It’s never a routine call……..
Why did you become a police officer?
The cheesy cliche answer; I wanted to help, and I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to know that somebody could walk down the street and feel safe, because police officers were out there. Whether its paid or not, it’s the same job. The same responsibility.
Do you feel like you made a difference?
I would hope that in the 6 years I was in for, I did something that was good. I think you can do good through positive interactions or engagements, dealing with the public politely and openly. As well as being professional. But in terms of policing itself, I had the pleasure of getting involved with a few departments, and a multitude of incidents and yeah I think I did some good, and made a difference. Especially in community policing.
Did you ever consider whether or not, you had made the right decision by joining up?
There were times, where I think maybe, I burnt the candle at both ends. I exhuasted myself which bought a negative mindset, however, even during the darkest times. I knew I was doing something I was passionate about, and I think I was good at what I did. It was eye opening, and sometimes the images or sounds/smells, would follow me home. But that never made me want to stop being a police officer.
Why did you end your career as a special?
I suppose, my life changed. I think my PTSD diagnosis, helped that decision but I do think that because my personal life changed, and it had changed an awful lot from when I first started. I think my priorities re-aligned, and some experiences maybe changed me as a person. But I never lost that passion for helping others, I never lost the love for policing. I mean, I started the role as a single man with no real commitments. I now have 3 children, a family and a career.
What is PTSD?
PTSD is, a mental health condition. I don’t think, well in my case it wasn’t a disability. It shouldn’t be seen as a disability. For me actually, it enabled me to be more emapthetic, more understanding and a patient person. But, it manifests itself differently for different people, and I do believe that depends as well on the trauma. It can be anything from flashbacks to depression, loss of emotions to aggression. There are so many symptoms, or signals.
Whats your story, what should we know?
I mean, for me, my PTSD started in 2018. I was on a routine patrol, it was May time and I remember it was such a hot day. I was sweating through my stabvest, I swear. It was scorching. I think I’d just finished a cigarette, and there were 3 of us crewed together. S was looking through the mobile device for open jobs, we were out “box busting” which is literally going out and closing the open jobs for LPT which don’t require an immediate response.
He found a concern for welfare, which seemed pretty simple. It was also no longer than 2 minutes away from us too. So I think I called up for it, and got us attached to it. We had the intention of this being a quick concern which ended up being in order, and we’d move onto the next job. We rocked up outside the house, which was near the seafront in Southend, Essex.
We done the usual, got out, done a door knock and there was no answer. We knocked again, and this little older lady opened the door. We asked if X lived here, and I distinctly remember her saying “Ah, he lives upstairs. I haven’t seen him, hopefully he’s dead”. Then with that she left the door open, and disappeared back into her flat. We proceeded to the front door of the flat we wanted, and it was like a bit of plywood I think, not the most secure. We knocked a few times, and there was no answer. S got a crowbar and just popped it open, and there was stairs upto his flat. S was in front, M was second and I was behind. S went to the back of the flat, M went to the kitchen and I went to the front room. As I start walking to the front room, the first thing I noticed was the scurrying of rats, and the tremendous, and i mean tremendous amount of flies. I’d never ever seen that many flies before.
That’s when I noticed, laying on the floor in the front room was a ponytail on the back of a head, laying in a bed on the floor. I approached, I called out maybe 3 or 4 times. Over and over. I knew what I was walking towards. As I reached the doorframe, this overwhelming smell hit me. I leant over, and I don’t want to get too graphic but.. there wasn’t any identifying features on the face any longer. I will always remember at this point, calling up and saying.. “This is now a death” and I ran, I won’t lie. I ran out the door, and puked everywhere in front of members of the public.
This was an area where, any police presence was… an opportunity to have a look, you know? I just spewed everywhere. Anyway, so with that experience… I dunno, I suppose. It haunted me? As in, it got to a point where this guy who, I didn’t know what he looked like, remember that. I was seeing him everywhere, everywhere I went. Everytime I walked up the stairs, everytime I closed my eyes to sleep. Everytime I blinked. I dreamed about him every night, sometimes it was just recalling the events, sometimes he’d be chasing me. It left me questioning, could I have done more? I should’ve done more.
In reality, this guy had been gone weeks, but in PTSD your brain doesn’t see reality, and you end up blaming yourself, harming yourself further trying to answer questions, or justify your actions to yourself. Beating yourself up over it, again and again and again. I din’t really have an output for these sorta experiences either. I didn’t really say much to my friends or family about what I was going through because, well I have to deal with this. It’s for me, I went there, not them. Why would I put this burden on them? So fast forward to I think it was august or maybe september 2018. I had enough, I was living with this every single day. I was exhuasted, and I won’t lie I felt lonely. I wan’t, but that’s how I felt. So, my parents were on holiday and I decided that was it. I’d go and end my life, I was done. I was beaten, and I just couldn’t take it anymore. I wrote a note, and I messaged S, who was my best mate at the time. We crewed together all the time. He knew what was gonna happen, and I he tried to negotiate with me a bit. But I just couldn’t my mind was set, but I hadn’t made that conscious decision.
It’s not like you wake up, and decided you’re gonna kill yourself.. my brain had done that for me, and put me into like, autopilot. I had no control. But, I visited a park which I think my brain had a plan, I didn’t but my brain did. This park had some significance later in ym policing career, but right then.. it was just a place I went too. But it was so busy, and I just ended up driving for ages. I was a mess. I think my brain went into a bit of overthinking, because I was just driving from place to place, and then ended up driving back into Southend. I remember pulling up to a set of traffic lights, and it was near a train station. I have to be honest, i think the train station was my, end game. Very few people in my life that know about my past, know that detail. I was sitting at the red light, and I just remember this police car, lights and sirens screaming in front of me. Then another, and another, and another and another. I was boxed in.
I felt this overwhelming feeling of security. Like, a weird feeling. Almost like pressure. It’s strange. The next thing, I’m taken out of my car and put into the back of a police vehicle. The side door opens and a mental health nurse sits next to me, and I’m literally inconsolable at this point. I can’t talk, I’m an absolute mess. She says “Hi Alex, I’m a few hours over my end time, I’ve been hoping Id find you. My name’s Claire, and we’re gonna sort this all out”. Claire, I owe my life too. I won’t hide it, and Claire knows this.. I had prior knowledge of her. S had worked with her on the mental health triage car, and she was known as “Ratchet”. She was a thorough and sometimes when she needed to be ruthless triage nurse. When I realized who she was, bearing in mind I was inconsolable, I looked at her.. and I think I said “Shit, I’ve heard about you”. Whilst the world fell out of my backside, I felt safe. We talked a bit whilst we were heading back to Southend Nick, and we sat for hours talking, and having cigarettes together. I was expecting Ava at the time, she was due in October, and I remember she turned to me and said “I’ll be blunt with you for a moment, your daughter will get to the age of 12 and already be with the mental health services. If you go, she’ll forever wonder why she wasn’t good enough” and I was broken already, but that broke me. It cut deep, but in a way that was.. Constructive. I did meet with Claire after, but i haven’t seen her for a few years. But, I’ll forever be in her debt. She saved my life that day, everybody did, and I appreciate everyones efforts. But Claire, I don’t know what she did to me, but she fixed me.
Did your experience change how you policed?
Yeah of course it did. Without a doubt. It made me more understanding, and patient. Before my breakdown, I think I became a bit insensitive, and whilst I didn’t lose the passion.. I lost the, empathy. But I returned back to operational work, 6 months later under quite strict guidelines. Ermm, yeah I definitely policed differently, in a good way. Like I say, whilst PTSD almost killed me it gave me an enablement, a power.
How does your PTSD affect you now?
Ahh I’m in a much better place, where I have a lot more outputs for anything. I don’t have the flashbacks that much anymore, I have the bad days. I won’t lie, sometimes I can be miserable. I don’t mean to be, but.. a dream can set it off, or a smell. Roast dinner for me is a trigger, that not many people know about. But it is, like the smell, I don’t even know why. I did goto an incident a while ago, in that park. It was a suicide, which was so tragic. He was only young, and the circumstances around it, just.. stayed with me. Being in that park too, which had dense woodland. That was another situation where I just couldn’t stop beating myself. I knew that park, why couldn’t i get there like 2 minutes quicker. I did reach out to the family, about a year later and apologised. But that for me was so close to home that I think, it helped push me towards leaving.
Would you go back?
Aha! Errrmm, I don’t believe in saying never. I would maybe think about it, but not right now. Right now I want to, focus at home. If that makes sense?
Why do you want to tell your story?
I suppose to normalize, PTSD. Especially within public service, lets be honest its rife. The support is there, but it’s nowhere near as good or as funded as what it should be. Through releasing my story locally, through a new article. I had an officer reach out to me about how he was feeling, and I suppose if I can achieve that again. Get somebody to reach out to somebody for help, rather than suffering in silence. Its been a success. It’s so important to get the message out there, to get the wheels turning to talk about mental health, talk without judgement, without fear of being put behind a desk or treated differently. But also the public need to see that police officers, paramedics, fire officers whoever.. they think, they feel the same way as any other person. The difference is, they get sent towards it, when everyone else has the choice to runaway.