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. 


  1. Pam, this is so well written and I wish more people would read it, I am familiar with many of the feelings you have expressed here as I have had them myself. Unless a person has "been there" they cannot understand.

  2. Thank you, Mary. I am glad to hear that you would like more people to read this. I have posted it at a couple of places on facebook; maybe I will post it on a couple more.

    You are so right that those who haven't "been there" have real trouble understanding. There is such stigma, and it is so hard to explain, that most of us don't talk much about mental illness. That has to change, and I'm willing to put myself out there. Let's see if this gets wider circulation. Please feel free to share it.

  3. I never knew this about you, Pam. I for one am sooo glad you never went through with anything and I'm certain many, many others are as well. I feel that I know you better now that I did when we were neighbors (maybe 'cause I was much younger then!). But I really enjoy reading your blog and your FB posts. I've learned alot from them. I had a brother in law that was depressed and on medication. Unfortunatly for us, he ended up killing himself with a gun. And like you mentioned, if that gun had not been there, he may still be here. My husband and I have been talking alot about recent events. What we both feel is that the guns are not necessarily the problem. What we feel is the problem (or an extremely huge part of the problem) is the general view people in this country have of others. When you live in a country that has so many people vehemently against providing basic health care for everyone, it leaves you wondering just how much a human life is worth to these people? When you have people say that those without insurance and cannot afford care should just die? Is it any wonder that we have so many people killed with guns. The value of a human life in this country is very low. Granted, this isn't the whole problem - too easy access to guns, namely assault weapons, is a huge problem. But as you may remember, my dad was an avid shooter and collector. I grew up with guns and I own guns. But I was taught early on to respect them. I also had great parents who taught me to value others. I think the answer to this problem is not an easy one.

    1. Some of what I describe happened when we lived next door! I'm not sure if your parents were aware of any of it; like I said, I looked normal.

      My dad was also a shooter, and our good friend is an avid collector. I respect guns, admire their mechanisms, and even thought about taking up target shooting recently. But now I know that I should never have a gun. I am well now, but things change.

      At any rate, you are correct -- it will take multiple changes to fix this. So I am trying to do my part here by shedding a little light on Major Depression. Thanks for responding!

  4. Thanks for your honesty on this subject, Pam! You are one amazing woman! People just don't understand how much energy it takes for so many people to simply "appear" to be ok. (((hugs to you!))) ~ Patti

    1. Thanks for commenting, Patti.

      I had just heard/read one too many derogatory comments about the shooter. From otherwise nice people. When I learned that 78% of school shooters had considered or attempted suicide, I thought I might know a tiny little bit of what some of these shooters went through.

      I thought someone needed to address this, and there I sat. In words we have all heard: If not me, who? And if not now, when?

      I appreciate your kind words :)