They search me, they trace their hands up my sleeves to ensure I’m not hiding anything. They ask what’s in my pockets before forcing me outside, into the back of their car. I feel eyes watching me from every window, the immovable sense that I’ll be some gossip for when their husbands and kids get home.
They take me to A&E. They follow me to the desk and again, everyone’s watching me, trying to work out what I’ve done to have police escorting me. They put me in the special room I’ve seen so many times before. For criminals, for people being abusive or violent, for drunks. We sit there for hours. On the hottest day of the year, no windows, the heat rising and I can’t remove my sweatshirt because they’ll see what I’ve done.
It’s a blur. They ignore me, they talk amongst themselves, listening to their radios and commenting on the accident that’s being reported and go on to talk about RTA’s they’ve been to where they’ve had to scrape people off of the road.
It goes on for hours, and then they’re gone. More people come and eventually go again.
“What happened this morning before the police brought you in?”
“I don’t know, I don’t remember.”
Again, and again, the same forms, the same questions, the same cold, blank expression from the person asking me, the same tiny box of tissues being handed to me in an attempt to clean up the mass of tears, and the unshakeable feeling that this is never going to end.
The hours pass. They clear the A&E bed and room of all equipment so I don’t attempt to garrotte myself with a blood pressure pump, a nurse sits with me the entire time and closes the paper curtains so no one has to see me sobbing uncontrollably. I ask to go to the toilet, she follows me and tells me not to lock the door. I’m not allowed to use the phone. We return to the bed, she tells me I can sleep but I ignore her and sit bolt upright, watching the blue curtains for shadows approaching, waiting for someone to come along and tell me this was all a terrible, ugly dream.
Another doctor arrives. We go through the questions again and he asks what I want to do, I tell him I want to go home and he says that’s not possible, it’s not safe for me yet. He says I need to go to another hospital for the night, a secure mental health unit to be assessed properly before I can go home. I ask what the other option is, hoping there’s some way out and he answers simply -
“We’ll have to section you under the Mental Health Act.”
I’m taken in the back of an ambulance to the other hospital. I can’t see where we’re going, I don’t know the hospital. I don’t know who I’m with and it all feels so, so wrong. We arrive at the hospital and start going through a series of locked doors, as many doors are locked behind me and the paramedics as are opened before us. All too soon, we’re there. Locked in.
They go through my bag, taking away my glasses and phone charger, they fill out more forms. The woman keeps telling me I’m really tearful when I’m sitting there still, completely numb and for the first time all day I don’t feel like crying.
The rest is a blur. I’m forced to sit with other patients in a lounge area because the dorms are locked. They offer pills I don’t know and I refuse them. I’m told I might be lucky enough to see a doctor for the assessment tomorrow. Eventually I’m allowed to sleep. In an empty room, with the lights on, and a opaque window that won’t open.
I’m allowed to see the doctor for my assessment. Except, it isn’t an assessment. They tell me I’m going to be OK, they nod enthusiastically as if I’m supposed to join in, they tell me my family’s supportive and that this was just a blip and that I can go home.
I leave the procession of locked doors to be the outside world, without any money, without my phone, without a single phone number or leaflet, or what I should do if it happens again and without the slightest clue as to what happened to me to cause the events of the previous morning.