Day 338 Question 338:
Is mental illness real or is it simply a cop out/something for people to blame all of their problems on?
I realize I have talked about this horrible tragedy in Sandy Hook Connecticut for the past 5 days. I just can’t get over how tragic it is and what could have been going through the minds of those students and even the gunman. I also realize I will probably never know and even if I do the past cannot be changed.
The article below has caught much flack in the media since it has been published. What bothers me so much is that this woman expressed herself and maybe not everyone was going to agree with her and maybe some were going to dislike what she said but she needed to say what she did. It is VERY obvious that this woman meant no harm with her words and she is not a mental health professional….she is a mother that needs help and in the moment expressing her words was what helped (I do it every single day). I don’t understand why people need to fight battles all of the time….I don’t understand why people can’t just let things be and just let people express themselves without a bunch of backlash. I am not a mother at all and I cannot imagine how difficult it can be having a child with mental illness such as autism or aspergers. I don’t say that with disrespect because no matter what a child is a child but it is no secret that having a child with a mental illness is going to produce more challenges and hardships throughout life….this does not mean that the love is any less.
After I read the article below I scanned through some of the comments to find a number of people stating that mental illness is not real and people use it as just an excuse. Obviously, downs syndrome, autism, aspergers, etc are legitimate mental disorders. What the people were getting at was that depression, anxiety, fear….all of those…..are not real. They indicated that these were the weak people in life that just needed something to blame all of their problems on. I believe that we have a great deal of control over our bodies and our minds and I believe there are techniques that we can use to better ourselves mentally (I am living proof) but I also believe that mental illness is 100% real. We have evolved into this society of mass chaos and time is flying by at warp speed and sometimes our minds just aren’t able to catch up. I have suffered two severe panic episodes in my life and I will tell you that never would I wish the same suffering on another person. My attack did not just last for a few moments or only for a few hours….it lasted weeks….it lasted until I was medicated regularly. I hated to have to be on medication and with this panic came depression because all I kept thinking was how pathetic I must have been….how weak I must have been. I never had the urge to take my own life because I was afraid of the unknown so much but I completely understood why others did….I am sorry to say that but it is what I felt. It is easy for those that have never experienced this sort of mental imbalance to be able to relate. This started when I was 18 years old and it took me until I was 33 (with much studying and much meditative practice) to find a peaceful place and a way to deal with my emotions when they start to overwhelm me. I was more of a fighter than I ever knew that I was…I was a fighter because I grew sick of self-loathing and always putting myself as 2nd or 3rd best. I was sick of feeling nervous more than not.
I truly believe that most everyone can help themselves and find the peace that they need….the leaving behind of the mental illness (obviously not everyone) but the path is so unknown. In moments of despair nothing seems possible….nothing could possibly work….and unfortunately a great deal of society reiterates this every day. When we are overcome by fear we are called babies. When we suffer from depression we are called drama queens. When we suffer from anxiety or panic we are just plain ridiculous and just need to “chill out”. Well, I know first-hand that there is no truth in any of these statements when your mind is any of these states….when you feel like you are going crazy and you are afraid that you will never feel “normal” again. Mental illness is completely legitimate and there is a way out but we will never see society shift if people do not start practicing compassion and empathy regularly….if people just tried to understand others and hear them instead of immediately judging them. Sometimes a person just needs to be heard…..I started this blog for that very reason. I held onto so many thoughts and emotions and finally I couldn’t take it anymore. I remember being in my junior year of college sitting in class and having to leave because panic suddenly overwhelmed me. I walked back to my dorm and the Resident Director came to sit with me and called my parents and then walked me over to mental health services on campus. She was concerned that I might do something drastic and I just wanted the feeling to go away. I took medical leave from school for 2 ½ weeks and it was probably one of the scariest things I have ever experienced. I slept very little…I couldn’t because the feeling of anxiety and nervousness kept me awake and I just couldn’t shake it and I also couldn’t pinpoint what was causing it. It is terrifying to have an experience like this and have no solid answer as to what brought it on….to this day I still do not know but I would strongly assume that I just let everything build up internally and finally my body and mind could not take it anymore. It was a wake up call that I needed to slow down and I needed help….and I needed to stop seeing failure in asking for help. I am one of the lucky ones that got help and had an amazing support system to help me get through it…..some people are not so lucky and the end results can be quite damaging and frightening.
In response to this entry I do not want to hear scientific and mathematical facts…trust me I read about that stuff all of the time. We are all human beings and human emotion does not always need to be linked to science and math…..I feel this way because it degrades human emotion and it makes it seem as if people’s feelings are invalid and only something to be studied. The mother of Adam Lanza was shot to death and all I keep hearing and reading about was how irresponsible for having guns in her home with a mentally ill child. Yes, it probably wasn’t the best idea but NO ONE was in that home to know what their relationship was like. No one knew their struggles and for all we know she may have been trying any way she could to bond with her son (again, maybe it wasn’t the smartest idea obviously but she could not have known this would ever happen). Tighter gun laws will not change anything but greater availability of mental health services just might.
I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother
Three days before 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed his mother, then opened fire on a classroom full of Connecticut kindergartners, my 13-year-old son Michael (name changed) missed his bus because he was wearing the wrong color pants.
“I can wear these pants,” he said, his tone increasingly belligerent, the black-hole pupils of his eyes swallowing the blue irises.
“They are navy blue,” I told him. “Your school’s dress code says black or khaki pants only.”
“They told me I could wear these,” he insisted. “You’re a stupid bitch. I can wear whatever pants I want to. This is America. I have rights!”
“You can’t wear whatever pants you want to,” I said, my tone affable, reasonable. “And you definitely cannot call me a stupid bitch. You’re grounded from electronics for the rest of the day. Now get in the car, and I will take you to school.”
I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son. But he terrifies me.
A few weeks ago, Michael pulled a knife and threatened to kill me and then himself after I asked him to return his overdue library books. His 7- and 9-year-old siblings knew the safety plan—they ran to the car and locked the doors before I even asked them to. I managed to get the knife from Michael, then methodically collected all the sharp objects in the house into a single Tupperware container that now travels with me. Through it all, he continued to scream insults at me and threaten to kill or hurt me.
That conflict ended with three burly police officers and a paramedic wrestling my son onto a gurney for an expensive ambulance ride to the local emergency room. The mental hospital didn’t have any beds that day, and Michael calmed down nicely in the ER, so they sent us home with a prescription for Zyprexa and a follow-up visit with a local pediatric psychiatrist.
We still don’t know what’s wrong with Michael. Autism spectrum, ADHD, Oppositional Defiant or Intermittent Explosive Disorder have all been tossed around at various meetings with probation officers and social workers and counselors and teachers and school administrators. He’s been on a slew of antipsychotic and mood-altering pharmaceuticals, a Russian novel of behavioral plans. Nothing seems to work.
At the start of seventh grade, Michael was accepted to an accelerated program for highly gifted math and science students. His IQ is off the charts. When he’s in a good mood, he will gladly bend your ear on subjects ranging from Greek mythology to the differences between Einsteinian and Newtonian physics to Doctor Who. He’s in a good mood most of the time. But when he’s not, watch out. And it’s impossible to predict what will set him off.
Several weeks into his new junior high school, Michael began exhibiting increasingly odd and threatening behaviors at school. We decided to transfer him to the district’s most restrictive behavioral program, a contained school environment where children who can’t function in normal classrooms can access their right to free public babysitting from 7:30 to 1:50 Monday through Friday until they turn 18.
The morning of the pants incident, Michael continued to argue with me on the drive. He would occasionally apologize and seem remorseful. Right before we turned into his school parking lot, he said, “Look, Mom, I’m really sorry. Can I have video games back today?”
“No way,” I told him. “You cannot act the way you acted this morning and think you can get your electronic privileges back that quickly.”
His face turned cold, and his eyes were full of calculated rage. “Then I’m going to kill myself,” he said. “I’m going to jump out of this car right now and kill myself.”
That was it. After the knife incident, I told him that if he ever said those words again, I would take him straight to the mental hospital, no ifs, ands, or buts. I did not respond, except to pull the car into the opposite lane, turning left instead of right.
“Where are you taking me?” he said, suddenly worried. “Where are we going?”
“You know where we are going,” I replied.
“No! You can’t do that to me! You’re sending me to hell! You’re sending me straight to hell!”
I pulled up in front of the hospital, frantically waving for one of the clinicians who happened to be standing outside. “Call the police,” I said. “Hurry.”
Michael was in a full-blown fit by then, screaming and hitting. I hugged him close so he couldn’t escape from the car. He bit me several times and repeatedly jabbed his elbows into my rib cage. I’m still stronger than he is, but I won’t be for much longer.
The police came quickly and carried my son screaming and kicking into the bowels of the hospital. I started to shake, and tears filled my eyes as I filled out the paperwork—”Were there any difficulties with… at what age did your child… were there any problems with.. has your child ever experienced.. does your child have…”
At least we have health insurance now. I recently accepted a position with a local college, giving up my freelance career because when you have a kid like this, you need benefits. You’ll do anything for benefits. No individual insurance plan will cover this kind of thing.
For days, my son insisted that I was lying—that I made the whole thing up so that I could get rid of him. The first day, when I called to check up on him, he said, “I hate you. And I’m going to get my revenge as soon as I get out of here.”
By day three, he was my calm, sweet boy again, all apologies and promises to get better. I’ve heard those promises for years. I don’t believe them anymore.
On the intake form, under the question, “What are your expectations for treatment?” I wrote, “I need help.”
And I do. This problem is too big for me to handle on my own. Sometimes there are no good options. So you just pray for grace and trust that in hindsight, it will all make sense.
I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza’s mother. I am Dylan Klebold’s and Eric Harris’s mother. I am Jason Holmes’s mother. I am Jared Loughner’s mother. I am Seung-Hui Cho’s mother. And these boys—and their mothers—need help. In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.
According to Mother Jones, since 1982, 61 mass murders involving firearms have occurred throughout the country. Of these, 43 of the killers were white males, and only one was a woman. Mother Jones focused on whether the killers obtained their guns legally (most did). But this highly visible sign of mental illness should lead us to consider how many people in the U.S. live in fear, like I do.
When I asked my son’s social worker about my options, he said that the only thing I could do was to get Michael charged with a crime. “If he’s back in the system, they’ll create a paper trail,” he said. “That’s the only way you’re ever going to get anything done. No one will pay attention to you unless you’ve got charges.”
I don’t believe my son belongs in jail. The chaotic environment exacerbates Michael’s sensitivity to sensory stimuli and doesn’t deal with the underlying pathology. But it seems like the United States is using prison as the solution of choice for mentally ill people. According to Human Rights Watch, the number of mentally ill inmates in U.S. prisons quadrupled from 2000 to 2006, and it continues to rise—in fact, the rate of inmate mental illness is five times greater (56 percent) than in the non-incarcerated population.
With state-run treatment centers and hospitals shuttered, prison is now the last resort for the mentally ill—Rikers Island, the LA County Jail and Cook County Jail in Illinois housed the nation’s largest treatment centers in 2011.
No one wants to send a 13-year-old genius who loves Harry Potter and his snuggle animal collection to jail. But our society, with its stigma on mental illness and its broken healthcare system, does not provide us with other options. Then another tortured soul shoots up a fast food restaurant. A mall. A kindergarten classroom. And we wring our hands and say, “Something must be done.”
I agree that something must be done. It’s time for a meaningful, nation-wide conversation about mental health. That’s the only way our nation can ever truly heal.
God help me. God help Michael. God help us all.