I wish I could have a conversation with my childhood self, my teenage self. Although I have mostly accepted that the past cannot be changed, and some of the bad things I lived through are what led me to being the awesome weirdo that I am today, I do still find myself thinking about what could have been done differently to help me cope with troublesome environments, interactions, and thoughts/behaviours that would have made growing up less difficult. I can’t say for sure what would have been useful for a crazy, violent, destructive kid; being pathologized and locked up probably weren’t/aren’t the best solutions, but that is what happened.
Maranda back then (pre-adolescence & early teens) probably would have wanted privacy, a notebook that wouldn’t be read by others, books filled with stories they could actually relate to, and meaningful friendships. Instead, my bedroom door was taken off its hinges, I felt unsafe writing anything real, and I was isolated from my friends by well-meaning parents who thought either that I was a bad influence on them, or they were a bad influence on me (depending on which parent was initiating the separation).
Still, these small, simple measures wouldn’t have taken the craziness away; they wouldn’t have quelled my violent thoughts and urges, or ensured that I grew up happy, healthy, functioning, or well-balanced. What about access to mental health care, you ask? Well, I talked to a lot of therapists, counsellors, and psychiatrists when I was a kid, but those conversations and those meds didn’t stop me from bringing a knife to school; they didn’t stop me from stealing meds from the kitchen cupboard and collecting them for the suicide I was planning at age twelve, didn’t stop me from throwing dishes at my sister when we fought, didn’t stop me from cutting myself with broken glass and stolen pink Bic razors, didn’t stop me from every screaming match I had with my mom when I refused to go to school yet again. And, of course, they did nothing to protect me from the traumas I lived through in the process. The professionals / authority figures were people I felt unsafe and uncomfortable with. I didn’t know what they wanted from me or why they were taking notes. I didn’t know why they were asking me so many questions, or how to answer. I was silent and sullen. (They did, however, provide me with an excuse to get out of the classroom, another unsafe space, early.) (Also, silence and sullenless were recorded as symptoms, not reasonable reactions to fucked up situations.)
In mental health treatment programs (such as inpatient hospitals and outpatient group therapy), we are taught healthier communication skills, healthier eating habits, and the value of creating a steady routine; we are encouraged to keep a journal, drink lots of water, and learn the difference between thoughts, emotions, and actions. We are given medication. We are treated as though we have a simple case of mild depression, and just need a pill, a diary, a daily routine, and an occasional pat on the back to cure us. While this process has sometimes helped me in small bits, I know that it is not enough. There is so much I want from the mental health care system, from people in general, and it seems impossible; it seems like too much to ask.
My latest experience with the mental health care system was yet another disappointment. In October 2011 (five months after being discharged from a two-month inpatient program for depression, anxiety, and “mood disorders”), I was back in the ER with suicidal thoughts and major depression. I was put on a waitlist for outpatient Emotional Regulation group therapy. One year later, this past October, I finally heard back from them; my name had come up on the waitlist, and I needed to call them back to ensure my spot in the program. I was told that if they didn’t hear from me by a certain date (my birthday, incidentally), I’d be taken off the waitlist. So I called and called and called. I left countless messages, each one more desperate. Nobody ever answered the phone and nobody ever called me back. I was, presumably, taken off the waitlist.
I don’t want to be cured of my craziness. I don’t want to go back to a small, grey room where the nurses tell me to make a cup of tea when I feel like cutting myself, where they train me to wake up early and interact with others and think about the resumé I’ll write when I get out, so I can get a job as a cashier at the mall and hope that the routine keeps me sane. I’m not looking for sanity. I’m not looking for a normal life. I don’t want to ruin my life by trying to live up to somebody else’s idea of success. My craziness has been good for me. My craziness is why I write, why I invest time and energy in trying to create meaningful friendships & relationships, it’s why I try my best to help other weirdos do what they can to survive (conversely, it is also why I understand and respect when they choose not to). It’s bad, sometimes (a lot of times), yeah. But it’s me. And instead of trying to “fix” myself and pretend I’m okay in this world, I want… I want to know how to finish this sentence. I want something I don’t yet know how to name.
It’s been thirteen years since I’ve seen the inside of a detention centre and a year and a half since I’ve seen the inside of an inpatient treatment centre (I have yet to experience the cells of prisons, but have spent more than enough time in the cells of police stations & courts), but I still remember those periods of my life so vividly, and I am still easily triggered during conversations (read or spoken) about youth violence, youth mental health, the legal “justice” system, “bullying” (harassment and assault are closer to the truth), and mental health / treatment/recovery programs in general.
So far, I’ve grown up to be someone who thinks critically, keeps most of their violent impulses to themselves, and has the self-awareness and well-developed methods to take care of themselves during crises; but there is no guarantee that that will remain the same. What if I really do lose it someday? What if I really do kill somebody? Who will you choose to blame? Is access to mental health care the only viable solution? What if that mental health care is shitty anyway? What if it makes you feel crazier? Is allyship to crazyfolk even a possibility? What if these are all things that we can’t prevent anyway? What does “better mental health care” actually mean? What does it look like, what does it feel like? What if it’s not the answer? What if writing isn’t enough to save me forever? (As usual, I have many more questions than answers.)
P.S.: I am keeping many of the details of my childhood and teenage years to myself to protect my family from having to re-live it in any way, and also because I don’t want the telling of my stories to appear as a negative critique of my family’s skills or experiences, or as bitterness about a past that I cannot change. I fucking love my family, actually. I’m not a parent and I don’t intend to become one, and I know that each parent does the best they can, so I’m not gonna try to tell anyone how to do it better.