Friday, October 24, 2014

Fear of What Should be Safety

Everyday my three beautiful girls go off to public schools.  These institutions have always been a place where kids are supposed to be safe from the dangers of the world.  I mean besides bullying, which I know from personal experience can get pretty darn ugly, in general schools are supposed to be safe havens from the general nastiness of the world.  But more and more lately I have questioned that, and even begun to actively fear sending my girls to school.  It really feels like every time I turn around there is another school shooting, or another one that is planned and the police happen to stop because someone tips them off.  It's getting so out of control.  I don't ever remember this many major acts of senseless violence in schools when I was growing up.  In fact the Columbine school shooting happened after I graduated high school, and it seems like we have gone seriously downhill from there.

Today, another one.  This one in Marysville, WA, not all that far from my area.  Not much is known right now other than two people have had to be flown out by helicopter and the shooter is dead.  Last year there was another one even closer to us in Gresham, OR where both the shooter and another young man lost their lives.  Both of these and all the others are senseless tragedies that never needed to happen.  In the end all we are left with is the question of why?  We can all guess at the answers.  Maybe the shooter left a note or clues, and maybe they didn't.  Maybe there was a history of bullying or mental illness, and then again maybe not.  But if we can't answer why then how can we prevent them?

I have been saying for a long time the answer lies in early detection and prevention of mental illness and bullying prevention.  Now granted I just said above maybe we wouldn't have known, and I think the reason for that is the people that are interacting most with these kids are not trained to look for the subtle signs that things are not going so well for them.  Everyone keeps jumping up and down screaming about gun control or arming the teachers or more police in the schools or more security measures like metal detectors.  Then again, maybe not.  These things aren't going to prevent an incident they are made to react to an incident.

Instead I think we need to create programs in our schools where teachers are trained to look for signs of mental illness, signs of behavior change.  They need to look for the subtle signs of bullying and learn to address them appropriately.  There needs to be a referral system so potentially at risk students can be screened further and put into a program with specialists to help them work through their issues.  Parent involvement in these programs would be crucial and additional training and literature would need to be made available to them as well.  Would this program be costly?  Sure it's not going to come cheap, but can we really put a price on the health and well being of our children let alone their lives? 

It's obvious more force is not working.  Meeting fire with fire is not the answer.  Let's try meeting fire with water and try putting the flame out before it turns into a raging inferno and we are left to deal with the aftermath.  I for one am terrified of being the parent that gets the call that my child's school has had an active shooting.  I am terrified of one of my girls getting hurt in an incident like this.  I want my children, and all children to be safe at school and everywhere in society.  I also want the children to get the help they need earlier in life because early intervention in mental illnesses means you are less likely to have someone with serious psychological issues down the road.  You have a better chance of having a contributing member of society when they become an adult.  Our prisons are full of people with mental illness.  If we can get to them before it fully manifests and becomes an issue and help them get early treatment maybe we can even keep them out of prison and lower our crime rate.  Now wouldn't that be something?

I'm not saying this is the key to solving all our societal problems.  What I am saying is it's time to reform the way we look at mental illness and start using opportunities we have in interacting with young people as early intervention.  Will we catch them all?  Probably not.  Will it solve everything?  No.  Will there still be acts of violence?  I'm sure.  But if we can save even one life wouldn't it be worth it?  What's the price of one child's life?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Waking into a Nightmare

Nearly everyone's had a nightmare or two I would imagine.  Some, like me, are so plagued with them that we have to take prescription medication just to keep from waking up screaming every night.  But what happens when your nightmares no longer happen when you're sleeping?  What happens when you wake up when you should be dreaming?  This is the phenomenon called sleep paralysis, and for those that experience this it is a truly frightening ordeal each and every time.

Nearly everyone knows about the REM, or rapid eye movement, sleep cycle.  This is the part of your sleep cycle where dreams happen.  During this time also, in a normal sleep cycle, your body is paralyzed.  This is to help keep you from acting out your dreams.  In cases of sleep paralysis physically what happens is your conscious mind becomes awake, but your body stays paralyzed.  Completely paralyzed.  You can't move any part of your body, you can't talk, you can't scream, you are frozen in place.  That in itself is terrifying, but what happens in your mind makes it so much worse.

Even though you are consciously awake and aware of your surroundings, for example if you are in your bedroom you know you are in your bedroom and can see your room from the direction you are facing, but you are still in this dream like state and will experience hallucinations.  One thing that is commonly reported by people who have experienced sleep paralysis is an overwhelming sense of dread or fear and a feeling that they are not alone and that there is an ominous presence in the room with them that means to do them harm.  I can tell you from experience this feeling is very real and very frightening.  Even after experiencing this many times it's impossible to rationalize with yourself in this state and remember that what you are experiencing will pass.  Each time feels like you are experiencing it for the first time.

Another thing that can be experienced, and I have experienced, is visual and auditory hallucinations.  In some there are creatures that are trying to get me, in others there are people talking to me and telling me strange things.  Sometimes the walls are melting or swirling, and sometimes I just hear loud buzzing noises or ear piercing sirens.  I've never had one that I would say is pleasant.  I would describe all of them as disturbing at minimum and downright frightening at worst.  For me there is almost always some sort of hallucination, and even after the actual physical paralysis is gone it can take a second or two for all the hallucinations to stop as well.

It seems like the episodes last for hours, though I know that's not true.  In some cases I've been facing a clock and have seen one go on for about 15 minutes.  Others I think only last a few minutes, but it's really hard to grasp a concept of time when you are experiencing all of this.  I am usually screaming for help in my head, and I think it's coming out of my mouth but it's not.  I usually gain the use of my vocal chords first, though not my tongue, and am able to make moaning sounds that then alert whoever is around that I am in distress. 

Those that know me have learned that those noises mean I need to be "woken up" so to speak the rest of the way.  Usually that means talking to me or even touching me to help pull me out of it.  This itself can take a few tries and is frustrating to both me and them.  A lot of times if they are talking to me I am answering them, but it's only in my head that sound is coming out.  That results in both of us getting frustrated.  Once I finally do start coming out it's important that I sit up or move otherwise it's easy for me to slip back in to that state again.

After I've had an episode I am usually pretty shaken up.  It's hard for me to describe what it feels like to someone who has never gone through one.  People don't understand the fear behind losing all ability to move but still being awake, but not really being awake because you are hallucinating.  I think that it's also hard to understand why it's still so frightening after I have experienced it so many times.  One might think that by now I would be able to say "Oh, hey I know what's going on here.  I'll be just fine in a minute or two."  But the reality is when you are in that moment it's like you have never experienced that before.  Your brain can't remember the other times.  All you can think about is how scared you are right now because the fear is so overwhelming.  Sometimes when I finally get out of one I just want to cry, but then I feel so foolish and weak for falling for that stupid mind trick one more time.

The medication I'm on for my nightmares also helps with the sleep paralysis, but I can only take it at night.  With my chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia I sometimes need a nap during the day.  Anytime I nap during the day there is a pretty good chance I am going to have an episode of sleep paralysis, it's just the price I pay for trying to get some sleep.  I hope one day they find another way to stop this from happening, but until the I live in fear every time I close my eyes that I will be waking into a nightmare.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Walk My Walk

You think you know me.  You see me day in and day out.  You think you have my number and have me all figured out.  You think that you can push my buttons and I won't say a word because you think I'm a push over, you think I'm weak.  But you don't know me.  You know nothing.  You haven't walked my walk.  You don't know how strong I really am.  All you see are the times I've broken down, but you don't know the strength it takes to carry what I carry every day.  So come walk my walk.  I bet you can't hack it, I bet we find out who the weakling really is.

You see I already know about your perfect life and your perfect childhood because you can't stop telling everyone about it.  How you were raised by loving parents and had such a fun childhood full of wonder and adventure.  Where nothing ever went wrong, at least nothing really major.  How you grew up with your siblings and had normal sibling rivalries.  How perfectly wonderful and normal for you.  I also love how you are such a drama queen and complain about every little tiny thing that goes wrong in your life, oh how I would love to have your problems.

So now let's walk my walk for a bit.  You see I grew up with divorced parent, which I know isn't all that uncommon.  I also had the lovely experience of being physically beat relentlessly by one of my mother's first boyfriend's after the divorce.  After that my childhood was a blur of moving from school to school while my mom tried her best to put food on the table.  There was also years of emotional abuse and trauma that I can't even begin to describe to you.  Plus sexual abuse when I was a child.  These abuses carried into my adult years. 

Besides a beyond miserable home life because I was always the "new kid", and an emotional wreck, I was tormented at school.  I would use the word bullied here, but that doesn't even begin to describe what I went through.  At one point I was beaten black and blue by a group of kids using their textbooks, I was in the 4th grade.  I was physically and verbally tormented on a daily basis from 2nd grade through my Sophomore year of high school.  That kind of abuse leaves a lasting mark.  By the time I was a Freshman I had enough.  I wanted out and for good.  I attempted suicide, and at the time I wished I had succeeded.  I spent the night in Critical Care and then about 2 weeks in a psych ward.  I turned to self injury after that to ease my pain.  I would burn myself on purpose to make myself feel something.  I was so numb from all of it.

We are now into adulthood, and where I stand now.  Even with medication and intensive therapy every day is a struggle to get out of bed.  Every day is a battle on making myself feel worthwhile to those around me.  Every day I question my own sanity.  And yet, every day I pick myself up and I try.  I try my best to make it through another day.  Even with the weight of all that I have been through riding on my shoulders.  Even when all that pain comes crushing down around me and all I can do is curl in a bawl and cry so hard the sobs make me shake uncontrollably.  Even when all I want to do is hide from the world for the rest of my life because I am so scared of getting hurt ever again, I try.  I get out of bed most days and I try.  Are there some days when I just can't?  Yes, and on those days I feel miserable and I loathe myself for existing.  I can't function, and I can't breathe.  All I want to do is hide.

And this isn't even dealing with all the things that can trigger me into a panic attack.  The smell of certain men's colognes, a certain phrase or tone of voice, even certain movies or songs.  These types of things can all send me into a total panic and make me relive the abuse all over again. Sometimes I don't even realize something is a trigger until it happens.  Go ahead, live in fear of not knowing when something is going to make you relive your worst nightmares.

Speaking of nightmares.  Do you think I get many good night's sleep with this history?  How often do you think my subconscious decides to replay these events in my head?  Do you know how many times I've had the same dream of standing outside the house we lived in when my mom was dating the guy who beat me and listening to myself scream but I couldn't get inside to rescue myself?  Do you know what it's like to wake up in a cold sweat with your throat hoarse from screaming at the top of your lungs?  I do.

So, the next time you want to play your stupid little games to make ME feel weak.  Just don't.  Because I am not the weak one here.  I am strong.  I have been through the hottest fires and the toughest shit.  I have been through more in this lifetime than many will go through in several.  So just stuff it.  I am tired of your crap, and I am tired of being the butt of your jokes.  Your time is coming because I am standing up for myself starting now.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Do Not Pass GO...or 20 MPH

So school is now back in full swing across the country, and that means the 20 MPH school zones are back in effect too.  I get it, I really do, you're running late for work it sucks to have to slow down to a crawl, especially if you don't even see any kids.  But reality is, you have to do it, and nothing irks me more than those who don't think the rules apply to them.  Let's break this down a little shall we?

Why do we even have 20 MPH zones in the first place?  Well this one should be a no brainer, but since I have learned that some people are no brainers we will actually cover this topic.  There are basically two reasons for this one has to do with you as the driver, and one has to do with the kids themselves.  You as the driver have to pay attention to many things while navigating a car, or at least you should be and your phone should not be one of them, things like other cars, traffic signals and signs, normal adult pedestrian and bike traffic.  Generally speaking the slower you are travelling the more time you will have to react to any one of these normal things let alone the next part of the equation here.  The other thing we have to consider is the kids.  Kids by nature are usually short, unless you get to the high school age which we will address in a minute, and they are fast and slippery.  Think of them like those water snake toys you may have played with as a kid, you know these things.  Even with parental/ adult supervision you never know if or when they are going to slip away to run off to be with that one friend they haven't seen all weekend!  Seriously, these little buggers are slippery.  Ok, so you're thinking that explains elementary students and maybe some middle school students, but what about the older ones.  Well, to put it in simple terms, they're brain damaged.  Any parent of a teenager or who has survived raising a teenager will tell you this.  They are absolutely brain damaged, especially when left to their own devices and in groups.  They think they are invincible and think nothing of putting their own lives and the lives of their friends in danger.  For you as the driver this can translate to them darting into traffic to avoid having to walk the extra ten feet to the crosswalk, or pushing each other into the road because it's fun. Even worse are the teen driver's because now you have brain damaged teenagers who think they are invincible behind the wheel.  Trust me, you want that extra time to react.

So, when we are in a 20 MPH zone and the zone is in effect I am going to go 20 MPH.  If you are behind me do NOT feel the need to crawl into my trunk space to save on gas by hitching a ride.  If you do this I will then feel the need to go 18-19 MPH  just because.  Also, if you are going over the 20 MPH and you then turn into the school parking lot I feel a special kind of loathing for you.  This means you either work at the school or are a parent.  You should know better and should be setting the example, shame on you.  For those of you who think you are special and don't feel the speed limit applies to you and then you are busted and get a hefty ticket, I feel no mercy for you don't complain to me.  If you are afraid slowing down for what usually amounts to about 1 mile is going to make you late for work then you need get your lazy butt up earlier or find a new route to work that doesn't involve a school zone.

The moral of the story is slow down for the kids.  It really is worth it, how horrible would you feel if you knew you weren't adhering to the speed limit and that one tragedy took place because you couldn't react fast enough?  Take the time to slow down.