The Mental Health Project is a Seattle Times initiative focused on covering mental and behavioral health issues. It is funded by Ballmer Group, a national organization focused on economic mobility for children and families. The Seattle Times maintains editorial control over work produced by this team.

Editor’s note: This story focuses on suicide, self-harm and other topics related to psychiatric distress. If you or a loved one is in crisis, resources are available here.

Washington state offers a process where you can voluntarily waive your firearm rights with a simple form that you can revoke later. More information is available at st.news/courtswaiver. Details about court-ordered Extreme Risk Protection Orders, which temporarily restrict access to firearms and can be requested by family and household members, are available at st.news/ERPO.

As our nation reels from more gun violence with seemingly no end in sight, I experienced my own, personal tragedy that hit even closer to home: My husband and best friend of nearly 20 years took his own life by gun on April 4, 2022. Out of respect for the privacy of my late husband and our family, I will refer to him as “Brad” throughout my essay.

Our life together began in 2002, where we lived and met in Minneapolis and forged a life together. As an LGBTQ couple, we were married on Nov. 1, 2014, as near as we could to our most cherished and celebrated holiday together: Halloween.

The Seattle Times Mental Health Project features contributed essays from members of our community as part of our Mental Health Perspectives guest column. We invite individuals with personal stories related to mental health to share their experiences that reflect broader issues and concerns in the field. If you would like to inquire about submitting a column, please email mentalhealth@seattletimes.com.

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Brad and I both experienced the ups and downs of any couple. However, there was one battle that was taboo in our relationship: mental health issues we both faced, ranging from depression, to anxiety, to personality disorders, to substance addictions, to Brad’s PTSD from more than two decades in law enforcement and public service.

LGBTQ mental health resources in Seattle and King County: Here’s how you can find support

Brad dedicated his life to protecting the lives and safety of others, putting others’ needs before his own. This eventually led to his mental health diagnoses that, for the most part, went untreated.

To some degree, society has taught men that it’s not OK to cry; it’s not OK to show emotion for fear of mockery; and that men are the emotional pillars of the family unit. It left little time for Brad to tend to the inner demons that were gnawing away at him. Even as his wife, I would never find out who those demons were or why they would so furiously plague his thoughts, until he decided the only way to rid himself of them was to take his own life with a firearm.

Warning signs of suicide

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or have concerns about someone else who may be, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You will be routed to a local crisis center where professionals can talk you through a risk assessment and provide resources in your community. The more of the signs below that a person shows, the greater the risk of suicide.
  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings
Source: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

As a now fully transitioned transgender female, a large slice of my relationship with Brad also focused on my gender transition, my gender reassignment surgery and acclimating myself to my new gender role.

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My transition placed Brad in a quandary, only compounding his mental health issues — would he identify as gay, straight, queer? Was I now his husband-turned-wife? Was it as simple as changing from Brad’s husband to his wife? Moreover, how would Brad explain all of this to the male-dominated law enforcement arena and his conservative family, who espoused beliefs and values that were in stark contrast to our liberal views — views that love is love, no matter who you are or what’s between your legs? As soul-crushing as it may be, I ask myself, over and over, if my transition played a role in his decision to end his life.

Brad made comments about how disgusted he felt with his physical appearance, how he wanted to drink himself into a stupor and never wake up and he would make mention of wanting to obtain his firearms conceal and carry permit again, an odd thought considering his career in law enforcement had not required a gun in many years.

In the mix of all this was the pandemic, which was the star of the show when it came to Brad’s continued suffering from alcohol and opioid addiction. As with many families during the pandemic, what once served as our pastimes — dining out, theater, happy hours — suddenly became extinct and slapped a heavy weight of despair on Brad.

On Sunday, April 3, Brad and I had a wonderful brunch, went shopping and met up with friends whom we hadn’t seen since before the pandemic began. Later that night, Brad had, once again, stolen my legally prescribed opioids, which I confronted him about. After a brief argument Brad began to pack his belongings in silence, almost as if he were ashamed of himself, his addiction and that he’d failed me — and himself. Brad walked into another room, retrieved a gun that I didn’t know he had, and fatally shot himself.

Mental health resources from The Seattle Times

I share my story to highlight and underscore that, after nearly every mass shooting, gun advocates and gun interest groups are fraught with excuses that do all but blame the gun: “Guns don’t kill people; evil people kill people.”

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Let’s take that scripted talking point and apply it to my own tragedy, and it sounds like this: “A gun didn’t kill Brad; Brad was an evil person — an evil person who was a seasoned law enforcement professional, a man with mental health diagnoses like millions of Americans, a man who loved his wife and dogs to the moon and back — but the gun he put to his head didn’t kill him.” 

Regurgitating this pro-gun talking point doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as sweet when put into context of a personal tragedy — a tragedy that will always leave me with questions of why Brad chose to take his life.

It is my hope that my story — Brad’s story — will encourage you to examine your beliefs on mental health and America’s gun culture, because Brad and I are proof-positive that good guys with guns do kill — and sometimes, the good guys with guns take their own lives when they no longer believe they’re a good guy with a gun.

Bailey Meixner is a professional corporate communications writer who recently relocated to Seattle from Minneapolis after her husband’s passing.