Friday, April 3, 2015

What Should She Look Like? - An Open Letter to ABC

ABC News:

On Friday, April 3rd, I viewed a segment of 20/20 that discussed the abuse of emotional service animals (ESA) by individuals who simply wished to fly with their pets beside them.  During this segment, a woman by the name of Genevieve falsely claimed she had an emotional illness in order to obtain an ESA. Genevieve stated, “What’s the harm?”  To respond to Genevieve’s question, the harm is that individuals who genuinely need an ESA might lose their rights due to abuse of the system.  Further, it is completely unethical to feign illness in order to obtain certain privileges.  It is grossly insulting and offensive to those individuals who suffer from mental illness every single day.  Your segment addressed these issues, and such is appreciated.  However, just as I was disgusted with Genevieve’s actions, I was equally disturbed by the comments made by your correspondent.  Genevieve explained that she located a website that offered a psychological evaluation, and in answering the questions in a purposeful fashion, she was then diagnosed with “panic attack disorder.”  In response to this wrongly obtained diagnosis, your employee stated that Genevieve appeared “very level headed” and that she “didn’t seem like the kind of person that would suffer from panic attacks.”  This leads me to question just what your program, and representatives of your network, believes a person who suffers from panic attacks looks like.  To answer that question,  I wish to inform you of the incredible ignorance and insult present in this comment.  It should not be shocking or surprising that a person who suffers from panic attacks or anxiety appear level-headed.  Why would they not?  Mental illness is an invisible illness, and it is entirely possible that an individual with mental illness, including panic or anxiety disorder, lead a very successful life.  Not only may a person with mental illness appear level headed; they may also be intelligent, inspiring, compassionate, organized, productive, competent, and accomplished individuals.  The suggestion that individuals who suffer from panic attacks would appear somehow disheveled or physically deranged is insulting, and an apology should be offered.  The comments made during this segment only further the devastating stigma that currently surrounds all mental illness. 


Angela Ryan 

PHOTO: Genevieve told ABC News "20/20" she doesnt have a need for an emotional support animal and just wanted to fly with her dog Kali.
Link to story below:

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Shared Desires -- Different Endings

There is a power in writing, and there is a greater power in sharing our stories.  I'm certain that I have before shared the C.S. Lewis quote, "We read to know we are not alone."  The same might be said of writing.  Our stories often reveal our souls, and when such stories are shared, the writer is often hoping to be heard, hoping to know that he or she is not alone, hoping to know that he or she might yet be saved.  In the same turn, some stories are shared to let others know they are not alone, their pain has been felt, and survived by others.  Our stories can give others strength.  I am truly astounded by the strength of the young writer who composed the following guest post.  She leaves us with an important lesson to be alert, be involved, and be gentle for everyone is fighting a battle we know nothing about.  Further, we have the power to shape our own stories and we can be the hero instead of drafting a horror tale.  Finally, I would like to thank the anonymous author of this story for inspiring me to write and share once again, as it has surely been one of my struggles.  Thank you, dear girl with a beautiful smile and strong spirit.    -- Angela 


Shared Desires -- Different Endings 

I have fantasized about killing my stepfather. Several times, actually, and those fantasies were always deeply satisfying.  There was freedom in that fantasy.  That fantasy almost became reality on one occasion. After another day of repeatedly labeling his family as worthless and stupid individuals, my stepfather wrapped his hands around my mother’s throat so tightly that he nearly killed her. Witness to this terrible and violent encounter, I refused to remain silent and I pounded my clenched fists against his back until he stopped. After releasing his grip on my exhausted, despondent mother, he turned to me and wickedly laughed in my face.

“What the fuck are you going to do about it, you stupid piece of shit?” he asked me.

I didn’t know how to respond, or what to do next, but I was so angry I was shaking uncontrollably and felt enraged into possibly vengeful actions. In a mocking motion, my stepfather shook his head at me while proceeding to the kitchen, while my mom lay on the floor temporarily unconscious. I looked at her helpless, limp body on the floor and I was overcome with indignation and a desire for some justice or peace. He returned from the kitchen and handed me a knife, with an air of arrogant authority.

He whispered in my ear, “Go ahead. Show me you aren’t just a scared little bitch. I dare you to use this,” he further taunted, “Really, I’d love for you to try.”

I kept such severe scenes of abuse a well-guarded secret from nearly everyone in my life. I internalized my pain and, after years of guilting and shaming myself, the pain manifested itself in the form of self-injurious behavior.  I would have horrific nightmares every night and my incessant thoughts were often dark. Eventually, I channeled this negativity into writing. I composed haunting short stories about rape, abuse, and murder. I often scared my own self  with how twisted and troubled the dark recesses of my mind could be – those spots where I hid my secrets and protected the same wicked man I had often wished to kill. At times, I felt so depressed and dejected that I wanted to end my life; other times I was so incensed that I sought to end my torment by taking my stepfather’s life.

Such memories – and such dark desires – returned hastily to me as the news of a local homicide shocked our small town. The images of a troubled young female named Ashlee flashed across television screens and dominated news feeds. Ashlee, a seventeen year old junior, was attending the very same high school from which I graduated when she allowed her own dark desires to control her actions, leading to inconceivable loss.  Ashlee shot and killed her stepfather this past weekend, and she also stabbed her mother to death after falsely imprisoning her three younger siblings behind locked and tied bedroom doors.  She then fled to Indiana, where she was promptly located by authorities. Many are aware that Ashlee published horrific short stories and poems on a personal blog titled “Nightmare.” Such tales and tributes clearly demonstrate the degree to which Ashlee’s mind was troubled. It is further common knowledge among her peers that Ashlee even shared aloud, in her high school English course, one of her stories about stabbing someone to death and delighting in such destruction. I believe such public sharing was her way of asking for help. Obviously, and quite regrettably, her cries for help fell upon deaf ears. The result is the loss of life for two individuals and the loss of innocence for three more.

My story could have been all too similar to Ashlee’s ghastly fictional tales and real life appalling horror.  Fortunately for me, I had friends who recognized the times when I was troubled and reached out to me. They would ask me to stay over at their house or tell me how much they cared about me. Such simple acts helped to save my life, and the life of the man who tormented our family. I also had teachers who sensed something was amiss with my home life and pulled me out of class to ask about my bruises and work toward securing my physical safety and emotional well-being. I had people who genuinely, truly cared about me and my welfare. I had people in my life who saw the warning signs and didn’t simply turn a blind eye; they helped me through my struggles and helped me find my inner strength.  

So when my stepfather handed me that knife that day, I gripped it so god-damn hard that my knuckles ached and my teeth clenched so that my jaw throbbed. I stared intently at that bastard for a while, thinking about what would happen if I did actually proceed to plunge the knife into his chest. I knew no one would miss him. I knew my life would be a hell of a lot better without him in it. But then I thought about all the people who loved me. There were suddenly so many people I could think of with fondness and gratitude. It actually brought tears to my eyes to consider how much I was cared for, despite my stepfather’s disregard, and before I could change my mind, I told him, “No. Because if I did that, I’d be no better than you. And I am so much better.”

That is how the story ended that day.  I put down the knife, and worked fervently to set aside all my anger as well. But imagine how differently I might have reacted if I hadn’t been able to bear in mind all those people who consistently reached out to me in my time of need. What if I had been bullied at school? What if I felt none of my peers cared about me? What if my teachers and mentors had ignored the bruises and ignored my need to heal? You might have seen my name in the headlines for homicide too.

I am in no way stating that Ashlee’s actions are acceptable, and she must be held accountable for her crimes. Further, I am truly sorry for this family’s immense loss. I don’t personally know Ashlee, so I cannot ascertain if emotional or physical abuse drove Ashlee’s regrettable decisions. However, I do know that by failing to see Ashlee’s warning signs, we have failed her as a community. It is crucial that we as individuals each take the time to reach out to those whom we see are hurting. I pray that we can take this as a lesson to extend care, compassion, and consideration to everyone we meet.