A Breath of Panic (Trigger Warning)

It came as a small scratching at the door. The wind and rain pounding on the outside making it easy to ignore. The cats sat staring at the closed curtains, each bristling. Then came the howls of the neighbor’s dog. It was snarling with rage. Even still, it could’ve been ignored. It was an eventful storm, loud and showing the wrath of nature. Nature screaming at the impending violation of his presence? The words brought me to pause, literally as I was watching a movie. “Oh (expletive) the door is locked.”

Immediately I sprang into action, my immobile body trapping me with the slowness that comes with adrenaline. My hands shook as I dialed first the Security office at the apartment, then the police. Someone had tried to enter. I couldn’t tell if it was my Ex. I knew it was. The cats ignore most strangers but fear him. In fact every day I still find new shades of things he has done. Today I learned that William answers to curse words.

The operator for 911 asked me to stay on the line. I appreciated that, I felt like I was going to pass out from panic. I didn’t tell her. If I said it, it acknowledged the part of me that had to wait. She had answered the phone before and remembered my voice, and that alone was comfort. Another bang came, and I heard the van driving up to the front. There were some thuds… then he was inside. It lasted for a split second, I never even saw him. The Security officer was there, and the police came as quickly as they could. The storm slowed them. I listened to the howl and watched my cats rage.

What happened? Using his key he broke into my storage unit, then he forced the door to open with brute force. The cats hid, and I risked pain by rolling off of my spot and crawling behind the wall space. I didn’t cry. I will probably when I lay down. I can’t yet. Everything is still to fresh. It’s been five hours and I just sit here. I finished my movie, I called people.

There is of course more to this story, but, he came again. I had just started to feel safe. The police told me I may not open my windows or doors, they will be watching the apartment as they can but any other crisis will pull them away. This will last until I move. I know too, now that there are two warrants for his arrest. I asked if I could write about that, and they said “Sure. If he reads it he may turn himself in, which will make his punishment much less.”

He did get away with some things. He took a few of my wheelchair accessories but not the wheelchair. I had started to feel safe. The complacency of having a moving date in mind and being about to pay my deposit via the help of my friend M, it left me feeling safe. I am still imagining. I am not just staring at the walls but I am browsing online stores and imagining what items may look like in my home and my yard.

I am (expletive) terrified. I should be. The idiot (yes I am just going to call him what he seems to be) first broke into the wrong apartment. The neighbor’s dog went after his balls and he may or may not have a serious groin injury. The neighbor did not see his face but was fairly certain it was him. They also called the police. Other neighbors heard the barking and looked outside. A total of six different neighbors and myself called in but he still escaped.

I do feel safer knowing that they didn’t ignore it. I have some balls I got for free with a bag of catfood, I am not sure why they were giving dog toys away but, I had been intending to give them to a service dog I know. Now they will be one less. The officer hand delivered the tennis ball for me, because that dog saved my life. I would’ve ignored it. I’ve felt like a crazy woman jumping at every sound.

It has worn me down so far, that I cannot even comprehend saftey. It feels like this distant dream. The concept that I could be safe? It’s a sweet torture. I can’t stop imagining it but now it feels like the worst idea ever. I do not want to sleep in my bed, it smells bad and I am afraid, one of the neighbors reported a gun.

Because he entered the storage unit and only he and I have a key, it was deemed beyond a reasonable doubt that he broke in. The police are going to make my landlord fix my door first thing in the morning, and security is parked out front. I know they will protect me but, I cannot stop the fear. None the less, I know I did the right thing. The police were impressed with my ability to protect myself. I will be feeling the effects for days.

In fact I never would have known he had entered the storage shed if I had not leaned on the door to keep my balance. I felt it shift and we all heard the lock click. I checked because they suspected he was hiding in side, but no such luck.

I do know this will help me with my restraining order. I go to court Wednesday at 9:45 AM. If he reads this maybe he will show up. He can tell them it’s all in my head.

I keep replaying the moment where he penetrated my home, there was a crackling sound, the door still closes now but he forced the locking mechanism through the wood, which was already damaged enough it looks whole. I felt myself stop, the cats were bolting away so I rolled and felt the most pain I have in a long time. I know nothing is broken that wasn’t before, and I will be bruised but, if I had been in his line of sight I might be dead.

I can’t wait to move. The good news is my friend who is helping me with the rent and deposit this month, so I can get out of Dodge has also replaced my waterbed mattress and has given me bedding. This means when I move I will sleep that first night in a bed that is full of clean instead of the decrepit filfth. I may even leave the mold filled waterbed here with the bags of his belongings. I no longer plan to try returning them to him. I will abandon it.

If you are wondering how bad the bed is, let me just say that the smell fills the entire house, and both K and myself have been taking benedryl so that we can breathe, the cats too. When I lay down it crunches, and sometimes it stabs me hard enough I can’t find a spot to rest on. I have no bedding as it is, and the poor man wound up having to replace everything except my bed frame. My ex found a way to ruin everything he could.

I will eventually post the wishlists here, though I may hide my really outlandish jewelry wishlist from you all. I decided to just make a list of anything pretty I may someday want, ignoring the fact most of it is over priced and I would never buy it.

Thank you all again for your support. I want to use this moment to draw your attention to a blog post that reminded me that this would’ve been way better if I wasn’t disabled. I wouldn’t have to fight for any police response. Tonight has been the major exception and not the rule. I had probably the best officer on the entire APD show up. So, here it is. This too has a trigger warning but it’s worth it.

Calling all Politicians

Sometimes you have to pick up the phone and call people. I personally hate telephones. I barely can hear the people on the other end, there is this whine, and not being able to see their faces makes me nervous. What if I cannot hear them? I hate the constant what what whating. It makes me feel inept.

My Person found me a speaker phone, as our cheap little workable phone doesn’t have one, and I was not answer any calls. I just shut down the communications line and went lalalala when the phone rang. I would of course call back if someone left a voice mail, eventually. Some people are important enough to endure the evil phone for. Myself included.

This morning I decided to call my Senators and Congressman to find out what their opinions on Non dog Service animals are. I also shared my need for my cat. This is in response to Obama giving more time before the vote being cast on the DOJ’s pending ADA regulations that would ban the use of any species other than dogs as service animals. The exact regulation in question is “Title III Regulation 28 CFR Part 36: Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability by Public Accommodations and in Commercial Facilities.

This is the very regulation that lead to a comments threat and began my Blogging. The first call was the hardest. I dialed the long distance number to Washington, waited for the phone to ring. Instead of a ring a voice came out, “Martin Heinreich’s office.” I froze, then Toastmaster’s instinct took over. After explaining my call I was given a number that would get me faster results. Calling that, I had a conversation with a young man, who is likely older than I am, and educated him on why this law is discriminatory. He became excited, and impassioned. He told me he will fight for me and others with nondog service animals. I found this video at anotherĀ  blog. The big event showing her stupidity is at 8:40. At that point you are likely to lose any respect you had for this woman.

I do admit some regulation needs to be made with in the service animal laws to protect service animal users from the Fakers such as Rosie O’Donnell destroying the little respect we service animal users get. I am lucky that most people when protesting my use of a service animal hesitate on the grounds of never seeing a cat who is well trained or can handle the duties and tasks given, but, mine is almost always on her best behavior.

All service animals have bad days. Usually Sprite gets one day off a week. Her first day out after her month of serious illness was a hard day, but, she behaved admirably. Indeed, when I started my phone calls both she and Mr.Shakespurr came and listened. Sprite, upon hearing one of the aides to the second senator protest her existence tried to hang up the phone. I barely caught her paw. I explained her, in terms they could understand. “I can’t bend or walk. I use a wheelchair. She can be an extra long arm for me, or if I drop something, I do not have to wait for someone else to get it. She returned my life and independence to me.” I think the last sentence had the biggest impact.

Six phone calls for three politicians later and I feel good. I am going to help them understand that not all dogs make good service animals and some people need alternatives. I used the phrases, “It is discrimination to vote for this bill, what about those of us with serious allergies to dogs? Should we be further handicapped by this?” Most of the workers held passion. They reflected my own zeal and none of them treated me as if I was not important.

I also called the Mayor’s office and for once found someone who was intelligent and understanding about my call. He made a promise last year to train the local police on how to handle an ADA disturbance. I am often reported to the police as if my rights are a crime, and am tired of their enforcing the negative behavior. I am no criminal, I just want to buy groceries and live a normal life. I am now waiting on the return call, there is an assigned person, responsible for this. This is progress.

The added joy, a rarity with any form of politics and telephones, either alone or together, is the joy of telling someone. “Hang on, I am talking with my Senator.” It isn’t getting to say that which causes the joy, it is the discussion that follows after the call about why I am calling a politician. Why is it important to advocate for my rights? To make my voice heard? Because, if I do not speak up, no one else will speak for me.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Advocacy (Trigger Warning)

In conversation with one of my young friends I had a revelation. This was about thirty seconds ago. Sometimes advocating triggers flashbacks while I am trying to function. My mind lept then to other people who have to self advocate through PTSD symptoms. It isn’t always a flash back. If you do not have PTSD it might be harder for you to understand being jerked around by past trauma. Therefore I am going to explain, and this is why there is a trigger warning on this post. Sometimes reading about PTSD or other issue related things can trigger people.

This is not from the DSM (Diagnostic Manual thingy) but is from my experience. I may leave things out that apply to you or tell you things that don’t. The problem with labels is they are often not enough to truly explain what something means. Lets say someone shoots a gun. My first impulse is to be very still, not breathing, and praying that my father won’t make the shot. Even typing that sentence my head went into the land of fuzz and my chest is tight. I am taking slow breaths to focus and clear my mind. The trigger is not always a gun but just a loud pop. My brain is stuck on certain points of the abuse I suffered, it has a programmed loop that it likes to play. I have warning symptoms for my flashbacks now, and can often circumvent them.

My reality is in jeopardy from these loops. the weakest symptom is a tingle, intense fear, sometimes I start randomly bleeding. Why do I bleed? One theory a psychologist offered is somatic symptomalogy. Basically my body remembers, and it reacts so strongly to what my brain signals, that it thinks it is injured. This adds to the pain I feel. The pain from invisible injuries is far from phantom. I feel it. The next step after that is the sensation that I am floating, I disassociate and can see the entire world, but I am not connected to it. Usually I then go back in time. I see and feel at the same time, from multiple vantage points my father with his brand new gun, me and my siblings on the couch. I feel the cold metal of the gun pressing against my forehead. My nose stings with the tears I cannot shed.

The loud bang comes, I feel the heat of the bullet, my skin is burned by muzzle flash and I feel a horrible pain as the bullet grazes my temple. I don’t move. I don’t scream. I just stare up into that black hole, smoke pouring out of it and avoid looking into my father’s eyes, knowing he is going to be angry that he missed. I hear every word he screams again, how worthless I am, how I should be dead and must have moved. My sister starts to scream, my brother too but I can’t move. I look into his eyes and I see the blackness.

I still do not remember what happens next, though I have been told he decided to shoot at my sister, but I pushed her aside. I just know he tried to shoot his children, sitting on a couch that smelled like pee, and nearly killed his neighbor because the bullet went off. The cops were called but I took the blame. I said I was playing with his gun when it went off. I lied, to survive.

When I come back to myself I always want to vomit. Instead I focus on breathing. If the nausea is really bad I will take some Rolaids. Sometimes now, after years of effort, I let myself cry. Usually I manage a tear but my brain has yet to grasp the concept of tears. If I am not at home, it is worse to recover. At home I control my environment, I have a bed to curl up in, two soft fluffy cats, and my Person can go elsewhere more easily giving me the time I need to recover.

When I am advocating and flash back, I never know what to do. I try different things, and usually they work but the vulnerability can be debilitating. I flashed back my first time having to seriously advocate to that scene. That is why I chose to relate it to try and explain what PTSD is like. I wish I had simpler words but none can encapsulate just how much there is to it. Sometimes the flashes are different, sometimes I am still an adult but I am trapped, it is worse in some ways because I still feel the pain but I am completely aware that my world has vanished. I am never certain if I am going to hurt someone. I have before, but it has been a long time.

That first taste of advocacy was so bitter. The cops came, and one fondled his gun and my brain shut down. I was afraid, in pain and exhausted. I was being yelled at and deprived of my prescription because I needed my service animal. The cops even saw Sprite follow her training. When I flash she has three tasks, beyond her instinct to comfort me. First, she signals to my Person for help. Sometimes a conversation can end it. So she chirruped at the person of the day, and I had to form the words, “I need you to deal with them for me. I can’t.” Then, she helps me to sit. I had to wait fifteen minutes for a chair, I wanted to scream at them but I tried to stay calm. I was hyperventilating, they took this as my being dramatic. Then, she moves to my shoulder. Her instinct is to sit on my chest, but she might get flung there, I do not handle pressure on my chest well even when not panicking or flashing. Her instincts tell her to purr, to rub with just her face against mine. This grounds me.

The police threatened to arrest me if I did not leave the facility. I knew enough to know they couldn’t but they refused to acknowledge that I had rights. I couldn’t fight, but I had to. I chose then to repeat the law over and over. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t see their real faces for half the time. All I saw was my father and his eyes that reflected no light.

What can you do if you have PTSD and are an advocate? Here is the how to portion.

Step 1. Before you get to the point of advocating, have a support structure. This is a difficult process, because not every person can truly understand what it is to lose your reality. You need to have someone you trust availible, at least to call.

Step 2. If you have medications used to treat the symptoms of your PTSD in an emergency make sure to carry them with you, to keep a back up dose with your support person, and to keep your doctors number handy.

Step 3. Create a kit of items that help forestall your flashbacks. Nothing works for me beyond my cat. I can give her the signal she is trained for when i feel the warnings coming and ground. This is all I have right now, beyond my Person. No meds, just those two.

Step 4. Remember to breathe. Sometimes if you focus on just breathing you can help yourself.

Step 5. If you flash back during advocacy, try and focus on the responses that do not match the memory. This has worked for others, pulling them out.

Step 6. Advocate anyway. I did get the illegal policy over turned at the Pharmacy where I was threatened with arrest. I had to fight for a long time to do it, but, they relented. It is worth it even though it you might feel endangered or might BE endangered by your flashbacks.

Step 7. If you have to, stop. This opposes Step 6. Not every incident can be worked through. You might need to call your therapist, you might need to let your support person advocate for you. This is not a failing, this is merely the team network that advocacy should be.

I am glad to write this how to. I never considered how important it could be, but, in my mind my broken back, my asthma, and my failing eyes are not my most dangerous disability. The worst disability I have is PTSD. At times during flashbacks I have hurt myself, my friends, and reliving the painful memories can also cost me emotional, physical, or mental progress.

Keep in mind the time you are most fragile is just after a flash back. Some people can be triggered more easily, often it is easier to react in rage. Do not minimize your pain either. It is okay to cry, scream, and sometimes to just walk away.

I have done all of the above. Not every incident with advocating will cause a flashback either. Most of my time advocating I am left with memories of victory. My first taste of advocacy is as sweet as it is bitter, because I still succeeded, despite my unabiding terror of these men. My greatest cause was also revealed to me. I am actively fighting to get the local police trained in how to deal with enforcing the ADA. I want my rights protected, I do not want to fear being put in jail, dumped out of my wheelchair and my service animal being put into Animal Control’s care.

That was the threat, and so often is. My heart goes out to any other advocates who suffer from PTSD. I know each person’s PTSD is varied, some may not flash back, some might just panic. Others might not be able to stop their flashes. You can still advocate. Just prepare yourself as best you can.

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