I wake from the cold, hard floor, too scared to open my eyes. I hear muffled voices, I warily open one eye and my heart sinks. The sea of grey washes over me, my breath echoing, the shadows disappearing as the day begins. I recognise the smell of stale urine, the unfinished paint, the pinprick of light from a guarded window, like being in a small box, the walls feel like they’re closing in on me; I’m waking in the confines of a police cell, again.
I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder Type I, three years ago, after about ten years of being in and out of hospital. I thought it was under control. I wonder to myself what could have happened this time? I’m too scared to move, too scared to find out what I’ve done, where I’ve been. It’s the all-too-familiar, ‘morning after the night before.’
A controlled, rhythmic thud gets louder as it approaches my door. Anxiety takes over, I sit bolt upright and hear the lock turning. I frantically straighten my hair, and jump as the door slams open. A breath, a sigh, I know who is towering over me. PC Lowe glares down; I catch my breath and focus on his robust boots.
The steady pressure of guilt is rising. His ignorance fills the room, matched only by my shame. It is now that I am at my most vulnerable which only feeds his judgement.
“Michelle.” Said with authority but I detect the sarcasm, “Drink this!”
He forces a polystyrene cup of warm water at me. I dutifully do as instructed, my hand shaking as it reaches my lips, too fearful to catch his eye, my gaze remains on the boots. A roaring grumble from my stomach cuts the deafening silence.
“You’re not getting any breakfast, you never eat it anyway, you’ll only waste more of the tax payers money,” PC Lowe sneered.
I can’t remember the last time I had eaten, but I’ve made the mistake of confronting the PC before. I jump as the door slams, I’m alone again.
Startled awake, I hear raised voices ringing through the corridor. The disorientation passes and I hear every word.
“… So you’re not taking her away from the station, she’ll only end up back here in a week. Criminals like her…”
“She is not a criminal, Michelle should never have ended up in a cell in the first place,” a soft voice interrupts.
“Look just because some highly paid psychologist said she’s mentally ill, it does not give a ready-made excuse to commit crimes.” The tone he uses when saying ‘mentally ill’ shudders throughout me, only reiterating his prejudice, shame overcomes me. The constable is becoming more agitated.
“Commit crimes?” she asks, “Do you not think it’s hard enough, without you creating more stigma? Professionals should represent the vulnerable and educate society.” I can hear the passion in her voice and I feel a flicker of hope.
PC Lowe replies with insolence, “She’s not getting away with it this time!” I hear the rhythmic thud fade away.
The door opens, I keep my eyes closed, holding back the tears. I feel a warm hand place itself on my shoulder; I open my eyes to a gentle apology.
“My name is Alice, and it’s a pleasure to meet you Michelle.” I take in her uniform, she is a nurse. Alice recognises my confusion, “Here, I bought you a cup of tea and managed to find some biscuits.” She smiles.
Still confused, I ask, “Why are you here?”
Cheerily, she replies, “Well, mental health nurses are now based at police stations to make sure you receive the correct care, not kept here.”
Suddenly, a wave of panic hits me; I start to cry, “Daisy? Daisy? Is Daisy okay?”
More guilt churns my stomach, my beautiful nine year old daughter, how could I not remember? After years of suffering as a child with an undiagnosed mother, I promised I would always support my daughter. I’ve let her down.
Nurse Alice instantly calms my nerves, “Michelle, you don’t need to worry, I have spoken to George and he is going to bring Daisy to the hospital this evening. They are both well, George is going to support you while you stay with us for a while.”
Though Alice was trying to help, the word ‘hospital,’ was ringing in my ears; I could feel my eyes filling with tears. She gestures to sit beside me, I nod and move along.
I try to calm my breathing, but I know what’s happening. The black mist is descending, I’m being sectioned again. She asks me why I fear going back to hospital. I just look to the floor. How could she understand? My daughter, my family, my job, my world has come crashing down.
I mumble, “But I’ve been taking my medication,” before my tears erupt. She places her hand on my back, but we are both shocked when the door slams open.
“Right, Nurse. Your jobs done here. Smith’s on duty, take yourself off.” PC Lowe smirks as he instructs the nurse.
Suddenly I am overwhelmed with fear again; Alice stands to her feet. I compose myself, before realising I’ve encountered Nurse Smith many times before. She’s a cruel, unkind woman, some would say institutionalised, not like Alice. I hold my hands to stop them from shaking, there’s no sign of hope anymore.
My heart beat rings in my ears, my palms are sweaty, everything blurs as tears fill my eyes, I just want my daughter and husband. I want to go home.
“Right, come on then, let’s get you to the mad house,” Nurse Smith’s voice echoes as she enters the room. There’s hardly enough room for one person, let alone four, I feel like the walls are closing in on me. Nurse Alice steps outside the cell, almost as if she can hear my thoughts, PC Lowe follows.
“I’ll be taking Michelle to the hospital, then I’ll return here as I want to speak to your sergeant.” There’s a threatening tone to her voice now, PC Lowe merely nods.
Alice tells him and Smith, the transport will be outside soon and she needs to get on with the paperwork. She calls for me to follow her, Nurse Smith runs at me grabbing my arm, I squeak in pain.
“Oh get over yourself, I’m not having you do a runner.” Smith glares at me as she speaks, I just lower my head.
Alice instantly speaks up, “Let go of her now, Michelle is coming to the hospital with me.” I know everything will be okay now. Smith takes a step back and follows PC Lowe, whispering as they go.
Alice gestures with a giggle, “May I?” And takes my arm as we walk down the corridor, “Now, where were we? Ah, your medication, sometimes Michelle, your body changes, it’s important that you’re taking what’s best for you.”
I interrupt, “Please don’t make me take Lithium, I want to remember my daughter’s childhood.”
She smiles, “We can talk to the nurses at the hospital, review your medication and look at a more suitable care plan. Also, don’t believe all those horror stories you read on the internet. There’s something else I’d like to ask you.” She turns to me, her eyes serious and her tone professional, “With my support, would you feel comfortable speaking to the Sister about your experiences with Nurse Smith?”
I catch my breath, I feel the panic rising, Alice touches my arm, her tone softens, “I can see how scared you are, but you don’t have to be, I will support you and it’s your choice.” I nod, for a second I feel strong enough.
I look to the nurse and ask, “Why are you being so kind to me?”
Nurse Alice looks back and says, “It’s time to start moving forward, planning for the future. Today is the first step to your recovery Michelle. It’s not impossible to live with mental health, I’ve done just fine.” Nurse Alice winks.