'Anarchist Soccer Mom' cries out for help
Essay goes viral
Liza Long didn't think anyone would notice her blog outside of a small circle of friends. But she was wrong, way wrong. Millions of people were keenly interested in the Idaho mother's struggles with the 13-year-old son she loves and fears.
A 40-year-old single mother of four, Long teaches English at a small college in Boise. On Friday she posted a brutally honest essay on her blog, The Anarchist Soccer Mom. It struck a nerve in the wake of the mass shooting in which 20 children died at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Over the weekend, it seemed, everybody was sharing the post and talking about The Anarchist Soccer Mom. Then came the backlash, as others criticized her for committing her son and writing about it publicly.
For Long, the blog post was "a cry for help, a real gut-check article," she said, a way to articulate for friends the cold, gripping fear she has been living with for so long. She finally came to terms with an issue she'd been avoiding: Something serious is up with this boy. He goes into uncontrollable rages, he threatens violence and he is getting harder to control.
She doesn't yet have a specific diagnosis, and she doesn't know what to do.
"He's in a good mood most of the time," she wrote. "But when he's not, watch out. And it's impossible to predict what will set him off."
On Wednesday, Long followed a social worker's advice and committed her son to an acute care psychiatric facility. During an argument over whether he could wear blue pants to school, he had threatened to kill himself by jumping out of the car. It was a line she'd warned him not to cross.
A few weeks earlier, she called police when he pulled a knife, threatening to kill her and himself when he was asked to return overdue library books. He was strapped to a gurney and taken to a hospital emergency room, where he eventually calmed down.
During the argument over the pants, he threw yet another "full-blown fit," complete with screaming and hitting. "I hugged him close, so he couldn't escape from the car," she wrote. "He bit me several times and repeatedly jabbed his elbows into my rib cage. I'm still stronger than he is, but I won't be for much longer."
A psychiatric commitment is Idaho's temporary solution, lasting 10 to 14 days. After that, she says, her only other option is jail or juvenile detention.
A leap of faith is required when listening to Long's heart-wrenching story because confidentiality laws surrounding mental health issues make it difficult if not impossible to verify. But Long provided details, including the names of the hospital and her son's school program, and offered to make copies of ambulance and hospital bills available.
"No one wants to send a 13-year-old genius who loves Harry Potter and his snuggle animal collection to jail," she wrote in her blog. "But our society, with its stigma on mental illness and its broken health care system, does not provide us with other options. Then another tortured soul shoots up a fast food restaurant. A mall. A kindergarten classroom. And we wring our hands and say, 'Something must be done.'"
Long says she has been told that her best option is to file criminal charges and build a paper trail.
"It's just total, total frustration," she said over the phone. "Why are we doing this to the mentally ill? He's not a bad kid. He's a troubled kid. I just want to get help for my son."
"Michael," as she calls him on the blog, is exceptionally bright, with an "off-the-charts IQ." But his temper had always gone far beyond the usual childhood tantrums. And his behavior grew stranger as he entered middle school.
"If I could, I would wish my son into normalcy by sheer force of will," Long said. "I realized I was doing my family a disservice by thinking we were managing it. It's been so hard on them. These kids are just so hurt. It's really hurting our whole family. Frankly, I think my son is scared of himself."
Since committing him, she has visited her son daily. After the first day, Michael was angry and vengeful. After the second day, he started to calm down. By the third day "he totally owned all the behavior," tearfully telling her, "Mom, I'm scared, too."
"He does tend to forget about when he's violent," she explained. "He sees red and then he's gone."
She added that she has told him about her viral blog post, which she titled "Thinking the Unthinkable." Others who picked it up, including the Huffington Post and Gawker, changed the headline to "I am Adam Lanza's mother."
Long wrote that she thinks about her son every time there is a mass shooting. She fears that he might someday be capable of such explosive violence.
"I love my son. But he terrifies me," Long wrote. "I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza's mother. I am Dylan Klebold's mother and Eric Harris' mother. I am James Holmes' mother. I am Jared Loughner's mother. I am Seun-Hui Cho's mother, " she wrote, rattling off the names behind some of the nation's most notorious mass shootings: Sandy Hook Elementary School; Columbine High School; a crowded movie theater in Aurora, Colo.; a shopping center near Tucson, Ariz.; Virginia Tech.
"And these boys -- and their mothers -- need help," she added. "In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it's easy to talk about guns. But it's time to talk about mental illness."
Long says Michael is a sweet boy most of the time. When he throws fits, he is so scary that she gathers up the knives, scissors and other sharp implements and keeps them with her in a plastic container. She says her other kids -- ages 15, 9 and 7 -- know the "safety drill" by heart: When Michael starts to go off, they run into the car and lock the doors.
Thousands of people have posted comments on her blog -- nearly 3,000 by Monday night. Many of them thanked her, and said they were in similar situations.
"I am moved to tears because this is my story, too," one woman posted under the name "Michigan Miss."
"I can't believe it. You just described my brother!" wrote "Rachel."
"I raised a boy like your 'Michael.' I get it. I so get it," wrote "Lynne."
But there were critics as well, including an equally passionate, equally viral blog by writer Sarah Kendzior, who accused Long of invading "Michael's" privacy with "vindictive and cruel posts about her children in which she fantasizes about beating them, locking them up and giving them away." In many of the posts, Kendzior notes, Long's "allegedly insane and violent son is portrayed as a normal boy who incites her wrath by being messy, buying too many Apple products and supporting Obama."
Kendzior did not respond to an email requesting comment, and by midafternoon it appeared the two bloggers had reached a truce. They posted a joint statement on both of their blogs: "Whatever disagreements we have had, we both believe that the stigma attached to mental illness needs to end. We need to provide affordable, quality mental health care for families. We need to provide support for families who have a relative who is struggling."
Both agreed that privacy is paramount for family members, especially children.
"Neither of us anticipated the viral response to our posts," the statement continued. "We are not interested in being part of a 'mommy war.' We are interested in opening a serious conversation on what can be done for families in need."
Long, who says she's "kind of an introvert," hasn't owned a television set since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. She didn't go looking for fame, but one viral blog post later, fame found her.
She began making the rounds at the television networks before dawn on Monday, appearing on NBC's "Today" show, then chatting with Diane Sawyer over at ABC and again with CNN's Erin Burnett. And then she put it all behind her, pleased that she was able to get the conversation started.
Copyright 2012 by CNN NewSource. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.