Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Thoughts on the Aurora shooter



So it's happened again.   Another young man, armed with four weapons and 6000 rounds of ammo, all of which were purchased legally, has inflicted unspeakable pain and suffering and terror on innocent people who were simply living their lives.  As yet, the shooter, James Holmes, is an enigma.  Initially I was convinced that he was a sociopath, i.e., not someone with an Axis I major mental disorder, but rather someone with an Axis II personality disorder.  I thought that someone with schizophrenia would not have the cognition or volition to carry out such an elaborate plan, based on my own experience with Gabriel.  But after seeing Holmes in court, with his flat affect and spacey look, I began to think that he could, in fact, have schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.  And I began to feel very, very sad.

That sadness turned to despondence as I read comments on various news sites and Facebook.  All too many people expressed the opinion that we should just skip the trial and "fry" him immediately.  So much for that pesky Constitution.  Others fantasized about all sorts of vicious torture and mob violence that should be inflicted on him.  Most were dismissive of the possibility of a severe mental illness as a cause of Holmes' horrific acts.  Some felt he was just faking in court.  Most seemed unable to believe or comprehend that something like schizophrenia could drive someone to do these things.  And some didn't care, making reference to the need to "put down a rabid dog."

Naturally my thoughts turned to Gabriel.  As I mentioned before, he would never have the cognitive skills nor the motivation to complete such a complex plan.  When he is actively psychotic, he is so nonfunctional that he can't even fix himself a sandwich or put his shoes on or answer the simplest question.

Gabriel is also the most nonviolent person I've ever known.  I could  count on one hand the number of times that, as a kid, he hit or even pushed another kid.  Even when other kids did mean things to him, like intentionally jumping on his arm when he was on the ground and breaking both bones in his forearm, Gabriel never sought revenge.  He only got his feelings hurt:  he simply couldn't understand why someone would be mean.

But, in spite of Gabriel's 26 years of nonviolence, I can imagine schizophrenia causing him to do things in a psychotic state that he would never do when he's in touch with reality.  When he had that 5 month long period of active psychosis in 2008-09, I realized that maybe he could reach that point.  That was when he told the doctor at the psychiatric ER that he thought about stabbing himself in the head to make the voices stop.  The doc told me to hide all the knives and sent Gabriel back home.  I hid the knives.   He was awake for days on end, and he stayed up all night in the living room, watching TV.  I could hear him from my bedroom, saying things like,  "Fuck you, bitch!" and "Die, bitch!"  It scared the crap out of me, until I realized that he was talking to the mafia guys who were threatening him.  (I still told Marcus to lock his door at night and I locked mine, too, and I slept with one eye open.)  I noticed him staring intently at me while we were eating lunch one day.  I asked him,  "When you look at me, what do you see?"  "Sometimes I see an alien," he answered.  Eventually he started trying to punch and kick the mafia guys  (I'm glad I didn't look like a mafia guy), and that's when the hospital finally admitted him.

It's also worth noting that, when Gabriel had his first psychotic break, at age 20, its onset was so fast it took my breath away.  Over a weekend in July, he was morose, and seemed worried about some joke I made about the police.  By Monday evening, he was convinced that someone was trying to kill him and that the police were in the room upstairs, listening to everything we said.

So if James Holmes has had an onset of schizophrenia, I can't help but feel some compassion towards him, in spite of the terrible things he did.  I know it's not a popular way of thinking.  People think I'm making excuses for him or trying to absolve him of responsibility.  Some think I'm "rooting" for the underdog.  I'm doing none of those things.  It's just that once you've lived with schizophrenia, and you've seen a loved one suffer because of it, you can't help but understand in a way you perhaps wish you didn't.

2 comments:

robin snachel said...

I agree with you. I think the shooter was experiencing an extreme onset of schizophrenia or the like. I also think it's going to be easier for women to accept this possibility just because we're more willing to give the benefit of the doubt, even if/while still angry. And while I don't believe an everyday American has a valid need for a semiautomatic assault rifle, the focus needs to be on educating the pubic on warning signs and cries for help concerning mental illness rather than gun control.

Galen said...

Very true, Robin. With the benefit of hindsight, we can often see the warning signs. We really do need to educate people about things to look for. The Virginia Tech shooter, Jared Loughner, the Aurora shooter...all showed signs of having trouble at school. Especially people who work at colleges should learn what the red flags are and have strategies to reach out to troubled students. People with emerging schizophrenia of course usually don't think they have a problem, so they won't seek help themselves, so there have to be concerted efforts to reach them.