Editor’s Note: This post was written in December 2012, a few days after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, just a few miles from my house in Connecticut.
I think we all are.
I cannot spend too much time thinking about the families who were directly affected by the events on Friday. If I did, I’d be unable to function.
We will all find our way through this tragedy.
What you choose to do, and how you choose to speak with your kids about it, is up to you.
There is no one right way.
Someday I will look at the pictures of the victims to honor them.
But not right now. It’s too soon.
That is just my way.
Today is the 27th anniversary of my brother’s death.
So I can relate to the loss. The grief.
He was three at the time, and I was sixteen. I can appreciate what the death of a little, helpless child feels like.
But I owe it to him to be happy.
Because I can.
I feel like that is how I can honor him.
How I should honor him.
There are plenty of things I could focus on that would reduce me to a puddle on the floor.
Or, I can focus on the good.
On how he made me a better person.
He brought a lot of joy to this world in his short 3 years.
Well I am still here. So I can still do something good on this planet.
And through me, he is still here too. Doing good.
It is the same with all those victims.
They are still here in all of us.
Now this doesn’t mean I’m not going to cry. Or have moments of incredible sadness. Or that I won’t let myself grieve.
But I will focus on the good. If the sadness comes through, I will let it out.
But I will not let it consume me.
Because that would only add to the tragedy.
But I do have something serious to say.
Something I think is very important.
And a way that I think I can start to make a difference.
The details of how this tragedy came to be are still unclear.
We still don’t know how this very sick individual ended up doing what he did.
But I think one thing is clear.
Mental illness was a factor.
There have been many tragedies in recent history.
Many of them have involved guns.
Now I don’t want to get into a political debate here.
I’m pretty anti-gun myself.
But I think it’s unrealistic to think there is any way that we are going to get rid of them.
And I do think there are many, many responsible gun owners.
And I believe that the guns used on Friday were obtained and owned legally.
I don’t really think guns are the major problem in all these tragedies.
There was also a horrible event on Friday in China, where 22 students were stabbed.
People have used guns to carry out some horrific acts.
But they have also used knives.
I think what is at the heart of the matter is mental illness.
A mentally and emotionally healthy individual is most likely not going to do what was done on Friday.
Even with access to a whole arsenal of weapons.
But a mentally unstable or unhealthy person might.
We have a problem with mental illness in this country.
Not with its existence, but with the stigma attached to it.
If your child is diagnosed with cancer, well, that’s okay to talk about.
And it’s okay to openly seek medical treatment.
But if your child is diagnosed with OCD, or depression, or borderline personality disorder, well, then you better keep your mouth shut.
Keep it hidden. Pretend like it’s not an issue.
Because that would be embarrassing.
People would think your kid was …. crazy.
Even worse, people might think you were crazy.
Or a failure.
But you’re not.
And neither is your kid.
Mental illness is not something to be ashamed of.
But I think ignoring it, well, that might be.
And I’m speaking from experience.
I have had my own issues.
I received the diagnosis of major depression when I was 31.
When I was 32 I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.
I’ve never really told anyone about that second one.
Depression seems to have become somewhat acceptable.
But borderline personality disorder?
Most people haven’t even heard of that.
But it sounds pretty fucked up.
That one really sounds crazy.
And how do you even go about discussing that?
I mean, if a friend heard you had cancer, they would come visit and give you a hug, or call, or email, or send a note.
They would say, “If there’s anything I can do to help. Anything. Just let me know.”
But if they found out you had borderline personality disorder?
Well, they’d probably run for the hills to get away from your crazy ass.
And they sure as hell would not want their kids to play with yours.
So you don’t tell anyone.
And you don’t get help.
And that’s when things get bad.
Mental illness is not something to be ashamed of, or embarrassed by.
I did get help. Lots of it.
I have had years of therapy.
I have had many, many therapists.
Some of them sucked.
But a couple were life changing for me.
I have come a very long way.
Out of the darkness.
Borderline personality disorder is no longer a diagnosis for me.
It wasn’t easy, but I did it.
I think this country needs to make some serious changes with respect to their treatment of mental illness.
And not just the treatment of the illness itself, but how we handle the whole subject.
How we judge people.
No one judges you if you have cancer.
But they sure do if you have schizophrenia.
If you have been diagnosed with a mental illness, I am letting you know, you are not alone.
If your child has been diagnosed with a mental illness, he or she is not alone.
If your friend is diagnosed with a mental illness, do not let them be alone.
Please don’t be embarrassed. Or ashamed.
Please don’t judge.
But please, please, please, do not ignore it.
Don’t sweep it under the rug.
If you feel like you have no one to talk to, you can talk to me.
You can email me.
I will give you my phone number.
I will do my best to help you find the help you need.
You are not alone.
And you are not crazy.
But you may be ill. Just like you would be if you had cancer.
There is help.
There is treatment.
And there is hope.
Please leave a comment here on the blog today if you have any words that may offer some encouragement to anyone struggling with mental illness.