Where it all began. And ended.

Introduction.

Around May 2019, after 23 years police service, the last eight of that being a detective in Child Abuse Investigation, I found myself sitting opposite a counsellor who, despite living up to my expectations of being hippy-lite could still swear like a sailor. I’d already broken down in front of my Occupational Health Doctor in spectacular fashion, snot and tears overwhelming the single tissue that she’d passed me from the desk. Typically, and with epic and well practiced self delusion, I tried to tell her that in fact I was okay and with a few days off I’d be good to go. The doctor raised her eyes and with a kindly, patient, but slightly exasperated tone I suspect she often used for disintegrating police officers said, “Glen, you are very, very unwell. You have severe, she emphasised , PTSD, depression and anxiety. I don’t think that you will able to investigate Child Abuse for a very long time, if at all, and being a detective, I feel, will be too much for you too.  It will be too much for your anxiety to deal with. You need to think about doing something else.”

Forward a few months and hippy counsellor is trying to persuade me that my “man up, crack on, keep up or move aside” persona is killing me. She says it’s an act, albeit a sub conscious one at times, and with the mini biography I’ve given her is utterly typical of people from my background. Military family, strict military boarding school, divorced parents, poor parental relations, long emergency services career, multiple bereavements including a father who died ravaged by cancer whilst living abroad leaving me with a legal estate needing time and money to sort out and the guilt of telling him he’d been a poor granddad and a worse father just before his cancer symptoms hit without any mercy or dignity.

Hippy counsellor is of course right. Inside I’m dying. What I described to my GP as feeling constantly sad, is of course, depression. Sometimes getting out of bed  is only accomplished by 30 odd years of imposed and ingrained self discipline. I half joke to her that if I die in my sleep I’d still be at work on time, it’s what I expect of myself and I know that “they” also expect it too. ‘They” are the children who, in recent months, wake me up and stop me sleeping, reproaching me for not trying hard enough, for not caring enough. The ones who I saw dead, the ones who I know, despite the best efforts of “the professionals” are doomed to a childhood teetering just on the right side of what is deemed “adequate.”

 The real killer though is I feel guilty for not feeling guilty enough. The sudden infant deaths I attended never had much of an impact on me. Nature is cruel and arbritary and I consoled myself with that. But all the other things I saw; the dead people, the dying people, the badly injured and the grief stricken, for years when I went home I put them in the mental box and shut the lid. I honestly thought that I was fine and it didn’t affect me.  But now, unbidden and unexpectedly, the lid keeps popping open. At night, at dinner, when I’m driving and even when I’m enjoying myself and life seems okay. When the lid lifts it takes my breath away and dumps adrenaline in my system so I get the stomach lurch you get when thinking of that embarrassing, mortifying thing you did at the party, the lurch you get when you wake up and you know you have the most important exam of life THAT morning. It’s exhausting and can leave me gasping. It saps my energy, enthusiasm and patience.

The anxiety I feel isn’t seen by other people. Professionally, I’m probably at my peak. My annual reviews consistently state I’m performing beyond expectations, I’m a tutor, training others to be detectives, I’ve begun to deliver training sessions on the investigation of Child Abuse to others at Headquarters, and with one or two others I’m seen as a safe pair of hands to give complex, difficult jobs too.  I take pride in being professional and not bringing my personal life to work, not like the ones who are in and out the sergeants office with their crises and issues. And I always say yes to whatever is asked of me, and I keep volunteering to do more. I know now what I didn’t  know then ,that what I have is what they term High Functioning Anxiety and I’m at the point where it’s all come crashing down. 

The flashbacks, to three incidents in particular, are vicious, corrosive and terrifying. The terror comes not just from what I see and feel but also that they come, like the anxiety attacks, unexpectedly and without warning. Sometimes there are a triggers, sometimes not. Watching a good film. Flashback, In bed reading. Flashback. Sunny, raining, running, working, alone, in company. They come and I see my nightmares without the comfort of knowing that now I’m awake and they weren’t real. Mine were. Are.

The crash came when I was asked to deliver the news to a relative that a child had committed suicide. In the past I’d have done it without too much thought, I was always too much the professional, telling myself that it had to be done and that I was the one chosen, and choosing ,to do it. There was pride in my resilience and my role. “I couldn’t do what you do” other police officers would tell us and I’d take it as a back handed compliment. But today I couldn’t do it. I knew that I didn’t have the emotional energy to do it or to recover and that scared me.  I was empty; utterly utterly spent and all I could do was make up a crap excuse and flee leaving my colleagues to do what I should be doing.

The next day my supervisor asked what had happened. I suspect, know now, he regrets how he asked and what he said next because I flew back at him, attack being the best form of defence, before I just decided, there and then, I’d had enough, realised that I couldn’t do it any more, that I didn’t want to do it anymore. I felt like that animal chased by the lion that just seems to give up and just lies down. I began to cry. Me cry! Crying was weak, pointless, not what we do but I couldn’t help it and I didn’t want to stop because I knew, knew life wasn’t going to be the same again and I didn’t want it to be because I was broken.

17 thoughts on “Where it all began. And ended.

  1. I hear you. thank you for sharing your experiences – I too have worked through PTSD, though for different reasons, and with depression and anxiety, it’s a complete bastard. But you can get better and the flashbacks will get less intense, less awful. It’s just such awful hard work and you have my empathy. Just remember that you are equally deserving of compassion as those people that you protect, and if you are to get better, you are your top priority.

    Best wishes.
    Charlotte

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  2. You are a gentleman who needs the support from those around you. Please accept any help and support that is offered to you. Believe me it is not a sign of defeat by accepting the help, a brave man to gave come forward. I wish you all the very best for whatever the future may hold. X

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I admire you for what you have written here. You are helping so many people, although you might not realise it. Good for you. Keep talking, it helps. An RHS Old Boy. Proud of you.

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  4. Thank you for being honest. Your words resonate so clearly. You are at the sharp end of the stick and I cannot imagine the depth of darkness and pain you have witnessed and felt responsible in fixing, making better and doing what others can’t. You deserve peace and space in your heart to love your family and feel loved the way you deserve.

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  5. Glen, what you did as a job (in my mind) made you a hero. What you have done here, by opening up, makes you a legend.

    Life is stressful and as a society men are told to “man up”. That’s horse s***!

    We all need to talk and be honest with each other to truly be supportive.

    Good on you fella!

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  6. This has moved me, and has resonated with me….I still have nightmares after living next door to Ipswichs most prolific and dangerous pedophile….Glen, I hope the force gives you a break, and you get back to what you do best, and as obne of the RHS OB family, you are welcome to a discrete chat…sounds like you need understanding…and I applaud the person who noticed that you were at breaking point, rgards, Julz

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  7. Glen
    I found it difficult to leave you a comment mate, I feel your pain as a lot of what you said resonates with me having been in the same boat to a lesser degree.
    Same school, same military upbringing, same parental situation, and same career choice. Though I could never have done Child abuse investigation.
    You are incredibly brave to have come forward like this buddy and be so open about what you have gone through. Im not, and could never be so brave.
    I dont think anyone who has not worked in the Police or similar profession can ever truly explain what its like, what you go through, or the sights you see and have to deal with. Its hard enough trying to explain to your own loved ones.
    Keep fighting the good fight Fella.and thank you for what you have done to protect the innocent of this world and bring the bad guys to justice

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. Our childhood circumstances, on reflection, were very difficult and not entirely good for us. There are lots of good things boarding schools provide in terms of character but they also do a lot of damage. Do talk to others and please contact me if you ever want to chat.

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  8. Glen you are not alone, a member of my family served fo 24 years, in that time they were in several conflicts, starting in Kosovo, they then had to go and tell people that their loved ones were KIA, they also found one of their best friends after they had committed suicide, getting told to man up and suck it up is nothing new. What you have done by speaking out is very brave, you would have to be a cold hearted sociopath to not be affected by a tough and harrowing profession, just remember the people who know you from RHS were your first brothers. You will never be alone. Saying what you feel makes you human, and a damned decent one, thank you for helping so many people in your line of duty. PS my mum passed away last year and the first time I went to counseling I cried my eyes out for the entire hour, just remember that you’re not alone ok.

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  9. Glen, I found it compelling reading and I am full of admiration for you in putting such a personal story online, it takes real courage to do that but I sense that you are really made of strong stuff and I wish you well with the healing process. The schooling we had in common has for most of us created an unbreakable connection so you will never be alone and nor should any of us be 👍🏻

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  10. There is little I can say. Your account is a heady mix of personal heartbreak and glimpses into a world of hell only some know.
    I know that hell, too well unfortunately from the other side.
    C-PTSD with anxiety and intrusive thoughts that’s my scars.
    You stopped countless others suffering the same but in the same breath gave too much of yourself away.
    I hope you heal, in time. 💙

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