I just got done reading that popular internet post, “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother“. It’s a powerful chunk of writing, written by an incredibly brave mother of a child with Autism Spectrum and behavioral issues. She really puts herself out there and If you haven’t read it, I encourage you too. It’s eye opening.
Sadly, when I finished, I made the mistake of going to the comments box and reading what others were saying about the piece. I’ll be honest with you, the reading was hard enough for me to get through since, through my wife’s work, I’ve had the chance to meet and spend time with families affected by Autism Spectrum and behavioral issues. I’ve heard their stories about how folks relatively sheltered from individuals with mental illness just don’t understand what it’s like to be the parent of someone who has it. How there seems an ubiquitous expectation for everyone to conform to an unwritten social behavior code always on them, and when they fail, they are judged harshly for it, or, at best, met with silence and isolation. Again, knowing all this made reading the piece hard. But after reading the comments, I wept.
I really shouldn’t have been so upset. The Internet is a cruel place, full of people projecting their crap on others in the harshest way possible. Lord knows I deal with it enough in my small little hobbit hole of the vast digital landscape for stuff as trivial as a baseball critique. But this was different. This was, well, proof in many ways that the cry declaring how society does not understand what it’s like to have, or be parent to someone who has a mental disorder, is a cry made with good reason.
Comments were all over the map. Things about how people like the post’s author shouldn’t have children, to how she failed as a parent, to how she was a monster and didn’t deserve her kid. Adam Lanza’s real mother, dead, murdered by her own son, was turned into pariah for everything from gun control, godless schools, parental failure, and violent video games. It was like jackals tearing apart some wounded animal. No mercy. No remorse.
One day, my wife, while working with an adult dealing with Autism Spectrum issues, had an incident. The client she was working with, normally cheery and upbeat and as gentile as a lamb, for no explainable reason, lost it. He went into a rage hitting himself and screaming and pulling his own hair out. He grabbed an IMac Computer and threw it across the room. He flipped chairs and a table. His mother scrambled into the session room to calm him down and he grabbed her and clawed her body and face and pulled her hair out. And while he screamed and cut her flesh with his nails and pulled chunks of her hair free, all the poor woman could do was say over and over, “You’re hurting mommy. Stop, baby, you’re hurting mommy.” To strike him, to attack him, to subdue him; not only would it be hard for the two small women to accomplish, he would not understand why as, indeed, he did not understand why his body had lost control in the first place.
I was horrified when my wife told me about it. I was horrified because I love my wife and I didn’t want something like that to happen to her. The thought of her being harmed by a mentally unstable child is something I’m very afraid of and when I heard her tale it validated all my fears. I felt bad for the child and her mother, of course, but the thought of my wife coming home with scars or missing hair or ears or an eye or worse kept me up at night. I thought of how it would affect me, and I wanted to shield my wife from it as a consequence.
Then my wife told me about how, in the middle of the incident, one of the secretaries of the Community Arts facility she was working at at the time, came into session room and pointed at the grouping—my wife, the bleeding sobbing mother, and the sobbing, convulsing client who now realized how badly he’d hurt his mother—and declared, “If you don’t get this under control, Bonnie, I’m calling the cops. This is disruptive to the other students and teachers and cannot happen here.” No medical intervention. No offer of assistance. No sympathy. No mercy. No remorse.
The other students and teachers were healthy, normal people who didn’t want to, and felt shouldn’t have too, deal with things like what was taking place in Bonnie’s session room. The secretary’s thinking—like most of our thinking—was that she had a responsibility to the healthy, to protect them and their investments from the chaos of the unhealthy.
I thought about that for a long time. I think about it even today. There are people all over the world who believe that individuals struggling with mental illness should be separated from the masses who are not. And by separation, exclusion, and isolation, the world will be a better place. Those with mental issues will disappear to the help-getting place, and come back when they’re all better. This way, none of the normal people will get hurt.
When I read to comments on that blog and the many others that have appeared like it since the shooting in Connecticut, I couldn’t help but think how many of us have rushed into the room this mess took place in and declared, “get this fixed, we normal people deserve better.” How many of us have, in fear, or anger, or ignorance, demanded action in line with our own finite perceptions and agendas? How many of us really believe there is a well funded, knowledgeable, help-getting place that has all the solutions where we can mail sick people off too?
Mental illness is a tragedy, but the ignorance and segregation that has bred around it is a sin. While those who suffer from mental illness often deal with issues outside of their control, segregation is a social illness created by those within complete control.
For years now we’ve employed mental illness to support our agenda. We Say it’s around because of Godlessness, violent video games, and country that has lost it’s moral compass. We vilify it. We demonize it. We criticize those who aren’t strong enough to deal with or fix it. And all the while the truth is we’re just not brave enough to face it.
There are people around us dealing with stuff that, while thanking God we never have to deal with, we should willingly accept the burden of as our own. Because, in the end, it is our problem. It is, all of us, our problem. It is our mental illness. It is our failure. It is our ignorance. And just as it is not okay for mental illness to reach for a gun, it is not okay for us to reach for a roll of tape and section it off from our world just because we lack strength or desire to combat it.
After I heard how the Community Arts secretary responded to my wife, I understood why I had to be brave. Now, in the wake of this shooting and its fallout, I understand why we all have to be brave.