Pancake day was the day Claire was sectioned. Call it divine intervention, call it a lack of beds, she was back at home in time for Easter.
I can’t imagine what the period in between was like for her. I have an insight into what it was like for her husband and their children. And I know what it was like for me – hovering on the edge of events as they unfolded.
This is my tale.
On pancake day, Dan called from work. Could I pop over to theirs? He was regretting ever heading out. Something wasn’t quite right. Nothing he could put his finger on. Not the usual signs, but still, could I see what I thought and maybe help get the kids to school? He just needed a second opinion.
My first text to him advised I thought Claire was just a bit pissed off, as would I be if she had rocked up to mine 30 minutes before the school run with only a vague reason and three extra kids. No need to worry.
On the school run, after she acted mildly agitated – re-checking book bags, re-doing hair – I got back to Dan. My text reads, “I think it’s worth calling the GP, but I think it’ll be OK [kissy face emoji]”
We safely delivered the oblivious kids, and things quickly became more concerning: questions being answered a minute or so after I originally asked them; a trip to the shops to look at the newspapers as it was important that ‘things were checked’.
Dan met us. We agreed I would go to work, and he would call the doctor. If the GP could come, we confidently felt a crisis could be averted. Of course, the GP never came.
About 1.30pm Claire ran away. A friend of mine later asked why 6ft plus Dan couldn’t have just stopped 5ft nothing Claire. When, a little down this page, I detail what it did take to get Claire to safety, you will understand why I politely told my friend to fuck off.
Dan called the police who were remarkable in accepting his description of past episodes (important medical records have been lost). They promised to help but, resources being what they are, they would have to wait until a change of shift.
While Dan was on the phone to the police, he texted me and I called the school. Confident this was a safeguarding issue, the Head calmly and professionally suggested all six of our children be collected by me before 3pm to avoid a potentially upsetting confrontation with Mum. She was a rock.
After running out of my new job, running to the primary school, and running them all home to mine I drew the curtains, turned the music up high, and began immersing six children in pancake making. I did all I could to ensure a mother who I love could not find her children, and to ensure those same children did not think about their Mum. I realise it was hardly having the worst of it that day but, just for the record, it was quite possibly the most soul-destroying two hours of my life.
It took me a week to physically recover from that moment (headaches, nausea, shaking hands). Imagine what it’s going to take for people closer to Claire than I am. Imagine what it’s going to take for Claire.
By this stage Claire had lost all sense of time. She was spared the gaze of the 3pm school run. She arrived to collect the children at 4.
The school called immediately they saw her, and were a little surprised when I said we wouldn’t come to collect Claire but instead insisted that they call the police. Ten minutes later they called back to say the police were there and that they now understood the need to call 999. Our calm, professional Head sounded emotional and shaken.
As the police arrived at the school, so did Dan (who had been walking the streets since 1.30 looking for his wife), and my husband (who had also abandoned work in order to help). Another 5 minutes later the back up police car came, followed shortly after that by the police van. The police were amazing. But even with their compassion, common sense, and strength of numbers it still took over 15 minutes to get Claire to safety (I repeat, friend, ‘fuck off’).
It took a long while for the ambulance to come. It took a longer while to find Claire a bed in a suitable unit. She was eventually placed somewhere 50 minutes away from her home. Fortunately, the car park was free and parents were able to chip in towards petrol, so Dan could afford to visit frequently whilst not worrying about money. Money is envisaged to be a bigger worry than ever, now that he has had to take nearly two months off work.
And then Claire entered a facility, and we entered the woefully inadequate mental health provision that serves the UK.
Dan kept a log of who phoned him with updates. He stopped writing down names after the tenth one.
He tried to keep a record of their advice, their approach, their short-term plans for caring for Claire. He stopped doing this when conversations changed and contradicted themselves so many times, he could no longer make sense of what he had written down.
On the 18th April there was due to be a meeting with Claire, the family, the doctor, and a nurse to discuss transitioning a return home. On the 11th April, Claire was moved to a facility nearer where she lives. Things were looking up.
Out of the blue, on the 12th April, Claire phoned Dan to tell him she was to be discharged and that he was to collect her. Dubious given recent events, Dan called the hospital to verify that this was the case. It was.
He brought her home without having any access to notes, the promised meeting, or even so much as a fridge magnet with a checklist of things to look out for.
He awaited the home visit scheduled for the 13th April. Someone popped in. They were lovely, chatty, ‘busy’ and apologetic that they couldn’t stay long enough to conduct the meeting. They promised someone would be over later this week.
Meanwhile, we are left not knowing the best way to help Claire, no idea of the short, medium or long-term strategy. We have read from the excellent Mind resource that in order to manage her condition she ought to receive medication, talking therapy, physical exercise and – ideally – a creative outlet. We don’t know if her condition makes her either willing or able to do any of these things.
We assume a mother wouldn’t be sent home to her children unless she could resume full parental responsibility. No professional has said otherwise. Still, those closest to Claire don’t think she seems quite herself yet so Dan is taking a further six weeks off work, just to be sure – well, as sure as anyone can be with no medical training and no reliable channel of support and communication.
We *think* she will now go back to having her medication provided for free.
We *think* she will have some reprieve from the stress of having to find paid employment – there should now be a small (ever decreasing) pot of benefits available to her.
But we don’t know much more.
I don’t even know that it is my place to tell this story – I strongly suspect it is not. But I’m emboldened by Prince Harry, Heads Together and Bryony Gordon’s Mad World podcast series. Apologies if I am speaking out of turn, but I want to play my small part in removing the stigma around mental illness.
Maybe when words start flowing, cohesive actions will follow – I hope that now you have read my tale, you don’t begrudge me for trying anything I can in order to achieve that.