Eric Walton – TEDx Talk TRANSCRIPT
First of all, I would like to thank TEDx for giving me this opportunity. No doubt, at least one of you out there has asked yourself some variation of this question: what can a 16-year-old possibly have to teach me about the world? I don’t blame you, by the way.
You’re right for asking that question. But to answer that question, I would like you to turn to the person next to you. That person next to you knows something that you don’t. That person next to you knows what it is like to be themselves. They know what it is like to have lived their lives.
And now you might ask yourself, “Why is it important to know what it’s like to be this 16-year-old spouting philosophical nonsense?” Allow me to give you some background information.
My name is Eric Walton. At the age of 13, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, after my mom wrote a slightly unimportant blog post that went viral on the Internet. In this blog post, which she titled, “I Am Adam Lanza’s mother,” she said that she was the mother of a child with a mental illness.
A few days later, I got the diagnosis. And I’m here today to explain just what that journey has been like. It all started on a stormy night when I was five. Except it was actually a kindergarten classroom.
Most kindergartners go in, they have fun, they draw with crayons or whatever else they do in kindergarten. My kindergarten class was a little bit different. There was an evacuation plan in place.
Normally, you have those for things like hurricanes or earthquakes. Our class had it for Hurricane Eric, a very, very small but destructive force that every other week would go into a violent rage and tear through the classroom.
The rest of the kids would be forced to leave, because I was kind of irrational, and wouldn’t. The teachers knew that something was off. My parents knew that something was off. Even I knew that something was off.
I’d been told that in kindergarten you’re supposed to make friends, but I was at kindergarten having everyone be afraid of me. So, they took me to see some doctors, and at first the doctors were just saying, “Oh, he’ll grow out of it, it’s just a phase.” “It won’t stay around.”
And for the next two years, there would be some variation of this kind of phrase. Then, I get to be the age of seven; and now, I haven’t grown out of it. Surprise, surprise.
So, now they take me to psychiatrists, you know, those doctors who were infamous for running inhumane experiments on hospital people in the 1950s. They don’t do that anymore, just FYI. These psychiatrists didn’t really know what was wrong with me either.
They threw different things around like oppositional defiant disorder, intermittent explosive disorder, ADHD, or maybe it’s the freaking autism spectrum. We don’t know.
So, we’re just going to diagnose you with something and stick you on some meds, and if it works, it works, if it doesn’t, we’ll stick you on other meds. The picture on your right is a picture of me at the age of seven, holding a butterfly.
My mom loves to use it. The picture on my right is a picture of me at the age of nine, holding a stuffed animal. The very first thing you might notice between these pictures is the weight difference. At nine, I’m fat. At seven, I’m not.
See, medications are great when they work, the rest of the time, they come with some horribly nasty side effects. Weight gain was the least of my problems. These glasses – nice souvenir from another such medication. I really look good in glasses, though, so I’m not complaining.
When they weren’t making me fat, or making me lose my eyesight, they were making me so tired. I could barely function. Some of you might say, “Well, that’s totally worth it if it gets rid of the rages, right?” I would agree with you, but the medications didn’t do that.
They might have reduced the frequency, but at the same time, they increased the number of triggers. I went from being the kid who threw temper tantrums on the playground, to the fat kid who threw temper tantrums on the playground. Twice as much ammunition for the bullies.
And this went on for two years; from seven to nine, I had to put up with this. Then, at about the age of nine, maybe a little bit after my tenth birthday, my parents realized that this new pattern still wasn’t fixing the problem.
So they took it a step up, and took me to the hospital. Everyone here knows hospitals. They’re those places that you go to get surgeries or help for really serious diseases. Acute psychiatric care hospitals are a bit different.
There, when I was first brought in, usually I’d be very, very violent so they would stick a needle into me, full of some kind of tranquilizer. That was fun. Not really.
Then, I would be locked in this sort of L-shaped corridor, maybe eight rooms, two beds in each, and most of the kids there were five or six years older than me. Most of them were there for a drug addiction of some kind, and I remember just being very, very afraid, because at the age of nine, children are still kind of dependent on their parents.
The one thing the hospital didn’t have was my mom. She was only allowed to see me for an hour or two a night. Yeah. Makes you think.
A few days later, I was let out of this hospital. And I was so glad to go home, back to the comforts of my room, with my special blankets and stuffed animals that I liked to collect.
But most of all, I was glad to go back to my mother. But this would become the new pattern. Over the course of the next two years, I would be back in that hospital three more times, separated from my mom.
And now, I get to the age of eleven, and hospitals aren’t enough. The psychiatrists still don’t know what’s wrong with me.
And now, there are rumors circulating the Internet that the only way to get help for your child is to charge them with a crime. So at the age of eleven, that’s exactly what my parents did. They charged me with battery, after I went into a rage and attacked my father.
And now, shortly after my eleventh birthday, the present that I got was handcuffs and a ride to a police station. They made me fill out this three-page survey, with questions like, “Have you drank alcohol in the past 24 hours?” or “Are you addicted to drugs?”, or “Do you want to kill yourself?”
I was eleven years old. I hadn’t really heard of alcohol yet. As for killing myself, I’ll pass. And then, they tried to find a prison outfit for me. Except, guess what? They don’t carry eleven-year-old prison clothes. So instead, I got an outfit that was two sizes too big.
The shirt, a short-sleeve shirt, went down to about my knees. The sleeves, half-way down my forearm, give or take I had to physically hold the pants up, because I wasn’t allowed to have a drawstring, something about it being a suicide risk, or a weapon, one of the two.
And then, I still didn’t get help. The only thing I got was a prison cell, with a stone slab against the back left corner from the entry.
A metallic toilet against the back right, one of those mattresses you practice sit-ups on in PE, as a bed. Two blankets that were as thin as paper. They couldn’t stop me from shivering. Because cold wasn’t the problem – pure utter fear; that was the only emotion that I felt.