12.16.2012

Diagnoses

It seems that two phrases keep popping up everywhere following Friday's massacre — gun control, and mental illness.  Across the country, people are demanding we examine our gun laws (yes! we must!) and pleading for some sort of something to help those who are mentally ill.

A lot has been made of the gunman's mental status.  That's the way it usually is following these mass tragedies we humans inflict upon one another.  In our hurt, scared minds, we try desperately to figure out WHY a person could do such a thing.  He must be mentally ill, we say.  There's got to be something wrong with him.

I'm not arguing with that.  Actually, I strongly believe that any person who purposefully harms another creature (human, animal, whatever) has something wrong in his or her brain, regardless of whether or not that person has a diagnosis.

What makes me sad is that the only times we really bring up the topic of mental illness on a national scale is most often following a tragedy.  Yes, that's absolutely a good time to talk about it, because honestly?  The system we have in our country to assist people with mental illnesses is shitty, underfunded, and inherently stigmatized.  We DO need to change these things.

But these things only shed light on the relatively small percentage of people with mental illnesses who commit large acts of terror.  We talk of destigmatizing the name of mental illness, and encouraging people to seek help if they need it.  But by continuing to only show examples of the sickest among us who do terrible things as poster children of mental illness, we are contributing to said stigma.

Mental illness comes in a range of symptoms, behaviors, and diagnoses.  People like the gunman are on a very, very sick, extreme part of that spectrum, and they certainly do not represent everyone with diagnoses of schizophrenia, or manic depression, or severe anxiety disorders.  There are hundreds of thousands of people with various diagnoses of mental illnesses who walk among us and function well in every day society.

Who are those people?  Well, me, for starters.  My diagnoses of anxiety, depression, and bulimia land me squarely in the "mental illness" category.  And my best friend.  What about you?  Your friends?  Your co-workers?

I vote that we begin the discussion of destigmatizing and overhauling the mental health system in our country by highlighting people who have been helped by medication and therapy and other forms of treatment.  People who are just as sick as a gunman, but who by the grace of god have had access to care and support and who are able to live relatively stable lives.  The Bloggess comes to mind.  (You guys know how much I respect and am grateful for her presence on the internet.)

If we highlight the good that can come from treatment, and the glorious, beautiful lives people can lead (again, I'm thinking of The Bloggess) with their mental illnesses, perhaps then we can start to remove the stigma.  We can change how we equate people with mental illnesses = GUNMAN to people with mental illnesses = JENNY LAWSON (The Bloggess.  Because who else would I talk about).  Or people with mental illnesses = other cool awesome people who lead pretty fucking amazing lives with/despite/because of/in spite of their diagnoses.  Because that means that a diagnosis is nothing to shy away from, and if we're not ashamed of saying we have mental illnesses it's a hell of a lot easier for us to accept treatment.

I'm not one for math, but that seems pretty simple, right?  Now. Let's start talking.

Note: I am purposefully not using the gunman's name.  He does not deserve that attention.  If we remember any names from this awful situation, let it be those of the victims and their families.

12.15.2012

Mourning

Yesterday, getting the children to sleep at naptime was a breeze. One teacher led our class of twelve two-year-olds in a few deep breaths to ready their bodies for rest, and the other two of us helped get the children settled on their little cots. Blankets pulled up to chins, loveys tucked into chubby arms.

A few of our children can put themselves to sleep on their cots. The rest need some help -- which means we teachers move from cot to cot, patting backs and soothing them while soft music plays in the background. We usually have a few children who are more difficult to get to sleep than others, but for some reason, yesterday was blessedly easy.

At 1 o'clock, I went next door into the toddlers classroom so that the toddler teachers could go on their breaks. Seven peaceful toddlers (miraculously) slept on their cots, so I sat down to check my phone. At that moment, our director walked into the classroom. She was white as a sheet, and reached out to hug me immediately.

"Something awful has happened," she said. "I need to come hug everybody."

She proceeded to tell me about the soul-crushing events that happened just a few hours earlier in Newtown, a small city about 45 minutes from our little school.

I was in shock. She went to tell the other teachers, and I frantically googled for information on my phone. One of the toddlers woke up, and I immediately picked her up and held her to me. Normally, if a child wakes up early from nap, we try to pat them back to sleep on their cots. Not yesterday. I gathered her in my arms and rocked her back and forth. Then I went from cot to cot, hugging and kissing each sleeping child, knowing their parents were likely aching to do the same.

The rest of naptime was a blur. I sat and held the little girl, and my mind raced -- this happened 45 short minutes from us. That school required people to be "buzzed" in, and so does ours. Someone had to let that gunman into that school. Can you imagine being that person?

I also was acutely (and perhaps irrationally) aware that these instances sometimes inspire copycat actions. I looked at the seven kids I was currently responsible for, and I looked at our little classroom with its multiple large windows and three glass doors, and I tried to think what I'd do if something happened at my school. Where would I hide those babies? How would I be able to move them all to a safe place?

We teachers received a flurry of emails yesterday about our emergency protocol procedures. I know we'll be having meetings next week to discuss this as well. I (and my fellow staff, I'm sure) am acutely aware that my first priority is the well-being of the children in my care. I would do anything, including give up my life, to save them.

But in a more immediate sense yesterday afternoon, as it pushed toward 2pm and kids were waking up from nap, we all had to set aside our emotions and keep the afternoon "normal" for the children. One by one, their little heads popped up on their cots, and they'd grin when they saw us. Thank god, thank god, our kids wouldn't know anything about what happened just 45 minutes from us. To them, it was a Friday afternoon at school, and they were safe and they were loved. So loved.

The rest of the day passed quickly. Parents were emotional at pick-up, and I was so glad to pass children along to their parents' outstretched arms. I know the 20 parents who weren't able to bring their children home yesterday were on everybody's minds. In our small school alone, there were three families who had friends or loved ones affected at Sandy Hook Elementary.

We cannot let this happen again.

Please, let this horrific event be a catalyst for change in this country. Please do not let those 20 children and six teachers have died in vain. Please, let's stop being intimidated by the NRA and actually do something with gun control. Please. 

12.09.2012

Cabernet or merlot?

I feel like I need to take my blog out on a date — a reconnecting, catching up, getting-to-re-know-you kind of date. Maybe I should even offer to buy it a makeover, since it always patiently waits for me to come back to it and let's face it, T(O)ND could use a facelift. Except hi, I haz no monies. So, blog...have a virtual glass of merlot on me, okay? Let's catch up.

This post-grad life is a weird existence. Everything in my younger life was geared toward getting me to college, even if I didn't want to go. (Remember that phase in my life, mom and dad?) That was the goal. Gimme a diploma on my wall and I've made it in life.

But now I have my diploma (though it's not on my wall. I think it's in storage somewhere. Maybe in the basement?), and I've got a neat check mark in the box labeled "bachelor's degree" on my life list. Now what? If I'm completely honest, right now I want nothing more than to be a wife and a mother. I'm 23 — nearly 24, egads — and I ache to be settled down with (a) baby(ies) on my hip(s). I don't want to be plugging away at more school, trying to achieve a more advanced degree. Not right now, at least. I'd rather be raising babies.

I always feel somewhat embarrassed when I tell people that. Yes, I want to become a midwife, someday. I can do that at any point in life. But right now I truly have no career ambitions, no drive to the finish line of another degree. I've finished college, so isn't it time for a family?

I wrote this back in February, and it's still what I want more than about anything in this world. I'm still yearning and eager to have a little village of my own. But that's not in the cards for me right now. Not with the pitiful salary I'm earning at a nursery school, at least!

Sometimes I get so overwhelmed with the amount of schooling I have left to do to become a midwife. And sometimes I get so sad thinking I'm no closer to settling down and having children than I was five years ago. It's difficult, trying to tame this wild desire to become a mother with the knowledge that it'd be nothing short of selfish to start a family right now. I'm not financially, emotionally, or physically in a position to do that.

So where does that leave me now? It leaves me in a weird limbo state, with one life goal checked off and a whole lot more work to do before another gets finished. It leaves me trying to focus on the joys of the every day: seeing the kids' faces at work when teachers wore pajamas to school, the Christmas tree we have in our living room, the gigantic new wooden drying rack Cait's mom gave us, the wonderful friends I've made in my coworkers, the boy in Boston who makes me smile, living with my best friend despite our ups and downs, a therapist who I'm pretty sure the universe handpicked just for me, and the underlying feeling of hope that I can usually seek out when I need it.

That's a whole lot of good, right there.

I'm pretty sure the only way to get through this limbo state is just to live through it. I know I'm certainly not alone in it. I trust whoever overlooks us all on this path of life will lead me to children of my own, however that happens. And in that same way, I trust that this new schooling I'm doing now and this job I'm working at will sustain and even nourish me until then.

So. I may not know what the hell I'm doing most of the time, but what I do know is that I'm just going to keep going.