On Guns, Brains and My Conservative Facebook Friend
Note: For some reason this is posting as one long paragraph, despite paragraph breaks formatted into the piece. Apologies and please go to www.lindspiration.blogspot.com to read with proper formatting. Thanks! x I have a Facebook friend, someone from my hometown on Long Island, whose right wing views and impassioned posts have lead me, at times, to strongly consider "un-friending" him. I haven't, since I want to continue engaging in dialogue with people whose views are diametrically opposed to mine. I enjoy a healthy debate. After the shooting in Newtown, however, I just wanted to put a chip in his brain that instantly lined him up with my ideas. I didn't want to fight but I didn't want dissent. When I shared a few We the People petitions asking the Obama administration to have a meaningful conversation and take action on the gun control front, this friend posted a comment I so promptly deleted I don't remember exactly what it said. The gist was asking me to prove how controlling guns reduce the kind of unspeakable violence we've seen in recent mass shootings. In that moment, without the facts at my fingertips, I couldn't prove to this conservative lawyer what to me felt more commonsensical than anything else. In that moment, in the aftermath of a heinous shooting carried out with a rifle, it was like a reaction to rain. You reach for an umbrella. Shelter. We have a duty to adopt the Constitution to modern times. I don't think the founding fathers ever intended a populace to be armed with automatic handguns and rifles that our military uses, to evade background checks through gun show loopholes, to think a right to bear arms against tyranny means carrying concealed, automatic weapons into schools or malls for 'self defense' purposes. Furthermore, nobody is taking away Everyman's big guns and what that fear is about is pretty Freudian, if you ask me. We are asking for common sense approaches to gun regulation. Now. The mental health issue is equally important. I posted the "I Am Adam Lanza's Mother" piece that I'm only now reading may be the work of a woman with some issues of her own. It is clear that emotions are running high throughout our culture right now, manifesting, in part, in the online space. I was in the city on and since 9/11. Collective grief, a sense of powerlessness, survivor's guilt and anger all take its toll. On some level, don't we all share a responsibility for what happened inside Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday? These weren't my kids or colleagues yet I feel I let them down. I have a lot to contribute to the mental health conversation, having been treated for major depression, generalized anxiety and bulimia I developed in college, including what's called "in patient" treatment. I'm 35 now and through a lot of hard work, skills building, therapy, support and gritty persistence, I live an amazing life in recovery. I deal with certain aspects of these tendencies on a daily basis but they no longer have me in their grip. Others are not so fortunate. In 2004, I witnessed a 20 year old boy with major depression take his own life inside the hospital I stayed and met other boys battling biochemical imbalances with a history of violent outbursts. Boys in their late teens and early 20s getting treatment for mental illness who, had they acted out to greater extreme, would've been in prison already. The reality is most people struggling with mental illness do not turn into killers. The last thing we need is more of a stigma or worse taboos, let alone profiling, although it will help people to be able to recognize the signs of one of the documented 54 million people in America who are dealing with some form of it. I am around for the long haul, meaning, I plan to engage in these conversations for the rest of my life and offer any fresh thinking that helps educate the public and politicians who make laws that determine everything from insurance coverage for people dealing with mental illness to funding for treatment providers and services. Nobody, no body, no matter what gender, age or ethnicity, should be ashamed to see a therapist or even a psychiatrist. While I no longer take medication and haven't in 7 years, it can be extremely useful for certain populations and for me, for a time, it helped my recovery. Labeling people (or fictional TV characters that kick terrorist ass while managing Bipolar 1) "crazy" or "loose cannons" or "deranged" or "insane" is none other than a way for someone to assuage their anxiety about the Other and assert dominance. It's as bad as white folks using the N word or calling someone a retard (Ann Coulter, I'm talking to you). That said, there are some ways in which referring to mental illness with crazy talk nomenclature can bring some levity to the situation, though I'd say let that rise from the people dealing with it themselves. We owe it to our ourselves and each other to figure out a way to treat, support and deal appropriately with guns and brains. I'm not suggesting everybody who has ever been treated for a mood, personality, behavioral disorder and/or addiction come out of the closet but I am suggesting our society no longer deadbolt the closet door and throw away the key. We need to open those doors and send in resources, engage people suffering from mental illness and support them and their families. Isolation, after all, leads to self destruction and aggression. President Obama, speaking from the memorial in Newtown last night, asked us all to "find the strength to carry on and make this country worth of their memory." Their memory. Those precious little children. The bold educators who courageously gave their own lives to protect the innocents. Add to that Nancy Lanza and her son. If we don't change, if we don't wake up and take action, we learn nothing and this atrocity happens in vain. We do have a job to do. Together. So, as I think about that Facebook friend of mine with opposite views, he, a father of two young girls and me, a grown woman with no children yet, I have to trust that our inability to find common ground is temporary. Of course, it is symbolic of the greater divide in this country, one involving major political parties, a massive gun lobby and the leader of the free world. I can only hope and pray, which I do to a Higher Power of my own understanding, that somehow we reach solutions. And if by any chance you are a resident of Newtown and/or were directly affected by the tragedy, my deepest condolences, sympathies and love to you. I am so deeply sorry for your loss.