We Need More Words For Mental Illness

We Need More Words For Mental Illness

In the U.S. mass shooters are described as mentally ill. People argue and fight on social media about what needs to be done and we scream for the mentally ill to be screened before purchasing a gun. We blame the shooters behavior on some type of mental defect. We are looking for answers. We want something or someone to blame. We want the shooter’s behavior to make sense.

As we toss around the words “mental illness” we lump a lot of innocent people into the mix. Is there something fundamentally wrong with the mind of a person that commits this type of horrific crime? Probably. Should we lump everyone that has been diagnosed and treated for anxiety, depression, an eating disorder, attention deficit disorder, or obsessive compulsive disorder into the same category as a mass murderer? No.

I don’t know what is wrong with people who go out and shoot a bunch of innocent people. There is definitely something wrong with them, we all agree on that, but what it is exactly is hard to pin down.  It’s too difficult to wrap our minds around the possibility that they are just bad people. We want to analyze and figure them out. Maybe they aren’t evil. Maybe there is a reason for their behavior…maybe there is a way we can prevent this from happening again. If we just solve the puzzle and figure it out we can all feel safe again, right?

Maybe there is a solution and maybe there isn’t.  I’m no expert, but in the mean time I do know that we need more words. The words “mental illness” are failing us when it comes to describing mass shooters. The brave souls fighting for their mental health on a daily basis are courageous people. They do not deserve to be disparaged with the same label we award mass murderers. That’s not the right thing to do.

We need a way to categorize this particular disorder of the mind. This is a different kind of mental illness when compared to bipolar or schizophrenia. It’s not the same as adjustment disorder or arachnophobia either. It’s more like the legal definition of insanity mixed with delusion and a breakdown in what it means to be human. It’s bigger than mental illness.

We need a new word for this particular affliction because calling mass shooters mentally ill is a disservice to all of the people who struggle with mental illness and who, despite their challenges, never harm or kill a single person in the process.


Life Is Not A Competition

Life Is Not a Competition

My daughter is in kindergarten and suddenly everything seems to be a competition. EVERYTHING. Who has the most friends. Who can talk about butts the longest. Who can read the fastest. Whether having a baby brother or sister is better. I wish I were kidding. The other day my five-year old came home sad because she has a baby sister instead of a baby brother and apparently the other kids think having a baby brother is better…so yeah, every aspect of life has become a competition, but it shouldn’t be. Sure, we can compete at a spelling bee and a track meet. We can compete when it comes to the science fair or who can hold their breath the longest, but come on, can we draw the line…somewhere?

I know in the United States we value competition over all things…even human decency at times, but that doesn’t mean it is healthy. Can we just add in a dash of collectivism here and there? Can we just acknowledge that we don’t always have to be the best to still add value? Heck, I’d even argue that most things happen because people just show up with their imperfect selves and get things done quietly and with little recognition. I’m trying to teach these things to my daughter, but I am no match for the outside world where a winner and loser must be declared in all things. I mean, some aspects of life are just luck or beyond our control. Especially when you are a kid. Some of my daughter’s school mates don’t even have enough to eat everyday and yet they are pitted against the children of doctors with every advantage given to them from birth.

I know, childhood is rough and kids are mean, but do we have to foster the cruelty by making everything a competition? My daughter gets a sticker or a prize every week for bringing in a book reading log that I fill out each day. I make sure it’s in her backpack every Monday. I read the books to her too! So, she gets a prize for my efforts and some other kid doesn’t get a prize because his or her mom was too busy working or taking care of babies or dealing with who knows what to get that book log completed. Yet, the kids with the book log get to walk around feeling superior to those without a book log. Superior for passively listening to a story that was read to them. Why are we fostering this empty competition in kindergarten anyway? Already we have the haves and have-nots. Five year old kids are not even responsible for what they have or don’t have. Why are we rewarding them for it or singling out the kids who seem to be lacking it…whatever “it” might be?

Before kindergarten my daughter rarely compared herself to others. Sure, some kids had a cool bike or red hair or an older brother and she may have wished she could have those things, but she never felt inferior for not having them. She never cried because she wasn’t “enough” of a human being because her sibling was a girl instead of a boy. Is that kind of competition really necessary to make our world go round? Can we also acknowledge that team work and finding strengths in our peers abilities can also contribute to capitalism, life fulfillment, and even scientific discovery?

I know, right about now you are probably thinking about how I am blowing this all out of proportion. You are rolling your eyes because I am some cranky mom upset that her child has to deal with other children and learn that life is hard and cruel and mean people exist. The thing is, this is so much more than that. This nonsense competition sets us up for a lifetime of feeling inadequate and confused by our lack of “celebrity” or why we never did anything amazing with our lives, despite the fact that we have lived really good lives. Despite the fact that we have contributed to society in both big ways and small without receiving applause or accolades for our efforts.

We can say it’s just kids being kids, but this silly competitiveness happens with adults too. I mean, let’s face it, most of us are pretty average people. That’s what average is all about, right? It means that is where most of us fall. Unfortunately, we’ve grown up with this message that we are all supposed to be special and “extra” in some way. When we aren’t all that special we have to manufacture competition so we can feel superior to others, or even worse, make others feel inferior so we can feel superior. It’s so exhausting. Some people even engage in a competition over who has the worst life, the more debilitating depression, sleeps the least, doesn’t have time to eat well, or who can be the most miserable in general just to be THE BEST at something. That’s an unhealthy way to live, isn’t it?

Jim and I recently met a couple. We were making the usual small talk when we started noticing that anything anyone mentioned the husband was quick to point out how he did “whatever” too, but faster and better. He would just start talking over anyone else attempting to speak to ensure that they couldn’t add their experience to the conversation. I thought maybe he was fearful he’d be one-upped by someone’s contribution to x, y, or z. The wife was hell-bent on making sure we knew how “weird” they were. That they were different in ways we could only imagine. That they were weirder than weird and incredibly special in their weirdness. She seemed so desperate to win this weirdness competition, that I wasn’t even competing in, so I just started nodding and murmuring encouraging words about how they were certainly the weirdest people I’d ever had the pleasure to meet. I wanted her to have her moment of feeling special because she seemed to really need it.

Here we are, mature adults still trying to one-up one another on the playground. Where does it all start? For my little one it all began with school where everything is turned into a competition. I just hope this competitiveness doesn’t continue for her into adulthood. I hope my quiet assertions and example can combat outside influences at least enough to make her stop and question things. I hope she can choose to be competitive when competition is appropriate and choose to be content in her own abilities the rest of the time.

I find myself slowing down and thinking about these things as my daughters grow. Life isn’t a competition. It feels like one more often than not because we force ourselves to compete in all areas of our lives. We tell young people to only compete with themselves and we shout slogans like “I am enough,” but until we actually start believing it ourselves and accepting that every aspect of life is not a competition we are going to continue to get the same results. I’m pretty sure we can do better and maybe we should start with kindergarten.

Mistakes Are How We Learn

I’m rushing around the house trying to serve breakfast, dress everyone, and get out the door. Things keep going wrong because I haven’t slept well in weeks. New baby on board. New lifestyle. Two kids are better than one. Two kids are more work than one. Two kids are crying at the same time. Two kids are happy. Two kids need something right now. Two kids! Two Kids! TWO KIDS! Oh, and the dog won’t stop barking. I fantasize about sending him to live on an imaginary farm and there goes two more minutes of time I do not have to spare on this fine, windy morning.

My husband is gone all week working out of town. Another adjustment to grapple with as I lose an extra set of hands to help carry the load. An extra set of eyes to keep everyone alive. An extra set of relief in the night when the baby is hungry and needs a diaper change. I’m missing an extra set of hands to fasten car seats and locate lost shoes before the school bell rings. I don’t want to be late again. Late, late, late.

I’m constantly late, behind, unorganized, confused, wondering where I put my coffee. I can’t remember if I brushed my teeth. Am I still in the clothes I wore yesterday? Why yes, yes I am. Everything inside of me is whirling. Everything keeps going wrong. I drop things. I lose things. I’m too slow and we have to get to school.

I’m making mistakes left and right. The voice in my head is beating me up. It’s relentless: Why aren’t I better at managing all of this? When am I going to adjust? When am I going to be a good mother, good wife, good home maker? I trip over toys, laundry, books, boxes of diapers…I’m so disappointed in myself. My sink is full of dirty dishes. Everything is a mess and I am so tired. I want to be like Donna Reed with a perfect, shiny home, but I also want to sit in the rocking chair and rock the baby because she’ll only be tiny for such a short time. It doesn’t matter anyway because I am tired and picking up only happens when both the baby sleeps and the kindergartner is occupied – which never happens at the same time. All morning I dream of a nap that never comes. I rock and rock and fight to keep my eyes open. I’m happy and irritated at the same time.

My mind is on all of these things as I start my day.

Mistakes Are How We Learn

Then I hear my daughter’s small voice as she whispers to herself, “It’s OK, mistakes are how we learn.” I peek around the corner and see her erasing her backward letter “B” and writing it correctly. Mistakes are how we learn. I’ve  been telling her that for weeks as we do homework in the evenings. I tell her the same thing when she pours too much water into the house plants. I remind her when she puts her shoes on the wrong feet. I sing it to her in a loud, silly voice when she reads the latest sight word incorrectly. It’s become a mantra in our house. Mistakes are how we learn. Perfection be damned. We won’t let our mistakes stop us from diving in.


Fail again. Dust yourself off and fail some more. Just keep trying and keep going. It’s all we can do anyway. Mistakes are how we learn, my darling, mistakes are how we learn. Keep failing. Have faith. Be proud of yourself for showing up and trying. This is life. It’s messy and hard and beautiful and glorious all at the same time. Don’t let the weight of living get you down.

Hearing her gently remind herself about making mistakes calms me and slows me down. I’m learning to be a mom all over again. To two kids. To two people who need love and attention, to two people creating dirty dishes and dirty laundry (feels more like four). I’m learning to live without as much sleep. I’m learning how to delegate more efficiently. I’m learning how to fail and prioritize and be OK with mess and uncertainty. I’m learning how to sleep when the baby sleeps. Sleep anytime I can sleep.  Sleep, sleep, sleep.

It’s going to take a while to find my way. Parenthood is a long ride and I’m just getting strapped in.


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