I don’t know anyone in Newtown. I’d never heard the town name before Friday. But I know moms and dads and how our hearts feel about our children. I know that I’m struggling to understand the tragedy that has happened. Again. Too often. And while every shooting, every death is heartbreaking and senseless, there’s something about losing classrooms full of first graders that is making me not be able to think about this without completely crumbling inside. My son is only three years younger than some of the victims. I unfortunately imagine him, in a classroom, terrified and I fight the urge to build a panic room and live in it forever. I read the victim’s names and recounts of the day and the tears well up again and again.
I won’t talk gun control. I don’t feel I’m educated enough on either side to offer valid opinions. But I want to talk about something I feel will be mentioned but not addressed. Because as I think of those victims, I also think of the family of Adam Lanza. They’ll live forever knowing what he did and wondering why. Wondering if they, as his blood relatives, should have been able to see this coming and if they somehow failed him. Mental illness continues to remain a stigma, a parodied, misunderstood condition that affects so many and yet never seems a reality to those not suffering. When I see pictures of the shooter, I don’t even see a man, I see a boy. A haunted, possibly ill boy who looks emaciated and as the mother of boys, his face and his actions haunt me nearly as much as the suffering of his victims. I am in no way defending what he did. His decisions were heinous and deplorable. I know how (guns), but I want to know why. We’ll never get the answers, but if we continue to ignore mental illness, questionable behavior and the severity of emotions any one person can be experiencing, this can only be the worst of all trends we could ever see.
Some shooters have been bullied and I feel that schools, adults and parents have made steps (albeit, minimal in my opinion) to rectify the torture school children endure at the hands of their classmates. But mental illness, whether it’s depression or bipolar, autism or anxiety, are widely laughed off. They’re not tangible. You can’t see the suffering, so they’re not real. Maybe the person is making it up. But they’re very much fact.
Through my teen years and into adulthood, I’ve personally dealt with merciless bullying, severe depression, anxiety, anorexia, bulimia, self harm and most recently, postpartum depression following the birth of both of my sons. I’ve fought through; I’ve fallen down and gotten back up. Sometimes with my own strength and sometimes with the support of others. While I could never imagine turning on anyone with any form of violence, I still to this day wince inside when I think about the bullying and hate that part of them that turned their insecurities and their cruelty on me. I know when I’m feeling emotions that may cause an eating disorder relapse and I stop them. I know my depression signs and can let others know it’s coming. While in the past, I would consider and did harm myself, I’m far too much of a bleeding heart to think of hurting another person. It’s unfathomable to me to consider the act of it. But I know the pain and the hurt and the confusion that you deal with when your brain just isn’t working the way society is telling you it should. It’s like being in a maze that has a dead end at every turn. You just turn in circles and go left and right and every time you run into a wall. It’s maddening. You scream silently for help, but in most cases you don’t feel you deserve the actual attention you’d receive if you spoke loudly enough for someone to take heed.
Our brains are so very confusing and there’s much we don’t know about them. There’s science upon science about our behaviors but there’s never any true way to know why one neuron may fire and another may not or who this might happen to. And there’s enough evil in the world to cause our fragile minds to process life in such different ways. PTSD from sexual abuse that may lead to eating disorders, mania and anxiety. Bipolar disorder purely from the genetic card dealt. I recently read an article that detailed scientific evidence regarding our digestive system and its direct tie to our mental state. Our enteric nervous system, which is what lines our gut is so complex and influential that scientists refer to it as a second brain. The serotonin being produced there can directly affect our reactions and our stomachs. If our digestive system can be so complicated, I can’t even imagine what is going on in our brains.
My experience and knowledge of mental hurdles makes me afraid for my kids. Not only in sending them to school not knowing how safe they are, but also in what they may come up against emotionally. Will they be too ashamed to tell me if they’re feeling emotions that scare them or make them act irrationally? I tell myself I would notice if their behavior is amiss, but I fear in the fast-paced world, I might overlook a warning sign as just “being a kid thing” or that they’re just having a bad day. If they’re being bullied and don’t know how to tell me or their dad, I hope they reach out. I hope they tell someone, but I know fear of payback may scare them into painful complacency and mounting, confusing feelings. And if I’ve somehow failed them and they bully someone else, I hope someone tells me. When it comes to bullying and mental illness, we can educate our children, hang posters in schools and count on teachers, with their limited resources, to try and address any concerning behavior. But despite the video series, It Gets Better, I want to keep the secret from my kids that sometimes it doesn’t Even as adults, we come up against bullies and confusion and mental anguish, it just happens. It hurts now, just as it did then. As parents we need to be the strong ones who power through and while we show weakness, also show our children how we deal with those weaknesses and come out on the other side. This means trying to understand each other, addressing the issues that are hitting our children, like mental illness. Not starting internet fights about gun control or whose fault this is. We owe it to our future to stop sweeping some issues under the rug because we’re not comfortable with them or we don’t understand them.
I want to stress again that my heart hurts for the families of the victims and I wish there was a way to step in and change time so that this never happened. The shooter’s mother may hold some responsibility in exposing an obviously fragile, potentially calculating (possibly even sociopathic, I’m not discounting that) to a stockpile of weapons. Weapons no person needs in their home. (Off that soapbox, quickly). I question how so many of these people get to the point that we lose innocent lives at their hands. Are they shrinking violets, wallflowers who isolate as they calculate? It’s unfortunate I don’t know more details and am obviously making grand speculations, but I’m struggling to cope with this and the fear in my heart of this world.
There’s a story making the internet rounds about a popular high school boy who saw another boy struggling with a large pile of school books and instead of ignoring him, he helps him. This forms a strong friendship that grows over their years together in high school and the boy with the books goes from being alone and sometimes made fun of to having a wide circle of friends. As they graduate together, this boy, as the valedictorian talks in his speech about the day he was heading home to kill himself. Suffering from depression and feeling alone, he wanted to end it, and had chosen to clean out his locker and take everything home so his mom wouldn’t have to do it. And then a stranger had taken time out to go to him and see that he needed help and reached out. He saved his life. I’m sure I could internet search or debunk this story with Snopes, but I’m not going to. Because this is how I hope and wish for society to be. Instead of laughing and pointing at the boy with the pile of books, help him.