MILLER: I could have been James Holmes

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At the time of his arrest, James Holmes was a 24-year-old white male, who grew up in a two-parent household in San Diego, Calif. His father is a software engineer, his mother is a registered nurse, and he has one sister. He was a graduate student at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, and was seeking his Ph.D. in neuroscience.

My name is Brock Miller. I am a 24-year-old white male, who grew up in a two-parent household in Colorado. My father is a physical therapist, my mother is a registered nurse, and I have one sister. I am currently a student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.

I know most, if not all, of you reading this do not know who I am, but if things had gone differently for me over this past year, it is very possible you would know my name, for all the wrong reasons.

I started law school in August 2013 and I quickly got sucked into the trap of thinking that in order to be successful I needed to focus exclusively on school, and cut out all other parts of my life. By January 2015 my unbalanced lifestyle caught up to me and my mental health began to deteriorate. By March 2015, things had still gotten to the point I could no longer make it through a class or any other social situation without violently weeping. Additionally, I had begun to have unpredictable mood swings, and was hearing voices on occasion. I then decided, with the guidance of a few kind-hearted professors, to take a medical leave of absence from the university. Despite this decision, I continued to fall deeper and deeper into my depression, and, after several of my episodes, my wife began to fear for her safety and for my life.

This is the part of my story where I want to pause and recognize that my life could have gone one of two ways. One possibility was I could have not received the care I needed, which could have led to: relationships around me falling apart, me taking my own life, or me becoming violent towards others. The other possibility was I could receive the care I needed in order to get control of my mental illness and I could go along living my life as I had before.

Fortunately for me, I was blessed with the resources, connections, and support system I needed to get into a psychiatrist who prescribed the correct medications, and a psychologist who gave me the right strategies to recover. I had a wife who stuck by me every step of the way. I had an insurance plan that included mental health services, and I had money in the bank to pay co-pays and deductibles. But what would have been the end result if my wife left me and I was by myself during my lowest moments? What if I wasn’t able to get in to see a psychologist who gave me effective strategies and a psychiatrist who prescribed me the correct medication? What if my mental illness got to the point that I began having more extensive delusions and the voices began to speak to me more frequently?

These questions send a shiver down my spine and force me to acknowledge a frightening reality, which is that, if just a few things would have been different, I could have been James Holmes. When I have expressed this thought to some of my friends and family, they reply, “You are not capable of killing anyone,” or “He was a monster, you aren’t. You wouldn’t have let it get to that point!” As much as I would like to agree with these sentiments, I cannot. The thing that these people do not understand is there were times when I felt that I was not in control of my thoughts or actions. I suppose the best way to describe it is that I was not myself anymore, so the thought that the Brock they knew could not do something is not the correct way of looking at what I was capable of. In short, it is my belief that if things had been slightly different, there is no way to predict what I would have done.

I am not attempting to downplay what happened to the victims in the theater that night, and I am certainly not advocating that those who have a mental health illness should be given some sort of immunity. I’m suggesting that universal access to quality mental health care would save lives.

“I think we need to improve our mental health laws so we can address these problems before they get out of control, because mental health is a component to a lot of these shootings that, I think, we have not looked at seriously enough,” Speaker Paul Ryan said recently. I wholeheartedly agree. We as a country need to remove the stigma associated with mental illness and start looking deeper into the amount of access those with mental illnesses have to quality mental health providers.

In this upcoming November, voters in Colorado will be given the chance to decide if we want to keep the status quo or move on to a new health care financing system: ColoradoCare, a resident-owned, non-governmental health care financing system designed to ensure comprehensive, quality, accessible, lifetime health care for every Coloradan. A bit like Medicare for all, ColoradoCare is simpler, ends deductibles, lowers copays, and offers choice of doctors.

Under ColoradoCare, mental health services would be included in universal health care, meaning anyone who needs it could receive the proper care to overcome mental illness and go on to lead a productive life. I urge you to look into ColoradoCare for yourself, and consider if this health care financing system would be what is best for yourself, your family, and Colorado as a whole.