For the past couple days, I haven’t really known what to say.
What happened on Friday was awful, and horrible, and a very sad tragedy. It is something that should not happen, not ever, not anywhere.
But, to be completely honest, I’m not sad.
Now, before you judge me, and before you explode in the comments, I need to explain. I so desperately want to be sad. I want to be infuriated. I want to mourn. I want to write a fiery post about gun control. I want to scream and shout and cry and feel a million other things.
But I can’t. Because I have Asperger’s. And thus, I lack the ability to empathize.
Friday afternoon, as I learned about the shootings in Newtown, I felt the need to somehow communicate anger or sadness over it. But I honestly could not feel either emotion. I thought about tweeting something about not being able to feel anything, but everything I came up with sounded self-centered. So here I am instead, three days later, finally figuring out the words to say.
I cannot empathize with the parents, friends, teachers, siblings, classmates, or anyone else otherwise related to the children who were murdered on Friday. I have never experienced such a loss before, and thus I cannot understand it, or connect myself to it.
But yesterday, when I learned that the shooter had Asperger’s, I found I could feel grief for him.
Again, let me clarify. I’m not saying I can sympathize. I’m not saying I can condone what he did. It was a horrible, horrible thing, and his Asperger’s does not excuse that.
But I know what it’s like to have to live with AS. I know how difficult daily life can be. I know how easy it is for anxiety to take over, or rage to burn. I know how hard it is to process, manage, and control emotions, and how hard it is to understand chemical changes and how they impact mood. I know what it’s like to feel like an outcast all of the time, to not know how to be a part of a healthy social group, to be mocked, ridiculed, discriminated against, or even hated for being different or not being able to “act normal.”
I know what Adam Lanza had to deal with, unceasingly, every day of his life.
I’m lucky. I grew up with health insurance that covered mental health expenses. I had the ability to be diagnosed and treated. I went to college with a community of loving people who were willing not just to accept me, but to help me, support me, and teach me how to function in society. I have a husband who feels for me and has helped me to learn about emotion and empathy in ways that no one else ever could.
This is not the case for every person living with AS. Many people go untreated, never knowing they have it, thinking they just need to be more “normal” or that they’re just “weird” and need to fix it. They don’t feel safe discussing their difficulties with emotional processing and interpersonal connections with anyone because those difficulties are what makes them abnormal. They don’t have a safe outlet when uncontrolled emotions flare up. They don’t have someone to teach them about empathy.
Instead, they try to push down their abnormalities, until they can’t anymore and they break down or lash out.
We need to address this. We need to remove the stigma associated with mental illness. We need to provide safe, accessible, affordable mental health resources that aim to help those dealing with mental illnesses to function and succeed in society. We need to recognize that mental illnesses are just as much a health issue as physical illnesses, and to treat them in the same way–proactively, quickly, and with concern for the patient’s healing.
We need to stop saying “us” and “them” when it comes to people with mental illnesses. Because we are them. I am one, and I bet there are many others in your life.
We need to make sure these tragedies don’t happen anymore.