Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Working Towards Research in Death-Anxiety

 This is not meant to be really specific or scientific writing and I have lots of information to fill in the details. Here is just a summary where I've compiled what I've been studying so far. It's all been independent work on the side of my normal school work. I hope to be accepted into the undergraduate research opportunities program at the U so I can put this information to use and start to figure out my own research projects.

For thousands of years humans have tried to answer a wide range of questions about what happens before, during, and after we die. Many of these answers are rooted in philosophy, religion, and psychology. In 1986 a group of experimental psychologists and sociologists designed Terror Management Theory. This theory states that human behavior is motivated by unconscious death concerns. Our mind has mechanisms that keep death thoughts from affecting our conscious while our subconscious processes the anxiety that is specifically heightened by death thoughts. TMT has evolved into a theory to distinguish between the proximal and distal defenses against our awareness of mortality.  Conscious death reminders pose a unique psychological threat for human beings. We are constantly surrounded by reminders of death from day to day; death thought awareness could even be constant. This potential for anxiety leads our mind to respond with motivated avoidance. With technological advances we are now able to study death anxiety in a new way. For an example, using neurofeedback and other brain imaging techniques we can study the interaction between different brain areas when people are subjected to death-thought awareness. If we apply neurology, cognitive neuroscience, and psychophysiology to the current studies, then we can create new more detailed research that could provide much needed empirical evidence to support Terror Management Theory and the theories being created that use TMT as a model.

Observing death-anxiety also gives us insight into specific areas of the brain and how it is affected by different types of anxiety. Because death is such a unique problem for human beings it would make sense that it affects us differently than other types of anxiety. Death-anxiety stems from a need to survive; some say death is an adaptive problem.  Looking at the fight or flight response it was once necessary for survival when our ancestors lived in a completely different environment than we do now. The left over effects of the fight or flight response are responsible for a lot of stress that human beings experience in their day to day life. Worrying about what could happen in the future, what should have happened in the past, etc. causes the same type of stress as if we were in actual physical danger. This relates to death-anxiety. A way we could study this could be to use a driving simulator. A participant would think that they are doing an attention experiment but towards the end an automobile comes out of no where and hits the participant ending the experiment. The next step is generally to have the participants answer questions or write about the feelings that were brought up. Some techniques commonly used now are word fragment tasks (ex: SK__L, can be “skill” or “skull”),  self reports, questioners measuring death thought awareness, and observing participants worldview and self esteem. These studies are off to a great start, but if there is a way to monitor the participants’ brain activity at the same time we could get even deeper insight into their responses. Also, the studies have not been done over long periods of time. In my research I hope to find new techniques to study death thought awareness and how it is impacting our cognition. I’d like to research how DTA influences consciousness- decision making, attention, self-attribution, subjectivity, stability of contents, and so forth. I also feel it could give insight to the connections between our subconscious and conscious processes.

Other topics to focus on:

Negative emotions have been linked to increased time perception. Does our constant DTA lead us to perceive longer periods of time? Having an end gives us a reason to perceive time. It would make sense that the anxiety surrounding a sudden end would have some kind of an effect.

TMT influenced the Mortality Salience Hypothesis. It states that the awareness of our mortality directly affects people’s worldview and self esteem. If mortality salience is influencing our decision making it is likely to trigger defensive responding. How much of an impact does this have on war, terrorism, and fighting in general?

Dispositional DTA studies how inducing people to think rationally about death vs. experientially could eliminate the effect of mortality salience. Evidence has shown that high levels of DTA could be a vulnerability factor for psychological problems such as anxiety, depression, and poor adjustment to life in general.

I would also like to research if DTA is a separate type of grief that we all experience every day that is not associated with a direct loss.

My research does not need to focus strictly on death thought awareness. It is the concept I would like to spend my life working on but I feel through this I can help contribute to studies focusing on stress, anxiety, the conscious/subconscious connection, and decision making; as well as studies to understand the inner workings of the brain. Right now most of the research involving death anxiety still lacks the empirical evidence to explain the theories. It is time to start observing it in a new way.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The End is Nigh

Today I was let go from my job. They were afraid I was posting pictures online that no one knew about and that I was writing too much about them in my blog. Heh. They haven't even looked at my blog and the 4 pictures I have taken with my PHONE are of me, the neon green cleaning solution we use, and dusty feet from a demolition job. Those are posted on facebook and my coworkers have access to seeing them. Something tells me they would have noticed my huge camera on the work site if I were taking pictures. Maybe they think I have some secret blog with pictures of them and personal information about my coworkers and the houses we clean. Seriously, what the fuck.

I "am not a good fit." They feel I would be happier with a job dealing more with dead bodies. It was so nice of them to recommend a "liberal funeral home" that caters to the gay and lesbian community. I wonder why they felt they had to tell me that part. :-/ Oh yeah, and I make a coworker uncomfortable, don't ask me why. Apparently I am a weirdo.

It's embarrassing to loose my job. I really loved this job. If they actually looked at my blog I wonder if it would have been different. They don't seem interesting in checking it out at all though.

My plan is to apply for positions at funeral homes, the medical examiner's office, crematoriums, and other crime scene cleaning companies. My bosses were kind enough to also say I could use them as a reference. They'll just say "the schedule and hours were not a good fit." *sigh* In the future I hope to find work with people that appreciate creativity.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Busy is as Busy Does

I am now at a point with my job where I can start doing what I was originally hired on to do. Although I will not miss decontaminating meth houses I will miss the hours that come along with it. The last couple of weeks have been slooooow and for the next couple of weeks I actually have free time again. But now is my opportunity to increase our biohazard jobs. Since the money is in the meth the company I work for has not been able to keep up on the marketing that goes along with getting the biohazard jobs. You can probably imagine that this is a difficult career to market for. haha. Our options are mostly with police stations, crime victim's advocates, apartment complexes, and random hotels and motels. Over the next little while I get to visit different police stations around the valley and get our materials put out there so we can get more calls. There are a lot of biohazard jobs out there and it's a matter of the police having something to give the family so that they know they have the option to call crime scene cleaners. A lot of people will probably never think of it and clean it up themselves or friends and family step forward to help. Especially in an area with a strong religious community bishops or church members tend to want to help. It is nice to offer to help with something that can be so gruesome, but there is a reason biohazard clean up exists. Whether we like it or not when we die our bodies become a health hazard. I think it is hard for people to accept that this vessel we keep clean and alive will someday be a harm to  those around it after it dies. I have stopped viewing dead bodies as gross after learning more about the biological processes that come with death. No it is not pleasant, but it isn't something to be grossed out by either. Yes it's just a body, but that body deserves respect. The next few blogs entries will probably be more insight into death in general and less about work until things pick up. It'll give me time to figure more of this stuff out.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Thank Heaven for 7-11

     Oh sweet slumber, where would I be without you? You rescue me from the coils of this harsh reality. Oh vibrant dreamland, thank you for my inspiration and... *ring ring, ring ring*... *rolls over, yawns in confusion, scrambles for the phone*...
                            "Hey Caitlin, are you up for doing a shooting?"

     Getting used to this whole on call thing is interesting. I have to say, it is a confusing way to wake up. I almost forgot what my job was or why my phone would be ringing at 4:30 in the morning. It is nice to be up so early though, the walk to my car is the best. Nothing like the brisk morning air and the sound of birds chattering away to replace coffee. I had forgotten to grab my energy on the way out, however my destination was a 7-11. Hmmm... would it be rude to buy an energy drink or coffee before cleaning up after a shooting there? Yeah, maybe I'll pass on that and run on fumes for the time being.
     Driving to the site I tried to block out any personal connection I might have to this particular case. A clerk had been shot in a robbery and amazingly he survived and actually called 911 himself. A little over a year ago I had a run in with an armed robber while working at Doctor John's. Gratefully there were no injuries and that robber has been prosecuted. After my experience with that my blood runs cold when I think about how lucky I am that the person attempting to rob me was so spun out she has no idea what she was doing. The man this morning was not so lucky, but he has his life. Unfortunetly the robber is still on the loose.
     I arrived before my boss did and sat awkwerdly in my car watching the 3 news teams scurry around to find good shots, fiddle with camera equipment, and touch up hair and make up. It was amusing, I tried to imagine what they were doing with so little information. Once my boss arrived I hopped out of my car, ducked under the caution tape (I love doing that, lol) and met up with him at the back entrance to the 7-11. Of course we were intercepted by a news crew member asking us about the case. "We don't know anything, we just clean." usually keeps them away. We're SO boring.
      The employees were calm, maybe this isn't "their first rodeo" as my coworkers say. The shooting occured in the small back room behind the counter, because of this shortly after we began cleaning the store reopened for the morning rush. This room barely fit my boss and I and was filled with screens to the survellience cameras and various DVDs all over the floor.  This is my second shooting. The last one was a shot gun, lots of arterial spray, holes in the ceiling, and teeth. (As a side note, I learned today that my boss was able to see a contact lens in perfect condition stuck to the wall from the shot gun suicide job about a month ago, the kid literally blew his contacts right off of his eyeballs. After years of experience with this job it's amazing how much you start to notice detail in everything.) This morning it was obvious the gun was a 9mm of some sort, the blood pooled on the floor and didn't spray all over the room, it was pretty concentrated. That makes for an easier clean. Before knowing much about what happened we could figure out that the man who was shot was the one to make the call to 911. The phone looked as though who ever used it was spitting out blood, the mouth piece and handle were covered much more than the rest of the phone. At first glance we knew the rolly chair couldn't be saved. With cloth material sometimes we just have to throw it away. The room looked like it may have never been cleaned so it was hard to tell what was blood or marinara sauce sometimes. haha. We just clean up anything that could look like blood because the employees are not going to know the difference and will probably freak out at any red spots in that room. It makes me want to freak them out and pretend to lick what I know isn't blood and reassure them there is no bio hazard there. Since the store reopened my boss and I had to keep it low key and sort of pretend we were not there for any special reason. It took us about 3 hours to clean up all together. The morning clerk was a young girl who seemed really anxious as I heard customers ask her about the shooting. That makes for a loooong day I tell you what. Other than her the managers seemed more worried about the money and getting the finger print chalk cleaned up around the front counter. At first I was bothered by the attitude of the people in charge but then again, it is their job and I have no idea what the entire situation is or who any of the people are. There was an old police business card with a case number written on it in that back room. That's what made us think maybe this wasn't the first time or there have been attempts without injury in the past.
In conclusion, it was great to spend the time with the boss and learn more about him and the business. I was also happy at how I handled a case that hit so close to home, the drive over was a little nerving. We only found a couple of teeth so it is a good sign that the clerk shot is going to recover. I have been curious what a clean up in a public setting would be like as far as dealing with people in shock or grieving. It makes sense that it went the way it did. Cold as it was, it makes sense to keep a business running without creating panic.

*My boss gave me an update on the shotgun suicide case if anyone out there is curious. For a recap about a month ago a 15 year old shot himself and survived. ( http://caitlinblue.blogspot.com/2011/04/cringe-alert.html ) Yesterday boss man got the information that the kid went home Friday but no longer has the ability to communicate. :( He has lost his jaw, tongue, nose and eye sight. But doctors are going to attempt to reconstruct his tongue, nose, and jaw so one day this kid can talk again. That sounds amazing and I wonder if it is an experimental procedure or if it has been done before more than a few times. I don't know if he is deaf or not, but there is a good chance of that. It is a tragic example where you can't help but wonder if surviving was the best thing. My heart goes out to him and his family.

Friday, June 10, 2011

May 26th - June 10th

I've been trying to write an entry about work for the last couple of weeks. This uninspired amount of time is not due to lack of interesting things to write about, it is more due to the lack of energy my body is capable of having at this point. Yes, Caitlin, complain complain. But something in me needs to write about being so tired to release some of it from my mind, hopefully ending with a refreshed sense of self. At least a little bit.
I feel a sense of accomplishment being able to keep up with my coworkers. At the same time I failed to slow my life down to make up for the energy spent on my job. When I had a job I could call into or no job at all making plans wasn't stressful and going on a walk in the park didn't make me want to curl up and pass out. The company I work for is small, VERY small. Meth (heh, I almost wrote 'math') decontamination is where the money is to be able to hire enough people to manage a bio-hazard team and a meth decon team. For now the bio-hazard work is scarce while the team catches up on the decons. Once the ball gets rolling the job will be more of what I'm interested in. So hard physical labor wasn't really the plan for me. Once I pass a state certification exam to be a "decontamination specialist" my job will be to test houses and work with the health department a little. On top of bio-hazard calls. When things are more established we can start marketing for more of the interesting stuff. haha. So while my body isn't sure how to feel being so unexpectantly worn out the last month and a half I have built up my upper body strength and worked with some pretty chill people.
Meth decontamination can be just as intriguing as bio-hazard work. There is a lot more in these stories than meets the eye. Cleaning up a meth house can feel like cleaning up a suicide when you know the person lost themselves to the drug. The other week we cleaned one room of a house (the ventilation systems were separate so we didn't have to clean the whole house, it is rare to clean only one room) and the story that we had heard was tragic. When we learned about the job the boss told us that this room belonged to a young man who had gotten PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) from being involved with the war in Iraq. When returning to the U.S. he locked himself in his room and smoked meth. This all resulted in an even more tragic event when he had an episode and mistook some people for terrorists. We had to clean EVERYTHING in his room. Every drawer, box and corner had to be decontaminated. The family was home as we were cleaning, but he was not living there anymore. Without asking we don't really know much more about the person. As we dig through countless bins of nicknacks wiping them down with our cleaning solution we begin to piece together a possible idea of what the owner of this bedroom was like. Was he a kind person before the war? Was he intelligent? Was he mean or cruel? He collected rocks, had nice fish tanks, awards from the military, and a clean taste in style. When you spend 8 hours going through a strangers personal belongings you can't help but wonder what the story is. One of the saddest parts about decontaminating meth houses would have to be the traces of children's toys lying around. Barbies in the bath tub, high chairs, crayon on the wall, you can almost here the pitter patter of feet running through the halls. An empty house with nothing but left over children's toys is one of the most depressing things I have seen. It is a harsh reality that there are kids being raised by irresponsible parents. Being a photographer I wonder if these images bother me so much because I imagine them in a frame without the whole environment. Just focusing on toys in the broken bathtub of a meth house would make for some good emo artsy stuff.
Anyway, maybe I am just tired, maybe I am depressed, but hopefully I can start keeping up on my writing project more. Also, I plan to ask my boss about the possibility of taking my camera to some jobs and photograph random elements and document the career. You know, for education purposes or something. For all the people curious about what being a crime scene cleaner is like.  As long as I leave out any information about who, what, when, where and why I'm sure it would be ok. *crosses fingers* Hopefully that will be something to look forward to in the near future.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Life is a Grave

We find ourselves putting together pieces of what was learned, felt, understood, and dreamed about. Thoughts begin racing as feet continue pacing and many of us question how life is spent. Not only in ourselves, but life as a whole. The experience of life. Understanding doesn't mean anything. Connection means something, but not enough. Emotions lead us in our directions, they influence our decisions as we become a shell of who we want to be. Others cause us to feel a need to change who we are. It is inevitable that we become some of what we want to be and mostly what we want people to see that we want to be. Are we really expected to be anything at all? Our shell is who we wish we could be, our minds are who we are. Our minds are inside, hidden deep, and easily disguised. Rarely do we understand even our own self. Our senses are numb and we pull the trigger.
On a long enough time line we will all question why we are alive. Some of us are born with the instinct to question what we think we know, many of us are born to be content with where we are. Some things are out of our control, it comforts us to think we ever had control.
We will never know death until we experience it. It isn't meant to be understood or shared. Some of us die before anyone else ever notices. There is no way to see it coming. It can not be stopped. It leaves us with questions, it leaves us feeling heavy with what was and could have been. We live with regrets and leave with relief.
Many hearts are heavy with the loss of a friend. Brandon you will be missed. It still doesn't feel real and probably won't for a while. This is a time when I wish I believed in a soul, but Brandon will live on through his family, his friends. It is beyond our ability to completely understand what happened, it is a good time to think about why he is missed and not on what should have or could have been done. Brandon was full of life in so many ways, he made us smile and motivated many of us to go for our dreams. He saw a vision that most people didn't. If only he could have escaped his own demons. Rest In Peace.

Monday, May 16, 2011

If You Must Know...

Here is a little bit of a change of pace for you guys. I imagine after a while my blog could become... somewhat depressing... Now I have other aspects of my job to write about and they have nothing to do with death and blood. What is this not so depressing aspect of my job you ask? It has to do with drug addiction. Methamphetamine to be exact. Still kind of a downer but it's at least beating hearts are involved. Really really fast beating hearts.
Cleaning meth out of a house is an unbelievable amount of work. It is almost to the point of being a ridiculous amount of work. Before I attempt to find an interesting way to describe the process a bit I will clear up a few things that I am sure some of you are wondering about.

* Is it actually a hazard to live in a house that once had a lab or frequent meth users occupying it?
    Yes and no. The main concern is directed towards children. In most cases as an adult you do not have much to worry about. However, in most cases a child would have to lick every wall in the house up, down, and all around to have any affect on them at all. In fact, the paint might be more of a hazard. But in a home that used to have an actual lab in it there is a much higher chance of there being an actual hazard.
* What makes living in a home where there was a meth lab so hazardous?
    The cooking process creates dangerous acid gases such as phosphine and hydrogen chloride. Not to mention how dangerous the actual chemicals used to cook are. Sodium hydroxide (lye), hydroidic acid (hyrogen iodide) and ammonia (anhydrous ammonia) to name a few. The residue left over from methamphetamine easily soaks into pourous surfaces like wood or carpet and will stick to smooth, flat surfaces. With higher levels it becomes an issue.
*Could I be living in a former meth house?
    Utah and a lot of the western states such as Nevada and Wyoming usually make up the top 10 states when it comes to meth usage. It wouldn't be surprising if someone has used in your home in the past. But no need to fear, there are laws that say unless a home has been decontaminated a realtor, landlord, or bank must disclose if a house tested < 1 for methamphetamine. There is always a chance someone is not following that law but this law greatly reduces your chances of moving into a contaminated home. Some banks will have every repossessed house and random other homes tested just in case, and some realtors will do the same. Most sellers don't want a new resident getting sick. There is a stigma that goes along with meth and even with extremely low levels we have to clean. It's mostly a comfort thing unless a lab was involved.

No matter what part of town you live in you can't escape methamphetamine users. From homeless junkies to stay at trophy wives just trying to live up to their expectations this drug can be a part of anyone's life. Meth is taking over the world like a sickness and the more I learn about it the more my stomach churns. The first house I cleaned was in a nice part of South Jordan. It was in a nice neighborhood with nice mothers going on walks with their nice baby strollers and pets that don't bark or bite at you. It was obvious the neighborhood was not used to seeing the pink restricted access sign with the yellow and black striped caution tape on their neighbor's doors. My coworker was approached by a neighbor with the question "What are you doing in there that you have to dress like THAT?" (referring to our Tyvek suits and respirators) We are not allowed to disclose such information so I can imagine the neighborhood had something to talk about amongst themselves. I joked with my coworkers that we should bring fake blood to the meth clean ups and when people start getting nosey splatter it on each other and run out of the house ripping off our respirators and breathing hard like something really gruesome happened in there. Or just simply smoke cigarettes on the front porch covered in "blood", give a friendly wave to the neighbors, and go about our business. That's what the nosey people get. haha. Then they would REALLY have some good gossip.
This house was empty for a while so squatters have been moving in and out, it wasn't a stay at home mom situation like I expected. In order to keep your attention span on this blog I will save the actual decontamination process for another day. Just know that even the veteren cleaners wanted to throw down their scrubbin' poles and walk away from it. If you have been wondering what the nightmares of a crime scene cleaner are like just imagine cleaning high vaulted ceilings and many rooms with un neccisary angles over and over again for hours. Add the hot suit while breathing through a respirator and soaking in chemicals that make your face go numb and you have an idea. I questioned architecture and if the architects ever considered the fact that people will at some point clean the house for one reason or another. Probably not, probably never, oh well.
Following that home we went to do a touch up clean at some apartments in West Valley. The top unit and the unit below both needed our attention. Seperate situations. We seem to get a two birds with one stone situation often. These homes tested high. To put it in perspective for you the law states that if we test a house and it is <1 for meth we have to clean it. A meth lab is around <100-200 and above for really serious cases. The South Jordan home was a 3 (hence, my resentment for all of the work that required) and these apartments were between 40 and 50. Even just smoking in a home a couple of times will test high enough to be cleaned. Ugh. Annoying. Anyway, there were little kids running around the complex and they were very curious about what we were up to. There is an endless list of akward moments with this job and a 4 year old kid stating "You guys always have to come here and clean" closely followed by "Can I help you?" is one of those moments. When he grows up he will probably pick up on what those pink signs mean. Pink is his favorite color, he told us so. We gave him a pair of gloves to entertain an distract him from trying to run into the units to help. Kids don't seem to understand when you tell them something is dangerous. We're cleaning up homes for their safety essentially.
So here is my first entry about this part of my job. Maybe not as interesting to read about as the biohazard stuff but I will keep trying to give deep insight on it regardless. There is more to think about in regards to addiction, what people are willing to put into their bodies, why people use, the expectations of who uses meth, what meth does to the mind, the decontamination process, how parking a crime scene vehical in front of a home arouses the neighborhood etc. Stay tuned. Thanks for taking an interest in my blog. :)