When Do You Lose Your Right To Be Treated Humanely

It always fascinates me the way ‘Joe (and Jill) Public’ start venting in the comments sections of news articles and social media when there has been some type of head-line grabbing violent crime reported.  It’s true the media themselves tend to make, what I call a, hash of reporting, because they report what it suits them to report, what will get them readers (and ultimately revenue) rather than what we, the public, need to know.

But it’s what the everyday reader has to say that really grips me because suddenly it seems as if the article is not about a human being but rather some ‘non-human’ (some people use the term ‘animal’ but I am reluctant to use that term because animals don’t general commit violent crime).

I have never been in the shoes of a person who has lost a family member, or loved one to violent crime, and so I can only begin to imagine what a terrible experience that must be.  In what I am saying I don’t mean to take away from the grief of people who have just had a loved one ripped away from them by a crime.  Nor am I commenting on the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ behaviour of the perpetrator. Rather what my focus is on what point do we as the general public decide that a person’s crime or behaviour is so bad that they don’t deserve to be treated with compassion as a human being?

Most recently in the news has been the case of Christopher Dorner, the ex-LAPD officer who went on a killing spree.  From various comments I have read today, it seems few have much regard for his humanity.  It was the same for Adam Lanza who killed 28 people in Connecticut in December, 2012.

“I have no sympathy for him”

“He’s a nut job”

“He doesn’t deserve to live”

“He clearly needed mental help”

And on the comments and judgements go.  It’s like suddenly the public view is that this person (the perpetrator) is no longer human.  If he burns alive in a cabin, then somehow he deserves it, for the things he has done.  So often people in this situation get written off as being presumed to have a mental illness.  What else would make them act like this?  And if they have a mental illness then they don’t deserve any better.

Well actually let’s just remember that the majority of people with mental illness don’t act like this.  What’s more, if they get the treatment and support they need, when they need it, such violence can be prevented.  But instead the Christopher Dorner’s and Adam Lanza’s of our world get written off.  “No longer human kind, they deserve what they get.”  By the way I’m not saying either of them had a mental illness, but it does seem to be the reason given for so much crime like this.

I’m wondering though, what it feels like to be the family of these people who have committed horrific crimes.  Actually I think that is almost beyond our comprehension.  It’s too easy, in my mind, to forget that these people had families.  They may have had friends.  They had people who love them.  And how must it feel to be those people, firstly having to bear the weight of what their loved one has done, and then carry the general public’s judgement of their loved one.

Actually it must be almost crazy-making to be in that situation.  How do you grieve for your loved one, while the world hates them?  Grieving for the loss of a family member is hard enough usually, but to carry the hate of the world against that person you loved?  That would be too much.  I suspect that’s why the media seem to avoid the Dorner family or the Lanza family.  Not because they don’t want the ‘dirt’ but because it doesn’t sit right on their conscious to feel sad for them in their loss, and to balance their hate  for the perpetrator.  It’s not about wanting to give them space to grief either.  It’s just too damn uncomfortable.

If we can start to express compassion for the families of those people, then maybe we are on track to realise that in spite of their crimes, these perpetrator’s are/were human beings… just like us.  Surely for some to inflict such crime, something has gone terribly wrong somewhere.  While I don’t for one moment condone the crimes committed, I can’t help but ask “what went wrong?” and “how could this have been avoided?”.

I’m sure there are lots of answers to those questions.  Some of them we know to be around mental illness and treatment.  In other cases it might be some other type of illness, or something completely different.  I just hate the thought that we write people off as human beings so easily.  I hate their crime, but to me, they will always be deserving of as much care as I deserve.  Their families deserve as much compassion as the victims’ families.  For really, in these situations, actually, everyone involved has become a victim.

“It’s funny how humans can wrap their mind around things and fit them into their version of reality.” 

―    Rick Riordan,    The Lightning Thief


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

Healing Takes Time

'Healing of the Paralytic'    Image credit: Wikipedia.com
‘Healing of the Paralytic’                      Image credit: Wikipedia.com

In a random moment, of completely unrelated thought, it occurred to me that it is exactly twenty years since I packed up all my possessions, put most of them into storage, rented out what I considered my modest, dream home that I’d only bought a year earlier…  and shifted cities, from Wellington to Auckland (8 hours north).  Twenty years!  Wow!  No one could have predicted was what to follow next.

The reason this is significant to me is that this shift spelt the end of the trauma I experienced from being stalked (you can read more about that in Stalked… But Still Hiding Some Of Me).  The journey wasn’t over, but I was finally doing something people had advised me to do for years.

Leave town.  The reason it took me so long to leave town was that I am stubborn, very stubborn.  And I didn’t want the two stalkers to win.  I felt that if they drove me from the city where I loved living, and away from my friends and family, then they would have won somehow.  I resisted what seemed like the easy option for a long time… until it simply got too much, and I couldn’t take living my life in hiding and a kind of raised alertness anymore.

What I had no awareness of at that time, but now completely understand, is that when the trauma ends, the journey is only just beginning.  I beg to disagree with people who might tell you that now it’s over you can simply get on with living.  It’s finished.

Actually it’s not.  It’s simply a corner I had turned towards recovery.  But the journey would continue to be just as painful for a long time to come.

When I no longer had to keep looking over my shoulder to see if they were there watching, I could relax (actually I had to learn how to stop looking over my shoulder).  And when I relaxed, that’s when the fear struck home.  For nearly 14 years I had lived with the reality, but I couldn’t afford to let myself feel fear.  I couldn’t for many reasons.  Partly I had to remain alert of danger all the time.  Somehow I had to tell myself that I could cope with this, because if I didn’t I would crash, and be vulnerable, not just to the pain, but to the stalkers themselves.  It was a risk I couldn’t take.  It would destroy me.

Now that I was away from the stalkers, it was safe to let my guard down… and weep.  Actually even then it took a while to happen.

I was in a new city, with a great new job.  I was catching up with old friends and making new ones.  For 10 months I was great, and then sickness (Glandular Fever or infectious mononucleosis) struck and then, because I was vulnerable, my mental health completely fell apart. The defenses I had built up over so long could no longer carry me.

I had to think long and hard before writing this post.  The last thing I want to do is discourage others who are fighting their own battles.  Twenty years is a heck of a long time.  I know.  I lived it.  But I think we need to be realistic too.  And to know that taking time is okay.

After all the damage that may have been inflicted on us in a variety of means of abuse, perhaps over a long time, it is going to take time to heal.  The damage probably wasn’t done overnight, and we’re not going to heal overnight.  Just because the abuse (of any kind) is over does not mean the pain comes to an end.  Actually for me, it was only just beginning.

I hasten to add that I haven’t spent 20 years continually trying to get over this, and actually it was about four years before anyone started to use the words Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  What could be seen was Depression and Anorexia, but unfortunately no one stopped to pay attention to the trauma I had faced for so long.  And actually I was pretty much too traumatised to be able to talk about it.

When a therapist started to talk in terms of trauma, I knew I had finally found someone who ‘got it’.  That was a life changing event, if ever I had one.  This man understood me.  Unfortunately this was in a final interview with him, as my then husband and I were on the move again (actually back to Wellington).  I never had the opportunity to speak to this man who ‘got me’ again.

For the first few years I was being treated for Depression and Anorexia, although it was continually said that I wasn’t responding to treatment, nor did I fit what was seen as classic profiles for these issues.

Cover of "A Path Through the Sea"
Cover of A Path Through the Sea

About six months into my treatment, my eldest brother who has always been great at supplying me with books to read, sent me one about Depression.  A Path Through the Sea by Lillian V. Grissen.  It was a very good account of the author’s journey through Depression, and was the first book I read which was a personal account.  It is written from a Christian perspective –  she was a missionary – and if that’s your thing you might find it interesting.  I did at the time.But I was also completely mortified by her account.  She was depressed for two years!  At the time, I had been unwell, and being treated for depression for six months. The thought of two years of this was completely beyond me.  I just ‘knew’ I couldn’t do two years of this hell.

You can probably guess why I mention it.  Because it is now 20 years on.  What more can I say, without depressing every reader?

I took this opportunity of realising the anniversary to ask myself what impact the trauma I experienced was still having on my life.  The first thought was that I still am somewhat scared of the dark and I still clip my bedroom curtains closed at night, so that they can’t fall back leaving a gap.  My cat used to jump up on the window sill during the night and move the curtains. In the morning I would find a gap and be terrified that someone had been watching me through the window as I slept.  I know it’s a little odd, but I can cope with needing to do that still.  If I continue to need to do it all my life, so be it.

What disturbs me much more is the realisation that in spite of all the therapy and healing, every connection with another human being has me (usually unconsciously now) fearing that the result of knowing that person will be more stalking.  Basically I view everyone as a potential stalker.  It’s one of the reasons I married my ex-husband (18 years ago).  As it was, when we divorced some years later, he proved me wrong by not going on to stalk me.  It was only then that I could breathe peacefully.

I hate that I still fear the result of a relationship (of any kind) will be more stalking.  I feel angry that after all this time, it still has such a big impact on me.  I feel angry at the men whose actions taught me react in this way.

That said, I know that being angry isn’t going to help at this point.  I have done the angry thing and I don’t believe it’s what I need right now.  That trauma happened across a lot of years and I built up defenses to protect myself for very good reasons.   Some might say “get over it” but that won’t help me either.  What I need is to be gentle with myself.  What I need is to give myself time.  What I need is to say “it’s okay“.

I’m not saying that healing needs to take 20+ years after significant on-going trauma, and I’m not convinced that it needed to take me 20+ years.  It’s just that for a large chunk of that time I was on a self-destruct mode that really didn’t allow for healing to take place.  There were other things going on too, and there are for most of us.

What I am saying is that healing takes time.  When we’ve been hurt over a sustained period of time, the pain won’t be over when the trauma stops.  It takes time.  I’m no psychologist to be able to say explain some psychological theory.   I just know it doesn’t happen overnight, and I believe it’s important that I be gentle on myself and give myself whatever time it takes.  Hopefully those around me can give me that time too.

“And I felt like my heart had been so thoroughly and irreparably broken that there could be no real joy again, that at best there might eventually be a little contentment. Everyone wanted me to get help and rejoin life, pick up the pieces and move on, and I tried to, I wanted to, but I just had to lie in the mud with my arms wrapped around myself, eyes closed, grieving, until I didn’t have to anymore.” 

―    Anne Lamott,    Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year

Stalked… But Still Hiding Some Of Me

Warning:  This is long.  So grab your coffee before you start.  I’m hoping you’ll think it is worth it.

I know only too well that it is difficult to know whether someone using social media sites is telling the truth and are really who they say they are.  I know, because I have been stung myself, forming friendships with people who were later exposed to be lying.  Frankly I am gobsmacked when this has happened to me, because I thought I was super careful about who I get to know.

I am involved in a number of closed Facebook groups, primarily for the purpose of supporting others with mental health issues.  I’ll say right now that I have met some wonderful people and truly feel supported in my quest for health from these groups.  But on a regular basis I am asked why they don’t see pictures of me.  It’s the same reason why you see a daisy staring out at you rather than an image of me.  Let me explain.

For 14 years I was stalked by two men.  Yes, at the same time.  It was an utterly awful experience, not just for me but to some extent also for those close to me who did their best to protect my privacy from these men.  Hopefully you’ll forgive me for not going into the details, it really doesn’t do me much good to remember the details.  It is also another way of that can be used to identify me.  Needless to say I lost a lot.  Aside from losing an ownership of my own life, I lost friends, and mostly I lost freedom.

There are a number of ways used to identify just what stalking is and why it happens.

I like the definition by Meloy (1998):

“the willful, malicious and repeated following and harassing of another person”

As you can tell the definition is broad, and it needs to be as it involves a wide range of actions and behaviours including anything from telephone calls, following a person, threatening them  or in some way invading the privacy of a person’s life.

The two men who stalked me had little knowledge of each other’s actions.  One was an ex-boyfriend who couldn’t accept the relationship was over (The Rejected Type).  The other, who I always regarded as more dangerous to me, could be classed as a cross between a Intimacy Seeker Type and an Incompetent Type.  What that means is that I became an obsessional love interest that was perhaps increased by his inability to form relationships through a perceived normal means.  He was a client of my father’s and was twice my age.  I guess I regarded him as more dangerous to me because of a known mental illness he had which made his actions unpredictable.  I really didn’t know what would happen next, and he did threaten both me and my family.

When I saw this pic posted recently, I was one who didn’t ‘like’ it.  Actually I thought it was far from funny.  I am just not amused by making fun of other’s suffering, let alone my own.  But it does serve the purpose of telling you why you don’t see my image here or anywhere else on the internet.  Basically I don’t want to provide an update to those who made my life hell.

For 14 years I lived my life in a type of prison.  I was free to come and go as I liked but I knew there was always the possibility that one, or both would be following me and might try to initiate contact.  I lived with confidential numbers, utilities accounts not in my name, I shifted regularly to stay one step ahead.  As time went on more people came to know of what was happening and more people tried to help me.  Unfortunately I was given some incorrect advice about my rights and this prolonged the experience.  Interestingly my first contact to mental health services was refused, when they would not, at my request, work with their client to put an end to the stalking.  Something about patient confidentiality was mentioned even though I didn’t want information.  I was trying to give them information on what their client was up to.  They weren’t interested.  My fear was that this man would kill me, because he couldn’t have me.  I had no idea when, and if this might happen, but I knew enough to know that he wasn’t thinking straight most of the time and because of my refusal to give him any attention there was always a possibility that he would turn to violence

In the end I gave in and left town.  For years it had been suggested I do this but my attitude was why should I leave?  I had done nothing wrong.  But the opportunity came up, I was tired of all this and so I took it.  The second stalker has never contacted me since.  The first (the ex-boyfriend) unfortunately has, although not recently.  He took advantage of knowing I would be at a function in my old city some years later.  He still wanted to restore our earlier (brief) relationship, even though by now it was about 20 years on.

What I was told was that when a stalker loses the object of their attention, then because of the type of personality the stalker has s/he has to move on and find another focus for their attention.  I have had difficulty of finding some evidence of  this but I have repeatedly read that:

  • Truly obsessed stalkers are committed to the hunt; and
  • Even with a complete identity change, it is very difficult for someone to completely “disappear”.(1.)

So even though I have shifted cities several times, used a different name for a while, made sure my address doesn’t get listed anywhere, and my telephone number is listed as confidential, etc…  I am very cautious of where I go when I return to the city these events took place.  I have family and friends there but I’m not in a rush to go there.  I’m sure you will understand why I still feel a little bit anxious.

Image via Positive Outlooks

In the years following the stalking, when I was treated for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, I was repeatedly told that both stalkers would have moved on to someone else as the object of their affection.  So does that work for me?  Academically I can accept that these men had obsessional natures and so would need to target someone else.  But realistically, I still have a little fear and frankly I think that’s actually healthy.

The stalking I experienced and the ongoing fear since has affected my life in big ways.  Establishing and maintaining an intimate relationship is still hard because my first boyfriend ‘taught’ me that the other party can hold on and never let go.  So I get scared and run from the relationship before that happens.  I see what I consider stalking behaviour in perfectly normal and healthy relationships.  On a practical level my phone numbers will always be unlisted and I can’t bear to have a gap in the curtains when they are pulled (in case someone is outside looking in).  For too many years this was reality and now my bedroom curtains are clipped shut with a clothes peg.  Actually I had to resort to do that because my cat Penny liked to get up on the window sill in the middle of the night and would move the curtains in the process.  In the morning I would be full of fear.  I find it difficult to walk down the road by myself (because I might be seen).  I hang my underwear on the inside of the clothesline, hidden behind other laundry.  There are probably many other things that I do still that are down to my experience.

When I published my book Infinite Sadness in 2009 I made a decision to no longer hide myself away.  I decided at that point to allow my name on the internet.  And I wasn’t going to hide behind a pen name, as I had done for some years.  This time I was going to be me.  So my name is correct.  What I’m still not prepared to do is to link a photo of myself with that name.  That would allow them way too much information if they could identify me by both name and photo.

This is my motto from now on.

I think this makes sense considering what I have been through.  I’m not letting them continue to have complete power over me but I am also not prepared to go back to where I’ve been so not prepared to totally let down my guard.  Using my own name is like taking back a bit of me.  But I would be crazy to totally open myself up that way.  I’m still not convinced that they are gone for good.  Can you blame me?

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