Just Like Me

It’s been a busy week for the news media.  Wow, I guess they’ve all earned their negotiated salaries, although I do wish they would be paid somehow on the basis of what truth they spread.  Social media has also been busy.  Often partly a response to the news media, sometimes spread what they’ve called their own ‘truth’ and sometimes simply spreading lies (like the news), or popular opinion.

It’s made me pretty sad.  Sometimes it’s made me cry, that they can get away with saying the things the do, let alone convincing a somewhat gullible public that they are right.  Other times I took my own advice (Step Away From Your Screen) and literally stepped away from my computer, my television and my phone.  I had to do that to save my mental health because the whirlwind of information (true or otherwise) has wanted to wrap me up in it.  At times I wanted to fight some battles (because that’s who I am) but mostly I took my advice, backed off and watched with sadness.

Image credit: Chenspec/Wikipedia.com

During this week a lot of people have died in this world as a direct result of violence. There are the many who have made the news media, but there are also many more that we never hear about, yet their death’s are just as tragic.

The obvious victims are the 27 children and adults who were shot in the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.  A tragic loss of so many lives that were mostly just beginning.

For a moment I want to consider two other deaths I have been aware of this week.  One is the 28th person to die at Sandy Hook, the shooter himself who turned the gun on himself.  Another tragic death I heard about this week was a man in England who was murdered in his own home. The details aren’t really important to what I am thinking, apart from to say that it appears his death was some type of vigilante pay back for a crime this man had recently been accused of having carried out.

In the case of both these men, the news media and the social media have played a part in spreading accusations and generalisations.  One man we have heard a lot about, the other you probably haven’t heard about.  What hasn’t been given is the truth.  We don’t know what is real and what is simply hearsay.

What I do know is that both of these men were just like me, in some ways.  They weren’t so different.  They had blood flowing through their veins. Like me they needed love, affection and acceptance.  At some point they had both probably been hurt badly, just like me.  These men were human beings, just like me, who it appeared that for some reason, everything went askew.

Maybe it was mental illness, maybe it was a developmental disorder.  Maybe too, they had some degree of evil (whatever that means) in them to drive them to the things they are said to have done.  Those things haven’t been clarified, yet the world has been quick to condemn.  Of the Connecticut young man I have seen a number of people describe him as ‘not human’.

That’s what leaves me sad.  I’m not condoning the actions of either of these men.  It was all wrong, and terribly devastating, particularly for those who lost family members and friends.

But these men were human, just like me.  And somewhere in spite of the horror of what has been happening, someone is no doubt grieving for them too.

I believe that these men were victims too.  I know that might be an unpopular stance to take, and I have no problem with people disagreeing with what I write (as long as I don’t get abused for an opinion).

Once, a number of years ago, both men were little boys and sometimes I find it helpful to think about them as when they were innocent children.  Again, because of the tragic death of 20 children last week it’s even hard to look at one of these men that way.  It just helps me to realise that while something has gone terrible wrong, these men were once just like you and me.

Yesterday I was at a barbeque (it’s summer here) which was a Christmas party for a group of people I know.  At one point I was sitting at a table with a lovely young man who I don’t know very well.  I’ve only met him a couple of times but what I do know is that he has Asperger’s Syndrome (a condition that has been subject to much media scrutiny this week).

It occurred to me while I was sitting eating my lunch with him, that it must be pretty difficult for him this week.  I know what it’s like to be looked down upon because I have a mental illness.  This young man doesn’t even have a mental illness (that I know of) yet the media have been putting him and other sufferers of Asperger’s in a group and saying we have to be careful of these people.  Apparently they might do ‘what Adam Lanza did’.

This man I was sitting with was, again, just like me.  He doesn’t deserve to be judged just because he has a disorder that makes him a little different from me.  Like me, he was enjoying having a drink, eating fresh berries and getting silly ‘Secret Santa’ gifts.  He had less to say for himself than most people on the group but that was the only noticeable difference.  He was, like me, having a good time.

Let me be very clear.  I’m not saying that horrific crimes committed against innocent people are acceptable.  They’re not.  It’s a terrible tragedy what has happened this week.  But we can’t afford to be looking at these people and thinking they are somehow different to us.  I’m not qualified to say why they might have done what they did.  I do have views on things that need to be done in society to prevent this from happening again, but those aren’t important right now.

What is important to me is that all the people who died this week (somewhere in the world) as a result of violence are human like me.  Someone loved them.  And to me, that puts a slightly different spin on things.

“The great gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy,  we can all sense a mysterious connection
to each other.”

~  Meryl Streep

“Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant with the weak and wrong. Sometime in your life, you will have
been all of these.” 

―    Siddhārtha Gautama


Step Away From Your Screen

Step Away from your Television

Step Away from your Computer

(after you have finished reading this) 😉

Something very terrible happened yesterday in Connecticut, and there’s no denying the trauma that has caused for many people, both those involved directly and those of us who are watching it all replayed on our screens.  In what I am about to say I am not down-playing what happened, nor am I ignoring the needs of the victims and survivors.  What I want to talk about it how do we manage our feelings as onlookers.

I have a mental illness, and because of that there are a number of things that I have difficulty with.  I know I’m not alone in this, and that’s why I am stepping away from my normal policy for my blog of not giving advice.

I just want to share something I’ve learned over the past couple of years.  With the shooting yesterday I know the automatic thing is to sit glued to the news channels, etc.  Don’t.    You’ve got the facts.  Now turn off the television/computer/ phone, or whatever your source of media information.

The media are there to give us the information but so often in times like this, they ‘play it up’ for want of a better term, they go on to talk about why something has happened, and really they don’t have the knowledge or the experience to do that without setting people off on tangents that really aren’t helpful.  They might give us information but they make it more emotional, hype us up and leave us more upset.

It’s hard for anyone to handle, but it’s harder for people with mental illnesses for a number of reasons.  Firstly our moods can already be lowered, and news like this plummets anyone’s mood lower.  For some people (including those like me who have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) we struggle at best of times to regulate how we’re feeling.  News like this leaves us unsure of how to react, and how to manage those feelings we have.  The temptation can be to reach out to unhealthy coping mechanisms like drinking, drugs, self harm and the like.

We know it’s happened, we know it’s terrible.  But we don’t need to go on tormenting ourselves by watching it.  Turn it off, light a candle, say a prayer or whatever you need to do, and then do something nice for yourself.  We don’t need the details replayed to us, over and over again.  Turn it off.

The other thing that is difficult for people with mental illnesses is the inevitable talk of whether the gunman had a mental illness.  I am choosing not to debate that here because I don’t think it’s helpful right now.  What does matter is that if we have a mental illness ourselves, we can hear what the media, or other people say about people with mental illnesses…   and we hear them saying that stuff about us.

Suddenly we’re thinking that media and others are saying we’re capable of such terrible acts.  That’s not what is being said, and if it is then they’re saying it as a cruel generalisation.  It’s hurtful and it’s dangerous.

It was only a couple of weeks ago that I commented on my personal Facebook page that watching the television news was very traumatic, and that it could replay in our minds things from our past.  I said this in relation to a weather event in New Zealand, because watching it had brought to mind all I had experienced in our earthquakes in Christchurch during 2010/11.  Simply watching the television was replaying my traumatic memories.

What is being played on television and other media today, and in the weeks to come, is traumatic for anyone.  But for a person with a mental illness is going to be so much harder to bear.  I really believe (and am choosing to do this for myself as much as possible) that it is time to turn it all off.

Remember the victims and the survivors.  Think of those who are working to help the town grieve for their lost.  But what good can come from having it replayed over, and over on your screen?  What is something more productive that we could do?  One thing we can do is something to soothe and take care of ourselves.

Image credit: FB/Bullying is for Losers
Image credit: FB/Bullying is for Losers

“And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me. You will always be my friend. You will want to laugh with me. And you will sometimes open your window, so, for that pleasure . . . And your friends will be properly astonished to see you laughing as you look up at the sky! Then you will say to them, ‘Yes, the stars always make me laugh!’ And they will think you are crazy. It will be a very shabby trick that I shall have played on you…” 

―    Antoine de Saint-Exupéry,    The Little Prince

Beauty for Mourning

I woke myself up sleep-talking this morning.  I know it sounds funny, but I do it to myself quite often.  (You just can’t shut me up.).  As I woke, I was looking (in my dream) down the eye-piece of a gun and saying ‘but I can’t see if I’m going to hit someone’.  What I remember was being told to fire at a target but I was worried that people would walk in front of me, and I wouldn’t see them because I was focussed on the target.

It was a really weird dream for me to have.  I don’t do guns.  Ever.  I am completely against their use by the public and would never find myself in the situation of firing a gun.  Actually, because of something that happened a very long time ago I am very scared of them.  I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near one, let one be holding and firing it myself.  Yet that’s what I was dreaming.

The next thing I knew was the tragic news that 28 people had been shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. My heart sunk at the thought of yet another school shooting, and fell even further when I learnt that most of those killed were young children.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

 — Fred Rogers

It is extremely hard to find anything good in such a situation.  One of the first pictures I saw was of police officers leading children away from the school.  The helpers.  In spite of the tragedy, the helpers were there… and  we can be thankful for that.  There will be many helpers over the coming days helping children and adults from all types of situations deal with what has happened.  We can be thankful for them too.

One thing I’ve learnt in the last couple of years, through the earthquakes and other trauma here, is to look for the good.  It’s often really hard to see it, and it’s really hard to look away from the traumatic scenes to focus on something else, something good, maybe something beautiful.

Yesterday I drove up my driveway, and let me explain that there is nothing beautiful about the property these days.  As well as badly damaged homes, the driveway (bitumen) has enormous cracks across it from where the earthquakes nearly two years ago left it damaged.  I admit that I have had no inclination to do gardening because I know it will all be ripped up when the house is repaired.  So everything is looking pretty rough.  Yet I drove up the driveway and caught sight of something red on the ground.

Beauty for Mourning
Beauty for Mourning

When I got out of the car I found red poppies growing in what looks like the world’s worst driveway.  I’ve seen plenty of photos (although better standard than mine) of flowers coming up through bitumen or concrete.  Sometimes it looks genuine but mostly it looks like it has been placed there purposely.  These poppies were not placed there.  They grew from seeds blown from who knows where, and the forced their way through the hard surface to provide a touch of beauty.  It is a big property but these are the only flowers on it.  They’re risking everything, as I and my neighbour drive up over this area everyday.

Maybe that seems a bit dumb, but to me it was a gift, and if I hadn’t had my eyes open I wouldn’t have seen what I wasn’t expecting.  It was so nice to see something beautiful amongst so much damage (that I admit I am just used to now).

I don’t think  anyone has perfect words for a day like today, which has contained so much tragedy and heart ache for so many families.  Maybe the good in it is to remind the people we love, just how much we love them.  Treasure the beauty that exists.  Because it is there.  We just need to be reminded to look.  We often need to look where we least expect it. If we don’t have our eyes open, we might just miss it.

Image credit: FB/Bullying is for Losers
Image credit: FB/Bullying is for Losers (used with permission)