I have written about depression and mental illnesses several times. I wrote about the tragic death of Robin Williams. I expressed great disappointment in Fox News analyst Shepard Smith and his claim that Williams was a “coward” for taking his own life. I am someone who firmly believes that a mental illness should never define everything about who we are. However, the human mind can be a very fragile thing. It can often cause us to do things we never knew we were capable of doing. These things can certainly be wonderful, but they can also be devastating and tragic.
I recently read a story about Virginia Gentiles, a mother from Pasadena, California. She is suing a local Target store for false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence and wrongful death.
Her son, Graham Gentles, committed suicide on July 18, 2014. Three days earlier, store security and local police met him at the front of the store as he arrived early. They grabbed him, emptied his pockets and hat, then paraded him around the store to an office. This practice is commonly called “the walk of shame.”
“The walk of shame is a Target policy to purposely cause shame, embarrassment and emotional distress to any Target employee who is suspected of stealing from Target. The policy consists of employees being arrested and paraded in handcuffs through the Target store in full view of co-workers and customers.”
Long story short, the alleged harassment was not because he stole from the store. Graham’s mother stated that the supposed theft was all fabrication by the multiple media outlets that have reported on this story. It was due to a previous altercation that occurred between him and an employee, which also happened months beforehand. After being taken paraded around the store, police drove him to the local station for questioning and released without any charges filed. To add more devastation, he was wrongfully fired from his job. When he spoke to his mother about the ordeal, he said it was the worst day of his life. Unfortunately, this day was so terrible, he decided to take his own life because he could not bear the pain and humiliation anymore.
Reactions from the public have ranged from very supportive and sympathetic to downright hateful and disrespectful. I cannot say that this surprises me, mainly because mental illness is such an under recognized issue in our world today. Normally, I would agree that the loss of a job alone is not a reason to commit suicide. However, this is the dark side of living with a neurological disorder like Asperger’s Syndrome. The emotional pain we experience in life can overpower our ability to think things through and find ways to cope.
If there is anything this story has taught me, it is the sheer importance of finding positive ways to cope with negative emotions. It doesn’t matter what I am feeling or going through. Sometimes, I have no choice but to think it through and try to understand why I am feeling this way. This is when I like to take time to myself. I use what I do best. My gift in writing. “My Letter to Steve Grand” is one of those examples. I don’t normally share these writings with people. However, I decided to make a rare exception this time.
Please understand that crushes, love and romance are very new feelings for me. Life with Asperger’s Syndrome has always made me a loner. The high school social scene considered me the loner who was a “loser.” I was an awkward, uncoördinated kid with zero confidence who walked around with a scowl on his face. My “phases” changed throughout that time. I refrained from talking to anyone for most of those 4 years, and then I became this kid who could not control himself and acted out just for the sake of acting out. I desperately needed a way to handle my pain and that was the only release I could find.
When I was a small child, my issue with emotions was not recognizing them. I’ve always known what I am feeling. However, there were times when I knew my emotions way too much. The thing is, it is still one of my demons today. My mammaw and papaw (southern talk for grandma and grandpa) used to tell me this story from when they came to visit us in Pennsylvania. It goes back to when I was somewhere between three and four years old.
We were celebrating my sisters 6th birthday. The local bowling alley was our chosen venue. The familiar sounds of bowling balls hitting the pins, people chatting and music playing filled the bustling local hangout. My attention was not focused on any of that. It was focused on the family to the right of us. They also happened to be celebrating a birthday and rented a helium tank and were using it to blow up balloons. I immediately covered my ears. I was terrified of the possibility that they were going to pop. My attention became hyper focused on those balloons and the possibility that they were going to burst and make a loud sound.
Crying was the only way I knew how to handle it. My mammaw tried to give me a set of ear plugs, but that didn’t help. My papaw sensed that I needed to get out of the noisy room for a few minutes. I needed to tell him what was wrong and I needed to be reassured. While he did not say it in these exact words, this was the gist of the message he gave to me.
“The world is full of things that are much scarier than balloons popping.”
That is the one thing that we all need to be reminded. The world is full of things that cause a lot more pain. Sometimes, those experiences are directly caused by our tendency to negatively dwell upon those little things. I failed to realize that when I was a young child. I failed to realize it when I was in high school and feared that people were not going to like me. I fail to realize it today when I discover that things just don’t work out the way I anticipated them to. The big question is, how do we stop it from dictating our lives?