Within this blog post, I’ll be discussing the creation of the short story series All My Friends Are Freaks. The significance of each of the main characters; Ethan, Twitch, and Annie will be outlined alongside a drafted map of the behavioral health center with actual photos from inside the facility! Additionally, I’ll be responding to your questions from the All My Friends Are Freaks Q&A.

SPOILER ALERT: The information within this post may reveal important plot points within the series. If you haven’t read them yet, I’ll link all three parts below. As always, they’re FREE to read!

PART ONE: All My Friends Are Freaks

PART TWO: All My Friends Are Freaks: Part Two

PART THREE: All My Friends Are Freaks: Part Three

Let me share some initial thoughts before I get rambling about the infamous children’s unit veterans; Ethan, Twitch, and Annie. All My Friends Are Freaks has been a culmination of personal perseverance, reliving unfortunate traumas, and balancing the right mix of reality with fiction. I felt like I was there, every step the veterans take on and off the unit. Putting myself back in those hospital socks wasn’t something I was comfortable doing at times, but boy howdy did I enjoy fighting for these characters and I’m hoping you did as well. Again, just wanted to say thank you to those who sent in questions either in person, Instagram, Twitter, or wherever. Thank you to all my readers!

ETHAN

In the original first draft of All My Friends Are Freaks I wanted Ethan to seem like life on the children’s unit was just another day. Moving forward I found him to best to represent the struggle many of us have to fight to belong, even when our peers respect us for who we are. Our anxiety spikes when we’re put under the spotlight, unable to perform mundane tasks, such as Ethan buttering toast like in part one. Ethan is the friend who constantly tries to show you that he cares to the point where it annoys you. He’s the friend that needs a reminder that he’s doing great things and you appreciate his presence. The friend who almost always says he’s “fine” even with a black eye and a bruised abdomen.

TWITCH

Mason Gatto AKA Twitch is a twelve-year-old foster child living with photosensitive epilepsy. Twitch’s experiences and motivations closely relate to my own. This character was intended to mirror my own struggles and triumphs within the behavioral health care system. Part two took a ton of self-exploration and putting myself back into moments where I was most uncomfortable, very vulnerable, and extremely malleable. I’m sure many artists and writers go through this process and if you have, I value and appreciate your courage to do so. There’s not much more I’d like to say about Twitch, but if you have any further questions feel free to reach out here or on Twitter and Instagram: @iMarrowsJ.

ANNIE

The character basis for Annie, as mentioned in my twitter feed a while back, is closely resembled by a close friend I had in one of these facilities growing up. She’s headstrong to a point of stubbornness and will do anything for her friends. In reality, she was, much like many others who frequented these facilities, a self-injurer that was prone to cutting. After a particularly stressful evening at home, she coped by cutting and unfortunately sliced through a major artery in her wrist eventually passing from blood loss. If you’re unfamiliar with self-injury, specifically cutting, those who use this unhealthy coping mechanism are almost never trying to end their lives, the bleeding releases endorphins which helps the body deal with pain and stress. I do NOT condone this method of coping and recommend if you are cutting to seek assistance from a trusted friend and/or adult. Regrettably, around this age, I was unable to truly grasp the meaning of our friendship as we both were attempting to navigate our own challenges. Later in my teenage years, a few of the other “veterans” and I grasped the harsh reality of her untimely death and were able to grieve appropriately.

If you or someone you know is suffering and believe to be using self-harm as a coping mechanism Text CONNECT to 741741 to speak anonymously with a crisis counselor.

If you are feeling suicidal, please know that you are not alone. You can call the Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433.

Behavioral Health Center

Although an actual facility, I believe keeping its name and location redacted is definitely called for. The images listed below are stills illustrating the portions of the children’s unit. More specifically, the day room, nurses’ station, and a few extra things I’ll be sure to point out.

The Unit

Nurses Station AMFAF FILTERED

Pointing out a few things mentioned in the series. The nurse’s station where Twitch and Annie swiped pens from with the surveillance feed where Annie and Ethan watched Twitch noggin clock that MHW in the nose in the quiet room.

Surveillance Feed AMFAF FILTERED

The infamous magnetic locked double doors on the far left.

Double Doors AMFAF FILTERED

And of course…the observation windows into the day room with the bolt locked door that leads outside.

Outside Door AMFAF FILTERED

Unit AMFAF FILTERED

From the entrance of the double doors, a front view of the nurse’s station.

Patient Charts AMFAF FILTERED

Pointing out the patients’ charts tucked behind the nurse’s station where Annie and Twitch read through Ethan’s chart in part three.

Reader Q&A

Why is it called ‘All My Friends Are Freaks’?

All My Friends Are Freaks is ultimately for those who not only don’t fit the ‘typical’ label of society but also tend to be cast out because of their differences. Whether that be from their abusive past, their mental illness, or just their will to persevere…to survive. I’ve found that within the walls of behavioral health centers, especially if there’s a children’s unit, you’ll find hurt, shamed, abused, broken people; but you’ll also find a unique collection of people who actually understand the pain you’re going through. They get it. If you’ve ever said “you wouldn’t understand” to anyone, truly believing that you’re alone in your struggle, All My Friends Are Freaks is for you. It’s for us.

Why short stories?

Working mostly in the seasonal employment industry, I understand that time is valuable. Especially your downtime. I wanted to give my audience the ability to have a “full” read experience within twenty minutes to a half-hour. Specifically, with the All My Friends Are Freaks series, breaking it into three parts made drafting the change of POV’s smoother than attempting to squeeze them all into one piece.

Will all your works be short stories?

No. In fact, I’ve been drafting my first horror novel for about a year now. (More on that later.) Also, I have plans to pitch plays I’ve written to alternative theater companies around the US.

Why does Twitch only cover one eye in part three?

Twitch has photosensitive epilepsy and there is a reflex for some that when introduced to a potential trigger (flashing lights, fireworks, lightning, etc.) they will cover their right eye averting their gaze. For most individuals that are photosensitive, they tend to avoid situations where these triggers are present altogether. However, each individual could have different triggers with varying intensity of seizures.

Wait…is Twitch dead?

You tell me.

Would you consider writing an extra part from an external perspective like an MHW or Dr. Shaundry?

Yes and no. If this ever reaches a larger audience that calls for this, I’d love to come back and write a “special edition” sort of post.

Would you like to see your series adapted to film or television?

Hell yeah! Honestly, I’d sell this to a media outlet in a heartbeat under the stipulation that I’d be working closely with the writers. Keeping the characters accurate and true would be a priority as they’re important to me…and also me. Ha-ha.

How much of this is a blend of your own experiences with fiction?

Fantastic question! I’d say most of the “experiences” up to Samuel attacking Ethan at the end of part two sum up the non-fiction aspect. Although, not as “storybook”, the small things are what really made part one and two connect with my life. I remember being that kid in and out of hospitals and the MHW’s remembering my face, what my triggers were, plus the things I could get away with and how to help those new admittances cope with being in unfamiliar, and often uncomfortable, territory.

And yes…the Salisbury Steak is really that nasty. Ha-ha.

Once again, I’m hoping you enjoyed reading this series as much as I enjoyed writing it. Thank you to all my readers!

© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

 

The Idea and Inspiration

The Killing Floor, my first screenplay ever to come to life outside of my university acting and film classes (I was a theatre major…shocking, right?). Eager to share my art with the world, I hastily began to draft a short film after gaining inspiration walking through an arboretum at the university I was currently employed at. I remember walking through the thick forestry up a steep hill coming across this open, and flat patch of land. “This must be where the students have their satanic rituals.” I think laughing to myself. Embracing the open space, a story begins to form in my head as I pace quickly leaving circular tracks in the snow. The Killing Floor was born.

Poster

SCENE ONE

Michael Karon sits close to his Christmas tree grasping an almost empty bottle of whiskey. His clothes are tattered and covered in blood. A half-wrapped present lies before him and a pistol on the floor to his side.

Michael’s takes a final swig of whiskey and tosses the bottle in front of him.

Michael picks up the pistol next to him, cradling it in his palms.

Matthew stands atop a mountain pass within a firing trench. Michael Karon, Matthews father, stands beside him giving verbal pointers. Matthew draws his arrow taking aim. Breathing in the fresh mountain air, he focuses his attention to the beaten target ahead.

MICHAEL: Envision the arrow puncturing the target before you release. Push your shoulders downward. And when you’re ready…slowly release your breath and let it fly.

Matthew slowly releases his breath; the arrow takes flight. Striking the target meters out, he celebrates.

MATTHEW: I did it…I did it dad! Did you see that?

Matthew hugs his father who proudly embraces his sons’ accomplishment.

Michael places the barrel of the pistol against his temple.

Matthews head lies upon his father’s shoulders.

MATTHEW: I love you dad.

MICHAEL: I love you son.

A loud gunshot is heard.

Snow falls over Michael Karon’s home, his Christmas lights are perfectly fastened, and beautifully organized. His Christmas tree can be seen through the window of his living room. A dog can be heard barking in the distance.

Matthew 4:16 “…the people dwelling in darkness

    have seen a great light,

and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,

    on them a light has dawned.”

Scene 1 BTS

Pre-Production

Beginning to draft the screenplay for fun, one of my friends was still a film student at the university that needed content for their senior film. During the early stages of pre-production, holiday break was drawing closer. University students were tired, and finding a crew was becoming more difficult than we imagined. Still, we persisted to go through the casting process and get everything we could. Obviously, in projects like this people wear many hats. Attempting to create casting calls, reach out to locations to lock down shoot dates, find necessary film equipment, and a few extra hands to help on set. In a small mountain town, right before holiday break…this wasn’t impossible, but we found ourselves running short on time.

SCENE TWO

Elementary language arts teacher, Michael Karon, wraps up a lecture on dramatic reading.

MICHAEL: When portraying a character from any script, not only do outside forces effect their motivations, but internal conflicts may also affect the way our character walks, talks, and reacts.

Brian rests his head in his palm staring out the window. A student in the back raises their hand.

MICHAEL: Yes, Amy.

STUDENT: I don’t understand Mr. Karon. How would we know if our character doesn’t feel good?

MICHAEL: Well, we can only go with what the writer gives us…right? So, if our character is described by our writer as ill. They might walk around holding their tummy, or they sound nasally always about to sneeze.

Brian joins in the conversation.

BRIAN: What if your character wasn’t sick, but they were not themselves?

MICHAEL: How so?

BRIAN: Well. Just because a character doesn’t feel themselves, doesn’t mean they’re sick. What if they’re just sad, or another character hurt them? What if they love someone, but don’t have the courage to say so?

The class laughs, Michael waves them off.

BRIAN: I just…I don’t think it’s always that obvious. You know?

MICHAEL: I do. We all know. True internal conflict stems from our emotions, our desires, and the obstacles pushing us further away from our objective, our goals, our dreams. Remember, what makes a great story isn’t always where the characters end up, it’s how they overcame their failures, how they celebrate their triumphs, and what they…

The bell rings indicating the end of the period. The kids quickly scurry out to the door as Michael attempts to get a final word in.

MICHAEL: Don’t forget to have your group presentations and skits ready by Monday morning-

They’re gone before he can finish. Michael begins to pack his things as a student approaches his desk.

BRIAN: Mr. Karon?

Michael turns and greets the young man, a friend of his sons.

MICHAEL: Sorry Brian, didn’t see you there. What can I do for you?

Brian avoids eye contact while standing awkwardly. He stammers as he begins to speak.

BRIAN: Matt and I…I…I just…

Michael stops him with a consoling mannerism.

MICHAEL: Brian. It’s alright buddy. Matthew is just…he’s just lost. He’ll find his way home.

There’s a long pause as Brian collects his thoughts.

BRIAN: I think I know where he is.

Michael’s expression quickly changes as Brian continues to ramble on.

BRIAN: Well, where we were. He went through and I told him not to. I wanted to tell you, I just didn’t think you would believe me {and then my dad said that I’d just make things harder for you}

MICHAEL: {Brian…Brian!}

Brian flinches, Mr. Karon lowers his voice.

MICHAEL: I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to yell. Just…just slow down and start from the beginning. What do you mean “he went through”?

Brian reaches inside his bag and places a tattered leather-bound book on Mr. Karon’s desk.

BRIAN: Matthew and I found this book. He thought…we thought, it would be cool to follow its instructions.

Michael picks up the book slowly thumbing through it as Brian elaborates further.

BRIAN: I mean, it’s old…we didn’t think it would work. It has a map of town with cool places we’ve never explored-

MICHAEL: Your dad’s seen this, right?

BRIAN: Not really.

MICHAEL: What do you mean?

BRIAN: Well, he said not to tell you and just to stay out of it, but I couldn’t just leave-

MICHAEL: Has. He. Seen. This?

BRIAN: No, but-

Michael quickly packs the book with his things and exits, Brian follows.

BRIAN: Mr. Karon. Mr. Karon wait.

SCENE THREE

Pastor Stephen hangs Christmas lights outside his church. Atop a ladder he reaches across hammering in some nails, continually stringing the lights as he goes along. Michael approaches smoking a cigarette.

MICHAEL: Need an extra pair of hands pastor?

PASTOR STEPHEN: (surprised) Michael? (beat) Hold on. One second.

Pastor Stephen quickly finishes hammering in the nail he was working on, then heads down the ladder to greet Michael. Michael goes in to shake hands, but Pastor Stephen goes in for a hug.

PASTOR STEPHEN: It’s been a while.

MICHAEL: Yeah.

PASTOR STEPHEN: I…um…I’m sorry to hear about Matthew. I’ve been praying for you.

MICHAEL: I appreciate that.

There’s an awkward silence between the two of them.

PASTOR STEPHEN: What brings you here?

MICHAEL: Surprisingly, Brian did.

PASTOR STEPHEN: Everything alright? He really enjoys your class.

MICHAEL: Ha-ha. Yeah, everything’s great in class. He brought a strange bit of text to my attention. Claims him and Matthew followed its contents to open some type of…doorway or portal?

Michael hands Pastor Stephen the book. Pastors Stephens eyes light up in shock as he glances upon the cover, he tosses the book on the ground before him. Michael retrieves the text brushing off its casing.

PASTOR STEPHEN: Where did you get that?

MICHAEL: Brian handed it to me after class. What’s the problem?

PASTOR STEPHEN: My son?

MICHAEL: Yes.

PASTOR STEPHEN: No. no. no. It can’t be.

MICHAEL: Steve, what’s the issue here?

Pastor Stephen heads towards the entrance of the church up the stairs.

PASTOR STEPHEN: We can’t talk here. And do not bring that inside this building.

MICHAEL: Steve, can you tell me what the fuck’s going on here? What is this?

Pastor Stephen approaches Michael aggressively pushing him into the wall.

PASTOR STEPHEN: If my son held that book, then my life is in danger.

MICHAEL: Get off me!

Michael pushes Pastor Stephen away.

PASTOR STEPHEN: That book has been only heard of, never seen. Its contents are dark, but not as ancient as it may seem.

MICHAEL: Oh enough with the end of times bullshit, come on Stev-

PASTOR STEPHEN: You want answers or what!?

Michael nods.

PASTOR STEPHEN: Stemming from this town, I only thought they were rumors, but it must be true.

Pastor Stephen heads back up the stairs, Michael tries to follow.

MICHAEL: What are you talking about?

PASTOR STEPHEN: [To himself] The bastard child strays from the flock. [To Michael] Your son is alive Mr. Karon. Meet me at the old docks tomorrow after church and I’ll explain further.

Pastor Stephen locks the door in Michaels face vanishing. Michael pounds on the door calling out to him.

MICHAEL: Steve? Steve! Steve?! Where is Matthew? Steve!?…Fuck!

Scene 1 BTS 2

Portraying A Character That I Created

Not going to lie, I thoroughly enjoyed becoming the character Michael. The look and motivations were loosely based off a professor I had in college. He spoke about his kids and how he would do anything to protect them. Obviously, I wanted the character to care about his son. The self-loathing and medicating was more of a reflection of my personal thoughts on the holiday season. Self-medicating is something I’m very familiar with, especially during the winter months. Those scenes, I found, really hit home as an artist and actor on set, but also as a reflection of what my holiday season used to look like. Taking the partner out of the equation was crucial to the motivations of Michael. His son is everything, and without him during this time of year should feel more than detrimental.

Michael Karon

MKMK

Production and Downfall

All the promotional shooting was complete, and we began filming scenes when we could. We all had day jobs and responsibilities that had to come first, time was already…not on our side. One of the kid actors was very experienced on camera, the other was almost brand new with some stage experience in school. Eager to learn and passionate about the project, we decided to take time aside and give him some acting lessons. It’s not hard to explain, but he was the character he was cast for. Being himself was what we wanted and being a character is what he believed it to be. Which is fine, like any film set the down time should be filled with banter and fun. We cast T.J. Tranchell, author of Cry Down Dark and Asleep in the Nightmare Room, to play Pastor Stephen and he was all for it from the beginning. Introduced from a mutual friend, T.J. and I immediately connected as horror fanatics and writers. Be sure to check out his Author Website. The families were taking holiday vacations, so we began pushing back shoot dates and our time eventually became so tight. With another job starting out of state I was getting ready to leave the area. Alongside the film to-do list, I was training two individuals on my day job and that had to be my main priority. We completed about half of the filming, then the project was terminated.

Full Cast

SCENE FOUR

Snow covered pines surround an old fishing dock. Michael waits sleepless smoking a cigarette on the dock, gripping a coffee cup dozing off.

BRIAN: Mr. Karon? Mr. Karon? Mr. Karon!?

Brian is heard attempting to snap Michael out of his blur.

BRIAN: You alright Mr. Karon?

Michael sits up, his cigarette is burned to its end next to his feet. Pastor Stephen approaches the dock with his dog Guinness by his side.

PASTOR STEPHEN: Hey Brian take Guinness for a walk, let me talk to Mr. Karon for a while. Alright?

BRIAN: Yeah dad. Come on Guinness.

Brian runs off the dock off onto some trails, Guinness follows. Pastor Stephen takes a seat next to Michael. They stare off admiring the silence over the reservoir and picturesque view of the snow caps in the distance.

“You can always rinse the surface, but the stain will remain.”

PASTOR STEPHEN: It’s beautiful, isn’t it?

There’s a moment of silence.

MICHAEL: I taught Matthew to fish here. Diane and I would come camping and he’d wake us up before the sunrise ready to cast off.

PASTOR STEPHEN: You must keep it together Michael, he’s still out there.

MICHAEL: Ha. Yeah.

Michael lights another cigarette and begins to pace around the dock.

PASTOR STEPHEN: Michael…you smell like an old sock soaked in whiskey.

MICHAEL: Kentucky bourbon to be exact.

PASTOR STEPHEN: Even in the worst times, you have a quick wit. I know the holidays aren’t really your favorite time of year, especially since your wife passed-

MICHAEL: Look. Steve. I appreciate what you’re trying to do here, but I just want to find my son.

Michael places the book on the bench between the both of them.

MICHAEL: What is this? And how does it correlate with my son’s disappearance?

Pastor Stephen takes exasperating sigh, then proceeds to explain the meaning of the text.

PASTOR STEPHEN: Alright. In the early 80’s the Palouse area was home to an estranged cult that believed bastard children possessed satanic powe-

MICHAEL: Steve. What does this have to do with Matthew?

PASTOR STEPHEN: Just hear me out. I’m not preaching at you, okay?

MICHAEL: I’m sorry, continue.

PASTOR STEPHEN: This cult believed a child born out of wedlock could be used to open doorways or portals of some kind directly connecting our world to the nine circles of Hell. This book is basically their “how to guide” on opening these circles to earth.

MICHAEL: So…then where’s Matthew?

Pastor Stephen flips through the book for a moment.

PASTOR STEPHEN: Here. Limbo. The first circle of Hell, an inferior form of Heaven.

MICHAEL: But he’s not dead, so couldn’t he just leave?

PASTOR STEPHEN: I’d imagine it’s as if a ghost surrounded us in our world. We wouldn’t be able to see them, but they could see us. So, if Matthew’s alive in Limbo then-

MICHAEL: Then he’d be invisible to the others in Limbo.

PASTOR STEPHEN: Exactly.

MICHAEL: Wait. When Brian handed me this book he said something like “he went through, I told him not to go through”. He didn’t think I’d believe him.

Michael’s cigarette burns to its end singeing his fingertips he jumps up.

MICHAEL: Ow, fuck!

 Guinness barks aggressively in the distance, Pastor Stephen runs off after Brian and Guinness.

PASTOR STEPHEN: Brian!?

Michael grabs some snow to ice his finger and glances over the water. Matthew stands across the reservoir alone, Michael yells out to him.

MICHAEL: Matthew? Matthew!?

Pastor Stephen quickly makes his way through some brush on the back trails searching for Brian and Guinness. Pastor Stephen stops for a short moment hearing Michael call out to his son, then proceeds searching for Brian and Guinness. Guinness screeches from afar, Brian screams in anguish. Pastor Stephen picks up his pace in fear for his son’s life calling out to him.

Michael turns back towards the water, Matthew sits on the edge of the dock fishing singing “I’ll Fly Away”. Michael approaches slowly.

MATTHEW: “I fly away, oh glory. I’ll…fly away. In the morning. When I die, Hallelujah by and by, I’ll…fly away.”

MICHAEL: Matthew?

MATTHEW: [Monotone] Diane says hello Michael.

Michael reaches for Matthew’s shoulder, he turns quickly covered in ritualistic paint and blood. Michael falls over the bench behind him, as he recovers Matthew is gone. Michael gathers his things quickly, then runs to the trails after Pastor Stephen.

SCENE FIVE

Michael makes his way through the thick brush following the barks of Guinness. Slightly off the trail in a large snowy clearing Brian lies motionless in a pool of blood. Guinness’ barks are silenced, Michael sees Brian and approaches quickly. Pastor Stephen is nowhere to be seen.

MICHAEL: Brian. Brian wake up. Brian!?

Brian regains consciousness slowly. Noticing the blood next to him, Brian begins to panic.

BRIAN: Who’s blood is that? {Dad. Dad! Where’s Guinness? Where’s my dad!?}

Michael attempts to comfort Brian.

MICHAEL: It’s alright. {Brian. Brian, it’s alright, but we have to go.}Let’s go!

Michael picks up Brian and carries him quickly off the path as Brian continues to cry for his father.

Brian is silent in the car staring off out the window as Michael drives back towards town.

MICHAEL: You alright bud?

Brian doesn’t respond.

MICHAEL: I’m sure your dad just got scared and head back home. He’s probably there waiting for us now, alright? It’s going to be fine.

With no response from Brian, Michael pulls the car over turning it off.

MICHAEL: Look, Brian. Please talk to me. We’re in this together now. What’s wron-

Michael reaches out to console him, but Brian’s frustrations lash out.

BRIAN: I saw him, okay!?

MICHAEL: You saw who?

Again, no response. Michael becomes frustrated.

MICHAEL: You saw who Brian? Who did you see!?

BRIAN: Matthew! I saw Matthew, alright!?

Michael stands down. There’s a moment of silence.

MICHAEL: I believe you. I saw him, too. Except…it wasn’t him. He was angry…hurt, and his face was-

BRIAN: Painted.

MICHAEL: Yes.

Michael fumbles through his things quickly and pulls out the book.

MICHAEL: Brian, he’s trying to reach out to us. He needs our help. You have to show me where you guys went the night Matthew went missing.

BRIAN: Area occisio…

MICHAEL: What? {What does that mean? Brian?}

BRIAN: {Area occisio…area occisio…area occisio!}

Brian takes the book out of Michael’s hands and thimbles through diligently.

BRIAN: Look.

Brian hands the book back over to Michael marked at a certain page.

BRIAN: When we first read through the book we weren’t sure if it was explaining how to get to a certain place or a specific time.

MICHAEL: That doesn’t make any sense.

BRIAN: Of course it doesn’t…you have a very limited imagination. Alright, it’s a map of a timeline. A journey of this group…kind of? They explain where they go and when they go, time being specific and seeming important. You follow?

MICHAEL: I guess…

Brian points to a specific note on a page.

BRIAN: Here. “Et trahentium ius vel sinistram non furca, esse certus ut semita levi. Cum pervenire ad magnitudinem planitiem quae non est remedium ad te pervenit occisio areæ.”

MICHAEL: And that means…

BRIAN: And you’re the teacher? We translated here: “The trail will fork left or right, be sure to take the path with light. When you reach the vast plateau there is no cure, for you have reached the killing floor.”

MICHAEL: So, let’s go there!

BRIAN: Hold on. Like I said before it’s a timeline. Next to each instruction or clue or whatever you want to call them, there’s a specific time. Plus, I didn’t go past this point. Matthew went through, I left.

MICHAEL: Why not?

BRIAN: You wouldn’t believe me if I told you…

MICHAEL: Try me.

BRIAN: At the fork, it says to take the path with light, right? Well, you think there was anything lit at 09:45PM in middle of the woods?

MICHAEL: No…

BRIAN: Exactly. There was this blinking light that was showing us where to go…we could feel it. It was like a presence was guiding us, almost pulling us towards the plateau. I waited at the fork as Matthew went in, he kept saying everything was getting brighter and darker at he same time until he just stopped talking. I yelled for him, but he never responded. The blinking light got faster and faster, like it was coming closer trying to get me, so I ran.

MICHAEL: So, what’s the first step here? How do we find him? Where do we go first?

BRIAN: I’m not going!

MICHAEL: What?

BRIAN: I’m not going…just take me home.

Michael takes a moment, then starts up his truck. ‘Two Minutes to Midnight’ is heard coming from the radio.

MICHAEL: Fine.

Michael turns the radio up, angrily puts the truck in gear and heads back towards town.

What I’ve Learned and What I Take Away

In a nutshell, be prepared and have time set aside.

I believe this project could’ve been completed if we began much earlier than we did. Juggling a full-time job and making a short film was not ideal. Focus needs to be on the project and the people participating. The people involved deserved our full attention. Especially if actors are working for free, there’s no reason not to put them first.

At all costs, avoid mixing hats you’re wearing.

At times I was writing parts of the script while on the phone scouting locations and emailing talent to interview. Don’t recommend that. Ha-ha. Take the time for each detail. Obviously, in productions like this you’re going to be doing multiple jobs. Plan accordingly, schedule intelligently, and act only when fully prepared.

© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

Today’s a difficult day for me. Air travel. It’s nothing new, in fact as a nomad I travel constantly from state to state depending on what seasonal job openings there are. With epilepsy it’s not impossible to get a driver’s license, but I’d say it’s more on the rare side if someone with epilepsy drives. Having photosensitive epilepsy (affected by flashing lights) is rarer than people think if they’ve never met someone with epilepsy. Only around 5% of people with epilepsy are photosensitive. If you’re interested I explain my epilepsy in more depth here: Formerly Known As Petit Mal: My Epilepsy

“Ambulances for me, are like irony on wheels.” from BBC Three Video-Things Not To Say To Someone With Epilepsy

My Advice

When I’m traveling there’s a few guidelines I like to follow to make traveling with epilepsy less stressful and more enjoyable. Note that this is the system that works for me, everyone’s epilepsy differs, and their needs may vary.

Plan Accordingly: The best time to purchase a flight is around fifty days out from the departure date. I recommend choosing an aisle seat if possible. Giving you plenty of time to organize things you may need such as extra medications for longer trips.

Sleep Well: A lot of flights, especially if you’re on a budget like me, may be more financially friendly if they’re early departures or red eye flights. No shame in being budget smart but be sure to get an adequate amount of sleep the night before if you’re not a fan of sleeping on planes. (Around 8-10 hours.)

Come Prepared: While traveling I usually have one checked bag and my backpack as a carry on. In my backpack, alongside my laptop and my current novel obsession, I have my emergency medication and an extra pair of clothes folded neatly inside a plastic grocery bag.

Medical ID Bracelet or Necklace: Having some sort of medical ID with your name, home address, primary care physician or emergency contact number could benefit you in case of an emergency.

Communicate: Admittedly, the first time I tried to converse with people sitting next to me I was quite embarrassed. However, more times than not we end up having an intelligent conversation on epilepsy and they speak about their friend that has epilepsy or a family member. Communicate to them that there’s a possibility of you having a seizure and what they can do to help. We’re all human.

My Experience

Out of the dozens of flights I’ve taken, I’ve had two seizures at the airport before boarding and none while airborne. (Knocks violently on every piece of wood. Ha-ha.) By becoming more comfortable and actively speaking about my epilepsy to others, I believe that air travel has become less stressful overall. Taking the time to note what I need to be safe and relaxed while traveling instead of worrying what others might think was the most difficult, but most important note I remind myself every time I fly.

I hope this finds you well and that you don’t let your epilepsy deter your traveling desires. If there’s any travel tips I missed or some that you’d like to add, feel free to comment below!

© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

Formerly known as petit mal seizures, absence seizures are caused by an intense, and abnormal, electrical activity in the brain. Most of the time neurons (your brain’s nerve cells) communicate with one another through bursts of tiny electric indicators. With seizures, these indicators become irregular. Some seizures have interrupting activity within the entire brain (generalized seizures), while others may affect an isolated part of our brain. Petit mal, or absence seizures, are a form of a generalized seizure.

Wow, thanks science!

If you’re not a medical professional, pre-med student, or my neurologist (who am I kidding, I don’t have health insurance), here’s the simplified version in case we ever meet for some reason. Ha-ha. *cries on the inside from loneliness*

Absence seizures typically last around ten and thirty seconds, sometimes one minute and three minutes, and are more common in kids ages 5-15. It’s not always easy to point out unless you know the person has epilepsy, but essentially the person will just stop whatever they’re doing and seem to stare into space. Regularly referred to as “spells”, they vary greatly in frequency from rarely ever, to several times per hour. Personally, mine can last up to about two minutes and more commonly come in clusters (one after the other), if I’m not taking proper care of myself. Besides loss of consciousness, I also lose control of my bladder. After one occurs, I’m usually just a little groggy and tired. If there’s a day where I have multiple seizures I’ll most likely be wiped out for the next two or three days. Some triggers I’m able to control include dehydration, sleep deprivation, and hunger. Triggers that are out of my hands, and the main causes include being photosensitive (flashing lights) and anxiety (racing thoughts). Obviously, if I’m not eating well than it’s more likely to happen. There’s a lot of foods I avoid because they potentially can trigger a seizure. (I’ll save that list for a future post.) Growing with my epilepsy I’ve learned to manage it quite well and know where to limit myself when it comes to things like getting enough sleep and having a few beers with friends. What’s currently frustrating is that my epilepsy subsided in my late teens/early twenty’s only to resurface now while I’m starting to get my career goals in order.

A gentle reminder that everyone’s epilepsy differs with triggers, length, type, and frequency. This post is not a one stop shop for epilepsy education and awareness. Yes, this blog post is informal, but I’m comfortable speaking on my disability and sometimes joking on it eases the seriousness of the topic for people that already aren’t comfortable. (Example: The lady sitting next to me in the airport during one of my seizures. Sorry, and no, I wouldn’t just pee on the seat at the terminal because I’m some lazy millennial. That’s a story for a different day.) Honestly, I do appreciate you reading this and hope that if there’s a disability you’re uninformed about that you’ll find the right resources to better educate yourself on that community. Also, if you have any questions on epilepsy I’ll be glad to do my best to answer below or point you in the direction of factual resources…or pastors that think I need to be exorcised.

© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

This personal blog entry will go over one of my suicide attempts in detail. This attempt, I’d say more than the others, was the closest I’ve come to death. I’ve left a note with every attempt, except the one described below. I’ll also be sharing a peek at my newest tattoo, its meaning, and why I got it where I did. Depression still effects my daily life today, but I am in a much better place. I’ve been sober from my drugs of choice for over eight years now and am extremely proud of that. If you’re having problems with addiction and/or depression I recommend reaching out to someone you care and trust to help you seek professional help.

The Attempt: August 14th, 2010

The moon shines brightly through my shatterproof window as the crickets chirp their songs under the stars on this cool summer evening. Awaiting space at a drug rehab facility, my withdrawal symptoms in this behavioral health center become less and less bearable by the hour. Awaking again from a night terror, my sheets are covered in urine and sweat. In attempts to clean myself up, I begin to sit up immediately vomiting to the side of my bed. Baffled at my roommates heavy slumbering, my feet finally reach the smooth, cold concrete floor. Weak, I shuffle sluggishly, a disgusting mess, towards the restroom. With a quick glance in the mirror I’m reminded of the disappointment my mother consistently reminded me to be as a boy. “Why can’t you be more like your brother?” I can hear her ask in the back of my mind as I dry heave over the sink. Nothing’s coming up at this point, I just wish it would end. It’s in these moments we reach out to deities we may not even believe in just in the hopes someone will help come save us from ourselves. Splashing a bit of cold water upon my pale lifeless face, I can’t help but shiver. My body is oversensitive to any touch, but my mind still feels empty like my depression has become such a constant that this gloominess seems typical. Heading back to my bed I pull my blankets back aggressively stripping my sheets from the drenched mattress. Rolling them tightly, I march intently towards the restroom tying a makeshift noose. Securing a knot on the other end I throw it over the door, then close the massive slab of a door quietly knowing the overnight staff don’t have rounds for at least another half hour. Taking a step onto the toilet I place the improvised noose around my neck. Upon this porcelain throne my emotions take over and I know if I don’t jump soon, I’ll back out. I jump. The sheet holds tight within the door frame as my body twitches against the door violently. My consciousness begins to fade as my drained body becomes less animated by the moment. My eyes close with my leg giving the door behind me a few more kicks. A seemingly endless field is presented in front of my unconscious mind that feels more comfortable than any place I’ve ever been. The sun is bright upon the wheat that flows gently with the warm breeze. As I begin to walk into the field I’m pulled away quickly awaking on the floor in the restroom with a few mental health workers gathered around me.

My Tattoo: Semicolon Rhythm Strip

The semicolon tattoo is quite common within the community of suicide survivors. I’ve seen them done in a variety of different ways, especially around the wrists. I wanted something unique to my attempt and story. In equal importance, the location of my ink took a great deal of thought. I wanted it to be visible, but also not if need be. Afterall, it’s my story, the tattoo is on my body. After years of knowing I wanted the tattoo, and months of planning its design, I decided directly above my heart was the perfect place. Every morning I wanted to be reminded of the pain I’ve overcome and that the sadness I may be experiencing is only temporary. If you’ve ever seen the lines going up and down representing a patient’s heartbeat that’s called a cardiopulmonary monitor, and some refer to it as the rhythm strip. My tattoo has a small piece from a rhythm strip with a semicolon directly succeeding representing a temporary pause in my life (suicide attempt), followed by a rhythm strip more than double in size representing that there’s so much more life to live.

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I’ve been able to come to grips with everything after this attempt and am working to become the best version of myself. Whatever that may be. As for what I saw as my brain began to shut down…that’s still a mystery. I’ve never been able to find a field that’s quite like that, but I do believe it means something. I do not believe in an afterlife. I believe being open and honest in discussions like suicide and depression, that it will help others that may be suffering feel less alone. You’re not alone.

 

© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

If you are thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433.