Eighties Teenage Psychiatry For School Pressure: One Writer Squashed Another by Maurice Frank
Even in cases where no specified mental illness at all is ever claimed to exist, treatment powers and just the threat of their use, can devastate lives long term when child maltreatment situations, which are obviously not the child’s fault, come to involve child psychiatry. That happened to me, though I am not a person who has ever been labelled to have any mental illness. I have Asperger syndrome, but I belong to the generation who have only been recognised as adults. As a teenager I was not diagnosed with any condition at all.
The delay in awareness of Asperger syndrome itself was a consequence of conservatism in psychiatry which was inhumanly slow to consider and absorb the evidence for Asperger syndrome’s existence in place of curing our every problem by forced change. Being not safe to go anywhere near psychiatry meant I missed out on the early emergence of autism awareness. I discovered it, not through any medical route, but through pursuit of my own issues about school pressure, when it was becoming better known.
The System’s Reaction Now
My intimidation lasted for 28 years. I was made safe for all my recent actions, taken out of threat, through my participation in the Autism Network Scotland. They arranged for an autism aware psychiatrist to meet me and discuss what to do about the threat, and he ended it, approved my present health and pledged that my past doctors no longer have any power.
Immediately on being made safe, I checked up on surviving records, then I sent the story and an enquiry into present treatment practices to the health boards in the region where I suffered. The outcome from the All Wales Child Protection Procedure was 2 agencies in contradiction. Its “multi-agency strategy meetings” serve to give each agency an appearance of significant response, but it enables an evaded outcome where each of 2 agencies attributes to the other the reason for no answer, and in 2 contradictory ways.
X referred issues back to Y, to “further the issues raised”, while Y said that the reason why they could not take it any further was exactly because X had found it necessary to do this. X’s position is that it is for Y to take further, while Y’s position is that Y can not take it any further except by X taking it up. NHS would not then go beyond giving some optimistic thoughts on how child psychiatry is more closely monitored now than in my time. They said nothing on cessation of practising any specific detail of treatment. The whole procedure did not even result in making my enquiry known to any of the former treatment team who are still around.
The Scottish section of the Royal College of Psychiatrists wrote to parliament on Jan 20, on petition 1494, claiming that compulsory treatment is adequately regulated against these dangers. They wrote “Psychiatrists are regulated by the General Medical Council and abide by the standards laid out in Good Medical Practice.” The timing of RCP’s letter to parliament was fortuitous, when I had been through the above efforts after the threat ‘s removal from me. Also an anonymous account of my treatment had just been academically published as an appendix to a PhD thesis. By this it was a piece of published medical case evidence that was put to GMC to respond to. GMC case BK/E1-DTBN21.
The outcome clearly bears out UNCRPD’s position against all sectioning powers. It evidences that psychiatrists evade regulation by the GMC, and by any other authority e.g. child protection, whenever they can intimidate a patient into silence by these powers. Thus I told both the Scottish and Welsh offices of RCP on 30 May 2014. Neither replied.
An academic studying child psychiatry has told me this story “was heartbreaking to read”. What were obviously islands of ability caused by autism had caused a wishful belief that I was a high ability child, and reckless predictions by school teachers with high achiever authoritarian views. Hindsight shows they consistently got many bad results. At age 13-14, in 1982, the overwork reached a total mismatch with my abilities. I was trapped in impossibility, in a modern slavery situation where nobody was safe to confide in or willing to believe in rational limits to my ability. This resulted in a stress collapse expressed in sleeplike catatonic unresponsive states.
The system where teachers decide children’s abilities and force their pace by punishing when not satisfied that work is at best ability, has no way to detect or believe when it is expecting too much of a child. It is a modern slavery situation. I was never able at the challenging long answer questions and learning by problem solving, that take over at the older end of schooldays.
So I was caught in a pressure trap, unable to confide in anyone because the “gifted” label meant no adult was willing to believe in rational limits to my ability. This homework obsessed headmaster used to inspect a list of offending children’s work daily and he had put me into intense fear when he told one of them “I have the power to make your life misery”. Beyond this would lie a delinquent status ending who knew where? expulsion? removal from home? perceived by all adults as wilfully disobedient for inability to deliver their fantasy.
I had my catatonic states because the fear in an impossible situation left me no rational way to function. To reveal a known reason why they were happening would blow any chance of having them accepted as genuine. I was even too frightened to run away, because if caught I would instantly be an offender and not get a stress collapse accepted. So I only had any chance to get out of this impossible horror if I did not tell anyone I wanted to!
So I was made into a patient at age 14 by adults behaving delusionally towards me. That sums up compulsory education. Only after my symptoms persisted at school on the terrifying day of homework crunch, only after his nerve-shocking raving bellow had failed to snap me back to lucidity, it was that headmaster who referred me to Cardiff’s big general hospital for a mysterious catatonic condition.
My mother had been too under his will to make any decision without him. As my symptoms had no visible physical cause, this hospital in turn called in the top local child psychiatrist. He in turn first tested if he could dispose of the case easily, by telling my mother now to try again for another week to take me to school. The only day I reached school this resulted in a catatonic episode on a laboratory floor and getting carried out on 2 teachers’ shoulders.
Only then was I removed from school and admitted to his Young People’s Unit, with conflict from the start because I only accepted daypatienthood. He decided the problem was all caused by being too closely bonded with my mother. He never cited any evidence for this, he just wrote arbitrarily to my GP that it was “my approach”. So just decreeing that his own theory would count as fact,. It was very obviously absurdly wrong when I had been unable to confide my school crisis to my mother because she faithfully trusted the school. Indeed I had long since been having clashes with her over keeping my school life and marks as private from her as possible, that totally disproves any idea of being overbonded.
I was always resistant to authority in the unit. They never had the sense to realise this was a terrible matter of safety. I was potentially in danger of ending up back in the impossible spiral of homework and punishment if I weakened any of the leverage gained upon adults to keep me out of that. This survival need meant I needed to keep all authority limited in what it could do to me. So I could never afford to be seen by any adult as bowing to any bossing around to make any change in behaviour or habits that would surprise any other adult in my life – that would decrease my safety against getting expected to succumb to bossing to take more schoolwork pressure.
Bossing around posed me a danger that was too dangerous even to explain, so it forced me to protect myself by oppositionality, and directly for that I was labelled as needing to be a patient and continue to suffer the bossing around. That sums up why authoritarian help was utterly wrong for a kid who had just survived authoritarian abuse.
They served hot dinners to daypatients with no menu choice, and it would have been out of character for me to accept that, so I brought packed lunches, and they had an attitude against it. “We don’t encourage that.” They condemned bringing a packed drink bottle, and said “If your mother lets you drink out of a bottle at home she hasn’t done her job.” They made us sit as crowded as possible to eat, sometimes absurdly packed, rather than allow anyone to sit alone at a table.
There was a very confrontational hard man nurse always sharply spoken and rubbishing everything we said, to whom was delegated the role they could not all be seen to do, of testing if I could stand up to having him not believe the catatonic states had been genuine symptoms. He also had dictatorial obsessions around eating, constantly saying eating my packed lunches was like eating from a pig trough but eating the hospital meals somehow would not be. He would stand over me eating and say “Doesn’t that look like the bottom of a trough?”
It took another catatonic episode to put a stop to their first round of aggressive demanding. Only then they let things go quiet for a while, and this did stop the catatonic states happening: there was now more fear in the powerlessness of unresponsiveness than in overtly fighting issues. They kept trying to peer pressurise me, from the example of other kids, to accept inpatienthood, because it would progress their mother separation idea.
At first I had been unable to reveal what I really thought of the school and the anti-school libertarian view I had come to hold, because knowing why my collapse had happened would blow its acceptance as genuine. Not to repeat the trap that had caused my stress collapse was a life or death danger, but if I told them so I would blow all my cards for controlling the danger by my own actions. As time went on, it evolved into a different trap: that I could not disown the school and had to pretend to want to return there because this was the only leverage I had against the unit from outside.
It was emotionally devastating to tell a unit teacher “I’m not a swot” and get back “We think you are.” In an argument on the undisclosed item I mention later, the hard man nurse said “Who are people going to believe?” But during a home visit this traumatising man proposed to my mother that I should bond with him as a father substitute.
A term in, it was very clear that they were not looking ahead to any end to the treatment and were avoiding the question. This and the hard man nurse caused us to attempt to arrange a return to school unilaterally. This was exactly the outcome the unit should have given me a gentle refuge against and saved me from.
My prospect of surviving the same school, Balfour House, as had just nearly killed me would be by the gamble that the damage done to its propaganda by my collapse now prevented it from getting away with repeating the same level of pressure. It would let us warn them off if they did: I was no longer recklessly to be assumed highly able.
The unit easily frightened the school off, demanded my psychiatrist meet them and she told them and my mother I was “far more ill than they realised” and my personality in some way in danger of collapse, whatever that language meant after I had already had a collapse. These claims were unevidenced, they just used a doctor’s status to shock. To have the school out of the picture until next September freed the unit’s hand to force the issue of inpatienthood threatening to apply for compulsory powers.
It resulted in the utter trauma, for any libertarian character, of the hard man nurse ranting in my face that they needed “to get you in here and change you”. He was presenting the imminent prospect of total stripping of all personal liberty and coercion to become the person he wanted instead of I wanted, as the result of an abuse by school pressure that had not been my fault. This was in open community meeting in front of all the kids. The psychiatrist beside him had just introduced the subject that “you could be brought in here by force”.
But it was clear the unit was not rushing straight to section me because it would look bad if it was seen to use its new power just to be brick wall unreasonable to me. Its frightening off of the school might then fail. It had to make me look the brick wall unreasonable one before it could got to court. Hence it was still possible to extract a deal on inpatienthood’s terms, with them acknowledging that I would not comply with all the personal changes they wanted, and not claiming they could immediately make me.
The deal bought me a key defensive line. Of course I knew the unit would not honour it and they would try gradually to force each of their conformist issues in turn, step by step. But they only had unchallenged power for a finite time, and the deal ensured it would take them all that time to gradually rat on the deal.
The unit claimed the inpatienthood was big progress in its mother separation idea. Its main result was that despite having a long break from homework, I was still destroyed as a child author. This item of cruelty, done originally by the school pressure, utterly scars my life with the murder of an intensely wanted chance. It is the issue I am most emotionally known for campaigning on in the aspie scene – contrast me with Luke Jackson. The emotion of it is in the beacon of liberty that child authorship is, showing children are capable of speaking for themselves, supporting their claim to political rights. Opposite to the unit’s views, of shouting “people are going to tell you what to do for your own good” and “I’m sick of being told by a 14 year old what I can and can’t do.”
One nurse actually said, several times, “you are menial.” Tied to age. “You are menial, a 14 year old.” “You don’t seem to understand that you are menial, 14 years old.” Early in my inpatienthood when I had less power over my life than nearly ever, he gave me a personal talk on being “something unheard of, a 14 year old running his own life” and said I needed to compromise on it.
There appears to me to be a missing generation of child authors, no non-famous children seem to have emerged as authors between 1978 and 2001. It matches exactly the time when the Black Papers backlash for authoritarian schooling was fashionable and the modern style of homework pressure, as practised by Balfour House, was emerging. In one way I was lucky, to be able to testify that this lost generation exists: I was twice reported as being a child author in newspaper propaganda for Balfour House, South Wales Echo 20 Aug 1980 and Western Mail 19 Jan 1982, before the same school’s own slave-driving of homework destroyed every prediction made in those reports.
The psychiatrist who first threatened forced treatment, who by it forced the inpatienthood to happen, is a successful author himself, a significant literary figure in Wales. For the next 28 years his arbitrary power to take away liberty by psychiatrist’s opinion gagged me into helpless silence about it, while my wronged child authorship lay unknown. To see his continued success without having any voice about what he had done, living under the threat that he had the power to destroy my liberty if I circulated any challenge to his status, was exactly the same experience as Jimmy Savile’s victims have described.
The inpatienthood began with the hard man coming into my room barking orders every morning for cranky lifestyle changes. They included, he called my use of a sleeping bag a “womb substitute”, it is now known to be a commonplace of autistic sensory issues. He ordered me to wear underpants in bed, which later a different nurse called dirty. Hard man: “You bloody don’t, do you! Have you got pants on now?” Other nurse: “You don’t keep your underpants on in bed, surely? That’s dirty if anything is.”
I want also to mention that 2 of the male psychiatrists used swamping hugging as a way of asserting adult dominance over us. One often kept hold of me for long periods, treating my struggles as a game, when community meeting was beginning. He also had a reputation for deliberately angering the child as a therapy technique. His doing this in private sessions was often discussed openly by the parents in the weekly family meeting, with no power to stop him.
They started giving me a pill they lied about which a seasoned anorexic patient spotted it was valium, but it had no effect that I could feel. This happened in the build-up to, and during, a treatment item of lewd bodily interference which obviously I should not have to suffer writing openly about the details of. Obviously any molestation trauma done as treatment had the opposite effect than absurdly intended for it as treatment. Subsequently emerged understanding of autistic sensory issues has proved me right in several aspects of personality and life choice that the unit tried to coerce me to change, including the one that lay behind this molestation.
These issues were nothing to do with my school problem, which was hardly given any attention at all, pretty much forgotten about, while they focused on the items that they had picked on.If a patient was sparked to feel any anger or personal resentment against any staff, they always called it “because I/they tell you the truth”.
They made us take part in a fundraising march for the unit around some nearby pubs, with the staff in fancy dress. I succeeded in resisting going. They dragged me down the corridor to the door but they could not continue to drag me like that outside without ruining the whole occasion. They were forced to leave me behind, in company only of the same anorexic, who wanted to go to prove s/he was strong enough so was not allowed to. All other patients went no matter how strong their objections – it frustrated me that none had the thinking sense to do non-violent resistance like I did, concerning the bedtime too.
Midsummer came with us still locked in argument and the calendar caught up with them. I had a way out of this slavery only because I had not renounced, I had stuck to claiming to want to return to, an alternative slavery at the greedy school that had wrecked my life and caused me to be in the unit in the first place. They could not prevent a September return to school from being fixed up, because fear no longer made me have the catatonic states when their effect would be to keep me in the unit.
They were not satisfied with my health, I left with loud predictions of their readiness and keenness to have me back. They did not let me leave until late August, and in the weeks of inpatient-hood remaining they continued efforts to tar my mother’s character for failing to make me surrender to them on the issue behind the molestation. They also tried to create a new issue out of saying I ate too fast! But because I knew leaving was near, they failed to get a reaction to make it stick.
Because my gradually worsening school situation had been isolating, it was a creditable objective that they had wanted to rebuild social ties for me. But the other authoritarianism defeated that objective. Inability to renounce the school meant I left with the other kids still believing the gifted nonsense about me, and the threat meant I could not safely keep any social ties with the teenage psychiatry scene and make any return visits. So I was left totally friendless for 4 years after leaving the unit, including 2 after leaving school, and this was at ages 15 to 19 the prime of teenage. This was hardly a healthy treatment outcome. I had to rebuild from nothing not even safe to seek any help with it.
That the unit forced me to leave it on a false basis, lying about my life intentions helped to make the threat so long lasting, and potentially permanent, for if I came to psychiatry’s notice again it would be in apparent failure of the intentions I had left the unit with. Obviously I did not want any friends until after I had escaped from school and the gifted nonsense, and that could only come after the 2 year duration of A-level courses I knew I would not try to pass because it would cause another homework trap and stress collapse exactly as the unit hardliners wanted. But I could not leave school in mid-course without risking the psychiatric question of failure to cope.
So, even though the unit had not wanted me to return to Balfour House, its actions of leaving me under threat trapped me for those extra 2 years in a school whose ideas I found morally repulsive, unable to reveal my conversion to libertarian anti-school beliefs, or to break with Balfour House until 3 years after I had first wanted to. I was in this terrible unfree position, silenced from making my real character known as I desperately wanted, at the time of the nuclear war danger of 1983, during my first term back at school, and throughout the real 1984.
It even resulted in an exposure to asbestos: a chemistry practical lesson when we were required to ladle powdery fragments of white asbestos from a packet into glass apparatus on spatulas, at a time when it was already realised to be dangerous. I leaned over as far away as possible and he said, “For heaven’s sake it’s not blue asbestos.” I got this description published in the Independent 29 Nov 2009.
Though I succeeded in surviving where previously I had failed to, by using the unit to restrain the school just as I had used the school to restrain the unit, I could not actually confide any school troubles in my outpatient checks. It would make them want to take me back. So I just had to keep saying all was fine until the checks ended when I neared 16. In fact when they ended I was often doing homework marathons for half the night and coping by secret binges of extra food. The therapist detected nothing of that.
In rebuilding life from nothing post-school I was gravely disadvantaged by the unit’s threat, because so long as it existed, potentially for life, I could not apply for any further or higher education where my education story would be scrutinised. The unit featured in it, so it could be reported back to them and I be sectioned. Likewise I was not safe to attend any youth projects. My free life was forced to begin as a teenage recluse, until I was long enough out of school to avoid it in conversation and find again in cautious steps that I could get through any social contacts safely.
Ironically too, this kept me living dependent on parental home without a counterbalancing life outside it. This was head-on opposite than the unit wanted, a total failure for its mother separation idea, yet this outcome was created by these doctors’ own threats! Ironically too, this actually did expose me to a hurt that proves again we were not overclosely bonded.
My mother was totally unsupportive towards speaking out about the things that had happened to me, or sharing my anti-school views. She had always been the character type to want to stay safely respectable and never do anything at odds with the comfort zone of narrow minded old ladies. Her worst fear was that “they won’t understand” anything else than they want to hear.
This extra obstacle to the fight to be heard was totally part of the failed treatment’s life toll on me. My crisis forced on me a life of often having to tell folks things they won’t want to hear or believe, or won’t find socially convenient to accept. In my free life nothing has mattered more than to be known and heard as an anti-school libertarian instead of letting anything survive of my educators’ rotten fantasies.
You may notice in life, that when folks are running away from hearing or admitting something, a cynical evil device they find easy to use is to claim “we don’t understand”. It puts up a defensive wall for them against anything you try to say. It will be familiar to adult ex-patients wishing to tell stories.
Usually it is very easy to prove that folks who say “I don’t understand” are lying and abusing you. You simply challenge them to go through it a sentence at a time and point out which words they don’t understand. They always run a mile from that, because they know it would force them to hear the things they don’t want to have to believe. Anyone who is fair and decent, who wants to listen, and who genuinely needs something clarified, can point to the words they want clarified and ask their question. That way they continue to listen and they get to understand. Whenever you give someone a fair hearing, it includes asking for specific clarifications, and listening to them. If instead you just rant about not understanding, it becomes an unjust refusal to listen. It becomes deliberate not wanting to understand, whose effects is to gag the other person from being heard.
To defend the “don’t understand” trick, to give it any shred of justification ever, is by light years the single deepest soul-stabbing existential emotional abuse, directly linked to child lewd abuse too, that anyone can ever do to me as a survivor of bad psychiatry. This is a principle of care to learn and to apply to all survivors.