I’m back again with another video, this time filmed on my iPhone because I’m a dumb dumb and deleted all my footage from my Camera camera. I’m answering questions I commonly get now about PTSD and my traumatic relationship experience. Thanks for watching, and sorry for the lacking of makeup, I left my concealer at school by accident…
Below is my final project for my upper level philosophy course– The Ethics of Diversity- that was just graded. I replaced the name of my old school in it, quite honestly because my parents told me to. I would have liked to include it. Ah well! Enjoy.
Special Topics in Philosophy: The Ethics of Diversity
Grade on paper: A
Grade in class: A
It is often tempting, especially within homogeneously liberal circles, to take the goal of diversity as a given. Of course, a plethora of different backgrounds and ilks is desirable! On face value, most would agree. When confronted with emotional disability, however, the temptation for many is to segregate the neuro-typical from the neuro-diverse. There are few places where separate-but-equal is still proudly practiced as a solution to a problem of inclusion, and the special education day school is one of them. Why is separating mentally ill children from their neuro-typical peers still common practice, what are its benefits and costs, and why should common practice change, if it should? This is a set of questions that seem broad, but they all are derived from a central question; is diversity in the classroom ultimately positive for both the neuro-typical and the neuro-diverse?
First, some epistemological clarifications must be made. I would generally avoid using diagnosed mental illness as the standard by which to define neuro-diverse children. However, this is usually one of the primary standards by which students are measured for qualification for Section 504 of the Americans With Disabilities Act, or the section that grants students academic accommodations according to disability. These accommodations are, too, what is typically used to determine which students should be segregated into special education schools. There are exceptions to this rule, but it is easier for assessors to use diagnosis to allocate 504 plans to students than to use simply their own determination. Additionally, there simply exists no better way to classify mentally ill students than by their diagnoses. No, not everyone can afford access to medical diagnoses who would qualify for them, but that is a separate conversation, one that is important but not central to the questions I am tackling here. I am unfortunately left with only a rudimentarily binary “diagnosed” or “not diagnosed” to compare to “neuro-diverse” or “neuro-typical,” respectively. Finally, I am treating “disabled,” “mentally ill” and “special needs” as interchangeable terms, and “therapeutic” and “special education” as interchangeable terms to describe the day school I will be examining.
I personally attended The “X” (name changed for anonymity) School in Connecticut. It is a state approved and therefore partially state funded “special education” private day school for, as it describes us, students who are “not realizing their academic and social-emotional potential.” It managed to procure state special education approval the month before I began at the school, and has been open for business since around 2010. Tuition is $5,500 per month, or around $60,000 per year, although my public school paid to send me to X (as it is casually referred to). Students are supposed to have near constant access to “life coaches,” or licensed social workers. In 2015-16 (my first year), the student body was composed of 40 students, 35 of whom were white and none of whom were black. The student teacher ratio was 2.7/1. Most of the students were in high school, but there was a handful of middle schoolers, for the school served students in grades 6-12. I will incorporate my experience at X into my analysis of the therapeutic day school, while attempting to delineate the trauma that I experienced at the school from what is inherent to a therapeutic day school and what was simply the poor composition of The X School. To begin, I will establish the history of special education in America and the current mechanisms by which it operates. I will then endeavor to establish the detriments of a failure to incorporate diversity into a public classroom before moving on to the benefits of neuro-diversity in the public classroom.
Even in the 1960’s, the total segregation of American special needs children from public school systems was common practice and nearly entirely undisputed. In 1975, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) was passed by Congress, before being amended into the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1997. These acts mandated the integration of special needs students into public school classrooms or, more specifically, the “free and equal” education of disabled students in the “least restrictive” possible environment. The US Dept. of Education mandates an annual report every state, explaining their local education establishments’ efforts to include disabled children. These reports contain placement information and academic data on disabled students. Also collected is data on the degree to which disabled students are placed in “regular” or general education classrooms.
Who is neuro-diversity in the classroom good for? First and foremost, the government and its people should prioritize the wellbeing of the disabled, for they are a more vulnerable population than the citizenry at large and therefore must be protected primarily. Yes, neuro-diversity is beneficial for the neuro-atypical/neuro-diverse among us. But why?
There is no golden standard for brain functionality. Every mind is unique and functions according to its genetic makeup and environmental (especially in childhood) development. That being said, some brains are less typical than others, a subset of those brains being diagnosable with a mental illness, or pathological in the clinical sense. As Thomas Armstrong explains in the American Journal of Ethics, there is a reason that neuro-atypical minds have remained in the gene pool; they have objective advantages. The dyslexic brain might have a geometric mind suited to astrophysics, the autistic brain well suited to unique nonverbal skills. Separate from their ability to produce for society at large, folks with neuro-atypical brains are people like any other, and deserve the same degree (albeit in different ways) of respect and accommodation that the neuro-typical folks of the world automatically receive by virtue of being born. Neuro-atypical people were born as people, too, in all of the emotional, physical, loving complexity that that entails.
The neuro-typical among us are programmed to fear genetic difference. Evolutionarily, difference in genetic makeup could mean unpredictability, which could get one killed. In a developed and ideally humanistic society, however, such a fear need not be had. We have, as a civilization, the tools needed to survive almost any threat- barring natural disaster or mass illness- and we have philosophically developed into empathetic creatures, if not by nature then by societal pressure to do so. If we hold as true that the neuro-atypical are as deserving of accommodation as anyone else and that we are empathetic creatures, then it should follow that we should accommodate the disabled among us to the best of our ability.
To accommodate the neuro-atypical person in public education is to both respect their legal right to an equal education, and to respect their right to as typical a life as possible. It is possible to do the latter while still respecting the beautifully different minds that emotionally/psychologically disabled people possess. This would manifest itself in greater funding for in-house special education public schooling. Separating mentally ill children into non-traditional locations to educate them robs them of their legal and human rights to equality. Separate but equal is never truly equal, if it means a disadvantaged and disempowered subset of the population is split from the general population. What incentive have those in power to provide equally to those who are completely at the behest of the power and in a separate system, the functionality (or lack thereof) of which does not affect the powerful in any way that tips the scale towards immediate remedy-ing action? There is less funding available for the segregated education of special needs children. This leads to an overall worse quality, from teaching to supplies and everything in between.
Anecdotally, the special education day school- even in some of the richest towns/counties in America, like the ones I lived in and near to- is a lesser education. The teachers at The X School were, if not entirely lacking in higher education in the area of the subject which they taught, new to teaching or exceedingly inept such that they could not be retained by public school systems. These three categories- uneducated, new to teaching, or fundamentally inept- encompassed nearly every teacher at X. Their pay, while I don’t know the exact figures, reflected their lesser quality or nascency according to rumor and reports from teachers. Money mismanagement was a common theme, for the school’s management company, X Education Group, was forced to close a side project of a school, The Y School, after only a handful of years due to lack of funding, despite its exorbitant price tag and the price tag of its partner, X, as well as the heavily lined pockets of the company’s founders, the Z family. Rumor (on good authority) even has it that it was the Z couple’s nasty divorce that prompted the financial mismanagement. Sex and drugs were engaged with on campus. Students frequently “ran away” from the school, to the chagrin of the administrators and, inevitably, the police. There was no school nurse, sexual education, or cafeteria. In fact, the school is a couple of levels of a converted office building. The school was tragically homogenous, and when I heard a racial slur being flung around in jokes widely around the school and reported it to administrators, nothing was done. The matriculation of the school was awful for a school that prioritizes college success; not only was a college-like atmosphere completely ignored in that students had very loose deadlines and attendance policies, but as a result, the retention rate once students are in college is abysmal; many, if not most, alumni drop out of college. All this for more than a typical college’s tuition rate!
Bullying was a frequent problem, and the life coaches were ill equipped to address it. Their policy for dealing with bullying was exclusively to have the bully sit down for an optional meeting with their victim. If the bully said no, nothing at all was done. In fact, the life coaches, who were the only resource for a student by design, were almost exclusively young (I’m talking early twenties, either in college or fresh out of it), inexperienced women with lacking interpersonal and conflict resolution skills and the most minimal training that the school could hire, presumably to limit the salaries they had to shell out. The school claimed on its website (now deleted) and to its student body that it did not accept students with a history of violence. However, in the past couple of years they have admitted a handful of students with violent pasts. This is not to say that there is no place for violent students, but it is to say that non-violent students’ rights are violated when they are forced to be housed with violent students. I myself had my life threatened and a “punch in the face” promised to me by a fellow student who was then promptly suspended but, despite the recommendation to do so by the school’s Title IX coordinator, was not expelled by The X School. I ultimately left the school rather than be forced to co-exist with my would-be aggressor. This kind of flawed administrative decision making would be less likely to occur in a purely public school with more funding, resources, and oversight, as would every lacking element of The X School.
I returned to my public school, Ridgefield High School. There, I had access to the full range of resources of a massive and affluent public school system, including an alternative school, a separate room for special needs students in the main building staffed by appropriately trained adults, online schooling, competent counseling, and college advising. I thrived for my final year and graduated with good grades and a healing heart and mind.
Departing the world of anecdotes, to include mentally ill/neuro-atypical students into the general classroom is also better for the neuro-typical students for the same reasons that anyone benefits from diversity in their environment. Physical ability is a “primary” dimension of diversity, meaning that it’s an uncontrollable trait. Diversity allows for “typical” folks to learn from difference. In the case of mentally ill children, this means heightened empathy, conflict resolution skills, patience, “positive peer influence,” general appreciation for human difference, and many more objectively positive learning outcomes. This is not to say that special needs children are nothing more than learning opportunities for neuro-typical children. In fact, what I’m saying is that the beneficial relationship between neuro-typical and neuro-atypical students is reciprocal. Neuro-diversity means a better education for both the mentally ill and those with no mental illness.
Some may argue that the separation of mentally ill students is better for their learning outcomes. Can’t a more individualized approach be given to a student body who all have the same type of neuro-diversity? The trouble is, mentally ill children, too, have such a wide breadth of neuro-diversity that it becomes equally as diverse an environment as a public school, now just with the unique problems of lacking funding, hiring of the bottom of the teaching barrel, lesser oversight, and a hyper-emotional student body that features increased absenteeism, bullying, emotional breakdowns, fights, truancy, and stretched deadlines. By far the superior solution is putting mentally ill students where the most funding and oversight is: public schools.
Every student, whether they be neuro-typical or neuro-atypical, deserves the best quality education possible. In the case of both the former and the latter, the best education that can be provided is one in a general public school. Both general diversity and specific desirable educational outcomes can be better attained in a public school. We owe it to the most vulnerable to act in their best interest, and integration of the special education day school is how we do so.
If you know me, you know that I rarely watch television or movies. I know, they feel like the kind of thing Olivia should be interested in, especially considering how much free time I’ve had, but during my concussion era I couldn’t watch screens in that way and otherwise, I just feel antsy and anxious while I’m watching videos. Youtube videos of maximum 15 minutes are even hard to sit through. So when I find a show that I really take to, it’s gotta be pretty good. Or at least, the show will say a lot about me.
I love Brooklyn 99 because it’s a non-toxic display of both policing and masculinity mixed with very low-pressure comedy (non awkward, minimal discomfort, you’re in on the joke type stuff). I like Sherlock because of its witty back and forth dialogue. I like The West Wing for the Sorkin pace. I like Mindhunter for a few reasons.
Part of the reason I discuss the sociopath I encountered so much is because he hurt me so badly, and I’m traumatized. Part of why I do it is because I’m a bit addicted to it. I partly want justice in the form of exposure. I partly am just purely fascinated by the abnormal psychology that is a lacking of empathy. It’s just so close to the tip of unfathomable but these disorders exist, and people with them do dangerous things.
As I have started to do, I want to begin with a blanket disclaimer that having these diagnoses doesn’t mean you’re automatically a serial killer. The one I know hasn’t killed anybody yet. But in order to have these disorders, one must have displayed a callous disregard for the humanity of others already, so my sympathy isn’t exactly running high. Anyway, here’s what I watched and why it was of interest to me.
Mindhunters is a show about the birth of the Behavioral Science Unit in the FBI, but even more than that it’s about the birth of the sector of criminology that accounts for serial killers and takes into account the background, upbringing, and emotions, or lack thereof, of serial (“sequence” as the characters have conjured up) killer. There are never no emotions, though. They’re just not the ones that are portrayed.
Pathological liar. Psychopath. Sociopath. What’s the difference? As it turns out, very little. I’d kind of been operating under the assumption that there was a difference, but the real difference seems to be that psychopathy is more extreme. Here’s why that matters.
The sociopath I know was diagnosed as such. His girlfriend doesn’t want to believe that, or thinks it’s incorrect, or whatever it was that I told myself when I was in her position, but it’s true. He would say that he was diagnosed a psychopath. It’s clever for him not to use the real name of what he was diagnosed with: antisocial personality disorder. That’s sociopathy, but he never said sociopathy, he’d say psychopathy, a little verbal run around meant to make the listener recoil because of course he’s not a murderous psychopath! He’s smart, he got a near perfect SAT score, it’s pretty intuitively clever. It takes a type to understand.
Now, in the show, the backgrounds of the psychopath are savored by analysts just as much as the behavior in the present. In the pasts of each sociopath and psychopath laid a childhood wake of explanation for the behavior. We see bedwetting, animal abuse, maternal humiliation, matriarchal struggle, absent fathers, drug and alcohol abuse in the family. Discord with the mothers and sons is a very common theme.
The sociopath I know was raised as his mother was suffering from alcoholism. He claims she verbally abused him during that time, but he claims a lot. Perhaps that’s one of the only true things he ever said to me. That certainly doesn’t mean that the family deserves what he is, it’s just an explanation. A check mark, if you will.
One episode was particularly interesting to me. In it, the killer is the boyfriend. The boyfriend is a sociopath at the very least, and the way it manifests in him is that he can very accurately mimic the emotions of others in order to appear normal. He’d cry, he’d bemoan the horror, he appeared to be very “sensitive.” But at the end of the day, he was a remorseless killer, and the trick was that the agent knew it all along, and he knew it because of his instincts.
When he watched the killer boyfriend cry, something felt off, felt wrong, like he shouldn’t be seeing it.
That’s exactly how I felt when the sociopath I knew would cry. He’d look away and make sobbing noises, but I never saw tears. He’d ask to be held, and I would, and part of me felt sympathetic, but always, always, I felt an ever so slight tug of something being off. I wouldn’t recognize it as this until later.
In fact, sociopathy and psychopathy are often hard to square with the person in question. Oh, but he’s such a sweet, kind, empathetic, liberal boy! That’s because they need to appear to be so in order to survive. My sociopath, so to speak, had a supposed connection with his dog, seemed to care about others, and was very liberal. It takes a tuned eye, one that I now have, to see his behavior as hunting.
In fact, we were often in his basement, being physical and watching movies. One night, he was describing to me the way in which he cared about others who struggle. He described it, then, as a hunt. He pretended to be a sniffer dog. I laughed, I thought it was funny. He pretended to sniff all up and down my body, and howled like a dog.
I see now how haunting that incident really was. It was a not-so-rare moment of self-reflection. I believe (with a diagnosis backing me up) that he’s a high functioning sociopath, one that is perhaps afraid of his condition but he has it, nonetheless. He’ll have insight into his condition that his intelligence and hesitance gives him, but that doesn’t give him humanity, or the ability to feel or love.
He chose my therapeutic school to begin dating in because it was the perfect hunting ground. First he dates an anorexic girl with PTSD. Then he dates a bipolar girl who cuts. Women without vulnerabilities like that aren’t suitable prey for him, because like killers, he seeks the prey who are like his admittedly hated mother and sister. He seeks empathy, suffering, vulnerability, and then when the play acting gets boring, he relishes in tossing them aside.
The new girl even looks like his sister.
Anyway, I’d highly recommend the show. They have a little quip about how they know Nixon’s a sociopath. It’s chock full of stuff like that, it’s set many decades ago so the costumes and sets and cinematography are marvelous, and who knows, maybe you’ll see someone you know in the killers. I did.
Please do take all I write here with a grain of salt. I’m just a philosophy major and I’ve not yet taken a class, but I do pride myself on being able to compound information and spit it out cohesively rather well, as well as being able to logic things out, so to speak, passably well, so I hope this is of use.
The issue of suicide rises, of course, far beyond whether or not it’s morally “good” or “permissible” or even what the moral implications of it are, at all. Knowing that it almost always stems from mental illness should be enough to elevate it to a plane of acceptance; yes, sometimes people are so ill that they do incomprehensible things. This piece operates on the assumption that there must be some kind of comprehension to mentally ill decision making, which is a bit of a bold assertion but one that I pretty firmly believe.
In DBT, which I generally loathe but occasionally drink from, it’s said that there’s always a kernel of truth to everything that someone says. It’s how we can validate everything. Even if the kernel is simply “you have been conditioned or naturally do believe x,” that is a bit of truth to an assertion. The difference lies between assertions that are justified verses assertions that are rational.
“I should kill myself.” You hear this from suicidal people. There’s a really interesting debate to be had about the delineation between our common perception of suicidal people and people who actually kill themselves, a good example of this being (and the one that the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, a prime consultation, gives) Adolph Hitler versus Socrates. We all know Hitler killed himself, but Socrates did too; we assign a higher value to the reasoning of Socrates’ noble death versus that of Hitler’s.
Suicide requires the irrational intent to die and an action performed that the doer believes will result in their death. This is oversimplifying things but I’m happy to do that to save length.
I am adding the term “irrational” into the mix, for every death that is performed intentionally has some level of justification to it. James Potter didn’t commit A: suicide by choosing to put himself in death’s path to save his family; he did deliberately make a choice that he reasonably believed would lead to his death, and he died without death being the primary desired outcome (saving his family was). Similarly, a suicidal teenager does not attempt B: suicide to die, they attempt suicide to alleviate the intolerable conditions of their present. However, where A is justified, for his death can be reasonably believed to be the only way to accomplish his goal, B is not because it it cannot, almost ever, be reasonably believed to be the only way to accomplish the alleviation of suffering.
That last point I am sometimes hesitant to believe, but it’s at the crux of suicidality. Will my life get better, possibly, if I don’t?
It is an interesting question to ponder, whether or not there is ever a life for which suicide can be the only cure. Because 99.9% of the time it is not the only cure, and because the debate is actively harmful- potentially providing justification for real life suicides- it is not a debate worth having, I believe. Rare and harmful? Count me out. I’ll deal with that in the classroom, not a public medium.
I do believe that mental disorders are always either temporary or temperable. Even Borderline Personality is temperable, sometimes responsive to treatment. Antisocial Personality, a condition I love to decry, can be managed with enough self control (a Herculean task but possible post-diagnosis). There is always another treatment to be thought of, a further step to go. This I believe.
So, what else is worth discussing when it comes to suicide? There’s the history, which can be summed up in a few words, I find: it was a religious sin before folks began sympathizing (this dates back to even Platonic/Socratic eras, particularly Platonic works in which suicide was seen as abandoning the gods’ plans).
There remains the question of what able minded folks are duty bound to do for the suicidal. If we assume that suicidality is borne of mental illness (and yes we’re assuming that!), then it becomes a question of whether or not able folks are duty bound to help the helpless. Mental illness is no more a choice than cancer, and we have booming, deep systems designed to treat cancer. Holding the illnesses to the same standard, we should be sympathetic similarly to the suicidal.
We also have a moral duty to interfere in the actions of others that they cannot on their own understand to be primarily self-destructive. Normally this is done simply through verbal coercion, and it’s more palatable there, but physical intervention is performed in this case, to interfere with such a personal choice, because the choice is irreversible and borne of irrationality.
We have, as a societal clump, decided that we don’t allow people who are under irreconciliable mental influence decide important questions of fate. The exception to this would be harm inflicted upon others under mental influence, which we only legally execute under the guise of a sense of justice for victims.
This does beg the question, though, of whether or not suicide, too, should be fully “criminalized,” as it is not a harmless act upon others. It will hurt other people almost always, through grief, guilt, anger, sadness, or even interference with daily activities. Yes, suicide is technically criminalized, but it isn’t treated as a crime. If we reason that the difference between violent acts committed under extreme mental influence and suicide would be harm to others, that line dissolves quickly.
So, we’re at a point now where I have to shrug and say “just because!” Why does human civilization not fully decriminalize ALL externally harmful behavior, or fully criminalize it at all? Because we’re inconsistent, unreasonable, and justice/revenge hungry, and I’m not willing to fall on the “punishment is wrong, only rehabilitate” sword, at least not at the moment.
Someday, I’ll be the fully anti-firearm, fully anti-criminalization vegan that I’m destined to molt into, but it hasn’t happened yet!
TRIGGER WARNING: Physical/psychological abuse, rape, eating disorders, general mental illness.
This is going to be a long one, so buckle in. I get a surprising amount of questions from friends and strangers alike that are very far off from the timeline of my life. One I get a lot is “so, was that sociopath boy or cheating boy?” or “was that Munchausen’s boy or suicidal boy?” I also get “which hospitalization was that?” and “I thought your eating disorder was before xyz!” Here’s me clearing all of that up!
I am sick and tired of the inadequacy of my special needs school. The teaching and administration is disorganized, the children there are bad influences, and I’m learning next to nothing. I have applied and been accepted to a few boarding schools. Life isn’t great- I spend some precautionary time in the hospital after being cheated on- but it could be worse, too. I become close with a boy we’ll call T.
T and I ramp up our talking. We talk about politics, mental health, our respective pasts, and more. He’s a smart guy and I see him as a friend, but it ramps up quickly. When I was stranded at a gas station miles from anywhere I knew because I forgot to give him his computer back and demanded to be released from my van, though there were no Ubers available and my parents are at work, he tells me he loves me in the midst of his fear for me. I’m shocked but say it back. We’re in a relationship now.
I attend my hometown prom with a different boy. T threatens to kill me, on this night.
I spend the summer with T. Abuse I won’t get into too deeply begins here. I attempt a breakup and am met with suicidality, so I take it back. I learn fully about his past violence and what he’s capable of now. I get to know his family and feel responsible for protecting them from him. I take everything onto my shoulders, and spend most days at his family’s pool, hanging out in their guest bedroom, or going out to eat.
I begin at a boarding school upstate from where I live. I love it there. I’m playing soccer, I’m making friends who I still adore today, and I’m getting good grades. Emboldened, I try to break up with T again, but he yells that he’s going to kill himself and runs off camera. I turn off the Facetime and begin screaming bloody murder. My friends come and console me in my hallway while I dial my mother, who calls his mother, saying her next call will be 911. His mother tells my mother to “take care of your kid and I’ll take care of mine” but she doesn’t go see him. With no other option, I call him back and take him back.
In early October, I sustain 2 concussions over 4 days, in the same spot on my head, and have to leave school due to the severity of my symptoms.
OCTOBER 2016- SEPTEMBER 2017
This is close to the worst year of my life, second only to this most recent. I am over at T’s house almost every day, Facetiming with him every night for hours, and I want nothing to do with it. Every time I try to hang up he screams, cries, pretends to cut on camera, threatens me, threatens himself. He laughs at me and mocks me and calls me names, hurts me physically in several ways. I’m slowly gaining weight because I need to be in dark rooms resting in order to recover from my concussion, and can’t exercise or even be in heavy light. I spend most of my time in his dark den, dealing with what he had for me. This was absolute hell. I felt so alone every day, unable to truly connect meaningfully with the only person I had, “only” being his design. My friends were gone living their own lives, my parents were gone, it was just me and him. I started developing PTSD symptoms. They later got much worse but one that developed during this time was a sleep paralysis dream in which I’m raped while T drips blood over me.
I somehow find the gumption to break up with T, and this process takes several weeks in which I have to utilize every last drop of empathy I possess, but I do it. I start back at my old, despised school, and am student body president for the second year in a row (minus the gap where I wasn’t there). I’m proud of that accomplishment. I’m diligent about schoolwork. Little things start to add up and matter to me, and I feel good.
My disorders are starting to slam me. I’m beginning to realize what happened to me, and little spurts of trauma are falling out of me. My body had fully compartmentalized what I went through for so long that it was bursting with it, and it was finally safe to release it, though safe isn’t quite the right word. I start thinking about losing the weight, Googling diets. I am pursued by a peculiar boy who won’t leave me alone, until I reported him for illegal activity on school premises and he was suspended. He didn’t like me quite so much after that.
Trauma hits me full swing. I am staying up until 2 am every night, sobbing and writhing on my bathroom floor, playing loud music to drown my thoughts out and I’m doing this all while utterly alone. When at school, I’m rocking back and forth on the floor and hiding in dark corners, under tables, in my counselor’s office. My schoolwork quality deteriorates. I begin a relationship with a boy at my school who, unbeknownst to me, had a girlfriend who was off at college. Good going, right Olivia? A relationship, now?
I stop eating entirely. I’m running every day for four hours in all weather.
I kiss the boy in his car a Cheesecake Factory parking lot, listening to Bon Iver. We go to Knicks games, ice skating, escape rooms, restaurants, hook up in his car. He holds my hand while I reluctantly eat mashed potatoes. He’s the very first person I tell about T and what he did. I regret that it wasn’t my doctors but it had to come out to someone, I guess, and it came out at 1 am and in a flurry.
My relationship continues with the boy. When I come back from Winter break, I mention that I spent time with him in my Spanish class. From then on, a gang of girls who overhears this bullies me. They wanted to date the boy, you see. They do this from this moment until the day I leave the school after a Title IX investigation into the harassment.
I am still eating literally nothing. I’m losing an average of 1.5 pounds per day. I’m running for 3-5 hours every day and live off of water and a slice of toast three times a week. My body is covered in bruises and my bones are in constant pain.
I tell my therapists about T. I’m instantly diagnosed with PTSD.
M comes to the school (M isn’t for Munchausen’s but yes, this is Munchausen’s boy, for those who have asked). Immediately we click. I show him around the school and send him a fake Valentine-gram from Hillary Clinton; it was Valentine’s day when he came and I didn’t want him to be left out of the pre-planned fun. We start Facetiming every night. Hours and hours on end. I tell him everything about me, he tells me what he wants me to think about him.
He says he’s asexual and I respect that, but we’re in a Starbucks one day and we say we love each other and kiss. From then on, he’s “asexual except for Olivia.”
I learn that he supposedly has an insanely severe insomnia disorder- “the worst in the United States, according to a New York doctor-” that renders him unable to sleep for 2ish weeks at a time and then crashes him for 48 hours of knockout sleep. This seems unlikely, but he tells me that I’d be the only one to ever believe him if I did, so I do. It makes me feel special, he makes me feel special.
I start going over to M’s house. I meet his family. I ask him to prom with me and he agrees. I become very close with his family, we spend almost every day together. M promises me we’ll spend the rest of our lives together, that we’ll never die because we’ll simply be elevated into a some kind of post-mortem elysium together. I believe him. We spend nearly every night watching Harry Potter and being physical, having dinner with his family. I go on countless walks with him and his sweet dog. I buy his little sister a birthday present with all I had in my bank account. I adore his mother in particular, she feels like a second mother to me. I meet his extended family. I love his housekeepers (yes, the family has 4 women on rotation, I know that’s a revolting amount of wealth but it felt fine at the time). I’ve never felt so happy or loved.
Things start to fail to add up. I learn on a car ride on the way to pick up his custom prom suit, with him and his mother, that he was once diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder by my old doctor, a long time ago. This immediately rings bells in my head, for my doctor (now ex-doctor) is one of the best in the country at what he does. He wouldn’t diagnose a child with something so serious without good reason. His mother acts like it was an incorrect diagnosis, but I’m not so sure. At this point, however, I’m barely suspicious.
Prom comes and goes. He texts another girl most of the night. I’m crestfallen and hurt, but he acts as if I’ve done something wrong. I’ll never forget watching him walk away to his car with his dad, leaving early, shaking his head, while I’m wondering what I did and am not feeling empowered to explain how hurt I was. We were soulmates, remember? Soulmates didn’t fight. They didn’t even disagree.
I encourage him to take sleep medication. He’s claimed before that he has negative side effects to EVERY sleep medication. I beg him to take just one. On camera, he “drops” the phone as he supposedly takes the pill. He screams at me when I question if he took the pill (he didn’t). This is our first fight. When we hang up, I can’t stop crying. We fight again a few weeks later. I remember typing, “M, this isn’t like you!” He could really flip an aggressive switch.
Things are falling apart. He begins to tell me that his parents abuse him. I know his parents and at first don’t believe him, but he tells me that he’s “sorry he didn’t tell me sooner” about their “abuse” but he “wanted to let me believe the fantasy.” Supposedly, they verbally abuse him, pull and push him, and confiscate technology. This terrifies me. He’s vilified my second mother, my second family, and I can’t save him from their “abuse.”
I’m being terribly bullied at school. One of the girls posts on Instagram that she’s going to punch me in the face the next time she sees me, and “ruin my life.” It’s still because of the boy I dated in January, and because I’m dating M.
I can’t take it anymore. I spend most nights crying. I feel very alone and the person who’s promised to always be there for me, for the rest of my life, isn’t anymore. He’s busy being “abused.” I stop eating again. I crash.
M vanishes. I’m scared he’s been sent away, or has been abused so badly that he’s hurt. My entire body feels like it’s on fire, all the time. I can’t stop crying. I take 4 (prescribed) Xanax a day to avoid being immobile on the floor. I do everything I can to try to find him, it’s all I can think about. I only make it a day at summer school because all I can do is imagine him being abused and my not being there for him. I have nothing else
He comes back right before I go into the hospital following a suicide attempt. He says that all of my fears were true, he was being abused, and that I should send him a burner phone to talk to me. I buy one but don’t get to send it before I go into the hospital.
For two weeks, he and I email love letters and lovey dovey calls to each other. One day, he vanishes again. He’s sent my parents a confession via his parents. He’d lied to me about everything, he says. He claims it was for my own good. He was reading my loving texts and playing video games while I looked for him. My family and I are horrified, at his lies and the lies of his parents, who enabled him. My father tells me never to speak to him again but I try to reason. Love of my life, remember? He lashes out at me, says terrible things when I say I never want to speak to him again. His father despicably threatens my family. All contact ceases.
I receive life saving treatment at my local world-class hospital for both my eating disorder and my PTSD and OCD, treatment the likes of which I’d never gotten before. I stay on with my doctor from that hospital permanently. She’s the second mother I deserve, not M’s unwell mother.
I head back to public school.
I hear from M again. He apologizes. More lies. Contact is cut off again.
I begin this blog. And from then on, you know everything worth sharing.
2018 and the beginning of 2019 was the worst year and a half of my life. But I’m here now, I survived these people. As hypocritical as it sounds, I’m swearing off relationships with fellow seriously mentally ill people. Most people aren’t as far along in treatment as I am. They’ll take me on rides like the three detailed above. I don’t want that for myself anymore. I want health, fulfillment, friendship, genuine connection, and happiness, for once. I’ll find that at college, I know it.
I hope this answers all of the questions you all have. Keep sending ‘em!
I talk about super depressing stuff all the time so here’s something very fun: a dorm haul!! For my freshman year at college! ME! College! Sorry for the blurriness! Enjoy!
Yes, I’m on Reddit. Yes, I’m a bit ashamed. I like to feebly remind folks that Serena Williams’ (husband) invented Reddit, so it can’t be all bad! I originally joined it a few years ago to follow the conversation surrounding my favorite TV show, and one of the only I watch, Survivor. I recently used it to follow college admissions advice and journeys. Somewhere in the middle, however, I used it to cry for help.
I was in a relationship for 2 years that was abusive in all of the ways. I don’t talk about it much; I find it’s much easier to survive when it’s shoved to the bottom of my headspace. Counterintuitive though that may sound, it’s therapist approved.
Anyway, I want to show you all what I wrote, today. Towards the end of the relationship, one I eventually fearfully broke off, I made a long Reddit post asking for help. It was immediately flagged for mention of rape/abuse and not permitted to be publicized, and I didn’t follow it up with another one, but here it is.
I’ve blacked out information that is either too personally sensitive and/or humiliating, or information that is too identifying or personal, on his end.
I hope this serves as a good reminder that people all around you are asking for help and wanting better for themselves, and it’s important to learn the signs of a struggling person.
There are a few things that have really made the difference in the fact that I haven’t once seriously thought “I want to die” in four months, or a record for me. After my departure from the hospital, my dad and I underwent a series of lifestyle changes that, in conjunction with medication changes, have revitalized my life and gotten me ready for college.
I’ll talk more about them in the coming weeks. They range from doing academic work of some kind, every day of the week, to working out a few times a week (such that my therapist approves of), to seeing the outdoors at least once a day, to making small advances towards cleanliness in my own space every day. I started a second sleep medication and upped doses on my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder-targeted medication. Most importantly, though, I intentionally crafted a healthy sleep schedule.
Anyone can do it; I just hadn’t done it. A year and a half ago I was staying up until 5 am talking to a sociopath I loved every night. Two years ago I was writhing on the floor of my bathroom until 1 in the morning, picking my skin and sobbing into a towel. That was a habit many years in the making. I’ve never had a good sleep schedule. There had always been more important things to build in therapy sessions, so I thought.
My dad was very scared by what happened in April. It was the closest I’ve ever come to dying, he was there minutes after it happened, he came with me to the hospital, and he had to talk to perhaps his least favorite person- sociopath dad- on the phone in order to help me. He swept me from the hospital down to visit his mother, and we walked the beach and discussed surviving. We build a plan that emphasized stabilizing my sleep schedule, and I didn’t quite understand the significance of it, but he told me that if I wanted to stay alive that this would be important. I trusted him, and here’s where we are!
Sleep medication is very powerful, and there’s something for everyone. I take two sleep-targeted medications now- Trazodone and Clonidine– in conjunction with the maximum daily dose of Fluvoxamine (OCD) and sometimes Xanax, all four of which induce tired-ness and sleep. I take my medication at 9 – 9:30. By 10:30 – 11:00, or sometimes earlier, I’m asleep. I wake up at 7:30 – 8:00 fully rested and ready for the day.
But it isn’t just getting those hours. I had little concept of how important getting the hours was to my mental health.
In DBT- a therapy method I prefer less than others that I’m actually being treated with, but it has value and I digress- there is an acronym (of course) for keeping one’s body healthy. It’s in the emotional regulation module, and it’s called PLEASE.
PhysicaL (yes this acronym is garbage, utilize TIPP to deal with it) Illness: Treat any and all physical ailments as quickly as possible.
Eating: Maintain balanced and healthful eating habits.
Avoid substances: Avoiding illicit drugs and alcohol, within reason, will keep the mind at its best.
Sleep: Stay on a regular sleep schedule.
Exercise: Engage in the appropriate amount of exercise for your body.
It’s said that this skill will help create a baseline of physical wellness such that you will only have to work on mental challenges once these are taken care of. It can sometimes be hard to distinguish between a physical need and an emotional one.
Take babies for example. When they have physical needs, like a desire for sleep or food, they will cry. Crying is an action typically associated with emotionality, but in the case of babies, they just have a physical need. Adults aren’t all that different; our emotions are played with by our physical needs, and everything negative, emotion wise, is exacerbated by a physical inadequacy.
If I’m not being intentional about my sleep, in other words, I’m not giving myself a fair shot at getting better.
For a long time, I didn’t want to get better. I felt so overwhelmingly about everything, all the time, and I wanted that to be a part of my identity. I want recovery from illness to be a part of my identity, now, and I can proudly say that I’ve come a long way towards that, relapses and all.
It’s 10:28 pm. GO TO BED. I am!
Music has always been known to have a visceral impact upon the body and mind. Even beyond it prompting people to dance, its upbeat melodies make folks happy, dulcet tones calm the anxious, and screaming validates the angry. For some reason, and I’ll dive into why I think this is even though I can’t know for sure, music affects me so deeply that I have no choice but to listen to a certain kind, and music can be lost and found very quickly depending on my life’s happenings. Let me explain.
Right now, the only music I can listen to is upbeat rap music (upbeat being necessary because of the advent of depressed rap music, a genre that really gets to me because of its similarity to my musical crutch). These types of songs are odes to the crooners themselves, self-congratulatory poetry that celebrates the body, mind, spirit, and all of their accomplishments. I can’t say I’m a fan of some of the language used in these songs but in order to appreciate the artistry, I have to put that aside, and when I do, the world of rap opens up for me.
I listen to all of the typical rappers, from J. Cole to Kendrick Lamar, from Kid Cudi to Drake and everyone in between, but I also (and this is apropos of nothing but a desire to share with you) was recently introduced by my best friend to a song called Like a Girl by Lizzo, which is such a banger that I can’t turn it off.
Ridiculous songs like Tiny Meat Gang’s parody song Walkman aso keep my head above water. But why and how exactly do they do that? I’ll start with the inverse.
I used to keep several “suicide playlists” on my phone, composed of songs that either discussed suicide or were so sad that they would induce suicidality. I felt as if I was injecting the music into my veins when I’d listen to it. I am so extra sensitive to external stimuli- my old psychiatrist once compared me to a burn victim- that music’s rhythm, lyrics, etc can completely guide my mood. So when I’d listen to “.” (my main “suicide playlist” of a time), a playlist that featured The Fray, The Slip, Daughter, Sleeping with Sirens, and later Dermot Kennedy and XXXTentacion, for example, would send me into a depressive spiral.
Here’s the scene; I’m lying naked on my bathroom floor. The shower’s been running for two hours. My playlist is on the third run-through; Be Still is playing, and all I can think about as I gouge out my skin is how no one, in my estimation, was there for me, and how alone I was, and how I wished more than anything that someone would say to me “be still, and know, that I’m, with you” but that not a soul would. Next, Medicine comes on, and I hear “you’ve got a beautiful brain but it’s disintegrating” and I can’t help but cry along as I imagine my own diseased brain and the helplessness of such intense anxiety, terror, pain, and sadness that doesn’t ever seem to lift.
Most poignantly, I’ve been listening to a song called Drown by Front Porch Step since freshman year. It’s meant different things to me at different times in my life, but it’s always been the highlight of every single suicide playlist I’ve ever made. If I listen to it, I will become suicidal. There is also a song that is in the soundtrack to a movie I’ve watched over and over when suicidal, called The Suicide Room. It was played on a grand piano when I was in the hospital, just sitting in a waiting room before lunch, and I burst into inconsolable tears.
Here’s the scene when I’m listening to rap music. I’m walking around my room, naked too but this time, I’m trying on all of my favorite outfits. The goal is to give away some clothing but the fun is in the fashion show that I’m running in front of my full length mirror. “My mind state feel like the crime in the summertime, higher than average” is being recited from my phone that’s tossed lazily onto my yellow bedspread. Sun’s streaming into the room as I twirl and pose, singing/rapping along at the parts that I know. It’s late spring, it’s early summer, my skin is tanned and smooth, and I just finished an hour of schoolwork.
The latter scenario has been my life for the last few months. I feel amazing, but in reality that kind of music listening is what keeps me above water. I sometimes ride in the car with others who have different music taste- my sister, for example and it’s hard to listen to more morose, introspective music. If I’m too introspective, I’m sad. I need to get out of my head.
There’s also the interesting phenomenon, to consider, of my shunning of music that has any kind of negative connotation. For example, the soundtracks of Dear Evan Hansen and Hamilton make me need to throw up. If you read Katie’s most recent article, which I did and with much enjoyment, you’ll know that Dear Evan Hansen is a wonderful, thoughtful, meaningful musical and especially so for folks with mental illness. But it’s gone with the wind, to me, because it alludes to past trauma that to this day, makes me shake and sob and gives me nightmares almost every night. Hamilton runs along those same lines.
Finally, there are songs I’ve reclaimed. I danced at prom to a song called Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen. I danced with a boy who ended up being a very predatory, bad person. I could very easily have let the song be taken from me, never be able to listen to it, become nauseous when I hear it. The song means too much to me to do that. I recently belted my heart out along with a karaoke machine “Someday girl, I don’t know when, we’re gonna get to that place where we really wanna go, and we’ll walk in the sun.”
I feel, now, that my life is full of such promise and opportunity that I, too, am born to run…
(…as long as I keep blasting Lizzo ad nauseum!)
I’ve done a full read-through of the Harry Potter series every time I’ve been in any overnight treatment. Sometimes this has meant I’ve had a week to work with, sometimes several months. I’ve always managed, and with good reason. Tucked inside the many hundreds of pages of seemingly child-geared storytelling can be found countless golden nuggets of relatable analogies among the broader lessons to be learned about mental health.
J.K. Rowling perfected the story to be this way, of course. Like all good children’s media (if you can even call Harry Potter simply for children, given its common transcendence of boundaries like age and gender), it is to be consumed in one way by children and in a different way as those children age. Every year I could have been at Hogwarts, from ages eleven to seventeen, I’ve read the stories differently. To be fair, I’ve read them each likely upwards of thirty times- with the fourth likely clocking in at over forty and the fifth under thirty- so I’d naturally discover more within the manuscript each time. There are many ways in which Rowling’s stories can be digested, of course, and I’d like to share with you some lessons I’ve learned from Harry and his friends/foes, as well as bits that have comforted me.
Humans are multi-faceted, and we should cut each other a break, for Merlin’s sake. This one is basic empathy, in sum, and Rowling emphasizes empathy above all else in her series. She often refers to it as love, citing love as Harry’s greatest strength and the way he is able to triumph over evil, as could we all. The two are similar enough to be equated, and love both paints a more pleasant picture of it and makes it easier for children to understand.
We are given reasons to care for and dislike every character in Harry Potter. Most people, I find, don’t even like Harry himself. Rowling takes great care to emphasize how “we have both light and dark inside of us,” and even in seemingly irredeemable characters, such as Lord Voldemort, we’re exposed to the why and the how.
“We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.” – Sirius Black
Almost the entire sixth book is dedicated, plot wise, to diving into Voldemort’s past. Why is the epitome of evil the way that it is? How is evil nurtured, who must enable it and how can its creation lead to its downfall? Along the journey, we’re privy to heart-wrenching factoids about Voldemort’s upbringing; he is an orphan who never knew either of his parents and who was an outcast as a child. He was a descendant of the stereotypically evil Hogwarts founder. He felt chronically misunderstood, and his hope for a pure, powerful bloodline gave him a sense of purpose that, when shattered upon discovering that he was only half-wizard (to put it in layman’s terms) leaves him reeling. He was never capable of love or empathy, in the first place. Could he have done any better than he did? We are given his full name, Tom Marvolo Riddle, and this question to ponder.
It isn’t just the embodiment of evil we’re asked to love, though. Every character is nuanced. I happen to love Hermione most of any character for her intelligence, assertiveness, rule following and intimate emotional capacity, but anyone else could just as easily find her bossy, nosy, a show off, or annoying, and many do, both in real life and in the books. Ron, a secret fondness of mine, is emotionally limited, not terribly bright, petty and immature, but I love him for his ability to use humor to lift the moods of others and his loyalty. Draco Malfoy, a bullying villain for the vast majority of the series, is given depth in the latter two books with a storyline about his inner conflict with morality in the face of a birthright duty to evil. Let’s not talk about Dolores Umbridge, yeah?
The epitome of this concept is, of course, Severus Snape. I find Snape to be pretty uninspiring but it’s a common interpretation of his actions to see them as ultimately good. To fill you in, he was a prejudiced bully in school, so Harry’s dad and his friends were mean to him, and then Harry’s dad married the girl Snape loved so he spends the rest of his days hating and severely bullying Harry and every child who dares amicably encounter him. He does so because he stakes himself at the school to watch over Harry and protect him despite considerable danger from Voldemort, all because he loved Harry’s mother. While I find many issues with the popular view that Snape was some sort of hero (did he love Harry’s mother or just fetishize her? And he in no way needed to become one of Harry’s friends’ (Neville) literal worst fear in the world!), the series does indeed rely on him seeming like a horrible bully for most of it, only for him to emerge as an enormously complex and in many ways sympathetic character at the very end, upon whom the plot to dismantle evil largely rests. ‘Till the very end…
Rowling lends us the gift of complexity with her characters. She and her world taught little Olivia how to look more deeply into the heart of a person to see them more accurately than by what may be immediately evident. I assume the best in people and retain the capacity to understand the worst in them. Everyone I meet bears a story that I humbly am yet to fully understand, perhaps won’t ever understand, and it educates the things that they do, for better or for worse. I am the same. Good people do bad things, bad people do good things, and the question why? unlocks many doors, far better than alohomora!
I see myself and my life in many of the predicaments of the characters in the Harry Potter series. I see my scrupulosity, passion for academia, and empathy (I hope!) in Hermione, but she is more assertive than I am, and is able to more easily keep her head held high in the face of opposition of those traits. Reading about Hermione’s way of coping with being teased for being bossy or a know-it-all helped little (and big) Olivia learn how to navigate her own parallel qualities. I saw myself in Ginny, a bright girl who made the intersection of athletics and femininity look cool. Eighth grade me appreciated that. I saw my timidity and fear in Neville, as well as his insistence on standing up to his friends, and marveled in the overcoming of his timidity by aggressively fostering his talents where they appeared (plant work!). I saw my frequent fretting and desire to people-please in the giant groundskeeper Hagrid, a character with whom I would at first seem to have little in common. I saw myself in Draco Malfoy, a scared child tasked with something much bigger and scary than should ever have been asked of him.
Those are the things that swept to to my rescue when my brain was still being molded, an impressionable child. As my child brain evolved into that of a teen and adult with tumultuous and dark emotions and experiences, I found myself best served by finding analogies to my life within plot lines that Rowling created, for the farther out one zooms, the greater the lessons are to be learned.
One I’ve found particularly comforting is a plot that emerges in the second book. Ginny, the eventual athletic and vivacious powerhouse, was first a shy, meek girl who was possessed (think demonic possession) by Lord Voldemort, the big man himself. She was prompted to do things by her possessor that she would never do if she’d been in control of her own mind (strangle chickens, write messages in blood). I, too, have watched myself do things that a spotless mind would never do. Fully healthy, I’d have made it to school every day, eaten normally. I’d see a pair of steps as numberless, unpicked skin as the tranquil status quo, others’ insecurities as simply their own. I’d never have had a desire to end my own life. What kind of human being, evolutionary instinct and all, wants to be the one to off themselves, despite lifelong attempts, always, to survive? A mind, invaded.
When Ginny emerges from her possession, she is immediately forgiven. Though she assisted in the barely thwarted attempt by Voldemort to come back to life, her parents tearfully embrace her and her crimes remain unpunished by a sympathetic Headmaster Dumbledore. It’s understood that she’d been not of her right mind when she smeared blood and killed chickens. Her experience with possession ultimately allows her to more meaningfully connect with Harry- her eventual husband- displaying how good can come from past hardship, specifically how difficult experiences can unite healed sufferers. Similarly, outside forces can take hold of good folks’ minds, making them say and do things they wouldn’t otherwise. It takes courage to look deeper into a person than the surface level at which their mind can be manipulated, its grey area. It’s courage that I’ve always found to be so meaningful in my doctors; they always could look past my irrational and sick behaviors and find the core meaning of them, access my true character that was shining through, despite everything.
Most recently, I found solace in a comparison between myself and a situation Harry finds himself in in the fifth installment of the series. In short form, Harry is lured to a dangerous location because of maliciously false images that were implanted into his brain, images that prompted him to want to travel a long distance to save someone he loved. Hermione, ever the guiding presence, tries to remind Harry that he is more vulnerable to manipulation because of his “saving people thing,” and he spurns her, a fatal decision. Had Harry possessed the self awareness to understand that he did indeed have a penchant for being the one to try to save those in need, he may have been able to step back and make the right call.
Oh boy, do I ever have a saving people thing. Being surrounded by ill children has made me, in combination with genetic predispositions and my upbringing, extremely eager to caretake those who are unable to do so for themselves. I clamber to be the hero for people and take on their hardships as my own. Within the environments I’ve found myself- rich with ill teens- this is mostly a curse. It stems from the empathy I partially acquired from my Harry Potter centric upbringing, making it based in an admirable quality, but its tangible results include depersonalization and terrible guilt and self hatred when I fail to single-handedly heal people, people who therapists have not yet been able to crack. More broadly, I often feel the pain of nearly everyone else as if it were my own.
One concept I found particularly meaningful to me when I was in treatment is the necessitation of being healthy in order to help others who aren’t. My whole life I’d scoffed at the idea of putting myself first. What a selfish idea! I’d encourage my friends to do it but I couldn’t muster it myself. A particularly insightful doctor pointed out to me that it was alright to have a saving people thing, but it couldn’t possibly be effective unless I’d saved myself first. People need to learn how to develop boundaries, how to function on their own, how to regulate their emotions, before they can fully dedicate themselves to purely empathy driven endeavors.
Similarly, Harry was offered the chance to learn to close his mind to the images, but he chose not to. He wanted the insight that the images gave him. It was almost as if it would be selfish of him to cut off crucial access to Voldemort’s mind. His empathy was used against him, and he failed to save anyone.
The lesson here is simple: help yourself in order to help others.
Most of you have probably read the Harry Potter series, but I encourage you to give it another read through, or at least reflect back upon it, focusing particularly on the lessons about empathy, self-sacrifice, self care, and human complexity. The series may have been initially marketed for youth, but nowadays it’s for folks of all ages, and really it always was. It’s played a large role in my recovery, and even if you may seem to have nothing to recover from, I promise you’ll be able to identify personalized life lessons under the trio of stars that adorn every page.