This has been a heartwrenching week. On Sunday, a gunman walked into a gay nightclub in Orlando and opened fire. He killed 49 people and injured 53. First and foremost, of course, I desperately wish I could go and provide comfort to the families of everyone who lost their lives.
Every single time I read about a shooting in the news, my gut churns. With this one, however, my grief seems more personal, even though I didn’t personally know anyone at Pulse. I went to my first Pride festival just a couple of weeks ago, and as a person with anxiety, I won’t lie: I did have brief, fleeting worries about safety.
It wasn’t, and I was grateful. And then Sunday happened.
But what happened afterward was both amazing and horrible.
Amazing, because the LGBT community has pulled together. We’ve shared news, shared messages of support, shared photos and videos of vigils and memorial rallies. Friends and family have been there for many of us. Politicians and religious leaders who have previously spoken out against LGBT rights have apologized and vowed to do better.
This is great.
But on the flip side, there are the politicians who “expressed their sorrow” about the shooting, only to turn around and blame it on Islam, or mental illness, or internalized homophobia, while continuing to vote against gay rights.
I’m not going to guess at the gunman’s motivations, other than to say they were probably complex and many.
What I do want to talk about is the minefield all of us with mental illness are forced to walk after just about every mass shooting in the U.S. I’ve seen people blamed the Pulse shooting on bipolar disorder. After past shootings, I had friends talking about how anyone with violent thoughts should be locked up.
I know they couldn’t have known that I have OCD that leads to just those kinds of thoughts sometimes, and that my fear and revulsion toward them is probably 10 times what anyone else feels. But it still hurts.
Right now, the debate seems to be focused more on the gunman’s religion, perceived sexuality, and racism more than his ex-wife’s claims that he was unstable. But we all know this routine. We know it will probably get there eventually.
So please, remember:
- If you have a mental illness, you are more likely to be a victim of violence than commit it.
- If you have violent thoughts, that does not make you a bad person, nor does it mean you are going to act on them or want to act on them.
- If you fear that you could act on your thoughts, you can choose to seek out help.
- Many murderers have no signs of mental illness — and if they do, that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to follow their example.
Please take care of yourself and be kind to yourself. Take care of the people you love and love them. Try to put more goodness and kindness into the world than you found when you got here.
I know all of that is easier said than done, especially when people who don’t know what mental illness is like start talking about how it should be treated.
But I’m going to try, for the sake of the victims, who are gone too soon.
Photo by ezhikoff