Voyeurs Wanted!

I have always had a bit of a thing for the macabre, whether it’s creepy old buildings, abandoned cemeteries, or dusty old antique shops. I’m also interested in the history of mental heath care, which at times has more closely resembled torture than treatment.

When Dipper sent me a link to The Order of the Good Death, I was intrigued. Through The Order, Caitlin works to bring a better understand of death to people. She is a proponent of making death a more natural part of our culture again, instead of it being cold and distant. Caitlin believes that if the family has more involvement in the funerary process, it helps the grieving process, and allows us to take an honest look at death and dying. Unfortunately it’s an experience none of us are going to avoid.

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes is an account of Caitlin’s first experience with death and the way it shaped the woman she would become. She writes about how she became part of the funeral business. When she first starts out, her ideas of a more commercialized, and almost candy-coated funeral home are well-intentioned, but not necessarily practical. As she gains more experience in the field and insight into the ways in which we mourn, she eventually comes to believe the direct opposite. Caitlin becomes an advocate of family involvement, believing that it’s healthier to confront death as a natural part of life. Having experienced three funerals close together a year ago, I can completely understand where she’s coming from. Spending time taking care of the body and preparing it for burial or cremation is a very intimate process.

She also explores different death rituals from other cultures and time periods. Rituals like mummification weren’t just done for the hell of it, but had meaning for the people involved and the community as a whole. Caitlin points out that over the last few decades we as a culture have developed a deep phobia of death, and have driven to make it almost impersonal. She also advocates exploring more than just the standard burial or cremation. There are now other options such as turning your cremated body into the container for a tree seed, or the pros and cons of donating your body to science. She also points out on numerous occasions about the damage done when we turn our backs on the natural process of dying.

While all of this may sound purely clinical, it’s a frank and intimate discussion about death, written by a witty and insightful narrator who has personal experience in the field. She also livens up her narrative by interjecting stories from her own career, be they humorous or sad. It’s well worth looking into both her book and her website.

On her website, under Death Positive, you will find a pledge you can sign if you wish to become part of the Order. It’s not a gimmick or a plea for funding. It’s an 8 point summation of the ideas of Death Positive, and The Order of the Good Death in general. If you’re wondering, yes, I signed the pledge. I agree with Caitlin – death is not something that should be hidden behind closed doors or pushed out of the cultural consciousness. It’s part of the natural balance – we are born, we grow and live and experience, and then we die. Asking questions about death should be encouraged, and we should work as a society to dispel the disinformation surrounding death and it’s processes.

I can’t praise Smoke Gets in Your Eyes enough. Caitlin is a solid writer who, pardon the bad pun, is attempting to breathe new life into our perception of death and dying. She is by no means disrespectful, and clearly has spent time researching her subject to the point of mastery. I am looking forward to her new book, From Here to Eternity, which will be released on October 3, 2017. If you’re interested in hearing her speak, check out the website. There are speaking engagements on the West Coast (which I would give my right thumb to attend!)

I finally found it!

Back when I was in high school, one of my English teachers kept a small bookshelf with different books for us to read if we had nothing to occupy ourselves with. One day I started a book that I didn’t get to finish, but wished I had. I’ve been searching for this particular book off and on for years, but it’s hard to find a book when all you can remember is that the cover was white, and some guy on a plane literally exploded with Ebola. Not exactly the best description to go by!

Surprisingly enough, Dipper recognized the book by my description. He told me I was looking for The Hot Zone by Richard Preston. He also forewarned me that it wasn’t the greatest piece of literature he’d ever read, but if I was that interested that it had stayed with me, I might as well read it.

A couple weeks ago my job took me to a local hospital that isn’t within the usual system I work. One of the unspoken bonuses of working in hospital systems is that most of the gift shops offer a cart of used books for sale. I love used books! On this particular day I was lucky. I found In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Maté, MD, which is about addiction. It’s a relatively thick book and sounds really interesting. I have some small experience with addiction, as my aunt was a very dedicated alcoholic.

The other book was The Hot Zone. At long last, I had found it! Granted, it was a severely beaten copy, but for 50 cents and charity at a hospital, you simply can’t go wrong! I purchased both books, and since it was a Friday, I was able to finish my current read at home and begin The Hot Zone.

The Hot Zone started off pretty confusing, because there was much talk of Marburg as well as Ebola Zaire and Ebola Sudan. Until reading this book, I don’t believe I was ever fully aware that there were enough strains of Ebola for one to be considered worse than the other. I also had no idea where Marburg fit into the equation. As it turns out, they’re all filoviruses. Filoviruses look stringy under a microscope, and cause hemorrhaging in people and primates. They’re also called “the three sisters” because of how they are related in terms of structure and effect on a living body.

The first part of the book went into the differences in the filoviruses, as well as some information on how they were discovered. I found that extremely interesting, but since I wasn’t expecting it to cover the different viruses, I was lost a few times and had to backtrack. In retrospect, I’m really glad Preston covered the viruses in the beginning, because I also got used to terminology that he would use later. For instance, I had no idea that when sick with a hemorrhagic disease, a body is considered to “crash out” when it is so completely consumed by the virus that it basically collapses, turns to mush, and spreads the virus. Preston also does a really good job of explaining the different levels of clearance when working with viruses. Level 4 is the killer stuff – Ebola, Marburg, Lassa. In other words, the nasty shit.

After this run-through and backstory, The Hot Zone shifts it’s focus to Ebola Reston. This strain was discovered in Reston, Virginia in a building that housed monkeys used in research. I don’t want to ruin the whole book for any potential readers, but I will say this. Once the story hones in on Ebola Reston, it’s easy to see parallels between the story and the 1995 movie Outbreak, starring Dustin Hoffman, Renee Russo, Morgan Freeman, Cuba Gooding Jr, Kevin Spacey, and Donald Sutherland. (While I’m at it – it’s a super cheeseball movie but one of my favorites. I highly recommend that you watch it!)

There are some parts of The Hot Zone that are really confusing, and I would have preferred if Preston followed a chronological timeline for the viruses in the beginning, rather than skipping around. As someone not terribly familiar with these viruses, it made understanding their origins difficult. However, once Preston switched to Ebola Reston, I found the book much better written and easier to follow. The pace also picked up, making it a page-turner. I appreciate the fact that Preston conducted several interviews with the people involved in the outbreak of Reston, as well as the other filoviruses, because it gave the book an edge. Instead of guessing how people felt or what their motivations were, he had knowledge from the interviews.

Overall I liked The Hot Zone, and it’s spurred me into a serious kick. I have purchased several other books on Ebola, HIV, and other diseases. I am also on a binge for virus-themed movies. Be forewarned – there will be a bit of a sidetrack into the viral for the next few posts!

 

Shame and Forgiveness

Recently the majority of my posts have been geared towards The Mental Health Corner more than they have the horror side of my life. One of the reasons for this is that I find it extremely cathartic to work out my feelings in a blog post. The main reason is that I hope that these posts will help someone who reads them. I think anxiety, depression, and many other mental illnesses are still the realm of myth for many people. They may throw the words around without an understanding of the meaning, or may know someone with a diagnosis, but may not see them in the jaws of their illness.

Last night was rough. Rougher than I’ve known in quite some time. Overall the day wasn’t bad. I went to work (day #34 in a row!) and even made it to see my niece play soccer. I sat field-side with my brother, and we had a great time talking while she played. (If you’re wondering, she rocked it in goal again.) I snagged a few pics with my niece, and she asked how many games I was planning on going to. Dipper answered for me because I was flabbergasted. It never crossed my mind to go to any less than every game I could. After the game, I stopped at a local nursery and purchased a gorgeous morning glory plant and a new watering can. When I got home, I walked Zelda and curled up with Midnight Blue.

It should have been a great day, but all day long I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was worthless. That I didn’t impact anyone around me. The feeling wouldn’t let me be, and around 9pm I lost control. I cried steadily for a few hours. I wound up sending messages to Dipper. At first the messages were affirming. Then the cycle hardcore kicked into gear. I started feeling like I couldn’t express what I meant in a meaningful way, then I was worried I was blathering on. It wound up with me calling Dipper a few times, and him waking up and messaging me. I needed tethering badly, and he assured me that I’m still sister to him, aunt to Phoebe, and wife to Tkout. That the good outweighs the bad. That it’s always worth it. I can’t express how much I needed that. How much I needed to know I mattered. I’d been asking Tkout all day if I was still his wife. If he regrets marrying me. If the hard days give him second thoughts.

The shame usually accompanies a 911 routine with Dipper, but I think last night I was far too exhausted for that. I fell asleep with my eyes burning from the tears and the inner voice telling me if I didn’t get my shit together – and soon – I was going to go well and truly mad.

This morning was tough. I’m writing this from work – Day 35 – and I am so glad it’s the last day of the week. I almost didn’t make it in. I slept poorly and just feel like hiding. I’ve talked to Tkout and Dipper this morning, and they are both going about things like last night never even happened. Tkout told me that’s because these things happen and they both know it.

Today I’m working on the forgiveness aspect of self-care. While I consider myself to be adept at forgiving others, I’m still working on forgiving myself. I’m trying to focus on the fact that these things happen. That I have been worse and haven’t scared anyone off yet. That Tkout, Dipper, and Phoebe have been there through thick and thin. That Tkout and Dipper tell me it’s Ride or Die.

Despite what feels like a colossal setback, I know I am making progress. The anxiety is lying and saying that I’m not getting better. But I know that’s not true. You see, I used to have these 911 attacks multiple times in one day. Let me repeat that. I was having a 5 alarm fire anxiety attack more than once a day. It sucks badly that I broke my streak of not having those kinds of attacks, but I’m thankful it was the first of it’s kind in a long while.

Another part of forgiveness that I’m trying to master is knowing that everyone else moved on. Dipper and Tkout have treated me the same as they have every morning. I’m the only one who seems to still be stuck in the past and worrying over yesterday.