New App Will Make Netflix Binge-Watching Safer for People With PTSD

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It happened while Danielle Leong was watching “Sons of Anarchy” — a gang rape scene that would be hard for most people to watch. But for Leong, a survivor of sexual assault, the violence sent her into a panic — three days of flashbacks and panic attacks — much of which she doesn’t remember now.

The experience left her with a thought she couldn’t shake: What if she had known she was going to be triggered?

So Leong, a software developer, created an app to give people who live with post-traumatic stress disorder the power to know. It’s called Feerless, and it sends trigger warnings to people watching Netflix to make video-streaming a safer place for all. It was originally created as a project for Coding Dojo, a coding bootcamp, and was made available to the public on Tuesday, Feb. 2.

How it works is simple: Once you’ve downloaded the app on your computer, it becomes an extension on your browser. Then, you have the power to do two things. You can both mark potentially triggering scenes for others, and also receive trigger warnings yourself. A notification will pop up in the bottom-left hand corner 30 seconds before a potentially triggering scene.

Leong said the purpose is to put power in the hands of viewers. They can choose to exit out or keep watching, depending on how they feel.

“It’s about trying to get back to normal and finding that inner strength,” she told The Mighty. “Sometimes you have good days and you’ll keep watching. Sometimes you have bad days and you’re more likely to pass and watch something else. And it’s OK to have bad days.”

Right now, the app is designed for Netflix, but Leong hopes to eventually make it available across a entire range video-streaming services. She also plans on categorizing trigger warning so users can choose which kinds of notification they’d like to receive.

Her plans for Feerless’ website are even bigger. She hopes to make it what she calls the “Rotten Tomatoes of trigger warnings.” So if a sexual assault survivor, for example, looks up a show and sees it has a high rate of sexual assault triggers, he or she can choose to watch something else.

You’re never sure if you’re going to be trigggered, you just hope you’re going to have a good day,” Leong said. “But now, there’s this tangible thing you can do. I hope this is going to help a lot of people.”

Leong wants to emphasize that her app is not just for people with PTSD. Anyone can download it and help mark triggers. The more people who chip in, the more warnings will cover a wider variety of shows.

“If you have a loved one with PTSD or if you’ve experienced trauma yourself and ever wondered, ‘What can I do?’ this is a way you can help,” Leong said

If you want to download the app, you can now get it from both the Feerless website and the Chrome market place.

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To the Ex-Boyfriend Who Told Me 'It Could Be Worse'

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I remember exactly how the words left your cracked lips. I had just told a guidance counselor about my history of sexual abuse, and was in the process of being diagnosed with a mood disorder as well as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  I understand now you probably had no idea what either of these things entailed — I was only 15 and you were 17. But it doesn’t change the affect it had on my young, fragile mind. I was explaining the situation to you, and I was crying. Then, the words were released from your mouth like air from a balloon:

“Don’t you think you’re overreacting about this? It could be worse.”

It sounds like nails on a chalkboard for me, even now. For years, I kept this with me, always second-guessing if the symptoms of my disorders were rational. When I woke up in the middle of the night wailing, I would wonder if the event that caused my trauma had even taken place. I would wonder if it was really just a dream, and beat myself up for everything I felt. I contemplated telling my guidance counselor and my parents I had lied even though I hadn’t just to escape this nightmare. Your remarks did not help the detrimental inner turmoil that consumed me.

For an awkward sophomore in high school, my diagnosis was devastating. What I went through was, and still is, terrifying to think about. Therefore, you had no right to tell me I was too upset about this. My brain is different from a brain without PTSD. My mood disorder also changes my chemical balance, and it happens to be chronic, meaning I’ll fight it for the rest of my life. So, I’m not overreacting any more than someone with cancer is when they tell you that chemotherapy is painful.

I now know you were wrong, and what I deal with daily is very real. My assault did happen, and my mental illness is incredibly real and incredibly painful. While I understand you were young, you had no right the comment on the gravity of something you didn’t understand. Today, I take back the right to validate my feelings.

If you or a loved one has experienced sexual assault or any other type of abuse, you can call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

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When People Tell Me My Goals Aren’t Big Enough

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This evening I ran into a coworker I hadn’t seen in some time. She expressed surprise that I’d returned to my former job since I’d completed my degree. She began telling me what jobs I “should” apply for to earn more money.

What I said was, “As long as I’m making enough to live on, I don’t believe I need to earn more money.”

What I thought was, “The last two times I took a job that was too much for me, I became psychotic.”

Another time, I listened to an acquaintance open up about his suicidal thoughts. I was happy to hear him, until he segued into a diatribe about how none of us should take psychiatric medications because they poison us in the long run.

In the past this implicit criticism of my choices would have caused me to go home and throw out my medications, leading to withdrawal and months of internal hell. What I was able to say now was, “I believe in people’s right to choose whether to take medications. But for me personally, it got to the point where my life was so unbearable that I didn’t care about the long run. And I’m willing to accept risk in order not to go back to that place.”

As someone living with a (usually) invisible psychiatric disability as well as physical illnesses that cause chronic pain, one of the things I find most difficult about other people is their sometimes-grandiose ideas for my life. I’ve been encouraged to work more, work at more prestigious jobs, buy a car, buy a house, get a doctorate and move to a larger, more stimulating city.

As dreams are built for me without my consent, so are my limitations minimized and dismissed. When an acquaintance asked if I was planning to have children, and I explained how endometriosis had made me infertile, she responded, “Oh, don’t believe that! Doctors are always wrong about those things.” I’ve been told I must not really have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because I don’t “look” like someone with a mental illness, and that if I “just read Eckhart Tolle books” I wouldn’t have PTSD anymore. A provider once stated that my endometriosis would heal if I released the “stuck energy in my pelvis” by reducing my “stress.” (Combining these unwanted pieces of advice leads to the of course sensible conclusion that if I read Eckhart Tolle’s books, the reduction in post-traumatic stress will lead me to begin having babies.)

Perhaps people think they’re inspiring me by telling me that illness and disability don’t have to stop me from meeting my goals. But often they’re referencing what they assume are my goals, or what we’ve been raised to believe should be my goals.

I don’t mind not having a house, a high income or biological babies. What I do mind is intense, torturous suffering. I mind being in such physical agony that I rock back and forth on my bed, begging God to take away the pain. I mind living in constant, inescapable terror, hiding from people because I’m too afraid of them, and feeling under attack at every moment.

I’ve lived through this suffering for so long that finally doing better feels like a miracle. And it’s taken so long for me to figure out how to take care of myself (and to become willing to take care of myself) that I’m going to keep doing it, regardless of whether it lines up with others’ expectations. I will work two part-time jobs that I love rather than overworking myself and ending up in intensive psychiatric treatment again. I’ll allow myself to stay in bed for 10 hours a night. I’ll take care of my body not just by eating well and exercising, but also by using Western medicine.

I have a cozy apartment, sensitive friends, a nourishing backyard garden and a beloved cat who wakes me from my nightmares. Why strive for anything different?

I’m not going to f*ck with this.

woman looking out at clouds and lake
Cat on her birthday

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

 

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5 Insider Truths Sarah Palin Should Know About PTSD

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Sarah Palin’s assertion that her son’s domestic violence is a natural result of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), has lead many PTSD sufferers to speak out against this stereotype. People with this sometimes crippling disorder are often seen as unstable and violent, and this is beyond unfair to the many brave people who suffer in silence.

I’ve experienced PTSD, and I invite this chance to tell the truth about the experience. Palin’s comments didn’t touch on all these points, but there are some misconceptions I would like to clear up for everyone.

1. We are not all veterans or war survivors, though many of us are.

PTSD is more commonly thought of as a debilitating injury experienced by soldiers who endured unimaginable experiences in war zones. This absolutely holds true, and a large portion of PTSD survivors are veterans or civilian survivors of war. That said, there are many other causes of PTSD that are not typically discussed. Rape and sexual assault survivors, both adults and children, frequently get PTSD. Survivors of near death experiences, such as muggings, beatings, robberies, kidnappings or animal attacks also get PTSD. I will not dive deep into my own experiences, but my life was threatened by a college classmate over an extended period of time to the point where it was necessary to lock my doors, involve campus security and eventually transfer to another school. The result was PTSD, which was debilitating for a year and gradually eased over five. Possibly the PTSD suffered by veterans was more intense than mine, but I can vouch for the “realness” of my condition.

2. PTSD is physical and chemical, not purely emotional. We are not simply “scared” or “unhinged.”

One truth most can intimately understand is that our bodies “make our emotions real.” We know we’re in love because our hearts race and our stomachs dive. We know we’re angry when our hands shake and our cheeks heat. And we know fear because we feel fear. The shaky, racy, paralyzing, deep thought bypassing, reactive fear that evolution gave us so that we could flee from bears or saber toothed cats when the situation was dire. Now imagine you genuinely felt that fear sensation all the time. Intellectually, you might know that there was nothing to fear, but your body could never feel calm. The hyper-vigilant heart racing blood-curdling fear makes you think you’re never safe.

This was my life with PTSD.  For months I couldn’t work, sit still, relax my muscles, concentrate, take my mind off my past trauma or truly sleep through a night. I was tense and exhausted and likely seemed crazy to others, but my body was simply stuck in the behaviors that helped it to survive. In other words, PTSD is simply going through the motions of protecting your life when they’re no longer necessary. It’s not craziness; it’s your body needing time to release its white knuckled grip on the metaphorical gun you were holding during the actual shootout.

3. The concept of “nightmare” takes on a whole new meaning.

Imagine a body running survival and fear chemicals 24/7. Then, that body finally collapses into an exhausted sleep. Those are going to be dreams that put Freddy Krueger to shame. Add in physical body changes, and these nightmares can be traumatic experiences in their own right. When I was experiencing PTSD, the chemicals that typically hold a person’s body in place during a dream released. During the nightmares, full of threats, chases, the macabre face of my attacker and blood, I would sit up screaming, swearing, throwing myself around, looking for things to throw upon awakening, etc. I insisted that people knock on my locked door and loudly identify themselves before entering if they needed me while I was asleep.

4. There are ways to make the world less triggered for us.

A person getting little sleep with a body full of fear chemicals will startle easily. I would gently ask people to approach me verbally before touching me and to enter my eye line rather than sneak up behind me. This is good advice when a loved one has PTSD. Avoidance of situations, places, objects or people that remind a person of the trauma is also common. I was unable to speak to my attacker, see pictures of her or go to my old college campus for years after I developed PTSD, and frankly the way I saw it, why make a bad situation worse for myself?

I think this last point is the most important, so please believe that:

5. In spite of our PTSD, we are not dangerous or violent in most cases.

I cannot stress enough that there was nothing dangerous about me when I was experiencing PTSD! I was more worried about potential threats than my loved ones were. I gently gave people advice on approaching me. I slept alone until I felt ready to have a roommate or significant other, and though I was never actually violent coming out of my night terrors, I locked my doors until I was 100 percent sure. Nothing about the condition of PTSD kept me from being a person capable of concern for others. To defend violence or abuse as a natural part of the PTSD experience is to overlook the majority of people who have PTSD who are non-violent, but suffering. We trust our brave veterans with our lives every day while they defend our country. Why assume that they morph into mindless, violent abusers when they return home?

I hope this piece has played a part in building empathy for people suffering with PTSD, and that we can all speak out against the lie that veterans and assault victims are dangerous people.

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When a Nurse’s Kind Acts Gave Me One of My Best Hospital Experiences

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To Whom It May Concern,

Recently I was admitted to Mission Medical Center. I was assigned to a room and remained there until my discharge a few days later.

During my hospitalization, I had the privilege of having a nurse care for me, and the purpose of my letter is to commend her on her excellency and commitment to patient care.

To begin with, I’d like to mention that I was born with a rare and very complex congenital birth defect that has required numerous hospitalizations throughout my life, starting at birth and continuing to present day.

I have been cared for by hundreds of nurses over the years and in many different settings. I have experienced both above and beyond levels of nursing care all the way down to substandard and downright deplorable nursing care.

Today, I would like to express my sincerest appreciation and gratitude for what I can honestly say was one of the best hospital experiences I have had, and that was due in large part to this nurse.

She expressed not only the utmost professionalism, but she also went above and beyond her duties to make sure all of my needs were met in a timely manner, even though the floor was extremely busy on this weekend.

Furthermore, I experience severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) resulting from years of medical trauma. The most routine procedures will often cause me to react physically and emotionally in ways that appear to be over the top, unreasonable and irrational, and out of proportion to what is going on.

When I experience PTSD, as I did over this recent hospitalization, I am often met with overt frustration and irritation from both doctors and nurses alike.

My PTSD episodes are often minimized, ignored and in many cases have resulted in attitudes and behaviors from medical personnel that end up exacerbating my PTSD rather than in attempts of calming or even acts of basic human compassion.

This nurse was present at a point in which I experienced a rather significant episode of PTSD over a procedure I was told I had to have. Not only did she show me great compassion, she also took the time to seek out the answers to all of my questions regarding the procedure. She went out of her way to contact and communicate with all of the various doctors who were collaborating on my care in order to explain to me exactly what their reasoning was behind my care plan. Furthermore, she helped me explore alternative options if any existed.

This may not seem like much, but to me and to patients like me, these simple acts of kindness and compassion make all the difference between a positive experience versus a negative one.

After initially refusing to have the procedure done out of absolute fear and anxiety, I was able to push through and agree to allowing the procedure to happen.

Each occurrence of a positive hospital experience diminishes the potential for a subsequent negative experience to happen, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

This nurse epitomizes what good nursing care is all about. She is professional and compassionate; efficient and knowledgeable; warm and friendly and was there to offer assistance within moments of all of my numerous requests.

Anyone assigned to having her as their nurse is fortunate and will not be disappointed.

Sincerely,
Stephanie Allen

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment a stranger — or someone you don’t know very well — showed you or a loved one incredible love. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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4 ‘Helpful’ Comments That Aren’t So Helpful for Someone With PTSD

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When you have a friend or family member with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it can be a hard, tricky road. In my personal experiences, I appreciate the concern, but sometimes (many times), I’ve heard more hurtful things than helpful.

Here are some examples of comments I find to be unhelpful, and what you can say or do instead:

1. “Give it to God.” “You can pray it away.” “Go to church more.” “God always answers prayers, just wait.”

I have “given it to God.” I pray and attend church when I’m able. However, the constant barrage of these sentiments have actually pushed me away from religion at times. It makes me feel like I’m not good enough for God to help me.

Instead: If the person is religious, pray for them and let them know. Prayers are always appreciated, but it’s not as simple as that.

2. “You should really try (insert vitamins, cleanses, the latest fad on the Internet guaranteed to cure everything).”

Sigh. I’ve tried many things. But I’ve found things like essential oils, while beneficial to some for relaxation and meditation, cannot fix a broken brain.

Instead: Help the person see his/her doctor and therapist who is trained to deal with PTSD. Offer them a ride. Or, making a meal for the family after “therapy day” is more helpful than any advice you heard on TV.

3. “I understand exactly how you feel.”

I’m sorry, but no two traumas are exactly the same. What triggers me may not trigger someone else. Sometimes it’s a scent, a place, a scene in a movie. The possibilities are endless. You cannot feel exactly the way I feel. You do not experience my exact flashbacks, night terrors or panic attacks. When you say this, it makes me feel like you’re downplaying what I’m going through.

Instead: Say, “I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine how you are feeling right now — but I’m here for you if you want to talk.”

4. “Stop living in the past. It’s so unhealthy!”

I don’t in any way want to re-live my past. I wish I could just get over it. The brain is a tricky animal. I physically cannot stop myself from panic attacks, re-experiencing my traumas and the many other symptoms I have. I would give up just about anything for it to stop.

Instead: Don’t say statements that imply I’m not trying my best.

I once read PTSD is like getting a horrible tattoo all over your body you didn’t ask for, don’t want and spend the rest of your life trying to get removed. That’s a pretty great analogy. PTSD is unpredictable. Sometimes we have good, even great days. Sometimes we struggle. The number one thing you can do is to be kind, always.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us a story about a time you encountered a commonly held misconception about your mental illness. How did you react, and what do you want to tell people who hold his misconception? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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