Sunday, June 17, 2018

PTSD and the Differences Within

Being in grad-school for Forensic Psychology provides me with a plethora of knowledge and training for any future I seek in the field of mental health, trauma, case assessments, aftercare plans and expert witness testimony.  The cool part that is hidden among all of this education and training is how much I learn about myself along the way.

In the early days of my associates degree, and even on into my bachelors, I have had to do numerous personality assessments, psychological assessments and even write a paper assessing myself and providing my own personal case study.  That was interesting.  However, never in my mind did I imagine that I would learn more about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder than I already "thought" I knew.

"Life will only change when you become more committed to your dreams than you are to your comfort zone." - Unknown

Well, I was living in my own personal perceptionalized comfort zone in the land of "Brittainy knows about her condition".  Guess, what people?  I did not know everything about my own condition.

What I do know:

* I have PTSD
* I did not care for therapy when the trauma occurred
* I quit said therapy when it became apparent that no good was coming from it
* By no good, I mean that my therapist was an idiot (my perception, she has a degree that I don't)
* I learned ways to cope by myself
* My coping mechanisms have worked for the most part
* My triggers have decreased
* My triggers can still occur
* When I get triggered, I know how to breath and cope
* I am more stubborn than I am victimized at this point
* By this point, I mean that it has now been 15 years, 7 months, 11 days since my major trauma occurred
* Yes I know the date, always will
* No, this is not my first traumatic experience (just the one that took the trauma cake)
* I can talk about my event, but I would rather not
* I would rather not because it triggers me and I never know how bad or how long it will last
* My life is not altered because of it, I choose to keep kicking ass, not allowing it to kick mine
* It took me 14 years to go to a movie theater by myself, now I go periodically and do just fine
* I can finally, after 14 years, 6 months ... sit with my back to a door in a restaurant or anywhere
* I only do the back to a door thing if I completely trust the person across from me, never alone
* There are only a few of those people ... so does the back to the door still count as improvement?
* I want to be in a relationship (despite my single status, always)
* I do not tolerate bullshit and drama - those will make me step faster than anything else
* I do not trust people easily and once it is broken you will not get it back
* I notice baby pink flags before they turn red
* I do not show emotions in public (it is very rare that you see me cry or see that I may be stressed)
* I am not cold-hearted
* I am the most empathetic person you may ever meet
* I do really damn well in crisis situations (seriously, you want me there when it happens)
* I am nationally certified in mass-fatality training in the realm of psychological assistance

What I did not know:

* I have what is known as Complex PTSD
* Complex PTSD is defined by hostage situations and kidnapping (to name two out of 4 elements)
* I also have a third out of the 4 elements, chronic domestic violence
* That means that my nose has been broken twice and I have two vertebrae sunk in further than the rest
* Complex PTSD means that regular PTSD methods do not work
* It takes specialized treatment methods to help a trauma victim begin to cope and heal
* This means that my therapist was an idiot, because she was not trained for my type of PTSD
* Complex PTSD means that after 15 years, 7 months, 11 days I suffer from "Splitting"
* Splitting is "parts of self are fragmented and walled off
* I also suffer from Boundary Issues
* Boundary Issues are "relationships are either too close or too distant" for me
* No wonder I remain single status (nobody has been strong enough to stick)
* The longer I go without proper treatment could cause me to develop worse symptoms to triggers
* Could ... doesn't mean it will
* Complex PTSD causes fractured alliances
* This means that I will walk away with no problem if it feels unhealthy or threatening
* No matter who you are
* I do this ... I am known for this
* Complex PTSD can cause elusiveness and denial to core issues of the trauma
* This means that the trauma victim can make you believe they are okay and they may not be
* You will NEVER know
* Complex PTSD causes more development of chronic medical issues
* Thes include pain, cardiovascular issues, chronic headaches
* I have these (IE: inability to get a diagnosis on chronic stomach issues and headaches)
* Increased interpersonal problems
* Again, single status
* This also means my friendship circle is small by choice
* Complex PTSD victims ... well, 65% of them become addicted to drugs/alcohol
* I am not ... no drugs and rarely do I drink
* This is because I do not crave it ... and I am a single-mother (I gotta stay alive and healthy)
* That means I am in the 35th percentile that do not self-medicate

As you can see, my unknown list is just as long (if not longer) than my known list.  PTSD can come in different forms including: Re-Experience, Avoidance, Hyperarousal and Mood/Cognitive Changing.

When a person experiences a traumatic event that is so severe it creates PTSD, the Amygdala grows. Did you know this?  This is where I will teach what I already knew ... the pieces that my own research helped with self-healing.  It stays on red-alert for any opportunity to save you from unknowns.  This is where your stress hormone is created.  The more triggers, the higher the stress, the bigger the Amygdala.  Coping skills are imperative to that happening and controlling your life.

The hippocampus shrinks.  The hippocampus is what regulates emotions and assists with long-term memory.  The more it shrinks, the less your emotions show, meaning the fewer emotions you have, you become numb and dissociative.  It also affects your ability to remember long-term memories and leaves you in a revolving door of the trauma occurring over and over and over in your memory bank.

Dissociation is often seen in the upregulation of Dopamine that your body creates.  (enter sarcasm) That is just your neurotransmitter.  This is the transmitter that controls your rewards and measures part of the brain.  When that falls into an upregulation, it takes more to "feel high" so to speak.  This creates altered pain sensitivity.  Both physical and emotional.  It causes for an increase in pain tolerance and it also creates an increase in the ability to tolerate painful treatment from others (such as verbal and physical abuse).

My trauma occurred from being kidnapped and tortured while I was pregnant with my daughter, which was also seven months after losing my first child at 17 weeks pregnant.  The trauma continued when he escaped from county jail before trial ... which at that point I had a new baby girl.  So to answer your question, yes, it takes a long time for a person to stand trial to face consequences of a crime they are charged with.  Also, I want to add here, that my trauma is what made his escape traumatizing.  He was not looking for me, he wanted to run away from the law, he thought he could get away from facing prison time (he was on parole when he kidnapped me).  But because he threatened me with coming for me to kill me if I told anyone who he was, it traumatized me that he was "actually coming to kill me".  Not reality.  That was my Amygdala pulsating.  Now, almost 16 years later, I still have information coming to me on his status, he is serving 3 life sentences, and he will never make parole, but I stay on high alert that when he goes before the parole board in another 15 years, that anything is possible at that point.  Why?  Because that is just how things happen in life.  So, I will never let my guard down.  Ever.  Insert known reality, he will not find me.  Insert known reality, if he does he will regret it.

My triggers are farther and fewer between, but in March (on my birthday) I had one of the biggest triggers of the past 15 years, 7 months, 11 days.  I did an escape room (I had done two prior to this one) and the theme ended up being "Taken".  No, I did not book this room or this theme, it was a birthday "gift".  When I walked into the waiting area to go in the room, they handcuffed me to the others in the group and put a bag over our heads to lead us into the room, where we then had to get the bags off and find the key to unhook ourselves from one another.  The theme of the room?  Sex trafficking in Mexico.  SERIOUSLY people?  Every other theme room I have ever done, is you solve the problem.  I wanted to be a detective and find a missing person ... I did not want to BE the MISSING person.  I did not want to be KIDNAPPED essentially.  But, to the others in the group, they had no clue how triggered I was.  I got busy, I started solving problems and puzzles ... and then the hour hit and I got out of that room, ate dinner, shopped a little and watched a comedy.  At the end of the day, it was the absolute worst birthday of my life and nobody knew it.  I completely disassociated from the day and the event.  But ...

Yes there is a but.  I did not sleep for an entire week.  Six days to be exact.  I averaged about an hour, maybe two, a night.  I could not eat without throwing up.  My stomach issues were in full force.  I was quiet, did not socialize and simply was not in a good place.  I was crying in the shower most mornings just wanting to go back to bed.  But, I still went to work, did my job, replied to texts, cooked dinner for my kids and made A's in my classes.  So my triggers do not control my ability to function in life.  To adult.  To get my shit done.  But it doesn't mean that I was not hurting inside and filled with anxiety.

So, I leave you with this informative (and personal glimpse into my life) with a little information:

You never know the trauma someone has encountered.

You never know what triggers them.  Sometimes it is the smell of a body wash on a stranger walking by or a song that comes on the radio (they are not all easy to spot and recognize).

Be kind to people.  Realize when you are dating someone, or been married to the same person for 20 years, that their irritability may not be because of obvious reasons.

Never be afraid to ask questions or to just simply educate yourself on how to interact with a trauma victim.

We do not choose our trauma.  We choose to live, love, heal, laugh and work.  Just like the rest of you.  We just need to do it differently while we heal, and some of us never will completely heal.  So that means that a little understanding and compassion are really important.  Communication is imperative.  Understanding that it is not personal to anyone, and that it feels like our insides are on fire, with no water to drink and put it out.

Basically, I drown myself in life and structure and routines and plans because those keep me safe.  Basically, I love all things to do with forensic psychology (have since I was 14 years old), and I will utilize my trauma to help others because it makes me more aware and empathetic to the different facets of symptoms and trauma care.
Basically, I still have zero time for bullshit and drama and in order to keep myself emotionally and physically safe, I will continue to step if you do not bring goodness to my life table.

But I may need to find someone who is specialized in Complex PTSD, just so my known list gets longer than my unknown list ... and just in case I have another experience like I did in March, it doesn't keep me down for an entire flipping week. (insert smile here)

I will say, that the plus side to my being a survivor and of having Complex PTSD is that I can do case studies on the most horrific cases objectively and focused (you cannot fathom what I have assessed in the past few months), that I can create an aftercare plan for a trauma victim and understand when they are withdrawn and numb, and that I can be empathetic towards violent offenders because they are damaged people, too.  I say things to the point in direct language.  I have a super soft side, but I will say what needs to be said by speaking impeccably.

My triggers do not occur when I am in dangerous situations.  I remain calm, collected and I know exactly what to do.  My triggers occur after that has been taken care of, once survival has won.

So ... essentially I am not just a survivor, but I am also a winner, dammit.

One more thing.  Remember that even badass wonder women have their weak spots, but some of us refuse to break.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Controversy Leads to Action

Martin Luther King, Jr once said, 'The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.'  This statement has been a fact over the course of, well ... all time, and unfortunately, my perception is that the majority of our humanity has not grasped it quite yet.

I have been accused of being, what's the phrase, oh yes ... abrasively blunt.  I would never utilize the word abrasive for myself, but I do strive to avoid soft language when I speak.  I am a firm believer that soft language simply screws up communication.  When people begin to insert a string of adjectives to remove any form of hurt feelings, then the simple - raw - honest - direct language has been lost.  The fact is, all we truly have to offer others is an impeccable word and compassion.  How others receive those two aspects is not a personal backpack that we are intended to pick up and carry.  Think about that for a minute.  How many backpacks are each of you carrying right now?  Your loved one/spouse?  Your child(ren)?  Your boss?  Your co-worker or a few?  Your own?  What happens when you begin to carry everyone else's burdens and responsibilities and emotions and responses and reactions and feelings?  You cannot walk for the weight of the world literally crashing down on you.  So, for the sake of NOT picking up baggage, put it all down for the remainder of this blog.  Be free of the weight.  Be free of the mindsets that are not your own. Be free of the world's idea of how you should think, feel, react, behave.  Release every single agreement of how you are supposed to be in order to be accepted ... and just read.  When you have reached the end.  It is up to you if you pick up a few of those backpacks of mentality again.  What you carry, is not my backpack to pick up.

The topic of this thought tonight is controversy because of all the posts I have seen on the Netflix series '13 Reasons Why'.  I have responded to two and decided that this was the best way to place my own thoughts, instead of responding to other bloggers or parents that have not read the book or watched the series and are basing their reactions on what they hear and what they feel is meant to be based on others opinions.  So here I go. (Having read the book two years ago and having watched the series ... twice)  Creating controversy where it needs to be created.  Because in controversy, action occurs.

Controversy for the sake of controversy is sin.  Controversy for the sake of truth is a divine command. - Walter Martin

If you have read any of my previous blogs you will know that I have a steadfast belief that our society needs more mental health assistance for adolescents and I believe that as a society, we are failing our sons and daughters by utilizing avoidance and soft language in regards to sexual assault and suicide.  I speak openly about this and I will not back down from how I feel on both topics.  So as I write this I will provide you with facts.  Statistical, direct, facts.

Let's begin with sexual assault.  Do you realize that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives?  Did you know that 8 in 10 cases of rape, the victim knew the person who assaulted them?  Did you know that 8% of those rapes occur at a workplace?  Now let's go into the horror of child sexual abuse.  Are you aware that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before they turn 18 years old?  How about 34% of the people who sexual abuse children are family members?  One more stat you might not have known is that more than one-third of women who report being raped before the age of 18 also experience rape as an adult.

Now let's move onto suicide.  Did you know that thousands of teenagers commit suicide each year in the United States?  It is the second leading cause of death for 10-24 year olds.  Studies have shown that at least 90% of teenagers who have committed suicide suffer from a mental health problem such as depression, anxiety, behavioral problems or drug/alcohol abuse, being victims of sexual assault or physical abuse or struggling with issues related to sexual identity.  Did you know that teenagers do not spend a lot of time planning their suicide?  It has been found that teenagers who have attempted suicide in the past or thought about it or even mentioned it in passing seeking help without directly asking for it, ultimately carry out the act after a feeling of failure or loss such as an argument or even receiving a bad grade on a test that they may be belittled for.  Again, suicide is the SECOND leading cause of death for ages 10-24 years of age.

Did you know that in the United States, there are an average of OVER 5,240 suicide attempts by young people in grades 7-12, EACH DAY.  Also, did you know that 4 out of 5 teenagers who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs?

Now let's address these facts for those of you who are blessed enough to not be considered one of the 'broken' or a 'victim'.  I am personally beyond exhausted with hearing the reactions of:

*  Well, did you see what she was wearing?
*  She was flirting with him all night.
*  She was asking for it with the way she was looking at me.
*  She didn't say no.
*  It doesn't surprise me, she has more guy friends than girls, it was bound to happen.
*  I heard she slept with a lot of people, maybe she just regrets this one.
*  He wouldn't do that, he is such a nice guy, do you know who his family is?
*  Why didn't you fight back?

The list of these goes on and on and on.  It is sickening and does nothing but victimize the person assaulted in a way that is just as harmful as the actual rape was.

There are three reactions when an individual is in a situation that is threatening or traumatic.  Those are the Three F's.  -->  Fight.  Flight.  Freeze.  -->  A person either fights, they flight (run away) or they freeze, completely paralyzed.  The more trauma an individual endures, the more apt they are to fight or freeze, but the freezing becomes the majority in most instances.

Now, I'm going to address a lighter topic than the previous two.  Bullying.  If a parent says their child is too nice to bully, you have already lost the battle.  If you believe as an adult that you do not or have not ever bullied, you have lost the battle.  Reality Check, people.  We all do it.  The forms and methods vary, but it happens.  Frankly, thanks to social media, it happens more than not.  I recently turned 37 years old and I grew up with a cell phone but not with texting, FaceTime, Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, Twitter, KIK or any other method of social communication that is available now.  I remember how stressful it was trying to grow into a young adult while trying to be accepted and making friends and finding myself, but I cannot imagine how that would be now.  I see it, I have a teenager and an adolescent, I just cannot personally imagine going through normal life anxieties and having people literally stalk and creep and post comments to me daily.

Can you imagine posting a picture of yourself (IE: selfie) and thinking, "I feel pretty/handsome today.  I like my outfit.  My makeup/hair is on point.  I feel good and confident and I am changing my profile picture today." only to have people post underneath it a series of this:

*  Beautiful.
* (fire emojis) Hot!
* Why did you do your hair like that?  I don't like it.
* Too much makeup today.  Go wash your face off.
* Gay.
* Gorgeous, girl.  I wish I looked like you.
* Damn babe.  You are sexy.
* That color is not the best on you, but I like the shirt.  Nice pic.
* TBH: I don't really know you, but you seem cool.
* TBH: I think you are a bitch.  Don't talk to my boyfriend/girlfriend again.
* Miss you, let's hang soon.  K?
* Delete your account.

Do you see the literal hurricane of emotions that creates?  Now, how did you feel as an adult reading that?  Can you imagine being a teenager and reading those about yourself?  Would you tell your child if they came to you with this, "Oh, they don't mean it, just ignore it."  or  "Kids will be kids." ??

My 13 year old daughter asked me two days ago, "Why is it that every bathroom I have ever been in, I see people's writings on the bathroom stalls and they are all so mean?  I've seen it in schools and restaurants and gas stations."

Because bathroom stalls were the original social media wall.  Still are.  People HIDE behind their phones, iPads, computer screens and bathroom stalls to say mean shit because they are too coward or in too much emotional pain or have no tangible way to face the real emotion behind it.  Aggressive, angry actions cover emotions such as sadness, pain, abuse, loneliness, jealousy, being bullied themselves and the list goes on and on.  BUT, we pick up that backpack and take what another hurting person has said out of an emotion that is not ours and we carry it, full of rocks and hurt feelings and we sleep with it, we shower with it and we work with it.

As parents, when we tell our children that they cannot be friends with someone based on how they dress, who their parents are or the grades they get in school or that they don't participate in sports, we are teaching those children to bully and judge and hurt feelings.  If you think your children are not telling everyone else what you say, you are mistaken.  If you think they are not telling the child in question what you said about them, to save their own asses for looking inconsiderate and mean, you are mistaken.  Believe that.  I've seen it first hand.  It is painful enough to have a peer judge you because you want to be accepted.  But to know an adult is judging you makes it ten times worse.  Believe that.  Adults are supposed to be safe places.  Adults are supposed to have years of knowledge to teach.  Adults are supposed to have built a couple of decades of practicing compassion and understanding.

If a child tells you, "I want it all to stop.  I want everyone to stop.  I want life to stop." YOU GET THAT CHILD HELP.  Right then.  No question.  You find someone more knowledgeable than you in that moment if you need to, but you get them help.  You do not let them walk away.  You do not tell them to move on with life.  You do not tell them to just get over what happened to them.  Because children/teenagers/adolescents/young adults all speak different languages and in a world where soft language is demanded to sugar-coat what the real direct issue is, you create the inability to allow free-speech and testimony out of fear.

A sexual assault victim, an individual with suicidality, an individual who is being bullied ... they carry guilt, fear, sadness and shame with them everywhere they go inside their own backpacks and that load gets heavier daily.  By not taking time to understand every action is a reaction to something in life, you are contributing to the problem.

Sugar-coated shit is still shit.

So let me share with you what your fears of watching something like '13 Reasons Why', or even reading the book, is causing.  It is causing a blind eye.

I have read a handful of posts stating, "My teenager is not watching that.  I am not watching that.  It is graphic.  I heard it was graphic.  It will scar and taint my child forever.  Why would I want to watch that?"  Did you know (yes another question) that it was filmed as realistic as possible so that it would pay tribute to families who have experienced it first hand?  Did you know that the executive directors consulted licensed professionals to spend time with the actors/actresses so that they would know and understand all elements of bullying, sexual assault and suicidality?  So that they would know every emotion and reason that causes it and every emotion that is felt when it happens?

This is real.  A real problem.  An increasing problem.

A study was conducted on sexual assault.  The statement began with the facts.

"Sally was raped by Brian."

As it transitioned through individuals it became:

"Sally got raped by a guy."

Then it became:

"Sally got raped."

The main question of the study is this.

WHY was the rapist's name dropped from the facts and the only thing remaining was the victims name?  Why was the final information being passed around not, "Brian raped a girl."???

This study was later finished with the de-valuing of women needing to cease and it begins with men.  Men who play poker and go on fishing trips or sit around watching sports with their friends need to stop listening to their friends say things like, "Did you see that waitress's ass?"  Their response should not be, "Yeah man I did, it was nice!"  It should be, "Man, I have a sister, you do as well, would you want someone talking about them that way?  Don't say that."

The same can go for women speaking of men.  We are all guilty of it.

If you have a friend, or notice someone you see daily, withdraw - change their hair drastically - dress differently - have a noticeable drop in grades - decrease social interactions or even communication - stop texting as much (phone doesn't ring as much) ... step forward.  Say to them.  "Hey, how are you? You matter to me.  What's been going on?"  Why?  Because we have to do better.  We have to be better to each other.  We have to start being better at how we care for one another.

So, whether or not you feel your adolescent/teen should watch '13 Reasons Why' or read the book.  Let me remind you of this fact.

1 in 4 adolescents are raped before they turn 18 years old.

This means that if your child is not the one.  They know someone who is.  They may not know who it is.  But they know someone who is that 1 in 4.  ONE in FOUR!  So, the next time you or your child decide to judge someone because of how they change appearances, how they change interacting with their friends, how they seclude themselves or maybe they even begin to speak more freely and seem disrespectful ... remind yourself that little things add up to big things.  Do not be the the final tape to someone's reasons why.  Speak with kindness.  Interact with compassion.  Say, "Hey, how are you?  You matter to me.  What's been going on?"

Here are 13 Reasons Why:

  1)  Because being a human means being kind.
  2)  Because controversy leads to action.
  3)  Because we are raising the future.
  4)  Because ONE in FOUR.
  5)  Because educating yourself is more important than judging others.
  6)  Because it is the 2nd leading cause of death in teenagers between ages 10-24.
  7)  Because raising awareness helps solve the problem.
  8)  Because hiding facts teach children to hide their problems.
  9)  Because pretending it doesn't happen is enabling the behavior.
10)  Because it is time to have difficult conversations with teenagers to help protect them.
11)  Because it is time to cease soft language and create open dialogue.
12)  Because rape shaming has to stop.
13)  Because the statistics are too alarming to ignore any longer.

And following true form of the book/series.  The added side of the tape gives us another reason and so will I.

14)  Because the truth hurts.  The truth is difficult.  There is beauty in the broken.

The collateral beauty of this heart-breaking issue is that we are becoming more aware of what is needed to teach our sons and daughters respect and dignity and that their voices matter.  Being heard matters.

Now, I am not ignorant to the fact that maturity levels vary.  I have a son that will be 10 years old this fall.  I would not want him watching this show or reading this book or hearing about it.  He is not mature enough.  But, I do teach him what is inappropriate by having conversations with him on how to not allow anyone to touch him in any way that makes him uncomfortable or that is an area that is private.  I teach him safety plans for if it ever occurs.  I teach him what to say to an adult he trusts if he needs to speak up for help.  I teach him that police officers and school teachers/counselors and Sunday school teachers are safe places.  I teach him to never be ashamed to tell the truth.

My teenager is mature enough.  We watched it together (I watched it in completion by myself first).  We made it a lesson and had open dialogue without judgement throughout each episode.  My teenager has a safety plan.  My teenager knows who to contact if she needs to.  My teenager knows to not be ashamed.  My teenager knows what small acts of bullying can do to someone who may or may not be emotionally struggling.

Disclaimer:  I am a survivor. (I choose to not use the word victim)  I was bullied for it as a teenager after I reached out to a couple of friends when I needed to talk.  I had my name inside bathroom stalls.  I was judged.  I was de-friended.  I was laughed at.  I had horrible assessments made of my character and I had multiple rumors spread about me.  Off-color remarks made my body a target for grabbing and swatting and my ears heard more than their fair share of inappropriate things that caused me to withdraw from athletics, cheering and even a handful of civic clubs.  When I went to college I struggled with making friends and even going to class because of how I was treated as a teenager.  It took me years to be able to go anywhere alone (IE: movies, eating) and to sit with my back to a door unless I completely trusted the person across from me with my life.  Because that is what it felt like I was doing.  Now I am stronger.  I have a voice.  I do not tolerate snide remarks or 'cat-calling' or anyone feeling they are entitled to put their hands on me.

Abrasively honest?  No.

An advocate for truth and respect and awareness?  Absolutely.

Survivors and victims do not choose what happens to them.  It is not who they are.  They are so much more than another person's decision to force themselves onto them.  They are creative, beautiful, funny, intelligent, faith-filled, artistic, dancing, cooking, flower planting daughters and sisters and brothers and sons and they grow up to be mothers and fathers ... they are unfortunately 1 in 4, but that does not define them.  Stop sweeping the problem under the rug and outcasting.  Start raising awareness and speaking out.

So ... here is the final question that I have for you.

Are you ready to pick that backpack back up or are you ready to be a voice?

**  If you or someone you know have been a victim of sexual assault, bullying or if you struggle with suicidal thoughts, please contact someone immediately.  Never be ashamed to ask for help.  **

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Suicide Survivor ... My Bird is a Warrior

I have thought long and hard on whether or not to write this blog.  I have thought equally long and hard on how in the hell to put this season of life into words.  But the fact is, a voice is a voice and if this offends you or frightens you then I did my job at raising awareness.  This is not a blog for your entertainment, this is a story that is very real and very terrifying and that changed many lives through a very dark journey.  This is what my 2016 was filled with and this is what a very real issue, that many people face, actually looks like.  This is a blog about survival and digging deep.  This is a blog about seeking help and accepting assistance and working diligently with all of your might to overcome.  This is the face of suicidality and surviving.  

Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations.  But sometimes, those roads are beyond difficult and you find yourself down the proverbial rabbit hole, only to discover utter darkness instead of Wonderland.  In order to appreciate the ending to this story you must start from the beginning with me.  Not the thirteen years ago beginning, but a synopsis if you will, from the beginning to the now.  Because the NOW is what is celebrated.  Always in life.

Thirteen years ago I gave birth to the most beautiful baby girl I had ever seen in my entire life.  From day one she was this precious round cheeked, blue eyed, black haired little cherub that giggled and explored and learned so quickly.  When they say children are a sponge they really are.  Absorbing any ounce of knowledge she could.  The snuggliest most lovable child I had ever laid my hands on and she was my child.  God blessed me with this beautiful little miracle.

 Once Corbyn was born, my daughter instantly became her brother’s keeper.  His biggest fan and most trusted protector (outside of myself).  She loved him fiercely.  From teaching him how to talk to showing him how to walk.  Asking if she could feed him, read to him at bedtime and rocking him in a hallway during a tornado.  She was, and continues to be, a source of his knowledge and strength and example of love.  When the day came to take her to a long-term facility, my son asked her what happened to her arms … asking her, “Who hurt you, Sister?” And she protected his heart and his child innocence telling him, “Nobody hurt me, Bubba.  I was in a little accident.  But I am going to be okay.”  That was one of her darkest days.  She was not wanting to choose life that day.  But she would never let her little brother know that.

On Sunday, October 11, 2015 … my reality as a mother changed.  You see, watching your young daughter be diagnosed with Celiac Disease at age 7 and then diagnosed with Von Willebrand’s Disorder a few years later and being told that she very well may never have her own children, to seeing her bury her father at age 9 … well, that is a lot as a mother to see your child endure and yet she was the one living it, feeling it, attempting to understand at such a young age.  As a mother, just as any parent I would believe would, I felt that by consoling her, hugging her, planning fun outings with her and placing her in therapy was the right thing to do.  That telling her that it would all get better and be okay was the right thing to do.  So that is what we did.  We dove into artistic creations, we went on adventures, we focused on the healing power of music and prayer and cooking together and playing with animals.  And it all seemed to work.  She would still smile and laugh and have fun and play with friends.  As a mother, I assumed I was succeeding at my goal.  Creating a new childhood for a child that had lost some of her own.  A child who grew up a little too fast.  
A little … I thought.

Then we decided to move.  Fresh start.  Better job for myself, while I continued my education.  More opportunities for both my children.  You see?  My hometown is good for sports involvement, but lacked school clubs and courses for choir and math clubs and so much more that I wanted them to have choices to partake in and thrive at.  To find their own fit in this vast big beautiful world.  Little did I know that my smiling child was hiding a darker secret all those years.  Six years to be exact.  In therapy, with the therapist she had been seeing for three years since her father’s death, she told a very detailed, disturbing experience of what is known as sexual assault.  She said she felt safe to tell since we were moving and would not be in the same town anymore.  My baby girl, whom I had thought had lost a portion of her childhood through illness and losing one parent, had actually lost all of her childhood at six years old by a person that she should have been able to trust.  So the ugly process began.  The therapist called CPS.  CPS got an appointment at The Bridge.  The Bridge interviewed her and called an RN.  The story continues.  The man was taken before the Grand Jury.  The Grand Jury “no billed” this man because of “lack of evidence” due to it being six years prior.  CPS believed this child.  Her therapist believed her.  The forensic psychologist and RN believed her.  But a Grand Jury decided due to time, that a terrified child harbored this alone, caused not enough “physical” evidence.  So now this child of mine was terrified that she spoke out.  Felt she caused problems for her baby brother due to all that we were focused on for her.  (He had no clue and still has no clue as to what happened to his sister.)  So, suffice to say, this beautiful and innocent young girl became depressed, hormonal as an upcoming teenager, angry and so many more emotions that were like a ticking time bomb inside her little body.  However, continued therapy, showering with love and affection and constant words of encouragement were what we all felt were the proper thing to do for her.  She began to smile again, spent time with her new friends, and continued to make straight A’s in school.  All seemed to be healing as best it could. 

Until that night in October.  Sunday, October 11, 2015 to be exact.  The nightmare hit that night.  My daughter was going to go home with my parents for a few days and they hadn’t been gone 30 minutes.  I got a text from my mother to meet them at the ER by our apartment.  I am afraid that someone is sick, there was an accident … something.  I was not prepared for what I met at the ER that night.  My daughter had taken a handful of sleeping pills that she had been hording.  Lesson number one.  Just because you hand your child a pill, make sure they swallow it.  Or else they can collect them.  But what parent thinks of that or that it is necessary or a possibility for a twelve year old?  She didn’t know how many she took.   So our night was spent in the ER, her having regular blood work and drinking charcoal.  A mouth full of gunky blackness and dark colored sandy teeth and tears in her eyes.  Me telling her over and over how much I love her and that I am her biggest fan and to please tell me what she needs for help.  She was, for lack of a better way to say it, just done.  She wanted the inner pain to stop. 

They released her to me knowing that I would monitor her completely until we found her a place to go for a few days.  This is when I learned that there is a huge problem in our country for depressed teenagers and assistance.  I called ten facilities between Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana for short-term treatment of suicidality in teenagers.  Each of them having between 150 and 200 beds and zero availability.  I was continually told, “If she is a threat to herself take her to the hospital.”  Well, we had just left the hospital.  They released her to me.  I was out of options it felt like.  Out of love and desperation, I called the insurance department at my job and they got me a direct phone number to Family Support Services in our city and I was able to get her an appointment within a few hours with a counselor who only deals with sexual assault victims and suicidal crisis evaluations.  Her initial meeting with this man was hostility, anger and rudeness.  Not my child!  Where had my baby gone?  But we visited with him a half hour and then he visited with her alone for almost an hour.  At the end of that session he said that she was actively suicidal and needed a facility as soon as possible.  I am sure he gave me the same contact information on repeat as the only thing I heard and kept hearing was ACTIVELY SUICIDAL.  My twelve-year old beautiful, bubbly daughter was actively seeking to kill herself.  I explained to him my conundrum of not finding a facility and he made one call to the facility in our city and she was assessed and admitted within hours.  This man got her where she needed to be after I spent 24 hours calling everywhere I could think of, or was directed to, with no positive outcome.  This man.  Saved my daughter.  He asked her to promise him she would stay alive.  She promised and spent the next eleven days in that facility.  Began medication and we moved forward.  She continued to see this new therapist and began developing a great connection with him.  They went to that dark place that she didn’t want Mommy to know about it.  Even through all this my child wanted to protect me.  ME.  When it was my burden to carry for her.  I just couldn’t.  I couldn’t fix this for her.  Because you see, she was feeling the constant chaos within.  Her therapist explained it to me in the words stating, "She has PTSD.  So severe it ranks with soldiers who have served in combat.  This will take time.  This will take all of us."

The next few months were a rollercoaster of events.  My daughter had two more attempts at suicide by cutting her arms and wrists.  At one point she had almost 40 cuts up her forearm and multiple cuts and claw-marks crossing over those.  We had everything locked up.  I mean everything from Tylenol to butter knives were locked behind a door that the keys were around necks and nowhere near her getting ahold of them.  She was breaking pencil sharpers at school, tearing the tabs off soda cans, anything she could get her hands on she was cutting herself with.  She wrote a lot.  Dark truths that were inside her heart and mind.  She also wrote that she heard the train in class at school and knew she could walk there and lay on the tracks if she could get away from school long enough to get there.  She was ACTIVELY SUICIDAL again.  So, after three stays at the short-term facility, it was decided by her therapist and myself and my parents that she needed a long-term facility.  So again the hunt was on.  Insurance coverage, availability, close enough to home that I could visit her on visitation days, promptness to admitting her.  I kept being told that there was at least a two to three month waiting list for most places and the closest facility was 7 hours away.  Then I got a call on day two that said they had an availability and I could bring her in two days.  That three-month wait just dropped to a few days.  Thank you God!

So, we all loaded up in my car, and we drove all night to San Antonio to take her to the long-term facility that was the next step in changing her life.  There she finished school, learned coping skills, learned to communicate, we had family therapy, she had individual therapy, they took her off all the medications she had been placed on and was placed on one anxiety medication.  I was told that she was actively suicidal (there are those two words again haunting me as a mother) and that the excessive medications she had been placed on intensified that as a side effect.  So, we began the healing process.  Her individually.  Us as a family.  She began receiving 12-hour passes for visitations off the campus and after three months we were told we could pick her up and bring her back home.  Thank you God!

So, we brought her home.  She continues to work on her communication, getting stronger each day.  Owning that she is a survivor and no longer a victim.  Finding her voice to be an advocate for herself and to stand up for herself and to stand up against others when they are abusive (physical, verbal, emotional).  She is a fighter and stronger than she knew she was.  She has learned to genuinely laugh again.  She continues to make straight A’s.  She draws and writes and loves fiercely.  She accepts others and speaks more positivity into her own life as well as others.  She is my daughter and I am so damn proud of her.

So, October 13th was one year.  One year from the day I walked her into that new office, with a new therapist, for a crisis evaluation, for being told that my daughter was actively suicidal.  One year that Charles gave my family what tools we needed to help save her life.  To help her learn to stand in the sunshine again and to dance in the rain.  A-Day as my daughter and I have named it.  Alive Day.  The day she began to live again.  It has been a very long and dark journey with more tears and screaming than I care to tell about.  One miraculous year of growth and I am still beyond proud she is my daughter and blessed that God chose me to be her mother.  What a gift she is.  What a testimony she has.  What a life she will live.  What a splendid day this day is.  October 13th.  A-Day.

October 13th, 2016, my daughter was told that she can call if she needs an appointment.  She can call with good news or on bad days.  She was reminded of coping skills on days she has a rough time.  She was reminded of how to get through panic attacks if she is triggered.  She was told all the positive affirmations that we see in her and feel are permanent to her character and personality.  She was told, by this man, her therapist, that she is the “Most proud moment of his life, not just his career.”  We celebrated A-Day.  We hugged.  We cried.  We laughed.  We lived.  She lived. 

* If you or someone you know is suicidal or expressing signs of self-harm.  Get them help.  It is more important to get them to safety than it is to risk losing a friendship or to anger a loved one.  Call and do not take no for an answer on assistance.  There are people who will help and people who will have connections to get you to where you need to be.  

Know you are loved. 
Know you have self worth.  
Know that you cannot see light without darkness. 
Know that it is okay to choose to stand in the sunshine.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Blues, Bullying, Self-Harm and Standing in the Sunshine

Jimi Hendrix once said, "Blues is easy to play but hard to feel."  Alberta Hunter was quoted saying, "Blues means what milk does to a baby.  Blues is what the spirit is to a minister.  We sing the blues because our hearts have been hurt, our souls have been disturbed."

The blues has been referred to as the schizophrenia of music.  It is chaotic and soulful and intensely all over the place.  But what I want to refer to "the blues" as is depression.  Why in the world is there still a stigma to this word?  Why in the universe are there still stereotypes attached to people who suffer from it, who live with it daily?  Why are they not celebrated for making it through another day?  Depression is something that I wouldn't wish upon my worst enemy, yet I wish everyone could experience the intensity of it for an entire 24 hour period so that the empathy and respect for those who live with it daily would develop where it was lacking before.

Depression is like a war.  You either win or you die trying.  Depression causes a level of exhaustion that most people cannot fathom.  This exhaustion stems from fighting a war inside your head every single day.  If that's not exhausting then I don't know what is.  Dorothy Rowe has said it best in these words ... "Depression is a prison where you are both the suffering prisoner and the cruel jailer."  A person who is living with depression does not need judgement or stereotyping or lectures or even questions like, "Why don't you just be happy?"  They do not need you to be anything to them but loving and understanding and respectful of their daily torture.  Believe me ... they are questioning and lecturing themselves enough without your assistance with pushing them off the cliff.

Bullying is something that I do not tolerate well.  Not the action.  Not the thought.  Not the stories.  I believe that children/teenagers are cruel.  I believe that adults are equally cruel.  I also am a firm believer that when children/teenagers are stepping up to the plate of bullying, being relentlessly cruel and hateful and emotionally/physically harmful ... that it is because they are either hurting inside themselves and acting out for any questionable reason that can be very real to them (be it being bullied themselves, abused, depressed, etc) or it is because it is a learned behavior.  Parents.  If you are not stopping your children from being hurtful and harmful to another human being you are failing as a parent.  By failing ... I mean you are allowing your children to become horrible human beings in this world and the lesson of compassion and acceptance and loving as Christ loves is absent in your methods of life lessons and humanity.  Believe me when I say this ... NO JUDGEMENT ... we are all learning how to parent and each day is a new day in that lesson.  But, as parents, we can see our children acting differently, behaving differently, groups of friends changing, those that they used to hang out with they maybe aren't anymore and will not tell you a reason - and if they do it is maybe something hateful and hurtful that comes out of their mouths.  Well, guess what ... You do not know what is going on for that other child.  You do not know the situations that they are experiencing.  You do not know the pain they are surviving and the sadness that consumes them.  But you do know how to teach your children to behave towards others.  Being mean and cruel and abrasive and physical are never okay.  Never.  And if you are clueless and you find out ... do not be ignorant or turn a blind-eye and say "my child would never do that" because trust me yet again, ALL of our children are capable of doing anything.  Even if you cannot fathom their participation or instigation of anything so unbelievable, use it as a lesson and teach them, reiterate to them, humanity is the key to a joyful life.  A smile and a kind word go a long way.  Clothing, makeup, hair styles, music tastes, artwork, sports or not, sexualities ... none of that matter.  NONE of that matter, people.  Be kind.  Always.  If you are hurtful.  Apologize.  Bullying is quoted as saying, "I kill about 13 million kids a year."  Bullying isn't a liar.  Guess what?  It comes in many forms ... people kill us daily and slowly and it can be with words such as "be realistic" or "why are you different now?" or "get over yourself".  It can come in forms of physical abuse, tripping, pinching, bumping into someone every opportunity they get, knocking books out of hands.  It can be in the form of whispering when they all by or sit near them and it is obvious they are whispering about that person.  It can be in the form of not including someone in a group event and then talking about the event to great lengths in front of them so that they hear about what they were not included in.  It can be small backhanded comments such as, "That looks good on you.  I would never wear it but it looks good on you."  It can also come from teachers and bosses changing rules and guidelines among students so that people are not treated equally.  It can come in the form of 'joking comments' such as "I will miss some of you students next year ... but you?  I think I will be fine without you in my class next year. (insert laugh)".  And guess what?  Witnessing bullying and NOT stepping in to help or NOT telling the truth to a teacher or supervisor and pretending you didn't see it out of fear or just not wanting to be involved?  That is bullying as well.  All of these are forms of bullying.  They are triggers for people who are suffering.

Remember:  Pulling someone down will never help you reach the top.

Self-Harm ... where do I even being on this topic?  It is disheartening.  It is tragic.  It is heart wrenching.  It is emotionally messy.  It hurts more than simply the person who is acting it out upon themselves.  It is scary.  It is real.  This action can be made in so many methods and most of them hidden well.  Maybe they are hidden well because nobody wants to believe it is occurring or maybe the individuals who are harming themselves are masters at disguise.  Just know this one simple rule.  If you know someone who is self-harming.  If you see marks on someone.  Tell.  Always tell.  Because it probably isn't the first time and it will not be the last time.  Self-harm is textbook for someone who is suffering, someone who has been hurt by another person, someone who is severely depressed, someone who is testing the waters of suicidality ... someone who cannot catch a breath for the waves constantly pushing them back underwater.  If someone tells you they are doing it ... tell someone and get them help.  Making a friend/family member mad is better than living with the alternative of them hurting themselves and knowing you did absolutely nothing with the information you had.

Did you know that suicide is like stepping into the ocean?  It is.  Imagine you are at the beach and you go to step into the ocean.  The water is frigid cold.  You get your toes wet and you jump back five feet because it is so cold you just do not think you can go into the water.  So you sit on the sand and you watch the waves hit and then you want to try again so you step out and you clench your teeth and then you make it out deep enough into the water that you feel the cold water up to your knees and you turn and run back to the soft warm sand and you stand there ... watching the waves a bit longer.  After another period of time you try yet again.  You grit your jaw tight and you stiffen your body and you make it out into the ocean until you feel the water, cold and startling, lapping against your naval.  You feel the waves push and pull you, rocking you back and forth but you just cannot get past the cold of the water.  You want to dive in and swim but it is just too cold.  So you back out and stand there again ... on the sand.  Your body is shivering at this point.  You are cold.  You are staring at the abyss in front of you.  Then you make the decision that you are already cold and you have tried three times and you become brave enough to go back into the ocean.  This time quickly, to just get it over with, the shock of the ice coldness that is surrounding your body rapidly and before you know it you are back waist deep and then without thinking you just dive head first into the black nothingness of the depths beneath you and the cold engulfs you and you have succeeded.

If only ... one of those times that going back to the sand underneath your feet, someone had grabbed your hand and told you, "Stand in the sunshine with me.  It is warmer here.  Spend time with me.  I want you here."

Stop placing a stigma onto depression.  Stop placing stereotypes onto people who survive it daily.  Stop judging and stop whispering and stop ignoring.  People who suffer from thoughts of self-harm, people who act out those thoughts, people who struggle with choosing to stand in the sunshine ... it is for a reason.  It isn't your job to know the reason.  It is your job to be a compassionate human being and realize that we are on this planet to not judge and to give unconditional love to others.  Even if we cannot understand.

My daughter is the most beautiful human being I know.  She is beautiful inside and out.  She is more intelligent than I could ever hope to be.  She is creative.  She is talented.  She is funny.  My daughter is not perfect but I love her perfectly.  My daughter is human and a child of God.  My daughter suffers.  My daughter survives daily.  She has been served life experiences that no adult should ever have to deal with and yet she is learning at her young age how to develop coping skills that a teenager should never have to learn.  My daughter is an amazing person.  She is worthy of love and compassion.  My daughter is my first true love.  She is learning to choose one day at a time and I celebrate her making that choice each day.

I am not writing this blog for questions and nosey-bodies.  I am not writing it as an invite for you to sit on my preverbal couch and presume to understand anything about our personal lives.  I write it to raise awareness that depression is not something to be ashamed of.  It is not something to be afraid of.  Depression is not an act for attention and it is not something to make fun of or even something that affects each person the exact same way.

Some people have experienced life good with chunks of bad along the way.  Those bad things can develop inner turmoil that can be triggered by the smallest actions from others.  Be a nice human.  Be respectful.  Be understanding that you may simply not understand at all.  Be mindful.  Pray.

"You know my name.  Not my story.  You see my smile.  Not my pain.  You notice my cuts.  Not my scars.  You can read my lips.  Not my mind." - Unknown

Help comes in different forms.  A variety of locations.
If you know someone who suffers ... help them.  If you do not know how, find someone who does.
Tell them how special they are.  How much they mean to you.

Ask them to stand in the sunshine with you.