December 17, 2012
Nutjobs, guns, and me
Dave Cullen, in his investigative work on Columbine, learned that there were three profiles of school shooters. He has done outstanding work, and you would profit by reading it.
One profile was that of a deeply depressed person. "78 percent of those shooters had experienced suicidal thoughts or attempts before mass murder," Cullen says. "Psychologists describe depression as anger turned inward. When that anger is somehow turned around, and projected outward, watch out."
I have heard people refer to the shooter in Newtown CT as a nutjob, lunatic, whackjob, maniac, missing a chromosome, lacking intestinal fortitude, crazy, seeking fame, or just plain evil. Everyone knows how to define him.
Let me make this clear. Someone who did what he did was not nuts, whacko, or any of those colorful names. Someone who did what he did was a person with a severe illness. I get pretty upset at these derogatory names for the shooter, because I, too, have had the severe illness of Major Depression.
You may think you know what depression is, but please allow me tell you a little bit about it. I have suffered periodically from Major Depression since I was an adolescent. But since I appear "normal" and happy, many disregard my story. Maybe they can't believe I could have ever been that depressed, and they write me off as a nice lady who has been a little down sometimes. Please pay attention to me now.
When I am in the midst of a clinical depression, my brain is not working properly. The serotonin in my brain is not adequate to transmit electrical impulses across the synapses between nerve cells. This results in a kind of mental static, and my thoughts are irrational.
When I am depressed, I hate myself with a cold anger. I descend into a horrible black pit where everything is bleak and hopeless. You cannot reason with me. My life, however privileged or lucky or smart I might be in reality, appears desolate to me. I am desperate. I can see no good in continuing to live.
You cannot imagine the unbearable emotional pain I am in when I'm depressed. Really, you can't. When I am well, I can hardly imagine it myself.
I have planned to kill myself many times over the decades.
I have hoarded pills. I have sat with bottles of pills in front of me and looked at them longingly. I have tried to calculate how many I would need to take and how I could best ingest them without vomiting. I have taken far more than I should have, experimenting to see how they would affect me. Of course, if I took pills and changed my mind, I could always induce vomiting or call 911.
I have gone out to my garage and tried to figure out how to plug the sources of incoming air. I have rummaged around that garage, trying to figure out how I could direct my car's exhaust into the car. Of course, if I plugged the leaks and found a way to direct the exhaust, if I turned on the car and waited, I could always change my mind. I could turn off the car, I could run outside and breathe fresh air, or call 911 if I thought I had inhaled too much exhaust.
I have slit my wrist. But I changed my mind. I hadn't cut too deeply, so I just stopped. Even if I had not stopped, if I had cut deeply and done major damage, I would still have time to call 911 if I changed my mind.
I have assessed locations along my route to work, trying to figure out where I might best be able to crash my car and kill myself. It had to be a single vehicle crash, because I didn't want to hurt anyone else. I had a couple of favorite spots, but I never did try it; I was afraid I wouldn't succeed in killing myself but would end up brain-damaged or immobile for the rest of my miserable life.
I have planned to go to my father's house and get his gun and kill myself. I knew that I would also have to kill my daughter, because I had been told that if I killed myself, my daughter would blame herself. I didn't want that. I couldn't leave my husband without his wife and daughter, so I knew I would have to kill him, too. And I couldn't leave my father with such tragedy, so I would have to kill him too. Yes, I really did believe all that. I told you my brain wasn't functioning properly. But, in my depressed state, I just didn't have the energy to go to my father's house.
And people mostly never knew I was making these plans. I put on my happy face, continued with my daily activities, and looked "normal."
I am grateful that I never had immediate access to a gun. Easy access to a gun would probably have been fatal. If I put the gun to my head, there would have been no experimenting to see how it would affect me, no figuring out how to do it, no time to think about the effect on others, no worry about whether I would be successful, no need to drag myself out to get a gun. And once I put the gun to my head and pulled the trigger there would be no changing my mind. I would just be dead.
However, even as sick as I have been, in this country that does not support mentally ill people I am one of the lucky ones. I have had everything I needed to survive Major Depression: loving and loyal husband, supportive daughter, parents who understood depression, medicine to correct my brain's functioning, social supports, gifted therapists, smart psychiatrist, health insurance, the Americans with Disabilities Act, a strong willingness to confront my demons, and no access to a gun.
Adam Lanza was not one of the lucky ones.