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.