As Banjo Man said last night, “This is the saddest thing I’ve ever heard.”
And then he asked, “How do parents recover from this?”
And I said, “They don’t. They just learn to keep breathing.”
As a parent and grandparent, I think “breathing” would be about all I could manage in this situation. And even that would be a challenge.
Newtown is about one hundred miles from us, a two+ hour drive. We go past the exit on our cross-country trips. It’s a pretty part of the state, rural and peaceful. You’ve all seen the pictures on tv.
There is so much on tv. While, yes, I do believe in a ban on assault weapons, I also believe that someone at the school should have been armed, so that the first blast of Adam Lanza’s gun breaking the window would have been his last.
And I also believe that we should be able to access immediate and affordable and long-term mental health care for our children and teens and young adults.
Once upon a time we adopted three orphaned children.
Remember I said a lot of my stories start with this sentence?
The search for help with mental issues is a familiar one for us. We all know how the brains of teenagers change during puberty. When children have been abandoned, abused, neglected, etc in childhood, those teenaged brains can become time bombs. It’s as if all that pain that was buried in the muck suddenly rises to the top and becomes electrified, a moving force to be reckoned with, a monster from the deep.
Shoplifting, anger, stealing, anger, depression, screaming, psychotic breaks, suicide threats, obsession with video games, problems in school, car wrecks, social drama with classmates, anger, anger, anger…
It is very difficult to get help. Despite a psychotic episode where one of the girls was in our minivan at 3 AM talking to a voice in her head that was telling her to kill the family (thank goodness Banjo Man woke up and saw the light in the car), the children’s psychiatric hospital hesitated to admit her.
“But did she have a suicidal plan?” they kept asking. “We can’t take her unless she had a detailed plan.”
Well, I suppose you could ask THE VOICE IN HER HEAD about the plan, was my response. She’d been talking to the voice for several weeks, you see. The overcrowded hospital reluctantly admitted her. She stayed for almost two weeks.
I never got much of a diagnosis; the staff was rarely available to talk to me. She was released, referred to a morose psychiatrist who she saw twice (and then he left the state), medicated, became manic-depressive from the medication, saw a neurologist who thankfully changed her meds, became more suicidal and, after seven months of intense work by a social worker, mental health advocacy group and the school department, was enrolled in a 24/7 private school for emotionally disturbed teenagers in a neighboring state.
When I drove away from delivering her to their care, I couldn’t believe that I was free from having to keep her alive. I almost ran out of gas, I forgot how to pump the gas (driving around the pumps twice) and then I spilled an entire bottle of water in my lap. My hands were shaking too much to hold it. I kept looking in the rearview mirror, afraid to see her running after me.
Psychiatrists don’t seem to stay in one place for very long. Appointments can take two months to set up. Try living two months with a raging teenager.
All three of the children had “major issues”, demons from the muck that took over our home and our lives.
Many health care professionals assume the parents are the enemy. Privacy of the patient–even one who is 13 or 15 or 17—is more important than the parent’s right to safety, the parent’s need to protect the other family members.
The kitchen knives were stored in a Tupperware container under our bed. The bedroom was protected by deadbolt locks. The dogs and the computer were locked in there when I wasn’t home (fortunately I worked from the house). For my own safety, I left the house most afternoons in those later years, to protect myself from those sudden, shocking rages.
The police can’t do anything unless the child does something first.
I learned that being alone with one of them was not a good thing to do. We never stopped enforcing the basic rules of the house, but to do so was at our own peril.
And yes, I was afraid. I had pretty much come to realize that I was seriously at risk. You see, mothers aren’t always so popular in the world of adopted kids. Mothers beat you, abuse you, let their boyfriends abuse you, abandon you. Foster mothers might do many of the same things, or have their favorites or treat you as temporary boarders and a paycheck.
Mothers aren’t the greatest people in the world, even when they’re nice, like me. Because a nice mother reminds you of everything you never had, you should have had, you longed for without knowing how deep the longing went. The other mothers aren’t there for your rage and pain and heartache and hormonal confusion, but the nice mother is.
And there I was. Symbol of all mothers. The last one standing and the lone target. I wondered if I was going to die. I bought a lot of vintage tablecloths on ebay. I ate a lot of cookies. I drove miles and miles every afternoon, away from the house.
Of course I know nothing about Adam Lanza’s mother. From what I’ve read–and who knows how accurate that is?–she does not have my sympathy. She would not have had any difficulty getting help for her son. She could have afforded the best care, the residential facility, the best doctors. She could have given him art lessons or swimming lessons instead of training him to shoot.
But that’s not my point. Here’s my point:
Our children need help. We need facilities to treat children with mental illness. We need to treat them at an early age, we need to identify those at risk, we need to help them and their parents cope. We need laws to protect us; we need rights, too.
Banjo Man and I know nothing about Aspergers and autism or other heartbreaking mental illnesses that affect children and teens. We dealt with our children’s personal demons, and while their symptoms often intersected with and mimicked psychotic illnesses and their diagnoses were cloudy and uncertain, we did the best we could despite a mental health system that gave us very few legal rights and very little help.
I am not blaming Adam Lanza’s horrific killing spree on mental illness. There is and always will be evil in the world and no one can call him anything but evil. If there is a hell, I hope he burns for eternity. I simply pray that as we reassess the right to own assault weapons, we also take a long, hard look at the mental health system in our country and the laws that protect those who are dangerous to themselves and to innocent people.
Our children need our protection and they need our help. Why is it so hard to give it to them?
Information on the National Alliance for Mental Illness: http://www.nami.org/