TW: Gun violence and mentions of the May 24, Uvalde Texas shooting.
With gun violence dominating the nation's conversation right now I wanna seize on the opportunity to give a real insight into the realities of how it affects men's mental health from my own personal experience growing up in Philadelphia.
Guns were never my thing. I never carried. I learned proper gun safety in the Cub Scouts and shot my first round of live ammunition at 8 years. So I knew how to shoot a gun from a very early age but guns were never my thing. I did have a knife on me every single day from middle school on, but I preferred to throw up my hands and fight with my fists. Actually, I preferred not to fight at all, but often I was forced to protect myself.
Some of you probably can't fathom the reality of you and your boys having a detailed plan of what to do if you're in a house and bullets start flying, with everyone having a designated duty. Because I never carried and because of my love of children, my designated job when we'd hear gunshots was to scoop up any babies inside, throw them in the tub, and jump on top of them to act as a human shield. The safest place to be in a house is inside a tub because the thickness usually repels bullets. Old cast iron tubs offer the best protection.
Tired of the Violence
I wish I could say the above is my only experience with guns, but it’s not. Years ago I was assaulted during an armed robbery, and I’ve had three back surgeries as a result.
I've also been caught in the crossfire and have (luckily) dodged more bullets than I can remember. Unfortunately, I've witnessed friends shot and killed in front of me, and I know it's changed my brain chemistry. All of this is my own personal experience and there are more like me.
Gun violence over the years has helped to create entire communities of men who suffer from Complex-PTSD. And sadly, most of the men I personally know, who have been affected by gun violence, have financial barriers to mental healthcare, don't believe in it, or are afraid to seek help because if word gets out, they fear they'll be seen as less tough in the streets.
Too Close to Home
As we've seen recently, this out-of-control culture of gun violence isn't just limited to Philadelphia, where I grew up. The recent mass shooting in Texas hit home very deeply for me. I found out about the shooting when I was at work and people were surprised by my seemingly uninterested response. It wasn't that I didn't care, it was me being able to push it down emotionally because I had to finish the rest of my workday. We become desensitized and numb to it as a survival mechanism.
When I got home that night, I was alone and saw the faces of the children who were senselessly murdered, I shook and cried for hours. Any child losing their life hurts me as a human being but this hit even closer to home because several of the victims resembled the beautiful little Black and Puerto Rican child that I raised as my own from the time she was six months old until she was in 2nd grade. Seven years old - she could've been classmates with these babies when I was her parent.
Not only did the Texas school shooting affect me as a human being who loves children, but because I had the honor and privilege of being a parent for seven years, all I saw in the faces of the little girls that lost their lives on May 24 was the sweet face of my own Latina daughter. Honestly, there are tears flowing down my face right now as I'm writing this. It's raw, it's emotional, and it hurts but it has to be addressed or nothing changes.
I'm speaking up and speaking out today to say it’s ok to get help if you feel you need it. Whether you need it because you’re a victim of gun violence like me, or you’re having a hard time dealing with recent events, there is help if you need it. Seeking help doesn't make you weak, it makes you stronger and I'm here to tell y'all that I wouldn't be here today without professional mental healthcare.
Dave Scarpello is a long-time Still I Run ambassador and mental health advocate. You can follow him on Instagram @DaveScarpello.