Mental illness is something people fake to avoid work, or something where men are dragged into a padded room and are fed through a small hole in the door. Depression is an excuse for being a moody, self-involved and boring individual who wants all the attention. Anxiety thrives in people who cannot handle normal day life and want everyone to put a hold on their life until they feel relaxed and can cope again. And as for stress, stress…. you should’ve got a job in ASDA!
My thoughts are that mental illness is for the weak and work shy. I was brought up on a council estate in Sheffield, went to the football, got a job as a navie when I left school, joined the army then the police. All very strong environments where there’s no place for sympathy or the weak of mind. So 31 years after leaving school, sat in a doctor’s office just being told I had a mental illness did not settle well with me.
It all started when my wife Kelly asked me to ‘just go and see’ after a series of temper outbursts from me a few months before building up to the day she advised it might be a good idea. I knew I had a temper, it generally was kept under control only releasing the valve occasionally at work but everyone has tantrums sometimes don’t they? One thing I had noticed over the last 2 or 3 years was low moods; these generally came and went with no prompting or reason. After a while I learnt to grab a bit of ‘me time’ until the depression had subsided. This was easy at work as I could go somewhere where no one else was and shut my eyes and until I felt better. At home I would ‘snooze’ and within minutes I’d be ok. Again I never thought anything of the low moods and thought yet again everyone feels moody don’t they? Anyway, sometimes the moods would be replaced by a wave of euphoria which I enjoyed.
So there I was, sat in the doctor’s reception thinking I would be let out after a quick chat and at most a few pills to pop. Over the tanoy came from a familiar voice shouting my name, it was my doctor, a gently spoken Indian woman who had seen me through my hernia months before, and whose opinion I respected. I was quite nervous as I usually am at places like dentists, hospitals and doctors. She sat me down and asked what she could help me with. I explained to her how I’d been feeling and explained Kelly’s concerns. She took my blood pressure which was its usual ‘through the roof’ which I put down to something hereditary like my cholesterol. She looked concerned and asked me why I thought my blood pressure would be so high. I couldn’t put my finger on it and she asked the usual questions, did I smoke, drink excessively, eat lots of salt etc etc. I, as usual answered truthfully and she then asked, “Do you sleep ok?” I told her I hadn’t slept well for best part of 20 years, suffering from nightmares and in some cases I would grade them as ‘night terrors’.
“How often do you have them?” she asked.
“Just about every night, I sometimes get a night off if I’ve drank a bit!”
I went through one of my nightmares and for the first time in the few years I’d been seeing her, the Doctor looked worried.
“I think they are causing the high blood pressure because they cause me some distress in the night, and in the morning I feel terrible for a bit before my work or family life take my mind off it” I explained.
She showed me an A4 piece of paper with boxes and questions on. The questions were directed at me and asked if I was :
Little or no interest or pleasure in doing things
Feeling down, depressed or hopeless
Trouble falling or staying asleep, or sleeping too much
The questions went on asking about feeling bad about myself, trouble concentrating, being restless and fidgety and were followed by a scoring system, ‘0- means not at all’ ranging up to ‘3-Nearly every day’. She went through the questions slowly and after every ‘3’ I scored her face looked more worried. She came to the last question on this section of the paper…
‘Thoughts that you would be better off dead or thoughts about hurting myself’ My immediate answer came racing out with my Coppers’ head on. “I would never self-harm!”
“What about killing yourself?” she asked.
“Well I have thought about it before but would never do it!” I answered honestly. My answer came from thinking that some mornings after a bad night I would think it would be nice not to have to wake up.
She picked the phone up and asked me to take a seat in reception. I walked out of the door and saw one of the receptionists on the phone looking up at me as I sat down wondering what had gone on. After a few minutes the doctor called me back in and I sat down, I asked her what was wrong as I’d never seen her face so serious. “I’ve contacted the Crisis Team and they’re gonna call you to make arrangements for you to go to your local mental health Hospital. You have PSTD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)!” she replied. My heart dropped, I know what the Crisis Team does and I know all about mental health hospitals. The word ‘Speechless’ was an under- statement, with my jaw hanging down she passed me a prescription for Fluoxetine.
“Is here someone at home?” she asked with compassion.
“My wife” I replied, god knows how with my dropped jaw.
“Go home and they’ll phone you, take care!” her words echoed around the room as I shuffled out of the office and handed the prescription to the pharmacist next door.
I walked the short distance home and walked in the door. Kelly stood in the hallway and looked at me whilst trying to control Alfie, our very excitable Springer pup. “I’ve got PTSD….. I’ve gotta go to Lanchester!”
In her very own and unique way Kelly said, “Well at least we know now and can get it sorted. Let’s get Alfie to my Mam’s and wait for them to ring. And Paul….don’t worry!”
We drove the couple of miles to Kel’s mams and explained to her what had happened. Moments later my mobile rang and a female asked to speak to me. She stated they had a bed for me and how long it would take me to get there. I asked her why I would have to stay there and she stated my doctor had disclosed I had intentions of ending my life. I explained what I’d actually said to my doctor and she asked me if I had any intentions to kill myself and I put her at ease. She asked me a little about how I had been and was feeling and a brief description of one dream. She assured me I was ok to stay at home and she would refer me to the relevant services.
The rest of the night went slow and had to be helped on with a couple of glasses of wine. I still couldn’t believe it, me a mental illness, nahhh she’s got it wrong and the force doctor will say it’s not.
I had been signed off work for a month for the meds to kick in, so I phoned my supervision who assured me It’ll be ok and I’ll be better soon but to put myself first. The next couple of weeks went by with no signs of feeling better, in fact I felt worse. Every night brought terrAor and the following mornings greeted me with suicidal thoughts. My usual bouts of depression were usually replaced by ‘top of the world’ feelings. Now I was just ‘down’ all the time, what was even worse was I didn’t want to socialise or do my hobbies. Kel was making excuses to friend and family why we couldn’t go out for a drink, or go for a walk. My once passion Hiking, was the last on my list of things I didn’t want to do. Alfie made ‘do’ with short walks or just his stick thrown down the garden.
It was fast approaching Christmas and to add insult I was given my ‘Going onto half pay’ letter which would start 22nd December which didn’t help at all. I started counselling with ‘Talking Changes’ which initially seemed a bit scary but helped. The councillor taught me grounding techniques and ways to overcome my anger and anxiety. Meanwhile the meds were being changed, Fluoxetine wasn’t working and the anxiety levels, even though the counselling was helping, were shooting up. The doctors thought Sertraline would be a good alternative and I started the process all over again.
Throughout all this my home life was upside down. Kel was starting to feel ‘run down’ causing health problems for herself. Contact with my 9 year old son was sporadic and caused a few problems with his mother. I’d told her I was suffering from depression and was on meds that made me sleep for long periods at a time so I didn’t want him stopping over just in case. The real story was one, I didn’t want to disclose PTSD to his mam as she herself was ex forces and two, I just didn’t trust myself with him over night. I did start to regain slight contact with hiking friends. The first couple of outings were real hard work for me, luckily my best mate Dicko treated me like he had before, taking the micky and not asking awkward questions. His wife Sue was quite attentive but not in a bad way. She would ask if I was having a good or bad day but again, treated me the same she had before. I tried my hardest to get back into my passion but I struggled, the blogs were non-existent.
22nd December came too fast, I wasn’t anywhere near ready to return to work, but I had to. I forced my uniform on and sat in the passenger seat of Kel’s car and we drove to work. I couldn’t have felt any worse, Kel reassured me and helped to calm my nerves. After sitting in the car park for a few minutes we went into Kel’s office and I looked for the colleague who I was to spend my time with on restricted duties, who luckily had an office opposite Kel’s so if I wobbled, I could go to her. At this point in my life she was the only thing I felt comfortable with and my rock! I sat down, saw a few of my colleagues walk in and out of the office and totally cracked up. Kel’s supervisor told her to take me home which we did, step one done!
The next few weeks were really hard at work, home and therapy. My therapist spent the weekly hour I was afforded convincing me I was ill. Kel spent her time on egg shells trying to balance me with her own health, the dog and work. Work was the hardest, people had found out I was ill with a mental health issue which I didn’t mind, some of my closest friends asked and just said “keep ya chin up mate!” There were some, and still are some colleagues who have stopped talking to me totally, avoiding me, even turning around in the corridor to avoid contact with me. But because I love my job so much I wouldn’t let this bother me. Eventually things started to look up, I was being monitored by the force doctor who knows his stuff and I was feeling better day by day and when I eventually switched (again) meds to Mirtazapine things started steam rolling forward. My therapy is now EMDR which is very hard and brings back some memories, but it is also helping me to store them away too.
I’m still in intense therapy and rattle with all the meds I’m taking but I feel better (most days) about myself and what’s wrong with me. I also have come to terms with the fact I will not fully recover and will probably have to see a therapist again if I experience trauma in the future and I still have to spend a fortune on meds. But I’m glad it’s getting sorted and my life is getting back to normal!
I think if this blog has a message it would be this. We all experience trauma everyday of our lives, if you spend years stacking it up it is eventually going to affect you in some way or another. The people who experience trauma on a day to day basis are the sort of people (like myself) who will say nothing and crack on, my regret is I wish I didn’t and hadn’t thought like that. I’m not saying everyone’s the same but for most, eventually the thin rope in your head holding it all up will snap. So the next time you have experience someone who is suffering from PTSD, before you think to yourself, “That’ll never happen to me, I’m a strong person and they’re pathetic!”
Think to yourself, ”I once read a blog where someone else thought like that!!”