Sunday, December 16, 2012

Praying for Time: The Sandy Hook Shootings, Mental Illness, and Ableism

I sit across the table, discussing the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings with people I love, people I respect, people who I trust.  I know I'm treading on thin ice, but it's like a car wreck, I can't stop, can't look away.  And then the ice cracks, oh god, here it comes, it always boils down to this.  With smug conviction she says:

"We need to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill."

I take a deep breath, but can't stop my voice from rising.  I stare straight at her as I challenge:

"So you're saying that I shouldn't be able to own a gun?  I have mental illnesses." Whether or not I would actually want to own a gun is irrelevant; it's the principle of the thing.  The response is instantaneous.

"Not you!" The implication is that I'm being ridiculous for drawing a logical conclusion.  "Having depression or anxiety is different.  I'm talking about psychopaths."

And yet a professional psychologist said point blank in an article for ABC News:  "I think it's far more likely that what happened may have more to do with some other kind of mental health condition like depression or anxiety rather than Asperger's"

Depression and anxiety are the two mental health conditions I have, with a wide range of symptoms and issues that fall under them.  So clearly, there are people out there who think it's not so different, professional people who are supposed to know what they're talking about.

This is all I've heard since the news broke on Friday, all I heard on the radio during the three hour car ride back from college.  From news anchors to radio DJs to friends and family, all I've heard was that Adam Lanza, who murdered 27 people, including his own mother and 20 small children, six and seven years old, was a "lunatic", "fucking crazy", and "completely nuts".  I've stopped listening now.  I'm tired of hearing my people, and people I care about - like autistic people - systematically demonized.

I know it's tempting to slap a label on the gunman and call it a reason for his actions.  I know it's instinct to try and make sense of a senseless tragedy.  But the fact of the matter is, we can't blame everything on mental illness, real or perceived, and to brush off a murderer's actions on "mental illness" or "autism" demonstrates an extraordinarily shallow understanding of not only the situation, but mental illness/autism as well.

All this serves a purpose, a purpose to distance ourselves from the perpetrator.  By pinning the incomprehensible actions of one man on mental illness, or autism, we're saying that it could never happen to us.  It makes it into something foreign, something scary, but something that could never touch us directly.  It creates twisted parodies of people, people that kill their own mothers and six year old children, monsters that could never be as human as we are.  But like it or not, Adam Lanza was human.  And I bet those twenty seven people who died on Friday never thought it could happen to them either.

We are the mentally ill.  We are your brothers, your sisters, your teachers, your friends.  We are anything and everything you are, every bit as diverse as you are.  We come from different backgrounds, races, gender identities and sexual orientations.  And we are tired.  Tired of being blamed for murders, tired of the invisible blood that the media paints on our hands.  In the wake of this latest tragedy, the scapegoats, the victimized are speaking up.  We will not be silent anymore.

"And its hard to love when there's so much to hate
And hanging onto hope
When there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above
Say its much, much too late
Mm, well maybe we should all be praying for time"

-Praying For Time by Carrie Underwood (originally performed by George Michael)


5 comments :

BAUBullpenPodcast said...

Don't mind me while I just sit here and sob about how brilliant this post is.

Anonymous said...

honestly, if you got a gun i would not worry. you have CP. you can not aim to save your life!

Paula C. Durbin-Westby said...

Brilliant post. I am linking it to my post here: http://paulacdurbinwestbyautisticblog.blogspot.com/2012/12/mother-with-asperger-syndrome-grieves.html

Paula C. Durbin-Westby said...

Not sure if that went through. http://paulacdurbinwestbyautisticblog.blogspot.com/2012/12/mother-with-asperger-syndrome-grieves.html

Interventions for challenging behavior said...

I don't mind if everyone has a gun but I just wish, hope, and pray that everyone who has a gun could be more responsible and careful.