Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Terrible things happen to other people

This week's guest post is from PC Owen Griffiths of Dyfed Powys Police. I met Owen in May during Mental Health Awareness Week, where he spoke to colleagues and partner organisations about his own experience of mental distress. He kindly agreed to share his story with a wider audience. Over to Owen.

Bad things always happened to other people - faces on the news and names in the paper - or so I thought. My life was good and right and nothing was going to change that, of that I was sure. All that changed for me on the 22 May 2004. Let me tell you about it.

My name is Owen Griffiths. I am a 43 year old serving Police officer who currently works in the training department for Dyfed Powys Police. On the 22 May 2004 I was involved in an incident whilst on duty - one which I was very lucky to leave with my life intact. I can clearly remember being quite badly injured and standing at the side of the road. I was bruised and bleeding badly and although these injuries hurt me greatly they were nothing compared to the pain that hit me in my mind.

Before this incident I always believed that “stress” was feeling a little angry or perhaps snapping at people whilst being a little rushed or busy. I could not have been more wrong. The feeling that came upon me at that moment was something far more than this - it was a distinct all prevailing physical sensation that hit me as if I had run into a brick wall. At that moment I can clearly remember thinking “everything has changed”.

The next few days I spent recovering from the physical injuries I had sustained. My body was in pieces but it was my mind that was really hurting. Even though I was told to rest, it’s the last thing I wanted to do. I spent those early days walking around in a daze, my mind a constant stream of negative and anxious thoughts. It was at this time that I realised that I was very ill. No matter how much I tried I couldn’t concentrate on anything other than my own situation and what would become of me.


Because of the nature of the incident I had been involved in there was a procedure and as a Police officer I knew all too well that there would be an investigation into the events of that night and that my colleagues and I would be involved. Looking back now with the benefits of a clear mind and the comfort of hindsight it’s easy to see that I had done nothing wrong and it was just an unfortunate set of circumstances that would have to be looked into. Sadly this new me, a me tortured with racing thoughts, had thoughts that led to catastrophic conclusions with no possible endings other than my own imprisonment for the rest of my days. Again, looking back it seems silly that I even contemplated this happening, but what I didn’t realise is that I was now deep in the troughs of a severe episode of anxiety, one which would not leave me for over a year.

Days turned into weeks, and weeks into months, and all this time was spent in a haze of catastrophic thoughts. Sleep became almost non existent and I staggered from one horrendous fantasy of what my future was to another. I went to my GP on an almost weekly basis begging to be sectioned or given something that would relieve me of the torture that my life had become. Pills made me worse and I started to self harm and even contemplated ending it all but I kept going, unable to talk about anything other than my own problems or think about anything other than my own situation. There would on occasion be small windows of hope, perhaps I would get some good news or be cheered by the friendly words of family and friends. These moments of non worry became an incredible phenomena, a brief time when I felt for just a few moments like the “old me.” This feeling was more than just a lift of mood, more than a feeling of a weight lifted from my shoulder, it was like peering out of a cave on a summer's day. 



These were difficult times for my family. Having always been a big character I think it was difficult for them to accept this new me.  They gave their all to help me and I will be forever grateful. Like the pills that could not cast a spell and make me better I became frustrated and could not see any future for myself. Things looked really bleak. They had to change.

During the early days of my illness I had been referred by the GP to the local psychiatric services. Time had gone by and I had heard nothing (I would eventually get my first appointment almost two years to the day that I was referred). Seeking help but finding little I started to try different ways of helping myself. Of course getting myself out of the gloom and into helping myself was actually the last thing I wanted to do but little did I know it was actually the best thing for me.

Exercise was something I was sort of doing without realising it. Unable to sit and relax I was in the habit of walking miles, usually round in circles in my garden totally preoccupied. But when I started to give myself small goals like walking my dog to the old ruin a few miles from home, or cycling to Tesco to buy a chocolate bar or anything else that I may need, something started.  I would suddenly go, first seconds then minutes and then maybe ten minutes, without thinking of my problems. These little breaks from the pain became a lifesaver. Now I run regularly taking part in my local Parkrun every Saturday morning and being a regular runner in local 10k races. Exercise above any medication became a lifesaver.

Meditation and Body scanning. Helped by the force's occupational health department and counsellor I was steered in the direction of mindfulness and body scanning. This again became and has become an essential part of my day. I found it difficult at first to stop the swirling voices of doom but slowly over time I managed to shut them down for a few seconds at a time. This was priceless in the long run. 



My road to recovery was rocky and long and has taken a few detours along the way. I will be forever grateful to the Police rehabilitation centre in Flint House. The meagre amount deducted from my monthly pay could never hope to pay them back for the help they gave me. Even now I get my moments but it gives me great pleasure to talk to people who are going through a similar thing and sometimes can’t see that there is a way out. I can honestly say that at its worst it was the darkest time of my life. It affected me more than I could possibly imagine but I refuse to let it define who I am. From it I grew, I started to find my love for performing again and lost a lot of the inhibitions that were holding me back in life. Now under the name Owen Staton I can often be found performing and storytelling or acting all over the country. It’s not easy sometimes but Life isn’t a bed of roses and sometimes it's better for it I feel.

Mental illness can sometimes be a gift. It makes you appreciate being well, it helps you realise the battles that people are fighting and makes your victories ever sweeter. Do I wish I had never been ill? Yes I do, but I don’t for one minute regret being the person it made me. I am better and stronger and you can be too.

God Bless

Owen

You can follow Owen on Twitter @owenstaton

Many thanks to Owen for sharing his story. We love to hear from our readers, and welcome any comments in the box below.

23 comments:

  1. Excellent article highlighting how important mental health is. Thank you for being so upfront and honest, I know from experience that it's not easy.

    Martin Wodehouse

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    1. Thanks for your lovely comment Martin. Glad you enjoyed.

      Owen

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  2. Owen, this was a lovely piece with words that resonated with the experiences I have had recently.

    There are millions of people out there experiencing similar issues and I am sure your words will be of great comfort to them

    Thanks for taking the time to publish this article

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    1. Im glad you found this helpful, sorry you have been feeling unwell but please understand it will get better, often much quicker than you think.
      Thanks

      Owen

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  3. The honesty in this is so refreshing and speaks volumes about you as person.

    Anxiety, stress and depression can hit at any time of life and for any reason, sometimes for no reason at all.

    The sentiment at the end of your article is one that I hold dear, "mental illness can sometimes be a gift". While it is horrendous to live with and have a knock on effect to those around you, it gives you insight that others may never have. When you find light after such darkness you realise the greater capacity you have for compassion and understanding, for empathy and you gain true appreciation of the happiness that comes your way. To quote Deborah Breevort "if the night was full of light you would not see the stars".

    Thank you for taking the time to write this article. I think there are many out there who will find great comfort in this as well as inspiration.

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    1. Thank you for your lovely words and including the quote. Excellent . Your kind words mean the world.
      Take care
      Owen

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  4. I know Owen in his 'staton' skin so had no idea of the difficulties you and your family had been through. Bless you Owen, you are so generous in your storytelling, with your passion and time. I hope you get back as much as you give with your performances and it helps in some way heal. Inspirational account. Hang in there lovely. Cx

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    1. Thanks Clare this is much appreciated.
      Owen x

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  5. Owen - I listened to you talk about Mental Health & it brought it home to me exactly how fragile we all are. A great, honest insight - thank you

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    1. Thanks Jolene, glad you enjoyed x

      Owen

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  6. The road to recovery is a long one, Owen, and I'm glad you've found something to help in your performances--and, more importantly--family. I suffered an experience in 2001 and still have flashbacks which leave me shaking with rage, having nightmares, etc. to this date. It's a difficult road, but as long as we have support, we'll keep traveling it.

    Take care, and long may the Words from Wales live on The D6 Generation!

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    1. Thanks Fred for your support and kindness, Diolch yn fawr.
      Owen

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  7. I think it's important to talk about mental health issues openly to avoid the stigma associated with it. I am glad you are being honest about your experiences and maybe that way others can see the it is nothing to be ashamed of and there is help available. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

    Thank you and take care of yourself. ☺

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    1. Thanks for the lovely words
      Take care
      Owen

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  8. Brilliant article. The honesty of the situation as it was and is, and the ways you used to help come through are inspiring. This will be an encouragement to those who really need it as they struggle with their battles.

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  9. Thanks very much for these kind words, it means an awful lot.
    Diolch
    Owen

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  10. I relished reading your bravely honest account Owen, thank you for that. I too have experienced mental distress through physical illness and the impact afterwards of being made redundant. It has, and still continues to be, a hard road to travel. Your account is inspiring, and an encouragement for all. Grateful thanks, Glynis

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  11. Glynis
    Thanks very much for your nice comments , Im sorry to hear about your distress and can only tell you that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Take care and God Bless
    Diolch
    Owen

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  12. Thanks so much for this, running helped me control my anxiety too and it has transformed my life! The more we are open about these things, the better we can help each other. Thank you!

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  13. Thanks for the lovely comment.I am glad you are getting benefit from running and yes by being open about illness we can help so many people. All the best
    Owen

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  14. Brutally honest, engaging article which doesn't pull any punches yet offers hope and optimism. As a fellow sufferer of acute anxiety (since early teens) who only really dealt with it relatively recently, I completely related to your article. Thank you for sharing. I've a feeling there'll be many, many more people who will also benefit from you sharing your experiences. As I eventually discovered - unfortunately not until my late 30s - it's good to talk!!! Cheers, Owen.

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  15. Head on honesty, thanks this is a great and moving article.

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