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.
Have you ever woken up in the morning and looked out the window to see that everything was frozen? Doesn’t it look magical? The ice coating the trees so they sparkle during sunrise is a pretty gorgeous thing to see. Of course, you have to be up for sunrise to catch a glimpse of it before it melts!
I was thinking about what it feels like to be frozen this morning. Not frozen as in cold, but frozen as in “I don’t know which way to move next.” I felt that kind of frozen this morning. I realized I was overwhelmed because I was trying to hold onto several things in my mind at the same time. My to-do list was so big I wasn’t able to prioritize. There are times when everything seems really important so you can’t decide what to do first. Sometimes you have a big worry or something happening in a few days that you are nervous about and the worry and the dread get in your way of consciously and intentionally taking steps forward in other areas of your life. Feeling frozen can be very uncomfortable. You see time passing by, but you are so out of the moment that you aren’t actually participating in your own life.
I think that frozen feeling can be a good thing as long as you acknowledge it. It’s a wake up call that you need to make some adjustments in your life. Everything is paused so you can push the reset button. If you take advantage of the moment you can stop and look around and decide to change your behavior and give yourself some relief.
To get the to-do list out of my head I often write it all down. That way I can visually prioritize what to do and when. Some of those things on my list might not be as important as I thought they were so I can let them go. Sometimes just writing them down means I can stop trying to remember them. I can just check the list to see how I am doing. This frees up some mental space. I think of my brain as a computer. It runs more efficiently when it isn’t bogged down with too many things to remember at the same time.
Writing down your worries can have a similar affect. I’ve often heard people say, “Let go and let God,” but I never fully understood how a person was supposed to do that. I’d tell myself to stop worrying, but the worries would still be there. Writing the worries down is about as close as I can get to letting them go. When I write them down I can get a better sense about what I actually have control over and what I don’t. This helps sometimes because then I can remind myself that whatever will be will be. When the worry starts to creep in I just sing that song, “Que Sera Sera (Whatever Will Be Will Be)” in my head to distract myself. Another song that works is “Let It Go” from the movie Frozen. For some reason singing really helps me set the worry aside, especially when I am worrying about something I have absolutely no control over. Sometimes writing something down gives me a new perspective on it too. I might find the humor in it or see it as a small moment in a big life. Sometimes I even discover that there really isn’t anything to worry about at all.
I’m imperfect so I’m never completely worry free and I have to consciously redirect my thoughts or sit down and write to get past that frozen feeling. That is easier said than done sometimes. If I am tired, hungry, or feeling bad it’s always harder to do. I think that is why it is so important to notice that frozen feeling when it starts creeping in. That way you can address it before you slide down the slope and find your self obsessing, ruminating, and watching too much TV instead of working toward your goals and getting things done. When my brain is trying to hold onto the to-do list and the worries and I’m overwhelmed I feel like the Tasmanian Devil from the old Looney Tunes cartoons. I am sort of spinning and bumping into things, but I’m not really going anywhere. I’m not moving forward. I’m not fully present in my own life.
What strategies are you using to get “unstuck” or to be more present in your life?
Surrender. Just surrender to it all. Even if it is hard. Even if it feels like quitting. Just take a big, deep breath and let it all go.
This is a lesson that keeps reappearing in my life and one I have to relearn or re-remember continuously. I’m not sure why, but my go-to move is to cling to goals and ideas and plans even when they are not working or making everyone miserable. Even when it’s causing the internal twining and winding of my guts and resulting in anxiety. I’m telling you right now: It’s better sometimes to just surrender and stop trying to force things. To let go of thinking you have control. To give up on being “right” or the way you are “supposed” to be or on fighting your own nature.
My latest reminder came this morning from Tiny-Small’s preschool teacher. Let me back up a bit here and give you some history. Tiny-Small started going to a preschool part time. Usually two days a week, from 9am to 3pm. Sometimes she would go three days, but rarely. She also sometimes goes to a home daycare provider, someone she has been going to since she was two. She started attending the preschool in September of this year. At first she loved it and we were all excited. Eventually, though, the long days made her tired. Then she started getting bullied a bit by an older boy at the school. She complained about him off and on. Then she stopped wanting to go all together. By the end of October she was going sporadically at best. It was a fight every morning on the days she was scheduled to go and some days she was so distraught we decided not to take her. There were days she cried until she vomited. I was very concerned. She truly did not want to be there.
When Jim’s mom passed away at the beginning of November we kind of went into survival mode. We made plans to go to California and I knew that we would be getting home right before Thanksgiving so I called the school and said Tiny-Small wouldn’t be there for the entire month. I just knew it wasn’t going to happen. We were under a lot of stress and dealing with grief and just trying to maintain some level of calm and organization. Plus the school was going to be closed the week before Thanksgiving anyway.
We brought Tiny-Small back to school on December first. To our surprise she actually wanted to go. She was genuinely excited that morning as we dropped her off, but when she came home that afternoon she said she didn’t want to go back. She only wanted to go to the home daycare from now on.
I understood. She’d been through a lot of change and has endured a lot of stressful moments lately. Our schedule has been messy and now the holidays are making it difficult to return to a familiar routine. She likes the comfort of the home daycare. She knows everyone there. She’s accepted and happy there. It’s her safe place. Still, I didn’t want to give up on the preschool. I figured maybe if she just went more, or more consistently, or if we worked out what was upsetting her so much she’d like it better. I argued with Jim that he needed to get her there on time and pick her up on time because he is always late…ALWAYS late, but he’s doing his best. The ADHD sometimes gets in the way. Still, the being late does not make Tiny-Small popular with the teachers or the students. I figured it was likely contributing to her discomfort at school. But that wasn’t all of it, it was also a long day and the kids were often running wild and unsupervised. Not to mention the grades range from pre-k to high school. That’s a lot of age groups all in one place. Maybe it was all too much for her to navigate or take in at the age of four. Maybe she couldn’t handle so many people. She seems to prefer small groups like I do. Maybe she needs more structure and clear boundaries to feel successful and secure and maybe she’s just not mature enough to understand the dynamics and relationships 7 and 8-year-old kids have with each other. There were many factors to consider. Then, of course, there was the boy she kept talking about who seemed to really bother her and make her not want to be there. Still, I was sure these were all obstacle we could overcome with perseverance and more effort.
So, we fought about preschool for three more days. Tiny-Small didn’t want to go. Jim resented having to get her there at nine. I struggled with enforcing good attitudes and schedules.
Anyway, with all of this running through my mind this morning her teacher pulled me aside when I dropped her off. He wanted to know if she was going to start coming more consistently or on scheduled days. It was obvious he was annoyed with our seemingly cavalier approach toward school attendance and I couldn’t blame him. Her sporadic attendance was interfering with his lesson plans and he never knew if he needed more or fewer materials. He thought the fact that she wasn’t there consistently made it hard for her to get past her shyness with the other kids (another thing that baffled Jim and I because she is not typically a shy person in any other setting). I understood the teachers dilemma and irritation. I also felt like a terrible parent. I told him she didn’t want to come and I didn’t know why and I felt bad making her go. I explained that my husband struggled to get her there on time and when he was running really late thought it was better not to take her and disrupt the class. I told him I had been trying to create a more compatible schedule, but that it never seemed to work out. Then he asked, “Doesn’t she go to another school sometimes?” I said she went to a home daycare. Then he asked me, “Well, is that working well?” I said it was. Then he just stared at me. I was saved by another parent interrupting to ask a question. The teacher smiled at me and said, “Well, do what you can.”
As I drove off I started thinking about that one question, “…is that working well?” I know he was insinuating that maybe I should just stick with home daycare if we couldn’t conform to the preschool schedule. But, for me, it became a bigger question…if something isn’t working why do I keep trying to force it to? I started wondering why I was trying to contort myself, our life, and my daughter to fit into a place we so clearly did not belong. She didn’t want to be there. I dreaded taking her there. Jim couldn’t pick her up or drop her off on time. The schedule was not working with our schedule or our life. It was just making us all miserable. Still, admitting that felt like quitting or giving up. I felt like a failure as a mom and even as a human being. I couldn’t even get my daughter to school consistently. How would she ever grow up to be a productive member of society?
Then I cried all the way home.
I told Jim what had happened and we talked it over. We decided this would be her last day at the preschool. An hour or so later I felt like a great weight had been lifted. I breathed a sigh of relief. This was the best decision for our family even if it didn’t seem like the “right” one. Even if it was giving up.
I could beat myself up for hours and days about how I failed or about how we aren’t giving Tiny-Small a head start by sending her to a preschool, or about how ADHD sometimes gets the better of us, but I’m not going to. Instead I am going to surrender to the realities and challenges we live with. Instead I am going to do the best I can with what we have to work with and let go of the things that are only adding stress and no real benefit to the life we are trying to build. Instead I am going to listen to my daughter, accept our circumstances, and let go of the image I am holding in my mind about how things are “supposed” to be. Today I am surrendering and my soul is better for it.
I can breathe again.
I am wondering how long it is going to take me to learn this lesson. When will I be able to say no, to surrender to reality, or to accept my limitations and the limitations of my family with more grace?
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