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Monday, December 17, 2012

Please Stop Saying That Liza Long Is Wrong For Sharing Her Story

Posted by on Mon, Dec 17, 2012 at 1:40 PM

As Dan noted in this post, there's been backlash against Liza Long's essay, "I Am Adam Lanza's Mother." He linked to this Wonkette post that defends Long, rightfully, against people who've blasted her for telling her story.

I'd like to add to that, because what started out as a conversation about mental health and someone's experience with her violent son, has turned into an argument about whether or not Long was acting irresponsibly for writing the words she wrote.

She absolutely was not. And, more importantly, it is vital that she, and others, continue to do so.

Long writing about her own experiences with her unwell 13-year-old son is not "stigmatizing" EVERYONE who is unwell, nor is it speaking for everyone who has ever loved or known someone who is unwell. Her fears and experiences don't have to match yours to be legitimate.

For those who say, like in this post, that she wrote her story without acknowledging her son's perspective, well, how the fuck could she? She can't. And she shouldn't. No two experiences with mental health issues are the same—even when it's the same person involved. My experience with depression is not the same as my mother's experience with my depression, but both sides are very important. In order to start to understand mental health, we have to try to see as many perspectives as possible because it's a vast and very complicated monster. What's more, in wanting to understand mental health, and help those who need help, doesn't imply that EVERYONE who has even mild mental disorders will end up killing 20 children. Or shoot up a shopping mall or kill themselves or otherwise cause harm to anyone. Don't assume that one's desire to help always comes from fear.

We should ALL share our experiences with mental health. From depression and anxiety to Asperger syndrome and ADHD—to those cases that have yet to be diagnosed (like Long's son). And, the very important part, we should all LISTEN when others share, instead of criticizing whether or not it fairly represents the majority. There is no majority. To take down a brave woman who's being honest about her fear that her son, without getting the help and understanding he desperately needs, is destined to have a violent future, is what does the damage.

When we say someone who's sharing their story—therefore offering a perspective and starting a conversation—is wrong, that could keep others from doing the same thing. And the thought that someone doesn't feel safe enough to share what they're going through, in order to start to find answers, is heartbreaking. It's a conversation, not a contest to see who can better represent mental health and mental wellness in one goddamn essay.

The conversation has just started and we're already getting sidetracked on who's right or wrong. Please, let's just listen for awhile. And instead of judging or jumping to conclusions and attacking, let's ask ourselves, and/or someone who's suffering, what it is we can do to at least start to help.


Comments (44) RSS

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The issue that I take with her article is not that she has no write to talk about her own issues with raising her son, but the fact that she put her child's picture up with it and made no attempt to disguise his identity. For a kid whose already been made to feel like the weirdo and probably been bullied at school, the last thing that he needs is for everyone to be afraid he's going to bring a gun into school.

By posting his picture and name, Liza Long is acting irresponsibly and clearly didn't think about the needs of her child. So for me, that makes this wrong.
Posted by ec124 on December 18, 2012 at 3:58 PM · Report this
Here's the deal: if a woman writes about her experiences as a mother, and says anything other than "it's wonderful, I love my child so much," she will be attacked. As a bad mother, a bad woman, or the cause of whatever problems exist. Guaranteed. It almost doesn't matter what the specific content is. I hope the author saw it coming and was prepared to handle it.
Posted by MsBoyer on December 18, 2012 at 11:39 AM · Report this
Liza has told my story, as a Mom. To say she is causing stigma by her honest portrayal of her life as the Mother of an ill child is to show ignorance beyond measure. Stigma is caused by the LACK of discussion over mental illness issues. These illnesses have been shrouded in silence and mystery for far too long. As the Mom of three diagnosed children of severe mental illness, I consider it very refreshing to hear a family member write with courage and dignity about her struggles to get help for her son.
Posted by redlady on December 18, 2012 at 8:27 AM · Report this
Coming from a mother in the same shoes as Ms Long there is nowhere else to turn to for help. Don't judge until you have walked down this lonely horrific path yourself. What is a mother supposed to do when noone listens.
Posted by aprilshell on December 18, 2012 at 8:13 AM · Report this
She has the freedom to express herself. Hooray First Amendment.

Her son, however, is not old enough to provide "informed consent" to her to plaster his HIPAA-protected medical information all over the internet.

A protective, fully-functioning parent would understand this.

Does her need to publicly vent trump her child's right to privacy?

I saw an interview of her yesterday on CNN: she is in pain, for sure. She admitted this was a cry for help.

Posted by Fizgig on December 18, 2012 at 6:38 AM · Report this
TVDinner 39
@39: Thanks, Baconcat. That, written in clear, measured language, makes a compelling case that Long was wrong to expose her son like this.
Posted by TVDinner http:// on December 17, 2012 at 8:23 PM · Report this
Posted by Baconcat on December 17, 2012 at 6:43 PM · Report this
What's actually strange to me is I see the majority of people haranguing Ms. Long about her post are women.

Alithea's digressions about patriarchy, aside, she's particularly cruel in the face of the kind of things this mother has had to face. And let's not forget that she has two other children Ms. Long is trying to protect as well.

Sounds like a right mess for sure, and one society should learn from and try to heal, but blaming the messenger seems pretty lame. Jezebel's post on it was particularly putrid. This just seem like women beating up a poor mom who'e reaching out and asking for help from society for a son she doesn't want to lose wholly to the vortex of mental illness.

Geez ladies. She's hurting and conofused, if she made a mistake, give her a break. Or better yet, reach out and GIVE HER A HAND!!!
Posted by doubtroub on December 17, 2012 at 4:58 PM · Report this
I'm with @26. To have done so little to conceal her son's identity is more than just a little oversight. As a mother, and as somebody who has mental illness in her family, I thought it was deeply appalling. She deserves to be listened to, absolutely, and given compassion for what she lives with. But to throw her child under the bus like that was unconscionable. She's publicly marked him for life now. Her struggles don't balance that out in any way. Heartbreaking.
Posted by Rainy Owlet on December 17, 2012 at 4:49 PM · Report this
Hawke 35
The issue was using her real name, thereby outing him. Yes, talk about what it is like but don't out your kid. That could be dangerous in and of itself.
Posted by Hawke on December 17, 2012 at 4:33 PM · Report this
Thank you, Megan. Agreed.
Posted by Alice Dreger on December 17, 2012 at 4:30 PM · Report this
biffp 33
@28 has presented the other side of the argument, and I think both sides have a point. I thought she presented a view that I didn't understand, and really illustrated the struggle of a lot of parents. On the other side, she really thrust herself in the middle of a tragedy, and she didn't do much to protect her son's identity. Again, her and her main critic posted jointly that they don't want this to be a mommy war, and I wish the Stranger would get to that point.
Posted by biffp on December 17, 2012 at 4:08 PM · Report this
@15 I'd think it was the testosterone. Men overwhelmingly commit violent crimes (90%, more?), and it's cross-cultural, so it's hard to deny the physiology as a factor.
Posted by gnot on December 17, 2012 at 4:04 PM · Report this
reverend dr dj riz 31
Posted by reverend dr dj riz on December 17, 2012 at 3:54 PM · Report this
@10 Does that include acts of violence against themselves?

And do any of those stuides break down types of acts of violence? Are mentally ill people more likely to commit some types of violence and people who are not mentally ill more likely to commit other types of violence?

Regardless, I don't see it as an either/or in terms of discussing gun control versus a discussion of how mentally ill people and their families are or are not cared for/supported in this country. Guns are way too easy to come by. And mentally ill people and their families do not have adequate help. And this shooting, along with the one in Colorado and the one in Seattle, speak to both of those issues. If we had better gun control maybe this tragedy (and a whole bunch of other bad things) would not have happened. If we had better care for mentally ill people maybe this tragedy (and a whole bunch of other bad things) would not have happened.

I think the thing that Liza Long's article does effectively point out is that we seem to expect families to be able to handle mental illness by themselves (at least up to the point where a crime is committed) but that is not a realistic expectation in many cases.
Posted by kitsapien on December 17, 2012 at 3:52 PM · Report this
Pick1 29
@28 Please stop projecting. She didn't call her son a monster, she talked about him candidly and said she needs help.

You think the things he has done are monstrous, but she is not saying that.

She says, based on previous actions, her son very well could be a killer if he doesn't get the help he needs, but the help he needs is not something we are willing to talk about.

Could she have done more to protect his identity, certainly. Does that mean we should shame her off the internet and table the discussion? Nope.

@27 Yes, but that is a different issue. It distorts an important message that is and should be on the table.
Posted by Pick1 on December 17, 2012 at 3:49 PM · Report this
Noadi 28
No, I'm going to criticize her plenty because she has fucked over her son in a big way writing that post. Giving her son a pseudonym isn't exactly protecting his identity when she uses her own name and includes a fucking picture of him. She has labeled her own a son a monster for the entire world to see. How is that supposed to help? He's a child and this is going to follow him for years and may hamper his ability to change and learn to cope with whatever illness he has. That is not helping bring attention to the lack of mental health resources and it certainly is not helping with the stigma that mental illness has (in fact it is reinforcing it as something dangerous people have).

It would have been different if she had actually put some real effort into protecting her son's privacy but she hasn't. Or if she had written it in a less sensationalist "my son is a future murderer" way. I don't care what her motivations were when the end result is jeopardizing a 13 year old kid's future when that future was already shaky.
Posted by Noadi on December 17, 2012 at 3:37 PM · Report this
#23 Sorry, but you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas. The sensationalism of the story is disturbing and unfortunate, especially since she has valuable things to say.
Posted by avocado on December 17, 2012 at 3:35 PM · Report this
As a parent I felt enormous sympathy for Ms. Long when I read her piece. However, I felt then as I do now that it was terribly irresponsible of her to do so little to hide his identity. She changed his name, but gave her name AND a photo of the boy. What do you think will happen to him at his "school" this week? How do you think the other kids will behave toward him when they see this? He is a minor, and it seems unlikely to me that he would be capable of really giving any kind of meaningful consent to her discussing his problems all over the Internet. Surely there was a way she could have shared her story (as she has the right to) while still ensuring his privacy.
Posted by teamcanada'sforgottenpassword on December 17, 2012 at 3:17 PM · Report this
TVDinner 25
I find the voices saying that theirs are more valid than hers to be part of a long continuum of men on the internet telling women on the internet to shut up.
Posted by TVDinner http:// on December 17, 2012 at 3:15 PM · Report this
It's so important that people have these conversations, and that other parents know they are not alone.

My frustration is that it shouldn't be at the expense of an especially vulnerable and unstable child's privacy. The idea that calling him 'Michael' protects his identity is naive. Once I saw the original post and that she included his photo, I felt even more uneasy. This stuff will always exist out there, and even if he stabilizes and lives a perfectly normal adult life, it will always be out there.
Posted by dundundunnnnn on December 17, 2012 at 3:11 PM · Report this
Pick1 23
Also, for people complaining about the title.

Shocking sensationalism is what gets people talking in this country.

Was the title in poor taste? Maybe.

Do you think this very important conversation would be going on with a title like "my kid has a mental disorder". Unfortunately not.
Posted by Pick1 on December 17, 2012 at 3:07 PM · Report this
Pick1 22
@18 Yes, that's what she's saying. Her son has a mental disorder that makes him angry and violent and she talks about it candidly for once. (I'm pretty sure she states explicitly how much she loves her son, and never once calls him a monster)

Also her previous posts may not be as candid because her son's mental disorder just might cause an internet backlash. One that puts more blame on her as a mother than thoughtfulness on what she might be experiencing...

naaaah, that would never happen, right?
Posted by Pick1 on December 17, 2012 at 3:04 PM · Report this
I've seen nothing but praise for this article. Lots of people sharing it on fb.
Posted by BallardBoy on December 17, 2012 at 3:02 PM · Report this
Geraldo Riviera 20
"The conversation has just started, so shut-up and listen."

Yes, that makes sense.
Posted by Geraldo Riviera on December 17, 2012 at 2:53 PM · Report this
I know she is struggling. Raising a kid with mental illness is hard. I'm not surprised she is overwhelmed

Comparing her son, publicly and non-anonymously, to a mass murderer is nonetheless absolutely not okay.

It's not just her story. It's his. And he's a child that she's declaring guilty of a mass murder across the country that he didn't have any part of. Demonizing and hating your children is not appropriate. Demonizing and hating mentally ill people (who are markedly less violent than the population at large) is not appropriate.
Posted by BL on December 17, 2012 at 2:51 PM · Report this
Baconcat 18
If he does do anything I'm sure it will have nothing to do with this "my son is a monster" world tour his mother is on that everyone is treating as a productive conversation.
Posted by Baconcat on December 17, 2012 at 2:37 PM · Report this
J. Lasser 17
Agreed with @11 and @12 that the issue here isn't discussing her son's mental health.
Posted by J. Lasser on December 17, 2012 at 2:36 PM · Report this
"I am Adam Lanza's Mother"

Well, if she was receiving $280,000 a year in alimony and not paying for her son's proper treatment and if she thinks it is smart to have a house full of guns and ammunition around a mentally disturbed kid, then maybe she is Adam Lanza's mother.
Posted by I'm not Adam lanza's mom on December 17, 2012 at 2:35 PM · Report this
alithea 15
@13 the same way it could be prevented with any other human. im not saying people with mental health issues -are not- violent, i am saying they are no more violent than those without mental illnesses. i mean ... sane people kill people too. you prevent it by having less guns (statistically proven to prevent less gun-related violence!) and deconstructing a patriarchal culture that socializes men to feel entitled and one that encourages and accepts violence (NOT statistically proven to work, but when so many of our perpetrators of violence are men, you have to wonder if its because of how we socialize men!).
Posted by alithea on December 17, 2012 at 2:30 PM · Report this
alithea 14
additionally, i think it is incredibly toxic to allow discussions to take place at the loudest level, framed in a way that is relevant to "solutions for violence", when it is actually not as relevant as gun control or patriarchal entitlement/encouragement and acceptance of violence. 61/61 mass murderers were able to obtain guns. 60/61 were men. only 38 had shown signs of mental health issues -- not even confirmed!

mental healthcare is basically a joke in the US and i think it should be advocated for every goddamn day. but not in this context.
Posted by alithea on December 17, 2012 at 2:25 PM · Report this
@10 so what if her son, who she claims is violent and out of control at times, loses it and kills someone? How can that be prevented?
Posted by erly on December 17, 2012 at 2:23 PM · Report this
Maybe because it's called "I am Adam Lanza's Mother" when, you know, she isn't? And her kid hasn't killed anybody. Talk about sensationalism. Decisions made out of desperation for page views are never good.
Posted by avocado on December 17, 2012 at 2:21 PM · Report this
Baconcat 11
Go read the rest of her posts before this. Go read her twitter feed. The Liza who posted this is different from that Liza of only a few days ago. Her son in that post does not resemble her son in other posts or tweets.

Her abrupt character demolition of her son is extremely curious.

I think her post is a case study in mental illness, but maybe not in the way intended.
Posted by Baconcat on December 17, 2012 at 2:14 PM · Report this
alithea 10
per literally all of science, there is no connection between violence and mental health. those with mental health issues are NO MORE LIKELY to be violent than those without. go deep into the k-hole and you'll find the same results i did.

that is the first reason why i cannot indulge that discussion.

i do not want to discount the struggle of liza long or any person who has parented a child with mental illness, but her child has never murdered someone, which means that her experience is automatically wildly different than the mothers of the people who's children DID murder someone. to appropriate their pain and their experience is regressive.
Posted by alithea on December 17, 2012 at 2:14 PM · Report this
MacCrocodile 9
THANK YOU. Shit. This is like when people started complaining that complaining about Black Friday sales was racist and classist. Ugh.
Posted by MacCrocodile on December 17, 2012 at 2:14 PM · Report this
Some Old Nobodaddy Logged In 8
@3 They can at least read & form complete sentences.

And yes, other days on the internet, I feel like I've wandered into a daycare center.
Posted by Some Old Nobodaddy Logged In on December 17, 2012 at 2:08 PM · Report this
delirian 7
You also need to think about where the backlash is coming from. There has been a lot of demonization of people who have mentally illnesses in the last year. Those who have a mentally illness or who know people with a mental illness are pretty defensive right now because a lot of media is portraying them as dangerous and needing to be locked up for the safety of society. It seems like every story has a couple of people complaining of the fact that the asylums shouldn't have been shut down in the 70s (implying that the only way to be safe is to lock up people with mental illness en masse).

Anyways, why don't you do a study? Check out how many stories on The Stranger criticize people with mental illnesses for being dangerous (especially after a mass shooting) vs. how many stories accurately portray people with mental illnesses as being no more violent that the general public. Once you have the results, then post them. Only then should you complain about the backlash you are receiving.
Posted by delirian on December 17, 2012 at 2:07 PM · Report this
Thanks for that, Megan. It is quite difficult to be the parent in a situation with a child whose behavior is not in your control. You can do everything right, get help, ask experts and your child may not respond.

It's very stressful and worrying and I appreciate Ms. Long's courage.
Posted by westello on December 17, 2012 at 2:05 PM · Report this
That last paragraph kind of also applies to a comment thread.
Posted by floater on December 17, 2012 at 2:01 PM · Report this
Sporkfighter 4
If the post were about the difficulty he had dealing with a severely broken femur or the struggles she had dealing with his chemo, nobody would care. But we see mental health differently, as a personal failing, as something shameful. That is the problem. When we have healthcare for all, and when care for mental health is just health care, we might see fewer people living in pain, fewer people hurting or killing themselves, fewer people hurting or killing others.
Posted by Sporkfighter on December 17, 2012 at 1:58 PM · Report this
@2: You give them more credit than me. I assume most of them didn't graduate high school.
Posted by NateMan on December 17, 2012 at 1:56 PM · Report this
Some Old Nobodaddy Logged In 2
Some days I feel the internet is just one, huge, college seminar w/ freshman who went to crappy high schools.
Posted by Some Old Nobodaddy Logged In on December 17, 2012 at 1:52 PM · Report this
Lissa 1
Well said.
Posted by Lissa on December 17, 2012 at 1:51 PM · Report this

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