Apr 19, 2007

A Fine Line That We All Walk

We have all seen in the news headlines information on the Virginia Tech Campus shootings and Cho Seung-Hui, the young Korean man who was responsible. The whole incident unnerves me greatly. I personally abhor violence of any kind. I can not even fathom how anyone could take another life, but I can’t help but feel that society failed Cho Seung-Hui over and over again. Many people would think that compassion for this sort of person is unimaginable and wrong, but by the nature of his acts we should realize the boy was mentally ill. No sane person would carry out such horrific acts of violence. By his own history he showed signs of needing help, yet those signs were ignored. The old argument that people need to seek help before getting it is just an excuse. Let’s face it if someone is “mentally ill” how could they be capable of seeking help? I can’t help but think of my own life. My mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia back in the 70’s. A young woman, average intelligence, daughter of average parents, etc….who in her late teens, early twenties started to slowing slip away into a world of distorted perceptions and delusions. There were times when she thought television characters were speaking to her, times when she burnt photographs of loved ones, took scissors to new clothes cutting them in pieces, and even a time when she put a gun to her father’s head. There were hours of endless tears, moments of extreme anger, and like a rollercoaster we held on and went along for the ride. As children you don’t understand what's happening, but you love your parents and pray for the nightmare to end. All in all society did NOTHING to help or to intervene. The signs were always there and people just looked the other way. Most to this day never new there was a problem. Oh, I recall church folks coming to our home and telling mom if she “got right with God” everything would be better. It didn’t. I even remember missing 30+ days of school because I didn’t want to leave mom alone, but neither the teachers, nor the school authorities ever questioned why and never checked to see if there was a problem. The only way she ever got help was through her family, and through them, only because she was made by a judge to get help. To make a long story short – mom did get help. She was never told the diagnosis. The family was told it was schizophrenia. One of the worse cases they had seen and that she would have to stay on anti-psychotic drugs for the rest of her life. My mom died in January of 2000 of lymphoma cancer. She lived on the drug stelazine for over 30+ years, which her family doctor dispensed prescriptions for. Over the last 25+ no one of the medical industry ever followed up with her concerning the schizophrenia and in all that time she was never reevaluated. Once a medical doctor even took her off the medicine saying she was too nice a lady to need a drug such as that. It was only a matter of days when he came back to the family and apologized. Mom had just had her gallbladder out and it didn't take long after taking the stelazine away that the hospital saw an entirely different person. Over the years there were many times that she went off her medicine and the psychosis quickly returned. Family members would try diligently to get her back on it and eventually it worked and life would return to normal. Now my concern is what if mom never had gotten help? What if we had not been there? Would she or could she have become another Cho Seung-Hui? Of course, she could have. So what happens to those people who develop mental illness and receive no help? Everyone should know. They live out their lives in loneliness and isolation, end up on our streets, or help to populate our prisons. These poor tortured souls, who NEVER asked for this to happen to them, are told by politicians and others that “they are responsible for their actions.” If they commit a violent crime then we should get them sane long enough to stand trial, then sentence them to death. Execute them, so we don’t have to admit that some people are born with defects, illnesses, brains that malfunction….it’s no one’s fault, there is no blame, but there definitely is a stigma that is put on these folks. Funny thing is, my mom NEVER remembered any of her psychotic episodes. Our society needs to be more compassionate. We need to recognize the Cho Seung-Hui’s before the tragedy happens. Stop looking for why he did it and just understand that “within irrational acts there is no rationalism.” Within insanity there is no sanity. You can not change the fact that many people are destroyed by violent acts committed by mentally ill people, but as a society we can become a kinder, gentler people. We can reach out to those who seem disturbed, different, or isolated. We can help those who are NOT able to help themselves. We can be loving instead of judgmental It isn't always easy, but what helps is by knowing that there is a fine line that we all as humans walk. Anyone can slip on to the other side. Anyone could become a Cho Seung-Hui.

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