Messages in a Bottle #9: The Archivist

This CW is so important it should be in neon flashing lights. This is a serious post. Serious like: mentions of 9th Circle of Hell current systemic abuse, mentions of the same kind of systemic abuse on another blog, and mentions of past suicidal feelings and coercive control. I really meant it when I said the lights were off this month, so please please be careful when reading this blog post. There is no date on this “past” post because it’s not truly a post written in the past. It’s a memory, from a time when I would never have written anything down, that has been bothering me. I think I need to write to exorcize that old ghost and thus fight my new demons more effectively. Be safe.

I don’t encourage my readers to read specific other blogs, though I know of many good ones. Everyone has a different writing style, and everyone’s story is unique and important. Who am I to claim one deserves more attention than another? But, I’m going to encourage you to read one, by anonymasaurus (with all the same content warnings, so be safe there too.) She’s documenting very specific abuses occurring at a state hospital in one particular state that you will definitely come across if/when you research the multiple candidates for my 9th Circle of Hell. She’s documenting them so well that I’m genuinely scared for her, though she has someone helping her and knows the risks.

She’s incredibly brave. I am obviously not in any state hospital. I can’t 100% guarantee the truth of her specific details, but I can guarantee they ring so true to the details I can corroborate from abuses in group homes and state hospitals that I have seen in the fight to protect my sibling that I tremble to read each new post. Her blog is the closest to the perfect trigger storm that I will probably ever read, short of finding a blog that says all the same things but includes guardianship of a sibling. The abuses are so familiar that they can make me dissociate. That’s rare for me. I usually am quite good at hiding responses to the triggers I find on most blog posts. It is a childhood survival mechanism to hide my PTSD for my own safety.

But, I also fear not to read her posts more than I fear to read them. If she stops posting I’ll forever wonder if she’s become one of the forgotten victims of a system that can and will go that far. My deepest, darkest fear always will be that by leaving the 9th Circle of Hell – though there is a co-guardian who lives there who also tries to protect my sibling – that somehow I’ll be the reason that my sibling becomes one of those forgotten victims. I fear that I won’t get him out in time, and I’ll have been deluding myself the whole time that fleeing the state was a chance to rescue him as well as to rescue myself. I fear my decision to leave will ultimately turn out to be the proof that I’m the selfish monster who chose my own safety over his. There are a lot of reasons why anyone who says, “just find another provider” can cut me to the core. It’s not that simple.

For one, there are no other providers anymore. How do I know that? Well, I know that because I had my Glossary of Terms for less than a week before needing to make a substantial update to the entry on the Bedbug Motel. The Bedbug Motel’s new emergency management just gave us notice that they won’t serve my sibling, and we can’t find another damn place in the entirety of the state that will. The East Coast won’t take him, though my next post might read that I got arrested by refusing to leave their social services agency until they found me a loophole. I’m that desperate. He eloped a couple of times from the Bedbug Motel, after being screamed at by staff. We were able to document at least that much. Elopement is his number one trauma response, and it is also the easiest legal loophole for an agency to kick a client out. Elopement makes him a “danger to himself and others” and all that horseshit. Though the original Bedbug Motel management took him with his known trauma history, the new management that took over after it folded refuses.

I saw my own psychiatrist today for a monthly refill on my meds, and I shared that I would need authorization for the next two months because I probably have to go back to the 9th Circle of Hell. I shared how my sibling had actually been okay and willing to go back under Bedbug Motel’s first management, but suddenly he refuses to get out of my co-guardian’s car and is eloping. Before we could attempt to figure out why we got the notice that it didn’t matter anymore. He’d been kicked out first, with nowhere left to go. My psychiatrist – who is, mind you, a provider in a state agency that serves Medicaid clients on the East Coast – shrugged his shoulders and said, “Oh, that’s not surprising. Places like that will just go through the case files, look for triggers, and then poke at them so they can trim the case files of anyone they find undesirable. They probably just screamed at him long enough to trigger him because they knew that would be enough to evict. Places do that all the time.” He was sympathetic, but the way he said what he thought had happened to trigger the “legal” eviction was just so unphased. It didn’t shock him. It was just par for the course, even on the East Coast that I claim is where I want to bring my sibling after we get away from Hell. The system is broken everywhere.

I’m not on Medicaid, but I take stimulants for ADHD – and, lately, anxiolytics because the trauma has gotten so severe that my mask of being untraumatized that I learned to maintain to face the 9th Circle of Hell safely is crumbling – that are tightly regulated at the state level. That severely limits how many places will take me on as an adult ADHD patient. It also turns out that a very not-trauma-informed state facility that is horrible for its low-income clients happens to be closest to my home and willing to work with me as an easy, “high-functioning” client with private insurance. It also, weirdly, has the one trauma therapist I’ve ever met who I’ve been willing to open up to. She earned my trust because she knows exactly how bad the agency she works for is, and she believes all the other evidence of abuse that I dragged up from archives to test her resolve about the realities of even East Coast “mental health care.” She’s listened to recordings of the abuse coverups by the 9th Circle of Hell that I made when I’ve been on the phone with them. She recognizes it is even worse than the horrible agencies of the East Coast, with even less regulatory oversite. She believes me so much that she takes no notes on our sessions. She recognizes that it is quite possible that the 9th Circle of Hell will someday try to subpoena my own case files from her state to use against me to protect abusers.

Rather than think me paranoid, she has said she found me very precocious as a child to have figured out that I would be safest by trusting no one. She has told me that she both admires and mourns the child who learned to be journalist and advocate for the trauma of others, but who, at the same time, also learned to archive all records of the trauma that happened to her for others’ protection.

I haven’t trusted anyone – other than my Partner – since my earliest childhood days. Even then, the combination of childhood and traumatic amnesia has archived any memories of a time when I viewed the world through trusting, childlike eyes. I worked out early on that the system uses mental health labels against anyone who speaks out against it. I worked out that if a person doesn’t have any self-volunteered mental illness label to use against them, unscrupulous “Quality Assurance Specialists” will invent them anyway. When I eventually am brave enough to add the entry for the worst institutional abuser I ever met to my Glossary, I’m not sure if I’ll add her under her actual title of “Quality Assurance Specialist,” or just under the title everyone in the county unironically calls her of “Providers’ Assurance Specialist.” Either way, her entry could probably read simply, “some bogeymen are real, and are licensed so their nightmares are state-funded.”

That lack of trust and one particular abusive form of coercive control might be the only reason I’m posting about my sibling’s abuse in state-funded facilities instead of in one myself. One abusive form of coercion that was used against me – but maybe not against anonymasaurus – might be the only difference between my story and hers. I interfaced with the system young enough that I shut down any of the typical external manifestations of trauma. One of my own abusers repeatedly reminded me that – if I ever shared what I was experiencing – I would be institutionalized myself. That abuser would see to it personally. I had seen enough to fear institutionalization worse than I feared ongoing abuse, bullying, and social isolation. I kept it secret. I convinced the world that everything was okay. There was nothing to see there. I viewed my own abuse as perpetrated by mere demons, and I shut up and developed a mask to avoid ever meeting the devil himself in his own domain. Instinct warned me that if I carried any mental illness labels before age 18, I might never escape. I archived my own Hell in the hopes that I’d survive it.

Reading anonymasaurus’s story, I think about that abuser and wonder if using that particular form of coercion didn’t paradoxically save me. It was very effective coercive control, and very very wrong. I never spoke of my own abuse, and that abuse went unrecorded and unwitnessed to this day. But, I never earned any labels, either. I can’t read anonymasaurus’s story and not feel like my fears that I’d never have “gotten out” if I’d spoken my story were the first statistically significant predictions of the archivist-who-would-become-scientist.

I wanted to die every day I can remember during my childhood. I wondered if self-harm would lead to emotional release when I read about it in books, but I never did more than passively wish for death or forget to take care of myself in ways that have since come to be recognized as “passive” self-harm. I truly believed that if I did anything active, and I failed to complete or hide the evidence, I’d be handing my abuser all the proof needed to institutionalize me. I believed the system would then do even worse to me.

I developed a perfectionist mask and a bully-in-my-brain. I kept all the secrets and lies so well that my own mind taught itself to archive my own memories of abuse so that I could never accidentally slip when speaking to the system about the abuse it was perpetrating. The system itself, abusive as it was, kept trying to get me to lie and say that someone who wasn’t hurting my sibling was, in fact, an abuser. The system only cared about covering its own ass, but it never cared enough to ask me, “what happened to you?” I’m glad it didn’t. If it had, I might not have been able to keep my mask on. I might have earned a mental health label and rendered myself at its mercy. I might have been labeled legally crazy and stayed trapped forever in Hell, instead of now living on the Coast still trying to fight that same system.

I archived my own pain to endure it, and I didn’t let it slip…

Except maybe for one time that has been replaying in my nightmares this week. My brain triggers itself whenever I say anything that might be untrue. I know a big part of why anonymasaurus got labels and institutionalization for her trauma was that she – like others in my family – couldn’t quite archive her pain as successfully as I (mostly) did.

I said in a prior post that having a trauma history can get a non-verbal disabled person kicked out of group homes – even when another group home was the reason for the abuse in the first place! I admitted that was feeling passively suicidal, but I said that I had never and would never act on those feelings. I didn’t say at that time – though I’m saying now – that’s because I still hear the voice of that abuser threatening institutionalization in my head, still fear the system, and have felt the pain of others’ active attempts. I made sure to say that I’d never attempted suicide or self-harmed so no one would accidentally try to get me institutionalized – which is still my second greatest fear after losing my sibling – because of what I wrote. I absolutely meant what I said, then and now.

No one has to worry I’ll try to hurt myself in the present. This whole blog post reinforces all the reasons why I would never even think it. I’m safe (from that at least.)

My brain doesn’t think I lied about my current feelings being only passively suicidal. It just thinks that maybe I lied about never having been actively suicidal. I heard a webinar this week that said that something like 60%+ of girls with undiagnosed ADHD and trauma histories will attempt suicide before they turn 18. I thought I wasn’t in the 60%, but I’m not quite sure if that’s still accurate given the way researchers now define childhood suicide attempts. It turns out, after my research, that putting yourself in a position wherein there can be an “accident” counts.

I was able to archive memories of a specific event to confidently say I’ve never attempted suicide. I have never done anything that looked like a suicide attempt, and that allowed my archivist brain to force a specific memory out of mind whenever I needed to state that I was safe as a child. Except, after hearing that webinar, I’m not so sure anymore where I fit. I think I might be in the 60% – but in the same weird way that I skirted all other labels in childhood through plausible deniability and care to never let anyone else realize what was really going on.

I never actively tried to harm myself or commit suicide, but when an opportunity presented itself to make it look like an accident…I came very close to voluntarily taking it. And, my brain is replaying that event and my new research knowledge over and over again demanding I determine if I truly am in the 60% or not. Because the lock on the archive system in my brain is broken lately, and all my archived memories just keep coming up.

My sibling and I were once at a park with old and, it turned out, poorly maintained playground equipment. He spun me on one of those old merry-go-rounds that you don’t see anymore, probably because of stories like I’m about to tell. My jacket got caught in the space between the center spoke and the wheel. It started pulling tighter and choking me. My sibling didn’t understand what was happening and kept spinning me. I remember distinctly as I started to feel light-headed and dizzy – but still could speak – thinking that I would need to call loudly to the only adult with us on the other side of the playground equipment while I still could if I wanted out of the situation. I remember thinking my sibling probably wouldn’t understand to stop. And then, immediately after, I remember thinking that being dizzy wasn’t so bad and I could also not call out. I could just keep getting dizzier and dizzier and then…not be dizzy anymore. I remember thinking that no one would think anything of it. The situation was so random – broken equipment, a sibling who struggled to pick up non-verbal cues – that it would just look like one of those unfortunate accidents. No one at fault. No one to blame.

Yes, I was only a kid. But, I was the kind of kid who thought like that. I was the kind of kid who read accounts of the most horrible events of history and felt comforted to know that at least someone had witnessed for the victims. I was the kind of kid who felt less alone knowing the 9th Circle of Hell wasn’t uniquely bad. If it wasn’t uniquely bad, then maybe I wasn’t uniquely bad. I was the kind of kid who watched the seminal political events of the early 90s on t.v. and predicted their sequence of events better than most newscasters. I was the kind of kid who learned to read systems and think like them for safety. So, yes, I was the kind of kid who could reason through the idea that not calling out would look like an accident and decide that being dizzy, dizzy, dizzy wasn’t so bad compared to it all…

Until the zipper itself dug into my throat. Then it wasn’t dizziness anymore, it was just pain. Then, suddenly, it wasn’t a nice gentle way to go like I thought it would be, and I changed my mind. By that point, I had to flail and gurgle, but the situation was noticed and, since I’m still here, I was obviously retrieved. I believe the playground equipment was replaced, but no one ever thought anything more than what I expected. An accident almost happened, but didn’t. No one ever stopped and thought about how many rotations of that merry-go-round it had taken without me ever calling out to get to the point where I was injured at all. Nobody noticed that I never used my voice while I still had it. It was just an accident. That was what all the adults believed, so that was what my brain decided to believe. It archived the rest of it in the place where only nightmares live.

I’ve read blog memories from other writers about being that young and swallowing pill bottles and other undeniable attempts. I would never have done anything like that, as that would have triggered the threat I feared worse than death. So, I genuinely believed I wasn’t in the 60%. Until my subsequent research after that webinar had to go and up-end my entire conception of what counts. Not preventing an accident counts. By that token, maybe I’m in the 60%? But, I changed my mind when dizziness turned to pain? I eventually signaled for help? Does that mean I didn’t attempt, because I backed out?

I don’t know. I also don’t know if my fear of what would have happened if I had ever been caught in any attempts being the only reason I never did anything worse than that one would-be accident makes the whole distinction irrelevant. I don’t know that the kinds of abuses my sibling endured in state hospitals and group homes – ones that too many other bloggers have experienced or are currently experiencing – means I didn’t make the right choice to stay silent as a kid.

A child shouldn’t have to split archival hairs about how to catalog that event. I know that, intellectually. I should have just wanted to live enough to call for help immediately. I shouldn’t have had to rank whether the abuse I was facing in the present was still better than the abuse I would face in the future if I spoke out and ended up in a “care facility” in the 9th Circle of Hell.

Kids shouldn’t have to make those choices. Adults shouldn’t have to, either. Yet, we live in a country where they do. And, all I can do is tell my own corroborating stories of how bad the things I have witnessed are – how they truly were a fate worse than death to me – and amplify the signals of others who know the kinds of choices I made as a kid too well.

All I can do is hope that I made the right choice to stay silent as a kid, to flee the 9th Circle of Hell and to face it later, as an adult, to fight to get my sibling out. All I can do is hope that I am able to get him out in time. If I don’t, then maybe the academic distinction of whether I’m in the 60%+ of abused, undiagnosed girls with ADHD who tried to take their own lives won’t matter anymore, because my reason for determining never to try anything like that again will no longer be there.

If I don’t get my sibling out of the system that both made me both wish for death and fear to make acting on that wish look like anything other than an accident at the same time, will guilt eventually make me regret changing my mind on that long-ago day? I hope I never find out, and I also hope I never have to read about someone else finding out that way either. There would be no archival vault deep enough to file away that pain.

So, read my story. Read anonymasaurus’s. Read anyone’s who begs you to see how broken the system is. Read so there’s any hope of fixing it, for the sake of all the children and adults who are still struggling with whether speaking their truth about current trauma will be too dangerous – whether just seeking help for the lifelong effects of past trauma will be too dangerous because of the “care” they know they will receive for it.

Need a recap of anything I’m talking about in any post? Check out the Glossary of Terms.




10 thoughts on “Messages in a Bottle #9: The Archivist

    1. Yeah. I went through about three iterations of threats from that abuser. First, the abuser just threatened to kill me directly, and that worked for a while. Then, eventually, I decided I wasn’t that attached to living and told the person “Go ahead and do it. You’ll be in jail and I’ll be gone. Who’s the one who is really going to get the worst end of that one?” So, the abuser switched to “I’ll kill your sibling and make it look like you did it.” And, that also worked for a while, but, eventually, I learned enough from those aforementioned new 90s developments in politics and crime investigation and just claimed I’d stay far, far away from my sibling. There’d be no physical evidence linking me to the crime, and, eventually, the cops would figure it out. I still kind of hate myself for that counter-threat, because it was really high-stakes brinksmanship. If I’d been wrong, well, we won’t think about it. But, I really, truly didn’t think at the time I made it that I’d be wrong. I’d figured out something by that point about that abuser that made me willing to risk it. That person so valued their standing in the community – above all else – that I just couldn’t believe they’d do anything that might leave physical evidence that could be tied to them. So, terrifying as making that counter-threat was, it ended up working. Then, in the final iteration, the abuser found the one threat that had no chance of threatening their own outward persona and also conveniently sidestepped the fact that I wasn’t afraid of death anymore – institutionalization. That was the final threat that worked forever. Death would have been a release, but institutionalization would only have resulted in my being stuck alive, facing even worse abuse that would last years and destroy the rest of my life because of its lasting labels. We’ve created a system wherein the most effective threat an abuser could ever make to a system-savvy child is simply “I’ll get you the help you deserve.” It took my Partner to help me realize what a twisted world the 9th Circle of Hell is that “getting help” was more frightening than being an abused, apparently suicidal child.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. I got incredibly lucky.

    I was taught to fear the police system, I didn’t know about the foster care or children’s home system, I didn’t know about the mental health system and, fortunately for me, my abusers didn’t know too. As some of my friends had been in various systems as kids and been abused horribly by those systems.

    Then when I finally entered the mental health system as an adult, I lucked into the ONE trauma therapist (like how yours was one in a completely shitty clinic) in that shitty public clinic.

    You’re brave and doing your best and its clear from your posts. I don’t have eloquent words, I’m just glad to journey with you on our respective paths towards healing from complex trauma.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hugs. We eventually lucked into the One-Horse Townhouse, which is probably the only non-horrible place in all of Hell. But, about six months after this post I learned that one of those other horrible places from the past had, well, done something horrible to another client. I wrote testimony all over again and tried to remind the state of my story. It…hasn’t gone anywhere really. And, lately there’s been an even bigger outcry about some fringe parents pushing – openly, on the regional news media – toxic “cures” for disabilities. 9th Circle of Hell protective services, shocking absolutely no one who has ever had to the misfortune to have to talk to them, have blithely ignored this openly admitted abuse in print and are leaving the individuals to that abuse. I saw that just a couple of days ago when it got posted in some neurodiverse advocacy spaces, and it still gut punched me. But, sadly, the 9th Circle of Hell is not at all the only perpetrator/enabler. The more I learn about the East Coast, the more I see why any POC, non-verbal individual or just anyone outside the privileged few should rightly fear calling “the system” for help. The last post in my Meteorological Misanthropy series is actually going to touch on that, since my Partner isn’t from Hell but is from one of those (once again many, so it doesn’t even compromise anonymity to say that) places that in the past few years have become known for particularly glaring police brutality of unarmed, law-abiding individuals of color who were simply existing while lacking privilege. We are definitely on board “never call the system and if someone else does, stay around to try and use the fact we have specific visible kinds of privilege as a shield.”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Your advocacy matters, and I really respect how you’re using your specific privileges. I’m doing my own quiet advocacy work in my area as well, my therapist wanted names of clinicians who’ve harmed clients, so I’m compiling stories. Nothing identifiable on the client end, of course, and I’ve already encountered friends being unwilling to disclose out of fear :/

        Liked by 1 person

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