I was born in 1977, prime time to become a major "Grunge" music fan in high school when Pearl Jam's "10" and Nirvana's "Nevermind" were in their infancy. I remember hearing "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in 1992 on a band bus for the first time and falling instantly in love with the sound. The grunge music scene was conceived in Seattle and was a distinct, albeit small, genre. The music was a unique mix of a modernized Led Zeppelin mixed with a dash of distinctly uncommercialized 80s hair bands. You could tell a grunge band by the display of holey jeans, Chuck Taylor's, a ratty t-shirt, long, unkept, dirty hair, and always, a flannel shirt. Millions of generation X-ers, like myself, sported the same look and worshiped the bands that made up this genre, most notably Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, and Hole. Unfortunately, the grunge bands of this time were also very famous for heroin use and mental illness, and one by one, we lost the frontmen of these bands.
I have always been drawn to music. I have the unique ability to name any song or artist with very few notes and could have won millions on "Name that Tune" back in the day. I get star struck by musicians as well, as my friends will tell you about my obsession and feigning for Eddie Vedder, the lead singer of Pearl Jam. To prove this, I know exactly where I was when I found out Kurt Cobain killed himself ( a hotel room in Wheeling, WV) in 1994, and the first time I remember feeling nauseous at the thought of one of my music idols throwing it all away. The picture above is of me visiting the memorial at Viretta Park in Seattle....I'm that big of a fan. In college I discovered Alice In Chains, and was saddened to learn that the lead singer, Layne Staley had died of an overdose in 2002. Stone Temple Pilots was always one of my favorites and their music was the soundtrack to my high school and college years. I remember writing a facebook post about how aggrivating it was that the lead singer, Scott Weiland, couldn't get his heroin use under control and it was affecting their music. It looked like he got himself together after starting a new band, that I also loved in the late 2000s, so I was hopeful that I had survived the worst of the death plague that had consumed the frontmen of my favorite bands. That is until late 2015, when Scott Weiland, on tour, died from an overdose, just the perfect cocktail at the right time. While I admit I was "affected" by Scott Weiland's death, it wasn't much of surprise. A rocker with a well documented drug habbit? Its just a matter of time. Which brings me to Chris Cornell.
While I was never a huge Soundgarden fan, I have always been a Chris Cornell fan. He had a beautifully haunting voice that started out sounding like a Neil Young but turns beautiful instead of whiny....like a nice red wine. His range was phenomenal and his talent for writing was definitely a force to be reckoned. If you don't believe me, google the following songs: "Ave Maria", "The Promise", both solo performances, and "Like a Stone" by Chris's second band, Audioslave. He frequently collaborated with Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, which was musical wedded bliss as far as I was concerned. It featured the deep baritone Vedder mixed with the high alto of Cornell. "Hunger Strike", by the collaborated duo in Temple of the Dog, is amazing, and to date, one of my top five favorite songs of all time. I found out about Cornell's death May 18, 2017 at 5:30 in the morning in my kitchen, and instantly screamed. Not only was it unexpected, it was a jolt to my system as I instantly realized that Eddie Vedder is the last front man of a grunge band. The genre is dying. As if it wasn't bad enough to find out Cornell was gone, finding out it was suicide pushed me over the edge.
To be clear, I have never met or even communicated with Chris Cornell, but I was definitely affected by his suicide. I listened to his songs all morning and didn't talk to anybody. I coudn't escape the sense of loss in the music world and it seemed as if everything I listened to held clues to his thoughts and ultimate plan. His latest release, "The Promise" seemed to be an entire story of his life and how it ultimately ended. I listened to music throughout his career and read articles and they all seemed to have him sending signs. I found myself getting choked up when I thought of his life, family, musical contribution to society. And I was not alone.
I found a wonderful article by Z. Larson in Z Rocker Magazine. (https://zrockr.com/2017/05/21/cornell_larson_2017/) The article questioned generation X and he also expressed how Cornell's death was somehow different than the other grunge rockers we had lost previously. The following paragraph was profound and offered an interesting theory as well as highlighting mental illness:
"You might think grunge is about anger, but that’s not completely true. Yes, it can sound that way, but it’s really about depression and cynicism. Those two go hand-in-hand, along with their nasty little sister, anxiety. When the three of them get going, they just eat hope as quickly as it can be summoned. That leaves despair and despair is exhausting, not just for those who experience it, but for the people around it as well. So we keep it to ourselves because we don’t want to be a burden. And then it gets to be too much. Doesn’t matter if you’re a student, a mom, an accountant or a rock star. It doesn’t matter if you’ve written about it your entire life as a means of keeping it at bay. It doesn’t matter if the music you made about it brought in fame, respect and millions of dollars. It doesn’t matter if your entire generation has suffered from it. Depression makes you feel totally alone. You hit the breaking point, and then, like Chris Cornell, you hang yourself in the bathroom."
It is ultimately sad to realize that your heros who seem larger than life and are full of vibrance are just as delicate as anyone else. RIP Chris Cornell. I leave you with lyrics from "The Promise"
In February, Bikers Against Heroin (BAH-WV), West Virginia Chapter generously donated 250 coloring books to Project AWARE for the purpose of using them in elmentary schools in the county. BAH has a large facebook presence and is very active in the community with a planned Poker Run in June. This organization is largely made up of Berkeley, Jefferson, and Morgan county residents who have had heroin invade their lives in one form or another. We often think that this is a problem in another city or another state and it simply isn't true. I am chosing to highlight some of their stories in my latest blog.
Jamie Seeley of Hedgesville, routinely posts and updates the facebook page that once belonged to his daughter, Jessie, pictured below with her brother at the Berkeley County Youth Fair in 2000.
This was posted on Jessie's facebook page 1 month after Jessie passed away:
People that don't know are politely sheepish about asking me what happened to my 21 year old daughter that passed from this world on May 4, 2013. I understand their reluctance. However I want people to know what happened. Especially people that have children.
Jessie started using prescription pain killers as a recreational high when she was about eighteen. She got them from other kids her own age who also used them. Percacet, roxies, laratab, hydrocodone, oxycoten, opana, etc. All of which are opiates.
I am by no means a doctor or authority on drugs, but I am a parent that has lived the nightmare of having a child with opiate addiction. Trust me, it is like having a KING KONG sized gorilla in charge of your life.
What happens so many times to recreational users is that they get physically addicted before they know it, and then have to have the drug to keep from becoming desperately ill. Then, when pills are not available, and they have been withdrawing, someone introduces them to heroin. Heroin is cheaper, and goes a lot further to ease the sickness. It is also way more dangerous. Especially if injected. In reality you are in way over head when this happens.
The addict will become someone else. Constantly lying, stealing, not caring for themselves, totally irrational. Only thinking of where the next fix is coming from, and when.
For those that would be so foolish to think that this could never happen to their child...I have news for you...it can happen. You need to know that West Virginia leads the nation in prescription drug abuse, and in fatal drug overdoses, with a 53% increase in heroin deaths in 2012. HELLO???
Jessie hated what the addiction did to her and the behavior it brought on. She was tormented by it. She went to rehab and got in treatment. It didn't work. She knew the danger as she had overdosed before. One time needing me to give her CPR until the ambulance arrived. She even knew others that overdosed and died. Still she continued. That's how out of control an individual addicted to heroin becomes.
Remember this all started as something fun.
I made the mistake of thinking that she would somehow get passed this phase and have a normal life again. How wrong I was.
Jessie had been doing pretty well just before she passed. She wanted to be free from it. She and I had gone to Florida for a couple weeks and she had one episode of withdraw but it passed. She couldn't believe how good she felt while we were there. She had that beautiful Jessie look in her eyes again. Something I hadn't seen in so long.
When we returned to Martinsburg she got with the wrong people almost immediately and began using heroin again.
Sometime in the AM hours of May 4, 2013, Jessie was alone, and accidentally overdosed to death in her bedroom.
I am not looking for sympathy at all. I just want you to know that this can happen to your child, because it happened to mine.
My only peace is in knowing that Jessie trusted Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior and is with Him now and forever.
I Hate Heroin!!!!!
I miss my sweet Jessie. One day closer.
Written be Jessie's dad Jamie Seeley
Arlene Coates, of Martinsburg, lost her son David in October of 2016. She now makes it her mission to give mothers of children who have died from heroin overdoses a letter written from the viewpoint of a mother who has lost a child in hopes that it brings them comfort. In her words, it is the worst thing that has ever happened in her life. A copy of the letter is included below.
BAH is also active in other ways. The facebook site is a running list of job announcements, resources for addiction, recovery and support, and personal posts about family members or personal sobriety. One such resource is The Hope Dealer Project, a non-profit organization based out of Martinsburg bringing resources and hope to families stuggling with addiciton for the family member or the addict. Here is their company description:
THERE’S A NEW DEALER IN TOWN – THE HOPE DEALER PROJECT
The Hope Dealer Project was founded in 2015 after fighting addiction with loved ones for over 8 years and then a fatal overdose of a loved one. The overwhelming sadness and helplessness one feels when this happens is indescribable. We want to make sure that NO ONE ever has to go through this alone! There are resources and support available.
Three women, Lisa Melcher, Tina Stride and Tara Diggs Mayson are all natives of the Martinsburg area. We have all dealt with addiction of loved ones. Together we have over 25 years of experience. We are all horrified at this epidemic we find friends, loved ones and the citizens of Martinsburg in and we will no longer accept it. We are fixing the things we can no longer accept! The women who make up The Hope Dealer Project are extremely passionate about helping others because of their up close and personal experiences with drug addiction of loved ones and how difficult it is to not only survice the destruction, but to learn to thrive.
THE HOPE DEALER PROJECT is a newly formed non-profit organization located right here in Martinsburg, WV. Their aim is to serve the client who is struggling with drug addiction. We want them to know that they are NEVER alone and we will stay with them throughout their recovery journey. We will provide the very best resources and facilitate the life skills and therapy needed to live a fulfilling, well rounded life. However, THEY will have to do the work, push through the tough times and complete the programs. The Hope Dealer Project will provide recovery resources, handle communication and facilitation with the detox centers and rehabs. We will stay in contact with the client to provide ongoing encouragement and support.
We are working with as many local organizations as possible to ensure that our efforts are concrete and helpful to many. Some people have no one to turn to…now they do!
The Hope Dealer Project will also be opening transitional housing to serve those who are in need of housing after the detox and rehab stages. The Hope Dealer Project will facilitate a program for continued sobriety and life-long skills. Classes & programs will consist of regular N/A meetings, spiritual counseling; community service along with music and art therapy. We also plan to have participants work their recovery by giving back to the community in many creative ways.
It’s time to take back our City and our Citizens!
There is always HOPE!
Bikers Against Heroin - WV Chapter is always recruiting new members. Join their facebook page and learn about the heroin epidemic, participate in their activities; Poker Run is slated for June 17.
What’s happening with Berkeley County School’s Project AWARE?
Currently, Project AWARE (PA) has received 310 in school student referrals for school-based therapy. East Ridge is busy, busy, busy assisting referred students with emotional, social and academic needs.
Project AWARE has partnered with Burke Street Elementary, North Middle and Hedgesville High Schools to be a PA model school. We have hired a facilitator for these model schools to assist families and youth in need of services to help our students be as successful as possible.
We are also training adults in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) to recognize signs of mental health symptoms and learn how to intervene in the case of a mental health emergency.
If you are interested in more information you may contact Joni Greenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org or to learn more about MHFA contact Kija Wilson at email@example.com.
If you are like me, there is a sort of excitement that begins the week of Thanksgiving break and continues until that day we return to school after the New Years holiday...the first day back at work and school. It is nothing outwardly seen, just a little "bounce in my step". I love the holidays and enjoy everything about the big 3 holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. But I am lucky... because I have these big 3 needs:wonderful house, a wonderful family, and everybody is healthy.
This is not always the case and holidays are a particularly stressful if you don't have the Big 3 of housing, family, and health. This is the case with many of our students and staff members in Berkeley County. Take a moment and consider how the big 3 holidays would change if one of your big 3 needs were not met. Its hard to have festive feelings if you don't have a home to call your own, you are facing eviction, or have no idea where you will be living next month. Many of our students don't know which parent or grandparent they will be living with from day to day. Its hard to enjoy holidays that emphasize family and significant others if you have experienced a loss of a loved one. Finally, its easy to be a "Grinch" if you don't feel good.
This is just food for thought. The next time you see someone who is not in the "Holiday Spirit", ask them how they are feeling. You never know what each person is experiencing or how it will affect them. We can all relate to loss, fear, disappointment, and sadness, although we may not be able to relate to eviction, death, or hunger. Similarly, we can all relate to how it feels to feel love and concern.
Part of our job at Project Aware is to attend community meetings and work groups to discuss needs and gaps of our student's mental health and gather resources for services available to our youth. Frequently, many services require volunteer work. Are you interested in volunteer opportunities? Here is a good resource:
1. 40 Developmental Assets - The Search Institute identified 40 individual "assets" that aid in the healthy development of young people. Our school system has adopted an asset of the month and highlights this asset here. There are several ways to volunteer at any grade level. Here are some examples:
For more information on registering to do an activity regarding the 40 Developmental Assets, contact Lori Lawson, RESA 8, firstname.lastname@example.org
2. Juvenile Drug Court - Young people may make mistakes. Often it is possible to change their course of direction. A great way to do this is to volunteer as a Juvenile Drug Court Mentor. Your job as a drug court mentor is to just be another adult for that student. Perhaps a text or phone call periodically, perhaps share a meal, perhaps take the student to a ball game. There is no requirement of time to be a mentor, but the rewards are great. For more information on becoming a JDC mentor, please contact Shannon Travis, Probation Officer, email@example.com.
3. Community Meetings Open to the Public - Perhaps you are interested in getting involved more in the community, but don't know where to start. Here is one example of a meetings open to the public where you could perhaps make a difference:
Look for other ways to stay connected to the community. There are frequently community events held in downtown Martinsburg. You can also contact your school, myself, or community members.
As the parent of a child in a Berkeley County school, you may have heard of Project Aware and been thinking, "what is that?"
In 2015, Berkeley County Schools was awarded the Project Aware Grant. Berkeley County was one of 3 counties in West Virginia to receive the grant, and West Virginia was one of 23 states. The grant provides funding to increase access to menatal health services for Berkeley County students and provide education in mental health to community members in Berkeley County. During the last school year, Project Aware was able to provide students free individual and group therapy at 28 of the 32 schools in Berkeley County. This therapy occurred during the school day at the student's school so that it was not a disruption to parents and transportation was not an issue.
So far Project Aware has educated over 350 community members in Mental Health First Aid, a first aid course designed to teach the general public the signs and symptoms of common mental health issues and how to help in a mental health crisis. Project Aware has also trained the entire Martinsburg City Police Department, over 150 Berkeley County Schools staff, all of Berkeley County School Pre-K staff, and members of Berkeley County Sherriff's Department in Mental Health First Aid.
Perhaps you have received word about a Project Aware Survey taking place through WVU. This is an annual, completely confidential survey that takes place in secondary schools. The results of this survey are used to calculate needs and gaps among Berkeley County School students and allows Project Aware to provide solutions to these problems. While pariticpation is voluntary, the completion of the survey is critical in identifying ways to help Berkeley County students.
So, now that you have background information on Project Aware, you may be thinking, "Ok, how do I find out more information?"
If you have questions about your student receiving therapy at school or mental health concerns about your student, please talk to your student's school counselor. Counselors are very willing to talk to parents over the phone and in person and can answer any questions you may have concerning school based therapy for your student, should you have concerns about their mental health. Mental health concerns in youth are extremely common and can often be helped quickly and easily. It is important for you to voice any concerns you may have to your student's counselor, teacher, nurse, or administrator.
If you would like to sign up to be a Mental Health First Aider, you can register for classes by going to this link:
Classes are 8 hrs and provide CEU credits for nursing, social work, and law enforcement. They are completely free and typically held at Ramer Center in Martinsburg.
If you have any concerns about your child taking the Project Aware Survey, please contact Kija Wilson, 304-263-4681, who will be happy to answer any questions you may have.
Due to the large number of suicides of soldiers returning from combat, the armed forces of the United States adopted a program called Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) as a way to teach fellow soldiers how to intervene when someone is suicidal. Each military organization has a Suicide Prevention Coordinator who is responsible for training soldiers and their families in ASIST and connecting soldiers at risk with military organizations and mental health resources. While the military has adopted this program, ASIST is geared toward the general public, ages 16 and older. This past week, I was given the opportunity through the DC Army National Guard to attend the ASIST T4T Instructor course in order to be a certified instructor who can train individuals in the 2-day ASIST course.
If you have taken the Mental Health First Aid course, you think of this class as first aid for anyone experiencing a mental health crisis or illness. ASIST would be like the CPR that accompanies the Mental Health First Aid Course. The two classes are very complimentary. ASIST teaches the caregiver skills to have a successful intervention with someone who is suicidal. The goal of ASIST is to keep the person at risk "safe for now". The fundamental idea with ASIST is that the suicidal person has 3 choices; suicide, life, or stay safe for now. Choosing life while in crisis is often too overwhelming for the person at risk, but choosing a plan that is safe for now, may be possible.
I plan on offering a 2 day ASIST course during this school year. It is a 2-day course that teaches a roadmap, the "Pathway to Assisting Life" (PAL), that presents a structured roadmap in suicide intervention. The course is 80% participant based and provides ample time to practice intervention skills. Realistic scenarios range from a suicidal person who does not have a plan and has vague ideas about suicide to someone standing on a bridge ready to jump. Although the scenarios can be intimidating, they leave the student confident and prepared should an emergency arise.
For more information, check out www.livingworks.net.
WV Project AWARE ends this school year with great success! For the first time in Berkeley County, school counselors, staff members and failies had the option of referring students to therapy in their school buildings. WV AWARE contracted with EastRidge Health Systems and WV Counseling Services Youth Advocacy Program to provide social and emotional therapy to students in need of such assistance. For years, school counselors have provided a Comprehensive School Counseling Program, along with school duties while meeting the ongoing emotional needs of their students. Often times, we felt there just wasn't enough time in the day to get everything done. This year with Medicaid, CHIPS and Project AWARE funding, students could receive ongoing therapy at their school without any cost to the family. By year's end, Berkeley County Schools had referred 239 students for services. Students have the option of continuing their therapy over the summer at several of our schools or the office of the provider.
Be on the lookout for this program next year...it will continue to be offered. Call your child's school counselor to inquire about services for your child.
Have a great summer!!