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

 

NOTE: This is part THREE of the All My Friends Are Freaks short story series! If you haven’t already and would like to check out part one and two I will link them here:

PART ONE: All My Friends Are Freaks

PART TWO: All My Friends Are Freaks: Part Two

Stealthily exiting the unit, Twitch and I can see the rain flood the hospital parking lot.

“Fuck,” Twitch jumps as lightning strikes nearby followed by another boisterous clap of thunder.

“You alright?” I stop.

“I’m fine. Can we please just get away from the windows?” Twitch replies holding his hand over his right eye.

Grabbing Twitch’s arm, I pull him forward. Picking up our pace, we reach a questionable junction. The double doors in front of us lead to intake and the main lobby, whereas the hallway to our left routes towards the day program classrooms, gymnasium, and cafeteria.

“Annie, why are we stopping?” Twitch fervently questions holding his head to the ground.

Before I can answer, I notice the silhouettes of two MHW’s behind the double doors. Blindly dragging Twitch behind me, we dash down the hallway.

BAM! The double doors blow open followed by the hefty footsteps of the MHW’s about to turn the corner.

“Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit,” I continuously ramble to myself scrambling to open any door within reach.

Finally finding one that’s unlocked, I whip the door open throwing Twitch in front of me gently closing it behind us.

“You don’t have to keep tossing-,” Twitch starts before I forcefully place my hand over his mouth.

Keeping a finger over my lips I raise my hand from Twitch’s mouth. I cringe silently, cutting the lights as I attempt to lock the door behind me without making a sound. The steel from the deadbolt scrapes harshly against the inside casing of the strike plate as the MHW’s make their way down the hallway.

“No patients in here,” one calls out opening the door adjacent from us as Twitch and I hold our breath.

Twitch holds onto me tight as we hear the MHW’s keychain dangle right outside the door. Giving the handle a try, the MHW then rotates through a couple of keys. My jaw moves nervously as the teeth of his keys grind coarsely against the locking mechanism.

WHOMP! An echoing thump comes from above as if a tree has fallen on to the roof. I look to Twitch.

“What was that?” the MHW asks pulling away from the door.

“You. Stay right there!” the other shouts back down the hall.

WHAM! Twitch and I jolt up as an MHW’s body strikes the door. Moving towards the back of the room, I begin to feel around for anything in the form of a weapon to defend us. Grasping nothing but bendy straws, broken crayons, and paper cups I now realize why they had left the arts and crafts room unlocked.

“Here,” Twitch whispers handing me one of the pens we swiped from the nurse’s station.

I can feel my heart attempt to race out of my chest while Twitch and I eye the door. There’s a silence.

“Twitch,” I quietly murmur at Twitch as he starts tiptoeing towards the door.

He stops. Turning slowly to me, we both sport a puzzled expression while an indistinguishable snarl creeps through the cracks in the door.

“What the fuck is that?” I mouth inching closer to Twitch.

A gentle, repetitive knock hits the door accompanied by the sound of someone gasping for air. Sprinting for the door, I immediately reach for the bolt lock.

“What are you doing?” Twitch fretfully demands, pulling my hand away from the door.

“They might have Ethan,” I assertively reply.

“Just be ready,” I caution gripping the end of a ballpoint pen as if it’s a dagger.

Twitch nods as I unbolt the door.

“On three,” Twitch states.

“One, two, THREE!” we shout yanking the door open swinging our pens blindly in front of us.

Anchoring my pen, I gradually open my eyes as blood begins to run down my arm.

“Holy shit,” Twitch utters in awe, dropping the pen to his side.

Both MHW’s hang before us by bedsheets like some sort of fucked-up flesh pinatas.

Releasing my grip, I wipe the blood off on his pant leg.

“Let’s go!” I holler at Twitch progressing towards the cafeteria.

“Wait,” he anxiously calls back gesturing under their suspended corpses.

“Look,” he nervously shakes pointing to a chocolate milk carton.

Reaching for the carton, I examine it closely with Twitch.

“You don’t think,” Twitch starts.

“Samuel,” I finish.

A childish chuckle carries through the hallway from the children’s unit shifting our attention. Standing at the ready, Twitch and I cautiously follow the laughter backtracking towards the unit.

“Ethan!” I call out.

“Samuel?” Twitch apprehensively adds.

The laughter subsides and lights begin to flicker as the generator motor finally kicks in. Twitch drops his focus to the floor, shielding his vision.

“Guess the power’s back on. Bully for us,” he jokingly responds.

“Yeah, bully for us. Except all the double doors are locked again which means we’re stuck here,” I add helping Twitch up.

“Unless…” Twitch begins.

“…we borrow some keys-,“ Twitch turns back to the hanging MHW’s in shock to find one is missing.

“Where’d he go?” I ask.

“I don’t fucking know!” Twitch replies.

“Did you hear anything?” I persist.

“No! I was busy trying to not to fuckin’ zombie out,” Twitch answers.

“Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck,” I yammer on frantically searching the area.

“Even if he fell, we’d have to hear that. We would hear it. His body would hit the floor,” I chat to myself trying to make some sense of the situation.

“Blood,” an elderly voice eccentrically responds turning the corner from the cafeteria.

Immobilized by the menacing tone, Twitch and I stare petrified down the hallway.

A stripped, shriveled, skeletonesque man saunters sinisterly in our direction holding out a spoon.

“I told your friend,” he starts giggling to himself.

“Blood is the key to freedom. Yes. Yes, it is! We just need to bleed, and we’ll be free. Free. FREE!”

The man cackles wildly, then jabs the blunt-edged spoon into his eye socket twisting and digging deeper eventually pulling forth his own eyeball followed by a bit of what could be brain matter attached to his optic nerve. Profusely leaking from his freshly shoveled orifice, he limply collapses forward to the floor; his eye rolls from the palm of his hand across the carpeted hallway meeting the ends of my hospital socks. As if quicksand suddenly formed underneath him, the mans bare and bloodied corpse sinks into the floor.

“Twitch…did you see that?” I stammer running towards the renewed carpet floor.

“Where’d he go? Where the fuck did he go!?” I scream in frustration as panicked tears start rolling down my face.

“Twitch! Twitch? Twitch, where are you?” I call out down both ends of the empty hallway.

“ANNIE!” Twitch cries back.

“Twitch! Twitch, I’m coming!” I shout out grabbing his pen and the keys from the belt loop of the remaining MHW.

Sprinting back towards the children’s unit, I turn the corner to see the parking lot continue to flood and winds tear branches into the roads. The lightning has seemed to subside, but the thunder lingers in the form of a constant rumble. Reaching the double doors at the entrance of the unit I swipe the electronic key fob disengaging the magnetic locking strip. Lightly pushing the doors open, I warily slide my body through. The unit is still. Abandoned it seems. Hurriedly making rounds of the children’s unit I’m surprised to find no one in the day room and all of the patient rooms open and empty.

“Code blue children’s unit. Code blue children’s unit,” an unknown voice states over the hospital intercom.

BAM! The unit doors fly open. Hoisting myself over the service desk of the nurse’s station, I hide as the intimidating steps quickly pass towards the quiet room. Staying low, I crawl towards the edge of the station checking to see if the coast is clear. No sign of any MHW’s, I pop my head up staring closely at the surveillance feed from the quiet room. A few nurses and MHW’s stand calmly in unison around the patient restrained to the table. Unable to make out who the patient is through a greyish blur on the monitor, I wipe the screen with my hand. The blur persists and begins to spread around the quiet room like smoke. Arms by their sides, heads bowed towards the patient, the fumes trail up their chests into their nostrils.

“TWITCH!” I exclaim as the smoke clears his body.

“AHHHH!” an earsplitting shriek carries through the unit over the hospital intercom.

Placing my hands over my ears, I wince and cower under the desk until the shrilling screech eventually halts. Once again, my eye line meets the edge of the nurse’s station taking a quick look around. Skimming back over the surveillance camera, Twitch struggles alone against the restraints. Hastily making my way towards the quiet room, the handle singes my skin. Glimpsing through the square observation window I can see Twitch continue to writhe as the floor around him becomes engulfed in flames. Grabbing a washcloth from a patient’s room, I wrap it tightly around my hand approaching the quiet room door. Samuel stands guard defending the chaos he has produced.

“It’s over Annie,” he calmly starts.

“Move Samuel,” I state, readying my stance.

“Soon, all will be clear,” he continues.

“Just bleed. Just bleed and you too will be free,” he finishes chuckling madly to himself.

“You first,” I spring forward pulling Twitch’s pen from behind me.

Stabbing mercilessly, I continuously dig the pen into his lower abdomen until my arm grows weak. Releasing my grip, his body falls lifeless over mine. Shoving his corpse to the floor, I shudder at what I’ve done.

“Ethan,” I murmur through my immediate grief.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry Ethan,” I whimper kneeling to his side.

“Annie,” he faintly returns.

“Bleed. Bleed and you’ll be free,” he demonically snickers unveiling his rotted teeth and uninviting eyes.

I begin crawling backward as he continues to snigger gradually descending into the floor. The flames inside the quiet room cease.

“Twitch,” I jump to my feet pulling the door open running to his side.

Releasing each restraint one by one, Twitch lays unresponsive on the bed.

“Twitch. Twitch, c’mon get up,” I shout unlatching the final restraint.

“You’ve never walked away from anything in your life. Get up!” my tears pile onto his chest.

Goddamnit Twitch! Please! Please, get up. Please,” I lay over him continuing to sob.

In this moment. I feel it’s only us. In this room. In this moment. In this life. Together. Collectively as close and as far apart as we can be. I can hear his heart hang on by a thread and his lungs attempt to fill with air. The rise and fall in his chest keeps me hopeful as I continue to lay there beside him.

Groggily awakening, Twitch turns his body towards me rubbing his eyes with one hand. My remaining tears fall off my cheeks around my grateful smile.

“I know, Twitch. I know, but you gotta get up. Let’s go, I’ll help you up,” I encourage helping him up.

Carefully roaming the children’s unit, I gather some items from the nurse’s station while Twitch uses the bathroom. Noticing our charts behind me, I decide to peruse through while we have a moment to rest. Our charts hold all the information about us during our stay here, or in Ethan, Twitch and I’s case, stays. From admittance evaluation to medications, to outbursts and sedations, what time we fall asleep, how much we ate for breakfast, heck there’s even a number of bathroom visits on here. Little overkill if you ask me. The most important thing listed, however, is the patient’s potential discharge date. That’s all people care about when they’re leaving. For us, the veterans, that’s not something we tend to look forward too. This is our home, for now. And we all seem to be alright with that.

Pulling Ethan’s chart from the shelf, I can’t help but feel upset. Out of the three of us, Ethan was the least happy to be here. He didn’t feel he belonged anywhere. You know how when you’re upset and you tell people “you wouldn’t understand,” well the only person I genuinely believed was Ethan. His feelings seemed so complex and genuine in the most extreme ways.

“Patient has shown willingness to participate in their treatment plan and has voluntarily complied with prescribed medications. Recommended for discharge within the next week,” I read to myself.

“Where to now?” Twitch asks.

“Nowhere,” I blow Twitch off, hiding some tears with a sniffle.

“Well…we can’t just stay here, can we? Whose chart is that?” he returns.

“No one’s, alright!?” I snidely snap back tossing Ethan’s chart aside.

“You saw him too, didn’t you?” Twitch sympathetically expresses to my back.

“I thought I was just seeing things. Or…I don’t know, that I might have died,” he tries to explain getting a bit emotional.

“He was trying to help me in the quiet room. But he just…it wasn’t him. I think. I think I just really wanted it to be,” he finishes.

“It wasn’t,” I snap again.

“Ethan’s gone. So, let’s just focus on getting outta here alive,” I end continuing towards the unit doors.

“Since when are we trying to get out?” Twitch calls back.

“Where would we go?” he follows.

“What are you even talking about?” I step back.

“Even if the weather was on our side, which it’s not, where would we go if we get out?” he persists.

“I haven’t gotten that far ye-,” I try to reply.

“Home, right? You would go home, and I would just wander the road until the police pick me up,”

“Twitch, that’s not what we’re going to do-,”

“I’m tired, Annie. Tired of just hopping home to home only to get placed back here to rot. I’m tired of everyone telling me that I’m not good enough, that I’m going to be something awful, just another product of abuse and neglect, a loser, a statistic,” Twitch begins to vent.

“What if they’re right? Then what am I fighting for? Why am I trying so hard to fit into a world that clearly doesn’t want me?” he asks turning away from me.

“Twitch, you don’t fight for them…you fight for you. You fight just like every other statistic so that when you come out alright on the other side you can look back and say ‘Fuck You! I did make it. I’m still here and everything you told me I’d be was a lie’,”

“Annie. There are times I look at the patients on the middle unit and I see me. It feels…right? Like that’s where I’m supposed to end up,”

“Twitch, I might not have the answers you’re looking for, but neither do the people working here. People spend their whole lives searching for reason and purpose forgetting just to live and be the person they are. Statistic or not, your struggle is what makes you who you are,” I continue grabbing Ethan’s chart once more.

“And if you won’t fight for you, fight for Ethan. He loved us, dude. He cared more about how we were doing more than himself any time of the day. So, when you’re ready, let’s plan our next move,” I finish handing Ethan’s chart over to Twitch.

Twitch takes a minute to browse through Ethan’s chart while I proceed to search the unit for any extra items. Digging through every cabinet and drawer, besides a few more pens, almost nothing seems viable. Pulling out the pockets of the nurse’s extra scrubs hanging by their station, I hear a jingling come from behind. Tossing the scrubs aside, the most prized item I could ask for presents itself; teasing me with its golden teeth hanging by a thin, blue threaded lanyard, a master key, a skeleton key. Only a handful of head RN’s and psychologists access to some parts of the hospital.

Gripping the lanyard grinning ear to ear, I turn to Twitch presenting the key like a newly awarded gold medal at the Olympics. My smile swiftly fades as I witness a knotted sheet fly over Twitch’s head wrapping securely around his neck. As if he were cattle being wrangled to the ground, his body jerks back as he’s violently dragged across the unit floor.

“Twitch!” I hurdle over the counter watching Twitch reach for the sheet, he clutches the ends attempting to loosen the deadly hold it has on his airway.

The unit doors whip open unveiling the impossibly endless string of bedsheets continuing down the hallway between units.

Running past Twitch, I place the master key into the manual port.

“C’mon, c’mon, c’mon, c’mon, c’mon…,” the doors begin to slowly shut as I brace myself to catch Twitch.

OOMPH! Twitch crashes into me as the doors shut behind us. Fumbling with the sheet around his neck, he struggles as I hastily untie the knots.

Gasping for air, Twitch sits up coughing and gagging.

“Holy shit,” I take a breath in exhaling as I lay my head against the double doors grateful that Twitch is alright.

We take a moment to rest on the firm carpeted unit floor.

“We have to get outta here,” Twitch states.

Chuckling aloud, I jokingly shake my head standing to my feet offering my hand out to him with a smile.

Turning the master key, we both wearily eye the hallway as the doors open once more. Twitch grabs a few of the sheets tying a noose of his own fastening one end to his waist and carrying the other like a lasso. Retrieving the master key, we make way down the hallway where one MHW still hangs.

“What’s the plan?” Twitch asks as we turn the corner towards the cafeteria.

“We’re going to pick up our prescription,” I cheekily voice gesturing towards the pharmacy door with the master key.

Crouching outside the pharmacy window, I reach up inserting the key. I beam with glee turning the key as I hear the steel bolt exit the locking mechanism. I turn to Twitch with a boastful smirk. The door faintly creaks as I gently push it open just enough for Twitch and I to squeeze through.

“What exactly are we looking for again?” Twitch apprehensively jumps in keeping watch of the door.

“Anything really,” I answer opening every drawer and cabinet.

“Yeah, but…do we even know what we’re fighting?” Twitch adds.

“Nope,” I effortlessly reply.

“Jackpot!” I shout carefully unveiling a handful of syringes to Twitch.

“What are we supposed to do with those?” he returns.

“Improvise,” I say taping a few together into one badass shiv.

Opening the pharmacy door, we both continue down the hallway passing by the cafeteria. The harsh lighting from the parking lot on the other side illuminates through onto the empty tables and chairs.

“Thought I’d be more excited to see the cafeteria,” Twitch states staring at the menu board outside the entrance.

“Holy shit! Congrats on leaving the unit Twitch. What’s it been, a week?” I nudge Twitch playfully.

“Try two. Dr. Shaundry’s had a firm grip on my nuts for a while now,” he chuckles to himself.

“You hungry?” he adds.

“More tired, but I could go in for some fuel,” I answer.

“If there’s only Salisbury steak, I’d rather stick these needles in my own neck,” I add pointing at the poorly written menu board.

Twitch and I laugh entering the cafeteria hoping to scavenge something substantial. Working our way towards the line, I glance into the parking lot where rainfall has submerged the few remaining cars tires and telephone poles have fallen. A searchlight shines from above through the shatterproof panel passing right by my face.

“Twitch! It’s a helicopter,”

“Help! We’re in here! Help us!” I shout waving my arms, then banging on the window.

BAM! I jump back as a manic patient’s hand smacks back on the other side of the glass.

I can’t hear him, but I can tell he’s pleased even though the torrential downpour drenches his gown accompanied by the forceful winds. He runs off opportunely towards the entrance road.

Before I stand, I can hear a slight trickle hit the floor behind me.

Twitch stares blankly towards the parking lot as water drips from his cup onto the floor.

Running to his side, I fumble for a moment, then begin to count.

“…1, 2, 3…”

BOOM! A gunshot echoes in the distance outside.

Continuing my count to myself I run to the cafeteria entrance locking us in with the master key checking over my shoulder at Twitch.

BAM! The double doors leading from the center of the hospital whip open.

“Middle unit,” I whisper to myself terrified.

Knowing the lock won’t be enough I frantically pull a few tables hoping to barricade the entrance.

“…36, 37, 38…”

I continue to count throwing chairs on top of the tables as patients line up in the hallway viciously slamming on the glass.

My attention instantly switches towards the kitchen as I can hear the clanging of some pots and pans.

“…49, 50, 51…”

I clench my dagger of syringes circling Twitch readying myself to defend.

TINGTINGTING

A middle unit patient approaches mockingly hitting a pot with a wooden spoon.

“…66, 67, 68…”

“Fuck off psycho!” I scream.

Gloatingly snickering his glance cheekily shifts to the left.

“…71, 72, 73…”

As I turn another patient grasps my throat lifting me off my feet.

“…77, 78, 79…”

The patients in the hallway erupt barreling anything they can find against the window in attempts to breakthrough.

With one swift motion, I swing my dagger directly into his jugular, twisting and digging until he releases his grip from my neck.

“…85, 86, 87…”

CRASH! Before the other patient can approach, the window breaks as a dozen more patients stampede in slicing themselves all over the wire within the safety glass.

I sprint towards Twitch tackling him to the ground continuing to count.

“…91, 92, 93…”

Holding him tight, I feel this is our end. Even though with seconds to spare, each moment lasts longer than the last. My tears pile beside us in a puddle. A puddle that reflects not only our fight but our resilience and courage to belong in a world that so clearly tries to define our worth.

ZIPZIP…ZIP…

Bullets pass over our heads as the bodies of patients begin to collapse beside ours.

A few police officers’ flashlights direct their attention over us. I weep gratefully in their direction continuing to count.

“…105, 106, 107…”

Refusing to let go of Twitch, I feel blood pour out of his back from a new wound.

I stop counting and place my ear against his chest. His heartbeat gradually fades as other officers make their way in.

© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

Prior to my trip to Six Flags Fiesta Texas, I took a quick glance at their riders guide online for accessibility options for photosensitive epilepsy. Usually, these warnings come in the form of a symbol or a phrase such as “this attraction features strobe effects or flashing lights” under the list of the attractions. I was surprised to see only ONE ride that specifically mentioned the use of “strobe lighting” throughout the attraction. Luckily, I had a few close friends alongside me as we wandered through the park. Coasters that have automated flash photography, I feel, should be listed on the riders guide, but I was able to find the location of each camera before boarding, justly preparing myself for that portion of the ride.

With that said, within this blog post, I’ll be listing the attractions that have a strobe effect warning along with the coasters that have automated flash photography (marked with a red “X”), those that do not, and a few tips for those traveling to the park with photosensitive epilepsy. (Like me! Woohoo!) Keep in mind that I’m not your neurologist and you should acquire a professional opinion before placing yourself into potentially dangerous situations. Also, some of the attraction lines are part of the experience and you are more than welcome to wait in line with your friends and family opting out of the rides before boarding. Hoping you find this information to be helpful!

NOTE: This will not include a photosensitive guide to the attractions within White Water Bay, the waterpark section of Six Flags Fiesta Texas nor the holiday and/or Fright Fest Attractions. Additionally, on page six within the riders guide they specifically outline the following warning:

“Theatrical fog effects, areas of low lighting, loud music, sound effects, and theatrical and strobe lighting are used throughout the park during Fright Fest. This includes streets, midways, outdoor scare zones, mazes, and haunted houses both indoor and outdoor, live entertainment venues and children’s attractions. Guests with respiratory sensitivities, history of seizures or epilepsy, or sensitivities to latex, loud music, and sound effects are advised not to participate in these attractions. Please adhere to all posted and verbal warnings and directions.”

Batman: The Ride

Boomerang

Buckarooz

Bugs Bunny White Water Rapids X

Crow’s Nest

Daffy’s Bus Stop

Fender Bender

Fiesta Texas Railroad

Fireball

Foghorn Leghorn’s Barnyard Railway

Goliath X

Grand Carousel

Gully Washer

Hurricane Force 5

Hustler

Iron Rattler X

Kiddee Koaster X

Kinderstein

Krazy Kars

Pandemonium

Pirate Ship Play Zone

Pirates of the Deep Sea X

Poltergeist

Road Runner Express X

Scream

Screamin’ Eagle

SkyScreamer

Spinsanity

Superman Krypton Coaster X

Taz’s Tornado

Texas Gunslinger

Thunder Beach Speedway

Up, Up, and Away

Waverunner

Wonder Woman Golden Lasso Coaster X

Yosemite Sam’s Wacky Wagons

Zoomjets

 

Personal Tips & Tricks:

Low Traffic Times and Sunlight:

A calendar listing the current operating hours of Six Flags Fiesta Texas can be found here: Park Operating Schedule

Depending on the time of year, special events, or holidays, their days and hours of operation vary greatly. Foot traffic and wait times at the parks is at its lowest on Sundays between mid-March and late April also, in late August and early November. I recommend booking your vacation during these dates and to avoid Spring Break and holidays if possible. Be sure to check the calendar for exact hours of operation!

 

Bring A Crowd

Gather ‘round, friends! Everything’s bigger in Texas…including the amusement parks. Bring friends or family you’re comfortable spending time with to explore together. It’s quite easy to get distracted and accidentally lose track of your group.

If you’re traveling with photosensitive children set expectations before going to the parks. A majority of the rides are photosensitive friendly, but most of the main attractions have strict height requirements. So, I always recommend making a list of the attractions that your children are able to participate in and plan your trip around them. Everyone deserves a day of adventure!

 

Be Prepared

You’ll be walking quite a bit spending a day at Six Flags Fiesta Texas. As I’m sure you know if you’re reading this that two of the biggest triggers for epilepsy can be exhaustion and dehydration. Bring what you need, or may need, into the parks with you. I always carry my backpack while traveling and inside is an extra pair of clothes and emergency meds, alongside a water bottle secured tightly to my side. Also, my medical alert tag proudly strung around my neck. There were at least two water fountains right outside each restroom that I saw. The first aid building is located behind the Grand Carousel ride between the restroom and Sangerfest Halle in Sassburg, the German-themed area of the park. I highly recommend bringing a water bottle with you or purchasing the refillable cup and finding times throughout the day to fill it with water to stay hydrated.

My photosensitive friendly attraction recommendation is Poltergeist!

Once again, these are just a few of my suggestions and you should acquire a professional opinion before making plans. If there’s anything I may have missed feel free to comment below or reach out to me on Twitter and Instagram: @iMarrowsJ. Wishing you the best and I hope your next adventure is full of wonder and excitement!

© John Marrows Some Rights Reserved

I wanted to preface this blog post by applauding the admirable level of customer service I received from the Guest Communications at Universal Studios Hollywood. After reaching out by email, I had received a phone call from one of their coordinators, who also happens to have epilepsy. They explained their experiences in the park with the understanding that triggers can vary by individual. The information they had provided made me feel more welcome as they overextended their reach from just informative, too personable and genuine.

With that said, within this blog post I’ll be listing the rides that have the strobe effect warning (marked with a red “X”), those that do not, and a few tips for those traveling to the park with photosensitive epilepsy. (Like me! Woohoo!) Keep in mind that I’m not your neurologist and you should acquire a professional opinion before placing yourself into potentially dangerous situations. Also, some of the attraction lines are part of the experience and you are more than welcome to wait in line with your friends and family opting out of the rides before boarding. Hoping you find this information to be helpful!

There are a variety of hotels that have partnered with Universal Hollywood offering early park access to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter if you purchase tickets online or with a vacation package. A select few of these hotels offer a shuttle directly from the hotel to the park, otherwise, you will have to Uber or Lyft. I stayed at the Comfort Inn & Suites near Universal in North Hollywood and the Uber ride was around $10 one way, which is great compared to the $25 general lot parking fee. Upon arrival, you’ll enter through City Walk, which has a collection of restaurants, department stores, and gift shops leading to the park entrance.

Despicable Me Minion Mayhem X

DreamWorks Theatre Featuring Kung Fu Panda X

Flight of the Hippogriff™

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey™ X

Revenge of the Mummy™ – The Ride X

Silly Swirly Fun Ride

The Simpsons Ride™ X

Special Effects Show X

Studio Tour X

Super Silly Fun Land

TRANSFORMERS™: The Ride-3D X

Universal’s Animal Actors

The Walking Dead Attraction X

WaterWorld®

 

Personal Tips & Tricks:

 

Low Traffic Times and Sunlight

Foot traffic and wait times at the parks is at its lowest between mid-January and early February. I recommend booking your vacation during these dates and to avoid weekends and holidays at all costs.

The park hours are listed online as follows:

Monday: 09:00AM-07:00PM

Tuesday: 10:00AM-06:00PM

Wednesday: 10:00AM-06:00PM

Thursday: 10:00AM-07:00PM

Friday: 09:00AM-07:00PM

Saturday: 09:00AM-09:00PM

Sunday: 09:00AM-07:00PM

These times have variations with possible early park access and/or during holiday seasons.

Once the sun begins to set, almost everything is brightly illuminated. Especially City Walk. Which can be beautiful, but also a potential trigger for epilepsy. Seeing as you’re going to be spending a lot of time in the parks and City Walk is the main exit, it’s best to plan your trip around the daylight.

 

Bring A Crowd

Gather ‘round, friends! This park is extraordinarily massive! Bring friends or family you’re comfortable spending time with to explore together. It’s quite easy to get distracted and accidentally lose track of your group.

If you’re traveling with photosensitive children set expectations before going to the parks. A majority of the rides are not photosensitive friendly, so make a list of the ones that are and plan your trip around them. Everyone deserves a day of adventure!

 

Be Prepared

You’ll be walking quite a bit spending a day at Universal Hollywood. As I’m sure you know if you’re reading this that two of the biggest triggers for epilepsy can be exhaustion and dehydration. Bring what you need, or may need, into the parks with you. I always carry my backpack while traveling and inside is an extra pair of clothes and emergency meds, alongside a water bottle secured tightly to my side. Also, my medical alert tag proudly strung around my neck. I was surprised to find that many of the fill stations were only for soda and juice and did not dispense water. When I asked an attendant for a cup of water, they mentioned they were only able to give an eight-ounce disposable cup with a purchase. I highly recommend purchasing the refillable cup and finding times throughout the day to fill it with water to stay hydrated. Some attractions have water fountains and if you ask a food service attendant, they will most likely fill your cup with water or direct you to another that will.

My photosensitive friendly attraction recommendation is WaterWorld®!

Once again, these are just a few of my suggestions and you should acquire a professional opinion before making plans. If there’s anything I may have missed feel free to comment below or reach out to me on Instagram: @iMarrowsJ. Wishing you the best and I hope your next adventure is full of wonder and excitement!

© John Marrows Some Rights Reserved

 

 

Be sure to check out part one if you haven’t already: All My Friends Are Freaks

Sunlight peaks through the ripped sheets acting as makeshift curtains in this distressing excuse of a mobile home. Crucifixes ironically line the walls with quotes of false hope like “God bless our home and all who enter”. Cigarette ash falls onto my head as my foster father reaches over me extinguishing another butt in a beer can on the coffee table. Sweeping the ash from my journal, I continue to write, scribbling through the obvious grumbles of hunger coming from my stomach. After a quick swig from his flask, he derisively snorts in my direction coughing up a loogie onto my notepad.

“Dinner is served,” he mocks, laughing himself into another coughing spell.

Grasping my skull for balance, he stands then stumbles towards the bathroom. Encasing the forest green ball of mucus, I close my journal listening to his stream hit the toilet bowl. My stomach rumbles once again. Curious if he has left any scraps on the table, I peruse hastily through the bottles, cans, and ashtrays uncovering a few forgotten chicken nuggets. Glancing towards the bathroom while his stream continues, I blow ash from my foraged treat. The toilet flushes as I begin to scarf more down chewing vigorously in anticipation of his return. With a painful swallow, I open my journal jotting down anything that comes to mind seeming busy. Making his way back down the hallway, behind my busy eyes I tremble, swiftly wiping the crumbs from my face. My foot taps anxiously, but I bury my head into what I’m writing.

Approaching me, he looms villainously, sporting a criminal smile. Belt already at hand, he takes a swing hitting the side of my leg. WHIP! Jumping to my feet, I make a break for the door. WHIP! Striking my back, I cry out in pain falling to the floor. Turning to him, I crawl backward shielding my face as he winds up for one more. WHIP! Breaking the skin on my arm, I hold it close to my chest. WHIP! With a backhanded return, he continues to lash until the fact sinks in that I’m an unwelcome guest. WHIP! Swiping the side of my head I fall defeated to the floor. A few moments pass, with some extra beatings to be sure.

“Oh look, the dogs pissing on the carpet again,” he leans over to shout in my face.

His breath reeks of brown liquor and stale cigarettes invading my senses like a toxic fume of discomfort and hatred. My vision gently fades as a light seemingly passes by my eyes. I can see him confidently stumble off dropping the belt by my side, whiskey bottle now at hand. Light passes by my eyes again, brighter than before.

“The convulsing has ceased,” a nurse sporadically states as others gather around me.

“We’re just passing four minutes,” another nurse says grabbing my wrist.

“Son, can you hear me?” he asks as I slowly open my eyes drained of all energy.

“Can you hear me?” he repeats.

Nodding my head, I realize I’ve moved to the floor. Groggily I turn my torso situating myself in my own puddle of piss.

“Do you know where you are?” he asks checking my awareness.

“The hospital,” I mutter flinching from the bright day room lights.

“What’s your name?” he continues.

“Twitch,” I confidently smirk back at them.

“Let’s get him up,” he states pulling me to my feet.

An MHW grabs my other arm as they drag me out of the day room. Picking my head up for a moment I can see Ethan standing by the doorway in tears. Placing me on an examination room table my head hits a pillow and I immediately want to fall asleep, but I can hear Annie screaming down the hall. The only reason I know it’s her is by how confidently she disses the MHW’s. No one compares to the amount of courage she holds within her heart. SLAM! The quiet room door shuts, silencing her cries. In attempts to sit up, my head feels full of concrete immediately touching back down on the pillow. Lowering the lights in the examination room, an MHW slides a chair in the doorway scrolling through their phone as my eyes gradually close.

The gossiping chatter of patients lining the halls of the unit wake me up. Sitting up slowly, I hold my head for moment regrouping my surroundings. Stepping out of the examination room, the remainder of the children’s unit is lined up to head out.

“Twitch!” Ethan excitedly shouts running over to me.

“Hey Ethan, you guys going to lunch?” I ask.

“Dude, it’s almost six o’clock. We’re going to dinner,” Ethan answers.

“What, no piss stains? Someone’s growing up,” he teasingly adds.

“Pretty sure I left it all over the day room floor,” I return.

We both share a laugh.

“Glad to see you’re doing alright. You scared the hell outta everyone,” Ethan states.

“Have you seen Annie?” I inquire after a quick look down the line.

“Not since this morning,” Ethan’s excitement fades.

“Dude, she thought you were dead. We both did,” he continues.

“We talked about this before, it happens all the time,” I try to explain.

“No Twitch, this time was different,” Ethan expresses making his way back in line.

“Eyes forward, silent mouths until we reach the cafeteria,” an MHW declares before waving his access card by the magnetic lock system.

A loud buzzing indicates the doors to the unit have been unlocked. Ethan waves as they make their way to the cafeteria. Dr. Shaundry slips through the open doors as the patients exit. Greeted by the nursing staff, Dr. Shaundry smiles and waves like a cocky pharmaceutical celebrity. The doors lock behind her.

“Mr. Gatto, glad you’re up and about. You’re just the person I wanted to speak to,” she starts.

“My name’s Twitch,” I reply.

“Right. Let’s talk in here, shall we?” she points towards the day room.

Head down, I follow her into the day room. Finding my usual seat, I pull my gown over my legs holding my knees close to my chest. Staring at the floor, even though it’s been scrubbed thoroughly, I can still make out my piss stain, faintly shining under the blinding fluorescents.

“Mason,” she starts.

“Twitch,” I sharply interrupt.

“Yes, Twitch. First, I wanted to commend you on being so mature this morning. The nursing staff mentioned to me that you exuded a bit of growth in cooperation prior to the…your…the emergency,” she continues seemingly suspect.

“With that said. The medication you received earlier today wasn’t intended…it didn’t agree with your system. Do you understand what I’m saying?” she questions in a conflicting tone.

I nod my head in agreement but remain silent and now a bit confused.

“Perfect. After careful consideration, I’ve decided to take you off SP1, and onto SP2. After a few days, we can explore the idea of letting you leave the unit, but for now we want to make sure you’re safe,” she finishes.

“We’ll talk again in a few days. Keep up the good work Mr. Gatto,” she states closing my chart.

“It’s Twitch,” I whisper to myself as Dr. Shaundry hastily exits the day room.

Dr. Shaundry checks her phone before making a stop at the nurse’s station. She seems upset speaking with the head RN. With their hands raised, they seem to be oblivious as to what Dr. Shaundry is upset about. Assertively pointing to my chart, Dr. Shaundry checks her phone once more, then exits the unit bumping the dinner cart on her way out.

Missing lunch, my stomach is prompt to remind me that it’s time to eat. The unfriendly aroma of the cafeteria’s poor interpretation of Salisbury steak lingers into the day room. Annie jokes that if you rinse the congealed gravy from the sides of that rubbery slab of the reconstituted meat product that it resembles the soles of our shoes they’ve conveniently confiscated upon admittance. I usually just smoosh it between two pieces of bread covering it in ketchup hoping to mask the stench. Approaching the steel shelved trolley, I begin to rummage around for a tray with a sizeable helping. One of the nurses turns to me with a false sense of pity.

“How are you feeling Mason?” she asks.

“My name’s Twitch and…alright, I guess,” I gently respond.

“Ah, well then…Twitch, thought you’d like to know that they brought you extra chocolate milk from the cafeteria,” she happily gestures towards a few extra cartons on another tray.

“Don’t they bring those when there’s a new admittance?” I question skeptically of her offering.

“Well, yes. You’re quite observant, aren’t you? Tell you what, you take the extra carton to the day room and it will be our little secret,” she states placing a carton on my tray.

“Sure, thank you,” I finish walking towards the day room puzzled.

“Ah ah ah, forgetting something?” she snidely asks.

“Pull the plastic from your tray here, you know the drill,” she continues pointing the trash can.

Uncovering the meat and potatoes, the rancid steam assaults my nostrils. Throwing the plastic away, the nurse sarcastically smirks as I turn away.

“Let us know if you need anything else, Mason,” she calls out as I enter the day room.

“It’s Twitch,” I say under my breath.

Digging in, I stick my plastic fork into the overcooked and under seasoned thin slice of meat. Using the edge of my spoon, I do my best to cut off a piece, but am unsuccessful. Placing my spoon aside, I lift the entire slab attempting to take a bite chewing forcefully through the tough lump like a vulture pulling the intestines from a rotting corpse of an elk.

“A little barbaric, don’t you think?” Annie mocks from the entrance of the day room.

I laugh a bit, grinning as I place my food back down. Taking her usual seat, Annie releases a deep sigh, then starts eating dinner. There’s an odd feeling between us that I can’t describe. I want to speak, but I feel she wants to say something first. A mutual misunderstanding. After a few bites, Annie just pushes her potatoes around her steak.

“I-“

“Look-“

We both start, interrupting each other. Our uncomfortable, yet calming stillness is accompanied by the steady rainfall outside.

“It’s not very good,” I start.

“Is it ever?” Annie shyly smiles back.

The silence returns as our awkward moment is spotlighted under the bright fluorescents.

“Did you see Ethan, yet?” Annie asks.

“Yeah, he’s alright, I think. Are…are you alright?” I ask.

“Am I alright?” Annie begins.

“You’re the one that almost died,” she returns.

“You spent a whole day in the quiet room,” I retort.

“Ethan thought you were fucking dead Twitch…and so did I,” Annie expresses.

“Look. I’m sorry. I don’t know what happened, alright? They gave me the medicine, then I had a seizure, and now everyone’s either kissing my ass or chewing me out. The nurse even gave me an extra chocolate milk because she thought it would make me feel better or something,” I vent.

“Wait, back up,” Annie says.

“I said I got TWO chocolate milks, you want some?” I offer.

“No, you idiot. What do you mean everyone’s kissing your ass?” Annie asks.

“Oh, well Dr. Shaundry came in right before dinner and took me off SP1 and said the medication didn’t agree with me or something,” I explain.

“Then, the nurses were all smiley and nice handing me an extra chocolate milk, it was weird,” I finish.

“They fucked up,” Annie says to herself.

“Yeah, they did. If there’s a new patient, they’re not getting any chocolate milk,” I boast polishing off the first carton.

“No, Twitch. They fucked up. Don’t you see? The medication they gave you is what caused your seizure. That’s why Dr. Shaundry took you off SP1, that’s why the nurses were being so nice to you, and that’s why you got a second chocolate milk,” Annie exclaims.

“They could’ve killed you,” she finishes.

“You’re thinking way too much into this,” I reply.

A sudden flash of lightning followed by a roaring boom of thunder adds to the torrential downpour outside. The unit doors buzz as a mental health worker enters with a new patient. The boy is audibly sobbing dragging a soaked knapsack behind him, his clothes are covered in mud and hair as greasy as it could be. Head down he follows the MHW into the evaluation room. Annie and I continue picking around our trays. After a few minutes, the boy emerges from the evaluation room with the same defeated look we all had after being felt up like we’re magically hiding weapons up our asses. The MHW holds his clothes and shoes directing him towards dinner trays and the day room. Shuffling slowly towards us he grabs a tray and makes his way in continuing to whimper. Annie and I look to each other, then back at the boy. He places the dinner tray in the seat next to him and pulls his knees to his chest.

“First time here?” I ask.

Looking up for a moment, a faint black eye shines back at us. Grasping my second carton of chocolate milk, I look to him again, then walk over to him offering it up.

“Hey, ummm…my name’s Twitch and that’s Annie,” I start.

There’s no response. Looking to Annie I shrug my shoulders.

“So, I think this was really for you, but they gave it to me because they almost killed me,” I continue.

The boy glances up with a concerned expression. Turning to Annie again, she covers her face with her palm.

“I’ll leave it on your tray. They like to take notes on things we do, so try to eat something. Doesn’t have to be much,” I say trying to be supportive.

“Anyway…if you need anything Annie and I have been here for a while and know quite a bit. Our friend Ethan as well,” I finish, taking my seat near Annie.

“Idiot, you scared the shit out of him,” Annie aggressively whispers to me.

“I did not. The last thing I wanted to do after the MHW’s probed me was eat,” I retort.

“My name’s Samuel,” the boy quietly states.

“Right. Like I said, I’m Twitch and this is Annie,” I repeat myself.

“How long do I have to stay here?” he asks wiping snot from his upper lip.

“Uhhh…well probably shorter than us,” I joke.

“Usually three to five days,” Annie jumps in slugging my shoulder.

“Your parents bring you here?” she adds.

Shaking his head, he begins to hold his knees tighter.

The unit door bursts open as the other kids arrive back on the unit rushing into the day room. Ethan sprints in moving my tray aside taking his usual seat.

“Dude! Did you guys get any of that banana cream pie? It was so good,” Ethan exclaims.

Samuel sits up promptly, staring at Ethan with intent in his glare.

“Hi. I’m Ethan, what’s your name?” Ethan extends in a welcoming tone.

Awaiting a response, we all sit awkwardly twiddling our thumbs hoping he might reply.

“Ethan, this is Samuel. He just got here while you guys were at dinner,” Annie affirms unable to look away from Samuels fixated gaze of Ethan.

“Well this sure has been fun,” I interject.

Collecting my scraps of food, Annie and I dump the trash from our plates outside the day room returning our trays to the steel trolley unit. An earsplitting shriek painfully echoes through the halls of the children’s unit. Pushed aside by a nurse, an MHW rushes closely behind into the day room. Through the observation windows, Annie and I observe Samuel pounce violently onto Ethan tackling him to the day room floor. Another MHW blocks the door as we watch Samuel viciously claw at Ethan, tearing into his gown just enough to break the skin on his chest. While the MHW’s attempt to rip Samuel from Ethan, Annie aims to barge her way through the blockheaded bodybuilder obstructing the entrance. Successfully restraining Samuel, Ethan hurriedly crawls backward to the far corner of the day room.

“Code green children’s unit. Code green children’s un-,” the nurse is cut off as lightning strikes nearby cutting off power to the hospital.

Annie shoves her way through hastily making her way to the back of the day room in aid of Ethan. The MHW at the door rushes to assist in wrangling Samuel who cackles wickedly, then willingly surrenders to the power of the MHW’s. Entering the day room, I pass by Samuel who’s sporting a conceited grin with a bit of Ethan’s blood dripping from his chin. He groans in agony as an MHW digs his knee deeper into his back. The fire alarm sounds before the antique backup generator can kick in. Shielding my eyes from the flashing lights, I continue towards the back of the room reaching blindly in front of me. Annie eventually grabs my hand pulling me behind a cluster of chairs as the alarm continues to piercingly wail. She’s screaming, but I can’t make out anything she’s saying. The lights are too overwhelming as I become dizzy. Squinting my eyes, I use one hand to visor my vision slowly raising it hoping to read her lips as she shouts.

“He’s gone,” Annie shouts.

“Ethan’s not here, we have to go,” she says attempting to pull me to my feet.

Unconfidently finding my footing, Annie directs us out of the day room. Afraid to open my eyes I can hear the cries of other patients as MHW’s cluelessly attempt to regain control of this maddening situation. Forcefully grabbing my shoulders, Annie shoves me forward into a closet closing the door behind us.

“Fuck, c’mon Annie that hurt,” I cry out.

“Shhh,” Annie whispers.

“We’ll be alright as long as no one finds us in here,” she continues.

“What do you mean Ethan was gone?” I ask with a low voice.

“He wasn’t there, Twitch. When they pulled Samuel off, he crawled to the back of the room, but he wasn’t there,” Annie quickly attempts to explain.

“You think he got out the day room back door? The power might have cut out the lock systems,” I inquire.

“No, no. Any door leading directly outside is bolt locked, he’d need a key. There’s no way Twitch, there’s no way!” Annie mutters frantically.

“Okay, okay. We’ll figure it out just try and calm down,” I add.

The alarm sound subsides, Annie and I cover our mouths as we hear MHW’s walking about the unit unable to gain control of the other patients. SLAM! Annie and I jump as the unit door bursts open without warning.

“All unit doors have malfunctioned, middle unit patients are attempting to escape,” an MHW shouts onto our unit.

“We need assistance immediately,” he continues.

“Two of us will stay here, the others will head to the middle unit,” another answers.

SLAM! They swiftly exit the unit as the doors crash behind them. We can make out a few pairs of boots from underneath the door. A thick pink substance runs from under my gown. Annie nudges me pointing to it, as I slowly sit up hastily wiping it before it leaks out onto the unit.

“The majority of the kids are back in the day room; how many are we missing?” the MHW’s converse directly outside the closet.

“I don’t know two…three?” the other answers.

“You search the right corridor rooms while I watch the day room. Then we’ll switch. No room goes unturned,” they split.

“Twitch, this is our only chance. We have to go now,” Annie insists almost pushing me out of the door.

“Go where?”

“We have to find Ethan while the unit doors are unlocked,” she persists.

“Fuck alright let’s go,” I muster the courage slowly opening the door.

Staying low Annie and I use the nurse’s station as a barricade. Glancing towards the quiet room, sounds of hissing and snarling echo towards us.

“You hear that?” I ask as Annie sneaks into the nurse’s station.

“Annie, no. C’mon let’s go,” I encourage.

Annie hands me a few pens, then we turn towards the unit doors. Glimpsing at the quiet room monitor on the counter, Samuel can be seen struggling. His limbs are contorted wildly as he gripes towards the wall. Annie and I stare at the screen in awe as we witness his bones bend and crack. Even without sound, it’s terrifying to witness. He stops. We turn to each other, then back to the screen. Samuel is gone.

“Go. Now!” Annie exclaims as we both sprint towards the unit double doors.

“You ready?” she turns to me.

“Let’s do it,” I whisper back.

With a quick look over our shoulders, Annie gently pushes the doors open just enough for us to squeeze through.

To be continued…

© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

Prior to my trip to Universal Orlando, I researched what attractions I’d be able to take part in. Unable to find specific information dedicated to epilepsy, I decided to reach out to Guest Services via email stating that I couldn’t find anything regarding photosensitive epilepsy and if they had any tips or ideas. The next morning, I was sent a helpful and friendly email from one of the coordinators of guest communications.

They go on to explain that the Riders Guide does not specifically mention guests with photosensitive epilepsy, however, there’s a symbol in the Riders Guide, and outside each attraction warning guests that the “Attraction is not recommended for Guests who have medical sensitivity to strobe effects”.

Sifting through the Riders Guide I was a little overwhelmed at how many rides have this warning and that my trip may not have been worthwhile. This was NOT the case. I had a fantastic time visiting the parks and would love to take this opportunity to thank the Universal Orlando Guest Services for the valuable information they provided. Thank you!

With that said, within this blog post I’ll be listing the rides that have the strobe effect warning (marked with a red “X”), those that do not, and a few tips for those traveling to the parks with photosensitive epilepsy. (Like me! Woohoo!) Keep in mind that I’m not your neurologist and you should acquire a professional opinion before placing yourself into potentially dangerous situations. Also, some of the attraction lines are part of the experience and you are more than welcome to wait in line with your friends and family opting out of the rides before boarding. Hoping you find this information to be helpful!

If you’re staying in one of the Universal Resorts, there’s a bus that will drop you off at the entrance to City Walk from there you’ll be able to branch off to both of the main parks; Islands of Adventure (Left) and Universal Studios (Right).

Universal’s Islands of Adventure™

Seuss Landing™

If I Ran The Zoo™

The Cat in the Hat™

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish™

Caro-Seuss-el™

The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride!™

 

The Lost Continent™

Poseidon’s Fury™ X

 

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ – Hogsmeade™

Flight of the Hippogriff™

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey™ X

The Hogwarts™ Express – Hogsmeade™ Station

 

Jurassic Park™

Pteranodon Flyers™

Camp Jurassic™ X

Jurassic Park River Adventure™ X

Jurassic Park Discovery Center™

 

Skull Island: Reign of Kong™

Skull Island: Reign of Kong™ X

 

Toon Lagoon™

Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls® X

Me Ship, The Olive®

Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges®

 

Marvel Super Hero Island®

The Incredible Hulk Coaster® X

Storm Force Accelatron® X

Doctor Doom’s Fearfall® X

The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man® X

 

Universal Studios Florida™

Production Central

Despicable Me Minion Mayhem™ X

Shrek 4-D X

Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit™ X

TRANSFORMERS™: The Ride-3D X

 

New York

The Blues Brothers® Show

Revenge of the Mummy™ X

Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon™ X

 

San Francisco

Fast & Furious – Supercharged™ X

 

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ – Diagon Alley™

Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts™ X

The Hogwarts™ Express – King’s Cross Station

 

World Expo

FEAR FACTOR LIVE X

MEN IN BLACK™ Alien Attack™ X

 

Springfield: Home of the Simpsons

Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl

The Simpsons Ride™ X

 

Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone™

Animal Actors On Location!™

A Day in the Park with Barney™ X

Curious George Goes to Town℠

E.T. Adventure™ X

Fievel’s Playland™

Fievel’s Playland™ water slide

Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster™

 

Hollywood

Universal Orlando’s Horror Make-Up Show™

 

Personal Tips & Tricks:

  1. Low Traffic Times and Sunlight

Foot traffic and wait times at the parks is at its lowest between mid-January and early February. I recommend booking your vacation during these dates and to avoid weekends and holidays at all costs.

The parks open at 09:00AM* and close at 07:00PM* with variations on possible early park access and/or holidays.

Once the sun begins to set, almost everything is brightly illuminated. Especially City Walk. Which can be beautiful, but also a potential trigger for epilepsy. Seeing as you’re going to be spending a lot of time in the parks and City Walk is the main exit, it’s best to plan your trip around the daylight.

  1. Bring A Crowd

Gather ‘round, friends! These parks are extraordinarily massive! Bring friends or family you’re comfortable spending time with to explore together. It’s quite easy to get distracted and accidentally lose track of your group.

If you’re traveling with photosensitive children set expectations before going to the parks. A majority of the rides are not photosensitive friendly, so make a list of the ones that are and plan your trip around them. Everyone deserves a day of adventure!

  1. Be Prepared

On average you’ll walk anywhere from five to seven miles spending a day at one of the Universal parks. As I’m sure you know if you’re reading this that two of the biggest triggers for epilepsy can be exhaustion and dehydration. Bring what you need, or may need, into the parks with you. I always carry my backpack while traveling and inside is an extra pair of clothes and emergency meds, alongside a water bottle secured tightly to my side. Also, my medical alert tag proudly strung around my neck.

Once again, these are just a few of my suggestions and you should acquire a professional opinion before making plans. If there’s anything I may have missed feel free to comment below or reach out to me on Instagram: @iMarrowsJ. Wishing you the best and I hope your next adventure is full of wonder and excitement!

© John Marrows Some 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