Lost

by Elaine Abery

In the movies, they give you one phone call before they lock you up. I’m here to tell you there is no such thing in real life.

It was about three months ago in NSW, Australia. That’s March 2019. I want to be clear on that. We are not talking about the 1960s. We are not talking about a third world country.

My ex had just kicked me out of the house. My marriage was over. As I drove out of the driveway, my kids were screaming “Daddy! Daddy! Don’t leave Daddy! Stay pleeeeeaaaaaasssse! Daddy!”

My heart was broken.

My world was torn apart.

Like anyone would, I cried as I drove.

I had nowhere to go. I kept telling myself “I just have to get to Dad’s place. He will take me in. He will help me out.”

Dad’s place was over 400 kilometres away. He was expecting me to arrive in about six hours.

As I drove, I kept seeing my kids’ teary faces. Hearing their voices as they begged me to stay. Seeing them in the rear view mirror, trying to run after my car. Held back by my wife.

I didn’t want to leave them.

My wife’s resolute face, telling me it was over. That I needed to leave for her sake, for my sake, for the kids’ sakes. It seemed logical that I would leave. That she would stay in our home with the kids. After all, I had been the one working, sometimes away from home for days at a time. She had stayed home with the kids. This way would be more stable for them.

Fifteen years we had been together. We met when we were both nineteen.

I should have seen it coming. My wife and I had struggled to get along for a couple of years. But I didn’t. It hit me like a sledgehammer.

I needed a plan. I wanted to talk to someone, make a plan. Anything to try and lessen the picture in my mind of the agony on my kids’ faces as I drove away.

So, I rang the Mental Health Line.

Big mistake. Big, big mistake.

I explained that I was moving to Wollongong and was looking for the details of some good mental health practitioners to help me through a tough place.

The lady asked me if I had mental health issues. I mentioned that I had been diagnosed with bipolar a few years ago. She kept asking me if I was having suicidal thoughts.

“I won’t lie,” I told her. “I’m not in a happy place. My marriage has just ended. I just drove away from my kids as they screamed for me to stay. I know I need help. I’m concentrating on getting to my Dad’s place. He’s my best friend. He will know how to get me the appropriate help.”

She asked me if I would take my own life.

“No way,” I told her. “My dog, Beau, is in the car with me. What would happen to him? I want to see my kids again. I would never do anything to hurt others. Suicide hurts others.”

She started asking me for details on my car, my rego. I asked her why.

I pulled over. Beau and I had a pee.

There was an accident on the highway ahead of me. I figured I would just hang out here until the traffic died down. No point just sitting in traffic when I could walk around here with Beau. Stretch my legs. It felt good to stretch our legs on a long drive.

I looked up and a police car pulled over. Two officers stepped out of the car. Another vehicle pulled up. Two more officers.

Four officers stood around my car, barricading me in the drivers’ seat.

“What have you done to me?” I asked the Mental Health Line lady before she hung up.

I asked the officers if they had spoken to her. They told me it was for my own good. They told me they were there to help me.

“I just want to get to my Dad’s place. He will help me get the right help.”

They told me I had two options. I could either come with them voluntarily or they would take me by force.

“Where do you want to take me?”

They told me they wanted to get me help. They would take me somewhere they could help me.

“Well that’s not a choice, is it? What about my dog? I just want to go to Dad’s. He will get me help. He will know how to help me.”

They told me my dog would be fine. My dog would be looked after.

“Look after him. If anything happens to my dog, I won’t be answerable for my actions.”

I gave them his bed, his favourite toys, his bowl. I knew he would be upset. Kicked out of home, seeing me crying. I never cried. After all, I’m a bloke.

Then my poor dog would be picked up and taken somewhere to be “looked after”. He hadn’t done anything wrong. Just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I never saw those things again.

I wondered if I would ever see Beau again. I had been shown the door on my marriage. I had been told to leave my home with Beau, my car and a few clothes.

I stepped out of my car. The police grabbed me and patted me down. They took my belt. They pulled the drawstring out of my hoodie. Car keys and phone went with them. Everything else was left in my car. Humiliated, I felt like an object. Of four officers, only the woman treated me well, talked to me like I was a human being.

They walked me to the back of the paddy wagon. They told me there was no room in the front of the vehicle.

I’m not a big bloke. There was room.

My shiny car with all the bells and whistles was left, abandoned, on the side of the highway for the next few days. I found out later that Dad had somehow found my car and stayed in his car on the side of the road, next to my locked car (he had no keys) to protect it from vandals. He managed three hours’ sleep.

There was nothing to restrain me in the back of the paddy wagon. Nothing to hold onto. I was thrown around during the hundred odd kilometres of driving. It felt like the driver was just in a hurry to get somewhere and had forgotten his human cargo. The tears started coming again. What had my life come to? My wife. My house. My kids. Beau. Gone. Now this.

My head slammed into the sides of the paddy wagon as it drove. Again. And again. And again. I saw stars. I saw my kids’ faces as they screamed for me. I saw Beau’s confused face as they led him away.

It felt like I was being rolled around inside a very hard washing machine.

The paddy wagon stopped. The door opened. I fell out. Dazed. Grazed. Bruised. Battered. Tear-stained. Snot streaming down my face. I could barely stand up.

“Where am I”?

“Go on. In you go,” the man barked at me.

I looked up. My vision was a bit shaky from the long washing machine ride. Campbelltown hospital was written on a sign. Nobody told me where I was.

“C’mon mate. I really need a smoke.” I don’t know where the defiance came from. Perhaps a survival instinct for fresh air. For space. To move my legs, my arms, my body without being slammed into a hard metal wall. I was escorted to an allocated space. It took a few goes to light the cigarette my hands were shaking so badly. I drew on the nicotine slowly, savouring my last minutes of freedom. Breathe, I told myself.

I was still shaking.

The female officer had convinced the male to let me have a smoke. Said she needed one too and would come with me. She spoke to me. Helped me feel a little more human.

I walked into Campbelltown hospital. Surrounded by two police officers. As I was waiting there, the male stood facing me, his hand on his gun. He asked me what I was looking at.

“I’m not a criminal,” I said. “Can’t you take your hand off your gun?” Was he going to shoot me? I had seen the media where police officers shot people with mental health issues because they were poorly trained and scared.

He looked at me like I was dirt.

“If you’re not going to take your hand off your gun, just shoot me now and get this over and done with.” I felt like I was in an evil alternative reality.

I didn’t want to die. Would I ever see my kids again? Beau? My parents?

They took me into a waiting room. I was seated in a corner with a guard.

For about thirty-six hours.

Thirty-six hours without sleep. Thirty-six hours of only being allowed to pee or poo with the door open. Thirty-six hours in a corner on an uncomfortable, hard, plastic hospital seat. Thirty-six hours with no sensible human interactions.

I asked for a pillow to try and get some sleep. Sometime later, someone grunted at me and passed me a rolled-up blanket.

I didn’t know where I was. Nobody would tell me anything. I was lucky if they looked at me.

If I wanted to drink something, I had to ask. There was no water. No meals. They offered me a sandwich. Sometimes.

I wasn’t allowed a shower. Nobody offered me a change of clothes.

I needed a bed. A good, solid meal. Humane conversation.

“I’ve got a slipped disc. My back is agony sitting here for so long. I need to go for a walk. Please!” I begged. I pleaded. No chance.

I was ordered to stay put. With a grunt.

One nurse came and talked to me for a little while. She offered me water. She treated me like a human being. It didn’t last long.

Thirty-six hours later, someone came towards me. They told me they had a bed for me.

They took me to a room.

I hadn’t slept for nearly two days.

Like any human being, all I wanted was to sleep. And sleep. It was too much to hope that sleep could help me wake from this nightmare.

A few short hours later, around 3am, I was woken up by a large guy standing over me. It was scary. He said nothing. I asked him to leave the room three times. His stilted responses indicated mental health issues.

Aha! I finally knew where I was – the mental health ward.

Around 8am, a nurse shook me awake and told me the doctors were coming to see me. Nobody came. I stuck my fingers in my ears to drown out the screaming, the groans coming from all around me and fell asleep again.

At midday, they woke me again. “You have to come and eat something.”

Oh great. Thirty-six hours of nothing and now I haveto eat something.

“I just want to sleep. I haven’t slept for two days. Can’t you just leave me alone?”

I wanted a shower. A change of clothes. A solid meal. Human company. Beau. Dad. To look at a picture of my kids.

I got people standing over me. Taking my blood. Poking me. Prodding me. Talking about me as though I couldn’t hear them. I didn’t resist any of it. I didn’t ask questions – it was clear that I had no rights in this place. I wanted just one thing – that they let me catch up on two days of missed sleep.

The blood-curdling screams. The groans. The noise. This was the noisiest place I had ever been.

I hated this place.

I knew I wouldn’t get better here. I was getting worse. I had never felt like this in my life. There are no words.

They were here again. Insisting I wake up. “Your Dad’s here.”

Escorted to meet Dad, I tried to close my eyes, my ears to the sights and sounds of misery around me. Dad’s eyes were wide when he saw me. Above the screams, he said, simply “I’m sorry son.”

We sat together. Dad had spent two days trying to help me. Nobody would tell him anything. To be fair, nobody seemed to know anything. They had lost his son. Then, someone told him I was here.

Dad asked them for me to go home with him. They said they wanted to keep me inside, that I was “jittery.” Dad suppressed a laugh. “Of course he’s jittery – he’s a pack a day smoker and he hasn’t been allowed a smoke for two days.”

Dad didn’t say the rest of what he was thinking “you pulled him off the side of the road and locked him in an alternate reality full of very disturbed people who screech and scream and groan all day and all night. He hasn’t been treated like a human being for over two days, since you dragged him out of his car on the side of the road.”

Somehow, Dad worked a miracle and managed to convince them to release me into his care. It took a long time. A lot of convincing. They wanted to keep me there.

I reckon my Dad saved my life that day.

I can tell you that I wasn’t thinking about killing myself before they locked me up. Every hour locked up, life was less palatable.

Compare that to another friend of mine.

She and her son both have mental illnesses. Noticing her son’s behaviour becoming erratic, she rang the mental health service. They told her they could do nothing. She convinced her son to present to the mental health unit of the hospital. They told him they didn’t have room for him.

“Go home and come back in two weeks.”

A few days later, someone threatened to shoot him. He reacted and assaulted the guy. Less than two weeks after presenting to hospital for self-admission, he appeared before a Magistrate. He is currently serving four years in gaol.




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