While on my way to work on Monday, I received a text alert: "Active shooter at Navy Yard."
My stomach twisted. Not again.
Knowing the tragic details would unfold throughout the day and people I know could very well be involved, I tried my best to go about my business. But the text alerts kept coming in. The casualty numbers kept going up. The knot in my stomach kept twisting.
Safely tucked away in my office in the burbs, I answered my friends' and family's messages with, "I am okay. I don't work or live near there. You know as much as I do." By the end of the day it was being heralded one of the worst loss-of-life incidents DC has ever seen.
On 9/11 I was hysterical. I left work and went straight to the grocery store to buy water, fearing the East Coast water supply had been poisoned. Years later, when a man came to the Pentagon where I was working and began shooting at the entrance, I was terrified. For many weeks after that I had to settle with myself each day that I might die at work but I still had to go.
But this time I was just sick.
Events like this are teetering on commonplace in our country. After one tragic event, we now hold our breaths until the next act of senseless terrorism occurs. No real statement made. Just lives lost and communities shaken.
Another violent act against innocent people.
Another assailant with a record of mental health issues.
Another striking correlation between mental illness and violence.
The debates on gun laws have already begun. Security measures will likely be heightened. But, sadly, mental illness will be the center of most conversations. The big headline today is that Aaron Alexis was "hearing voices," which will lead many people to assume schizophrenia played a large part in his shooting spree.
The fact is, most people who suffer from mental illness are not violent, and most violent people don't suffer from mental illness. Worse, those with serious mental illnesses are at a higher risk of being victims of a violent crime. But in the wake of another mass shooting that stirs up unanswerable questions, these facts are easy to ignore.
Twelve people dead.
One gross misconception reinforced.
Millions of people afraid to seek the help they need.