Rachel W

When I was at junior school at about age 8, I said “I want to be a Police Officer”. It’s rare to know so young what you’d like to do when older, but I followed my dreams! When I was 16, I undertook work experience with the police force and then finally joined when 20.

Within the first year of being in the job I was involved in a car accident whilst at work, which resulted in a neck injury. Not long after on a warm summer’s day, I was on my own on patrol when I noticed a car being driven by a young male. He was accompanied with 3 others, all of which I knew. I indicated for the car to pull over to the side of the road. As I pulled my car behind, the front seat passenger jumped out armed with a large screwdriver. He stood and jumped around in front of my car screaming, “Get out the car you f&£#ing b*#-ch” whilst wielding the screwdriver towards me. He then proceeded to pace around my car, still screaming at me, in a very threatening manner as if I was the prey that he was hunting! His face was full of absolute hatred and anger. Fearing for my life, I made the decision not to get out of my car; it would have been 4 against 1, so I called for back-up. Due to staff shortages, there were only 2 others on duty. At this point they were about 10 miles away. I knew I had no option but to wait, put on a brave face, after all I was invincible with a uniform!!!

The intensity of the situation increased; the male was not backing off. I realised I had to put all of the car windows up, however this seemed to take forever! I also had a feeling of fear that the male would make attempts to get into my car, so without trying to show that I was terrified, I slowly placed my elbow onto the central locking button and at the same point the male lifted the handle of my car door. I must have literally locked it with a spilt second to spare. With a racing heart, lack of communication with my control room due to my radio failing and genuine fear that my life would end, I actually managed to remain calm and composed. What felt like an eternity and in hindsight blurred memory of some of the event, my colleagues arrived, however the male ran from the scene.

For the next 6 months the male went on the run. During this time I continued working, however was always on edge fearing I would be confronted by him. In hindsight I was exceptionally anxious when working alone. I was in an environment where weakness was not shown, you just ‘man up’ and I also had limited awareness of the potential psychological impacts of such events. To compound the situation, a short time later I discovered I was pregnant and was carrying my beautiful son at the time that I felt like my life was going to end!!

Some time later I became a Detective on the Sex Offenders Investigation Unit. I managed a large case load of registered sex offenders plus investigated new offences. One role was to view and grade indecent images/movies of children in order to form a case for prosecution. This would involve me spending weeks upon weeks on one case viewing and analysing data, stretched over a 4-year period. I had an overwhelming passion for the safeguarding of children and successful prosecution of offenders. The intensity of this role along with being a single mum to my wonderful son took its toll on me!! In 2010 I had a breakdown and could no longer work. I was suffering with chronic pain in my neck from the car accident and also exhaustion. My body deciding to shut down and ordered me to rest, however I had no idea what was wrong.

Quite a long time after finishing work I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and in 2012 was ill heath retired from the police. I lost my sense of purpose, my identity, and could not come to terms with my new life. I started practicing yoga, which I believed saved my life, however I still struggled mentally and physically and at times was suicidal. I just got by in life…

In 2018 I met with a leading trauma psychologist and was diagnosed as having PTSD. I was suffering with primary trauma from the incident with the male and the screwdriver, and secondary trauma from grading indecent images. For years I had problems with disturbed sleep, flashbacks, irritability, numbness, confined spaces, busy places, people, noise, smells and much, much more. I underwent intensive therapy and EMDR, which was possibly one of the toughest times of my life. However, as a result I now cope much better on a daily basis, but things are far from perfect. To begin with I feared being labelled a failure and perceived as weak, however suffering from a mental health illness has made me realise strength can be found, which is an encouragement to heal, move forward and set new goals. Every day is a new day!