What She Said

If you’re familiar with Julie’s amazing blog you’ve probably already read this: Gone bad wrong and if you aren’t familiar with her — um… are you new around here?

I struggle with anxiety and have for most of my life — though I think it was probably only in the last fifteen years that I had language for it — before then it was just this current I was swept along in. In 2006 we went to Florida with our son who had just turned six.  I agreed to go to an air show, something I wasn’t all that keen on going to in part because my mind constantly does mental calisthenics trying to convince me all the ways any particular scenario can go wrong — and I considered it a step towards mental health that I agreed to go — and I remember the exact moment when the Israeli fighter jet took off (it had been rainy and they’d nearly canceled the show — all of the spectators left to tromp in and out of the planes on the ground) — we watched a spectacular loop and he swooped and dove down… and down… and down… and the plane crashed in a ball of flame.  The pilot did not survive.  The numbness.

I don’t really know how to talk about Friday’s events — I have lived close to violence and mental illness both; I suspect that in opening and having an ongoing conversation about both that we, as a nation, can find our way through this.

I read a comment that particularly bothered me — on twitter — referring to Nancy Lanza as a monster — what kind of mother, the poster asked, what kind of monster would allow their child who they knew to be mentally ill — access to guns?  I wondered if that person had ever known a mother of a mentally ill child.

I wrote this in response to Julie’s post:

I thought this was so beautifully written – it said all of the things I would have said had I been more able to form coherent sentences since this happened – and what you add to the conversation here is so important. I glanced through the comment section enough to want to respond to them – but broadly – I’m not even sure if my words will make much different – but I want to say it out loud.

My father was murdered when I was a kindergartener – and I have long been an advocate for mindfully approaching the violence in our culture – a culture that no one can deny is grappling with that addiction and yet look at the hypocrisy in my own home: I have a 12 year old stepson who plays Call of Duty and who wants a replica automatic weapon/paintball gun for Christmas. I wasn’t as horrified as some to hear that Nancy Lanza took her sons target shooting – I come from a part of the US that has an active hunting culture, much like I understand NH does – where Nancy Lanza was from – and my husband took our son shooting.
I also want to add to the conversation my own personal experience with mental illness. In 1981, my aunt, a schizophrenic and daughter of privilege ( of a high profile executive but this one in the automotive industry and his stay-at-home wife, my grandmother)– severed my grandmother’s spinal cord with a knife – an attempted murder attack that left my grandmother paralyzed for the rest of her life – and had my aunt had a gun I have no doubt my grandmother would be dead. But here’s what I want to add – the entire profile of Nancy Lanza didn’t surprise me – a woman in an affluent town, but yet she was distant – and so few knew her – or her son – is it possible that the stigma we put on mental illness in this country prevented Nancy Lanza from truly getting her son the help he needed?

My grandmother lobbied for my aunt’s release from the state forensic hospital so that she could live with her — at the risk not only of her own safety – but for that of her family members (us) and society at large – her denial was that strong. I am not so quick to judge Nancy Lanza.
We are a society addicted to violence, unwilling to address it – unwilling to de-stigmatize mental illness or re-open and staff facilities shut down in the 80’s (thank you Reagan) – we hand our children violence as entertainment – sanction it, and then turn around and ask ourselves how this could possibly happen.

Right now I’m repeating the words of Eden like a mantra — For every one person who would walk into a school and start shooting babies, there are a million who would rush in to save them.

I have to believe in that million otherwise my mind is filled with crashing jets.


2 responses

  1. I was so relieved to read your post and Julie’s post, because it is what I feel also. I can see how kids turn into “monsters” I grew up with some. The detachment, the denial, the aggression, all those issues that are not addressed. So much I want to write here about society’s creation of these “monsters”, but so complex.

  2. I don’t think any parent looks at their kid and thinks, “Well, I’m thinking he’s going to be a mass murderer any day now, so I better go find a shrink”. In fact, there’s little to no education or discussion about mental health in children. We’re more apt to just hand out pills. And the closer you are to the situation, the harder it is to recognize the truth.

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