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Having a friend make headline news by becoming the embodiment of everything wrong in the world was not how I imagined my evening would begin. Scott Smith, one of the hosts of the Recovering From Religion podcast, top dog activist for Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF ), father of three, and all around good guy, turned a very dark corner earlier today. He shot and killed his wife and then took his own life just as police arrived. Three school age girls are going home to relatives instead of their own bedrooms and welcoming arms of their parents. The footsteps of mom and dad in the hall to tuck them in are now permanently relegated to memory and dreams. The loving smile of dad is now a porcelain veneer of menace boiling beneath. Some might take offense to all this imagery, but the reality is whether mental illness was the primary cause or not (many say it was his losing to ptsd), he murdered his wife. He committed domestic violence. I feel that the constant woe of his ptsd being the cause removes some accountability from Scott's plate, and I am not going to have that. We can discuss this reality without eviscerating him. This was a man who was keenly aware of how ptsd affected him. His years in the military and then learning to live as a civilian activist out there to protect vets and bring further understanding to ptsd is important. He is not without his own weaknesses, and maybe the news of his wife's divorce pushed him to an edge he had never traversed before. This does not lessen or change the fact he committed domestic violence. He murdered his wife. He took an opportunity to control his life how he saw fit, and forced his soon to be ex-wife to follow. He even called the police and told them what he was doing. Once again, someone burned it all down because it wasn't going their way and they had to have absolute control. Does it really need to be said for the millionth time that mental health is a huge issue that is still taking baby steps to become a mature discussion in this country? And right now is the time in our community of freethinkers to seriously evaluate this issue in our own ranks. We cannot always see or know what is going on behind closed doors in our friends' lives, but we can consistently promote a very personal avenue of communication to find these dark moments in our impulses and try to diffuse them before they become tragedy. We can be active participants in our local communities to demand better crisis services without stigma. We can educate our communities that staying in the hospital for mental health reasons is not a thing to be embarrassed or ashamed of. Self-care must happen or we cannot take care of those we love. We will hurt them as we hurt ourselves. I have personally been to that dark edge and back, and luckily my family and I walked away intact. I didn't hide, but embraced help for once. But that was only after barely waking up from an intentional overdose because I couldn't process my guilt. Some might look back and say Scott was a good man who had his own demons that got the better of him. Some might look back and say he was a bad man, letting this murder define his legacy. What we should be looking back on is how we can help prevent more of these types of violent episodes from occurring due to any number of reasons, simply by being present and demanding we all take care of ourselves through proper programs and resources instead of the way Scott did it in the end. PTSD didn't kill his wife. He did. Let's prevent this from happening again.
Bible Stories Few Read to the Bitter End, Episode 4: Lot, Biblical Proof of PT SD. Copeland and Robertson say PTSD is not biblical, but the story of Lot begs to differ. I also bring up Sarah Palin's demonizing of combat vets suffering from PTSD, and share some tips and networks if you or a loved one needs help dealing with PTSD.
It was one of those little paper cups that one can put ketchup or tartar sauce in. A white little bowl of pressed edges and a crimped rim. Almost origami like. Just a shallow condiment cup that, at its bottom, held two impossibly small pills that held too many promises to believe. Help me sleep. Help me calm down. Help me have control. Help me feel normal. "Help me," I said to myself as I swallowed them down unquestioningly. This cup was my first introduction to psychiatric care when I was twenty-five years old. All these promises contained in a cup that was the size of a tablespoon. Goals of recovery pressed into the shapes of oddly colored tablets. I numbly took those medications, thinking at least for a few days I could get my bearings within the controlled confines of the hospital psychiatric ward. I would have one on one interviews with a doctor everyday for the three days I was under evaluation. Group therapy twice on each of those mornings. Arts and crafts for relaxation. After my three days were up, I might be forced to stay longer, or be released back into my world of fucked up living with nothing but referrals I couldn't afford to use. Welcome to the American mental health system. You could always get a diagnosis and medication in an emergency, but unless you're a danger, good luck after your hold was up. My own visit to the ward had to do with depression, scary thoughts, and an irrational desire to just run away from the world. Literally go back to the streets. For a long time, my rationale had always been survival. I didn't know how to exit that mode of thinking. I didn't really put any roots down and had little problem just moving on to new environs. That wasn't working out for me very well since I would struggle to hold on to jobs thanks to depression leaving me too miserable to even show up for the day's work. And the thoughts of death were almost hypo manic at times. It was literally driving me crazy. I didn't comprehend why I was experiencing all this, and assumed I must be genetically off balance. Every where in my family there was depression, suicide, violence, and so on. Obviously I must be a chip off the old block. At this first stay, the doctor did his best to help me sleep. Remeron, Respirdal, and Geodon were what I ended up taking and it barely snowed me under to sleep. Acute bipolar disorder with hypo manic tendencies was the cause explained to me. I lived with, and accepted that diagnosis without question, for nearly six years. Six years of failed medication attempts. Six more years of temporary homeless episodes. Six more years of suicide attempts to avoid feeling useless. Six more years of angry rant filled outbursts at family and friends. Six years of intense self loathing. I hardly remember those years. Probably because I barely survived them. What I remember most clearly was my last actual suicide attempt. I've never been able to go the pain route in death. My goal had always been to just not wake up anymore. Pills and alcohol were my usual instruments of self destruction, and in the midst of my family completely imploding after relinquishing my daughters, I tried again. To be honest, I think I succeeded momentarily. The doctors who examined me later agreed. My heart did stop at some point, and why it fired back up is a mystery. I remember all the bourbon I'd finished off that night. Had to be at least two fifth size bottles. Then I grabbed some Risperdal and Vicodin, and washed them down as I lay on the floor near my computer desk. I was happy in the moments before I blinked out, but only because I thought I was truly free at last. No more waking up. That was my last thought. It was about a day later when I woke up, and it was a struggle. My vision was watery black. Reminiscent of looking through a dirty periscope, it was an off center view and appeared tunnel like. My brain seemed to process my surroundings at a three second delay. It was hard to breathe too. That sensation of my chest feeling too heavy to inhale must have kick started adrenaline, and I managed to roll onto my side, barely feeling the rough textured carpet against my face. But as I lay there, straining to breathe, my eyes seeming to drag slowly back and forth in my eye sockets, I saw a piece of paper across from my face on the floor by my desk chair. It was a picture my oldest daughter, then about eight, had drawn for me. Just a simple drawing of me that she'd given earlier that month, but seeing it there discarded on the floor just hit me so hard. The way it just lay forgotten and taken for granted seemed to crush my spirits even more into dust. I was so ashamed of myself and my selfishness. I don't know how I did it, but I managed to get my phone off the desk and call for help. This suicide attempt didn't land me in a psychiatric hold. No, they sent me home the same night after that one. For about two more years I continued accepting the bipolar diagnosis, but instead of mostly focusing on the right medication combination, I prioritized self management and self awareness. I did have another hospitalization in that time, but not for being suicidal, just irrational thinking. That stay was more beneficial than any other because I realized my warning signs much sooner. Eventually I found a great therapist, and we realized I was not dealing with just mania, but PTSD. In fact, the mania was related to it. Three years of behavioral therapy, cleaning out of my emotional closets, and here I am now medication free. I have complete control and pretty much know how to manage in trigger situations. I also eliminated a number of people who would purposely trigger me in order to have control over me. I removed my mantle of illness. I let it be the definition of who I was for so long, that I had allowed it to relegate me to a non contributor in my own life! I believed I would be hindered forever, and it took a third of my life so far to find out it wasn't true. But that is how mental illness is treated in this country. I hope it changes. Not everyone can make a good recovery, but the lack of quality care and comprehension of mental illness leaves many hopefuls lost in the dark and feeling like there isn't a chance for real living out there. This has to change. We shouldn't rely on luck . There needs to be better standards of care with more than just medication goals and brief well checks. There needs to be future prognoses that are promising functionality and independence, not a non stop regimen of being treated like an invalid. ***Want to read more? Check out my short compilation with an additional nine new essays not published anywhere else. http://www.amazon.com/Badge-Survival-Amanda-Ashcraft-ebook/dp/B00UY2FOAU/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1426995310&sr=8-3&keywords=the+badge+of+survival ***
It was another terrifying experience. One of many throughout the years. This time I woke up, face covered in tears, mind in a panic as I took a few minutes to calm down. I spent a bit longer than usual getting reoriented, my mind's movie content having hit a NC-17 for a number of things. But confirming that horrible episode of disaster and loss wasn't my reality anymore always takes a minute after waking up anyway. Deep cleansing breaths of cool forced heat assured me of what my slowly waking brain already knew. Just another nightmare. Just a mental brush with terrifying childhood programming warping some very bad life experiences. I was in my apartment. Safely wrapped up in the blankets on my futon bed in the living room, both my dogs sleeping soundly on my head. This shit gets really old. I haven't surrounded myself with the persistent teachings of apocalypse and eternal torment for almost a decade. I haven't believed in such things for slightly longer. Thankfully, these episodes rarely leave me reeling for more than a few minutes after waking. Still, why do I have to deal with it after all this time anymore? Programming of my childhood mind is why. Like everyone else, I have fears. Some rational, some not so much. The one ingredient these little terrors have in common? The way in which they manifest is eerily familiar of things I learned in church. Almost always while I am dreaming, all these nasty little insecurities and past traumas come out. And it never fails they appear in doctrine type scenarios. Like a terribly written script of Job's trials, with Godzilla marching through the fiery burning streets of Detroit after Jesus has slain the unfaithful, and the whole while Satan and Yahweh are just busy fighting over who has the bigger dick in some nebula billions of light years away. Completely unconcerned with the mayhem unleashed on the object they supposedly became enemies over. My biggest fear is losing a child again. One day, I worry I will wake up and one of them won't be here anymore. It's a terrifying thought to me. Naturally, in my sleep, my entire world is empty. I'm madly searching everywhere I can for them, keenly aware of impending danger. Nowhere to be found, I run without direction, just desperation. I am alone, vulnerable, and something lurks just beyond my comprehension, waiting to snap me up in its jaws. Maybe it's that demon of my former self I could never pull out of the mirror that I am subconsciously blurring from my mind's field of view. (Didn't read about that yet? Here's the link. Warning, sexual content. http://www.ex-christian.net/blog/170/entry-887-desperately-yours-lucifer/) Sometimes it is past trauma. Unfortunately, my father is a frequent figure in my dreaming. Along with experiences from homeless days where I can still smell the smoke ridden interior of a 1981 Cadillac I slept in all the time. These visits usually follow me for the day after or longer. I wouldn't say I get teary or angry when this happens, but my introspection is overly intense. I don't know if it's my red flag warning system going off about a situation or new acquaintance I encountered recently, but I am definitely perturbed for a bit. Feelings of being too trusting, or maybe exposed, lurk heavily during such spells. Ironically, my dreams directly regarding death and God aren't nearly as upsetting. I am disappointed more than anything. Almost a feeling of being let down by a parent over a promise to do something fun. I'm never being directly punished or paid attention to by this deity. I would say neglected would be a better description. This thing knows of me, but looks on. I guess that's the upshot to my psyche's night time romps. It at least knows where to put the blame. Imaginary saviors aren't on the shit list. Now, a few paragraphs in, you might be wondering what the point of all these nightmarish examples are about to begin with. We all have our past, right? Some pleasant, others not so much. It's the fact that some folks - certain god fearing ones - seem to think that these are hidden messages being planted by the good lord. When I have discussed these experiences with religious folk, a large number of them immediately attribute these scary nights to "God trying to help you see how much you need His grace." A scared straight style altar call, which immediately elicits from me the following response,"He wants to help me, and won't take no for an answer, so instead He plans to drive me batshit crazy until I agree?" "It's not like that, and you know it" "Why do you insist on twisting His ultimate intentions for your life?" "He's showing your mistakes for a reason." (Yeah, it's my fault I was abused...) These responses to my rejection absolutely enrage me. Somehow I'm twisting, and purposely so, what God is trying to show me. I'm twisting the dream sequences where my father's will is being remembered on my body. I'm twisting the revisiting of pain from being punched in the face until I black out by a former lover. I am totally perverting the absolute terror and panic I experience when I cannot find my children during global pandemonium in the dreamscape of my demented mind. The fuck ever. Torture me until I say okay? I spent the first thirty years of my life doing that already. I know exactly what happens when you keep saying,"Okay." No more, thanks.