Broken

Sometimes I wonder if I am fundamentally broken. Not damaged or spoilt; broken. Beyond repair.

Because the nightmare never ends. The anxiety, the getting worked up. The feeling down in the dumps and permanently on the edge of tears. 

I’ve been trying to fix myself for almost two years. Doctors, psychiatrists, therapists, counsellors, drugs, CBT, mindfulness. Nothing has worked. So I must be broken right?

When you can’t fix something, you say it’s broken. And then you throw it away.

But because I’m a person, I’m not allowed to be thrown away. I have to continue to be used, despite the fact that I’m not fit for purpose – I don’t function, I don’t operate correctly, what is the point? If I was a machine I’d be thrown on the scrap heap. But that isn’t allowed to happen.

So mentally, I put myself back in the box. Not working correctly. Of no use. Stuffed in a cupboard somewhere, no idea why I’m being kept. Broken.

Broken

226 miles in (almost) a straight line

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“Join Florida’s Turnpike. Stay on Florida’s Turnpike for 226 miles.”

226 miles, on one road. In one state. In almost a straight line. 

That’s a few more miles and a lot less roads than my regular journey from Brentwood to Cheshire that takes in the M25, M1, M6, A500 and A51. It’s also a lot less ‘areas’ than a journey that passes through Essex, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire, Warwickshire, Staffordshire and Cheshire. And it’s considerably fewer turns in the road, than my journey that has umpteen (my official estimate) twists and turns as it snakes past English towns and cities.

America is bloody vast. And so, so different from the UK. It is easy for us Brits to believe in the illusion of an almost shared culture that encompasses the same language, music, TV and Film as our American counterparts. But an illusion it is, because we really aren’t all that similar. After all, American states aren’t even that similar.

Florida is quite different to Colorado for example, so how can either be that similar to the UK? They have different laws, food, dialect and landscapes and are almost 1,600 miles apart. That’s just over the distance from London to Moscow. From the humid bayous and swamps of the south, to the frigid great lakes of the north, the United States of America is just about as culturally and topographically diverse as you can get in a single country. It’s why I enjoy travelling here.

I love a lot of what America has to offer. Such as the huge roads, the huge parking lots and the huge cars. Having been given the choice of “Take anything from the midsize lane, sir” I was about two seconds away from choosing a pickup truck (yes, a regular pick up truck is midsize!) before ultimately deciding that an SUV would be a more comfortable choice for my impending drive of 226 miles in almost a straight line. I enjoy the food (admit it, nothing quite hits the spot like a burger, curly fries and some pulled pork) the customer service, the sport, the Florida sunshine, the Florida storms, the California sunshine, the super friendly people, the belief that any American can become President and did I mention the Florida/California sunshine?

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Of course, America – like any country – is far from perfect and there exists a multitude of things that I dislike; such as the continuous torture for a non-American that is tipping (how much and to whom?!), the confusing road signs and rules of the road, the love of firearms and hunting, the food (it’s not long before I’m sick of burgers and craving a bucket of vegetables), the lengthy customs procedures, the constantly interrupting stream of advertisements on TV, the emphasis on faith and religion and an electoral system that allows an odious individual like Donald Trump to not only run for President, but to reach the Oval Office.

There are also things that I will never understand. Such as the ever present issue of race in the USA. I am not belittling the matter, it is a subject of both historical, cultural and political importance – I just find it hard to comprehend, from either side. And how could I? I have never been black, Mexican, or Muslim in America. I have no idea of what it feels like to be treated differently because of the colour of my skin or my beliefs. America is a country founded by immigrants, that seems incredibly intolerant to immigration. And of course, the above is not the view of many Americans, yet it is the one that seems most prominent in modern day American society.

I also don’t understand the almost blind patriotism and allegiance to the flag that is ever present. I am not patriotic and I would neither define myself as British, or English. If pushed, I’d say the closest affinity I have is not to my country, but to my city. At most, I would consider myself a Londoner and not much else.

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I grew up as a non-religious, but ostensibly Protestant white boy, with a large Catholic family (courtesy of the Irish in me) and jewish friends, who attended an all boys grammar school where a large proportion of the student body was made up of kids from ethnic minorities. I then went and worked in an area which at the time was the 3rd most diverse borough in London and married a girl that was born in Newcastle, raised in Cheshire and half Maltese. So, is it any surprise that I never fully identified with any one particular part?

So, whilst I may never fully understand this great country (and despite it’s faults it is great) I will continue to come here to travel, to meet the people and explore. Because it is vast, it is different and it has so much to offer. There are roads that go for 226 miles in almost a straight line!

 

226 miles in (almost) a straight line

Goodbye.

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Today, I left the Met. There was no fanfare, no big goodbye, no collection, not even a card, let alone a leaving do to celebrate 10 years, 4 months and 28 days service. Just a few handshakes and wishes of good luck. I turned in my warrant card and left the building almost a civilian – 11 days of annual leave are all that stand between me and being gone officially. It’s a strange sensation, walking around without the leather holder and piece of plastic that gives you your powers. I can no longer flash my badge, gain instant authority and take control of a precarious situation.

The past weeks have kept me busy, moving house and travelling backwards and forwards across the country has denied me the opportunity to pause and reflect upon the magnitude of the decision that I have made. Of course, I have had brief moments where I think, “what the hell am I doing, giving up a career?”, but no time to sit and mull it over.

Being a police officer defines you; well it certainly defined me. It sets constraints on the way that you live your life and how you conduct yourself. You cannot escape the expectation to be perfect in almost every way, or to put yourself in harms way to protect total strangers. They were responsibilities and expectations that I took seriously. Maybe too seriously at times.

Yesterday I walked all over London, head up, looking around… I took it all in. London is a special place in the lead up to Christmas, decorations everywhere, Christmas themed window displays in the major stores and people searching for presents for loved ones. It made me realise how much I am going to miss the place. It has been my home for 33 years. Sure, as I have gotten older I have moved further and further into Essex, but I have still maintained the feeling that London is my home.

As I trudged along those famous streets – Hatton Garden, Shaftesbury Avenue, Regent Street, New Bond Street – I became sentimental. I started to think that maybe I was making the wrong choice. Maybe I should have given it another crack now that I’m in a better place mentally. Maybe it would be good to work right in the middle of town, surrounded by famous streets and landmarks, as opposed to crack dens and housing estates. And then I saw a lad that used to work in Hackney. He was stood in Leicester Square, high viz jacket and beat helmet on, the very model of a London Police Officer, and he was soaked. He stood there in the pouring rain, giving directions to tourists, “Sod that” was my immediate thought, shortly followed by “you don’t want to be doing that anymore”.

It was definitive, I am no longer willing and able to do that. I do not have the patience, the inclination. I have done my time. I have served London and it’s inhabitants, laying my body on the line to protect them or giving up my days off to ensure that there are enough boots on the streets to maintain the peace in troubled times – and pretty much always without thanks. That is no longer my life. It’s a marvellous feeling really, a weight lifted. The future is unknown, but it looks bright regardless. I hope to wake up everyday, looking forward to the day ahead instead of dreading it.

Many of my colleagues are as disillusioned as I became, whilst also feeling trapped by a mortgage, kids and the promise of a pension. Thankfully, that way of thinking didn’t permeate my thoughts for the future. I was not weighed down by the promise of a pension; a pension that has already been subject to reform during my service, so who knows what I would end up getting. If I had stayed I would have had another 25 years in the job, with a further 2 years retired, before being able to draw my full pension. That’s almost as long as I have been alive and in my opinion, gives me plenty of time to go and try my hand at a new career, instead of being stuck in one that is heading nowhere.

The MPS as an organisation is crumbling. In my opinion they simply cannot provide the service that is expected of them within the current financial constraints. Emergency services are never going to be cost effective, they are not businesses trying to turn a profit, but instead exist purely to serve the people. Sure, financial streamlining needed to occur, but you have to draw the line somewhere.

However much I will not miss the job, I will certainly miss the people. On the whole they are an under appreciated bunch, stoic but with an ability to find humour in almost any situation. I’ve found that the majority of my colleagues are honest, hard working people who really just want to help others. It saddens me that this gets overlooked by the public and the press, not to mention the job itself which does its best to make them feel marginalised and unable to provide the excellent service that they strive for. To most of the public they are just a uniform, a number, to me they are much more than that. Hopefully the time will come when they get the recognition that they deserve.

Upon leaving I have been issued with a certificate detailing my length of service and describing my conduct as “exemplary”. I take great pride in that description because I think that it’s well deserved, after all, I did somehow manage to survive the better part of 10 years service – within one of the most challenging areas of London – without a single complaint from a member of the public.

I’d like to think that’s because I helped people. I was never overly officious, I always conducted myself professionally and if you were a bad guy, I made my rules clear, “First I’m gonna ask you to do it, then, I’ll tell you do it and if that hasn’t worked, I’m gonna make you do it”. I inserted myself into dangerous situations to protect people I didn’t know and would never meet again, I consoled mourning relatives, gave unheeded life advice to young men on the slippery slope of criminality and did my best to look out for the people who needed looking out for. So, despite how the system often treated me and how regularly being a police officer had a negative impact upon my personal life, my overwhelming emotion upon leaving remains that sense of pride. And that, is no bad thing…

Goodbye.

Be The Change

You do your best, tell yourself to “be the change”. But you fail. You fail despite your efforts. You fail because of others.

You try to make positive changes to your life, but no matter what you do, how hard you try, you run into other people who stop you in your tracks. 

So you think “what’s the point? Why should I try to make a change when somebody else can come along and fuck it up without even knowing that they’re doing it?”. And the darkness descends. The light at the end of the tunnel disappears. 

You question your existence, because you look at the world around you and decide it isn’t for you. Why would it be? You are surrounded by stupidity. By selfish, petty people who care nothing for the consequences of their actions. They are almost blind, their vision extending no further than the end of their nose.

Humans are stupid. We like to think that we’re this super intelligent species, with our smart phones and our rockets to outer space. But we are idiots.

Clever people would have found a solution to famine. Think about that. We stuff our faces and waste food, obesity linked diabetes spirals and yet people die of starvation. It’s 2016 and people are dying because they don’t have food! How is that possible? We can send a fucking robot to Mars but we can’t feed people.

Humans are so stupid, so wrapped up in their own sense of injustice and blinkered by bigotry and discrimination that Donald Trump is a realistic presidential candidate for the supposed biggest superpower in western society. 

This is the man who said build a wall. Build a fucking wall to keep the Mexicans out. And people support that. 2000 years ago the Romans did that to keep the Scots out and apparently it’s still a viable solution! But you struggle to fight it, because the other option is the status quo, another crooked politician in a long line of crooked politicians (aren’t they all?).

We spend billions on entertaining ourselves with movies, sports and games, yet cancer research is undertaken by charities who have to beg for funding. 

People will turn out in their millions to watch millionaire actors in spandex pretend to fight in front of a green screen, but nobody is that arsed about the devastation occurring to wildlife in our forests and seas.

You think about all this and you want to end it all. 

And then you think about your loved ones. The people that you’d hurt. The decent people. The people who are kind and want to do good. And you decide that you don’t want to be one of those ignorant twats that you despise. You tell yourself to “be the change”. And you go again.

Be The Change

Down Days

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Down days. I still have them. I’ll be floating merrily along my way, feeling right with the world, when suddenly someone turns the lights out.

It happened to me recently whilst in Malta. I’d had a fun week, visiting my favourite spots on the island, swimming, eating good food and too much ice cream, when all of a sudden my world turned dark. I couldn’t make eye contact, couldn’t speak, couldn’t help feeling like curling up in a ball and crying myself to sleep. I was down as down can be.

Eventually though, it passed; my head cleared and I was able to engage with the world again. I put it down to a long two weeks spent almost permanently in the company of others (I’d spent the previous week in Cyprus for a friend’s wedding). I’d spent so long trying to stay up, without any time to stop and breathe, that I crumbled under the pressure. Previously that would have knocked me back and I’d have been spooked by the episode for days, but I’m a different person now. I’m able to accentuate the positive from the situation instead of dwelling on the negative.

Nowadays when I relapse I take it as a lesson, a reminder – I am doing well, but not as well as I think I am. I still need to be on guard, I – and the people around me – need to remember to be on the lookout for symptoms that I might be on my way down again. I can’t just pretend that all of a sudden, everything is alright.

When you start to feel right again, it’s easy to plough on forwards as if nothing ever happened, oblivious to the events of the past. I can’t do that. I need to be conscious of the bad decisions I’ve made in the past and make efforts not to repeat them.

I still get incredibly anxious about my stomach. Panic rises when I know I’m about to embark on a long journey and I won’t be near “facilities”. These episodes are incredibly disheartening and leave me feeling like I’m back at square one, still going through the motions of the first manifestation of my anxiety.

To combat this, once again, I try to get positive. I’ve come such a long way, I’ve dealt with the big issues and now is no time to feel down about the little things. On the way back down the mountain, you cross the same places that you passed on the way up (apt little analogy given what’s happening this weekend).

I have tools now. I manage my breathing and play games to distract my brain. It doesn’t work every time, but sometimes, sometimes is enough. On the flight back from Malta I felt the anxiety rising, but I caught myself. I identified that what I was feeling wasn’t actually anxiety, it was excitement to see my dog Lyla. It had been so long since I allowed myself to be excited, I had completely forgotten what it felt like. So having stopped, taken a moment and correctly identified my emotions, I decided to embrace them.

Hopefully I will do the same this weekend for my Snowdon Challenge. I’m full of cold, a coughing, sneezing, cold sweats mess, but I don’t care. I’m excited to take on the challenge. I’m making it to the end no matter how ill I feel. I see this charity challenge as the physical manifestation of my journey of the last 12 months. It’s going to be tough and at times I will stumble, but with the help of the people around me, I will keep on walking… I will overcome.

I am raising money for Mind, the mental health charity, please sponsor me here: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/MindTeam6

Down Days

Self Harm Pt.2

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The first time I hurt myself my intention was clear – it was a test run for how easy it would be to slit my wrists. The second time I hurt myself was different. I wasn’t really sure why I was doing it. No ready explanation presented itself. I was sure it wasn’t a coping mechanism, because I certainly didn’t feel any better for doing it. It neither eased my pain or provided relief.

I was told unequivocally by loved one’s, “You are not to do it again”. Sharp objects were removed from the house and I was closely monitored at all times. It didn’t help though, the seal had been broken and I continued unabated.

I took to hurting myself in the shower, one of the few places where I couldn’t be watched if my wife wasn’t around. I used anything that could be grasped and scratched repeatedly on my skin until it cut and bled. I did it when I was only slightly anxious, I did it when I was completely overwhelmed. It became my default mechanism in times of stress.

For a while, nothing stopped me. Not the tears, the upset, the pain, the embarrassment of being seen in public covered in cuts and scabs. And why would it? I didn’t know why I was doing it, so why would I know what it was going to take to stop it?

Of all the things that have happened to me during my illness, self harm is still the most surprising. I never thought it was something I would resort to, naively dismissing it as the domain of teenage girls desperate for attention. But there I was doing it. When I look back now, I’m horrified at myself. Admittedly it was at a time where I was really struggling with my medication – I was all over the place, but still, how on earth did I get so low – so irrational – that I was willing to do it?

Self-harm is when somebody intentionally damages or injures their body. It’s usually a way of coping with or expressing overwhelming emotional distress – NHS website

Eventually, realisation dawned. I was expressing overwhelming emotional distress’Self harm was my way of showing people that I really wasn’t well. I wasn’t coping. Unable to express the feelings verbally, I was instead making a visual display. A display that quite clearly said, I am not alright.

Most people battling illness have physical signs. Quite often you just need to look at someone to know that they are not well, be it a runny nose, clammy skin, stitches or a plaster cast – there’s generally something you can see. I had nothing. To look at me would not reveal the distress I was in, the depths I was plumbing. That is, until I had my scars. My scars were visible, they were my battle wounds. It was pretty hard to ignore them.

Once I had finally worked out why I was hurting myself, the key to stopping it became fairly obvious. If self harm was expression, I needed a better way of expressing myself. I needed to talk. So I did just that. If I felt anxious, I told somebody. If I was upset, I let people know. I started writing about my experiences and chose to raise money for a mental health charity (more on that below). Finally, it was out there. People knew I was ill, so I didn’t have to show them anymore.

I am raising money for Mind, the mental health charity, please sponsor me here: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/MindTeam6

Self Harm Pt.2

Self Harm Pt.1

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Where to start? I honestly do not know. I have written and rewritten this opening paragraph numerous times. I have stepped away from the computer, had a good think, came back, typed, deleted, stepped away again. There is no subtle introduction that springs to mind, no gentle easing in to the subject matter, because the subject matter is visible, in your face, as obvious as the scars on the people that it affects.

Prior to my own experiences, “self harm”  was a behaviour to which I gave little thought. I had dealt with people who self harmed through my job and generally speaking, I just assumed that they must be desperately seeking attention. That is where my line of thought began and ended. So how did I end up becoming one of those “attention-seekers”?

It is only now, with my health in a better place, that I am able to stop and think about it. And I realise it started sooner than I had previously thought. The first time was in Gozo. I was bubbling up to my first full blown explosion and had disappeared off for a walk. I walked some considerable way and found myself in the picturesque bay of Marsalforn. I sat on a bench, staring out to sea, absent-mindedly scratching away at my hand with the broken cap from a tube of insect repellant. After a short time, absent-mindedly graduated to intentionally and I was actively scarring myself. It was a brief experience that I was able to put a stop to. The mark to my hand was minimal, as was the amount of thought I gave to the whole experience. The next time however, could not be ignored.

For just about the only time in the past 12 months, I was drunk. Unlike many people who suffer with depression, I had not turned to alcohol. Since my mid-twenties, getting drunk has been a rare occurrence reserved for stag dos and weddings. On this occasion, I had been out with my sister-in-law and her friends, who were visiting. For the first time in the longest time, I was enjoying myself. I was having a great night, until the short cab ride home when it became abundantly clear that I in actual fact, I wasn’t feeling great at all. As this was the first and only time I had drunk alcohol whilst on medication, I had not considered the effects of mixing the two.

Within 5 minutes of getting home I was providing an offering to the porcelain gods. Unbeknownst to my house guests, I absolutely chucked my guts up. I was in the bathroom so long that everybody else went to bed. Previously I have talked about loneliness and this was the first occasion where I truly felt it. Frankie (my wife) wasn’t home, she was away on a hen do, my sister in law was asleep and I was sat on my own in a bathroom. Despair and a great tiredness washed over me. Suddenly, I had reached my limit with life. So I reached for a razor.

My consideration was suicide and how to go about it. I elected to trial the razor for this purpose. Unsure as how to approach it, I figured I’d start on my forearm just to see how easy it would be to make a deep cut. It turns out it was very easy. And it didn’t hurt. Then very suddenly it hurt like hell. Maybe it was the sight of my own blood, maybe it was sobering up, but something certainly snapped me out of it. I cleaned up my wounds and the bathroom, and went to bed.

To be continued…

I am raising money for Mind, the mental health charity, please sponsor me here: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/MindTeam6

Self Harm Pt.1