"The more we talk about and normalise mental health as a Trust, the better it will get."

Zoe Shrehane TTTD19

To mark Time to Talk Day, EEAST’s Zoe Shrehane shares her story and why she feels talking about your mental health is so important.

I joined Beds and Herts Ambulance Service as an Emergency Call Handler in January 2005. I loved my job and was so passionate about making a difference. I got promoted a few times, ending up as a Dispatch Team Leader in 2011. The increase in demand on the service within that time was phenomenal. This added stress and pressure on all staff working for the now merged EEAST.

During 2014, I started to suffer from mild anxiety. I never really felt it at work; more when I was going somewhere new. I was still functioning with daily life and when I went out I always felt better once I got there.

However, I knew I had to get help after a colleague’s wedding. I had never felt more uncomfortable but I made myself go, wanting to see her happy on her wedding day. I kept telling myself I’d feel better when I got there…this time I didn’t. I stayed as long as I could and made my excuses. I instantly felt better on my journey home and cried for most of it.

I went to see my GP the next day. He gave me medication, explaining I might feel worse before I felt better. I was sent home from work that evening feeling physically unwell; I put it down to the new medication. I was becoming more and more anxious about everything. This worried me but my GP reassured me that I would start to feel better.

“Around three weeks later, I was too scared to leave the house. I had to keep active to try and occupy my mind as I was constantly thinking about terrible things happening. I couldn’t even walk my dog - my favourite thing! Just a short walk out of my back gate to the park and I couldn’t do it."

 

An occupational health therapist diagnosed me with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I didn’t appear to have any triggers; it seemed to be more of a build-up. There had been a few changes in the way we had been told to work and I was feeling out of control. Added to the unbelievable increase in demand, and multiple colleagues I had supported through tough times over the years, without seeking any support myself, my body decided it had had enough. My team manager was supportive and caring but that’s where it stopped. At the time, there was no wellbeing team.

I didn’t want to be off work long term sick. The sickness reviews and meetings were making my anxiety worse. At the time, I felt that the ambulance service really failed me. Although my commitment and loyalty to the Trust continued, knowing how stretched resources were made me feel it was the best decision to leave and try to recover. I couldn’t see how I would get better, so was setting up things to enable my anxiety; a business working from home, online supermarket shopping etc. I officially left the Trust in January 2015; I had served 10 years.

I was petrified of taking medication so researched other methods of treatment. I also found and attended an anxiety retreat. It was really tough, and I still had a long way to go, but the difference in me after a few days with those incredible people, made me feel able to continue the path to recovery.

Fast forward four years, a lot of hard work and determination and I’m back and fighting fit. I have a 17 month daughter and part time Call Taking enables me to spend as much time with her as possible.

Recently, I have taken three particularly traumatic 999 calls in a short space of time. After the last one, I knew I couldn’t support another caller like that without some time away and support for myself. I was referred to the Wellbeing Hub for a TRiM assessment and to occupational health. The doctor was brilliant, really understanding and suggested I see an Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR) practitioner.

“I have come back to the Trust stronger and aware of my mental health and its limitations.”

 

There are still people around that don’t understand these kinds of conditions and present a lot of stigma and judgement – this needs to change. However, I believe the Trust is on the right track and the more we talk about and normalise mental health, the better it will get.

I hope by telling my story it helps others to see there are people who understand, there is help available and you can recover. Please contact me if any of this resonates with you or you feel I can help. It’s time to talk.

Please remember support is available from our Wellbeing Hub team on 03456 089945 (wellbeing.referrals@nhs.net) or our 24/7 employee assistance programme on 0800 085 1376.

Published 7th February 2019

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