It’s difficult to write at this moment. What do you say in the wake of a terrible tragedy, an unspeakable act of violence?
I’m speaking, of course, about the elementary school shooting that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut, last Friday.
There isn’t much I can say about the act itself. It was brutal. It was senseless. Twenty innocent children killed for no reason that can be perceived or understood. This keeps happening—these school shootings, these brutal killings.
Already, the media is hard at work, doing what it does best: scapegoating a cause.
Rumours are apparently swirling that the perpetrator had a personality disorder. This is completely unconfirmed. We have heard nothing from any mental healthcare professional who worked with this person. We have heard nothing from anyone who may have evaluated him while he was alive. This is merely what the media is reporting, and their sources are shaky, to say the least.
Let’s just get right into this, right now: media, and people who buy into this idea that it’s okay to assume mental illness whenever something goes wrong, you are hurting us. You are hurting people like me, who deal with real psychological disorders on a daily basis. You are damaging us further, and here’s why.
Essentially, what the media and the public are doing is attempting to “other” the shooter. Because we cannot bear to believe that a killer walked among us, we search frantically for reasons why someone would commit such a horrific crime. We cannot imagine ourselves doing it, because we are the “normal people” of the world. Normal people don’t do things like this, so this person must be abnormal. Ergo, he must have some kind of mental disorder that made him such a freak. When you break it down, that’s really what it comes down to: we have to make the shooter out to be a freak, because it takes away all of that terrible responsibility we may feel. It takes away any of those horrible thoughts that, just maybe, there might be something wrong with the culture or the society he lived in, too. It takes away all the terrible responsibility that comes with recognizing this not as an isolated incident, but as a clear and obvious trend, with common denominators.
This hurts me. It hurts us, us who are neurodiverse (having mental illnesses, disabilities, or other neurological “abnormalities”), because we realize that we are not exempt from that judgment. We are not exempt from being freaks, from being potentially dangerous, from being people to be feared and avoided. You’re stigmatizing us in a whole new way, and you’re part of the problem. The reality is, most people with mental illness are not dangerous to other people. If they are dangerous to anyone, it is almost always exclusively to themselves.
I have no idea if the shooter had a personality disorder. I did not know him when he was alive, and I’m no psychiatrist, so even if I had known him, I would not be fit to diagnose him with anything. But that’s what I’m getting at: neither does the media.
I don’t necessarily have a problem with anyone saying, to someone they are concerned about, “Do you feel that you need to seek professional help?” Because honestly, in some situations, that might be helpful. In others, it may not—it’s very much about the person, your relationship to the person, and the situation you’re currently in. What I do have a problem with is people acting as armchair psychologists. You have to get a degree for that for a reason. And no, reading on the internet doesn’t count as a psychology degree, people.
Here’s the reality: this person is dead. He will never be able to answer any of our questions, no matter how urgent or pressing they are. He will also never be able to be evaluated by a professional. Unless his psychiatrist comes forward and reveals a diagnosis (unlikely, doctor-patient confidentiality and all that good stuff), we will realistically never know whether or not he suffered from a mental illness. We have no information, and the truth is that we will probably never receive any. Sure, psychiatrists can now predict what he may have been dealing with, but unless they worked with him personally, they are making nothing more than an educated guess—an untested (and unfalsifiable) hypothesis. Contrary to popular belief, doctors don’t know everything, and it is flat-out impossible to diagnose someone you have never even spoken to with precision and accuracy. That’s why you have to, you know, actually talk to the doctor when you go into their office. Because they don’t know you, and despite how many patients they’ve treated in the past, every case is unique in some way because each person is unique in some way. Nobody’s brain is the same, nobody’s mental illness is the same, and that’s why individual treatment is important.
Forgive me if I get a bit resentful of the “normies” who try to diagnose people, when they have never experienced any mental illness themselves. I touched on this a little bit in my last post, but it’s even more relevant here. You do not know what you’re talking about, so please, for the love of all that is good and worth doing, stop talking about it.
Here’s the bottom line: the media’s characterization of us as freaks is unhelpful at best, and incredibly toxic at worst. They’re othering us. They’re saying, you’re not like regular people. But of course, the truth is very much the opposite. Chances are, you already know somebody who suffers from a psychological disorder, or has at some point during their lives. Most of the time, the “normies” never even suspect us of being anything other than just like them, but then suddenly, when it’s revealed that we’re not, we were freaks all along and they just knew it and oh, how could we have allowed this to go unnoticed. Let’s face it: killers walk among us, they’re totally indistinguishable from regular folks, and they are generally inconspicuous. Let’s stop trying to make excuses for the fact that we aren’t dealing with the real issues here (gun control, gun violence, gun culture, lack of access and funding for mental healthcare, our own apathy, etc).
We also have to accept the idea that this person may not have been suffering from any psychological disorder. What if he was just a “normie”? What if he was just as neurotypical as they come? How probable that is, we can never be sure. But it is quite possible. Perhaps he was simply a person who was filled with hatred, with rage, with a total apathy toward others, with a grudge, who knows really. But the dark side of human nature is ever-present. Humanity has long been responsible for things we are not proud of. We have tendencies we aren’t proud of and don’t like to discuss.
Look, I can’t say for sure, but I expect that this shooter seemed like a completely “normal” person to almost everyone he came across. He probably did things that regular folks do: he probably read books, watched TV, played video games, hung out with people sometimes, went out and bought groceries, ate french fries, ordered pizza, etc. Hell, all of those are things that I do, and by definition, I’m not neurotypical. But you would never guess if I didn’t tell you. Most people I knew did not guess, and the people who currently don’t know still don’t know. The invisibility of a disorder can be both a blessing and a curse (mostly a curse, because if people accepted us, not having to tell them wouldn’t be a blessing in the first place).
All I’m asking is, please accept me as a real person with independent thoughts and feelings and opinions. I can’t speak for this person. I don’t know why he killed those children, teachers, and even his own mother. I will never pretend to know or understand that. Don’t lump me in with a dangerous person just because you think we might both fit under a label of “mentally ill” (a label that is ridiculously diverse, as well). We are not circus freaks, nor are we a science experiment. You don’t get to tell us how to deal, and you also don’t get to tell us that we are immoral, that we have a spiritual darkness.
The only darkness I see is the darkness of ignorance, bigotry, and marginalization. And it keeps happening. And still, the people sleep.