Something is in the water in Clear Lake, Texas. Three women with major issues have made national news there in the last six years. They are:
Andrea Yates: In June 2001, she drowned her five children in the bathtub in her home. She was convicted of first-degree murder, but that sentence was later overturned and I believe rightfully so. This case was going on while I was in law school in Houston, so I followed the case as it wound its way through the system. I personally think her ex-husband is as much to blame as she is for this, but that's another blog entirely.
Dr. Clara Harris: In July 2002, she ran over her husband with her Mercedes in the parking lot of the Hilton Hotel in Clear Lake. She had discovered he was cheating with one of the women working in the front office of their dental practice. She was convicted.
And finally, we have Lisa Nowak: This month (February 2007), she drove from Houston to Orlando, Florida in an attempt to get rid of a woman she saw as her rival for the affections of another astronaut. She was arrested at the Orlando airport after sneaking up on the woman in her car and using pepper spray. She was found with several suspicious items such as a BB gun, a four-inch folding buck knife, a new steel mallet, black gloves, rubber tubing, plastic garbage bags and about US$600 in cash.
Many people have commented to me that Harris and Nowak are both incredibley intelligent women with bright futures so how could they have done the heinous things they are accused of doing? My answer is that being intelligent does not guarantee a stress-free existence or a lack of mental illness. In fact, I think being as smart as they are sometimes increases the chances of snapping and I do believe that is exactly what both Harris and Nowak did - they snapped.
Often, being smart, dedicated, and ambitious can lead to a lot of anxiety and burnout particularly for women. You're expected to be the best and be at your best all the time. No one, man or woman, can achieve that kind of perfection day in and day out. It is not humanely possible to do so. There are so many expectations on the gifted and intelligent in this country, it's no wonder things like this happen from time to time.
It's also worth noting that mental illness crosses socio-economic boundaries. The rich, the poor, the intelligent, the not so intelligent...anyone and everyone can suffer from mental illness that causes poor actions like those we see in Yates, Harris, and Nowak.
And then there is what I like to call acute mental illness. I tend to think of this as when people just snap as I believe Harris and Nowak did. It's interesting to note that they snapped for the same reason: a man. They wanted men who were apparently drifting away from them and they made the decision to do something harsh to stop that. It's obvious they weren't thinking clearly, particularly Nowak, given that she drove from Houston to Orlando to carry out her scheme. That's right around 850 miles. She must have been quite driven (pardon the pun) to do this as there was plenty of time to think it through on that long drive. She had this singular focus on doing something that was not advisable under any circumstances. I tend to think something snapped in her mind to allow her to keep that kind of focus on a ridiculous set of actions such as the ones she perpetrated.
The reasons Yates, Harris, and Nowak did these things will forever be debated. People always take sides and always try to unravel the mystery of these types of actions. Maybe we do that because deep down we can relate to what they did and that scares us. We want to know what the trigger point was for them to actually carry out their harmful schemes. We may never know. What I do know is that I won't be drinking the water in Clear Lake.