Those are the frank words of former police officer Ben Pearson, and a regular on Channel 5 show Police Interceptors, who has spoken of his mental health battle in the hope of showing others they do not have to suffer in silence.
From the outside in, the fast-paced life of a Bradford traffic cop looks like all a budding police officer would dream of when signing up to the force.
But behind the thrill of putting criminals behind bars and protecting the public is the deep mental and emotional toll it can take.
It’s a toll that dad-of-two Ben, 44, who was in the police force for 19 years, knows all too well.
He thrived off catching criminals and taking them off the city’s streets – but it came at a price.
“The major kicking of it was the amount of deaths, the amount of fatals. You take that home then with your family,” he said.
“You’re trying to separate your life from the work, but you’re bringing an imaginary backpack home with you and it’s full of stones and those stones are getting heavier and heavier and heavier and it’s taking bits out of your heart, your mind and your psyche that you don’t realise it’s taking.”
Ben said that those in the emergency services play two roles in their professional and personal lives.
“There’s not one person, not one paramedic, or one fireman or one bobby that won’t tell you that it upsets them. They’re carrying it around with them all the time,” he said.
“You shouldn’t have to carry that pain around with you, and you do. A lot of people say, well you signed up for that. I’ve signed up to protect people, but I didn’t sign up to be traumatised and no-one does.
“I want to make a difference, but what you don’t want to do is lose who you are as a person.”
Ben spoke of the difficulty of dealing with fatal crashes and delivering the heart-wrenching blow to families that a loved one wouldn’t be returning home.
“I didn’t realise how much it was bearing on me, how much it was taking away,” he said.
On top of the deep impact the job was having, added turmoil came when his mum died.
After a couple of weeks off work, he was back to it and called to a crash where a child was sadly killed.
“I got out of the car and I just snapped, something inside me broke and I felt it go and I’ve never got that back,” he said.
Then came the devastating news his dad had terminal cancer.
Following his death, Ben was back to the job and dealing with increasing levels of despair and feeling unable to speak out.
He said: “You’re so on a knife edge of I want to cry for help, but I can’t cry for help, because of the role I’m doing.”
Eventually, it came to the point where he broke. He was called to a small job, but said his brain had shut down
“I got out and the switch had gone. I didn’t know who I was, I didn’t know what I was doing, didn’t know what I was there for, I couldn’t comprehend that I’m at a job,” he said.
Ben, who retired from the police force last month, was diagnosed with complex, work-related post-traumatic stress disorder after his partner, Milly, encouraged him to seek help.
He said: “I was that man that would be like ‘what is wrong with you?’ But then when you’ve been there and you’ve been on this other side and you realise, hang on a minute, everyone’s life is different.”
Ben now wants people to open up about what they are going through.
He speaks frankly about his own struggles on Twitter in the hope of showing people that it’s okay not to be okay.
“People have this thing where they can’t say ‘I’ve got mental health issues’,” he said.
“I think society is not equipped to be able to understand people’s needs. They don’t have to be ashamed of who they are, they don’t have to be ashamed if they’re not feeling well.
“What they should do, is be proud of who they are and be proud of what they’ve achieved already.”
He added: “I came out in the office and said ‘I’ve got an issue, I’ve reached out’. I felt I’d broke a bit of a mould, rather than being that tough guy of sitting there going ‘no there’s nothing wrong with me’.
“I’m now, yes there’s something wrong with me, I’m hurting, I’m upset, I’ve got something wrong with me and I need some help. I think that’s the biggest thing.”
From his own experience, Ben would like to see specialist support in West Yorkshire, specifically for those in the emergency services who may be struggling with their mental health.
“Being on the frontline of the emergency services, the amount of things that firefighters, ambulance and police go through and see, it’s horrible,” he said.
“I just can’t figure out why it’s not available for them.”
The Police Federation has recognised the issue at a national level.
In a recent blog, Roads Policing Lead Gemma Fox said the “drip freed of trauma” officers are exposed to daily is immense.
She said: “Roads policing officers are in one of the highest risk categories for post-traumatic stress disorder to become an issue.
“We must do better for these officers in prevention and response.”
A campaign called Hear ‘Man Up, Think ‘Man Down’ encourages colleagues to take more notice of each other and recognise if someone is struggling.
She added: “Talking is the starting point, and we cannot shy away from that anymore.”
On the advice of his psychiatrist and therapist, Ben has spent the last six months writing about his journey of PTSD and mental health.
It has culminated in a book called Handcuffed Emotions which will be on Amazon on December 1, with 20 per cent of the sales going to The Kaleidoscope Plus Group, a mental health awareness charity.
He said: “I’ve put my heart and soul into it, and only hope that people with mental health issues read it and think, it’s ok to be different, it’s ok to struggle, and it’s ok to talk.”
He added: “I’m 44, I’ve had a career and I’m proud of what I’ve done and what I’ve achieved, but I’m poorly, and I’m proud to say I’m poorly.
“I just want to just keep pushing forward and never giving up.”
- How you can get help: You can call the Samaritans free at any time on 116 123, or visit www.samaritans.org. The Kaleidoscope Plus Group also offers a range of support. Visit www.kaleidoscopeplus.org.uk. If you’re in crisis, or in need or urgent support, text TEAMKPG to 85258 where you can speak to a trained Crisis Volunteer.