Plus a lot of you will only know me for discussing depression and anxiety and I wanted to clarify how this recent diagnosis fits into my jigsaw puzzle.
On Monday I had an appointment to see a rheumatologist as I had happened to mention upon my last GP visit to get signed off with depression/anxiety about my aching joints and some of my other symptoms. This was done as an aside to and diversion away from discussing my depression at the time! I have said before on previous blogs that discussing my madness is a horrid experience that makes me squirm in my seat, I feel like I need to fold myself in on myself to escape from the overwhelming waves of embarrassment. It couldn't be any worse if I was sat there naked!
I digress, ... again!
Anyway for the past two years I have suffered with what can only be described as a plethora of physical symptoms. After the first few months they left my GP sat looking at me with a blank expression on his face if I dared mention anything more to him. He glazed over with boredom at my repeated moaning after numerous dead end consultant appointments!! It did start to look like I was a hypochondriac even to myself!
Two years ago he had taken me seriously initially packing me off in an ambulance thinking I had a subarachnoid bleed after I had repeatedly complained of horrific headaches and sensitivity to light. A day in hospital, a CT scan and a lumbar puncture all discounted any illness and I got the feeling I had a back mark placed against my name as a malingerer.
Then he referred me to a neurologist to see if he could help with my headaches So I waited months for an appointment then on the day in question, he, the consultant, told me I was on too much medication and that was why I was having headaches. sadly I had a Victor Meldrew type reaction to this news
'I don't believe it'
I may have said words to that effect, but my anxiety kicked in and I cried tears of utter frustration then upped and left leaving him opening and closing his mouth like goldfish!
Then there was another visit to the force FMO when he noticed a lump in my neck, so back to the GP I went. X-Rays and an ultra sound later I'm told I do have cervical spondylitis in my neck to match my bulging discs at L4 & L5 in my back but its just one of those things that comes with age.
Then there were the episodes of my heart racing and me getting all hot and sweaty for no apparent reason. Back I went. Blood tests revealed a lack of iron but no hormone imbalances or menopausal indicators.
My eyes got very dry and itchy and thinking I had an eye infection, off I went. 'No all normal' the GP says. Urghh!
I happened to mention at a regular medication consultation that my weight was ballooning and despite trying all the normal tricks to drop some weight nothing was shifting. We discussed the surgery I had previously had for a hiatal hernia some ten years before, the fact I was experiencing feelings of nausea fairly regularly and he wondered perhaps if the acid reflux might be affecting my digestion so once AGAIN off I went to another consultant. The acid was in fact burning my oesophagus a little and I was put back on Omeprazole.
Then there was the urge to go to he toilet which started getting very urgent and much too frequent. So off I toddled to the GP. A wee dip did show an infection up initially but subsequent visits for the same thing revealed nothing.
By now I feeling like a marked woman, paranoia probably but to have had so many things going on and to mostly keep getting knocked back that they were nonsense I myself was even beginning to think I was creating these things just to cover up for my depression and anxiety. I knew how much a physical problem would have eased my psychological suffering, to have something without stigma to cling on to, that would explain why I was feeling so lousy would have been great. So the more I reflected the more I thought all the things I was experiencing must be manifestations of my madness so I should stop discussing them.
I sensed other people thought that too, so I mostly clammed up keeping quiet about the majority of my physical troubles. Although the fatigue was difficult to cover up, when you're arriving at work at 0900 hours knackered, yawning, sitting in front of a computer struggling to keep my eyes open people tend to notice. I struggled with fatigue really badly and I am not sure how I never crashed or fell asleep driving home.
Anyways, other than that for two years I put up with the horrific migraine strength headaches, the dry eye problems, bad sleep experiences constantly, dizziness, poor memory, anxiety, depression, weight gain, flu like symptoms, multiple joint pain and stiffness, nausea, urination problems, a clunking jaw, dysmenorrhea like nothing I had ever felt before.
Just feeling permanently like crap yet all the time whilst wholly blaming my anxiety and depression, keeping quiet about the rest for fear of sounding stupid or obsessed or worse even madder!
Finally my hands started to swell and ache too and this was the final straw for me as I could barely type, I couldn't manage simple motor functions and life was getting embarrassing not even feeling confident to hold a full mug of drink fearing I would drop it. So it was this that made me pluck up the courage to speak to the GP again after months of keeping quiet about everything except the depression.
He referred me!! AGAIN!!
So that was what happened this Monday, I went to my rheumatology appointment. It was like breathing fresh air after being confined in a low oxygen environment for a long time. The relief was palpable as she asked me about all the things I had felt it necessary not to talk about for so long.
I could admit to her that I forget where I park my car! That my eyes crust up every few hours and need bathing, that I can barely walk up hills, or get into the bath for the stiffness in my joints. I could tell her about getting stuck in a field because my stupid body couldn't climb over a small five bar fence and that I lie awake at night aching all over. Relief on so many levels.
She examined me too, an ancient skill it would seem these days as few of the medics have actually dared to lay hands on me. Not once in two years as my GP touched me, well other than for a BP check!
When she reached her conclusion I was both relieved and a little apprehensive all at the same time.
She explained that I was a classic case, I ticked 16/18 boxed needed for a diagnosis. It was like playing fibromyalgia bingo marking off all my symptoms! Finally I felt vindicated, finally I knew it wasn't all down to the depression and anxiety. Finally I knew it wasn't all the madness!
With my back/disc issues, my stomach problems, my depression/anxiety and now this I feel pretty useless. I was lost enough mentally but now I have had it confirmed I'm physically malfunctioning on so many levels it feels like a huge undertaking to get myself anywhere fit enough to get back to work.
My depression and anxiety are still prevalent, clearly they are not going to evaporate, but knowing all this pain is not in my head too has helped me a lot. I feel less burdened, less troubled in some ways.
I am still driven to try and change the way serving officers are treated who admit to suffering with depression or any mental illness. I have had so many wonderful people contact me since I started blabbing about my troubles, I have been overwhelmed with support and the tales of 'me too'.
BUT and it is a big BUT, listen up command team members, 75% of the serving officers contacting me and believe me I have had many, do so by a DM on twitter. Why are they happy to talk to me openly? Well they are only confident to do so because twitter is anonymous. Take that bosses. You have numerous officers out there suffering who do not say a word,
... yet ...
for the day will come when they can tread the thin blue line no longer for the burden of their troubles will become too heavy.
They are scared to talk because of the stigma against MH in the police service, because of the fear of losing their roles, for fear of being marked as unsuitable for future promotion or specialisms for fear of losing themselves.
I do not know them, they do not know me yet they admit these things to me, they have not told their forces or their supervision, some haven't even told their loved ones, some are even thinking of leaving the service altogether as opposed to telling anyone?
Seriously? Are you content with that? Things are seriously messed up out there on the ground if someone would rather walk away from their career as opposed to telling someone that they are suffering with depression?
I do think mental health is a bit like a religion, you either 'get it' or you don't. I have referred to people who don't 'get it' before in previous blogs as non believers and I truly think (know) that there are many in positions of rank out there.
They, much like I cannot get my head around GOD, cannot get theirs around MH.
People believing in something they have never seen/cannot prove means that I have chosen to be non religious, however non believers feel the same way about MH, they simply do not believe it is a reality.
I have a very good friend who supported me two years ago when I was poorly. Back then she was a non believer, she would say things like, 'look on the bright side' or 'I'll be there to help it'll be fine' or 'pull yourself together' All were said with love but came from a view point of a non believer. Now she is in a relationship with a MH sufferer and her whole demeanour towards my mental health has changed. She no longer thinks I can just snap out of it, she no longer tells me that I am a confident capable woman so therefore get on with it. But the point I make is that it takes a significant experience to change a non believer into a believer it is not something you can just decide to change.
I'm not sure where that leaves us but I do feel that much as sexism was outlawed overtly, despite the fact that sexist pigs do still roam the corridors, at least they have to do so now subversively, do it on the QT. I think Mental Health will have to be treated the same way. Add it to the Standards of Professional Behaviour as a perquisite for professionals in a professional police service.
It has to be the way forward and it has to be front, centre and bang in the middle of discussions with new recruits throughout their training then like sexism has changed so will attitudes to mental health.
Bring back force counsellors, make them a yearly necessity, plus refer officers who have dealt with certain incident types to them. Bobs your uncle, fannies your aunt... it is somewhere to start.
Give returning officers from MH illnesses a buddy, much like addicts get help through life. A sponsor, someone who does 'get it' to guide them and chat regularly.
These things need to happen to see change...in my humble opinion because...
Mental Health Matters