I just watched several news clips about the young man, James Holmes, who killed 12 people and injured 58 more in a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado this past Thursday. Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that the newscasters wound up insinuating that Mr. Holmes might be faking being psychotic. It is a big story after all and they were trying to make it juicier. They made a big deal of the fact that Mr. Holmes hair was dyed orange and that he made disjointed faces during the first court proceeding. To my mind, a mind that has been through the intensity and disorientation of insanity, his behavior was normal for someone who has just gone through a peak experience of a psychotic break and is very definitely psychotic in one way or another. That people should question whether he is presently insane after he went on a killing spree, that to me is insane. Of course he's extremely ill. And it is not unusual that the before picture of him as a very bright and motivated person should quickly turn into the after picture of him as someone in the grips of psychotic delusions. On some level he might have seen it coming as I did and, as I did, he probably stayed stuck in denial until his first break with reality.
When that first break hits, it is externally subtle, but internally dramatic. There is so much going on inside oneself, a total mixing of fantasy and fact. It is extremely unfortunate for James Holmes that his deluded fixations latched onto the fictional characters of Batman and The Joker. It is quite possible that he at first identified with Batman as a hero character, a defender of the innocent, and then swung in the opposite direction as his illness progressed to see himself as the villan. This is fairly typical of schizophrenia and related illnesses. Several months into my psychotic transformation I swung from the temptation of being a holy person to being the Antichrist and finally to being a sort of combination of the two. Lucky for me I didn't stay in the Antichrist role, but leaned more heavily towards the Jesus role, which led me back to the study of Buddhism.
My fixation was not a fictional character, but a real famous person, who, in my mind, transformed into a serial killer. The pain of this was that I was mentally joined to this delusion. Before I became psychotic, I had been abused by my boyfriend, but after I became psychotic, my abuser lived inside of my mind. I had to train myself to cultivate compassion for that sick side while at the same time separating my core self as best I could. My therapist, who I started seeing less than 6 months after my first psychotic break, taught me and guided me to value the good within me. How important was that? Important enough to let me survive two more breaks and the ensuing suicidal depression of my very, very early recovery. It led me towards recovery. It led me to counter the poor self esteem of my young adulthood and the eventual self hating residue of having lived through an abusive relationship.
Most people wouldn't want to say that they identify with a mass murderer, but I do. I identify with his illness and yes, I feel a lot of sympathy for my fellow man, who has, through this illness, condemned himself for the rest of his life. Somewhere along the line, he didn't get the help that I reached out for early on and, at least partially, took. Most likely he was left alone with his heroes and demons. But really with a story like Batman and The Joker the line between hero and villan is pretty damn slim. Both are manipulative, violent and disguised. Why this obsession with action heroes and villans? Why is there this almost innocent glorification of violence? Good guys/bad guys really devolve into a sick bunch of characters each of whom utilize and perfect violence as a means to an end. But the end doesn't come; it just keeps bouncing back and forth. There's always another sequel.
Even children know that there is so much more to life than black and white thinking. At their best they can easily sniff out hypocrisy. A lot of heroes are hypocrites. They say one thing and do another. They make exceptions for themselves especially in the area of the tit for tat cycle of abuse and violence. This tit for tat mentality can be seen in love relationships, friendships, in our schools, in the work environment, in our government and in our entertainment. Slights, power plays, competition and brewing resentments that just keep getting fed. Many of us in a hostile situation want the last word. And the last word invariably goes -- me = good and you = bad. Is it true? Hell no. All of us are a composite of all the dualities: good/bad, positive/negative, strong/weak, honorable/dishonorable, etcetera, etcetera. All of us have done things that we are proud of and things that we are ashamed of. That's a big part of being human; it's in the flux between polarities and in our self consciousness.
In our essence we are not either good or bad, but for at least this lifetime, we are forever working through our own ambivalence, sometimes feeling/thinking/being "good" and sometimes feeling/thinking/being "bad". Maybe that's why so many people invest a lot in their personas as a form of denial and defense. Mr. Holmes took that as a basis to build his elaborate delusions which has put him at the outer limits, beyond an understanding of reality. Of course some filters in because it has to or he wouldn't be able to function, but the big picture is obscured by the delusional one.
So I say, James Holmes is not faking being seriously ill. People who kill other people are not faking it, just as people who commit suicide are not faking it. I believe violence is a form of mental illness, but in our culture it is almost taboo to say so because so many people justify it as a right. The right to bear arms for private individuals, for the police force and for the military translates into men, women and children becoming the victims of that right. We can't have it both ways with some violence good and necessary and other violence bad and tragic, but that's what we do over and over again. Instead of suppressing violence, we lift it up and even make it mainstream entertainment in films and television. We give a deeply mixed message first to children and then to young adults, particularly young men. When tragedy does occur, as in this case with people being seriously injured and killed, we respond with surprise. What's surprising is that we turn a blind eye to all the violence that goes on in our country each and every day and to all the violence in action/adventure flicks that we're practically spoon feeding to children and young adults. Bottom line, guns and entertainment of this sort are BIG business and there's a lot of clout in trying to protect these businesses.
The urge of the media in insinuating that Mr. Holmes is faking being psychotic is the age old desire to find a scapegoat for the serious societal problems of mental illness and violence. Every time an insane young man goes on a shooting spree in this country, and this seems to be more prevalent in the last decade, it offers a window of opportunity for change. Community action, mental health services and gun control need to become top priority. If that doesn't happen, don't be surprised if yet another mentally ill person repeats the same pattern that James Holmes got pulled into. The problem won't just go away. Scapegoats can take the blame temporarily, but in the long run we all have to take on our own share of it. We can point fingers all we want, but what we really should be doing is examining ourselves. Real change can only happen individual by individual.
A Recovery Blog
This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.