I went slightly mad. It was a bewildering experience, lasting some four and a half years during which it was the major influence of my life, also for my wife and to an extent our children.
It started slowly, so much so that I can’t point to a moment when I’d lost the plot. I still functioned at work. Indeed, and rather ironically, I did some of my best work with a loose grip on reality. By the time it became obvious to me I was almost enjoying it all.
I used to be the identification officer for my force, running all ID parades, video IDs and other methods, for my force and on occasion for others. I organised six a day, five days a week, with the odd one or two of a weekend or evening. Although I was only able to run about 60%, the defence deciding to opt out in the main, I still had to study each and every case.
So with a bit over 2.7 rape and serious sexual offences a week there was hardly a time when the effects of victims weren’t in my face. Indeed, on a few occasions I ran three such cases a day. It got to me, as you can imagine. Non-sexual offences were no walk in the park either.
I’d dealt with a number of nasty situations in my time (see The Forces books) but there had always been downtime in between when I could, I thought, work through my response and sort of accept them, although it seems that all I did was put them in a box hoping they’d go away.
I once dealt with the victim, a woman, of an attack with a bottle. She had been standing in a queue for a cab when a fight broke out between two young men. One smashed a bottle, she turned towards the sound just in time to get the bottle full in her face.
She came to the parade dressed perfectly for the occasion. Smart without being overly so, with minimum make up but enough. Her hair was immaculate. The only contrast was the injury, a great red slash starting a couple of inches above her left eyebrow then running down the side of her nose, into the corner of her eye and then going further down over the cheek bone.
The hospital had stitched it up with seemingly hundreds of stitches, I think to limit the scaring. But this meant the wound was sticking up, vivid against her pale skin. She had been told many times that she was lucky as a fraction of in inch to the left she would have lost her eye. I suppose it was said to make her feel better.
I found out later that the scarring was not as bad as it might have been and a little bit of make-up, cleverly applied, would hide it.
The thought that kept running through my mind for days was that she must get up every morning, look in the mirror and see what she would think of as the way she would look forever.
A little later an 18-year-old woman from the continent was subjected to a series of sexual assaults by a stranger who dragged her off the street. It was real horror, not like the antiseptic kind you see on film, but the real thing.
We had ample identification evidence but the defence demanded a parade, as they could in those days, in the hope that the woman, just 18 remember, would refuse to go on it and therefore give the defence a chance. But she proved stronger.
As she got to the offender she collapsed on the floor. She rolled into the foetal position and could not be roused for some minutes.
The offender pleaded not guilty, despite overwhelming evidence. The assumption is that the defence expected the victim, now 19, would follow medical advice and concentrate of getting better, being warned off the tremendous pressures of a court case. But again she confounded everyone by returning and giving evidence, although not those who had worked with her.
I was in the waiting room when there was an adjournment, the reason being that the prosecution had requested a screen between the victim and the sorry excuse for a human being. The defence objected. I just got up and walked out of the court building.
I returned to give evidence. I had asked for the video of the parade not to be shown but the prosecution, my ‘side’, didn’t even bother to ask the judge. I cried in court during my evidence, the first time I’d ever done that.
By this time, I was having nightmares. Well, not really nightmares. In them I would grab the offender around the head and bash it against the side of the ID parade room, opening up the side of his face to the bone. I would wake up sweating. I would get up for half an hour, then go back to bed but in the hope that the same dream would occur.
It eventually became most nights and I just wasn’t sleeping. I’d lost the plot.
It took four and a half years for me to get back to some form of normality, but see later. Towards the end I had to see a psychiatrist where I’d corrected him when he said I was suffering from clinical depression. I pointed out that I’d been diagnosed by two others as a victim of PTSD. He said the symptoms were similar, almost indistinguishable, so why did I want the more serious sounding problem.
I smiled. Two days later I was whistling to myself on the way to my car. I’d cracked it.
The odd thing is that I feel I’m a better person for going mad, or rather coming out the other side.
I still get the occasional nasty dream but there are long gaps between. I occasionally get a bit ‘down’ but then, don’t we all.
Being mad is a horror story for most of us, and for good reason. There is hope, at least when the madness hasn’t physical causes, like Alzheimer’s. The guilt for the pain caused to loved ones in a problem but on the other hand, it shows who really loves you. What is love without a test?
One rather strange result was that I had to get a report from a psychiatrist that I was sane. If I mentioned that to anyone, they thought I was made mad.
Going a bit mad is not the end of the world. You can, and most, the overwhelming majority, do recover. My psychologist said, in answer to my question as to whether I would get back to normal, that everyone sees the world differently. If I, or anyone, could prove which is the correct one, then he’d be able to answer. In the meantime, it was probable that I’d get back to somewhere where I thought I was normal.