Saturday, July 21, 2012

Rocky Mountain Low

What Rule #1 of Abnormal Psychology *should've* been at the beginning of the semester, while the professor was telling all of us not to diagnose ourselves with every imaginable potential disorder? (That turned out to be an utterly useless proclamation, because I walked into class the first day already having been diagnosed with half of the psychiatric disorders on the syllabus.)


I overheard the strangest conversation in the elevator going to therapy yesterday:

African Man w/Undistinguishable Accent to an Asian woman "Haven't we met before?"

Woman: "No, why, do think all Koreans look alike?

Man: "I swear I saw you with a mask on."

(Exit elevator. Rats.)

Largely, African or African-American people incorrectly assume Caucasian people alike, and the reverse is also largely true, unfortunately. But for an African man with a heavy accent to a Korean woman that question, it's very non-stereotypical, though it sort of overtly was. It just all struck me as very strange and I wished I could've listened to the rest of their conversation, but alas...

So the news is slowly emerging on the mass murders in the Aurora, CO theater during  a midnight screening of the new Batman movie. Killing a dozen (or more) and injuring (I've heard conflicting reports on whether it was 50 or 70 people) countless others, a man by the name of James Holmes, a 24-year old on a PhD track in neuroscience, who had been been skipping class a lot, and was about to be expelled, when he withdrew from classes last year. It was reported that he couldn't engage in dialog in class, while deemed a pretty "good guy," no one he knew comprehended WHY he committed such a heinous crime.

We know from his family and friends that he had an affluent upbringing, had a 2-parent household, was sort of a loner, particularly introverted, and had kept to himself, but was proficient in sports and academics, and had, obviously, put careful planning into this horrific venture. Reportedly, he booby trapped his apartment with explosives if the authorities were to arrive. He lashed out at the movie theater crowd donned in a bullet proof vest and other protective regalia, finished his spree and went to glibly stand by his car, awaiting the arrival of the police. He was found with 4 guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition, which he all legally purchased online. That said, my impression of law is that premeditation would disallow him from pleading not-guilty by reason of mental disease or defect when he goes up for eventual trial regarding the homicides.

Expectantly, my friends on social media asked me to weigh in as to what mental disease Holmes might have, while others kept insisting "The guy's just crazy." The more I hear it in relation to the mentally ill, the more it grates on my nerves. That leads me back to the awkward exchange in the elevator, as odd as it was. Calling Holmes a plain "crazy" as a reason why he went on a shooting spree, is no different than calling me crazy, or anybody else who's mentally ill. Note that I'm not condoning Holmes' actions on the basis of mental illness. I'm purely trying to educate my readers who chalk the whole event to Holmes being a "crazy lunatic."

There was a comment thread on my friend, Sree's page, in which Sree felt remorseful having allowed his 7-year old twins to have a water gun party last weekend for their birthdays. I told him (and all of our mutual friends) that I completely allow my 12-year old to buy and play with toy guns, rifles and whether they shoot Nerf darts or BB's, I don't frown upon it, as Craig also doesn't.

Upon seeing a news clip, one of Sree's friends who doesn't know me, said this:

some of the smartest people do tend to have a bit of crazy. Some can manage it and use it for good. some not. I haven't read this though, but seriously- they are scarily tied closely sometimes.

Well, as long as we're talking "crazy," which is an outdated, derogatory misnomer, another friend of Sree's offered this:

My guess is that "crazy" follows the same distribution of smarticles as the general population.

Totally, statistically, untrue. I was getting irked by that point at all this "crazy talk," I felt compelled to offer the following, since so many of our friends were asking for my layperson's psychoanalysis of Holmes:

As a PsyD student in psychology, a writer/musician AND comorbidly clinically insane, I take issue with the deeming of ANYONE under the generalized umbrella of "crazy." It's an outdated, derogatory misnomer. It's statistically true, as Denise implied, that the characteristic of brilliance or "genius"--be that academically, creatively, scientifically, etc--has proven to be disproportionately linked to the incidence and prevalence of a wide range of severe mental disorders (Simona, you're incorrect). The onset of an individual's first "psychotic break" in major personality or mood disorders most commonly occurs in late adolescence to early adulthood. (I, myself, was symptomatic of bipolar disorder, major depression & anxiety disorder in college. I wasn't properly diagnosed & medicated successfully until my mid 30's, after self-medicating with drugs and/or alcohol for decades.) Based on the (very limited) information that I've heard about James Holmes, if I had to provisionally diagnose him, my guess would be paranoid schizophrenia, antisocial personality disorder or legitimate psychopathy. I'm most inclined to go with the latter.

When you think of a genius with schizophrenia, John Nash might come to mind, on who's life "A Beautiful Mind" was based. But schizophrenics, by and large, still, even if paranoid or otherwise disassociative, have some semblance of a CONSCIENCE and while fueled by hallucinations, delusions, etc lose their grasp on reality in those psychotic moments, out of my 3 possibilities, they show the most favorable probability of having remorse and comprehending right from wrong, and if consistently medicated, show the most favorable overall prognosis, which doesn't mean they won't go through hell and gone on the road to stability, which often eludes them during their entire lifespans.

Antisocial personality disorder usually follows earlier-life oppositional defiance or conduct disorder symptoms (which is more the grouping I'd diagnose the Columbine killers) and that mental illness is typically noticed by parents/teachers/doctors far earlier than the mid 20's. ASPD is really hard, sometimes, to distinguish from psychopathology. So removed from the gravity of the reality of a crime such as the CO shooting, a clinical psychopath would have literally no concept that what he did was, in fact, murder multiple people, that it was, in fact, a punishable crime (nor would he care--it would actually "pride" the criminal at having succeeded in an act so dastardly) and had he not been apprehended, future psychotic episodes or lengthy symptoms would make this murder spree a mere precursor to escalating incidences of violent crimes. 

News reports of Holmes' crime would seem to indicate he had a high level of premeditation, e.g. booby-trapping his apartment in the event the authorities were to arrive there, procuring his arsenal of guns and ammo, costuming himself, and taking his actions out in a public place, which would all defy any plea he might plan of "not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect." PSYCHOPATHS HAVE ZERO CONSCIENCE. He's SMILING in his mug shot. 

I don't know quite what to make of his mother/father in all of this yet. Still working on her involvement. I will say this: Ted Bundy still turned out to be TED BUNDY, even though his childhood and adolescence were, for the most part, stable. HE was a psychopath, as was Dahmer, who also had a clinically insignificant upbringing. Bottom line: Most of us don't irretrievably "fuck up" our kids. A ton of biopsychosocial factors go into *how* a serial killer becomes a serial killer. So Sree, quit thinking that the twins' water gun b-day party was an error on your part.

I felt that, on my own Facebook, since I was being torn apart for my son's fascination with guns and weaponry, I'd simply offer this:

When asked for a statement, Ms. Miklasz, a clinically insane woman who hates the word "crazy," said, "Not all geniuses are crazy people and not all crazy people are geniuses." When questioned as to why she allows her preteen to play with toy and replica guns, she said this: "Luke is a bright, gifted, affectionate, mature and highly creative pacifist who enjoys the company of his elder cousin and a few close friends. He's been intrigued by weaponry for years, which has frankly never concerned us, nor is it a remote precursor to him developing clinical psychopathy or homicidal ideations when he's older. He's resilient, spiritual and witty, yet not perfect. The most damage he's done with a gun was to his father's lamp shade and one of his mother's dressers. HE HAS A CONSCIENCE. Psychopaths and antisocial personality disorder-types don't, so chill the fuck out, ya'll."

It's a lot like African-Americans being socially acceptable in calling one another the "N" word, my opinion is that "crazy people" should be the only people allowed to use "crazy" in the context of either themselves or other mentally ill people they know themselves. "Crazy" and "Evil" were the two most prominent descriptions of Holmes that I'd universally read yesterday. In "psych speak, ""crazy and evil" are described as "pathologically ill with no compassion, remorse or sense of right vs. wrong." 

Was Holmes a genius? Quite possibly. Is he a remorseless social miscreant criminal? Undoubtedly. Speaking earlier about Ted Bundy, I learned that his upbringing and family atmosphere was, in reality, much more stable and less tumultuous than my own son's, though Bundy became a mass-murderer. Unlike Holmes, Bundy was a gregarious, smart, attractive and engaged individual who participated in multiple political campaigns, was active at school and wasn't a stereotypical loner who was universally liked. But was he pathological? Clinically, definitely.

The same can be said of Jeffrey Dahmer's upbringing, which was stable, but on the other hand, Dahmer had a fascination with killing things from a very early age, usually animals, was kind of a loner, wasn't terribly successful at school or work, and also showed no guilt or remorse for his crimes.

 Luke's upbringing, on the other hand, suffice it to say he's seen and experienced much more than the average child because of our divorce, my mental illness and addictions and is still a pacifist who happens to enjoy guns, while having a genius-level IQ and being very creative. I STILL maintain that none of his personality traits, which my ex-husband and I watch vigilantly, are leaning us in the direction towards Luke being or becoming mentally ill. Yet I found myself on the defense yesterday over and over again. 

While not condoning Holmes' actions, by any stretch, I said over on Twitter:

I'm not pro-guns. But I'm not anti-weaponry. I'm, however, inclined to go anti-psychopath, pro-peace & champion mental health rights.

Pastor Dave learned how to use guns in the Army, among other weapons. Does that make him clinically insane or pathological? Hardly. The truth of the matter is, while the country really, really needs to tighten the gun-availability standards, laws and practices, it's not the amount of guns flying about that lead to mass murders. It's the psychopathology or antisocial personalities of the individuals who commit horrible feats of destruction.

It'll be interesting to watch this case unfold and what "excuses" Holmes' lawyer come up with in regard to his mental condition. What do I believe? Being anti-death penalty, I would advocate he spend life in prison without the possibility of parole. Perhaps he'll be in seclusion and won't be likewise murdered in the clink like Dahmer was.

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