Monday, January 26, 2015

Kristiana is my child

Isn't this girl beautiful? I think she's beautiful. She looks a little sad, but like she's trying to smile for her aunt who is taking this picture. She thinks, maybe on an unacknowledged level, that peace is a concept worth supporting. She has the glowing skin of youth. 

This is Kristiana Coignard, and until January 22, 2015* she lived in a small Texas town. That location is not really important, though we reassure ourselves with tragedies that happen 'over there.' Kristiana could have lived anywhere. A big city, either coast, Canada, my home town. As of today Kristiana doesnt live anywhere. This morning Kristiana walked into a police station and was shot 4 times by 3 grown men. 

We don't know much else. We know Kristiana lost her mom when she was 4. We know her aunt raised her and her grandmother loved her. We know she was young when she was diagnosed with mental illness. We know she was young when she died. What little I've told you I know from a much fuller story on ThinkProgress.Org. More details will eventually surface, and regardless of what those details are the men who killed this beautiful girl will return to their fully-armed work. Of that much I am certain. 

It seems like months since there hasn't been an extra-judicial police killing in the American news. For the most part those tragedies have been black men murdered by white policemen. Here in Jamaica black men are murdered by black police men and it barely makes the news (but boy did we know about Miss Universe!). There's more to all of it - more to the race conversation, more to discussions of weapon access and power and who has it and how to make them responsible for how they use it, and much much more to the mental health conversation. There is also more to people's fatigue with doing something about it. 

When I read about Kristiana today on twitter I felt nauseated. I still feel kind of shaky.  

I was 16 - a year younger than Kristiana - when I was first diagnosed with depression; it has waxed and waned throughout my adulthood. There have been days or weeks or months when I'm not sure that anything I know is true. 

My son NL* was first diagnosed with mental illness when he was 12. He has worked hard to find a variety of ways of coping with his diagnoses. He has a life and a plan and big goals. He's an intelligent and articulate advocate for himself. He's responsible for his own care and honest with his doctor. Sometimes his coping methods work well, and other times he has set backs and has to try something new. Twice it has been bad enough that he attempted suicide.

This past autumn NL had his first mental health related interaction with the police. He said something online to someone he thought he could trust but couldn't, and in the middle of the night the police came into his home, ransacked the place, took his medical marijuana (see coping methods & supportive doctor, above), and arrested him. And no, I don't believe there is a difference between arrest and "protective custody." 

For someone with anxiety, during midterms in his first semester of college, a night spent in Psychiatric Emergency is not helpful. Sitting bolt upright in a chair worried what the wandering, muttering, sometimes snoring other patients might do if you fall asleep is not helpful. Being taken from your home into the autumn night in your gym shorts, T-shirt and flip-flops is not helpful. Being left without cab fare home is not helpful, and having to take the bus in those same shorts, T-shirt and flip flops is not helpful. In the morning when the Psychiatrist - who doesn't work nights - asks 4 questions and says the whole thing was a travesty it's only slightly less unhelpful. Returning home to boxes dumped of their contents, shelves emptied, and a terrified cat is a perfect recipe for triggering more symptoms. 

NL is also beautiful. Like Kristiana has has bright eyes and a sly smile and hope for a peaceful, just world. Like Kristiana he has a family who cherishes him. NL could easily be Kristiana, and from 5,370 kilometres away that thought leaves me cold. 

We are failing people with mental health diagnoses, and more and more of those people are our children. Someday, somehow, something has to change. More children like Kristiana shouldn't have to die. More young men like NL should be able to ask for help when they need it and receive ACTUAL help, not interactions that make things so much worse. Kristiana was not nobody's child - she was everybody's child. Kristiana was my child. 

*Date corrected Jan. 27 based on new news reports.
*Thanks NL for once again letting me tell his story.

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