Monday, 30 January 2017

The journey to Mental Illness

I dreamt about writing this piece all night and in my dreams it was just right and I got my point across perfectly, so here's hoping the conscious self is as astute as the virtual one!!

I dreamt about a journey that I've been on from my childhood through to police service and the point at which I find myself now. I saw it as a journey and would like to try and put that into writing thus making sense of what I saw last night.

The Time prior to joining the Good Ship 'Police Service'!

The way I see it at nineteen years old prior to joining the police service of the late 80's,  I was a middle class child, and an only child at that, fairly protected from the worlds horrors. My Mother was a bit of a bully and my Dad a respected banker. The bullying had taken quite a toll already leaving me lacking in confidence and somewhat socially reticent.

I left school and worked in a bank where I realised I wasn't as useless as my Mother made out and when a co-worker was accepted as a police officer I also decided to join up, to embark upon the journey it represented. My Mother was adamant that I was making a big mistake but I forged ahead and was accepted starting my voyage aboard the good ship 'Police Service' in August 1989.

The ports visited along the way!

The first port the good ship police service visited was training school. The streets here were littered with sexual discrimination  something I had never encountered up until this point. It never really made sense to me back then why I was treated differently because I was female. Of course there were the obvious uniform differences, skirts, tights, a handbag and no truncheon. The commandant demanding of me one parade if I was merely the 'course mascot missy' or are you 'a real police officer?!' The venom in some chaps faces just because I was there, others because I shared a self defence mat with them I was never really prepared for that. It scolded my young self and provided the wake up call I probably needed that this was not necessarily a holiday rather a voyage of self discovery.

The second port was my initial posting and another liberal dose of sexism. I was nicknamed 'the strumpet whore' for no other reason than I was a female. I was na├»ve sexually so I know for a fact it wasn't due to any promiscuity! I accepted this name willingly as I wanted to fit in and back then I think I even wore it as a badge of honour representing what I felt I had achieved so far. Along sexism street I was pinned against walls, called names, banned from attending certain incidents and touched up by the sergeant in charge of my probationary two year period. A baptism of fire. I recall very vividly watching a Detective Inspector balling very loudly at a shivering, cold, wet, rape victim in the enquiry office of the station interview room about how she had been asking for it, and what did she expect dressed like that. I think it was at this part in my journey that I started carrying a rucksack for those chips that got gouged out of my shoulders.

As time progressed I developed very chipped shoulders yet I saw them as well earned war wounds. Trophies as you will. I was succeeding where I had been told I would fail, I was proud to be a police officer. The service was the making of me I thought and despite the sexism I enjoyed the camaraderie, I felt like I belonged to something worthwhile and I knew I could be good at it.

The places I visited along the way have shown me the horrors of human nature, I have seen bodies broken beyond recognition, babies raped, and low lives willing to assault and thieve from the elderly. I have held the hands of parents whose children have been snatched, told people their loved ones will never be coming home again and given of myself to allow others a smoother passage.

As I have travelled this route like from all good journeys I have kept images of the things I have seen along the way. The horrors are all stored in my rucksack lest I forget. The sudden deaths, the road traffic casualties, the crashed helicopter pilot, the raped baby, and indeed the sounds of that baby being raped. Many, many memories.

That old adage that the police service deals with five per cent of the population ninety per cent of the time is very true but it was easy to lose sight of this fact along the way. The way I viewed the world and myself was shaped by these experiences and I never really knew what damage they were causing along the way.

The rucksack got heavier and heavier with the flotsam I collected until my first visit to Mental Illness in 2002.

Mental Illness the first visit

In 2002 I split with my husband getting divorced. I was appointed Detective Sergeant on a Sex Offender Unit and was dealing with paedophiles, viewing their putrid child abuse images day in, day out. A warped perverse world that somehow became my normality. I didn't cope very well with my personal crisis, the new job, the subject matter and getting in to another relationship with step parenting duties all within a matter of months. In fact it all became too much and I fell ill and had some time off with stress. Now no one ever told me I was visiting mental illness, there were no road signs or maps. In fact it wasn't something I was even aware of until two years ago. The doctor gave me pills which I took for a while but after I was belittled and laughed at by my police officer partner for being a light weight I quickly agreed that I didn't need them, for I was a passenger on the good ship police service. I was therefore invincible.

Mentally Ill people were our 'clients' the people we dealt with, that person in the cells banging their head off the wall or the street wino who seemed to talk utter gibberish about their time in the military. Oh how we laughed about that. no it certainly wasn't us the invincible police officers.

Not very long after returning to work I took a five year career break. Deep down I knew why but I never let on, not even to myself. It's hard to explain, but I knew I wasn't coping, I knew my mind was weakening but I couldn't acknowledge it.  I cast out depression refusing to accept that it was actually a part of me now. I left it on the dock and tried to sail away without it.

I had a baby, traumatic in itself with an emergency caesarean, near critical blood loss and a week in hospital being transfused. New baby and parenthood, plus starting a successful property business left me thinking it may just be possible to disembark from the good ship police service. My rucksack was really heavy with life's chattels and challenges, so we did plan that I would leave the service, run the business and bring up our daughter. However the good ship relationship then sank without a trace just as I was trying to board it, my rucksack proving far too heavy, that together with all our extra baggage it disappeared beneath the waves.

So I found myself a single parent facing an unwelcome return to the good ship police service as I needed to support us financially. I returned to a refurbished vessel,  departments had changed, policies and procedures with them and it felt much like I was entering a parallel universe, everything  the same yet completely different at the same time. New challenges now existed as I tried to balance parental responsibility with the demands of policing and that insatiable see saw between job and your child that can never possibly be balanced. The guilt that goes with that challenge just becomes an extra rock for the rucksack.

Mental Illness the second time around

Four years in to my return to the good ship police service I find myself two years into a posting on the Professional Standards Department. An unforgiving environment dealing with anger and discontent. Members of the public making complaints about police officers or the service in general, people you had to visit and sit and listen to whilst they spat putrid nastiness at you, in turn police officers feeling aggrieved and affronted by you asking them to account for their actions giving you the run around and / or the cold shoulder plus unsupportive line management heaping more muck in your direction regardless of the weight limits or you being obviously off balance. That's all before the IPCC cast their shadow in your direction.  It was a hell hole, it is a hell hole.

This is when I visited mental illness again. This is was when I looked in the mirror and finally said hello to my old friend, acknowledging the black dogs reflection for the very first time. Even then it took me six months of physical symptoms, convinced I was dying of some mystery illness before I allowed myself to entertain the dark canine.

Oddly I thought that once I had greeted the black dog and given it a bone it would settle down in it's bed and go to sleep but how wrong I was. It had days when it hassled me non stop always there never silent, and others when it was perfectly happy to curl up in its basket and sleep. But once he's come to you, you have a pet for life. He'll demand attention at the most inopportune moments and sometimes you cannot make any headway through life but for its high jinx.

As I approached the half pay point of having been six months absent from the service and after the captain had commenced the sanctions against me known as UPP (Unsatisfactory performance procedures) for not being at work I forced myself to climb back aboard the good ship police service. Financially I had no choice but I knew it was more a case of when I'd be ill again as opposed to if.  The black dog came too, he won't be left alone you see, not under any circumstances. he is very insistent that he stays in your company at all times.

This time I found acknowledging my illness out loud to people very cathartic, it seems to make people very uncomfortable I can see that and honestly part of me enjoys watching them wriggle about when I discuss it. But the captain had the last laugh ultimately as the accommodation was never adapted for keeping a pet nor was the workload or type. Nothing ever changed from before I was ill to when I returned. I even found a good proportion of the work I'd left in my tray was still sat there waiting for me six months down the line.

I battled on for a further two years. Despite my dislike of the work I knew it was a guaranteed desk job, with 9-5 week day shifts and this suited my ever present battle with balancing that damned see saw. I knew I was selling my soul to the devil in some respects but it felt like a necessary evil.

Just before Christmas 2016 I knew I was wobbling, I started getting very tearful at work. I found myself dog tired the minute I sat down at my desk, to the point that I could barely keep my eyes open at nine in the morning. I would get so angry at silly things and I felt a burning hatred for the environment and people around me. Completely paranoid, watching people automatically assuming they were talking about me and burning with resentment. It's like an allergy to work, I could feel myself welling up with tears as I approached the building daily, the hyper ventilation as I approached the office, the nausea as I entered. It repulsed me, I feared it and I'm terrified of returning to it. 

Mental Illness revisited

So here I am again. Revisiting my old stomping ground. Sick. Ill. Unwell. Mad. Zombie like. Slightly agro phobic. Battling demon headaches and constant nausea. Joints aching and swollen. Fearful of the telephone ringing, panicked by work emails and sorely tempted to move to the outer Hebrides and an uninhabited island away from people, policing and myself. Except I guess I would sort of have to be there wouldn't I!
My rucksack is overflowing and it feels like I've been cast adrift in a small rowing boat away. Pushed away from the master vessel I'm bobbing around without direction. I'm out of my depth when I look over the side yet I feel too weak to row anywhere.  If I stand up the weight of my rucksack rocks the boat. I have a map but cannot seem to make head nor tail of it and instead I find myself staring at it bemused. I sort of know how I might be able to get this boat to the shore, I might even be able to tether it when I got there but I truly cannot be bothered. The captain of the master vessel, police service, hasn't transmitted an SOS message for me and it seems that their expectation is of me saving myself as they have no responsibility or jurisdiction over my predicament.

I am lost on the sea of Mental Illness, my only apparent grid reference is  ST1 GMA.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

What's your mental health kryptonite?

Last night I had a horrible dream. Well I guess perhaps it should be described as a nightmare. My eleven year old daughter drowned and died over and over. I felt the hopeless bottomless feeling of despair. A black bottomless pit, you're falling downwards and no one or nothing can stop you. I cried, I grieved. In fact it went on and on what felt like all night and when I woke up I felt so low.

I was overwhelmed to see my daughter, hold her and know she was alive. My pillow was wet and my hair soaked. Not a good night. 

I recount this with you as since my mental health has been bad again I have been having very realistic dreams. So much so that I have to stop myself when I'm awake and try and decipher whether I am remembering a reality or a dream. Quite unnerving.

I'm having a rollercoaster all around with my depression at the moment, two blogs back I was at my lowest, today I am also very low but yesterday and the previous days I was quite content if not reasonably balanced.  I can never tell until I wake up which extreme I am going to find myself at.

Yesterday I realised a lifelong dream and self published my book. I started writing it during my last depressed time two years ago and have worked on it around work ever since. It is kind of auto-biographical as the DS suffers with anxiety and depression and I've used all my personal experiences to create the character of DS Sarah James. Her emotions and difficulties with mental health are me, they are my experiences within the police service. She does my job, on my department. the murder didn't happen but the characters are true to life and it was cathartic to write.

So yesterday I published my masterpiece,  Money for Old Rope by Leasa Wilkes on Amazon Kindle eBooks',  that was a lifetime highlight and very exciting. Of course it was tainted with my normal self doubt, a need to apologise for fostering my work on the world and a massive fear that it is useless but that's fairly standard for me. Paranoia and self doubt figure in everything from parenting to supermarket shopping.  I have however had this daft dream that it will take off and earn me enough money to retire from the cops early allowing me to escape from my demons, but I fear that's just one of my dreams as opposed to a reality!

Yesterday I also had my second, 'how are you' email from work in the month since I have been off sick. Thankfully the boss did email me not ring but I can't help but thinking the timing of his contact means HR have prompted a contact as opposed to someone really caring. I suppose that could be my paranoia talking but that's one e mail every two weeks.

The thought of the office, work and even the people there makes me feel like I want to turn myself inside out. Its a creepy feeling that is somewhere between nausea and a panic attack. Revulsion even.  I feel allergic to an environment that has formed the basis of my working life since I was 19 years old. I now hate it and love it in equal measures, it is my greatest accomplishment yet my biggest weakness all at the same time. It's like my kryptonite, I feel weaker, sicker and darker when I think about work.

I made another step forwards today. I emailed Steps2Wellbeing, a free talking therapy service in the UK.  I was in their system two years ago having counselling but just prior to my fourth session and whilst I was sat waiting to go in I was told the counsellor had gone off sick with stress! Now I have always struggled with the concept of counselling as I recognise from policing that professionals are humans with their own garbage and are therefore only listening to me prattle on for their wages! So when she went sick I absorbed the blame as it felt as if all my misgivings had been confirmed. I made her sick, she didn't want to listen to me at all, she did have her own baggage and it is purely a job and she didn't give two hoots. Steps2wellbeing never re-contacted me to book me in with somebody else, or for that matter to apologise for dropping me out of their loop and I never re-contacted them.

So bearing in mind my current 'trigger' with telephones that I have covered before I have emailed them. phones make me sweat, hyper ventilate, panic and generally feel very unwell. Let us wait and see what comes of my email. But the email itself was an achievement trust me it's taken me a week since seeing the GP to get around to actually writing it!! But apparently according to my GP to even stand a chance at being considered for a PTSD diagnosis I have to see a psychologist via them?

On a more positive note I have had some great feedback from you all about these ramblings and whilst I feel I have something worthwhile to throw into the mental health mix I'll keep on writing. Feel free to follow me on twitter @BeachHutBabe24 if not already and if you're feeling really generous perhaps you could spend 99p on my book, read it and give me an honest review!!

Monday, 23 January 2017

Meeting the Black Dog

If ever there were a contrast then the last three days have shown me one. I've felt the blackest of the black stages of depression through to the light contented feeling that I currently have. So precious is the feeling that I am currently experiencing, that I have switched off the television for fear of seeing something that may taint my mood! I am not going to touch my emails or answer the phone until the school run forces me back to reality. For the here and now I am going to enjoy a buoyant mood.

It is much like walking a tight rope, I am confident and strong. Perfectly balanced, however it wouldn't take much to make me wobble and fall, so with that in mind I wanted to write whilst I feel positive and hopeful.

I think the cop in me is constantly looking for a solution to problems. Instead of comforting my daughter I'm always giving her strategies to solve the issue when all she may really want is a cuddle. Cops solve peoples problems and we expect to use the same tools on our families and emotions. We find it frustrating if not down right confusing when the same strategies fail.

I cannot help but think I can 'solve' depression which is essentially tosh as it is an illness much like diabetes or cancer. You can't snap out of those any more than you can depression.

So as a result of my 'problem solving' approach I find myself reflecting what it was that I wanted or needed from the police over the last two years since my diagnosed and disclosed depression that I didn't have?

Now support comes in various guises doesn't it? When you ask someone you know after they've been ill, "How are you?" what are you really expecting to hear? I am positive our British culture means we should accept the "How are you?" solely as someone being polite and showing an interest in you. They do not actually want to know the ins and outs of your illness. What they expect back is a 'Fine thank-you" before you move on to the weather or sport or soap operas. Our coded British conversations devoid of emotional connections other than on a superficial level. Try it out and I bet you when someone starts to actually tell you how they are, you'll switch off, raise your internal eye brows and then cut them short. We are a nation of stunted emotions!

Now that does not bode well for the person suffering with depression and anxiety because emotions are front and centre of every darned day whether you want them to be or not. Some days are good and some are bad, some days you want to cry, some days you want to lark around and have fun but ignoring these emotions and maintaining a stiff British upper lip will not wash.

  • Talking therapy when you can actually discuss 'emotions' would have helped.
  • Talking to like minded people would have helped.
  • A buddy up scheme, would have helped.
  • An hour of weekly counselling in job time, at job expense would have helped.
  • Someone drawing up a coping strategy, identifying triggers, would have helped.

Instead the stigma prevents these things happening. The coded canteen culture when discussing people being off sick with stress is inevitably followed up with some form of skiver comment and there is a sad inevitably to that in my experience. I've done it, haven't you?

Yes there are people that may swing the lead however you never ever know what someone is going through. Depression is not a rash. It isn't worn as a badge so if you consider changing one thing, never automatically assume someone who is off sick with stress is a skiver. You cannot tell if someone suffers with depression unless you ask or they share. Often the nosiest, funniest people can be suffering the most. Robin Williams was a prime example of that.

I would have liked to have become part of a buddy scheme. A group of people, well police officers and police staff who suffer with mental health illnesses who could perhaps initially meet each other through an online/force chat room scenario. I personally wouldn't be able to meet someone face to face or go to a group session straight off the bat but if I built up trust through anonymous chat eventually followed at your own pace by a meeting or group meetings in job time, that would have helped.

I also think each force needs it's own counsellor. On the books, paid for, that automatically sees officers that have dealt with certain types of incident or who those who work in certain departments plus all those of us who need psychological support. I'm pretty certain it would pay for itself fairly quickly by keeping officers mentally healthy and fit for duty. Using outside agencies for counselling services, numbering the amount of qualifying sessions you are entitled to even before you've got their or assessed, expecting you the depressive/anxious person to arrange/book these terrifying sessions when you A/ hate phones B/hate new environments C/avoid counselling at all costs are all barriers to success. Force counsellors are the way forward boss people out there.

As it was I had a back to work interview with my line manager followed up with a risk assessment?! He might as well of had a placard with,

"You're a nutter we're covering our arses"

on the wall behind him. The boss completing the risk assessment asked me about my 'triggers' a fair and pertinent question. However I made the mistake of being honest. Certain office idiots had been  fairly brutal with their belittling and put downs. Explaining this to the boss though as one of my triggers met with a derisive snort immediately followed by him concurring with them and putting me down himself! Of course I then clammed up  just nodding and saying yes or no where necessary.
Apparently the risk assessment was due to be reviewed regularly but it wasn't and I didn't push it as that initial session had become a 'trigger' in itself!! But that's not the point I did need support and I didn't get it.

I battled on in the same department for two years,  a negative, counter productive environment. I started talking about my 'madness' openly and loudly out of sheer bloody mindedness as acknowledging my struggles publicly helped me deal with my daily ups and downs.

Not long before I fell ill again just before this Christmas I had two separate conversations with my two line managers. they job share. Suffice it to say that both expressed amazement that I was still suffering with depression?!

"But that was two years ago"

one said! Their little faces quite the picture when I reminded them that I was medicated for my depression and anxiety and had been throughout the last two years. I didn't miss the shock and disappointment on their faces either.

So in the absence of a force counsellor talk to your staff and colleagues. Ask them about their triggers, especially people with anxiety.

As an example - I hate telephones, talking on them makes me hyper ventilate, my heart races. They are a necessary evil but just recognising I may need some time to work myself up to a telephone call in itself would be helpful.

My message to police managers, if you have staff that suffer with depression or anxiety, talk to them about it, discuss their triggers with them and maybe even help them to draw up a coping strategy for dealing with those triggers. It's far easier if someone acknowledges the black dog in the room.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

My slippery depression slope

At the moment the only things keeping me moving forwards are my daughter, my dogs,  my writing/twitter, and a very small handful of trusted friends.

Yet even so I am barely moving at all, both from a physical perspective and a psychological one.

I have never ever felt this bad, so lethargic, so overwhelmed by something I cannot control. It feels like someone has hollowed out my brain and removed the majority of it. I am a husk, an empty shell floating around on the breeze totally aimlessly.

I cannot concentrate or focus enough to make food. I stand in the kitchen staring around me, lost, confused. I cannot be bothered to lift the pans out of the cupboard and I certainly do not have the brain capacity to think about how to cook something. In fact any activity that isn't utter simplicity itself is just too complex for my subdued brain. I manage takeaways, something & chip meals or prick and dings.

I know there are things that I should do, emails that need sending to work re sick leave dates, daughters club dates that need putting in the diary but try as I might there is insufficient willpower within me to lift my head of the sofa let alone manage a complex task like putting dates in a diary.

I have never struggled quite this badly, tears are always close by and desperation a constant companion. What are usually simple tasks like driving my daughter to a club or filling the car with petrol are becoming hugely testing and exhausting expeditions. Just trying to remember how to put petrol in the car or recalling what my daughter needs are for her clubs feels like an A level standard test.

This my friends is what depression is currently doing to a police officer with 27 years service, a Detective Sergeant who was competent and capable. Professional and proud. Who has worked fulltime, juggled a home life and parenting yet here I now am reduced to the capability of a child. I can't cook a meal, I can't concentrate, I can't even think about what to watch on the television whilst vegetating on the sofa. To whom washing has become an arduous and often ignored chore instead I sit in stale smelly clothes watching endless random television and wondering when or if someone will ever plug back in my brain.

This is probably complete nonsense to some of you. A fairy tale or nightmare. This is the reality of mental health. This happens. This swallows people up and spits them out, if they're lucky enough to escape or get a reprieve.

I feel suspended in time, unable to move forwards or backwards. Feeling numb and beginning to hope that I can actually cling on to the slippery slope that I now find myself on. I've never felt quite so out of control or helpless with my previous bouts of depression as I do this time. Perhaps you fall more heavily and harder the more often you fall of your perch?

I hear myself talking to my daughter but its almost like its in the third person, like I'm somehow remote from myself. I paint on a smile whilst feeling like a fraud and hoping she doesn't notice that her Mum's been swapped out for a fake version. Am I the fake or was she? The capable one?

And yet through it all I'm somehow hoping honesty will help. If I tell it how it is, if I describe my dirty little secrets then maybe people may just start to see mental illness in all it's degrading glory.

I'm out of wine, that's an issue too. I drink every evening. Varies in amount but sometimes a bottle, sometimes less but I have none left. I feel like I need some right now.

The weird thing is as I've said,  I feel numb, unconnected to the world. Remote and unplugged yet I want the wine to dull the way I feel, to self medicate as it were. Isn't that a"contradiction"?

So for now I'm planning that on Monday I will email work, do the diary entries and then email Steps to Wellbeing for an appointment. I can't ring them. Phone calls make me feel ill, very ill. Panicked even, and cry, yes definitely. Even at the best of times I hate telephoning people but at the moment its just not possible so the doctor said I could make an appointment to get assessed by email instead. 

So that's my plan, survive the weekend, get daughter back to school, come home walk dogs and then do these chores and maybe write some more blog ...

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

FMO - Battle Number One

Although I updated a lot of people that asked me how I got on yesterday I thought everyone else also deserved an update.

So come midday yesterday I had my first scheduled appointment with the force FMO or as others call it Occupational Health. Now it is not the first time I have ever visited the FMO  as the last time I fell off my perch I also had visits to him, but last time I covered my tracks regarding the depression and focused on my back problems! The Doctor I saw then, a man, was really none the wiser as the depression diagnosis and my acceptance of it came fairly late into a lengthy period of sick leave. I was back at work and out of his systems before I had to declare it to him. Back then I was not as comfortable with admitting the black dog lives within. I was still somewhat in denial. What you don't talk about and don't acknowledge doesn't exist...Right?!

When I fell off my perch three weeks ago I admitted to work and my boss straight away what the issues were, low mood and swollen joints. So I went along yesterday in a different place and within three weeks of having reported sick. Until recently FMO appointments came later into periods of sickness but apparently mention depression, anxiety or low mood and you can now expect an immediate referral to the FMO.

This time I did not see a Doctor but a nurse and a female nurse. Mature, matronly and of a generation that are not generally as accepting of mental illness in my personal experiences. I was taken aback that she was not a doctor I have to admit maybe because of the man I had seen last time. She kept making generalised comments about my symptoms, maybe its Fibromyalgia or PTSD or Rheumatoid Arthritis , followed up by saying 'of course I don't really know as I'm not a doctor' which wound me up a treat I can tell you!

The other wholly disconcerting thing she did early on was tell me she had all my personal emails to and from my boss regarding my sick leave which I found very unnerving in itself before she went on to tell me that everything we discussed was also disclosable to my boss? Well I clammed up at that point, my medical information passed lock stock and barrel to my line manager? No Thank You ;-(

So instead of talking too much I cried, and cried and cried a bit more so she gave me a paper hand towel, stiff and scrapey to blow my nose on....

Matron as I will henceforth refer to her, then commented 'well you can't be that depressed my love as you've put make up on today'  Talk about light the blue touch paper?! I can  and will acknowledge that I understand her thought process, i.e. about me and if I had turned up dishevelled and dirty it would better demonstrate a character out of control, however not all depressed people present thus surely? As it is I had actually stopped that morning to consider whether or not to wear make up and deduced medics wouldn't possibly be that shallow...would they? Oh the irony!
As it is most days I haven't been washing or changing my food stained clothes as I cannot be arsed but that's here, at home and safe. Going out into the dark, cold, person infested world I need some form of armour, some control, some protection. Is it too much to ask that at least a medic understand mental health issues? I don't think so but dear lord she tested me yesterday.

Then she told me that I 'must get back to work and earn the pennies for my baby mustn't I?' Condescending woman, do you know I have never thought about that have I?! Then as if to rub salt in the wound she continued, that I must be prepared for a meeting at headquarters with HR and the Welfare Dept. to discuss my return to work in the future! Great heap on the pressure and anxiety why don't you?

Next on her list direct from my boss was that he had asked her to agree a return to work/recuperative duties schedule? Eh?!  I was sobbing too much and too fuzzy headed to really construct a pertinent answer but as she looked at me for a while expecting a response I just shrugged before she then echoed my shrug and said 'maybe its too soon just yet'

No shit Sherlock give the woman a bed pan!

Then came the normal leaflets for counselling before she tried to get me to childish swear an oath and promise her faithfully that I would contact them. I kind of agreed but I did have my legs crossed ... or something somewhere was definitely crossed so it dm oesn't really count does it?! ;-P

Finally she asked me if I considered the Equality Act applied to me and my illness? Well by this point I looked like feckin Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer crossed with a beetroot who had been chopping onions!! Red, blotchy and tear stained not to mention snotty with the most monumental headache. If you'd asked me my name I may have struggled to recall it lets put it that way. She then proceeded to mumble on for a while presumably about that, but realistically she could have been reading a recipe for all I remember or cared by this point now 50 minutes in to my cry fest!

She finished up by saying I was not fit for work, that I do remember and so come back in six weeks. She did read out a date and time...I think but it was not retained. Hopefully a letter will be sent with the date/time!

All in all it exhausted me on so many levels... in retrospect I should have taken someone with me but I hate making a plonker or idiot of myself and I still struggle with being vulnerable in public. But I need someone to think for me in these situations as I felt manipulated, I felt harassed, I felt like a trapped bug under a glass being poked, prodded and observed for sport.

The admission that everything was to be disclosed to my boss I would like to question the legality of this because surely medical discussions about my heath to a medic should not then be passed to a third party? In general terms yes but she rooted around in my mind, asked about what I thought caused my depression and fiddled with my emotions. At a minimum it was a block to communication at worst a breach of my human rights.

It had nothing to do with my health and everything to do with work presence and therefore my worth to them. It felt like my boss was sat on her shoulder. I will feel  humiliated if she shares everything she saw and heard with him. It's left me untrusting and realising that people actually knowing how to deal with and talk to us mental health sufferers is such a long way from being acceptable, yet. I'm hearing a lot on social media about what is being done in regards of mental health mattering but talking the talk, creating policies for Politian's and so on, is such a very, very long way away from walking the walk.

This crusade for improvement in how people walking the thin blue line with their black dogs is such along way from reaching the front line. It's being talked about by bosses, its being acknowledged by the enlightened but it has to move further, deeper to actually make a difference.

I am there right now, on that front line and honestly it is still a desolate, cold, unwelcome place where stigma thrives and unhealthy minds roam.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Self loathing and the FMO


Today as I am writing this is Sunday and I have been away from work sick since 28/12 last year, nearly three weeks now.

Tomorrow I have to go and see the FMO or Occupational Health as some refer to it. I'm guessing this early referral is because I was actually honest this time and stated depression was the reason for my absence. The last time just over two years ago I wasn't referred to the FMO for several months but initially I did not know what was wrong. (Full story in earlier blogs x)

I'd like to think the referral this time is out of compassion, concern and a desire to offer me support yet I can't help thinking it's more about bottom covering and the edginess I've created by daring to use 'that' word. In the email from my boss advising me of the need to refer me to the FMO he referred
 'to that type of illness'
being the reason for referral?! Which one is that then boss, that illness we must not name?! In not being able to discuss it openly he reinforces my feeling that it is a sordid little secret that should remain covert. Do you know if I am certain of one thing this time it is that I will not be quiet about it anymore. I will not be silenced in discussing mental health, its time the stigma ended.

By the way I am happy the boss emailed as I find telephone conversations with him difficult and my paranoia and anxiety kicks in.  I end up hearing all sorts of things he may not actually be saying. I take insinuation and can read between the lines like no other person I have ever met. Even when I'm well I can sense people's emotions like a blood hound, I feel emotional waves coming off them like bad body odour especially if they are talking to me. Times the strength of that scent by infinity if they are talking to me about my sickness record. No it is far safer to see the words written down to have time to evaluate their meaning before I go off at the deep end for no reason whatsoever.

I do feel anger towards this boss, the job as a whole, the department I work in, in fact generally I'm just angry. Angry that I feel the way I do, angry that I can't fix myself, angry that it impacts on my daughter. I am an angry person

Anyways back on to the matter at hand, the FMO. I feel anxious about tomorrow. Anxious that I won't be able to convey just how broken I feel more than anything else. I've been covering my tracks denying my mental health problems for so long that it is a new experience trying to be honest about the state I'm in. I feel confusion at how to explain how muddled my head space feels, how to speak about the fact that I could sleep for a month and yet still feel tired, how I can't remember things at all from one minute to another and just how fragile I feel with life in general. Writing is my only method of communication, ask me to speak out loud and I just ramble, feel stupid and then clam up.

I am finding Twitter an enormous help at the moment for this very reason, I can write it down, I can interact with like minded people and I don't have to speak a word. Bliss.

So as I contemplate tomorrow I feel my head pounding, the start of an anxiety headache, the ones that feel as if your head is in a vice that gets tighter and tighter making you feel like your head will explode. My guts are churning and growling out loud and I want to sit and cry. My joints are swollen and my limbs feel heavy. In fact I feel like the wreck I know I am.

You know I look in the mirror or at photographs and hate what I see. I have a set phrase that rattles around my mind when I am looking at my own reflection, I say to myself over and over 'gee you sure is ugly'.

I feel self loathing and disgust to the point that nothing matters. I don't want to wash or put on clean clothes, I do so for my daughter but not for me.  Going out is consuming in a bad way, the thought of seeing real people or more importantly them seeing me gives me chills. I wish I could go out but be invisible then I would know for certain that I'm not being judged or hated. I think I dislike myself so much that I can't help but wonder why anyone else would tolerate me.
I think that is borne from the abandonment of my Mother who always said I was useless and wouldn't amount to much and then is confirmed time and again by a Father that talks the talk but never walks the walk.

It's probably why I rely so heavily on dogs for support. They don't judge, or hate. They're loyal to the bitter end even when you're ultimately taking them to their death. Pure unconditional love, and dogs are the only source I've ever found.

So there I am ready for tomorrows events! NOT!! Laters....

Monday, 9 January 2017

Police officer with Depression ... over here!!

As I was walking the dogs this morning I started pondering my mental health, as usual, and came to the conclusion it was high time to be more honest with myself.  Honesty about mental health within the British police service is in its infancy and I find myself on that front line with a responsibility to speak out.

My personal mental health struggles go around and around my head more often than most anything else. Things like, am I imagining it ? ... and I am really just a skiving bitch? or ...Why did this happen to me? and... Now I have accepted that I suffer with depression and anxiety why can't I beat it?

Things like, can all my physical symptoms solely be attributed to depression or are they real?
Well they are real because I feel them, they hurt, they ache but are they really just figments of a brain being ignored on a conscious level that is trying in its own way to bring me down of my perch?

The police service and us the police officers remain locked in an environment where mental health is something that happens to other people and not us.
When I joined the service in the late 80's people with mental health problems or 'nutters' as we were referred to, were definitely 'them' and not 'us'. They were the people we got called out to, people who caused problems, societies drop outs, trouble makers but definitely, one hundred percent, categorically not 'us'. They were the S136 calls, the concern for welfare incidents and the vulnerable mispers but they were not police officers.

So when mental health came knocking at my door after a harrowing few months running a sex offender unit, I denied it access, turned it away, refused it a home, slammed the door in it's face because when I looked in the mirror I saw a police officer, not a drop out or trouble maker. I refused to accept that I could have 'those' sorts of problems for I was none of the things I associated with a person suffering from mental health illnesses. So the first time 14 years ago when I fell off my perch I accepted my branding as a skiver, after all being thought of by colleagues as swinging the lead, although hugely damaging, was no where near as horrific as contemplating facing the truth. I climbed back up the ladder onto my perch and battled onwards for another 12 years.

I lived in a twilight zone of self hatred and loathing,  of spiralling debt and sabotaged relationships. But any hell was better than facing the stigma of being a 'nutter'

Yet coming to terms with my reality, my bias, my stereotypical point of view has been and continues to be blooming hard work and that's from me the sufferer. So, as to what hope the rest of the police service has in getting their heads around what mental health really looks like I really don't know.

It wasn't until a couple of days ago that I finally publicly tied my mental health firmly together with my police career. I was asked to contribute to a 'Police' magazine article on mental health within the police service. Which after careful consideration I have done, although I have now received coded warnings from colleagues of the dangers of my speaking out and 'do you know the trouble you may land yourself in for being so honest' ??! Just think about that for a minute... the federation will print an article on mental health which I have helped with, which I am very honest in, yet my colleagues are fearful that I will get in to bother for it? What does that say about the current state of play? It reminds me of the stereotypes I spoke of previously and proves to me that the service may utter relevant words and try and sound like they are on top of mental health within the police service but its not yet having much impact. So far its just words and hypocrisies...

I personally have had the 'nutter' badge proudly pinned to my lapel since the last time I fell of my perch about two years ago, yet publicly to other 'police' folk especially on social media etc. I have been reticent to 'show out', for them to know that I am one of 'them' , to let it all hang out so to speak.

But I came to a decision out walking those pooches today. Someone has to be honest, the words, the sentiments are all very well but unless 'us' the sufferers on the inside of the police service speak out where will we get? It feels wrong, it feels scary and sadly it feels like I am being a 'Judas' somehow but we need to see the wood for the trees don't we?

So with that in mind I am going to be very brave... speak a truth that I have never uttered, never told to a single soul.

I have contemplated suicide in the past. There, I said it. (no lightening bolts yet!)

I have always answered 'no' to that question on the doctor's forms,

Have you considered taking your own life? NO. I always put NO.

After all if I answered honestly then I would definitely become one of 'them' wouldn't I?

I am not sure I would have gone through with it but there was one particular weekend before I fell off my perch two years ago when I sat and planned how I could make my death look like a fatal road traffic accident. Even in death I was not prepared to be judged as a 'nutter'. I wanted the world to see my death as a tragedy so my daughter wouldn't have to live with the stigma of having had a mad mummy. Thankfully I haven't visited that dark place again where death feels like the only option available but I want to reach a place in time where I would at least feel able to speak the truth about my state of mind.

Sadly I am pretty certain that I will never be a mentally healthy person whilst I am working within the police service. The police service environment has a very long way to go before it is totally accepting and understanding of having the devil on the inside of the organisation and I hope to retire well before I think things will start to change. But in the meantime I will keep speaking and spreading my truth in the hope it may just help edge the change along more swiftly.  LAW24

Thursday, 5 January 2017

My mental health in the police service...

So lots to catch up on...

I guess the biggest news is that I fell off my perch again. I have been trying to think about new analogies' for my depression and I conjured up these two...

Number one - A game of Snakes and ladders is after all just a kids version of life. There are plenty of snakes out there who want to see you 'go down' and there are plenty of ladders too if you're healthy enough to attempt the climbs. Throwing the dice, pure chance, again like a lot of life. Being in the right place at the right time and not what you know but who you know are mantras I am all too familiar with and are positive experiences if you are on the right side of them. A lot of my life I am content climbing those ladders and throwing those die, however once and a while my anxiety and depression kick me down a snake. Sometimes one of those small ones where you only lose a few squares but sometimes it gets me from the top of the board to bottom in just one throw. Floored, having to start afresh again...

Number Two - also equates to a game I recall from childhood that used to be on television as part of a UK kids television show called crackerjack. The game I think was called 'Double or Drop' although I could be wrong on that but essentially a child was handed one toy, boxed or otherwise after another until they could hold no more. Then they were told they could double their winnings beyond what they were already holding  by taking just one more parcel without dropping all the others.

That's my life, me stood on a raised platform being given parcels to hold, daughters bullying, work anxiety, family politics, cleaning, shopping, bills, car servicing and so on until I get to that place where I know if I take one more parcel I am likely to drop the lot. I always do though, take the next parcel that is, as the lure of wining is just too great.

Then inevitably it happens, in trying to take that one extra parcel, in pushing myself just that bit further I drop every single one of my parcels that I'm holding on to for dear life.

Or I slip from top to bottom of that snakes and ladders board and bam the world spins and I end up a blithering wreck back in the doctors waiting room.

It was coming for weeks, I think I even blogged about feeling the wobble of my Jenga blocks... (I do so like a good analogy!) but they've toppled and I've fallen by the wayside. I also think the more often you fall that maybe it gets harder to get back up again? This is my third major episode in adulthood, one was fourteen years ago, one was almost three years and now another. I was already wobbling but then over Christmas 2016 my beloved Penny Dog, a loyal friend of fourteen years, who actually saved me the first time around, died and taking her to the vet to be put to sleep was brutal.

So brutal in fact that it was the final parcel so to speak, so not only did I fall but I crashed and burned into the dirt big time taking all my parcels with me.

I kidded myself for a few days that I would bounce right back after I'd had a good few days of crying but I didn't and here I am again having to break the news to work bosses. Going to the doctors and admitting another defeat.

At the moment I'm feeling completely ruined but I keep trying to bolster myself up with the previous successes I've had at pulling myself out of the dirt. Watch this space and I'll try and keep a progress log of how things go third time around.

I have also helped write a piece on #MentalIllness for #Police magazine which is utterly frank and truthful about my personal experiences of mental health within the police service.

There is a lot of talk about what 'we' do to support people in the service who are suffering from mental health problems but personally to date I've not seen any practical evidence of that, I've just heard and read the words. The smoke screen as you like.  However let me clarify this is a personal blog, about me and what I feel and think. My experiences...

I'll let you in to a little Police secret... those strong, competent, astute, brave, police officers who go out  into our societies day in and day out, night in and night out, festive season or not, are human beings!
Shock horror, I know its a lot to take in!!
Another secret...they have feelings, they have families and they are made of the same stuff you are! Who would have guessed!

We break like anybody else but our police culture is such that coping and being the problem solvers is what we do and what we're expected to do come rain or shine. When we break we think we can and should just fix our own problems, after all that's what we do.
So generally we tell nobody of our woes as we think it'll spoil the illusions we've created of us being some kind of superheroes who don't bleed or feel.
When we realise that we can't actually fix ourselves or reboot there often comes another phase, a period of time where we 'womble' around!! Now when 'we' the afflicted womble about we look just the same as your normal common or garden problem solver, yet this wombling soul will be much like a robot whose programming has corrupted. We may talk slightly oddly or slowly. We may sit staring off in to space. We may snap with fury at the smallest provocation yet eventually someone will notice the womble and offer help. TAKE IT!!
Eventually the mask or underpants will slip off the womble otherwise and reveal the human being beneath in all their crumpled glory which can have catastrophic repercussions if it happens at the wrong 'job' or with the wrong 'client'

Have you been, or are you being a womble? Do you know a womble you could help?

Mr or Mrs, even Miss or Master Womble ... Don't wait until you drop your parcels or slip down that snake... go and get yourself some help you deserve it x