Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Oh Boy, Am I Worried

In fact I am so worried, that my long-dormant blogfire ignited today and, well, here I am. The Delinquent Blogger. The One Who Struggles to Get Things Done.

I am trying so fucking hard to be mindful and open and let myself rest. TO JUST BE. I talk a good game, don't I? Sometimes I play one, too.

But this world scares me. I'm frightened for Saskia. For Benjy (but you knew that). For my elderly parents, for me, and for Lars. Because this world seems increasingly not made for people like us. We are all -- in our various combinations of female, elderly, ill (mentally and/or physically), and not wealthy – extremely vulnerable. I believe that. I do. 

It's not just Ben anymore. Probably it never was just Ben I had to worry about, but I had no time or energy or heart to take that truth on and wrangle with it.

Readers, sometimes it feels like we, here in America, are all boiling away in one big, messy stew of trouble.

Admittedly, I DO have an anxiety disorder, and I HAVE struggled with depression over these many years of pain and loss -- more or less balanced, I have to say, by interludes of pleasure and heady, happy love. But don’t brush me off because of it. I’ve learned to distinguish between the concern-worthy and the silly. I may not always behave like it, but I can tell the difference. Today, as I was yesterday and the day before, I am really, truly frightened.

Let's just call what I’ve got by its proper name: illness of the psychiatric order. Forget whether or not there is any causal link between the traumas I’ve endured and these issues. Who cares? Others in my family have struggled with the same stuff and then some -- and in Lars's family it’s the same deal.

What I mean to say here, is that I have some conditions that could and should be characterized as mental illnesses.

Obviously, Benjy's mental health problems did not spring fully formed out of a vacuum. Nor are he and I particularly unusual in our dysregulations. If one were to make an honest assessment of the full spectrum of psychiatric disorders among the human populations of this earth -- and why don't we add the animals while we're at it, because there exists empirical evidence that they, too, can and do experience emotional trauma -- I would bet anything one would discover that the majority of us sit somewhere on the wide spectrum of mental illnesses.

Then there is this thing called Asperger's. It's not a mental illness. But the two kinds of disorder often travel together. If you've been reading this blog for a while you know this.

And here's why I am so distraught these days, and why my angst pulled me out of this gloomy hiatus so I could write, today, about the convergence of those two illnesses: Another mass killing has occurred. And the usual shit is hitting the ether and the airwaves. Oh yeah, HE HAD ASPERGER'S AND MENTAL ILLNESS. NO BIG SURPRISE THERE.

Well, actually, if these facts are true about this young man (and certainly I would not dispute the latter; it's pretty obvious, if you watch clips from his final video, or read his “manifesto,” that he was seriously divorced from reality) it IS a surprise. Because there is tons of evidence, from scholars and clinicians and caregivers, that people with either or both of these conditions are FAR more likely to be victims than victimizers. 

The best analogy to this confusion I can think of is airplane disasters. You might think, if all you did was consult the media, that death by airplane crash/explosion/hijacking, and so on, was a common occurrence. It's not -- but the millions of safe passages every month don't make for good news fodder, so we never hear about them. Therefore, lots of people jump to an uninformed conclusion and are afraid of flying. (Or they are like me, and plagued by a host of unreasonable phobias -- which is also a lame reason to avoid airplanes.)

See the connection? It's not as though there have only been ten or twelve young men afflicted with Asperger's and mental illness in recent American history and they all turned out to be creepy mass murderers. So why assume that the combination is always, or even often, a deadly one? We are all around you, folks. We people with emotional dysregulation. With Asperger’s. With both. We are not usually detectable because we are mostly functional people living within the accepted range of “normalcy,” whatever that means. We just have some shit we’re dealing with. Like everyone else on this planet.

If I used the same faulty logic I hear used repeatedly in the media, and concluded right here and now that the only common variables in the latest (and hey, every other) massacre were XY chromosomes and guns, I would be metaphorically (I hope) pounced on and eviscerated. I would deserve it, too – because these incidents suggest a complex and toxic cocktail of forces. It’s easy to blame a single person or diagnosis. It’s a lot harder to look closely at ourselves and the culture we live in. Yeah, that kind of interrogation hurts.

So here’s the thing: I have serious anxiety and intermittent depression. I am a writer, a mother, an erstwhile scholar and teacher. I try to be kind, to give others the benefit of the doubt. I love love and I hate hate, and am often but not always successful living my life in that context. I cherish my family with such ferocity, you'd better not even THINK about hurting one of them.

Sometimes my anxiety and depression get in the way of life. Never have they injured ANYONE, except by making those who love me sad.

And then there’s Benjy. He has the double whammy: Asperger's and a boatload of mental health disorders. He works harder than ANYONE I HAVE EVER KNOWN, and with a thousand strikes against him, to do well and do good. He worries about people who suffer, and about animals who suffer, too. About the planet we need to take care of, so it can take care of us. He reaches out to others in need. He has endured six hospitalizations, a million humiliations, a thousand-and-one drives all the hell over the place for medical and psychiatric appointments. And he is only just 14 years old.

My boy.

I spent the past ten long, weary years fighting for his happiness and his life, and I am still fighting, because this stuff is forever. Benjy is still alive, and he is sometimes happy now. I count this as a triumph. The physical and emotional injuries I have suffered on our journey I celebrate: they are my war wounds. My family is intact.

So what's my point, again? (I know. When I'm morally outraged I lose focus. What can I say?) Oh yeah, it's this:


Don't make casual and damning comments like, "Oh, he had Asperger's and mental illness. Big surprise." Because words have power, and they can ruin lives when not used with care.

I think the real issues are these:

  • Inadequate access to mental health care.

  • Lack of public education about this problem, and the public health and safety disasters that said lack of access to care has created.

  • Fear of and hatred toward that which is "different."

  • GUNS EVERYWHERE. And don't tell me about the knife. Don't even bother.

  • Systemic and culturally sanctioned misogyny -- and yes, Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post makes a very important point. Just take a look (if you dare) at the online subcultures Rodgers engaged with. And hey, Hollywood: you may just be a wee bit culpable here. Maybe even a little more than wee. Not any one actor or director or writer, but the whole shebang of you guys. Yeah, you. And lest I come off as sanctimonious, I’m probably a wee bit culpable, too.

 So please, can we PLEASE talk about what just happened, yet again, in ways that make sense? In language that forces all of us, as a society of people more or less united (CONGRESS? That includes you, because Legislators are People, my Friends), to take some responsibility for the shit that keeps going down in our country?

Pretty please? Thank you.  


  1. I wasn't glued to the news, but for whatever one data point may be worth, I don't think I heard Asperger's mentioned, so perhaps the media didn't all dwell on it. Then again, I'm not accustomed to listening for it.

    It does seem obvious that this kid was mentally ill - but then, as you point out, aren't we all? (From all indications, my parents both had untreated issues. I can't say for my siblings, but I'm glad I had help available.)

    But in the YouTube videos, it seems much more apparent to me that the kid had a sense of entitlement, no sense of personal responsibility, and absolutely no clue that life isn't fair. Whether this is the result of our society's "everyone gets a medal" approach to raising our young or specific family conditions is a question I won't attempt to answer, but he sure as heck talked like a lot of kids I've known in my generation and younger who were handed the world on a platter and never asked to do for themselves. It's one thing to advocate for the needs of our children - from your comments, I suspect you're well-acquainted with that - but something quite else when helicopter parents try to live their kids lives. Or when they know they should intervene and advocate and do nothing.

    I guess eventually we'll know what happened in this case. But it's kind of late for that.

    Yeah, if we all start taking responsability for shit, that implies we'll get around to fixing the other things eventually. But whoever kicked the legs out of mental health care ought to be taken out and... Oh, yeah. He's already dead. From a neurological/mental illness. Go figure.


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