Near death hallucinations and then the football game

When I was about 15 I had a seizure.  The seizure started while I was playing a game of Super Street Fighter 2 with a couple of friends.  For me the screen went blank then quickly filled up with green “0”s and “1”s.  Then everything went dark from the edges out and I could feel myself falling over.  The next thing I know I’m in an ambulance and I puke.  Then it goes dark again.  Now I’m dreaming that I’m out side of an apartment I lived in with my Dad when I was 6.  My Dad is there  standing in the glare of the sun.  A blinding sun.  He tosses me one of those large two foot styrofoam airplane gliders from the 80’s.  It slowly floats toward me.  As I reach out to grab it with my right hand some one grabs my shoulder from behind and says “Not yet”.  I wake up, still in the back of the ambulance as  it pulls up to the hospital and I can see my Dad through the back windows.  He beat the ambulance there and was waiting for me.   I pass out again.  This time there are no dreams, I just wake up on a bed in the hospital with electrodes glued to my head.  The doctor is explaining that he can’t find any sign of epilepse but thinks that it probably had to do with the video game and refresh rates or something like that.  After that I went to the High school football game.   I just had what I thought of as a “near death experience” and then went to the game.
Now, here’s the weird part.  According to my friends who called the ambulance, I passed out while playing the game and started to seize.  One of my best friends stuck his finger in my mouth to keep me from swallowing my tounge. Knowing full well that I would bite him, he did it anyway.  I bit him.  Thanks Bryan.  In fact I asked Bryan recently if he could recall what happened that day:

‘Here’s what i recall. We were at Scottish Forher’s (all names have been changed to protect the innocent) playing street fighter. Maybe sophomore or junior year. That i don’t recall. But i was Dalseem and was finally beating you. Apparently that was only because you had rolled backwards in a seizure.

We rolled you off the water bed(ha water bed ) and banged your head on the wall denting the drywall.

Sorry

Then while i tried to keep you from swallowing your tongue Scottish called 911 or the ambulance because i don’t think Marietta had 911 yet. Anyway i was trying to get your tongue and i think you bit me.

You had calmed down, were a little dazed and very sweaty when the Emts showed up. All in from me beating you to getting in the ambulance was maybe 10 minutes.

We both rode in the ambulance. i got a tetnus shot and you spent the night after we went to the football game. I think your parent’s were going to pittsburgh to see aerosmith or something.

Anyway the ER doctor didn’t find anything in your catscan and as far as i know you never had another seizure.”

 You will notice from his account of the story there was no “passing out” besides the initial seizure.  That’s because, evidently, I was dazed but I walked to the ambulance and was talking with the EMTs and presumably the doctor and my parents while they ran the CAT scan.  To this day I have absolutely no memory of any of that.  In my head the time line goes: seizure, video game dream, puking, Dad airplane dream, Dad’s face through the window, Hospital bed, every thing is ok, go to the high school football game.

Life Sentence – Living with Mental Illness

 

I need to preface this story by assuring my friends and family that I am OK.  I am in no immediate danger, to myself or others.  To those that know me personally a lot of this story may be a hard read, it has certainly been a hard write.  It’s sad at points, but understand that it has been my love for you and your love in return that has kept me strong.

A second preface (post preface i guess), I started out this story as a Facebook post but while digging to put it together I’ve come to realize that it’s far too long of a story to tell in one post, so I’m going to have to put it out in chapters or as the kids say, a blog.  the web address is http://www.whenslypigsfly.com

The TLDR version of the story and why I feel the need to tell it now is this:  I deal with mental health issues but I’m pretty sure I’ve got it under control.  However, when I hear news stories about  “seemingly normal guys” who shoot ….a lot…. of other people I wonder that if 20 years ago, when he was the age that I am now, if he was fighting the same fight i am fighting now.  Then i look at how my issues haven’t gotten any better, but worse, ,and I wonder what my fight will look like 20 years from now. Let me tell you, it scares the ever living hell out of me.

So I am sharing my life of living with mental issues while remaining a functional citizen in the hopes that others will do the same and we, as a nation, can take a long hard look about an important issue we universally agree about but are still uncomfortable talking about.  The following is the start of that post.

 

Every time there is a mass shooting in this country not only is there an outcry for gun control but there is also plea from many that goes unheard.  That plea is for a national conversation on Mental Health.  I understand why that plea goes unheard even though every one agrees that that it is a serious issue.  The reason is that it is a very complex and very uncomfortable subject to talk about.    So I’m willing to put myself out there to start it off but it’s up to all of us to continue it. So if any of my story resonates with you,  please share it with others.  (breathe deep) Here it goes,

My name is Ryan and I’m crazy.  Functional crazy, but crazy none the less.  Now I know i may get a lot of folks criticizing me for saying “crazy” instead of “mentally ill”,  “clinically depressed” or “anxious” or any of the other medical terms for what ever it is I am but crazy is how I feel and how most people still view folks with mental illness.

I hallucinate rooms filled with smoke and smell the stench of a wood fire about once a week.  This all stems from an apartment fire a few years ago.   My downstairs neighbor’s apartment had a slow fire burning in  it, some boxes left on a stove burner. Her place was filled with smoke, that smoke started to leak into my apartment.  When I went downstairs to check on her, knocking at her front door.  I heard a weak moan.   I opened the door, all I could see was black.  The thickest darkest smoke I have ever seen from floor to ceiling.  Long story short,  I called 9-1-1 and while waiting for help I  decided to go into the apartment myself and pull my neighbor out of the smoke.  The fire chief said it was the worst case of smoke inhallation he had ever seen where the person lived.   That should have been a good day and in many ways it was, I mean I saved someones life, that’s an awesome feeling I draw on when things look there bleakest.  But it was also a traumatic experience that somehow chipped away at my sanity and caused me to hallucinate on a weekly basis.

The smoke in my hallucinations is light and whispy most of the time but some times when I wake up in the middle of the night it is the black thick smoke from the night of the fire. At first it would fill me with a panic when i saw the smoke.  I would get my dogs out of the house and then search the place top to bottom to make sure that there wasn’t an actual fire.  After it happened a few times I was able to rationally deduce it was just a hallucination but if I am alone I still have to check because I’m afraid that some day there may be another fire and if I ignore it people could get hurt.  When i am out in public and I hallucinate  I have to rely on the fact that no one else seems to notice the smoke ( what if it’s just too light for them to see it?) but I keep a sharp eye out just in case(what if it’s a cook in the back, slipped, knocking himself out and starting a grease fire?). This can be distracting.  When I am with close family with whom I’ve shared this with before I still ask, “There’s no smoke in here….right?”.  Even though I can read their  faces it makes me feel better to get an objective answer.

Now, the hallucinations weren’t my first foray into mental illness, it’s just the first I mention because most folks can agree that seeing shit that isn’t there is kinda crazy.

At 13  I started getting what I have always called “mind aches”.  A mind ache isn’t a physical headache like migraines, it’s an emotional headache.  The closest thing I can compare it to is the headache you get when some one close to you dies.  Not the crying headache, that comes later, the initial emotional shock that makes the headache feel larger then your actual head and all reality too much to bear.    I thought these were normal.  “Everybody gets sad sometimes.”

The mind aches would last anywhere from 15 min to 4 hours.  The first few big ones were accomponied by “visions”.  They weren’t like the hallucinations I get now, they never felt “real”, but more like the film of a waking dream being played over reality. After a couple of years of this I started to suspect maybe this wasn’t normal, none of my friends had mentioned crippling headaches but then again I never told them about mine.

I told my girlfriend at the time, but I didn’t tell anyone else and I certainly didn’t even think about getting “professional help” because I  wasn’t crazy.  “Psychologists are for crazy people”.

I wasn’t going to give in and “be crazy”, I was going to beat crazy.  I was nerd, before it was cool, and my plan was to out smart  my own crazy with logic.  That’s why i was able to handle the hallucinations as well as I did.  I had been practicing how to distinguish reality from delusion with logic since my teens.

The mindaches started to precede a cycle of depression.  I get three to four cycles of severe depression a year with each cycle lasting about a month to a 45 days.  They started out minor but quickly got worse.

When I was 15 I wrote a page long suicide note, with my own blood, while in first period study hall.  I gave it to my girlfriend in between classes.  She, thankfully,  gave it to a guidance counselor who called my parents.   I was eating lunch when a teacher told me they wanted to talk to me in the office, I saw my parents through the lunch room windows walking quickly towards the office.  That was the first time I saw fear in my Dad’s eye’s

We briefly talked to the guidance counselor, i assured them that I wasn’t going to kill myself and they let me go home.  I was exhausted and went to take a nap.  My Dad laid down on the floor next to my bed as i slept.  That was the day I promised myself that I could never commit suicide because it would hurt the ones i loved too much.  I thought of it, and still do a times, as a “Life Sentence” instead of a “Death Sentence” and some how, I find that tragically hopeful…..but tragic.

 

Death Rattle

As a member of Generation X  I grew up in a “post civil rights movement” America.   The idea of government instituted racism is almost unbelievable and the only reason I say “almost unbelievable” instead of “unbelievable” is that there’s just too much photographic evidence.    It honestly has always seemed to me like an Orwellian ghost story that parents tell their children to teach them about the evils of racism.  I couldn’t, and still can’t, wrap my mind around the concept that adults, supposedly smart adults, in America, the land of the free, had made laws that one group of people were to be treated as a sub-species.

The Civil War ended in 1865 and the Civil Rights Act was signed in 1964, 99 years later.  It took 99 years after our country promised “freedom for all ” for the government to actually make it a law.   I’m sure there’s a joke in there about how we should all be happy that it doesn’t take politicians 100 years to pass laws any more but my heart’s just not into it, this subject depresses me.  20 years before I was born not all Americans could eat at the same table of a restaurant…by law.

It depresses me because I’ve always thought that the Civil War was literally our countries defining moment.  It defined us as “The Good Guys”.  It defined us as a nation of free men.  Free men that were willing to die for the freedom of all men.  It defined our role in the world  as a shining bastion of hope, a land where any man could come and be judged on the merits of his actions and not by his lineage.  It is why we feel compelled to fight for the freedom of people in other nations, not because we want to conquer but because we are the good guys.*  (* Disclaimer: I’m speaking about the thoughts and feeling of the citizens, not modern elected officials who may or may not have their own agenda and may or may not use this shared feeling of purpose to gain support said agenda)  In short I think it proved that we would not give up on what our forefathers thought this country could be, even if it was going to be hard.

America’s Founders sought to define a national good that transcended local interests and prejudices. The national good included the common benefits of self-defense and prosperity that all Americans would realize by participating in a large, commercial nation able to hold its own in an often hostile world. But it was only with the constitutional rule of law that the higher purpose, or true national interest, of America could be realized. That purpose was to demonstrate to all mankind the feasibility of self-government and the suitability of justice as the proper and sustainable ground for relations among nations and peoples. The honor of striving for domestic and international justice would give moral purpose to the American character. The United States would support, defend, and advance the cause of freedom everywhere. It would be a refuge for the sober, industrious, and virtuous of the world, as well as for victims of persecution. By sympathy and appropriate action, Americans would show themselves to be true friends of humanity.  * 

Here we are now, 53 years after the Civil Rights Act, being tested again.   With an egomaniac for a President, who has been frustratingly inept at providing any sort of leadership and groups of hate mongering elitists indoctrinating naive, angry youths with their antiquated ideas of violence, our backs are against the wall.  It doesn’t look promising.

But we’re the good guys.  While my generation has never had to face this particular evil in such a physical way, if these traitors think that they can intimidate us then they aren’t  very well versed in American history.  The good guys always win.  This is nothing but a death rattle.