When supporting starts to hurt

It’s me again. Ziya’s recent posts should be enough to show that lately, things have been far from easy.

Indeed, it has to have been (and still be) hard for Ziya. But sometimes I wonder how often the effects of the depression are shown on the people supporting the person facing it. Case in point:

Ziya and I have been together for very close to three years now. And for a good chunk of that time, we’ve spent enough concurrent time in the same location to make sharing a bed make sense. And for most of that time, we’ve generally been able to go to bed at the same time, and wake up around the same time (give or take an hour or so). I’ve gotten used to that: it’s part of one of the reasons I proposed to Ziya; I want to wake up next to zir everyday, for the rest of my life.

And prior to the new sleeping habits, that helped to at least give some semblance of “normalcy” to the end of the day, and has typically allowed my own depression to show up far less frequently and with less of an effect. That relational pattern was enough to help me (at least somewhat) with my own emotional regulation. But the new sleep pattern is proving to have some nasty effects on me as well.

I no longer expect to wake up alongside Ziya. Instead, I’ll wake up three, four, sometimes five hours later than zir; and when I wander out to find zir, ze tends to be in the living room, having already logged a few hours in Oblivion. And that tends to throw off my energy for the day: leaving me capable of little more than basic hygiene needs, food needs, and watching hours of Youtube videos. I’m usually in a slightly better boat than Ziya in some of these areas: I’ve been doing the bulk of the cooking (at least, as far as our shared meals go), and there are certain chores related to household keeping that I have been able to do with decent consistency.

But on my own bad days, forget it. I’m only able to suggest food when I’m starting to get really hungry; and by then, Ziya’s usually been significantly hungry for a while. On my low energy days (which are occurring with more frequency than I’d like lately), it takes me a stupidly long amount of time to suggest that maybe we should start getting ready for bed before one/both of us are stupid tired (assuming I even get to that point before Ziya starts to fall asleep during whatever ze’s doing). And unless we’re both stupid tired, the general lack of down time (and activities) kill my ability to get to sleep with any sort of speed.

At its worst, nights like tonight happen. Ziya fell asleep within maybe ten minutes of climbing into bed. That was about two hours ago now, and I’m still awake. And I know it’s not my normal speed for falling asleep: that usually takes about twenty minutes or so, and that’s fine. No… this is overwhelming sadness keeping my brain from letting me sleep.

It’s sadness about the relational things that used to be common; but have become increasingly rare: things like cuddling before turning off the lights, waking up next to each other, even other forms of physical (and emotional) intimacy. Ziya’s depression has seemingly left enough room (at least lately) to play Oblivion for hours on end, grab easy food for hirself, and sleep; with little left over for the interactions that used to be more common. And to be honest, that’s probably what hurts the most: I know that Ziya doesn’t mean to do these things; but the depression is none-the-less leaving me to carry more of the relationship. At least, that’s how it sometimes feels…

But the pattern continues, and I feel like I’ve gotten caught in it too. Ziya tries to include me and interact with me during the Oblivion sessions: and I’m happy to help look things up and contribute. And the cuddling close during these sessions does help greatly. But that still doesn’t help the part of it that I feel is most effecting my own depression: the dilemma of how much time I should spend tuning in, and how much of it I need to spend completely under my own headphones shutting out the sound of the game.

Because of this dilemma I feel like my emotional batteries have been woefully under charged  for the bulk of the last few weeks. And usually, a few hours of video watching is enough to bring me back up to full (or near full) again. And most of what energy I do manage to recharge gets spent trying to help Ziya get through the day: gently pushing/encouraging zir to complete the few important tasks that are on the docket for that day. So it feels particularly devastating when the videos I am able to get something off of fill so little (particularly compared to what they used to). And this is not counting the other stuff of life (job acquisition steps, internship acquisition steps, etc), that I desperately need to focus on myself.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not attempting to pin blame for the pattern (or its effects) on Ziya. I play just as much of a role in keeping the cycle going, especially when I stupidly don’t speak up about my own needs. Nor am I saying that Ziya isn’t trying; ze’s been sure to tell me that ze loves me and is vocally appreciative of at least a good chunk of what I have been doing. But in the midst of an episode, even those efforts don’t feel like enough. And all of the during game cuddling in the world doesn’t fulfill the needs that aren’t being met.

I can find some relief in one thing: the worst of these episodes are nothing compared to the handful of horrible ones I’ve had in the near-distant past. Those were something else, and it would take a really drastic trigger for one of them to spawn again. And I can count myself lucky that, even those could only nearly drain me of energy. I’ve never had to deal with an episode that involved self-harm thoughts, and the extent of my self-deprecating thoughts deal entirely with my problems not being worth burdening Ziya with. I’m amazed (based on what ze has told me, and what I’ve seen) at the strength that Ziya’s shown so far.

But ultimately, all the comparisons and analysis in the world don’t negate the fact that hir depression is hurting mine. I don’t like to say it, but it needs to be said: I’m hurting too. And it’s not good that I’m able to hide it as well as I have been able to.


“I Just Want a Day Off”

Every so often, I feel energized and motivated to do the things I need to take care of myself. But many days – most days – I really don’t want to be bothered with anything.

I don’t want to take a shower and get dressed. I don’t want to go anywhere. I certainly don’t want to do whatever Mom has asked of me! (We got a new dehumidifier for the basement that she keeps asking me to set up. “Sooner, rather than later, please!”) The rats are overdue for a cage cleaning. The living room is still a mess. I still don’t have a new psychiatrist – though Dad gave me some things to think about so when I am ready to find one, I’ll know what to look for and what questions to ask. In the meantime I might go back to Psychiatrist B just so I don’t go have to go off my meds again … assuming I can get myself to be bothered with making the appointment to see him.

Ugh! I want to get out and do something interesting – maybe try out archery at a local place that offers lessons and use of their equipment for $12 total one night per week. I want to neaten this place up. I want to spend quality time with Fox and other loved ones. I want to get better … AND I want to play Oblivion / watch Star Trek: Voyager. Or just relax. Read – I’m a couple chapters into yet another reread of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

But trimming some yellow leaves off the plants in my vegetable garden feels like it should be enough of an accomplishment for one day. (I was quite pleased to see small green fruits on the tomato plant. And, equally important, I was able to request and receive useful advice from Mom regarding what to do about the leaves.)

Why do I have to constantly question my choices, feel like they’re “unhealthy” (or morally wrong), feel like I have to change? Why can’t I just breathe?

More Celtic Design Knotwork

I’ve been feeling really low the past couple days, especially yesterday. Low energy, sad mood – almost on the verge of tears. I told Fox I didn’t think I had the energy to cry. I’m worried because I’m going to run out of my medications soon and I still haven’t even started trying to find a new psychiatrist. But I don’t have the energy to make a phone call. I really wish someone would hold my hand through the whole process.

The ironic thing is, Sunday night is the first time in weeks that I slept anywhere near a normal amount of time. Fox and I went to bed around 3:30 am; I woke a little bit before 7:30. Then, I fell back to sleep on the couch from about 8-something to 11:30 am. So, I got about 7-8 hours of sleep. And a comparable amount last night. That’s about twice what I’ve gotten used to.

A Josephine knot panel. I used differently-colored pencils to create the 10x10 grid that serves as the foundation for the knotwork.

A Josephine knot panel. I used differently-colored pencils to create the 10×10 grid that serves as the foundation for the knotwork.

I have had the energy to explore knotwork some more. One of my favorite things about Celtic knotwork (besides the gorgeous designs) is following the path(s) through all the different knots. I decided to color my Josephine knot panel from my last post in order to help myself visualize the path.

As it turns out, there are actually 4 paths that intersect each other, two at a time. In other words, “the knot is not continuous.” I’ll admit I was a bit disappointed to learn this because I really prefer continuous knots. However, I was able to use the process of coloring the different paths to explore how different parts of myself interact.

Josephine knot panel, colored.

Josephine knot panel, colored.

From left to right: the blue represents the depths of my emotions; they are complex and flow one into another, like the waves of the ocean. It’s hard to understand them because the light from the surface only goes so far; beyond its limits it is too dark to see what’s really happening. But the emotions are there and they are an important part of me.

The red represents my passion, life energy. I thought it would be one of the colors to stand out the most, but it’s actually quite subdued against the purple background. That’s actually quite fitting because my passion’s been lacking – everything from libido to motivation to do anything, even activities I enjoy. Passion is kind of important for expressing emotions; without the energy to move them outward, all they can do is sit and fester inside me.

The dark brown represents grounding and the Earth. There’s an element of fertility in there – creativity – as well as holding and nurturing. It keeps the passion from getting out of control; it helps the emotions stay manageable. Too often I’ve used it to keep calm for others’ benefit, at the expense of my own emotional well-being.

Finally, the gold represents intellect. It works best from a place of grounding, calm, rather than passion. It’s my major coping mechanism: focusing on cognitive tasks to distract myself from my emotions; trying to understand and/or explain what’s going on intellectually so, if I must feel, at least I can throw words and ideas at my emotions.

This is the filter through which I try to share my experiences in blog posts. If the emotions could speak for themselves … well, I’ll admit, that idea is kind of scary. But Wakana did get me to start improvising on viola again, at least for a couple of days. I need to find a safe place for it to stay out of its case – visible and ready to play.

Yesterday I wanted to make a continuous Celtic knot panel, so I made some adjustments to the design. I removed one of the rows of knots, creating a more rectangular shape, and used foundation knots at the top and bottom of the panel. This created one long circuitous path that was quite fun to trace.

Continuous knotwork panel designed by Ziya.

Continuous knotwork panel designed by Ziya.

As I was drawing this design, I thought about how sometimes we must leave certain things unfinished, and go off in an unexpected direction to take care of something else (e.g. dropping my graduate classes to focus on recovering from severe depression and anxiety). This can be hard for me to deal with; I’d much rather complete the thing I’m working on right now – especially since I have a bad habit of starting (often expensive and/or time consuming) projects and then never finishing them. I have a lot of guilt around that. But maybe I just need to learn to trust that, if something is important enough to me, I’ll come back to it in my own time. If I never get back to that thing, it’s really not the end of the world.

Celtic Design Knotwork

Wakana strongly encouraged me to try something new. So, I pulled out a book that’s been on my shelf for a while now, Celtic Design: Knotwork by Aidan Meehan. It has instructions for drawing your own Celtic knotwork, starting with how to create various grids (e.g. 2×2, 5×5) and moving from simple to increasingly complex patterns. After experimenting with it for a couple of days, I have a few drawings I would like to share:

A foundation knot, including the color-coded grid I used to draw it.

A foundation knot, including the color-coded grid I used to draw it.

A Josephine knot border.

A Josephine knot border.

A Josephine knot panel. I used differently-colored pencils to create the 10x10 grid that serves as the foundation for the knotwork.

A Josephine knot panel. I used differently-colored pencils to create the 10×10 grid that serves as the foundation for the knotwork.

Although artistically-speaking it’s probably better not to allow the grid to show through, I love how it remains visible in this final piece. There were many overlapping layers involved in the creation of the grid, and the knotwork forms yet another layer on top of it. I love that the knotwork serves as both the focus of the piece and a means of seeing parts of the process that went into its creation.

I see it as a metaphor for how people have multiple layers of being – thoughts to words, emotions to affect, impulses to actions, etc. What anyone sees me doing at a given point in time is only a small fraction of who I am.

Zen and the Art of Letting People Make Their Own Decisions

Today Fox and I cleared out the last of his stuff from his apartment. I spent most of the time bringing things either to the car or to the trash, while he sorted through and packed his belongings. Every time I was taking something not obviously garbage to the trash, I was filled with anxiety. He was getting rid of a thing that might be useful! Maybe he would regret getting rid of it. Maybe I wanted it. Should I pack it for him?

There were a couple of times when I said something, but for the most part I was able to talk myself out of it. I remembered how my mother could be about me getting rid of things: whether it was her intention or not, I tended to feel guilty about getting rid of whatever item she was commenting on. (“Oh, you’re getting rid of that?” “This is nice, if you don’t want it maybe I’ll take it.” “I remember when so-in-so gave that to you!” Etc.) It really doesn’t help the process, which I find difficult and stressful anyway. I need to be able to make a decision – and not second-guess it – if anything is going to get done.

Once I realized I was “being my mother” I was able to make the choice to stop. “He’s an adult. He can make his own decisions about what to and not to keep.” “We’ve been living without this thing for how long? You didn’t even know it existed! We really don’t need it now.” “There’s no way all this stuff would fit in the car, never mind finding space for it at home.” Whatever form the rationale took, I used it to try and ease my anxiety.

There was no need for me to make decisions about what to keep or trash, because Fox was the one moving; the one all the stuff belongs to. The decisions were his to make; part of my job was to trust him to make them. I was just helping him out by expediting the process of packing the car and tossing the trash, which had the added benefit of clearing out the space where he was working.

As I realized this, a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders. I was already doing more than enough just by transporting stuff. I could easily do that – satisfying my need for exercise – and let go of any sense of additional responsibility. (Trusting that, if Fox needed me to do more, he would have asked.)

Second 3-Month Review

Wow, it’s hard to believe this blog is already 6 months old! It’s grown a lot since I created it in mid-December. I’d like to say I’ve grown a lot, too – at least, I’ve gained a better understanding and acceptance of what’s going on in my brain, and turned my focus toward tending to my mental health needs. I don’t always do my best with that, but at least I’m trying; at least it’s my priority.

So far I’ve published 105 posts (this will be #106) and Fox has published 2: “Masculinity, Tools of Violence, and Embracing Femininity” and “From a Supporter’s Point of View”. A Day with Depression has gained over 100 followers and receives over 400 views per month from visitors all around the world! I cannot express how inspired I am by the readers of this blog. Thank you all so much for your support!

A Day with Depression 6-month Stats

The dark blue columns indicate number of viewers per month, while the light blue columns indicate number of views. Click the image to view a larger version.

The dark blue columns indicate number of visitors per month, while the light blue columns indicate number of views. Click the image to view a larger version.

I would like to extend a special thank-you to international readers, who make up about 1/3 of the visitors to this blog. Click the image to view a larger version.

I would like to extend a special thank-you to international readers, who make up at least 1/3 of the visitors to this blog. Click the image to view a larger version.

I posted my First 3-Month Review on March 12th; check that out to read a synthesis of posts from mid-December through mid-March, organized by theme. My current review begins just after that post.

As tempting as it is to focus primarily on my depression, anxiety is a significant factor in my life that affects everything from my ability to get ready and go places in a timely manner, to my ability to sleep, to food choices, to my very career. On March 15th I changed my tagline to reflect this. I also reflected on the primary sources of anxiety at the time: my rats’ health, my own academic performance, and becoming a caretaker for Mom (who was, at the time, preparing to receive double knee replacement surgery). In all these situations I felt like I lacked control, questioned my ability to “perform” well, and expected to have unpleasant experiences. It didn’t help that I felt “violently torn and ripped to shreds” by Mom’s expectation that I would meet her needs arising from a decision she had made, in combination with (what I perceived as) her simultaneous lack of respect for a decision I had made.

I found that taking action seemed to help reduce the anxiety – at least temporarily. “Taking action” included doing my homework and beginning to take anxiety medication (Buspar) in addition to the SSRI (Zoloft); I’m thinking perhaps it should also include regular exercise. The thing about taking action that relieves anxiety is that it gives at least a small amount (or semblance) of control over a stressful situation. For example, I take control over my academic performance by doing my schoolwork, which generally turns out to be high quality. But in life there are a lot of extra factors involved, such as noises waking me up in the middle of the night and the job market and my difficulty finding clothes I like that fit and how expensive everything is and the cruel malicious things people with power and wealth do to make a profit and misogyny and all the messages in mainstream American/Western culture that make me want to turn into the Hulk and destroy everything associated with it.

Click the image to read the blog post: "Being Carrie Marin."

Click the image to read the blog post: “Being Carrie Marin.”

Sometimes I need “taking action” to mean blocking it all out; my default form of doing so is to play a game where my character doesn’t have to deal with all that shit. She can take more direct action to accomplish things I feel I (currently) cannot: earning money, creating things with value to herself and others, dressing sensibly but fashionably, traveling, making friends, and ridding the world of evildoers (and people who piss me off). Best of all, anxiety is never an obstacle for my character; she never has to worry about the sacrifices involved in “desirable” life transitions (as I described in Giving In). If the shit hits the fan, I can reload a recent save and try again!

In early April, “taking action” meant making the very difficult decision to drop the two graduate-level courses I need to complete my degree and enter my chosen career. I had already waited 2 years to take them and will have to wait 2 more years. But my anxiety and self-criticism attached to those courses were posing a significant threat to my health, possibly even my life. It was the first time I made such a huge sacrifice in my academic life to tend to my mental health.
What I Need + Withdrawn + Taking Off the Mask + Grace

Around the same time I started using poetry as a means of expressing what I found difficult to say in prose. Themes included: my need for space to rest and work through the depression (Wish & Taking Off the Mask), my guilt about spending so much time playing The Sims 3 instead of with Dog (Groundhog Day), what I was trying to block out (Re: Groundhog Day), anxiety (Nightmare), and why I was avoiding my mother (Silence).

ambivalenceThen, the shit hit the fan. Fox learned he had to move out of his apartment after the end of the semester and requested to move in with me. I addressed my thoughts and feelings regarding the matter in Living Together, but the issue went on the back burner until fairly recently. We’ve both been stressed out of our minds about the whole moving process: his need for me to drive him there and back, sorting through and packing his possessions, and finding space for everything in my home. I’ve been procrastinating going through and reorganizing my own stuff because I’d find that stressful in the best of times, and right now I’m terrified of merging with him. A huge part of why I tend to get up in the middle of the night is because it’s the only time I can truly be alone, focused 100% on whatever I choose.

warning-signs-of-caregiver-stressWhile Fox moving in was on the back burner, Mom had her double knee replacement surgery. I was overwhelmed by anxiety for her, frustration about not really being able to do anything for her, my own fear and hatred of hospitals & medical professionals (stemming in part from bad past experiences when loved ones – e.g. my father – were terminally ill), my inability to manage other responsibilities such as schoolwork and chores, and my resentment toward her for being able to receive the treatment and support she needed – including from me – while I felt left largely on my own to try and survive with severe depression and anxiety. I was eventually able to talk to her about some of this stuff and found her to be more compassionate, concerned, and supportive than I’d expected. She’s actually been quite independent (and willing to call on other people for help), doing all she can to lessen the pressure on me – especially as she gains mobility. She also shows a lot of appreciation for my efforts to help her.
PANIC!!! + Don’t Hurt My Mommy! + How to Visit Mom in the Hospital + (Barely) Holding It Together + Sculpture + Communication + Awesome

An unexpected self-portrait.

An unexpected self-portrait.

As if all this weren’t enough, I’ve been struggling with my own symptoms and lack of much-needed treatment. I was off my meds for five days (ending a week before Mom’s surgery) because I couldn’t juggle refilling the prescription in a timely manner with everything else that was going on. I kept seeing disturbing images of knives cutting various parts of my body. I was hurt and angered by Psychiatrist B when he interrupted me in the middle of talking about suicidal and self-harm ideation to take a phone call. A later conversation with Wakana (who had hoped to coordinate treatment with him) confirmed that I need to find a new psychiatrist. I haven’t gotten around to doing that yet because I’m frustrated with the whole process and have been distracted by everyday shit such as the end of the semester, followed immediately by Fox’s move. I’ve been hypersensitive to loud clangy sounds, to the point where I had a severe anxiety response to an action movie. Wakana had to cancel a few of our sessions due to health and family issues, and I had to request phone sessions because I lacked the energy, motivation and/or time management skills to get to her office. I’ve been so physically and mentally exhausted and obsessed with Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion that I haven’t been able to focus enough to express my thoughts and emotions through writing or other creative means (on most days).

That said, I have made some efforts to express and care for myself. The Bloody Arms Project was an attempt to channel the self-harm ideation (which mostly involved an urge to cut my arms) and the painful emotions behind it into artwork. Not long afterward I discovered the joy and catharsis of Sculpture, which enabled me to channel my anguish into art I took pride in and perceived as beautiful.

CaptureMay“Sculpture” also became a metaphor for taking control over my own life and depression treatment, including asserting my needs in conversations with Mom. I learned about the potential benefits of aromatherapy and had the opportunity to try it out, with good results. Although I have yet to really act on taking a full day once per week to focus exclusively on my own health (Ziya’s Day), it was after I asserted this need that Mom really started being more independent and turning to other people (instead of just me) for help.

Finally, Writer’s Block, In Search of Truth, and this untitled post were my recent attempts to express myself visually when I didn’t have the words to write. For now I feel it’s best to let them speak for themselves.

Domestic Violence

I was interrupted from my early morning insomniac reading by what sounded like a woman crying and talking in a very rushed, upset voice. It sounded like it was coming from nearby, but outside. Then the doorbell rang three times; I thought, who could possibly be ringing the bell this early in the morning? I’m not answering it! But then Fox came into the room and said he didn’t know what to do, he’s not officially a member of this household yet but it sounded like someone was calling for help. I was off the couch in an instant – if someone needed help, I wanted to help them.

I went to the door to find a woman on my (enclosed) porch holding her dog. She was crying and shaking with her cell phone between her ear and shoulder, already talking to the local police department. As soon as she saw me she started apologizing and explained that the door to the porch had been unlocked, so she ran in to get away from her boyfriend. The boyfriend had been drinking, hit her, and threw her dog across the street. She was convinced that if she hadn’t gotten away he would have killed her. “Thank you so much for keeping your door unlocked. It saved my life!”

I let her in and locked the door behind her and checked that the other doors to the house were also locked. Sure enough, the boyfriend came and was banging on the door to the porch to be let in. I assured the woman that the most important thing to me was for her to be safe. Mom came over and tried to comfort her as well; that helped me feel more confident that I was doing the right thing. The cops came and arrested the boyfriend and took her in for questioning. Before she left I looked her in the eye and said, “Don’t go back to him under any circumstances.” I really hope that was helpful.

From what I’ve learned, by the time physical violence becomes part of an abusive relationship, the victim’s self-esteem is often so damaged ze has great difficulty living without the abuser – everything from believing hir safety is more important than the abuser to being able to perform basic tasks to care for oneself.

The woman on my porch kept apologizing, said she was “stupid” for staying with the boyfriend for two years, and said she owed me dinner. At the time I interpreted all that as low self esteem, but she seemed very, very agitated – very scared and grateful for safety and compassion. She was able to say that “he makes [her] look like a liar.” She was able to run away and call the cops and assert that she didn’t want to ride in the same car as the boyfriend; these facts give me hope that she will choose to stay away from him, and hopefully avoid abusive relationships in the future. But I’m worried about her, and I don’t feel safe living across the street from an abuser. I was shaking myself for a good half hour after everyone had left.

The whole thing was so surreal, I’d think I’d dreamed it if I didn’t still smell like the woman’s perfume from hugging her. It reminded me of dreams I’ve had in the past, where I tried to run into the house to escape some unknown but terrifying danger or run through the house locking doors behind me (often to no avail). But this really happened – to someone else – and I was a brief witness to it. I provided comfort, a haven, maybe even some hope.

At the time I put my needs aside to help someone in crisis, but now I need to tend to my own needs. Writing this post is part of it but I feel like there’s more – I’m not sure what, though. I think I’m still a bit too shaken to try and sleep. I have a letter I want to mail and a massage appointment I’m thinking of rescheduling. The former is an attempt to reach out to my cousin whose father died in late March, letting him know I love him and support him in doing whatever he needs to take care of himself on Father’s Day. Writing it (yesterday early morning, when I couldn’t sleep) was therapeutic for me because I was able to be honest in it while feeling like I might also be doing some good. The latter is a deep tissue massage intended to relieve the tension in my back, but at the expense of physical pain, emotional upset, and soreness lasting a few days. For a massage to be helpful today, I’d need its focus to be purely on relaxation – not the specialty of my currently-scheduled therapist. I think I’d rather cuddle with Fox, maybe even do something to try and express the crazy mess of emotions I’ve been feeling trying to block out by playing Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion all hours of the day and night.

Americans for Responsible Solutions

I’m concerned about a letter I received in the mail yesterday. It was from Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly at Americans for Responsible Solutions PAC. They wanted my money, of course, and they had a petition to Congress for me to sign saying I’ll only vote for candidates who support requiring background checks for all gun purchases. Okay, that makes sense to me; considering the hoops one must jump through to get a driver’s license (a privilege, not a right), get a job, receive health care, etc., a 5-minute background check before buying a gun seems like very little to ask. Who knows how many lives it could save?

My concern is with the wording of their message, particularly regarding people with mental illness (such as myself). A quote from Gabby Giffords included in the petition shamed politicians for blocking legislation that would have made it harder for “criminals and people with dangerous mental illnesses” to acquire guns. The first sentence on the Americans for Responsible Solutions About page describes the person who shot Gabby Giffords as a “mentally ill young man.” They list who should be banned from buying guns via Criminal Background Checks: “dangerous people like criminals, terrorists, and the mentally ill.” It is important to prevent gun ownership by “criminals, domestic abusers, the seriously mentally ill, and other dangerous people.” Even in their Poll where they offer addressing mental illness as a solution that visitors can support, their focus is not on actually helping those of us with mental illness but on identifying and treating us “before they commit heinous crimes.”

People with mental illness are not a threat to society. We’re a threat to ourselves. During a panel on “Guns in America,” Richard Friedman (a professor of clinical psychiatry and director of a psychopharmacology clinic) said that:

only 4 percent of gun deaths annually in the United States can be attributed to individuals with mental illnesses ­— far lower than most people think. If America could hypothetically solve the problem of mental health issues leading to violence, “you’re likely to see a reduction in suicides, not homicides.”

Most of the people who die as a result of gun violence commit suicide; the majority of suicides are committed by people with mental illnesses, such as depression. According to Jeffrey Swanson (a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences), “federal guidelines preventing individuals with mental illnesses from obtaining firearms are ineffective at preventing violent behavior, particularly mass killings.” What we – people with mental illness and society as a whole – really need is proper mental health care to reduce the number of suicides.

This point is also emphasized in Margot Sanger-Katz’s article, “Why Improving Mental Health Would Do Little to End Gun Violence.” The people with mental illness who are at the highest risk of committing violence against another person 1) are unlikely to use a gun and/or commit murder and 2) typically do so early in the course of their illness, before there is an opportunity to “identify and treat” them (to use Giffords and Kelly’s terminology).

There’s a huge risk that the message Giffords and Kelly are sending will perpetuate the untrue stereotype that people with mental illness are violent and dangerous, increasing the stigma we face. That’s really the last thing we need! Their call to use background checks to keep guns out of the hands of people with mental illnesses so we won’t commit heinous crimes only addresses a tiny portion of the problem. I’ve made a series of diagrams to illustrate this point:

There is only a small overlap between people who commit violence against others and people who have mental illnesses. Please note that the relative sizes of the circles do not accurately reflect the relative sizes of these populations.

There is only a small overlap between people who commit violence against others and people who have mental illnesses. Please note that the relative sizes of the circles do not accurately reflect the relative sizes of these populations.

Of the small percentage of people with mental illness who commit violence against others, only a small percentage use a gun to do so.

Of the small percentage of people with mental illnesses who commit violence against others, only a small percentage use a gun to do so.

It is rare for a person with mental illness who commits gun violence to have an official diagnosis. It is even less likely that the individual is receiving - or has ever received - mental health care.

It is rare for a person with mental illness who commits gun violence to have an official diagnosis. It is even less likely that the individual is receiving – or has ever received – mental health care.

We need society to provide us with better mental health care and better access to mental health care, so we can care for and avoid harming ourselves.

Preventing violence – particularly gun violence – is a whole separate issue. I suggest looking at our cultural values, particularly how violence / gun violence is portrayed glamorized in mainstream media (TV, news, movies, etc.). Who commits the violence, and against whom? Why? In what contexts? (e.g. gender norms; poverty; age/generational factors; race – including white people; access to education, healthcare, and/or employment; etc.) How can we change society to make it a safer place for everyone?

Maybe the first thing we should look at is the fact that gun ownership is a right, but access to safe, effective, and affordable food, housing, health care, education, employment, and transportation is not!