I looked around the room nervously.
There were people talking but I couldn’t really focus on what they were saying, and the whole place had an oppressive feel to it.
I ran my fingers over the lump of scar tissue on the back of my head as I do when I’m nervous.
it was my first time and I felt the adrenaline was kicking in, but so was the anxiety. And I was battling to keep that all to well known feeling of drowning that seems to come with my anxiety under control.
This was certainly NOT the place to lose it or have an ‘episode’.
I looked around again and saw a number of police officers standing passively, almost disinterested. But the atmosphere in the room was electric.
I tried to suppress the rising feeling of panic and focus on somebody that was talking to me.
“… Cell 2… Constant obs…”
Was that to me? I wasn’t sure.
It was made clear that it was directed at me when I felt a slight jab in the arm and a directional nod of the head from a police officer.
I followed an officer down out of the custody suite and down to the cell block.
The first thing that hits you is the smell. The stench is so invasive and it seems to seep into every pore of your body. It is the smell of sweat, piss, shit and vomit. But it is more than that. It ‘s almost like that fear, desperation and every negative emotion has added to the stench. The odour remains in your smell receptors a long time after you leave. It is such a thick smell, it almost has substance.
This was my first time in a custody block and the smell made me gag, much to the amusement of the police officer I was following.
“You’ll get used to it. I’m sure you will”
I didn’t want to get used to it, but I knew he was right.
We arrived at the open door of cell two. I looked inside, the cell and noticed how small it looked, taking in the mis-spelt graffiti and basic drawings of previous occupants. It was the most depressing place I have ever been in.
My hand went to the scar on the back of my head and I started biting the inside of my cheek. I tried to stop the shakes that were starting in the pit of my stomach. The thought of being kept in such a confined space, with that stench and the noise. My god, the noise.
The other cell occupants were making their presence known. Various shouts and comments, screams and sobbing.
I just wanted out, but I knew that there was no way out for me. Not today.
I looked at the police officer and tried to sound more confidant that I felt “How long do I have to be here for…?”
The response I got was NOT what I was expecting.
“Until someone says you can go…”
It was at that moment that I started to regret some of the decisions and choices I had made that had led me to this point. Had I made a mistake? I wasn’t meant to be here, I’d never survive…
I tried to ignore the voice in my head telling me to run and it took all my will power to calm my nerves.
“So… erm… what do I do?”
The police officer looked at me and laughed.
“First time? Ha! Just sit there and you’ll work it out”
I took the seat and sat, staring at the cell door. The officer walked away, telling me to call if I needed anything.
“what if I need to loo?”
“Just shout… someone will come. Eventually”
And that was that.
I sat and stared at the open cell door. I felt so desperate and low that I wanted to cry. But I couldn’t. No way could I show ANY weakness. Not now. Not here.
I tried to focus on getting through the time, but as boredom began to set in, I began to reflect on my life, and how I ended up here. I had done well at school, I was married, I had a child and i wanted the best for my young family. I had worked in a few dead-end jobs, mostly warehouse work, and ended up as a lorry driver. A simple life.
I had suffered and dealt with my depressive episodes, but I always tried to bury it, and pretend it was never happening.
So what was I doing sat in a stinking hell hole?
It came with the territory and the job.
This was my first time in a cell block as a ‘fresh from the wrapper‘ police officer. I had, of course been in a cell block before, but that was with a tutor constable who was there as a safety net. But this time, I was solo, and as the new officer in the response team, I got all the shitty jobs.
I was on constant obs duty, which basically involves sitting or standing opposite an open cell door and, like the name suggested, observing the cells occupant. Constantly. Usually, this was used if concern was raised about the welfare of the customer. The customer that I was observing was a young male who had been brought in for some minor offense and it was felt by the custody skipper that he needed watching as it was thought that he may try to harm himself, such was his demeanor on arrival.
And so here I was. First time alone as an independent officer, with no instructor or tutor to back me up. This was real life.
The police have a rather negative image when it comes to dealing with vulnerable people and mental health in general. Phrases like ‘heavy handed’, ‘lack of understanding’, ‘uncaring’ and worse have been said of the way that police deal with vulnerable and mentally ill people. But the police see the best and the worst in people and they deal with all kinds of social detritus. I can personally say that I was seriously assaulted a number of times, and I’m not counting the times I was spat at, puked on, had things said about my wife, threats against my children… But, again, it came with the territory.
But what about a mentally ill police officer? How about that? How would they cope?
Quite well, really.
The common misconception is that the police are bully boys, or people who need the power of authority as they lack in other departments. I can honestly say that this was not true. For the most part…
Some officers still believe that they can make a change, and they truly believe that they’re there to serve the public. It’s a hard job, but can be very rewarding. There’s no job like it. So what on earth made me apply to be a police officer? I personally felt that I could help others, people who have suffered the abuse that I had. Sounds corny, but there were times that more than made up for the abuse by drunken yobs on a Saturday night, or agitators at a ‘peaceful protest’ who seem determined to get through my riot shield and stick my head on a platter (trust me, it really can seem that way).
I’m talking about the times when you feel you helped, made a difference. Times like one night on a bridge with the suicidal man. Times like when you’re focused on stopping the bleeding of someone until the paramedics can take over.
There were times when I faltered, of course there were. There were times when I wondered what the hell i was doing. But, it was a case of training kicking in and taking over, and that helped me focus and concentrate on the job in hand. Sometimes, it could even work to my advantage as I could block things out. Sometimes… I once got a commendation too, so I must have done something right.
So, you may be thinking that this post is just a ‘POLICE ARE GREAT’ or a ‘HEY LOOK AT ME!! SEE WHAT I DID!!’ post, but it isn’t. I understand that some people have very valid reasons for disliking the police, and I can appreciate that.
No, what I wanted to show is that people can do whatever they want in life DESPITE mental illness. Mental illness has many faces, just like the many sufferers. Behind every illness is a person. And sometimes that is what some people can’t understand. They see the illness. It’s like someone who is missing an arm, or a leg. People see that there’s a missing limb and not the person. They don’t see the determination, the strength of personality and mind.
And it is the same with mental health. Some see us sufferers as weak minded, or vulnerable, or even that we’re faking it and should just ‘pull ourselves together’ or ‘snap out of it’. This is why there is still a stigma attached to mental illness. Various organizations such as Black Dog Tribe, Time-To_Change and Mind are trying to bring that stigma down, but there’s a long way to go yet.
But, as you can see, those of us can achieve anything we set our minds to. There have been many famous, successful and intelligent people who have suffered with mental illness : Sir Winston Churchill, Ruby Wax, Jim Carey, Catherine Zeta-Jones, the list is long and distinguished.
The thing is, a lot of people hide their mental illness. I did for years. i hid behind the uniform, and just denied that I had depression. I suppressed it and squashed it down so much that it was inevitable that one day it would explode back out. And it did so in style in 2011.
I manage from day-to-day, week to week, and I have learned to manage without medication as I found the medication made me a zombie. Yes, I have bad times, and I have VERY bad times, but also I have very good times too. And I’m sure, dear reader, that you do too. I have said that my illness defines me, but there is more to me than just mental illness.
I’m a friend, a lover, a father a partner, a worker. Just an average guy really. An average guy with more than his fair share of mental health issues.
But hey, you can’t have it all.