Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

Your chance to play advice columnist: How do you tell people you're feeling suicidal?

Over the rest of the week, I'm going to talk about both my own state and the fallout of me talking candidly about my suicidal feelings.

Owning my shit

In case the last week or two of posts didn't make it clear, my suicidal depression was primarily situation-based. While I've had some anxiety issues lately (which my doctor and I have been and continue to work on), the suicidal feelings were rooted in my reaction to a sudden, unexpected, and unwelcome change in my life.

It's important that I phrase it that way - my reaction to a situation. Because it's true - nobody else is responsible for your feelings. It might seem like a tiny distinction between a person creating a situation that you're reacting to and creating the reaction - but it is a big distinction.

It's the difference between blaming someone and simply recognizing that a thing is. Perhaps the difference is "merely" motivation, but for your lived experience, it can be a big difference.

This was actually one of the first steps I took as a coping mechanism. I don't think (nor have I ever said) that someone "made me suicidal". I originally had enough presence to say that the situation did... but even that was wrong.

My reaction to the situation made me suicidal.

Really grokking that difference is hard, especially when you're depressed. And communicating that difference is even harder - especially when you try to talk about it to anyone who might be involved in the situation itself.

I actually called in to the Savage Lovecast with (essentially) that question: How do you talk to your lover (or ex-lover, or nearly-ex-lover) about feeling suicidal without making them feel like you're threatening or guilting them?  I've posted the edited question below, since it looks like it won't make it on the Lovecast... but I think it's something that might seriously help other people.

As someone who has been in a relationship with someone who used threats of suicide as leverage in arguments, that's the last thing I want to inflict on someone else. But at the same time, should you hide those feelings from the person you love and share your life with?

So here's the question I asked (slightly edited):

My name is Steve. I'm a forty-one year old straight male living in the midwest. I recently went through a situation that caught me completely unprepared.  I reacted badly, going into a suicidal spiral. Two people caught me trying to give away things and realized WHY I was doing it - my now-ex and another friend. The friend was sympathetic and talked me off the edge.

I was - and continue - to feel those same suicidal thoughts. I've seen my doctor, and have plans in place. I actually made a suicide attempt back in the 90's, and that experience helped, after that first crisis, to recognize when I was starting to spiral. It's a controlled thing right now - I make sure I'm not alone too much, I make sure I have lots of things to do, plans and obligations because I don't want to leave things undone.

After the emotional train wreck of my last marriage, I had to do a lot of work to be able to trust that I could be honest about my feelings with her. And I did. I thought we both trusted each other enough to really be honest about our feelings.

So when my ex asked, I was honest. I made sure to emphasize that it wasn't a threat. I made sure to emphasize that I wasn't telling her to make her react a certain way. I emphasized that I was reporting how I was managing and coping with this intense depression and suicidal thoughts.

But she still took it as emotionally blackmailing her with threats of suicide.

I guess it's too late for my relationship. But I know how hard it was for me to reach out for help, and if it hadn't been for one friend and my prior experience, I don't think I would have made it through the holidays.

But what should I have done differently? I can't be the only person who is faced with this situation. Should someone in that situation lie to their partner (or not-quite-ex partner)? I thought that was kind of the point of having a partner - that you had someone that you could feel safe enough to be honest with... but in my case, doing so seems to have contributed making a "break" into a "breakup".
What do you think?  What would your answer be?

And if you haven't already, see if you can contribute anything to help a Navy Vet and his family who recently lost everything in a fire:



Mitchell Bentley said...

So sorry to hear about this. I don't know if there is a good answer - and I do have some experience in the area. I tried several times over the course of my life and have felt that way as recently as a few years ago. For me, it ties into my depression, which is most prevalent on a seasonal basis - though not locked into just being seasonal. Situational things also affect me. Key for me has been vigilance, awareness, nutrition and lighting - followed by movement, exercise and just getting out. However, I am fortunate to have an understanding and supportive partner... but in the past it was about getting to the point, as you said, where I recognized the symptoms in time to break the cycle.

I can talk with my partner with her taking it as a threat. I am grateful for that. It rarely gets to that point, but there you have it. It can be done - and that is on her. She is the one who decides how she will take and react to the information I giver her. I cannot do that part. That part is her decision and path.

I wish I had an answer. I can only sympathize and share my own experience. Hang in there bud, change is the universal constant and I always tell myself, "Not today. I can always change my mind later. Just not today." Then I go try to do something to get me not depressed. Sometimes I have had to be on meds for it. I don't like them, but that did help when I quit drinking. That helped a lot too. Alcoholism and depression often go together. I don't know your situation, but that was a big part of mine. I now have 15 years sober. As I said, hang in there my friend - change is always just around the corner. Just give it time.

Mitchell Bentley said...

Sorry - "I can talk to my partner without her taking it as a threat." is what I meant.

Steven Saus said...

Thanks, man. I'm heartened to hear that you've got someone who you can talk to about your feelings and doesn't see it as a threat.