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A moment out from our regularly scheduled programming…

It seems rather obscene to write about anything other than the Sandy Hook tragedy right now. As much pain as infidelity is, God, there are worse things. Much worse. And losing a child, especially to violence, has got to be about the most gruesome, gutting kind of pain there is. I hope I never know. I hope you never know.

I’ve read and posted many gun control articles on my personal FaceBook page, but two things I read today, really stand out and I wanted to take a moment on my bully pulpit here to share. They’re both on mental illness. As much as we need gun reform here, and a hard conversation about our sicko violent culture, I think we need an even harder conversation about mental illness.

The first article, “Thinking the Unthinkable,” is a beautiful essay written by a mother whose 13 year old son struggles with mental illness. He’s violent and manipulative, and she loves him, and she’s terrified of him. Frankly, reading it, I can’t help but wonder if her son is a sociopath and what the emerging science is saying is true — this is a wiring issue. It’s clear that she’s deep in over her head and she needs help. The sort of help that Adam Lanza’s mother probably needed too. You wonder why she never had anyone over, or why her marriage fell apart. You wonder what toll it would take on a person to live with an Adam Lanza.

The other story was this week’s New York Time’s Modern Love — on providing comfort for a mentally ill family member, when there is no cure. It’s a sister writing about her brother, and my heart goes out to her too. And her brother, who while not violent, is delusional and scary. And desperately wants a normal life. Reading her struggle to get her brother mental health care brought back my own memories of attempting to get my first husband mental health care. We both had good jobs, but mental illness wasn’t on our health plans, just some counseling. Got an anxiety disorder? You’re on your own. Your appendix goes, fine that’s covered.  If your brain is unwell (and 15 years ago the health world didn’t really see it that way yet), you were fucked. Still are, not much has changed.

Mental illness is a subject that’s been close to me for a long time. And not just my first marriage, either. Like many people, my family has been touched by mental illness. My cousin is bipolar and last year the family went through the nightmare of trying to get him help when he locked himself in his apartment for three months and wouldn’t come out. (He ordered groceries over the phone.) When his parents showed up, he shrieked at them that they were dead to him, he had no parents. And when the cops showed up, they couldn’t do anything, because he wasn’t a “danger” to himself.

Lawyers were consulted, he couldn’t be forcibly committed. It wasn’t until my cousin threatened an acquaintance of his over the phone, saying he’d come after him with a hammer, that the family could act. The police came and found a hammer in his apartment (who doesn’t have a hammer? But any excuse will do), and got him forcibly committed. Which was the best thing in the world for him, because he got help and medication  — things he was unwilling to do when he was ill and delusional and had “choice.” Now he’s got a job and gets treatment.

It’s a fucked up world when it takes death threats to get a person the help they need. Personally, and call me a freak, I think people should be institutionalized, and I think the threshold should be a lot lower to get people help. We’d save a shitload of money too, because it cost the states more when these people wind up in the criminal justice system.

And as the Sandy Hook tragedy so clearly illustrates, there are unspeakable costs when a mentally ill person goes off the rails. I wonder if things would’ve been different if Adam Lanza’s mother could’ve gotten him committed to a hospital, or receiving some other kind of mental health care years ago.

The guns are a problem absolutely. But equally dangerous, in my opinion, is untreated mental illness.

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  • Thanks for this. When the news first broke, I sighed, and braced for the onslaught of the wailing and gnashing of teeth and demanding gun control. When really, it was yet again another severely disordered person who as you point out just finally went off the rails. And unfortunately had access to guns.

    Had an upclose lesson in the “nature vs. nurture” debate, and I’m now a firm believer in mental illness being hardwired. Good friends had 3 kids the same ages as my 3. We were second parents to each other’s kids, emergency contacts for school, etc. The oldest was adopted at 18 months, after her alcoholic mother abandoned her for the 3rd time in a bar – the state finally allowed my friends to adopt. More doting, involved parents you cannot imagine. This girl had a lovely home, the best schools, piano lessons, Brownies, summer camp, etc. Her parents were actively involved in the extracurricular activities, serving as parent volunteers for most of them. When she hit puberty she went off the rails. They started by moving her to private school, counselors (personal and family), then various Outward Bound type programs, then assorted short term stints in very expensive psychiatric facilities. When she was 17 they sent her to the last one in Texas – she ran away the 3rd day. Drifted in out of their lives for a while with the loser “boyfriend”. He was into dealing drugs, she drove him to his “job” and cared for his grandmother, when he wasn’t beating her. She wound up with 2 small children, and my friends spent over 5 years until the last drug dealing conviction in SC (which apparently takes a dim view of that sort of thing) and finally severed the parental rights. After a couple of months my friends realized they couldn’t raise the 2 grandchildren, but they wound up with a wonderful open adoption situation nearby. The eldest granddaughter was just in her Aunt’s (my daughter’s best friend) wedding. No one has heard from the lost daughter, or knows what happened to her.

    It was a gut wrenching decision on their part to cut ties with this oldest daughter, but they realized it was damaging the other 2 children (and nearly killing them) and they had truly done everything they could. There just weren’t any more options.

    I know in my state, the crime rate started escalating when they shut down the state mental facilities. Someone decided it was cruel or unfair to institutionalize these people. That may have been the case, but we seem to have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. Now they live on the street, getting by however they can – legally or illegally. I can’t believe the man that lives in a sleeping bag in the corner of my office parking garage is better off there than in a facility with a bed and 3 meals a day.

    I actually felt sorry for the last OW in my case, even though she has made my life a living hell for almost 3 years now. She is clearly bipolar, and probably personality disordered. Don’t need a degree to tell that while listening to the 30-50 voicemails she would leave every day that would go from weeping, crying and begging to cold anger and threats within a 15 minute period. She would write letters to herself from her “friends” (and copy us) telling her how wonderful she was and what a freakshow both my STBX and I were. Um hum. Took over 2 years to get the police involved, but she still got off without charges. I understand she has moved to another town, legally changed her name and still collects her “crazy” check. It’s been several blessed months since I’ve heard from her, but I am still wary. Oh- and I did go out and learn to shoot a gun properly, bought one, and am licensed to carry. Didn’t want to, but she threatened to have all of us killed and I take that threat seriously. Pretty sad when the state won’t protect us from these clearly mentally ill individuals and we have to take our safety into our own hands.

    • That’s tragic about your friend’s daughter. What good people they are, and it’s fortunate to hear the grandkids got adopted.

      Per bipolar OW, I can relate. Supposedly the OW in my story was bipolar too (“a bipolar alcoholic” said the ex, when asked why he never married her… she was an OW spanning three marriages.) He could’ve made it up, but it was the only thing he was consistent about. Usually his lies morphed, whereas he always said she was bipolar.

      She sure acted nuts — I was harassed and cyberstalked too.

      Personally, I wouldn’t feel more secure having a gun to protect myself from mentally ill wing nuts (but I absolutely understand your fear with death threats), I’d feel more secure if we had mental health care reform and coverage for people. And institutionalization for severe mental illness.

      • CL & McJJ:

        Yikes, are all the OWs mentally deranged. The OW in my case stalked me prior to even dating my STBX, When I saw her for the first time, I recognized her because she looks like a family friend (they could be sisters). Also she drives a school Bus orange BMW, so who could miss that.

        She is STILL stalking me. Late night phone calls, driving past the house, stalking by proxy, etc. It’s really far more involved than that, but I will spare you all the gruesome details.

        The police really can’t get too involved until the crazy person harms the target. Until then it’s all civil court stuff.

  • Thanks CL. Your words bring comfort to us as chumps and now as parents, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles, grandparents – the list goes on.

    After I lost my graphics job in 2011, I went back to driving a school bus. I recalled how much I had liked it – working with and for kids at other times when I did it – (an artist always has to have a fall-back job…) I liked it so much I also went to work as a paraprofessional at my son’s school too. He is a 4th grader.

    I felt sick as the events unfolded. I was done at the school for the day and out on my routes when I got the news, but I just wanted to fly back to school and see my kids and the staff. To draw and give strength… The kids were not told about the shootings. Here in central time zone, there was not enough known. So they were sent home at days end so their parents could find their own ways to break the awful news.

    We’ll be working with our kids this week. Running lock down drills, refreshing staff in emergency procedures, but most of all, telling our kids that they are safe – that adults will always look after them and that there is hope… Hope for a better world where we take care of everyone from little bitty kids all the way out to grown up people who are so sad and depressed and lonely that they become ill to the point where they snap and perpetrate these horrible crimes.

    I agree with all you said about mental illness. I would add one more symptom. People who own guns, but no trigger locks… No gun safe… Chumplings? If you have guns in your home, are they secured…? If not, do it. Trigger locks are cheap! Don’t delay. Do it, do it, do it!

  • “”When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.” ~ Mister Rogers

      • Wow – yes. Great article. I’ll pass it on to staffers. One of my colleagues passed the Mr. Rogers quote on to all of us. I’m not on Face Book but I believe she said she saw it there too. The quest for answers continues…

    • Bede:

      Your Mom sounds like a wise lady. What a great way to help a child handle a random tragedy and learn to trust again.

      I am going to look for he helpers from now on,

      • Sara8, thanks! My mom is a wise lady. 88 years will do that to ya. But the mom in the quote is Fred Rogers’ mother. That does not mean you should not look for the helpers though! And lock up your guns and make your friends lock up their guns and on and on and…

        My personal revenge against the shooter – who I believe should remain forever nameless, as should all shooters – is to teach my own son the respect for firearms and for life I taught myself.

        Republicans have been pretty quiet this week. But David Brooks stuck his dick out and chastised the media for publicizing that shooter’s name. Many of these poor souls might not pull the trigger if they know the notoriety is not forthcoming… One can but hope.

        • Bede

          Thank you for the clarification.

          I agree with your post. Guns don’t kill, mentally ill people do. We need to remove mentally ill people from main stream society, kindly, but it needs to be done, IMO.

          I also agree that a lot of spree killers and serial killers can’t be famous so they find a way to be infamous.

          IMO, there is too much coverage of this tragedy and that is what sparks copy cats.

          I am a gun owner. I know how to clean it shoot it and to have it safely locked away.

          I am a normal person and would only use my weapons for self defense.

          The proof of that is that I have not gone off half cocked shooting at my cheating spouse or his girlfriend. She stalked me prior to the affair and is still stalking me in person and by proxy, and I still have not gone off half cocked using or even flashing a weapon at the moron or her stalking by proxy friends.

  • CL,
    I couldn’t agree with this article more! In the Reagan area, they decided that the group homes and mental institutions were bad for people with mental illness, and that they needed to live independent lives integrated into the community. So they closed them as if they were all “One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” kind of places. But what happened was the safety net was lost.

    Apparently getting serious help for long term mental illness is almost impossible from what I have read. I hope and pray that one of the outcomes from their tragedy is that we as a country and government find a much better way to help the mentally ill get the help, support, and treatment that they need.

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you, CL and others, for saying what I’ve been thinking…In the 80’s I saw firsthand the consequences of the Reagan Admin’s defunding of the state mental health system. In the name of “compassionate conservatism” our country has virtually abandoned the care of the mentally ill, costing us all so much more in heartbreak and loss than a decent mental health system would cost to maintain. A prime example of cost cutting regardless of the cost in human lives — and cutting off our noses to spite our faces. Also disappointing that Obama Admin is talking too much about guns and not enough about mental health care in response to Adam Lanza’s killing spree. God bless Our Greed. America, when will we wake up and take care of our own?

  • And what’s more, the Lanza family is wealthy, and still there were inadequate resources brought to bear for Adam. A cruel irony that even those who can afford care can’t always find it, or can’t get their loved one into a hospital before they hurt themselves or others without involuntary commitment and all that entails…

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