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Karen is here to share her mental health story and why she is taking part in Crafternoon.
Karen is a police officer who loves getting creative with a bit of crafting.
My mum tagged me in a Facebook post about the Crafternoon fundraiser for Mind and I signed up straight away (without even reading what it was about). It seemed perfect for me; I’ve had mental health problems and supported friends and family with their mental health issues. I LOVE crafting, and the date was my late Nanna’s birthday. So what better way to spend the day?
Let me tell you a little bit about my experience and why support for our Mental Health Services are so vital…
"I always considered myself to be “the strong one”."
I have been a Police Officer for almost 20 years. More importantly, I’m a mother, wife, daughter… the list goes on.
I always considered myself to be “the strong one” and always tried to help everyone in both my work and personal life. I hated to let anyone down. It’s very difficult to explain what a Police Officer does day to day as every day brings something different, especially on the front line. But I have seen such trauma, pain and heartbreak over those years. How did I deal with the stresses of what I saw/dealt with? I boxed them up inside my mind, carefully replacing the lid on that imaginary box in the hope that they wouldn’t escape and haunt me.
"I didn’t want anyone to know what a failure I was."
I was blessed to become a mum for the first time in 2006 and the second time in 2008. Following both births I struggled. I would spend most days just getting by and crying; I felt like I was a rubbish mum. I lied on my postnatal questionnaires as I didn’t want anyone to know what a failure I was, at least that’s how it felt.
I really struggled but made it back to work, crying every day after dropping my children off at nursery. At this point I was regularly self-harming because the emotion was too overwhelming to deal with. I just wanted it to stop. Sounds ridiculous but I just couldn’t stop myself.
I would pretend I was fine. I was the “strong one”, a Police Officer, a protector. I would deal with emergencies at work where people were in desperate need, and I understood so much of what they were going through.
"I would struggle to keep everything else together."
Things really took a turn for the worse for me when my Nanna became ill. I loved her so very much and wanted to help her. I would visit her in hospital after work and tried to do everything for her, but I was wearing myself so thin. I was at the bottom of my list of priorities and couldn’t see that if I couldn’t look after myself then I would struggle to keep everything else together; I just kept going.
Then, after bringing her home to care for her whilst she died, I was heartbroken and blamed myself for everything that I could have done differently to have made the end of her life better. She passed away on my wedding anniversary.
This was followed by the sudden death of a colleague. My immediate response was to start looking after everyone else because “they needed me” so I should be strong for them, that’s how I saw it.
"I couldn’t end my life so the circle of sadness just kept going around."
Changes at work made life more stressful and I got to the point where I would lay down next to my children on a night time and whilst they fell asleep I would cry whilst I thought that I just wanted to die because I couldn’t cope any longer. But they were the reason I couldn’t end my life so the circle of sadness just kept going around.
My relationship with my husband was suffering because he didn’t understand what was happening to me… how could he? I didn’t talk about it.
Everything finally came to a head for me when I was physically assaulted whilst at work last year. I finished work two hours late on that shift, at 5am, but was back at work the same day at 3pm. I only slept for about three hours.
"I lifted the lid off the box of demons."
I managed to carry on at work for two months before realising that I was at breaking point. I knew I was going to do someone some serious harm and my biggest fear that I was that someone. I was going to become my colleagues next job and I just couldn’t do it any longer.
I took five months off work and had counselling which taught me that I was not responsible for everything and I learned new strategies for dealing with my stress. It was the hardest thing to stop and say “I need help”. I lifted the lid off the box of demons I’d stored inside my mind for years and started to deal with them. It was really hard but it was so worth it.
"It was really hard but it was so worth it."
I have always painted, drawn, made things and this is my happy place – anywhere I can lose myself in creation. I have often described my crafting time as ‘having an affair with myself’ because I would feel guilty for giving the time to myself when I could be doing something for someone else BUT I now understand the importance of giving myself that time without feeling bad.
We need to break the stigma attached to mental health issues and that’s why I’m supporting Mind with my Crafternoon. Mind not only support anyone suffering from mental health issues but they also have The Blue Light Programme supporting emergency workers, like me, who see the very worst and very best life has to offer.
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