WELL BEING #3 Burnout

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burnoutWow doesn’t that encapsulate our role as police officers. Burnout however is not confined to those engaged in stressful occupations. You have heard the phrase “The straw that broke the camels back.” What ever you do, when you’re ready to snap and give up, then you are at the same place as those that risk their lives daily. You may have taken a different journey to get to that place but the same place nonetheless. Those of you that either know me or follow this blog will know that I often opine from a position of ignorance. What I rely on are my own personal experiences and what I have drawn from them. In that respect I am an expert on myself. It is however useful to put some structure on this topic by people far more clever than myself.

Psychologists Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North have theorized that the burnout process can be divided into 12 phases, which are not necessarily followed sequentially.

The Compulsion to Prove Oneself

Often found at the beginning is excessive ambition. This is one’s desire to prove themselve’s while at the workplace. This desire turns into determination and compulsion.

Working Harder

Because they have to prove themselves to others or try to fit in an organization that does not suit them, people establish high personal expectations. In order to meet these expectations, they tend to focus only on work while they take on more work than they usually would. It may happen that they become obsessed with doing everything themselves. This will show that they are irreplaceable since they are able to do so much work without enlisting in the help of others.

Neglecting Their Needs

Since they have devoted everything to work, they now have no time and energy for anything else. Friends and family, eating, and sleeping start to become seen as unnecessary or unimportant, as they reduce the time and energy that can be spent on work.

Displacement of Conflicts

Now, the person has become aware that what they are doing is not right, but they are unable to see the source of the problem. This could lead to a crisis in themselve’s and become threatening. This is when the first physical symptoms are expressed.

Revision of Values

In this stage, people isolate themselves from others, they avoid conflicts, and fall into a state of denial towards their basic physical needs while their perceptions change. They also change their value systems. The work consumes all energy they have left, leaving no energy and time for friends and hobbies. Their new value system is their job and they start to be emotionally blunt.

Denial of Emerging Problems

The person begins to become intolerant. They do not like being social, and if they were to have social contact, it would be merely unbearable for them. Outsiders tend to see more aggression and sarcasm. It is not uncommon for them to blame their increasing problems on time pressure and all the work that they have to do, instead of on the ways that they have changed, themselves.

Withdrawal

Their social contact is now at a minimum, soon turning into isolation, a wall. Alcohol or drugs may be sought out for a release since they are obsessively working “by the book”. They often have feelings of being without hope or direction.

Obvious Behavioral Changes

Coworkers, family, friends, and other people that are in their immediate social circles cannot overlook the behavioral changes of this person.

Depersonalization

Losing contact with themselves, it’s possible that they no longer see themselves or others as valuable. The person also loses track of their personal needs. Their view of life narrows to only seeing in the present time, while their life turns to a series of mechanical functions.

Inner Emptiness

They feel empty inside and to overcome this, they might look for activity such as overeating, sex, alcohol, or drugs. These activities are often exaggerated.

Depression

Burnout may include depression. In that case, the person is exhausted, hopeless, indifferent, and believes that there is nothing for them in the future. To them, there is no meaning of life. Typical depression symptoms arise.

Burnout Syndrome

They collapse physically and emotionally and should seek immediate medical attention. In extreme cases, usually only when depression is involved, suicidal ideation may occur, with it being viewed as an escape from their situation. Only a few people will actually commit suicide.

There are a lot of topics to discuss in that list, some of it management speak and blah blah. Don’t get me wrong, if those terms of reference are useful to those that use them AND as a result can bring about real change then bring it on! To me though there are a few headings that instantly jumped out at me. Proving oneself, work harder and depersonisation.

weird shitIt is easy to forget that as Police Officers we do a job. Day in day out attending incidents, not knowing what we will have to confront, taking responsibility for other peoples actions, there is simply no other job like it! As a road policing officer I attend Fatal collisions. Sometimes there is disruption to the body of the deceased. It becomes the norm. Ladies and gentlemen what we witness and see, what we do, what we have to deal with is very definatly NOT the norm. Remind yourselves of that fact!

The police service is performance based, it shouldn’t be but there you are. Things are changing ever so slowly to change this outlook. So you set off, all guns blazing to meet the targets placed against you. You place expectations of yourself and try to meet them. When you can’t you try all the harder to the point where all other things that SHOULD matter no longer do. You become obsessed with the very thing you can not hope to attain, neglecting the things outside the job that keep you a rounded person which ultimately give you the strength and armor to pursue those targets. It’s a snake eating its own tail.

And so, eventually, because your so obsessed with those targets and forgetting the things that matter to you, the force that makes you YOU slowly weakens to the point where you can no longer remember why you are the person you are and why your chasing those targets. Little things cause great strife. No staples in the staple gun, a printer that won’t sync to your work station, no elastic bands, a bin overflowing with rubbish which ordinarily are set backs become problems that cause you to shout aloud.

At some point in our lives we have had problems at home or at work. We escape home to come to work. We escape work to find peace at home. But when there are problems at both ends then either environment provides little comfort and breathing space. This is a vicious circle, we become burnt out.

Just as physical activity requires energy then so does mental/emotional activity. So just like a battery with a constant drain on it, the odd moments you try to recharge your battery you will never become fully charged. This is burn out.

So how does one combat this worry?

Look at your situation, as a whole and it will seem insurmountable. Break it down into manageable chunks. The old saying “One thing at a time” is as relevant today as it was when first uttered. A tray full of files, numerous telephone enquires and the constant demand of that bloody radio.

Before you finish work for the day, set yourself one goal for the following day. Whether it be to finish a file, interview a long outstanding suspect or update those taskings you should have done the day before but couldn’t. Tell your supervisor that is what you are going to do. Have a plan.

To recover from burnout takes time, a lot of time. Like the battery draining faster than is being charged, you have to address the balance. At first your battery will still drain. As you slowly get through your work whilst all the while picking up new work you will slowly get to the point where the charge in equals the drain out. At this point don’t give up, keep going and get your battery charged.

And one of the best antidotes to burnout is to rediscover your love and passion in what you do. Use your energy to rediscover yourself and take it from there, be gentle with yourself. You have to go at a pace that you will allow you to make progress on your own terms.

WELL BEING. #2 Depression


qiUnBt7The worst thing to hear when one is depressed is “Pull yourself together”, “It will get better.” For years depression has not been recognised as an illness and as a result those views have continued to pervade. For anyone that has suffered depression, they will know the stigma that the illness attracts. One is thought as weak which only goes to reinforce the view’s of those that suffer from this dreadful illness; because it is an illness, just as much as Flu or Cancer. If one suffers from Asthma it is no good telling that person that the air is full of oxygen!

So what causes depression? Unfortunately, some are born with it. For others it is a single event or a series of unfortunate circumstances that grind a person into the ground. Some are predisposed to depression preferring to see the glass half empty than half full.

Treatments for depression vary from chemical/electrical to cognitive behavioral treatment, also known as talking the problem through. For myself, this is what worked for me, and more on that in a moment.

When one is depressed you have no energy to do anything, even to seek happiness. Yet happiness is the one thing you crave so you look for things to make you happy with the least amount of effort. That is a slippery slope to addiction. Alcohol, drugs or even an unhealthy interest in what ever makes you happy at the time. The problem is that these “effort free” solutions are short term and ultimately compound the very problem you are trying to resolve. Happy in the short term then you slide back into that depression that raises the worst of emotions…….guilt!

Like everything in life including happiness, means a little bit of work of your part. The last thing a depressed person wants to hear. That person wants to hear a magical solution, a solution that means they can become happy again without any effort on their part. Emotional exhausted the last thing you want to do is explore the very thing that caused your breakdown. Raking over glowing embers of your own demise.

And so it was that I took the offer of a series of counseling sessions provided by my employee. As a police officer who had pretty much seem it all I slowly found myself grinding to a halt, like swimming through treacle, running out of energy and slowly drowning. The event was the death of my mother, my last surviving relative. For some reason, as distressing as losing her was, it really pressed on me that I was the only one left. It made me question everything. What was the point, everything was futile, why carry on. Certainly not suicidal, but for the first time, seriously I thought about everything. Everything is a very big subject to contemplate! I found myself not wanting to love those persons still alive, still important to me. For if I didn’t then I wouldn’t have to suffer the pain of me losing them. That caused me much guilt and anger, primarily because of my own selfishness.

So I talked through the problems with my counselor. I didn’t find it helpful and it was difficult to open up. Persistence prevailed and whilst talking a voice came out of my throat that wasn’t mine. “My life has no foundation!” As soon as I said that I broke down. I was talking to myself. The truth knocked me sideways. An unhappy childhood came back to haunt me.

That was the turning point. I thought about what has stability without foundation. After some thought I imagined a boat. A vessel floating on life’s problems and as long as I kept water tight, then I would not sink. Myself being water tight meant looking after myself both physically and mentally.

It meant that I was important, as important as any other person alive on this planet. I was no better than any other but equally I was certainly no worse.

Depression is horrible and will find out any one. Sometimes you have to hit the bottom before you can rise again. But don’t see it as a flaw. See as it something that made you stronger, better. Anyone can have faith in themselves when things are going great. It hard to see how valuable you are when you have no value in yourself. For someone that has hit the bottom and thankfully come out of the other side I can tell you that where ever you see yourself right now, if your in that muddy pit with no hand holds to grab on to. Trust me they are there, just outstretch your hand.

WELL BEING: #1 Worry.


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Starting off with probably one of the biggest things to affect well being is that of worry. Worry is good in so much that an imminent situation that cause pause for thought increases the metabolism, blood pressure goes up and your body readies itself for a fight or flight. That’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about the constant drip, drip, drip, of an irrational fear that is always there at the back of your mind or on your back, constantly reminding you that you cant jump out of your own skin, despite your best efforts to do so.

Worry is very much linked to fear. Fear of things that might come to pass. Human beings always fear something they don’t understand or that hasn’t happened yet. Holding onto fear becomes a worry. So you try not to worry and then you worry because you’re not worrying. It’s like a snake eating its own tail.

I was a chronic worrier for most of my life until one day I stopped running from my worries. I said “You know what, I have realised that 99.9% of my worries of what might happen haven’t happened.” It was a wonderful release. It was a matter of statistics. The longer I went worrying without something happening confirmed to my rational mind that there was nothing to worry about. The rational thought slowly outweighed the irrational thought that the longer I waited worrying about something to happen then at some point it would.

So why do we worry? Some of us are predisposed to worry, we can’t help it. Some of us worry because we are run down, lonely or simply left alone with our thoughts with nothing else to think about except out worries. What a ridiculous hamster wheel we choose to run in. Perhaps Alan Watts described it best:

Worry is a total waste of time. It doesn’t change anything. All it does it steal your joy of the present and keeps you very busy doing nothing. This thought process can transfer itself into our work as police officers. If not checked it can grow and grow paralysing your ability to do anything at all. Those little things become insurmountable mountain’s. You function on a day to day basis, responding to code one’s, ironically never giving a thought to your own safety but once back in the office. Once back in the comfort of your own company you slide back into that trough that sucks the present away from you preventing you making any decisions at all.

Don’t let worry consume you. Don’t worry that you are trying not to worry. If you finally conquer yourself not to worry, don’t be surprised at the peace you find. Allow yourself the peace you’ve a right to. No Worries!

WELL BEING: Introduction


As many of you that have followed this blog previously you will know I have commented on many aspects of traffic legislation and what it was like to be a traffic officer and all that it entailed including the role of a family liaison officer. Traffic legislation has probably more case law associated with it than any other area of legislation.

Barring a case I was involved in several years ago when the driver of a seaside tram was prosecuted for causing the death of a pedestrian under the Road Traffic Act 1988 and for the first time in the UK, I cant think of any other recent case law because pretty much every situation has been covered. That it how it became with my blog, there was nothing else new to cover and I had a lay off. I’m still on road policing but no longer part of a centralised unit. Still loving what I do and just as passionate about it.

But things have changed in the relatively small space of time since my last blog. Austerity and the resulting cuts to the police service of this country, a subject I’m not going to tackle, for that is a whole different topic in itself is causing a whole bundle of problems for forces up and down the country. Some are better equipped to deal with the fallout than others.

For sometime now it has become increasingly obvious to me that it is not the cuts to budgets and reduced resources that will affect the police’s ability to function. No, it is the ability of the individual police officer to carry on his or her role with the same dedication, passion and that continuing forward motion when free waters become treacle.

What I am talking about is the well being of every individual officer of this country.

Levels of sickness due to stress are increasing at an alarming rate and this should be a real wake up call for those that lead our service. I do of course refer to the senior police officers or as I prefer to think of them as guardians that shape policy and have a very real influence of how our day-to-day work experience influences our own outlook and wellbeing. I call them guardians for they bear a very great responsibility and since there tenure as Chief Constable is usually one of five years, their legacy will either help or hinder their future replacements. Yet at the coal face the humble foot soldier can expect to see out the next thirty to thirty five years of service and so it is important that officer welfare and well being is at the top of the agenda of every current and future Chief Constable.

For if it is not, like a house of cards I believe police forces will cease to provide the service they are expected to do with relatively very little warning! That is a scary thought to consider for us all.

I must add at this point that these are entirely my own views. I am not an expert nor do I have any formal training in these matters and indeed at times I may approach a subject from a position of ignorance. Everything I say is my own opinion based on my own life experiences and that of people I know. I also don’t pretend to get it right all the time and indeed suggest I may be completely wrong most of the time. That being said these are my own views and I would hope that after nearly twenty years as a cop and ten further years prior to that as a photographer who was luckily enough to travel to many parts of the world I may have picked up some things of relevance. Many of the topics that will be covered in the future I have experienced personally. I am not saying how I dealt with those experiences were right or wrong but I guess how I felt about them would be pretty much the same as everybody else. So I hope that gives all this some credibility.

The dictionary standard of well being is  

Well being n. The state of feeling healthy and happy.

A laughably simple definition of what is an incredibly complex set of circumstances, emotions and personal outlooks. Over the coming weeks and months I hope to explore those facets of which there are many.

Relationships

Health

What we do

Where we live

Finance

Education and skills.

I hope you have the time to follow me in this exploration of well being. It wont be easy, it is a subject that has confounded people far better than me for centuries.

As I promised at the start of this blog, which I am so excited about, I said I would base my opinions as much as possible on my own life experiences. This I think sums up the subject as a whole.

My Mother around two years ago was admitted to hospital on several occasions to be treated for various conditions, which would ultimately take her from us. One particular experience for her and us was to be admitted to the local hospital. The medical staff treated the symptoms but failed to look after her well being. Bringing her meals during visiting times, which was a direct violation of protocol and so she failed to eat properly causing her to slowly get weaker. Cancelling tests, Doctors unavailable prolonging her stay, as without the tests they could not say what was medically wrong. It came to head when I confronted the head nurse and doctor on the ward. I told them that unless they started to look after my mother I would be taking her home. She was distressed, in tears and begged to come home. It seemed to do the trick and she was treated and discharged.

Several months later she was readmitted, this time with a different doctor in charge responsible for her immediate care. The doctor said it was not about treating the symptoms but treating the person as a whole. We breathed a sigh of relief. Finally we said, someone gets it!

Welcome back.


During the start of this year, major changes in which, to be honest every police force in this country had to embrace made me realise that there was no longer a place for “Tales from the Slab.” After some persuasion I realised that there was still a place for this blog site, albeit with a completely different outlook.

I am still a traffic officer and I am still picking up the pieces, whether that be the lives of families or the limbs of those lost to those families. Yes, it is that stark.

But on the back of that is now my most pressing concern, that of Officers who on a daily basis see such scenes, don’t see their family on a basis that could be called healthy and are slowly but very definitely wearing themselves out.

So bear with me. I intend to explore that nightmare not only for the officers but as a consequence for the police service they work in.

Its nice to be back.

The end of an Era


Sadly, this will be the last post from the Tales from the Slab. It has been decided that after 55 years the way in which we police the motorway will change forever. That’s not to say that the motorway will not be policed. It will just be policed in a different manner.

We have the greatest number of road miles to police as a force and we were the first force in the country to have a unit specially set up to police the motorway.

As Police Officers we will do what is necessary and strive to provide the service we would want you to receive. We will do what is necessary; we will do our best.

Thank you to all of you that have supported this site.

Adapt and improvise. We will do what is necessary to make sure that you have a safe journey along our motorways.

Invest in yourself.


The Tales from the slab blog is about road policing. But every now and again it’s about the people that work the slab and all other emergency workers.

For do we not bleed?

Its fair to say that 2013 has been an awful year for one reason or another. Perhaps it has been a good year for you, for others less so.

Emergency workers do a tremendous job. But unfortunately there are very few people that help pick up those workers who give everything.

So this is for you, those that work hours beyond which is expected and do what is beyond which is expected.

Who walk the long mile, never getting thanks but never expecting it either.

Three short video’s that hopefully will put the pep back into your lives and remind yourself why you chose to walk that long mile and know that brothers and sisters walk that lonely mile with you.

It’s very important for you to believe that you are the one. You are a child of the Universe, no less than the trees and the stars. You have a right to be here.

Invest in yourself.

Things do turn out alright in the end. If its not alright then it isn’t the end.