And then, there’s the other kind of hell

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.

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5 thoughts on “And then, there’s the other kind of hell

  1. it is hard for people to understand when they’ve never experienced it themselves… even being raised around it or believing it’s real it’s still hard because it doesn’t really make sense… i myself suffer from depression… it happened while i was in the military and i got really down and even now that i’m happy again and my life is going great it’ll be something i’ll always fight because it’s so easy to slip back into it… it’s like you’re body just doesn’t know how to be just a little down… now though i know it and i know i shouldn’t be that sad but it’s feels much more physical than mental… it effects my whole body… but i think although everyone out there is susceptible to such things that it can be prevented and it can be helped as long as there are people that they know they can turn too… when i was in the military a million miles away from home, which was why i did get so down, i still knew there were people out there that loved me and no matter how hard it was to fight it i knew i had to for them and that they would always be there for me… life is hard but it’s easier to get through when you’re surrounded by love and encouragement… and i think that’s all most people need…. someone they can count on and turn too in times of need…

  2. Jonathan

    Oh, Chevelle, my heart aches in agony for the victims, for the families, for the Police, Firemen, Doctors, Nurses, Counsellors, all those who are “First Responders”, all those who are part of the second and third tier of comforters, those who answer the desperate phone calls in the middle of the night, those who simply struggle daily to get through to the next day. I really believe that there is no answer. At least, no easy answer like the cries for gun control, more mental health funding, social services, community discussions and so on. Sure, all these things must be attended to, all of these things are essential, all of these things are part of a humane society. But, at the root of all our heartfelt cries lies our fundamental condition, brokenness and separation from God. There is a “fix” for that problem, permanent and perfect. Until then, there will always be agony, living as we do in this “Vale of tears”. I find the anxieties and worries get deeper, more gut-wrenching, as I age and see my children, and now, their children, take their places in the world. I can’t help it. I brim on the verge of tears pretty much each day, there is always some new tragedy that makes me wonder how I would handle if it were me. And I am a mental health worker. I know the theories, I know the therapies. I also know their shortcomings and limits. I see my grandson, sitting happily on my lap, and I fall apart inside. I don’t know what lies ahead. And that terrifies me as I feel myself age.
    Communities need to draw together, people need to talk, to learn to love, not fear. We don’t need heightened security, which simply divides “us” from “them”, we desperately need trust, acceptance, understanding. Things which have never been achieved by man and I fear never will. Maybe some small communities at times will achieve a semblance of these values for a while, but it never seems to last.
    I can only throw myself on my Creator, who has promised me healing, forgiveness and comfort. And, yep, I just choked for the first time today. Probably not the last.
    There is hope, there is an answer. Just, not quite what people are prepared to accept. So I continue, trying, but I fear not very successfully to change things within my own arms reach. There is no other option for me. And, should it come down to some sudden choice suddenly placed before me, I only pray that I would be as courageous as those teachers at Sandy Bend. I don’t know. Oops, second choke…

    Jonathan

  3. rdgole and Jonathan, thanks so much for taking the time to open up here and wear your hearts on your sleeves. I am incredibly touched, and comforted that I’m not alone in thinking over these things. The hardest part is knowing that there are no easy answers.

    rgdole, thanks especially for talking about your depression. Again, it amazes me how prevalent it is, and how so many people are out there coping.

  4. What a well-written thoughtful post. I love how honest you are about being prejudiced before you moved to Australia. I have suffered since a teen and blogged about it in my blog a bit. I think its great that you are learning about it even though you have never suffered it. Wish more people would do that to have a better understanding.

    • Hi there! Thanks for stopping by with the encouragement. (Like you, my heart does the Snoopy Dance when my email tells me I’ve got a comment waiting!) I’ve still got a long way to go to fully understand mental illness, but I guess it’s better late than never!

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