The Reflective Detective: Walking for Retrak.

Hi there! Thanks for looking in…  things have moved on a bit since I last wrote.  I have finally completed all the taught elements of my PhD. with a little help from my Anxiety Monster (see ‘Anxiety and the PhD’ post for more) and now my research is in full swing…

Using my research I am working harder than ever to truly understand the role of emotions in the mental health of police officers coping with exposure to trauma.

My personal goal for my research is not just to further academic understanding and theory, but to actually make my learning relevant and accessible – to make sure that my work is useful in helping others in their coping and positive mental health.

One of my goals is for my research to help others whom I wouldn’t normally be able to reach.  That is why I applied to the Retrak Connecting HR Africa programme.

Connecting HR Africa is the brain child of Ian Pettigrew of Kingfisher Coaching – who is also a trustee of Retrak.

Retrak works to transform lives and provide positive futures for the world’s most vulnerable children who live, work and sleep on the streets.  Connecting HR Africa brings together like minded professionals from the UK who can share their industry specific experience and personal skills to have a lasting impact on young lives – and the local staff who work to support them.

I have been accepted to join a team of volunteers to travel to Kampala, Uganda this September.  Whilst there I will be working with the young children helping them back to a life where they feel safe, valued and loved – and hopefully return to their family home (a lot of children are trafficked).  I will also be working with the local staff who have the very tough, and sometimes harrowing job of working with young vulnerable children who have survived living on the streets.  Like all those supporting others to cope with the traumas of life, it takes a toll on personal mental health.   Particularly when you are working to help children. Sometimes just acknowledging this can be a step to better coping.  I am hoping to use my personal experience and research to help the Retrak staff find ways to support each other through the difficult times.

The arrangements for the trip are that I pay for my flights and evening meals etc. whilst in Uganda.  The charity provide the accommodation.  I also have to raise £2000 for Retrak.

Gosh, that is a lot of money.  And not a lot of time.  But hey, I can do hard work, and I rekon that is what it takes..

So, I have signed myself and my husband (poor chap) up to the Yorkshire Three Peaks challenge.  The YTP challenge (as it is now known…) takes on the peaks of Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough, in under 12 hours.  These peaks form part of the Pennine range, and encircle the head of the valley of the Rive Ribble, in the Yorshire Dales.

The route is 24 miles long and includes 5,200 ft of ascent.  *gulp* I have climbed Pen-y-ghent before – not so bad, probably took four to six hours (pleasant day out..).  But doing three peaks in under twelve hours… I think this might hurt just a tad.

I signed up with an official organisation – not just so that I have my time recorded, and get a medal (yes, I am partial to a medal…) but to make sure that someone is looking for me if I get lost/broken…

Yesterday I began my training (my husband came along in the capacity of ‘support vessel’ – his words, I’m a little concerned that he thinks I am swimming the channel).  I decided that it would be a good idea to walk The Wirral Way – there and back.  We have tried it before – but only made it there before our feet gave up and took the train ‘back’.

For some reason I thought it was 8 miles (there) 16 in total – and all flat.  An easy start to our training…


Begining Wirral Way

(Yep, you’re laughing now..)

In reality it is 12 miles out (what was I thinking??) therefore 24 in total.  Oops.  However, decision made; no going back – or not until we had got all the way out first.  I had thought that if we were really struggling we could always find a train/bus/taxi/ambulance home.

As it is, we are pretty stubborn, and 26 miles later (with a little help from a detour down to the sea at West Kirby) we staggered/crawled back to our car at Hooton train station car park.  Good grief! Well… I have chaffing in places that chaffing really shouldn’t be allowed, and my husband has blisters on the soles of his feet! (again, poor chap).  I can’t say what the monkey thought…

Walking Monkey

(doesn’t seem too bothered..)

This is my first training walk and today I am off to the gym for a pre booked yoga session; and a few crippled downward dogs…  (Note to self, work out mileage first…) You can see why I have booked with a company for the official challenge – no knowing where I will end up, or how..

That said – it is a lovely walk, I was lucky enough to grow up on The Wirral, and it is a beautiful part of the world.  I recommend the walk (only one way!).  It starts at Hooton Train Station and finishes at West Kirby where you can get great chips and ice cream (separately).  Along the way you can take in Neston and Parkgate – which are lovely little villages and you pass through the restored station of Hadlow Road – restored inside and out to the 1950s (loos if you need them).


Hadrow Point Box

(bikes not ours!)

Hadrow Train Station Inside

Hadrow Train Station

There is also Thurstaston Country Park, which has beautiful cliff side views to the sea – a great place to fly your kite.  Just remember to book your train ticket back to Hooton!


Ice Cream Wirral Way   Thurstaston Country Park, sea views, ice cream and kite flying.  10 miles in (still smiling)

Wirral Way views to Wales

The view to Wales across the The River Dee Estuary.

If you feel you can help and would like to support me in my endeavour to complete both the challenge of YTP and raising £2000 for Retrak, would you visit my Just Giving page and donate what you can.  With such a big amount – every penny helps.

Thank you. X (from me, and the Monkey)

SJ’s Just Giving Page

SJ and Bridge II


Anxiety and the PhD.

So, here I am, I have won a scholarship to study for a PhD. in my chosen area of emotions and mental health in the police.  My thesis title is:

Emotional In-authenticity: the psychological impact of emotional labour on police officers.

Yep, that’s right, I am widening my study from my MSc. dissertation.  As it happens, I did really well and got a distinction for my dissertation and for my MSc.

Okay, you’re right, this blog isn’t about how well I did in my studies…

..but I do need to give you some context so you can understand how high functioning anxiety plays out; and how it can be deceptive to the casual observer.

I think I can call this ‘high functioning anxiety’.. it’s pretty sneaky.  You shouldn’t really know how I am feeling.  You see, the little anxiety monster that runs around my head shouting, drowning out my own voice, tells me that if I show any sign of anxiety… I’m a failure.   In fact, anything less than perfecto! is failure.

So I am really practiced at putting on this convincing act of everything being just okay.. (you can guess why I study emotional labour – class act!).

But anxiety it is also a lot more clever than that (anxiety is, by self purport, smarter than it’s host) because it tells me that anything I did do right, was a fluke – and I will struggle to ever meet the same standard again, because really, I am just not that good.

So despite all my hard work and my results, every new dawn brings a new sense of self-doubt.

I try my best to rationalise my way round my anxiety, I mean, I am meant to have some intelligence; but you see, this is where I am disadvantaged by my creative soft spot – my happy day dream head turns into frenzied fantasy as I imagine every possible worst case scenario that could result of my last action/sentence/blog/tweet/breath…

A quick scenario for you… I have just submitted my first assignment for my PhD. taught element.  I have worked so hard at this, and I actually kinda like it.  I love the topic; I am so passionate about how police officers are allowed to deal with their emotions, and how this impedes their psychological wellbeing.  I care so much about this, it is a pleasure to read and to write about.  I also love the act of writing – the creation and completion of a piece of work.  I like how sentences sound, and how they communicate with other people in the world, it makes me feel connected and tangible.  I feel I have created something I like.

So I press the submit button.  And feel sick.  It is almost instantaneous.  My stomach is in knots.. my heart beat is raised through the roof, and I can feel my skin turn cold and clammy.. I feel the faint, pricking of adrenaline in my arms, and everything has just gained an impressive visual definition.





Kinda like the last time someone pulled a knife on me..

I reach about in my head searching for the thing that has set this off, wanting to emotionally touch the bad element of my assignment that will mean that I WILL FAIL.  I want to look at it and reassure myself that I have made it up, or it isn’t that bad, and I have over emphasised a negative point.

But I can’t, because I can’t find it, as it doesn’t exist.

But hey, let’s not stop there (because this is high functioning anxiety, and if I am going to be good at anything, it’s anxiety!).   This is not just a failure.  No, this is so bad that I will be considered unfit for carrying on with my PhD.  I will be summonsed to my supervisor’s office (my legs are actually beginning to ache with the flood of adrenaline, as I visualise my route to their office and standing in front of them; impeccably lit by the ceiling to floor window) and they will state their disappointment.  They will be devastated.  And I will be devastated for them.  This is after all MY FAULT, I have let them down. *whimper* I am sad.  Then, I am ceremoniously marched off campus and into my dull future.  No PhD. No Scholarship. No employment.  All I have to do is tell my husband…

Okay… so this is classic catastrophizing.  But I am so well versed in visualising my agonising demise that I have managed this scenario (in HD) in around thirty seconds..

So, I try it on again; just for size.. and, as I like to make sure that it is the perfect scenario for my sad little ending, I polish it a bit.  Add a couple of scenes (running into fellow PhD cohort, having to explain to my students why I can’t teach them – a thunderstorm for atmosphere – rain running down that very long window…) and repeat.

I know this is a really stupid thing to do, but I can’t explain to you that when you are in the grip of this fear, that it is very hard to shake.  Give me all the breathing and CBT in the world – fear feels like fear, no matter the cause.  And humans are programmed to react.

Okay I really am gonna breath now *sigh*..

As it was, I passed: 67 – and do you know what I thought?  Where did the 3 marks go that meant I missed a distinction!

Whatever.  This is exhausting; I wish I would give myself a break.

However, this is anxiety, and any moments I get for potential down time result in fear filled, gut wrenching agony that I am no longer relevant, and have no value in this world.  So, I work.  I work to seek reassurance that I am worth the space that I take up on this earth.

And so it goes on.. don’t get me wrong.  Life is a lot better now.  If you look at the above scenario, then apply that to my last death investigation, or shooting – you can see just how bad my little fantasy head can get.  It wasn’t just my PhD I could fail, I could fail at preventing a loss of life; and it wouldn’t have been campus I would have been marched off, but marched into my own trial and had my human failures highlighted to all who come to watch the spectacle (yes, I have convicted myself in my head many times for not being good enough – queue near break down, see blog post 1&2).

I now consider myself one of the luckiest people alive.  I can’t begin to tell you what a privilege it is to be able to study my chosen subject to such depth, and hopefully have a part in some change for good.


But to all those peeps out there with their own anxiety monster creating anarchy in their head; and to those that are seeking to understand those that do; trust me, it doesn’t matter what your triggers are or the context of your circumstances that lead you to curl up in a ball on the floor.. fear is fear, and when it triggers your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system it is very difficult to talk yourself down.  These are our warning signs – our security system; and we are programmed to react.  And it takes a lot to carry on like we are doing just fine – but I know we do, because anything else would be… well, you know what the monster says… but knowing this is my monster and this is how it works me, well it does help.  And it does help knowing I’m not the only one hosting in my head.. maybe I should start a support group: ‘monsternet’… any tips on social anxiety at networking events..?

So if you do suffer with high functioning anxiety, know you are not alone, and please give yourself permission to take some time out.  Even for a second, just take a moment to exist, rather than to pursue the next goal.  You will get there.

As for me… well, there’s the next assignment and a few presentations to think of.  But I did give myself time to write this blog, which for me is progress..