Tag Archives: PTSD

Storytelling Will Save the World… Yes, Even Yours

This is a guest post written by Joshua Rivedal. Read to the end for details on his projects.
Josh Rivedal

Josh Rivedal

Captain’s log, Stardate January 2011. Where unfortunately many have gone before. I’m twenty-six years old and thinking about dying… actually I’m not being entirely truthful. I’m dangling halfway out the fourth floor window of my bedroom in New York City.

I don’t really want to die. I just want the emotional pain to stop… and I don’t know how to do that. Hell, two guys in my life—my father and grandfather—each didn’t know how to make their own terrible personal pain stop and now both were, well, dead.

My grandfather, Haakon—a Norwegian guy who served in the Royal Air Force (35th Squadron as a tail gunner) in World War II—killed himself in 1966 because of the overwhelming post traumatic stress he suffered because of the war.

My father, Douglas—an American guy who was chronically unhappy and an abusive man—killed himself in 2009, the catalyst being a divorce with my mother along with some long-term depression and other mental health issues.

How did I get to such a dismal place in my life so quickly, just a month shy of my twenty-seventh birthday? Coming out of secondary school and high on optimism, I thought by the time I reached my mid-twenties I’d have it all together. After a couple of years singing on Broadway, I would have scored a few bit parts on Law & Order, and transitioned seamlessly to being cast with Will Smith in the summer’s biggest blockbuster. After which, my getaway home in the Hamptons would be featured in Better Homes & Gardens, and my face would grace the cover of National Enquirer as Bigfoot’s not-so-secret lover. Not to mention, I’d have my perfect wife and perfect family by my side to share in my success.

But instead, “perfect” was unattainable (it always is). I only managed to perform in some of small professional theatre gigs and on one embarrassing reality television show; and over the course of the previous eighteen months my father killed himself, my mother betrayed me and sued me for my father’s inheritance, and my girlfriend of six years broke up with me.

This storm of calamity and crisis had ravaged my life… and I wasn’t talking about it to anyone. My silence led to crisis and poor decisions—to the extent that I was hanging out of a fourth story window.

Both Haakon and Douglas suffered their pain in silence because of the stigma surrounding talking about mental illness and getting help. I too felt that same stigma—like I’d be seen as “crazy” or “less of a man” if I talked about what I was going through. But I didn’t want to die and so I had to take a chance.

I started talking. I pulled myself back inside and first called my mom. She helped me through that initial crisis and we became friends again. She never called me “crazy.” I then started reaching out to the positive friends I had in my life. They hugged me and helped me with open arms. They never told me I was “less than a man.” Soon I got more help by seeing a professional counselor, and by writing down what I was going through in a journal.

But this idea of keeping silent continued to bother me. I did some research while in my recovery and found out that each year, suicide kills over one million people worldwide… and that many of those one million never speak up about their emotional pain because of stigma.

Dagnabbit (I totally just said that). I had to figure out a way to reach people like that. So, like any other actor, writer, or comedian living in New York City whose life dealt them a crappy hand, I created a one-man show… and it toured theatres and universities in the United States, Canada, England, and Australia—and people were getting help.

But I had to keep talking because this isn’t just a Rivedal problem or United States problem… it’s a world problem.

I had to get other people to tell their stories, so I started The i’Mpossible Project. Why? Because storytelling is one of our oldest traditions—yes, even older than the hokey pokey. Stories can make us laugh or cry… or both at the same time. They can teach, inspire and even ignite an entire movement.

The stories of The i’Mpossible Project are about overcoming obstacles, reengaging with life, and creating new possibilities—a son’s homicide, a transgender man finding love, and even coming back from the brink of suicide (you can read a couple of the stories HERE)… because it’s okay to be struggling, it’s okay to need help; people have your back… there’s hope.

It’s been four years since my crisis and life is definitely looking up. The acting and writing thing is going well, I have a great girlfriend; but most important I’m able to give and receive help and love, and with hard work I’m able to stay mentally well—all because I took a risk and told my story.

No matter what society says, it’s COOL (as in “okay”) to talk about your feelings. Don’t ever forget that you are important, and your story needs to be heard so we, the human race, can learn how to live and love better. #iampossible #mentalhealth

* * *

Josh Rivedal (founder, executive director of The i’Mpossible Project) is an author, actor, playwright, and international public speaker on suicide prevention, mental health, and diversity. He curated the 50-story inspirational anthology The i’Mpossible Project: Reengaging With Life Creating a New You. He wrote and developed the one-man play, Kicking My Blue Genes in The Butt (KMBB), which has toured extensively throughout the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. He writes for the Huffington Post. His memoir The Gospel According to Josh: A 28-Year Gentile Bar Mitzvah, based on KMBB and published by Skookum Hill in 2013, is on The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s recommended reading list.

Ten Must-Know Facts of Domestic Abuse

My family ~2002

My family ~2002

Domestic abuse is a topic rife with stigma. This terrible phenomenon is all too common. If you know 10 men, and 10 women, you will know (on average) 4 people who have been the victim of domestic violence. That statistic covers sexual and physical abuses, but does not include financial, emotional, or social abuses.

What this comes down to is simple. You know someone who is at risk, or who is (or was) the victim of domestic abuse. There is much to know, but here are the ten facts everyone needs to know. As I cover each point, I will recount the experience our family had between 1999 and 2006.

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It’s My Fault, Can I Fix It?

blame my fault

When I was a kid, I got a glass of water, drank it, and put the cup back in the cupboard. It just had water in it, and I was young enough to not know about germs and invisible ickies. My cousin, however, was quite old enough. He also had a severe case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. After he saw me do this, he was triggered into an episode of hyper-obsession. He washed his hands until they bled. He washed the dishes several times each before considering them “clean”.

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I Dream of Dirk

Painting by John Henry Fuseli Image in the Public Domain

Painting by John Henry Fuseli Image in the Public Domain

Depression kicks me in the nuts on a regular basis. After my revelation yesterday, I think my brain decided to get back at me. I had nightmares regarding my mother’s ex-husband, my family’s number one abuser, Dirk.

I dreamt of endless arguments. I begged, pleaded, raged, and prayed that he would understand. My mother wasn’t a bad person. She was only a bad person when she was with him. My brothers weren’t bad kids, they just needed parents. I needed parents. The dreams did end, but the truths of our childhood, the terrors of my teenage life, they stuck. They haunt me this morning.

Our family wasn’t broken. It lived in fear of Dirk’s rage. Our home wasn’t a place of comfort. It was a battleground. It pitted us against each other. I was placed in an impossible position. I was held responsible for my siblings. I was held responsible for the condition of the house. My brothers were left without true parents, and stuck answering to another kid – me.

If our home wasn’t clean, it was my fault. If my siblings had to clean, it was my fault. If my brothers were beaten because they didn’t clean, I was blamed. Oak and I were held in such an impossible position. Oak did get away. It took a tragedy of betrayal and hatred and terror, but it’s not my story to tell. I, however, was left doing everything I could to keep our lives safe.

It didn’t work. The position I was left in was impossible. I couldn’t be a high school student, a parent, a sibling, and a child, all at once. It doesn’t work that way. It shouldn’t be that way. But that’s what it was. That’s the only life I got. No do-overs. Just painful memories.

Monsoon Season

Via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

This time of year, Arizona is wet. Very, very wet. Yesterday it rained a lot. I drive a teeny little motorscooter and rain doesn’t mix well with safety on two wheels. Yesterday, I had to wait at work until the rain stopped. As soon as it cleared up, I popped on my brain bucket and took off. I did not anticipate a few things, unfortunately.

First of all, Monsoon season means that the weather is mercurial at best. While it was clear for me at work, the storm was still raging an epic battle at my house just a couple of miles away. Waiting at work for the storm to pass was pretty much useless, as the worst parts of the drive are closest to my house.

I also did not plan on getting lost without gps. Because it was raining, I couldn’t use my phone. I also couldn’t take my normal route home, as it is not terribly safe for large cars in the rain. So, I rode through the rain, got lost when I couldn’t read a sign. I thought I was on Vernon, and I was actually on Vermont.

While I was trying to regain my bearings, it began to rain again. Now the rain was coming down hard. Hard enough to hurt through my heavy coat. It was decidedly shitty. It was also coming down fast. I felt my shoes filling up. And cussed myself for not waiting longer.

It took me an extra 15 minutes to get home. For reference, it regularly takes me 5-7 minutes to make the commute.

When I finally got home, it took me about 5 minutes to transition in. I was super drippy, and not thrilled about it. After I was out of cold and wet clothes, and into a warm fluffy robe, the world seemed all right again.

Now, I’m not writing this to bitch. I’m actually writing it because I’m quite thrilled with my progress. Two years ago, I’d have been a quivering ball of panic. Getting wet is hard for me, especially getting rained on. I did end up with nightmares. That’s okay. That’s normal, at least for me. But I kept it together, and made it home safe. I feel like a boss.

Oh, and for the record, hydroplaning on a 200 lb motor vehicle is scary as shit. I hope my fellow Arizonans stay safe this season.

Flash, Bang, Flashbacks

Fireworks burst over Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Joseph Swafford/Released)

Fireworks burst over Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Joseph Swafford/Released)

Fourteen years ago, I formed my most vivid holiday memory to date. July 4, 2001 is a day I will not be forgetting.

Dirk, the true genius of DIY plumbing, made our family an arsenal of firework-powered weapons. Most notably, he made a series of steel pipe “guns” which shot bottle rockets. As you can imagine, my thirteen-year-old self thought many things about this. “Cool, guns!” and “Is my aim good enough to hit Dirk between the legs?” were the two that stand out most.

What didn’t occur to me (and cut me some slack, I was a kid), was that bottle rockets could catch things on fire. The list of flammable materials happens to include baggy tie-dye t-shirts. I was a BIG fan of baggy shirts back then. You see where I’m going with this?

After about 5 horrible, hilarious, terrifying, and thrilling minutes, I dodged a bottle rocket aimed straight at me. Except, I was a fat, slow, uncoordinated teenager. My “dodge” ended up being a “catch the bottle rocket in my right armpit.”

The initial explosion was kinda sucky. Loud, sudden, and hot, the BANG felt like I’d been punched. Right in the armpit. By a very hot fist. It took me a whole 3 seconds to realize that my underarm was hosting a exothermic party. When I realized I was on fire, I froze. I remember every damned millisecond of the following event.

There was a tickling sensation on the back of my arm. It felt like a warm hand was lightly resting on my shoulder. I thought about this, and couldn’t think of a single rational explanation. Then I looked over my shoulder. The smell got to me before my eyes got the picture. Smoke.

Not the crisp smoke of a wood stove, or the oily smoke of barbecue meat. No, this was an acidic, acrid, and all around chemical smell. My eyes saw a waver of smoke before my nose gave me the emergency update that my body hadn’t figured out yet: There was a fire in my shirt, no innuendo involved.

I tried to pull the shirt off, but it was, you know, around arms and a neck and stuff. Very inconvenient. I basically tore it off. The fire had cut away at the side, so it split pretty easily. Thank God for old cotton. The thin material was easy to tear, and there was no plastic to stick to my newly raw skin.

I inspected my shoulder, found a few burning threads hanging off of my elbow, and let the adrenaline take over for a minute. My animal-brain kept shouting “STOP, DROP, and ROLL, MOTHERFUCKER!” Meanwhile, my human-brain was shouting “IF YOU HIT THE GROUND, YOU WILL GET AN INFECTION, IDIOT!”

Obviously, I was of two minds on the subject.

As a tie-breaker, I ran into the house. I was crying uncontrollably now. Adrenaline has this side effect people don’t talk about much. It destroys your remaining energy. Adrenaline might get you out of the fire, but it might not get you out of the woods. I found my mom, showed her my shoulder, and asked for help. This part was all blubbery, as I recall, and I was an adult before I learned that adults actually CAN understand the gibberish their terrified children are spewing. Well, sometimes.

My mom tore off a chunk of Aloe Vera (that was a plant that paid for itself hundreds of times over, I tell you what), and rubbed soothing, healing, gooey plant blood all over my shoulder. The burn was minor, but it covered about four inches of my back, and about half of my armpit. I couldn’t hold my arm right for about four days. Thank God I wasn’t in school, writing would have sucked.

I spent the rest of the day inside. I went outside to see the fireworks (but only the ones that were pointedly aimed at the sky), and I went inside when I got uncomfortable. I remember an elevated sense of anxiety, and general discomfort from my shoulder. I was okay.

And then the nightmares came. Not long after, the flashbacks came, too.

Happy 4th of July. Happy birthday, America. Everyone: Stay safe, stay wise, and enjoy the show.

I Was Published! Like, in a Book and Stuff!

Cover art of Stigma Fighters Anthology Volume One.

Cover art of ‘Stigma Fighters Anthology Volume One’.

The ‘Stigma Fighters Anthology Volume One‘ went up on Amazon recently, and it includes an exclusive article by yours truly. Stigma Fighters is a non-profit advocacy group on a mission to educate folk regarding mental health issues. There are some powerful, beautiful, and (sometimes) heart-breaking stories in the 230 pages of unbridled honesty.

It is now available on Kindle and paperback. If you want to support mental health awareness, or get an inside look at some of the most courageous brains in the mental health community, consider grabbing a copy. You could even get two and share.

I hope my short essay can help others. I discuss one of my recurring flashbacks, and it’s hard for me to read, even though I wrote it.  It’s not terribly expensive, and I might never publish it anywhere else.

Thanks for reading my blog. Thanks for being part of the big craziness that is my world. You rock, and you make my life a better place to be. Hugs for everyone.

That Damned Well

From Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

From Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

I was thinking about my old house again (go figure), and I remember a nasty old well we had. Our water source had been converted over to County utilities years before we came to squat in my childhood home in Arkansas. Long before the fire got the property, the ice wreaked its havoc as well. That ice would give me a very fond memory. Strange enough, it’s a great memory of Dirk. Sorta.

Dirk was a smart man. Cruel, but very smart. Unfortunately, this made him think he was right all the time. Like all the time. In my ninth grade year (I think) we had a mean cold-snap, and Dirk thought that us being frozen at home was a great time to get in some child labor. He decided we were going to remove the defunct gas stove, and replace it with the new electric stove. It was under twenty degrees.

As ever, Dirk expected young, scrawny, malnourished, and abused children to be able to bear the strength and skill of an adult. Comically, he forced Oak and I to help him drag out a huge vintage gas stove out through the “back room.” The back room was a room which had a collapsed ceiling, and served as storage for things we were unofficially getting rid of. Saved hard conversations with kids, you know? “Oh, the ceiling collapsed again! I’m sorry, son. God must have thought we had too many things. It’ll be okay.” That kind of stuff.

Back to point. Oak and I did everything we could to help, but it was fairly useless. Dirk mostly just dragged it out on his own. He then indicated that he’d like us to help him set it on top of the cistern.  If you’ve never seen a really old well, a cistern is a pit, or pool, which holds water that the well has pumped up. The bad part? The cistern was frozen, full of ice, and the concrete lid was, well, ice cold.

For those of you with science on the brain, you might see where this was going. Oak and I flatly refused to help once the stove was out of the house. Neither of us wanted anything to do with a huge frozen slab of concrete. Either of us could tell you what would happen when Dirk dragged the huge stove on top of the cistern. The lid snapped clean in half.

I stared, dumbstruck, as Dirk was wedged between two huge slabs of concrete, a steel stove, and the ice slab below him. For my life, I cannot remember how we got him out. I know we didn’t get outside help, because the roads were totally frozen over. Not that Dirk would have been even a little okay with asking someone else for help…

I do remember Dirk’s leg was screwed up for a while. He blamed Oak and me, which was only to be expected at that point. At the time, I felt guilty, crushed by the weight of not helping. I was terrified that somebody I loved was going to die, or worse. It was painful to see him hurt, and it cut me to the core that he held me responsible. My overwhelming sense of guilt and shame would haunt me for years.

Thankfully, I’ve received some serious therapy since then. I’ve learned perspective regarding my relationship with Dirk. I now get to feel proud of my young self being aware of how the world works. I’m thankful Oak and I didn’t get hurt. We could have died, just as easily as Dirk could have. He was lucky; so were we. I would be lying if I said I don’t feel a little pleasure in his past pain. It’s a coping mechanism, what can I say?

Jenny just told me that I already wrote about this story. Well, shit. Guess what? It’s actually a pretty different angle, so I’m running this one too. Pretend it’s not a real post, if you like. I still enjoyed writing about it, which is the point.

Meth Fires

Found on Wikimedia Commons(CC BY-SA 3.0)

Found on Wikimedia Commons(CC BY-SA 3.0)

I just looked up my childhood home on Google Earth. We all do it, right? We wonder who lives in the room we learned to read in, or who mows the lawn we seeded years ago. I just wanted to see if my old chicken coop was still standing. It wasn’t. The entire house, the well, chicken coop, and the trees in the area were all burned down. I checked into it, and found out that the people my parents gave the home too (yes gave- it was that much of a shit-hole) were making meth in the house, and it burned down.

When I was about 16, my good friend’s house was condemned because her parents had manufactured meth in their master bathroom. It burned down not much later, when someone shot off a firework over 30 yards away. I recently learned that my cousin’s home burned down because his parents chose to allow their roommate’s meth manufacturing to continue in their attic.

I feel less real when I consider that the homes I once knew were just gone. I struggle enough to remember my youth at times, and this just throws a monkey in the mix.

Do you know why police have to condemn homes that are involved in meth manufacture? It’s because the chemical waste and gasses soak into the house. The walls, ceiling, even the floors, counters, beds, are all loaded with chemicals that cannot be removed. The house isn’t safe for human occupation. My friends lived in these homes. I now know why so many of them were sick.

When I was a teenager, my parents began trading in meth. As horrible as it sounds, one of the most considerate things Dirk did for us was insist that they not manufacture meth in our home. It saved my brothers and I from illness, and potentially death. The same cannot be said for our friends. Some have died. Many have lost their children.

As I look back, I realize a terrible fact: nearly all of my childhood friends were the children of meth addicts. When my twin brother and I would make friends, it was always with kids who seemed somehow similar to us. We learned later that every time we introduced our parents to another friend’s parents, we were widening their circle of acceptance and feeding their sense of community. It normalized it for them, and made them feel less like freaks.

I do everything I can to remind myself that I’m not to blame. It’s not my fault my parents were weak. It’s not my fault they destroyed their lives. I’m not the reason they are felons, nor am I the reason my mother cannot hold a job. But thinking about my friends who are now losing their children to protective custody because they followed their parents… It breaks my fucking heart.

Sometimes, I really should just leave Google alone. I definitely didn’t find what I was looking for today.