Photo Essay

Cracked

Alone

Newtown is the newest open wound that is hemorrhaging loss, sadness, trauma, and fear. It briefly saturated the nightly news and morning paper. It was briefly held up to the light and placed under a microscope so that we could briefly try making sense of this insanity.

We shake our heads and say aloud, "How could this happen"? We set about assigning blame... the shooter, his lack of socialization, his family, gun laws, mental health policies, apathy... an endless list of nouns and rationales. Once we are satisfied with the tendered explanations, we put it all in boxes, we tape them shut, we put them on a shelf and life goes on as usual. We watch our children sleeping, we pull them close and wrap our arms around them and tell them they are loved, they are safe, and that we will always protect them. This is the 'illusion' that allows us to move briskly forward in a society gone mad.

I logged onto my homepage. Just 4 days after this tragedy these are the headlines that graced that page.

- Most iconic Hollywood dresses of all time

- Health benefits of the holidays

- Guys on 'Girls' Tease Season 2: New Girlfriends, Lots of Cocaine (Video)

- Britney Spears split rumors

- Diet Pepsi's new sweetener

- Michael Douglas' son beaten

- Texas & Confederate flag ban

- Megan Fox's 'vampire baby'

- 'Scarface' actor arrested

- Instagram: Users pics in ads

Does anyone else find this odd? Does anyone else find this offensive? In just a matter of days, something so profoundly personal ends up political debating points, camera crews pack up and move on, our tolerance level is reset and reality is redefined by iconic Hollywood dresses, soda sweeteners, and Britney Spears.

What is the reality? I think it resides in the eyes of our children... children who are bullied, who are depressed, children who are left alone and ignored... children who, unfortunately, grow up wise beyond their years.

How often are the perpetrators of these crimes described as 'just a normal kid until this'? How often are they described as socially awkward, shy, bullied, or depressed in retrospect? Can we really expect much more when they are trying to maneuver a childhood alone that is thick with landmines? President Obama was right. This is enough. But saying it is enough cannot undo the neglect that is forced on our children whether it is a matter of choice or circumstance.

My youngest daughter, Amy, lives in Colorado with her husband Scott and their two sons, Justin (17) and Matthew (13). A year and a half ago Scott was diagnosed with hemochromatosis and Factor 10 hemophilia. It was devastating news. Both diagnoses are genetic, terminal, and so rare in tandem that he was referred to the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. The treatment that was available to Scott has run its course and Scott was told he has only six months to live.

Three months before this news, Justin came to Amy and asked if he could talk to her in private. Amy had noticed his mood swings, from fully engaged and laughing to sleeping for hours barricaded in his room. Amy asked him during these periods if everything was alright. He would say 'yes' and so she'd assign the behaviors, as most parents would, to the catchall diagnosis, 'a teen thing'. However, the fulltime mom Justin had grown used to was now working 40+ hours a week and spending the rest of her waking hours at the doctor or hospital with Scott. His sounding board was removed by circumstance and he was floundering alone.

When they sat down that day to talk, Justin said, "Mom... something is wrong with me. Half the time I don't feel right. I don't feel like me and I can't stop it. I've been doing some research online and I have most of the symptoms of depression. I want to go to the doctor and see about taking an anti-depressant. I hate feeling this way". Justin was started on an anti-depressant within the week. He calls them his 'happy pills' and he is back.

When Amy told me the story recently, I said, "Oh God, poor Justin". Given my family history of depression, I wasn't surprised but I was sad. I knew exactly what was now to be part of Justin's life. Amy's reply, "Not poor Justin, mom. Yay for Justin. He got help". And she is right.

Justin is a brilliant, intuitive, sensitive child who took it upon himself to figure this out and then ask for help. That is hardly the norm. How many children are out there, like Justin, who cannot articulate this, who do not receive help, who reach the breaking point one day and end up armed in a grade school in Newtown, CT?

It is enough. But how do we undo the years of damage that has already occurred? How do we ask them to talk about something this intimate when they can't even name it? How do we take back their pain and make them new again? Stricter gun laws and giving mental health issues lip service does little for the children like Justin who, at this very moment, are only hanging on by a thread?

It may be enough, but is far from over.

28 responses

  • Michele Wambaugh

    Michele Wambaugh (Deleted) said (19 Dec 2012):

    FAB, Bailey! voted

  • rekha nag

    rekha nag said (20 Dec 2012):

    very well written! My vote!

  • Ted Anderson

    Ted Anderson   gave props (20 Dec 2012):

    Once again, a big Thank You, Bailey. Voted.

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper   said (20 Dec 2012):

    Thank you Rekha for the nomination and thank you for your kind words. So greatly appreciated.

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper   said (20 Dec 2012):

    And thanks Ted and Michele. Your comments mean so much. Love you both,

  • JamesHarmon McQuilkin

    JamesHarmon McQuilkin   gave props (20 Dec 2012):

    Brilliantly creative and poignant--each and every capture masterfully conceived, constructed, and applied---much more than human interest, it's humanity investment---Now THIS is a real photo essay--I wish I could spotlight the whole article

  • Jason Platt

    Jason Platt   said (20 Dec 2012):

    My past includes working in the mental health field for well over 20 years and your words alone cut deeply into what is the truth. Your photography adds an extra punch to your words. The heart of it all is a reminder to me that our "mental health system" is failing. You are an exceptional writer!

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper   said (20 Dec 2012):

    James ~ Thank you for stopping over and taking a look. Also, thank you for your words that are absolutely the words any writer/photographer wants to see next to his/her images and writings. I so appreciate the fact that you see the connection of each image to the work and that both are needed to convey the message.

    This essay is very personal for me for many reasons. Not long ago we were given Scott's prognosis. So, I had been working on the video for Scott (link included above) as his Christmas gift. I had also just recently found out about Justin's depression. Amy kept it private for several months. And then Newtown.

    This story flowed from that and setting it aside was not an option.

    Again James, that you for your kindness, your amazing words, and for tender heart.

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper   said (20 Dec 2012):

    Jason ~ I knew that you were in healthcare in some capacity but I had no idea that a portion of that time was spent in mental health. That you gave it 20 years of your life speaks volumes about you as a human being. It is not an easy thing.

    'Mental health' is the constant companion for critical care nurses. Because of the 1:1 monitoring required and because most hospitals do not have a dedicated psych unit, these were our patients. In my years I observed the cold and heartless care these patients receive. I saw them cycle back again and again because there was no help or hope apportioned to them.

    One of the stories in my book, "To Death We Owe the Truth', I recount the shift that a psych patient (an attempted suicide) removed himself from the monitor, was left unattended because his nurse left for lunch and then hung himself with his belt from a ceiling hook. Though he had an estranged wife, children, sibs and parents, no one showed up to process the death. He was 31 years old.

    And here's the kicker... the nurse still works that unit today.

    There is so little hope for these children. We brush them aside. Too much trouble, not what I'd hoped for, somebody else's problem. I know you know what I'm talking about.

    So, Jason, thank you for sharing some of your past, for your kind words and for taking the time to say... yes, they matter.

  • Andrea Petersen

    Andrea Petersen gave props (21 Dec 2012):

    Very well written and illustrated.... .You have my vote...Talk therapy groups should also be imperative for the young survivors in the Conn school shooting for the horror they will have to deal with personally for the rest of their life.

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper   said (21 Dec 2012):

    Andrea ~ Thank you for your comments and kind words. I SO agree with your recommendation about support groups. At some point, it must be discussed. I think that many of our children today are suffering from PTSD with no one the wiser.

    You and I are peers. I'm sure you remember the Our Lady of the Angels School Fire (1958) in Chicago. I was 11 and I will never forget it. There wasn't the media coverage that there is today, but it was horrifying and I remember dreaming about it for months after. And this doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of what children endure today. I think support groups are just the place to begin addressing it.

  • Ann Reece

    Ann Reece   gave props (22 Dec 2012):

    I agree with Andrea and with you, Bailey, about needing more support groups. Wouldn't it be great to have them in schools, where students could talk about what is bothering them and perhaps fending off some of the tragedies that we are seeing these days. You photo essay is fantastic, you write very well. So sorry about the bad news for Scott and lets hope that Jason got the help he needed in time. I definitely voted on this story!!!

  • Deborah Downes

    Deborah Downes   gave props (26 Dec 2012):

    Such gripping words and images. Like James, I wish I could spotlight this powerful essay.

  • JamesHarmon McQuilkin

    JamesHarmon McQuilkin   gave props (26 Dec 2012):

    I'm going to double dip here, and agree with Deborah--We should find a way to be able to Spotlight a story as good as this.

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper   said (26 Dec 2012):

    Ann ~ Thank you for commenting and for your insight. Your words, 'where students could talk about what is bothering them' seems to be the crux of Newton and what we are witnessing today.

    This is a different world than we knew as children. For whatever reason, kids are raising themselves with the majority of their daily input coming from schoolmates and teachers. In essence, it is their values and not ours that shape their thinking, values, morals, and outcomes.

    We live our lives in overdrive and are often just too exhausted to put it even one more fire. Add to that a child's inability to discuss personal issues with parents and we have created a huge subculture of kids barely able to make it from day to day..

    I believe it is time for parents to start bringing it back to basics regardless of what that takes. No one else can solve this problem for us... not the government, not the media, not new legislation, and certainly not boxing it up and putting on a shelf.

    Justin seems to be doing fine but only time will tell. Now we know but things are not going to get any easier for him in the months to come.

    Again, thank you Ann, for participating in this dialogue and for your wisdom.

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper   said (26 Dec 2012):

    Deborah ~ Thank you for your words of support and the nomination. We don't need the media to tell us what to think or what we should do. Instead, we should roll up our sleeves and do the work required to guide our children through the killing fields that surround them.

    Whether it is your image or mine, your words or mine, families or strangers coming together to heal our wounds, it is all important... it is all necessary.

    Again, Deborah, thank you for validating this message.

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper   said (26 Dec 2012):

    James ~ You are a good and kind and decent man, a man who knows how it was and how it might be again. I so appreciate your support here and for finding this message worthy of the time required to read it. Thank you, yet again, my friend.

  • JanElle

    JanElle   said (27 Dec 2012):

    A striking series of images and dialogue!

    One of the great tragedies of today`s society is the continuing stigma towards depression and mental health as a whole. We are not only creatures of intelligence, but emotional beings as well, which makes for a complex and sensitive psyche, one that is in dire need of greater understanding, compassion and attention to need.

    Today`s society simply must strive for seriously better efforts in caring for not only the physical being, but the whole being as well. Your images and dialogue make this point very poignantly and well. Thank you for sharing. Voted!

  • Andrew Dutton

    Andrew Dutton (Deleted) gave props (27 Dec 2012):

    Best photo essay I've seen on JPG..The photos breathe life into every word.

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper   said (27 Dec 2012):

    JanElle ~ Perception is defined as having an understanding of that which is obscure. Your perceptive words are another chapter in ‘the story of us’. You hit the nail on the head when you said, “creatures of intelligence, but emotional beings as well, which makes for a complex and sensitive psyche”.

    After reading your words, it occurred to me that I had not included another important part of this story; the way in which intellect has hijacked our mental health. Information and technology consumes us. We are addicted and so are our children. We talk to screens and they talk back. Children who learn how to be alone also learn that technology relieves the loneliness.

    I did a little research and discovered in just a few clicks some very sobering facts: more than 7.5 million American kids UNDER the age of 13 have joined Facebook (age restriction is 13 or older). By the time our children are 2 years old, more than 90% of all American children have an online history. At 5, more than 50% regularly interact with a computer of tablet, and by 7 or 8, many kids regularly play video games. Teenagers text and average of 3,400 times a month. The fact is, by middle school, our kids today are spending more time with media than with their parents or teachers.

    The impact of heavy media and technology use on kids’ social, emotional and cognitive development is only beginning to be studied. Bottom line… this is the constant that is never factored in when the world comes crashing down around us. It can’t be factored in. We have no data.

    What research we do have suggests that these technologies may actually be changing how our brains work. In excess, it has been linked in some children to limited attention span, lower comprehension, poor focus, greater risk for depression and diminished long-term memory.

    This world of digital immersion and multitasking has affected virtually everything from our thought processes and work habits to our capacity for linear thinking and how we feel about ourselves, our friends, and even strangers. THIS is what our children, who are not fully developed emotionally, are being exposed to for hours on end each day.

    I learned in my years in ICU that when things started circling the drain to ask one question and one question only, “What is the last thing that changed in this room”? To uncover the foundation of our present insanities, we might ask ourselves the very same question.

    Thanks JanElle for taking this a step farther. I appreciate your comments and wisdom. It takes a village, yes?

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper   said (27 Dec 2012):

    Andrew ~ Thank you for viewing and replying. Your heart is clearly exposed in your response and in your work. I appreciate your feedback very much and I appreciate you.

  • Katherine Nak

    Katherine Nak   gave props (5 Jan 2013):

    Thank you Bailey, thank you all for your views, your inspiring thoughts,and words. IT MATTERS!!!!!!!

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper   said (5 Jan 2013):

    Thank you, Katherine, for your kind words and for the nomination. I think when things like this touch our lives, there is a ripple effect. The words 'ripple effect' are often used in a negative way. I don't believe that is always the case. Sometimes sadness creates joy as is the case with Justin. And, sometimes, it takes a wise daughter to unveil that joy. If the telling helps others find hope and help, the essay has served its purpose.

  • Katherine Nak

    Katherine Nak   said (9 Jan 2013):

    We live like kings, yet through our busy life styles, greed, power, an money win out, allowing the real gold (new life) to slip through our fingers.
    Did you eat your school lunch today little prince.

  • Michele Wambaugh

    Michele Wambaugh (Deleted) said (18 Jan 2013):

    I LOVE this, Bailey!

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper   said (18 Jan 2013):

    Thank you Michele for the prop and thank you for the Story of the Week nomination.

  • Litz Go

    Litz Go gave props (15 Feb 2013):

    I just came back from a long vacation and trying to reconnect again. I always find your photos, works and words worth going back to JPG and getting re acquainted again. If I may add, I love your videos!

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper   said (15 Feb 2013):

    Hi Litz ~ Welcome back. So good to see you. I so appreciate you taking the time to view this again. And... thank you for the video props. That really made me smile. Love ya'...

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