Questions for Reflection
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Beth Demme (00:03):
Welcome to the Discovering Our Scars podcast.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:05):
We share personal experiences so we can learn from each other.
Beth Demme (00:08):
Our mission is to talk about things you might relate to, but that you don't hear being discussed in other places.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:13):
Our hope is that you're encouraged to have honest conversations with people in your own life. I'm Steph.
Beth Demme (00:17):
And I'm Beth. On today's show, we're going to have an honest conversation titled: "Surviving A Bear Attack with Laurel."
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:23):
Hello. It's nice to be here.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:29):
Do we go farther back than you and Beth?
It's so funny. I go further back with your mom than you.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:33):
I know. That's true.
And we're closer in age.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:35):
It is accurate. It is accurate. So you were in my mom's high school-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:40):
Were you in middle school, too?
I had her in high school. It was someone else in middle school, but 2010 to 2014.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:46):
Wow. So you go way back with my mom. I was in Orlando, I believe, so that's why I knew you towards the end.
I just knew you as oh, [Vicki's 00:00:54] daughter.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:54):
Right? Just every other kind of adult.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:56):
Beth Demme (00:57):
You're Vicki's daughter.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:58):
Oh, man. She just knows me as, oh, that adult. I love it. I love it. And then you know her from ...
Beth Demme (01:04):
Because she volunteered. Well, we all kind of are connected by the church. We've talked about many times on the podcast. And so I was working there, and
Laurel was in high school and she came to volunteer to get service hours. So she would come in like once a week. Although at the time, it kind of seemed like she just came in whenever she felt like it, but that was fine too.
One time school ended at 11:30 AM. So I just went to volunteer.
Beth Demme (01:25):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (01:26):
That's the best, volunteers.
Beth Demme (01:27):
It is. It is. Yeah, the ones who show up are the best volunteers. I concur.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (01:29):
Yeah, show up any and always. So, we have a very interesting title for today's episode. We played around with different titles. We thought we would just go there. We would go there. Surviving a bear attack. So this is real. This is not like a metaphor for something.
No, it's not like one of those like illustrative examples of fly like an eagle.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (01:49):
Exactly. So we want to get right into it. So, where were you and what were you doing when you were attacked by a bear?
So I went to UCF like Steph.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (01:58):
Followed in her footsteps. Actually, I didn't know you were at UCF at the time, so sorry. But I actually worked, I was in history, and one of the professors right at the end of spring semester said, "Hey, I have an undergrad research opportunity. If you guys are interested, you would have to cover air flight, but everything else is covered. We'd be doing work trying to identify ancient sites and fortresses, things like that. Shoot me an email if you're interested." And I was like, "Hey, sounds like fun." And I actually made a whole video about the whole trip itself. But we went June, July of 2017. So the project eventually was called the Vaoytz Dzor Fortress Landscape Project. Now, I'll type it out for you, because it's a mouthful. And so the first year we did what's called survey, and that's where you literally just ride around in a Jeep and people say, "Oh, I think there's an old fortress that away or old rocks that way." And then you go looking for signs of that. And so it's a lot of like just wandering in the wilderness at like 3000 meters above sea level.
Beth Demme (02:57):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (02:58):
It's a lot of fun there. It's beautiful. It's very mountainous. Beth was asking me if it is mountainous. It's called the Swiss of the Caucasus for a reason. There's lots of wineries there. People go there for wine tourism.
Beth Demme (03:11):
So it was in what country?
Beth Demme (03:12):
It's in Armenia. Gotcha.
I forgot about that. Whoops. Sorry about that.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (03:16):
It's all good.
Beth Demme (03:16):
So you went to Armenia, you had this incredible research opportunity. I don't really like to be in the wilderness, but the idea of riding around in a foreign country and asking people like, "Hey, seen any old rocks?" It actually sounds really fun.
And Armenia's really-
Beth Demme (03:28):
And you would really dig into a place.
Beth Demme (03:32):
That was the second year, but Armenians are also very hospitable. So you go and just say, "Has anyone in this village seen anything?" And then 19 people invite you into their house and bring you candy and coffee. It's like, "This isn't so bad."
Beth Demme (03:45):
Yeah. So you were there. It was the first year that you did this, you were doing the survey.
Right, and it was actually the first year of this project. The professor had just started working at UCF, too. I think it was literally the last week. It was one of the last sites we were checking. We were there for three-ish weeks. It was the third week, beginning of the third week. And I was like, "Let's check these sites and then we're going to start packing up where we are. We're going to start getting everything in suitcases and get it back." And in fact, one of the guys who went with us had felt sick, so he was just staying home, packing up, and doing stuff around the dig house. And so every morning we'd go with this man named Vrej, V-R-E-J, which is Armenian for revenge.
Beth Demme (04:25):
I don't know if it's his birth name.
Beth Demme (04:27):
And he would just drive us to places, and we just get out and look around and see what we could see. And so we drove to this one area, Karaglukh is what it's called, and I'll type that out for you, too. And there's this really tall mountain. And I was like, "Huh, pretty tall." And so we went up it. At one point, the Jeep couldn't go up any further so we started walking it. It's like 9,000 feet above sea level. So you walk three steps, three more steps.
Beth Demme (04:52):
That's so high. That altitude's crazy.
It kills you, especially when we're from Florida.
Beth Demme (04:56):
We're from sea level.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (04:57):
From sea level. Yeah.
That's like what? Like two miles.
Beth Demme (05:01):
9,000 feet would be like two miles. Yeah.
Yeah. So, eventually we get near the top and I took a photo that was just beautiful scenery, like you want to just turn into a bird and fly through these beautiful mountains and things. And the gang was like, "Let's go a little higher." There was a lot of loose rock. And I was like, "I don't feel really safe walking up this loose rock. You guys go ahead. I'll wait down here with the backpacks." And it was like maybe 30 feet of loose rock. It wasn't like another mile up.
So I was being a bad person and listening to music in one ear and just kind of looking up the rock face at my friends, and behind me was down the mountain. At one point I hear ... I was like, "Oh, is that a puppy?" Because we'd seen shepherds before, and I turned around and it was not a puppy. It was a Syrian brown bear, which is the coloring of a grizzly. And I remember thinking, "That is a really small grizzly." Because you see them on TV like they're 13 feet tall, and then this one was the size of maybe our brown bears. And I was like, "Oh, oh no." And it was just running straight at me.
Beth Demme (05:59):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (06:00):
To this day, all the details are kind of fuzzier just because it's been a while, but it ran at me and it tackled me, and then started biting at my abdomen because I was down. And so I just started wailing on it with my hands, like fists, and screaming, and yelling, and stuff, and it kept biting. So I was like, "Oh, this isn't working."
Beth Demme (06:16):
But then it stopped, and then it just ran kind of to my left. Little did I know, the gang, they went up, and they went down at it kind of angle, so they didn't come down where they started. So they come down and they're like, "We should go find Laurel." Then a bear comes at them, and then like, "Oh," and they're yelling, and clapping, and trying to look big. And the bear runs away. They're like, "Laurel!" And then I found them. I'm like, "Guys, there there's a bear." And they were like, "Laurel, there's a bear." And I was like, "I know." And by this point I'd been attacked, and so then it was just a headache of trying to get down the mountain where the Jeep couldn't get to us and then get to a hospital. The hospital we went to wasn't equipped to deal with it, so we had to drive to another hospital.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (06:52):
Okay. Okay. Okay. So, you turn around, and it's coming towards you. It's running towards you.
Yes, all four.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (06:59):
On all four legs, running towards you. And then it like pushes you down?
It tackles me.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (07:05):
Like it just runs straight at you and just tackles you on the ground?
Basically, he runs into me.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (07:09):
Into you. And then it starts attacking your abdomen?
So yeah, it started biting at my abdomen.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (07:14):
What do you think it was trying to do?
It's the thing I think where animals are most vulnerable around their abdomen. That's why turtles have the shells and stuff. So it was just going for me.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (07:22):
Was it trying to eat you?
I don't know.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (07:24):
What did it want with you?
My mom has a theory that there may have been cubs in the mountains nearby, so it was trying to protect. I didn't really get a chance to ask it.
Beth Demme (07:32):
That would've been nice.
Excuse me, sir.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (07:36):
It wasn't like you didn't have food, it wasn't food you don't think?
I ate my last granola bar right before.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (07:41):
I don't know.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (07:43):
So is that typical for them to just attack humans like that?
I'm told normally it's not, because bears are really solitary. If they see humans, they generally try to avoid, which is why my mom thinks there may have been cubs around, or it may have been like weak and sick or something. It was very strange. So anyways, it was just crazy. But we went to the hospital, had to get a bunch of like Ciprofloxacin and things like that. And they did the beginning of the rabies series. Then I had to be medically evacuated, because when you get the rabies series, there's the actual series, like the first day, the third day, fifth, seventh, 14th day, but there's something called the immunoglobulin, which is white blood cells that are already have the immunity built up to rabies, and Armenia didn't have that, so I had to be medically evacuated out
Beth Demme (08:23):
Because they literally didn't have the medicine that you needed?
Beth Demme (08:25):
And I will say the closest one, I think it was like Greece or Cyprus, and my mom was like, "No, you're coming home."
Beth Demme (08:30):
I don't blame her.
Beth Demme (08:32):
I think that was a good decision.
Beth Demme (08:34):
So how much damage did the bear do to you?
So it bit at me, and I have two scars on my belly, then one scar kind of further down in the groin area. And so I was like bleeding and stuff. So as soon as it got off me, I remember freaking out and screaming, and I was looking and you see blood you're like, "Uh-oh". And I was just like, "I hope it didn't puncture any internal organs. That'd be really not good." And so I had a bandana, I tied it and just like put it where I need to put it. I remember just like, "Guys, where are you?" One of them had those little whistles on your backpack, and I kept trying to blow it. Those things are not real whistles.
Beth Demme (09:09):
Where you in a tremendous amount of pain? It sounds-
No, I don't think I was. I don't have the best memory, because I totally had a dissociative episode after. As soon as everyone came and I was like, "Okay, I'm safe." I was like, "That happened? That's so weird. There was a bear. This is odd.
Beth Demme (09:23):
Right. Like your mind was really protecting you probably from the pain and the trauma.
And I honestly, to this day, I can't give you a timeline at all. I lost all sense of time for that day.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (09:34):
So did you have to get stitches?
No, actually it wasn't big enough, but I mean, it still didn't look good when you're bleeding out of your tummy area.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (09:42):
Yeah. Oh my gosh. So was it the claws that-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (09:46):
The teeth. Oh, because it bit you.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (09:48):
Wow. And so is it guaranteed that they have rabies, or it's just you have no idea?
Usually they don't, actually. I asked a friend who I was texting. He's in the Florida Fish and Wildlife, and he asked the people in the bear program, and normally bears do not get rabies. Usually they're very solitary, so they're not going to encounter other animals. The only way they usually get it is if they ate like a fox that had rabies and died or something like that. Normally, again, they're solitary, so they just kind of die on their own. But it's a good prophylactic, and you never know, and it's kind of hard to bounce back from rabies.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (10:18):
Better safe than sorry.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (10:19):
Wow. Okay. So you don't know how long it was between, like how long you were alone with the bear? That the people weren't with you.
It wasn't like long. I remember waiting for them and looking up the hill, and I can tell you what song I was listening to when the bear attacked.
Beth Demme (10:35):
I was just about to ask you that. What song was it?
Loreena McKennitt, The Highway Man, which is like nothing about bears. It's an old poem that she just put music to. And to this day I can't really listen to it.
Beth Demme (10:44):
I bet. I bet. Yeah.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (10:45):
I was good. I had one earbud in, I had the other one out, in my defense.
Beth Demme (10:49):
Yeah. So you hear this noise, you turn around, and immediately you see that this bear is charging you.
Beth Demme (10:56):
Beth Demme (10:57):
Do you have any idea, did you even have time to think? Do you have any idea what you were thinking?
In all seriousness, I remember going, "That's kind of small for a grizzly." And then as it was jumping on me, I kind of had that really depressing thought of "I'm going to die on this mountain and I didn't even get to say goodbye to my family."
Beth Demme (11:12):
Yeah. Yeah. I could see why it would be one of those like your life flashes before you kind of moments, I mean.
I didn't really have a flash. I was kind of disappointed. It was more like regrets of like, "Oh, my family's just going to hear this sad story about me."
Beth Demme (11:24):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (11:26):
So this moment sounds exactly like fight or flight. Like what we're told, like we're made, we are built for fight or flight. And we don't experience these kinds of things, humans, typically anymore. So do you, I mean, it sounds like it all happened in like a split second, but do you remember the moment where you decided to fight this bear? Like what that feeling was like?
It wasn't conscious. I just remember starting to wail as much as I could.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (11:52):
Yeah, you just punch. You're just like, "Get off me."
And it was kind of funny. It was one of those moments where you learn more about yourself. Like I learned that I will not go gently into that good night.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (11:58):
Beth Demme (11:59):
But it wasn't conscious. I just remember just wailing. I didn't think, "Should I punch this?"
Beth Demme (12:03):
Yeah. You're just like, "Get up." Yeah. Did it try to take your hand or anything?
No, I punched it like right in its snout and it kept biting at me, and so I just kept punching, and then it got off.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (12:12):
And then it started running away?
Yeah. I don't know if I scared it or what, but it was nice that it ran away.
Beth Demme (12:19):
So yeah. Your survival instinct just kicked in and you really did save yourself. Did they go looking for the bear? Was there-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (12:26):
They just left it. Do you know how much it weighed?
I don't know. The best I can tell you is that it was about the size of like our brown bears in Florida.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (12:34):
I don't know how much they weigh.
Beth Demme (12:35):
I don't know, but that's a pretty big animal, like it's bigger than a dog.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (12:37):
Because it was on you. Did it feel like really heavy?
You know those nature shows where you see wolves and stuff attacking the prey and like jumping in and biting at it? That's kind of what it was like. So it wasn't like on top of me. It was like standing over me.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (12:47):
But it pushed you over.
Beth Demme (12:50):
So the other day, I was on my back porch.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (12:53):
Beth Demme (12:54):
And a bug that was maybe, maybe two inches long, flew down my shirt.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (13:02):
Beth Demme (13:03):
It was, you guy, it was terrifying, and it was horrible, and I literally like stripped off my shirt on the back porch, because I had-
Beth Demme (13:10):
... because I had to get this bug off me. Right? Laurel, that thing was like two inches long. You're talking about a bear being on top of you.
Multiply that by like 3000%.
Beth Demme (13:18):
I mean, this is like a week later after this bug at flew me I'm still terrorized by it. You were attacked by a bear. That's crazy.
I will say-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (13:26):
Did you punch it?
Did you punch the bug?
Beth Demme (13:28):
That bug is no longer with us, I will say that.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (13:30):
Okay, she squished it. It's gone.
Beth Demme (13:31):
Well, to be fair, [Stephen 00:13:33] squished it, but yes, it has been squished.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (13:35):
As he sees you stripping outside, like, what is happening?
Well, so we were in a rural area. I will say this was a very rural wilderness. We lived in this town, and the second year, it's more like a village, the second year, it's too hot to sleep in pants, so I wasn't sleeping in pants. I got up and I looked at my pants. I was like, "Why is there a yellow stain?" And I looked and it was a scorpion. And I was like-
Beth Demme (13:55):
So I just threw my pants out the window. And my roommate was like, "Yeah, I was wondering why you were leaning out the window in your underwear." I was like, "You got to do what you got to do."
Stephanie Kostopoulos (14:04):
Yeah. Oh my gosh. Okay. So you get attacked. They bring you, start the rabies. They don't have all the meds you need, so then you're flown somewhere?
So we made a bunch of calls to a bunch of insurance people. We were calling my parents, which that is a whole nother story, just trying to explain to my mom what was happening. It's kind of funny, because we called my mom and my professor talked. She's like, "I want her to be mad at me. Not you." My mom was like, "I just want to speak to Laurel." And I was like, "Hi, ma, how are you?" And then she's like, "Well, okay." And we talked and discussed details, and then she hangs up and later I was like, "I need to call my dad." And I call my dad and he's like, "No, I'm at the hospital right now." I was like, "No, dad. I'm in Armenia. I'm not in America." He's like, "I'm at the hospital for your mom." She'd fallen and broken her hand. So it was just a bad week all around.
Beth Demme (14:51):
So when you talked to her, she didn't ...
Well, when I talked to her, she was going somewhere. And then after I hung up, she went and broke her hand.
Beth Demme (14:57):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (14:57):
Oh my gosh.
And so we were like, "Dad, you can not go out. You're our only healthy person."
Stephanie Kostopoulos (15:02):
So after that, we called a bunch of people. We figured out flights, and I flew back, I think Armenia-Moscow, Moscow-JFK in New York, JFK-back home.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (15:14):
So you're on a commercial flight?
I think so. Yeah. It was a normal flight.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (15:18):
It was a normal flight. Wow. Okay. Yeah. Ooh.
Beth Demme (15:21):
Yeah. It seems like people being medically evacuated should get special planes, doesn't it?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (15:24):
Yeah, I should get, yeah, Air Force One.
Beth Demme (15:27):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (15:29):
By then my mom had already found a place near our house that had the vaccine, and she'd already talked to them when she was in the ER.
Beth Demme (15:37):
So you were a pro-vaccine?
Yes. I'm definitely. Got both of my COVID shots, Pfizer. But it was a whirlwind of events. Then I just hung out at the house for awhile, because I was still really sore, too.
Beth Demme (15:49):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (15:50):
So you were in Tallahassee? you came back to Tallahassee?
Actually, my parents live in Georgia, so we were up in Georgia.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (15:53):
Oh, okay. Georgia. Okay. Yeah, yeah. Because this wasn't that long ago.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (15:58):
Yeah, not too long ago.
Beth Demme (15:59):
Just a few years ago. I can't even imagine the adrenaline that must've been running through your body for survival mode to have kicked in, right, and then you had to kind of stay, I think, in survival mode until you knew [crosstalk 00:16:11]-
Once I found the others. Yeah.
Beth Demme (16:13):
Yeah, until you knew things were kind of taken care of.
That's when I totally dissociated, like, "Wow. That was weird. That was so weird, you guys." And everyone's like, "Laurel!" And I was like, "That was so weird."
Beth Demme (16:23):
When you went back the next year, wait, wait. Okay.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (16:26):
Because I can't even imagine going back.
Stephanie looks like she's about to explode.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (16:31):
No, I'm just like, because that was what I was wondering. I wanted to know about the medical stuff, but after all the medical stuff, when you finally were like, you know, had time to process it, did you have time to process it? Did you have time to process what happened?
Yeah, I was back at the dig house for about a day when we were still thinking that I could just get treatments at the hospital, but then they were like, "We need that immunoglobulin. We need to figure this out." And I do remember going into my room and then just kind of crying, and I listened to a lot of Sia.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (17:01):
Beth Demme (17:02):
She has a song called Alive. That was like my thing for awhile.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (17:07):
So what motivated you to want to go back the next year?
I mean that's always a freak accident. I don't really know. Nothing ever really said, "Don't go back." The second year we weren't doing survey, so it was less like people spread out. It was all in a dig, so we'd all be together, and I had a pickaxe.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (17:24):
Beth Demme (17:24):
Well, there you go.
And so every time you go to use the toilet, you just take a pickaxe.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (17:27):
Okay. Well, there you go.
Beth Demme (17:28):
Well, when you got there the next year, were people like, "Oh, are you the girl that was attacked by the bear?"
Well, it's funny. After I left, they said that they met some people who came to the village and were looking for a quote, the kid who kung-fu'd a bear. So somewhere, a little bit got lost in translation, but I was okay with the incorrect retelling.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (17:46):
That's what I heard.
Beth Demme (17:48):
I mean, you did beat the bear off of you. That is what it sounds like happened.
It sounds more like a Bruce Lee film, though, that way.
Beth Demme (17:55):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (17:58):
So, so you went back the next year. Have you gone back since?
No, I have not, just because I was doing my own stuff with school and so forth, and then COVID hit, of course, so here we are.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (18:09):
So do you have any desire to go back?
I'm actually going back this fall to teach English. As of right now, I don't know what's going to happen with Delta. We'll see. But as of right now, it's on to go back to teach English. I was lucky enough to get a Fulbright award for English teaching assistant. So as of right now, it's on.
Beth Demme (18:24):
Wow. So how long will we be there?
In theory, nine months, but you can stay over. So I was just planning on staying over for awhile.
Beth Demme (18:29):
Wow. Before this happened to you too, did you have any fear about being attacked? Do you have any idea that was even something that could happen?
No, not really. Do you mean wild animals or just in general?
Beth Demme (18:41):
Yeah, wild animals. Well, because you were going to this country with, I mean, you're going to be in the mountains, you're going to be in the wilderness.
No, we really didn't. I think it might've shaken up my professor a little bit, because this is her first year doing this project and then someone gets attacked by a bear. So, from there all smooth sailing, but it was not expected.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (19:00):
So is there any kind of fear you have now that you've been attacked by a bear? Is there any kind of like different feelings you have or almost like PTSD in relation to like life now?
So for a while afterwards, I'd have nightmares of bears attacking, which was stressful. And then one time I had a dream that like a fox attacked me and bit me, and I was like, "Oh, well. I'm good to go for the rabies series for another 10 years." In general, if I hear ... of dogs, it kind of stresses me out a bit, and in general, big dogs kind of stress me out, too. I'm trying to think. After I went probably that next fall semester, there was a bear spotted on campus, and my professor, all her colleagues were like, "Hey, go get your kid. Go get your student."
Beth Demme (19:43):
But in general, when people talk about bears and you see videos on YouTube of bears wandering into people's neighborhoods, it's like don't approach, it's not a Teddy bear. It is a wild animal. Do not go over there. And very occasionally you see YouTube videos of people getting attacked by bears, and I don't look at that.
Beth Demme (20:01):
I bet. I bet. A long time ago, I don't even remember how many years ago, there was a bear here in town by the Whataburger on Thomasville road. Do you guys remember this? It was like up in the tree.
Was he a regular?
Beth Demme (20:12):
Beth Demme (20:14):
And the Fish and wildlife, I guess, tranquilized it, and it fell out of the tree, because you know how-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (20:19):
Aw, poor bear.
Beth Demme (20:21):
That was how I felt. I was like, "Oh, poor bear." Now I feel very differently about it.
Well, it's funny. There's this great video called bear versus trampoline where it's a bear stuck in a tree, and they tranquilize and it falls and it hits the trampoline, and then it bounces, and it splats on the ground.
Beth Demme (20:32):
And it's like a 10 minute clip, but it's pretty terrible. But it's like, ha ha.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (20:37):
Yeah, especially, yeah for you I could definitely see like, "... you got it."
All animals are wonderful, and we were in its habitat, but at the same time, I'm a little anti-bear.
Beth Demme (20:47):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (20:49):
Anti-bear. We need to make those shirts.
I'm decidedly anti-bear.
Beth Demme (20:53):
Yeah. No, you've earned that.
Fair enough, yeah.
But for PTSD, I'm trying to think. I think I took some other notes here. For a while, I think it took me a while to process it. And I think to this day, because I still don't have a timeline of what happened, I think my brain's still trying to process what happened. I had a friend, actually, who was talking to me about PTSD, and she had a really interesting quote for it where she's like, "PTSD flashbacks happened because the first time around your brain couldn't really process the event and said, 'All right, I'll save this for later.' And because it keeps trying to process this event over and over because it hasn't saved the memory correctly, that's why you keep having flashbacks at random moments." So I think I'd have flashbacks for a bit, I think, and now I'm pretty okay. It's just like if I hear a dog ... I get ... Like I was walking a dog today and it was like, the dog itself was panting. I was like ...
Beth Demme (21:42):
Yeah, don't like that sound. Yeah.
Yeah. I was playing a video game that had a bear in it, and it attack me, and I was like, "Ah!" No bears in video games, please.
Beth Demme (21:51):
Yeah. If you can handle a bear in real life, you can handle the bear in the video game. I believe in you.
It got me in the game.
Beth Demme (21:57):
Oh no. Oh no.
And that was the end of it.
Beth Demme (22:00):
That's, yeah. That's not important to play. So how did people react when you got home? When they hear the story?
My mom is very much on Facebook, and so she posted and so I came home to like 300 comments and a thousand, not a thousand, but a lot of likes, and everyone was checking in on me. So I just wrote like, "Thanks everyone for all the thoughts and stuff." I will say a lot of people ask the story when I mention it, and so it gets to the point where it's like, "Oh, I just need to send them somewhere." So now I have somewhere to send them, and plug an awesome podcast. But after a while, like to this day, I think I know my retelling of the story better than I remember the story, because a lot of details are fuzzy just from processing, and it's been four years.
Beth Demme (22:43):
And your mind was working on other things. Your mind was working on keeping you alive, and so it's understandable that it wasn't cataloging everything that was happening.
Right, right, right. I'm trying to think here. For the most part, I don't necessarily bring it up, but it is a fun ice breaker, but usually it's more of if I mention Armenia, and they're like, "Oh, what were you doing on Armenia?" It's like, "Well, do I have a story for you. How long do you have?"
Stephanie Kostopoulos (23:05):
That's like when they do those icebreakers, like here's three questions, three things about-
Three truths and a lie.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (23:09):
Yeah, yeah, yeah. You have really good one.
Beth Demme (23:12):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (23:13):
You said you didn't need any stitches, but do you have any physical scars today from it?
Yes. I have two on my tummy and then one a little bit further down, and it's like the two in the stomach just look like little dots and the one further down is like a real scar, like kind of a straight line where it bit at me and ripped some skin out.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (23:27):
So is it teeth marks?
It is from the teeth, yes.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (23:29):
I do have like really tiny knuckle scars where I punched the bear, but they're really tiny.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (23:35):
Oh my gosh. I see that. Is that the teeth?
Beth Demme (23:36):
I think it just where I broke skin punching a bear in the face.
Beth Demme (23:39):
Oh my gosh.
Because there's a lot of bones in the face.
Beth Demme (23:40):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (23:42):
Could you feel the bones when you punched it?
I don't remember.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (23:45):
Okay. Oh my gosh. Yeah. That's probably good not to remember that.
I just remember looking and being like, "Well, how did I get wounds on my hand when I got attacked in the stomach?"
Stephanie Kostopoulos (23:52):
That makes sense. Yeah, you must have punched it hard.
I guess so, or just a weak knuckles.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (23:56):
Don't get in a fight with Laurel, by the way.
Beth Demme (23:59):
So have you been walking in the wilderness since this happened? Do you like to hike? Do you kind of stay away from that?
So, I'm kind of lazy, so normally I don't really hike, but at this point, I'd go with a buddy.
Beth Demme (24:09):
Yeah. That's a smart thing, anyways and always.
I had a friend who was biking in Orlando on like a biking trail, and he said he passed a mountain Cougar and it was like oh no. No, no, no.
Beth Demme (24:20):
Yeah, there's a lot. I go hiking in the woods all the time, and people out there have told me all these crazy things they've seen. I've never seen any of it, and I've been going for like five, six years.
That's the best you can hope for.
Beth Demme (24:29):
Don't try to see anything.
Beth Demme (24:31):
No, no. I stay on the path. So some physical scars. How about emotional scar?
I mean, it was interesting, because I realized if something happens to me, unconsciously, I will fight back again. Like I said, I won't just go into that good night. Other than that, nothing really thankfully. Again, I'm just kind of stressed around bears.
Beth Demme (24:53):
Yeah. Understandably so. Yeah.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (24:55):
Yeah, that's interesting. So do you have like a more empowered feeling knowing that if something bad happened to you, you would fight for your life kind of thing? Is there any kind of different sense?
Yeah, so I took it a self-defense class afterwards. Not because of the bear, because it's hard to do kung-fu on a bear. They're different sizes than people, but just in life because I'm very small and petite, and so that self-defense class, a lot of what they taught you is having confidence in yourself and knowing how to react without thinking. So not just learning moves, but learning thought patterns. Like if someone comes at me this way, I can use their weight against them or something. And so definitely the bear thing is like, okay, so I know I can get somewhere if someone comes at me, and then with the self-defense class, I think it was also very helpful. I'd recommend anyone take a self-defense class. Your local police precinct probably do them once a month. They do special ones for women on their own, things like that. But it does build up a confidence in a way. I know I can take a bear. I'm okay.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (25:52):
Yeah. Yeah, you can take on a lot if you can take on a bear.
Beth Demme (25:55):
Yeah. I would say you could probably handle just about anything if you can handle a bear.
Not that I want to try.
Beth Demme (25:59):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (26:02):
Do my dogs scare you?
They don't scare me, because I know you have control of them, but they kind of stress me out a little bit. There's very well behaved, but big dogs in general kind of stress me out.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (26:11):
I can see that. Yeah.
After I came back, I was house sitting for a friend, and his next door neighbor had a German shepherd, and I was walking out of the house, locking the door and she was like an average sized woman. She wasn't tiny, but she wasn't holding her dog and it just ran up and bit me. And I was like-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (26:24):
It bit you?
Yeah. And I was like, "What, what? Thank you." And she was like, "Sorry." And ran off.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (26:30):
I don't know.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (26:32):
Oh my goodness.
Beth Demme (26:33):
That was after the bear attack?
That was like a year and a half. But it was just like that does not help.
Beth Demme (26:37):
Thank you. Yeah, that does not help the ...
Leash your dogs, people.
Beth Demme (26:41):
I actually have kind of wondered about that, because I'm not a small person. I'm a big person, but my daughter is a small person. You are a small person. I kind of wondered about that, like how differently we perceive our interactions in the world. And if the size that we are impacts our impression of the world, because-
Or how we think the world perceives us?
Beth Demme (27:04):
Right. Well, yes, but I remember when I was a kid and everything seemed really big. Right? And then I became a grownup and now I go back to my elementary school, and it's like, "Oh, this auditorium was the biggest room ever. And now it's just like, kind of a small auditorium actually." So I just wonder if there are some things like that about being different sizes. I don't know I'm trying to say.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (27:29):
I can tell you for me, I've never really thought about my size as like an issue, more my gender. I feel like as a female, I feel like I am more of a target, and I feel like I'd be less of a target if I was white man.
Stephanie is also like not short, either. I'm really short. I'm like five foot one, although my license says five foot two. And being a small person, I feel like it's kind of stressful, because then you're like, "Someone could just pick me up and manhandle me." So which is why I say, again, that self-defense course, everyone should take one just because it really helps build your sense of self-confidence and knowing I have a tool set if someone does come after me that I can at least not just be a victim. I can fight back.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (28:10):
Well, and there's certain things I have when I'm alone, just for extra safety. Well, actually when I walk the dogs, I have pepper spray, and it's not necessarily for a person, but if another dog attacks my dogs, and then in the woods, I have a whistle. Just a little extra protection beyond my watch and my phone. So there are those conscious decisions I make. Would a whistle stop a bear attack? Like you think-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (28:35):
No. It wouldn't scare him?
Also, they have pepper spray for bears. It's called bear spray, but it can either make the bear scared or it can make the bear angry.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (28:43):
So it's kind of a double-edged sword.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (28:46):
Just avoid those bears altogether.
Beth Demme (28:47):
Yeah, I just wouldn't go and take the chance. Right? I would be like, I'm not going to use something that might make this bear attack worse. I just want tools that will make the bear attack stop.
I remember not so much for bears, because they're animals, but for people I remember reading something where it's like you can just change how you carry yourself or how you come across to make yourself less of a victim. The classic thing of if you're kind of hunched over and look small people might be more likely to take, but if you just walk confidently and broad shoulders, even that can help.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (29:15):
Always look like you have a mission, know where you're going, what you're doing. So, I mean, I can't imagine that it is common to have a bear attack, but do you have advice for someone that might be, well, I go to the woods. I might be attacked by bear. I don't know. Do you have advice for if you see a bear running at you, what do you think I need to do?
I know you might have better luck looking on a wildlife website. I know there's some bears you're supposed to look in the eye and slowly back away, there's some bears where don't look them in the eye. You play dead. You'd have to look it up, because if you get them mixed up, that's going to be a problem. Don't try to run away, though, because I know they'll just think of you as prey then. So, I'm not really sure. You might want to look on a wildlife website.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (29:57):
Well, I think if we go with what you did, punch him in the face. Punch them in the face, make them leave.
And if you can, take a buddy hiking or something. I know they also say just in general, when you are walking, try and kind of be noisy so if animals are just hiding and hanging out, they aren't going to be scared by you and then get into that phase of attack.
Beth Demme (30:16):
And never have in more than one AirPod, because at least you could hear that it was coming. It didn't totally ...
I was old school and had like $10 Walmart earbuds that when you could still plug into a phone with your headphone jack.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (30:29):
Back in the day.
Beth Demme (30:32):
Hey, I just had to buy those, so let's [crosstalk 00:30:34]-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (30:34):
She's never allowed to have AirPods anymore. She keeps losing them.
Beth Demme (30:37):
Yeah, I keep losing them, I'm so sad.
Beth Demme (30:39):
Had to go back to the plugin kind.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (30:41):
Beth Demme (30:41):
That's such a great question.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (30:42):
That was my point.
When I'm using them, they're in my ears. Then when I'm not using them, they're in the box.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (30:46):
See, we are very similar.
Beth Demme (30:48):
Oh the whole box, the box disappears.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (30:49):
Have you ever met anyone else who's been through anything like this?
Not really. No. It's such a niche thing to be attacked by animals. I will say a relative of mine sent me a video of someone getting attacked by a bear the day after it happened to me. And I was like, "Why?"
Beth Demme (31:04):
Yeah, that's little insensitive.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (31:07):
Beth Demme (31:07):
Maybe they wanted you to know you weren't alone.
I think it was in good faith, as best as it can be, but it was just like, why?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (31:14):
Have you had anyone not believe you?
No. I mean, the school actually wrote an article about me, so it's kind of vetted.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (31:20):
Well, yeah. Okay. Because I was going to say, because they actually weren't watching it happen, but they saw the bear, because it came, so there was like no question.
Yeah, and the professor and everyone saw my wounds.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (31:32):
Beth Demme (31:32):
She was bleeding, so.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (31:34):
Well, I do think it's encouraging to hear the story, because you didn't let that kind of derail your life, and your goals, and you didn't let it stop you from doing things that you want to do. I mean, you're going to back to live in the country for a long time. I mean, I think that is encouraging to see that you didn't let that kind of crumble your life and take you off course. You just kind of was like, "Okay, this happened. Moving forward."
I will say it's also, it's such a rare event. You're not going to get attacked by a bear statistically that often. I think if it had been like I'd been mugged or something that might've really changed how I felt, but it's so a freak accident really that it's not really going to happen again, probably, as long as I don't go hunting for bears.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (32:18):
Oh, I will say the second year, so another team from the University of Pennsylvania went and they did survey while we did a dig, and they were told to split up and then our professor's like, "Do not split up." And one of the girls in the project was like, "The day we split up, I saw bear tracks." I was like, "Don't do that."
Stephanie Kostopoulos (32:36):
So hopefully they've learned at least some experience from having that actually happened to you.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (32:49):
Well, Laurel, thank you so much for sharing your story. That is so intrigued. I was like on the edge of my seat, because you've told me a little bit before, but I was like I wanted like the full details on the podcast. And now you can say, "Hey, you want to hear my story? Go to this episode." We'll send you a link to it for sure.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (33:07):
But I know you've listened to maybe a few of our episodes before.
I know what's coming.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (33:12):
We should change the question. No, we won't, we won't.
Beth Demme (33:14):
Well, we know that you've listened, because you've called in.
Yes, I called in on making courage more than a concept, I think, where I was freezing in my car and I talked about Macs versus PCs. I can now say update, I'm fully Mac, and it's fully Apple ecosystem. I've bought in. I've drank the Apple Kool-Aid.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (33:29):
Beth Demme (33:30):
Hey, nobody's perfect.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (33:31):
And now she's drinking the liquid death of Discovering Our Scars podcast.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (33:36):
It's good. Tastes like water, right?
Water tastes like water.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (33:39):
Yeah, pretty much.
Beth Demme (33:41):
But we're recording this episode right now because you are getting ready to leave you. You mentioned that, that you're going to be going to Armenia to serve as an English teaching assistant, I guess, at the university level. So, that's pretty amazing. I think that's another act of courage, actually. I mean, obviously fighting a bear totally requires courage, but relocating, and taking on a new career, and taking on new opportunity like that, that's really courageous, too.
I think I'm also lucky, because I've been there before, so I have a little bit of experience. When I was apartment hunting, I was like, "Okay, I know where's the better real estate or where I'd want to be if I'm going to be at this school" et cetera.
Beth Demme (34:16):
So as you're getting ready to leave, what book, TV show, or podcast are you excited about right now?
Well, besides Discovering Our Scars, there's a really good book. It's called, it's not necessarily for everyone, but it's called Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. It's this woman who worked as a crematory operator for awhile, and her name is Caitiln Doughty, and she's very interested in kind of changing our views on death, helping people come to terms with that, because I mean sometimes life or death things happen. And for her, she's very interested in breaking down why people are so afraid to die. She had something in the book that was talking about if you can identify why you're scared to die, then that can help you overcome this, such things as I'm worried what might happen to my dependents, I'm scared what might happen to me, all my projects would come to an end, things like that. And it's really interesting. And then the whole kind of story of her working at a crematory is also kind of, the way she writes, it is very entertaining, and then also still respectful and somber, but interesting. It's not necessarily your everyday read.
Beth Demme (35:13):
Yeah. Tell us the title one more time.
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory, I believe.
Beth Demme (35:18):
Wow. That sounds like a good one. I'm going to have to try it.
It's awesome. It's a short read.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (35:21):
It's very visual. Like the smoke of cremating, that's really disturbing that gets in your eyes.
Well, I think it's also a song, too, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, because I Googled just that and I got a song.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (35:33):
So I don't know. Someone on the podcast is yelling, "Yeah. It's by da da da. It's this song."
Beth Demme (35:39):
Yell louder. We can't hear you. Call in and tell us.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (35:42):
Yeah. Call in and tell us. Yes, that would be great. Then we can full circle it.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (35:46):
Well, if people want to find out more about you, kind of follow your journey, especially that you're going back to the bear attack country, where can people find you?
I don't have much in the way of social media, but I do have an Instagram @unclelaurel. It's kind of an inside joke with a friend, and I'm working on making a blog right now for the travel, kind of a travel journal. I'll probably update that once I have a full name for that. I'm thinking right now A Misfit Abroad, or something like that, but I'll probably update it on my Instagram, unclelaurel.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (36:13):
Okay. We'll put links to all of that, and then when you have the other one, let us know.
Beth Demme (36:19):
Why a misfit abroad? Do you feel like a misfit? Maybe that's another episode.
I think as a child, as I grew up, I was very socially awkward. I didn't really fit in, and there's this album, I didn't listen to the whole album, but it was called Imagination & the Misfit Kid. I really liked the title of that. And I was like, I kind of like that name. Does anyone remember that Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer movie where they're seeing about being misfits?
Beth Demme (36:39):
It's very corny, but it's like-
Beth Demme (36:42):
The island of misfit toys.
Yes, yes, yes, and the little elf who wants to be a dentist.
Beth Demme (36:48):
Laurel, thanks again for being here, for sharing this story with us. I just am so inspired by your courage, and I am going to be rooting for you as you go back to Armenia and begin teaching. I think that's really awesome.
Thanks so much. It was really fun to be here.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (37:04):
At the end of each episode, we end with questions for reflection. These are questions based on today's show that Beth'll read and leave a little pause between. You can also find a PDF on our Buy Me a Coffee page.
Beth Demme (37:13):
Number one: can you think of a fight or flight situation in your life? What were the circumstances? Did you fight or did you flee?
Beth Demme (37:21):
Number two: If you encountered the same situation as Laurel, what do you think you would do?
Beth Demme (37:27):
Number three: have you ever had a close encounter with a wild animal? Were you afraid?
Beth Demme (37:33):
Number four: does the fear of something like this happening keep you from experiencing adventures in life?
Beth Demme (37:40):
And number five: do you have any physical scars that have interesting stories?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (37:46):
This has been the Discovering Our Scars podcast. Thank you for joining us.