The Unseen Sickness

In 2008 Ryan Frazier sat outside a gas station in his car. Before him was a metaphorical fork in the road. His wife would surely be wondering where he was. His child was perhaps home sick, unable to attend school that week. A text on his phone asked him to pick up milk on the way home. He glanced out the window of his car and thought about his next move. When he was a boy, a local priest had molested him severely, leaving him scarred and broken as a child growing up. As an adult, he had brought legal charges against the priest. After years of battling a long, grueling legal battle, he had just learned today that the case was decided against him. The priest was free. Perhaps we would molest someone else. But at any rate, Ryan’s memories were not gone. His revenge was not had. The only legal recourse he had had failed him and the last thread of his hope was frayed and quickly coming undone. He glanced at his watch, and opened the car door. One foot in front of the other. In a daze, a fit of sadness, blinded by the devastating loss of hope, Ryan walked into the gas station and bought a gun, legally, using his name and ID. He walked back to his car, shut the door and killed himself in the parking lot. He had never owned a gun. He had never shot one. He was known as a cheerful person and a good businessman. He had lots of friends, lots of connections. But today, Ryan’s depression got the better of him. He couldn’t cope with the realization that his only hope in life had been literally, legally let off the hook. Eight years later, Ryan is still dead. Eight years later, Ryan’s family is still living.

The strongest argument for gun control is the one never told. Is it callousness? Is it misunderstanding? Is it ignorance of the facts? Is it cruelty? Or is it succumbing to a social stigma?

Depression is the unseen sickness. And it kills more people daily than we would care to admit. Depression is not the goth teenager, lacquered in black lipstick and throwing up the devil horns at a rock concert. It is Ryan Frazier. Well liked, cheerful business people. Community driven, married, happy. Well off, self made, rich, poor. It is gender agnostic, religiously unbiased, age transcendent. There is no cure. There is no cure. There is no cure. And it strikes at any time. Deadly and swift, it kills faster than any other disease. Within seconds an otherwise healthy individual can be struck down without warning. There is no numbness of the arm, no tingling in the leg, no struggling to breathe, no marks, blemishes or abcesses. Like a worm, it eats through the mind. Like a slug, it tortures your gut. You feel it. No one else does. Then it kills.

No one talks about depression. No one talks about suicide. It’s an uncomfortable topic hitting too close to home for far too many. Nearly 39,000 people kill themselves each year. 19,000 of those are with a firearm — 49%. No other suicide method has such a majority. No other method has to. If you could stop just one of those 19,000 would you?

But before you can answer that question rationally, first you must understand the mind that depression creates. Most people believe depression is feeling “sad.” This is not true. Everyone “feels sad.” Feeling sad is not a bad thing. It is not harmful. If anything it is a sign of a healthy human. We all feel sad from time to time and sometimes it is perfectly normal to feel sad for a prolonged period of time. Depression goes beyond that. Take the worst, mind numbing experience you have ever had in your life. Go there with me. You will cry. It will be hard. But go there. A brutal rape, feeling powerless as you were forced into your most vulnerable position and taken like so much meat only to be left behind like so much garbage. A horrific beating, bullied and bruised, unable to defend yourself against an attacker that only became more enthralled by your screams for help. The loss of a limb, athletic before, hopeful for your future, only to lose your most prized posesion, waking up from surgery finding it torn from your body and discarded as medical waste. A bad break up. A drunken brawl. The loss of your best friend. The death of a beloved pet. Whatever your worst experience in life is, extrapolate it over the course of your life. Imagine living it every day. Every day you wake up raped. Every day you wake up bloody and beaten. Every day you wake up in surgery. Every day you break up with your partner again and again. Multiply that feeling some tenfold until you can’t imagine it. What’s worse than daily rape? What’s worse than a daily horrific beating? What’s worse than losing your limb daily? Make it worse. Go there. That. That is the disease of depression. Would you survive? Could you? 107 people per day can’t. They live that hell. They survive until they can survive no more. Imagine begging for you life, pissing yourself out of fear, groveling, crying, clawing at the ground beneath you for any way out. Now imagine that your attacker is yourself, your own mind turned against you. You beg and beg and beg. There is no cure. There is no cure. Could you find a way out? Could you survive it? Take a moment. Breathe. Understand depression and be glad you do not live like this…

Suicide methods abound. But only a few are actually highly successful. Attempts at suicide are quite frequent, but while people can often survive overdosing, hanging, cutting, drowning and even jumping from seemingly high places, guns are unsurprisingly fairly successful. Of course they are designed to kill and if they don’t kill, they maim severely. Failed suicide attempts by use of a gun often lead to lives far worse than before…but those are rare. Guns have the highest success rate of any method used by people to kill themselves in proportion to those that try it and there is little chance for a change of heart. Suicide often comes from a place of despair with life as it is, a desire to be free, not from a desire to die. Yet when push comes to shove most survivors speak about the surreality of it all, the mechanical actions that go into the preparation and the sense of numbness that collapses during the actual attempt. Often, a suicide attempt can be a brutal way of bringing someone to appreciate life far more than those that have never been at Death’s door — much less there by their own hand. Yet with a gun, those last moments of realization and a chance to back out are often lost. A light squeeze of a trigger in a surreal moment of depression and despair is all that’s needed to fade to black. Most suicidal people are not constantly suicidal, and attempts often take place during extreme bouts of depression and hopelessness that outweighs all other feelings…a gun removes the freedom of thought from the equation and takes the possibility of epiphany out of the equation, replacing it with a cold certainty of death.

The statistics are clear. Suicide rates in households that own guns are higher. Suicide rates in states with high gun ownership such as Wyoming are also higher on average. Guns aren’t the most popular method of self-murder, but while drug overdoses only succeed about 3% of the time, suicide by gun succeeds over 85% of the time making it the most lethal of all methods. It doesn’t account for all suicides, nor does it account for even a majority of attempts, but it does account for a majority of the successful ones and it does so with an evil grin.

The year is 2003. Bruce Rogers is sitting in his lounge at home, drinking a scotch. He had developed a taste. He was well-off…a dentist by trade. A plush leather chair was his nightly throne and he often sat here and thought, or perhaps read, and drank himself into stupors. Tonight, in a bout of undiagnosed depression, he got up and loaded a family heirloom he kept in the home. By the end of the night he had shot himself dead. His daughter described him as having a great sense of humor. His daughter’s description didn’t bring him back to life.

I find it funny in a sickening kind of way that so many people love to parade about as champions of unborn fetuses, laughingly calling themselves “pro-life” while in the same breath supporting the death penalty. These same people support gun rights with a flaming passion, ignoring the outrageous problems that go along with them because of their weak-minded place of lugheadedness that just can’t see past the constitution in their vest pockets. We made the laws. We can change them. These aren’t the Ten Commandments, writ in stone by the finger of a wrathful god — these are manmade laws made by flawed individuals like you and I and if you weren’t so trigger happy, you might be able to see the pain they sometimes cause. You can fix it. But you don’t, America. The hypocrisy of this entire situation is laughable. The rest of the world doesn’t hate America because they think Obama is weak or the antichrist or black; they hate America because fundamental human decency is nowhere to be found. If you’re going to claim the title of “pro-life” then you must be pro all life.

Zachary Demers. 23. He was arrested on DUI charges while using a commercial license. His depression turned on and he began to fear things…losing his ability to drive, his job, his ability to find future jobs, his social life. He took his own life shortly after the arrest with his hunting rifle, unable to cope with the new reality that would become his life. There is no cure. There is no cure.

So if you could stop a single of these deaths, would you? You can. You can vote to. You, the people, make the laws. Make them now. There is never a better time than now. There is a constitutional right to bear arms, I do not deny this nor will I ever. But that right is broad and comes with certain caveats: Those that wrote this right into our nation’s laws did not have access to the kinds of weapons we now do. Sane gun control laws should not be about criminal intent. They should not be about mass shootings. They should not be about one offs. They should be about the things we can change, the things listed here in cold black and white, made colder by the taste of blued-steel. This is crushing. But does this matter? No. Gun owners are too busy worrying about the loss of their liberties to bother about the traumas they might lead to. Maybe I’m not a patriot. Maybe I’m weak. Maybe I’m missing some kind of big picture. But I know that if I could cure cancer magically by losing a leg, I’d do it. And if I could save the lives of 19,000 people every year just by giving up the right to shoot targets and gut my own dinner, I’d do that too. If your “right” is leading to the undeniable harm of a group of people, then perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate what your “right” fundamentally entails. Checking your laws, re-envisioning your nation, making a better world for all those in it — now that is the patriotic thing to do!

I can hear those slain by their own hand…and the silence is deafening.