Tim and I discussed suicide in our first substantive one-on-one conversation. We were wandering around Sea Cliff, New York before the wedding of a mutual friend and somehow it came up. Knowing Tim’s love of off-beat conversation, he may well have orchestrated the topic. Regardless, I shared the story of a friend who killed herself after a long battle with depression and alcoholism. I talked about my belief that as much I disagree with her decision – because of the hurt she caused her family and all of the opportunities for joy that she’s missing – I can’t judge her because I don’t know her demons. In my darkest times, I’ve felt sadness dull my senses and weigh on my shoulders, but in my heart, I was still happy. Depression is the opposite of that. A depressed person can feel happiness at a surface level while in their heart, they are weighted with sadness. That’s a horrible way to live. With that in mind, the only thing I can do is to love my friend in death as I did in life.
Little did I know then that Tim had attempted suicide once upon a time and that my understanding for my friend extended to him.
Tim and I were already dating when he told me about his past suicidal behavior. It wasn’t a surprise. I knew him well enough by then that it made sense inside his life story. Nevertheless, it scared me. There is a big difference between being the friend of someone who committed suicide and having your partner experience that mindset. But in my fear, my urge wasn’t to push away the potential for pain but to cling even tighter to the man I love.
As a result of Tim’s project, people have started opening up to me about their experiences with suicide. I think the One, Two, Many Project’s greatest impact lies in the inspiration it provides to share honest and uncomfortable moments with one another. It’s the fear of what may result from honest confession, not necessarily a fear of the truth, that holds the stigma of suicide in place. The One, Two, Many Project provides a safe space for some to openly reveal their truth, for others to anonymously practice being honest, and for all of us to learn techniques for opening up similar safe spaces in our lives.
Recently, a stranger told me about his wife’s suicide, a story he doesn’t share with many people because he hasn’t yet accepted it himself. Being in this relationship, I could empathize with his feelings on her death. He is hurt and angry and feels betrayed. In his position, that’s fair. When your partner commits suicide, they not only create enormous pain in your life; they simultaneously remove your primary support system.
I think that conversation was good for both of us. He practiced hearing himself confess the truth out loud – not only about the circumstances of his wife’s death but about his unreconciled feelings of love and anger. For me, I got to look my worst fear in the face and still choose to be with Tim.
Tim swears I won’t lose him to suicide. I believe him. But there is a long painful road between where we are now and that end. That is not a road I want to walk back and forth on throughout my life. I know that my only 100% guaranteed escape from that path with Tim is to forfeit all of the happiness that we have and will have, and that is an untenable option.
Tim has told me that he feels bad that I have to deal with his depression; I reminded him that it is no more fair that I have to deal with it than that he does. This is not something he imposed on me. His behavior inside that depression could be an imposition – if he let it, but the depression itself is not. And so long as he continues to struggle against it, so can I.
Despite my conviction and my faith in Tim, listening to my boyfriend talk over and over again about suicide and his own attempt isn’t fun. Sometimes I’m very matter-of-fact about it and sometimes I feel this panic creep up inside of me. On those days, Tim has to mop up my mascara and tell me that it’s okay.
And it is okay. Tim and I are learning how to be partners. I see the times when the storm starts brewing in his mind. He’s solemn. His smiles lack vivacity. He gets lost in thought and stares ahead, sometimes missing what I say the first time around. He can’t and shouldn’t hide it from me. In the same way, I can’t and shouldn’t hide those moments of panic from him. They give Tim a glimpse of what is at stake, it allows him see me as equally human, and it gives him the opportunity to take care of me. Being open with each other when darkness and fear creep into our minds and relying on each other to cast a lifeline in those moments is the essence of partnership.
The One, Two, Many Project has given Tim and me an avenue to practice being honest with each other by sharing our reflections on each episode. Sometimes it’s easier to talk about a third party than about ourselves. Nevertheless, we are opening up lines of communication with each other. For that, I am grateful to everyone who has shared their stories on the One, Two, Many: Veteran Suicide podcast. Your stories have mattered to me and made an impact in my life and my relationship.