courtney. it shocked and saddened me. she asked if i would share her story here. on twitter, i am a big proponent that mental health issues should not be something we are embarrassed to talk about. but, to be honest, i was uncomfortable at the thought of posting it on my blog. it may be easier to talk about save-the-date cards and wedding colors, but it doesn't change the world we live in. i am so sorry to the families in connecticut. and i am so sorry to courtney that i never knew any of this.
When events like the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary happen, I am inexplicably drawn to the television. I watch hours on end of coverage, flipping channel to channel so the commercials don't have time to break concentration on the matter at hand. People are dead. And a scary man (boy) did it.
In times like these I want to know details. I want to know every little thing that happened. I become increasingly frustrated when they don't release the evidence that they have. Like most people, I want to know why. But I also want to know the details of the crime itself. Why did he go to the school? Did he pick a room at random or was it methodical? How did the teachers react? Where were the bodies found and how? Did anyone try to stop him? Why did he only visit two classrooms? I watch the endless coverage without my questions being answered, completely aware that they will likely never be answered. The ache in my stomach continues to grow. A ball of anxiety and disgust. And a little bit of familiarity.
The reason I need answers, the reason I want to know every little gruesome detail is because tragedies like this hit a little too close to home. I want to know everything there is to know, as if to size up how closely my brother resembles Adam Lanza and if something like this could ever happen to our family. It's as if I'm waiting for one detail to not make sense in my situation to discount the fact that my brother could ever be responsible for something like this. And I continue to wait.
After reading Liza Long's "'I Am Adam Lanza's Mother': A Mom's Perspective on the Mental Illness Conversation in America", I felt a ping of solidarity. I watched my own mother battle with her son, for her son, with the system, against the system, and eventually ask my brother to leave her house because she no longer knew how to deal with him.
Like Liza Long's story, mine was wrought with threats of self harm. But that wasn't until my brother was older. In his early years, my life was filled with witnessing explosive fights between my brother and mom. They always ended with my brother apologizing and my mom exhausted. They always followed up with the same scene some days later. Like Liza Long, they were all over pants or video games, nothing that ever warranted the type of rage that my brother exhibited. But in his mind, he had been wronged. This was just another way the world had been cruel to him. The rules didn't apply to him and he whole-heartedly believed that.
My mom tried everything she knew how to. Meetings with the school. Psychiatrists. Psychologists. In-home respite care. Police involvement. Trips to the hospital. The "scared straight" method. She made threats of military school and group homes, but knew she didn't have the means to make either a reality. Some things works for a day or two, but nothing was a long-term fix.
As he got older, his rage continued to grow. My mom moved when I went off to college and this was another reminder that the world was not on his side. He set out to punish my mom for making him leave the place he grew up and the increasingly dysfunctional relationship he had with his girlfriend. I was lucky. I got to deal with things from afar. My mom, however, was not so lucky. She was starting over in the city she grew up in and trying to make things work with her son.
I remember visiting on one of my breaks. My mom did her best to hide the scary things from me. She tried to protect me even into my college years. Sitting at my Aunt's kitchen table, I remember my brother fidgeting with wristbands I assumed were a fashion statement. As he readjusted them, I saw scars. I remember being angry. I yelled at him for even thinking that this was an option and then at my mom for not telling me what had been going on. He had been cutting his wrists for a few months and no one even bothered to tell me. He apologized that I had to see that. He was genuinely sorry for it in that moment. The next day as I sat in my mom's kitchen, a fight erupted. He came downstairs with a knife and threatened to show me what I had been missing while I was away. He tried to make a cut with the dull knife and was able to make scrapes, just enough to allow little droplets of blood to escape. I was stunned. He did it to hurt me, not himself. And he knew it would.
I'm not discounting the pain that these kids feel. They, too, are experiencing the world and they, too, are having trouble dealing with it. But the difference is, these kids don't want help. They don't think they need help. They are right and the rest of the world is wrong. And they have been wronged. And they will tell you about it. But they need help. And everyone around them needs help getting them help.
My brother is now 24. Even this many years later, he doesn't truly live in the same world as the rest of us. He still maintains a reality in which everyone is out to wrong him and no one has ever been fair to him. He carries his rage with him, just under the surface, ready to boil over at any point. He only calls when he as something to yell about or to tell me how unfair a family member is being. He lives in the past, unable to see any good in any of it. Or in the future. He spouts off sound bites about how we'd all be better off if we lived like the animal kingdom, without government, laws or hierarchy. Sometimes I understand where he's coming from. Other times he just sounds crazy.
The truth about mental illness is that there is more than one victim when people don't have the help they need. Every time something like this happens, I will be glued to the television making comparisons. Every time my brother is belligerently angry with my father or mother, I will pray that everyone will be safe until his rage subsides and that he never has access to a gun. I continue to think twice about having children of my own for fear that they will have the mental illness gene and I, still, will not have the resources to deal with it. It terrifies me.
It sounds insane to be afraid of your own child or sibling. So it's not talked about. It's difficult to understand if you've never been there. But this happens. And unfortunately, I think it's more common than anyone would like to admit. We need more resources in place for families. We need more than a pat on the back and "good luck at home." Otherwise, we're going to continue to have tragedies like these in our lives. And you'll know where to find me: Sitting in front of the television aching for the gruesome details.