She had her car keys taken and was hospitalised for three months - Kate Steele recalls her terrifying experiences of paranoia and hypomania as part of Sheffield Mental Health Week.
ON PAPER, at 25 years old, Kate Steele had everything - good qualifications, a progressive career in the police force and a loving family.
But despite this, the intelligent, bubbly police officer from Chapeltown lost it - she developed mania and paranoia and now, as part of Sheffield Mental Health Week, Kate talks about her mental health problems, which, she believes, can be pin-pointed back to studying at the age of 18.
“When I was 18, I studied a BTEC Diploma in Public Services at Rockingham College in Barnsley. In the course we talked about highly complex theories from thinkers like Noam Chomsky and on subjects such as society, government and mass consent. It was really heavy stuff. Despite being named ‘student of the year’, this was information way above my head at the time, at an emotional level more than anything else.”
But at the age of 21 she decided to abandon the lofty thing of Chomsky and pursue a career in the police force. “Not only did I think it would be a lifelong career, but I also thought this would be the place where I could find positive lifelong companionship. Unfortunately, my experience with the police didn’t go to plan and I later became very ill.”
Kate started to dwell upon the deep analytical theories she studied at college, which led her to start questioning herself as a person. “When I was 25, lots of the theories that I studied at college started coming back to me and they really made me think about my inadequacies as a human being and the job I was doing in the police. It led me to be very analytical, too analytical, about my life.”
And while her internal world was crumbling apart, it seemed her external world was also deteriorating. “My family life was also quite difficult - my brother was a heroin addict. As a police officer I had to do a lot of soul-searching about my job, my own personal ethics and obviously my duty as a sister. I tried to rescue him and ended up getting quite caught up in his world. I actually became good friends with a lot of his crowd, many of whom have been in prison. This relationship I had built with this group of people left me feeling compromised because of my profession.”
As a result of this, Kate was struggling to meet targets at work and the fear of not meeting her targets propelled the decline of her mental health.
“My mental health then started going rapidly downhill – I was later defined clinically as suffering from paranoia. I became very analytical about everything around me. One day, all of my anxiety and fears manifested themselves at the same time and it got to the point where I collapsed at work because I was so mentally exhausted.”
Kate was then taken into the care of the Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust (SHSC), she had suffered a huge attack of paranoia and required medical supervision. Kate’s police supervisors asked her to consult the police force counsellors and soon after her car keys were taken from her and she was taken to the GP.
“It was at that moment that I decided to stop smoking, so that I could taste life again. When I went inside to talk to the doctor, he asked me how I was feeling. At that moment, I felt incredible and just said ‘I’m in love’. And I really meant it. It felt like all my fear had just left me.”
This heightened elation is referred to as hypomania, where a person can experience moments of euphoria only to be followed by severe low points.
By the evening, Kate became paranoid again. “I felt like nobody was telling me what was going on. By 10pm I felt frightened for my life. I became so frightened that I thought a man was going to shoot me. I was taken to hospital by my colleagues - who happened to be on shift that night - where the medical staff were going to give me an injection to calm me down. I was so paranoid at this point that I actually thought it was a lethal injection. I decided to pray, because I was so frightened. And then I can honestly say I felt peace like never before.”
Kate stayed in hospital for three months. It was a tough experience, made worse by her paranoia.
“Because of the paranoia, it felt like a punishment. I thought I was the most evil person in the world. I was pacing up and down the corridors from 8am to last thing at night. It even got the point where I wanted kill myself.”
But she pulled through and has rebuilt her life - a turnaround she attributes to her supportive family and faith.
“Now, years later, I’m in a very good place,” says Kate. “My faith has been a huge part of that. The birth of my son, James, who is almost six, certainly made a difference to my life – I feel like I have real purpose and he is such a positive influence on me.”
Kate now works as a governor at Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust (SHSC), where uses her own experiences in mental health to help others.