I started writing this blog post a few weeks ago. I wanted to talk about my experience as a “troubled teen” and my time entangled in the troubled teen industry. And then, about two weeks ago, I found out that my therapeutic boarding school I attended from 2010-2011 had been shut down due to “financial” reasons. I don’t know if I believe this or not, since the school was shut down with no warning to the staff or parents of the kids attending. But I figured now would be the perfect time to process my adolescence, since I spent many years removed from my experiences. Sure, I told friends about my crazy years, but it was like I was telling them about an indie movie I had seen that no one else had ever heard of. This is a long story, so we’ll call this “Part I”.
I had severe emotional issues as an adolescent. I begged my mom for a therapist at the age of 12, having diagnosed myself with depression a few years prior. I went to therapy, where I was diagnosed with OCD, Depression, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I was gifted with many more diagnoses as the years went on. I honestly see my free and fun childhood as ending at the age of 8. The years I look at with rose-colored glasses are all from the time I was 8 or younger.
I went to therapy, then to a psychiatrist, then to a family therapist, then to group therapy, and I was only getting worse. I started refusing to go to therapy, and when I did go, I would refuse to talk. I mostly stared at the floor while my therapist or psychiatrist stared at me. My mom even tried to incentivize going to and participating in therapy, but no incentive could convince me to go to the place that I had initially begged my mom to let me attend. Not even the incentive of potentially getting better motivated me.
I didn’t know, and I still don’t know, why I was messed up. I had a good childhood. I was loved, had plenty of food, a good education, a home. But when I transferred to a different school for freshman year of high school in hopes that my school was the problem, I learned that my problems were, unfortunately, internal.
The story I like to tell my friends to show the extent of my issues and how different they were from most teenagers’ issues is this one: One summer my parents approached me with a new rule. I was to socialize at least 3 times a week. I started crying, and through tears said, “Does volunteering count?” Socialization was my Kryptonite. Until meeting the other troubled teens, I legitimately thought that kids sneaking out of the house at night to hang out with friends was a made-up coming-of-age movie trope.
Once school started, most of my nights were spent throwing tantrums. I would cry for hours, throw pillows, scratch at my parents’ door until 1:00 am, threaten to kill myself, and punch a wall for good measure.
I think ultimately I was afraid of failure. My family is smart, educated, successful, and I was afraid I couldn’t live up to that. So I would stare at my homework in fear of getting something wrong. I would re-read the same page in my history textbook 4 times over, because I didn’t understand it, or was too anxious the first time through to pay attention.
My parents never put pressure on me to get good grades, but I put enough pressure on myself for the both of them. Many weekday mornings were spent trying to convince my mom to tell my school I was sick. Maybe I hadn’t finished my homework, or I couldn’t deal with the pressure of academics or socialization that day. Sometimes my mom would do it. A “mental health day” we called it.
Have you ever gone to school and told your teacher you didn’t finish your homework because you were suicidal all night? Well, let me tell you, it’s quite the experience, and a much more believable excuse than the dog eating your homework. The teacher will look shocked and just go, “Uh…O…Okay. Yeah, just take as much time as you need” and then never look at you the same again.
But some days my mom was resistant. She didn’t want to give in to my every emotional command. But if she didn’t call the school and say I was sick, then I would get reprimanded for cutting school, which would go on my record, which would ultimately prevent me from getting into college, getting a job, and having a good life. So every time my mom said she wasn’t calling that day, I would burst into tears and tell her I was going to kill myself. I know what you’re thinking: “Model child”. Shucks, stop. I had my faults.
I wasn’t intentionally using my threat of suicide as a manipulation tactic, but no matter my intention, that’s the effect it had. Not to say I didn’t actually think about killing myself; I did. But my screams of suicide were declarations of my pain, because I felt like no one truly understood.
My mom also felt that no one understood. She’d often try to video tape my tantrums to show the doctors how truly bad they were, but I’d immediately stop crying when the camera was out. Honestly, she should have used the camera to get me to shut up more often.
My sophomore year of high school got no better. My parents didn’t know what to do with me. They talked to my doctors, who recommended a School Anxiety/School Refusal program. For a month and a half, instead of going to school, my mom would drive an hour to drop me off at a partial hospitalization program, where I’d spend my days in therapy with other kids like me, plus some drug addicts who I couldn’t relate to at all. Like, they not only had friends, but they had friends that would share with them.
I got what I wanted. I didn’t have to go to school. I was still supposed to keep up with schoolwork, but that was pretty difficult. After several weeks of therapy that didn’t benefit me one bit, I was told that I had to start “integration”. That was when you moved from PHP (Partial Hospitalization Program) to IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program). So I would spend half of my time at the program, and the other half of my time at school.
I was far from excited to go back to school, but I was only going part-time, so it was palatable. The day that I was told that I was fully integrated, was one of my worst days. The only thing that program gave me was time away from the thing I hated most: school.
The night before my first full day back at school, I had my typical tantrum. I punched my wall over and over again, for no exact reason except to make noise and bruise my hand. The next morning, I was determined to find a way to get out of going to school. Before my dad was supposed to drive me to school, I went in our garage, and ravaged through our toolbox until I found a hammer. I sat for several minutes, pounding the hammer onto my hand, in hopes that I would break it, and have to miss school.
My dad came downstairs, saw me, and, with a straight face said, “You’re going to have to hit a lot harder than that if you’re trying to break your hand.” And off we went to school. I cried the whole way there, and refused to get out of the car, until he threatened to drag me out of the car, which would ruin my impeccable reputation as “depressed girl”.
There were only a couple months left of school. Surprisingly, teachers are extremely accommodating when you look like you were crying up until you entered their classroom, and might start again any second. I got an IEP (Individual Education Plan) that basically stated that I could leave the classroom any time I wanted (which I used when I would spontaneously start to cry in the middle of class). They literally said to me, “We don’t have an emotionally disturbed class here, so you can just use the special ed. teacher as a point person.” Emotionally disturbed. I got an odd satisfaction out of that label. I finally fit in somewhere! They just didn’t have that clique at my school.
The last 2 months of school were fine, because my teachers basically all decided to give me A’s, regardless of my work. My mom didn’t think this taught me a valuable life lesson, but I wasn’t about to complain.
We decided that I should look into a different type of school for junior year. Maybe one meant more for kids with emotional disturbances. We toured a school in the suburbs, and I liked it. My plan was to attend that school for junior and senior years. My parents had other plans for me.
Sophomore year ended, but my indie movie was just starting.
To be continued…