Retirement means different things to different people. Golf. Travel and leisure. Volunteering.
For Erik Hulse, it means using his experience dealing with stress and trauma to help others.
Hulse served in the Overland Park Police Department for 25 years before retiring in 2016. His career included roles as patrol officer, investigations, school resource officer and response teams. Handling each duty with excellence, he was promoted to Sergeant, then to Lieutenant and finally to Captain.
In addition to accolades and promotions, his work as a policeman and first responder also came with chronic stressors that impacted his mental well-being.
“The pain we see and experience ourselves always takes a backseat to our responsibility to protect and serve,” Hulse said. “If we don’t find ways to work with the accumulated stress and trauma, we suffer in many ways, as do our loved ones.”
Beyond the daily tension that accompanied his job as a police officer, the loss of his younger brother to suicide and his father to Alzheimer’s further elevated the distress. “All of this took place in an environment in which asking for help or expressing vulnerability wasn’t exactly encouraged,” Hulse explained.
“When I retired, I realized that although retirement did relieve me of some of the corrosive effects of daily exposure to human suffering, it didn’t relieve me of the residual effects,” Hulse recalls. “I was still too prone to frustration, anger, harsh judgments of myself and others, and occasional bouts of anxiety and mild depression.”
Hulse decided to research about different types of therapy. He read an article about Jon Kabat-Zinn, who developed Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) over 40 years ago. Hulse was intrigued by what it said about MBSR’s benefits for people suffering from emotional reactivity, anxiety and depression.
“I found a teacher, took the eight-week class and it was profoundly beneficial,” Hulse said. “When my closest friends and loved ones began to remark about how much more relaxed, easy going and less judgmental and reactive I was, I knew I was on to something.”
“It occurred to me that if I had learned about mindfulness as a young police officer, it would have had a profound impact on my career, my personal relationships, and my health. That resulted in a strong desire to share mindfulness with others, particularly first responders.”
Hulse now teaches a “Mindfulness for First Responders” course at the Kansas Law Enforcement Center. He leads mindfulness practice classes at Midwest Alliance for Mindfulness, along with teaching courses in MBSR. He’s also been an instructor for The Battle Within and Pause First Academy, organizations that provide resources for first responders and veterans.
“Law enforcement organizations and first responders all over the country are now embracing mindfulness training as a way to heal from the stress and trauma of the job.”
A former music performance major at the University of Missouri, Kansas City (UMKC), Hulse oftentimes will integrate music into his mindfulness routine. “Music and meditation complement one another for me.”
In fact, his initial passion was to be a professional trumpet player, but he was concerned with balancing that work lifestyle with being a good husband and father.
During a “particularly dry” period as a musician, Hulse met several Overland Park police officers where he was working and was impressed at their dedication and professionalism. During several subsequent conversations, their stories painted a picture that inspired him to pursue a career of service in law enforcement.
A quarter-century later, Hulse can look back on a career of positive impact, first as a police officer followed by his service in helping others through therapy. All while still enjoying his love for music.
As a tribute to his longtime service as a law enforcement officer and his dedication to helping others through mindfulness training after retirement, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City and the Kansas City Royals are pleased to honor Erik Hulse as a Blue KC Hometown Hero. He will be honored at the Kansas City Royals game on Friday, June 18.