Safety net, leg up

A few years ago, on a number of occasions, suddenly people who I didn’t even know stood up to help me at times of personal crisis. To date I don’t know what I’d done without them, I truly feel they were life savers.

These good Samaritans, as I like to call them, taught me important life lessons too; it wasn’t that they taught me to give to others, because I knew how to do that and I did, it was that they managed to show me how to give to others without compromising on themselves and in ways that don’t fully provide for others but – better still – provided a safety net and a leg up, no more than that.

The best way for me to pay people back is to pay this forward by offering others a safety net and a leg up as and when I can. It’s a no-brainer I wish I’d figured out sooner.

At age 38 I’ve also – finally! – learned that I cannot solve other people’s problems nor make miracles happen. One of my landlord’s tenants – let’s call him Ahmed (not his actual name) – has severe issues with alcohol and drugs. (Note: my landlord is one of the people who I consider one of my life savers.) I cannot solve his issues or take away his demons but I do appear to be one of very few people who can at least on many occasions calm him down to a point where he doesn’t pose a nuisance or threat to others – such as the other tenants/neighbours – or to himself. But I also accept that I can only be there to help him if and when he reaches out for it because he wants to be helped. And I can provide support in a way that doesn’t compromise me or anyone else.

For anyone reading this who has little or no experience with addiction: think of the nicest, most personable person you know, and trust me when I tell you that if he or she were to fall victim to addiction to any mind-altering substance(s) (such as alcohol or drugs), he or she will turn into an a-hole. Apologies for the expletive but there is no friendlier way of saying it. Substance abuse turns the greatest human beings into a-holes, period.

Ahmed was forced to go cold turkey a while ago, when his welfare benefits were stopped. The landlord showed leniency allowing him to fall behind on his rent, we paid his utilities and got him food until we got him registered with the food bank. He had no means of inebriating himself. It made him very sick for a while but he got medical attention when needed, and then, for a moment, clean, sober and personal Ahmed returned.

It didn’t last. As soon as his state welfare benefits were restored a couple of weeks ago, he went back on the binge and back to being the a-hole addict. It is bordering on impossible to get someone in his situation the appropriate mental health care; people like Ahmed tend to become nuisance neighbours and recurring problems for police and emergency services to deal with.

They will get inebriated to the point where they cause problems, to say the least, get picked up by police or ambulance, taken to a police cell or hospital ward and less than 24 hours later, when they’ve sobered up, they are labelled “no longer a threat to themselves or others”, and they’re out on the street again until they get inebriated again, give cause to get picked up again, and so on and so forth.

I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for the cops and EMTs out here to attend the same locations, the same people again and again because there is no appropriate follow-up to their work, but forget about the UK headlines of late about lying or otherwise dodgy officers, your everyday frontline street cops and paramedics do a [bleep]ing phenomenal job that I can not speak highly enough of. Seriously, I wish there were two IPCCs rather than one: besides the Independent Police Complaints Commission there should be something like an Independent Police Compliments/Commendations Commission. The same goes for ambulance personnel and other emergency services. “We the people” should really do more to get these people the recognition they deserve, because right now I don’t think they’re getting that.

Back now to Ahmed. Yesterday he hit rock bottom and phoned 999, stating he had a knife and threatening to kill himself with it. Out came the emergency ‘cavalry’ of police, rapid response units and ambulance, full well knowing that he might pose a danger to them as much as himself, but turning up and stepping in regardless.

He was taken to hospital, his home was made safe. When later on he managed to slip out of hospital again, he was searched for and found, and returned to the hospital. He called me late at night asking for me to come and pick him up. I convinced him to stay.

Some time after midnight the hospital phoned me asking me to come and pick him up to take him home. He had been medically examined and had had his psychological evaluation (colloquial: psych eval), and they had no medical grounds to keep him in the hospital. Thankfully I managed to convince them to at least keep him in the ward for the night, promising to come and pick him up this morning.

When I arrived this morning all that was left for me to collect were some of Ahmed’s belongings. Ahmed himself had already disappeared again. Hospital staff helped me search for him but we failed. There is only so much we can do.

As hard and cold as this may appear, all we can do now is to wait and see if and when he turns up again, which he will, sooner or later, and by then he will probably be under the influence of mind-altering substances. The cycle will repeat itself until he is truly ready to surrender himself, because there is no way for me or anyone else to get him sectioned under the Mental Health Act or otherwise detained for his own safety and recovery.

It’s not a situation I am particularly happy with, and I would love to see the system changed, but for now I am at peace with the idea that there is nothing more I or anyone else can do right now. I don’t feel bad, stressed or guilty about that anymore. I’ll reach out again as and when I have to, and I know others will, too. Safety net, leg up, remember?

Naturally I will write to ministers and MPs and find other ways to contact whichever powers that be to urge changes to (mental) health services and procedures to stop these repeat cycles that Ahmed and many other people currently move around in, because the current system clearly isn’t helping anyone and burdening many. Perhaps this blog post is a start.