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.
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.