December 18, 2012

Let's Talk About The "Nutjobs"

Pillow talk last night wasn't about the flatulence trapped under the covers, a weird mole one of us had sprouted, or how much we'd missed each other during the day.  It was about this damn, ever present shooting we're all talking about.

First off, I'm offended that we're overlooking the hospital shooting the following day, and the mall parking lot shooting that happened on Sunday.  Yes, those kids were taken too soon.  I don't think there's a single one of us that thinks otherwise.  But, if we’re going to claim the news isn’t over sensationalizing for the sake of ratings, then we should all know about the guy who shot up the 5th floor of the hospital, wounding three before being killed himself, or the gunman who fired 50 shots into the air at the mall.  We don’t know about them because there wasn’t enough of a headline worth more than 15 seconds of airtime.  Nobody was a victim.  We couldn’t sell headlines when none of those 50 shots hit anyone, or the only person to die was the gunman, who was killed by police.

I’ve seen solutions trumpeted all over the internet in the past few days, most of which are more about treating the symptoms than the actual problem.  Sure, guns may be one common denominator.  Certainly, having regulations to make sure that those who wish to own firearms do so safely makes sense, but it’s not getting to the root of the problem.  

Sure, we could put more security in schools.  But what beyond the metal detectors in our inner city schools can we do?  Even here in the sleepy midwest we have school resource officers (Who are generally recently retired police officers) at almost all of the public schools.  However, that doesn’t address the fact that not all of these tragedies happened in a school.  Sure, some have.  But, there’s no common thread.  There have been mass shootings from elementary through college.  How would we staff for adding more security to all institutes of learning?  How would we profile for offenders?  (Let’s not forget the shooting in Scotland in the 1996 where it was a member of the community with no ties to the school who did the shooting.)  We’ve seen people open fire in malls, hospitals, places of worship, movie theaters, freeway off ramps, and schools.  There’s no conceivable way we could erect metal detectors, checkpoints, or TSA-themed pat downs in all of these places, much less dream up where the next location will be.

On the surface, it’s easy to put the blame on firearms.  Sure, that’s a common thread.  But, let’s not forget that the original plan for the Columbine assault included explosives.  The Aurora theater suspect boobytrapped his apartment, left his music on at high volume and his front door ajar in an effort to lure his neighbors or cops into setting into motion whatever horror he had planned.  Given enough determination and desire to be destructive, the human animal will find a way.  The use of guns is a symptom, not the disease, and I believe that focusing on gun control is as effective as drinking orange juice for a cold.  Sure, you feel like you’re doing something healthy, but in the end you’re just going to have to wait it out one way or another.  The placebo effect can be dangerous when you’re dealing with other people’s lives.

The nitty gritty commonality is that each of these tragedies were begat by people who, for lack of a better phrase, just wanted to see the world burn.  Their motivations, their camel back breaking straw, their one moment when they opened up the window and shouted to whoever would be listening “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take it anymore” may never be clear.  What we do know is that all of them had some grain of sand that irritated them to the point of violence.  Treat that, treat the misfire in their lives or their brain, and we avoid these sorts of horrendous and heinous acts of extreme and mindless violence.  

Sure, it’s easy to say that.  The showstopper is finding the how.  It’s easy to blame “the system” and throw our hands up in the air.  You wanna know how to avoid another Sandy Hook, another Virginia Tech?  Stop waiting for someone else to take action.  Volunteer at a suicide prevention hotline.  Call that friend of yours who you haven’t heard from in a while.  Stick your nose in where you think it doesn’t belong just to ask if those fellow human beings around you are ok.  Do something to stop bullying in your community.  How many times does it come out that the person behind some random act of violence has been ostracized or ruthlessly teased by their peer group?  Don't wait for someone else to act, or for some broad-sweeping change to happen overnight.  Be the change you want to see in the world.

If you or someone close to you is at risk, whether they feel the weight of the world on their shoulders from being a sort of black sheep, or they suffer from a mental disorder, get involved.  Stay involved.  Speaking as someone who does have a (thankfully well managed) psychiatric disease, sometimes the urge to reject a kind hand is strong.  Oftentimes it’s out of fear and shame, while other times the idea of having to interact with others, to appear normal and healthy, is more than we can bear.  Believe me though, it makes an impression when someone takes the time to show they give a damn, and to this day I’m still grateful to those who did just that during my darkest days.  

If you or a loved one is suffering, take the time to learn about where they’re coming from.  Understand their condition, get an idea of what they’re going through.  It’s a cold feeling to know that, for example, you mother can’t be bothered to understand what depression is, and makes it painfully obvious when she asks if your vitamins are causing your episode.  Taking a moment to try and walk a proverbial mile in their shoes can do nothing but help.  And for fuck’s sake, if someone confides in you that they’re having thoughts of harming themselves or others, you do something about that.  I can tell you for a fact that confiding those sorts of things in someone else takes an awful lot of effort, and it cuts to the bone to have it ignored and makes it that much harder to trust someone else to help.

If you need help, get it.  Don’t let money or time be your only obstacle.  Stand up, ask for it.  Call a cab and get thee to a hospital.  Life has a way of letting things work out.  Let the hospitals, charitable programs, or even the bankruptcy courts shake out the details after you’re well.  Not that I’m advocating sticking it to the hospital for free healthcare in general, but if that’s all that’s standing between you and another national tragedy, you bet your badonkadonk that’s exactly what I’m saying to do.  I can stomach spreading the cost of your therapy across hundreds of other bills to help you out of a dark place much more than I can seeing dozens of families bury their children a week before Christmas.  

If you’re in a position of power either in government, a religious institution, or the health care industry, get your ears on this.  There is a need for more care for the mentally ill, the lonesome, the rejected, and the round pegs in the square holes.  Apple computer might celebrate them, but society tends to fear or shun what we don't understand, and that's where those who are unacceptably different end up.  Often on the fringes of society.  

There might not be the money to be made on a psychiatric bed that there is in cancer research, but there’s the human element of saving at least one sanity, if not multiple lives.  If you pull your head out of your wallets for a moment, you might realize that this is the better deed.  Depression and other mental illnesses aren’t fatal in and of themselves.  But they’re crippling nonetheless.  The time spent treating the disease and healing the person might save a life, regardless.  

What I’m saying is that it seems part of the human condition to ask what we can do for next time after something awful happens.  “What did/didn’t I do?” is a common refrain on all levels, from break up to systemic breakdown.  The common thread from the University of Texas to Sandy Hook has been people in need of some kind of help.  Had someone stepped up and made sure they got that aid, we wouldn’t be here, arguing over whether we need to build more metal detectors, or start writing letters to our congressmen.  Let’s stop trying to add more “thou shalt nots” and start learning to love and care for our neighbors.

*Edit - I missed providing resources the first time around.  For more on where to go or how to help specifically as an individual, see this addendum

Hear the above post read by the author on Podbean.

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