Monday, December 17, 2012

I Am Adam Lanza's Teacher

I posted these comments on facebook yesterday as a response to Liza Long's blog post "Thinking the Unthinkable" as well as an anonymous post titled "I Am Adam Lanza's Psychiatrist: A Response From the Mental Health Trenches" but I wanted to post it here too with my own experiences included. I bring a very specific perspective to this argument over mental health, specifically in children, due to my role as a public school teacher.
According to the U.S. Surgeon General and the New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, “four million children and adolescents in this country suffer from a serious mental disorder that causes significant functional impairments at home, at school and with peers. Half of all lifetime cases of mental disorders begin by age 14. Despite effective treatments, there are long delays, sometimes decades, between the first onset of symptoms and when people seek and receive treatment. An untreated mental disorder can lead to a more severe, more difficult to treat illness and to the development of co-occurring mental illnesses. In any given year, only 20 percent of children with mental disorders are identified and receive mental health services.”

Only 20 percent of children are identified and receive mental health services. Twenty percent.

I have seen these kids. They have walked the halls of my middle school, sat in my blue plastic chairs, glared at me under droopy greasy hair and hooded eyelids, through empty glassy eyes. Most of them do not obtain mental health support outside of our school, and some don’t even receive the help we offer on campus because their parents refuse to have them tested for disorders. There is a stigma attached to mental and emotional illness and many parents live in denial that their child may need some extra support, or may not be suited for an all-inclusive classroom.

I spent a large part of Sunday night reading up on Adam Lanza, Dylan Klebold, Eric Harris, James Holmes and Seung-Hui Cho and what kept coming to mind were some of the faces that have passed through my door. How one day I very well could be that teacher, speaking to reporters… “well, he clearly had some problems. We tried to help him. The school did everything they were permitted to do, but I can’t say I am surprised.”

Two years ago I had a young man in my classroom. We’ll just call him John. John came to me at age 17 (do keep in mind that I teach 7th grade, where the appropriate age range is 11-13) after spending the past four years at home, unsocialized, uneducated, and often left alone to his own devices. I do not know why this young man was not in school nor why his parents are not in prison for it, but we’ll leave that to another discussion. From the moment I met John I knew he had serious problems. He was remarkably intelligent, but compulsive, awkward, and cruel to his peers. He would mumble nasty comments under his breath calling his classmates “objects” “creatures” and “dead souls.” He would shout out inappropriate things at inappropriate times. He would tell horrible fictitious stories about how he lived in a basement with rats, and how his “demon mother” would keep him locked in a closet while the rats gnawed at his toes (his mother had been dead for years). He hated women, and would bluntly state how we were all “witches” and "evil.” He suffered from delusions that everyone was out to hurt him. He had neurotic physical twitches and would rock back and forth in his chair, arms crossed tight across his lean body; or sometimes he would simply sit there turned to the wall, staring blankly for the entire class period in a catatonic-like state. However, the most frightening thing about John were his eyes. When he was having a bad day he would turn to me, and like Liza Long says in her article “his tone increasingly belligerent, the black-hole pupils of his eyes swallowing the irises.” Almost like the darkness plaguing his soul had swelled up in his eyes, swallowing anything left of the sweet boy he probably once was.

Now, I am no psychologist nor do not profess to know very much about mental disorders beyond my own limited research and experiences, but John was very clearly troubled. If I had to “diagnose” him, I would say that he was definitely on the autism spectrum, and probably showing early signs of schizophrenia and sociopathology.

The school tried to intervene as best as we could, however John’s parents refused to have him tested. He desperately needed medication, but the school can’t distribute without permission. We had him set up for professional counseling, but we could not force his parents to take him there. Instead, we are told to handle him the best we can, our hands tied until John actually DID something violent. I knew he was a ticking time bomb, but again I was helpless until he acted on the vehement impulses that I knew were simmering just under the surface. I ultimately had John removed from my classroom after one particularly scary incident, culminating in me calling administration to my room and John spitting out at me “I hope you enjoy the fires of hell” as he was dragged away. I wrote a petition to the administration, expressing my concern for the safety of the students in my classroom and he was placed in another Language Arts classroom, taught by a man. Eventually he was expelled from the school after a myriad of other similar incidences. I do not know what became of him.

I say all this to show how, as terrifying as it is and as much as we would like to believe otherwise, Sandy Hook, Columbine, Aurora, and Virginia Tech could happen anywhere. I have no doubt in my mind that if pushed to the limit, and supplied with an arsenal of weapons, John was capable of such atrocities as these. Improved gun control laws are important and a discussion that we need to have in this country. However, until the real root of the problem is addressed these things will continue to happen. To quote Liza Long “I agree that something must be done. It’s time for a meaningful, nation-wide conversation about mental health. That’s the only way our nation can ever truly heal.”

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Lamentations 3:25-29

God proves to be good 
to the man who passionately waits, 
to the woman who diligently seeks. 
It's a good thing to quietly hope, 
quietly hope for help from God.
It's a good thing when you're young 
to stick it out through the hard times. 
When life is heavy and hard to take, 
go off by yourself. Enter the silence.
Bow in prayer. Don't ask questions: 

Wait for hope to appear.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Original Post Date: March 18, 2009
First Update Post Date: May 17, 2011
Second Update Post Date: August 28, 2012

The year is 1994 and I am eight years old. My daddy and I are on the way to Uncle Rob's so I can play with Katie and Cameron. It is a stifling 90 degrees; typical summertime in Salt Lake. He unzips the faded tan top of the red Jeep Wrangler, and stuffs it in the backseat. With his tanned muscular arms, he lifts me up into the front seat, reaching across my lap to buckle me in. He smells like wood chips, pine needles and sweat. “Daddy, can we listen to that one song, pleaseeeee?” I ask. He knows the one, and pushes it into the deck, turning the volume knob all the way up at the same time the engine rumbles to life. She sits alone by a lamppost, trying to find a thought that's escaped her mind. She says Dad's the one I love the most... He backs out of the steep driveway, and I rest my arm on the window, letting my fingers dangle and the wind wrap and tickle across my palm. Darting out onto Highway 15, huge gusts of wind blow in through the absent roof, swooshing my brown hair upward, the individual strands each doing their own unique dance, cooling me from the suffocating Utah heat.

The year is 1999 and I am thirteen years old. A group of us pile into the white GMC van, settling in for our journey home from summer camp. The bus is hot, so we crack open the windows as we merge onto the highway. I lean into Adam’s chest, letting him wrap his skinny dark arms around my stomach. He lets out a contented sigh, the sound of a boy who is exactly where he wants to be. I sigh in exasperation, close my eyes and pretend to drift asleep. His arm is heavy across my chest, causing the sweat to drip down my stomach and soak into the top of my khaki shorts. I want to shrug it off but I don’t. I too am tired. Besides, I need to keep up this stupid charade. I strain to hear Josh talking in the seat behind me, whispering quietly to Tiffany. I hate her. FIF is blasting from the van’s weak speakers, and the wind keeps mussing up my hair. Dear Father, I need you, Your strength my heart to mend. I want to fly higher, Every new day again... Despite my efforts, I cannot hear Josh’s words over the music. I give up and settle into Adams chest. This will become a trend in my life. It is not what I really want, but it will do. For now.

The year is 2003 and I am seventeen years old. After backing the car into the sandy beach Josh stops his dad's Cherokee and pops the hatchback. He clambers in, moving his guitar over to the side and arranging pillows and blankets across the floor. He pulls a white rose from his guitar case and hands it to me shyly. With shaking hands I take it nervously, smiling genuinely. He helps me into the back and we turn to face the indescribable beauty of the sunset. Josh strums a quiet background to my thoughts, my favorite song. I fear this love reaction, just like you said I would. A rose could never lie, about the love it brings... He picks through the love song, and then rests the guitar against the seat, reaching for my hand and lacing his fingers through mine. Brilliant hues of pink and orange paint across the sky, and the sound of the lapping waves is soothing. Leaning into the pillows, Josh's arm draped around my shoulders, I close my eyes and breathe in the perfect innocence of the moment. I cannot think of anywhere else I would rather be in the entire world, than here with him. Right now.

The year is 2005 and I am nineteen years old. I push Carlos out of my way, and run through the front door slamming it behind me. I sprint down the stairs, taking them two at a time as the tears streaming down my face blur my vision of the Lake Claire parking lot. I unlock my car and jump in, flipping through my CD case to find the one thing that will feed my fury. In Love and Death screams through the speakers and I crank it up, rolling down the windows. If we cut out the bad well then we'd have nothing left, like I cut up your angels, yeah you stabbed me to death...I want him to hear, to feel the sincerity of my wrath. Sure enough as I peal out of the parking lot, leaving behind long black skid marks on the asphalt, I glance up to the third floor and I see his face fill the window, shadowed by the darkness. We'd had another fight and perhaps this one was the last. Furious words were shouted, each one dripping with more disdain and hopelessness, verbal grenades reverberating off the whitewashed dormitory walls. Our relationship had always been volatile, marked that way from the beginning. I scream along with the band as I merged into traffic on I-4. I don’t have anywhere to go, but I need to drive. Fast. Protected by the iron and steel body of the Oldsmobile my music screeches out of the speakers. Deafening. The outside world whips by the window and I ignore it all, forgetting everything. For now.

The year is 2007 and I am twenty-one years old. “You’re driving” I say as I toss Andrew the keys. He opens the door for me, and I curl into a ball in the passenger seat, wrapping my arms around my legs trying to warm my body. I brush the sand off my feet. He walks around to the driver’s side and turns the heat on extra high, angling all the air vents towards me. We had just spent the cold December night at the beach, wrapped in blankets, singing and dancing in the moonlight. A wonderfully spontaneous evening under the stars. I lean across the seat and kiss him hard, running my fingers through his blonde hair. He is so beautiful. He smiles that perfect grin. With his blue eyes twinkling he picks up my iPod and after scanning through the artists he finally comes to rest on Marvin Gaye. He holds my hand and sings to me in his soulful pitch-perfect voice. We’re all sensitive people with so much to give. Understand me sugar, since we got to be, let’s live... I laugh, kissing him on the neck, momentarily distracting his attention from the road. I lean back in the seat and rest my feet on the dash. It won’t last. Saccharine smooth-talking never does, the shallowness shows eventually. But he’s gorgeous and charming and he makes me feel pretty. It won’t last. But for now, it will do.

The year is 2009 and I am twenty-two years old. I wake up slowly, pack my things, grab my car keys and hit the road. I drive too fast, but I am skillful and confident; whipping around the slow-moving trucks and hopelessly lost tourists. It is a balmy 85 degrees and all four of my windows are rolled down. I pull out onto 1-4 and the wind catches my hair, twisting it into a messy red knot that I will assuredly regret later. But right now I don’t care. The Eagles are blasting through the speakers, forever my comfort music, as I leave Orlando behind in a bitter trail of dust. Don't let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy. Lighten up while you still can, don't even try to understand. Just find a place to make your stand, and take it easy... I am stressed, and tired, and lonely. But tomorrow will worry about itself. Right now I want nothing more than this exquisite tango of rubber and pavement. For the next two hours I will relinquish my fears and insecurities. I will forget their faces and I will find my community in these lyrics. I will wink at my fellow patients of the road, relax in the therapy of the drive, and sing unabashedly at the top of my lungs.

The year is 2010 and I’ve had my eye on him the whole night. I am twenty-three years old and I just don’t seem to give a fuck anymore. He is off-limits, which makes me want him all the more. I came with the abuser, the In Love and Death, and waited instead to dance with the devil. We hadn’t spoken in years, so I’m not sure what propelled me to say “yes.” Perhaps it was a subconscious plot of revenge? Regardless, I waited till the end, that final dance, and I enveloped him, wrapped my arms around his neck and relished in the fury I felt gazed upon my back. Scott smelled like home, and I fit, so we danced. We danced for two years. It was always good, occasionally great. It was never intended to be serious, more like we had nothing to lose. But serious it became. And serious it ended. I suppose we both had plenty to lose.

The year is 2012, I am twenty-six years old, and I finally understand what they mean by “a fine line between love and hate.” I loved fully. Not initially, mind you. I found him slightly crass and attention seeking and awkward. But Alan grew on me; much like beautiful green Spanish moss on a tree, or toxic black mold in an old rickety house. And when I fell, I fell hard, and the rocks and dirt and trees and earth settled against my breasts and skin and bones and I knew then that I was incapable of clawing my way out. I was trapped in the bonfire of devotion and all was wonderful, for a time. Until it wasn't. He became distracted and I started feeling forgotten and rejected and alone, not unlike the children’s book stump that gave everything she had, until none was left. I neverminded the crimson red flags that popped up, here and there, pushing them aside as my own paranoia and fear. Ah, my blessed heart. How hard she tried to warn me that he was nothing more than an overgrown child; shallow and immature. Incapable of seeing outside the windows of constant possibilities to accept the idea that stability and consistent love could be exactly what he needed. Regardless, I bent and bent and bent backwards, until my delicate bones creaked like that of an old oak. Perhaps if I could have bent just a little bit further into a setu bandha (ah, the irony). Instead I was left in the dark, grasping at the shadow of us and the reverberating echo of well, we're very different people.”  Alas, the Dark Days have passed and I have Hope at each and every fingertip. The carefree and charming, the quiet and brooding, the strong and beautiful. I exhale. It is quite nice this way. Au revoir petit garçon.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Ask her how she got here and she will smile and laugh and look down in her glass. Two things she's good at: drinking and keeping secrets. In the melting ice cubes she sees the past.

Monday, May 2, 2011

the walk

Since my words aren't flowing, I'll borrow these.
Yup, that's about right.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

I really need to start writing again.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


If my faith was (is) based in fear
then I had (have) no faith at all.

"The individual person is responsible for living his own life and for finding himself. If he persists in shifting his responsibility to somebody else, he fails to find out the meaning of his own existence.” -Thomas Merton