90 days from today is Thu, 28 December 2023
24 March 2023
A Gwent Police Federation member has bravely told how she came close to suicide as she prepares to run a half marathon to raise money and awareness for the charity that helped save her life.
Alexa Brown will be taking part in the Merthyr Tydfil Half Marathon on Sunday (26 March) in honour of Call4Backup, a peer support charity specifically for serving and former police officers in the UK, that provided the mother-of-two with a lifeline during some of her darkest days.
Her fundraising efforts come just months after Alexa found that her mental health has spiralled out of control and in fact, at times, felt ‘the only way to have peace’ would be suicide.
“It breaks my heart even now thinking about how low I was,” said the 40-year-old, “But simply being alive was painful. Every moment, every second I was alive, I was experiencing a battle in my head.”
Alexa started recognising changes to her mental health in 2017 when she started to suffer from what she now knows was hypervigilance - a condition often caused by traumatic events or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which results in a person being extremely sensitive to their surroundings.
“I was constantly on high alert, I literally could not switch off,” said Alexa, who joined Gwent Police 18 years ago.
“I couldn’t sit still, I couldn’t relax and I was very twitchy. It was having a huge impact on my sleep - I was getting around two or three hours of sleep every night. And unfortunately, the more tired I was, the more adrenaline I would feel, it was a vicious circle.”
In 2016, Alexa experienced a traumatic divorce, which led to her juggling life as a single parent and a police officer.
“In all honesty, I think I was exhausted. I never had a break - if I wasn’t working, I was being a parent and, of course, the lack of sleep was having a severe impact on my other emotions.
“I felt terrible and I was trying to cope my own way - which meant lots of coffee and smoking up to 40 cigarettes a day - this went on for years. I was constantly torn between how I was feeling and wanting to get everything right, at work and at home.
“Looking back, I don’t know how I did it.”
Alexa started to experience other symptoms like rocking back and forth, pacing and wringing her hands, all of which she recognised were signs that something was not right.
“I was very frightened,” she continued.
“Fortunately, some of the people I work with are also my best friends and they were really looking out for me. I’d completely lost my appetite, which led to me losing three-and-a-half-stone, so they could see just from that, that something wasn’t right.
“But that was hard too because I didn’t want to go off sick because I needed my team. They had become my support network, my comfort blanket.”
In 2019, having reached rock bottom, Alexa was diagnosed with complex PTSD, at which point she made contact with former Hertfordshire officer Sam Smith, the founder of Green Ribbon Policing - a national campaign that aims to raise awareness of mental health within policing.
“I think, because of the person I am, I had put on this ‘armour’ which enabled me to cope with certain events throughout my life while pushing my emotions under the carpet. All of sudden, it was as if that armour was gone, and so had all of my resilience,” she explained.
“Sam at Green Ribbon Policing quickly became a supportive voice of reason for me, and he put me in contact with Call4Backup.”
Call4Backup gives officers and police staff the opportunity to speak to ‘peer support agents’, who are all either serving or former police officers themselves.
Alexa said: “There are so many reasons why I believe in Call4Backup and feel so passionately about raising awareness for them.
“First of all, they are all either serving or former officers, which means they totally get what you’re talking about. Of course, professionals can all be trained to a high standard, but I don’t think anyone ever truly understands what police officers go through unless they have been there themselves.
“As officers, we’re all inclined to be private people, so when you’re speaking to a fellow officer, you definitely feel less vulnerable.
“Also, you can call at any time, and however many times. Usually, if you use the Force’s counselling service, you’ll only get six sessions, which isn’t always enough. Having their support, there and then, when you are experiencing an emotional crisis, is undoubtedly a lifeline for so many.”
In October last year, Alexa started a more home-based role, which meant she was able to focus on her recovery.
“I knew I needed to change my life if I wanted to continue living. And so, I removed all of the toxic people in my life and spent four months, on my own at home, just me and my children - I only left to go to the supermarket,” she said.
“It sounds drastic but I needed to find myself again. I needed to push the reset button. I need to figure out who I am.”
With her recovery ongoing, Alexa has since returned to the office but supporting the Crown Prosecution Service.
“I also run a lot, which helps me focus and gives me something to aim for,” said Alexa, who will be proudly wearing a running shirt on Sunday that has been custom-made with a green ribbon, symbolising mental health awareness, printed on it.
To sponsor Alexa, who has already raised nearly £1,500, visit her GoFundMe page.