a novelty. The artful cop.

Scott Christensen took a liking to me, which led to that week long salon in his studio. What an experience it was. One on one instruction. Daily outdoor painting. Total art immersion. It was life changing.

“Autumn path” by John P. Weiss

I discovered that I fell in love with plein air (outdoor) painting. Standing near those Idaho cottonwoods, and taking in the grandeur of the Tetons, stirred something in me.

The wind in the trees and the silent solitude of being alone in nature calms the soul. Heals the spirit. Time stands still.

The siren song of mountains and ocean waves
My professional law enforcement world involved responsibility and the weight of leadership. The phones rang, my cell phone buzzed, emails pour into my computer.

There was a community to protect and politicians to keep informed. It was a privilege to serve as Chief of Police and I am proud to have helped so many in my police career.

But I grew tired. The siren song of mountains and ocean waves tugged at me. Sometimes, after a long day at the office, I swear I heard my paint box whispering to me late at night.

Its voice was faint but the message strong and clear:

“Take off that gun belt. Set down your ballistic vest. Grab your brushes and gear. Leave the noise and sadness and responsibility behind. Let go. Paint.”

And so I did. I retired early, and dove into my creative life. It’s how I found peacefulness. By embracing what I truly am, an artist.

My family and I moved to another state. I immersed myself in painting, artwork and writing. I’m proud of my law enforcement career, but I’ve never looked back. Only forward.

I was the artful cop. Now, I’m a full time artist, and there’s a serenity in my soul. It feels good.

There are always options

How about you? Are you where you want to be, or do you long for something else? Yes, it’s not easy to change your life. There are responsibilities and commitments.

But there are always options.

You could say no to some things to carve out more time for your passion. You could downsize and relocate to a more affordable area.

That’s what I did. Unlike California, Nevada has no income tax, which allows me to keep a lot more of my pension. Homes are more affordable, too.

Take the time to figure out what’s really important to you. Let go of the stuff you don’t need or that’s dragging you down. Of course, be smart about it and don’t jeopardize your family. Some changes take time, patience and planning.

People change their lives for the better every day. By getting healthier. By making their passions more of a priority. By changing careers, relocating and learning to live with less clutter and possessions.

You can too. It worked for me, and my life is more peaceful. I’ll bet that with a little planning, you can improve your life, and find the serenity we all dream of.

Before you go

I’m John P. Weiss. I draw cartoons, paint, and write about life. Thanks for reading.

This article first appeared on Medium.

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