Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Finding your own support for #MH

Enough campaigning blogs for now... so back to me.

I am feeling somewhat more useless than normal. The days are evaporating like quality street from the tin at Christmas and very little is changing. What am I supposed to be doing? How does one recover from a mental illness?

Despite the physical pain from my fibromyalgia I'm walking several miles a day. The physical pain seems to mask the psychological misery somewhat and I enjoy the thinking time too.

If my experience over the last two years has taught me anything though, it is that mental health is a little like having an addiction. What? Give over, you say...!! I can hear your confusion from here!  

Let me explain my theory, addictions creep up on you but are often visible to loved ones long before yourself, the same thing occurs with mental illness and depression especially. Tackling the issue of your addiction/mental illness is nigh impossible until the sufferer looks in the mirror and sees themselves for what they have become. Especially true in relation to your mental health. Until you can look in that mirror and see the real you, not the fake you, then you cannot possibly hope to start working towards a better state of mind. I happen to think that once you have suffered from a mental illness then it will always be with you, you may learn coping strategies, use mindfulness, undergo counselling, yoga etc. but essentially in my opinion/experience you will still always have your mental illness wrapped away in your coping parcel, much like a pass the parcel gift, but this one is safely tucked away in the corner of your mind. How well your mental health is from day to day, month to month, may well depend on how many layers of paper get ripped off your parcel by any given set of circumstances.

Mental Health does fluctuate, it is not a rigid thing, some days are good, some are bad. Some days the sun shines and some days it does not. Sometimes there is root cause, sometimes there is no explanation for the darkness but the fluidity of mental health is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects to grasp, especially for those around us.  When the black dog comes bounding our way, knocking us over before ripping off those last layers of paper from our coping parcels you have no choice but to accept it. There is no choice about mental health, I do not choose to me a miserable cow, the darkness descends, the world seems evil, there is no hope, everything is pointless and I'm instantly the biggest waste of space around. The following day however I can feel carefree, happy go lucky, talented, excited for the future and mildly content with my lot. There is no on and off button, the cards get dealt and you have to play the hand life gives you. Some days its a good hand, others its shockingly crap and can only mean defeat.

So perhaps if I look in the mirror what do I see at the moment..

Well I'm still broken, I accept I have depression, anxiety and have a Fibromyalgia diagnosis. The reality of that is being anxious continually, waiting for the inevitable bad thing to happen. I don't know what it is but if you live with anxiety there is always a prickle at the back of my neck warning me that danger is close. Anxiety means I live in a permanent state of crisis, the door gets knocked and my heart races, adrenaline starts to pump, I become breathless, my head spins, my neck stiffens and panic takes hold. Why you ask? Who knows?! Wish I did!
Telephone calls freak me right out, I've mentioned it before but dear lord they make me feel so ill. The phone rings and in that split second my heart feels like it is going to leap out of my chest, I feel like running and hiding. I don't of course but telephones currently make me cry.

So am I making any progress? Well I have got the diagnosis since being off sick, I have a referral to the pain clinic, and then my big news...

Last week whilst sat on my sofa crying again, (I need shares in a tissue company) I realised that no one was coming to help me. I think I had expected somebody to take charge and tell me what I needed to do but they hadn't arrived. With no partner to help, no family interested in helping I have to dig myself out of the pit and that's no mean feat let me tell you. It's taken nearly three months of psychological, and physiological pain to find the courage and mental stamina to ask for help. Thankfully it has all been done by email.

I had been recommended a charity that dealt with police officers suffering from PTSD.  The founder's husband suffered with PTSD from his police service and Claire had helped him through it. She's an expert at police rules and regulations these days and offers support o any police officer and/or their families. So having been told about her by a twitter buddy (one of my make believe friends, in joke with my tweeps!)  I went to her charities Safe Horizons UK web site and filled in their on line enquiry form and with a shaking hand and tears rolling down my face I hit the send key.

Within 30 minutes Claire McDowall herself had sent me a lovely email, the tears didn't stop running down my face but I knew I had made the right decision to ask for help. We emailed a little before she thought I needed help from a partner charity called Save Our Soldiers and she put me in touch with them. The Save Our Soldiers web site runs an online chat session with people asking for help, so I chatted to Daniel and he asked about my needs, requirements, problems. It was much like a Messenger conversation in format and speed. Daniel explained that they had counsellors and coaches nationwide who helped with PTSD and he told me he would source one for me locally and come back to me by email as I requested.
Now after that session I sat back feeling I had achieved a lot. I was quite stunned by people offering help so readily, but little did I know that my new coach would be in touch within another 30 minutes...wow!

Debbie Banks made contact offering me her services, asking me how she could help.
Well my gast was well and truly flabbered! All that amazing help and support within hours of asking for it. This is what the police service should be doing for its officers and staff. I have been off sick for nearly three months, in that time I have had a summons twice to attend an occupational health assessment, twice for a case conference to discuss how to get me back to work (well once I didn't attend the first one arranged), and the welfare department contacted me today asking what they could do to help.

Debbie has been in contact regularly since then and is actually coming up to Dorset for two whole days to help me...
Not an hour session every six weeks like Steps2Wellbeing or other counsellors I have encountered but she is travelling to Dorset for two whole days  to work with me. No one has ever done that for me, not even family.
I'm scared to death of it, don't get me wrong, but despite wanting to cancel it, or run away from it, I do know my future depends on sorting out my head.

My last piece of current affairs information is that I have my works case conference on Thursday afternoon, 23/3/17, where they'll be discussing how to get me back to work. Looking forward to that one lots as you can imagine!

That's all for now my fellow black dog cops.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Attention all cops... please RT and read

Dear Colleague,

Do you suffer with depression and anxiety?

Do you have any mental illness that affects you on a day to day basis?

No you answer all too quickly?!

Who me?! You think, no of course not, how could I,  I'm a cop, we deal with the nutters don't we? how could I possibly be one?!

BUT - Do you get angry unexpectedly? Or do things make you cry out of the blue? Perhaps you find yourself sat staring off in to space for no particular reason? Are you feeling frazzled, over loaded? Does your head ache more than most? Do you suffer from fatigue regardless of how much sleep you have had? Is your workload getting you down? Is it a psychological burden to you, something you're fretting about day in and day out. Do you wake up and immediately consider the outstanding jobs you have? Is your brain slower than normal, foggy, forgetful? Do you feel numb to things and spaced out? Do you question your ability and have low self esteem? Maybe you have unexplained aches and pains? And the future is bleak right?

If you answered yes to any of these things, then potentially you could have mental illnesses like depression and or anxiety and you need help because trust me it doesn't solve itself.

Have you declared any of these things to your supervision? I suspect the answer is no, but if you have what was the response?

Probably oh dear never mind, do the best you can!

Or sshhh... best to keep those thoughts to yourself, you don't want to sully your career with suggestions of instability or mental health issues do you?!

Or perhaps... you may have to move roles if you start talking like that!?

Or, that will affect your promotion chances you know...!

I know these things because officers responding to this blog have told me these exact stories.

I too have experienced all these things to some degree because I am a serving police officer too and I have depression, anxiety and fibromyalgia and I am currently off sick.

I have been off sick since Christmas 2016 and my force have been unable to offer me any real support. What I need is a psychiatric intervention, counselling, mental health support which is fairly obvious really! What I get though is referrals to occupational health, summonses to case conferences and silence.

There is a stigma currently attached to mental illness in the police service and it is high time this was changed. I understand why you keep quiet, why you hide your illness under your hats, why you hide behind your uniforms and bury your heads in your massive piles of paperwork... HOWEVER

There comes a time when people, cops, we have to stand up and be counted. Will you help with that?

Change will not start itself,  it needs pushing along.

I can shout and shout but me in isolation will not change things,

I need you to be brave, grasp the nettle and shout very loudly about your mental health.


Not only will that help the cause but yourself too.

You need to be able to look in the mirror and see yourself, not the fake, puffed out chest, I can cope with anything cop version, but you the gentle caring person you were before stress and anxiety ravaged you.

Peer support groups in every force need to become the norm. Access to psychiatric help within days needs to be the norm. Let's break down the STIGMA....NOW...

Acceptance of mental illness without the stigma is vital to a modern police service surviving.

Without change the future is bleak,staffing numbers are falling and work loads are increasing so more and more officers will need support and guidance not the current wall of silence and ignorance.

Will you stand tall and join my Black Dog Cops Pack?

We can make a difference for ourselves and others.


Tuesday, 14 March 2017

A tearfully bad day ...

Okay today is a bad day, tears streaming down my face, feeling hopeless and dark.

 'Shaking and blubbing like a baby'

Despite my blogging and shouting on social media I have yet to pluck up the courage to look for help. I had convinced myself that like the last time this happened two years ago that I could do this on my own but it's looking very much like I can't. Some days I can be quite balanced and strong, others just pathetically weak and weepy. Today is the later ...

I've been off sick since Christmas and haven't really been out much since then. Well I have ferried my daughter around, had a couple of meals out and tackled some medical appointments but what I like to do most is sit in the house with the curtains drawn so the world can't get to me. An old friend caught me out walking the dogs yesterday and suggested he pop around for a coffee, he drove off leaving me thinking he'd be around at my house soon. Well I panicked wholeheartedly and text him very quickly saying I had an appointment and could we do it some other time. I raced home, pulled the curtains, locked the doors and hid upstairs until he'd answered 'never mind'.

I do not want to face people, talking, noise, movement, just about anything really that isn't encapsulated inside my own little world inside these four walls.

I've lost what I thought were good friends because of my sociable ineptitude, well I guess they weren't worth worrying about if they got the hump about their damaged feelings because I hadn't been out recently or when they told me my mental health was irrelevant but it has still hurt me to know they weren't the people I thought they were. Needless to say my anxiety has risen its ugly head and blamed me for it, so I've been battering myself about it for two weeks, getting in a right state whenever I have to go near these silly people. I have to put myself first now though so I need to try and not be bothered about their hurt feelings and instead deal with my own.

This morning whilst answering a random tweet I suddenly realised as I burst in top tears yet again that I really don't have this 'episode' under control. I'm a wreck masquerading as an astute adult.

What I needed back at the start was someone to book me an appointment with a psychologist and just take me there! To assume a mentally ill person is capable of arranging their own treatment is a big ask if |I am any example to go by!

Plus I have a phobia of telephones, do not ask me why because I don't know - well I guess if I was to get all Freudian I would say it was probably because my Mother and I last spoke to each other 15 years ago over the telephone. On that occasion she was abusive, putrid and downright rude to me before disowning me for refusing to divorce my Father at the same time as she did! We've not spoken or seen each other since. She has only met my eleven year old daughter, baby bear, on one fluke occasion. Some Grandmother hey?!
So I suspect it is that, but knowing does not help me escape from the fear that grips me, or the tears that flow when the telephone rings or I know I have to make a call.

The other thing I have stupidly been forcing myself to do is walk endless miles. My poor little dogs are exhausted!! They've only little legs which are getting shorter every day!! Why is that a bad thing I hear you ask? The Fibromyalgia diagnosis means alongside my many symptoms I have significant joint pain daily and that's before any exercise, as such I have been advised to exercise little and often.  But something inside me feels driven to try and walk it off, the #FunnyFibro that is or perhaps its my attempt drive out the depression?  Maybe it is the later because if I'm hurting myself physically and I'm exhausted I won't have to face or deal with my feelings of hopelessness, being ugly or feeling like a waste of space will I? I did 5 miles yesterday and my right knee joint is now swollen so that it looks like the knee cap is actually a melon, plus the numbness is back and my foot keeps going dead! The dogs are still exhausted today, as am I to be honest!

The odd thing is when I meet someone out walking or have to face people I can still just about summon the cop genie! What an earth does she mean I hear you shout?! Those that suffer with depression or have done in the past know exactly what I am about to type don't you? The veil we can hide behind, the doppelganger we can swap with?

The cop genie fights off the black dog and brings me a professional face, an articulate voice and makes me sound like I know what I'm talking about!

I even have an invisible uniform and public order shield!  I can jump back into that old skin and convince the world that I have this down and I'm coping absolutely fine! That time span however is dependant on how well you are feeling mentally... The genie can be summoned for varying time spans, for instance until I fell off the magic carpet at Christmas (went sick/got ill!)  I could summon the cop genie for almost eight hour stints barring a little blubbing in the toilets here and there.

But the more poorly I get the less able I am to find the magic required to summon or sustain the cop genie and the black dog invades my mind. When the cop genie is beaten by the black dog I'm left with the hollow husk of a drained and broken human being flailing around unsure of herself ,wracked with anxiety and self doubt. Unable to cope, unable to do anything other than blunder around, shout at people, get cross, cry, sit staring into space, or typing a blog entry!

I managed to summon the cop genie this morning for a few minutes just to send an email to the charity Safe Horizons UK asking for help. I'm not sure what help I'm asking for, I'm not sure they can help me, but I have extended an arm, reached out to them anyways.

Plus I've written this today so all is not lost!

Despite all of this, or perhaps because of all this, I am still determined to bring together suffering cops into my Black Dog Pack. If only for you to feel united, not alone and that someone 'gets' what it is you are feeling. I know the trials of living with depression and anxiety in todays police service, which sadly, is still mostly riddled with stigma against mental illness.

I have been considering getting some Black Dog Cop bracelets made up, so that we can all wear them, then we could know each other show and share experiences and support one another. Non-sufferers have also shown an interest in that they would like to show support for our struggles and even indicate themselves as a 'safe' person with whom you could confide and talk.

Let me know your thoughts @BeachHutBabe24

Monday, 6 March 2017

My reluctance to engage!

It's been a while since I put fingers to the keyboard. After suggestions from work that intimated they did not like my social media stance, and my subsequent paranoia about that, coupled with an assumption on my part that I might be just covering the same old topic each time I blogged so I decided to give everyone a break from my ramblings but now I'm back!

A catch up; I am still signed off sick with Fibromyalgia and Depression and have been now since the 28th December 2016. I am back to my GP tomorrow morning but am no where near ready to return to my police role.

I saw the occupational health worker again on 22nd February 2017 and this time she seemed more tolerant and compassionate. She herself in fact seemed quite put out at the terminology used on the submission form she'd received this time from my supervision which read as follows;

She wanted to know why they had written what they had?

Speaking to my police federation representative some days later he pointed out that my tweets and blogs had indeed shown I was untrustworthy of the force assistance being offered and that in writing what they had the force were actually trying to help me by informing her of my 'block' to accepting assistance?

My direct line manager and I are like a cat and a dog. He winds me up and it is fairly clear that I do him too. He however has the power, which he has used to mess me about on numerous occasions just because he can. I also happen to know he is a none believer when it comes to mental health matters. Therefore when I went sick and he started playing his 'game' I politely asked if I could have another point of contact as he was triggering my anxiety. That you can see has been translated into a reluctance to engage openly with her line management which is not a helpful stance to take if I'm honest.

I am also curious how I can be mistrustful of the forces policies and procedures when I am unaware of any specific policies or procedures in place to target mental health matters, I can only assume this is a dig at my request for another point of contact as per above and for suggesting via social media that the OH worker was out of order on my first visit for suggesting that my depression couldn't be that bad if I had applied make-up.

Anyway back to the form content, the nurse practitioner OH worker seemed as perturbed about their choice of words on the form this time as I was. As I said it has since been put to me that in the circumstances their phraseology was perfectly justified and maybe I am just being over touchy?

The only comment the OH woman made to me this time that jarred a little was telling me she expected me to be '70% fit again' before I returned to work, and there was I hoping to be 100% fighting fit before I entered the arena again! I also recall from experience if I return too early I just end up damaging my mental health more in the long run as I did the last time.
Perhaps it was a reasonable thing to say and I'm just being my normal mistrustful, reluctant self!

My anxiety has been feeding the Fibromyalgia like never before and what seems to be happening at the moment is when I get stressed my head starts to hurt from the neck upwards, so my whole head throbs and it feels like I am stuck in a vice at the ears, then I get really hot and feel ill like you do with a temperature, then my head starts to swim, I cannot think straight and then I feel nauseous and dizzy. It's an absolute nightmare and I am finding it very disabling at the moment.

I was in the middle of driving somewhere with my 11 year old daughter yesterday and we came across a closed road, the main A35 was closed due to a serious accident so we were diverted off down a very narrow country lane. Our destination wasn't that far and I decided to stick with it, but the further we went down the lane the more stuck and jammed up the traffic got and in turn the more stressed I got with the people around me, the muddy banks, the car slipping and sliding about in such close proximity to the other cars etc.  I turned to my daughter and said, 'I'm feeling really ill, I think I may be sick' to which she pointed out that it was my stress and anxiety causing the reaction 'as usual' she added just to make me feel even better!!

(and no I didn't she did!)

Of course she was right, but sadly just knowing what it is doesn't magic it away or help me feel less ill. I had been trying to hide things from my daughter until recently when I got my Fibromyalgia diagnosis. I had thought it was no example for her to see her Mother constantly whinging but the result of that was my pent up anger and frustration. I took it out on her as a grumpy mother not an ill one. So despite it making me feel inadequate I have now explained it all to her. After an initial hurdle of her panicking and thinking I would die she now 'gets it' and I am no longer trying to pretend everything is alright which weirdly helps.

I found this graphic on the internet which sums up the way I feel a lot of the time at the moment, and just to have one person in the world on my side who 'gets' that and does not punish or disbelieve me  is such a relief. The old adage that a problem shared is a problem halved comes to mind.


If you are suffering from mental health issues currently, or just know that something isn't right then please find someone to talk to, just one person to tell.

It doesn't even have to be someone you know. You will be amazed how much lighter you feel sharing it.

No I know, 'the job' predominantly at the moment does not get it, some forces are exceptional but the majority are not, they are shockingly Dickensian, but there are plenty of us 'job' people out here on social media that do get it and we do support one another whilst things change and improve in house.

Drop me a message, speak up on my time line, have a friendly chat without fear of being judged.

When I finally started shouting out loud about my mental health troubles, that was the first day I could start working out how to deal with them, being in denial just causes pent up anger and frustration to bubble up and poison your life.

Leasa x