Today, I read that Adam Lanza had pumped, on average, 3 to 11 bullets into each child he killed. They were aged between 5 and 10 years old. And my heart filled with so much anger, pain, and fear… that I called him a little shit.
And then this evening, I read this, and my heart filled with even more pain and fear. And the pit of my stomach went cold with helplessness and paranoia. Because if Adam Lanza had been dealing with severe mental illness; if he had been a victim as well, and this had been the gut-wrenching result… what then?
The realisation that none of us is immune.
There were a couple of comments in that article from parents who thought they had it figured out. That the child “Michael” in the article was mis-parented, and that a good diet, strict discipline and a daily dose of Godly values are what is sorely lacking. And while I think those things – good diet, firm but reasonable and loving discipline, and a values-driven upbringing – are important, I really think there are exceptions to the rule.
We’ve all seen tantrums. Arddun is starting to throw a few of her own with, what we hope, very little gain. But if a child is so wild as to cause his or her parents to genuinely fear for everyone’s safety, what then? What if you were to look into your child’s eyes and realise that he or she “wasn’t home”? Some personal testimonials in this article give accounts of how their children suddenly changed when they turned 13.
“Oh the teenage years,” we snort. “That’s because the child hasn’t learnt respect for elders, others, and property.” “It’s all to do with the hard yards you put in when they’re young.” “You reap what you sow with permissive parenting!”
And don’t get me wrong – I believe all of that counts too. Tony and I are prayerful about our parenting, and honestly, we try. We don’t enjoy bratty children, and we really don’t want to inflict one on ourselves for a lifetime.
But what if Arddun turns out to be an exception? What then?
When I first came to Australia, I’ll admit that I didn’t know a whole lot about mental illness. Growing up in Singapore, we used to refer to the suburb “Woodbridge” with derision, because that’s where the mental institution was. (I have no idea if it’s still there.) We used to joke that MPH (a bookstore chain) stood for Mad-People Hospital. Primary school humour. Puerile. Uttered without malice. But not corrected.
When I first came to Australia, I think I believed at the back of my head that people claiming to suffer from anxiety or depression were just being precious and self-pitying. It wasn’t a belief that was articulated, more like something taken for granted as true and fact. And I’ve come a long way from that stance, because mental illness here is talked about and taught often. It doesn’t hold a stigma. I was so genuinely surprised and touched when someone at church mentioned his battle with depression in passing, and the path of understanding started from there. It was the single biggest epiphany for me on the topic, because it came from a Christian I respect. It came from someone who believes in hard work, self-sacrifice and other-centredness. And yet here he was, talking about how he used to struggle to get out of bed.
And then I scratched under the surface some more, and boom. It’s all around me.
I still don’t know enough about mental illness because I’m still new at this. I’m still unlearning prejudices, and I’m still working on my discernment. They can be such subtle conditions sometimes, that it can be hard to place what’s going on until it’s full blown.
As for the Connecticut shooting, I’m not trying to excuse Adam Lanza. But nor should I be castigating him. I have no right, because I don’t know enough, and because none of us – least of all me – was there. Most of all, I have no right because I am not his judge and maker.
But I’m bringing this up because Liza is right – it is time to talk about mental illness. If you’ve suffered from it, if you’re suffering still, I hope you find the courage to tell others how you struggle and what you do to cope. Because at the very least, you might be helping someone who needs to unlearn his or her prejudices. Just like how I needed to unlearn mine. And how I needed to grow in compassion.
And if you need more information and help, check out beyondblue today.