For now, I am still a madness shaman. Part of that job is to speak for those who struggle with their madness, who suffer from the inside from something our medical science has yet to learn how to treat effectively.
In that role, I feel it is my duty to say something about the terrible tragedy that happened in CT today. Before I say anything else, of course I have great sorrow for all the innocent children who were wounded or died, and the adults who tried to keep them safe. I have not forgotten them, nor do I intend to. But I think it’s easier for most people to hold that grief for me, to support those families and those souls, and I am only one person with only the focus of myself, and so I choose to look at this from a different angle.
No sane person wakes up and thinks killing innocent kindergarteners is a logical way to spend a morning. I do not feel saying that Adam Lanza had a mental illness is an insult. I have a mental illness, and I do not feel ashamed to say so. It is why I was chosen for this path in life, to speak for these people; it is what made me special, different, and skilled in the Work that I do.
First of all, I grieve for all those in Adam’s life who lost a friend today. Dorothy Hanson, his grandmother, not only lost her grandson and daughter today. His older brother (whom the press has not named) lost a large portion of his family today. And I’m sure there are others, who are ripped apart at the knowledge that someone they cared for and knew was suffering so deeply, so completely, that this was what it lead to.
This year, my friend Jon killed himself. And although in hindsight there were glimmers of things he did or said that may have clued us in, everyone in his life were pretty shocked that it happened. And although it’s not exactly the same, I know what it’s like to sit with your family of choice and wonder how you failed him. Why he didn’t reach out. Why he didn’t seek help, or say something, or even just act more like a stereotypical suicidal person so we could have seen what was going on in his head. He was a smart kid, and I know he knew that if he did, we would have done something, and that might have stopped him. And it hurts, deep in your soul, to feel like you failed as a friend, and for me, as one who is dedicated to helping those who lose themselves in the land of crazy. I, personally, felt like I had not only failed my friend, but failed my vocation.
I can’t imagine how much this is magnified with the shame of having your loved one being immediately branded as evil, sick, demented. I know these words are thrown around because it’s too hard to see things in shades of gray – it’s much easier to think of the world as good vs evil, sane vs. crazy, criminal vs. victim. We need someone to vent our frustration at, a figure to express our rage that things like this still happen. And in a way it’s safe, too, because he’ll never fight back. We’ll never find out that maybe he called an anonymous hotline last night and told them he was afraid of doing something bad, and they failed to stop him. We won’t ever have to deal with the gradients that come with knowing what lead him to do this, why no one saw it coming. Not that I think there’s ever a redeeming reason for killing a bunch of kids (y’know, unless they’re zombies or something), but it would be much harder to hate him if we knew the depths of his suffering.
But the shame his family and friends will bear, will long outlast the country’s notice of him. People barely know his name now, and as soon as the next big news story hits – the next storm, the next political disaster, the next tragedy – we will quickly forget anything about him at all other than he was “evil”. His family won’t be able to talk about him to outsiders; they won’t be able to hang pictures of him on their walls; people will feel odd looking through yearbooks and seeing his picture there, smiling like everyone else. No one will be allowed to feel sad for him openly, to talk about anything good he’s ever done in his whole life. His biography will be written by people who never knew him as a child, who saw him as a complex creature – it will only be, “That guy who killed those kids in CT”.
I dare you. Without Google, tell me something about Dylan Klebold, other than what he did. Or Marc Lepine. Charles Andrew William. Or Jeff Weise. I bet you only recognized one of those names, or maybe two, unless you grew up in towns near them, knew them, or have an obsession with school shootings. Even if you Google them now, all you’ll probably find is that short biography – “That guy who killed kids in a school.”
I obviously don’t condone turning these people into heroes, or to lessen the impact of what they did by excusing their behavior. I have never said, nor will I ever, that it’s okay to do whatever you want and then reason it away by claiming you are mentally ill. Everyone is responsible for their actions, even if they didn’t make them in a sane manner. But at the same time, we can’t forget that these people were people, not characters from some cop show called Reality. They are complex people who touched many lives, both positively and negatively.
So tonight, I am assured that many people will be there for the many families touched by this tragedy. I will be saying a prayer for Dorothy, and for the unnamed brother, and for everyone else who will live with this stigma for the rest of their lives.
Thank you for writing this. I’ve been thinking along these lines for a large part of the day, and posted something similar on someone’s FB a short time ago.
It’s a lot easier — more comfortable, less scary — to think that there was something incredibly, horribly, terribly WRONG with this guy. That he was unlike everyone else, that he was human, like every other human on this planet. And quite possibly, right up until this happened, he was like many of us in most other ways. Well, I suspect he wasn’t, and I wish people would focus on *that*. As well as the other things you mentioned — he has a family and friends who are in a heck of an awful situation right now. Gods forbid they be seen to be grieving for *him* — even though they’ve known him for 20 years — because he’s a monster that should have “been put down” or “neutralized” before this.
Hearing those things, those myopic, dehumanizing things, is not only painful but it’s frightening — if you really think that people who would do this are so monstrous, are so different, you blind yourself to the fact that someone just as troubled could be sitting right next to you. Someone who could use your support and help and then maybe, just maybe, they wouldn’t be pushed to the edge.
So, again, thank you.
Hopefully it won’t only be the issue of gun control that is dragged to the surface by this tragedy. As you said, “No sane person wakes up and thinks killing innocent kindergarteners is a logical way to spend a morning.” My guess is he didn’t wake up that morning with mental health issues. I only wonder how many tragedies we have to face before society faces the deep issues revolving around accessible treatment and care for mental illness.
I’m deeply saddened by these events, and wept for hours watching the coverage. I wept for the children taken before their time. And I wept for the families who must now face the emptiness left behind. For the broken families. For the adults who no doubt died defending their charges.
But I grieve for his family as well. For a deeply troubled young man who perhaps saw past his own illness at the very end, and took his own life as well.
I specifically didn’t comment on your fb (cos you said you didn’t want a debate starting) to say that I had sorrow for the ppl who did this horrible thing and those who loved them. No one does such a thing without some really serious problems in their life. It’s easy to say “fuck you” to/about the shooters. It’s much harder to think about the pain that a person must be in before they do such a thing, and to admit that most likely, they were failed multiple times by society. Everyone’s yelling about gun control. Hardly anyone is yelling about destigmatizing mental health care, or making it more accessible, or making sure ppl have food & shelter & warmth and all the other things people need to physically survive, so they can give time to treating their mental health! And for SURE no one is talking about how our society glorifies and worships violence, and how maybe that is contributing to all these people deciding that shooting a bunch of people is the thing to do. I mean, Saw gets an R rating, but show a cock in a movie and it’s NC-17!
Actually, some people are discussing mental health care, glorifying violence and gun control — I just saw a FB update from my state senator mentioning all three. How far he’ll get in pushing for action on these matters is another story, of course.
I approach this from a slightly different point of view that is less positive to the men in question but still wishes more could have been done. I call them Wretches in my Work. Their inner chains were too weak and the ran amok (look up the term). My goal is to find ways to strengthen those chains, one by one.
You are right, however, to point out that these were people with human failings and not monsters. Or, we all are.
I deal with madness every day of my life. I have two certificates – one that says that I am insane, and one that says I am sane. Did the hospital thing, all of that. One problem with mental illness is that it is considered a moral failing and is not discussed. Another problem is that the person does not know that they are ill. Your brain determines what is normal.
Sigh, I wish some how the illness that strikes young men from 19 to 29 can be looked at. As a mother of such a young man, who has bounced in and out of institutions, I can say that it is so difficult to deal and often we end up doing it alone. I am still known as the mother of the violent kid, though said kid has not harmed anyone for 6 years. It is an incredibile long slog to go on for all of us. He is doing the best he can and we are to.
What does a Madness Shaman do btw?
This reminds me of a local case where a high school boy wanted to commit suicide by attacking the school cop. The cop was stabbed a few times, but the boy was shot in the chest and killed. People called the cop a hero. Truth was, that cop was not a nice man (I knew him from my days at school there) and that boy was deeply depressed and hurting (my sister was his classmate and all the students in his classes knew that he talked about death on the regular.) Its a shame that people *still* see him as a monster, and don’t realize that any one of us could have been him. Personally, I know that wild, horrible thoughts have come to me in the worst depths of my depression and the only difference between me and that boy is that no one was there to push him back from the edge, like they were for me.
Anyway, thank you for writing this. Also, thank you for helping people who are suffering. As someone who has two chronic pain conditions and more than one mental illness, it means a lot to find people who are truly caring and compassionate. Finally, I’m very sorry about your friend, Jon. Going through grief like that is a uniquely hellish experience. *offers hugs and healing energy*
Apparently, I actually shared drinks with the now murdered mother. Very small world.
Thank you so much for this post. Thank you so much for adding words of compassion to this discussion.
Thank you for this. It needed to be said, and I’m spreading it around. This is true compassion.