Questions for Reflection
In each episode, we offer you a few prompts to think about how that day's conversation applies to you. Our supporters over at Buy Me a Coffee now have exclusive access to the PDF versions of all our Questions for Reflection. Join us today!
Beth Demme (00:04):
Welcome to the Discovering Our Scars podcast.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:06):
Where we share personal experiences, we can learn from each other. I'm Steph.
Beth Demme (00:09):
And I'm Beth.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:10):
I've been in recovery for 16 years and I'm the author of Discovering My Scars. My memoir about what's done in the darkness, eventually comes to light.
Beth Demme (00:16):
I'm a lawyer, turned pastor, who's all about self-awareness and emotional health, because I know what it's like to have neither of those things.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:22):
Beth and I have been friends for years, have gone through a recovery program together, and when I wanted to start a podcast, she was the only name that came to mind as co-host.
Beth Demme (00:28):
I didn't hesitate to say yes because I've learned a lot from sharing personal experiences with Steph over the years.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:34):
We value honest conversations. We hope you do, too.
Beth Demme (00:36):
On today's show, we're going to have an honest conversation titled, Discovering My Scars: Chapter One.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:42):
Then we'll share a slice of life and the show will close with Questions for Reflection, where we'll invite you to reflect in the conversation in your own life.
Beth Demme (00:48):
So we're going to be weaving in some episodes over the next few months. Episodes where we talk about your book, Steph.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:55):
Yes, Discovering My Scars. So I wrote this book, it seems like a lifetime ago, because it was pre-pandemic. But I started writing it in 2016 or '17. And I worked on the publication during 2019. And the book officially came out in January, 2020. And that's actually where this podcast came from. The reason we started the concept and obviously the name comes from the title of my book. So I've been thinking about doing this and we finally decided, "Hey, I think it's time to dig into the book and share that on the podcast."
Stephanie Kostopoulos (01:35):
So what we thought we would do is, I actually recorded a audio book of my book and so I have those files. And what I thought we would do is play that, so you can get a taste of what's in the book, but we will pause it throughout and give commentary. Almost like when you see a film commentary and the directors and producers talk about the movie and such like that. So today we're going to start with chapter one and we're going to start with the intro and then we'll go through chapter one and throughout probably the next year, we'll go through the book. It's not going to be... Each week won't be this, but it will be sprinkled throughout the podcast.
Beth Demme (02:18):
Yeah. I'm excited to do this with you. I think it's a great book, so I really am excited to hear it again and also to be able to talk about it. So let's do it.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (02:27):
All right. So let's start with the intro.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (02:30):
Introduction: I tell you the truth. If you had faith, even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this fountain, move from here to there. And it would move. Nothing would be impossible. Matthew 17:20 in LT. For two reasons, this verse has always stood out to me. First, mustard does a seed. Second, if a mustard seed is really small, I just need that much faith to be able to move a freaking mountain? In high school, my church ran a stewardship campaign about growing the church in different ways. They got the idea across, by handing out a packet of mustard seeds to each church member. This was the first time I saw a mustard seed. It was so small and perfectly round. I tried planting it, but it never sprouted. What has stayed with me though, is that faith as small as that tiny thing is all I need. That's a powerful image.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (03:25):
I have many visible scars as you'll learn during this story. But my journey is not just about what can be seen. My scars tell a deeper truth. This truth took me years to discover with a mustard seed of faith. This book recounts that path and where I am today. I am now sharing this journey because for 12 years, I have had an overwhelming feeling that I need to share this in a public way. I have fought this feeling and put the pages away many times, but the need to share is greater. I now know I went through this trauma and discovery for a reason, and it's important to publicly share my story. This book is for you. You who just started reading and have no idea what you're getting into. You, who might have a similar past and can relate. You, who needs to read this story because it might help you understand someone in your life better.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (04:20):
Whoever you are, welcome. My name is Steph. Nice to meet you. Scars come in all shapes and sizes and they result from all sorts of trauma. Major themes and subject matter on my journey involve mental illness, psychiatric hospitals, and childhood abuse. These are hard topics to read about. Please note some names have been changed, but the people are all real. I have done my best to share what is important. Please know, I share this to tell my truth fully and honestly.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (04:48):
This journey begins with Part One, which takes place over a span of four days, a total of 74 hours in a psychiatric system and jumps backward in time to see how I got to the present. Part Two covers the six years after the hospital and explores Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, and discovered childhood abuse. Part Three focuses on Christ-centered recovery, more childhood revelations and where I am today. If you, or someone you know is struggling with mental illness, you are not alone. I hope my story may encourage your own recovery. Now on with the show.
Beth Demme (05:27):
Okay. Let's talk about that.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (05:29):
Okay. First of all, I know something that people don't enjoy is listening to themselves.
Beth Demme (05:34):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (05:35):
And I will say that was odd. But it's not as odd as you would think because I make a lot of videos, and so I'm like constantly editing and I edit this podcast and obviously I actually edited this audio, so I have listened to me many times. But it was only strange for a little while. And then, also when I watch back stuff that I've done like years ago, I usually don't look back at stuff. But when I do sometimes I'm like, "That was really good. Oh, we did a good job with that." Or something like that. And I do. I thought it was pretty good. I was like, "Okay, it's not bad." And I thought I did a good job, by laying out what this book is. That was a pretty decent intro.
Beth Demme (06:14):
Yeah. And it was well read-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (06:16):
Beth Demme (06:16):
... which, as we've talked about, is a big deal.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (06:19):
I worked. Oh, yes. Well, I will say, it was a struggle for me to read this because I am dyslexic. And so there was definitely editing involved, but I worked hard at it and keeping my voice kind of monotone and not too much. I think it gives a good overview of why I wrote the book, feeling feelings that I had. And one thing that was important to me was, to put... We've talked about this. I am not a church goer anymore, and I have no issue with that. And I'm even becoming more, more and more far away from the church, the more things change in this world. But it was important to me to have some Bible verses that have really spoken to me in here, because even though I am so disgusted with Christianity in many ways, in many fashions, I'm still freaking am a Christ follower myself. And so, that was something that has literally always been a thing for me, is the freaking mustard seed.
Beth Demme (07:24):
So it was the mustard seed of faith that helped you have the courage to take the journey.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (07:30):
Beth Demme (07:30):
That's how I took that intro.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (07:33):
Yeah. As a child learning about the mustard seed amount of faith. That small amount of faith that has always brought me through a lot of hard stuff in life. All I need is this little bit. And when I was writing the book, I actually bought a huge thing of mustard seeds. And I encased one in epoxy and made a little necklace with the mustard seed too, as I was working on the book. And I would look at that to remind myself, "Just this. It's all you need. A little bit, nothing too big." And then it broke. Actually, two years later, it broke. And I had finished the book and everything. And I was like, "Okay, it is time to put it away." I just thought it was very symbolic when it broke.
Beth Demme (08:14):
Yeah, like you were done with that little bit of mustard seed.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (08:17):
Yes. So I still have it, but I don't wear it, because it broke.
Beth Demme (08:19):
Yeah. You also said in that intro, you said, "I have many visible scars as you will learn during this story. But my journey is not just about what can be seen. My scars tell a deeper truth." And I think that is one of the many, many points that are very relatable, because everybody has visible scars, but also everybody has invisible scars. And so that idea that there's this deeper truth in all of us, that is more than what you can see on the outside, I think is very relatable and very powerful.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (08:56):
Yeah. And obviously scars is going to be a running theme throughout the book, based on the title, Discovering My Scars. But yeah, that was something that took me a long time to realize and process was those internal scars, that we all have in some way, shape or form, that we may not be aware of, we may be aware of. And that's really what I dig into in the book is, the visible scars. I do have visible scars on my left arm and I used to be so scared that people were going to ask about them and things like that. And sometimes people would ask about them. But actually, people haven't asked in a while. And I'm excited for people to ask now, because I want to tell them about my book. So if you see me and my scars, ask me and I'll be excited to tell you.
Beth Demme (09:42):
I thought you also made a great point in the intro that this book is not just to tell your story, but it's to tell your story because it can help other people and it can help help us with ourselves and it can also help us understand people in our lives. Maybe you know somebody who is using NSSI as a coping mechanism. This can really help you understand that. But also just understanding how trauma impacts us is helpful in dealing with everybody because everybody has experienced some kind of trauma, at some point, I would wager.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (10:18):
All right. So you're ready for Chapter One?
Beth Demme (10:20):
Ready for Part One, Chapter One.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (10:24):
Part One: Hospital. Chapter One: Twelve Hours. The rage grew. I couldn't take having my world turn completely upside down. When I lived with my parents, home was a place of peace and calm. Now in my college dorm with three random roommates, I couldn't find that anymore, anywhere. I had to call another roommate meeting because AJ had eaten my food again. She disrespected me again. Her actions made me feel unsafe and unsettled in my own home. Our hall resident advisor was in attendance again to mediate between me, Megan and AJ. My other roommate, Didi, was at church. Megan was always on my side, mainly there to support me. But as the meeting progressed, nothing changed. AJ still didn't care and showed through her body language that she thought my concerns were not valid and not worth her time.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (11:15):
She had come to the University of Central Florida, UCF, from Russia, so I couldn't tell whether it was a cultural thing or an attitude problem. The conversation was going nowhere and I couldn't take it anymore. I left the meeting in the dorm kitchen and stormed off to my room. I wanted to punch someone or something, adrenaline racing through my blood and my brain had shut itself off to reason. I turned to my old coping method, when emotions got too much to handle. Life was catching up with me and it was time to set it free.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (11:44):
Oh, the drama. I was getting into it.
Beth Demme (11:49):
Steph, she ate your food. So what?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (11:52):
I know, right? I'm not going to lie. I lived it. I wrote it. I'm hearing it and I'm like, "People are going to think something." And that was a struggle for me. That was a struggle telling this story, because on the surface, it does seem extreme, which is why there's more to the story than eating my food. But I learned when I told people that my roommate ate my food, so I engaged in self injury, I learned that people didn't approve of that. They didn't think that was okay. I learned that quickly.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (12:29):
I did not release my anger with a hit. I released it with a cut, seven slashes with scissors, horizontally from my left wrist to the inside of my left forearm. My flesh was covered in red. Then my racing mind calmed. My eyes slowly closed. I took a calming breath. I can now identify the location and cause of my pain. Seconds later, as the haze lifted from my eyes, reality set in and I only saw red. I screamed for Megan. She entered the room, looked at me for a split second and dialed 911. Our resident advisor came in to help me wrap my arm to stop the bleeding. She told me not to look, so I didn't. AJ came in for a second, looked disgusted and left. Shortly afterward, the paramedics arrived. Still I didn't look at the open wound. I felt no pain. My brain was in a fog. There was so much to process that I couldn't process any of it. I was just a shell of a person unable to connect my body, brain and heart, with the reality of the situation.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (13:33):
The paramedics told me that it was not that bad and I didn't need stitches. I nodded, hearing the words, but connecting to nothing. What's going on? Why are the paramedics here? Why are so many people in my bedroom? Where's my mom? These questions swirled in my head as I looked around, unable to get a grip on reality. The paramedics wrapped my forearm with gauze and left. Each moment was moving too fast. I didn't feel like the girl in the room. I felt like I was watching the scene from a camera high up. I watched my mouth move and words come out when I was spoken to, but I didn't choose the words. They were an auto response based on each question.
Beth Demme (14:11):
What do you think the paramedics thought?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (14:13):
Based on their reaction, I think they thought, "This girl's trying to kill herself. And we got another one. Got to patch her up." That was the look that I saw from everybody. It was a lot of judgment. It was just like, "Oh, she's a crazy and attempted suicide. And we got her in time." I don't remember any compassion, in any of the people I interacted with. It's really hard. I can see glimpses of it in my head still, but it's hard, because like I said, I was disconnected from the moment, from the reality of it. And what happens next is, I said words, but I wasn't connected. My whole body was not connected to what was happening. It was almost like I was observing the situation. And it all happened so fast. I just had a car accident and it all happened so fast, in an instant. It was like, "Wait. Now the driver's gone. Wait. What just happened?"
Stephanie Kostopoulos (15:22):
And that's how this felt. It was just all in an instant. And it probably took some time, because the paramedics had to come, and then a police officer came. So there obviously was time in there, but it all just went by in a flash. And I don't even really remember the concept of time when it was happening.
Beth Demme (15:40):
But you must have known that you needed help, because you called for Megan?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (15:44):
Beth Demme (15:44):
So you knew that something had gone wrong. I wonder if the paramedics thought that you were just doing it for attention?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (15:52):
Well, yeah. I do think they thought I was, quote unquote, attempting suicide for attention. I do think there was an element to that, especially based on how the wound was inflicted, because, well overall, if you had any education in how someone tries to attempt suicide, I was not attempting suicide based on the cut alone. But if they were just not educated in how that happens, then they would look that I cut my arms and would think that I was attempting suicide for attention purposes, and not actually attempting it for real.
Beth Demme (16:33):
Do you think that that's what AJ thought? Do you think she thought, "Oh, well she didn't get her way about the food. And so now, of course, she's going to do this." I don't know.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (16:42):
That's a good question. AJ is... Bless her heart. Let's just say that.
Beth Demme (16:49):
In the most Southern way possible, right?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (16:50):
Bless her heart. I have no idea what she was thinking. Yeah, I don't. She rolled her eyes at me, so I do think she probably was thinking like, "Oh, she's just trying to get her way, or make this a whole production or something." I was actually pretty close to Didi and Megan. We had fun. We had roommate craft nights and stuff like that. And AJ never did anything with us and just always treated us like we were just, "Ugh, silly girls or whatever." So she was always just not really caring about us, not wanting to be involved, not wanting to participate in roommate things. And she didn't know my history.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (17:34):
So Megan actually knew. I had shared with Megan that I had struggled with self injury. For about a year I had been dealing with that. And that I had gone to counseling in Tallahassee, before I moved to Orlando. And so she knew about that, so that's also why I called her, because I didn't have to try to explain it to her. She already had a little context. Not that it made things super easy, but she had context. It wasn't like out of the blue. AJ probably was just like, "Oh, she's just putting on a show or something." But Megan, at least, had context that this is something that I had dealt with. I can't remember if Didi knew. I think she may have known, but she was younger than us. I think she was actually a freshman and we were-
Beth Demme (18:19):
You guys were transfer students.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (18:20):
Transfer, yeah. So we were and I can't remember what AJ was actually. I think she was transfer too, but I can't remember. So we were juniors.
Beth Demme (18:26):
Yeah. And I just feel the need to defend you a little bit here to say that it wasn't just that you had, "Oh, I went grocery shopping and brought food back and my roommate ate it." It was that you had actually planned out some very specific meals and you had planned out portion sizes and it was a system that you had-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (18:44):
Beth Demme (18:44):
... and she knew that and-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (18:46):
No, she probably didn't know that. She didn't care.
Beth Demme (18:47):
Oh. She didn't care?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (18:48):
Yeah. She wouldn't care, no. But I was an overweight child and no one ever told me, which was great. But as I was getting older, I realized I wanted to focus on my health. And I really wanted to go against the Freshman 15, that everyone talks about. I was like, "You know what? I don't want to get the Freshman 15. I want to be at my peak of health.' And so, what was something I had been working on, for about two years also, was really eating very healthy... Well, at the time, what I thought was the most healthy. I've learned now of things that, "Okay, that doesn't, that's not-" [inaudible 00:19:24]
Beth Demme (19:23):
A change [inaudible 00:19:24]. Yeah.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (19:24):
Beth Demme (19:24):
What we learn, changes. Yeah.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (19:26):
And so I was planning at my meals and I'm a planner in general with a lot of things. And so, I plan things. I have things in place. And when those things don't align, it's tough. It's tough for me. To have that disrupted was a big deal.
Beth Demme (19:45):
Okay. So the place we are in the book is that the paramedics have just said that you don't need stitches and they've wrapped your arm up. So let's get back into it.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (19:53):
Next Police Officer, Eddie Moen, came to my dorm room and sat on the floor next to me. He looked like a big kid in a police uniform. He didn't ask much about what happened, but he did ask to see the wound. As he examined it, his face didn't flinch. Then he covered my arm back up and told me he wanted to take me to a place that could help. My brain was spinning, as it tried to catch up with what was going on. "Can I take you there?" He asked. "Take me where?" I thought. All I knew was my world had just exploded and my arm was badly cut. I didn't know where he wanted to take me or what they would do for me, but I assumed they would help with my arm. My automatic response to his question, "Yes."
Stephanie Kostopoulos (20:33):
I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt. I put on flip flops, grabbed my purse and got into the police car. Riding in the back seat felt odd. Up to that point, I'd had no experience with the police. Never been arrested. Never pulled over. Nothing. And there I was riding through campus, in the back of that car, with the once familiar buildings and athletic fields looking unworldly, from this foreign vantage point. It was Sunday, October 8th, 2006, around 4:30 in the afternoon. We got on the interstate and Moen just kept driving. I had recently moved to Orlando, Florida so I had no idea where we were going.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (21:10):
So, even hearing back this description, it's hard. Because for me, when this happened, like I said, I had no experience with police. And I'd always seen police as safe and helpful and good and all of those stereotypical things. And so, of course, I was, "Oh, listen to police. Do what they say." But I feel like this is such an example of why police aren't the answer for everything, because I was not committing a crime. I wasn't hurting another person. I wasn't needing to be put into jail. I needed mental health support and a police officer was not the answer.
Beth Demme (22:01):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (22:02):
And that's where we are today, where we're having this conversation. Yet we're still, where I was, in 2006. We're still having police officers respond to somebody that has a mental health crisis and needs a mental health professional, because if a mental health professional had been called and had looked at my arm, they would've known that it was not a suicide attempt. But they would've known that I needed some type of support and treatment and would've gotten what I needed. But this police officer had... Later on, I think I talk about it. But he had about 20 minutes of training of what to do in a mental health crisis-
Beth Demme (22:37):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (22:37):
... and I have since messaged him and talked to him. He reached out to me on Facebook after this happened, which also felt inappropriate to me, but whatever. And I asked him more about this. And he told me, he had about 20 minutes of training. He didn't know what they would do, where he was taking me. This was what he was told to do. But I just feel like this is such an example of... I just went through a very huge mental health crisis, now I'm in the back of a police car, driving through campus.
Beth Demme (23:12):
And he doesn't have the training to know how best to help you. So even if he is sincerely interested in helping you, he's not equipped to be able to do that.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (23:22):
It's like literally, asking somebody off the street to come. "Hey, this girl is bleeding on her arm. Can you come deal with this?" That's basically what it is, when you ask a police officer with zero amount of training in this, to go handle it.
Beth Demme (23:36):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (23:38):
The police car slowed. The only sound, a short screech of tires. I guess we had arrived. It was still light outside, but I couldn't identify anything around me. We parked under an awning, like they have at hotels, where the bellhops help bring in your stuff. But no one came to help. The rundown medical looking building now facing me, was no hotel I wanted to stay in. It looked like it could be a hospital, so I figured it was a place to fix my arm. Everything seemed eerie. No one else was around. And there were no cars in the parking lot. The place almost looked abandoned. I wasn't sure if I was about to walk into Disney's Tower of Terror Ride or a hospital. Officer Moan opened the car door and escorted me inside. I stood quietly, as he talked to the man behind the office desk. Moan then left with a quick goodbye, and the staff person asked for my belongings.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (24:30):
I sat quietly, as he took everything out of my purse, and listed all the contents on a form. While he did this, he directed me to a bathroom and told me to put on blue paper scrubs and pee in a cup. He put my purse and clothes into a plastic bag and wrote my name on it. He asked me no questions about what happened in my dorm room. He just had me sign countless forms with the name Central Receiving Center, CRC, on them. Knowing the name still didn't help me know where I was or what would happen to me. He asked about my insurance. I told him it was in my wallet. After all that, he sent me to the waiting room, leaving me with nothing to do and no idea where I was. I sat quietly, my arm tightly wrapped, my mind a blank. I was still a shell and didn't know what was going on, or how I even got to this point. The TV set was on and my eyes just stared at the moving pictures.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (25:23):
Eventually the nurse called me in for my medical exam and escorted me into a tiny room with a few supplies. It looked like a large closet. The nurse took off my bandage. All the while, not saying anything to me, or making eye contact. She looked at my arm in disgust, for a few moments. Then she exclaimed, with an attitude, "What is this? Look at this." That took me aback. She hadn't said two words to me. And when she did, they were so intense. Reluctantly, I looked at my uncovered arm. I wasn't ready for the sight. It was still bright red, with a mix of dried and fresh blood. I couldn't even make out the cut marks. There was so much blood. As the nurse stood, waiting for me to take it all in, all I could do was cry.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (26:07):
The physical pain was overwhelming, with the bloody wound exposed to air. But the emotional pain of being forced to take it all in, so soon after, was Indescribable. "Who did this?" she said, in a knowing tone. "Why you crying? You did this." As I continued to sob, she said, "You did this to yourself. You don't get to cry over this." A kaleidoscope of emotions crashed inside of me. The shell of my body and brain were trying desperately to connect to my heart, but the nurse wouldn't allow me to express my emotions fully, so I just went numb. I maintained that empty shell, disconnected and observing myself from above. I stopped crying and did what I was told. The nurse looked at my arm again with disgust and put the bandage back on. "This looks like raw hamburger meat. I can't do anything with this. You have to go to the ER," she spat.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (26:57):
Just like that, I was back in the waiting room with no more instruction. I replayed the nurse's words in my head, raw hamburger meat. That graphic depiction of my arm struck me hard. And with one look she had said, I needed to go to the ER.
Beth Demme (27:13):
Still no compassion.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (27:16):
Are you surprised?
Beth Demme (27:18):
I'm disappointed. You know what detail I'd never noticed before? I've read the book and listened to the book and I never picked up on the paper scrubs before.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (27:29):
Beth Demme (27:29):
That sounds really uncomfortable?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (27:31):
Oh yeah. It was. And it feels very degrading to force people to put on scrubs. And everyone was wearing them. I don't super understand, why the paper scrubs?
Beth Demme (27:43):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (27:44):
I guess it's cheap and they don't care about the people there. So, just throw them in. I do know when I was there... We'll get to it in the book, but there was another guy that came in, that had been taken off the streets. And he had been on the streets for like a month and he hadn't showered. And so, his clothes smelled really bad. So I don't know if that's why, if that's a typical thing for people to be in clothes that are gross? And so they need them to be in something else?
Beth Demme (28:15):
Yeah. I mean, even if they wanted everybody to be in some sort of uniform clothing, I don't know the reasons why that would be? But I would think, "You're humans. You deserve clothing, not paper."
Stephanie Kostopoulos (28:27):
Well, and that's part of what this place, Central Receiving Center is. It is almost like a farm, where you just are holding all different kinds of animals in this one place and deciding what to do with them.
Beth Demme (28:40):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (28:41):
It was very much where, I felt, I did not have rights. I gave up my rights when I had a mental health crisis. And so-
Beth Demme (28:52):
It is very dehumanizing.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (28:54):
Beth Demme (28:55):
That's really part of the trauma of this experience, is that you were not treated like a human being who was valuable. I mean even in a crisis, you can be in your right mind, so to speak, right?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (29:08):
Beth Demme (29:09):
You just needed a little bit of help. You didn't need to be criminalized and you didn't need to be dehumanized.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (29:16):
Have you been to the doctor before, and you have your appointment at nine o'clock. And then it's 9:30, 9:40 and you're there just waiting and you have no answers of when you're going to-
Beth Demme (29:27):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (29:27):
... go to your appointment. And you're just like, "This is just crazy." That's basically what this was, but I wasn't given any kind of any direction. I didn't know where I was. I didn't know how long I'd be there. I didn't know where I was going. I had no answers to anything and how long I'd be waiting.
Beth Demme (29:42):
Well, you must have known, because you had to sign paperwork. So I'm sure they took time to explain all that paperwork to you and make sure that you really understood what you were agreeing to. I mean, they wouldn't just hand you papers and tell you to sign them, right?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (29:54):
Yeah. Exactly. Yeah. And that's a big thing is, I was 20 years old. At the time I thought, "I'm 20. I'm an adult." But think about that? If you're older like us, think when you are 20?
Beth Demme (30:13):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (30:14):
And you've done nothing. And you-
Beth Demme (30:15):
I know a lot more now.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (30:16):
Yeah. And you've experienced nothing and you're told to sign this, do this, do this. And I had no voice to say, "No". Or to say, "I want my parents here." Or "I want this or that." I didn't even know how to... I had any rights because it didn't feel like I did.
Beth Demme (30:40):
And, and for the nurse to say, "Why are you crying? You did this to yourself." That feels so heartless to me. And I know that everybody's got bad days, or whatever. Maybe she was having a bad day, but my expectation, as a complete outsider to the situation, is that if a nurse sees that, they're going to say-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (30:58):
I would love, "Wow. It looks like you're really hurting. Do you want to talk about it? Can you talk about it?" I think she just looked such surface level at what she saw and she didn't see- Mental health is complex and it's not something-
Beth Demme (31:15):
But she's working at a mental health place.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (31:16):
I know. And that's what is scary. To think that these are people that are supposed to be trained on how to deal with people that are going through a mental crisis, which is what is very scary. And sadly, I've heard stories recently, very similar to this, which just is so disheartening that this hasn't changed. This was '06, so this was a while back. But I have heard horror stories still today of this kind of thing happening. And it's got to change.
Beth Demme (31:45):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (31:46):
It's got to change. We're not going to get into it, but we're just going backwards, in so many ways.
Beth Demme (31:52):
We are, in so many ways. And, you also were caught at this point. You were caught in a disagreement, and there would've been no way for you to realize this, I don't think. But you're caught in a disagreement between different pieces of the medical establishment, right? Because the paramedics were like, "You don't need stitches."
Stephanie Kostopoulos (32:12):
Beth Demme (32:12):
"We're going to bandage you up." And now this nurse is like, "You need stitches." Well then, you don't even have your own transportation. You're not in control of where you are, where you go. And there's this sort of disagreement about-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (32:25):
And how can she determine I need stitches and the paramedics couldn't?
Beth Demme (32:29):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (32:29):
There's another big issue with education. How the first responders can't determine this? Something that she determined in two seconds. That's also like there's so many holes in the system, if I wasn't taken right away to the ER. And the police officer saw my arm as well. And I don't know what he determined. But obviously he took me to CRC, because he had 20 minutes of training and that's what he was told to do.
Beth Demme (32:59):
And I think the fact that they looked at you and said, "You don't need stiches." I think that goes to how they were reading the overall situation. And I think they saw it as not a cry for help, but a play for attention.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (33:12):
Yeah. Why did the UCF paramedics say I was fine? Why didn't they send me to the ER? I was lost and confused. After waiting for hours, reality hit. I asked if I could call my dad. Along with being my dad, he's also a doctor. A doctor of philosophy and psychology. When I tell people my dad is a psychologist, most imagine that he's a counseling psychologist where patients sit on a couch and tell him their problems. Well, that's not my dad. He exclusively administers and interprets clinical testing. He works at a mental hospital, in my hometown of Tallahassee, Florida. When patients are admitted, he tests them to see what mental illnesses they might have, so the psychiatrist can better diagnose and prepare a treatment plan. I called my dad because I thought he might have some insight about what I should do and what was going to happen. On the phone, I told him through tears, what had occurred. He told me to follow the process and that I would be okay. At the time, his words comforted me.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (34:13):
Hours went by, as I sat with nothing to do. I started replaying the day's events. This morning, I was at the sorority house, learning who my big sister was. Wow, that was stressful. I had never met her before. Then I headed to my dorm around 4:00 PM for a few minutes to grab food, because I hadn't eaten all day. When I got home, I found my food gone, eaten again by AJ. That's when I lost it, I was probably more charged than usual because I was hungry and I don't do well without fuel. Months prior, I created a healthy eating plan for myself and had all my meals planned out and ready for the week. I was overweight as a child, so I wanted to take control of my health and not gain the stereotypical Freshman 15. And now I'd ended up here. I still didn't know where here was, or what they would do for/to me. Did I really end up here because my roommate ate my food?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (35:08):
I do want to point out, I shared that story earlier in the podcast, so that was accurate. I wasn't lying, because I also wrote in the book.
Beth Demme (35:16):
So let's talk about this phone call to your dad. You call your dad and he tells you to follow the process and that you'll be okay. And that brought you a little bit of comfort?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (35:26):
Yes, at the time.
Beth Demme (35:27):
At the time.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (35:29):
At the moment. That moment.
Beth Demme (35:30):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (35:31):
Okay. I shall follow the process. These people have my best interest and I shall do what they say, as I had been doing.
Beth Demme (35:39):
Any reason to suspect that he didn't sincerely believe that?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (35:42):
No, because he works at a mental hospital and it's a reputable hospital where they all have accurate training and so that's what he was envisioning. He was envisioning that hospital, and in his mind, if it's a mental hospital, they are all well trained, and just like my place, there's no place that is bad. So this must be good. And they must take care of you.
Beth Demme (36:07):
He wasn't picturing this dehumanizing heartless lack of compassion place that you were in.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (36:14):
Yes. And I don't think he wanted to even imagine that that was what's happening. And ultimately he never does, in the book spoiler, understand truly a place I was in. It wasn't until years and years later, after I've had countless conversations with him and he has talked with my psychologist who understands the type of place I was, that he has finally made a conscious understanding of the place I was, was not like where he works.
Beth Demme (36:49):
I do want to say we've had your psychologist, Dr. Jill, on as a guest. And so, if folks want to listen to that episode, it's episode number 113. Jill is fantastic and I think we even talk a little bit about this with her in that conversation. But I just wanted to remind folks that was available.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (37:06):
Yeah. So when we talk about Dr. Jill, we have had her on the podcast. Full circle, I didn't even realize. I forgot we had done that. Yeah, Jill's awesome. I still see her. I actually just saw her on Wednesday.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (37:17):
A little before 11:00 pm, a mini bus pulled up at CRC. After a 20 minute drive in the bus, we arrived at the ER and a female handler escorted me inside. I still had on the blue paper scrubs with a blanket around me and the handler was holding my belongings bag. We waited at the front desk, with all eyes on me. What a sight I must have been. The man at the desk asked my handler what treatment I needed. She didn't know and looked to me for answers. I had no answers. So they just admitted me. My handler left and the man sat me in a chair behind the counter. He made me show my wound to several ER workers for their opinion about whether I needed stitches. Everyone reacted the same, cringing, looking at my face with disgust or horror, shaking their heads. No one asked me what happened. No one asked me how I felt. No one asked me if I was okay. But everyone agreed that I needed stitches.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (38:12):
By now, nearly seven hours had passed since the events in my dorm. It frustrated me that the UCF paramedics had only wrapped my arm and said it was fine. I still wonder how much better my scars would've healed, if I had been sent to the ER right after the event happened. About an hour later, a staffer took me to a room to be stitched up. At 20, I had never been to a hospital, never had a broken bone, not even a tooth cavity. I didn't know what to expect and what stitches would feel like. This was a scary place to be in for the first time, especially without my mom to hold my hand.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (38:47):
In the procedure room, the doctor numbed my arm. It felt like a million tiny pins being stuck into my open wound. But I guess that was better than feeling him put the stitches in. Even with my arm numbed, I could feel the tugging and pulling from the needle. It felt like someone was sewing my skin. I could feel the extra material as it lay next to my skin before it became a stitch. Then it was over, 24 stitches in all. They set up a rolling bed for me in the hallway. Finally at 12:45 am, I ate for the first time that day. Well, I guess it was technically Monday at that point. A nurse had brought me a turkey sandwich and the food definitely helped. After eating, I tried to sleep, but staff and other patients kept interrupting me.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (39:32):
First an intern woke me up and put Vaseline on my arm and wrapped it. Other patients were talking and some yelling in pain from their own hallway bed. The faces of those who looked after me showed no compassion. I guess they didn't feel the need to show me any because they felt, as they kept reminding me, "You did this to yourself." I did sleep a little, but I woke up from the constant noise. My eyes opened and according to the clock, it was three in the morning. I was hopeful I would leave soon, so I went to the bathroom to freshen up. This was the first time I had seen my reflection in 11 hours. I saw a girl who had been up almost 24 hours, been through more real drama than high school and had cried freely for what felt like days. Her dignity, respect, insanity had been stripped away. I had never seen myself like this. I had been a shell of a person for so many hours just watching myself from above, but now I was face to face with reality.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (40:30):
I didn't recognize this girl, with the deep black bags under her puffy eyes, almost hiding the dark brown eyes within. Her lips were drained of any color. And her full face was a pale shade of gray, as if I only saw in black and gray now. And her expression, emotionless. But in that, I could still see the deep pain, fear, and lost girl within. Is this my true reflection or the reflection of how the world has torn me down? Is this all my doing? Why have I coped with self-injury to deal with my emotions for so many years? The image of that girl is still seared in my memory today. And that's the end of chapter one.
Beth Demme (41:13):
That idea that you did this to yourself and that was influencing, or it was somehow an excuse or a reason for their lack of compassion, really bothers me, right? Because it's not as if you were rational and you thought, "You know what would be a great thing to do? I think I will cut my arm into raw hamburger meat. That'll be great. And the consequences of that, I'm really looking forward to those." Right? Of course that wasn't what happened, but it feels like in this, all the medical folks you've encountered so far, the mental health folks you've encountered so far, nobody was able to step back and say, "You must be in a lot of pain." Physical pain, emotional pain. It's just what you say here. Dignity, respect, insanity have been stripped away.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (42:07):
Yeah. As I hear it back, it's interesting because when I ultimately get to my next destination in the story, I actually started writing this book, in a notebook. And so there's certain passages, where I can still remember what I wrote in the original notebook, but I have re edited it for this final publication, because some of this stuff was a little too extreme wording and needed-
Beth Demme (42:38):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (42:39):
Yes. And needed just to be calmed down for where I was in the story, to really tell this complete story. But it's interesting, because as I'm hearing it back, I'm like seeing in my head the other words that was originally written. And I was like, "Oh, I didn't put that then there? Okay." Because this has been highly edited over and over, which is interesting, which makes you think of the Bible.
Beth Demme (43:00):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (43:00):
Not that I'm comparing my book at all to the Bible, but how the Bible has been so interpreted. Like if you actually see the original verse, what we have today, how different? Like, as I'm hearing this, I remember how I originally wrote it, but it needed to be changed, for the story to really be this compelling story. And it just makes me think of how the Bible has been changed so much, on what it originally had intended to [inaudible 00:43:30].
Beth Demme (43:30):
For sure, from oral stories to things that are written down and that are-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (43:35):
And edited. And read through and changed and made to tell a complete-
Beth Demme (43:38):
To communicate. Yeah.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (43:40):
Beth Demme (43:41):
Because you wanted your book to communicate something, so it needed to be edited so that it could accomplish that. Yeah, for sure. How is it for you, actually hearing this back, and looking it over, with me sitting here? What is that like for you?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (43:55):
I love for people to sit with me, as I listen to my book. It's hard, yeah. I haven't read it back, since I've edited it, really. There's not a reason for me to sit and read my book constantly. That would be a little weird, for many reasons. But yeah, this is a good exercise, because it's been a long time and I do think it's good to see how it's put together, because there are things that I did write and then take out of the book for just different reasons. And so it's interesting to see what made the cut and what I really kept in there. But this last bit about lips drained of any color and all of that stuff, that is still a thing for me, that I can see. I can still see that mirror. I can see that in my head. And I-
Beth Demme (44:48):
Is it like a black and white movie?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (44:50):
It's like a black and white mirror reflection of myself. It's like looking, like I can see that. And it was just like, I could see age and I wasn't the happy 20 year old that I was, the day before. But I still feel like I have darker circles under my eyes, than like typical for my age. I'm not somebody that's super into appearance. This is who I am. Take it or leave it. But that is something that bothers me, is the dark circles under my eyes. It's not even I'm concerned about the world seeing it, but when I see it in the mirror, this is what I see.
Beth Demme (45:38):
It takes you back to that moment. Okay.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (45:40):
Yeah. So whether I have darker circles than other people or whatever, I see that. And it's just like one of those things where it's a trigger for me and so, yeah. So when I see myself in the mirror with dark circles, I just smile and just try to like, "Nope. You're not that girl. This is you." Right?
Beth Demme (46:02):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (46:03):
"You've lived some life and that's what they tell. And that's not a bad thing."
Beth Demme (46:08):
That's one of those invisible scars.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (46:10):
Beth Demme (46:10):
One of those things that I don't see, other people don't see, but that are part of what make you who you are.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (46:17):
Beth Demme (46:18):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (46:20):
How is it for you to listen to my book, as I sit here?
Beth Demme (46:24):
For me, it's great. We've talked about the book a lot, just you and I, just as friends, have talked about it. I think it's important. I think that you're brave for sharing it. But just this process of listening to the audio and then popping in with our comments, it's fun for me because it's not my story. It's not my emotional reality, the way it is for you. So I'm just watching you and trying to like, "Okay, is she okay? Is this okay? Is this too hard?"
Stephanie Kostopoulos (46:59):
Well, it's interesting, because you refer to the podcast as being fun a lot. And I let you say that, but that's not the word I would use. Like the podcast for me is, just in general, I don't know if I would say fun. It's not not fun. But for me, the podcast is an important emotional journey and that is not always fun. There are episodes that are more fun, than others, to work on and there's some that are just not a heavy topic, but when we started this podcast, part of it was. I think we need to talk about hard stuff and so those are hard. But those are some of my favorite episodes, the ones that were the hardest to produce. So I wouldn't say this is fun for me, but I would say this is important and I'm glad we're doing it. And it is interesting realizing how long it took me to actually get to this place in the sense that, my book was out.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (48:07):
The whole podcast is based on my book, but it took me... What are we in? Year four?
Beth Demme (48:11):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (48:12):
We're in year four, when I finally was... Because I thought about doing this right in the beginning, but it took me to year four to do this.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (48:26):
So if you are interested in reading more about or reading my book, it is available on all places books are available. We'll put a link below to a couple of those places and there's also audiobook version and an ebook version. So all the versions are available, all the ways.
Beth Demme (48:46):
It's available in all the ways. And tell us about the cover art on the book.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (48:51):
So the cover is my it's my foot that we had discussion about that. Should we put a foot on the cover? But why not? So it is actually a picture of my tattoo that's on my left ankle and it's a tattoo of a cross, a skin ripped tattoo, so it looks like the cross is under my skin. And that's a tattoo I got, 2012. And it's something that was very... I'll talk about in the book. We'll get more detail in to that.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (49:20):
But my bro, who we've had on the podcast before, Daniel, he actually is a photographer and he took that picture and that was taken at Wekiwa Springs, in Apopka, Florida, which is near Orlando-ish. What's cool is, I just was in that area visiting Daniel, and he wasn't home yet from work, so I went over to Wekiwa to see if I could find the location where we took the picture. And I found it and I took another picture. It was hard to take a picture of my own foot, by the way, ankle, but I took a picture in that spot and I wish I had my book with me. I did not have a copy of the book, so I couldn't take a picture.
Beth Demme (49:56):
You don't always travel with one?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (49:57):
I know. I was really disappointed. I was in my mom's car and there was not a book in there. So I got to revisit that spot and it was really cool to be years later and to find it again, the spot.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (50:13):
At the end of each episode, we end with questions for reflection. These are questions based on today's show that Beth will read and leave a little pause between for you to answer for yourself, or you can find a copy on our, buy me a coffee, page.
Beth Demme (50:25):
Number one: Have you ever felt led to write your own story in book form? Explore that idea.
Beth Demme (50:32):
Number two: What do your scars say about you?
Beth Demme (50:37):
Number three: Have you experienced a life changing, traumatic event? What was it? Did you know at the time that it would be life changing, for better or worse?
Beth Demme (50:48):
And number four: Steph describes looking at herself in the mirror and being unrecognizable. Can you relate to this experience? What was it like for you?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (50:59):
Discovering Our Scars is produced by Beth Demme and Stephanie Kostopoulos. Thanks for joining us.
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Mental Health Advocate. Author. Podcast Host. DIYer. Greyhound Mom.
I'm a mom who laughs a lot, mainly at myself. #UMC Pastor, recent Seminary grad, public speaker, blogger, and sometimes lawyer. Learning to #LiveLoved.