Suicide: A military spouse’s story
A milspouse friend sent me this and asked me to post it. I would ask that you be kind in your comments, as it took a lot of courage to share her story with me, let alone the entire internet. ~Ophiolite
There seems to be this mythology that suicidally depressed people are obviously suicidally depressed and they can be picked out of a crowd by even the most random of observers. This simply isn’t the case.
What would probably surprise most people is that I went through a period where I was that depressed. It didn’t show up overnight. I was just under so much stress for so long without any support that I cracked. It happened slowly and by degrees that were almost imperceptible to even me. I knew I was stressed. I knew I was fighting off depression. I believed that if I just tried this or did that- some combination of things would make things better. I could beat this. All the way along, I was seeing my shrink. She hasn’t let on that she saw it, so I am not sure that it was obvious even to her. The tough thing is that I am so good at lying. It’s one of those skills you pick up in an abusive home. You know how to lie about everything so that no one suspects how bad things are. No one knew I was having a problem- not my husband, not my shrink, not my friends, not my colleagues. No one. It didn’t help that while I was suicidally depressed I was still winning awards for my work, still publishing, still showing up on time and giving 110% at my job, still doing volunteer work, still working out, still going out with friends. In fact the more depressed I got, the more I did these things in an effort to stave off the vortex I felt I was getting sucked into.
I tried to just keep pushing forward, hoping things would get better on their own for months. It wasn’t until I started to really focus on all the things I would have to take care of in order to take myself out of the equation that I realized I really had a serious problem. I made a list of all the things I would need to do: find someone to take care of the dog, put everything into storage so my husband wouldn’t have to go through my things, return my library books, clean out my office, sort out my finances, get a divorce. I even did some of these things.
No one knew I was having a problem- not my husband, not my shrink, not my friends, not my colleagues. No one.
Then I decided to tell my parents I was suicidal. They didn’t believe me. They told me I was just stressed out and tired. I just needed to continue putting one foot in front of the other. “We know you’ll be fine because you always pull through.” I wondered how shocked they’d be when I proved them wrong. I wondered what it would take for them to hear me. I wondered if this wasn’t proof they just didn’t care about me.
Then I sat down and had a conversation with my husband and asked him to divorce me. I figured, if we ended the relationship, what I was going to do would hurt him less. I love the shit out of that man and I didn’t want to destroy him. Thankfully one of us had some emotional intelligence (not me) and he saw right through me. He asked me why I wanted a divorce. I told him I didn’t want to hurt him. The answer perplexed him and he said nothing for a long time. He just stared at me. Then finally he told me what he knew what I was planning to do and he told me he loved me. Most importantly, he made me promise that I wouldn’t hurt myself in any way. He knew that a promise is binding in my mind and if I agreed to it, I could not commit suicide. I told him I would think about it. And then he held me and told me all the reasons he couldn’t live without me until I sobbed myself to sleep.
He just stared at me. Then finally he told me what he knew what I was planning to do and he told me he loved me. Most importantly, he made me promise that I wouldn’t hurt myself…
The next day, while he was at work, I pondered what he had asked of me. He had made a compelling case that he would never be okay without me, but I still wasn’t sure I could go on. So I made a new list. This list was all the things I needed in order to be able to keep the promise my husband asked of me. It was a ridiculous list, filled with some pretty selfish things, like not having to be responsible for finances, or cleaning, or cooking, or anything other than being. It’s pretty selfish to ask your service member to do everything in your relationship, but I just didn’t feel like I could do anything at that point. I gave him the list and he agreed to all of it as long as I spoke my promise out loud: “I will not kill myself.”
After that, I went and saw my shrink and told her I was horribly depressed and not functioning. I still can’t speak the word suicide in her presence. I’m afraid she’ll lock me up in the looney bin and what fragile peace I’ve managed to eek out would be undone by that. But I feel almost compelled to tell others because I realize no one even saw it and I am terrified someone else won’t have a partner who makes them promise to stay alive and they’ll follow through.
My sister called me and started ragging on me about how much weight I’ve gained, how my diet is poor, how I am not exercising. So I told her the truth: Right now, choosing to be alive is hard work, so if all I want to eat is peanut butter M&Ms while watching TV, I’m going to call it a win. She apologized and asked what she could do to help. She told me about her own suicidal period and told me that whatever I had to do to keep going was a-okay. It was so affirming to hear I wasn’t alone and that she cared. We’ve never been very close, but that’s changed since we both fessed up to our individual struggles. My husband, my sister, and my dog who won’t leave my side, are the reasons I am still here. They saw through my mask and cared enough to honor where I am and do what it takes to help me get back to where I need to be.
I want people to know that a suicidal person looks just like everyone else.
It’s been three months since my husband made me promise to stay alive. My progress can be measured in micrometers. When I made the decision to start acting on my suicide preparations list, I stopped working out and eating healthy. I’m just now starting to make an effort to work out and eat right again. In every other area, I managed to keep the facade in place, so I don’t think other people know. Part of healing for me is telling people about my experience. I feel like it’s really easy to miss the signs in high achieving people, because over-functioning is how we try to cope.
I want people to know that a suicidal person looks just like everyone else. This is why it is so important to listen to someone if they reach out to you and say something out of character. If someone decides to trust you with knowledge that they are struggling, even if it isn’t as obvious as “I’m thinking about committing suicide,” it’s important to listen, to be a friend, and to offer to help. You may not be able to pull them through it, but if you can do nothing more than connect them to resources to help them or tell them that you care, it may be enough to save a life.
In my case, I knew what all the right things to do were. I just needed someone to hear me and hold the flashlight until I could find my way out of the tunnel.