By Hattie Gladwell

The good, the bad, the uncontrollable and the ugly. The realities of mental illness - and everything that comes with it.

I walked through the doors of A&E and went to reception to sign myself in. The receptionist was very dismissive. ‘Why are you here?’ she asked. I felt embarrassed. The waiting room was full - some people there for obviously broken legs, other people looking as though they’d spent the day throwing up, and some parents there worrying about their children. I didn’t want to say ‘I don’t want to be here anymore’ out loud, worried that I’d draw attention to myself. I asked whether I could use a pen and some paper, and that’s how I told her. But the receptionist didn’t seem to recognise I wanted to keep things on the downlow. She called out, unsubtly: ‘Are you feeling suicidal?’ I told her that I was. She told me to take a seat. An hour of waiting and I was called into triage. I was confused as to why I needed to go through this - why did I need my pulse checked when I was there for my mental health? I went in and they took my temperature and my blood pressure, which was fine. They then asked me again why I was there and I explained how I’d been feeling and what had been happening the night before. The triage nurse sighed, like I’d annoyed her or something. She made me feel like a nuisance, like I shouldn’t have gone to A&E - something I’d been afraid of happening. ‘Do you really need to be here?’ she asked. ‘The Mental Health line told me to come’, I replied, feeling as though I was shrinking with embarrassment in my seat. She sighed and told me to go back into the waiting room. She was going to call the Crisis team - an emergency mental health team for people in Crisis.

I asked how long I’d have to wait and they couldn’t tell me. They explained that in the whole of West Sussex, they only had one Crisis team and they weren’t actually stationed anywhere. Sometimes they had just one practitioner working - yes, just one for a whole bunch of people in Crisis in various locations - and they came on call, whenever they could. I sat in the waiting room for four hours - which, as anyone who’s ever been to A&E knows is pretty standard - but that night, people who had come in two hours after me were being seen quicker than I was. Of course this was by a different department but it highlighted to me how much is available to people with physical needs compared to people with mental illness. Tired and contemplating going home, two women walked out and called my name. One was middle-aged, probably around forty-five. Maybe older. The other was fairly young. Both women stared at me as I sat in uncomfortable silence unsure of what to say. ‘Why are you here?’ the older woman asked, unsympathetically. I felt choked up. Why was I there? Why had things got so bad in that night that it had led me to coming to A&E? ‘I feel like I can’t cope’, I mumbled, fighting back that horrible lump in your throat that comes when you’re trying desperately not to cry. I was trying to be strong. But sometimes strong isn’t good enough.

That’s the thing, it’s as though if they see you have the strength in you to reach out for help, you’re not serious about how severe things really are. And it doesn’t make sense. Again and again, we’re told to reach out for help if we feel like we’re struggling or as though we can’t cope. We’re told to go to A&E by mental health lines if we find ourselves at crisis point. But when we get there - it’s as though we’re not ‘sick enough’. I haven’t walked in with an artery slit open and I haven’t been found hanging from the ceiling and so I probably don’t really feel suicidal, I’m probably just having a bad day and I’ll get over it. ‘What do you mean you can’t cope?’ asked the young woman. And all of a sudden I couldn’t hold the tears back anymore. I hate it when that happens. You’re trying to hold it together and fight your emotions but the second you’re forced to focus on them it’s as though they all come out at once. I’m the sort of person that as soon as I open my mouth to let out what’s been going on in my head, every single emotion in my body and my brain comes with it.

I didn’t know what to tell them. I didn’t know how to tell them that I didn’t want to be here anymore. That I was scared I was going to act on impulse and kill myself if someone didn’t help me. That’s what I was scared of. A feeling of despair getting so heavy that it got to a point where I decide I just couldn’t take it any longer. As I sat there opposite the women, I felt like I was just a couple of days away from this point. ‘I feel like I don’t want to be here anymore’, I sobbed, the sleeve of my jumper getting wet from wiping away the tears. The two women looked at each other almost as if I wasn’t there. It felt horrible. They turned back to me to ask me what had happened and I told them what had happened the previous night. Again, they stared at each other. ‘What do you want us to do?’ the older woman asked. I told her that I didn’t feel safe with myself. That it scared me how I’d acted in such a short space of time and that I was scared that my impulsiveness would cause me to do something drastic because the feelings were becoming too intense to cope with. They told me they couldn’t really do much because I hadn’t tried to kill myself.

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