Autoblography Part 9: Therapy

By Shamus
on Sep 7, 2011
Filed under:
Personal

We’re still stuck in the Dark Year. Hang in there.

Apparently there are concerns about my behavior at school. I’m odd and spastic with people, exhibiting rapid mood swings. I blurt out things without thinking. I’m edgy and I can’t sit still. I’m fidgety and I’m always playing with random objects. I’m constantly tilting in my chair, messing with stuff in my desk, and making sounds with my mouth. My strangeness really displeases the other kids, and their distaste for me intensifies. While adults aren’t generally aware of it, I also have terrifying recurring nightmares.

It is observed by many that I am not a happy kid.

At school I’m sent to some sort of counselor. He’s nice and he means well, but his counsel consists mostly of asking me why I do the odd things that I do, which doesn’t work because I don’t know. He asks me why I don’t do my work, which doesn’t lead us anywhere useful. I don’t have the nerve or the eloquence to tell him the truth: I hate this place, I resent the other kids, the work is stupid and I don’t think any of this matters. I’m just running out the clock until I graduate and can go do something with computers, and everything between now and then is simply a trial to be endured. So I stick with the old standby of shrugging. He’ a nice guy and very patient with me, and I wish I could help him. But the problems we have here are large and neither of us has the agency to fix them.

Outside of school, Mom takes me to Irene Stacey Community Mental Health Center, where I have a twice-monthly visit with a psychologist.

While 10-year-old Shamus doesn’t understand, I think it’s probably obvious to the reader: None of these people have taken into account the fact that I’m on more drugs than Ozzy Osborne. You can’t jam that many pills down a kid’s gullet and not expect some some sort of behavioral repercussions.

Perhaps they did notice this detail, but they never discussed it with me. A shame, really. It would have been really useful for me to know. The thing about being on drugs is that your own behavior can seem normal to you. Your only clue that you’re acting like a freak is the reactions you get from others. I’m only aware of my odd behavior because people routinely mentioned it.

My psychologist is a woman. She has me talk for the whole session. It’s nice to have an adult listen to me, although I get a creepy vibe from her. I don’t understand why. She listens to me, but she’s nothing like Mom, or my uncle, or Grandma, or any of the other adults I trust. I do not think of her as a friend. Also, I don’t understand what we’re here for. I talk to her, she talks to Mom, but nothing changes. What’s the point of all of this, exactly?

One day the psychologist plays a sort of board game with me. I pick a card, answer the question, and then move. The questions are always along the lines of, “How do you feel about…” I’m just 10 years old, but I’m smart enough to see she’s not playing this game with me because she can’t find the Monopoly board. She’s doing this because she wants me to answer these questions. So why doesn’t she just ask them? We’ve got 45 minutes to kill, here. Finally I draw a card:

“What do you think of a boy who plays with his pennies when he is alone?”

Hmm. This is a really goofy question. “I guess he’s rich, if he has a lot of pennies,” I say with a shrug.

“Is that what it says?” she asks calmly.

I stare at the card. Not pennies. Penis.

I have decided I don’t like this woman and I want nothing to do with her. I haven’t hit puberty yet. I have no idea what this question could possibly mean, why anyone would do this, why anyone else would ask about it, or why they feel the need to drag me into it. I shrug. My face is burning red. Am I angry? Embarrassed? I don’t even know. I have nothing more to say to her. I hate her. In a world of terrifying, apathetic, callous, brutish adults, it turns out that the most unsettling one is my therapist. Worse, I can’t explain to Mom why I don’t want to come back, because I can’t imagine explaining this “game” to my mother. I never want to speak of this again.

Periodically they bring Mom and I into a different room for some general filling-out-forms ceremony. They ask about family history, medical history, home life, and so on.

“Any history of alcoholism in the family?” the interviewer asks casually.

Mom glances sideways at me, then answers, “Yes.”

The guy nods, “Who?”

Mom is visibly irritated with him. She pauses for a moment, trying to make some decision. Finally she answers, “His father.”

“What? Mom?” I say, confused. “Not Dad.” I don’t even know what an alcoholic is, but it sounds serious. Surely I would have heard about it before now?

The nightmares have been an ongoing problem. I’ve had the same nightmare for years. Actually, I’ve been having it for as long as I can remember. They were almost weekly at one point, but as I’ve gotten older they’ve gotten further apart. Sometimes I go for more than half a year without having one.

The dream begins with Mom, Pat and I getting ready to go somewhere. I climb into our white Volkswagen to wait for them while they are busy in the house. I get into the driver’s seat. I know this is reckless and dangerous and not allowed, but I do it anyway because that’s how things work in dreams. I begin moving the shifter, turning the wheel. Again, I know this is dangerous, but I can’t stop myself.

Suddenly the car begins moving. We live on a steep hill, and the car quickly speeds up as it rolls along. The car reaches the bottom of the hill, goes up the next hill, and the dream ends with me waking in tears and panic.

It’s short in the recounting, but when I wake I feel like I’ve been through an ordeal. It varies in the details. Sometimes there’s extra bits added to the beginning. Sometimes the car crashes into a wall at the end, sometimes it just sails off into sudden darkness. The details and circumstances change, but the core remains: I get into the car, mess with it, and it rolls away with me and carries me off to some horrible ruin.

I’ve been having the dream for a lot of years now. There must be a reason. Why this? Why the car? Why am I so terrified? What’s causing this?

I think about the dream now and again, pondering it as I get older. Suddenly I make a connection: I used to have a thing about people and cars. I can barely remember it now, but there was a time when I associated each adult with the car they drove. In fact, I still automatically think of Dad when I see pictures of the Volkswagen. This whole dream is probably me being upset about him leaving, even though I was too young to remember it now. This is some sort of affliction that goes back into the years I can no longer recall.

Once I sort this out, I never have the dream again.

I’ve refined my thinking on the dream now and again of the years. I was trying to reconcile the fact that he was gone, and his car was still here. The stress and terror were probably caused by his sudden, inexplicable absence, and/or my desire to follow him. That, and cars are already scary things to a kid. They’re great big machines that make a lot of noise and which can only be controlled by adults.

These various mysteries, stresses, and unknowns combined in my mind and were expressed through a big scary dream.

So, keeping score: The psychologist outfit humiliated me by asking me to make judgments about what other boys might do with their privates. Then they outed my father as an alcoholic, when my Mom would have preferred I not know that. Then I unraveled one of the big psychological mysteries in my life on my own.

Nice work, professionals.

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From the Archives:

  1. silver Harloe says:

    I, too, thought school was a terrible burden keeping me from my precious computer time. Though I was different: I responded to bullying with temper tantrums instead of sulking, not realizing I was encouraging the bullies. I cannot count the number of times adults told me “they’re just jealous of how smart you are” but it sure seemed like “they” had some other motive besides jealousy. Happily, drugs had not caught on in the mixed rural-suburban texas schools I attended, so I was allowed to grow out of this phase naturally, if slowly. Very slowly – I was socially backwards even in college, and still feel mildly socially retarded at 40.

  2. Bethor says:

    I hate to be that guy, nitpicking such a personal story (thanks for sharing all this, by the way ! Even these darker bits are a great read) but shouldn’t councilor and council be counselor and counsel ?

    I (a non native English speaker, mind, so forgive me and please correct me if I’m wrong !) was under the impression that the former was a member of a committee and the later someone who gives advice.

    On topic (slightly) : there was (afaik) no deeper and darker meaning but I can certainly remember having, at a much later age, recurring dreams about driving a car. In my case they were simply linked to the discovery of how complex learning to drive can be and the constant fear of crashing my parents’ car, though ! ;)

  3. MaxDZ8 says:

    This is borderline scary!

  4. empty_other says:

    Dreams are weird like that.
    I had the reoccuring dream of being able to fly. But as i suddenly got followed by something fearful (never saw it, just a shadow) and i got stressed, i couldnt fly higher than a meter above ground. So i tried to escape. This dream was repeated from me being 5 year to 18, when i moved away from home.
    As soon as i moved away from home i got the same dream, but this time i was able to fly away when chased.
    This strangely mirrored my real life situation, i suddenly realised.

  5. Zaxares says:

    I used to have frequent dreams about being chased when I was younger. I never knew what it was that was chasing me, but I knew that if it caught me, something TERRIBLE would happen. Despite my best efforts to run or hide, however, it would inevitably catch up to me. The dream always ended just before I turned to get a look at what was after me.

    Sometimes, I would turn to try and fight it (always with a feeling of resignation, because I knew I couldn’t win, but I was tired of running), but again, I would wake up before I could see what was pursuing me.

    Curiously, the dreams disappeared about 3 years ago, and I haven’t had them since.

    • Mephane says:

      Ah, chase dreams, I remember those. Most often mine ended with me locking myself into a room (making me feel safe for a short moment at least), until whatever chases me manages to open or break open the door, then I woke up. I never knew, saw or heard what the thing was, it was just there.

      By the way, something interesting I once read about dreams and instantly rang true: You rarely ever see physical bodies, neither of other people nor yourself (especially not yourself), most often it’s just a presence that simply is there and sometimes you know who or what it is, sometimes you don’t.

      • Reet says:

        That’s kind of wierd because the few dreams I can remember definetely involved other people that I distinctly remember.

        • Mephane says:

          Do you remember visibly seeing them, their image, or do you remember the fact of them being there, doing things etc.? I am specifically talking about visuals, not presence, maybe I was not clear enough on this.

          • FatPope says:

            I have people with physical bodies in my dreams, but unless the person is someone I know then they won’t have a face. My brain obviously figures coming up with a face from scratch is way too much work so just doesn’t even try.

            It seems perfectly normal in the dream though!

          • Kacky Snorgle says:

            I’m very much the opposite…people in my dreams often appear in great visual detail. As in, I’ll dream about someone I haven’t seen in years and barely remember, and I’ll wake up thinking, yeah, I’d forgotten how Jennifer had such dark eyes. Sometimes some of the details are wrong, and I never notice this in the dream, but after waking I always think there must have been some meaning (the real Jennifer never had hair five feet long).

            I don’t know if I’m just a weird nonstandard dreamer, though. I’ve never read much about what my dreams are *supposed* to be like. :)

      • Mari says:

        My dreams are about half and half on the visuals. Do I win a prize or something?

      • empty_other says:

        With things chasing me, it is always just a presence. I would almost say it look like “Fear” if fear had a position in space.

        With people, i always see people i know, and never people i don’t know.
        Which freaked me out the one time i saw someone i didn’t recognise. I spent a month searching for that girl in the real life before the memory of her face faded away.

        • Mephane says:

          Interesting. When in a dream I meet people I know, I very, very rarely see a face. It’s usually just a matter of knowing they are here, knowing what they do or say, all on a rather abstract level, as if the results of the seeing and hearing process are invoked in my brain, but not the actual sensual impression itself. On the other hand, there are a number past dreams of which I still have one or two vivid images in mind, but only one of them actually contains a person.

        • Jarenth says:

          Slightly related, I once had a dream where I was driving (walking? flying? Something, at least), through my hometown, and suddenly I turned into a street I’d never seen before. When I woke up, I had a very strong desire to go see if that dream street actually existed.

          I never found it, sadly.

          • Destrustor says:

            Sometimes my dreams involve a slight but awesome variation of my normal life, and just as I learn to appreciate it, the sudden realisation of “oh f**k it’s a dream” hits me and I immediately wake up, utterly disapointed.
            Man some of those dreams would have rocked if they’d been real.

      • Scott (Duneyrr) says:

        That IS very interesting. I almost always see myself in my dreams, and if I interact with someone else I see their physical appearance (usually it is someone I don’t know).

        Does anyone else dream in third person?

        • Knight of Fools says:

          The majority of my dreams are in third person, and half of the time the person I’m following isn’t even me.

          People are usually fairly detailed when I dream, too. Things are fuzzy in the dream-like way, but I can recognize faces, hair, skin color and body shape in my dreams. The faces are always vague, but I can usually tell who someone is.

          Most of the people in my dreams are strangers, but my most memorable ones are with family and acquaintances – To the exception of one dream of walking through a campus and seeing a girl turn around and look at me, laughing as if I’d said a joke. That’s probably the most vivid, detailed face I remember dreaming. I hang on to that hope that it was some glimpse of the future and I’ll get to meet her… She was cute. :P

          • Cuthalion says:

            I generally both dream and remember events or conversations in third person. A lot of the people I’ve mentioned that to think it’s weird. But for some reason, I have trouble visualizing things in first person unless it’s more of a film-style camera view and not a my-own-eyes view.

            I don’t recall any recurring dreams, but I do occasionally have mild nightmares of being chased. Usually I either can see what’s chasing me, don’t see it but know what it is, or am aware of being chased without any particular attempts or desire on my part to see what it is. They tend to occur at a fairly slow pace, more of a “walk for your lives” deal where I have to keep moving from room to room or whatever. Eventually, I’ll wake up when my heart starts pounding enough or something real-world catches my attention. Then I’m like, “Oh.”

      • Gravebound says:

        About 90% of my dreams are with other, physical people. That might have to do with being a lucid dreamer, though.

        And my favorite dreams are like big Hollywood action movies (usually with a few people I know in real life: brother, friend, etc). A recent one had an awesome car chase through a vaguely Eastern-European city. I was a spy. XD And Sarah Michelle Gellar was the evil Russian spy who, when she caught me, stabbed a large hypodermic needle into the top of my hand (painful) and it went numb. I awoke shortly thereafter to find I had rolled onto my arm and it had fallen asleep. :p

        When I was a kid I would always have dreams of jumping and soaring through the air (like Daggerfall with the ‘run fast’ cheat on run-jumping between towns). The first half of the jump was always fun and wonderful, but I knew that, in real life, falling from those heights would be incredibly painful/crippling so the falling portion filled me with dread. Sure enough, the landings were always painful. I never broke my legs, though, and would always end up jumping again and again to end up painfuly landing again and again. The best I can figure is it was some sort of ‘growing pains’ because I haven’t had the dream since I stopped growing.

        • My housemate has dreams like this, and it’s always entertaining to hear him talk about it. When I was younger, I’d generally have flying/falling dreams (or dreams about my teeth falling out, go braces!)

          Now that I’m older I almost never remember my dreams clearly enough to recount them (unless I’m not completely asleep), but they tend to be what most people could only describe as *incredibly* gruesome. I have no need to see horror movies. Of course, some of them are just bizarre, like the time I dreamed that I was processing tissue at home (I spent the ENTIRE DREAM going “that’s not sterile!”). It was REALLY vivid, too, I remember that we had to move my housemate’s car so we could put the centrifuge in the garage and so forth. The bizarre part wasn’t so much that I was dreaming about doing my job in the house, it was that I somehow KNEW that the REASON why I was doing this was because my dad (who works in aviation) was going to take the processed tissue and LAUNCH IT INTO SPACE.

          The thing is that while I wake up going “wow, that was a weird dream”. No matter how horror-movie-like it was, I’m never really *frightened* by it. I think part of this is the fact that I can tell when I’m dreaming, so no matter how frustrated I get in the dream, it doesn’t have a lasting emotional impact on me.

          I do remember that when I was taking Wellbutrin (yay drugs!) for my depression, I had really vivid dreams EVERY SINGLE NIGHT. I don’t remember any of them, I just remember waking up every morning with the definite awareness that I’d just been dreaming something extremely strange. My doctor said it was the oddest side effect she’d ever heard of.

          • Susie Day says:

            I had braces for about 3 years, and whenever I had a “my teeth all just fell out” dream, I would have to physically feel inside my mouth to make sure they were still there when I woke up.

            Does anyone else ever dream that they are dreaming, and then wake up in the dream, only to have to wake up again? My dreams are sometimes extremely vivid, and I have trouble remembering if certain memories were dreams or reality.

            • Jarenth says:

              Only once, but it was really vivid. It’s a really strange experience to slowly come to the realization that you’re actually still asleep.

            • Davie says:

              I did that once. I was dreaming I was flying a helicopter, and it crashed, and then I woke up. Only I realized my bed was on a rock outcropping over the ocean, and I could see gigantic, strange sea creatures watching me from the horizon. After a few minutes of intense nervousness and apprehension, I woke up for real…it was pretty bizarre. The oddest part is the knowledge that the previous events were a dream, but the inability to realize you’re still in one.

    • James Pony says:

      I had this dream once or twice where an alien (of the chestbursting, yo-dawg-I-heard-you-like-mouths-so-I-put-a-mouth-in-your-mouth, acid-for-blood kind) chases me through all sorts of places, starting from a room in my grandparents’ house, through a very Alienesque dark industrial facility with lots of pipes and catwalks, through a derelict cityscape into a barely standing skyscraper with a working elevator, in which the alien finally catches me while I’m midway up, entering through the maintenance hatch.

      And then it just waves “hi” and goes away.

  6. TightByte says:

    You’re lucky to have figured your dream out. I still, to this very day albeit more and more rarely, have strange dreams about physical conflict in which I am inevitably in some way disadvantaged. I can most clearly recall a couple of dreams from my younger years, one in which I’m trying to fight someone, hand to hand, but it’s like I’m in water, my movements are crazily slow, and somehow my opponent does not seem similarly afflicted. In another, I have some sort of gun which seems mostly constructed out of Lego, and is more or less coming apart in my hands, but somehow, I am able to prevail (though I’m feverishly aware of how tenuous my predicament is) by “pretending” it’s still functioning alright.

    I’ve never had any illusions about my ability to put up a fight in real life, but at the very least I expect I’d make the most out of my various faculties. In my dreams, it seems conflict comes up with some frequency and I’m always inexplicably crippled to deal with it.

    • MrPyro says:

      The “trying to fight while in water” thing I think is related to the fact that your meat-body is surrounded by bedclothes and so cannot move properly, and you’re getting some of that fed back into the dream.

      Maybe.

      I don’t really know anything about dreams, other than all those people who say “if you have a falling dream and you hit the ground you die” are liars. It does hurt though.

      • Bryan says:

        I thought that basically the entire lower body was paralyzed during REM sleep? Impulses from the brain (that control most voluntary muscles) pretty much just don’t make it past the brainstem. (The heart is excluded for hopefully obvious reasons. :-) )

        Though now that I think about it, that may not have actually been true. Off to wikipedia…

        Yeah, REM atonia. Though the “rapid eye movement sleep” article claims it doesn’t happen in all people (or perhaps it just doesn’t happen all the time).

        • MrPyro says:

          Ah yes, the physical lockout thing, which can cause problems for some people as it’s what causes sleep paralysis; when you wake up but the bit of your brain that handles the voluntary muscles doesn’t notice and so you can’t move. Apparently it’s incredibly terrifying.

          Sleeping is weird.

    • Jonathan says:

      I used to have dreams about being attacked and needing to shoot someone, and my gun just going “click” instead of firing (empty chamber), no matter how often I rack the slide.

      Enough trips to the shooting range and that went away.

    • Oleyo says:

      I have had this almost exactly… fighting foes with sluggish movement and/or malfunctioning or otherwise difficult to manipulate guns. The stupid broken guns always frustrated my defense or escape plans…very frustrating, glad I am not the only one :)

    • theLameBrain says:

      I have dreams about conflict, where I would throw a punch but I was suddenly weak. Like a 3rd grader punching a Boxer.

  7. Steve C says:

    How old were you when you came to the realization about the dream? Closer to 13 or 31?

  8. Chris36237 says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Shamus.

    Makes me think about my own troubled past.

    When i was a kid i was at odds with the world, too.
    Although i was more of a introverted dreamer…
    Back then my mom wanted to take me to a therapist, too.
    I’m happy she didn’t when i told her i don’t want to go.

  9. Rowan says:

    I still have occasional dreams of dropping from a tree (or climbing to a tree that then starts to bend faster and faster towards the ground, same thing really) but if I jump at just the right moment or otherwise believe in myself I can bounce right back up. Repeat until I don’t bounce and wake up heart pounding…

    Cars are scary for kids?! As a father of a two-year old son that’s news to me… Cars are only second to trains!

    • Raygereio says:

      What children find scary varies from kid to kid. And I reckon it’s also dependent on what the kid in question has been exposed to and the previous experiences they had.
      For example: if you’ve never met a dog before, then comming face to face with a couple of big german shepards can be quite scary. Perhaps even to the point where you pee your pants out of sheer fright. Just like my new neighbours’ child did when he went into my garden to fetch his ball yesterday.

  10. RCTrucker7 says:

    Dreams and meds… Just about 3 weeks ago I talked to my psycho (btw, she likes that term ;-) ) and asked her about dreams. I know that everyone dreams every real sleep cycle, but it’s a matter of whether or not you remember the dream or not. I have about 6 or 7 dreams that I always remember. Two of them only are from when I’m sick, like 102 fever sick, and the others happen sporadically. The only thing they all have in common, is that they are all very stress inducing scenarios, and at some point, I become “aware” that this is a dream, but am no less terrified of the situation. I told her, that after not taking any of my 5 different daily meds, for a period of a week, I remembered a dream that I have not remembered in over 12 years. It was one of the scariest ones in my repertoire. She said that that can happen fairly often, as your brain is going back to its (supposedly) chemically inbalanced state.

    • Destrustor says:

      I remember my dreams only once every week, at most. My sleep is basically always go to bed==>nothing==>wake up. I’m not on any medication, and I always wondered why I just don’t remember dreams. I also don’t think I have truly scary dreams often, and the ones I do remember are mostly weird nonsense (I had a son with a bear. I didn’t dream of the act itself but I dreamed I had to pay the bills and care for it. I was all “whaaat? when? …HOW???”).
      Anyway, what frequency of remembering dreams is normal? Surely someone here has some wisdom on that.

  11. Raygereio says:

    Oh look, a phychologist being utterly useless, stupid and having probably done more harm then good. What a surprise!

    • I think much of the problem is that most psychologists try to use methods on children that were designed to use on ADULTS. From listening to people talk about their kids, I have learned that children usually flat out don’t have the knowledge and experience to articulate their experiences. So asking them questions is not going to yield much (or any!) information. In fact, one of the major child-raising strategies some of my friends use is that when the kid is acting out, they make a suggestion about what the child may be experiencing, such as: “you seem angry because Other Kid wouldn’t let you have a turn with the toy”. Then, with an articulated description of their emotional state AND what’s causing it, they’re much more prepared to deal with the situation.

      IMO if you’re going to be a child therapist, you need to talk. Talk about your experiences, if nothing else, what you saw, heard, thought, felt. Help the kid find that background of experience that they lack.

      • Raygereio says:

        Well, that was somewhat a dumb driveby I did, no? It’s just that through personal experiences I’ve grown into a distinct dislike for psychology in general.

        IMO if you’re going to be a child therapist, you need to talk. Talk about your experiences, if nothing else, what you saw, heard, thought, felt. Help the kid find that background of experience that they lack.

        This is not just advice for child therapy; this is advice for therapy in general.
        Sadly, pretty much all psychologists I’ve send to and I’ve heard other people talk about don’t talk with you. Instead of engaging you in conversation and steering it in such a way that you yourself can start finding your own place. They instead try to see in what sort of catagory they can pidgeonhole you, to see what’s “wrong” with you and then start figuring out how they can “fix” you.

        Don’t get me wrong. There are decent people in the field of psychology that want and can help you. It’s just that in my experience they’re rare, which in me opinion is primarily caused by how the field of psychology is applied in the real world.

        • MisteR says:

          That’s sound advice and something I will try to keep in mind. It’s a tricky thing though, since you can’t steer a conversation when you don’t know where to go. You need to be aware of the possible outcomes, without committing to either of them.

          I’ve got the gut feeling that many psychologists are trained to be scientists rather than therapists. It’s difficult to tell the difference, but it is crucial.

      • Winter says:

        I once talked to a psychologist who, among other things, asked me to draw a picture of my family. I remember this pretty clearly because i couldn’t figure out what the hell he wanted a picture of my family for. Certainly not because we were friends, because i didn’t care for him and he knew it. I wasn’t quite sure what exactly it was that he wanted, so i asked him. He said he just wanted to see how i drew it. I said that, in that case, i should draw something else because i was pretty good at drawing, but people were pretty hard to draw correctly. Thus, it’s probably better if i do something i actually know how to do competently. Sure enough, though, he doesn’t care about that. None of this makes sense and nobody offers any explanations. My only guess is that he wants to see what my family looks like, since he has never met them. (Which was, well, not as creepy to me then as it would be in hindsight?) Anyway, i drew a picture and showed him and figured that was good enough. I couldn’t figure out what in the hell he actually wanted.

        Years later, i did.

        After a laborious process i got ahold of the notes he took from these sessions. When i asked him why he wanted a picture he wrote down that i “was prone to meaninglessly defy authority”, “does not respond to traditional motivation”, or some such. (I don’t have those notes anymore, unfortunately.) When i said i was better at drawing things other than people he wrote “has strong self-doubt, doesn’t believe in own abilities”. When i drew the picture i didn’t draw myself there (why would he need a picture of me? I was right there in front of him!) and he said “feels isolated from people, especially family”.

        Strangely enough, all of his comments were true.

        But the logical process by which he came to these conclusions was complete goddamn bullshit.

        What i think happened (okay, what i’m pretty damn sure happened) was that he knew what was going on–he wasn’t stupid, obviously, and all of these things he said were pretty bloody obvious. However, he couldn’t just say “i have a hunch that X”. I suspect not even to himself. He had to have a process, so he would do things and then write up an explanation where he just randomly jumps to some conclusion. But he already knew the conclusion, he was just looking for a way to get something that he could attach to the conclusion.

        Some time after i got ahold of these notes i read Richard Feynman’s Cargo Cult Science speech and became very bitter about the whole process in the abstract.

        Aside from that, these notes weren’t just innocent little observations made by a professional. They were used to thwart and manipulate me, to force me into working at cross-purposes with my true self, to erode my sense of autonomy and individuality… because people around me had these insights, and because i was forbidden from getting access to them, people had the tools needed to manipulate me. Not to any positive end–perhaps unfortunately?–but nonetheless. I really didn’t respond well to authority and external motivation. In fact, like so many people, i responded pretty much the exact opposite of what was expected. These notes that were made gave the authority figures around me–who, let me note, were often one step away from malicious–tools to control me.

        I’m still not “over” this stuff.

        When i was younger, i hated my direct tormentors–my peers. I knew, somehow, that it really wasn’t actually their fault… entirely. I knew there was some reason behind their actions. (For a while i thought it was just me, which was not helped by–again–all the authority figures in my life telling me it was just me!) I knew something was up, but i couldn’t help it and wouldn’t have cared to if i could have.

        Now, if anything, i’m even more angry. It wasn’t my peers at all who were to blame–it was, really, everyone else. It was the teachers who could have done something but didn’t. It was the school administrators whose response to harassment and abuse was to punish the abused. It was the parents who abused their kids, physically and/or sexually. (Not me, but those who–in turn–abused me.) It was the society that permitted no variance, valued conformity over all other considerations, and viewed any ideas thought up during their lifetimes as suspect if not outright sinful. (As in, i once got thrown out of a church for admitting i knew something about computers. Computers were the literal portal to Hell, the literal realm of the literal Devil.)

        I wish i could go back and tie all these fuckers up and then sit down and explain to them until they understand! But i can’t.

        One of these days, maybe i’ll be able to let go…

  12. MichaelG says:

    Fortunately, I hardly ever remember dreams. I sometimes have one in mind when I wake up, but as soon as my thoughts turn to anything else, even looking around the room, the dream vanishes and I can’t remember what it was (although I can remember losing it!)

    I do remember some dreams from when I was first paralyzed at age 8 though. I dreamt I was lying under the branches of a tree, enjoying the sunshine and birds. Then I try to move and can’t. I look down and see that the roots of the tree and the grass have grown up through my flesh and are consuming me. I wake up.

    I had this dream a lot as a kid, for obvious reasons. It still bothers me to write about it. A few years ago, I mentioned it on an artists blog a friend of mine ran. One of the blog readers drew the scene and sent it to me. I could barely look at it.

    So I guess these things have a power that doesn’t completely fade. I’m not sure what they tell you about yourself though.

  13. James says:

    I don’t get all the people slagging off psychologists in this thread.

    As someone who has had very extensive experience with psychologists, psychoanalysts and psychotherapists I honestly believe that they have helped me in my life.

    The main problem that they have is when people cannot tell what they are doing is odd or peculiar. They have to find everything out second-hand, which slows everything down.

    Maybe it is with the age of this article. The field has come on in leaps and bounds in the last 40 years, and now it is much better than what Shamus would have experienced back then, or so I believe.

    In short, don’t knock them unless what they did was because of negligence. All they want to do is to try to help you.

    Disclaimer: I’m from the UK. All my healthcare (mental and physical) is free. Please take that into account if you deem it useful.

    • Mari says:

      Does it count as actively harmed if a psychiatrist deems a scared and depressed 12-year-old “schizophrenic” with no evidence to support that diagnosis, pumps her full of Haldol and other psychotropics for years and bullies other mental health professionals in the area into refusing to see said child for a second opinion? We wound up travelling 300 miles to find a psychiatrist who would even meet with us. In the end, the second opinion was, “I see no evidence to support the diagnosis, either in her records or in my own evaluation and suggest that you ask your regular psychiatrist to withdraw her from her meds.” When my folks took that back to the regular doctor, he screamed at them that if he did I would have a psychotic episode and have to go back on stronger meds and wind up a vegetable for life and it would be ALL THEIR FAULT.

      Yeah, that’s my beef with psychiatrists. Psychologists are another story. I find most of them to be well-meaning folks who just aren’t very good at accomplishing what they intend to accomplish although I’ve run across two who were actually quite good at their jobs and I have a lot of respect for those two.

      • Alex the Elder says:

        There are a lot of mental health professionals in the world, and almost none of them are psychotic megalomaniacs like the one who got ahold of you. I’m sorry you had such an awful experience at such an already difficult age. Me, I would never have learned to function in the adult world without anti-anxiety medication.

        I think a lot of the trouble with mental health care is that the identification, definition and treatment of mental health disorders is not only difficult, but highly political (look what a political football autism has become, and let’s not even start on anything related to sexuality). Plus, you’ve got disingenuous pressure groups like the Scientologists on one side and overzealous drug companies on the other muddying the waters as well, and of course the legal system artificially multiplying the risks of any kind of mistake. I think mental health care is an excellent case study in how our current norms in personal and group interaction are really leading us to shoot ourselves in the foot.

      • Alexander The 1st says:

        So…um…this is the internet, and while I will assume you aren’t a vegetable typing on a keyboard, I shouldn’t rule out the odd imagery of a head of lettuce typing on a keyboard being possible?

    • Armagrodden says:

      My problem with psychologists is that most of the one’s I’ve seen don’t seem interested in listening to what I have to say and using that information to help me feel better. Rather, they want to shotgun me with questions until I say something that they can fit into their pet theories, then fixate on that and try to argue me into agreeing with them. I’ve never seen a psychiatrist; given that most of my experiences with psychologists have involved them trying to impose their widely varying world-views on me with words, I really don’t want to give one the power to monkey with my brain chemistry as well.

  14. Chuck Henebry says:

    Your account of your dream is deeply Freudian. What’s more, your experience suggests that Freud was actually correct in thinking of dreams as psychic messengers from the world of the unconscious—messengers to a consciousness that’s sometimes too frightened or confused to listen to the message. When at last you decode the message, the irritating messenger departs, never to be seen again.

    All this is striking since Freud’s theories are now largely discredited. They reigned supreme in American psychology from the fifties up through the late eighties. You got a taste of Freudian folly when your therapist insisted on prying into your relationship (at age 10) with your pennies penis, and undoubtedly she regarded your misreading of that card as confirmation your penis was indeed a root issue in your problems.

  15. BlckDv says:

    You dreamed my reality. One of my smaller childhood traumas was during a visit from my Grandmother when I was left alone in her car in front of our house for some reason, managed to put it in gear and go rolling backwards down a hill and up the other side, frantically trying to figure out how to control it. By the grace of God the worst damage that I caused was the destruction of some neighbor’s landscaping. Those memories terrified me for years.

  16. Mari says:

    I don’t know if anyone’s ever mentioned this to you, Shamus, but your dreams could also have been the result of your meds. Certain medicines with psychotropic properties have been linked to sleep disturbances and nightmares. Not that you didn’t have plenty of non-prescription reasons for the nightmares, just pointing out another possibility.

    Also, I really hated the psychological board games. We had one we had to play as a group once a week or so at the nut hut called “The Who Game” or something like that. It sounds a lot like the game your psychologist made you play (except I don’t recall any questions about pennies or penises, but they may have filtered that sort of question out since we were adolescents in a mixed-sex group).

  17. Dwip says:

    Re: school counselors, they sent me to one for a while in grade school too. Still don’t know why, I just kind of went and hung out with her for a while. She was pretty cool. So far as I know nothing ever came of it. I’ve never been on drugs of any sort, so maybe this has more to do with the nature of school counselors and bureaucracy than anything? Dunno, but that bit with the actual psychologist is pretty disturbing. Actually, hell, it’s a whole lot disturbing.

    As to dreams, mine were never so bad, but for a really long time (even now, sometimes) I used to have one, nearly every night for a while, where robbers would break into my room and I’d have to run away except the floor was made of hypodermic needles. Presumably this has something to do with my extreme distaste for getting shots, but who really knows. Sure freaked me out for a long time though. These days, not only am I really lucid dreamer, I can usually realize I’m dreaming and sometimes control it. I’ve also gone from nightmares to some really bizzare stuff that I can’t even begin to explain.

    The idea that there are entire years of my life that I lived through but no longer have very much if any memory of, even fairly late in the scheme of things, continues to seem very, very strange to me.

  18. LadyTL says:

    I had to deal with people wanting me to see a shrink and be on meds too. While it did turn out that I am an Aspie, I happily was old enough to refuse the meds. Seeing what they do to my sister now and how they affected you makes me think that was such the right decision. Oh and my shrink was a moron. Like someone in the gifted program who is having family troubles is going to say anything when they are sitting next to their mother who causes alot of the problems. I don’t care what he claimed, everything said in that room would have been yelled at for at home.

  19. DoctorSatan says:

    As a REAL ( :D ) Doctor I would suggest showing the doctor close to your house about those nightmares and headaches(especially the headaches) :D
    Your first paragraph holds true for pretty much every child of that age.
    Also, what about the book?

  20. Gary says:

    Reminds me of a recurring childhood dream I had:

    I would be chased all over my parents house, upstairs and down, by a tall minataur-like demon. I would always wake up terrified from it. This happened over and over, until sometime in high school (I think it was) I finally got sick of the demon chasing me, and I killed it with a sword.

    Then I NEVER had the dream again. It was marvelous :D

    • Jeff says:

      I used to have a recurring “continuous” dream where it would basically pick up where it left off. Then it got resolved, like yours did, and I never had it again. I think I missed that little other world for a bit.

  21. Hal says:

    To be fair, that question about the penis could have been an attempt to ferret out signs of sexual abuse.

    • Tizzy says:

      I get the feeling that the concept behind this game is an elaborate guessing game: I have no idea where to go next, let’s throw in a bunch of random loaded questions and see what sticks…

  22. Meredith says:

    I’m just going to assume half the comments are bagging on psychologists and not read them. I will say, as in any profession, there are good and bad ones.

    Your dream is super eerie for me, though. I actually DID that when I was about ten. My brother and I were in the van waiting for my mom, I messed with the shifter and we went rolling down the steep hill we lived on. Luckily we hit a small tree at the bottom of the driveway and weren’t injured. If we’d kept going it could have been ugly.

  23. Vect says:

    Glad I never knew a shrink who asked me questions like that.

    However, they did raise an eye at me for a few things. Once they thought I was making a hit list since I marked my yearbook with Xs and O’s over people’s faces, specifically over people I didn’t like (X) and people I was cool with ( O ). I once told a school therapist that I felt like a robot that accumulated so much stress that they could self-destruct from it. They conveyed it as me wanting to suicide-bomb the school.

    Generally however the school psychiatrists and speech therapists (I had to see one due to me not knowing how to respond to others and having a speech stammer) were alright people who I was actually OK with since being with them meant I get to leave class and they were nice people to chat with (even if I did ramble on about stupid stuff at times). The only part that got annoying was when my 9th Grade Speech therapist insisted that I greet everyone I met and when I didn’t she stopped me (in the hallways sometimes) and tell me to. Luckily I told her that it was annoying and she decided to stop it.

    I do have unusual dreams, but I can never remember any of them with any distinct memory. Every time I wake up I barely even bother remembering what I dreamed about. Then again I have a poor memory for these types of things, as I do a lot of things that I simply don’t particularly care for.

  24. Aanok says:

    When I was a kid, I had only two kinds of nightmares, recurring completely at random.

    The first one, more common when I was younger, was that I would look into the hollow of my elbow, find some sort of slit, enlarge it and then discover that, in place of bones, I had flesh coloured confetti. Then I would frantically start to take them out, until I eventually lost my body stiffness and drooped to the ground like a thick flesh blanket.

    The second one is more difficult to explain, as it was way more abstract. It would involve a blank, void space, filled with a couple of big, black-purple polyhedra, maybe something like icosahedrons. Their surface would be irregular, and they would start shifting shapes, producing pinnacles in all directions, shrinking, enlarging or moving around. I can’t recall all the details, but I remember that it would scare the crap out of me.

  25. I’ve had recurrent nightmares since before I can remember
    As a child, my mother would often find me sleeping with knives and baseball bats…in fact I still sleep with a sword within arms reach
    My dreams feel completely real, even my senses are fooled (I can smell, feel pain, etc.)
    Later a councilor would diagnose these as “Night-Terrors” and apparently quite a lot of people have them
    I still hate sleeping
    I had another councilor ask me what I thought was the cause of my various mental disabilities
    I thought about it and ask him
    “Do you think someone can be mentally balanced if they are subjected to every form of torture and pain each night?”
    “I think people who have had a trauma can learn to manage their feelings”
    “What if it’s just a dream, and it’s every night”
    “Well, that’s different…it’s just a dream”
    I decided then that I’m really not interested in WHY I am the way I am
    I’m just trying to make my symptoms less noticeable

    I’m enjoying these biography posts, and I’m noticing that I’m commenting on a lot of them with stupid personal stuff that no one here is really interested in, but I know Shamus reads these comments and just wanted to share a few similar experiences

    Keep it up lad
    Snowball

  26. RariowunIrskand says:

    I also had a pretty tough time in school. Not nearly as bad as what you seem to have had, but I was bullied a lot, and the teachers always ended up telling me off rather than my bully, because of my pretty violent reactions. I, too, had a recurring “template” for a nightmare. It’d always be a fierce animal locked in one of the places I frequented, and either the kids who bullied me or my teachers (Who were pretty out of place when the animal was locked in my room or house) would force me to go into the room for some cheap, replacable object. I still don’t understand why I had these nightmares.

  27. Ermel says:

    Shamus,

    thanks for sharing. — I do feel like an ass to point it out, but it is actually “Volkswagen”, not “Volkswagon”. Common mistake, I grant you, but annoying (to me) nonetheless.

    Yours, Ermel.

  28. Falco Rusticula says:

    About psychiatrists…I dunno. I know that my doctor and, possibly, the therapist I saw briefly in Year Nine did wonders in sorting my brain out (I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, which a lot of people say is a load of junk but which had a real, noticeable impact on the way I functioned…think mild to moderate depression, only this went away when spring arrived and can be handled with light therapy). I’m also inclined to think that when people have real problems, a psychiatrist or psychologist who knows what they’re doing can do a great deal of good.

    The problem, of course, is that the mind is an intricate and highly variable thing. I reckon at least some of the time even a professional is going to be fumbling in the dark a little, and some people are probably going to suck at it. Those people likely just lay out a kind of routine that they apply to everyone they see.

  29. Scourge says:

    Its not much of a consolation but my time as a kid, when I was 10 – 17 was pretty much like that as well.

    A trial of fire which I had to endure to finally be left alone.
    One of the few friends I had in school hit me regularly and I developed a twitch because of that. A twitch that I still have at 24 years of age, that makes me flinch whenever I see rapid movement from someone or if someone reaches out to me. This also is an explanation as to why I dislike being touched by someone because I associate it with pain.

    The twitch has become better over the years and is not as bad as it was, but.. it will remain I wager. *Shrug*

  30. Cybron says:

    I used to have recurring nightmares along similar lines, minus any relation to family. Weird stuff.

    Also, I will say not all professionals are bad. My parents took me to one when I was young because I was depressed. She worked me through it entirely without drugs.

    Speaking of which, did you ever just skip your ADHD meds? My memory has never been the best, so I ended up skipping mine a lot on accident (and sometimes on purpose – never liked them).

  31. I remember when my mother took me to see a psychiatrist, I literally laughed in her face. I was in the middle of being a teenager, mind. Somewhere around 14-15 I think. My basic thought at the time was shrinks were bullshit and this would accomplish nothing. Sure enough, I went for one session, never went back and absolutely nothing changed.

    My mom told me she didn’t believe in medication and being an angry teenager, I’d assumed she was just lying to cover the fact that we were too poor to afford it. I’d later come to realize we were better off than I’d always assumed, so I guess she wasn’t bullshitting me…and it seems she was right because this biography has a lot of really uncomfortably familiar elements for someone who never ate a pill for anything other than headaches.

  32. Jon Ericson says:

    Another powerful story and a cautionary tale for anyone dealing with boys who don’t behave the way we’d like them too.

    I have a son, who I hope will turn out as adjusted as Shamus, and I’ve learned that finding out what’s going on inside his head requires patience and detective work. Asking a boy why he’s misbehaving and how he feels isn’t the best way to get answers. He’s more likely to be shamed and embarrassed for not knowing what to do.

    If you have a young boy in your life, I highly recommend the book “Raising Cain : Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys”. It’s helped me understand my son’s inner life and also shed light on my own upbringing.

  33. Alex says:

    Had a nice counselor I’d talk to at school, even going all the way to High School. Couldn’t fix my problems, and I could barely even understand them myself, but it was nice to have one person at school who didn’t see me as something stuck to the bottom of their shoe.

    But yeesh. I’m glad my counselor wasn’t as tactless as the people you had to endure there, Shamus. Glad to see you turned out alright in spite of ’em.

  34. CoyoteSans says:

    Reminds me of the recurring car nightmare I have. When I was a kid, it was me all alone in the passenger seat of a car with no driver moving by itself, and the driver side door was open. After I got into an actual front-end collision a couple years back, it changed to me driving on the highway and suddenly getting hit by another vehicle from the side. I wake up, swearing to have FELT the impact.

    Of course, the best and scariest ones end with the highway just stopping, the vehicle careening off the edge, and I and everyone else in the car plummeting to our deaths. Guess I’m REALLY scared of losing control and dying in a car accident.

  35. Maldeus says:

    There’s a lot of discussion on psychologists and psychiatrists and so forth. Being several dozen comments deep already, I don’t think mine’s getting noticed, but typically it’s a question of who’s writing the check. If the psychiatrist is getting paid by you, they want to convince you that they’re helping, and since convincing someone they’re feeling better is basically exactly the same as actually doing better in terms of mental health, it typically works out well. Plus, if you don’t like it, fire them.

    On the other hand, if your parents are the one writing the check, the psychiatrist is trying to make sure they keep on paying. Your feelings are now only a means towards that end, and a lot of psychiatrists make a fair amount of money simply convincing their patients that their parents are right about what’s wrong with them, regardless of how much evidence there is for that statement. This gets worse if the parent is actually present for the therapy, in which case the psychiatrist is basically being paid to stroke their ego.

    It gets even worse if you’re a committed patient in a mental institution, something which, as the Rosenhan Experiment has shown, doesn’t actually require you to be a danger to yourself or those around you, which is the only prerequisite for insanity that doesn’t ultimately boil down to stripping people of their liberty because they’re weird. Regardless, once the doctor is being paid the same regardless of whether or not you, specifically, continue to be his patient, his only economic incentive to release you is if he no longer wants to bother treating you. Keep in mind that the more sane someone is, the less prone they are to violent outbursts due to poor treatment and other insane actions which justify the existence of institutions in the first place.

    But if you’re the guy writing the doctor’s check, then yes, there’s actually some pretty decent odds he will do his best to be genuinely helpful.

  36. Factoid says:

    My only experience with talk therapy came as an (almost) adult. I was about 20 and had sunken into what I assume is probably only a minor depression. I was sad about a breakup. Lost my appetite, couldn’t have any fun…and I felt this horrifying sense of my own heartbeat in my chest. I could constantly feel my own heart beating, which I knew was not normal outside of a workout.

    I finally told my parents I was depressed over the summer and they hooked me up with a psychologist. A nice lady named Ginnie. I went for just a few months over the summer, and even agreed to go on antidepressants for a while even though I didn’t think I needed them.

    I’m not sure what kind of therapy your shrink practiced, but Ginnie was into this thing called Cognitive Therapy. It’s beautifully simple in its approach. If you’re like me and you constantly beat yourself up and get down on yourself for every small failure, you just learn to identify WHEN you are doing these things, and then consciously force yourself to STOP.

    It worked pretty well for me. I was basically back to normal within a few months and I ended up feeling (as I described it to my therapist) like I had leveled up. I now had this new self-awareness and level of consciousness that I did not possess previously.

    The heart-pounding thing is still with me from time to time. I can often use it now to identify when I’m feeling stressed or anxious or upset about something and make an effort to correct the problem. It’s like my own minor super-power of “stress detection”.

    Not sure what I hoped to gain by sharing all of that, but it just seemed appropriate.

  37. Susie Day says:

    Your dream really did happen to me when I was about 4 years old .. my brother and I were in the car, and he decided to fiddle with the controls … we were lucky that we ran off the road and into a bush rather than off a cliff and onto a neighbour’s roof.

    Thank you for sharing your story, Shamus, I know a lot of it echoes many of our pasts.

    EDIT: reading some of the comments, and a lot of us have had this experience of hijacking our parent’s car. I never felt frightened of that experience specifically, but I (even now at 27) frequently have driving related nightmares — although they have gotten quite a bit better these last few years.

  38. SteveDJ says:

    Just wanted to comment that I have been really enjoying reading this slice of your life.

    But this new blog series has been having an impact on the sidebar ads that appear on your site. Upon coming to this page today, I was presented with an ad for… yes… the Betty Ford Center!

  39. Brendan says:

    Were you ever diagnosed as ADHD or Bi-polar? I had a very similar experience where all the Doctors thought that my irratic behaviour, night terrors and social retardation was stemming from severe mental illness when it was just that I processed things differently from most other children (well cept for the night terrors). Had all sorts of meds pumped into me, mainly anti depressants like fluoxetine and citalopram, and they wondered when I was so disjointed. Went on a course over a weekend when I was 13 that looked at how your brain processed infomation and it changed my life. I found that I was kinesthetic to the extreme, highly reflective and introspective. I still had a lot of troubles at school because the work didnt engage me on any level. Still found that unless my entire mind was dedicated to something I was prone to distraction.

    Reading your excerts is like doing a join-the-dots picture puzzle and with each new post the amazing (and arguably terrifying) picture of your childhood comes to life.
    Sir, I take my hat off to you and the bravery you are showing.

  40. illyrus says:

    Various doctors when I was younger wanted to put me on this or that drug and my mother always said no because she believed that my problems (which basically boiled down to being hyperactive, nothing more regardless of what doctors said) were no where near severe enough to need drugs for them. She had some medical knowledge herself (speech therapist and audiologist) so she knew doctors were not the infallible beings that some people seem to think they are.

    Reading your story has made me appreciate her choice more, thank you.

  41. […] themselves. In Shamus Young’s autobiographical series on his blog (specifically parts 2 and 9), he describes an association and synecdoche of cars to their owners he developed as a child. When […]

  42. Neil Roy says:

    Wow, you went through a lot, it’s amazing you turned out as well as you did.

    I went through the same anxieties with school, the parallels are uncanny, except I wasn’t on medication for problems. My grades were all horrible, Cs and Ds with usually only one A in French, my father is French and it must be in the genes because when I do speak it, I have a good accent, so… I am thankful because it got me one A at least. ;)

    I was bullied through school a lot, and I was given the bad advice that I should just walk away from a fight, so I did, and appeared weak, and so the bullying continued until I finally skipped school (and spent my days at the public library reading books on Electronics and Computers).

    Personally, I feel public schools are more of a problem than they are helpful and I am strongly against them. I think home schooling is the best, taught by people who genuinely care. I am self taught in programming, math, English and grammar I have constantly worked on over the years, always trying to learn and improve on my own.

    It’s too bad really, you see sweet innocent children, head off to school for the first time, enthusiastic about the whole experience and within a few short years, they are miserable and often disobedient to their parents etc. School totally ruins them. I have met home schooled children and the difference is HUGE, they’re well mannored, respectful, well educated, it’s amazing the contrast.

    I have a sister who has been resisting medicating her children (even though her school tries to force her to medicate him!), instead she went with a healthier diet and her son has improved a great deal. Anyhow… it’s 2:30am and I am having a difficult time pulling myself away from your story, it’s so similar to my own (except I had some molestation in my life, which I have told nobody about, not even my wife). Anyhow, time for bed I guess, I look forward to reading more. I may have to look into any books you have written as I absolutely love your writing style, good humour, well thought out… it’s good to know you turned out okay.

  43. I understand that you don’t like humans or nightmares. I think humans are okay, but not nightmares.

  44. Leah says:

    That’s a scary thing to have your dad run away.

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