Life with a suicidal spouse–seasons of private heartache

Anxious. Helpless. Panicked. Desperate. Exposed. Ashamed. Regretful.  Self-critical. Guilty. Misunderstood. Hurt. Rejected. Frustrated. Manipulated. Resentful. Envious. Discouraged. Pessimistic. Confused. Loving. Hating.

Living with a suicidal person floods me with disorienting emotions.  As I see my husband walling me off, anxiety, helplessness, and panic kick in.  During the search for my husband or after calling the police, feelings of our secret being exposed and a few blaming eyes bore deep shame into me.  After an attempt or an event of spiraling downward, I am regretful, self-critical and guilty over the last statements I said to him, that maybe those statements pushed him to the edge.  As he’s in the hospital sharing story after story of how I contributed to his pain, I feel hurt, rejected, frustrated, manipulated, resentful.

Envy.  What’s that doing on the list?  It was hard to list. I feel selfish and embarrassed to list it.  But the attention he gets from family, friends, medical staff, our therapist–can make me feel invisible and deeply hurt.  I think it’s important to keep in mind the trauma an attempt or his teetering to the edge can cause to those closest to him.

Tears spill down my cheeks as I wonder “Do I call for help now or will he be okay?”   Tears spill as I drive to visit him in the hospital.  Tears of fear, hurt, anger, and sadness.

I start doubting the relationship. Discouragement, pessimism fills my mind with thoughts of “This is never going to change,” and “Why me?”  Fears of “I’ll be left alone one day” and thoughts of “maybe I should get out now” swirl in my mind.

Confusion.  Love and hate.  Both exist at the same time.  I love him.  I do.  He’s caring, kind, thoughtful.  At the same time I hate his moods and actions–callous, detached, rejecting.

His suicidal ideation and depression affects our daughter–she’s been getting into trouble at school.  How does a tween handle the ups and downs of her dad?  We try to keep it hidden from her–but of course she senses something.  She’s expressing it the best way she can right now.

Invisible.  It is with my husband’s permission that I start this blog.  He understands how isolated and alone I feel.  Yet I post apprehensively as I fear my husband may read this blog and think that he is causing me pain that could put him on the path to “I’m a disappointment, I’m a failure” and send him spiraling closer to the edge.

In the safety of anonymity –I am trying to find a place to give myself a voice and not feel so alone.  Up until a few years ago no one knew the private pain I lived with. To the outside world my marriage looked ideal.   My husband and I hid our pain well.  But one night he almost took his life and our pain went public (to our families and friends).

This blog is an informal place for me to process my thoughts.  I’m beginning tonight, I hope at what is the tail-end of a couple weeks of uncertainty about my husband’s stability.

My blogging will probably be triggered by in-the-moment events, therapy sessions, feelings of falling apart, despair, lack of control, and helplessness.  But I also want to write about hope, faith, love, and grace.

I share my experiences but my way is not THE way.  My way is what works for me at this time.  Having an understanding/empathetic therapist, supportive/encouraging friends, and a strong church group has gotten me through the toughest times.

On the one hand, if you’re reading this blog and feel hopeless and suicidal then get help.  Call a crisis hotline (National 1-800-784-2433/1-800-273-8255) or 911, or check yourself into a hospital.  On the other hand,  this site is not meant to give out professional advice so if you’re struggling with dealing with a depressed/suicidal spouse, feelings of guilt, hopelessness, etc. then talk to a psychologist or marriage and family therapist or other mental health professional.  Speaking to a professional is one way I’ve taken care of myself (self-care) and I highly encourage it.

I take the first step today to making my pain a little more public.  Thanks for listening.

Check-In: Separated. Responses to comments.

Life got really chaotic for me so I haven’t posted in a while. The main purpose of the blog–was for me to share my experience. I felt so alone. If you’re a spouse with a partner struggling with suicide–you’re probably feeling alone too.  My hope is that through the blog, and the comments from readers–you will see you are not alone. Because our couple’s struggles deals with life and death situations–it is especially distressing.

To update my current situation.  My husband and I separated in April 2015.  It was hard, lots of tears shed on both sides.  Fortunately, we both had therapists to help us. After about 6 months of living separately, the crisis of the transition dissipated.  Early in 2016, Dave asked for a divorce.  Another round of tears on my part, as I had hoped we could work things out.  April 2016 made one year of separation. After working through the grief regarding divorce, I am now okay with it.  I can see that the separation was a good thing. Dave, Beth and I are happier, and psychologically healthier.  Dave and I are working on our own issues.  Our daughter, Beth is doing better.  Her attitude has improved.  She’s doing better in school and socially. She’s thriving.  We all feel safer.  We’re all working on awareness and identification of feelings, tolerance, coping, and healthy expression of anger (and other uncomfortable emotions).

I apologize if I just approved an old comment and this reminded you of an old situation.  I struggle with whether it’s better not to approve the old comment, but then I wonder if the reader might wonder why I approved some and not his/hers, so I approved it. If you changed your mind let me know and I’ll take the comment down (I think I’m able to do that).  If I haven’t approved a comment–I’m not dismissing your experience, minimizing your pain, or favoring certain commentators. I may not have gotten to it yet (I’m really behind), I missed it, have deemed the comment to be too personal, or there was another reason. I apologize for this.  Readers–please know that you are not the only one going through this, if that helps.  Your experience is real, hard, scary, upsetting, confusing.  Love, hate, fear, hope–whatever you feel, it’s so painful, it’s so hard to go through and you wonder how much more you can take.  We need support too. Find a friend, family member, therapist who is willing to really understand your experience.

As I skimmed the comments, there were a few things I thought I might address that might be helpful to readers in general.   (Keep in mind—I don’t know the complete situation so I am not offering you advice.  My concern is that you read this post and then run out and apply what I say, don’t.  One way to get help for your unique situation is to seek out professional help so you can share your complete story.).

Involvement of police.

On November 6, 2016 a reader wrote “Tonight I called the police where he was and explained what he had said to me and they went searching for him. I’m not sure if it was the right move…Did I overreact?” On April 2, 2015, a reader wrote, “I had no idea they would send police and cuff him. He was taken to ER and released but was treated like a criminal. I feel so horrible. Now he is furious at me. I don’t know what to do.”  This really is hard to witness. I recall my own struggle to make the call, knowing that Dave didn’t want me to call, and knowing he would be upset during and after either openly or passive aggressively.  I needed a lot of support from my therapist to make the call and after the call—and I got the support.  The cuffs or plastic ties that’s used–keeps your partner and the officers safe.  A person in a state of mind needing to be taken to the hospital for an assessment has intense emotions and obsessive preoccupations with dying.  S/he is probably desperate, hopeless, and not thinking rationally.  In that context—S/he is unpredictable and could do something in the moment that is permanent and irreversible.  The humiliation of being cuffed can be processed in treatment.  It took a little time, but Dave said to me in couples therapy, that my calling the police saved his life, and he was grateful.  I can’t promise that outcome, but if saving a life is a goal—then calling the police may be the only option, when the person struggling with suicidal thoughts/behaviors does not and will not help him/herself.

As for over-reacting or under-reacting—this is the hard thing in dealing with our spouses/partners.  I too felt helpless, and powerless, confused, conflicted as to how best help.  The emotional charge that’s between the couple, family member, friend, can make it hard to see clearly, objectively—what’s the best path to take.  A professional can help with this.

Duty to report.

A comment from a reader: “But I’ve always heard that if a professional like that hears of someone at possible risk of suicide, it’s their duty to report it to the authorities“–I thought it might be useful to clarify this–the therapist’s duty to report relates to the client in the room.  So if you see a therapist and report your own suicidal thoughts–the therapist will assess for your safety. The therapist does not have a duty to report for your spouse. So you will continue to be in a hard position and have a tremendous sense of responsibility for your spouse’s safety, it’s hard not to, (even though in most cases, your spouse is an adult and responsible for him/herself).  To take this responsibility off of you–calling the police or a crisis assessment hotline (in Hawaii we have a 24/7 hotline that will send someone to your home, to assess the safety of a person (808) 832-3100) is an option. In Hawaii the police relays the information gathered to an on-call psychologist and the psychologist makes the decision to take the person to the hospital to get a formal assessment of safety.

On March 3, 2015 reader wrote, “I have thought about crashing my car, just so that I can be in hospital and have someone look after me for a while. To not be the strong one, just for a while. To have people asking if I’m ok, just for a while. I know that sounds insane, but I don’t know if I can keep being the strong one when I feel so weak.” We can have thoughts that might seem “insane” when we’re feeling overwhelmed, hopeless and desperate.  When I start getting preoccupied with my own scary thoughts, this is a sign, that I need support/self-care/see a professional.  We need someone to hear, get, support and help us come up with coping strategies, self-care and our own resources, support network.

COUPLE DYNAMIC,

On April 2, 2015 a reader wrote, “We had an argument Wednesday and I lost my head. I did scream snd (sic) say hurtful things. Everything is bottled up.”  One of the dynamics of living with a suicidal spouse is this bottling up and censoring ourselves.  I remember holding my hurts and anger in, not wanting to upset Dave.  But this bottling up, took  my anger and hurt to escalated levels, and I too, when I couldn’t hold it in any longer—would unleash it.  The couples therapist helped create a safe environment to share our hurts/upsets in a more timely way and not let it build up.

That’s all I have time for right now.  Take care.

Runnin’ (Lose It All)

As I drove, I heard, “Runnin’ (Lose It All) by Naughty Boy, on the radio. The lyrics stuck in my head, so I googled the runnin’ line and found this video. (Lyrics by Arrow Benjamin, Beyoncé, and Carla Marie per genius.com).

As I watched, tears streamed down my face.  I’ve felt this “runnin,” so many times.   Chasing, chasing. Chasing after an elusive safe love.

These four lonely walls have changed the way I feel
The way I feel, I’m standing still

For the past 8 months, Dave and I have been separated.  And I’ve been staring at four lonely walls. It could be worse, though.  It could be my worst nightmare, my greatest fear.  He could be dead,

“…And nothing else matters now, you’re not here
So where are you? I’ve been calling you, I’m missing you…

Memories turn to dust, please don’t bury us
I got you, I got you.”

and I could be chasing after an elusive wish to have done something more to keep him alive.  And I know it’s not my role to keep him alive.  But in relationship with him, I found myself “runnin,” watching, to make sure that he was okay.

And whereas in this video the characters swim into each other’s arms, I swam away from Dave.  Is it permanent?  I don’t know.  For awhile I thought so.  Something happened that sent our family into a tailspin. I got tired of the crises.  He stopped turning his anger inward, but then his anger spilled outward toward us (mine did too).  Dave wants to make everyone happy. But it costs him too much.  The accommodating to everyone, to his coworkers, to myself, to Beth, it takes an emotional and psychological toll. Not asserting and voicing his needs–he pushes all his upset down, and resentment builds.  And where he used to go to hopelessness and act to harm himself, when that avenue closed, when he decided that was not an option for him anymore, where else could his built up, accommodating to please everyone, anger go–but toward Beth and I.

And he was not the only one angry,  I was too, and so was Beth. Dave and I were both afraid to voice our upset directly and we both held things in.  I was too scared to voice directly what I saw going on with Dave. I was getting better at it, but I was primed to read Dave’s cues, verbal and nonverbal that it was not safe, and to tread lightly (and some of that priming–was pre-Dave family of origin stuff, my stuff).

When the family crisis, and it was a crisis with a capital C, cropped up, we separated.

I ain’t runnin’, runnin’, runnin’, runnin’
Runnin’, runnin’, runnin’
Ain’t runnin’ from myself no more
I’m ready to face it all
If I lose myself, I lose it all

I was scared to leave.  I was scared that he might end it all, if I left, but I separated anyway. And I didn’t want to face a life alone, but I separated anyway. I “ain’t runnin’ from myself no more, I’m ready to face it all.”  It took the family crisis to set in motion a therapeutic separation.  Initially during that period, we were all reeling from the affects of the crisis.  And the first 6 months were pretty tough, some of the roughest times–psychological and emotional affects of the crisis, of the separation.  Single parenting while holding a full time job, and a part time job wasn’t easy.  Plus Beth was going through a rough patch with me after the separation, and all the stressors piled up on each other, and I felt pretty hopeless at times.

I got serious about getting Beth help. She’s a teen, she didn’t want to go to therapy, but at the same time she cooperated and went.

And Dave, for the first time, started to go to therapy weekly.  During the eight months we’ve been separated, he didn’t make any suicide attempts.  In therapy he’s been working on asserting his voice, how to manage his emotions, safety planning to prevent future crisis, and building his self-esteem.  There’s a quote, “when the student is ready the teacher will appear,” that comes to mind.  I’ve heard the concepts that Dave shares with me from his current individual therapy, talked about by our couple’s therapist in the past, but I think Dave’s ready now to take it in and apply it to his life.

I ain’t runnin’, runnin’, runnin’, runnin’
Runnin’, runnin’, runnin’
Ain’t runnin’ from myself no more
I’m ready to face it all
If I lose myself, I lose it all

For me, my work in individual therapy is that I’m working on me.  I’m working on my anger, and what it means, and what I need.  And what I want and need for Beth and I–is safety.  I need to know that there will be no running away from problems, no escaping from problems, disagreements–through harm of self or others.  And that goes for all of us.  Staying in the relationship the way it was, was harming to myself and Beth, and even to Dave.  I’m working on my childhood that carried into adulthood, caretaking, over-resposible, enabling role.  And I’m working on my self-value.

During the separation, I was told by my therapist to take my time, don’t rush into any decisions. To sit in and sit with various contemplations, to clarify my feelings and needs, before I decide.

I’m getting clarity.  But the thing about clarity is it depends. It looks different today than yesterday. And clarity will look different tomorrow than it does today. And it’s not incongruent.  It’s my truth in the here and now.  And I accept that it’s gonna change.  And it’s okay.  And I need to assert the truth, my truth for today.

The progression of my truth went from, not knowing if I wanted to stay or leave, to wanting to break up, to now–taking a wait and see attitude.  Why the changes.  The factors included, the level of crisis I was in, the effects I saw on myself and Beth, the amount of blame I was placing on Dave.  Thinking that I never wanted to go through another crisis again.  But as Beth and I have stabilized emotionally, and I’ve been seeing that Dave and I have been making positive changes.  But I’m going to wait.

What am I waiting for? I’m waiting and observing–can we be safe together?  Can we talk directly about our issues and feel safe? Do we have coping strategies to manage our emotions.  Do we have a support system in place to turn to when we are unable to give support to each other?  Does Dave have a safety plan and will he implement it?

My line in the sand, is safety.  If we don’t feel safe–issues will go underground again, and build up, until it turns into the next crisis. I’m tired of living that way.

We’re tired of living that way.  Tired of “runnin” in circles, in dysfunctional cycles.  Instead, we’re “runnin'” toward psychological, emotional and relational health.  I feel healthier already.  Beth and I our closer than ever. Dave and I have been dating.  Like our therapist says, “Trust is information over time.” I don’t know what the outcome will be, my decision, Dave’s decision, but I’m taking it slow.

And I

Ain’t runnin’ from myself no more
I’m ready to face it all

And I really am.

(Note: I encourage the above “therapeutic separation” process to be done under professional supervision, by qualified mental health practitioners).

Recommendation, Read–Poorna Bell’s, “In the End, There Is Only Room For Love”

On my Facebook feed this morning, I saw the BringChange2Mind status post, linking me to Poorna Bell‘s Huffingpost UK’s blog post, In the End, There Is Only Room For Love, dated June 25, 2015.

Tears spilled down my cheeks as I read her story.  Perhaps you too will connect with it.

P. Bell said, about the aftermath of her husband’s suicide:

I think the anger comes from not knowing we were on rations. It is fuelled by the guilt we all felt.

We should have hugged you more, spent time with you, memorised every part of you, told you we loved you – had just one more day with you – because deep down, we feel that if we did that, you wouldn’t have killed yourself.

The point I am trying to make is that I get it. With suicide, what feels like a choice to other people was not a choice for you. Our love – and you had an ocean of people who felt that way about you – was not going to anchor you to this world when you felt there was no possibility, no hope.

She writes beautifully of her experience.

I saw you in everything. I saw you in the sea, imagining you in the shift, turn and swirl of water. I saw you at your graveside, in the freesias you so loved. I saw you in the birds you had encyclopaedic knowledge about, in the double rainbows that lit the sky the day we said goodbye to you.

I am touched by her words. Thank you P. Bell for sharing.

 

Two Organizations Work To Decrease the Stigma of Mental Health Issues & Suicide

Yesterday, the organization called, BringChange2Mind shared a link on Facebook, of an art exhibit called, Man-Up Against Suicide, being held at the Foster Eastman Gallery in Vancouver.  I watched, Dr. John Oliffe, describe the exhibit in the YouTube video, “Man-Up Against Suicide-Depression Documentary,” on the Men’s Depression and Suicide Network. (Warning–YouTube automatically posts recommended videos on the right side of their site that may differ from the tone/purpose of the link).

The featured artists lives were touched by suicide. Some talked about dealing with their own thoughts, others of family/friends contemplation or completion of suicide.

One speaker, Doug, talked about his friend, Ron, (3:32) having thoughts of suicide. He described his friend as a “very strong person…very warm heart, very kind, very giving, but he doesn’t see that in himself.   Here’s this…shiny happy person on the outside, but there’s a lot of darkness and turmoil going on within him.” This was my experience of Dave. I’m attracted and others are too, to Dave’s Continue reading

Not Blaming the Partner

I was on a family vacation with Dave and Beth, when I heard about a recent actor’s suicide. I was stunned. Tearful. Thankful that Dave was still alive–knowing how close I was, to living through such a tragedy.

I caught myself thinking why didn’t someone intervene? Why didn’t his wife intervene?”–realizing those were the very thoughts I didn’t want others to think, when Dave attempted or if he ever completed.

How easy it is to blame.  His wife was not responsible. I’m not responsible.

I scolded myself a little. I should Continue reading

Daring to be vulnerable: Sharing My Story

Dave and I have been doing better.  Dave’s been working on finishing a post for my blog. I asked him about authoring a post when I first set my blog up.  I let him know, no pressure, only if he felt ready.

Making public disclosures, is hard, even for myself, it’s hard to self-identify as the partner of a person who made a suicide attempt, hence the “private pain,” as the key words in my blog’s name.  In my posts I don’t use my real name, or Dave’s partly to protect Dave’s identity, but also to protect my own.

I was on Facebook’s, American Association of Suicidology page, and found a link to this NY Times post

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/14/us/suicide-prevention-sheds-a-longstanding-taboo-talking-about-attempts.html?hp

about the hidden population of attempt survivors.  The article reported that one factor  in the “invisible” nature of this population was the stigma and shame in self-identifying as an attempt survivor. Another factor was the concern by mental health professionals of the stressors involved in sharing one’s story–that the negative reaction of the audience (or perceived negative receptivity of the audience), for example could trigger an attempt.

Another hidden population not identified in the article, are the people whom are are  the primary audience for this blog–the partners of the individuals that attempt suicide.

I myself believe in the
Continue reading