“The truth is, that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters. People that are so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons, that no sane person can every possibly comprehend them. They walk among us every single day, and does anybody really believe that the next Adam Lanza isn’t planning his attack on a school, he’s already identified at this very moment?. . . A dozen more killers, a hundred more? How can we possibly even guess how many, given our nation’s refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill?” Wayne La Pierre, NRA post-Newtown Press Conference, Dec. 21, 2012
When I heard Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice-President of the NRA, an organization committed to fighting gun registry legislation on the grounds of “freedom” and which in the last cycle alone spent $18.9 million on state and federal political races to further this and other aims, I wondered that the Almighty didn’t strike him down for his hypocrisy.
But LaPierre’s words angered me on a personal as well as an intellectual level because I’m one of those “deranged lunatics” that he wants to put on his “national database of the mentally ill.”
I’ve fought depression since I was a teenager. In my thirties, I succumbed to, and successfully fought and recovered from, the eating disorder bulimia. At the age of 38, I was hospitalized in a psychiatric institution after a suicide attempt. I will be on some level of mood medication for the rest of my life.
I could, like so many before me, be ashamed by this; try to hide my past and feel stigmatized by it. While it’s not always been the easiest decision, I’ve chosen not to.
Instead, I’ve chosen to write and speak about it publicly. Perhaps it’s because I write for teenagers and hope that a depressed or bulimic teen out there might come to know that the pain they are experiencing doesn’t have to be permanent.
As I wrote in an essay for the Chicken Soup for the Soul book, The Power of Positive, “the nadir I experienced at age 38 turned out to be the experience from whence so many other blessings have flowed.”
Perhaps it’s because I’m angry that insurance companies treat mental illness like a second-class citizen, that we have to fight for adequate treatment and then put up with ignoramuses like Wayne La Pierre calling us “monsters,” while refusing to consider even the slightest concessions that guns might be part of the problem. Perhaps I’m fed up with NRA-backed politicians cutting services for mental health in the community and in schools in order to balance budgets — and claiming healthcare reform is “socialism.”
Perhaps I’m sick of people blaming violent video games for incidents like Newtown, Aurora, and Columbine, when the research shows otherwise. Countries where video game consumption is highest tend to be some of the safest countries in the world. America is the outlier.
Perhaps it makes me even more sick because the same gun manufacturers that give the NRA money to defeat gun legislation use such video games to pimp their wares.
Perhaps I’m angry that conservatives try to deflect blame onto the “culture” when Nancy Lanza allegedly taught her obviously troubled son to use legal but exceptionally lethal weapons “to teach him responsibility.” (Ever heard of assigning chores or getting a pet?). And it’s worth noting here as well that the son of David Keene, NRA President and former head of the Conservative Union, was imprisoned for 10 years for shooting at another motorist in Virginia.
I lived in the United Kingdom in March 1996 when a legally armed gunman killed 15 children ages 5 and 6 and their teacher, who was trying to protect them, in a school in Dunblane, Scotland. I still remember exactly where I was on the country lane between Burton Bradstock and Long Bredy, when I heard the news on the radio, and how I had to pull my car over in a layby because I was crying so hard I couldn’t see the road. It makes me wonder why it’s people like me that the NRA would want to put in a database — people who have overcome great odds to become productive, successful, taxpaying members of society — when such an atrocity could happen again in my lifetime, in my state, while the NRA’s reaction remains “more guns” and vehement opposition to every single piece of legislation aimed at gun control, even those favored by law enforcement.
I had a few sleepless nights after making the mistake of reading the comments section of a piece I wrote for CNN.com about irresponsible media links between the Newtown shooting and Aspergers Syndrome. It made me realize that for all of the complaints from some gun owners about “the culture,” they do not adhere to any limit of decency or rational conversation when their beliefs are threatened.
It made me think twice about writing this. As my Significant Other warned: “Why do you make yourself a target?”
But then I thought about the adults who have come up to me at signings and bought my YA book PURGE — quietly confessing that they, too, are bulimic. I thought about the women who have come up to me after I’ve spoken about being hospitalized, and said, sotto voce with tears in their eyes, “I had a breakdown, too.” I thought about teens who have written to me about being sexually abused and the teens who’ve written to me from hospital while being treated for eating disorders.
For all those people who have felt alone, for all those who have ever written to me privately thanking me for speaking out — and for that teenager I once was — I’m not going to let Wayne LaPierre push me back into the closet.
Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. Long before the financial meltdown, she worked as a securities analyst and earned her MBA in Finance from the Stern School at NYU.