How I'm Handling My Boyfriend’s Suicide Attempt and What’s Next for a Couple When One Partner Is Depressed

If I had some remotely similar experience to draw from, maybe I would have half a clue what to do right now. But, I don’t.
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Publish date:
January 28, 2015
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relationships, Dating, depression, suicide, boyfriend, coping

Too many days are gray.

You go to work at the wrong time. It’s Tuesday, not Thursday. People say hi to you and you aren’t sure how to respond. Maybe you don’t say anything at all. You lose your paycheck. You think about how much you hate working in the service industry but you haven’t looked for something new in months. You grab a pastry, the only thing you’ll eat all day, and sit down for a few beers. You feel nothing. You hope this will pass (it doesn’t).

Good days are yellow.

They are full of me and void of work. We cook and listen to records and laugh together. Time doesn’t matter on yellow days. You feel alive for a few hours. You fall asleep in the crook of my arm. I can feel your quick heartbeat, but you’re warm and smiling. And probably very stoned.

A few days are red. Warnings.

You are crying in my lap, begging me to stay with you just a little bit longer. You tell me you need me. You feel worthless. You want to quit your job but I tell you a plan b would be best.

“I have no idea what I’m doing” you sob. We’ve all been there, but you are starting to think you’re the only one wandering. You’re sick of seeing doctors. Everything feels dark and hopeless and out of control. I tell you what I think you need to hear, but I’m never completely sure anymore.

“Just take one day at a time,” I say. “You are brilliant and full of talent and life.” You eventually agree, but I’m not sure you even heard me.

Yesterday was black.

You call all of your friends and no one answers. My phone is in the other room. I couldn’t have known. Falling farther, you walk around the quiet Sunday city with whiskey in your coffee cup and drink until you puke.

You try to get to the roof of a parking garage. You want to jump. You will do anything to stop feeling. Everything almost comes to a screeching halt, but the door to the roof is locked. In your drunken state, you give up and stumble out. I am at a Christmas party drinking Fireball and you go home alone. All of those gray days catch up to you. I don’t think you saw it coming.

We’ve been together for four months and are in love. That’s no time at all, both in the grand scheme and according to what most people might call “common sense.” But in those four months we’ve formed a bond stronger than relationships I’ve spent eight years investing in.

He’ll talk about aliens and mermaids with me without rolling his eyes. He’s a feminist. He encourages my writing and isn’t afraid to rock a pair of polka dot pants in public. He thinks my tattoos are cool, humors my family, and doesn’t care that I have a mugshot. He writes me notes and brings my dad pie. He isn’t jealous of my exes. He is relentlessly kind, witty, and talented. Tall, skinny, handsome. Special. He has every quality I never thought I would live to find in another human.

Sure, little alarms have gone off a few times in my head along the way, especially on those gray and red days. Like a few months back when he talked to me about feeling lost ever since college. Then he started saying things like he has been faking happiness in every social interaction he can remember for years. Even with his best friends. These were things said in passing, things I can identify with. Still, I suggested maybe therapy would help. Overall, his darker days blended into all of the others for awhile.

But suicide? That’s more than dark. That’s more than ringing a bell for some assistance, it is the screeching ring of every car alarm in the entire state going off at once.

How easy is it to gauge what words should be taken as gravely serious and what should be given a pass? It’s not.

For example, he cries a lot. He cries because we got close so fast and now I’m leaving for months at a time and he is afraid we will fall apart. He cries for other reasons, too. He says he’s always been that way. I love him, but I don’t cry over “what ifs.” I’m pretty emotionally dense most of the time, so it isn’t uncommon for me to feel like an ice queen compared to the people I date. Should I have known this was coming?

We had what I felt was a healthy relationship and he has acted level-headed in situations that in my previous experience have been enough reason for the guy to blow smoke out his ears and ruin a night or even a week. Things like me grabbing drinks with guy friends alone or writing embarrassing stuff and putting it on the Internet.

So was this in reaction to me moving out of state for a while? Was he trying to get me to stay? I pushed those ideas out of my head and have tried to take his words and suicide attempt at face value. Trying to judge someone’s motive is pointless. The way I see it, thoughts of suicide should be taken seriously. End of story.

I’ve gone through dark periods, absolutely. I’ve hated my life and the people in it on more than one occasion. I’ve holed myself up for days and cut off all communication with the outside world. I’ve felt buried by a heavy force I couldn’t explain.

But my reaction was go to therapy or get ahold of somebody who could help. I’ve been lucky enough to have extra hands digging me out of those hell holes. I had hoped he could do the same, but I’ve never been clinically depressed and he might be dealing with something that serious. I don’t think I’ve ever fallen as far as he has and I’m not going to pretend I have. This is out of my league and I know it.

So I called my best girlfriend (she’s the only one I told). She has been dealing with depression and thoughts of suicide for years, consistently fighting an uphill battle to maintain a happy, functional life. Her first reaction was saying I need to contact his family. Oh, and end the relationship.

But I now know that when S did tell his parents about feeling hopeless, they essentially tried to talk him out of it. I would never blame them for that, but I wish they would’ve at least heard him out instead of explaining away his sadness like it was an issue in the ranks of where should we go to brunch? So I don’t see the point in getting them involved right now.

And breaking up with him? I’ve heard stories of the poison that depression and addiction and mental illness can seep into relationships. I want to take all of that seriously, but abandoning him now feels 1000 percent wrong. In my mind, as long as he is willing to get help I have no reason to jump ship. He is my best friend.

So what I’m doing for now, besides being there for him, is creating a sense of urgency. There may not have been an ambulance or a huge scene that night, but I’m acting as if there was. I’ve suggested specific resources and made sure they are within reach. Outpatient programs, intensive therapy, diet changes, journaling exercises, anything, everything. My worst fear is that he’ll try to pretend nothing ever happened and nothing I or anyone else says will be able to change that.

Urgency aside, I told him I don’t want to be his mother but his safety matters more than anything. More than maintaining balance in this relationship. And If he chooses to try to ignore his mental health and go on trying (and failing) to pretend to be okay, we will have major problems. Relationship ending problems.

I know if I push too hard, our relationship might be sacrificed. At some point, he might feel more like a child than an equal and maybe we wouldn't be able to recover from that. But again, his health and safety is taking priority for me.

Depression is an uninvited guest in this relationship and I want it gone. At the end of the day, this all feels out of my control and it probably is. I know he wants nothing more than to go back to normal. It might take awhile, but I think he’s starting to accept that normal is out of reach for right now. What I really wish he knew is that no one is normal because there is no such thing. Normal doesn’t exist, but happy does.

Just two weeks ago the picture of our future together was crisp and clear and, for the first time in years, that idea of *future* felt like a real possibility.

Dating someone going through something like this means putting the future on hold. It means putting everything on hold except for my partner’s well-being.

Things I know: I love him and want him to be happy/healthy.

Things I don’t know: How to hide the fact that I’m worried about him 24/7. How forceful I can be in my encouragement to seek treatment (short of ultimatums) without pushing him away. If he has any triggers, and if I can help shield him from those things. If the amount of drinking he does and weed he smokes has anything to do with this, as I suspect it does. If he would be better off not having me around as a distraction. If I am doing anything right in this situation.

I hope we can find a future where he won’t have to squint to make out colors anymore. I want the colors to be so vibrant that gray is unrecognizable. I want him to live.