Stephen Bristow – Survivor

My brain injuries have been misdiagnosed my whole life.

I grew up in Michigan in an abusive home. When my parents were finished with using and abusing me, they discarded me into an institution, one right after the other. Part of my life was spent at Ypsilanti State Hospital (they closed down in 1991) just outside Saline, Michigan. Many patients were turned out onto the streets with nowhere to go and there was an uproar throughout the State and beyond when they closed. I also stayed at Northville Psychiatric Hospital between ages 13-15. I was a state ward when younger (they closed down in 2003).

I was young about five years old or younger when I sustained my first traumatic brain injury. This was caused by my father. He was very abusive. He was also a Navy man. The second traumatic brain injury I recall happening around 7 or 8 years old, and had something to do with baseball. The one titled “mother” was not around most of the time. When she was, she was also abusive, and I sustained many beatings from her. She was employed at a Utility service.

I remember going to my grandmother’s house during the summer, because St. Joseph Home for Children only allowed a week stay. That is where my mom used to drop us off, my brother and myself. I stayed at my paternal grandmother’s in the summer; my brother stayed with family on our maternal side. My mom’s side of the family did not like me. Apparently, I looked too much like my father. The couple of times I did visit them, they always kept me separate from everyone else.

Then the time came when my mom (the female that gave birth to me) took me away. I was not allowed near my grandmother’s family again. I found out later, that is was when my dad (the male that help create me), blackened both my eyes, gave me a bloody nose and bruise on forehead. My aunt later told me that an uncle beat my dad down good for doing that to me.

Oh!….back to St. Joseph’s Home. One day, the sister came and retrieved me, and we went to meet the

St Josephs Home

female that gave birth to me at the front office area. I still remember the Sister telling her that she just cannot leave one child and take one child. So she took me. This is when I learned that she had moved. So I went and lived with her again. The female who gave birth to me would be violent to me and so would my brother. Many times I would run away. I would go to my Uncle’s home. Each time, they would bring me back after telling me that I no longer live with them. After school one day, we were playing baseball. A pop fly was hit and I went to catch the ball and ran into another player. My mouth hit their head, my tooth stuck in his head. I woke up in hospital, eight years old, with a major concussion ( that was the second one I referenced in the beginning of my story).

I remember going to speech therapy, and remember that they did brain scans, testing after testing. Then one day I was coming home by myself and was almost hit by car. The driver of the car took me home and told the female. After the driver left, the female that gave birth to me took me in the basement and chased me around beating me with a belt buckle. Beat me so bad, I did not go to school for a week.

I guess that is when something else really happened. All I remember is running away from home to my uncle again. The police took me to the juvenile home. I was eight years old in a juvenile home on my birthday. I remember saying, “Mom don’t love me, uncle don’t love me, grandma don’t love me.” That is when I first attempted suicide. I hung myself. Woke up in the hospital. I stayed in the hospital until the beginning of the next year. Then the female that gave birth to me took me for long ride. We ended up at the Yorkwood Center (located on the grounds of the Ypsilanti State Hospital). I remember watching her walk away through thick windows. I was placed on 2B, this was the ward for little children.

The female would visit sometimes. I was there about a year, then I was sent to Summer Field Group Home in Flint. One night when I was there, one of the workers woke me to give my meds. The worker said I hit her, but I did not remember this. I was sleeping. That incident landed me back to Yorkwood. This time they put me on 2A, the ward where bigger kids were. I think I was 10 and most of the other kids on this ward were 13 to 15.

I was here for awhile. It’s there I learned about the Time-Out Room. When I would have my anger spells, they would put me in the room. This room was bare, screen on windows, steel door. I was suicidal, so when they put me in the time out, they would strip me naked. Sometimes I would spend one day and sometimes I would stay up to three days alone and naked in this room. If I continued to be destructive to myself, they would then bind my wrists and ankles together.

After about another year, the female shows up. I remember I did not recognize her. She took me home. Once again abuse from her and brother. She was gone all the time. They tried school, but I was ganged up on a lot. Once again, when I became tired of being hit on, I hit back. I ran away, the police picked me up. I ended up back at Yorkwood – again. This time 1A ward, the big kids ward.

The female would visit. Then one day she told me it was too far to come and visit. So after that I think I saw the female twice. I continued having these uncontrolled anger spells. They just came on. I could not control them.

Then one day Bruce, staff worker, Abusive One, was being abusive to me. I went in my room and grabbed a piece of wood from my kilt and stabbed him. The safety came and took me to C51. There they put me in a room, naked for a week before I could have underwear, another week for mattress. I was in that room for a month before being released into population.

C51 was at the Big Build. I was at C51 until age 13. That is when they started closing down the State hospitals. When I was 13, they took me from Ypsilanti to Northview, When I turn 14, the female came and visited me. The visit was to sign custody release papers in front of me. I became a state ward. The next year, Joe Thomas came and visited with me to have me visit his group home. Thanksgiving 1977. I went to live at the group home. Richard, another kid, came to the group home in 1978. Richard was from Detroit

I did not like him. He would make fun of my speech. One day he tried to bully me, it did not work. He grabbed a pair of scissors and stabbed me. They did nothing to him. I had hit him with my fist, and I was in trouble. I started running away from the group home, mostly because of Richard. Also, Joe was starting to molest me.

Because I was repeatedly running away. I was sent to Flint Juvenile in 1979, From there they sent me to a group home in Albion. Then I would run away from there. I ended up in Jackson Juvenile. From Jackson Juvenile I went to Whitmore Lake Training School. Because of failing to control my
anger; from there I went to Adaining training, Positive Peer Program (PPP), and then to Kalamazoo Academy Hall.

After all of that, I was finally released to Independent Living. I had a caseworker until I was talked into going in the Marines. Yes, I did graduate from Marine bootcamp (basic training), Honor plt. I was only in 8 months. I had a spell in bootcamp, yet they did not dishonorably discharge me. I received a general discharge. A veteran who receives a general discharge under honorable conditions is still entitled to all VA benefits, with the exception of the GI Bill education benefits.

I have been in and out of jail many times, mostly because people would gang up on me and harass me. I would ask for help, no one would help. So I would default back. In trouble I would be and the instigators would be let go.

I have learned that some law enforcement see my mental condition and take advantage of me. An example is where I had been a crime victim and the Sheriff helped my attacker over me.

I do my best to stay away from people, it is less stress. What is the hardest thing for me, is when I see others with brain injury and how they are helped and not punished for the side effects that come from brain injury. My whole life I have been punished for my brain injuries.

I was on State disability for a mental condition. In March of 1996 my spine went bad, so I was put on SSDA for the spinal condition. My mental health condition for disability was somehow removed.

When I was transferred to SSDI for my state disability, mental conditions (aka Brain injuries) they removed my metal condition (apparently they must have thought all the drugs must have fixed my BI). They just put me on SSDI for spinal problems. In the last SSDA review, they gave me a code two. This means, according to Social Security, I am not totally, or permanently disabled. The kicker part? They do their paper review every three to five years.

Drugs. I have learned no matter how many or how much drugs you use, the memories do not go away. Drugs just help reduce the side effects. Sucks. The institution doctor I saw the most was Dr. W; there were all kinds of different drugs they had me on over the years. In Society, I did some street drugs. It was not for me. It was not the effect I was looking for. I currently still do medicinal marijuana. I have been medicating myself for years. People don’t know I do it, I treat it as medication. It is also legal now. Now they will know. I wonder if they will look at me differently.

I have attempted suicide many times. I have a poem for it:
“As I shook death’s hand and looked into his darkness,
He spoke onto me,
‘It is not your time.’
That is when I realized I am not scared of death,
Life is what I am scared of.
Face my fear.”

I’ve had so many jobs, it is hard to keep a job. Some were lost because of being outsourced out of country, others, my fault: those spells. I think the longest I had a job was two years.

Education: Microsoft, CompTia cert. I had to take the software test three times, I paid for each test. It was difficult to understand wording. Dell, HP, Samsung Warranty tech, Vetrian league administrator, Kids Hope USA Mentor. I just recently received volunteer of year in 2021 at SW, disability network.

I have learned, what we learned and how we were are treated during our developmental stages in life will be reflected in the mature adult’s thinking when making decision. I have also learned not to trust government programs, such as interACT. They have shown me wrong diagnoses and a lot of over-medication. This does not solve or help the problem. It just covers the problem up.

My development stage was incarceration. There was no “development.” It was learning how to survive. I do not have the same thought development as a child raised in society. A simple act for others is a difficult task for me in life. My understanding and learning has always been slow. That sucks. Took many years for me to finely accept it.

I am going to be 60 this year. My body is tired, This last abuse I sustained, came at the hands of some police officers. They finally finished wearing my body out.

I am in a wheelchair most of time. My mind is also tired from attempting to fit into society. I have learned many things the hard way. I have come to believe that I will not ever be treated equal as others. I have learned the government and legal system is a favor system if you are disabled. They told me this themselves when I became a crime victim and they used my disability to refuse me help; yet they helped my attacker and his family.

I know you are profiled based on your residential dwelling area. You are also profiled based on your financial status and how that appears.

Most of all, the most upsetting thing overall, is that people are more likely to believe lies about me over the truth.

I have achieved abilities above my profiled mental status (aka BI) which were assigned to me by others. I am a life long survivor of Brain injury and trauma.

Something, I am pushing 60 now, The people that help me the most in my life, were not middle and upper class folks with college education; these were the types of people that would belittle me and judged me. Bikers and lower income people help me the most, Odd. Yet these people lived a real life.

I was taught by the government, that to be treated equal as others, you have to be raised by a loving family, and act civilized. I was raised by the government. They just over-medicate you and just throw you into the legal system for treatment, I learned this by what I had to go through to survive. There has to be a better way.

Yes I can tell you some reality story about what I went through in State institution back in the late 60’s through late 70’s. Yet this is not important, for the victims of those times; it needs to be forgotten about. My reasoning on this is that it feels like no one understands; everyone is focused on the new generations and their BI’s, not the people that are still suffering from BI’s sustained in the past. Don’t believe it? Show me a program that helps these people (other than interact and other program ran by the State). Private programs and help do not exist for patients like us, especially when there is no family help, no support system in place, and no proper professional help overall.

I am on Medicare and Medicaid. Counseling is far and few between unless I go to interact. They do misdiagnosis and over medicate, so I try to avoid that route if possible. I just don’t like that type of living.

Even still, despite everything, I am still recovering. I now understand that I have a young mind. I have learned you never will be like everyone else. We are all very unique individuals with our own stories. I get continue to learn to deal with flashbacks for various reasons. This happens where my residence is now; it brings back memories for the Institution living I had previously – even though I live independently now in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

A person does not understand  during their developmental stage in life. They don’t know what kind of help to even ask for. Unconsciously your emotions are all over the place; also not to fortunately, any brain injury may render you now disabled with a disability. I have been living with this my whole life. I understand. 

Most stories submitted seem to focus on individuals who have received brain injury after developed stage. I wanted to submit mine to show how changes from brain injuries occur before development and during developmental stages, and how they can impact your whole life.

Be proud of the people you can help and understand.  I beat the odds according to news. Despite all the failures in the system…in some ways, I guess I am one of the lucky ones.

This is the summary of my life.

Stephen Bristow

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