Blue Flower

Really interesting input on Mindful Management as part of the MBA at Lancaster University Management School with my good friend Neil Ralph...

I am a boss in the emergency services, I feel alone and I need help!

   

My head has been spinning for months, I have too many thoughts crammed in, my mind is too busy and I can’t switch off. I am not sleeping. I go to sleep and I wake with a jolt, suddenly seeing a horrific image in front of me; someone being stabbed, someone dying or a car crash. Very vivid images that make my heart beat fast, I am shaking and covered in cold sweat. The adrenalin is pumping through my veins, like I am in a life or death situation.

But I am not. I am in my house, I am in my bed. I should feel safe but I don’t. I am so scared.

What is happening to me?
The next morning I go to work. I have an important meeting, a presentation. This is nothing unusual, I do this most days…I stand up to speak. Today however something goes very wrong. My mouth dries up, I start shaking, and my heart starts pounding like it is going to burst out my chest. I continue to try and talk, aware that I am gasping for breath and my vision starts tunnelling down. I manage to finish what I need to say and I sit down. I cannot look people in the eye, they must have noticed.

What is happening to me?
Weeks go by, I start losing my confidence, and I don’t understand what is going on. I keep second guessing myself, full of self-doubt. I feel like a complete failure, yet I am supposed to be a leader. What a joke! I feel so weak. I am in a senior position, I am supposed to look after my staff, they are so stressed at the moment and I am failing them. I don’t deserve this position.

I go home back to my family, yet I feel alienated from them, completely detached, like I am watching them through a TV screen. My partner wants to chat but I feel too drained, where do I start? When I don’t understand it myself? I am so tired, so dead inside, my head is racing; the last thing I want to do is talk. I want to escape, so I open a bottle of wine again, same as last night.

I enjoy writing, I am often on social media. Recently though, I am second-guessing everything I write. I can’t have that opinion, I am a senior leader, I might be criticized. I can’t make that funny comment, it might be offensive? I don’t think it is offensive but what if someone else found it offensive? I had better not ever get annoyed and be rude to anyone either, even though they are enjoying baiting me; they know I cannot respond as I have a position to uphold. When really I just want to say, you are a complete twat! Please F**k off!

But I cannot say that. My position means I can not swear, I am not allowed to show emotion, certainly not anger or hurt.

So instead I go to bed, I fall asleep and I suddenly wake with a jolt, seeing a horrific image in front of me, someone being stabbed, someone dying…

I am a boss in the emergency services; I feel alone and I need help.…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
This is not me by the way, as I am not a boss. It does not matter who, if anyone it is referring to, that is not the point. My point is mental health problems can happen to anyone. In the emergency services it can happen to anyone regardless of gender or rank.

These are such stressful times, more now than ever before. Much change, increased demand, harsh criticism, severe cutbacks, increase workload, changes to pension, no pay increase and now the worry of job security.

I strongly believe that long-term stress and anxiety can lead to more serious illnesses like depression and that is what happened to me. Luckily I never had a history of depression before this so hopefully it was a one-off event. Although I certainly now have an awareness of the warning signs.

However I don’t want to make this blog all about that, as I covered that previously in https://www.avonandsomerset.police.uk/newsroom/features/i-am-still-a-detective,-i-am-not-defective!/

The years leading up to falling ill, I would fret about everything, it was so draining! Now I allow myself to be me and stop over-thinking about everything. What is the worst that can happen? I might one day make a little mistake and get it wrong. Well just shoot me now!
I have to trust that after many years on this planet, regardless of being a police officer, my own moral code can stand me in good stead on its own.

At moment everyone is quoting Peel “The police are the public and the public are the police” So yes, a good reminder also to remain individual and be true to yourself.

Another sport I am not that keen on is boss bashing! Now don’t get me wrong I have done my bit of that in the past, but after my blog I received hundreds of emails, many from bosses, saying they had experienced the same. I came to a sudden realization that they are human too. A proper shocker it was!

Chief Constables and other very senior officers would terrify me in the past! If I ever had to meet anyone of this ilk I would absolutely crap myself. My legs would start shaking, my stomach would churn and if I opened my mouth the wrong worms would come out.

You see in my head I would always be thinking that they may suddenly want me to tell them verbatim an obscure section of PACE; or they may want to see my pocket note book, or they might want me to tell them word-perfect all our missions, values and objectives backwards, or maybe even quote the Brownie Guide Law. Who knows?! I just know I need to keep my wits about me, oh god I feel sick! Just go away senior police officer you are making me very stressed.

After my blog, I was lucky enough to be invited to quite a few events where I bumped into the above species frequently. I knew I needed to come up with a tactic to stop myself freezing up and appearing like a moron in front of them. So the only way I could do it was to try and think of them as humans and one of my mates. It was a very successful ploy and once I had adopted it there was no stopping me. Plus I noticed a funny thing happened, in return they were also able to chill and started chatting to me in the same manner also.

Admittedly I was in the lucky position of meeting them in relaxed settings. As I don’t think telling jokes, showing them my double-jointed elbow, and my party-piece of making owl noises would have worked in a job interview or any other formal scenario.

I was chatting to one of them several months ago at a mental health event. I had already told him my jokes, I had showed him my double-jointed left elbow and I was getting to the stage where I was wondering what we could now talk about.

So we started talking about his interactions with staff.

He told me he often went to the canteen at lunchtime and would like nothing more than to sit down and join a table of fellow police officers and join in with their banter and chat. He missed being able to do that. He couldn’t do it as he was painfully aware when he entered the canteen, all eyes would be on him. He did not want to make anyone feel uncomfortable or awkward by sitting and talking to them. So instead he would just grab a sandwich and quickly exit out of there and go back to his office and eat alone.

I thought that was sad and how lonely he must sometimes feel.

I wonder who’s fault that is for that situation arising?, his or ours? Maybe we should stop seeing them as these different beings to us and get comfortable just chatting away to them. Although clearly there are other times, when we need to listen and do what we are told. A major incident for example, when we need to just follow instructions, not debate or argue. But outside of this?

Of course you get some complete and utter idiots, some pretty unpleasant people but they come in all ranks and all different walks of life. If you have interacted with one of them even briefly, then that makes you qualified to have an initial opinion on them.

However when people have never even met a person, they just jump on the band wagon of, “I just can’t stand them! They are egotistical, they must have walked all over people to get where they are, they are just out for themselves, and they don’t care about us!” 

Really?

Is it possible, just possible, that many are good leaders and that in the current climate, they may be struggling also?

Being part of the emergency services family, means looking out for all, regardless of rank. Now more than ever the saying, united we stand, divided we fall, should mean everything to all of us.

See more from this writer at:

https://boomicony.wordpress.com

 

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"One way of looking at this might be that for 42 years, I've been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience, education and training. And on January 15 the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal."

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This is a quote from Captain Chesley Burnett "SullySullenberger who landed on the Hudson River in New York following a bird strike which disabled both engines. Amazing example of keeping it together during a crisis, but he attributes this to experience, knowledge and training, which came together to serve him well during those critical moments.

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