Fizzle, Sizzle, POP and Mayhem
I initially stopped my story where I did as I was worried people would think I was droning on and would get bored, it wasn’t to build any suspense or create mystery, it was because I was worrying about something that hadn’t happened and had a million scenario conversations and role plays in my head about it.
I was also slightly hesitant in sharing it in case people assumed I was ok again, that some may struggle to understand my story and think because I was sharing it that surely that meant I was well and could come back to work. Surely if she has time to go on a mountain bike and post a picture on instagram and write a blog she can come back to work. I implore anyone who fell into that category to read on and remember that mental illness is incredibly complex, does not show up in stereotypical ways and is different for everyone. People cope differently and people have different triggers.
Writing stuff down is a well known tactic for making you feel better, it feels good for me to write, it is conjuring up emotions too and the leap of courage it took for me to share it was huge. Yes that was a choice I made but I felt compelled to do it, it’s difficult to explain why, I think the reasons may become clear in the future, I don’t know. I hope it can show anyone else that may be suffering that they are not alone and they are not mad, well they are, but they’re not.
I have explained that the feelings were building up, they were getting stronger and louder and more frequent. I say louder as it felt like I had developed a couple of inner voices that worked independently of me. I’m fully aware of how bonkers that sounds.
I’ve always spoken to myself, out loud, there’s nothing more annoying when you are having a good natter to yourself and someone rudely interjects and tries to answer you. It’s so much easier when you talk to yourself alone. I have sometimes found myself looking in the mirror and staring into my eyes and wondering who the hell I am. I don’t know why I am admitting that, but that's been an occurrence for years.
However these were internal voices that I would sometimes answer, internally or tell to shut up, out loud. I asked Dr Google what the symptoms of schizophrenia and personality disorders were, searching for a comment that what was happening was normal.
Several times a day my learnt automatic response to overwhelm would kick in: ‘it would be easier if I wasn’t here’. Again, that’s as far as the thought went but then I would think about why the hell I was thinking that.
It could happen when I was trying to decide what cherry tomatoes to buy at Lidl, did I want the £1.65 delicious ones or the 65 p not so ripe ones? I just wanted to pick a packet of tomatoes but instead I would stare at them for a bit, mind mind whirring and choose none, it was just too much. I have gone into many supermarkets and felt so drained that I’ve walked around and then just left the basket as I couldn’t bare it any longer, admittedly my favourite game is called “forgotten debit card” I literally want to throw myself on the floor when that happens, I hope that some kind human swoops in and pays for my shopping so I don’t have to return, have that awkward moment of queuing again or pushing in and then paying feeling like an idiot. I don’t think that has anything to do with my mentalness though.
If I couldn’t deal with what cherry tomatoes to buy, how could I cope with a big, ever changing workload and an environment where I had to be switched on? It caused utter dread. My work also meant I dealt with people’s problems, pretty serious ones, I had to absorb all of this and then reassure them that it was going to be ok. Even though I felt like my work was suffering I have never felt that I let a victim down or their family. I always seemed to find the energy and strength to be present and let them know it was going to be ok. That's made me cry writing that line realising despite how I was feeling, I put myself second but I wouldn’t change that, I was a police officer and that was my job.
Police officers are strong and brave and thick skinned and resilient, they can do anything. What would people think if a police officer said they were struggling? I can’t struggle, I have to keep it together, there are victims much less fortunate than me that need my help. Everyone else around me was ok, no one else was complaining. These thoughts kept spinning around my head. How can I say that I think there is something wrong with me? I don’t even know what’s wrong with me? One minute I’m bad, the next minute I’m ok. How can I say that I’m struggling, that I’m full up, that I can’t cope with anymore work, that I dread making a mistake, that I am scared, that I feel crazy, that I need help? How could I say this? Who would I tell? How can they help me? Would they believe me? What would this mean for my future? Would I lose my job? Could I get another job? That person has so much more going on at home than me, they are ok, I can’t say anything, I’m ok, if they can cope I can cope. It’s my fault for wanting to be a detective, I should have known I wasn’t up to it. I shouldn’t have applied to be in a tough department, it’s my fault. I’m stuck. I’m trapped.
There are some fantastic services coming into play now that offer support within the police but they require action on your behalf, picking up the phone, sending an email. Yes these may seem like small actions but they were a humongous barrier for me because not only was it making a decision to get help and physically having to do something, I couldn’t choose chezza toms remember, but it was admitting I needed help and then saying it out loud.
That was the most difficult thing I had to overcome. It was impossible. So it was avoided some more. Convinced I could just sort it out myself.
But how would anything change if everything remained the same?
In the summer of 18 I impulsively bought a campervan. My dear mother was in Australia and whilst she was jet lagged and possibly tipsy I convinced her to lend me a shed load of money and I bought my first baby. I realise now that I had been feeling that crazy that I needed an escape and I had been talking of getting a van for years and years so just bloody did it. It was brilliant, I was able to escape on a whim and feel like I had had a rest. The fact I would use the word escape was telling, but not to me at that time.
I can be a force to be reckoned with, my Mum a few times over the year would say “Dan, do you think you need to see a doctor”. I would say I was fine. The amount of conversations I had with myself telling me it must be because I’m due on, on, or just come off. I convinced myself I was nuts because I had changed contraception at the start of the year. If I got a hobby, made more friends, got a boyfriend, finished the house, it would all be ok again.
I was making excuses, these were all external factors, I was so deep in it I couldn’t recognise that I was ill, I was trying to explain it away instead of recognising that the common factor in everything was me and that is where the problem was.
It was around September time that things were getting bad. I had ran away most of the summer in my van but my forthcoming birthday seemed to have an effect on the intensity of my feelings. I was another year older and I still hadn’t sorted my bloody life out, or got abs. Ever since I was a pudgy 20 year old (thanks to drinking pints)!?! I vowed that by the next birthday I would have abs, it hasn’t happened! I had owned my house for a year and it still wasn’t done, regret, failure, despair. Oh yeah, add to the mix I was single and childless. I have never cared about this and thank heavens I haven’t, but Annie Anxiety and Deidre Depression decided to invite that thought to the party, just for fun! Cheers guys.
So there I was contemplating life, wondering what I was doing on the planet. The thoughts of overwhelm and despair were growing. I just couldn’t cope or be bothered to think about everything. It would just be easier if I wasn’t here. I was on the edge.
I had managed to get this intense interviewing course at work. They were like gold dust, I should have been happy. I remember the Sunday before it was due to start I was wild.
My poor Mum witnessed a nutcase at large. I was emptying crap out of my garage (how did I have so much stuff for one person) and going to the tip. We got in the front but her seat wouldn’t set in position due to the rammed car. I convinced myself if I braked she would roll forwards and chop her legs off. So I slammed on the brakes and told her to get out of the car as it was dangerous. We weren’t far from her house. I blasted off down the street and suddenly thought she didn’t have her house keys so turned back around and pursued her. I shouted at her she was locked out, she calmly said she had keys then tried to help with the seat that was rolling back and forth on its runners tipping me closer to the edge. I screamed at her to stop and hurt my finger on a bit of wood and blamed her, obviously. I drove to the tip and I was crying, having a full on conversation with myself, I was so angry but I didn’t know what at.
I pulled up at a random bay thinking, sod it, I’m dumping everything in one skip and if they say anything I’ll tell them to F off. I frantically got the heavy bags of god knows what, rubble? Concrete? crockery? And hoisted them to the (correct) bay, this poor bloke came up to me carrying a toilet and asked me where he should put it!?! Could he not see I was having a nervous breakdown. I think I screeched at him in a voice unfamiliar to my own ears, “ I don’t know” and marched off. I turned back around with another heavy bag of crap, muttering to myself about why on earth was he asking me, I don’t work here, and there he was, stood in my way hugging a toilet , he looked at me as I was swearing at this bag of lead in my arms and said “I’m going to put it in here” gesturing at the nearby skip. In the highest, wildest voice I skwarked “I DON’T CARE” and continued to the bay and launched this bag 50 feet in the air!! He was shell shocked. I looked in the adjacent skip of scrap metal and a thought came into my head “ I wonder what would happen if I jumped in there to get away from this bloke and life” and then my other voice told me that I would just get impaled on a rusty trolley from Asda and look like a right weirdo so I best get back in the car. I drove home crying my eyes out. My anger evaporated and I was exhausted. I rang my mum and she came around and we sat in the back of my campervan and I cried. She listened and asked me again if I should go to see the doctor and I said yes, I think I should before I jump into a scrap metal skip.
12 hours later I was on my way to the course. How the hell was I going to concentrate, I was incompetent, I couldn’t interview, I’m an impostor here, no one will take me seriously, my brain is full, I can’t remember what day it is, I need to call the doctors, when would I get the chance, what happened if I cried, I told my mum I thought I was depressed, am I depressed, do I have dementia, schizophrenia perhaps, would I ever get married, what happens if they ask me a question about the law? Oh my god, oh my god. Out the car I go, game face on.
I don’t know how I got through the 2 weeks. It took every ounce of energy to pretend I was ok. On the last day we had to complete this task, I could not engage my brain, a fellow colleague asked what we needed to do and I told her, in my best Luna Lovegood voice that I just didn’t feel like I was really here and it wasn’t going to happen and she laughed in my face. I was being honest though. I did not feel present in my body or that I was existing on this planet.
I celebrated my birthday at my house a few days later, it wasn’t finished, I nearly cancelled it but I had a great time. It reminded me that I was lucky to have so many wonderful friends and family. My lifeline when things got tough.
I can’t recall when, but I then picked up the phone and called the doctor, it was about 3 weeks after my melt down at the tip. I nearly didn’t call however I could feel that things were getting bad. I was so full up, erratic and emotional, it felt like things were getting to breaking point.
I managed to get to work for a few days and act normal. The fear of the doctors was looming. I was playing out millions of scenarios. Thinking ahead. Desperate for things to change so I could be better but terrified of the change, surely it was easier to crack on with what I knew. But I knew I was bad, I felt mad as a box of frogs, I was exhausted, I needed help. I just had to do a few impossible things to get it.
The day arrived. I felt sick. I walked into the room and sat down. The doc asked me what he could do for me. There it was, the moment I had to tell a professional that I thought I had a problem, to admit it, to not know what the outcome would be, I paused and didn’t feel like it was really happening, but out popped the words, I think I might have depression again and it’s affecting my ability to work. Gulp.
He jumped up and said, Right, you have 2 choices, he thrust a box of tablets under my nose and a business card for therapy. Yikes. I had hoped he was going to ask me some questions and tell me if I did have depression or if it was like I had surmised many times, down to my hormones. I didn’t know what to say. I felt that pills were a weak option, no idea why, so I said I would call the therapy people. I got in my car and sobbed. That wasn’t how I thought it was going to go. I felt like I was making it all up.
I got home and stared at the therapy card for an hour. Bracing myself to tell another professional I needed help. Knowing that in a couple of hours I was due at work. I went into panic that I hadn’t accepted the medication and what would happen if I felt worse so I called the doctors again and got the pills. I hated myself for being so weak and felt like I had took the easy route. I don’t even know where that came from, it’s utter nonsense. I’d created a made up measure in my head about something that was going to make me feel better. Depression and Anxiety are relentless.
I called the therapy people, they were so kind, they asked me a few questions and when it came to the one about , are my feelings affecting how I can work, a huge sob left my body and I couldn’t stop crying. It’s the first time someone, apart from my multiple voices, had said it out loud. I wasn’t making it up, it was a real thing. It was pure relief. I got off the phone and cried. I was shaking. I couldn’t go into work, I knew I was no longer functioning.
However. That was a whole new ball game. The next impossible task.
I have been in the police for 13 years. It forms part of my identity, I am ambitious, driven, conscientious, I have pride and a very strong work ethic. I may have questioned several times if the police is the right fit for me as I got older but nevertheless I would go into work and do my best. I loved a lot of elements of the job. I loved helping people and making them feel better and doing my best for them. It provided a sense of purpose, belonging, achievement. Yes there are frustrations, as with any job, but I had always been someone who worked. My first job was when I was 14 in a sandwich shop and I have worked ever since.
To turn around and say that I couldn’t work anymore was huge. My values and beliefs and work ethic were in question. I wasn’t someone who had lots of time off sick. I worked hard.
The internal battle behind saying you can’t work anymore is huge. You are also battling against an illness that thrives on overthinking, catastrophising and suffering.
I was afraid of looking weak, pathetic, mental, thinking people would think I was making it up, I was lazy, I just wanted to go travelling or go to Australia to see my sister, I was afraid I was never going to be able get a job again, that I’d end up back in the same role, trapped, a black mark against my name, people would treat me differently. I was afraid I could never say to another department that I was able to work under pressure or deal with a high work volume. Would I ever get promoted? Would people lose respect for me? What would I do if I couldn’t do that?
All of these thoughts were spinning around but I knew I just had to change something.
I was too weak to call in sick so I went into work. I can’t actually believe that I did but I did. I was numb. I was so emotionally exhausted. A job came in and I was asked to deal with it. I walked to the bathroom and my heart was racing and I went grey, I knew I couldn’t deal with it, I knew I couldn’t be there. I walked back out and sat down. Then using every last ounce of energy I had I heard myself saying, I can’t deal with the job, I just can’t do it.
I had just said out loud, in the police, that I couldn’t do the job. I had never ever said that before. I couldn’t believe it was happening. What had I done? But the feeling of relief that washed over me as I drove home was comforting, I had done the right thing, finally, possibly a year or so overdue, but I had finally admitted I couldn’t carry on. Things were going to change.
I had a few days to absorb what had happened. It was surreal. I then had to self certificate for 7 days. I was dreading calling in. All those thoughts flying about my head again but I called and was so relieved to learn they didn’t think I was lying, I sobbed on the phone as I was telling them how I felt and how bad it had got, they were the first person at work I had properly told and I was relieved. I’d got over the hardest hurdle. I had admitted it out loud to doctors, therapists and work and I guess, most importantly to myself.
I hadn’t taken the pills originally, thinking I was strong enough, but then won the internal battle in my head and took one. I continued to take them for a few days but then I decided I didn’t need them. I think I had gone into a weird state of sheer relief that I lost sense of reality and forgot I was bad. Oh dear, what a strong reminder I was about to get from Mr Mental illness that he was still around. He obviously wanted to show me just how strong he could get.
The first day I didn’t take one I had gone mountain biking with my friend. This is where I first realised how powerful riding was. I was rushing through the trees on 2 wheels, not having a clue what to do but loving it, my energy was ploughed into not falling off the thing and revelling in the fresh air and sunshine. I was going to be ok. I just needed a couple of days off and I’d be fine.
The next day, whilst making sausages in the morning, I think it was a Monday, I suddenly realised I wasn’t at work and was paralysed with anxiety, fizz rippling through my blood stream, thoughts began firing, WTF was happening, I wasn’t at work, I’m weak, etc etc. I was thankfully with my friend and said help me I’m feeling weird, she told me to get on with the sausages so I did and the feeling subsided. We parted ways and I couldn’t bare to be at home, I was afraid to be there alone so I went back out on my bike and I felt free.
My thoughts had nowhere to go other than the trail in front of me, thinking about where I would apply my brakes, how I moved my body, how I’d get over a rock. It gave me focus, it was the first time my mind shut up and it gave me peace. I knew then that I had to buy a bike and get into this sport. It was going to save me.
The next morning I woke up. I felt ok, I made a cuppa and bam, paralysed by anxiety. I realised I wasn’t at work, how was I ever going to go back, but how could I ever get another job, I was going to lose my house, people will think I’m lying…. It would be easier if I wasn’t here. I will call these thoughts ‘the tornado’. I remember sitting on the bed in my back room filing my nails, I was getting this rising sense of panic in my body and felt hot and began to shake, I started pacing around upstairs looking for my nail file I just had in my hand, I couldn’t find it. The tornado was getting stronger, firing all sorts, I couldn’t think how I was going to get through the next hour, what the future looked like. I reached out to my close family and friends. It was a few friends and my sister that were on hand that week. I think I may have text, help me I’m feeling nuts. They all rang me and one by one, helped me come down from the ceiling, the panic had gone. I was left exhausted. I went out for a run to get outside and later that evening, as soon as my friend finished work I was sat on her rug staring at her ceiling. I couldn’t be on my own.
The next morning, exactly the same thing happened. I woke up very suspicious and sat up wondering if I was ok, I was, I was determined that I was never going to repeat the day before, it was ridiculous, BAM, the tornado hit. Stronger this time. Out of the blue. I realised I wasn’t well, I was going to have to go to the doctors and get signed off. The Tornado added these thoughts to the mix. I reached out to people, help me I’m nuts again and one by one, they called me and talked me out of it. They listened to my mania and tears and let me come out of the other side. I was exhausted. I got an emergency docs appointment and they spoke to me on the phone. I explained how I felt, it was easier that time as the morning episodes had scared me and I knew I couldn’t work. He was so kind, he spoke to me for 45 minutes and listened. He again, was someone that convinced me I wasn’t making it up.
Thursday came, I’ll never forget this day. I woke up, felt ok, I had got past 9 am, the usual time the tornado struck. Yes, I’ve got away with it I thought. However I could then feel this creeping sensation engulfing me. I was telling myself that I did not need to go into a spin again and that it was ok but at the same time the tornado was beginning to pick up speed. It was like having 2 different feelings at the same time and I had no control. Bam. It hit me like a tonne of bricks. I went from ok to WTF. My mind was spiralling, I was shaking. I rang a friend and was manic. I told her I needed to be sectioned because I was mental. I felt bonkers. I was terrifying myself with how little control I had over my mind and didn’t want to be on my own. She talked me down, my other friends got in touch, told me it was going to be ok, bought me back into the light. My one friend gave me the worst case scenario and helped me laugh my way out of despair. At least I wasn’t getting eaten by rats in a gutter.
I had to go and pick up my sick note from the doctors that morning and send it to work. I got it and sent it and then sobbed in my car. I spoke to another friend and cried again I couldn’t believe what was happening to me. I walked around a park and picked up loads of beautiful autumnal leaves and admired their beauty. I was signed off work for 4 weeks. What the hell. What was I going to do?
I went for a run. I cried. I could not stop crying that day. My thoughts wouldn’t leave me alone, I was so exhausted.
I was going to my friends that evening to be looked after. I was walking to my car, thoughts battering my mind, as they had done all day and bang, as crisp and clear and loud as you could ever imagine, a voice in my head said ‘just commit suicide’.
Going through those days of hell I can see how people get to the point of despair and how they may feel they have no way out. I can slightly understand that their thoughts could lead them to an option that people on the outside can’t fathom but for them it is completely logical. I wasn’t there but I hate to imagine what a prolonged period of exposure to those feelings would have done to me and my thinking.
Never in a million years would I think that I would have ever thought that. Those that know me know I am full of energy and have a zest for life. I can moan like a bitch but I am happy, I am passionate, I want to be alive.
My thoughts were screwing me up. My mental illness was doing its job. I was spiralling and it was wearing me down, it was not my voice that had said that or my thoughts, but I heard it loud and clear and it scared the living shit out of me.
I screamed out loud “NO. I AM NOT DOING THAT” and drove to my friends house panicking that I could never be left on my own again. I told her what I had heard / thought. Yes I know it was in my own head but it felt separate. I told all of my close friends and family about it. Petrified that if I kept it to myself it would come again. I am so sorry to all of you guys, you know who you are, it must have been equally horrendous for you as it was for me.
If I didn’t have those people around me though I don’t know what I would have done. They closed in on me and helped me and showed me I wasn’t alone. They have been there whenever I’ve needed them and I don’t know what I’d do without them.
Even during feeling so low I would think about people that didn’t have people they could turn to, or felt they couldn’t speak out and would just sit there in their own mind. It’s a scary bloody place. I hope that if anyone reads this and feels that bat shit crazy then reach out. It’s easier to deal with things with others.
I have never heard that voice again or those words.
That night I went home and took the pills.
What has followed has been like a roller coaster. I was exhausted. I am exhausted. Frantically trying to figure out what is wrong with me. Internal battles about being off and about what that meant. I am talking in past and present tense. I am not 100% ok but I am better than I was. I write this blog looking back but when I pose some of the questions, I realise I am still thinking them now.
I’ve had many conversations with my friend about how nuts I am. One time I was talking about the fact that I had done nothing with my life since coming back from my travels and before I could finish that sentence my other voice (which I actually think is my own voice she’s just been quietened down) defended me and swiftly told my right shoulder ( I always turn my head to the right when I answer the voice back) that I had done lots of things and to shut up. I then looked at my mate and we burst out laughing, amazed at the display that had just unfolded in front of us but agreeing that it is quite a normal occurrence in both of our lives. Maybe all my friends are nuts too? I had this period of time where I kept getting into the front passenger seat of the car and shutting the door before realising I was alone and driving. I have lost my keys on a daily basis. I have driven somewhere and forgotten where I am driving too and had to go home. I walked to a post box to post a letter and forgot the letter. I mentioned before I would / will go shopping and realise at the tills I have no money or card. At first I was crying when I did these things as I thought I was utterly mad but now I just realise it is because my head is full and when they happen more frequently, I need to stop and give myself some peace to empty my head.
I know that some people may think that having time off work is a good thing, I will admit that I used to be one of those people and never really stopped to think or seek to understand how it might actually feel for the person signed off.
Well I can report that it is rubbish. It took a good couple of months for me to stop beating myself up about it and to stop calling myself weak. I don’t feel like I’ve been living a normal life, my routine has gone, there is a thought in the back of my head that if someone sees me outside of my house then they may think I’m lying about being off. I feel detached from the familiar faces, feelings of isolation however I’m lucky a lot of my friends are not from work but during the week, when everyone is at work it can feel a bit lonely. All these factors do not necessarily create a great healing environment and in order to change anything you need to feel better but to feel better you can’t be at work. This is where mountain biking came in and plays a huge part in helping me heal.
I am obsessed with it. To learn the sport and start from scratch and slowly move through the basics has been immersive. I get on my bike, and unless I am pootling along a road I have no time to think other than the present moment. To know I can just get on a bike and leave my house and within 10 minutes be in the woods splashing in puddles is comforting. I had my bike in my house at first, I would practice balancing on it whilst watching TV. I spent weeks filming myself trying to lift the front wheel. Outside, not in my lounge. I have a new found respect for all these kids that go around pulling wheelies, it is so friggin hard! I have been to some beautiful places and met some great people. It has given me a focus, it has got me outside, it has kept me fit.
It’s effects were so profound, that when I was in Wales in my van, tackling an actual mountain (christ I underestimated the trail I took and overestimated my fitness, I was crying in the evening because my body was so exhausted). I forgot to take my pills. 5 days passed and I realised I hadn’t taken one. I’d felt a bit sick but I thought that was exhaustion. Being in the mountains and riding my bike was medicating me, I had no anxiety, no stress, I felt energised even though my body was tired. I got home and decided I would try to continue without them. That was 11 weeks ago. I haven’t taken another one since. I just kept riding and that seemed to do the trick.
I have some way to go but I know that one day I will work again and I will be ok.