"There's a bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out." -Lou Reed

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Shots in the Dark

I was unable to sleep Thursday night. In fact, even though I had a really important meeting scheduled for Friday, I ended up only sleeping two and a half hours total. I watched a few DVDs, and as usual, the glowing screen of my laptop was only a few feet away.

I happened to have Twitter open and on my screen, and I noticed a sudden burst of activity. Updates at 3:00am, even from the people I follow internationally, are never that frequent. A few random bits of information about a mass shooting in Colorado at a movie theater began to trickle in. Then major news outlets were breaking the news in more detail.

I ended up getting all of my information online, and literally watching the story unfold before me via 140 character updates, and online local news feeds from the Aurora area. I worried as I watched the death toll rise frighteningly fast from more and more sources. I read “first hand” accounts, and saw information passed along from people who were there, living this nightmare.

Honestly, after a few minutes of staring at the screen and toggling back and forth between websites, the thing that I kept thinking about was the book Columbine by Dave Cullen. When tragedies like the one in Aurora, Colorado happen, I make myself remember that so much inaccurate reporting happens in the moments right after something this horrible and chaotic. Case in point, at one time last night, several reputable sources were reporting that 39 people were dead, with 79 wounded.

Does it matter who got what number wrong? Yes. It does. It also matters when well-meaning witnesses, onlookers, and the media themselves get things terribly wrong. In the race to get the story, break the story, and LEAD with the story, so many things get quoted without double checking. In fact, without checking at all.

I am as guilty as anyone of getting sucked into the exciting and tragic moments, waiting for updates, and mostly, just wanting so badly to understand, quickly, why and how something like this happens. But the truth is, we never really forget the things we hear first, and they become part of accepted fact, no matter how wrong or damning the information may be. The corrections to numbers, people’s personal histories, and comments of “witnesses” are never front page news, so what we heard first is just accepted, and then never really erased from our memory.

I think of the book Columbine, because if you haven’t read it, you would be shocked to learn that everything we had all, as a nation, understood to be the truth-- facts about the killers, the case, the victims—most of it wasn’t true. Not even close. I was shocked reading this unbelievably well-written and researched book. I would say about 90% of the information I had taken to heart and believed was wrong. And why is that important, really? Because until we all understand why tragedies like this happen, until we all see and understand the many facets and factors of cases like this and all of the people involved, we cannot prevent these tragedies from happening again. Until we all take a hard look at our own communities, the flaws, the broken systems, and most importantly what REAL traits, characteristics, illnesses, and behavior to watch for in our own community members, we won’t learn how to help those people who need it before they resort to violence.

I asked myself last night and today why this case in Aurora had shaken me up so much. So many tragedies fill my inbox daily, headlines of suffering across the country and the globe. What I realized is that at some point in time, these shootings have stopped being these random, isolated tragedies. They are now more common crimes, popping up everywhere, leaving us with almost no safe havens where it hasn’t yet happened. These shootings are creeping into the fabric of who we are as a society and how people who are sick, angry, or forgotten are dealing with their problems. This is not an excuse for taking lives like this. It is horrible and senseless. But, instead of writing off these killers as psychopaths that “snapped”, we have to take a hard look at how these people came to these decisions and how we can help them make better ones, or get the help they need before it is too late.

Whenever I write about or address the need for better gun control laws in this country, I get a backlash on my blog or Facebook or Twitter, so much so, that I don’t write about it a lot. Even though I don’t choose to own a gun, I don’t want to deny anyone the right to own a gun and protect their family. Even though I can’t stand the thought of hunting animals as sport, I also don’t want to deny anyone the right to own guns and hunt if that is what they want to do. That is a right and a freedom, and I am from a small town that is full of many people, many of them friends of mine, who love hunting.

What I don’t want is someone who is mentally ill acquiring a gun to hurt themselves or someone else. Even though they may not have a documented history for gun store owners to access, (meaning many times, they just haven’t known where to seek treatment or get it without insurance or assistance) I don’t want that one moment in a very sick person’s life to be the beginning of the end for themselves and other innocent people. I don’t know exactly how we solve that. 

I also don’t think anyone needs a stockpile of AK-47s. Sorry, I just don’t. Yes, it is your right as an American. But, can we not just step back and look at this from the standpoint of sending our children out into a world where we pride ourselves so much on freedom that we forget to have a little skepticism and common sense? Can we not just try and do these things in the name of the twelve people who died Friday morning, all of those that died at Columbine and Virginia Tech, the and unfortunately, the dozens, hundreds, or thousands that will die in years to come if we DON’T?

Here’s a very personal admission that I have never made publicly anywhere else. I have been very open about my past battles with depression. I have tiptoed a bit around having been truly suicidal, because it is still a taboo subject. It’s one thing to say, “I battled (or am battling) depression”. It is another to say, “I wanted to commit (or have attempted) suicide.” I was very suicidal at times during my bouts of depression. At one point, close to ten years ago now, I was pretty certain that I couldn’t hang on. I thought seriously about buying a gun to take my life. The ONLY thing that kept me from doing it, was that I was certain they would check my doctor’s records and see that I was seeing a therapist and a psychiatrist and wouldn’t allow me to buy a gun. Thankfully, I didn’t know that I probably would have breezed through the buying process. (I looked into the state laws and procedures years later, once I was well). There is no doubt that at that one point in time, if I had known I could get a gun, I would have, and I wouldn’t be writing these words now. I wouldn’t be in my husband’s life. I wouldn’t be here. I am oh so thankful that I am. There are many moments in my life, especially in seriously happy moments, when I think back to that time, and give thanks that I made assumptions about the gun laws instead of making a permanent, deadly choice.

My point is, for people that know me, or someone like me—a family member or friend—someone you know and love—that may have struggled with depression or other mental illness before, would you want them to lose their life or hurt someone—anyone-- in one moment of weakness? You may think you know that no one close to you could do something as tragic as a shooting like the one in Aurora. But the truth is, we are all at times closer to crossing the lines than we want to believe. We all have breaking points. We all have things in our past that tug at our sanity at times. Left without resources to proper care, a strong support system, and honestly—just support and hope—anyone can slip into a place they can’t return from.

This is a HUGE part of the problem. Mental illness is still seen as a topic to be whispered about, not addressed. We have made strides, but until we quit comforting ourselves that these people who “snap” are nothing like the people WE know, nothing like us--nothing will change, nothing will get better.

I don’t know all of the answers. I don’t even know all the problems that are contributing to this horrifying trend. But I think the combination of lack of mental health resources and lax gun laws in the US are two really good places to start taking a hard look at what we can do better.

I am also quite sure that if you ask any of the victim’s families from any of the recent tragedies in our history, that they would agree. So would the families of the people who commit these crimes.

Last night, so many lives were forever changed. So many people who have lived through similar tragedies were taken back in time in ways they never want to be. There may never be any concrete answers for this tragedy. We certainly can’t solve it in a week, or a month.

What I want to know is... when are we going to start trying?


Friday, July 20, 2012

A Distant Season

What season is this…
When I want to float far away
To a distant place
But somehow
Still hold on to everything dear to me?
Winds change so quickly
The veil of warmth rises
On a whim
Taking a toll
On the pieces of my corner of the world.
Snow on the beach
Still air at odd moments
The chill of the sun
Whispering breezes
The swirl of past moments around me, like dead leaves.

The sky is farther away
Out of sight, out of mind
And I am blind
For being unable
To see what matters most of all to me now.
If I can just float
In still waters a little longer
And let the storm pass…
Will I be here,
Or will I finally find another season?


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Becoming "We"

Over the last month, I have tried so many times to write here. In the past, I have written about some of the darkest moments of my life with greater ease than dealing with the normal life stresses of the last few weeks.

My husband and I moved across the country to a place I love and have missed so much since I last lived here over 10 years ago. It is hard for me to believe that I am back here. I honestly thought I would never be more than a visitor again to the Bay Area, and as we made the long road trip to get here, I had to pinch myself just thinking about it.
We have not had the best luck since our move, in fact the move itself was a horrible experience. Things that should have panned out work wise for me just didn’t, and my husband’s job search has been so much slower than I hoped for him. What I hoped would be a huge confidence boost for him has instead seemed to help solidify some of his deepest worries.
I have been in worse straits than this, in far more financial trouble, and even worse, I was alone in dealing with it. But I have learned that being with someone only means you worry more…it’s not just me that is affected by our move, by my ideas, by my plans-- it is also affecting someone I love dearly. I hate to see him in pain, and as things have seemed to go from bad to worse, I have blamed myself for moving us out here.
But the truth was, we were already struggling before the move. This move has given us the only real hope of better careers, decent salaries, and a future with some savings and possible retirement plans. That was why both of us made this decision, something my husband has reminded me of several times since we got here. This was our decision, not just mine.
I feel like I am learning new lessons every day. First, marriage is tough. Especially as stubborn as we both are, and because we were both set in our (single) ways for some time before we got together. We have both had to make adjustments, compromise, and learn to navigate the tricky waters of being a “we”. There is not a moment that I would take back or give up, but there are tough days. I think about the fact that my husband and I know we are meant to be together, we know neither one of us is going anywhere-- we are in this for the long haul, and yet, we still fight and struggle. How do people make it if they don’t have that foundation? In so many ways, I am glad I got married a little later in life. There is magic in finding your soulmate at a young age, but there (hopefully) is some wisdom and maturity in finding that person a little later in life. I think back on snap decisions and harsh judgments I made when I was in my twenties, just how much I have changed now…for the better. I am thankful I was only dealing with my life decisions and screw ups back then, and not directly involving my life partner at that time.
Yesterday, my husband and I laughed—a lot. It was one of those days when we just enjoyed each other, despite a stressful week approaching, and the juggling act we are playing right now with paying our bills. All of that weighs on us some days more than others, but yesterday, we were just enjoying the time together. Finally, when we went to bed, Shea fell asleep and I was awake thinking about the day and how completely myself I am with him, how unbelievably silly and real I can be around him, without concern or shame. I have never had that with anyone else. It’s sad, but true. There was always a guard I kept up, or someone I was trying to be for someone else—which I was sure was better than the real me. The great thing is that Shea is equally himself, and I know that this reality we are living is tough at times, but intrinsically genuine.

Laying in bed last night, I felt a twinge of panic. Over the last year, I have had several of these episodes where I lose my bearings for a few moments, thinking of losing Shea—not having this other part of me. I have learned all too well through the loss of friends, through stories in the newspaper, and shared through friends on Facebook, that there are no promises. I realized that over the years and through relationships, I would worry about losing a boyfriend, or someone close to me, but not the way I worry now. There is this unbelievable depth in truly baring your soul and being so real with someone. I thought about how hard it would ever be for me to replicate the simplicity of that ease between us with anyone else, and how I wouldn’t want to. Despite our struggles, even though there are times when we are truly at odds, I am so thankful for what I have with Shea and I want the whole cliché of growing old together, sitting in rocking chairs on some wraparound porch together.
Finally, over the last week, we both have seen our luck turn. We both have better work prospects, interviews, and we have some hope that the tide is changing. In the scheme of things, it hasn’t taken that long. We have only been here a few months, but it has seemed like a lifetime at times, waiting for the phone to ring. Things aren’t perfect yet, and a lot of what we are hoping for hasn’t materialized, but there has just been a shift in the way we are looking at things and the way we feel.
I know we made the right decision to take this risk and move here together and make things happen.
More than anything, I know we’re in this together, all of it. Every minute-- good and bad, raw and uncensored, blissful or bleak.
I try and think about how we will look back on this time…what I want to remember. I don’t want to remember the arguments, the stress, the worry—although that’s part of it. Mostly, I want to remember that this time was when we really pulled together and learned what being “we” and “us” meant. After the wedding, the flowers, the vows, almost two years of marriage, all the adjustments and learning, that THIS was when we knew that we could make it through anything life handed us.
I hope we will also remember it as the time just before everything clicked into place and the choices we made all made sense.
But, I’ll have to get back to you on that last part…or rather, we will.
The beautiful papercut art featured in this post is by artist Joe Bagley. Visit his etsy shop by clicking here.



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