On September 26, 2013, CNN reported that Navy Yard shooter “Aaron Alexis was under ‘the delusional belief that he was being controlled or influenced by extremely low frequency electromagnetic waves’ before he embarked on a bloody shooting rampage at the Washington Navy Yard, an FBI official said Wednesday.”
Everyone wonders why Alexis, who reported his mental issues to various agencies, was not helped.
Why didn’t anyone take him seriously before he snapped and killed 12 people?
I wonder how many of those he reached out to had a good laugh when he told them how he heard voices.
Not you, of course.
See, I knew they were all nut-jobs!
Just recently, as the House was wrapping up its vote to reopen the government, there was an unfortunate incident.
House stenographer Dianne Reidy, reportedly a nice, normal woman who has worked there for several years, snapped.
She calmly walked to a microphone and began ranting. Her rant referenced God, Jesus, Free Masons, the Constitution, and Bible passages.
Those present who know her reasonably well seem to uniformly agree that this was unusual for Reidy, completely out of character; they expressed concern for her mental well being.
Reidy clearly had a mental break of some sort.
Just a few days ago, another woman experienced a similar meltdown while on an American Airlines flight. Details are sketchy, but the woman apparently had just lost her mother and was grieving.
Both Reidy and the woman on the plane were victims of stress and other issues of which we are unaware. And, frankly, are none of our business.
Today, both are the butt of many jokes, particularly Reidy.
Instead of expressing concern for Reidy's well-being, public comments on the various news reports (links below), as well as in social media, are not kind. Many are vicious and cruel.
And, of course, there’s the Christian-bashing, which is apparently PC-approved these days. For these commenters Reidy is nothing more than proof-positive that all Christians are moronic, anti-intellectual, conspiracy-fabricating nut-jobs.
And she was just so stinking funny! Am I right?
Helplessly crying out for help
Several years ago, while I was on the West Coast working on a book project with a client, I got a phone call from a friend back home, several states away. Let’s call him John, which is not his real name.
He was incoherent, rambling, and raging. He would rant wildly then pray for the blood of Jesus to cover him.
That’s nuts, right?
My friend was a Christian and a very intelligent man. He had a good life and a wonderful family. He was as solid as they come. What I was hearing was not in character for him.
Being so far away there was little I could do. I listened. Prayed with him. Did my best to calm him a little.
He finally handed the phone to his wife at one point; she was terrified for her husband, their kids, and herself.
Over and over she said, “Stephen, this isn’t the John I know! This is not like John at all!”
Thankfully she had called 911 and medics arrived quickly, subduing and medicating John.
He was held in the hospital for a few days, given some medications, and put in touch with a good therapist.
He experienced what was diagnosed at the time as a chemical imbalance in his brain. It might be called something else today. But it was a mental health issue.
Talking to him later, he expressed that it was as frustrating for him as for his wife. He knew he wasn’t acting sanely but couldn’t seem to stop himself.
During the episode, he was terrified, too.
As I talked with him, it was clear that he was still a little embarrassed by it. He knew what some people thought.
I assured him that I didn’t think it was funny or that he was crazy.
It’s not funny
Every time I hear about someone experiencing a brief break with reality as my friend John did, and as Dianne Reidy and the woman on the plane did, I’m grateful that all that happened was a little crazy talk.
They did not attack or try to seriously harm anyone.
They did not get a weapon, walk into a busy workplace or theater, opening fire.
They did not plant bombs or send ricin through the mail.
They didn’t drive their car into a crowd.
They didn't attempt suicide.
They screamed a little. Maybe swore a little. And, sensing in the midst of their delirium that they needed help, they cried out to God.
To me, this kind of behavior does not deserve ridicule. It is not the fodder for opinionated, vacuous, anti-religion rants. It’s not appropriate for office jokes or social media cleverness.
It deserves our respect, compassion, and understanding.
It could happen to you
I think some of the humor around these events grows out of nervousness; a weak attempt to ward off the thought that any of us could go bonkers the same way at any minute.
It could happen. To me. To you.
Stress-addled brain chemistry does not play favorites. It’s an equal-opportunity messer-upper.
Any one of us, given the just-right juxtaposition of factors – environment, diet, and what-not – could go over the brink just like my friend John, the woman on the plane, or Reidy did.
In public. For all the world to see and mock.
I know John was a Christian. I suspect the two women were also given how they gave expression to their episodes.
When you crack, I wonder what will come out?
Will you call on the name of Jesus?
Or will something truly ugly come out of your unhinged mouth?
Or perhaps you'll react beyond words into some aberrant behavior? Maybe pick up a gun and start shooting?
Think about that for a minute.
The right response
The bottom line is that these people deserve compassion and help. They don’t deserve to be made the butt of our jokes, fuel for our cute and clever quips, or fodder for late night comics.
The more we mock mental illness and those afflicted by it, the further underground we drive these hurting people. There, they will stew in isolation, feed their frustrations and rage, and finally come out shooting.
You won’t be laughing then.
Links to articles about Dianne Reidy:
UPDATE: A report in Politico indicates that Reidy claims she spoke because she believed she was being prompted by the Holy Spirit. This is only my personal opinion, but while she was well-intentioned, when the Holy Spirit speaks through someone, the message is usually far more coherent. I have no doubt that her convictions are very real. At the same time, I believe Reidy needs to seek counseling with her pastor and a capable therapist.