Sunday, December 16, 2012

Mental illness and the death of children

My grandma died exactly one year ago today, and I miss her so badly. She was not young. But because of her age and her Alzheimer’s, she acted like it. She depended upon others for supervision so she didn’t take too many pills at a time or burn down the house by forgetting about the pot of water heating up on the stove. I remember her cackling voice, her flowery scent, and the precious scratchiness of her hands. More than that, I remember how badly she wanted to take care of people and act like a host even if it wasn’t her party. How she loved to have her family around. How sweet she was and how much she enjoyed Christmas and the One who was born to die for us. Alzheimer’s turned her around. Her actions became unrecognizable. This was a very distant person from the grandma I knew my whole life. She became a child again.
Mental illness is ugly like that. It doesn’t discriminate against race, gender, religion, age, or any other factor. It is the serpent that slithers quietly through the subconscious and presses, lies, and bites.
I read a blog comment from a person today who said, “Mental illness is a myth.” Anyone who thinks mental illness is a myth has obviously never had it. It is very real. It is a nightmare for those who live with it, and for those who support someone who has it.
Yesterday, in Newtown, Connecticut, we lost 28 children in an evil attack of mental illness and sin. We lost 20 innocent first-graders, 6 heroic school employees, a mother who most likely tried to help and a young man who needed it. They are all “children” to me. Now that I have a

young daughter of my own I know very well how deeply she will always be a child to me no matter how old she is or what she does.

Although we don’t like to admit it, our brains are very limited. We look and look for scientific explanation, rationale, reason, and truth. The only truth is that we will never find an answer to most things and that is not a mistake. Life is meant to be mysterious, or else we would be our own gods.

I’m sick over what happened yesterday. I am devastated that any parent has to live without their child. It aches to think about what these children all endured in their final moments.
People want to know why this young man committed this indescribably terrible act. He took his own life, so we will never know for sure. But I can imagine it related to one or more of the following...
He was angry. Wronged by someone or multiple people. Harbored hatred and lacked the inability to deal.
He was sad. And sympathy is hard to come by these days. We are a culture that has been numbed by speed, our need to accomplish, access to various ways to feed our temptations, and glamorization of any evil about which we are all curious.
He wanted notoriety. He had a point to make and he wanted us all to know it. With the media of our time, this is a non-issue. Do something terrible and we’ll all hear about it within 30 minutes. Because that’s “news”to us.
He was given free will by God. We all are. We have been granted the authority to choose between right and wrong. Some would call it a gift. I’m not so sure sometimes.
He had mental illness. To me, this is very clear. Despite everything I just said, I have a hard time believing that anger, sadness, notoriety, and free will rationalize this act in anyone’s mind. His mind was not right. There are many ways to deal. Something in his mind told him that he could not deal otherwise.
We want an explanatory note from the killer. We want closure. But we don’t have a note. We won’t have closure. Deep down we probably already know why he did this. It doesn’t make it better. It doesn’t change what happened. And regardless of why it happened, we have to determine now what we do with our anger, our sadness, and our free will.
The country will debate how to respond. How do we fight against this type of quiet evil? Do we remove guns from access? Do we all collect weapons and train on their use just in case we encounter a sick person?
Here’s my suggestion: Let’s deal with the issue of mental illness.
Let’s stop pretending like mental illness is a choice. As someone who has fought against it, who has family members who battle with it, and who has experienced the most frightening lows that the many variations on the mental illness spectrum have to offer, I know it is not a choice. It is a disease.
The problem is that it is not a tangible disease. You don’t diagnose it with a blood test. You don’t treat it with a drug that ends in “cillin.” People who suffer in the dark of this disease don’t advertise that fact. This is the most complicated and misunderstood disease of our time.
Will removing accessibility to guns help? Probably. Some. But a person who is sick enough to feel adamantly about hurting others will find a way to do so. Changing the weapon choice may cut down on the number of victims per instance, but it likely won’t prevent the instance. And even if my loved one was the only victim of an instance, that would mean enough harm to me. We need to be proactive. Treatment is available for those who suffer but it can be hard to get. When I suffered extreme postpartum anxiety almost 9 months ago it was very, very difficult to get the right treatment. I have great health insurance. I have a sound support system. I went to numerous doctors and tried many, many drugs. I wound up hospitalized because I began to believe that I would never heal, and that belief caused me to consider my options. My options were not good. I was told I needed to be patient. When you’re that miserable, the last thing you have is more time to spare.
There is much work to be done in the mental health field. Our minds are comprised of currents and chemicals, and the ultimate goal of psychiatric research is to be able to understand these better. More funding is needed. More attention needs to be paid. And until we have more answers, more sympathy should be given.
I do feel bad for the person behind the gun. I feel deep, deep sadness for those whose last living moments were in front of that gun. I don’t think I have to choose between who receives the focus of my grief. I am sickened by the fact that any child could be taken early, be it by the hand of a sick person, an accident, an illness, or by their own hand. I am sickened by the fact that we seem to have become desensitized to the individual struggles we each experience. We question their validity because they aren’t our own. I am sickened that anyone would question the legitimacy of mental illness or consider it a “myth.” Tell that to the person suffering from bipolar disorder. Tell it to my family who watched my grandma dwindle behind the secret, erratic mask of Alzheimer’s. Tell me, and I will allow the memories of my severe postpartum anxiety to resurface although I’ve tried to shut them out for the past several months in an attempt to move on with my new life. I am now a mother who is so in love with her child that it hurts, and I know now that we are all children. We are simple, impressionable children. And we are losing each other to a treatable disease and our inability to sufficiently deal with it.

1 comment:

  1. Very well written blog. I agree with all of it.


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