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Breaking the Cycle of Violence: A Personal Journey

by Jane Chien

Editor’s note: If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, please don’t be afraid to seek professional help. Numbers to call are available here:

My greatest desire is to live the rest of my life in a nonviolent manner, if at all possible. I can safely say that I am not the poster child for nonviolence at this point in my life. Shamefully, regretfully, embarrassingly, I have acted in terribly callous and inhumane ways, being inconsiderate of others and making their lives a living hell. A lot of this is due to my personal struggles with mental illness and a lifelong accumulation of tragic and unfortunate events, but I am not by any means saying this is an excuse.

I have decided and am committed to doing the work necessary to change this about myself. This is my life mission. I have seen firsthand how the ripple effect of my action(s) and inaction(s) harm directly and indirectly our world; our communities. It has frightened me to the core and this mission has been my main pursuit in life. For without this guardrail firmly implanted, I am not safe, functional, or useful.

When I refer to nonviolence I mean it in every way. Verbally, physically, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, sexually. In every way.

This area of personal development interests me more than any other subject in my life. I have been floored by my tendency to hurt others. Disheveled by it. Shamed by it. Destroyed by it. It has been a thorn in my side – my Achilles' Heel. I no longer want to be violent, hostile, unkind. I no longer want to be dangerous, angry, bitter. I truly believe that the continued effort at looking at myself objectively, honestly, and painfully yet also kindly and respectfully will free me in new ways never explored before.

The reason for my wanting to change began when I lost my best friend to PTSD. He was an American soldier who fought in the Afghanistan War. He was my hero. Ethnically he was Chinese (he would have been Cantonese had he known how to speak it), but he did not speak a lick of the language since he had never learned it. His opportunities were pretty bleak growing up. He was dealt a shit hand in life. He had been bounced around a lot in foster care most of his early life after losing his dad and mom to cancer and mental illness. He would later go to war in Afghanistan for the US Army and come back broken beyond repair. And even though he was kind, he was cruel in the end. In his defense, I was cruel to him, more so than he ever was to me. Sometimes we don’t learn these painful lessons until it’s too late.

I, in no way, blame him for what he did, though others do (understandably so). But they do not know the full story. I now know he was sick and his sickness was real. It was an invisible sickness, though his body was broken too. They had worked him to the bone.

I still have a hard time with how his life ended.

His life ended in a murder-suicide in which he took the lives of those who were trying to help him, his very own therapists – whom he had once loved and trusted.

I never knew PTSD could be this deadly. My own journey with mental illness has been beautifully ugly. I have dragged and thrown my half-broken brain and body towards this finish line we call life, and albeit sometimes it feels completely pointless and useless, I know it is not in vain.

When it comes down to it – in the grand scheme of things – I know we are all still each of us children still looking for our mothers and our fathers to guide us; validate us; accept us. Hoping for a gentler past and wishing perhaps for a more compassionate upbringing and to be seen.

Validation can break the cycle of violence. I stand by this.

Being seen is imperative to mental health.

A lot of violence happens as a result of a deterioration in mental health. Coupling that with isolation and being viewed as a threat in the community can cause more damage than ever imagined, as in the case of my best friend. He was a pariah to others in the end. That was the last abandonment that his spirit – what was left of it – could handle...

Mental illness itself, as a factor, plays a strong role in whether or not violence can be an issue. But I strongly believe my friend would have lived and not did what he did if he had been loved and taken seriously instead of being shunned and cast out and talked about and just left to fend for himself when he was the one in need of the help.

He was a hero. He was a veteran. He was good at his job. They overworked him. He was a good man and a good soldier. He was good at his job. He always wanted to make people happy. He always wanted a family. He just wanted to belong. He never said no. He did everything he was told. He worked hard. He was a hard worker. People (including me) took advantage of that. Prior to what happened, everybody loved him. He was a good guy. He was “Mr. Chipper.”