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