It will be two years ago come January since the wheel fell off. This blog tells the story of what I remember about the time it all went a bit wrong for me, and I had to admit to myself and others that everything was not “OK thanks”.
It was a life changing event which unfolded over a couple of days.
The previous year had been tough. It had begun to feel as if the difficulties would never end. I felt exhausted, isolated, stressed and unappreciated. A normal day at the office right? It’s just a police officer’s lot isn’t it?
I don’t want to sound like I believe my life is harder than yours. We all have a story to tell. My black cat is not two shades darker than your black cat. I think a lot of people experience financial uncertainties, difficult relationships, unmanageable workloads, failures and guilt. And I know there are plenty of other coppers and members of the police family who have also taken the odd knock, been unable to stop bad things happening to good people and seen stuff best left unseen.
Anyway, it was about two forty in the afternoon when I put the phone down. I had spent an hour trying unsuccessfully to resolve a complaint that could have come straight out of the worst daytime telly. As I stood up I felt what I later described as a “fizz” in the right side of my head and became dizzy. I had two quick thoughts. First was that I was having a stroke. The second that my wife would be so pissed; I’d ignored her advice about black pudding and bacon for ages. I looked at my reflection in the window, smiled, raised my arms, recited Peter Piper to myself and decided it probably wasn’t a stroke and if I didn’t tell anyone I’d have got away with it.
I hung on till the end of the shift, went home, thought better of not telling anyone and made a Dr’s appointment for the next day, lay on the settee and went out like a light.
Here it might be useful to explain some of the other more “normal” symptoms I’d also been happily “minimising” over the last couple of months.
There was the teeth grinding and thrashing about whilst sleeping; the waking up tired; feeling grumpy; drinking perhaps a little too much; losing interest in hobbies and exercise and getting fatter. I said to myself things like “it is simply part of being in The Job”, “It is what it is”, “If you don’t like it, no one is making you stay”, “Fit in, front up or **** off”.
It’s funny really, but I would have never dreamed of saying anything like that to anyone else, and I would tell anyone I heard saying these things to themselves to not be so silly.
As well as these “normal” symptoms I had for a handful of months been experiencing and minimising some “added extra” symptoms. I noticed the first added extra in the early hours during night shifts when the struggle to stay awake was hardest. For me that’s usually between 4.30 and 6.00 a.m. I occasionally heard/dreamt/imagined radio transmissions of people boasting about the nasty things they had done, or people screaming for help as nasty things were being done to them. I thought I was awake, but who knows. I would check my radio then check the usually dark and empty station, room by room, to make sure it wasn’t a radio on someone’s desk. We often end up left on our own at this time of day. Then, at all sorts of unexpected times I found myself obsessing about the jobs where it had not gone well for me, or that had ended badly for someone else. Now these intrusive thoughts really sucked. The real people, places and experiences that had touched my life filled my thoughts until I was totally immersed in analysing my decisions, what I’d missed and what could have been done to change the outcome. I felt also felt the same fear, the same stress, the same anger, the same struggles to take charge of myself. I once found myself putting my head in my hands trying to remember someone’s name. When I looked up it was 2 hours later. I still can’t remember his name.
So it was that I sat in the Dr’s consultation room. There were student Dr’s with my Dr. One had been tasked to get my history. The student Dr opened with, “Tell me why you want to see the Dr today?” I had rehearsed in my head rationally explaining what was going on with me. I was about to help the student do a good job, whilst getting in to see the real Dr as soon as possible. I opened my mouth to say, “I have been experiencing some unusual things” but nothing came out. I tried again. Still nothing. So I took a breath, calmed myself, closed my eyes and came out with a guttural string of “I I I I I I I I I I’ve”. Then I stopped. I hadn’t stuttered for 41 years. Then I started to cry, wrenching ugly crying that flushed out more snot than I knew a human being contained.
Like I said. That was nearly two years ago.
I wish I could say it has been a pretty straightforward, if tough road to recovery but it hasn’t. I expected a few weeks on some pills, a couple of sessions where I could blag my way past a psychiatrist wearing half-moon spectacles and holding a note book, two or three weeks de-stressing at home and a couple of good long runs to “shake it off”. Then back to the fight.
I was off sick for nearly six months in the end, having not missed a day for years before or since then. I have benefitted from six Employee Assistance Programme counselling sessions after which I became better at managing my stammer. Stanley the stammer is still there and quite possibly will always be just below the surface, but most of the time you wouldn’t know it’s there. Whilst off work I went to Eye Movement Desensitising and Reprogramming therapy sessions. I learned lots about bits of the brain and why they started getting their jobs wrong, and about the workings of cortisol, serotonin, melatonin, adrenalin and a bunch of other “ols” and “ins”. The dose of my Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors gradually crept up in steps of 50mg until they went as high as they go. It took months to get to a place where the knot of anxiety and churning stomach did not descend on me as soon as I realised I was awake.
In the early days I felt bad for not having my leg in a caste, my arm in a sling or a face like a Picasso painting. In the past I have gladly accepted others sympathy in when in those situations. I avoided people in general. The dogs have never had such regular or long walks. I discovered uplifting corners of the county I love but had never seen before. Bird and wildlife watching became an obsession.
Finally I got back to work, but I am still working on getting back as a Critical Incident Manager.
And now? I rarely stammer, I sleep better, I have an interest in life again and I no longer have auditory illusions, overwhelming guilt or nasty, totally immersive intrusive thoughts. The stalking fear, a dark cloud that sits just out of sight over my right shoulder is still there, but just as soon as I can get hold of it I will get that sorted too. I am also far more accepting of myself and others who are battling their way back from being temporarily overwhelmed. I would not be where I am now without my family, my colleagues and friends, patient counsellors, dam fine meds and my faith. Thank you.
PS: please drive safe, be kind, don’t steal.
Dedicated to one amazing double glazing saleswoman who wandered into the front counter of a west London police station 30 years ago.