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September 27, 2012 5:25 PM   Subscribe

Mr. SPA told me last night that he thinks about suicide. Knowing Mr. SPA and based on the surrounding facts and circumstances, I think he's referencing suicide in a bid to talk about escaping from the stress in his life. In other words, I think he's asking for my help. I don't know if I can help him. What do I do?

Before I provide background, I want to say that there is no imminent threat that Mr. SPA will commit suicide. Mr. SPA brought up suicide last night during a heated exchange, which I will describe below. My question is really about how I, being emotionally depleted myself, help and support him.

Some background: Mr. SPA and I have been together for 12.5 years, living in the house we bought together 8.5 years ago. We are not legally married, but after all these years, we operate socially and financially as a married couple. Recent stressors in our lives include the expected death of my grandmother, the unexpected death of his father and his adult daughter, a recovering (?) heroin addict, moving in with us "for a few days" almost 4 months ago. (She's still here.) All of this has happened during this summer.

The immediate stressor before out conversation happened last night. I came home from work and found a syringe in a box of dog treats that his daughter brought to our house when she moved here. I immediately showed it to Mr. SPA. He confronted his daughter about it, stressing that drug use was completely unacceptable while she's living in our house. She left for the night in tears after giving us a bunch of excuses (? explanations?) about how this was an old syringe and she's been clean and she'll show us her arms, etc., in possibly the most histrionic way conceivable.

After she left, Mr. SPA and I discussed the matter. That lead to a larger discussion where he told me his feelings about, essentially, the worthlessness of his life. He said that I don't "really know" him and I don't respect him (which further questioning seemed to uncover that to him respect is loosly associated with agreement?) and that due to my lack of respect and everything else, he is struggling to find a reason to live. In addition, he feels it would be best for me if he weren't in my life. (I disagree and find his expressions patronizing.)

I don't know what to do or say. I am at my breaking point with the daughter and this living situation, myself -- though I am always very careful to behave with love and compassion I feel for both of them. I think the solution is to kick the daughter out but he absolutely refuses to the point where he essentially invited me to leave the house I'm paying the mortgage on if I didn't like her living here.

I have my own mental health issues and I'm emotionally depleted by all of this. In fact, I feel like I need to escape and have fantasized about suicide, myself. I'm not emotionally in the place to cheerlead him, but it looks like I have to. Is he just asking for help from me? Am I supposed to call 911 days later or report this to his internist or something? I told him that I didn't want him to harm himself because I love him and that he has an obligation to his children and me not to harm himself, but deep down, I guess I feel like suicide is a rational choice in this situation. I'm at a loss here.

I'm in therapy and I intend to tell my therapist about this when I see her at my next appointment. If things become more acute, I will contact her. In case they don't, what's the right thing for me to do?
posted by SPA to Human Relations (16 answers total)
[reworked this with the OPs input, thanks for understanding]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:58 PM on September 27, 2012

He doesn't need a cheerleader, he needs a therapist. Help/encourage him to find a therapist, now.
posted by sallybrown at 7:00 PM on September 27, 2012

Will he go to someplace like Alanon where he can meet and get support from other parents of addicts/alcoholics (clean or not)? That might help with not just boundaries but perhaps a sense of guilt/failure as a parent he may be experiencing.
posted by availablelight at 7:01 PM on September 27, 2012 [5 favorites]

Aw man, this sounds tough. What about couple's counseling? It sounds to me like the two of you need a safe, objective space in which to lay out the heavy stuff going on in each of your lives so the two of you can parse it both independently and as the team you surely wish to be again.

I do think, though, that you should ask him point blank about what he's said. Could you say, "Last night you said something that really worried me. You said you have been considering suicide. Even if you don't think that's serious, I do, and I love you and want us to figure this out as a team. I haven't been feeling good either and we deserve to feel better. Let's tackle this. Will you help me?"
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 7:02 PM on September 27, 2012

If it were me:
I'd raise it with him seriously.
I'd ask him to make 2 lists: what are the worst things about your life, and what are the best.
The answers .. you have to deal with together.
I am not a doc.
posted by LonnieK at 7:11 PM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Please consider calling local crisis centre or 1-800-SUICIDE. Crisis centres are there to help you before you're at the point of crisis. (Some of them are starting to see the problem with using "crisis" and "suicide" in their marketing - they actually want to help people long before then, if at all possible, though they're there in any case.) They can help you in preparing a safety plan for yourself or your partner, accessing community resources or even just listening to what you have to say. Please take your partner's mention of suicide seriously (it sounds like you do, of course) and make a call to see what support you can get. Consider calling his doctor, his family, a couples' counsellor or anyone else you think can help, if it gets to that point. But, in the meantime, do what you can to help him feel like he has control and choice - These Birds of a Feather has the right words.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 7:12 PM on September 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

Yes, agree w Chaussette re These Birds of a Feather:
"I love you and want us to figure this out as a team."
That's the foundation.
posted by LonnieK at 7:15 PM on September 27, 2012

I'm the (previously, mostly) suicidal one in the partnership that reached out for help. What I most wanted, most needed from my partner was a plan. A proper, concrete plan with actions that were undertaken immediately, that would help me deal with what was happening, deal with the way I was reacting to external stressors.

He is not depressed though, so it was different.

In the end for me, he didn't oblige so instead of reaching breaking point with a plan, we hit the wall at speed and it has made things significantly harder. When we talked about it, he was adamant that it wouldn't have changed anything because he was going to do those things anyway but (and it's a big but) he didn't verbalise that and he didn't actually start doing those things until well after I'd hit the wall, quit my job and so on and so forth.

So my advice would be to sit down and make a plan. Even for the catastrophising stuff. I have a very very bad tendency to catastrophise and sometimes I can joke it away but sometimes I can't. I really really can't and for my best beloved to make fun of me for it is devastating. So treat it as a possibility, with the who risk management rubric associated (i.e. how likely is it to happen, and how bad would it be, and what could we do to prevent/ameliorate those effects?). That actually helps me get out of the death spiral. This advice is skewed by the fact that one of my catastrophising prophecies actually came true and instead of being prepared, my partner screwed up and we're still recovering, as a couple, from that.

But here's the thing. Even though he fucked up, and I stopped trusting him to help me, we put it aside and worked out a plan for how we're going to cope now. When you are deep in it, you don't have the capacity to deal with a lot of things, you just have to get through. And it sounds like right now you just need to get through the 'recovering heroin addict in the house' thing. That what you need to plan around and deal with because that seems to be the kicker, the thing making everything else come to a head. And chances are your partner is fucking terrified about it as well, and reacting to everything rather than being able to act, or plan. He needs space to do that, and time. Therapy can help (I've found mindfulness to be the most immensely helpful thing for this) but so can just making some space to talk without fear. Not make decisions but plan, discuss, let it unfold. Be realistic about what is happening, and listen. Work on the practical, not the ephemeral - what can you do to make your house a better space for both of you? What can you do to support his daughter? What can you do to support each other?

It's a shitty place to be but you can get through it.
posted by geek anachronism at 7:40 PM on September 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

There is a bunch of good literature on how to deal with suicide discussion. For example there is a book by Jamison and a book by Alvarez.

Question number one and two: have you decided on a method and are the method's means readily at hand? Most suicidal ideation subjects will not answer these immediately and directly and the danger is considered small by the experts. If they tell you "yes I am going to shoot myself and I have the loaded gun sitting here on my desk" then you maybe ought to think about calling 911. Most cities have a procedure for involuntary commitment to get a real suicidal patient the medical treatment they need. Metafilter once had a psychiatrist / neurologist member who had great answers to questions like these until he quit in a huff claiming the ask.metafilter answerers were going to get somebody killed any day now.
posted by bukvich at 9:09 PM on September 27, 2012

Therapy. And
posted by Boogiechild at 9:44 PM on September 27, 2012

It's not your fault.
posted by porpoise at 10:34 PM on September 27, 2012

I'm so, so sorry that you're dealing with all of this at once. It sounds like you're as close to the breaking point as your partner is, but you're the only one focused on finding mutual stability.

One thing stood out to me in your question: he invited you to leave the house that you're paying mortgage on? Please consult a lawyer if this is so. If you're paying for the house but he's been living with you spouse-like for a long time you could be financially vulnerable. Depending on where you live he could have common-law claim to your property and income, and if things get ugly he could try to force you out.

Understanding that your goal is to create the best possible outcome for everyone involved, I think it's time for you to establish the protocol that will be followed if you split from your partner. Living with someone who threatens to eject you from your house if you don't tolerate his (possibly still) addict daughter is not tenable. If this comes to a head you need an escape path - either you stay in the property you pay for and he leaves, or you start saving a bunch of money now so that you can establish a new household for yourself if needed. (Side note - keep the syringes and other crap you find, and keep a diary of all the threats/evidence.)

Again, this situation sounds awful. Your partner's suicidal feelings are serious but so are yours. If he refuses to acknowledge the position he's putting you in, you must find ways to advocate for yourself because he's certainly not looking out for you. If he tells you that you should leave the house you're paying mortgage for because you brought up a concern about a syringe you found, he's gas lighting you.

But most importantly, as they say on airplanes - secure your own oxygen mask before helping others. Find a solid foundation for your life where no matter what your partner pulls on you, you'll be OK. That's the best way you can help him and his daughter. He may not like you establishing independence, especially if he's been drifting off you financially for a long time, but it is the only way you will both find happiness.
posted by SakuraK at 10:42 PM on September 27, 2012 [7 favorites]

I try to relieve as much stress in my life as possible. While you want to be supportive, etc, it sounds like it's time for the daughter to go to Sober Living, where she can get the appropriate kind of support.

FYI, all of those histrionics, that's class A addict behavior. You know how to tell when an addict is lying to you? Her lips are moving.

That's one HUGE stressor off of your plate. Now, you might want to both consider getting into individual and couples therapy. For sure, call your crisis hotline and find out what resources are available in your area.

You should both go to Al-Anon, the community and support are very helpful, it should also teach you both how to deal with an addicted family member, and how best to support her.

You are both at the point where you can't work through this alone. Please seek professional help.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:37 AM on September 28, 2012

I think that losing a loved one does something to your brain. Losing a parent brings up all kinds of loose ends that can be difficult or impossible to resolve. I have never lost a child but I have one and I can't imagine ever losing her and being able to carry on. Even if she turns out to hate me and move away and totally rejects me as a parent. So, your partner's brain is basically being bathed in grief while he has to cope with everyday stresses and another daughter who he is failing. (I'm sure he's not but he may feel that way.) This is a crisis time and you are right that you can't deal with it yourself. I like a lot of the suggestions above — please ask for help. Lean on social services and mental health professionals. Go get a massage. Get one for yourself. Get one for your partner. Find a hot tub to soak in. Treat yourselves as in pain and needing recovery. We don't handle psychological pain very well but it is real. A grief support group would be a good thing to look into. Your local community center or library might have info. And yes to al-anon for dealing with the daughter. You are a team. A team in crisis. You need to stick together and partner on climbing out of this hole. Have this discussion with him.
posted by amanda at 6:52 AM on September 28, 2012

Amanda, he lost his father, not also his child. Yes, there is grief there but a different degree of grief.

SPA, you and your spouse can only help his daughter (who has REALLY high needs right now) if you have the emotional resources. And you don't. You simply don't. So the daught must find other sources of support, another place to live and rely less on her father and you. You have to set these boundaries, if your partner won't set them then part of your boundaries is telling him his daughter can no longer live in the house you BOTH own. If he chooses to follow her out the door that is his choice. You absolutely should not leave you house however, you are probably the only stability there and without you things for everyone will get worse.

As to his talk of suicide, there are two types basically. "I'm going to kill myself because I am in distress and see no way out" and "I am going to threaten to kill myself to manipulate you to do something you don't want to do or put up with an unhealthy situation so I don't have to take responsibility for my life.". I have no idea which one your partner falls in but your response should be the same. It is a crisis that professionals need to respond to. This either gets him the help be needs or teaches him he cannot manipulate you. You can involve professionals in different ways: take him to his doctor, call a crisis team to your house (not all areas have this), call the police, take him to ER or a psych hospital, etc.

Him expressing suicidal thoughts is a crisis and no one can deal with that alone. This will not "pass", he needs help only professionals can give. Good for you in continuing your own self-care and modeling appropriate behaviour for him. I hope he gets the help he needs.
posted by saucysault at 7:47 AM on September 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oops. I read that as the death of father and daughter, plus another individual moving in with them (the heroin addict). My apologies for the misread, SPA.
posted by amanda at 11:46 AM on September 28, 2012

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