MY RISE, FALL, AND JOURNEY TO HAPPINESS

What better time to start blogging than the 15th anniversary of the day I graduated from the Oxley Police Academy. This is the story of the rise and fall of my policing career, and what I endured before finally getting my life back on track.

Getting into the academy didn’t come easy for me. I was never an athlete by any stretch, and then my acceptance was initially refused due to the fact that I was on preventative medication after suffering a minor stroke. I provided medical evidence that I was able to fulfil the duties of a police officer, and trained daily to improve my fitness, which saw my application finally accepted.

In May 2002 I entered the Oxley Academy. As young and keen recruits we all lugged our belongings up several flights of stairs and settled in to our rooms. We introduced ourselves to others in the corridor and assisted each other to carry heavy items up stairs. All of us were so happy to be there because each of us had worked hard to get there and had waited excitedly for the day.

6 months of ‘academy life’ resulted in strong bonds with those in our squad. We supported each other through the various issues some of us faced, whether it be isolation from family, marital problems, difficulty with physical assessments, or studying legislation and completing assignments. But each of us made it through. We all graduated with the reassurance that the ‘police family’ would always be behind us, and were all of the belief that we would be looked after by the organisation if we were injured on duty. The marching out parade was another milestone that we were all so proud to have reached. The day you get to replace your ‘recruit’ epaulettes with Constable epaulettes was a day of celebration and personal achievement.

I was fortunate enough to be posted to my own local station in the town where I grew up. I loved that station and the camaraderie that we had. I was a keen and motivated young officer who would thrive on catching a good crook who was wanted for a number of offences. Good work emails and the odd ‘District Officer’s Certificate’ would come regularly from members of management and my arrest rate was high. I would actively seek out wanted offenders and absolutely lived for the job. I admit that I found it hard to switch off my ‘police mode’, and there was not a single day that I didn’t want to go to work. I spent hours doing my paperwork and court briefs in my own time (more fool me!) so that during my shifts I could go out and arrest more crooks. I was never too motivated about traffic enforcement, but found great satisfaction in locking up sh*theads that had broken into homes, stolen cars, or dealt drugs. I was fortunate enough to have been seconded to a property crime task force at Burleigh CIB whereby I got to do those kinds of jobs on a daily basis for 3 months.

After 4 years on the Gold Coast, my best mate and I applied for a transfer to Mount Isa. Our decision was influenced by the number of police who had been to ‘The Isa’ and who had amazing and hilarious stories to tell. The Isa seemed like a kind of ‘legendary’ place to me (many of you are probably laughing about that right now!). I always loved hearing the stories of officers who had served there, and I wanted to go and create my own adventures so that I too could share my experiences with other officers. What an amazing experience that was! I went for 2 years and stayed for 4 years. I did a 6 month rotation at Normanton (by far the best time of my career), and then relieved at Cloncurry and Camooweal Stations.

Once I became a Senior Constable I relieved as shift supervisor, and also Acting Officer in Charge of Boulia, Dajarra and Burketown Stations. I worked at the Boulia Camel Races, Julia Creek Dirt and Dust Festival, Bedourie Races and the Birdsville Races. While at Camooweal I worked at cross-border traffic operations with Avon Downs Police in the Northern Territory. I got paid to see a large chunk of Queensland, and had experiences that I will never forget. I also applied for and was accepted into a plain clothes position at Mt Isa CIB, but after about ten months I realised it was not what I had hoped for and I returned to general duties. I was performing a large percentage of my shifts as a shift supervisor ‘ Acting Sergeant. In Mt Isa, this involved being in charge of the communications room, overseeing major incidents, briefing the bosses, authorising overtime, modifying the roster in the event of illness or injury, and essentially performing the role of District Duty Officer (a position occupied by a Senior Sergeant in other districts). This gave me experience that was invaluable.

In November 2010 I was promoted to Sergeant Shift Supervisor at a Station in Central Region. This was the beginning of the end of my career. The station I went to was full of officers with considerably more service than myself who were lower in rank, and who had been at that station for their entire service. The station lacked camaraderie and the officer in charge was a micromanager who was not popular among members of district management. It was a station like no others that I had ever worked in.

After previously working as a shift supervisor with a hell of a lot of responsibility, I found it difficult to adapt to my new position. I was not rostered as a shift supervisor in the station to solely perform supervisory tasks like I was used to. I was a member of what was usually the only car crew for the division, which meant responding to jobs all shift. As well as being in a first-response position and attending to the paperwork such a position attracts, I was also expected to be performing all supervisory functions such as checking court briefs, Qprime tasks, risk management portfolios and equipment audits. We were also under the pump to perform all the proactive tasks on top of that, such as RBT’s, street checks, school zone patrols and crime hot spot patrols. I did my best, including initiating successful policing operations to target spikes in crime, but found it near impossible to perform both first response AND supervisory duties. I was unhappy and felt unsupported with the unrealistic expectations placed upon us. I was also bullied, and was then involved in a critical incident which resulted in a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in November 2011.

I had no idea what was wrong with me. All I knew was I was angry, emotional, and was suffering flashbacks. ‘The incident’ became part of my daily conversations and it was all I could think about. I couldn’t talk about it without crying. I had almost a year off work during which time I had treatment from a psychiatrist, psychologist and my GP, including medication and cognitive behaviour therapy. I couldn’t walk past a police station and avoided work colleagues if I saw them while I was attending doctor appointments or grocery shopping. Nobody from the station contacted me while I was on sick leave.

My situation was further complicated by the fact that during my sick leave I had rapidly gained a large amount of weight, maxing out at 130kg. My average weight beforehand was 76kg, and the heaviest I had ever been was 85kg. The weight gain was due to a number of factors including prescribed medications, excess cortisol (the stress hormone) production, being rarely able to leave the house, and abusing alcohol as a coping mechanism. My rapid and excessive weight gain resulted in a stress fracture in my right foot, aggravation of pre-existing shin splints, and plantar fasciitis. I also had chronic fatigue and widespread pain all over my body which was later diagnosed as Fibromyalgia – an incurable disease that I will have for the rest of my life.

After almost a year I returned to work in another role and in another station on light duties. I was so fragile that my first day consisted of simply attending the foyer of the station because I was mentally and emotionally unable to do any more. The next day I would attend and go inside to have a coffee with my Injury Management Co-ordinator and then go home. I remained on light duties for almost a year, but further bullying and issues arising from my excess weight resulted in my eventual medical retirement in January 2014.

Medical retirement didn’t come easy. After making the decision to retire I felt a sense of relief, but I also grieved for a job I once loved and lived for. I handed in my badge and all property belonging to the QPS, and I felt that my identity had been stripped from me. After almost 12 years of having a rank, I was now a civilian with no future employment prospects. I spent my last day as a police officer drinking on my own and without any contact from a single member of QPS management. I’d been thrown on the scrap heap and forgotten about like many others before me, and like many others after me. I couldn’t imagine any other more satisfying career than being a copper, and couldn’t foresee any other career at that time. I contemplated suicide more than once during my worst times.

I then moved to Cairns for a fresh start in life. I spent approximately 3 weeks in the Cairns Clinic where I received treatment and attended group classes (I intend on doing another blog on ‘clinic life’). As I struggled with my own illness, my situation became common knowledge amongst those who knew me. I then found that I was being contacted regularly by other officers who were experiencing similar issues to mine. I became the ‘go to’ person for officers who knew me and needed advice on the workers’ compensation claims process and medical retirement process. I helped officers voluntarily for about two years. During that time I found myself advocating for officers who had had their pay ceased by the QPS whilst on sick leave, providing advice based on my own experiences, as well as completing workers’ compensation reviews and appeals for officers who were left to fight on their own without legal representation. I also ran a private online support group for current and former QPS officers, as well as a Facebook support group that I still administrate for families of PTSD sufferers.

I started studying law with the intent of being a personal injury lawyer so that I could help others who had suffered psychological injuries in the workplace. Studying law was very overwhelming and exams caused way too much anxiety. After completing the subjects that were ‘interesting’, I realised that the remainder of the degree was not what I wanted. I attained some other Diploma and Advance Diploma level qualifications through the College for Law, Education and Training (CLET). I then turned my studies to industrial relations and completed my Graduate Certificate in Industrial Relations (Post-Grad) through Charles Sturt University. I had found a new passion.

During that time I also began focusing on getting my physical wellbeing back on track. My self-esteem was at an all time low due to the weight gain and having lost my career. I decided to have gastric sleeve surgery and lost a lot of weight. The weight loss was so significant that I had to then undergo surgery to remove excess skin. My first operation took 11 hours and resulted in 3 days in intensive care, as well as 3 blood transfusions. That operation was the most frightening, and due to the risks involved I had arranged for my aunty to be at the hospital with my mum and brother for support in case I didn’t survive. From that operation I now have a circumferential scar around my waist, as well as a scar all the way up my abdomen. 8kg of skin was removed during that operation. The second operation only took about 6 hours and as a result of that I have a circumferential scar all the way around my upper back, extending under my breasts. I also have scars down the inside of both of my upper arms extending from my armpits to my elbows. I feel like a patchwork quilt, but it was all worth it to get my life back! It was such a long, painful and distressing journey.

I found that I was being contacted regularly by officers needing help and decided that I could fill the void that officers were experiencing. Through my own experiences, I had an understanding of where the system was letting people down, and what support was most needed. That is how Justice 4 Workers Qld eventuated. From the worst period of my life, there has been a positive outcome and as strange as it may sound, I’m glad I have been through what I have been through. My journey has taught me so much about myself and others, and I found strength I never knew I had. Not only have I had the strength to conquer my own situation, but I have also had the strength to fight for others. I honestly believe that everything happens for a reason, and can assure you all that there is a big world outside the QPS and whatever other organisation you may work for.

I now have my own business and am receiving nothing but positive feedback from those who I have assisted. Whilst I mostly assist Queensland Police Officers (due to my background), I understand that work-related psychological injuries do not discriminate and can impact upon employees in any field where trauma may be experienced. I have assisted a large number of sworn and non-sworn QPS staff, as well as Qld Fire and Rescue officers, Qld Ambulance officers, and interstate employees from various fields. I’ve done this on my own with no support from other organisations, including those who claim to support police with mental health issues. I’m flying completely solo at this time, and am truly proud that I’m not in the pocket of QPS management or any political party.  I’m far from it!

I am living proof that you can recover from being in a very dark place. I have overcome some major obstacles to end up where I’m at now and I LOVE my job. It is incredibly rewarding to be able to help people who are in the same situation I was in a few years ago. I love to inspire others, give them hope, and reassure them that they are not alone.