It's weird how this one cyberbully I knew could make ANYTHING sound like an accusation.
I remember her saying something about “that thick head of hair you have” and somehow making it sound like a scandal. That’s the kind of language/manipulation skills I’ve talked about before… like she may have not been able to write in a fancy way, but she could write in a way…
Understanding language in an organic ways helps.
For example ‘that’ is a harsh word, it depersonalizes something from you (‘this’ comes across as something you’re involved with; it is near. It also has less bite). If you’re familiar with ‘us vs them’ dangers and how creating things as distant can lead to wars. It’s taking the humanity, dignity, or value away of something. It dissociates.
Your hair is depersonalized from you. It is made into an object. Most humans dont relate to or have feelings for objects. ‘Head of hair’ can easily be replaced woth the word thing and still make sense. Also, generally, the wordier the language, the harsher it comes across, because it relies on facts and cold cut statements to express versus emotional input.
(My brain is turning off here)
And your hair is further removed from you by being something (thing) you own, ‘of yours’.
Also, for some reason, only usung one adjective adds bite.
The word choice was choppy and cuting. There was just an overall object-ification (hyphen becauE this isnt meant with context, but the literal meaning of making things into objects) of things that created that sense of othering.
I don’t think it’s just that. I think someone could do all those things without creating this kind of response.
I grew up around somebody who is also a master at this. Part of it is the deliberate phrasing construction like that, and part of it seems to be some kind of other manipulative skill that I just can’t quite put my finger on, much less describe well. How that can come through clearly in writing, I don’t know, but it can. And it sounds like the person in the OP does very similar. :/
Yes it definitely goes well beyond the choice of words. Like someone could say the above, and make it sound affectionate, if they wanted. But this person can somehow twist anything until it sounds like an accusation that you’ve done something wrong. It’s almost as if she can add little packets of information in between her words, that are not actually in the words themselves. And the packets say things like:
"You are a liar."
"You are scandalous (in a bad way, in the worst possible way)."
"You are a fraud."
"You are horrible."
(Substitute “this person” for “you” if it’s a third person reading it, and not the person it’s directed at. This has the effect of turning people against the person it’s directed at, without them even noticing they’re being manipulated into hating someone.)
And it’s amazing that someone could incorporate those four packets of information into a description of my hair, but she really could, and people who couldn’t pick up on the manipulation there, actually were easily manipulated by her in this way. And yes, I don’t know how she did this in text form, but she did, absolutely, all the way.
She could also do it in body language though — like to me, it was really obvious a lot of the time that the body language she was sending out was completely false. Like she would have body language that claimed to be hurt and pitiful, but actually be happy and gloating over her manipulation underneath all that. But people who couldn’t see underneath it felt sorry for her and saw her as someone vulnerable to protect. (The “I’m vulnerable please protect me” thing was another packet of information she sent out louder than almost any other information she sent out, whether she was sending it out in body language or through text. But it was completely false information. She was actually hostile, domineering, and manipulative, not vulnerable and needing protection like she tried to claim.)
It got so bad that she would be manipulating me and other people through this weird skill she had, and in fact exploiting my near-total lack of such skills, and my problems with language. At the exact same time as saying that I was this eloquent master of words, who was exploiting her language problems. And it helped that her writing style wasn’t very eloquent-sounding, that backed up her claims… except that even if she lacked eloquence, she had something else that more than made up for it… sort of an intense intense ability to use words, and something she shoved in between the words, to manipulate people in a way that they were not capable of seeing easily. I may (sometimes) be “eloquent” in some senses of the word, but I’m not capable of that, and it frequently drove me to tears trying to explain to people what was actually happening there. She was so good at flipping situations around and making it look like she was the victim and I was hurting her. Only I wasn’t actually doing anything to her. In fact, I was avoiding confrontation, avoiding reading anything she wrote when I could help it, and avoiding her, yet she managed to make it look like my very existence was hurting her and the only way that I could stop hurting her was to stop existing. (Which is why she started threatening my life and getting away with it in some circles because they thought it was justified for someone who was hurt by my existence to do that.)
Even though I was able to see through her manipulation to some extent, and see what she was doing to people, I wasn’t immune to her manipulation, which is why I stopped reading her writing. Reading what she wrote, I would become convinced (on a subconscious sort of level that’s really hard to rid yourself of, even when you know better) that I was somehow hurting her by existing. What she’d do, is she’d take things I’d written and say I got them from her life, and that I was pretending they were a part of my life in order to hurt her. But I knew — and she knew too, because many times she actually set up these situations so that they would look even more like that — that these were really part of my life. (Whether they were also part of her life, I don’t know, because she lied so much I don’t know anything truly about her other than that she was utterly horrible to lots of people.) And because they were really part of my life, the only way I could stop “hurting her” was to stop existing. Hence, I would start thinking that maybe the only way I could avoid “hurting” her was to kill myself.
It got that far partly because I, and many other people in the communities this happened in, subscribed, consciously or otherwise, to the idea that when a victim of abuse says they are triggered, then you absolutely have to stop doing whatever you’re doing that triggered them. No matter what you were doing. Even if they sit there following you around, refusing to remove themselves from your presence, and saying that every single word you say triggers them intensely in the worst possible way and that you are making them so miserable they might die from malnutrition because they’re so stressed out they stopped eating because of you. And so even as I knew that there was nothing I could possibly do that she wouldn’t claim to be triggered by (and that in fact she was setting up many of these situations so that she would appear to be triggered to the maximum degree possible), I also had that instinct that told me that because she was an abuse victim, I had no right to contradict her, had no right to do things that triggered her, and therefore had no right to exist. In addition to the abuse victim thing, there was the “whoever is the most oppressed is always right” thing that works in the same way, and she claimed to be the most severely autistic person who could post on the Internet, therefore the most oppressed, therefore the most in need of listening to. And she used that to manipulate people into attacking many many innocent people, not just me.
One reason I talk about this is to warn people.
I don’t want anyone to end up as twisted around as I did, by someone who consciously manipulates the norms of a community in order to achieve the maximum possible damage to both the community and people in it.
What amazes me is that I wasn’t the only one she was calling a fraud. She believed that all “high functioning” autistic people (including people dxed with Asperger’s or PDDNOS) were frauds who really had borderline personality disorder or schizophrenia. (By the way, that’s a warning sign. Anyone who constantly, constantly, rails against people with borderline personality disorder, seeing them everywhere everywhere everywhere… I’ve never met anyone who does that who isn’t really nasty or even dangerous. I don’t know why.) And she believed that anyone but her who claimed to be “low functioning” or “nonverbal” or “Kanner’s” (which doesn’t mean “low functioning” or “nonverbal”, but she knew very little about autism) who used a keyboard to communicate, was either a fraud or someone being used as a hoax by their caregivers.
But many of these people that she also claimed to be frauds, were so quick to believe her about me. Maybe it’s because she stopped saying they were frauds, publicly, in order to be more palatable to them so she could turn them against me, who was her main target at the time. Maybe it’s because they believed that as ~the most low functioning person on the Internet~, she had a right to call any and all other autistic people fake, because of her experiences in the world and the degree to which she was more oppressed and had experienced worse abuse than they could ever imagine.
And that’s the danger of assuming that the victims of the worst abuse or oppression have the right to define everything about a situation, and are always right about it. That’s when I learned how dangerous this whole concept was. That’s one reason I try to warn people against this mentality.
Because if you have this mentality.
And you are targeted by someone who has the means to exploit this mentality for all its worth.
Then you will be gutted. You will be ripped to shreds. You will be turned inside-out and upside-down and may literally be driven crazy by it — you may even end up being manipulated into suicidal thoughts, as she managed to manipulate me.
And if you don’t think predators think communities with these norms are a wonderful place to prey on people, then you don’t understand where a large amount of drama in these communities comes from. Some of it is for other reasons. But some of it is because vulnerabilities of this magnitude attract social predators. And social predators will hurt you in ways you didn’t even know you were capable of being hurt. And they will enjoy it.
That’s why I talk about the bullying I’ve experienced. I don’t want anyone else to be as vulnerable to this kind of colossal mindfuck as I was.
That’s why I warn people about the dangers of simply switching things around, listening to the most oppressed the most, rather than the most privileged. Because there are always people who will manipulate that to their advantage and stomp on your face and laugh about it.
(What is the alternative to listening to the most oppressed or abused person the most? It’s evaluating situations individually, with a cautious eye. Being aware of how privilege can warp your perceptions. But also being aware that not everyone who claims to be the most oppressed really is the most oppressed. And that not all oppressed people are right, even about oppression. The only way forward with this stuff is to keep all these things in mind, but evaluate each situation on its own. And to always be aware of your vulnerabilities and how people will exploit them. It’s not just garden-variety social predators and bullies who exploit these things — COINTELPRO used these exact same community norms to break up social movements in the seventies, including by planting agents who were, or claimed to be, more oppressed, so that people would feel like shit if they tried to out them as a fed.)
Anyway… I really fear people who have this ability and have crappy enough ethics to use it on people. It’s like they can implant packets of information that go in between the words, and other people pick up on those packets of information subconsciously and are manipulated by them. And it’s awful. I’ve seen awful things done to people.
I have a friend who lost her entire online community at once to this same bully. She was a trusted member of an online community that meant a lot to her. Then, this particular bully showed up in the community. We now know that she lurked in the community for ages using a pseudonym, before she ever attacked. But when she attacked the damage she did was devastating.
She showed up and spun her usual story of being the most severely autistic person on the Internet, who suffered horrible abuse beyond what any high functioning person could imagine. She claimed to be in support of this community in a lot of ways. And when she gained their trust, she started claiming that people high up in the community were hurting her. She claimed that they didn’t understand her because she was low functioning, and that they were saying horrible things about low functioning autistic people.
My friend felt torn between her friends in the community and her feeling of duty to protect the underdog. (The bully in question loves to pose as the underdog for that exact purpose.) She eventually decided to protect the underdog, and posted things in support of the bully, who had shown her doctored logs in order to make it seem as if she and all other low functioning people had been bullied by these other community members. I believed her as well, at the time, being caught up in the same mentality as my friend.
My friend’s friends in the community were shocked and felt betrayed. They ended up banning her from the message boards. She came back for awhile under another name, because she couldn’t bear to be away from many of her online friends that she’d gotten to know and care about, but she was discovered and banned again.
The trust never came back. She lost those friends, and that community, for good. They don’t understand why she would believe this stranger over them.
And yes, they are the victims in this situation. But so is she. Because that’s what this bully loves to do. She loves to break up friendships and communities. And she sees people’s vulnerabilities and uses them against people.
Long ago, the autistic community was smaller. She attacked it in similar ways back then. Everyone in the entire autistic community learned her name, learned to know her, know she was trouble, and she was pretty much banned from everywhere. Many of the people she hurt at that time, she accused of “stealing her life” in the same way that she accused me. She hacked computers, impersonated people on IRC, sent people abusive and threatening letters, and did everything she could to wreak as much havoc as she possibly could. But people were on to her and they quickly learned to avoid her and keep her out of their communities. I mean at first they were taken in and tried to be as nice to her as they could, but when she returned their niceness with poison, they learned.
But now the autistic community is large enough, and forgetful enough of its past, that she (and some of the other big-name social predators who preyed on the community at that time, there were others) has been able to make a comeback and convince at least some people that she’s in the right. She’s learned not to alienate too many people at once, I think. Although most people who are close to her eventually end up getting burned by her. The only people I know who manage to stick close to her for any length of time are people with such low self-esteem that she’s been able to manipulate them into thinking they deserve the abuse she heaps on them, or other bullies who see her as an accomplice. Even some people who hate me with a passion and have tried to get in close with her, have been attacked by her as “stealing her story” as well, or as potential “spies”. (As if I have the wherewithal to have spies.)
Oh, and the friend of mine who stuck up for her back then, and lost her community in the process? She told this bully that she wasn’t going to choose between the two of us, and for that she got called one of my “minions”. (I don’t have minions either. I have friends. Weird concept.)
But… yeah, I am not her only target, and I’ve seen other autistic people viciously attacked by her. One person who was one of her big targets back in the day when the community was small enough to know her for what she was, is now one of the founders of Autscape in the UK. But I’ve seen her attack others more recently, too. Anyone who claims to have Kanner’s is likely to be attacked by her.
And… even if she is everything she says she is… even if everything she claims happened to her has actually happened… and I don’t really care one way or the other whether she is or isn’t… that doesn’t mean what she does is justified. Many people have endured far more abuse than her, and have not become vicious bullies and social predators as a result. Many people are far more severely disabled than she is, and are not hostile to everyone less severely disabled than them. Many people are far more oppressed than she will ever be, and even if they are justifiably angry at their oppressors, even if they lash out at people sometimes, they don’t try to destroy every community they touch, in fact they recognize the necessity of community if we are ever to fight oppression, and they don’t send death threats to total strangers. None of these things are excuses for what she is and what she does. None of these things make this okay or even understandable.
And I say this in case anyone who reads this ever has the misfortune to be targeted by someone like this:
1. You are not at fault. Even if you’ve done things wrong, things you regret… nothing you have ever done makes you deserve this.
2. You don’t need to do everything someone asks, no matter who or what they are or claim to be.
3. If someone claims your existence triggers them, you don’t need to stop existing, and it’s quite possible that they aren’t even telling the truth, but are rather trying to manipulate you into self-hatred or even suicide. Especially if they make no effort to avoid you, but instead seem to be following you around or even stalking you and then claiming to be triggered by everything you do and everything you say, ever. It’s possible to be triggered by a person, but most people who are triggered by a person’s existence are not going to follow them around saying “you’re triggering me” every other second.
4. If someone says you are lying about things you absolutely know happened and that they absolutely know happened, and that it’s your “lies” that are triggering them, you need to get away, fast. If you feel like their insistence that you are lying means that you need to check with other people who witnessed the events in question to verify that they did, indeed, happen, then you are in too deep, and it’s probably you who are triggered in some way. Get away. Fast. Don’t read anything they say. Don’t listen to them. Just get away.
5. If someone is consistently nasty to people, and seems to have the ability to contain little packets of information in between their words, such that even seemingly innocent statements contain veiled attacks on people… get away, too. You don’t need to subject yourself to this, and you will be influenced by those little packets of information, even if you know they’re false and know the person is being manipulative.
6. You don’t owe anyone your interaction. Especially if they do these things. You don’t deserve this.
I can’t warn you enough how toxic this is when people do this sort of thing. I can’t warn you enough how much damage a person like this can do to people who trust them. And how much damage they can do to entire communities, if it’s allowed. This whole experience has probably made me stronger and more aware of certain things in the end, but nobody should have to go through anything like this. People can be nastier and more manipulative than most people could ever imagine… and that’s part of how they get away with it, is people can’t imagine that they could really be as bad as they are.
feliscorvus had a family member like this too, that’s one way she was able to see through what this bully was doing, and befriend me back when this was at its worst. I was so afraid she’d believe her, I’d seen too many online relationships ruined and I was afraid one day she’d find out I was horrible underneath and believe her. But she didn’t, and she told me it was because of two things. One, she had a family member who manipulated people in the same way. Two, she had the same ability I have to at least partially see through things like this, by looking at patterns.
And as I’ve warned people before, speaking of instincts and patterns:
If you interact with someone and whenever you’re near them, you feel this implacable blast of hate flooding at you from their direction? Get away. They will hurt you, sooner or later. It doesn’t matter if, on the surface, they seem to be doing something really nice. If all you can ‘feel’ from underneath is hate, then there is hate somewhere and that hate will come at you sooner or later and you don’t want to be around when it does. If I’d trusted my instincts… this still would have happened to me, but it would have been less damaging. All that time she was being fake-nice and at times sickly-sweet to me, she was gathering information that she’d later use to manipulate me and others. Don’t give them even innocent information, you wouldn’t believe how innocent information can be used against you. Just get away as fast as you can. Run, don’t walk.
If, during all of this, you know you want to get away, and yet you feel like you can’t? Like somehow there’s this sort of inertia that always somehow keeps you from getting away from them, no matter how much you want to? Then do everything you can to break that inertia. It means something really terrible. Believe me, you have to focus on breaking away from them or you’re in for a world of hurt. They’re likely manipulating you in some way, into not getting away from them, and they may be manipulating you based on your past abuse history, if you’re anything like me. I feel like my worst bullies throughout my life have built inroads into my brain, that they can use to mindfuck me really easily, and one of those inroads is somehow convincing me I can’t or shouldn’t get away from them. And that kind of bully… they can smell those inroads in a way I don’t even understand. If you have them, they will be exploited, no question.
What I think when I see twenty bazillion posts about the JRC on my dash.
Close the Judge Rotenberg Center. For the love of everything holy, close the Judge Rotenberg Center. Stomp it into the ground and dance on its fucking ashes.
You won’t be done.
You’ll just have eliminated the most obvious of a huge number of places that torture and abuse their patients in the name of treatment.
Skin shock is showy and scary and it makes a good story and it makes it easy to see what is hurting people.
But people can be hurt just as bad or worse without it.
People can be hurt just as bad or worse by places that don’t brag about the torture they inflict on their patients.
People can be hurt just as bad or worse in the institutions everyone loves to love because they’re so beautiful, they have such wonderful grounds, they seem so loving.
You can’t understand, maybe, why this is true.
You think, maybe, that abuse, trauma, PTSD, CPTSD, can be measured in volts.
You think, maybe, that the destruction of lives is proportional to the visible destruction heaped on the body.
It’s so much more complicated.
I have a friend who gets really upset every time some over-the-top institutional horror story makes the news. So do I, for that matter.
One part of it is because, obviously, it’s horrible, and we’ve both lived through horrible things. She’s been to both state and private institutions (and found private ones worse, by the way, so much for stereotypes). I’ve been to private institutions and private residential treatment facilities and what I like to call ‘community institutionalization’… too hard o explain in such a short space.
I spent most of my teen years in the psych system (and to some degree was exposed before that) and sometimes in mixed psych/DD settings, and pretty much all of my adulthood in the DD system. I have physical disabilities that could easily put me in a nursing home, and developmental disabilities that qualify me for admission to an ICF/MR. Staying free takes up more of my energy than I’d like.
I’ve been abused and tortured and traumatized and almost-killed in all kinds of settings, inpatient and outpatient.
At one time in my life, with severe self-injury, I’d have made an ideal candidate for the Judge Rotenberg Center. I am not somehow different from people who go there. You’d be surprised at the people who go there and how not-different they are from many people you’d imagine would never go there.
(That’s true of all institutions. The people who live inside them, and outside of them, are identical in every way. The only difference is how the support takes place. When it’s support at all and not just hell on earth.)
What I want to say is.
One reason that my friend and I get upset by these stories is because we’ve lived through some horror stories of our own.
Another reason that we get upset by these stories is this fear we have, that we don’t think is irrational at all.
We fear that when people focus on the outrageous, the flamboyantly awful, then they won’t see the way the outright ordinary, even the seemingly wonderful, can do the same degree of harm, or worse.
The worst harm in institutions is, by the testimony of many, many inmates, not just the physical torture that takes place in some places — sometimes above-board, sometimes secretly. Often it’s things you can’t even name. Those things are happening in the JRC too. Those things hurt people there as much as the torture does. Nobody is doing a huge campaign to shut down those things.
Many people, if the JRC is closed, will simply be sent to other institutions.
They will then be told that they are lucky and that those other institutions are better.
They may come to believe those other institutions are better.
Those other institutions may actually be better. But they may not be. It may just be that the badness has seeped down deep into some underground place where you can’t count it, can’t name it, can’t even describe it, and therefore it…. isn’t there.
And they will continue to get hurt by that. They may not realize they’re getting hurt by that. They may attribute the hurt to themselves, to their mental illness, to anything but the environment that is causing or contributing to it.
And that hurt may be harder to recover from than the JRC.
How do I know this? Because while I was not in the JRC, I was in mental institutions that physically tortured me (not with skin-shock), and was then moved to a ‘better’ place that tortured me in harder-to-explain ways, and hurt me in deeper places, and I learned to say and believe how ‘better’ they were while living how worse they were deep down. I still live with how worse they were.
And I know many other people who have the same story to tell.
And I know that unlike me, many people who live at the JRC won’t be able to escape the institutional system the way I was. My situation was unique to me. I didn’t get out because I was better off disability-wise than others, I got out because I was in a particular, unique set of circumstances. The difference between people on the inside and people on the outside is not their disability.
But once you’re in a long-term institution, it’s harder to get out. I was lucky, I was usually in a string of short-term institutions (even if I spent longer time periods in them than other people there), then when I was in a longer-term one, my residential facility closed and it became useful to them to decide I was recovered enough to leave, and to “transition” me to a “less restrictive environment”. Which was still a hellish environment, mind you, but more chance of freedom, there, too. And I had people around me savvy enough to advise me how to take the chances I had.
And most of the people in the JRC won’t be leaving to freedom, if it gets closed. They’ll go to other institutions. And however grateful they are to be out of the JRC, they will get hurt in those new places. Because that’s what institutions do. Invariably. You don’t have to know you’re hurt to get hurt there. You don’t have to understand how deep the hurt goes, to get hurt there. You just have to be there. And you’re often the last person to know how deep it goes, right down to the level of your self and identity and everything important to you. You can get turned inside out without anyone laying a finger on you.
Nobody will ever be able to pinpoint the institution that inflicts the worst of this sort of damage on its inmates, because this sort of damage is, by its very nature, secretive, even from the person it’s being inflicted upon. And because nobody will be able to pinpoint the worst of it, there will never be a massive, targeted, decades-long campaign to close the worst of these institutions. Anonymous will never catch on and take part. The world will not be outraged by the damage inflicted, no matter how devastating.
And if the people damaged by these institutions show that they are grievously psychologically injured by these institutions, people won’t connect it to the institutions. They’ll connect it to the nebulous concept of ‘mental illness’, and quite possibly try to construct more of the exact same kind of institutions to deal with it. Nobody will notice that the ‘increased mental illness’ is correlated with the institutions themselves. Nobody ever does notice.
Nobody catalogues this kind of damage. Few people study it. Few people understand it. Few people can see when and where it is happening. Few people can understand the damage in the first place. Most people who describe the damage won’t be believed.
Worse than merely not being believed:
When we describe the damage inflicted upon us, we are invariably described as ungrateful for the advantages that we had in not being in “a place like the Judge Rotenberg Center”, or not being in “a state institution”, or not being in a place that the world universally recognizes as horrible. Because some of the worst damage is inflicted on us in places that other people see as wonderful.
They will ignore the abundant testimonials by ex-patients who have experienced a wide variety of institutions. There are tons and tons of people who have been to both state and private institutions and found the private ones immeasurably more damaging, because the extra funding means extra ability for staff to mess with the heads of the inmates. There are tons and tons of people who have been to both state institutions and group homes and found the group homes immeasurably worse. There are tons and tons of people who have been to both locked private traditional-institutions, and unlocked residential facilities and group homes, and found the residential facilities and group homes immeasurably worse. There are tons and tons of people who have been physically tortured at one institution, moved to another institution where no apparent physical torture was present and found the second institution immeasurably worse. There are people who have been moved from ‘bad’ institutions everyone loves to hate, to wonderful paradise-like ‘intentional communities’ where they had, in the eyes of others, everything they could possibly want, and described how much more horrible the intentional communities were, the ones formed with the best intentions of parents and staff.
People ignore this.
People ignore this completely.
People ignore this and they utterly disparage any current or former inmate who says these things. They say we don’t understand what we’re talking about. They say we have no vision. They say we have no comprehension. They say we don’t understand how good we have it.
And it’s even worse for people who have only been to the ‘better’ (in the eyes of the public) institutions, and complain about how awful they are. They’re told that they don’t understand how good they have it, only much worse. And they are told they should be grateful for what they had, that they wouldn’t last a day in a ‘real institution’.
Hell, i’ve been told I haven’t been in a ‘real institution’ just because I was in locked, private, short-stay institutions a lot of the time. (And one private long-stay institution that was on a ranch in the country so it didn’t count as an institution, somehow.) Never mind that, at the time, I was referred to as institutionalized by everyone in the system, including people in these institutions… apparently it’s not an institution until it’s a big-campus state institution.
So people who’ve only been in much fancier, much ‘better’ institutions than I’ve ever set foot in, are told this only ten times worse than anything I’ve ever gotten for talking about my experiences. Especially if they’ve been in the pseudo-utopian farm communities, or the ‘intentional communities’, or things like Camphill, which are all billed as not institutional somehow even though they totally are. You can’t change an institution by changing the shape of the building and slapping on a new coat of paint.
People who have been through the worst kinds of hell that institutions can provide are not believed, because the worst kinds of hell that institutions can provide are not things that people outside of institutions can understand in any way. People outside of institutions want the blood and gore and skin shocks to prove a place is horrible. They don’t want to understand that there are things more horrible than any of that. They don’t want to understand. They just don’t want to understand.
And people in institutions often don’t want to understand either. I didn’t want to understand what was happening to me. I wanted to believe that now that I wasn’t being tied down and tortured on a daily basis, then I was free. I wanted to believe that really badly. You have a vested interest in believing you’re someplace better now, that things will get better. Sometimes believing things are better is your only defense against how awful things are.
But once I really got out, and I had to deal with the intense emotional and psychological injury I’d been done by all of these places, the truth gradually began to dawn on me. It’s easier to heal from physical wounds than it is from psychological and emotional wounds. It’s easier to heal from the obvious horrors than the hidden horrors that lurk behind the scenes, turning you inside out and upside down, piece by piece, one bit at a time. You can heal, but I can tell you that it’s not being tied down, not physical or sexual assault, not even the horrifying restraint practices I sometimes endured, not the physical pain, that continues to haunt me. I mean, it does, to some degree. Things like that always do. But there are things that have damaged me deeper, in ways I can’t even articulate.
And my friends and I, when we see coverage like this, we’re so afraid.
We’re afraid of the ‘better’ institutions.
We’re afraid of the public’s idea of what a ‘really bad institution’ is.
We’re afraid of some of the disability community’s idea of what a ‘really bad institution’ is.
The JRC is a really bad institution. It’s doing that horrible kind of damage at the same time that it’s doing the physical damage. I can see that. Because it’s got enough funding, it can really fuck with people’s heads.
But you could force the JRC to remove every piece of physical punishment it owns, even restraints. And it would still be horrible. It could even become worse. Because when places can’t focus on hurting your body, they have more time to focus on hurting your mind. And hurting your mind does the most lasting damage there is.
The JRC needs to be shut down, period.
But there are places just as bad that will never be shut down if we use the JRC as the model of what the worst kinds of institution look like.
And there are places even worse that will never be shut down either.
And the worst places in the world, generally, are the same ones that will get propped up by the shutting down of the places the public has the most visceral unpleasant reactions to.
There’s problems in the disability community, too, and until they’re exposed for what they are, there will be a lot of difficulty changing things.
There’s… a lot of disabled people out there who engage in the completely unproductive practice of competing to talk about who stayed in the worst institutions, who had the worst treatment.
Understand that when I’m talking about the worst institutions above, I’m not talking about the worst institutions in any kind of competitive sense. I’m talking about, the worst in terms of the overall amount and kinds of damage done.
I’m not saying that there aren’t people who had worse experiences in state institutions than private ones, or that there aren’t people who had worse experiences in traditional institutions than in pseudo-utopian farm communities. I’m not trying to negate any one person’s personal experience. I’m just trying to explain… things are not what they seem, what everyone believes to be true is not necessarily the truth.
But I’ve seen disabled people who compete with each other about things like this. They say that they, unlike so-and-so, had experience with REAL institutions. Or they, unlike so-and-so, had REAL bad experiences. Or they, unlike so-and-so, were REALLY traumatized by what happened to them. That because they stayed for months rather than days, or years rather than months, their experiences were automatically worse and more deserving of recognition. And there’s… absolutely nothing productive that happens there. That’s ego-driven bullshit. It’s not activism, it’s not helping anyone at all. It’s a competition in self-pity.
So understand, again… when I’m comparing things, I’m doing so not with the aim of undermining any given person’s experiences in their own life. I’m doing so with the aim of showing people things they don’t want to see. I’m saying that what most people says is best, in terms of institutions, is often the worst of all. That often, the most damage is done where it can be seen the least. People have to understand this if they’re going to have any hope of actually reducing damage.
So close the JRC, close it over and over and over again until it’s really damn closed.
But… don’t focus on it to the exclusion of places just as bad or worse that don’t necessarily look as bad on paper.
Understand that your visceral reaction to the idea of skin shocks doesn’t make it the worst possible punishment that can be devised. It’s a pretty diabolical physical punishment. But sometimes — no, more like often or usually — people are damaged worse by things that don’t touch them physically at all.
Your instincts here are not necessarily a good guide to what is truly awful.
And I worry so so much about what will happen to people after it closes.
And I worry so so much about people enduring unspeakable damage, sometimes far worse than skin shock would hurt the same people, in institutions considered progressive and even utopian.
(Trust me, behind just about every utopian institution lies a dystopia beyond imagining. And I worry about the “He loved Big Brother” effect obscuring people’s views of what actually goes on in those places.)
My worst nightmare. And when I say my worst nightmare, I mean, these are actually real actual dreams I have that are worse than any other nightmares I’ve ever had. They vary in content, but they go something like this:
I’m living in a place with lots of other people with disabilities. There are staff there. The staff try to give us every freedom they possibly can, at least as visible from the outside. In one of these nightmares, I’m climbing a tree, outdoors, and totally allowed to do so. But there is someone following along behind me to make sure I don’t get hurt. I feel like a child.
I feel like I’m suffocating. I feel like I’m suffocating in cotton candy. But I can’t point to anything particular that’s wrong. There’s this fog that lurks over the entire place. It’s white, maybe slightly yellow or pinkish white, but mostly white. And it obscures the ability to see anything. And it smells like sweetness. And it feels like death, in the worst possible sense. But you can’t tell where it’s coming from. It’s everywhere and nowhere at once. You can’t see it except in your head, and only out of the corner of your mind’s eye.
Staff are nice to us, in the same way that people are nice to young children. They giggle at us as if we’re cute. They hug us a lot.
They also make us do what they want us to do. It’s not possible to know how they do it. They don’t use physical torture or restraints. They don’t even always use drugging or anything like that. We just… somehow always end up moving in the direction that they want us to move in, so to speak.
When I wake up, I feel an intense longing for the place I just woke up from, just for a minute or two. And then I realize what’s going on, and I want to vomit over and over and over again until the experience is gone from my head forever.
This isn’t the best description, because the problems of these places can’t be described. I once spent six days in a place very much like that, though, and the sickly-sweet-death-fog clung to me for years before I could get it to dissipate.
Nobody will ever get the kind of backing to close a place like that, that they will to close a place like the JRC. Even though a place like that could potentially do more damage than the JRC, after a person is moved from the JRC to a place like that. And if we close the JRC, it’s quite possible idealistic people will be building places like that to take its place.
I can’t explain why it’s as bad as, ,or potentially even worse than the JRC or a place like it.
But it is.
Please trust me on that.
Please understand what I’m trying to say here, because it’s incredibly important, and not enough people are saying it. (And no, it’s not “don’t close the JRC” or “the JRC is good”. Somehow, people are really fond of reducing important, complex things I say to simplistic bullshit like that.)
I’m trying to say this, for the sake of all the people who won’t be helped if we focus only on closing the JRC.
Now I’m going to try to get some sleep again. I hope I don’t have nightmares.
ETA: Before anyone tells me, as they always tell me when I say this, that the Judge Rotenberg Center will call attention to the issue and everything will follow from there and the public will be interested in closing all the other institutions then, later, once we get to the JRC first, that’s not at all how I’ve ever seen it work, not with Willowbrook, not with anything. (And a friend of mine worked in a “good institution” that killed a former Willowbrook client, mind you. She got fired for trying to stop them from killing her. So she survived Willowbrook only to get killed by staff in a ‘supported apartment’ group home setting. So… that’s a very specific example for a very specific reason.) The public doesn’t want to close all institutions when they hear of things like this. They want to make good institutions and then forget about the matter. And the good institutions can be worse than the old ones in many ways.