Sunday, December 16, 2012

Thoughts on the Connecticut Shooting

I was floored when I heard about the shooting in Connecticut.  I said in a previous post that shit happens and life is unfair.... Life is REALLY unfair.  I think about these families, so close to Christmas, with presents probably already bought and I can't stop crying.  I wanted to write something that made sense of this.  That put things in perspective and gave hope.  You know, that thing I sometimes manage to do.  But this is something that has no reason.  I'm still as lost as you.

I think the best thing we can do is be there for the families.  So as someone who has lost, I wrote a sort of wishlist for what I think will best serve that purpose.  Bear in mind, this entry is more for me than anyone else.  If you think some or all of this post is too preachy or self-righteous, I apologize.  But it makes me feel better to type this so I hope you won't hold it against me.

I'll get the hot button stuff out of the way first.  Feel free to skip over any of the suggestions that rub you the wrong way.  These are just my personal thoughts.

DO consider the way we handle and view mental illness

EDIT: This article is a must read about dealing with a child who has mental illness.  It explains the necessity to talk about this subject far better than I do. 

Apparently the young man responsible for this was diagnosed with Asberger's and suspected of dissociative personality disorder.  Now here's the thing.  I know a number of people with Asberger's and none of them would EVER be violent.  Asberger's is categorized as a mild form of autism, but people with it are on the high functioning end of the spectrum.  It is simply a condition that makes it difficult to pick up on social cues and make certain connections.  Asberger's, ADHD, depression, anxiety, Bi-polarism, schizophrenia, etc...  All of these things are manageable issues, but they often overlap, they come with their own set of struggles, and each person diagnosed with any of these things experiences them to varying degrees.

Unfortunately, the culture we live in (at the risk of sounding preachy) went through and is still going through a phase of over-diagnosing and most importantly, HUGELY misrepresenting many of these issues.  This often leads to feeling alienated from your peers.  And the loners that nobody listens to are the ones who find themselves with nothing to lose, and therefore capable of the worst possible things.

For Asberger's, depression, and ADHD, many people regard these as simply a lack of self-control, perspective, or social skills.  They consider it a "cop out" or "excuse" to "get away with certain kinds of behavior."  And thanks to over diagnosis and misrepresentation, people do often joke about it and misdiagnose themselves all the time.  But that leads to a sense of shame for the people who ACTUALLY have it.  I hesitate to tell people that I have ADD because when I do, it's more often than not received with a little internal eye roll.  There have even been times when I've been afraid to ask for help or reluctant to set up systems that would benefit the way my mind works because I've been embarrassed about it.  Lucky for those of us with ADHD, the worst that can happen if you try to handle it yourself and fail is that your school work suffers, and/or your life falls into disarray.  I say that with only partial sarcasm because as much as it sucks, with something like depression... A lot worse can happen if you fail to ask for help or aren't taken seriously before it's too late.

Meanwhile, Asberger's is often associated with anyone with an intolerable personality.  People don't realize that those dealing with this condition just have a wall up and don't intend most of the behavior that tends to offend others.  They are just like everyone else if you recognize the way their minds work, have a little patience, and find the right way to talk to each other.  Asberger's, like ADHD or anxiety is also a diagnosis that is often thrown around when the actual diagnosis is unclear.  This is one more reason why we simply can't assume things about people with these disorders simply based on their "label."

That being said, assuming that you aren't "trying hard enough" is certainly better than regarding you with fear or treating you like you're not a person.  When someone says, "I have schizophrenia," or encounter someone with a personality disorder, many people immediately think of that homeless guy who talks to himself or the crazy killer they saw on Law and Order.  One politician discussing mental illness said something to the effect of, "We have to decide what's more important: Hurting these people's feelings or the fact that they might kill somebody."  Nice, man.  Really nice.  That'll REALLY encourage people to go get help rather than stay in denial about it.

If we had a better understanding of what it means to live life with these issues and medically treat them accordingly, maybe people would be more willing to seek help if they suspect they are having problems.  Maybe there would be less alienation from their peers.  Maybe they would have more support forming the types of connections that prevent terrible behavior like this from happening.

One thing I have to add that also contributes to the shame of diagnosis and the misrepresentation is the "medicate and move on" approach.  It's common knowledge that our cultures has a bad habit of throwing pills at things and hoping they go away.  But honestly, for all the condescension toward this attitude, can you really blame us?  Wouldn't it be awesome if it really did work that way?  The attitude so many people have toward those of us dealing with a mental issue would make anyone want to just be able to take a pill and forget about it.  Then there are also people who just don't WANT to be drugged.  I hate the fact that I have to take medication to be normal.  And I know for more intense mental illnesses, the drugs are also more intense.  I have friends who described them as "numbing" and "make you feel like a shell."  Who the hell wants that?  Don't get me wrong.  I know that some people, when it comes down to it, simply need a pill to correct their brain chemistry.  But the fear of having to take drugs to "be normal" is one more reason why those with serious issues may hesitate to be diagnosed and turn down that option when they are.  Expanding the way we care for people and being more vigilant about trying multiple forms of treatment in ADDITION to medication will not only help patients in a more lasting way, but it will also deter people from abusing the system.  They won't be able to just get pills and go on their merry way.

I'm sorry if this got preachy.  I am by no means an expert on how specifically we can make these changes and I'm also aware that this will probably not stop horrible tragedies from EVER occurring again.  Not every psycho who snaps is mentally ill.  But I feel like it certainly couldn't hurt.  Changing the way we medically treat those with mental issues and how they are treated by the rest of us may make those with these compulsions less afraid to seek treatment.  Most importantly, as I said before, getting real perspective on us Misfit Toys and they way we deal with our lives may decrease the social isolation that comes with the more difficult conditions.  Maybe that will prevent a person from detaching themselves enough from humanity to do something so awful.  Or at the very least, maybe it'll surround them with more people to notice the signs before it's too late.

I don't know.  All I'm really convinced of is that bringing some attention to this issue will be far more constructive (and as an added bonus, far less polarizing) than arguing about gun laws.  

So on that note...

DON'T make this about gun control.

I'm not arguing for or against, so put down your pitchfork and PLEASE don't feel defensive when I say this.  I know there are many who will passionately disagree with me, but I just don't believe this is a gun control issue.  Connecticut has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation and this still happened.  The killer's mother owned guns legally, but honestly...  If someone is sick enough to deliberately kill children, they aren't going to be stopped just because their most convenient killing tool is harder to acquire.  Do you know what happened in China the day after this happened?  A guy walked into a grade school and stabbed two kids with a knife.  They survived, but apparently it was echoing an attack in 2010 on a school with a knife leaving 20 dead.  Does that number sound familiar?

Going after guns is easy and familiar.  It's something that we can do quickly and at low cost.  I don't say that disdainfully at all!  I'm saying it because I totally get why it's so many people's first thought.  I'm just urging you to take a breath.  I know your angry.  I know you're sad and scared.  But I don't want your passion distracted by a cause that is treating a symptom, not the disease.  Fair?

HOWEVER, I'm by no means suggesting that we should "arm the teachers" either.  Yes, if the teachers all had guns, maybe this guy would have been taken out before he could hurt this many people.  But maybe not.  And frankly, arming teachers is not the message nor the world we should be sending our kids into.  The world is scary enough.  The media makes it even more so.  The fact of the matter is, bad things are going to happen no matter what we do.  The best we can do is love everyone we meet and give everyone a reason NOT to be the next monster.

DON'T make the killer a celebrity.

My first thought when this happened was "Why?"  I wanted to know everything about what kind of person would do such a thing.  But then the fake Morgan Freeman quote that's currently going viral on Facebook made a really excellent point: We're allowing this guy to die as an infamous monster rather than a pointless nobody (I'm paraphrasing).  FUCK.  THAT.  This guy managed to kill a bunch of innocent people and end his life on his terms.  There is nothing we can do to change that, but what we can do is forget him.  We can make him nothing compared to the lives of those he took and the ones he left behind.  We can make it clear that anyone who thinks of following in this guy's footsteps will suffer the same fate.

I've said before that once we're gone, our existence on this Earth is measured by the ones who hold us in their hearts and minds.  Hate is not the opposite of love.  Hating and remembering someone still gives them a place inside you.  We need to let him go.  That's why I'm choosing to refrain from using his name.  I don't want any help remembering it.  Calling him "the killer" may sound harsh, but that's what he was to us.  Nothing more.

Not only is turning our focus away the best way to punish him, but it is also the best way to comfort and support the unfortunate people the GUNMAN left behind too.  He murdered his mother, but he still left behind his father and brother.  And I imagine mourning their losses is going to be a very complicated process for them.  The least we can do is give them back some privacy and control.

So if you see a news station doing a feature on him, switch the channel.  If you see an article about him online, don't read it.  We can blame the media all we want, but they're really only guilty of selling what we've shown we want to buy.  We really do have the power to show what we want to hear about when it comes to these kinds of things and what we don't.  So show them we far more interested in giving our attention to the victims, not the killer.

DO remember the victims for who they were, not as just victims

These are the names we should be memorizing:

Rachel Davino, 29
Anne Marie Murphy, 25
Charlotte Bacon, 6
Daniel Barden, 7
Josephine Gay, 7
Ana Marquez-Greene, 6
Dylan Hockley, 6
Madeleine Hsu, 6
Catherine Hubbard, 6
Chase Kowalski, 7
Jesse Lewis, 6
James Mattioli, 6
Grace McDonnell, 7
Anne Marie Murphy, 52
Jack Pinto, 6; Noah Pozner, 6
Caroline Previdi, 6
Jessica Rekos, 6
Avielle Richman, 6
Benjamin Wheeler, 6
Allison Wyatt, 6
Emilie Parker, 6
Olivia Engel, 6
Victoria Soto, 27
Lauren Rousseau, 30
Mary Sherlach, 56
Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, 47
Nancy Lanza, 52

As someone who has lost, one of the most comforting things people did (and still do) after the initial shock of losing a loved one has worn off is wanting learn about who that person was BEFORE they died.  I can't describe how truly lovely it was when Alyssa (the girl I babysit) asked me for no reason, "Was Jenna like you?  What was she like?"  And after I talked about her for a little bit, Alyssa paused a moment and said, "I wish I had known her.  I think she would have liked me."  It made me feel like Jenna is important because of her life, not her death.  And that's one of the main reasons I keep this blog.  Because I want to know her better and I want others to know her.  

Maybe it'll offer the same comfort to the families of this horrible tragedy--Knowing that there are people who haven't met them, but truly want to get to know their loved ones so that they can care too.  And mourn with them.

So here's some stuff to get you started:
  • Mary Sherlach loved gardening, reading and going to the theater.
  • Lauren Rousseau wanted to be a teacher from before she even went to kindergarten.  She also made cupcakes featuring characters from the Hobbit to prep for the movie's release.
  • Victoria Soto loved her black lab, Roxie.  She also loved flamingos and the New York Yankees.
  • Olivia Engel's favorite colors were pink and purple.  She was also very wiggly.
  • Emilie Parker always carried around her markers and pencils so she never missed an opportunity to draw a picture or make a card for someone.
  • Chase Kowalski was always outside, playing in the backyard, and riding his bicycle. He just completed and won his first mini-triathelon.
  • Josephine Gay had a lemonade stand this past summer.
  • Jessica Rekos was called "our little CEO" by her parents for the way she carefully thought out and planned everything. She loved ANYTHING to do with horses.

DO look for the "helpers"

  • Vicki Soto died shielding her students from the gunman. 
  •  Dawn Lafferty Hocksprung was killed trying to take the shooter down.
  • Kaitlin Roig barricaded herself and her students in the bathroom and kept them quiet, telling them she loved them and that it was going to be alright.
  • Maryann Jacobs lead 18 kids out of the library on their hands and knees, into a storage room.  She had them color to keep them calm and quiet.
  • A school custodian (who is currently unnamed) risked his life by running through the school and warning everyone of danger.
  • Maryrose Kristopik barricaded herself and her 20 students in the music room closet.  She stayed calm, held the door handle, and kept telling the children she loved them while the shooter actually banged on the door outside, demanding to be let in.
Not really sure what else to say on this topic.  Any addition sounds kind of cheap.


So that's all I've really got.  Horrible things happen in this world.  And just when you think your situation is the worst, you hear about someone else's.  I lost my sister, my parent's lost their child.  Someone else lost their child after only having 6 years with them rather than 22.  And they died frightened. Meanwhile, there are children in Pakistan honoring OUR loss.

Yeah.  Think about THAT for a while.  How many children over there have died frightened and young WITHOUT the happy, albeit short, lives the children and Connecticut got to experience?

But when it comes right down to it, human suffering is comparable to the stars in the sky: There's a lot of different types.  Each one looks small difficult to really understand from far away.  Each one looks enormous and like it's the most important thing in the universe from close up, regardless of how much bigger any other number of stars might be once you get to them.  It doesn't help to compare pain or tragedies any more than it really helps to think that there may have been a way to prevent it.  The only thing you can do is give all the love you can, do everything you can, and move forward as best you can.  Because that's all you can really do.  You're here, so why not?

You may feel insignificant and helpless, but I'm sure the Sun looks that way too from billions of miles away when viewed from another planet.  But that indistinct spec among trillions is the reason why all life on this planet exists.  No matter how pointless you feel, there will always be someone you affect and matter to.  And that's certainly something.

I hope that the ones left behind don't let themselves get stuck and frozen in this moment.  I hope that they will find a way to move forward while finding ways to honor who their child was and still is.  I hope that they can let go of anger and blame.  I hope that they find ways of explaining to their children that the world might be a scary and unfair place, but that it's also a place of love and infinite outcomes.  I hope they know that this isn't the end.  I hope they get through Christmas in one piece.  I hope that they don't forget to live for the sake of the children left behind.  I hope the children left behind will grow to be strong and compassionate people.  I hope they don't close themselves off and live in fear.  

I hope that they find hope.

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