Get Used to Life Without Me: A Dispassionate Road to Suicide with Depression
Driving on a windy road through orchards and fields on Mt. Hood, Oregon, I wrote a list in the notebook I keep in my purse.
Credit card information.
I didn’t cry while I wrote—the way they do in the movies—but I did pause and stare out the window every so often. I stare a lot.
I was making a list so Todd would know how to handle our finances after I was gone. I’ve always been the bill payer, saver, organizer. I worried he wouldn’t even know where the money was without me. And since I didn’t think I could handle life anymore, he’d need a primer to get through the next little while.
There have been plenty of ups and downs in the eighteen years we’ve been married. My husband’s a cool, calm cucumber, while I feel everything passionately. We’ve made it through two kids and some unpleasant years. Money stress, a seriously ill son, and regular annoyances meant that, some of the time,we were just surviving. Patience and big picture thinking kept us together even when we felt distant or tired of trying.
Then something happened. I’m not sure what it was, but I crossed seamlessly from ambivalence and malaise into an area I’d never been before: actively planning suicide. This wasn’t the constant tears of sadness that grip me from time to time. This wasn’t the panic attacks where I imagined my sons falling off cliffs. This was blank, empty, numb. I felt nothing.
I’ve always been a person of faith. In my darkest times, I’ve found comfort in God—even with everything else seeming meaningless. Now I couldn’t even feel that. I went through the motions of life, working from home on writing projects and managing daily family stuff; all the time certain things would be better without me.
This dispassionate self terrified me in a corner of my mind and left me in a position I didn’t like: having to be totally honest with Todd. I knew that coming home to a suicide note or dead body was damage I couldn’t inflict on him, or our children. Besides, I wanted someone to fix things. I wasn’t able to do it. None of the doctors were doing it. Might as well try an entirely new strategy.
I didn’t want to leave my family, my seven and ten year old sons, the life we’d created. But I just couldn’t do it anymore. It sounds so glib to write, but when five seconds of existing is burdensome, getting through an hour is monumental. A night of no sleep while you don’t overdose is worthy of a Nobel Prize. In the morning, there’s no award committee. There’s just more hours and life and you’re supposed to keep going.
I decided I would move out to give everyone a chance to get used to life without me. That would be the first step in ending my life. One night, I calmly told my husband my plan: to move into a condo down the street from our home.
Seeing Todd’s confusion and sadness was brutal. I cried for the first time in months, not for myself but for him. Because I knew he didn’t understand—depression isn’t rational. From the outside, my thinking made no sense at all.
“You don’t need to do that.”
“I’m just so sad,” was all I could say, or at least all I can remember explaining.
He nodded with the worst expression, one I’ll never be able to forget. “I know. I know you are sad and I don’t know what to do.”
The thought, passing briefly, that someone else was as helpless as I, was, at least, interesting to me.
The next few weeks were rough. He’d look at me with such a swell of emotion; all over his eyes and his face. I hated it. I’d been building a wall to prevent more pain, only listening to the side of my mind telling me there was only one way forward. Some part of me, a dime-sized piece of my brain, had hope. That’s the only way I can explain the honesty I was able to conjure up.
I explained my thinking: I felt nothing, didn’t want to burden them, would transition away and then disappear. Each night, after the kids were in bed, I’d spill a little more.
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I’d never been the bedtime parent—Todd was song/story/tuck-in guy. Ever since the boys were small, I worked at night as a college professor, staying home during the day. More recently, our dynamic had shifted as I work from home as a writer, but I’ve never taken back night-time. Still, I try to keep my shit together till juvenile ears are protected by sleep.
I’ve got things worked out and I can be patient till lights are out, the second round of requests are over. “Dad, can you fill up my water bottle?” “Dad, I think Peter Parker [the dog] is hiding under my bed.”
I sit patiently, so, so patiently, in the other room, just waiting. I am rational. Not out of control. I have a plan for after school care, how Todd’s retired parents, living a thousand miles away, could help over spring break. I stopped editing my conversations and said what I really thought.
Talking about it took away the sense of urgency I felt about moving forward. Making my husband hear what was happening on the inside of my head was enough; for a while.
We headed on a summer vacation. Instead of planning hotels and activities like I usually do, I left it all in my husband’s hands. I had no idea where we’d be staying and didn’t really care. There were plenty of good moments, I’m sure, but I mostly stared out windows and willed myself to get through the next sixty seconds. I spent a lot of hours lying in bed contemplating a wall in beautiful locations around the Pacific Northwest.
After I wrote my financial list, I felt a bit of peace. Everything was in place. At the end of our trip, I simply wouldn’t come home with the rest of the family.
But I couldn’t do it. The next day I told my husband I needed help. I hated to do it. I didn’t want to ruin his trip. He was gentle and kind, heartbroken but not judgmental. He didn’t know what to do, so he did everything.
I sat on the cold Oregon beach, gazing blankly at the ocean. My decades-long love of Kate Chopin’s novel, The Awakening, seemed like a bad idea all of a sudden. She wrote it in 1899, about a woman who just isn’t fulfilled by her fancy life. Is this it? she thinks, about everything. Even a lover doesn’t help. So finally—sorry for the spoiler alert—she walks into the sea. At sixteen, when I first read the book, I remember totally getting how she felt. There just wasn’t any other way forward.
The sand on my feet felt great. The giant rocks a mile out were inviting. I stood there, every minute telling myself to stay put. To not walk in. Over and over and over again. No matter what else was happening around me. It was exhausting.
My husband took the kids on adventures up and down the coast. They brought back seafood, ice cream, cheeses, produce, from their journeys. He cooked beautiful meals, cleaned up, and never asked me to lift a finger.
I didn’t get better, but I stayed. He let me wait and not feel like I had to do anything. Instead of feeling afraid or sad, I felt seen. Todd was there; loving me at my most unlovable. He’s a big guy anyway, 6’4”, well over 300 pounds. So when he’s there, Todd’s a presence. That’s always been a solidity that does a good thing for my soul.
Things got worse, medically, before they got better. I tried a week at a ketamine clinic to which I did not react well. I looked into daily magnetic stimulation, not available in my community, at the reasonable cost of just $12,000 for the first month. None of these things were covered by my insurance.
A few months later, I was finally able to get on a medication that is working for me. As I worked with doctors to find the right treatment, I wasn’t doing it alone. Todd didn’t come to appointments with me, but I kept him posted about what we were trying. This was new for us—my health being a joint conversation.
Today, what is better than my own mental health is my relationship with my husband. The vulnerability I allowed was something I’d kept shut off for nearly two decades. I didn’t know I was holding back, but this changed us. He’s still himself, still a man who lost his own mother when he was not quite a year old. Still a man from rural Idaho who never fit and turned inside and isn’t much of a communicator. But he’s not afraid of my feelings, my words, my thoughts.
At Christmas, Todd gave me a new wedding ring. We had simple matching bands from our wedding in 1999 when we had not a drop of money in the world. He’s never given me jewelry before–he’s not that guy. Concert tickets, a fruit tree—things I love but that aren’t necessarily romantic. He can write a note better than he can say things. My crazy isn’t going to turn him into another person.
It was an emotional moment for us, with our sons wondering why we were so quiet all the sudden: a renewed commitment, to all of life, not just the good parts. The best way to describe it? Full.
Full of hope for the future, yes. Full of appreciation for a man who has driven me crazy over the years for everything he’s not. I felt, once again, like I’d chosen to marry a person who did actually know me.