Two days before the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School Dec. 14, Liza Long’s 13-year-old son “Michael” had a violent outburst that landed him in the hospital.
Liza Long is the author of the blog post “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother,” which she wrote shortly after hearing of the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn.
When Long heard about the shootings in Newtown, Conn., she put her head in her hands, cried and thought to herself, “What if I’m that mom someday?” And then she penned a blog post that would go viral and shine a harsh light on gaps in mental health care. The title: “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother.”
In a gripping interview, Miles O’Brien talked at length with Long about raising her troubled son, managing his violent episodes, the stigma surrounding mental illness and her experience writing the blog. We posted a short excerpt of this discussion on Wednesday. Above is the extended version.
Long’s son “Michael” suffers from mental illness. Long wrote of her son’s high IQ and also his terrifying violent outbursts.
O’Brien also spoke with Long’s son, “Michael,” whose name has been changed due to the sensitivity of the topic. He describes what it’s like to have a violent episode, or “rage.” You can read the full transcript of that interview below.
MILES O’BRIEN: Michael, first of all, well what do you want to say? What’s on your mind? What do you want people to hear?
MICHAEL: Well, I just want people to know that if there’s anyone out there that doesn’t think these mental disorders are a serious problem, well, I just want them to know that these problems and disorders can ruin a kid’s life and make them depressed. Kids at school will pick on kids with these disorders. Basically, it will make them very upset. It will make these kids very upset and very hurt, so kids like me need help. That’s about it.
MILES: What about punishment?
MICHAEL: Punishment never really works. Kids like me need positive reinforcement. You reward them for the behaviors that you’d like to see. You don’t put them down for things they do wrong. I mean sure, punishment can be OK, but don’t completely overdo it. You want to put more emphasis on positive reinforcement, and don’t spend so much time telling your kids, “Okay, you’re in trouble, you’re grounded. You did this and this wrong.” It makes kids like me very upset to hear that they’ve been doing stuff wrong, and we know that we’re doing stuff wrong, but hearing it makes us upset.
MILES: You just can’t stop it.
MILES: A little root beer goes a long way, doesn’t it?
MICHAEL: Well, if you find things that the child likes, rewarding them with stuff like that works. So with me, yeah, it’s a root beer.
MILES: Tell me what it’s like. I have really enjoyed your company. I mean that. I’m not just saying that. Because you’re fun, you’re quirky, you’re funny, and you’re interesting, and you’ve got a lot going on. What happens when you have a rage?
MICHAEL: Your mind goes blank. You think about nothing but getting revenge on the people that have hurt you. You lash out and do violent things. It’s very hurtful and afterwards you may be incredibly tired and basically depressed. You feel really bad about it, but you know that there’s not really anything you can do to them to make up to the people you hurt during those incidents. And you can’t control yourself when you’re like that, and no one else can. When you get like that, you just want to get the heck away from anyone in the area. It’s kind of like a werewolf. When a werewolf turns into a werewolf, it doesn’t know who he is, it doesn’t know where he is, it just wants to hurt and fight people.
MILES: Wow, so you feel like there’s another person inside almost?
MILES: Wow. There’s no easy fix, is there?
MICHAEL: Not really. Lots of hard work, lots of practice, good habits. If you get into good habits like brushing your teeth everyday, you can slowly start to see improvement, but you’re never going to fully get better. You can get it to a point of almost perfection but —
MILES: Are you optimistic about your future? You think you’ll be able to get control of it?
MICHAEL: Oh yeah. I’d say yeah. I think I’m doing a pretty good job already.
MILES: Yeah, I think so. Wish you the best. Is that good? Anything else you want to say?
MICHAEL: Nope, I think that’s good.
MILES: You did well, you’re very well spoken.
MILES: You’re a very articulate young man.
MICHAEL: Thank you.
MILES: You really are. Anyway, thank you.