“Fright is something one can never get over. When a warrior is caught in such a tight spot he would simply turn his back to the ally without thinking twice. A warrior cannot indulge thus he cannot die of fright. A warrior allows the ally to come only when he is good and ready. When he is strong enough to grapple with the ally he opens up his gap and lurches out, grabs the ally, keeps him pinned down and maintains his stare on him for exactly the time he has to, then he moves his eyes away and releases the ally and lets him go. A warrior, my little friend, is the master at all times.”
Carlos Castaneda

A Separate Reality

Or you could let him wear navy blue pants

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This post, a powerful, personal and intimate reflection, following the recent mass killing in the USA stirred a small storm inside of me. Honestly, these thoughts have been present with me from when I heard about the mass killing but putting them in writing seemed pointless. This post met me half way and made it easier for me to publish my thoughts.

What follows is a partial excerpt that … outlines my storm:

Three days before 20 year-old Adam Lanza killed his mother, then opened fire on a classroom full of Connecticut kindergartners, my 13-year old son Michael (name changed) missed his bus because he was wearing the wrong color pants.

“I can wear these pants,” he said, his tone increasingly belligerent, the black-hole pupils of his eyes swallowing the blue irises.

“They are navy blue,” I told him. “Your school’s dress code says black or khaki pants only.”

“They told me I could wear these,” he insisted. “You’re a stupid bitch. I can wear whatever pants I want to. This is America. I have rights!”

“You can’t wear whatever pants you want to,” I said, my tone affable, reasonable. “And you definitely cannot call me a stupid bitch. You’re grounded from electronics for the rest of the day. Now get in the car, and I will take you to school.”

I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son. But he terrifies me.

A few weeks ago, Michael pulled a knife and threatened to kill me and then himself after I asked him to return his overdue library books …

That conflict ended with three burly police officers and a paramedic wrestling my son onto a gurney for an expensive ambulance ride to the local emergency room.

We still don’t know what’s wrong with Michael. Autism spectrum, ADHD, Oppositional Defiant or Intermittent Explosive Disorder have all been tossed around at various meetings with probation officers and social workers and counselors and teachers and school administrators. He’s been on a slew of antipsychotic and mood altering pharmaceuticals, a Russian novel of behavioral plans. Nothing seems to work …

At the start of seventh grade, Michael was accepted to an accelerated program for highly gifted math and science students. His IQ is off the charts … He’s in a good mood most of the time. But when he’s not, watch out. And it’s impossible to predict what will set him off.

… After the knife incident, I told him that if he ever said those words again, I would take him straight to the mental hospital, no ifs, ands, or buts. I did not respond, except to pull the car into the opposite lane, turning left instead of right …

“No! You can’t do that to me! You’re sending me to hell! You’re sending me straight to hell!”

… By day three, he was my calm, sweet boy again, all apologies and promises to get better. I’ve heard those promises for years. I don’t believe them anymore.

… When I asked my son’s social worker about my options, he said that the only thing I could do was to get Michael charged with a crime. “If he’s back in the system, they’ll create a paper trail,” he said. “That’s the only way you’re ever going to get anything done. No one will pay attention to you unless you’ve got charges.”

… According to Mother Jones, since 1982, 61 mass murders involving firearms have occurred throughout the country. (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/07/mass-shootings-map) …

No one wants to send a 13-year old genius who loves Harry Potter and his snuggle animal collection to jail. But our society, with its stigma on mental illness and its broken healthcare system, does not provide us with other options. Then another tortured soul shoots up a fast food restaurant. A mall. A kindergarten classroom. And we wring our hands and say, “Something must be done.” …

I agree that something must be done. It’s time for a meaningful, nation-wide conversation about mental health. That’s the only way our nation can ever truly heal.

While my heart does go out to the woman that wrote this post … my mind rebels against its contents.

I’ve learned, the hard way, that there is a large gap between my consciousness and those of most of the people in the world I’ve encountered. When I was younger (around the age of Adam Landza), instead of exploding on the world around me I imploded away from it. Getting better was a long and difficult process and to this day my health (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual) is dependent on me living at a safe distance away from modern society. I can relate.

Out of respect for this huge hap I am not going to even attempt writing a comprehensive and well structured post. That would take up way too much of my energy and most people would either ignore me and my reasoning. So I’ll just point out a few things and get on with my life.

  1. Societies are willing and required to go out of their way to deal with “problem” citizens – the incapacitated, mentally ill, criminals. Societies do so at tremendous costs. Wouldn’t it be easier, cheaper, healthier to simply accommodate these special needs as they occur. Wouldn’t it have been easier to let Michael wear navy blue pants instead of black or khaki ones? Is a dress code really so important?
  2. Michael is a genius and he is pointing out a logical inconsistency – what does it mean that “I have rights” and yet I can’t choose the color of my pants? And yet societies are so blind to their mind-boggling inconsistencies that they CHOOSE to paint those individuals that do so as “mentally ill”.
  3. “No one wants to send a 13-year old genius …. to jail” but punishment as an educative/formative approach is OK … even when it never works and when it every time triggers “mental illness”?
  4. Society, even with full medical benefits, is still ignorant when it comes to mental illness … “Autism spectrum, ADHD, Oppositional Defiant or Intermittent Explosive Disorder have all been tossed around” … we like to fool ourselves that it is a scientific domain that we know and control … and yet we “toss around” diagnosis as if we were spicing up a pot of soup.

What if Michael is fine and the society around him is messed up?
What if Michael’s dysfunction is a healthy result of a healthy individual trying to cope with a messed up reality?
How much more escalation and how many more mass killings (61 in the last 30 years,  19 of them in the last 5 years) will it take for a society to admit that it is nurturing mental illness?
How long can a society fool itself into thinking that the same system that created the problem can solve it?
How much delusion can a society buy by focusing on superficial aspects such as “mental health” or “gun control” (which will only cause the aggression and violence to express differently… though I guess mathematically speaking a single suicide is “better” then a mass killing) instead of looking in the mirror and admitting that its so lost that mass-killing has become a normative thing?

In the words of Robert Pirsig:

“Insanity isn’t an ‘object’ of observation. It’s an alteration of observation itself”

… but what can you do when observation itself doesn’t want to change? You attack it.

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