Monday, December 17, 2012

My Thoughts

I've had all weekend to process Friday's tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in CT. . . and still I have no words.  No words to make sense of what has happen.  No words to explain why we live in a world where someone would kill innocent children.  No words. . .

In 1990, when I was in the 8th grade a student came into my classroom with a gun.  I don't think about that day very often but of course I've been thinking about it since Friday.  It is weird - there are parts of that day I remember like it was yesterday - and yet parts that I can't recall at all. . .

It was first period.  I was in health class.  I can picture the classroom exactly - the location, how the desks were arranged, the desk I was sitting at. . . I can't recall what time of year it was or if the gunman was a student in my class.  I do remember him.  He was in my grade.  A "troubled" kid. 

He entered our school through a back door.  He came into our classroom after class had already began.  He yelled and screamed and kept saying the f word.  He shot a gun toward the window.  I can still see the bullet hole.  I don't know what kind of gun it was - maybe a hunting gun or a bb gun?  Still it was a gun.  And he fired it. 

Within minutes the principal, teachers and guidance counselors were outside of our classroom.  I don't know how long it was before he let us go.  Somehow the school leaders convinced him to let the girls go.  And so we did.  The boys remained.  Again I have no clue how long they were there or what really happened after I left but fortunately nobody was hurt.

It was scary.  It was surreal.  Nothing like this had EVER happen in a school before (as far as I knew).  I lived in a safe town.  A nice town.  A town where people wanted to raise a family.

Most of the day was spent with my other classmates in the guidance counselor's office.  I guess we processed what happen.  I don't remember.  I do remember that late in the day I went back to class.  It was English class.  The same class room where I had been during first period for health class.  The bullet hole was still there. . .

Nobody was sent home from school that day.  Nothing was "locked down."  We knew so little how to "handle" these situations b/c they just didn't happen.  I am happy to report that the incident did lead to school doors being locked so visitors would need to enter through the main door.  I know that didn't make a different in CT on Friday but. . .

This was before the internet, cell phones, social media. . . when I got home from school that day my mom didn't even know what had happened.  She was mistakenly not called by school leaders.  I had to tell her what had happened.   

Sometimes I wonder what happen to that boy.  Where is he today?  Is he ok?  I'm tempted to google his name. . . then again maybe not.

I am ok.  Nobody was hurt.  Life went back to "normal" pretty quickly.  I am thankful.  So thankful that the situation did not get worse as we all know it could have been.

But I am sad and angry that the situation has become worse for so many others.  The incidents have escalated to places I never could have imagined.  "School shootings" should not be a phrase that we are all so familiar with. . . 

I can't even imagine what the children from Sandy Hook are thinking.  They must be so scared.  So angry.  They shouldn't have to experience this.  It just isn't right.

Unrelated to the Sandy Hook tragedy, Friday was a bad day for one of my friends too.  She was robbed at gunpoint in her apartment parking lot.  Her wallet, phone and car were stolen.  Her feelings of living in a safe and secure home were stolen.  Fortunately, she was not physically hurt.  Thank God.  I can't stop thinking about how scared she must have felt.  How scared she must be to return to her home (she is currently staying w/ family elsewhere).  I pray they catch the person(s) who did this to her.  She should not have to feel unsafe in her apartment parking lot just like the children at Sandy Hook should not have to feel unsafe at school.

So what do we do now?  We move forward.  We enjoy each day - our families, our friends.  We remember that life is a gift, a precious gift.  There is no guarantee for tomorrow.

It is time to have some serious conversations - about mental health and the lack of treatment options available and about gun control. . .

I have read a lot since Friday.  The article below has had the biggest impact on me.  As a social worker I know all too well that this family's experiences are real.  Please read it.  It has been posted in many places.  I am taking it from the Huffington Post. 

"I am Adam Lanza's Mother": A Mom's Perspective on the Mental Illness Conversation in America

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. 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.

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.

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.)

I'm praying for all of the people in Newtown, CT.  I hope they can find the strength to move forward. 


  1. I am SO sorry that happened to you as a kid. That must have been absolutely terrifying. I read that article too and the first thing I thought was that maybe the shooter's mother had all those guns because she was afraid of her son. I am so sorry about your friend too. Things can be replaced but lives cannot, so I am so happy she is all right!

  2. Oh wow-- I'm so sorry this happened to you! It's crazy to see these things keep happening. I agree with this article that mental health should become more of a priority and at the forefront of conversation in the US. I wish I had statistics on how many of my clients had mental health issues and/or were receiving treatment. It would be a lot, I'm sure. I feel so bad for this mother and for parents like her. I can't imagine what it would be like to be afraid of your child. And then to see the horrific aftermath of some of their actions. :(

  3. This is so sad. Thank you for sharing. I haven't been able to bring myself to read or watch anything. My pregnant, emotional self just ends up in tears.