ValleyScare

I can still remember every single detail of the day when my college hockey career ended. I can still feel every pain of that day, every fear I had for the future. I remember feeling like my life of isolation would now begin, since I would never again be a part of a competitive college team. Then, ValleyScare came along.

I had always wanted to work in a haunted house. A huge Halloween junkie, every year I would go to haunted houses, coming out each time speculating with whoever I was with how much fun it would be to have such a job. So last summer, I applied to ValleyScare on a whim, hoping I would get hired, but knowing I wouldn’t be disappointed if I wasn’t. Little did I know, ValleyScare was desperate for haunted house actors.

Freshly hired, I attended the first required “casting call,” where we ended the meeting by deciding what kind of a monster we wanted to be, “crazy” or “creepy.” I had such a hard time deciding, since I thought I would be best fit in an insane asylum using all of the crazy voices and impersonations I had created over time, but ultimately decided on “creepy.” Every time I had visited ValleyScare, I distinctly remember going through the vampire house and wanting desperately to work there of all the houses, which is what I chose. That decision marked my birth into the Chateau Du Dam, and to being a newborn vampire.

The first “house training” we were required to attend allowed us to meet our fellow co-workers and to learn the nooks and crannies of our new home. We became acclimated to each other, and got to practice scaring towards the end. I remember being nervous to give a good impression and slightly embarrassed by my unpolished scaring techniques, yet overly excited to become a vampire and comfortable with my new home.

Then the first night of Haunt, the other name for ValleyScare, was finally here. Each night consisted of the same ritual. I would get to the park, pick up my costume, get ready for the night, go to Rally (which is where all the monsters meet and party until the park opens), get my makeup done, and then get settled into my place in my haunted house. I knew immediately this is where I belonged.

I spent my first half of the Valleyscare season under our dining room’s table, where I would pop out and scream, which I found was one of the best hiding places. The very first night, I scared someone so bad, they jumped back and kicked a chair into my face, hitting me right in the face. I continued my scares until everyone had exited the room, nursed my pain, and got right back under the table. Based on that reaction, I knew I was doing something right.

I spent the second half of the ValleyScare season in our house’s throne room, which has a massive throne and pedestal that someone can stand on. I was getting to know everyone more and more, and everyone was beyond welcoming, kind, and encouraging. I always had someone to complain to, to laugh with, and to help me think of better scares. I literally felt at home.

Fast-forward to the end of the season. At this point, ValleyScare was getting slightly unbearable. As Halloween grew closer, the guests became more unbelievably rude. My fellow vampires had been spit on, had their boobs grabbed, been called names, whistled at, concussed by a guest, harrassed, nearly puked on, and slapped. But those incidents actually brought us vampires closer. We would support each other, encourage each other, and make fun of the rude guests together. Those disrespectful guests made us protective of our home and of our “blood-sisters” and “blood-brothers,” as some of us conveniently called each other.

Even though I became worn-out as the season concluded, I couldn’t wait to do it all over again.

ValleyScare was everything I had hoped it would be and more. I made lifelong friends, unforgettable memories, created an alternate persona (calling myself Riss VonRouss), grew extremely close with my coven, learned so much about haunted houses, and even got to enjoy the park for a day. I instantly felt like a part of a team. It wouldn’t matter who you bumped into in the locker room, everyone was so kind and willing to help. If you couldn’t get your costume off or needed another makeup wipe, someone was always there to offer you another one. If you needed a piece of silicon taken off your face, someone was always there to help. Every night, the same girl in the costume department would zip my dress up for me without hesitation. I couldn’t believe how kind and excited everyone else was, and how much fun I had overall.

My coven literally lives in our house. One day I came in and sat down chatting with a fellow vampire, waiting for the night festivities to begin for a good hour. Every night we’d lay on the bed, climb on the ropes, chill in the throne room, sneak around the garden, and would skip through all of the secret doors and pathways to talk to each other. We knew each others’ scares, noises, hiding places, and would set each other up for great scares. Not to mention, our house is absolutely stunning inside.

As I write this post in mid-February, my skin is crawling waiting for the upcoming Haunt season. I would do anything to be able to walk through my Chateau right now, to sit on the throne, to see my fellow vampires, or to deliver a ridiculous scare. I miss losing my voice every night, leaving the park sounding like a scratchy cafe singer and telling my co-workers stories about rude guests or how we would direct guests into walls (haha!).

I  miss it all, and it’s unbelievable knowing I have a second family that loves and supports each other so much. There’s not one person I dislike in my coven, and there wasn’t a single night I didn’t want to be there. If you ever want to do something in life that you’re afraid of doing or aren’t sure if it’d be fun, my advice is to absolutely do it. I had no idea I’d have as much fun as I did, and I grew as a person and made so many friends from this experience. Don’t be afraid. Do what you want. Life is too short for maybes or next times. I did and I couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else than in the Chateau Du Dam.

I Am So Done

“Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness.”

I remember captioning a picture on my Instagram with that quote a few weeks ago. Now, in my current mood, I laugh at it. Maybe it’s finals week, maybe it’s 2016, maybe it’s the incompetent, judgmental people I have to interact with daily. Maybe it’s all of the above. But I am so done with the following things.

I am so done with adults acting like children. If you pass someone you know, whether you like them or not, it’s common courtesy to say hi to them, not ignore them and look down as you pass. You just look stupid when you try to ignore the fact you know them. Grow up.

I am so done with political posts on social media. The election is over and we are still tearing each other apart. I have witnessed people who have been life-long friends break their friendships over political disagreements. Go protest for who you wanted elected. Stop tearing each other down on social media and actually do something about it. Or else, shut your mouth.

I am so done with being told to filter what I say. I was recently told “you don’t need to air your dirty laundry on social media.” Well guess what? I can if I want to and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. I’ve even been told to cover up the fact that my disgrace of an aunt-in-law stole over $50,000 from my disabled grandparents. Nope, not any more! It’s my life, my mouth, and I can say what I want.

I am so done with judgmental people. People can wear what they want, say what they want, and do what they want. Your judgment doesn’t make you any better. You don’t know their story, their life. And your judgment definitely won’t change what someone is wearing. Get over it.

I am so done with people underestimating my intelligence. I am one of the most observant, intelligent, in-tune people you will meet. When you slack off at work, lie to me, or text me with a hidden agenda, or simply do something you think I didn’t notice, I know exactly what you’re doing, and when the time comes, you’ll be exposed. I’m a silent threat, so stop taking me lightly and challenging my intelligence. It won’t end well for you.

I am so done with incompetent teachers/professors. The world does not revolve around your class or you, so the sooner you realize this, the quicker your students will actually start learning and respecting you.

And finally, I am so done with this year. 2016 has brought nothing but pain. My grandpa died during the summer, which still hurts. I had knee surgery. My sports careers ended. My aunt just recently had a stroke. Plenty of things could be said about the election. I’m over it. I have no capacity left in me to give time to judgmental, disrespectful people. People will make time for what they want to make time for. You are important, even if some people don’t see it. I have learned so much this year about myself and the people around me, but I am so done with everything and one thousand percent done with this year.

End rant.

 

 

 

“Don’t Forget To Live”

The other day, I found myself giving my boyfriend a serious pep-talk. He was overwhelmed with school, work, illness, and never having enough time for anything. I’m sure many of us can relate. Saddened and disheartened from hearing about his trials, I found myself emotionally breaking down, giving him a pep-talk on how to make the best of life when things aren’t going as planned. Since this talk, I haven’t stopped hearing the echo of my own words in my head, “don’t forget to live.” I think it’s important for all of us to take a second to breathe, and process what I am about to tell you.

Your creator did not put you on this planet to simply suffer and die. Whether you are being overwhelmed with school, money, work, family life, friendships, relationships, whatever it is, you can overcome it.

If you are a student in high school, college, or trade school, undergraduate or graduate, you need to know that no matter how hard you work, you are not defined by your grades. You are much more than a student, you are a person who lives and breathes. Your creator did not put you on this earth for the sole purpose of studying and being miserable. If you’re in school, chances are your creator got you there, and is trying to present you with an opportunity to have a big future. Do your homework and take your exams, but if you turn in something late or get a low grade on a test, it’s not the end of the world. There is life outside of school, and five years from now, it’s really not going to matter what grade you got, so there’s no reason to stress yourself out. Do your best and settle, because you can’t do more than your best.

If you are someone working way too many hours than you feel capable of working, just know that it gets easier. You may feel burnt out, exhausted, and emotional, but every single morning is a chance to start over and begin again. Try to lower your hours, keep a journal, eat a good breakfast, make time for yourself. No matter how busy you may feel, you can’t forget to live.

If you are having trouble with relationships, you needn’t worry. Almost every piece of advice I can give relates to some silly cliche, but they are all too true. If someone loves you enough, they will understand. If you let someone go and it’s meant to be, they’ll come back. You can’t worry about what the other person or party is thinking or doing, all you can do is manage yourself. Do what you think is right, and if they love you enough, they will understand.

Something I heard from a friend was that in the midst of everything, you need to make time for yourself. It’s like those directions they give on airplanes before take-off. In case of cabin pressure failure, the oxygen masks fall down. They always tell you to put yours on first, because you can’t help others if you yourself aren’t getting enough oxygen. This applies to nearly everything in life. Take time to recuperate, recharge, slow down. If you don’t, you won’t be at your best, and you won’t be able to help other people. I stand true to this point still to this day. It doesn’t matter what it looks like in your life, you do what you need to do. People might judge, get mad, or not understand, but it doesn’t matter, it’s not their life, not their mental health. Take a day off work, take a day off school, go for a walk, call up an old friend, lay in bed and watch a movie, get fresh air. Take care of yourself so you can take care of others.

Not taking care of yourself is a vicious cycle. Forgetting to live is the biggest mistake you could make. If you don’t remember to slow down, you’ll eventually end up in a world where everything is a blur, and you won’t remember the journey. Take your time and breathe. Life is worth living, but it’s not worth being stressed over insignificant, unimportant, trivial things. Whatever you are going through, I know you can do it. I know you will find a way, and I ask that you don’t forget to take care of yourself along your journey. I’m telling you that of all things to remember, please don’t forget to live.

 

 

 

 

Anxiety

I will never forget that night.

It was one of my first nights as a freshman at Bethel University. I was exuberant, liberated by my new freedom. I was no longer a measly high school student being forced to conform to long schedules and nitpicky dress codes. During Welcome Week, every freshman was placed in small groups, each lead by a “new student mentor”.  On this night, it was the campus wide scavenger hunt. Each group member was supposed to adhere to a different role, a few staying inside to decode clues and direct the scavengers while the others to go out and hunt for the objects. I was having so much fun with my group members, making jokes, getting to know them, laughing at our wrong guesses and the scavengers’ light hearted missteps, and letting loose from the nervous ambiance every freshman radiated. That’s when it hit me.

My chest tightened so hard, as if a Sumo wrestler had sat on my chest. My heart raced faster than I’d ever felt during my hardest hockey game. I began sweating and breathing funny. I could feel adrenaline beginning to drown my body. I had to leave. I didn’t know where I needed to go but I couldn’t stay sitting. I told my group members I had to go to the bathroom and left.

I locked myself into the handicap stall. I legitimately thought I was going to die on the bathroom floor. This is how it’s going to end, this is how I die, I thought to myself, leaning on the wall, sinking to the floor. No other thought came to my mind other than breathing. I didn’t think to call my mom, I didn’t think to yell for help. Finally, after a few minutes, my adrenaline ceased, and my chest lightened up. My heart was slowing down, but still beating quickly. I was absolutely terrified, and finally walked out of the stall to call my mom. I told her I thought I had just had a heart attack and need to get to a hospital. She got ahold of my aunt (who is a nurse), and she explained I might be having something called a panic attack. I didn’t believe her, and through my tears, demanded to be picked up. My mom picked me up and  took me home. She said sleeping in my own bed might help. I was surprised I made it through the night, but I nonetheless awoke.

Everything was okay for a few days. Once the initial terror subsided, it was back to the freshmen festivities. A few days later, the same thing happened. This time, I went in to the Emergency Room. I was all hooked up to heart monitors, had to pee in a cup, was poked and prodded, and after all tests came back perfectly fine, I was diagnosed with having panic attacks and anxiety. I was given medications to take in case another panic attack arose. Irritated, I left the hospital. There was no way what I had felt was nothing other than a “panic attack.” But, it was.

Concerned floor mates and classmates asked what happened and if everything was okay. To my classmates, I made up some flu-type story, afraid of their judgment. I was much more comfortable with my floor mates, and was honest about the panic attacks. To my bewilderment, other girls on my floor had also experienced panic attacks and anxiety! They said it was more common than one might think, and that there was nothing to be ashamed about. I was surprised that this was a common occurrence, but relieved that they understood.

To this day, I still tear up when I talk about my story. It is something I deal with continuously, even after three years. I have learned ways to calm myself down, ways to communicate to loved ones when it happens, and how to avoid situations that generally cause my anxiety levels to rise. While I can’t always avoid it, it is mostly under control.

People with mental illnesses, disorders, or anxieties are not crazy. What they are going through and feeling is real. I thought I was genuinely having a heart attack when I experienced my first panic attack. A “panic attack” is when your body initiates your “fight or flight” system for no apparent reason, and with no way to stop it. Your body cannot maintain that system for long periods of time, eventually allowing the attack to pass. This affects 1 in every 75 people in the world (American Psychological Association).

It is absolutely wrong and uncalled for to belittle someone’s anxiety or panic attack symptoms. While the onset may be psychological, your body is initiating a physical response that can be paralyzing, and can sometimes lead people to commit suicide. Anxiety is absolutely real, and is not something to joke about, use as an excuse, or to not take seriously. Listen to my story and be conscious that while it may not impact you personally, it may impact someone around you or someone you love, and they might not be brave enough to tell you.

 

*If you are someone who struggles with debilitating anxiety or suicidal thoughts, please call:

the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

1 (800) 273-8255

Manners: A Dead Language

If you ever watch an old movie, take a movie that took place in the 1950’s for example, you can observe people holding doors open for those coming in and out of a shop. You can witness young men at dances gently approaching young women and politely asking if they could “have this dance.” You would see two people collide on a sidewalk, one dropping their belongings, and the other stops to help them gather their things. When insults arose, even those generally sounded proper. While I acknowledge that real life in the 50’s wasn’t nearly as colorful as the movies portrayed, it opened my eyes to this dead language we call manners.

How many times can you remember yourself looking down at your phone pretending to text when you were about to pass someone you didn’t want to talk to? How many times have you entered a building realizing someone was close behind you, only to shove the door open and try to walk through it quick enough that you didn’t have to hold it for the person behind you? How many times have your friends vented to you while you were enthralled by your phone, only to have to ask them to repeat what they said because you missed it?

It’s okay, we all do it. Not one person on this Earth can say they haven’t done at least one of those things at some point in their life. I often see people using their cellphones as a crutch for countless things. I’ve heard of breakups being done through text messages instead of face-to-face or over the phone. I see men at dance clubs shoving themselves onto young women and grinding on them until they are pushed off. I’ve witnessed someone struggling to hold something they were carrying while numerous people noticed but kept walking on to wherever they were headed. I’ve even noticed a woman in an ice cream shop drop $10 unknowingly while the man behind her bent down and tried to pocket the cash.

When did this become okay? When did society decide it was socially acceptable to become so obnoxious, ignorant, and mannerless? Call my family old fashioned but I was raised with a different set of expectations. While I am definitely guilty of forgetting manners, I was taught that if someone is right behind you, you hold the door open for them. I was taught that if something is important or urgent, a text will not suffice; A phone call is expected. I was taught that if someone you know is passing by, you say hello no matter what mood you’re in, whether you like them or not. I was taught that if I’m having a guest over at the house, they get first choice of what we do, and it’s my job to make sure they’re comfortable and welcomed.

Again, I am in no way perfect, and neither are you. I can openly admit I’ve been that person who walks by the stumbling person in need of a hand. It happens, and sometimes we don’t know how to react. However, I do my best to keep manners alive in a world where common courtesy and humility can many times be nonexistent. I hope reflecting on these instances opens your eyes as much as it opens mine. I hope the next time you’re uncomfortable or see someone you don’t want to talk to, that you put your phone down and say hello anyways. Hold that door open for the person behind you. Say your please and thank you’s. Always remember, holding a door doesn’t take more than ten seconds, and a smile is free.