Monday, September 18, 2006

Sympathies

I received an email from my brother yesterday. He told me that he has been classified as having a major disability, and will receive government benefits. It is good news, and, at the same time, it isn't.

I’ve thought a lot about my brother since Wednesday. It’s been hard not to.

The latest reports indicate that Kimveer Gill, the Dawson shooter, had psychological problems and had sought help for them at least once. A police source adds that Gill had “deteriorated” in the weeks before the shootings, a word that cannot do justice to the process it attempts to describe.

My brother deteriorated six years ago. He was the same age as Gill.

We will probably never know if Gill suffered from a recognized psychiatric condition, and if so, which one. These things don’t show up on autopsy reports. But chances are that he did. Most of them do.

Several years ago, I watched a Frontline documentary about Kip Kinkel, the teenager who shot his parents and twenty-seven of his classmates at an Oregon high school. At fifteen, Kinkel had already received psychiatric care and been placed on Prozac. The note he left at his dead parents’ house reveals that he struggled with far worse than depression:

I have just killed my parents! I don't know what is happening. I love my mom and dad so much. I just got two felonies on my record. My parents can't take that! It would destroy them. The embarrassment would be too much for them. They couldn't live with themselves. I'm so sorry. I am a horrible son. I wish I had been aborted. I destroy everything I touch. I can't eat. I can't sleep. I didn't deserve them. They were wonderful people. It's not their fault or the fault of any person, organization, or television show. My head just doesn't work right. God damn these VOICES inside my head. I want to die. I want to be gone. But I have to kill people. I don't know why. I am so sorry! Why did God do this to me. I have never been happy. I wish I was happy. I wish I made my mother proud. I am nothing! I tried so hard to find happiness. But you know me I hate everything. I have no other choice. What have I become? I am so sorry.

I have noticed that people become angry when you suggest that mental illness is often a factor in events like the Dawson shootings. The perception is that it is somehow an excuse, a way to let the perpetrator off the moral hook for his actions. At the same time, journalists and bloggers alike have devoted countless pages to the presumed role of popular culture, as though any rock song or video game has the power to transform an otherwise stable person into a mass murderer. As though it’s that easy.

I confess, there are moments when I am infuriated by the discussion. More often, it saddens me, especially when I try to imagine what these days have been like for Gill’s family.

Statistics show that the majority of people who suffer from mental illness are not violent, and will never become so. Still, I can’t shake the fear that one day, when he has gone off his meds and the voices have overcome him, my brother could hurt someone. Then, people would say that he was a monster, or a freak, or a loser; that it was his parents’ fault, or mine; that he was, intrinsically, something less than human.

And then they would look at his CD collection, not realizing that he listens to music to drown out the voices in his head.

My heart goes out to Anastasia de Sousa’s family, and to every family whose child was wounded last Wednesday. But it also goes out to Gill’s family, and to Gill. The tragedy was big enough to encompass them all.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is a beautifully observed post. In light of your argument, it's especially disturbing that the debate has by now been distilled to the question "how much surveillance of internet activity is necessary?". It seems that the larger culture today, obsessed with surveillance, can address situations only in this mode, whether in response to international problems or to shockingly local tragedies.