I dreamt about writing this piece all night and in my dreams it was just right and I got my point across perfectly, so here’s hoping the conscious self is as astute as the virtual one!!
I dreamt about a journey that I’ve been on from my childhood through to police service and the point at which I find myself now. I saw it as a journey and would like to try and put that into writing thus making sense of what I saw last night.
The Time prior to joining the Good Ship ‘Police Service’!
The way I see it at nineteen years old prior to joining the police service of the late 80’s, I was a middle class child, and an only child at that, fairly protected from the worlds horrors. My Mother was a bit of a bully and my Dad a respected banker. The bullying had taken quite a toll already leaving me lacking in confidence and somewhat socially reticent.
I left school and worked in a bank where I realised I wasn’t as useless as my Mother made out and when a co-worker was accepted as a police officer I also decided to join up, to embark upon the journey it represented. My Mother was adamant that I was making a big mistake but I forged ahead and was accepted starting my voyage aboard the good ship ‘Police Service’ in August 1989.
The ports visited along the way!
The first port the good ship police service visited was training school. The streets here were littered with sexual discrimination something I had never encountered up until this point. It never really made sense to me back then why I was treated differently because I was female. Of course there were the obvious uniform differences, skirts, tights, a handbag and no truncheon. The commandant demanding of me one parade if I was merely the ‘course mascot missy’ or are you ‘a real police officer?!’ The venom in some chaps faces just because I was there, others because I shared a self defence mat with them I was never really prepared for that. It scolded my young self and provided the wake up call I probably needed that this was not necessarily a holiday rather a voyage of self discovery.
The second port was my initial posting and another liberal dose of sexism. I was nicknamed ‘the strumpet whore’ for no other reason than I was a female. I was naïve sexually so I know for a fact it wasn’t due to any promiscuity! I accepted this name willingly as I wanted to fit in and back then I think I even wore it as a badge of honour representing what I felt I had achieved so far. Along sexism street I was pinned against walls, called names, banned from attending certain incidents and touched up by the sergeant in charge of my probationary two year period. A baptism of fire. I recall very vividly watching a Detective Inspector balling very loudly at a shivering, cold, wet, rape victim in the enquiry office of the station interview room about how she had been asking for it, and what did she expect dressed like that. I think it was at this part in my journey that I started carrying a rucksack for those chips that got gouged out of my shoulders.
As time progressed I developed very chipped shoulders yet I saw them as well earned war wounds. Trophies as you will. I was succeeding where I had been told I would fail, I was proud to be a police officer. The service was the making of me I thought and despite the sexism I enjoyed the camaraderie, I felt like I belonged to something worthwhile and I knew I could be good at it.
The places I visited along the way have shown me the horrors of human nature, I have seen bodies broken beyond recognition, babies raped, and low lives willing to assault and thieve from the elderly. I have held the hands of parents whose children have been snatched, told people their loved ones will never be coming home again and given of myself to allow others a smoother passage.
As I have travelled this route like from all good journeys I have kept images of the things I have seen along the way. The horrors are all stored in my rucksack lest I forget. The sudden deaths, the road traffic casualties, the crashed helicopter pilot, the raped baby, and indeed the sounds of that baby being raped. Many, many memories.
That old adage that the police service deals with five per cent of the population ninety per cent of the time is very true but it was easy to lose sight of this fact along the way. The way I viewed the world and myself was shaped by these experiences and I never really knew what damage they were causing along the way.
The rucksack got heavier and heavier with the flotsam I collected until my first visit to Mental Illness in 2002.
Mental Illness the first visit
In 2002 I split with my husband getting divorced. I was appointed Detective Sergeant on a Sex Offender Unit and was dealing with paedophiles, viewing their putrid child abuse images day in, day out. A warped perverse world that somehow became my normality. I didn’t cope very well with my personal crisis, the new job, the subject matter and getting in to another relationship with step parenting duties all within a matter of months. In fact it all became too much and I fell ill and had some time off with stress. Now no one ever told me I was visiting mental illness, there were no road signs or maps. In fact it wasn’t something I was even aware of until two years ago. The doctor gave me pills which I took for a while but after I was belittled and laughed at by my police officer partner for being a light weight I quickly agreed that I didn’t need them, for I was a passenger on the good ship police service. I was therefore invincible.
Mentally Ill people were our ‘clients’ the people we dealt with, that person in the cells banging their head off the wall or the street wino who seemed to talk utter gibberish about their time in the military. Oh how we laughed about that. no it certainly wasn’t us the invincible police officers.
Not very long after returning to work I took a five year career break. Deep down I knew why but I never let on, not even to myself. It’s hard to explain, but I knew I wasn’t coping, I knew my mind was weakening but I couldn’t acknowledge it. I cast out depression refusing to accept that it was actually a part of me now. I left it on the dock and tried to sail away without it.
I had a baby, traumatic in itself with an emergency caesarean, near critical blood loss and a week in hospital being transfused. New baby and parenthood, plus starting a successful property business left me thinking it may just be possible to disembark from the good ship police service. My rucksack was really heavy with life’s chattels and challenges, so we did plan that I would leave the service, run the business and bring up our daughter. However the good ship relationship then sank without a trace just as I was trying to board it, my rucksack proving far too heavy, that together with all our extra baggage it disappeared beneath the waves.
So I found myself a single parent facing an unwelcome return to the good ship police service as I needed to support us financially. I returned to a refurbished vessel, departments had changed, policies and procedures with them and it felt much like I was entering a parallel universe, everything the same yet completely different at the same time. New challenges now existed as I tried to balance parental responsibility with the demands of policing and that insatiable see saw between job and your child that can never possibly be balanced. The guilt that goes with that challenge just becomes an extra rock for the rucksack.
Mental Illness the second time around
Four years in to my return to the good ship police service I find myself two years into a posting on the Professional Standards Department. An unforgiving environment dealing with anger and discontent. Members of the public making complaints about police officers or the service in general, people you had to visit and sit and listen to whilst they spat putrid nastiness at you, in turn police officers feeling aggrieved and affronted by you asking them to account for their actions giving you the run around and / or the cold shoulder plus unsupportive line management heaping more muck in your direction regardless of the weight limits or you being obviously off balance. That’s all before the IPCC cast their shadow in your direction. It was a hell hole, it is a hell hole.
This is when I visited mental illness again. This is was when I looked in the mirror and finally said hello to my old friend, acknowledging the black dogs reflection for the very first time. Even then it took me six months of physical symptoms, convinced I was dying of some mystery illness before I allowed myself to entertain the dark canine.
Oddly I thought that once I had greeted the black dog and given it a bone it would settle down in it’s bed and go to sleep but how wrong I was. It had days when it hassled me non stop always there never silent, and others when it was perfectly happy to curl up in its basket and sleep. But once he’s come to you, you have a pet for life. He’ll demand attention at the most inopportune moments and sometimes you cannot make any headway through life but for its high jinx.
As I approached the half pay point of having been six months absent from the service and after the captain had commenced the sanctions against me known as UPP (Unsatisfactory performance procedures) for not being at work I forced myself to climb back aboard the good ship police service. Financially I had no choice but I knew it was more a case of when I’d be ill again as opposed to if. The black dog came too, he won’t be left alone you see, not under any circumstances. he is very insistent that he stays in your company at all times.
This time I found acknowledging my illness out loud to people very cathartic, it seems to make people very uncomfortable I can see that and honestly part of me enjoys watching them wriggle about when I discuss it. But the captain had the last laugh ultimately as the accommodation was never adapted for keeping a pet nor was the workload or type. Nothing ever changed from before I was ill to when I returned. I even found a good proportion of the work I’d left in my tray was still sat there waiting for me six months down the line.
I battled on for a further two years. Despite my dislike of the work I knew it was a guaranteed desk job, with 9-5 week day shifts and this suited my ever present battle with balancing that damned see saw. I knew I was selling my soul to the devil in some respects but it felt like a necessary evil.
Just before Christmas 2016 I knew I was wobbling, I started getting very tearful at work. I found myself dog tired the minute I sat down at my desk, to the point that I could barely keep my eyes open at nine in the morning. I would get so angry at silly things and I felt a burning hatred for the environment and people around me. Completely paranoid, watching people automatically assuming they were talking about me and burning with resentment. It’s like an allergy to work, I could feel myself welling up with tears as I approached the building daily, the hyper ventilation as I approached the office, the nausea as I entered. It repulsed me, I feared it and I’m terrified of returning to it.
Mental Illness revisited
So here I am again. Revisiting my old stomping ground. Sick. Ill. Unwell. Mad. Zombie like. Slightly agro phobic. Battling demon headaches and constant nausea. Joints aching and swollen. Fearful of the telephone ringing, panicked by work emails and sorely tempted to move to the outer Hebrides and an uninhabited island away from people, policing and myself. Except I guess I would sort of have to be there wouldn’t I!
My rucksack is overflowing and it feels like I’ve been cast adrift in a small rowing boat away. Pushed away from the master vessel I’m bobbing around without direction. I’m out of my depth when I look over the side yet I feel too weak to row anywhere. If I stand up the weight of my rucksack rocks the boat. I have a map but cannot seem to make head nor tail of it and instead I find myself staring at it bemused. I sort of know how I might be able to get this boat to the shore, I might even be able to tether it when I got there but I truly cannot be bothered. The captain of the master vessel, police service, hasn’t transmitted an SOS message for me and it seems that their expectation is of me saving myself as they have no responsibility or jurisdiction over my predicament.
I am lost on the sea of Mental Illness, my only apparent grid reference is ST1 GMA.