Sandy Hook

This is difficult to write.  I can’t even come up with an appropriate title because this is such a horrible event.  Twenty six dead.  Twenty of them small children, too young to know even to hide, as if it were possible.  Six adults who tried to help and lost their lives in the effort.

How can a person do this?  What sort of mental state rationalizes such violence?  As many mental states as I have been in, I have never felt homicidal.  (Suicidal yes, homicidal no.) I can’t imagine what makes a person do such a horrible thing.

He was crazy, they’ll say and eventually this will go down in the history books as another tragedy caused by a crazy person.  If one crazy person can do this, then all crazy people must be capable of doing this.  Put another check mark down for stigma.

Only 50% of people with mental health problems seek help.  That means that half of those who need help could be a danger to themselves or others. Making mental health more available, affordable and less stigmatized could make a difference in the future.  But it’s too late for the children and adults who have already been lost.

Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook. Schools should be safe havens for our children.  This is no longer the case.

The shooting in Connecticut seemed so unreal to me over the weekend.  Distant, foreign, just like the Twin Towers had felt.  But I substitute taught today and I talked with some of the students.  None of them said they were scared, but you could hear it in their voice and see it in their eyes, there was concern.  Could this happen here?

Of course it could.  It could happen anywhere.

I was talking with one of the teachers about it today.  He said Sandy Hook had all the same precautions that we take here (locked doors, little video cameras) but until society is ready to make the investment into serious deterrents, like metal detectors and armed, trained policemen in our schools, we are all at risk.

And it’s not just Connecticut.  A similar plot in Oklahoma was foiled. A disgruntled teen planned to lure students into the gym, chain the doors and start shooting.  He even planned to plant pipe bombs on the doors rigged to blow when the police arrived.  At least he was caught and arrested before any of this could come to pass.  Allegedly he was trying to recruit assistants in the lunchroom to help with his plans. Students turned him in to the authorities.

It’s a sad time for Newtown Connecticut and the world mourns with the victim’s families.  While gun control is one issue on the table, mental health is a complex problem that needs to be addressed.  I am glad to see that some attention is being paid to the problem, and hopefully this will open up new doors to understanding mental illness and new paths to treatment.

University Love

I love learning. I love sitting in a classroom, mathematics scrawled across the board, my eyes drinking in formulas and my mind questing for more. Seeing connections between A, B, & C. Reading, understanding, interacting. Learning.

And now I’ve stopped learning. I’ve gone corporate and there is no time for learning. I get short courses in technical writing or Excel, and I sit at the front of the class and ask a million questions – yes, I’m that student you always hated in school because she wouldn’t shut up and let the class go on at its rapid fire pace. I stay after class and ask the teacher questions. I am an A-student sponge. That is, if I’m interested in what I’m there for. If not, forget it – I’m daydreaming.

Today I am sitting here in hallowed halls of learning, waiting while DH sits in on a class. He is visiting local graduate schools looking for a PhD program. (He doesn’t want us to be known as Dr. & Mr. anymore.) I can understand to some degree, although to be honest, for about the first 5 years after I had my PhD, I would have told you it was a waste of time and effort. But as I sit here waiting for him, I long for those days.

I tried going to the library but eventually got tired of their squirrely organization system. Why would one floor contain books in the 300s up to 495, then stop and start again with 650? Meanwhile, books in the 500-649 range are on another floor (3 floors away, actually). I’m sure there is some method to this madness, most likely subject grouping, but to the untrained eye, it seems like nonsense.

So I ended up at a coffee shop. It wasn’t a very good one, but it was warm and quiet. But I was just in a coffee shop. I wasn’t transported to that magical land of learning like I am in a university. Even at home, trying to read Stahl’s book on psychopharmacology doesn’t do it for me. Sifting through pub med articles are not enough. School is in my heart. Learning is in soul.

When I was working on my graduate degree, I took nearly every class I could. I took more than was required. My advisor asked me, “why do you keep taking classes? You can just take research credits.” I responded, “because I enjoy it. You’re going to pay for 6 credits regardless and I’m going to do the research anyway, so what’s the harm?” I finally reached some pretty high level theoretical stuff that was my undoing. (A severe bipolar cycle was going on at the same time and I nearly failed the class.) But I climbed pretty high on the intellectual totem pole, and for that I should be proud.

Part of me would love to go back to school. I would study mathematics. Math is solid. There are no judgement calls. It either is or is not. It is cool and structured, powerful and necessary. It is not influenced by my moods or state of mind. It is a silent giant but it requires focus. A focus that I need but have lost over time.

But what I really wonder is do I want to go back to school for the right reasons? I feel like my career has been a series of accidents – some good and some bad – but all of them left wreakage behind. I feel like I should be somewhere in my career by now instead of flip-flopping career paths, leaving a trail of employers in my wake. Has my bipolar been an issue? Of course it has. It cost me one job and is on the verge of costing me another. It was only the one in between that (mostly) wasn’t caused by my illness.

And that was probably the job that meant the most: in academia.