A Smelly Compulsion
“A psychology professor of mine told me about a patient he had who got off on feeling like trash—literally. It related to abuse earlier in life, about which I have no details.
This man would find dumpsters and garbage compactors in isolated spots and get inside them to pleasure himself. He’d smear himself in the garbage. After a while, it wasn’t intense enough, so he’d bring rotting squid with him to smear.
He had settled into a routine of using a particular garbage compactor which was set to go off every night at a certain time and began to enjoy the thrill of ‘racing’ the compactor when it started to run.
One night, he didn’t quite make it out. He lost part of one leg, and was ordered to attend counseling (conducted by my professor, who was then a practicing psychologist) by the police after he was found in the morning—naked, missing half of his leg, and covered with rotting squid.”
After This Case, They Stuck To The Research End Of Things
“I’m not a clinician, I’m a researcher. When I was an undergrad, though, I was a behavioral interventionist for children with social-cognitive behavioral problems and that job is the exact reason I decided not to be a clinician. I was working with a young man (about 11) in a very, very rural area. He and all seventeen of his brothers and sisters were physically abused by both of his parents. What kind of monster would do that?
He was more aggressive than his siblings and so while most of the kids got to stay with at least one sibling, he was separated from them all.
One of the dirty little secrets you might not know about being a foster parent is that you get extra money for taking on problem kids. His foster mom was horrible. Quite possibly the worst woman I’ve ever met. She barely fed him and did nothing to work on his behavioral issues. She was about 100-150 pounds overweight and spent all the extra money on exercise machines. She literally had a graveyard of some 15 work out machines on her porch.
Not to mention the animal abuse…she had four or five pit bulls tied up and malnourished. I handled it alright. Keep in mind, I was 18, this was my first case, and I received absolutely no training (this is a government-funded program!).
I was working with him, he was improving. He went from almost daily visits to the principal to weekly visits. All this kid really needed was love, patience, and a firm but gentle punishment structure that was reliable. His foster mom gave him none of that. He wanted love so bad, he would call her mommy and say how much he loved her daily. She was his 8th foster mom. About three months after we started working together, I got a call from my boss while on my way down to visit him. He was being institutionalized and I had to be the one to take him to the hospital. Pick him up from school, go straight to the hospital, and leave him there.
No chance to let him say goodbye to the foster mom, no chance to say goodbye to the dog he had grown so attached to (they even separated him from the other dogs so my client could safely approach him), nothing. The worst part was that I wasn’t allowed to tell him where I was taking him. I can only imagine the fear that he felt knowing we weren’t going the way home that he knew. I told him that we were going to see a friend of mine who was going to talk to him, but I think he could see how shaken I was. I think he knew I was lying.
He was so scared when we got to the hospital, he didn’t want to let go of my hand. I tried to act as calm as possible, but I was raging inside. How could this be right? Why did his foster mom want to get rid of him when he was improving? How were women like her even cleared to have foster kids?
When I dropped him off, I went back to my car shaking. I sat in the driving seat sobbing for a good hour before I gained enough composure to drive the two hours back to my house. I still had to pull over a couple times because I couldn’t see through the tears. The knowledge that I played a part in what was probably one of, if not the, worst moments in a tormented young man’s life haunts me to this day (eight years later). I decided right then and there that I couldn’t handle the emotional turmoil of being a clinician. Now I do research. No attachment, I see a participant for a max of an hour, so I don’t get attached. Just numbers to me.”
Sometimes, The Only Thing You Can Do Is Listen
“Almost 10 years ago, whilst studying for my Psych degree, to gain real-world experience, I used to help run a voluntary telephone-based listening service for students where you could remain anonymous. It ran overnight to cater to the gap of vulnerability that ran overnight and, one night, I had the worst case of my life that’s stuck with me to this day. Here’s the gist of the story.
He was a final year, full-time mature student, married, and had recently had his first child. He was living off-campus and desperately struggling with his course. When I asked about whether his classmates helped him, he said he’d become increasingly shy, struggled making friends because he never had time to socialize and never had time because he had to work part-time to support his own family and parents (his dad was recently made redundant). He was considering dropping out of uni because he’d calculated he could earn more money as a truck driver than the graduate job he’d secured for 5 months time – which was dependant on him getting a grade that he feared he’d never manage to get.
I asked whether he’d spoken to any of his tutors about getting some extra help. After a long silence, he said it was no use.
You see, he’d been questioning his orientation, but with all the study stress and recent child, he hadn’t had the time or support network to explore this. It was one of the biggest reasons why he thought he was becoming increasingly socially nervous. When he decided to speak to a tutor, it didn’t end well. The tutor tried to kiss him whilst attempting to ‘comfort’ him. He freaked out and left with no concrete plans to help his situation. Raising a complaint was out of the question because there was no proof, the tutor had an unblemished reputation and most importantly, he didn’t have the stomach to deal with the stress of risk of exposing his newfound preferences to his new young family. Not to mention no time to deal with the endless investigations clashing with his looming exams.
I told him about financial hardship loans and grants but he said because of his circumstances and late stage in applying, it would take too long to materialize. I asked if he’d considered deferring but he said he couldn’t stand the thought of putting off the inevitable failure and was embarrassed at the thought of his family finding out because of all the hopes and aspirations they’d placed on him getting a university education.
This is where he broke down and asked me if I were him, what would stop me killing myself? Struggling, I went for the young baby route but, because of his confusion with regards to his orientation and difficulty bonding with his child, he said he was better off dead and giving them life insurance money. He felt academically worthless, emotionally defunct, physically exhausted from working long hours, betrayed by his tutors, financially insecure and socially isolated.
He started to cry.
I can tell you for a fact that hearing a grown man cry is NOTHING like what you see or hear in films. So much so, it took me a minute to figure out what was going on. It was so haunting that it still makes me feel sick to think about it.
We talked some more and eventually, he told me that despite knowing there was nothing I could really do for him, he felt better just to speak openly. After a few hours and towards the end of the call, he said I was the only person in the world that knew the full ‘truth’ and that I was likely going to be the only one. It’s a surreal experience knowing you’ve got this very private and secretive insight into the soul of a total stranger.
After that shift, I was so profoundly affected that I couldn’t let it go; despite all the psychological objectivity you need to maintain, it’s impossible to ignore your human imperative. I took on an additional shift the next night in case he called again but he never did.
Years later, whenever I feel like my life is unfair or my problems become insurmountable, I remember him. It humbles me and makes me appreciate how utterly lucky I am.”
An Intense Internship
“I worked as an intern in a clinical psychology department a few years ago. Before, to my shame, I had never really considered the human impact of an individual case. I’d only ever treated physical assault attacks as a set of statistics in my mind, like you’d find in a government report. One of our patients really changed my attitude.
It was one of those very rare but ultra-nightmarish physical assaults involving a late-night attack in a dark alley from a complete stranger. She described how the worst part for her was not the physical trauma of the attack or the fact that her basic human trust had been betrayed. Rather, it was the intense humiliation of the attacker pulling out her tampon before the forcibly penetrating her and her involuntary defecation during and after the incident. She felt like this attacker had forced her to the lowest point she could possibly imagine and kept forcing her lower. I agreed.”
Talk About A Tough Upbringing…
“I was a youth care worker that worked in a group home for boys between the ages of 13-18. A lot of hard cases came through the home but one has stuck with me for years and years.
One of the youths was abused over the course of three years. Family members would tie him up in the basement and violate him for weeks on end. One of the family members decided that they did not want to deal with the kid anymore, so they decided to douse him in gasoline and light him on fire. The boy survived with major burns over the bottom half of his body, and when the social worker found him, he was close to death (someone called the police when they heard the screaming). Not trusting the system that failed him, the youth ran away from his foster care and slept in the woods for ~three years. He lived in garages and ate garbage until someone found him and called the police. That’s when he came to the group home.
The stuff that this youth would tell you about his life made my stomach churn, and to be honest, I wanted to murder his entire family.
That is the one that has stuck with me.”
The Hardest One Were The Ones Too Far Gone To Reach
“I’m an RN with two years experience in an adolescent inpatient acute psychiatric facility. Our most frequent patients were the kids you’d expect to see. Kids who threatened to commit or had attempted to commit suicide; kids who were using lots of substances and their parents had them committed; kids with behavioral problems whose parents were on their last string; kids with major psych issues such as schizo-affective disorder or bipolar who had had breaks.
Then there were the cases we’d seen that really made you doubt your faith in humanity.
There was one where a 12-year-old girl was being abused and violated by her 15-year-old brother. Since he was a minor, he went to juvenile and was released into the custody of his mother again. She had nowhere to live and they had nowhere to live separate from each other since their father was gone, so she was placed into the custody of the state and was going to end up in a foster home/state facilities for the rest of her life. Truly sad, seeing as she did nothing wrong and was the victim. But due to the brother’s terms of probation and rehabilitation, he had to stay home.
There was the 11-year-old girl with FAS whose father would sell her to crack dealers and other addicts/sickos to get enough money to support his crack habit. When she was found by the local police and brought to the facility, she often attempted to get intimate with male staff since she was so developmentally debilitated and had been sold and used from what we estimate to be a rather young age.
There was the 14-year-old who, from the age of 5, was attacking classmates to the point that some had been seriously injured, broken bones, punctured lungs, hospitalized, etc. We suspected he had bipolar/schizoaffective/autism spectrum disorders, but his parents were from a wealthy family in the state and refused to have him treated. Every few years, he’d attack another child and hurt them so badly that their families would sue, win huge judgments, but the police did nothing since his family was affluent in the state and in national politics. Every time he was admitted to a new inpatient facility after an attack and his parents were told he needed to be on serious medications, worked up for, and treated for possible developmental delays, they refused and removed him from treatment. Since the state never intervened and the parents whose children were victims won million to multimillion-dollar settlements and were happy, he got to go free into the custody of his parents each time.
Then, there were the 11- and 13-year-old brother and sister who were homeschooled by a hyper-religious nut job in the backwoods of a very rural state up north. Along with their 20-year-old brother, they were all told they were geniuses and that they were going to heal the world. Their brother had a serious mental break in public when they came to my state. Their mother refused treatment for their brother and caused a scene where she was arrested and then committed herself. The younger brother and sister ended up in our facility and were so warped and brainwashed that even with heavy benzo sedation and intense sessions with some of the brightest and well-renowned child development and child psychiatry specialists at our disposal, no one could get through to them. They’d both been raised in an atmosphere so secluded from the world due to their homeschooling and the fact that the mom used naturopathic medicine to treat their ills that the reality of the world was their mother’s version. Everyone had darkness from the Devil, apparently, and they all committed evil or were evil. It was up to the three of them to help heal this darkness with their light and their mother was the only one who could teach them how to get this done. They did not trust any adults at all, so no one could make progress even when they were medicated.
Now, normally the process in our facility was, at most, a 72-hour stay unless we have difficulty bringing a patient down from their most critical psychiatric point, which is if they are a harm to themselves or others. Once the PsychD.’s were convinced they could move on to a sub-acute facility, they were found placement and transferred. Some of the kids were actually in a condition to go to half-way houses or state Department of Child/Family facilities. With these two? Every time we agreed to let them free from four-point locking restraints, they would attempt to abscond or escape by hurling themselves at staff, windows, and banging on the ceiling or floors.
Due to state regulations and standards, while they were sleeping and medicated and a threat to no one, they would be released from the restraints. The moment they woke up, they’d violently attempt to escape. It got to the point where we had to question the constant use of stronger benzos and their frequencies during moral and ethics meetings because once they wore off, the kids returned to a state of thinking that was absolutely normal for them. It wasn’t that they suffered from schizo-affective disorder or bipolar and could be treated with atypical antipsychotics or mood stabilizers like Lithium. From the first days of their cognitive development, they were raised to believe the world was a certain way and that every last adult, aside from their mother, was out to turn them into evil creatures of darkness. They refused to eat or take any medications. We got an order to drop NGTs and feed them formulary supplements. Even when they were starving, they believed that everything we gave them, even water, was poisoned and meant to make them dark.
They stayed with us for two months while their mother acted similarly on the adult side of the facility. Eventually, she realized the only way to win was to play the game. She started to accept her medications, was released into a sub-acute facility, then finally released after a 30-day stay in a sub-acute facility under the agreement of her parole that she see a psychiatrist regularly.
She went to court and won and had her kids released from the state’s custody. When she was repeatedly told that her children had a warped and distorted view of reality and needed serious treatment by the child psych’s at our facility, she responded with, ‘They are the only ones who know the truth.’
Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow
“My grandma was a nurse at a psychiatric hospital in the 80s. She told me a story once about this female patient that she was particularly close to and used to talk to every night. The patient collected her (own) hair over time and shaped it into a doll. Once the doll was finished, the patient was convinced that it was her baby. Not as in baby doll, but she actually thought that the doll was her sentient child. This went on for a while, and the woman carried the hair doll everywhere with her and it was her ‘best friend.’
Then, one day, the patient got into a fight with another woman. The second woman ended up taking the first woman’s hair doll, tearing it up, and flushing it down the toilet. Apparently, the first woman was inconsolable and tried to kill herself. After that, she was never the same, and would only mutter to herself about how her baby was missing.”
“I am a teacher and sometimes feel like a psychologist because a lot of my students come to me with their problems. I also work a lot with abused/neglected kids. This is the kid that is in my mind every day:
I was working at a summer camp and we were waiting for the kids to change for swimming in the bunkhouses, and we were waiting for one boy in particular who was taking FOREVER, and I was getting very impatient. Since I am female, I could not go into the boy’s bunkhouse, so I asked another staff to go check on him. He went in, heard crying coming from the boy’s room and came and got me.
He and I went into the dorm and knocked on his door. I announced it was me and I needed to know if he was ok. Then he started screaming and sobbing and crying. We assumed he was hurt and made the choice to break open the locked door to check on him.
We saw him laying on the floor in his boxers, curled up in a ball, sobbing. He was covered in old bruises from his neck down his body. When he saw me he reached out for me, and I sat on the floor next to him. I took his hand and he basically crawled into my arms and sobbed. Here was a 16-year-old boy curled up in my arms like an infant.
Turns out another boy had innocently walked in on him changing. The other boy seeing him almost naked was a trigger for the physical abuse he and his sister suffered all the time at home.
A large part of my job at the camp was interviewing kids who were possible abuse victims. I had to make a call to DHHS on almost a weekly basis, but this kid really stuck with me.”
Just A Bump In The Road
“I am an art therapist and I work mostly with Veterans.
This one man’s heartache will always haunt me. He was serving in Iraq, driving a tank. They reached a blockage in the road and had no way to turn around. He made sure the area was clear and backed out. He felt the bump and saw that he had run over a little boy.
He remembers seeing the little boy waving from the side of the road. He is haunted by seeing his body destroyed by the tank. He had direct orders to not leave the tank and had to leave the boy there (they called for a medic, but there was nothing medicine could do). He had to watch the mother hold what was left of her son. He was quite broken over the event but is getting much better.”
Her Family Never Got Help Because They Thought She Was Just “Weird”
“To be honest, the toughest for me was this one 65-year-old woman. Presented with psychosis, detained. She just couldn’t survive outside. She had been defecating in the bathtub, started a fire in a 44-gallon drum in her house to keep warm because her utilities had been shut off (which destroyed the house due to smoke damage), etc.
Now, 65 is a weird age to present for the first time with schizophrenia. She was weird, too…she was really good at hiding the symptoms. Most psychotics have too little connection to reality for that. It really kinda struck me as a long-term thing rather than a new disease.
So as part of the workup, we talked to family and whatnot. Turns out she had been a normal kid until her teen years when she ‘became weird.’ Starting to make sense now, schizophrenia generally comes on around puberty. So I asked the family (big, close family) what happened, why wasn’t she treated?
They say they didn’t know anything was wrong. Just thought she was weird. This girl had totally withdrawn from them, ran away from home, got in trouble with police multiple times, often raved about bizarre things. I had a pile of letters a mile long that she had written to the government. She once claimed they owed her royalties because she had a trademark on the phrase, ‘The Australian Government,’ for example. They all knew about them. Never once questioned if she might actually be sick rather than just weird.
So, I was pretty frustrated. I mean, it isn’t really their fault. Our society is just so bad with this stuff, no one wants to consider mental illness, and this family was all stoic Brit stock. I kinda wanted to slap some sense into them, but it wouldn’t help anyone.
Then I got her bloodwork back. She has burnt out Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. 40 years earlier, she had a treatable, physical problem that presented with psychiatric symptoms. No one wanted to deal with it. It fried her brain and she lived the next 40 years as an outcast. The rest of her life was going to be treatment orders and depot injections.
His Whole Life Was Suffering
“I am a psychologist, but not the kind that sees patients, and this story was told to me by a friend who works in a psych ward for severe behaviorally handicapped boys, so take with whatever grain of salt you’d care to.
I once asked him if he had any kids in his care who he knew were totally messed up beyond repair, the type who would never be able to be responsible, independent, law-abiding citizens.
Apparently, he had in his care a six-year-old boy. The boy was the product of a father-daughter union. For the first four years or so of his life, his father-grandfather would rent him out to his buddies—i.e. he would take money from men and let them bang his infant son. All the while being beaten repeatedly.
At age four, he witnessed his grandfather-father murder his mother-sister. The father was put in jail and the boy was put in the care of his grandmother/great-grandmother, who considered him the spawn of Satan and wanted nothing to do with him. She kept him locked in a trunk in the attic most of the time.
At some point, the kid made his way into psychiatric care and the grandmother was arrested for criminal negligence. My buddy says that the kid is inappropriately intimate and has zero control over his emotions, and he is certain that, at age six, he will never be a contributing member of society. All they can do is keep him around until he turns 18 then set him loose until he inevitably assaults or murders someone and ends up in jail.”