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.

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.