What we can learn from the Cleveland Killer’s Desperation

You may have heard about the man on CNN who shot and killed another man on Easter Sunday, streaming it Live to Facebook. You may have heard he did so after having lost all his money gambling, and dealing with a breakup from his girlfriend. You may have heard his name as the Cleveland Killer, or known it as Steve Stephens. And you may have heard he was hiding out in Erie, PA (my current city). You may have also heard that the man was caught by a McDonalds employee, and that the Cleveland Killer turned the gun on himself and ended his own life.

Yesterday, I heard Steve Stephens was in the Erie area, hiding out near Harborcreek- not far from my current residence. At around 11am this morning, while at work, I saw multiple police cars zoom past. Usually, this doesn’t strike me as odd because the downtown Erie area is always bustling. But today, it seemed they had a bigger purpose, and I even looked up quizzically and went “Geez…”

Later, the news broke out that the Cleveland Killer, Steve Stephens, had been caught, and killed himself. Those police cars had just received the tip-off. The man who called it in, a McDonalds employee, was awarded 50K.

While I heard others discuss the man, and how heinous and ghastly his call for attention was, I couldn’t withdraw my empathy bone.

Many of the emotions he was feeling were universal- if not all. We don’t all go around shooting up the place, or killing strangers in response to these emotions… but in our own way we grieve losses. I’m in no way writing this post to take away from the crime this man committed, or the extreme loss both families are currently experiencing given this man’s decisions. I thought this was a good opportunity to review this man’s motives, and maybe see the root of it’s causes, to learn for our own lives and survival, and how best to cope in times of desperation.

And the root problems?

Emotions, the inability to know how to handle them, and fear of rejection when asking for help.

Desperation

The Cleveland Killer desperately cried out for attention online, asking the internet to tell him to stop. This was his (albeit disturbing) way of reaching out for support and guidance from his community. Perhaps he felt alienated and that no one could understand his desperate state. Perhaps he had never learned the tools on how to ask others for help. Perhaps he was not taught to share his emotions and so he bottled them up, and in rage it manifested. In a video, where he details some of his motives, he speaks about how he tried to talk to his mom about feeling suicidal and wanting to harm others, but he was ignored and dismissed.

Grief

Grieving the loss of his fortunes and girlfriend made him feel insignificant. Maybe he felt the only way he was relevant to the world is if he had money, or if he could support loved ones. And without his girlfriend (who he reportedly said drove him crazy) he was seemingly losing everything. He was going through his own grieving process. And in the depth of a depression, fueled by hate toward himself for losing the money, and losing the lady, he blamed himself for everything. Despite openly “blaming” everyone else in his video, he ultimately blamed himself, but was in denial to save himself from the burden of taking responsibility.

Wanting Connection

Haven’t we all felt disconnected and unloved? Haven’t we all wished someone sent us the occasional “hey, I care about you.” message or text, or wished someone could put a hand on our shoulder as we felt awful. The Cleveland Killer cried out for attention online- and because he felt disconnected and angry, insecure about asking for help, he shielded his intent and desires behind angry words “stop me if you can” instead of “Please give me guidance, I feel desperate,” – because it’s vulnerable to ask for help, especially if we might be rejected. Apparently the Cleveland Killer described and blamed his ex-girlfriend, and tried to ask his mom for help, but he didn’t receive the support he felt he needed

“When it comes to my shit, no one gives a fuck.” Stephens reported in his motive video, after killing Robert Godwin.

Steve Stephens blamed everyone for his problems, because he was scared to take all that responsibility on himself. He didn’t want to do it, it seemed like too much. He didn’t believe he could do it anymore.

Wanting To Be Significant. To Leave a Legacy

We all look for significance in our lives. Some of us go out to sell a best-selling book, other’s win the Nobel Peace Prize. Even at his wits end, The Cleveland Killer wanted to leave a legacy: Go out with a bang, that’s certainly how he wanted to go. He wanted to leave a mark on the world, so somebody- anybody would remember him, and feel for him… to understand him. Ultimately, he just wanted to be understood, which is why he made those videos, and why he did them in live time, adding to the urgency.

Facebook live- the New Crisis Line

When you’re depressed and suicidal, and attend therapy, they give you a Crisis phone number to call in moments you may harm yourself or others. These days, it’s so easy to record video and upload it to the internet- sometimes you don’t even have to click a button. The Cleveland Killer saw his opportunity for direct connection with others… and reached out. It may seem like he had decided to go on a killing spree, but he just wanted people to take him seriously. In his motive video, he describes having killed multiple people- but it seems to be all an act. There was no evidence of other murders. He may have said this so that people would take him more seriously, and be more concerned. He wanted to be seen as disturbed, wanting to be helped.

Forgive Him and Forgive Yourself

The victim’s family was able to forgive the Cleveland Killer saying, “I honestly can say right now that I hold no animosity in my heart against this man because I know that he’s a sick individual,” Debbie Godwin (told to CNN).

In my own experience, it can be hard to forgive people who do crazy, unspeakable things- including myself… actually, especially myself. Now, I didn’t try to kill anyone else, but I did attempt suicide multiple times. (Yeah, dark days…) In crazy, desperate times, I tried to end my life. Using similar tactics to find connection before I took myself off this planet, I sent text messages to friends, and shielded my sadness behind anger and blaming others. Ultimately, I just needed to know someone cared: “Someone tell me you care… someone please take care of me because I feel so lost and I’m afraid I can’t take care of myself.” I was afraid to be vulnerable and say “I feel sad like I might hurt myself” because it would be seen as weak if I asked for help. Or if I did ask for help, it didn’t get the attention it needed, and I would blame myself and be angry at myself for not speaking up and communicating better. My fear prevented me from speaking my mind honestly, so I hid behind denial and anger- leading me to take pills.

Luckily, people cared. Luckily, all my attempts failed and I can sit here with the knowledge of what it’s like to put loved ones through those ordeals, and come out the other end, being able forgive myself for doing so. And it didn’t happen overnight… and it’s still not a perfect system- Some days it’s hard to forgive myself for acting rashly. Somedays I blame myself for even asking for help and attention when I felt so desperate. But if I had been rejected in those moments of desperation-how would I have been able to pull myself out of that rut?

I probably wouldn’t have.

He’s a Mirror- But Don’t Be Scared!

I find the people that judge Steve Stephens the most harshly are looking into an uncomfortable mirror, resisting some aspect of themselves that they can’t forgive. Their own grief? Their own desperation? Their own fear? Certainly, not everyone gets to this point, killing another human, but it is fear that hinders our ability to forgive this man. If we forgive him for his heinous crime, does that mean we accept his crime?? Does that mean we will be seen as deranged ourselves? Are we capable of something like that?

Yes, we are all capable. Yes, we can all hit bottom. Yes, we can all be rejected when we hit bottom, leading to feelings of desperation and loss. Yes… it’s possible. And YES it feels TERRIFYING.

Taking personal responsibility, believing in our own strength and peace of mind is what saves us. Worrying that some big change in our own life could ruin us, bring us to the depths like it did Steve Stephens is what blocks our ability to forgive: Our own fear.

I know I’ve been there. But I also know I’m capable of surviving turmoil, though I know what it’s like to feel like I couldn’t (should probably just give up). I know that it is because of the grace and love of others that I am able to sit here today. I also see Steve Stephens inability to believe in himself and his ability to ask others for help and support.

It’s all such a shame really. If only he could have loved himself better, this would never have happened.

Taking better care of yourself leads to better self-esteem!

Enjoy a blog post by Kimmy Casey, Her Art is Heart’s April guest blogger! I spent a lovely sunny day, photographing Kimmy, her daughter Riley and husband Jerry out at their house, with fancy rain-boots in toe! From witnessing stickers on the walls and furniture, and Riley’s 3 trips to the swing (because it’s just too much fun not to!!) it’s clear Kimmy lives a busy life of mommy-dom. And what’s also clear is the amount of love this family has, and the great memories that reside at their home. Kimmy and Riley gave me the full tour of what brings their family joy, and as you can see from the photos, there’s a lot of love going around 🙂

SELF-CARE = SELF-LOVE

by Kimmy Casey
When I was asked to be a guest blogger and the topic could be anything related to Susie’s passion of self-love, I instantly knew what I wanted to write about because…
the only way to show that you love yourself is to take care of yourself.
So let us dive down into the nitty gritty of what self-care truly is, how to choose activities that will bring you personal satisfaction, and how self-care has the power to drastically change your life.
What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of “self-care”, or doing something to take care of yourself?
For me, it’s a quiet hour of getting my nails done with the faint sound of Vietnamese in the background that I don’t have to pay attention to, because I don’t know what they are saying anyways. The ONLY thing I have to do is pick a color.
All day long I talk to people for a living, and then I go home to a two year old. And if you’ve ever had the pleasure of having a toddler, you know that you have to give them 100% attention, and if you don’t, they find ways to command it. So if I can get away for at least an hour, where I don’t have to talk to someone, where I don’t have to “watch this, mommy”, where I don’t have to yell “stop pulling the dog’s tail”, then I am doing some self-care… or so I thought.
 There are several ways to define what self-care truly is. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) “Self Care in health refers to the activities individuals, families and communities undertake with the intention of enhancing health, preventing disease, limiting illness, and restoring health.” In the mental health world, self-care is your ability to take care of your own activities of daily living, also known as ADL’s (hygiene, sleep, eating, etc.).
I want to offer my own spin on what I have learned about taking care of myself. So, according to Kimmy Casey: “Self-care is the activities we do to cultivate our dominant positive emotions as a reward for ourselves”. (sounds fancy!!)
Okay, okay, so let me break this down. It is our basic human need to seek desire and reward. If you want to get into the scientific nerdy side of things, our body craves the release of the neurotransmitter Dopamine in our brain, and our brain releases Dopamine when we do things that reward our body… for example when we eat, brain says “mmmm… dopamine”. And when we flirt, our brain goes “I like the attention… here’s some dopamine”. And when we feel joy… dopamine. When we feel satisfied… dopamine. You get the point.

 Instead of the scientific word dopamine… I would instead insert my favorite positive emotions here. For me, when I get the chance to feel connection and belonging, my brain produces this feel good chemical. Everybody’s primary emotions are different. To find yours, think about 3 of your most favorite memories that you have, put yourself in those moments, and create a list of all of the emotions you experience in each moment. Compare your lists from each memory, and you should be able to see the common emotions. Is it joy, happiness, peace, relaxation, love, connection, belonging, warmth, pride, excitement? You choose! Use your own words. For me, my body craves connection and belonging, and my brain releases dopamine when I achieve these things.
 Let’s come full circle with this. Self-care, at it’s basic, is taking care of yourself. To take care of yourself is to make yourself feel good. The best self-care activities for yourself are the activities that you do that make you feel your primary positive emotions, whatever they may be. For example, where I thought my “self-care” was getting my nails done, this was an activity where I am disconnected and out of place. It was truly doing nothing to give myself pleasure. Fast forward to a time where I visited out of town family… I felt that sense of belonging, and I felt that connection with other people I loved. Or when I took a vacation with my husband at an all-inclusive resort, of course I belonged there (haha) and grew my connection with my husband. Or on a smaller scale, when I network with other people (like Susie!!) to learn of their dreams and goals and how they can support mine… ding, ding, ding! These are the things that truly make me feel alive, and when I allow myself to feel alive, I am taking care of my whole self.
  To maximize your self-care, figure out your top emotions that you love to experience, and do things that promote yourself feeling those things. So if your primary favorite emotions are to feel relaxed and pampered, maybe getting a mani/pedi is your thing. If you don’t know what to do or need examples, go to Google and type in “self-care activities” and the first link that pops up will give you 134 ideas. You see, when you do things to promote positivity and reward in yourself, your brain will automatically want you to do them again. And of course, the more positive you feel, the more you feel good, the more you reward yourself, the better you feel all of the time. And we all know what happens in our worlds when we truly feel GOOD – Our fear decreases as our confidence takes it’s place. Our procrastination disappears as our motivation grows. Our sadness and worry diminishes as happiness replaces it. The best way to show that you love yourself is to take care of yourself, and the best way to take care of yourself is to make you feel exactly the way your body is desiring to feel!

“She is Me”

2007

2007

I took the job.

Ridiculously happy? Me? Ermmm YEAH!!! This new job solves so many problems in my life! Moolah! Opportunity for leadership! Creative development! It opens up a world of possibility! But man, is this a transition period. Following that pure joy comes realization of things I must leave behind. I did not comprehend how hard it would be to leave my current job. I have grown very fond of the atmosphere, positive music, encouraging bosses and fellow employees. My friends are there, mentors in life! And I fear that sense of loneliness as I part ways with them.

Yes, I will make new friends.

Yes, I will find other mentors.

Yes this job is a leadership position, with new opportunities- and yes! That can be scary.

This is all a good thing.

I am ready for this opportunity. I am hungry for it, even! I have realized the strength within me, my capabilities, and I know I can rock the socks off this new job. I believe in karma, and for years I thought I was being punished for choices I had made, actually a negative attitude I had trouble letting go of. But now I realize that I was doing it to myself. As my mom used to tell me (ok, yeah, pretty often) “Susie, you’re cutting off your nose to spite your face!” I was my own worst enemy. I was terrified, fighting for survival. There was no need for that; I was alive, I was capable of happiness and love. I created my own suffering. I was punishing myself, thinking myself small, weak. This perspective was self-fulfilling. I think therefore I am (err, was!)

But giirrrrllllllllLLLL, look at you now! And most importantly, look at the people in your life that stood by you as you found your way.

Gratitude.

Recently, it was Appreciate yo’ awesome Bosses day! At the retail job I work at, a customer was buying a gift for her boss and informed me of this. I knew it was a perfect opportunity to show my bosses, mentors, friends how I felt about them and how much I appreciated their patience, kindness, and support. It was even more apparent I should do something for them because now The End was in sight! How I would miss them! How they have helped me get to where I am going now! I am overflowing with gratitude.

So, I bought them gifts. I took the time to write letters to them, letting them know how their leadership affected me. I wrapped their gifts, folded their letters, all with love. I took my time.

I never really did that before. I never really put effort into wrapping a gift “What’s the point? They’ll just rip it open! Neglect the wrapping!” But at my sister’s baby shower, I saw a woman make a Tricycle out of baby supplies and it made me rethink that belief.

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Oh, wait… that’s creative! Time was put into that! I was so impressed!!

So what if I approached things differently? I knew I wanted to be more open with friends, family, hell– even strangers!– About the light I see within them. I wanted to encourage and support others as I have been encouraged and supported. Talking can be challenging for me, I get self-conscious, pull inward. However, writing and creating have always been my best forms of communicating. And what’s nifty is a creation hangs around, tangible, recorded. Spoken words can be floating, lost, forgotten, jumbled around by faulty neurotransmitters.

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Taking the time to take the time for others really made me feel good (and it’s all about me, right?). Writing those letters really solidified my future for me too. I’m moving on to a bigger job, more responsibility, and without my last job I would have never been prepared to take this on. I am forever grateful for that experience, for those friends. I learned how to treat everybody with kindness, patience, because I witnessed others doing just that.

Gabrielle Bernstein once mentioned a thought her inner voice mentioned to her. She was upset, taking her anger out on a poor worker behind a desk. She was mad at the situation, not the worker and suddenly she had the thought:

She is me

She instantly pulled back her anger, apologized, realized it was misplaced aggression and voiced her fears. This vulnerability, honesty, broke down the wall that her fear and anger were creating. The result? They both relaxed, were able to open up to each other, and create a harmonious interaction, even making a new friend!

I wrote that phrase down as soon as I heard it. It’s GOLD! Often we can place ourselves higher than others, or the opposite by putting people on pedestals. Each time we do this, we fail to see that person as equal, one of us. She is me. He is me!

The day after I heard these wise words, I applied it to my job. Each customer who came up to ring out, I practiced letting my guard down, placed my judgement of whatever they were wearing, or whatever look they had on their face aside, and did me. “She is me. I am talking to me.” I knew, on the flip side, I would have appreciated a genuine interaction with a sales associate. I am quirky, fidgety, I hum a lot! I used to view these traits as “abnormal‘ appropriate for scrutiny, but in reality, it’s just me! It gives me joy to hum, gives me joy to dance around, tap my fingers. If I can share my joy openly, that shit is usually contagious! I told myself each customer who came my way had that same joy, that same desire to dance and sing! They get it! And I Tore Down That Wall, released that leash!

And it was one of thee best day‘s I’ve had to date.

Not only did it help the other person relax, open up, tear down their walls– but it released my social anxiety. I was being me, and I was reaping the benefits! Learning about others, hearing their stories propels me, motivates me! If I clam up, censor myself and my feelings, I lose that opportunity to be inspired by the fascinating lives around me.

And who wants that?