It hasn’t even been a month, and I’m ready to say the “L” word.
I love Prozac.
It’s working. It doesn’t usually work this quickly, if it works at all. But this week, I haven’t once gotten to work and thought – the way many people think about headaches or period cramps – “Oh. I’m going to feel sad all day.” I don’t feel like pulling out my body hair. I want to have sex.
I feel like a person.
After spending more than half my life experimenting with a cocktail of pills to stop my panic attacks, ease my anxiety, center my moods and lift my depression, I pray I’ve found something that really works. For now, anyway. It’s always “for now.” It will be my whole life.
I have mental health problems. Mental illnesses. I’m mentally ill.
This isn't something I share with coworkers, friends or even most family. They’d probably spit take at the mere suggestion that I’ve contemplated suicide. That I’ve heard voices. That some days I just want to (or do) lie on my bed face down for hours, because anything more will reduce me to tears and hyperventilating.
I've lived through my mental illness during a time when you smile and you laugh because nothing’s wrong, Dad. At sleepovers, you change into your pajamas in the guest bathroom so you can pop the Zoloft you have no idea how to explain to a group of middle school girls. You wait until you absolutely have to tell your significant other that nothing is wrong. EVERYTHING is wrong.
Because you worry they’d rather you had herpes than mania.
People who proudly display their new semicolon tattoos irritate me. You are not cool for being depressed. For having anxiety. For being bipolar. I'm sure as shit not cool for being bipolar. Why should you get to label yourself when I’ve hidden for so long?
Then I see it’s happened again. At an elementary school. At a movie theater. At a church. At a college. Or I don’t see it, because it’s become so commonplace that a BuzzFeed quiz about which of Taylor Swift’s albums is your spirit animal will get more traction on Twitter (mine’s “Red,” probably. I’m pretty sure I just made up that quiz.)
Someone with a gun has killed too many people for some reason, or no reason at all. The media, the politicians, the people I inevitably hide on my Facebook feed – they blame hatred. They blame easy access to firearms, few rules and even fewer barriers and background checks.
And, always, they blame mental illness. Because apparently people who don’t need extra chemicals to make their brains stop the sad feels could never kill nine community college students in Oregon. And evidence of mental illness is sometimes clear. A manifesto left saved on a hard drive, or an analysis by a trained professional. Like the kind I’ve been getting since I was 10.
I hide my mental illness. As appealing as embracing a label and making it your own may be, I’ve never been able to get past my own stigma. But I would label myself without hesitation, unconditionally, if it meant one thing.
I would label myself, if it meant that people with mental illness could never get their hands on guns.
I don't like guns. Never have. I've never held one, much less shot one, recreationally or out of fear for my life. I don't want to. And I don't think I should have the right to.
Not because I want my rights taken away, but because I want the shootings to stop.
Believe me, I love my rights. The vitriol spewed at Planned Parenthood in an attempt to take away a woman's right to an abortion makes my blood boil. I don't want to get an abortion either, but I still believe every woman should have the right to make her own health care decisions.
In many ways, banning the sale or ownership of firearms by the mentally ill would, too, be a health care decision. I think the surgeon general is right on target when he calls gun violence a public health issue. When Ebola ravaged West Africa, the world sent doctors and rubber gloves and sterile equipment and other tools that weren’t already in place to stop the spread of disease, which was out of control.
There is no other way to describe the gun violence in the United States than “out of control.” People are dying at a rate that should cause everyone to think, “I want to stop this. Maybe not because it has anything to do with freedom, but because I don’t want to die, and I don't want anyone else to die.”
I don’t want to die. I don’t want to kill anyone, either. I don’t think I would. I also don’t have any idea if that’s something you plan. After more than a decade as a victim to forces I can’t control and don’t understand, I do know that if those forces could ever harm another person, I will do everything in my power to keep that harm from happening.
If I had to get a tattoo of a semicolon that told the world "something is not right with my brain, and you should not let me have a gun," I would do it.
And I know that sounds like a slippery slope that starts with branding and ends with a different kind of mass execution. But unlike genocide, I don’t think this should come from a place of fear.
I don’t fear people with schizophrenia any more than I fear climate change. But I see overwhelming evidence of the approaching destruction, and I don’t want to live in that destroyed world.
Or, if you’re a practical skeptic, better safe than sorry. Better people who are the most vulnerable to causing harm be kept safe from themselves than James Holmes, Dylann Roof and the deceased Umpqua Community College shooter ever getting a gun in the first place.
Am I grasping at straws? Unquestionably. But after Sandy Hook, how many elementary school teachers – the ones who buy crayons in bulk and think creating new ways to make multiplication tables rhyme is fun – seriously considered, or even applied for, concealed-carry permits? After six members of a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin were killed, how many God-fearing church folks thought, “Why did Satwant Kaleka only have a butter knife to protect himself and his family against a man with a gun?”
Actually, I’m going to guess no one thought that exactly, because almost everyone has forgotten that shooting in August 2012, much less the names of the people who were murdered. And at the time, everyone was still pretty focused on the 12 people who were killed during the midnight premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises” literally a month before.
I see my idea’s flaws. Some people just like guns. They collect them or shoot them at targets and animals. Most guns don’t cause the kind of damage that a certain few, the ones you see over and over in the media coverage following a mass shooting, will inflict. A suburban working dad should not be able to buy a military-grade weapon. Give me one reason he needs it.
If your answer is to stop a mass shooting, you’re proving my point.
I also see its impracticality. With so few psychiatrists and the harsh stigma against recognizing and accepting mental illness as the illness it is, and anything but weakness, far more people probably need help than those who are in treatment. And a ban on firearm sales to people with diagnosed mental illness could result in even fewer people seeking that treatment.
People also get guns illegally. And guns don’t kill people, people with guns kill people. And people with mental illness sometimes use guns to kill people because of their mental illness, and if they couldn’t access those guns, maybe they wouldn’t.
But making something illegal isn’t how all health issues are addressed. There aren’t people waiting at grocery store check-out lines to make sure diabetics don’t buy sugar, or that people with peanut allergies have checked all their purchases for that little warning about nuts being handled in the same facility where their food was packaged.
And people with mental illness aren’t the only people who can and do carry out mass shootings. A ban on the sale of firearms to those with mental illness wouldn’t end mass shootings. Gun control will be effective only if it’s coupled with countless other solutions. One of which is compromise.
The Second Amendment is the right of every United States citizen. As a person with mental illness who does not want Hallmark to have to start selling “Sorry your loved one died in a mass shooting” sympathy cards, I would give up that right.
What are you willing to give up?