I had always wanted to write a blog but I never got around to it, perhaps it was because I didn't feel like I had anything to talk about. However I now feel compelled to share my experience with mental illness, its effect on my ability to do my job, getting signed off and then finding that the best medicine was in the form of 2 wheels and the outdoors. I hope to continue the blog with stories of my escapades on my mountain bike and my attempts at being a 'proper' mountain biker. I hope it may inspire you to get on a bike or at least realise the power of exercise and the outdoors if you too feel a bit meh.
THE PRESSURE COOKER
I thought long and hard about using my website to write and host my blog, I didn't know if I was brave enough to show that once upon a time, I wanted to call myself a life coach and was at the point of putting it out there and hoping for clients. Crikey. I then reminded myself that how I'm feeling now is just a temporary state and one day I may get back into that space, but for now I will leave it as it is as it serves as a good reminder of where I was at. Little did I know when deciding on the name for the website, that 16 months on I would need reviving myself.
I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out where it all "went wrong". I have deduced that there is no major event, no single trigger, nothing I can put my finger on and say ah ha, this is the culprit for making me feel bonkers, it was more a build up, a thousand things happening simultaneously, a lack of peace, being unkind to myself, a cycle of doom, ignoring the signs, plodding on, building the pressure bit by bit. Making excuses for how I was feeling, avoidance, trying to convince myself I was okay and kept cracking on, having the ridiculous ideas to take on more because that would make me feel better?! Until one day I finally reached capacity and POP. Well I say POP but it was more of a very slow fizzle that culminated in a day where I felt delirious and detached from my body and just knew I could no longer do my job.
I think it all began when I took a year out, I took a career break, sold my house and travelled the world. It was the best thing I've ever done but I underestimated the profound effect it would have on me and how difficult it would be to settle back into normality when I came home.
I left my home, life and career as a police officer that I had been doing for nearly 10 yrs and went off with no real plan other than doing the first part of the trip with my sister and friend. Having so much time out allowed me to completely detach from reality and de-stress. I slowed down, I had a backpack full of things that I was responsible for and that was it. No bills, no work, very few possessions and the freedom to do what I wanted. It was incredible, not always, but in the main, incredible. I travelled around Asia and Australasia for 4 months, we learnt to scuba dive, stayed on desert islands, saw the most beautiful places and experienced cultures that are so different to ours.
We hired a campervan and drove around New Zealand for 4 weeks, it was such an amazing experience, we laughed and cried and banged our heads so many times but waking up in snow capped mountains and awe inspiring scenery was worth every brain cell we lost. We saw 2016 in on a beach in Sydney and then late January I went off on my own to South America (when I finally got there after missing a plane).
South America is such an amazing continent. I flew into Chile and explored the cities and then went south and trekked around Patagonia on my own carrying my food and provisions. I cheated a little and had my tent set up for me at each pitch but I think my legs would have snapped under the weight if I carried it all. I was so proud of my achievement. I then went north through, Argentina and Chile and then into Bolivia. Wow, what a country. Health and safety doesn't really exist over there so I was able to climb an active volcano with lava bubbling away (not sure what I was thinking) and then sledge down the side of it. The guides remind you how many people have hurtled over the edge and died so use your brakes. It was so much fun though! I was lucky enough to meet some amazing people and some of which I am blessed to call my friends here in the UK. I festered in Peru for a bit and nearly didn't go to Machu Pichu, complacency had set in. I went though and trekked through the jungle and zipwired for miles, a story of a boy dying on one ruminating around my head. We white water rafted in the dark and bathed in a communal hot spring the size of an Olympic pool, yuk. I look back and think how blase I was about everything but I never felt unsafe. I got a lovely chest infection that won me the nickname coughy and went to Colombia, Aka the sauna and coughed my way around there. I popped home for a few weeks, drove everyone insane and then decided to go to China and travel around more of East Asia.
Oh what fun China was. Not. I went through the trauma of having an appendicitis some 4 hours after landing in Beijing, I was writhing around on the bathroom floor in my shared dorm in absolute agony thinking I needed a poo. Nope, it wasn't a poo, I discovered some 12 hours later after being prodded and poked that my appendix was about to burst and they needed to operate but if it went wrong I would die because they didn't have my blood (yes those words were used). I obviously chose this moment to call my dear Mum, whoops, sorry Mum! Alas I told them no, although it was tempting to just risk it as I felt like I was dead anyway with the pain, although the real reason was because I couldn't face the thought of not drinking water for a week whilst I was on a drip. (I'm obsessed with water). However they eventually found my blood and the operation took place.
I then spent 5 days recovering, alone in a room, with no entertainment other than me "soiling" myself in bed every day just before a pack of student doctors did their rounds. Just my luck. I have never felt so lonely and low. I begged my body to do a solid poo as that was my ticket out of there. It finally happened, in the toilet I'm pleased to report, and I was then discharged into Bejing, alone, in agony in my pj shorts and a jumper after spending nearly £7000 for the experience, and somehow got back to the hostel, where thankfully all my stuff was still there. I had a decision to make, I could either recover in the UK or go to Australia to recover with my sister. I chose Australia. I didn't see any of China other that the airport, hotel and hospital, I was gutted!
Needless to say, I felt awful and quite vulnerable. Getting on 2 planes in China, 6 days after having my stomach sliced open, unable to eat solid food, uncertain of when my bowels would have a party and unable to lift my arms or cough let alone carry a giant lump of a backpack was testing. I had to ask for help off strangers who didn't speak much English or seem to want to make eye contact, but international sign language and my eyes searing into their soul begging them to just lift my dam bag seemed to work. Why did I have so much stuff in that bloody backpack? The guy next to me on the plane spoke English so I told him my story in hope that if something went wrong when I was at 35 000 feet he could explain. My mum came to visit in Australia and I dreamt of walking around Tesco again, where I knew what every food item was and how to pay and dreamt of being in a land where I could speak at a normal volume and speed and use full sentences again. I therefore went home.
I came back to my old house (that my mum had bought), went back to the same job, drove the same car and saw the same people. On one hand this was what I'd been longing for, but on the other hand I felt like I was trapped and nothing had changed. Lots of people didn't seem to care that I had been travelling, I felt like "one time at band camp" when I would try to tell a story of my travels, I felt insane, I was desperate to not forget what I had done. With each day I was home, I longed to be away again but then I was happy I was home. It was an internal, constant conflict and lead to a lot of confusion.
When I die I will have the question "WTF am I doing with my life" engraved on my headstone. I've always asked this for as long as I can remember. Sometimes in a light hearted manner but quite often in a serious one. Coming back from my trip accentuated this feeling to an intensity I could never have imagined.
I feel this was the start of the build up.
I had this new found perspective on life and going back into my old job was so challenging. I found myself reading reports that were allocated to me to investigate as if I was reading an article in a newspaper, I found myself acting as a normal person would and saying to myself, oh my god. Suddenly I realised it was my job, it was real. I felt like I had lost all my resilience, I had become ignorant to the world the police dealt with. How blissful. It harboured this huge sense of responsibility I felt for each and every report which added to the pressure.
I had also been out of work for a year, the most adulting I had done was to get myself to an airport on time and occasionally do a bit of laundry. All of a sudden I was DC Lovett again, enveloped in expectations and thrown back into working. I went from zero to full on. Circumstances that unfolded at work whilst I was away had knocked my confidence and meant I took on a back office job for a few months. I resented this at the time but I guess it kept me out of the fire until I'd at least got used to brushing my hair and having to use time as a measure again. The underlying WTF question was ruminating around my head, making me question if I could do the job anymore, if I wanted to do it anymore. I very nearly bolted back to the land of no responsibility but I stayed and told myself to "grow up" and get on with it.
With the turn of the 2017 I decided to try to invigorate myself and made moves to settle down. I had moved back to my Mums when I returned, then to a flat as a lodger with a middle aged man, that was not fun, then back to my Mums. I decided I wouldn't buy again and I would rent so found a nice little flat that I called home. I ignored how work was making me feel and started a certificate in life coaching at a local Uni, got into mindfulness (amazing) and tried to do lots of good things that lifted my energy.
Around April 2017 I went back into the main office. Yikes. My career break had wiped my memory of the department and how busy it was. Anxiety started to creep in about my own abilities, I lost confidence in my knowledge, would overthink everything. You had to be able to work under pressure, multi task and be organised as well as have very strong emotional resilience. I felt like these skills were waning and I couldn't figure out why. I kept saying to myself, I used to get on in here fine, whats wrong with me, why am I being so weak and stupid.
This all built up over time. It was not immediate, it got me gradually. I felt like it was getting more difficult to process what was expected of me, to deal with the work, to make decisions, to do my job and I was beating myself up about it. I would cry before going to work, sometimes cry at work when I was in the car alone, but I'd just pull myself together and get on with it.
I would say by January 2018 I was under the claws of depression and anxiety but I was in denial.
Looking back I don't know how I lasted so long. I had bought a house in September 17 and had this ideal that it would be fully renovated in 3 months. Ha. I had done the same to a previous house and knew it took yonks but kidded myself it would only be 3 months of hell and then I'd have a nice house. Buying this house and renovating it was another huge pressure for me. Trades did the major work but all the decorating was down to me and my family. It was the decisions that I struggled with the most. I was overwhelmed.
My energy was low, I felt like everything was hard work, like I was walking through treacle. I was soooooo tired all the time even though I was sleeping. I couldn't be bothered to go food shopping or cook. I had a fear around booking things too far in advance. I had this constant feeling of being unsettled. I was highly irritable. My memory was shocking which sometimes made me wonder if I was getting the onset of dementia, seriously. I would want to spend time on my own but when I was on my own I would feel lonely. I was rattling around my unfinished house, walking from room to room thinking, how on earth am I going to get this finished. I'm going to have to do so much. It seemed impossible. EVERYTHING was becoming an impossible task, everything, a symptom of depression but I didn't see it.
I felt like I wasn't coping and would dread going to work, it was the place that seemed to make me feel the worse. I joked about wanting to sell coconuts on a beach but it wasn't really a joke. I realise now I was suffering and work exacerbated the symptoms. I had days where I felt detached from myself and I was watching myself from above, it was so weird. I joked about having a mental health breakdown with my friend at work. We were both nuts and would laugh at how nuts we were, then cry, then laugh again. We would send each other memes and howl at how accurate they were. One that still makes me cry with laughter :
I would get so overwhelmed with everything that I needed to do at work and in my house and in life that my thoughts would spin in circles, I would become so tired of the noise in my head that I would think that it would just be easier if I wasn't here. Now this thought did not go any further than this, I did not imagine myself dead or imagine me hurting myself. I just would simply have a thought it would be easier if I didn't have to think about all these things.
I had pockets of joy during this time. I was not completely gone. I had withdrawn a bit from some friends but still maintained my close relationships as best I could. I got joy from the outdoors, felt excited by things and was driven in certain areas of my life. Not all days were crappy. I laughed, I joked, I planned some things, I went on holiday, I did a bit of exercise. I think this is what made me convince myself I was okay. I had a suspicion that things weren't right as my thinking would go to the negative and I just couldn't shut my inner dialogue up but I didn't act on it. What was I supposed to do? What would happen? Am I just mad for thinking I'm mad? Who would do my work? How would I explain it to people? Would people think I'm mad? How would I ever get out of the department if I had some time off? How could I ever get another job if I can't do this job? Just the sort of questions that revel in anxiety and depression, they had a ball inside my head.
I had suffered with depression before and was textbook bad, ebbing around like a dark flat eric, getting no joy from anything. I wasn't that bad so I must have been okay. Or so I thought.
Please tune in for the next part of my story coming soon; The ride of my life part 2.