One night in October of last year, I found myself alone in my apartment with a full bottle of painkillers. I had several days off from work and I spent each of them in bed, getting up only to use the toilet or let the dogs out back. My boyfriend was away and I had all but stopped communicating with friends and family, so lying there, it was easy to forget I had a world outside that room.
It had been a difficult year. I was struggling with depression, which was not new for me, but was now compounded by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I laughed at how much my apartment looked like that of a depressed person. An overflowing trash can, half eaten cartons of food piled up on the counter, stacks and stacks of unopened mail. You couldn't have staged it better.
The apartment itself had become a source of great fear. Living in the basement of an old brownstone, there were many noises and little light. Every time I heard something, I jumped. That night, it was too much. I could no longer envision a future for myself, so getting through the present seemed pointless. That's when I started eating the pills.
After that first handful kicked in, some of the tension slid away. The terrible thing about suffering is that it erases your past and your future, so that you forget it's possible to feel good. When the pain subsided, memories of a better life rolled in. It suddenly seemed possible that somewhere outside this room there were people who loved me.
I wasn't sure if I wanted to die, but I was even less sure that I could stop myself. So I called my boyfriend, who got on a bus from Boston and came home. In the hours between, I took a few more pills, so that by the time he arrived I was high as a kite and ready to pass out; but I woke up many hours later alive and well.
It's lucky for me that the process of taking pills left time to second-guess myself. Not all suicide methods are made equal, and not all offer the time to go back on your decision. If I had a gun that night, I'm certain I wouldn't have changed my mind. There's no process to killing yourself with a gun. You've not done it yet and then, boom, it's done.
Suicide is the tenth most common cause of death. (The only other non-illness to make the list was "accidental injury," which, incidentally, is largely made up of gun accidents.) In 2010 there were 38,364 suicides. 19,392 of those people shot themselves. That's 51 percent.
Of all gun deaths, suicides account for 61%, so when we're talking about gun safety, we have to talk about suicide.
Guns are dangerous because in one moment of blind despair you can make a fatal mistake, and doubly dangerous because they maintain their appeal even when the act is premeditated.
After that night in my apartment, when the pill daze had worn itself completely, suicidal thoughts returned. In the weeks that followed, they grew stronger. I decided that the problem was not death itself, but its method.
If I were to overdose in my apartment, I would leave my body to be discovered by my boyfriend, which is a horrible thing to do. I couldn't call the paramedics after I finished taking drugs, because they might arrive in time to save me or I might pass out first. The people I know who have tried it –- and I know a few -- suffered through hours, or days, of seizures, asphyxiation and delusions.
I kept thinking about it. I considered the possibilities. I could slit my wrists, but that left the same concerns as overdosing. Jumping off a bridge was too scary. I wondered if I should throw myself in front of a car. Waiting for the subway, I asked the same thing of oncoming trains, but I worried about the bystanders.
For a while I toyed with hanging myself. If I had it all set up and called 911 right before, it was unlikely they could get to my apartment and through the locked door before I was gone. There was nowhere in my apartment to do it, though.
Finally I settled on shooting myself.
I thought I could buy a small handgun and keep it in my dresser until I was ready. I would wait until I was alone for the night. Then I would retrieve the gun, take it into the bathroom and call the police. I figured they at least have training in how to handle a gruesome scene.
I thought about this plan a lot. I thought about what it would be like to pull the trigger. I thought about the words. I'm going to kill myself. I killed myself. I'm dead.
When I researched New York gun laws, the plan stalled. It's nearly impossible to get a handgun license in New York City, unless you can prove your employment requires it. The application for a rifle or shotgun is long, expensive and tedious, and involves five visits to 1 Police Plaza. (Since the passage of the New York SAFE Act this year, there are additional restrictions.)
Where could I get a gun?
I considered that question over the next couple months, but never came up with an answer. Recollections of a better life floated through here and there. In desperation I looked for a treatment center and presented the idea to my family. A self-intervention.
I decided I would do a month of treatment and if, afterwards, my mind had not brightened, it would be time. A last-ditch effort. The center was in Arizona. I could get my hands on a gun somehow.
In late December, I flew into Phoenix alone. I was met by Ron, one of the retired guys the center hires to pick up incoming patients. Sure enough, once we settled in the van, he started talking guns.
It was the week of the Newtown shootings, and he had a lot to say. He quite lovingly talked about his autistic grandson, who he was “teaching responsibility” through gun care. His grandson called a few minutes later. They were going shooting that afternoon.
While Ron talked, we passed a gun store. It was not quite on the main road, but down aways, standing alone amid the cacti. There was a sign with a big downward arrow and the word “Guns.” I knew I couldn't buy anything there with an out-of-state ID, but I figured with a smile and a good cover story, they could point me in the right direction.
If this whole treatment thing didn't work out, that's what I would do.
But treatment did work out. Driving back to the airport, I missed the store altogether. I was busy looking at the mountains. Soon after I returned home, my lease was up and I moved into a sunnier apartment.
The restrictions on gun ownership where I live stopped me from buying a gun long enough that my need for buying it went away. The discussion around gun control generally centers on how people can use guns against each other, but ignores how many of us might use them against ourselves.
When over half of gun deaths are from suicide and half of suicides are gun injuries, then gun control has to be part of meaningful suicide prevention; and the causes, methods and effects of suicide have to be part of thinking on gun control.