These words are staring at me from the letter sitting on my desk. I feel branded for life. So much for privacy. How did this come about you are no doubt wondering, Cathie, what the hell is this about? Where did this come from?
Well, let me explain. About five years ago I was put on a 72 hour hold for attempted suicide. Hold on before you judge. I had been on a certain medication for chronic back pain, however, due to my Bipolar disorder, I cannot take antidepressants. Well guess what, this particular medication has antidepressant in it. So of course, it sent me spiraling down into a deep, dark tunnel of depression which in turn, landed me in the hospital on suicide watch. Now I am branded for life as a Mental Defective. I would like to thank my dear PCP at the time, for being so knowledgeable with the medication prescribed! (I have since, relied on my pharmacist for medication side effects).
So now you are probably wondering why I received such a letter to begin with. Well, a few weeks ago my husband and I were at a gun show and I wanted to purchase a Smith & Wesson Shield. So I filled out all the paperwork for a background check and to my dismay, I was denied! I had no idea why. I didn’t have a criminal record, I didn’t have any outstanding tickets. I did wonder about the 72 hour hold, but quickly dismissed it, after all it wasn’t like I was locked up in a mental institute! Well surprise! It came back to bite me.
I suppose with all the mass shootings going on in our country, I can understand the hesitation to allow someone with a mental diagnosis the right to buy a firearm. I also however, understand why people buy guns on the black market. Of course wimpy me wouldn’t have the courage to buy a gun from a stranger; the damn thing would no doubt have been stolen and of course I would no doubt land in jail because that is just what happens to people like me. Or worse, the damn thing would blow back in my face due to some defect in the mechanism and blow my fingers off, therefore making it impossible to shoot a gun, so then we are back to me not owning my own gun once again. It pisses me off though, that I spent all this money on a gun safety course, more to get into the gun show and for what? I wonder if I can get all that money back for being a “mental defective” person. why not? If they are going to deny me the right to buy a firearm, then they should give back the money I spent to do so legally and according to their rules. OK, better simmer down before the men in white coats show up at my door. Do they even wear white coats?
You are by this time no doubt wondering why a sixty year old woman would even want a gun in the first place. I can assure you it isn’t for self defense. I tend to freeze in place when threatened or scared, which would only help the would be assailant. “Here, take my gun and shoot me please.” Yeah, I don’t think so. OK, let me tell you why I did and do want one. First of all, because I keep forgetting I am sixty. Second of all, I like shooting, its fun for me, it always has. My husband and I go to the shooting range (I have to rent a gun) every month for fun. It is a good stress reliever. But this gets expensive! It costs $50.00/hr to rent a gun; then you have to buy the ammo, and of course there is the fee to use the range. Hell, after about six months, you have paid the price for a small hand gun!
But this isn’t the real issue here. I can live without owning a gun. What the difficult side of this is, are the words, “Mental Defective” as I am described in the denial letter. Mental illness I can tolerate, somewhat; but defective? Doesn’t that sound harsh? Like maybe a bit crazy even? Yes, my friends call me crazy at times, but that is in fun (I hope). This letter was not in fun. It is a label. One I will have to live with for the rest of my life. Not knowing how or when this diagnosis will show up, will haunt me. It will cause me to feel hesitant to apply for anything that would entail a background check. Do potential employers get this information when doing a pre-employment background check? Is this who I am now? A mental defective? Will it be dismissed at some point if I stay out of hospitals? And whenever I have to change doctors, it will no doubt come up once again.
Once you are diagnosed with a mental illness, it does not go away. Nor are you likely to be treated as one who is of sound mind. Not from doctors with huge egos anyway. If I show the slightest sign of sadness or anger I am immediately watched closely for depression or homicidal precautions from a doctor. It is not an easy thing to live with. Around my friends and family I am treated equal and like a normal person, whatever that is,. and the thought of being Bipolar never comes up. Lucky for me, it is Bipolar II which is a mild form. (I always feel I have to state this, as if somehow, people will see me in a better, safer manner). It is not of the type that has to be medicated heavily.
I share this because it is who I am and I have posted personal stories prior to this, it is no secret. I am not a secret. Not anymore that is. I also share it because I have to wonder how many women are out there feeling less of themselves because of a mental illness diagnosis. I am here to tell you it does not have to define who you are. Just as this letter from the CBI does not define who I am. It is simply stating a condition I have. Everyone just about, has a diagnosis, be it high blood pressure, arthritis, or mental illness.
So yes, at first reading of this email I was immediately filled with shame and humiliation. Once again I am made to feel there is something seriously wrong with me. I wasn’t sure how to explain to my friends who also like to shoot, why I was denied. They all assumed it was a traffic violation or someone using the same name. Now I have to tell them, no, it was due to a 72 hour mental hold. Will these friends sigh in relief knowing I cannot possess a lethal weapon? Probably. In a joking kind of way. But thankfully, my friends have known me a long, long time and know I am not insane, dangerous. Nor do they see me as a “Mental Defective”. Oh how I hate those words. How horrible they sound. But I refuse to let them define me! Like a dear friend has said, “others opinions of you, does not define who you are.
So to the CBI I say, “I am not a mental defective! I am a wonderful, strong and decent human being. I am not a danger to myself or anybody else”. Yes, I am sure 90% of the people out there committing horrendous crimes are mentally ill, (see how different, less shameful these words sound?), and should never be given the go ahead to purchase a weapon. But did being denied the right to purchase a firearm stop them from getting them somewhere else? No. Why? Because they had a mission to harm others and no piece of paper was going to stop them or prevent them from getting their hands on guns. That is the sad fact people. Those are the ones you should be afraid of. Not people like me who were deemed dangerous to themselves because of a medication error. They don’t know that of course. But if they are going to turn you down, shouldn’t they check into the facts? Not jump to some conclusion that puts everyone with mental illness into one big generic category.
OK, I refuse to allow this to ruin the rest of my day. But writing and sharing it helps to lessen the shame and disappointment. Knowing 90% of society suffers in one degree or another from mental illness takes the sting out of the whole thing.
So on this note, I believe I will go cuddle up in my recliner and finish the good book I have been reading. Focus on all the positive things and people in my life and remind myself, and those of you out there who live with this illness, that it is not a big deal unless we make it so. Truth be told, its not the end of the world if I can never buy a gun. I will just find another hobby. Another form of fun. But it still sucks.