Alcott revisited

I remember my first time at Alcott. I remember a staff person came into my room one day and asked me how things were going. All at once, I burst into tears, saying, “I hate those kids.” She was rather shocked, and asked me why. I told her, “Because all they do is gossip. They gather in clusters and whisper like a bunch of junior high kids. I am old enough to be their mother or grandmother and I don’t belong here. This place is for children and I am not one.”

After a time, the staff recognized that what the kids were doing was harmful to those that were left out of the childish gossip and whispering. They got us all together, and asked the whisperers to stop.

The kids didn’t stop. The staff did the same thing again, another lecture. This time, they said if the cruel gossip didn’t stop, they’d listen on to all our conversations and monitor us.

This is a chronic problem wherever immature teens are gathered. It’s my understanding that the problem persists to this day at Alcott and was never solved.  I know other older people who have been sent to Alcott who tell me the same thing, that some kids are okay, but many are  cruel. They leave certain patients out of their childish clique, and those left out are targets of gossip.  Older patients have told me they were called “Grandma” and laughed at.

I have no clue why I ended up being friends with any of those kids outside of Alcott. But I had it in my head that since they also had eating disorders, maybe it would be okay to be in a “group” with them on Facebook. Didn’t we have something in common? I felt that since I had no family of my own, I would think of them as family. This was a big major mistake on my part to think that any of them had grown up.

Nothing was any different. The gossip is just as cruel outside as in. If not, worse, because the Facebook venue encourages cruelty.

I do have friends who have a history of being in mental places, just like me.  Sure we “compare notes.” Who wouldn’t?  We might recommend a particular place or recommend against it, or discuss various ways to deal with certain problems, such as “the holidays.”  In my note-comparing, I’ve heard all sorts of stories from people.

Here’s one: I’ve had friends, a number of people I know, who complained that a doctor “diagnosed” them based on talking to them for five  minutes. They said it was demeaning. They said, “How can this person declare I am [bipolar, or whatever] if this person is barely listening? I felt insulted.”

I wonder, though. It seems the immature kids I met online who were at Alcott seem to do just the same thing as a form of cruel gossip. These are kids I don’t know, have never corresponded with nor spoken to nor messaged with.  They are so mean that they decided to “diagnose” me based on one Facebook post. They are gossipy and cagey about it. They think they are so hip and cool to use shrink terminology. I’m not impressed at all. I know better than to “diagnose” anyone, cuz I know just how harmful diagnosis is.

Of course, all kids go through their “pretend shrink” phase. I went through it briefly in high school but decided that game wasn’t for me.

The cruel gossip goes on and on. I think those kids, if they love their “treatment” so much, should go right back to Alcott and continue their petty social life there. After all, that’s the main reason most continue to get readmitted. I think it would make them happy for all the pals to be together. Don’t they say they miss each other so much?

Those kids have all the Alcott patients as Facebook friends. In fact, the only friends they have are former Alcott patients. Ever notice how they keep ending up back there? They just won’t grow up.  If they want in-person contact, all they have to do is make themselves sick, and get admitted. Then, of course, it’s party time all over again.

I wish I never had been put there. But then again, going to Alcott made me realize just how NOT to go about things. I learned how NOT to get well. I learned that this is a place where reasonable adults pick up childish habits, and become immature themselves. The bad habits are hard to shake. Meanwhile, while these kids have great fun together gossiping away, the Walden money-making racket milks their insurance dry. Very few seem aware of the larger picture.

I don’t blame the staff for being frustrated, nor do I blame the more mature patients for being totally disgusted. Forced care doesn’t work, and never will. In fact, if it’s forced, it’s not care.

2 thoughts on “Alcott revisited”

  1. Hi Julie,

    I am also a former Walden patient, though we don’t know each other/have not been in treatment together. I have been on Alcott four times, and I can definitely understand what you are saying in this post. I have also been affected by the Alcott gossip mill — I made friends with an “attractive” male and staff was told we were having an inappropriate relationship. Those accusations nearly got him kicked out before we both relentlessly advocated for ourselves and petitioned the fact the staff had no evidence whatsoever to support such an action.

    I am in my early twenties. I am not sure, when you refer to patients as “kids”, who you are speaking of. Are you talking about the actual children on the unit, or young adults you find immature? Based on the context of your post and my own knowledge of the unit, I am under the assumption that my age group would fall into this category. I am in no way trying to invalidate your experience. However, I had a hard time with this:

    “The cruel gossip goes on and on. I think those kids, if they love their “treatment” so much, should go right back to Alcott and continue their petty social life there. After all, that’s the main reason most continue to get readmitted. I think it would make them happy for all the pals to be together. Don’t they say they miss each other so much?

    Those kids have all the Alcott patients as Facebook friends. In fact, the only friends they have are former Alcott patients. Ever notice how they keep ending up back there? They just won’t grow up. If they want in-person contact, all they have to do is make themselves sick, and get admitted. Then, of course, it’s party time all over again.”

    The reason “most continue to get readmitted”? That is a gross generalization. Sure, are there people who are completely hooked into the Walden system? Definitely. I know a few. But do most people in my age group that I have met there fall into this category? Absolutely not. The reasons most continue to get readmitted are completely individual. Like I said, I am in my early twenties. I was admitted to my first stay completely voluntarily and went through Alcott and Residential. The stays after those were not completely up to me. I lost my apartment due to my struggling health, began receiving Disability benefits, and was moved back into my parent’s house. From then on, it didn’t exactly matter if I said I didn’t want to go to Walden. If my parents felt I was struggling, I was back, because as long as I lived under their roof, I was expected to do as they said. As I stated, the past year and a half has seen me in Alcott four times, Residential three times, and Partial and IOP on multiple occasions. Each time, was I relieved to have companions who I had stayed in touch with, and yes, missed? Yes. I missed them because they understood in ways that people back home could not. I am not ashamed for missing them or finding comfort in their presence and sharing some needed laughs and smiles in the midst of terrible circumstances. I have a lot of Facebook friends from all levels of treatment with Walden. They are not my only friends. And, again, I don’t believe that I am in the minority.

    Even the people I feel “enjoy” Alcott the most never seem to be having a “party.” I think they are lonely, lost people struggling with a sense of identity. I have seen this in fellow patients of all ages. I have seen cliques of all kinds. Of course, I cannot comment on what it is like to be an “older patient” on Alcott. I can only go by what you are saying and the words of others who I have befriended or roomed with. No doubt it is difficult. Just consider that younger people handle their own difficulties different than a more “matured” person. The high schoolers are missing proms, they’re missing graduations and pizza parties and getting their drivers license. They have pressure to “just get better” from their parents, who have complete control over their treatment. Teens typically bully and gossip from a place of deep insecurity, and what place would that better be fleshed out than an inpatient unit? These kids lose friends — we all lose friends when dealing with mental illness, sadly — but during adolescence and young adulthood, when one is literally shaping their identity, it is a crippling state of being. They want to belong. They want validation. Blindly? Sometimes cruelly? 100% yes. But it’s understandable, to an extent.

    I am not a “kid.” I am a young adult. I have lost a parent at a young age, I have had incredible successes and failures, I have spent a considerable amount of time in hospitals. I have given up on a promising college career, lost employment, found empowerment. My life, though shorter in lived experiences, is no less than someone older than myself. The same holds true for the children on the unit, those fifteen year olds with tubes up their noses and a prom dress hanging at home in the closet. I am in recovery from my b/p anorexia and do recovery speaking engagements at schools and treatment centers. Like I said, I don’t discount what you are saying — it was just delivered in, to me, a judgmental tone while speaking about the harm in judgement.

    I have browsed your blog and I think what you have done in moving to South America is incredibly brave. I don’t share all of the same beliefs about the mental health system necessarily, as I was helped greatly by certain social workers at Walden who I remain in contact with, and am currently enrolled in a DBT program I find useful. I am also re-enrolled in school to pursue a Social Work degree. But you are compelling and a great teller of stories and a great example of trusting your own inner compass and creating the life that fits you best regardless of societal expectations. I hope you understand where I am coming from.

    Thanks, and be well.

    1. Thank you so, so much for your commentary. I agree and apologize. I sure didn’t mean to offend nor generalize, so I should explain. I have been keeping this blog for ages and ages and I don’t necessarily proofread these posts nor “take them down” if I change my mind. Why? They’re my history. So if I say something one day and then the next day, I feel differently, I don’t change what I have up there. If I were a journalist my editor would have my head. But I write memoir and I state how I feel at that moment. So this is what happened.

      I was on Facebook one day and got into a pickle. I hate Facebook but unfortunately a bunch of folks like to use it as venue to communicate so I’m kinda forced to stay on it for now. So anyway, a post I left for a friend got blasted away by her friends. I don’t know them and they don’t know me. Suddenly, they “diagnosed” me. Yeah, based on one post.

      Now, we hear folks complaining about abrupt doctors, do we not? About ones that diagnose based on a two-minute interview? How wrong is that? These gals had never even met me. So they insulted me with vague reference to “cluster B.” I was so insulted and believe me, this wasn’t my friend’s fault at all, cuz by then she’d explained everything to me and all was cool between us. So that post I wrote was the result of me being very very pissed off.

      if there’s one thing I hate, it’s diagnosis. Why? I was harmed by it. I had a shrink who changed diagnosis on me just for her convenience like every other sentence. It got comical. Anything but seeing me as a human being. i love honesty actually and I love what you wrote.

      Back in Massachusetts I used to dream of going to schools and speaking, but no one would have me and MEDA treated me like I was some kind of criminal. I love to speak at places but there was no chance of that anywhere. I even tried at my former colleges and was turned down, and I wasn’t asking for money, either.

      I am very sorry that happened to you while on Alcott. Gossip is a cruel thing and I was subject to it far too much in many places. I was accused of adultery once and had to relocate. It took decades before I figured out how that rumor (it was entirely false) got started, and spread like wildfire. I think people love to have a scapegoat and I’m sorry you had to be it.

      I know the pressure to “get over it.” I lost a whole group of very close online friends who rejected me after my first Alcott stay because I hadn’t “gotten better” instantly. Guess it takes another person with an ED to understand that “getting better” happens in ones’ own time, no in one’s pals’ time. This was devastating to me. I’d say it was the first notch of hell in my losing faith in humanity. I went many, many more notches, slowly getting more and more isolated and rejected by friends and my own family. If I hadn’t done the drastic thing I did, I would surely have died. I’m awfully glad to be alive.


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