The Crystal Ball She Wished She’d Had

I read the comments on an article at ABC News called 5 Disturbing Things We Learned Today About Sandy Hook Shooter Adam Lanza and it’s very clear that most people think that those of us who have loved ones with serious mental illness should a) understand the depth and severity of their illness in all ways, at all times; b) deliver appropriate treatment in all ways and at all times; and c) basically read their minds and use our handy dandy crystal balls (they give us those at diagnosis, you know, so we will always be aware when someone in our family is going to do something unimaginable) to predict all possible behaviors so as to protect others from our “psycho” family members.

I read the comments on an article at ABC News called 5 Disturbing Things We Learned Today About Sandy Hook Shooter Adam Lanza and it’s very clear that most people think that those of us who have loved ones with serious mental illness should a) understand the depth and severity of their illness in all ways, at all times; b) deliver appropriate treatment in all ways and at all times; and c) basically read their minds and use our handy dandy crystal balls (they give us those at diagnosis, you know, so we will always be aware when someone in our family is going to do something unimaginable) to predict all possible behaviors so as to protect others from our “psycho” family members.

Naturally (because we live in the good old USA), we should do this on our own, in the privacy of our homes, with little or no help from our communities.

Good to know.

The consensus seems to be that Nancy Lanza is 100% responsible for what Adam Lanza did and not only did she deserve to die, but we should probably exhume her body and beat the crap out of her regularly. I mean, holy crap, I can Monday morning quarterback like anyone else, and some of Adam’s parents’ mistakes are pretty clear from where I sit (you couldn’t pay me enough to keep a gun in my house). But when you’re *in* a volatile situation, and you’re trying to make everything OK, and you’re trying to live life, and you’ve been to the ER and the doctor and you’ve called the police and you’ve dealt with the system and you’ve been blown off over and over and over again (usually without any hint of kindness) and the school won’t help and they call CPS on you and you know you’re all alone in the world, the fuck do people expect parents to do? I’ve heard it’s not cool to lock volatile and difficult children in the basement so hey, how about we quit flogging this mother and maybe create some solutions? Maybe, I dunno, improve the way we treat families with challenged children? Meet us at the ER with caring and treatment instead of reports to CPS? Stop telling us we caused it with our shitty parenting? Shorten some of those damn waiting lists so when we’re in crisis, we don’t have to wait weeks or months for help? Because this has been a banner week in my Facebook timeline as far as parents begging for treatment for their kids (a day in the ER with no help here, a call to the police who declined to help with a violent child there, three CPS reports, and of course the relentless drumbeat of schools that will NOT follow BIPs and IEPs as they were written) and really, we can’t have it both ways. We can’t vilify these parents AND expect them to make everything OK on their own.

People who feel all-powerful as parents have never been up against shit like this. I promise. With the weight of my own experience and my dozens of friends who are parenting kids with MI, I tell you, we cannot handle this on our own. Please stop asking to do magic.

I have no idea what Adam Lanza needed, and I have no idea if his parents were in some kind of denial about his issues. I have a pretty damn good idea, though, that even they knew what he needed and tried to get it, it didn’t exist.

So hey, crucify Adam Lanza and his parents if that helps you sleep at night, but the fact is that if your brain or that of someone you love goes kerflonk, you might meet our mental health care system up close and personal, and you might find out that it’s not a system at all. You might find out that banging on doors year after year after year makes a person pretty tired, and advocating for someone, no matter how much you love them, can defeat you. I hope you don’t find out, but you might. And then you’ll be stranded here with the rest of us, without crystal balls, without magic wands, without super powers of any kind. You would just be an ordinary person doing the best you can in extraordinary circumstances, and like ordinary people do, you might fuck it up completely.

Because you know what? Flawed, ordinary people screw up, and if there’s no one there to catch your mistake, something terrible could happen. Something so awful, people will flog you after your death. And to think, once upon a time, Nancy Lanza was a young woman in love, and she wanted to have a baby. She did her best by that baby, and it wasn’t nearly good enough.

And look at the cost. Look how high the price, for leaving her (and millions like her) alone, and for preserving our right to own weapons. The cost is incalculable. Unimaginable. Inconceivable. It doesn’t have to be this way, and yet this is the way we have decided it will be. I hope we change our minds very soon because there’s not a damn thing in the world that justifies the circumstances that lead to rooms full of dead children.

You Chose

If only we were half as powerful as we believe ourselves to be.

You took no medications and consumed nothing artificial during pregnancy. Your baby is pure and the least a mother can do is sacrifice her comfort for 9 months.

You consulted with your health care provider during pregnancy and chose to continue your anti-depressant. Your baby needs to have a mother who is well and healthy.

You chose cautiously. Nothing bad is ever going to happen to your child.

*          *          *

You chose disposable diapers because your baby needs your attention. How can you stay focused on her if you’re scraping poop and washing diapers?

You chose cloth because no baby of yours is going to sit in some a chemical-filled, disposable paper “garment.”

You chose elimination communication because your baby deserves better than to sit in his own waste.

You chose carefully. Nothing bad is ever going to happen to your child.

*          *          *

Your baby slept in her own crib right from the beginning. Babies need to learn to self-soothe, to be independent.

You co-slept, your baby nestled between his parents all night long. Babies are small and vulnerable and need their parents’ presence so they know they are safe in the world.

You chose thoughtfully. Nothing bad is ever going to happen to your child.

*          *          *

Your toddler rode in a stroller or wore a harness until he was four. No child of yours is going to get lost or hit by a car because her parents didn’t restrain her properly.

Your toddler was free to walk whenever he wanted. No child of yours is going to have his freedom curtailed because his parents didn’t keep their attention focused on him.

You chose judiciously. Nothing bad is ever going to happen to your child.

*          *          *

You took your family to church every week because children should be grounded in a faith tradition so they have a moral compass and a sense of connection.

You avoided organized religion because children should be allowed to explore a variety of world views and choose faith (or not) according to their preferences.

You chose scrupulously. Nothing bad is ever going to happen to your child.

*          *          *

You were a firm disciplinarian with your children. You had high expectations and you issued unpleasant consequences when your children fell short.

You avoided all forms of punishment with your children, preferring them to learn from the natural consequences of their behavior.

You chose conscientiously. Nothing bad is ever going to happen to your child.

*          *          *

You taught your child everything about sex. You taught him about protection, pregnancy prevention, and consent. You taught him about respect, kindness, and risk.

You taught your child that sex is something she absolutely may not even consider until after she is married. You taught her that sex is sacred and that she must protect her purity no matter what.

You chose morally. Nothing bad is ever going to happen to your child.

*          *          *

You kept your children at home, arranging for all their playdates to be supervised by you. You spoke to their teachers often, visited their classrooms, and joined them on all their outings.

You let your kids run the neighborhood with friends and sent them to the neighborhood school. They went to the park, the swimming pool, and the movies accompanied by people their own age.

You chose prudently. Nothing bad is ever going to happen to your child.

*          *          *

You saw a person at the grocery store, or heard a story on the TV news, or read about a tragedy on the internet, and thank God nothing like that is ever going to happen to your child.

If only his parents had been moral. If only her mom was conscientious. If only his dad had been more careful.

*          *          *

If only we were half as powerful as we believe ourselves to be before something bad happens to our children.

This Is How We Dare

We dare because it is always OK to ask for what we need. Always.

You probably saw the hateful pink letter this week, the one addressed and delivered to the family of Max Begley of Ontario (If you haven’t read it, please use this link to read it. I don’t care to repost it here.). The social media outcry has been huge because the letter represents the worst of the attitudes to which people with disabilities are subject. People read that letter and were shocked; how could anyone suggest to a mother that her child be euthanized? A mother herself, no less? Who says that about a child?

And yet, I remember the time I was at the grocery and there was a man there who had Tourette’s syndrome or a similar disorder. Every few seconds, he vocalized loudly, and I heard a woman say under her breath, “Freaky retards should stay home.” In the meantime, my own son, eight at the time, was at home with his dad, flapping and swinging his way through an elaborate stereotypy that dominated his body for months.

There was the time Carter and I were at the post office and a stranger, observing Carter’s behavior, called him a brain-damaged brat.

Thousands of times, I have turned on the TV after a mass shooting or a celebrity meltdown to hear talking heads discuss the mentally ill and have resolved, again, to protect Carter from knowing that the words mental illness apply to him as long as I possibly can.

And then, there were the negative comments on my recent post Dear People Who Do Not Have a Child With Disabilities, almost all of which asked (demanded) some version of how dare you?

To sum up: some people want to know, how dare you ask the world to speak to you in a new way? They mean well; this is just the way life is! How dare you?

To sum up the anonymous letter sent to Max Begley’s family: how dare you inflict your son on the world?

To sum up the comment from the woman in the grocery: how dare he be out here in the world where there are other people who might see and hear him?

How dare we?

Why are parents of disabled children so incredibly self centered and self focused? They want everyone to bend over backwards to accommodate them and their kid. Don’t you know that EVERYONE has their battles? It’s not all about you, all the time! How often do you reach out to your friends to find out how they are doing? How often do you even know what is going on in anyone elses’ [sic] life except your own?

Asking for what we need is not an indication of self-centeredness or selfishness. Asking for what we need is healthy. 

Each of us, whether we have a child with a disability or a typical child, has our own set of issues to deal with on a daily basis. Some, admittedly, are more complex than others. But, again, I stress; you can either let all that is thrown at you drag you down and OWN YOU, or you can wrestle your life back and OWN IT. The choice remains yours.

Asking for what we need is not weakness. Asking for what we need is brave.

 Complaining about it and attacking those in society that make attempts to understand my situation by asking questions, or comments like the “What You Say…” is counterproductive. It only serves to make the situation worse and as so many have pointed out on this blog, who among us needs more to fret over and get upset about, not me.

Asking for what we need is not attacking others. Asking for what we need builds relationships.

Just don’t assume that ALL parents of disabled children or people with disabilities are that angry and negative all the time. Most of us get over it and get on with our lives.

Asking for what we need is not a sign of anger or negativity. Asking for what we need is proactive.

I also feel that if you can identify that a person is well-meaning, there is no need to make other assumptions about they are saying. Trying to be understanding is a two way street.

Asking for what we need doesn’t mean we think that other people are bad or wrong. Sharing information is sometimes part of asking for what we need.

All I got from this is that it is better to ignore or show no support to you or any mom with a child that has disabilities so that I don’t offend you or them. Isn’t it worth looking past the words that were said and appreciate the effort of support and even care towards you and your family. 

Asking for what we need is not criticism. Asking for what we need is an invitation to deeper relationship.

Sounds like you’d rather not talk to people who don’t have a child with disabilities. Shame on them for trying to be supportive or positive? Maybe they should just tell you, “Wow, it must suck to have a kid like that.” Maybe you could print out a list of things that are acceptable for them to say to you so you won’t be upset by them trying to say a nice thing and messing it up.

Asking for what we need is not shutting people out. Asking for what we need is a request for healthier community and an effort on our part to build that community.

So even if people are trying to be nice, it’s THEIR fault that YOU interpret their comments a different way than they were intended. So basically everyone should just shut up and not say anything because even the people who are being nice will still be villified [sic] in your mind.

Asking for what we need is neither hate nor vilification. Asking for what we need is an appeal to our common humanity.

 It comes across a little bitter.

Asking for what we need is not bitter. Asking for what we need is hopeful

I think it’s important to remember, though, that in MOST cases, these people are trying to be helpful.

Asking for what we need is not ignorance. Asking for what we need is about believing the best of people.

We dare to ask for what we and our loved ones need because people with disabilities are, first, people. We are humans who have lives to live. We need to go places and do things, just like you. We need sensitivity and kindness, just like everyone else.

We dare because it is always OK to ask for what we need. Always. Some people don’t want to meet our needs, and it is still good and healthy for us to ask.

Ordinary Violence, Ordinary Heroism

The children of Sandy Hook were just a few of the children who died last week from guns. In the US, one child dies every three hours from a gun.

Another day, another news story about bullets tearing bodies.

Another news story about shocking violence, another moment of stunned silence.

Another moment of stunned silence, another round of heated debate.

The violence in Sandy Hook last week is too terrible to comprehend. In the early hours of the news of the tragedy I was plagued by a near-hallucination in which I could hear the parents of the murdered children screaming. I won’t imagine what they felt, both because I cannot bear it and because their grief is a uniquely unimaginable thing, yet I can’t help imagining. My own youngest son’s cheek has never felt as warm and soft under my kiss as it did on Friday afternoon.

But…

The children of Sandy Hook were just a few of the children who died last week from guns. In the US, one child dies every three hours from a gun.

Every three hours, every single day, every week, every month. Eight children per day. Twice as many preschoolers die each year from guns as law enforcement officers die in the line of duty.

Twenty children died in Sandy Hook. Twenty times one hundred forty die every year in the US.

This problem we have in the US—the violence perpetrated in our homes, our schools, our workplaces, our malls, and hospitals—is bred and nurtured in the soil of ordinary violence.

The ordinary violence of poverty, loneliness, and invisibility, of a judgmental comment or a critical glance. Ordinary violence is victim-blaming, racism, ableism, sexism, and fear-fueled anger toward all who seem other. Them, they, those. Ordinary violence is in our language, in our unwillingness to listen and hear the experiences of people we don’t yet recognize as our friends. Ordinary violence is the mommy wars, underfunded schools, families struggling without support, and an inadequate mental healthcare system.

My husband said to me on Friday evening, “You go out and try to see a psychiatrist and I’ll go try to get a gun. We’ll see who’s successful first.” And yes. A thousand times yes, I believe that: we need more help and less firepower. There are deep systemic issues and the stark difference between the ease with which almost anyone can get a gun and the difficulties all who need it face when seeking mental health care are a potent illustration.

But there is more: there is the heat and fury with which we live our lives, the reckless way we handle each other. We live in fortresses of shame and fear. We close and lock our doors and don’t let one another come in. We don’t see each other, not really, and from that narrow, sheltered perspective, we write laws, cast votes, build communities, and create a culture that meets the needs of only a few of us. We warp our religions to justify hate. We require our people to serve our laws instead of making laws that serve people. We track violence into our homes like something stuck to our shoes, and we carry that violence with us back out into the world, where we step over those who have no homes and avoid meeting the gazes of those who have no hope.

Mass shootings make heroes of teachers in classrooms; of boyfriends in movie theaters; of store clerks at malls. We all have the potential for such heroism, and we needn’t wait for a person in body armor and bearing automatic rifles to burst into our lives for an opportunity to express it. There is no person, no group, no leader who can fix this alone. There is only us, creating the world in which we live.

What will we build?

How will we lead?

We need to do two things: first, work for systemic, institutional change around guns, mental health care, and education. Contact your representatives every way you can: call, email, snail-mail, and fax them. Insist that guns be taken seriously as the public health risk that they are and that our lawmakers make mental health parity a reality. Donate money to The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun ViolenceThe National Alliance on Mental Illness, and The Children’s Defense Fund, or volunteer with those or other organizations working for change. Fund, organize, or volunteer to help with a gun buyback program in your community. Sign petitions. Meet with your representatives and tell them what change you want to see.

While we’re busy with that work, we must also meet ordinary violence with ordinary heroism. See people: the invisible, sad, lonely, hopeless people, and meet a need. Not because those people are killers-in-waiting (they most assuredly are not), but because when we do what is good and kind and decent, we create a new world. Listen to someone. Share a meal. Look up from the screen of your phone and smile. Be patient. Slow down. Accept kindness in turn.

We can do better, and we will do better, but we have to put our shoulders to this boulder and push. There is no alternative if we want to sleep at night or face our reflections in the mirror come morning. People keep telling me that there’s nothing that can be done and if that’s true, we aren’t the people I thought we were. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, we’re in hell now. Let’s not furnish it; let’s keep moving and find our way out.

 

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Photo attribution: By Bangin (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-2.5]

Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin: Historically

If you truly love someone, do you deny them the best that life has to offer?

I don’t hate Native Americans; I just think things will work out better for everyone if we move them to their own special areas.

I don’t hate people with cognitive disabilities; I just think they shouldn’t be allowed to have babies.

I don’t hate Jews; I just think they should wear a star on their clothes.

I don’t hate the Japanese; I just think we’ll all be safer if we put them in camps until the war is over.

I don’t hate women; I just think they belong in the kitchen and not the voting booth.

I don’t hate black people; I just think they should sit at the back of the bus.

I don’t hate Muslims; I just think they should dress like regular Americans if they want to live here.

I don’t hate Mexicans; I just think we can’t be too careful about making sure they’re here legally.

I don’t hate fat people; I just think a thin person would be better at this job.

I don’t hate gay people; I just think they shouldn’t be allowed to get married.

For Brian on our 12th (!!!) anniversary. My companion, friend, partner, and lover, I can’t imagine my life without you, can’t bear to think of a world in which you are not my spouse. I pray that before the next 12 years of our marriage have passed, love and justice will grow in our nation until every couple who wants to be married, will be married.

Happy anniversary to my beloved. You’re my favorite.

Amy Chua’s Tiger Mother: An Exercise In Distraction

A brief list of some of the most controversial issues in the US:

Socialism.

Abortion.

Terrorism.

Gun control.

Racism.

Same-sex marriage.

Motherhood.

Yes, motherhood.

My friends, we’ve been played, duped into participating in a pretend conversation that feels very important.

When Amy Chua‘s new book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was excerpted at The Wall Street Journal on January 8, the blogosphere exploded. Agreement, dissension, discussion, and rebuttal after rebuttal after rebuttal until I thought I’d be happiest if I never heard Amy Chua‘s name again in my life.

Which is more important for children, strict discipline or freedom? What do they need more to grow up strong and successful: rigidity or flexibility, firmness or gentleness?

We’re doing nothing but fussing around the edges. While we argue about whether or not kids should be allowed to go on play dates or choose to play any musical instrument they wish, millions of kids have no consistent, loving adult presence in their lives.

The conversation feels important. It has to, because we feel an obligation to children. We need to have the sense that we are grappling with the tough issues, but we’re not even touching them.

Do I approve of the way Amy Chua is raising her daughters? No, I don’t. She doesn’t approve of the way I’m raising my kids, either, so we’re even on that score.

Virtually every parenting debate in which we engage exists only on the surface, for us privileged few who have choices. I acknowledge the fear that drives some parents to push their children very hard. However, if I compare the amount of press that problem gets to the amount devoted to issues of family violence, poverty, and serious shortages of good health care and education, the equation comes back very unbalanced.

We fight, fight, fight, and over what? Issues of personal choice.

If we’re occupied with these arguments, we’re ignoring a whole lot of shit that really matters.

If we’re arguing the SAHM/WOHM debate, who is pushing for better daycare? Subsidized care? More available care? Specialized care for special needs children? Subsidies for parents who want to stay home? More flexible working conditions? Benefits for part-time workers? Take-your-child to work situations? On-site childcare?

If we’re debating about breast or bottle, who is working to make breastfeeding support more available and culturally relevant for every family? Who is taking care of the mothers who have no one to help them? Who is pushing employers to make it easier for mothers at all levels of employment to nurse their babies or pump while they work? Who is helping the women who need it with feeding issues?

When we fight about where babies should sleep, we aren’t working for economic justice so that all families have clean, safe housing. We aren’t fighting on behalf of millions of children languishing in foster care and group homes without families to call their own. Instead of supporting each other, we’ve created an environment in which mothers are afraid to ask for help because everyone has an agenda to push.

While we argue about the best ways to discipline our own kids, who is lobbying the government for better protections for abused children? For better education for all our kids? More support for parents who are overwhelmed and afraid?

I’ll tell you exactly what kids need. They need consistent discipline that is delivered in a firm, gentle way. They need to know that they are loved. They need to live in a home where they are safe, with parents or other adult caregivers whom they trust to protect them and meet their needs. They need full bellies, warm beds, and good educations.

All the rest is window dressing.

We don’t have to fuss around the edges and invent arguments. There are too many kids in the world who need all this energy that we’ve devoted to arguing about Amy Chua (and Ayelet Waldman before her and dozens of other people and issues before that).

Imagine for a moment that all the millions of words that have been written about Amy Chua in the past few weeks had been written, instead, about any other issue that affects kids.

What could we have accomplished?

Do Unto Others

Years ago, I volunteered in the mental health clinic at Healthcare for the Homeless. At that time, the clinic was located in a crumbling, barely habitable house near downtown Albuquerque. The place was uncomfortably warm year-round, which magnified the smell of the place by a factor of ten, at least.

The odor of that place was one of forgotten humanity – unwashed people in their unwashed clothes with their unwashed belongings in tow. The reek of cigarette smoke drifted from the folds of their clothing. I learned, by a system of surreptitious glance-and-sniff, to know if a client was addicted to alcohol, heroin, meth, crack, a combination, or nothing at all (approximately 15% of the clients were, simply, severely mentally ill, with no co-morbid addiction).

They came to the clinic with an astonishing array of medical issues beyond mental illnesses and addictions. Chronic illnesses like diabetes are virtually impossible to manage on the streets. A minor infection can become gangrenous in a short time when people live with limited access to basic sanitary facilities. A simple case of the flu is likely to become pneumonia when a person is living rough.

Underfunded and understaffed, the people at the clinic did everything they could for their clients. It was mostly a hopeless task. A receptionist, a nurse, four counselors, and a handful of volunteers can’t do a whole hell of a lot in the face of the vast needs among the many people who need help. A few people got stabilized on their medicines and tried to get clean, but more often they continued to decline, living on the streets and cycling in and out of jail, detox centers, and psychiatric hospitals.

I should have hated it. I mean, my God, writing about it now, it sounds so depressing. In fact, though, I looked forward to my time there. I spent most of my time with the clients, going out to lunch and driving them to their appointments. The counselors would give me Wal-Mart gift cards and send me off with 2 or 3 clients to buy socks, underwear, and toiletries.

We had fun. I got to know them, the people they were, underneath the illnesses that ravaged their bodies and their lives. I grieved for them when they died, which wasn’t uncommon. Cause of death was usually overdose or suicide, but there were a few murders (people living with mental illness, out on the streets, and addicted to drugs to boot, are easy targets for violence) and several deaths due to illness or infection. Sometimes, I made sad phone calls to a family member, phone calls that were never a surprise.

One client, I’ll call him Hector, died of a heroin overdose. The staff at the clinic knew he was struggling with delusions and hallucinations, knew that he was using more and more heroin to cope with his rapidly disintegrating hold on reality, but they were helpless to do anything for him. So, in a skeevy hotel room, Hector injected himself one too many times and died there, alone.

At least once a day, one or more of the clients’ family members called to check on someone they loved – a son or daughter, parent, spouse, or sibling. I was in the office a few hours after we heard the news about Hector when the phone rang. The brand new receptionist answered the phone. It was Hector’s mother, calling to find out how he was doing.

“Oh, Hector?” the receptionist said into the phone, “Yeah, hang on a second. I’m pretty sure he’s dead.”

Just that. With those words, a woman found out that her boy was gone. I sat with her the next day and she reminisced about her son; how joyful his birth had been, how she baked his birthday cakes and helped him with his homework. She described how unbearably painful life became when schizophrenia entered their lives when Hector was a young adult, and how shocked she was to discover how little help there was for him. She told me about the years of anguished resignation she and her family had endured, knowing that Hector was existing in the most precarious of ways, but lacking the resources to do anything for him.

To that new receptionist, Hector wasn’t a person with a mother. He was an anonymous, smelly, scary man who talked to people she couldn’t see and had a habit of rubbing at the left side of his jaw until it was raw. (Soon thereafter, she found herself jobless.)

Culturally speaking, the receptionist’s attitude was typical. If that was not so, Jared Lee Loughner might not have had the chance to shoot 20 people, 6 of whom died, in Arizona last week.

I’ve heard, in some dozen or more news reports, that Jared Lee Loughner “fell through the cracks” of our nation’s mental health care system. I laughed aloud, but bitterly, the first time I heard it. Cracks?

Cracks?

You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.

There are no cracks in our mental health care system, because we barely have a system at all. Brian and I have every advantage in navigating the mental health care system. We are college educated; have no cultural or language barriers; live in a moderately large city; own reliable transportation; have the best health insurance; and we are, relatively speaking, mentally healthy. And still, even with all of that, we struggle mightily to get appropriate care for Carter. In some cases, the care he needs doesn’t exist at all.

In the shrill conversation that’s ensued since Jared Lee Loughner opened fire, we’ve heard again and again, “How could this happen?” How do we, who are living at the whims of the mental health care system, get the point across that this is typical. People who need care, especially the most desperate, don’t get it. The difference here is that Jared Lee Loughner didn’t just hurt himself and his family; he hurt strangers, “normal” people, “innocent” people.

I’m having a hard time with the fact that the death of “normal” people is what it took to get this issue onto the public agenda.

Jared Lee Loughner is our nightmare, lurking as one of several terrible possibilities on our horizon. The fact is that Carter’s illness is difficult to manage, and when he’s an adult (and even before; in NM, a 16 year old can refuse medications without parental consent), I can’t compel him to get treatment. His future is up for grabs.

Dear God, save me from the anguish that Jared Lee Loughner’s parents are feeling now.

I hate that people were hurt. I hate that people were killed. They are very far from the first casualties of our cultural ambiguity about people with mental illness, though. Far from it. People die of mental illness everyday. The bottom line seems to be, we don’t want to deal with “those” people, the ones who are weird and unpredictable and seem so unlike the rest of us. For generations, we locked them up in appalling, shameful institutions. Then, in that uniquely US American way, we threw the baby out with the bathwater and shut almost all of those institutions down and replaced them with…

Nothing.

Not a damn thing.

There were promises of community healthcare, but they have never been fulfilled, especially for the very sickest of people, the people suffering from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, and severe depression. And, of course, people with fewer resources have less access to care.

Millions of people with mental illness could live satisfying, productive lives with appropriate support, and those who are too ill for such lives could at least be safe and comfortable in appropriate institutional care that protects their human dignity.

Instead, they are left to live or die in jails and prisons or on the streets. People with mental illness are rarely violent; I feel comfortable calling Jared Lee Loughner a tragic one-off, but that doesn’t mean the wholesale abandonment of our neediest citizens is OK. To say that this issue only matters because of the 20 people who were shot is to say that people who suffer from mental illness don’t matter. If you believe that, I suggest you not say it in my presence.

As you’ve heard me say before, there are no disposable people.

Or, if you prefer, from a person much wiser then me, “do unto other as you would have them do unto you.”