Adventures in Mental Illness: Part 5

I wasn’t just going to the mental hospital, I was going to the back ward of the mental hospital. It was decided that my behavior would be too upsetting to the other mental patients so I was placed in solitary confinement. If I though the stabilization house was bad, this was much worse. At least in stabilization I could talk to the staff and the other residents who were there with me. At least there were occasional scrabble games and walks outside. Here there was nothing. I was confined in one room all day and the only times anyone at the mental hospital interacted with me was when they gave me my meals.

Suffice it to say, I was completely and utterly miserable. If only I was as crazy as everyone thought I was. Actual psychosis would have been almost welcome at this point. I would have given anything to escape the horrifying reality of being all alone in the back ward of a mental hospital.I felt as though I had hit rock bottom and would never be able to recover. I had been deemed unfit to fraternize with other mental patients. It didn’t seem like there was any hope for someone like that.

When I talked to my mother on the phone she told me I had been kicked out of Innercept because they had decided my behavior was too upsetting to the other residents. She had been looking around for another mental health facility to put me in and had tried to get me in to McLean mental hospital. I was familiar with McLean because I had read/seen Girl Interrupted (If only real life mental illness were as glamorous as Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie made it seem.) McLean wouldn’t take me though. They said they had no place to put me. My behavior meant that I could not be put in the main ward with the general population but they couldn’t put me in the ward for the psychotic patients either because my reality testing was perfect.

“I want to die!” I cried in to the phone.

“No, honey bunny, you don’t want to die. You want to get better.”

“I can’t get better. I  want to be euthanized!”

Euthanasia did seem pretty appealing at that point. If only that guy who brought me my trays of food would also bring me a syringe that would put me to sleep forever. If only he could inject it in to my arm so that I could be enveloped by a blissful fog that would permanently release me from my physical and emotional prisons, from this hell on earth, from this world of intense, unrelenting psychological suffering.

One of the worst feelings I’ve ever experienced, one of the worst feelings in the world, the kind of feeling I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy was that feeling I got every morning when I woke up in the back ward of that mental hospital. It was a feeling of horror, a feeling of unreality as I had to acknowledge over and over again that this was not all a bad dream. This was my truth, this was my life, this was what I had done to myself.

Eventually my mom called me to tell me that she was flying down to Idaho to get me. She had been told that if she brought me to an emergency room in New York she could probably get me admitted to a psychiatric hospital called Payne-Whitney.

Before my mother arrived at the mental hospital Marlene came to pay me a visit. The first thing she said to me was “So, you’re in the back ward of a mental hospital…” The last thing she said to me was “So, when I call your mom a year from now is she going to tell me you’ve been permanently locked up in a mental hospital?” I got the impression Marlene wouldn’t be all that surprised or devastated if that ended up being the case.

When my mother arrived at the mental hospital Marlene informed her that Innercept would be sending her a bill for the mattress I’d destroyed with my vomiting and diarrhea. And with that I was off on the next leg of my adventures in mental illness.

An Abbreviated Biography of Michael Sterling

Michael Sterling was born on February 15, 1987 in Princeton, New Jersey. He was born a month early but no one believed it because he was such a big baby. He was also not the most attractive baby. His father said he had a face only a mother could love and was embarrassed to admit to others that Michael was his baby. His uncle compared him to Jabba the Hut.

His 18-month-old sister Kira was at first angry that her mother had left her behind at home to give birth to Michael in the hospital but once she saw him she was delighted to have a baby brother. The first thing she wanted to do was wash his hair. She dashed in to the bathroom and grabbed the shampoo (if only she was as enthusiastic about washing her own hair.)  Shortly after Michael’s birth Kira was given a baby doll as a gift. She named it Baby Michael.

It turned out the big baby Michael’s mother had given birth to had a big appetite. When his mother went grocery shopping she’d end up with two carts-one cart of food for herself, Michael’s father and Kira, another cart for the massive quantities of baby food Michael consumed.

Fortunately as Michael grew older his looks improved and he became rather cute. He had little curls at the end of his hair that strangers were charmed by. Unfortunately they often mistook him for a girl. Even when he was wearing a shirt that said “College Boy” they’d exclaim “What a cute little girl!” Still, it pained his mother to have to cut those curls.

Michael experienced a few scares early in his life. When he was six months old he came down with a bad and persistent case of diarrhea. When Kira heard that their mother was taking a fecal sample of his to the hospital, she thought this was the funniest thing ever. “You’re taking Michael’s caca to the hospital !” she exclaimed. She had a vision in her head of his poop sitting in a diaper on a hospital bed with a thermometer sticking out of it. When Michael was nine months old he came down with croup cough and had to spend a week in the hospital in an oxygen tent. His mother showed what a dedicated parent she was by sleeping in the oxygen tent with him. His mother again proved the depths of her devotion when she put aside her intense arachnophobia to squash a giant spider that was crawling on his leg with her bare hand. When Michael was about 18 months old she made a dangerous mistake that is one of every parent’s worst nightmares. She’d left Michael in the car in the driveway to go in to the house to grab something. When she looked out the window she saw to her horror that the car was sliding down the driveway with Michael in it. Realizing she’d neglected to put the car in park, she dashed down the stairs at superhuman speeds, ran in to the driveway, stopped the car and rescued her son.

Although Kira loved her baby brother, she did experience some jealousy over him and like all siblings, they had their issues with each other. When Michael was learning to walk, his uncle (who Kira dubbed Mr. Crissy) noticed that when no one was looking, Kira would push Michael over so that he fell on the floor. Still, Kira was ready to defend her brother when she felt he was being unfairly attacked by other people. He had a tendency to scream whenever his mother left his sight. On a family vacation to the beach Mr. Crissy was left alone in the car with Kira and Michael. Michael screamed his head off. When Mr. Crissy had had enough he turned to Michael and said “Why don’t you just shut up?, at which point Kira turned to Mr. Crissy and said “Why don’t you just shut up?’

Despite his early trauma, Michael grew in to a sweet and charming child. He was known to spontaneously start singing “Skinnamarinky dinky dink. Skinnamarinky do, I love you!” and to dance with his mommy. One night when his mother walked in to his room, Michael pointed out the window and exclaimed “Mommy, I hear moles!”On weekends Michael would cook with his mother and make her breakfast in bed. On one Easter Michael presented his parents with the gift of a diorama of the house they lived in. He made it out of a box. It featured all the rooms in the house, a staircase, various pieces of furniture, all the family members including the cat and the Easter bunny.

There were, however, times when Michael would get upset, lose his temper and become irritable. When he was two years old he and Kira were arguing over a stuffed rabbit. In the end Michael stormed in to Kira’s room, threw the stuffed animal at her and yelled “Here’s your fucking bunny!” (With his r’s mispronounced. He and Kira both struggled to pronounce their r’s as children. Mr. Crissy liked to tease them by asking them to say “Park the car in Harvard yard”, which would come out “Pahk the cah in Havahd  Yahd.”

On one of Mr. Crissy’s visits he was eating popcorn in the living room with his sister and the kids when Michael became upset that his uncle was grabbing fistfuls of popcorn rather than taking one kernel at a time. “One at a time!” he instructed his uncle but Mr. Crissy informed him that he did not need to eat his popcorn that way and continued to eat it by the handful. At that point Michael burst in to tears and stormed up to his bedroom.

The trauma Mr. Crissy put Michael through with the popcorn was nothing compared to the trauma he put him through a few years later when he called the family in to the living room and said “Kira, Michael, some things are not as they appear.” He then pulled off his hair, revealing a bald head. And Michael’s world turned upside down. “Put it back on!” he shrieked as the dog snatched the wig and ran off with it. (Kira was surprised too but she thought back to the time when she’d been riding around on Mr. Crissy’s shoulders and had said “What’s that on your head?”  “Kira, do you want to get ice cream?” Mr. Crissy had replied. “Yes, but what’s that on your head?” Kira had answered back. It all made sense now.)

Then there was the time Kira and Michael opened the Christmas presents that had been given to them by their neighbor. Kira received a puzzle and Michael received a pink tea set. He was quite happy with his pink tea set but his mother had to ruin it by conforming to gender stereotypes. She informed her kids that the neighbor must have mixed up the tags on the gifts; the puzzle was for Michael and the tea set was for Kira. Michael was devastated at having the pink tea set taken away from him. He started sobbing and stormed up to his bedroom. There’s nothing wrong with a boy indulging in his feminine side. Michael loved to walk around the house in his mother’s high heels.

When people behaved in ways that displeased Michael he would say to them “You’re nasty!” When Michael behaved in ways that displeased Kira she would say “I want to chop you up in to a million pieces!” One time Kira made Michael so angry that he hit her. Kira initially just gave her standard response of informing Michael of her desire to chop him in to a million pieces but a few minutes later she realized she’d missed out on an opportunity to get her brother in trouble so she started screaming. Alarmed, her mother ran to her and asked what was the matter, at which point Kira informed her mother that Michael had hurt her.

As Kira grew older, she came up with new and creative ways of torturing her brother. When he was sleeping she painted his nails with purple nail polish, set her rabbit Scarlett O’Hare loose in his room to poop everywhere and put a sign on his door that said “Girls’ Bathroom.” One April Fools Day morning while Michael was cooking eggs on the stove, Kira dashed in to the kitchen and poured fish food on his breakfast. “April Fools!” she exclaimed. “How is that even a joke? That’s just mean” Michael replied.

There were times when Kira wasn’t intentionally mean to Michael but did things that were rather careless and inconsiderate. She had a habit of using his toothbrush. “Kira used my toothbrush again”he would say in a resigned manner as he knocked on his mother’s door and requested a new one.

Sometimes Kira didn’t cause Michael’s misfortune but she was happy to laugh at it. That time he got locked in the bathroom at the pizzeria was one of the funniest moments of her life. Then there was his ill fated piano recital. When he was about seven years old he requested piano lessons. His first year of lessons went well but in his second year he got lazy about practicing. His mother implored him to practice for his end of the year recital but he assured her he didn’t need to. That decision ended up biting him in the butt.

In the middle of his performance he messed up.After he found his place he messed up again. He then slapped his forehead and said “Doh!” in a manner reminiscent of Homer Simpson. This was met mostly by silence from the audience. Mostly. Amidst the silence Michael could hear a piercing, uproarious laugh. It was coming from his sister. That was the end of his career as a pianist.

Kira was a kid who struggled with social skills, fine motor skills, self care skills and various other skills. She was a kid who frequently flapped, paced, jumped and waved weeds in front of her face. Their babysitters remarked that it seemed like Michael was the older child and that Kira couldn’t seem to do anything right (when Michael told Kira that he’d overheard a babysitter saying that he was more with the flow than she was and asked Kira what that meant, she feigned ignorance about the meaning of the term.) All of this would have given Michael ample opportunity to be cruel to Kira and considering the things she did to him, you couldn’t have blamed him for it but to his credit he mostly didn’t go there. The worst he did was make fun of her tendency to get lost in her thoughts that she occasionally randomly vocalized. Once she was jumping around the house in front of Michael, thinking about the girls in her first grade class when she blurted out “Megan”. Michael was greatly amused by this and to this day Kira has not lived it down.

There were times when Michael appreciated Kira’s company and got along well with her though. They liked to engage in imaginative play together and they came up with some pretty great ideas. They would pretend to be birds. Michael was Bradley Bird and Kira was Sister Bird. Michael would cover himself in a blue blanket to simulate a robin’s egg and Kira would sit on top of it to keep it warm because that was her responsibility when Mother Bird left the nest to hunt for worms. She also gave her bird brother flying lessons by jumping off of the top of his bunk bed and instructing him to follow her lead.

There was a game in which Michael was a mad scientist called Professor Nerdklutz and Kira was his assistant, Myra Nerdklutz. There was another game in which Kira had a McDonalds-like restaurant called McCubes and Michael had a fancy restaurant called The Oakes. They competed for business. They also liked to make up words. Some of the words they made up were machub, machoo, mookie and doma.  They still argue over which one of them gets credit for inventing doma. Michael claims that he first came up with it when they were in the bathtub and he decided he was going to market a brand of Doma soap. Kira claims she had already invented the word at that point and Michael just appropriated it for his soap. Kira and Michael never came up with any precise definitions of the words they invented but the defense of marriage act was certainly not what they had in mind with doma.

Their parents were amused by their imaginative play. They especially liked the Nerdklutz skits they would put on for them. They also enjoyed  it when Kira dressed up as their mother and Michael dressed up as their father. The cat, Demian, did not appreciate their play so much. He especially disliked the game they played called Sandy Claws. That involved stuffing him in to a pillow case and dropping him off of Michael’s top bunk bed as if he was Santa Claus coming down the chimney. He was also not a fan of “The Walkie Talkie”which involved Michael holding him by his front legs in an attempt to get him to walk upright or The Siren, which involved Michael swinging him around by his front legs and was named for the sound he emitted, which resembled a siren. It’s probably also safe to say that Demian did not enjoy it when Michael would sit on top of him and hit him with meat cleavers. It’s amazing that Demian lived to be 21.

Please don’t think that Michael was a sadistic animal torturer. His pet earthworms did shrivel up and die because he didn’t feed them or give them water but since they required darkness it was easy to forget about them in the back of his closet. He did appear to lose his class hermit crab when he brought it home but his teacher discovered that it was just hiding under the sand in its cage. Michael did like to go fishing at the pond and this displeased a passerby who called him a murderer but Michael did have the right to exercise the privileges being at the top of the food chain afforded him.

Michael did request pet chickens despite the fact that he lived in an urban environment. This led to chickens being kept under a trampoline while Michael and Kira jumped on top of them, put in to hampers in the closet at night when their crowing bothered the neighbors and being slaughtered by hawks when the wire around the trampoline failed to protect them but ultimately it was Michael’s father, not Michael who was responsible for the fate of those chickens.

Besides, Michael has atoned for his sins against animals. He once rowed his inflatable raft across the pond to free a bird that had its leg caught on a string. Speaking of ponds and animals, Michael claims to have seen an alligator in that pond. That pond that is located in New Jersey. His family members are suspicious of his claim.

Michael has also shown great kindness to dogs. He has taken great care of his own dogs and volunteered with shelter dogs. He has advocated tirelessly for a dog’s right to sufficient exercise and repeatedly insisted to his family that an hour of walking a day just isn’t going to cut it. Some might say he’s a dog exercise Nazi. No one is more loved by dogs than Michael is. It is clear that the current family dog, Lily, considers Michael to be the love of her life. When he comes home to visit she is ecstatic and wants to spend every waking moment as close to him as possible. When he goes to the bathroom she sits by the door and whines. When he leaves the house she jumps on his bed to bask in the scent of her beloved. She’ll choose being with him over going on walks and getting treats. One time when his mother and Kira were taking Lily for a walk, Michael pulled up by the curb. Lily jumped through the car window to get to him, leaving Kira and her mother to take a walk sans dog.

In addition to being a good friend to man’s best friend, Michael has had some good human friends. When he was in preschool he had a friend named Newman. One day while Newman and Michael  were playing in the yard they came across a broken robin’s egg. “Can your babysitter fix it?” Newman asked. “Of course she can’t fix it, you dummy!” Michael was thinking in his head but since he’s a good friend he just said “No, I don’t think so” ( Speaking of eggs, Michael felt that his fifth grade teacher resembled an egg. “Don’t be silly, it’s not possible for a person to look like an egg”his mother told him but after attending  back to school night, she was forced to admit that his teacher actually was rather egg-like.) Michael’s other friends included a child genius and a boy who went on to become a rich and famous professional basketball player. Michael did sometimes feel lost in the shadow of his NBA player friend but then someone helpfully informed him that he didn’t have to be tall to be looked up to. Unfortunately this basketball playing friend’s career ended after he injured his knee while bowling with Michael but Michael can hardly be blamed for that.

It’s also unfortunate that Michael had some friends who were a bad influence on him. When Michael was in elementary school he had a friend named Nathan who had a little brother named Sam. Sam threw a rock at Michael’s head and laughed about it. Apparently that family had a penchant for the inappropriate throwing of objects because one day when Michael and Nathan were playing in Michael’s yard, they had the brilliant idea to throw pears from the pear tree at passing vehicles. That ended about as well as you would expect it to. Eventually they messed with the wrong guy and that guy knocked on Michael’s door to inform Michael’s babysitter that he did not appreciate having fruit hurled at his car. Michael’s babysitter asked him if he had mush for brains. Michael’s moment of mush brain-ness ended up costing him the privilege of watching the world series that year but all things considered, it could have been so much worse. Michael ran in to Nathan many years later as an adult while Nathan was on his way to perform community service. Something told Michael that Nathan was not performing this community service out of the goodness of his heart.

Then there was the time Michael and his friend Steve were messing around at the gym and incurred property damages for breaking a wall. Do not ask me me how one manages to break a wall. There was also the time Michael and his friends had an idea that rivaled the pear throwing in its sheer brilliance. They decided to jump off the roof on to the trampoline. It actually wasn’t the jumping off the roof that resulted in injury though.  Michael’s friend Jack ended up breaking his leg just doing regular old jumping on the trampoline from the trampoline jumping. Unfortunately for Jack the paramedics that arrived on the scene were not too sympathetic too him as he cried out in pain. They told him to think of the soldiers in Iraq. (Although Michael had seen firsthand the dangers of trampolines and although trampolines are often thought of as being exclusively for children, when Kira expressed a desire for a trampoline as an adult, he realized it was important to her and was instrumental in the purchasing and setting up of the trampoline.)

It wasn’t just Michael’s friends who were a bad influence on him. His family could be a bad influence as well. When he was about 8 years old, his father decided to take Michael driving around the parking lot on his lap. A cop showed up to inform them that 8-year-olds are not legally allowed to drive. His father did refrain from allowing his underage son to drive after that but he and Michael had to learn the hard way that regardless of one’s age, one should not travel with an expired passport. Poor Michael was detained at the airport but all’s well that ends well.

Although his father has made some bad decisions, he’s also had some wise words of advice that Michael should have listened to. While they walked by a certain plant on a family hike, his father told him to watch out for the poison ivy. Michael insisted it wasn’t poison ivy and Kira agreed with him. She decided to prove to her father that the plant wasn’t poison ivy by rubbing it on her arm. Michael decided to one up her by rubbing it on both of his arms and his face. It turns out that plant was poison ivy. The next day Michael’s red, itchy, inflamed face and his oozing, swollen shut eye proved pretty clearly that his father had been right.

Despite all of this, Michael was actually a really good kid. His honorary godmother referred to him as an upstanding citizen. He was also a talented kid. In first grade he was so good at checkers he was dubbed checker king. In the class play his performance as the shark drew him great accolades. He excelled at soccer, wrestling and lacrosse (He was fond of saying to Kira “Don’t mess with me, I play lacrosse!” ) Although Michael’s piano playing didn’t work out and he would never gain admission to Julliard, he did teach himself to play the guitar.

Michael was also intelligent, clever and witty. One time his babysitter told him to do his homework and Michael told her to do her homework. She replied that she did not have any homework because she had graduated from college. Michael said that he had also graduated from college. “Oh yeah? What did you get your degree in?” the babysitter asked. Without missing a beat Michael replied “An envelope.”

When Michael was on his way to actually getting a degree in an envelope, Kira kept asking him the majors of all his friends. Michael turned to her and said “I think your major should be majors.” Michael majored in Immunology and Infectious Diseases. Although he initially scoffed at his mother’s suggestion that he become a doctor, when he graduated college he decided he wanted to attend medical school. After taking a year off to do research in Texas, he gained admission to a medical school in New Jersey. A few years later he officially became a doctor. His residency once again brought him to Texas. Although Michael wishes being a doctor involved more time with patients and less time in front of the computer, he nevertheless works tirelessly to perform his doctorly duties and honor the Hippocratic oath. When people ask Michael what area of medicine he will be specializing in he informs them that he will not be specializing in anything because he think he’s spent enough time in training and in school, thank you very much. He’s looking forward to being a general practitioner, which will afford him the schedule of a week of grueling, back breaking work followed by a week off.

These days when Michael talks to his mother he tends to be a man of few words. Although she misses the days when he would utter more than three syllables at a time to her and would spontaneously burst in to love songs, she is very proud of all of Michael’s accomplishments and of the man he has become. Although politics and the amount of exercise a dog requires are sore spots between them, Michael is still her sweetums and she loves him very much.

Michael does wish his father was less prone to catastrophizing these days. It would be nice if he hadn’t framed Michael’s decision to take a year off from medical school to do research as him having a mental breakdown. It would also be nice if the portrait his father painted of Michael’s future didn’t involve Michael being left destitute as he was crushed under the weight of medical school debts he would never be able to pay off but Michael really did appreciate his father paying off a significant portion of those debts. Michael does wish his father wasn’t so attached to old rotting food and they once had an epic battle over whether or not to throw out an old pancake but Michael does have to admit that vacuuming up all the fruit flies that are drawn to his father’s rotting food is pretty fun. Michael’s father and most of the rest of his family do wish Michael would insist on going by his full birth name rather than allow himself to be called Mike, which hardly befits a doctor but a Michael by any other name would smell as sweet. Michael and his father have traveled the world together and if Michael can ever get enough time off work hopefully they will do more of that since Michael has drifted apart from the rich basketball player friend who was financing his other world trips.

Michael has now gotten used to Mr. Crissy’s bald head and has decided it’s okay to eat popcorn by the handful. Michael actually eats a lot of food by the handful these days and has gained a considerable amount of weight but he stays in shape by working out at the gym (and he doesn’t break any walls there.) He and Mr. Crissy have bonded over target shooting and they tend to support each other in family feuds.

As for Michael’s relationship with Kira, that’s much the same as it ever was. Michael is still much more with the flow than Kira is but he does not rub it in her face. They still have their fun and their adventures together as well as their squabbles and disagreements.  There was the time they could not find the perfect gift for their mother at their local Barnes & Noble so they drove over an hour to another Barnes & Noble only to find out that it wasn’t a Barnes & Noble, it was a Barnes & Noble warehouse. There was the time they went to a McDonalds drive through for a midnight snack and Kira managed to make Michael the MD look stupid in front of a fast food worker. Kira wanted a milkshake but the lady working the drive through said sorry, their machine was broken. Michael then asked for ice cream and the lady said sorry, they didn’t have that either. When he asked for a frappe, she became exasperated and said “It all comes from the same machine.” Then Michael realized he’d been mispronouncing ‘frappe.’

Politics is a real bone of contention between the two of them but at their latest family gathering Michael decided to add some humor to the situation by telling Kira he would give her fifty dollars if she called a certain Trump supporting family member a deplorable. Kira decided she would say “Excuse me, can you please pass me that basket of deplorables?-oh, I’m sorry, I meant bread” but they both knew it would be best not to follow through with that plan.

Kira has rejoiced in Michael’s accomplishments and good fortunes. She has commiserated with him on some of his misfortunes but of course she can’t help but laugh at some of them. She continues to embarrass him in many of the old ways and in new ways. She posts old pictures of him in his mother’s high heels on Facebook and she posts 4,000+ word essays devoted to his life on her blog. She considers it to be her duty as a sister to the great Michael Sterling.

Adventures in Mental Illness: Part 4

*This is the part of my mental illness saga where things get R rated and borderline X rated. It’s the part where things get really disturbing and gross. Bodily secretions are involved. You have been warned. (I’m afraid this warning has got some people excited and will draw the wrong kind of audience to this blog but hey, what can you do?)

My birthday came and went at that treatment facility in Idaho. This year there were no gifts to open, no candles to blow out, no friends or family to gather around me and sing happy birthday. On the phone call with my mom and Marlene, my mom wished me a happy birthday and told me my godmother also wished me a happy birthday. She informed me that a friend of mine had left a message on our home phone saying that she’d tried to call my cell phone but it was disconnected and that she wanted to get together with me. My mom had called her back to tell her that I was in a residential treatment center.

When I compared this birthday to my last birthday, I was filled with intense grief and shame. My last birthday had been a birthday on which I’d had friends presenting me with a cake and singing happy birthday to me. That was when things were good for me and I’d decided I wouldn’t be self destructive any more. Now look how bad things were for me and how self destructive I’d become.

I was sinking to new lows in my behavior and it was upsetting the other residents. At one of our group sessions a resident said there was someone who was doing something that was bothering her and she wanted to address them but she hesitated to do so. The leader of the group guessed that the person she wanted to address was me.  She confirmed that yes, it was but she didn’t want to voice the issue because it was embarrassing.  At that point I said “I know what you’re talking about and I’ll stop doing it.”

A few days later the therapist who had led that group session called me in to his office. He said “In our last group you told Melanie you would stop doing the thing that was bothering her but today we got complaints that you were sticking your hands down your pants and touching yourself.”

Yes, you read that right. I was publicly masturbating (If doing that doesn’t make me crazy, admitting to it on a public blog probably does.)  There was definitely no sexual contact of any kind allowed at that place and very few opportunities to be alone so the most obvious explanation for why I was doing it would be that I was a raging nymphomaniac who could not suppress her sexual desires but that was not the case. I’m still a virgin and I’ve never been that in to masturbation as a form of sexual gratification.

So, why was I doing it? For starters I was..well, you see…um.. I kind of…oh, there’s just no delicate way of saying this… since my hygiene was really bad at that point things were getting pretty itchy and uncomfortable down there.

There was also an element of comfort seeking and sensation seeking to it. I was in a lot of emotional distress so I did what I could to comfort myself. I’m on the autism spectrum and I constantly crave stimulation, sensation and movement. I often jump up and down, flap my hands and pace back and forth. Being in a controlled environment where I was constantly supervised, in confined spaces with groups of other people and had to sit in one place for long periods of time hindered my typical methods of sensation seeking so I picked alternative methods. Speaking of picking, I also picked something else and it made it pretty hard for the other residents to eat their meals.

Speaking of meals, the program was big on healthy eating. Nutrition is important for both mental and physical health. The only problem was that the kind of healthy foods they chose to give us were the kind of foods that tended to produce a lot of gas. Since we were living in close quarters with each other, that was rather unfortunate. One of the flaws of that program was that they gave us food that made us really gaseous and then on our behavioral score cards they’d write us up for “passing gas in public.”  At one of our group therapy session a grievance a resident aired against one of his roommates was “When you fart I can barely breathe!”  It wasn’t long before I joined the ranks of the flatulent. At one point a resident said “If you’re going to sit next to me, can you please not gas?”

I have no recollection of doing these things but my mother tells me that the staff at Innercept informed her that I put a dead snake that I found on the ground in my mouth and that I crapped in the back of the van. I do like to touch and play with all kinds of animals but I’m not generally in the habit of putting dead reptiles in my mouth. I’m also toilet trained. I wasn’t quite myself at the time though. While I’d like to think it was someone else’s poop they found in the back of the van, I’ll acknowledge that there’s a very real possibility I was the culprit.

Aside from biological urge/necessity and self soothing, there were other more egregious reasons for my outrageous behavior. I wanted to mess with people, I wanted to cause trouble and I wanted to play the role of a crazy person. Why would I want to do that? you ask. It’s complicated. Years later when I described the behavior I’d engaged in at Innercept to a psychologist of mine she suggested that I engaged in that behavior because I was feeling so much pain, chaos and turmoil on the inside that I felt the need to replicate it on the outside. I think that’s the best explanation for my behavior we’re ever going to come up with.

Some other mental health professionals came up with some not so good explanations for my behavior. I’d assured the psychologists at Innercept that I was not hearing any voices in my head but they weren’t going to take my word for it. My behavior indicated to them that I had a psychotic disorder. Aside from the gas passing, the crotch touching and the reptile tasting, they noticed that I”seemed to be responding to internal stimuli”. What they were probably noticing was me smiling, frowning and flapping without any obvious external stimuli to prompt such a response. I’ve always had a tendency to get lost in thought, to smile when I think about something that amuses me and frown when I think about something that upsets me. I’ve also always had a tendency to flap. It’s just part of who I am and part of being on the autism spectrum. It has nothing to do with hearing voices.

Nevertheless, my behavior was a cause for concern. My mom had read research that suggested people on the autism spectrum are at an elevated risk for schizophrenia and I was around the age where schizophrenia tends to develop. One of the therapists at the program administered a series of tests to assess my grip on reality and was surprised when I got an almost perfect score. He was sure the tests were going to indicate I had some kind of thought disorder. As he said to my mother, “You can fake crazy but you can’t fake sane.”

There were some people who felt I was faking crazy. At a group therapy session a resident said regarding me “I think she’s faking her shit. She’s too smart to really be like this.”

Was I faking being crazy? Yes and no. There was certainly an element of performance art to my behavior but sometimes when you fake being batshit crazy for long enough you actually become batshit and the fact that I felt the need to fake batshit in the first place showed that I wasn’t quite right in the head.

Regardless of my reasons for engaging in that kind of behavior, I know that it was not appropriate. I didn’t think it was appropriate to engage in at the time either but I did it anyway and that made me an asshole. A mentally ill asshole but an asshole nonetheless. When one of my roommates called me aside to tell me how much it bothered her when I touched myself, she cried as she spoke. When I saw her tears I felt genuinely bad. Although I disliked some of the staff, I had no ill will toward any of the residents. They were mostly nice people and it was not right for me to make a hard time they were going through even harder.

I was harming other people with my behavior but I was harming myself more. One day when everyone had had it with my behavior, a staff member said to me “Kira, get in the car, I need to drive you somewhere.” “Where are we going?” I asked. “We’re just going for a ride” she replied.

It turned out we were going to a place called Stabilization. Stabilization was a house out in the woods reserved for residents who were behaving badly. The idea was to give them a chance to calm down in a “low stimulus environment”, which essentially translated in to sitting around doing nothing all day. Sitting still all day is unpleasant for a lot of people but it’s especially torturous for someone like me on the autism spectrum with a nervous system that has a constant need for movement and stimulation. Let’s just say I sought stimulation in alternative ways that the staff who were supervising me found disgusting and did not appreciate.

My time at Stabilization did nothing to improve my behavior. Once I returned to the program I continued to act out in a disgusting and bizarre ways. Even though the testing had shown that I wasn’t psychotic, I’d been put on anti-psychotics. Since at that point I was really skinny because my depression had made me lose my appetite, I was given an anti-psychotic that increased appetite. The problem was it made me ravenously hungry at a place that limited my food intake to three small meals a day.

One day I was so hungry that I ate a piece of fruit out of the garbage (hey, maybe that’s also why I put the snake in my mouth.)  “You can’t eat out of the garbage! That’s disgusting!” The staff member who caught me doing it said. On my behavioral score card I was written up for eating garbage.

That night I became violently ill. I vomited and had diarrhea all over my bed. “That’s what happens when you eat out of the garbage” the program psychiatrist told me.

The next day the same staff member who had driven me to Stabilization told me that we were once again going for a ride. “Where are we going?” I asked again. This time she told me exactly where I was going. I was going to the mental hospital.

Survey Says…

*This is my own personal version of my last Facebook status, which I cut and pasted from someone else. I decided to try to give answers that related to Trump  and to the questions being asked.*

 

Why not take a break from negativity and learn about each other? 😃

  1. Who are you named after? I was named after Kira Agrounova, the main character in We The Living by Ayn Rand. Kira lived under a totalitarian government in Russia that she refused to obey or give in to.Our current president has dangerous liasons with Russia and is trying to institute a totalitarian regime in this country. Be like Kira and resist.
  2. Last time you cried?

There has been so much to cry over since Trump became president. The Muslim travel ban and the attacks on mosques for starters. Contrary to what Trump thinks, the tears that have been shed over that are very real.

  1. Soda or water?

If my friend prefers soda while I prefer water that is a simple difference of opinion that does not harm anyone and our friendship will not be affected. If my friend voted for Trump while I voted for Hillary, my friend has given power to a dangerous tyrant who will harm me and the people I care about. Therefore, I feel betrayed by my friend who endorses something I find abhorrent and our differences may be irreconcilable.

  1. What is your favorite lunch meat? Donald Trump and his administration are full of baloney.
  2. Longest relationship?

Has Trump only been president for 12 days now? It feels like it’s been much longer.This relationship isn’t working. We need to end it.

  1. Do you still have your tonsils?

Do I still have my freedom? Do I still have my constitutional rights? Will I still have them if Trump gets his way?

  1. Would you bungee jump? Bungee jumping scares me a lot less than Trump does.
  2. How many years at current job? Trump is not going to create a bunch of new jobs. Immigrants are not taking your jobs. Starbucks did a good thing by pledging to offer jobs to refugees.
  3. Do you untie your shoes when you take them off?

If you don’t understand why a Trump presidency is so awful because it’s not directly threatening you right now, try putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.

  1. Roller coasters?

The 2016 election was one hell of a roller coaster ride and the next four years are sure to be a roller coaster as well. Unfortunately there have been more lows than highs and it’s been more terrifying than thrilling.

  1. Favorite ice cream? Ben and Jerry’s Impeach Mint ice cream.
  2. Favorite thing to do?

Speak out against Trump, although I wish I didn’t have to.

  1. Football or baseball?

Being president is not a sport, it’s not a game and it’s not a fucking reality show contest.

  1. Leggings or jeans?

I’m a member of Pantsuit Nation. Hillary should be our president right now.

  1. What are you listening to?

To my heart, to the news sources that are reliable and to the people who know what they’re talking about. If more people had listened to those things, maybe we wouldn’t be in this mess right now.

  1. Favorite color? Not orange, that’s for sure!
  2. Tattoos? Those Holocaust survivors with tattoos from the concentration camps are experiencing trauma and flashbacks because they see the similarities between Trump and Hitler.
  3. Married?

LGBTQ people recently won the much deserved right to marry. Now the Trump administration is threatening to infringe on their rights and enable discrimination against them.

  1. Hair color?

I have no idea what’s going on with Trump’s hair but that’s the very least of my concerns.

  1. Eye color?

Imagine how America looks in the eyes of the world with Trump as our president.

  1. Favorite food to eat?

Wouldn’t it be nice if Trump was using 14 billion dollars to feed the hungry instead of building a useless wall?

  1. Scary movies or happy endings?

It feels like we’re living in a scary movie right now. I can only hope for a happy ending but at this point I’m afraid I’ll have to settle for an ending where we don’t all die.

  1. Android or iPhone?

Get on the phone and call your representatives to tell them how you feel and what you want done.

  1. Chevy, Ford or Buick?

All better presidents than Trump.

  1. Favorite holiday?

Trump tried to make his inauguration day a holiday. It should be a day of mourning.

  1. Beer or wine?

I don’t drink but sometimes I feel like I need to get drunk to cope with the world now. Other times I wonder how anyone who wasn’t very, very drunk could have possibly thought voting for Trump was a good idea.

  1. Night owl or morning?

I don’t know how Trump sleeps at night. I’m up all night worrying about the future of this country and about what new horrors will greet me in the morning.

  1. Favorite day of the week?

Normally Friday is my favorite day of the week but you know which Friday I did not thank god for? Friday, January 20th, 2017. That day was unluckier than all the Friday the 13ths combined.

 

The Rest of the Books I Read in 2016

Today Will Be Different (Maria Semple)- I loved the last book of hers that I read, “Where’d You Go Bernadette”so I had high expectations for this one. It managed to exceed those expectations. It was hilarious and had me cracking up but it also had emotional depth and substance to it. The premise of the story is that a rather quirky woman who’s led a rather quirky life makes a resolution to start living her life differently today. Today will be the day she starts being present in the moment, makes eye contact, doesn’t curse, initiates sex with her husband, etc,. The entire book takes place in one day and let’s just say it’s a day that doesn’t exactly go as planned, a day that throws everyone for a loop.

I had the pleasure of meeting Maria Semple when my local Barnes & Noble hosted a discussion and signing of the book. She’s as awesome in person as she is in writing. There was laughter at the event and there were also tears from her and from the audience. She said that people often expect her to be like Tina Fey and are surprised but how serious she is. That doesn’t surprise me because I’m the same way. I can be quite the comedian but I have a dark, sad and serious side.

I Am Malala (Malala Yousafzai)- If the fictional A Thousand Splendid Suns wasn’t enough to show me the horrors of the Taliban, there was this autobiographical account of a girl who lived under it. Shooting a child in the head because she advocated for girls to have access to education is just beyond the pale, not to mention all the other atrocities the Taliban is responsible for. I’m sad that Malala had to endure all that hardship but I’m glad that through it all she persevered and fought hard to achieve her dreams and help others.  She is a brilliant, amazing person and her story is an interesting and inspiring one but I have to say it didn’t have the kind of emotional impact on me that A Thousand Splendid Suns did. It was told in a rather detached manner but I have to remember that as remarkable a teenager as Malala is, she is still just a teenager.  I heard that she recently spoke out to say that she is devastated by the immigration ban that Trump has instituted. I am devastated for her.

Furiously Happy (Jenny Lawson)– This is a series of humorous essays written by a woman who suffers from depression and anxiety. The premise is that when life gets her down, instead of being sad, she’s going to be furiously happy in irrational, outrageous, bizarre and fun ways. The humor in this book might be too silly and ridiculous for some but I appreciated it and found it funny. My favorite essays were the ones about the arguments with her husband that ended with a score card. Humor aside, she has some wise and comforting insights in to depression and anxiety. The part of the book where her readers reach out to her, share their own experiences with depression and anxiety and realize they’re not alone is rather touching.

Well, that concludes the books I read in 2016. GoodReads just gave me a summary of my 2016 in books. It ended by saying that I read 31 out of 50 books and wishing me better luck in 2017. I’ve once again set a goal of 50 books and so far I’m on track. Maybe this year I’ll reach my goal, maybe I’ll fail at it it once again. Regardless of the outcome, I’ll experience the joy of reading and you can look forward to more book reviews.

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I Gave the Gift of Blood!

Is altruism really altruistic if you’re engaging in it because helping others makes you feel good about yourself? Because I must confess that was a major factor in my decision to donate blood. It’s kind of like how I was happy when last week I found a woman’s wallet in the parking lot because I got to feel like a hero when I returned it to her.

I’d known about blood donation for a long time but for whatever reason I’d never seriously considered donating blood myself. I got the idea to donate blood a few months ago when I had my blood drawn at a doctor’s appointment. “Are you doing okay?” the phlebotomist kept asking. “Wow, you did great!” he said after the procedure was finished. Not only was I okay during the whole procedure, I actually kind of enjoyed it. I know many people have a fear of needles. Since I have no such fear and I wanted to do something to help others, blood donation seemed like a good option.

I wanted to do something to help myself too. Some people are offended by the fact that that I don’t have a job and have referred to me as a leech or a parasite. Some people have accused me of contributing nothing to society. If I am a leech then by allowing my blood to be sucked, I’d be making up for the blood I’ve sucked from others. I’d also be making a valuable contribution to society, a contribution that could save someone’s life. Another thing I’m accused of frequently is being lazy. There’s a lot of truth in that accusation so another reason blood donation appealed to me is that it would be a valuable contribution that would require a minimal amount of effort on my part.

I looked up information about blood donation. I figured that opportunities to donate blood occurred maybe once a month or so and lasted a few hours. To my surprise I discovered that in my area opportunities to donate blood are available multiple times a week and last a full working day. I looked at the criteria to donate blood and I seemed to be eligible so I put blood donation in the back of my mind as something I would get around to eventually.

About two weeks ago I saw an ad from the American Red Cross saying that they were experiencing a winter shortage in blood supply and that the need for donations was critical. That made me think I should donate blood sooner rather than later.

Last week a friend of mine who has a  baby daughter with sickle cell anemia posted that her daughter was sick and at 7 months would need her first blood transfusion. The next day she posted that her daughter had gotten the blood transfusion and was feeling so much better. She urged everyone to donate blood. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting her daughter and she is an adorable, delightful baby. Seeing a real life example of someone I knew who was helped by a blood transfusion made me decide that I wanted to donate blood as soon as possible.

I called the Red Cross and unfortunately it was one of those calls that gets you trapped in an endless loop of extensions to dial, people to be referred to and elevator music to listen to. When I finally got someone who knew what they were talking about, I couldn’t understand what she was saying. I did hear “Walk ins welcome” at the end though so after drinking as much fluid as I could, I showed up at the blood donation center. I was told that it was best to make an appointment but since they were having a slow day they could take me then.

The finger prick they gave me to test my blood hurt like a bitch but the pain only lasted for a few seconds. Unfortunately for me the first test showed that my iron levels were too low so they had to do another finger prick to see if they could get a different reading. Fortunately the second test showed that my iron levels were high enough. I was then left in the room to answer a questionnaire on the computer. Pardon me for being gauche but most of the questions in which a yes answer would disqualify you from donating essentially boiled down to “Are you a dirty crack whore?”

After it was determined that I was eligible to donate blood, I was taken to an examining table and asked to lay down. It took a bit of prodding to find a vein that would work. Then I had to flex my arm and squeeze on a ball to make the vein easier to get. The insertion of the needle didn’t hurt very much and the blood draw process didn’t hurt at all. I was told I wasn’t going to break any speeding records but that was fine because slow and steady wins the race.

The blood draw process usually takes about 8 to 10 minutes but because of my difficult veins it took a bit longer for me. When it was over I felt a bit dizzy but the dizziness subsided after a few minutes. When I felt well enough to get off the table I was given free refreshments.

I noticed a sign asking blood donors to take a selfie and post it on social media with the hash tag “Choose Your Day”. I tried to take a few selfies but they all came out horrible so I had a nurse take my picture in front of a blood donation sign. When I posted it on Facebook it got a lot of likes.

I felt good myself about that day and I was glad to have done something that would make a positive difference in the lives of others. I still feel good about it now. You can donate blood every 56 days so I look forward to donating again in late March. I urge you to consider blood donation as well.

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Donald Trump may be the President but he is Not My President

The bile that rose in to my throat in the early morning hours of January 19th, 2017 came quickly and unexpectedly. I dashed to the bathroom and vomited in to the toilet. I thought about the foods I’d eaten recently. Then I thought about the fact that Trump’s inauguration was tomorrow and that seemed as likely a reason for my vomiting as any.

A lot of people I knew were sick that day and I don’t think the timing was coincidental. We’d feared that Trump’s inauguration was coming for a little over a year and we’d known it was coming for a little over two months. Although we knew it was very unlikely that the electoral college would vote against him, we signed the petitions and we hoped against hope. When on December 19th, 2016 the electoral college officially voted him in to office all hope seemed lost.

As we said goodbye to 2016, many deemed it to be a terrible year, mainly because a lot of celebrities died and Trump won the election. I wasn’t too affected by the celebrity deaths because I’d barely noticed that the celebrities that died in 2016 were alive in the first place and celebrities die every year. I was very affected by the election though. Never in my lifetime ( or in my parents or grandparents’ lifetimes for that matter) had our country elected a president quite like this and he wasn’t different from all the other presidents in a good way to say the least.

We cried as we watched Obama’s farewell speech. We were full of sadness at seeing him leave office and full of fear of what was to come as the next president took office. I think another blogger summed it up best when they said that in transitioning from Obama to Trump we were going from class to ass.

As what I had come to think of as doomsday approached my anxiety levels rose. I had a prescription for an anti-anxiety medication called in. What was really getting to me was the talk of how when Trump became president the world was going to end and we were all going to die. I asked my mom to stop saying things like that. She replied that it could very well be true. I told her that even if it was true saying it was not helpful to me.

One of my Facebook statuses on January 19th read “Don’t you just hate it when someone you care about is making a terrible decision that will have devastating consequences for themselves and everyone else but you’re powerless to stop them? By someone I mean the United States of America.”

It seemed like everyone with the least bit of sense knew that making Donald Trump president was a terrible idea, yet we were going ahead and doing it anyway. That made me feel so angry, helpless and frustrated.

My mother called me that day to say that my therapist appointment would have to be cancelled because she was working late and wouldn’t be able to take me. I called her back a few minutes later to see if my dad could take me because this was a day when I really needed therapy.

Kate and I spent most of my session talking about Trump. She tried to comfort me by saying that she didn’t think he would be able to do much damage because other government officials would stop him and America was set up in a way that prevented one evil person from having too much power. She told me that a lot of people were protesting against him, that several republicans in congress were boycotting his inauguration. I wished I could have as much faith in our government as she did and I wished I could find what she said comforting but it just sounded like “It can’t happen here” rhetoric to me. No one thinks it can happen here until it does happen here. Since I wrote my blog entitled “It Happened Here”, I’ve read the book “It Can’t Happen Here”. Although it’s a work of fiction, Berzelius Windrip bears an uncanny resemblance to Trump and the results of Windrip’s presidency were disastrous.

She also suggested getting involved in advocacy, protests and volunteer work, speaking out against Trump and making my voice heard. She said I’d already started to do that with my blog. I replied that I wasn’t sure I’d actually changed anyone’s mind with my blog. I felt that the people who disliked Trump to begin with agreed with what I wrote and continued to dislike Trump while the people who liked Trump to begin with disagreed with what I wrote and continued to like him. When Kate suggested arguing my points about Trump with my Trump supporting friends, I said I’d prefer not to do that because they were also unlikely to change their minds and arguing might damage our relationship. I know I’m sick to death of hearing my mother and grandfather argue about Trump. My grandfather is never going to change his mind and arguing will just aggravate his heart problems. Kate said that even if we’re unlikely to change anyone’s mind, we still have to try.

When I got home I told my mother that Kate had said that she thought the government would prevent Trump from doing serious damage. “Kate is Pollyanna-ish” she replied. A few minutes later she told me that Kate had been spreading fake news-it was only democrats, not republicans who were boycotting the inauguration.

The following day I guiltily watched the inauguration on TV. I knew I probably shouldn’t because I would be contributing to the ratings but I just couldn’t help myself. A few days earlier I’d watched a debate among reporters in which one reporter questioned Trump’s ability to be a good president based on the things he was tweeting. Another reporter replied that he wasn’t president yet and when he became president in 5 days he would communicate in a more mature, professional manner. I rolled my eyes at that statement but if I was at all inclined to believe it, that belief was shattered when I listened to his hateful, divisive, piece of shit inauguration speech.

The speech can basically be summed up as ” Rah, rah, rah, all the other presidents sucked but I’m going to achieve the impossible with my massive ego and make America great again by kicking out all the brown people!” He even included a fist pump. The facial expressions the Obamas had in reaction to that speech said it all.

That night my friend Delilah texted me a picture of herself in a pussy hat. When I saw the picture I thought it was just a funny hat. Then I Googled the term “pussy hat” and saw that it had a deeper significance. Those pussy hats symbolized the fight for women’s rights, rights that were being threatened by the Trump administration. They were to be worn by the women who were attending the women’s marches the next day.

I’d heard about those women’s marches. I’d also heard that there was a certain man who was threatening to harm those who attended them.  I figured that would deter people from attending them and that not that many people planned to attend them in the first place. I figured that maybe one or two of my Facebook friends would attend a march. Boy was I wrong.

On January 21st my Facebook feed was flooded with pictures of my friends attending marches. Some of these friends weren’t even women and some of them weren’t even U.S. citizens. I was shocked by the turnout for those marches and I think it was the first time I was shocked in a good way about anything regarding this election. The spirit of the marchers was so strong and infectious that I found myself wishing I’d attended a march.

That night my Facebook status read: “I have liked so many things on Facebook today and every one of those likes was well deserved. I was feeling bleak and hopeless yesterday. I was expecting more of the same today but thanks to my friends from New Jersey to Canada who marched in protests, who donned pussy hats, who stood up for their beliefs, who fought for their rights and the rights of their fellow world citizens, who refused to back down from or be intimidated by the evil bully who calls himself our president, I have a new sense of hope.”

Of course the coming days gave me plenty of reasons to feel discouraged.  The environmental protection and LGBTQ pages were removed from the White House website as was the disability rights page, other than to tell disabled people how they can access The White House. A group of men signed bills regulating women’s reproductive rights. Trump spewed lies and misinformation about the size of his inauguration crowd, supposed illegal voting, global warming and various other matters. The phrase “alternative facts” became a thing as someone in the Trump administration used it in earnest.

The endangered species act was targeted because it hinders drilling. Funding for the arts is being cut. Obamacare is being scaled back. Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of education knows nothing about education and his pick for secretary of health is an anti-vaxxer. When the National Parks Service tweeted aerial view pictures comparing Trump’s inauguration to Obama’s, their Twitter account was suspended. A media blackout was ordered on the Environmental Protection Agency.  As I was writing this blog, executive orders were signed to build a wall at the Mexican border and to put an end to sanctuary cities. All of that isn’t even the half of it.

Sales of the book 1984 are way up. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great novel and I’d be happy to see it achieve best seller status again but I’d prefer the reason for its bestseller status not to be that we are now entering in to a society that resembles the society it portrays.

So far Trump’s presidency is even worse than I imagined it would be. I knew it would be awful but I didn’t think it would be this awful this fast. As I said on Facebook last night,”If Trump has managed to generate this much WTF-ery in the 4 days he’s been president, imagine what he’ll do in the next 4 years!”

There are still reasons to have hope though. People are still fighting, protesting, marching, holding up their signs, voicing their anger, calling out the lies and the hypocrisy, writing letters to their representatives, saying they will not stand for this. In defiance of the gag order, Badlands National Park tweeted a series of actual facts about environmental destruction (although the tweets have since been deleted.) Betsy DeVos’s hearing was delayed as an ethics committee investigated her and a second hearing was requested (although that hearing was denied.) Some hilarious satirical articles, memes and videos making fun of Trump have been released. Sometimes laughter is the best medicine and sometimes comedy is the best way of reaching people.

As for me, I’m still not sure if I want to get in to it anymore with Trump supporters who are good friends of mine or who are related to me but his presidency has rekindled my passion for arguing with idiots on the internet. The other day I was arguing with a woman who claimed that it was fine for Trump to talk about grabbing women by the pussies because it was just typical locker room talk that all men engage in and that Planned Parenthood should be defunded because women should just make proper decisions about sex and if they got pregnant pay for their own abortions. The argument ended when she said there was no point in debating it anymore because I just had my liberal views while she had her normal views. If her views are normal, I will proudly call myself abnormal.

Then there was the guy who posted a meme saying that if your child needs grief counseling over the election, you have failed as a parent. I replied that I wasn’t in to blaming parents for the actions of their adult children but having a child that voted for Trump is more of an indicator of having failed as a parent than having a child who needed grief counseling over the election is. I was unfriended. It was no great loss to me.

I donated blood yesterday. It’s not directly related to any protest of Trump or his administration but it’s a way of doing some good in a world that seems to be going to hell. Maybe later I will get involved in some volunteering or advocacy that is directly anti-Trump. I fear what the repercussions might be for me as the Trump administration and its supporters gain more power and go to greater lengths to silence those who oppose them but I fear the consequences of not speaking out may be even worse.

As for the title of this blog, I don’t need anyone pointing out to me that I am a U.S. citizen and Donald Trump is president of the United States,so therefore he is my president. I’m prone to literal thinking but even I immediately knew what people meant when they started saying “not my president.”

I also don’t need to be told that I’m being unpatriotic or disrespectful by speaking negatively of the president of this country. Although he is the president of my country, he does not represent my values and he does not represent the values my country was founded on. He is a threat to freedom, equality and democracy. Standing up for freedom, equality and democracy is very patriotic.

Book Review: Expecting Adam by Martha Beck

This is a memoir in which a Harvard educated woman writes about the time period when she was pregnant with her son who has Down Syndrome and the spiritual awakening she experienced. This is not a book I would have picked up on my own. It was recommended to me by a friend. Someone in my mom’s book club decided she wasn’t going to read the book club’s selection because it wasn’t the kind of book she was interested in and I thought to myself “Way to miss the point of a book club, lady!”My friend and I have an exclusive 2 person book club that is open only to the densest most literal readers so even though the book isn’t my cup of tea, I decided to read it.

A book about having a kid with a disability is actually right up my alley but the spiritual/supernatural element is not. I’m a skeptic who doesn’t believe in that kind of thing. I ended up having mixed feelings about the book. I liked it more than I thought I would but I also disliked it for the reasons I thought I would. When the author reflected on having a child with a disability and society’s attitudes towards it, I found it interesting and insightful. When she got in to the spiritual/supernatural stuff she lost me. I was particularly unimpressed when she decided not to go to the hospital while she was bleeding, vomiting and had a high fever because she had a feeling the magical Japanese puppets in her head had her covered.

This woman and her husband were both in academia at Harvard and their world was a very high pressure, achievement oriented one.  It was a world in which you were expected to take business trips from Massachusetts to Japan every other week, to put your children on waiting lists for elite preschools before they were even conceived and to attend class while your wife was in labor.

Such an existence sounds awful and intolerable to me. It is certainly worth speaking out against the kind of people, society and institutions that would perpetuate, encourage and demand such an existence. I see that kind of thing in the school district I attended as a child. Having straight A’s, perfect SAT scores and a zillion extracurricular activities are valued above all else. About a year ago changes were put in place in the district to decrease the pressure on students as it was noted that it was taking a toll on their mental health. Some people were upset by the changes and worried that it would decrease the students’ chances of getting in to elite colleges but I was among those who applauded them.

I do not blame Martha Beck for having a grudge against Harvard considering what it put her and her husband through but at times I think she took that grudge too far and reading what essentially felt like a revenge piece was off putting. I do not doubt that the atmosphere at Harvard can be rather cut throat and unpleasant. I do not doubt that there are a lot of unpleasant, insufferable people at Harvard but I do doubt that everyone at Harvard is like that. As much as it fills us with envy to think that there are some people who “have it all”, I imagine there are people at Harvard who manage to be kind and compassionate while also being demanding and ambitious, people who manage to relax and have fun while also being hard workers, people who manage to appreciate the simple things in life while also keeping their sights on lofty goals.

Yet to hear Martha Beck tell it, you’d think everyone at Harvard was snooty and obnoxious, completely focused on material accomplishments, while neglecting the really important things in life. When she wrote about how wonderful one of her professors was, I was glad to see her acknowledging that not everyone at Harvard is evil. Then she said she didn’t think it was any coincidence that that professor quit teaching at Harvard six months later. My eyes, they rolled.

When Martha found out that the fetus she was carrying had Down Syndrome, many people pressured her to have an abortion. The issue of aborting/carrying a fetus with Down Syndrome is a controversial one, as is the issue of abortion in general. My controversial opinion is that any woman has the right decide for herself to have or not have an abortion for any reason. I was glad to read that Martha Beck was of a similar opinion. She resented the people who shamed her for not aborting for Down Syndrome and she realized that shaming a woman for aborting for Down Syndrome is just as bad. There’s a part of the book where she describes medical professionals who do the former as well as those who do the latter. She essentially says that those people can shove it up their asses. That was a rather satisfying moment.

There are several satisfying moments in the book. As much as Martha Beck irritated me at times, she’s smart, she’s funny and she’s a good writer.  And the book’s essential message is an important one. There’s something to be said for slowing down in the rat race, taking the time to appreciate the little things in life and realizing before it’s too late that those little things are actually the big things.

I really dislike the idea of intellectually impaired people being little angels who are full of joy and innocence, sent to earth to teach neurotypical people how to live life to the fullest. Martha Beck dislikes this idea too and she speaks out against it but at times I think she’s guilty of perpetuating it.

You know the phrase”Stop and smell the roses”?  There’s a scene where a stranger approaches Martha in a store to compliment her on the fact that her son Adam literally stopped to smell the flowers, while the other kids just walked by them without noticing their fragrance. I would roll my eyes so hard at a scene like that in a novel and it was pretty hard for me not to roll my eyes at it when it was being touted as a true story.

I suppose it’s pretty silly of me to be questioning the veracity of a flower smelling incident, considering all the bizarre supernatural phenomena and eerie coincidences that occur in this book. Of course I’m skeptical of them but in the end I guess it doesn’t really matter that much whether some divine spiritual presence was at work or there’s a “logical” explanation for the things that happened. The important thing is that the author’s belief in a spiritual presence brought her comfort during a difficult time in her life, that it led her to reevaluate the way she was living her life and to learn valuable lessons that would help her and her son lead a happier, more fulfilling life.

I can relate to some of the experiences Martha Beck had and the realizations she came to. I don’t have kids of my own and I’m not intellectually impaired but I do have a developmental disability and I live a life that’s devoid of many of the accomplishments that many people consider to be essential. Many people consider me to be a loser, a failure, a burden to my parents and society. I often see myself that way.

I’ve realized that a lot of my emotional pain comes from caring about the negative judgments other people make about me, from failing to achieve the things I’ve been taught are important. Martha Beck says that during the time period in which she was expecting Adam she came to question everything Harvard had taught her about what is precious and what is garbage. I’m questioning those things myself and realizing that sometimes even smart, successful, well respected people get it wrong.

This realization has been aided and exemplified not just by this book but by the friend who recommended it to me. She said that she doesn’t think of me as a loser because I live with my parents and don’t have a job. She realizes some people think anyone in those circumstances is a loser but she rejects the idea that everyone needs to fit in to neat little prescribed boxes in order to have value. And, really, the kind of people who feel the need to judge me, to make cruel comments about me,to define worth by degrees from prestigious universities and money from high paying jobs are missing out on some of the important things in life. Maybe they should read Expecting Adam.

Adventures in Mental Illness: Part 3

On the surface the residential treatment program in Idaho seemed like a very nice place. It was located in a beautiful, scenic area surrounded by lakes, forests and mountains. The house the residents stayed in was rustic, charming and well decorated. It had a very cozy, homey feel to it. It seemed like a nurturing, comforting atmosphere, an atmosphere that was conducive to growth and recovery. Looks can be deceiving.

We stayed at a hotel the night before we arrived at the program. As I lay in bed my mom looked me in the eye, said “Oh, Honey Bunny” and burst in to tears. I just watched her cry without saying or doing a thing. On the program intake form she’d been asked to name my positive qualities. She’d written “Kind” and in parentheses she’d written “Not right now.”

The next day I sat in the backseat of a car as an admissions counselor drove us to the house where I would be staying. My mom sat in the front seat and made small talk about her job (the job she was having to take time off from to deal with my mental health crisis.) As I glanced out the window, I took in the picturesque scenery I was surrounded by. Although I’m a nature lover, it failed to lift my spirits. I was just too miserable.

The lovely decor of the house I was brought to also failed to lift my spirits. My mom kissed me goodbye and hoped for the best. This program cost a lot of money but if it helped me recover from my mental illness it would be worth it. Unfortunately the program did not end up aiding in my recovery. A lot of money was paid to make things worse for me and to make me more miserable than I already was.

Shortly after my mother left one of the fellow residents asked me why I was at the program. I wasn’t sure what to say but after pausing for a few seconds I replied “For doing bad in school.”  “Oh, me too” she said.

I attended my first group therapy session and then I had my first individual therapy session with a therapist we’ll call Marlene. My loved ones and I have had some bad experiences with people whose names end in -arlene. Marlene ended up being one of those bad -arlene experiences for us, the worst I’ve had.

When I talked about my struggles Marlene said “You seem like someone who can do anything you set your mind to. I am a pretty smart person and while it’s nice to think that smart people can do anything they set their minds to, sometimes obstacles get in their way. One of the obstacles that got in my way was mental illness.

Some of the most brilliant people have been mentally ill. Some of those people have achieved great success in spite of or even because of their mental illness. Others, in spite of their intelligence find themselves unable to complete school, hold a job, live independently or have meaningful, satisfying relationships with other people. Sometimes they end up in jail, homeless or permanently institutionalized. I’d known for a while that there was a good chance I’d end up unable to hold a job or live on my own. Not only is that a common fate of those who suffer from mental illness, it’s also a common fate of people on the autism spectrum. I never thought I’d end up homeless, in jail or permanently locked up in a mental institution but by the time I got kicked out of this program called Innercept, even those would seem like possibilities I had to worry about.

Marlene continued to ask me questions and probe for a reason behind my struggles. In my depressed, confused state of mind I was not very talkative or forthcoming. I lacked the energy, the desire and the ability to clearly understand or express what had happened to me in the past and what was happening to me now. I ended up saying that things had been going well for me at school until I got in a mood in which I wanted to be miserable and that I behaved the way I did because it gave me pleasure to know that I was making bad decisions.

This was met with a weird look from Marlene as she incredulously said “It gives you pleasure to know you’re making bad decisions?” I guess that was a pretty weird thing to say. Does it really give me any genuine pleasure to know that I’m making bad decisions and do I really want to be miserable? No. I just needed some kind of narrative that would explain what had happened to me and that would give me some feeling of control over what happened.

The next question Marlene asked me was if I ever heard voices. I told her that no, I never heard voices. She concluded the session by telling me that at my age I should be moving out of my parents’ house and I better start looking for a job.

From our first session, I did not get the impression that Marlene was evil but I did get the impression that despite her professional qualifications, she did not have a great understanding of mental illness or of how to effectively treat it. I also didn’t feel much of a connection with her.

That night as the residents sat around a fire pit, one of the residents invited me to sit next to her. She was a nice, friendly girl and she told me some of her story. She told me that  Innercept had really helped her, she loved it and she considered everyone at Innercept to be family. “It doesn’t bother you to not have freedom?” I asked. “This is freedom” she replied.

I’m not exactly sure what that young lady meant when she said “This is freedom” but in the traditional sense Innercept offered very little freedom. We were watched by staff members at all times and were pretty much never alone. We were only allowed to eat at designated meal times and were never allowed on the internet. The only people we were allowed to talk to on the phone were our parents and we were only allowed to do that when a therapist was present.

Shortly after I had that conversation with that girl by the fire pit, I asked another resident if she liked the program and she replied “No, I hate it here.” I hated it there too.

Whether or not a residential treatment program is liked by its residents is not necessarily a reflection on the merits of the program. Sometimes you really hate things that are good for you and that you need. Sometimes you really like things that are bad for you and that you don’t need. What works for one person may not work for another person. Even the best programs do not have a 100% success rate. A program can only do so much and in order for it to be effective, the resident has to be willing to work with it.

All this is to say is that while Innercept may have worked for some of the residents, it did not work for me and while I may have been partially to blame for that, there were also some flaws inherent in the program. Unfortunately treatment programs sometimes get away with abuse of their residents because when the residents come forward with their stories, it’s assumed that since they suffer from mental illness, they must be lying or imagining things. This is not the case with me. Despite the title of this blog and despite what certain mental health professionals thought, I’m not actually crazy and I’ve never been prone to hallucinations or delusions. Anyone who knows me well knows that I am a very honest person. I’m also not someone who would hate and criticize any treatment program I was put in. I’m very grateful for some of the treatment programs I was in.

I don’t expect every therapist to love me but I do expect them to at least pretend to like me. Otherwise that therapeutic relationship is just not going to be helpful to me. When in one of our sessions Marlene said that she was neutral to what happened to me because she wasn’t the one who needed a life, she already had one, that therapeutic relationship was done as far as I was concerned. Just like I don’t expect every therapist to like me, I don’t expect every therapist to be warm and fuzzy but this woman was a fucking cactus. If I’d had the option, I would have found another therapist but I was stuck with her. As a result, we ended up having a relationship that was rather antagonistic.

“I don’t want to be in this program. Would you want to be in a program like this?”
“No but I wouldn’t have behaved in ways that would get me here.

“Have you ever had a client like me?”

“No, you’re pretty unique.”

“I know you think you’re going to continue living at home but that won’t be happening. I’ve talked to your mother and she’s agreed to kick you out of the house.”

I knew Marlene was full of shit with that last one, that she was lying and messing with my mind. That was another reason this therapeutic relationship just wasn’t going to be very therapeutic for me.

I got the impression that like Marlene, most of the staff at Innercept was neutral towards me at best and some of them also told little lies that messed with my mind.  To be fair, in a sense I was also messing with their minds and I wasn’t very likable at that point. I was acting out in a very bad way.

To start with, my hygiene continued to be a problem. In a group therapy session, a resident said to me “I’m going to be blunt. You’re 22, this kind of basic hygiene should be mastered by 15 at the latest.” In response I laughed. “It’s not funny!” the resident said. “Kira will be clean!” Marlene said.

In another group a resident told me that deodorant should be worn. One day I did decide to put on some deodorant. Unfortunately I used someone else’s deodorant and they did not appreciate it.

My bad hygiene wasn’t even the worst of it though. To be honest I’m feeling pretty apprehensive about putting the rest of the details out there on a public blog. I’m pretty relaxed about privacy on the internet and I know I said I’d be open about my struggles with mental illness but even I have my limits.

There were a group of people on the internet who had a very negative opinion of me. They liked to talk about how I had serious mental issues and how my behavior was socially inappropriate. They  also liked to accuse me of lying about some of my life events/circumstances. I’d always think to myself “Wow, if those people think this poorly of me based on what they know, imagine what they’d think of me if they found out the things they don’t know.”

I know some of those people read this blog and will find out some of the less than flattering details about me that they didn’t know before. I know finding those details out may cause them to mock me, snark on me, gossip about me, think even less of me, feel justified in thinking they were right about me all along or accuse me of further lying. I know those kinds of reactions won’t just be limited to those people either.

Yet I also know that if I’m being true to what I said in my “When Online is Out of Line”blog the proper response to that is “Whatever. What those people think of me doesn’t matter. My responsibility in writing is towards myself and others who have struggled with mental illness.”

So I will reveal all the sordid details but since I’m feeling apprehensive about it and this blog is already much longer than the average internet user’s attention span, I think now would be a good time to take a break. Stay tuned for more. The worst is yet to come.

 

 

Just Say No to Secret Slacktivism

Just used my kids to get out of a speeding ticket.

Actually I don’t have kids and I don’t drive mostly due to autism spectrum related issues (which is not to say that no one on the autism spectrum can be a good driver or a good parent.) but I fell for one of those joke statuses and was asked to post a joke status of my own in honor of 2017 autism awareness.

I was also asked not to hate the person who sent it to me and not to reveal the secret. I don’t hate anyone who sends me those kinds of things but I do hate those kinds of things and I will reveal the secret because no disorder whether it be autism, cancer, depression, muscular dystrophy or anything else should be turned in to some silly secret facebook game in the name of raising awareness.

If you want to make a difference instead of choosing from 16 silly statuses to post, go learn 16 facts about autism, listen to the experiences of 16 people with autism, donate 16 dollars or 160 dollars to an autism related organization, volunteer 16 hours of your time to an organization that serves people with autism (make sure the facts you’re getting are accurate and that the organization is actually acting in the interests of people on the autism spectrum. There’s a lot of misinformation out there about autism and some organizations that are widely opposed by people who are actually on the spectrum.)

And remember, people on the autism spectrum want your acceptance more than they want your awareness.