Sunday, June 30, 2013

Individualism and Parenting - Part 3

After reading these first 2 parts (part 1 and part 2),  I hope that by now you are looking at what your life was like growing up. How much space did your parents give you to grow personally? Did you find more often than not that you were allowed to make your own decisions in some matters?

As many who know me know, I was raised a Jehovah's Witness and was actively a member for over 20 years of my life. I started door-to-door or "field service" ministry work at age 3 doing a small tract presentation with a parent or another adult.

I was given a short presentation to learn over the week's time and I went out and did my thing on Saturday mornings and Sunday afternoons. By age 4, I was reading short scriptures that had been added to my "presentations." I was already reading when I entered kindergarten and I seemed to stay ahead of the class in language arts and comprehension for several years following. When I was around 7, I gave my first talk/presentation in front of the congregation during the Theocratic School that was held on Thursday nights. It was a short presentation reenacting a conversation out in "field service" as I presented the new "My book of Bible Stories." Honestly, even at that time, I enjoyed the art in the book more than the false "truths" the book held as stories.

While reading, comprehension and my oral presentations seemed to be getting more focus in my daily life, it wasn't all I enjoyed doing and learning. I loved art, math and science even more so but they never seemed to get that much attention. We didn't have crayons, coloring books or paints at home - it was only at my grandparents' house that I can remember being able to use them before getting into school.

The next few years progressed much the same with more focus being on reading the religious publications almost daily. I gave 1-2 talks each month and even subbed  or volunteered at last minutes notice a few over the years. When I entered  junior high,  I was forewarned about the many temptations I needed to prepare myself for.

"Don't get involved with other group activities; they will confuse you and try to turn you away from Jehovah."

These included all clubs and sports programs, hanging out after class to talk with classmates and so on. I even found myself purposely sitting alone or with other Witnesses in study hall for fear that any of the other Witnesses might see me talking to a non-Witness. This was very stressful at times as I had become popular being the "new kid in town" with sun bleached hair and an almost permanent tan. Most thought I was a "surfer kind" that had moved to a landlocked state and they were, of course, curious. Little did they know that it was from being out in the sun every weekend going door to door.

Once it was known that I was a Witness, the fame faded and was replaced with avoidance. Witnesses were loathed in this area as I found out the summer before 8th grade. I had just turned 13 and was out in field service going door-to-door in a small neighborhood inside the city limits. I mention those details because it was not where I expected the following to happen at all.

An excerpt from my upcoming book: "We approached the door as any other I had in the past 10 years. I made observations of the yard and the dog on the side porch that was leashed to the steps by a chain. I remember seeing the little wooden windmills in the yard that were for sale. I knocked on the door and took a half-step back so that both of us could be seen when the homeowner approached the half glass door. I heard the footsteps come at a quick pace the door unlocked and swung open. I no sooner turned my head towards the door to start my salutations and presentation when I focused rather quickly on the double-barrel shotgun that was pointed at my face. We kindly and quickly made our apologies for disturbing him and made our exit posthaste"

My heart speeds up just remembering that day. A day that could have ended much worse and a day that should have never happened to me or anyone else.We were told the stories about Witnesses being persecuted for their faith. There was even a video made about the "purple triangle" the symbol used to identify Jehovah's Witnesses who were captured and persecuted in concentration camps. I had also been taught to believe that I too would one day be hunted down and persecuted for my faith in my lifetime. After facing down the barrel of a gun, I began to weigh these things in my mind and debate if it was all worth being shot or killed over. This was the beginning of my doubt in religion - that much I know now.

So what would my life had been like had I been raised in a secular parenting model? As I stated before I might been able to avoid a crash course on life in real world.

Part 4 will wrap up this series and hopefully draw them all together.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Tweenky's Pregnancy Aftermath and Recovery

Ever since my appearance on the Godless Bitches podcast, I've had some people ask me about the aftermath of my near-fatal pregnancy and my recovery. In order to answer these questions more fully and dispel the myth that pregnancy is harmless, I've decided to write an detailed account. Some of this may be slightly misremembered or garbled but it's the best I can do. You may also want to read Nathan's account here.

When I awoke from the coma, the first thing I registered was the bag of platelets hanging to the left of my head. I immediately knew I was in trouble - that something major had happened - but I wasn't scared. I didn't feel any emotion. I remember seeing Nathan, then my mom and my sister. I remember thanking them for making the 6 hour drive to come see me. They looked exhausted and distraught but that didn't register. I was too thirsty to care about anything. My mouth was drier than I've ever felt before and it was unbearable. I begged for fluids but they told me that I couldn't have anything to drink until the fetus was delivered. I didn't care. I continue to beg and bitch until a nurse let me have a sip of Sprite Zero so I'd shut up.

Once I got a little relief (and believe me, that was temporary), I asked what had happened. They explained that I had HELLP Syndrome which I was not really familiar with. I was down to 30,000 platelets (normal level is 150,000 to 450,000) and the transfusion was my only hope. They explained that our son was already dead and that I couldn't have a proper drink until he was delivered.

I told them to cut me open. C-section NOW! My brain wasn't working right. It didn't dawn on me that with such a low platelet count, I might bleed out were they to cut me open. All I knew was that I was painfully thirsty. I argued and griped about it until they let me have another sip. My fuzzy mind spun trying to understand the biochemistry going on. What was happening to my platelets? Where were they going? It just didn't make sense.*

I looked up at the collection of bags on the poles and saw one labeled "pitocin." I knew that one. I followed the lines down to my arm and saw the tubes go into the side of my arm near the elbow - not the traditional place for an IV. I looked quizzically at Nathan and he explained I had a PIC line (peripherally inserted catheter). They had used an x-ray machine to insert a tube into my arm that lead to my heart. From it they could send medication and draw blood without further sticking me. I blessed them for that. I hate needles.

They rolled me over and gave me a vaginal suppository, a prostaglandin that would help me dilate and get this over with. This is a medication that was originally planned to be banned under the Mississippi "personhood" amendment 26. I think that's when I realized I had a catheter. I chalked it up as another victory that I'd been too busy dying to feel it going in. I asked about it and Nathan told me my kidneys had started shutting down and I was passing reddish-brown urine. Gross.

That's about the time I noticed that something was wrong with my vision. I could see spots everywhere, gaps in my skin and the wall. I looked at my arms and realized I was terribly swollen all over. My eyes had swelled and that was causing the weird spots. I didn't care. I was too thirsty to care.

I felt it when my water broke. It was a wonderful relief - the way you feel when you've been holding a full bladder for ages and you finally get to go. They dialed up my morphine but I didn't care. I didn't feel any pain or fear. I felt the medication hit my heart and I remember thinking, "This is what morphine feels like? It's not worth the bother." 

Delivery was pretty quick. There was all the "push, push, PUSH" that you hear in the movies. There wasn't any pain, just pressure. I delivered lackadaisically, really only caring about getting something to drink.

Then they laid my son in my arms. I looked at him. I thought I saw him move.

"Did he move?" I asked? "I thought I saw him move."

No, they told me. You're shaking.

I looked at him again. I held him but I don't remember touching him. I sat still while the family took pictures. My mother and sister were openly sobbing. I don't remember what Nathan was doing. I might as well not have been there.

They took him a few short minutes later and asked how we wanted to dispose of him. I jumped in with cremation. I was adamant. I was consigning my son to the flames. I was designating him as "medical waste." It sounds horrid but all I could think of was that I was not going to let my mother get his tiny body and bury it at her church so that she could have a perpetual monument to grief and guilt. I was not going to let her use my son to manipulate me into going to church. I was not going to let her claim an inch of my son for Christ.

He was born free and he died free. I am not chained to his grave. I experience him every day in his father, in the air I breathe, and in my continued existence.

I spent the weekend in the hospital recovering quickly. Although my physical recovery was remarkable, my mental recovery was far less so. I was considered a very high suicide risk and the nurses counselled Nathan that I would have to be watched for a very long time. Strangely enough, suicide hasn't crossed my mind since that day. I've never had a stronger, sharper will to live. But my life was bought at a heavy price and I'm not yet sure how much more I'll be asked to pay.

Although the brain scans showed no permanent damage, my cognitive abilities have been impaired. I don't remember things very well any more. I don't type or spell as well as I did in the past. I often get my words mixed up or I blank out when I speak. 

My blood pressure is an absolute wreck. Without two types of medication each day, my blood pressure will skyrocket and I will die. I take both Bystolic and Lisinopril to deal with it.

I suffered some nerve damage in my legs that got better over time. I have restless leg syndrome but, with exercise and a massage pad, I deal with it well. It took me a year to fully be able to walk again. I had to use a cane sometimes for the first year but I was damned and determined to get rid of it. Now I can walk around a Walmart Supercenter without stopping to rest.

I gained weight during my convalescence (but only because Nathan fixed my meals and made me eat) and that has not come off. I'm still working on it. Nathan still fixes my meals and rations out my medication. I don't trust myself with medication since my last overdose and hospitalization in 2010. He also encourages me and helps me continue moderate exercise. I'm taking Victoza injections to control my type 2 diabetes and I have a pill I can take to help with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The pill doesn't really help much.

The worst impairment I've suffered is mental. I dealt with survivor's guilt a lot that first year but I never really grieved. I still haven't. I don't know if it was the morphine or what, but my emotions never really came back. I've had a precious few bouts of breakthrough crying but they feel just as fake and forced as the smile I wear. My morality is solely a product of my rational thought; it's something I choose to do and not something I feel. If I were living according to my feelings, I would be in prison because I feel no empathy or kinship any more. I am kind because I choose to be. I do what's right because it's for the best.

The schizoaffective disorder is what won me my permanent disability and it will likely never go away. Although the hallucinations and delusions of the schizophrenia are generally well controlled, I do hear breakthrough voices and sometimes feel paranoia. Sometimes I think the walls and floors are folding in on me. Sometimes I get the feeling that there is still a divine hand on me that sustains me and make me strong.  I struggle to accept these as biochemical anomalies and not as fact. Although my life is better without the voices, I miss them and the richness they gave my life. I take Seroquel to combat the psychotic symptoms.

The bipolar part of the equation has been more difficult. I'm currently suffering through a major depressive episode. I don't feel sad or worthless too much though I remember times when I did very vividly. I do not feel suicidal thanks to my Lexapro. What I do feel is rage. Sometimes it's focused, sometimes not. There are times when it takes everything I have not to slam my fist through glass or the wall for no reason. I live in fear of my next manic episode because each one is a harsh test of my relationships, my abilities, and my character.

And finally, I can never get pregnant again without dying. I'm on the pill right now even though the risk is higher at my age for blood clots and such. Now that I have Medicare, I'm planning to schedule an Essure procedure. They'll take some corkscrews and put them in my Fallopian tubes. The tubes will scar up and close thus making me permanently sterile. Even with Medicare, there will be deductibles and copays so it's a work in progress.

This is my life now. I've lost so much and I feel like I have little to show for it. There is a lot of potential guilt in thinking that you're so pathetic you can't even have a baby right. I've combated that by sharing my story and fighting against both anti-choicers and mental health bigots. I've put just about everything publicly on the line, opening up myself to some ridicule and risk (if you can believe that), so that people will know how dangerous and disabling pregnancy can be. That doesn't make me a hero but it does give me a reason to keep going. I'll never be a shining star in the movement or a big name but I will do what I can to educate, encourage, and support my fellow humans.

I don't do it because it feels gratifying. I do it because I've decided it's right...and doing right is how I choose to spend my remaining hard-won days.

*As I understand it, HELLP causes platelets to clot within the blood vessels. As these platelets form their sticky clotting webs inside the vessels, red blood cells get trapped and ripped apart. So you lose platelet availability from the internal clotting and you lose red blood cells from them being torn up. Hence:

(L)iver Enzymes
(P)latelet Count

Thursday, June 13, 2013

2013 Beat the Heat Campaign

It's time for our second annual "Beat the Heat" campaign in which we pool our resources to buy air conditioners for needy families in the Northeast Mississippi area.

This year we will add a very special out-of-state family to our wish list. This family needs a portable unit to meet the needs of their young son. Portable units are more expensive than the small window units we provided last year but the unit we'd like to donate will serve as additional cooling and heating for them throughout the year. In addition, the portable unit will be able to go where their young son is instead of confining the family to a single room.

This event can only happen with your help. The wonderful community at the "Friendly Atheist" blog really came through for us last year. This year, we hope more of you can help. As before, we will have a Paypal widget on the sidebar for you to donate. And as before, we will give a full accounting of the money we raise and how we used it (receipts, photographs, etc.). Any money left over after the air conditioner purchases will be used to buy school supplies for needy children in the area.

Please support our campaign financially if you are able. If you can't, then please spread the word and encourage those who are able. Mississippi has a lot of problems and a lot of poverty. We can't fix it all but we can provide some measure of comfort and safety for those who have none.

Thank you for your support!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Individualism and Parenting - part 2

Picking up where I left off in the previous part here.

"It is like bringing home your math homework only to have a parent give you all the answers - way more time to play outside but did that child really learn how to do the math on their own? Not at all. So when it comes time in class to do those same problems and then has to show his work, he will not have the knowledge to do it. Not only that, he may be embarrassed in front of his friends and labeled a cheater for not having done the work himself."

Sound too extreme?

It happens and I have seen it in class personally. A child became a lonesome and depressed little girl for most of the school year. She was only a little bit better off only because her friends were playing with her again and not calling her a cheater. She still wasn't learning at the same pace or level most of the class was and this required a parent/teacher conference. Apparently, her after-school dance recitals were more important to her parents than her foundation-building education. So what happens when she injures her leg or is physically incapable of continuing to dance at an older age?

Even more damning, what will the emotional scars be like when she falls behind in class, fails a grade or worse - gives up and quits school? With nothing to fall back on, she will now have a hard life and learn the many lessons to come harshly.

Well, as it would happen, I recently caught up with her family and learned why we hadn't heard from her in so long. I had moved away shortly after graduation, as many of us do, and had lost touch with a few of my classmates. This is one such case and I wish that we had kept in touch.

She barely finished high-school, spent a few summers with tutors and summer school over the years to keep up. It wasn't so much that she had learning issues as much as it was what she did actually learn was not enough to keep her up with the rest of the class.

After high school her mother, who owned and operated a dance studio, had her continue learning ballet and work at the studio teaching younger children. This was the case for a few years until her mother suddenly passed and she took over the studio. She struggled to handle the daily operations of the business and eventually had to give up her own ballet lessons after breaking her leg in an accident. This made it even harder for her as she had to hire someone else to teach while she recovered.

These chain of events and the economy downfall hit her hard as more and more parents were giving up on extras like dance lessons for their children. She was unable to make rent and eventually lost the business. This hit her pretty hard since she knew her mother had put a lot into it over the years. Now it was gone and she had no income and no real skills outside of ballet and dance to depend on.

Her father soon passed about 7 months after these events unfolded and that was all she could take. Sadly she took her own life at age 29 because she felt she had nothing else to offer the world and no skills to land a job.

I do not know everything about her situation except what I have learned from family and close friends that were there. I can not blame her lack of education solely for her life's demise since there are to many other things that led her that way. But I would like to think that, if she had been given better direction and some individual choice, she would have seen a different path than the one she chose.

I do, however, blame the fact that she had no individual freedom to make her own choices. She was forced down a path that left her with nothing to fall back on. I would like to think that if she had been given a choice to focus more on education, this would have turned out better. 

I understand that she may have wanted to learn ballet at a young age, but her parents should have seen the need for some balancing of time spent between school and ballet. It seems selfish of her parents to strip her freedom and force her down that path.