Sunday, December 16, 2012

Time for Change

Friday's school shooting is still in the headlines and still resonating with parents and will continue to do so. It is unfathomable what that community is going through. It is beyond understanding for me as a parent. I hate that I have to talk to my daughter about it when I have no answers. I hate hearing that her teachers are making escape plans and discussing them with her. I hate that she is now also afraid to go to school. School should be a safe place. A place where kids learn, not just about academics, but about friendship, how the world works, and what it is to grow up. This isn't how the world is supposed to work.

The knee-jerk reaction to this tragedy is gun control. Guns are bad. Guns kill people. I am certainly not advocating for guns. They frighten me and I don't understand the attraction to going out and shooting things up. I didn't grow up with hunters. But I do understand that thousands and thousands of people in this country own guns and those people could never conceive of using them in a way that the alleged killer did. There are people who respect guns and teach everyone around them how to use them properly. So I don't think that guns are the issue. Because happy, well-adjusted people don't take guns into school and take innocent lives just because these weapons are available.

It is time to look at the kinds of individuals that commit these horrendous crimes. What leads them to believe that taking lives, including their own, is the solution? These people are not well. They are also suffering.

I live with depression. For myself and my daughter. I can tell you that it looks very frightening at times. It feels frightening. And while seeing someone have a panic attack can be scary, it's even worse for the person having it. To be unable to leave the body and the mind that feels so uncomfortable leaves one feeling hopeless and trapped.

My daughter seems to struggle more. Whether it's her age or her particular illness, she is having a really hard time. Because she's a girl, she turns her fear and anger and confusion onto herself. As the mother who snuggled her for hours as a baby and relished in her experiences and watching her grow, this breaks my heart. I hate that I can't fix it. I hate that I can't change it and make it all magically go away. It confuses me. It feels like my fault. Because I'm her mom, so it has to be, right?

I am going to share something I'd rather not, but in the hope that it helps someone else. I didn't want to believe that she was feeling so bad. I blamed it on hormones and being lazy and spoiled and anything else that could make it her fault, make it a behavior that I could change. I minimize her feelings. I yelled at her. I took away privileges. I pretended it wasn't that bad. She was making it up. I couldn't be the kind of parent whose child has serious issues. I was raised better than that.

Denial is so dangerous.

Because it is that bad. I simply can't ignore it. Not when her therapist tells me it's bad. And her school counselor. Not when she suddenly does something that is so frightening to me I am afraid of really hurting her. I have to admit that there is something wrong. Ignoring it makes it worse. I'm not a perfect parent. And while I've always joked about that, I've never taken it to heart like I have recently. I had to set my ego aside so that I can be there for her. So I can really listen and be able to offer her the love and support she really needs. So I can do everything possible to help her out of the dark places that she gets lost in.

Girls, on average, turn in on themselves. While I worry for her, and hate the things she says and feels about herself, I only have to worry about her, and about my feelings and how to help her. Boys, on the other hand, typically turn all of their anger and confusion and rage outward. And, if D were a boy with the feelings she is having, I would be worried about the people around her. Because these are the kind of people that commit unspeakable acts of violence.

I am not taking away anything from anyone who has been through this experience, but there are other victims in these crimes. How much does a person have to hurt that destroying the lives of others is the only way out they can think of? How many times and in how many ways do they ask for help before this is their last resort?

Because D asked me for help. More than once. I am fortunate enough that I listened before it was too late and there was nothing to listen to.

We, as parents, have to listen to our kids when they ask for help. We have to put aside our own agendas and fears and feelings of failure because our children need us.

Nobody asks for mental illness. Nobody gets it and thinks, "Hey, this is pretty great." And for children, they don't even know what it is. They just know that something is wrong, they don't feel good. That scares them and confuses them. Babies don't understand what hunger is, they just need something and so they cry. Children can't articulate what they're feeling in much the same way.

We, as a society, need to be more empathetic to the disabilities of others. We need to look at a child or a family and recognize that they might need a little more help, rather than turning our backs in irritation or disgust. It is time that we start advocating for mental health. There are no easy answers, but there is a starting point.

Enough is enough. There has been enough loss. Enough sadness. Enough blame. It's time to look for real answers, have some understanding, compassion, and act from kindness. Kindness towards those who are struggling, whether it's an individual with a mental illness or the family members who care about them.

We have a responsibility to each other as basic human beings. Let's humanize this issue so that it doesn't happen to another child or family or community.


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