Monthly Archives: December 2012

lanza

It’s Easy to Talk About Guns. It’s Time To Talk About Mental Illness.

In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.

I am Adam Lanza’s Mother It’s time to talk about mental illness. 

Written by Liza Long

Friday’s horrific national tragedy — the murder of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut — has ignited a new discussion on violence in America. In kitchens and coffee shops across the country, we tearfully debate the many faces of violence in America: gun culture, media violence, lack of mental health services, overt and covert wars abroad, religion, politics and the way we raise our children. Liza Long, a writer based in Boise, says it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.

While every family’s story of mental illness is different, and we may never know the whole of the Lanza’s story, tales like this one need to be heard — and families who live them deserve our help.

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 7:30-1:50 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 waiving 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 James 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. (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/07/mass-shootings-map). 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. (http://www.hrw.org/news/2006/09/05/us-number-mentally-ill-prisons-quadrupled)

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 (http://www.npr.org/2011/09/04/140167676/nations-jails-struggle-with-mentally-ill-prisoners)

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.

Originally published at The Anarchist Soccer Mom. It has also been republished in The Huffington Post and The Blue Review.

Lizalongnotforreuse
helping

Bittersweet Day – December 14th 2012

Yesterday was such an awesome day. My son celebrated his 18th birthday. He moved out a couple months ago, so I didn’t get to celebrate with him, but I did speak to him at midnight when he called my 16 year old daughter. It has been a long hard road to 18. He is a wonderful young man with the biggest heart. He is as stubborn and rebellious as they come. He is alive and well. For that, we are blessed.

Yesterday was a sad, sad day. Twenty children and 7 adults that were gunned down in a Connecticut elementary school. Yesterday, 22 children and 1 adult were stabbed in an elementary school in China. I can’t begin to imagine the heart wrenching devastation the friends and families must feel. I would love nothing more than to take away the excruciating pain that these parents are going through… to bring their children home, safe and sound… untouched by terror and pain.

I am scared to know what kind of drastic actions are going take place in light of this event. After the Dark Knight shooting, during which 12 were killed and 58 were injured in a Colorado movie theater, many theaters began requiring that every purse or bag be checked, as if you were entering a high security area. Not much different from the reaction after September 11th, in which 2996 people died and thereby airport security was amped up 1000%. All of the sudden, you practically needed a cavity search to board a plane. I don’t know about you, but I almost feel violated when I need to fly. I’m already reading reports on gun control and how easy it is to get a gun. That is bullshit! Twenty year old’s don’t mass murder children, kill their mothers or commit suicide because guns are accessible to them or because they had a bad day. There has obviously been something that has been overlooked.

kids drawing

Make no mistake, I am absolutely on the side of those who can not fend for themselves. However, we are diligently failing as a society. We need to stop reacting to the aftermath and start getting involved in the lives of our family and friends… our neighbors who never come out of their home… the quiet kid who doesn’t have many friends… the girl who is always “the life of the party”… the emo nerd who always wears black. It is essential to stop living disconnected lives. It takes a village to raise a child.

It is no surprise that murder and suicide is prevalent in our society. According to To Write Love On Her Arms, an organization which helps people struggling with addiction, depression, self injury, and thoughts of suicide, 18 million people suffer from depression in the US alone. Two thirds of them do not  seek treatment. This is tragic.

In a recent news article, anger, depression and hopelessness are emotional triggers leading to higher murder-suicide rates in Jacksonville, FL. Clay County Sheriff Rick Beseler said it right, “We do get warning signs, but we live in a society where we don’t want to interfere”.

Why are people so depressed and angry and hopeless? Maybe it’s because we feel like we are all alone?

If we are all alone then we are all together in that too. ~ PS I Love You

If we are all alone then we are all together in that too. ~ PS I Love You

As a society, we need to stop being cowards. We need to stop being selfish. We need to start seeing with our hearts so that we may recognize when someone needs help.  We need to learn to SPEAK so that we don’t keep our feelings bottled up inside. We need to stop giving so much space and start interacting, asking questions, reevaluating our priorities.

I am devastated about what happened yesterday, but I am sure that we can make a difference if our preventative measures start with showing another human being love and compassion rather than politics, blame and gun control.

I will be writing subsequent articles on these topics. I am sick of all the bullshit. I am sick of the lack of care and compassion. I am sick of the lack of action. Something must be done to change the way of our world today.

helping

 

 

It is important to remember the lives that were lost…

Charlotte Bacon, 6
2/22/06

Daniel Barden, 7
9/25/05

Rachel Davino, 29
07/17/83

Olivia Engel, 6
7/18/06

Josephine Gay, 7
12/11/05

Ana M. Marquez-Greene, 6
4/4/06

Dylan Hockley, 6
3/8/06

Dawn Hochsprung, 47
6/28/65

Madeleine F. Hsu, 6
7/10/06

Catherine V. Hubbard, 6
6/8/06

Chase Kowalski, 7
10/31/05

Jesse Lewis, 6
6/30/06

James Mattioli, 6
3/22/06

Grace McDonnell, 7
11/4/05

Anne Marie Murphy, 52
7/25/60

Emilie Parker, 6
5/12/06

Jack Pinto, 6
5/6/06

Noah Pozner, 6
11/20/06

Caroline Previdi, 6
9/7/06

Jessica Rekos, 6
5/10/06

Avielle Richman, 6
10/17/06

Lauren Rousseau, 30
6/82

Mary Sherlach, 56
02/11/56

Victoria Soto, 27
11/04/85

Benjamin Wheeler, 6
9/12/06

Allison N. Wyatt, 6
7/03/06