Stuck Between A Rock And A Hard Place - Also Known As A Crazy Person And The Mental Health Service

(Any and all mistakes are down to me being a wreck throughout most of that night and me then not re-reading this. I've put it down 'on paper' and I am not going over it again, thank you very much. Though feel free to ask questions.)

Let me just set up the backstory for this. Last year, while working home on my own one night I saw a girl sitting in one of the shop doors on George Street in Edinburgh city centre, begging for change. It was absolutely chucking it down with rain. I mean the stuff that soaks through to your bones.

I stopped to pull out the food I had in my bag for her (I had freebies from work) an gave her enough money to at least get a bed for a couple of nights in one of the hostels. I sat down and we started talking. She (we'll call her Michelle) had a little boy, who lived with her mother and she was hoping to get married to his father (let's call him Jason) soon, and he was close to getting a flat of his own. She was working her way out of the hole she had dug herself into (depression, drugs, abuse) so that she could get her son back.

Over the next couple of months we met for drinks now and then, and occasionally she'd come back to stay in our spare room, though she only did this when she was desperate.

Finally Michelle and Jason got their papers sorted and got married and he got a flat. Awesome, yes? Their lives should have started getting better and better, yes?

Jason's an abusive moron. Unfortunately, like so many women in Michelle's situation, she thought marriage might change him, that it was just the stress of being homeless that made him a dick. Not so (and it never is). Life actually got worse for her. She started spending every waking moment taking care of him while he got himself into more trouble and actually started growing weed in their council flat, after being caught once already.

Michelle started staying with us more and more, turning up at 4am after being thrown out of the flat. She ended up in hospital twice with illnesses brought on by stress, abuse and alcohol. Yet she kept going back to Jason.

Last Friday she turned up on my doorstep after having been kicked out of the house for refusing to return a packet of crisps for Jason, because they were the wrong flavour. She got horrifyingly drunk Saturday morning, 21st May and left. I did not realise she was so drunk until I noticed, at 2pm, after she had gone out, that my vodka bottle was empty. She had drank about 500ml of Smirnoff while I made breakfast (I had noticed how much I had drank the night before when I got up... suitably hung over).

That night she overdosed on heroin, something she has been working to stay clean from since she got pregnant almost five years ago (with the occasional slip). She was technically dead for a few moments. She refused hospitalisation and the medics and police let her walk away after reviving her. She turned up on my doorstep some time Sunday morning and over the next 36 hours continued in what I can only describe as a complete mental meltdown.

Monday evening, after a very long day at work, I spoke to her for a good hour trying to persuade her to call one of the many numbers for counselling and mental health support that are available in Edinburgh. A whole hour of talking to an almost incoherent and close to suicidal person during a massive withdrawal who is refusing to even take her prescribed Buprenorphine.

At one point I told her that if she didn't call someone then I would, and that would be so much harder for both of us. She said that was fine, and a night in the cells would do her straight. Every step of the conversation was spent either persuading her that she WAS sick, that she was NOT going to go to prison, that I was NOT going to let her leave the house to kill herself with more heroin. She kept asking me why I cared so much. Seriously, a girl who was lying practically dying from mental illness on my couch was asking me why I cared about her.

Finally, FINALLY, I got Michelle to call the Emergency Mental Health Assessment Service. This was a massive step for her and I knew it was only a matter of time before she changed her mind. It was like dealing with a manic-depressive on fast-forward. Every twenty or so minutes she was "fine" and then she'd be wanting to kill herself. We got through to the EMHA and guess what; they put her on hold AFTER she told them she was having suicidal thoughts.

Well, that was a bust. The TWO nurses were already dealing with other mental health crises so could we call back later or try one of the other numbers they gave me. What followed is a bit hazy. I was already physically exhausted when I got home, and now was pretty damn mentally fatigued on top of it. I tried the Edinburgh Crisis Centre number, but that went to an answering machine that wanted my number so they could call me back. I don't know my number so that was no good.

I think I then tried the out-of-hours Edinburgh Social Care number but they wouldn't do anything with Michelle's date of birth and home address, which I don't know and she, being paranoid on top of everything else, refused to give them (after a fight to get her to even take the phone from me) and they would do NOTHING, not even recommend another service to me or offer any advice. Epic fail, posh old lady on the other end. Epic. Fail.

I went back to EMHA again, hoping their nurses might have finished with the other crises. This time I got through to a nurse and he was VERY helpful. I had to fight with Michelle again t get her on the phone, but eventually she opened up to the nurse. Unfortunately they could not do much unless she went to see them at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. Well, that set Michelle's paranoia off again. There was no WAY she was going to the Royal because they'd lock her in a room and she was deathly afraid of being alone. This is where she went to get off heroin and they essentially did lock her in a room until her initial withdrawals were over (think the opening credits for House MD, Season 6 Broken, and no a clean cut of it is not on YouTube).

I asked if they could send someone out to talk to her and he said no, but if I called NHS 24, they would. So I called yet another number. This was 10pm. I had been doing this for three hours... but hope of help was on the horizon.

Now remember, every time I spoke to a new person, I first of all had to explain to them what was going on and exactly why I couldn't give them Michelle's exact details. Every. Single. Time. And of course, with each call made I had been transferred at least once. Then I had to fight with Michelle to get her on the phone, which could and did take up to ten minutes. THEN she had to explain herself all over again. Explaining how she felt, and why she felt like that. Many tears were had. No yelling though, I managed to keep her calm enough for there to be no yelling.

There was a very lovely, sympathetic lady who answered the NHS phone, but she was obviously in way over her head and had to keep putting us on hold. Michelle kept her straight though. We kept passing the phone back and forth between us, whenever Michelle could no longer talk I took over and between us we got the message across that help was needed, of the psychiatric variety. Eventually she transferred us to her supervisor who, despite having been told everything by the first lady, wanted to hear it all again!

We persevered though and she finally transferred the call to a doctor... a man I did not enjoy talking to at all. He sounded as though he thought this was all just a couple of idiot girls having hysterics, but hey, he did his job... sort of. After explaining everything AGAIN to him, and how Michelle was becoming less and less responsive and willing to talk as time went on he booked an appointment with, what I thought at the time would be a psychiatric professional.

Now, I was not privy to his side of the details, but was expecting him to talk to me after arranging everything with Michelle. This is what the others (the helpful ones, anyway) had been doing; deferring back to me as I was clearly the sane and mostly coherent one who was in control of the situation (well, more than Michelle, anyway). However, the idiot put the phone down as Michelle dutifully passed it back to me so I couldn't ask him for the appointment details.

I had, however, been following Michelle's side carefully as I kept expecting HER to put the phone down. I got taxi, 11:15, Edinburgh Western General. Of course, Michelle, not realising I had been listening that hard, lied to me as she fell into one of her "I'm fine" moments but I was having none of that.

When the taxi did arrive it took me another half an hour to get her dressed and into the taxi. She kept insisting she wasn't going and that I was not going with her. Well she was and I did. Then it took me ANOTHER half an hour to get her to go inside the hospital. Fortunately, we met a few nice ladies outside who were in for various treatments, having a fag. They had, as they said, been there, done that and SOLD the T-shirt.

They really helped. They calmed Michelle down and persuaded her that no one was going to lock her up and throw away the key. When we did get into the hospital I was informed were there to see a normal GP. This was more of a waiting game and Michelle was a hair's breadth from a panic attack by the time he showed up.

The doctor was very nice, very calm and calming. Unfortunately, he didn't know why we were there. If I EVER find the guy who booked the appointment for us I will head-butt him. Twice. So, we went through the same conversation for the umpteenth time only this time we had the added benefit of Michelle insisting all she needed was more medication.

Of course, she'd recently taken drugs and a lot of alcohol, so the General's psychiatric specialists would not see her until she had sobered up. Michelle could have stayed in A&E, and honestly, if I had had the fortitude and energy to do it, I would have insisted on it and stayed with her.

I didn't and I feel quite guilty about it, but I have other people in my life to consider and I honestly thought the doctor might have put up more of an argument for her to stay in A&E than he did. The General's A&E is rather nice, for an A&E... and I've been quite a few. I think they send all the nasty, late night drunks to the Royal.

Michelle refused to come back to ours, after kicking me out of the GP's office so she could tell him I didn't want her there, which to be quite frank was true; I do NOT want a suicidal alcoholic in a house I share with three other people. My own personal house? I might have been okay with that, but I share and it would not have been fair on the others.

The upshot of all this; Michelle had to find somewhere else to stay. My housemate picked us up and drove ALL OVER Gorgie while Michelle knocked on doors and windows to find a friend who would let her stay. I think it was the fifth person who said she could stay.

Who needs enemies, huh?

At 2:30am I FINALLY got into bed. 6:30pm, to 2:30am I was dealing with someone having an absolute mental meltdown on top of a heroin withdrawal. No, the meltdown was not a symptom of the withdrawal. The heroin overdose was a symptom of the meltdown.

Since then Michelle has not answered my messages and her phone has mostly been off. I don't know if she returned to the hospital or went to get any help. Someone met her in Gorgie on Thursday and she seemed happy enough, but for how long?

So there you have it (with a couple of omissions you don't even want to know about); why even the massive number of excellent services and all the wonderful, helpful people available to talk to in Edinburgh about mental health are worth nothing if one or two lazy incompetents and a few bastard rules can prevent someone getting help.

And why I need another vodka.
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