Once Pulmonary Hypertension was brought to my attention, it’s been nothing but a life altering path I did not choose, but was forced to take. The public has a notion that a disease is sitting in a doctor’s office a little more than once a year, and maybe (maybe) sometimes it gets in the way. When a disease arrives, it brings all of it’s baggage: insurance hassles (or life terrifying moments when insurance threatens not to pay for anything anymore), financial struggles, side effects of medication, unplanned trips to bigger and better hospitals…the list really could go on and on. We learn of something new all the time, and with each changing phase in life brings a new set of baggage from this disease. The load is burdensome. But, the most important, ignored, and heaviest one? The mental, and brain health struggles.
I have been living with Pulmonary Hypertension well, since I can remember, eleven, but diagnosed six years. The past two years have been exceptionally difficult with a prescription drug addiction (doctors pushed Xanax rather than looking into a deeper problem) and I felt like I just couldn’t focus. I was so distracted by pure anger, anxiety, and it felt like every emotion I had tricked myself into believing was not there finally rose to the surface. I tried to fix it myself by throwing away my Xanax, and I picked my life up and moved. Change felt amazing, it took the edge off my problem, but deep deep deep in the background I still could not get control over anxiety, depression, and rage. Lots of it. Finally, I stepped into a therapists office surrendering to my “I will pick myself up” attitude. After a lot of sessions, his biggest concern with me was my PTSD, and severe anxiety. My what? I knew I had anxiety, but PTSD was in my mind someone who survived an attack. “Well, technically you have.” That was his response.
“Chronic illness is traumatic on both levels–the physical obviously, but also the mental and emotional. People who are ill very often display classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress, even if they don’t have the full-blown disorder.” -Psychology Today
“Individuals experiencing chronic diseases have been studied with regard to depression, anxiety, and a variety of coping maladaptions, but negligible attention has been given to the PTSD potential of chronic disease over the life course.” – ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
As stated in my ignorance, I had not even given consideration to the fact that PTSD lingered outside the soldiers category; And the problem with this is that most of the world sees it this way too. We have not yet put together that a majority of chronically ill patients are also suffering from Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder because being told “you have an incurable and terminal disease” is trauma in itself. Not including the daily alterations we must make to maintain a new normal that we did not choose, on top of surgeries, and bad news. The dangerous thing about this trauma? We are living inside of it everyday. Having undiagnosed PTSD was not even knowing of its existence, not knowing I had triggers, as well as not being able to identify my triggers, and having no idea I was suffering intensely mentally. Instead I was telling myself that “I was always going to be this out of control”, “Never going to find an escape”, or maybe “I needed to kill myself.” Yes, those are real thoughts in the middle of an attack. They aren’t comforting are they?
“But for some, it might be better not to shrug off problems, but rather to acknowledge the dark side. By recognizing the traumatic aspects of illness the ill person can potentially break through denial, modulate obsession, and lessen rage.” -Psychology Today
Since I’ve opened my mind to the presence of my PTSD diagnosis I’m not going to say it has become easier. However, maintaining and openly dealing with the trauma, and triggers has lifted some weight. Now I will be able to communicate to health professionals about how I feel in the moment rather than becoming enraged, and shutting down. It has opened a door in communication that I did not know I had, and developing an understanding towards myself. The best part? I am picking myself up. I just needed someone to show me how.
Please understand that mental health is an invisible disease just like PH. Your brain is an organ, and it deserves it’s own upkeep. If you feel like you are suffering then please find a professional to help your pain.
Don’t meet others expectations for you. Don’t expect anyone’s understanding towards your suffering, and do not apologize for your pain. Do set your own goals, and meet your own expectations for yourself despite what society wants for “you.” Do feel your pain, acknowledge it, and do not hide your suffering. Stay Gold to what you are, what you feel, and what you do. Stay Gold to what you need, and what you want. Stay Gold to all those little things that appear shattered and broken in your mind, but so delicately and warmly reflect you.
I guess you could call me a realistic type of person; for those of us who say that we often border the “negative” side to life. We are hushed, scolded, and covered up while others keep talking about their blessed life, and glare at humans who have an outcry. That’s fine, and all well for you, but my voice and my passion does not exist without a drive…and what drives me are the faults I have been born into. It’s okay to say that. I have a very faulty life. What makes it okay to say that? Well, it’s very hard to keep endless anger and pain locked inside of yourself. My organs are heavy from a daily battle against themselves, and quite frankly, I refuse to let them swim in a secret pain so that others may continuously live a life of comfort.
The world is in a very weird, and groundbreaking place – can we all agree on that? I think because of the power of social media, life experiences, and just plain intelligence that people (and definitely our kids) are coming in tune with an “awareness.” They get political issues, social issues, climate issues, personal issues, drug issues, racial issues…all of the ugliness delivered to their LED screens, or experience this in their daily life. I feel that America’s new generations are creating a voice for themselves on racial issues, political issues, women’s rights, and yes even healthcare issues because they want to see change. All of the not-so-comforting news that the world has tried to lock away in some secret closet is finally exploding because of the want for change, and awareness. While having your head in the sand might sound lovely, appreciating and trying to help others pain is more rewarding. With awareness I feel it creates intelligent, cultured people who will connect to others easily and form a genuine respect for another persons’ life. A fabulous example of this? Humans of New York. Hearing the struggles behind ordinary faces in turn creates a sea of emotion in us, and a connection to our fellow beings.
I will not hide my anger, or pain for your comfort. Yes, I will try to be positive while being realistic. I want America to see what such young/ordinary looking people with an invisible illness do daily just to breathe. I want everyone to open their eyes, and mind to what a person really feels with a terminal illness – not just what books and movies let you think. I want the world to see how much companies from movie industries to insurance companies are profiting off of sick beings – including children. I want people to be aware.
Awareness is knowledge. Awareness is power. Awareness is respect. Awareness can change anything.
Hear what I’m currently jamming to under “song of the week” 🙂
Having a rare disease where no one knows what’s wrong in the first place is frustrating. A word in correlation with my diagnosis is “idiopathic” meaning of no known origin. No top medical specialist in the world can tell me why the arteries in my lungs decided to shrink. Do you know how many times I have had to explain my condition to even doctors hoping to god they wouldn’t kill me by accident? Do you know how many people think I’m lying about how serious my condition is? So many patients are misdiagnosed, ignored, and not taken seriously for years often escaping a chance to be early diagnosed providing them with options, and yes, some people lose their life instead. Knowing what’s happening inside of a Pulmonary Hypertension patient’s body even during an “episode” could not only help you truly understand what they feel, it also could potentially save their life.
SOO, WHAT IS IT?
Pulmonary Hypertension is not high blood pressure in this whole person’s body. No, I do not relate to your mother’s, sister’s, cousin’s, brother’s friend…that would be regular hypertension. Pulmonary means lungs; I have high blood pressure in my lungs only. How? The pulmonary arteries themselves are very very small therefore oxygenated blood cannot move through them at a regular speed like blood would through a regular very open artery. If you asked an entire high school class to walk down a huge hallway then asked them to all walk down a tiny corridor – which one would they make it through faster?
When the blood gets backed up in these tiny arteries (the tiny corridor) oxygenated blood is not getting to vital organs in time. The body panics, and the heart picks up the slack by pumping harder and faster thinking it can make up for this problem. Why is this bad? After a while, the heart pumping harder and faster is not a great thing. It’s only one of our most vital organs – why would it be good to over work it? As any muscle would when you work it, it grows. This may have been acceptable for the Grinch, but I’m a human and a growing heart causes heart failure. So now my lung disease is starting to affect other organs. My heart was formed normally, and was just fine until it decided to overcompensate for my deformed lungs.
WHAT IS AN EPISODE?
A lot of people might see me “slow down”, start breathing hard, or hear me tell them to “wait”. This is the beginning of an “episode” – something I have always called the very painful and terrifying moments when my body is receiving literally no oxygenated blood. Just walking around like a normal person, a Pulmonary Hypertension patient’s heart beats like we’re running a marathon. It takes A LOT of effort to pump through these tiny arteries, and get the blood to vital organs. Certain activities that you don’t even think about can upset our heart, and take it by surprise. It differs from every patient – what treatment they are on, what their activity level is, what stage of PH or heart failure they are in, how long they have been living with it…all of this plays into their daily life function.
When I decide to jump up after laying down a while (first thing in the morning, after a nap, after being a vegetable at all) my heart freaks out. My activity level just went from zero to full blast. When walking on a slight incline, or walking long distance, I can feel a dull throbbing in my head and I start to gasp. When climbing stairs, I usually can do about four to five before I have to take a deep breather. On my absolute worst days, washing my hair and applying my makeup can take hours because lifting my arms above my head is nearly impossible. So what is happening during all of these what seem like regular activities? Why am I slowing down?
As stated before, the blood is backed up in the lungs and is not moving through fast enough. My heart starts beating uncontrollably hard to push faster to start sending this oxygenated blood out to all of my vital organs. The first place where I am NOT receiving oxygen is my brain which is why the dull throbbing headache starts. My vision blurs, along with my hearing, I can’t communicate very well, and yes I’ve been known to become combative out of pain and confusion. Having no oxygenated blood in the organ that keeps you awake is kind of terrifyingly painful. If I am even still awake at this point, I usually cannot move my legs, and definitely can’t feel my arms. None of my muscles feel refreshed because they haven’t received blood flow either. This for me leads to extreme cramping, and zero movement. By this time usually I have lost consciousness. When your brain doesn’t receive oxygenated blood, no power source, it shuts off. Hopefully around five minutes later I wake up feeling shaky, and exhausted. My heart just beat so erratically out of sheer panic, and my body didn’t receive the thing that keeps us alive – oxygenated blood. Yes yes yes – we can die from this. What’s even scarier is that it does NOT take a hike to do this. It takes a flight of stairs, a walk across the parking lot, getting out of bed, lifting our arms, getting dressed…it’s just that easy.
Understanding exactly what is happening in a Pulmonary Hypertension patient’s body saves lives. Understanding our bodies helps us feel a little less like an alien too. What can you do around a PH patient who might be having an episode? Call an ambulance, provide oxygen if you have it, and provide the knowledge about this rare disease to medical professionals so they don’t accidentally kill us too. 😉
It’s not dramatic, it’s a life or death situation in the most casual atmosphere of just walking around, or getting out of bed.
Do you remember where you were, or what you were doing when you had your first episode? Do you remember the pain?
Something very commonly overlooked when living with Pulmonary Hypertension is the meaning of “progression.” Or at least when it came to me, my brain has a tendency to forget this huge “one up” this rare disease has on us: progressive…it could always get worse.
When I finally became somewhat comfortable with my shitty lungs, and started writing about them I also adapted a very invincible type of mindset. I had my disease, but I felt like I also had control, something that we don’t have very often with Pulmonary Hypertension festering in our lungs. I ultimately had control over how long I wanted to live, IF I wanted to take my meds, and where exactly this disease could take me. It was great to be feeling “healthy”, to be positive, and to ride out the illusion that I somehow was in control of two of the most important organs in my body that already had a reputation for throwing us all curve-balls.
My newest specialist is someone who in my eyes is all about preventative care. Her biggest emphasis is something that I, and all my past doctors have repeatedly not watched; the fact that Pulmonary Hypertension is a progressive disease, and it could get worse. I, on the other hand am all about the “now”, and gettin’ it while you can as Janis would say. I’ve moved into a rougher environment (which I don’t, and will never regret!), blown off weeks worth of medications, done things that have negatively affected my body for a temporary high, and basically thought I could keep tucking my disease away for a later time. That’s what happens when you are technically still not accepting your disease – hint hint. After taking the guidwires out, shutting down the fluoroscopy machines, my new specialist informed me that it was a great thing we did a new cath after almost four years. My pressures have not changed after all this time, and my cardiac failure has gotten intensely worse. I may feel “alright” right now, but a year from now could be questionable. Which has now led us to three new medications that are going to feel very “intense” for a while until my body starts responding. Here I sit with my morning cup deciphering through my “now” type thinking versus a future that I’m not sure I want to even keep pushing for. Is it worth it? Or is it just doctors leading us on like a cat chasing a string; am I going to be paying a ridiculous amount of money, and living in pain to only be here another ten years?
Overall, it’s a shock once again to the system. It feels like we’ve re-winded back to when I was being told for the very first time that my heart, and lungs both were a problem. After years of writing about PH, I started running from it. I felt suffocated by what I was creating, and felt the need to tuck it away quietly. It has finally come back to find me, and it’s earth shattering, hopeless, and just unfair all over again.
Despite writing, contests, shirts, and everything else I have come to discover that never have I ever been fully okay with my disease, but will we ever really be?
Vlogging all the way through Santa Fe and Albuquerque! Birthday celebrations went down in Santa Fe on the square which featured the St. Francis Chapel, and inside La Plazuela restaurant. Then we moved it over to ABQ where we shopped till we dropped (LUSH!!) then had to get down to business at University of New Mexico for all of my testing. Yes, I was frustrated because the hospital is super confusing to navigate. Anyways, if you have any questions please feel free to comment.
Hey loves! It’s been such a busy, and ridiculously hot month here in New Mexico. Tourists have invaded once again which keeps all of us super busy! When I’m not working my tail off, I’m usually making an hour drive for groceries, or hiking which has become a new hobby that I’ve started investing in. If you have any questions, feel free to comment below. If you have any issues with the video, then please let me know!
I was only six years old when my very distraught mother picked me up at school on April 20, 1999. She thanked god for not only me, but especially my brother casually walking out of his very crowded middle school that day. Usually every day I was tired, and we would arrive only to find out John had detention, and by the time we were on our way back home everyone was just cranky. But, today was different. My mom was showing my brother all these horrible things on TV which happened to be two students that took guns to school. That’s all I absorbed. Days later, I remember us all sitting around the TV watching a girls funeral while they played a song my six year old self recognized from “Titanic” (which turned out to be Rachel Scott’s funeral), and my parents telling us to leave the school if anything happens, and to plan an escape if we ever saw a gun. I was in the first grade. These were my first memories of the Columbine massacre, and my first experiences of “being in school”. Columbine became a household name for tragedy, fear, and loss…and it would become something I never really understood, and wanted to avoid until my senior year in high school. The news happened to broadcast an “anniversary” Columbine edition, and while watching I had faint flashbacks to that day. I didn’t know anything about the victims, all fifteen, and like most of America, I wanted to know who the guys were holding the guns.
I remember my first days of “research” and reading on Columbine while sitting in my own school library where ten of the thirteen murders happened. I remember looking around that room thinking how they hell I would escape in such an instance; and for the rest of that year I avoided the library. However, despite my fear I was still curious of these kids, Eric and Dylan, and like most people I wanted to know what their home life consisted of. Since my senior year, I have researched, had my dad drive me to Littleton to see the school, pried into pretty much anything accessible to attempt to understand the Columbine massacre. Most people are too caught up in the theatrics of Columbine to actually dig into what happened. I thought I had all the facts, but when Sue Klebold broke her silence and released her new book A Mother’s Reckoning, a new wave of emotion, and information knocked me to my knee’s.
THE EARLY DAYS
When the Columbine tragedy first erupted it was the first of its kind; a powerful, planned, and almost theatrically executed attack from two senior’s. On top of that Eric and Dylan had killed more in a school shooting at that time than any other attack. The media swarmed trying to give America the updates it wanted, and within the firestorm was making rapid mistakes. Within days, Katie Couric even showed and Colorado was plastered across America. There were prank calls, false information, over dramatization, and the showing of dead bodies before parents had even been notified. Yes, one set of parent’s found out their son was dead because his body was in the paper. Originally there were reported twenty-five dead, that the killers were part of the Trench Coat Mafia, they loved violent video games, did violent things, and that they were bullied. When a tragedy happens that we can’t yet comprehend we love to place blame. Our mind almost needs it so that we may rid it from our own lives. America was spoonfed so many outlets of blame, including Eric and Dylan’s parents that we practically had a list to choose from.
Like most, I figured something went south at home and a “mental illness” was to blame. However, Dylan and Eric have always been my focus of my Columbine studies. When you tell people what you have been studying, two of the most horrific killers in history, you are not exactly looked upon fondly. A lot of people have claimed that they don’t want to understand what happened at Columbine, but turning away this so-called understanding is the very action that will not prevent things like Columbine from happening again. While it is physically, and mentally painful to pick through the main focus needs to be this, and this only; “But we cannot dedicate ourselves to preventing violence if we do not take into account the role depression and brain dysfunction can play in the decision to commit it. We must arrive at a way to discuss the intersection between brain health and violence in an open and nonjudgmental manner, and we cannot do that without first talking about the stigma.” -Susan Klebold A Mother’s Reckoning
When this historical school shooting first happened, it appears as though the country banded together to mourn, almost like when 9/11 occurred. Together we saw the faces of who all had been taken from us, twelve students, one teacher, then two more, the killers. A carpenter flew out from Chicago to assemble not thirteen, but fifteen crosses for all victims including Dylan and Eric. “My husband did it out of love. They still have parents,” said Susan Zanis. “If you’re a parent, you know you don’t want your child to go astray. They may be suffering more because their children did this horrible thing. Within a couple of days, Brian Rohrbough, father to one of the victims had taken Dylan and Eric’s crosses away saying that we did not need to forgive them. To this day he is convinced his child died because there is not enough God in public schools. I love this quote in response to his theory. While I cannot imagine what this father is feeling, or has grieved in his lifetime his “theory” is I guess the only way his mind can somewhat deal with the loss of his son, and unfortunately it continuously does not help the general public and turns them away from Christ himself. “Using the death of his child to score some dubious and inconsistent political points on behalf of his employer says more about Mr. Rohrbough than it does about the society he critiques,” one anonymous reader commented on a forum at the Rocky Mountain News paper. Decades later, there is still a huge divide on whether to acknowledge thirteen, or fifteen victims within this tragedy.“Although I understood the response in my own community, it was still hard for me to accept that Dylan’s entire life had no value at all because of what he had done before he died.” -Sue Klebold
HALEY GROWS UP
A lot of my close friends know that I was not the most pleasant person in high school. I was stuck in a place where sports were admired, and anything but that you were labeled. My dad was raising me, I didn’t know how to style my very long naturally straight hair, make up was confusing, and overall I was just lost. My family home had been divided, I was more interested in listening to the Beatles, and physically I just could not keep up. The kind of bullying I experienced all through high school wasn’t your traditional bullying like one of my best friends was dealing with there; it was more like tell you exactly to your face or create this environment around you to show you how unacceptable you are. Little things like moving desks, and very passive aggressive behavior is what this entire school got by on. However I had close friends who were called “suicide bombers” and “terrorists” because they were a different nationality. Anyone other than white, and athletic was looked down upon. I never felt like I fit in, even with educators themselves. I was suffering from extreme anxiety, and depression, and awkwardly did not know how to deal with myself. I reacted with anger, and by withdrawing myself. Educators exacerbated those feelings beyond comparison. I remember when a friend killed himself, and I lost it several times just that first day in class. A teacher spoke to me in the hallway attempting to alleviate some stress, and only later did I hear her mocking me in the exact hallway with a fellow educator. My friend had put a gun to his temple less than twenty-four hours earlier, and my extreme shock was being mocked. I would go home and stew over that building, and how it made me feel. I couldn’t understand why loving music, and art was such a bad thing. The original high school had burned down in the early seventies, and often I would find myself wishing this current one would as well, and they would just cancel school. I had also not been diagnosed with a very severe, incurable, and terminal disease that was in the process of killing me every time I had to climb double flights of stairs to get to classes. In my years there, I had three teachers in which two kept an eye on me, communicated with me, and one math teacher that asked if I was depressed noticing my disinterest in class. To put the cherry on top my high school “counselor” told me that my current grades did not reflect of someone who will go to college reminding me of continuous failure. I wasn’t a particularly difficult kid to deal with. Looking back I just appeared angry, and withdrawn while attempting to gain approval. Daily, I was crushed by not only those around me, but adults.
Anger has never stopped me from dealing with the worst of kids. I have dealt with many truly angry kids; children that have threatened teachers lives, and children that push every nerve in your body just to get a reaction. Children that by me sitting down with have come down from their own very angry mountain to openly cry all over me. About seventy percent of the time, it wasn’t always a good feeling. While working at this elementary, I would collapse in our counselors office almost needing counseling of my own. It was the first time to deal with a very difficult generation of kids, and kids who I felt their pain and wanted to save them all. If only dealing with challenging kids was ideal. As Susan Klebold writes in her book: “This is one of the paradoxes we must confront. Of course it would be easier to help depressed teens if they were nicer to be around, or more communicative about their thoughts. If only they looked like the kids in the pamphlets do: clean-cut and attractive, staring out a rainy window with a wistful expression, chin propped on a fist! More commonly, though, a disturbed teenager will be unpleasant: aggressive, belligerent, obnoxious, irritable, hostile, lazy, whiny, untrustworthy, sometimes with poor personal hygiene.”
“Sometimes a kid messing up at school or coming at you with a bad attitude about helping at home isn’t a sign they need to be criticized or corrected, but a signal that they need help.”
I choose to deal with those kids because I understand what it is to be truly angry. To be so angry that you lose base and you wish to hurt yourself, or others. You want to “opt out” and not participate in life in general. I understand the lingering depressive anger. Luckily, I was a post Columbine era kid in which this had somewhat been talked about. My father was aware of my school situation and monitored me closely by leaving me letters, and seeking out professional help. Fresh out of high school, and throughout my early adulthood I have found myself back in my same high school footsteps thinking, “what the hell am I doing back here?” Being diagnosed with anxiety, and depression gave an identity to the constant fog in my brain.Luckily I had positive influences around me who knew about my brain health issues, and kept pushing me towards success. This is one of the very few differences between Dylan Klebold and I. He was angry, non communicative, silent, and had a friend, Eric Harris who was just as angry and extremely homicidal.
DYLAN BENNET KLEBOLD
His parents named him after a poet, but he was called their “sunshine boy.” He was the ideal child; sensitive, caring, and a very smart. Dylan didn’t necessarily fit perfectly with the crowd feeling awkward, and annoyed. He was six-foot four, had blonde-red hair, and was growing up in a time where computers and internet were all a new thing. He loved baseball, but with a left elbow injury on his pitching arm, he had not made the Columbine baseball team. Instead, he focused on computers, and the occasional sound for theater. Very rarely did Dylan ever “react” to things in front of his family, and his friends recall a different side, but one not much different from his parents. Dylan made time for his family, extended himself for his friends, and was a hard worker. Susan says that Dylan would have to come sit with her at work after his school hours. She worked at a University, and Dylan decided to volunteer at the daycare. “True to form, Dylan would be out there on the playground, making sure the little kids were lining up neatly to get a turn on the swing.” -Susan Klebold A Mothers Reckoning
Dylan was that friend; the one we all had to somewhat push to get talking and then he took off all on his own. He was creative, funny, into things that weren’t popular, and he truly truly cared. However, Dylan was emotional. He could not deal with mistakes, and he was of the up most critical of himself. He internalized everything, and so easily he would make others feel loved and appreciated by smoothly removing himself from a conversation letting all the discussion be about them. I think in a lot of ways Dylan was afraid to be known. When Columbine happened, Dylan had been writing for two years about how he wanted to die. Most likely, Dylan was suffering from extreme depression; pages he wrote dripped with love, wanting to find love, and how much he hated himself. He wrote, “Thinking of suicide gives me hope that I’ll be in my place wherever I go after this life – that I’ll finally not be a war with myself, the world, the universe – my mind, body, everywhere, everything is at PEACE – me – my soul (existence).” Unfortunately, Dylan was living in an era when child brain health, or brain health in general was not looked after or acknowledged. In this day and age (the 90’s) teenagers were just teenagers. Very rarely did we look up from our morning coffee and think something could be seriously wrong, I mean, a moody teenager? What’s new? I say brain health because it makes perfect sense; when we say “mental illness” there is such a stigma attached. “Oh, she’s mental, he’s mental, they’re crazy.” Years we have grown up making fun of mental illnesses and so afraid of them that when it’s a suggestion for us, we can’t grasp it. Also, “mental” refers to an invisible illness. Our brain is an organ, a very important one at that. It has its own health, and needs its own checkups just as the heart would. When our brain malfunctions in even the smallest of ways like anxiety, it can completely distract us from life because we are not hearing, and perceiving things as we would if our brain was okay. A “brain health checkup” as Dr. Richman put it, “is tangible”; it makes people a little more okay dealing with these health issues. Dylan’s grades were slipping, he was getting into trouble, and he was lashing out at home. His parents lectured him, versus talking, and attributed his loss of steam to “senioritis”. Just before the Columbine massacre, Dylan appeared to finally be getting back on track once again, leading his parents astray.
“Left untreated, even the mildest brain health impairment can derail a young person’s life, and stop a child from reaching his or her full potential, a tragedy in itself. A disease like depression can also have much more serious consequences, as it sets many of the traps that snag children in adolescence: drug and alcohol abuse, drunk driving, petty crime, eating disorders, cutting, abusive relationships, and high-risk sexual behaviors among them.” -Sue Klebold A Mothers Reckoning
In a pre-Columbine society, no one was paying attention to this. After thirteen lay dead inside of a school, we all screamed, “WHY?!” and instead we should have been saying, “HOW?!” Only then did we start looking into bullying, and very mildly mental health. In schools, and homes today we still are not taking brain health seriously. We mock, push away, and downplay what another individual is dealing with. In a society where your children have the entire world available to them through a cell-phone, where they can hear and see things out of your control, where they can experience things, where they are exposed to things…you have actually no idea what your children are up to. You can think you do, but these star students were hiding shotguns and acting as if everything was fine. Your love for your child is not enough to keep them alive.“I taught Dylan, as I had taught his brother before him, to protect himself from lightning strikes, snakebites, and hypothermia. I taught him to floss, to wear sunscreen, and the importance of checking his blind spot twice. As he became a teenager, I talked as openly as I could about the dangers of drinking and drug use, and I educated him about safe and ethical sexual behavior. It never crossed my mind that the gravest danger Dylan faced would not come from an external source at all, but from within himself.”
What if I had a friend in my time that was angry, or homicidal? What if I didn’t have positive influences? What if my father had not found professional help? What would I have been capable of? Instead of being fearful of those questions, I ask them daily. I grieve heavily for Dylan Klebold because I truly truly understand his suffering, and what might have been in a world were he could have flourished. The loss of Dylan so heavily affects me (even though I never had known him and I was six years old when he ended his life) but because I somehow made it out alive, and people who dealt with the exact issues did not.
ERIC DAVID HARRIS
Like most people, while I will always mourn for Dylan because I understand Dylan, I will never understand Eric. Eric Harris was a military child, always moving from place to place. In his writings he describes he was happiest living in Oscada, and leaving it was the hardest thing he had ever done. Eric’s family home seemed very clinical; his mother was concerned, supportive, and left Eric to his own devices. His father was military, and towards the end of Eric’s life was taking one worded notes on Eric’s troublesome behavior. Eric will always be the tougher one to comprehend because Eric’s mental state was probably beyond help. Eric’s parents have also shut everything out that has to do with Columbine, and were not so cooperative with investigators. I truly believe they might have known Eric’s uncontrollable, and sadistic side. While Dylan wrote page after page seeking love, Eric wrote pages and pages of death, rape, gore, and everything that follows. Eric was an extremely homicidal person; he literally hated the human race and often fantasized about exterminating it.
While Eric could come home and write such crude things, in person Eric was perfection. He was an extremely smart student, and could talk his way out of anything. While Dylan was easy-going to be around, friends often remark that Eric was “intense.” Fourteen months before their lives ended, Dylan and Eric were caught breaking into a van. They immediately admitted to the crime, and since they were first time offenders they were put into a program called “diversion” for youth offenders. They were subjected to “counseling”, drug testing, community service, and court appearances. These sessions were more like “good ‘ol boy talks” and “keep up the good work” versus actual counseling sessions. Diversion did nothing except keep the boys busy, and annoy them enough to know their offense. Eric can be heard on recording in court talking to the judge; he is polite, respectful, and was enough to win the whole program over. The boys were dismissed out of diversion early with officers stating that they were good kids, extremely smart, and impressed. While Dylan wasn’t as much favored as Eric (they thought he was questionable and needed drug testing versus Eric who didn’t “need” the testing), Eric was the absolute star with Jefferson County stating that he was no one to worry about. However, many reports on Eric had been made against a website he had created where he would talk about building bombs and making threats, and Jefferson County just before Columbine was getting ready to search the Harris home. What would’ve been if they had? Almost every bomb used at Columbine was made in the Harris’s home…and there is evidence that the parents knew about this. Eric’s dad punished Eric by making him “dispose” of the bombs in a nearby field. Miraculously, shortly after the Columbine Massacre, and the names released, the paperwork to search Eric’s home disappeared, along with a lot of other evidence from Jefferson County.
Eric was the true definition of a sociopath, or psychopath. His brain health, however it got there, was beyond “normal” thinking. Eric could hold a job as well as an outstanding reputation. But the hatred he harvested on the inside was lethal as well as the manipulation tactics he excelled in. While Dylan appeared to “run out of steam” due to actual depression, Eric appeared motivated and normal erasing any doubt that Eric was depressed in the traditional sense. The differences between Eric and Dylan are simple; Eric hated everyone, and Dylan hated himself. When speaking with someone who identifies himself as a sociopath or psychopath he explained that it is like having a cut wire; there is no connection and there is no fixing it. Emotion is fuzzy, and every action is an objective to complete. I believe that there are many different shades of psychopaths in this world, but two mainly standout. There are functioning psychopaths who can contribute to society, and respect those close to them. Then there are extremely homicidal psychopaths who cannot function within society. Eric was beyond homicidal. I believe, as well as most people, that the boys participated in Columbine for two very different reasons. For Eric this was strictly a homicide, almost a military mission that he was preparing for. For Dylan, he really just wanted to kill himself as we know that Dylan let certain people “free” during the Columbine massacre, and fired significantly less rounds. The two had a magnetic attraction that completed the others wishes. “Eric Harris appears to have been a homicidal psychopath, and Dylan Klebold, a suicidal depressive, and their disparate madnesses were each other’s necessary condition. Dylan’s depressiveness would not have turned into murderousness without Harris’s leadership, but something in Eric might have lost motivation without the thrill of dragging Dylan down with him.” -Andrew Solomon. By no means is Dylan “less guilty”. But without Eric, where would Columbine as well as it’s victims be today?
THE ACTUAL BULLYING
There are so many people who have studied Columbine, published things, and one of the most disturbing lectures I’ve ever heard was by Dave Cullen who has profited heavily from his “Columbine research.” He made the claim that Eric, and Dylan were never bullied. “They had so many friends!” He exclaims. While Dylan and Eric had their own little clan of friends, that doesn’t stop other clicks from bullying you. If you would have asked any administrator at my high school, or my family they would have said, “Haley was great! She had friends! She wasn’t bullied, she never really discussed it, it was fine.” Most people who are bullied will not say much especially a male teenager who feels as though he has something to prove. One thing that is so fascinating about Dylan and Eric is that they left so many video tapes, and writings behind almost allowing us to study them with ease. They didn’t leave us stranded, but left SO much to look at so we could experience their goofy moments, school moments, and last moments. In one of their many “home videos” Eric is being followed by the camera at school. Hauntingly, we get a pretty good look inside Columbine, and almost the exact steps that the boys took that day, and what the school looked like. We also got to see Eric and Dylan casually walking down a Hallway, and in front of them come a line of guys. They walk right through the boys, elbowing and nearly knocking the camera out of their hands. This passive aggressive behavior is not your so-called typical bullying, but another way to knock on students. This was captured on video, is available on YouTube, and there is no debate about it; if your student was elbowed in the hallway to get out-of-the-way, how would you feel? “Apparently such behavior was common enough to be accepted as normative.” -Ralph Larkin
In Sue Klebold’s book she also talks of a parent’s conversation with Dylan and his father. “A county employee offered his condolences and told him how his son’s hair had been set on fire by some other students while he was attending Columbine High School. The boy, who sustained fairly serious burns to his scalp, refused to allow his father to go the administration because he was afraid it would make the situation worse. Shaking with anger as he spoke, though the incident was no longer recent, the outraged dad told Tom he had wanted to take the school apart ‘brick by brick.'”
More research by Ralph W. Larkin in his book Comprehending Columbine, found that while “theschool was academically excellent and deeply conservative there was a pervasive culture of bullying – in particular, a group of athletes who harassed, humiliated, and physically assaulted kids at the bottom of the social ladder. Larkin also points to proselytizing and intimidation by evangelical Christian students, a self-appointed moral elite who perceived the kids who dressed differently as evil and targeted them.”
As we know, Dylan and Eric loved to dress differently, and were interested in things different than most…I can relate. With how some people have reacted to Columbine (creating Christian challenges, and removing crosses and memorials of Eric and Dylan) it is one hundred percent believable that the “Christian bullying” was definitely happening at Columbine. So many have gone so far even to create a new Columbine movie that is entirely centered on being a Christian. LET’S CLEAR ONE THING UP RIGHT NOW ABOUT COLUMBINE: This was not an attack on Christians, blacks, women, men, or any person in particular. This was an attack on absolutely everyone in that school. The original plan included two huge propane bombs that if had gone off, would have killed almost everyone there. Yes, they taunted people before they died mocking their skin color, social status, and religion. Hardly anyone was excluded. Stop using Christianity as an excuse.
For Dave Cullen to say that bullying was not a factor in Columbine is to practically contribute to a growing problem in schools. While bullying was not the main focus of the problem, it sure did put a lovely cherry on top that aggravated an already lethal situation.
“Dad, did you know that there are loopholes in the Brady Bill?” Two weeks before the Columbine massacre this is the question that Daniel Mauser (above) asked his father. Several weeks later his dad would be waiting for him at a local elementary school that had turned into a collection building for Columbine students. He patiently waited after most students had been picked up safely that awful day only to realize that Daniel was not on his way home for a reason. Daniel had been fatally shot in the face in the library by Eric Harris…with a gun that was bought because of a loophole in the Brady Bill.
Dylan was raised in a very anti-gun family, and Eric of course had a fascination with his military upbringing. One of the most shocking things Dylan’s mom speaks of is the fact that Dylan owned a gun. She never thought how she raised him, and how their household felt that a seventeen year old boy could buy a gun without her knowing. One of the boys closest friends (and Dylan’s prom date just three days before the massacre) Robyn Anderson purchased their firearms for them at a gun show in Colorado. She had recently turned eighteen, and repeated the statement that as long as she didn’t have to fill out any paperwork that she would buy the guns for the boys. She thought because they were boys that they would be collecting the guns. This sparked the “Robyn Anderson Bill” that when buying a gun for a minor you must have parental permission.
This is my one and only argument on guns; Dylan and Eric were going to do what they were going to do. However, if every dealer that day at that gun show would have required paperwork then it would have been one more delay for them. It would have put things off with one more step, and they would have had less access to the powerful firearms that they did end up purchasing. Putting steps in place will make it difficult for everyone for these reasons exactly. If you have no reason to fear those steps (if your background check is clean, etc…) then you should not be protesting them because fifteen more people might be alive because of the hassle of paperwork, and legality that they were able to avoid. It makes me furious to look at Daniel’s photos (or any of the victims) but in particular, Daniel. His home resembled mine, and he favored my brother with those glasses on. The life taken is beyond infuriating, and I cannot imagine the grief.
I feel as though my spirit was not drawn, but pushed towards this tragedy for a very obvious reason; I feel almost as if it is a duty to educate people on what brain health can do not only for adults, but “moody” teenagers as well. “So besides accidents and homicide, nothing kills more young people in this country than suicide – not cancer, not sexually transmitted disease. A 2013 study looked at almost 6,500 teens. One in eight had contemplated suicide, and one in twenty-five had attempted it, yet only half of them were in treatment.” -Sue Klebold
When we don’t understand something, or simply don’t want to it’s because in a way we fear it. For years with Columbine we have played the blame game and gone right back to our easy way of life. It could never happen in our home, I love my children too much, I know my children, those kids were twisted, crazy, the parents were horrible…blah blah blah. When really these were very normal families, who loved their son’s very much, and even law enforcement had commented on how great they were. Why would they be concerned? We continue to turn on our T.V.’s and see schools and churches splattered with bullets and await to hear how many are dead this time. Our society continues to ignore brain health so ignored in fact that it’s almost an elective or privileged type thing to see a counselor? How? Why? Why isn’t one of the most crucial, and important parts of our body being checked on by a professional? Would you hand your best friend a stethoscope and ask to check you for heart disease?
“But what I have learned implies the need for a broader call to action, a comprehensive overview of what should be in place to stop not only tragedies like the one committed by my son but the hidden suffering of any child.” -Sue Klebold
I refuse to be a Dylan and Eric sympathizer. They are guilty, they are murderers, they took away precious lives and ripped apart relationships. Despite their issues they still actively made the decision to be there. Instead, I want to educate about Columbine for brain health reasons; the problem with current shootings in America is not mainly guns (that is a fraction of the problem.) The problem is our brain health. What are we doing to upkeep one of the most important organs in our body? For some people this tragedy gives them goosebumps, as for me just an immense amount of grief for teens that suffered so secretively, and caused suffering upon others. Instead of turning our eyes away from this carnage, we need to start applying it to our life. Where is your child right now? Who are they with? Who is their friend, but really, WHO are they? Most importantly, how is your child feeling? What if they were to take someone else’s life someday then their own? Where would you start?
Today a healthcare company delivered oxygen to my home, so that I may have enough oxygen to keep my heart relaxed at night. This ugly sore thumb machine sits against a wall of art, and vinyl allowing a disease like stain to spread throughout my life once again. It’s just disappointing.
I have grieved a lot in my life because I am a person who feels things very deeply, and personally. If someone cracks a joke about me, or towards me, I might laugh but I’ll go home and dissect it to fix whatever about me is laughable. I don’t want to make any mistakes, I don’t want to be put on the spot, and of all things I don’t want to be laughable. I have never been able to deal with imperfection; and my first response is anger then deep deep grief.
Before I was diagnosed I can remember my exact weight. I can remember not even being able to walk across a room, but I wanted to be a “runner” and to lose all this weight I had foolishly packed on. I dreamed of the day when they would fix my breathing, and I could become “normal.” When you’re told that you are basically unfixable, and handed a bunch of medications that cause even more outward disasters, I grieved extremely hard. From the outside it appeared as anger, but really I was just at a loss. My soul, and my body have never matched. Years later, with drinking incorporated, and heavy medication I’ve gained even more weight. I’ve put off college, and stopped pushing myself in a lot of ways I thought I always would have. And today, after all these weeks of constant work I woke up, looked in the mirror, and then over at this stupid machine causing an internal explosion.
Dylan Klebold once wrote in his diary while suffering from insane depression, “eternal suffering in infinite directions through infinite realities” which feels exact with this disease; it crushes my soul taking over with its infinite type nature. At only twenty-three I feel as though I have lived five different lives, and the pain that pushes through my body not only when I climb stairs, but when I see pregnant people is enormously heavy. One domino after another falls in my mind; diseased, disabled, overweight, anxious, and weird. I have fallen victim to my own body in which I am trapped. Why do people fight so hard for this life sometimes?
Suffering from a disease physically and mentally is a daily roller coaster. This is the down side; the side that I am not allowed to show. This side that appears angry, but really, I’m grieving for a life that I do in fact have…