This is not a recent encounter with crazy. It’s one of those stories that I tell when I want to highlight the absurdity of some of my past employment. As much as I’d like to jump straight to the story itself, some context is needed, so please bear with me.
I spent about 7 years working in group homes for teens with behaviour issues. Yes, this is a very broad term and these days there would be so many different labels and diagnoses for the kids that I worked with. Back then they simply had behaviour issues. The 7 years was spread out through four different homes and 3 different companies. The four best years were spent working in what was referred to as an emergency home. The home was a short-term placement and it was co-ed.
Part of what made the 4 years I spent at that home amazing was the staff team. There was a core made up of about four of us who had been working together for most of that four years. We got really good at reading the kids and each other. If the house went nuts, which it did with surprising regularity, we could deal with most of what was thrown our way (including chairs and lamps and shoes). Basically we’d been working with the same types of kids for long enough that we got a pretty good idea of how and when to intervene. We were greatly aided in this by the house supervisor. On the surface he appeared to be a guy who’d spend his off time drinking mass quantities of alcohol and living at a strip club. Once you got to know him you found out that he absolutely spent all of his off time drinking and living at a strip club. He was fucking awesome. Not for his lifestyle but for his intuition with teenagers. I can safely say that I never saw him stumped when confronted with a behaviour. I realize now that what he had, was the confidence to try anything and to bend instead of break. He taught me an amazing amount about how to work with kids. I’ll call him Ferb for this post. Anyway, on to the crazy.
So, Timmy was admitted to the house and we were told up front that he may be difficult. I really don’t remember if we were told of any particular diagnoses or just that Timmy was not the most stable of kids and that he might show some odd behaviour. Timmy was pretty pleasant and likeable but it was clear that he was not wired up the same way that most people are. This post started so that I could relay a particular incident that always stands out in my mind, but I started remembering all sorts of things about Timmy. There was the time that he pulled the cushions off the couch and upon seeing that the fabric underneath was torn, proceeded to stick his head into the hole and got stuck. He spent an hour running around a hospital parking lot, to get away from the staff member chasing him. He wouldn’t let her catch him, but when, out of ideas and willing to try anything, she simply asked him to stop because she was tired, he did. One night he stayed up for hours, meaning that I needed to stay up with him. When I explained to him that one of the consequences of him staying awake was that I too would have to stay awake, he stopped moving and in the most sincere tone I’ve ever heard said “Oh, Geoff. You can’t stay up. You need your rest too. I’ll be ok, you don’t need to stay up with me.” Timmy also spent several hours on the roof of the house one day. If memory serves, he spent a lot of that time swearing at the police, who responded to a neighbour’s call, and telling the “coppers” that they’d never catch him. Truly one of the neatest kids I’ve ever met.
Our staff were awesome, but not trained for true mental illness, which Timmy had. He was having a really rough night. Over the course of the evening we had removed everything from his room. If it had been small enough to throw, he’d thrown it; if it was too big to throw he’d tried to barricade his door with it. So we took everything out and tried to weather the storm.
I was on shift with my fave coworker of all time (we’ll call her Peaches). Ferb was also nearby because of the escalating behaviours. Timmy was sort of spinning around his room and doing a lot of barking. He had a tendency, when worked up, to yell out nonsense and make sudden exclaiming noises “Boop!” “Waaa!”, you get the idea. Although we were concerned for Tim, he was also highly entertaining at times. Peaches and I were in the hall/doorway talking to Ferb when things became suddenly quiet. We turned and saw Timmy go into his closet (also empty of everything). It was a very heavy silence. I imagine it’s how things felt during the blitz, when suddenly the bombs stopped; you couldn’t be sure if there’d be more or if it was done for the night. After about ten minutes, Ferb tapped me on the shoulder and with a gleam in his eye, suggested I check on Timmy.