How to cope with fears for ex's mental health and his suicidality?
July 18, 2013 9:47 AM   Subscribe

Last week I asked this question. I am still no-contact with him on the advice of literally everyone I know, but I am obsessed with worry that he will kill himself (or already has) and guilt for leaving him in this state.

My ex: male, late 30s, diagnosed bipolar-schizoaffective and treatment-resistant. He has been suicidal ever since we met. But it's not the typical kind of suicidal in which a person feels bad about themselves and is emotional. It's a cold, calculating plan to kill himself before the age of 40 or so because he doesn't want to get old "and be hooked up to tubes."

I had many reasons for leaving him. There was the psychological abuse I last posted about, but there was also the fact that he said he would stay with me for a couple of years and then kill himself anyway.

He says he hates most humans, considers himself a superior being stuck on this planet, and can't wait to leave this place (through physical death).

I am torturing myself with guilt because I left the day before he was supposed to see a psychiatrist. He had already seen a GP and gotten a prescription for Seroquel because he'd been having a manic episode in which he was up all night and having uncontrollable anger. But the Seroquel made things worse in a way and I was at the point where I didn't know if anything would help him because he really didn't seem to want help.

The Seroquel helped him sleep but he continually carped about resenting having to take meds. He was also angry with me because I take vitamins, supplements, and ADD medication and he kept telling me what a waste those were.

With the Seroquel, a lot of the bizarre beliefs he had seemed to fade, but the anger he had toward people--especially me--escalated, and every day he yelled at me or cut me down for something. He was on a relatively low dose.

He complained continually about his upcoming appointment, having to jump through hoops to satisfy doctors who were not as smart as he was. When I asked him if he was planning to ask the doctor for a prescription for Lamictal and he snarled that he wasn't going to ask for anything. I also asked him why he didn't try to work on his anger and he said it was because he didn't care enough about whether he was hurting people to try.

I was trying to white-knuckle it through to the appointment, but the problem was that I didn't trust him to take the medication as prescribed or to work on his problems because he was so resistant. To make matters worse, our lease was going to be up in a month, and he wanted me to sell my car and go with him to a conference, and then drive around the country looking for a place for us to settle. Whenever I expressed wanting to have more of a plan than that, he would snarl at me to shut up and accept the fact that he was in charge of the relationship because of his higher intelligence and my questioning him meant I didn't trust him.

He also told me not to worry about not having a car, because if he decided to dump me he would make sure it was somewhere that had public transportation and he would give me enough cash to live on for a month while I looked for a job.

I wanted to believe that if he got on Lamictal that his abusiveness would stop. But Seroquel hadn't helped that. In fact, it seemed like once his psychosis was more controlled his hatred was set free.

Also, he had been on Lamictal before, and had taken a lower dose than prescribed, and gotten off it. He used medication to get through things, not as maintenance. I was afraid that he'd just get a prescription for Lamictal and take it "as needed" and not make the long-term changes that would make our relationship better.

I was also told repeatedly that he was textbook abusive and it is a separate issue from mental health. I want to believe that. (It's true that even at his best he was condescending and critical).

I'm still consumed by guilt and have not heard anything of him or from him. I stopped seeing him on Gmail a couple weeks ago, around the time his lease ended, and I don't know what that means.

One of the worst things about this is that I am now phobic about checking Facebook or Gmail because I'm afraid I'm going to find out he killed himself. How do I overcome that?

I have a feeling that if he hasn't killed himself, I might still be able to help him...somehow. I don't know how. How should I be thinking and feeling about this?

And yes, I'm in therapy. I just started EMDR.
posted by Rainflower to Human Relations (51 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You are not together anymore. You have to let go of him and disengage from worrying about his problems. If you couldn't help him when you were together, you cannot help him now. And to be clear, that should make you feel good, not bad! You are free. Tell your therapist everything you have said here, and ask for help on how to deal with your guilty and worry. Good luck to you, dear.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:52 AM on July 18, 2013 [7 favorites]

I said it in the other thread:

you can't fix him and you can't help him.

What you can do...the only thing you can help yourself. Stay in therapy. Lean on trusted loved ones. Stay active and busy. Memail me. I'll talk to you.

This is a process that will take considerable time and baby steps. You're taking those steps and separating from him emotionally is going to take a while. Honor that but remember for the love of all that is good and holy:

you could not change him then, you can't change him now.

Be well and stay strong.
posted by kinetic at 9:53 AM on July 18, 2013 [19 favorites]

From your last question:

I need to be bombarded with support from all sides to counteract his brainwashing

Your guilty feelings for a person that was toxic to you is just another side affect. You can't control his delusions of grandeur, his histrionics or his superiority complex. In fact, by worrying over him, you'd just reinforce it.

Pull out completely and permanently. Whatever happens is not your fault, just be glad he didn't bring you down with him.
posted by spaltavian at 9:54 AM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have a feeling that if he hasn't killed himself, I might still be able to help him...somehow.

Your job is not to help your brainwashy, endangering, alcoholic abuser. Your job is to preserve the distance and maintain no contact. Your next job is to work in therapy towards understanding that his choices, illness, addicitions and behaviours are not your responsibility and not your fault. If he kills himself, it is literally, genuinely, straight up NOT YOUR FAULT.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:54 AM on July 18, 2013 [16 favorites]

You said it yourself: he talked about killing himself while you were still with him. He might very well have done this if you'd stayed with him. Then, guess what: you would've been stuck with the same guilt, that you were his girlfriend and should've been able to prevent his suicide. You are in no way responsible whether he does this or not.
posted by wondermouse at 9:56 AM on July 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

Good for you on being in therapy. Stick with it.

I'd imagine your therapist would tell you (or is telling you) that his actions are not your responsibility. You said he was condescending and critical toward you at the best of times; I would suggest that he does not deserve the amount of mental energy you're focusing on him.

I don't know how many friends you have via gmail or Facebook, but I'd encourage you not to avoid them. Keeping in touch with positive, supportive people would be helpful to you. I hope your friends there encourage and support you in the ways your ex failed to do.

What he does is up to him; and remember, even if you could do something, which I doubt you could, it likely wouldn't change the way he expresses his attitude toward you.
posted by Gelatin at 10:00 AM on July 18, 2013

This is not your problem anymore.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:03 AM on July 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

The worst reason to be in a relationship is thinking you can change someone. Ask yourself this...if you went back to him and nothing changed at all, would you be happy? I'm guessing the answer is no, so you have to let this go. He may decide to harm himself, or he may decide to get therapy, or he may decide to put on a fight wig and make balloon animals for a living, but none of that has anything to do with you.

Take care of yourself and protect yourself. He is not your responsibility anymore. He never was.
posted by xingcat at 10:03 AM on July 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

You are not responsible for the decisions of another adult.

I'll say it again: you are not responsible for the decisions of another adult.

No matter what those decisions are.
posted by gauche at 10:04 AM on July 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have a feeling that if he hasn't killed himself, I might still be able to help him...somehow. I don't know how. How should I be thinking and feeling about this?

You cannot. What you need to do is to help yourself, and to stop making your emotions a lesser problem for you than the consideration of his. I hope he gets help. But you need to take care of you.
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:06 AM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Being with an abusive, emotionally disordered person is like being stuck on a neverending, high-speed loop on a rollercoaster. You loop, again and again and again, faster and faster; you go up and then down and then up and then down and then up and then down.

Think about how you would feel, physically, if this metaphor was a reality. After a long time spent looping up and down over and over at high speed, once you got off the coaster, you'd still feel dizzy and disoriented and full of panicky adrenaline for a while. If you tried to walk in a straight line, you'd stagger even though you were on solid ground, and it would take a little while to get reoriented.

You got off the rollercoaster, and you're on solid ground now, but you're still dizzy and nauseated. That is OK - and, in fact, to be expected. But in the same way there'd be no use blaming yourself for that dizziness and nausea, there's no use blaming yourself for how you feel, emotionally, right now.

Congratulations; you've extracted yourself from a situation that may very well have severely damaged or even killed you. Be kind to yourself, and leave your abuser behind. You'll be reoriented soon.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 10:07 AM on July 18, 2013 [24 favorites]

So what if he does? That's HIS choice and it has NOTHING to do with you.

You clearly weren't that important to him, you weren't influencing him to do the right things, and he seemed to have nothing but contempt for you. So.....not really open to make those necessary changes.

I can tell you until I'm blue in the face not to feel guilty or worry about him, but you're not open to listening are you?

Think about this: as much as you still seem focused, on a guy that you describe in a way that makes him despicable to us, this is how we see YOU!

"Why won't she listen to what we're telling her? Maybe if I phrase it this way, she'll get it."

I can ask myself these questions forever, but you're going to do what you're going to do and I can't influence you in that at all, can I?

So here we are, internet strangers, who are telling you to stop the dramaz and get this guy completely out of your life.

If you hang around with crazy people long enough, you become one yourself.

So....yeah, don't do that.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:09 AM on July 18, 2013

To make matters worse, our lease was going to be up in a month, and he wanted me to sell my car and go with him to a conference, and then drive around the country looking for a place for us to settle. Whenever I expressed wanting to have more of a plan than that, he would snarl at me to shut up and accept the fact that he was in charge of the relationship because of his higher intelligence and my questioning him meant I didn't trust him.

The bullet you dodged! You are one lucky person - if you'd gone with him, you'd be homeless at best and physically injured or dead at worst. That "we're going to be on the road and I will have neither money nor transit and no one will know where we are..." thing, geez, I get the chills just thinking about it.

the problem was that I didn't trust him to take the medication as prescribed or to work on his problems because he was so resistant.

So, you have this dynamic where he tells you that he controls everything and tries to take away as much control from you as possible, and your way of managing that is to feel that you have to work "behind the scenes" to get him to cooperate and take his meds and see the doctor. That is a bad dynamic. Where does this come from? Are you talking to your therapist about your childhood and your family, what patterns you fell into with friendships, etc? Were you able to control much in your childhood/at school/etc? Were you able to be direct in stating your needs? Did you have the expectation that reasonable needs would be met if you asked directly?

Everyone is going to hop on here and say - very correctly! - that your ex's problems are not your problems and that any bad decisions he makes are on him. Sometimes I have trouble - and perhaps you do too? - with this line of reasoning. I tend to feel that if you see someone doing a fool thing, you have a certain amount of social responsibility not to let them do a fool thing, even if it inconveniences you and even if they're an ex. But your particular ex has voided that by being dangerous and cruel to you. We have a general social obligation to help people, even the annoying or confused or hostile, but we don't have a social obligation to help people when it substantially endangers our wellbeing. Helping this guy will endanger your wellbeing in all kinds of ways - your emotional wellbeing, your material wellbeing, and [god knows] probably your physical wellbeing. We're all valuable as individual humans, and in that sense you are not more "valuable" than he is - but you're not less valuable either, and you need to respect your own worth.

Also, if you've been living with this character for a couple of years, you are accustomed to instability, anxiety and guilt. I bet that in this aftershock phase part of your mind is in "withdrawal" from all those things and so you're feeling the urge to re-establish the norm. The norm was bad, but it was familiar. In a couple of months, I think you'll look back and feel astonished that you even contemplated re-engaging with this guy on any level.
posted by Frowner at 10:12 AM on July 18, 2013 [16 favorites]

Also, specifically in regard to your question about Facebook and Gmail phobia: Give yourself permission to avoid those triggers until you feel ready to deal with them. It's okay - really. Deactivate your Facebook temporarily. With Gmail, set up a filter so that all the messages from your abuser and persons close to your abuser are immediately sent to a separate folder, marked as read, that you don't have to look at until you're ready to. Tell your friends that you don't want to hear any news about your abuser, no matter what that news is, until further notice.

You can get through this. You are the one who deserves to be taken care of right now. I can't tell you how much I understand what you're going through. Feel free to MeMail me anytime.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 10:16 AM on July 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: These guilty feelings stick around when you were in an abuse situation. I still have some minor guilt for my abusive ex, nine months after leaving.

In my opinion, it comes from the way I was trained to behave when I was with him. I thought about him and his needs constantly. If that sounds like an exaggeration, it's not: everything I did, from my posture to the way I did my job (we both worked from home, so he got his hands in my work, too) was driven by him and his desires.

So it is now second nature for me to think about him and what he needs, rather than thinking about me and what I need.

I know that he is going to do this to another woman - despite his insistence that I was his "last girlfriend" - and I pity her more than I pity anyone. I feel so bad for her. That poor woman is going to have a hell of a time trying to deal with him and his mental illness.

I feel sorry for him, but I can't help him. He has to help himself. He is a grown man. He's white, he's wealthy, he's successful. He has healthcare. He has access to good hospitals and to competent psychiatrists.

Why he chooses to live in misery, unable to form adult relationships without hurting people that he claims he loves (and I think he does love them, really, there is just something really wrong with him, and that something makes his love manifest in horrific ways) - why he makes this choice is beyond me.

It's beyond me both emotionally and practically. I do not understand it, and there is nothing I can do to change it.

There are many tragic things in this world. I feel sorry for people like my ex and your ex, people who are so damaged that they damage others. I feel sorry that there are starving children. I feel sorry that some people die young. I feel sorry that there are people who cannot see. I feel sorry for little kittens who grow up on the streets in feral colonies.

Should I feel guilty about these things, though? I don't think so. They are just some of the sad facts of life.

One of the not sad facts of life is that you were strong enough to get out. We got out.

You will heal, and that guilt and pain and sadness will scab over and scar and you'll be left with... well, something that isn't all of those bad emotions. For me, right now, I feel compassion towards my ex, and sadness that life is a bit cruel sometimes and that some of us get dealt pretty crummy hands. But that sadness doesn't consume me. It's just a fact.

Some day, your ex will no longer consume your thoughts. You are used to thinking about him, and your brain does not know what to do besides think of him. That's normal. It will change.
posted by sockermom at 10:25 AM on July 18, 2013 [16 favorites]

I have a feeling that if he hasn't killed himself, I might still be able to help him...somehow. I don't know how. How should I be thinking and feeling about this?

Here's what I would say: I think you should remind yourself that you're not actually that powerful. If your good intentions could save him, they would have worked by now. If your love could save him, it would have worked by now. If there were magic words or phrases or arguments, you would have spoken them by now.

You're not that powerful. In fact, you have no power to help him. You are literally helpless. This may make you feel sad, angry, frustrated, confused... a whole host of emotions. Those feelings are okay. But you have to start with radically accepting the FACT that you are helpless. It's incredibly painful to accept something like this (believe me, I know). But it's also the first step toward liberating yourself from this dysfunctional cycle. Because while you're helpless when it comes to saving him, you are not helpless when it comes to saving yourself.

Keep up with no contact. Keep up with therapy. Find ways to be gentle and patient and compassionate with yourself. Help the one person you can help in this scenario. Love the one person you can love in this scenario. Take care (good care) of you.
posted by scody at 10:25 AM on July 18, 2013 [9 favorites]

He's very sick. There's nothing you can do to help him. I understand that you want to help, but you're not able to give him the help he needs.

It's terribly hard to get oneself free of an abusive relationship. After spending all that time and emotional energy and maintaining hope in the face of continual bad treatment, it's extremely painful to have to stop hoping. You can stop the desire to help him by consistently turning your attention to things that you actually can change.

Just telling yourself to stop caring isn't going to help anything. You need to decide on and focus on new aims. It's been a long time since you put your own needs first, and it's going to take a good bit of practice before it feels okay to do that.

If you can, start thinking in terms of what's best for you and what you want, instead of what makes sense (by someone else's standard), or what you 'should' do. When I first started therapy, that was really hard for me. I had to start with little things. One of my personal difficulties was that I had a hard saying no to people, so I just worked on that, one instance at a time. I thought I ought to be working on major things in my life, but my outlook was such that I couldn't do that. The little things are excellent training.
posted by wryly at 10:25 AM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

You can't fix him. If he's dead, you can't fix him, if he's alive, YOU CAN'T FIX HIM.

You may as well consider him dead; he is as beyond your help as if he were. Mourn him like a person who is dead and gone, who cannot be reached or redeemed or revived.

Practical steps:
Get a new gmail address and give it only to the people who absolutely need to reach you, and the people who are currently supporting you in leaving your abuser; use that email address exclusively for the time being. Do not log in to the old email.

Deactivate your facebook account.

Continue with therapy.

Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever speak to him, write to him or listen to him again.
posted by like_a_friend at 10:28 AM on July 18, 2013 [8 favorites]

When someone is drowning, you do not swim to them and let them grab you so that they won't have to drown all by themselves. This does not help you OR them.

Professionals with training and equipment might be able to help. People standing by on dry land with a rope or a long branch might be able to help. Or they might not: sometimes people drown. But in either case, you aren't among the people who can help. THE ONLY THING YOU CAN DO IS TO MAKE SURE THAT YOU DO NOT NEEDLESSLY BECOME A CASUALTY.

Get yourself out of the water. That's your only responsibility.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 10:32 AM on July 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

It seems cruel, but there are people who are like rocks. We find ourselves shackled to them, and they are making no effort to swim, and they are pulling us down. And it might seem virtuous to keep dragging this weight to the surface, and it might seem wrong to saw through the chain and let them sink, but the deal is this -- if you don't, they will drag you down and you will both drown. In the end, it is not your mission (nor is it possible, as noted above) to save this guy; it is your mission to be the best person you can be. The therapy should help, but realizing that you owe yourself more than you owe your ex is really important.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:32 AM on July 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

You are asking how not to feel bad about this and how not to feel tempted to go back. Unfortunately, that's not how emotions tend to work, and it's definitely not how abusive situations tend to work.

Please understand that you're going to feel bad about this for a long time, no matter what you do. The only solution is to keep very strictly to no contact and be prepared to live with feeling terrible for a long time.

Of course you should continue with therapy - anybody in your situation should be doing that - and you should keep busy, see your friends, be nice to yourself, exercise, and try to maintain a productive life. All of that sounds extremely trite, but listen - because it's true.

Sometimes things in life just feel terrible and the only way out is through. Eventually you will start to feel all right, but for the time being this is going to tear at you. Just nail your feet to the floor and stick to no contact.

Sorry, it sucks. But eventually, it won't.
posted by tel3path at 10:35 AM on July 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

I just reread your post more thoroughly and if you need someone to just say it flat out for you:

Christ, this guy is a f*cking asshole.

Good for you for recognizing it and running. Keep running.
posted by kinetic at 10:44 AM on July 18, 2013 [16 favorites]

None of what he says or said has any bearing on you now. You're allowed to feel sad over that he might kill himself, but that gives him no right to continue infringing on your life. You have a new life, one separate from him. His future, his present, none of that is your problem. You can't change who he is, or who he will become.

Your friends, his friends, none of them can change him. He must be willing to make the change - and he's not going to do it for you, or he would have already. Let yourself build a new life for yourself, and enjoy the hell out of it.
posted by skittlekicks at 10:45 AM on July 18, 2013

So what if he does? You have and had no control over it then or now. I believe in people and want the best for them, but this guy is a special kind of dick. You did your best. I know you did. ANYTHING HE DOES OR WILL EVER DO YOU HAVE NO CONTROL OVER. I mean it. You pointed him in the best direction as well as you could, and now it is all out of your hands. Now, you disengage, heal from the wounds this caused, and live your life free of this creep. Be gentle to yourself, love yourself, and ALWAYS remember, YOU CANT CHANGE HIM. You could do NOTHING about his decisions. You left; this is the right answer and the ONLY right answer. It may do more than anything else you could have done for him (but not likely, since he oh so CLEARLY does NOT need any help from mere mortals) I absolve you of any responsibility or guilt or burden for him. Now you get to do the same. Maybe out loud, in front of a mirror.

Anyone else want to place money on him agreeing to therapy/meds in a desperate attempt to hang onto Rainflower?
posted by Jacen at 10:54 AM on July 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I wish I could convey to you how absolutely and unusually horrible your relationship with him was. No one in their right mind would say the things he said to you. No one who actually cares for you would say those things. Please believe me when I say you would've done him no favors by remaining in the relationship with him and essentially rewarding his behavior by doing so.

Based on the things he said to you, he didn't seem to like you very much. I know that hurts like hell to think about, but really. He might've had a sort of fondness for you and the attention you lavished on him, the way you let him control you, but he did not respect you. If he was all that concerned about your wellbeing, he wouldn't have treated you the way he did. He hates life, he hates humanity, and you're part of life and you're human.

He treated you as if you were despicable because that's essentially how he felt. Unfortunately, you seem to have taken his words to heart, which is part of what's making this so hard to move on from. You feel guilty and don't seem to think you should want more from life than the terrible future he offered you, because you feel like a terrible, despicable person for leaving someone who is obviously ill.

It's great that you're in therapy, but I hope you're also participating in activities that help to remind you of your value as a person, and that there's so much more to life than this.
posted by wondermouse at 11:00 AM on July 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: No one is going to be able to make you feel better about your decision to go no-contact or be able to assuage whatever guilt or negative feelings you are feeling for anything more than a few hours or days simply based upon their words.

That comfort must come from within. From work with a professional, speaking with someone who fundamentally understands your situation, and through time.

You've already gotten tons of awesome advice and supporting, kind words in this thread and the prior thread from your side of the fence. I post this, however, because I can speak to you from my personal experiences of being on the other side, in a place which appears to be a similar place to where your ex is.

For years I was an alcoholic, ego-centric, controlling, waste of man.

Strangely enough, I had a long conversation with my wife just the other night about how I used to thrill at deeply hurting my significant others. I wanted to hurt them, not physically, but to destroy their happiness and more importantly their hope. It was depraved, deeply sick, and borne out of crushing inadequacy and an overwhelming sense of worthlessness that permeated every cell of my body, my mind, and my spirit. In times of this anger, I found my constant state of fearfulness and self-pity would recede against the tide of their tears and alcohol.

You see, as far as women were concerned, I would only feel empowered, strong, and virile by employing cruel, controlling tactics: Manipulation (up to and including threats of suicide), verbal and physical abuse.

Like most abusers, I was a bully, preying only on the weak. I was also deeply afraid of women in general and the true control I believed them to have over me, so I needed a weak female to exact my revenge against this powerlessness. The surest sign to me that someone was weak, was their continued attraction to me. I would start off loving and warm, but once I knew I "had" them, the control would begin. If they put up with it, the twisted games would begin.

Luckily, every woman I was with had her breaking point. Another argument, another shoving match, another attempt to threaten X: breakups, suicide, etc., and like a switch, she was done. Then, of course, I would suddenly switch gears and beg and pine to try to get her back. Thankfully, for them, I would give up almost immediately and just drown myself in booze and self-pity, and so "allow" them to separate. However, if these emotional hostages hadn't left, hadn't allowed me to feel the full consequences of my behavior, I would've never changed.

I tell you all of this for a few reasons:

1)If my behavior relates to your ex too much, you cannot deny you did the right thing.

2)He is sick. You can't make him better. It's the actual breakup, and the consequences of that breakup, which cause someone to get better. I got better. I got help (finally), and today I am happily married with a child and a far, far more naturally confident, loving man.

3)The mantra of: "I can't save you from you, but I can save me from you." You are more important to you than he should ever be.

4)A few years ago, I played a small part in contributing to someone's decision to commit suicide. I did feel guilty, but someone reminded me that suicide is about self. In fact, it is the ultimate selfish thing one can do. So regardless of whether I am the last person that crosses through that person's mind before the end, ultimately, their actions are completely dependent on themselves: self-will run riot.

Finally, whether or not he gets better or actually commits suicide, it will have nothing to do with you other than in name. It won't be caused by you, but if you re-involve yourself, you will counteract whatever good you have managed to do simply by leaving.
posted by Debaser626 at 11:06 AM on July 18, 2013 [19 favorites]

You are asking the right question, which is "how do I cope with this guilt and these thoughts" and you recognize that is where you need to focus your energy. It is so hard, but you are doing great.

Everybody here has said it a zillion times, how with or without your help, he is going to be how he is going to be. They have a saying in many 12-step programs "GET IN THE BOAT FIRST." You are in the boat. You are going to be okay. There is help for him if he needs it and he knows how to get it. You are not the lighthouse, or the superhuman being who must save him. That, my friend, is your shit. Your baggage.

AND - you're in therapy and you're squarely focused on it.

I have a feeling that if he hasn't killed himself, I might still be able to help him...somehow.

As very painful and difficult as it is, that is the knot you need to work out. You need to examine why after everything that you logically know, you still believe somehow that you are responsible for this person, and that he is somehow not at all responsible for himself (or the hell he has put you through). That is where you are focusing all of the pain and energy and drama and trauma from this relationship, and probably things in your past as well.

You are looking at the right part. You are focusing your energies in the right place. Keep on focusing there - and not on this person.

And it does take time. It will continue to take time. The only way out is through -- and I wish you lots of luck on your journey as it's a rough one. You're doing so so well, though. Keeping no contact. Focusing on taking responsibility for your irrational thoughts and rooting them out. Committing to therapy. Asking for help. You're doing them all and you're doing great. Every day you don't contact him, or go back in the rabbit hole to find out how he is, you ARE coping. This is what coping looks like. It will get easier.
posted by pazazygeek at 11:18 AM on July 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You can't save him, or even help him. No one can help him but him. And the thing is, even if it were somehow in anyone's power to help him, you are absolutely the wrong person to try to help him, because you're his ex. And even if you were still his girlfriend, he has told you that he does not respect you or your opinions, so he wouldn't listen to you, anyway.

As sockermom said, he trained you over the course of the relationship to worry about his needs constantly and ignore your own. So it's natural right now that you're still prioritizing his needs over your own. You might want to talk to your therapist about how to start prioritizing yourself, though, because worrying about him is going to keep you from healing yourself.
posted by jaguar at 11:29 AM on July 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

How to cope with fears for ex's mental health and his suicidality?

I was writing what pazazygeek just said; that it's good to see you understand that this is only about managing your own anxiety.

It was a wild ride, so you'll feel dizzy and shaken for some time to come but your duty now is to move forward and grow. To reach back, trying to help him will just make you an enabler. You need old friends (to RELAX with and not re-examine the situation with), movies, classes, music, travel, strange foods, etc.
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:29 AM on July 18, 2013

Call your therapist and tell them you are having obsessive thoughts that are making it hard for you to function.

All the backstory about him is beside the point. The real issue here is what is going on inside your head.

Good for you for getting help. Now is the time to call on it. Call your therapist.
posted by ottereroticist at 11:31 AM on July 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

stuck on a neverending, high-speed loop on a rollercoaster. You loop, again and again and again, faster and faster; you go up and then down and then up and then down and then up and then down.

The other part of this is that you get used to the faster and faster and when you stop you feel empty and maybe even let down. And your brain goes back to the same loops it was on when you were on the roller coaster because it has forgotten how to do anything else.

I strongly recommend you find other stuff that takes up some brain space. For myself, I got into volunteering (with other people- not loner stuff) and going to the gym.

Also, and apologies if this is obvious, but it wasn't to me: feeling as crappy as he does does not equal love or loyalty. You can feel love and even loyalty and still feel better than he does. You can even feel HAPPY while he's feeling crappy and it doesn't mean you don't care (no matter what anyone says).
posted by small_ruminant at 11:33 AM on July 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

Also: check out a few Al-anon meetings. Everyone there has gone through what you're going through and they will have some brain hacks.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:35 AM on July 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

You cannot fix him and you cannot be held responsible for his actions. If your good intentions and affection could have fixed his problems, they would have already. It's inappropriate for you to take responsibility for something that is not yours to fix.

Use your email filters to block his email address and unfriend and block him on Facebook and other social media. It sounds like you already have endangered your own wellbeing in your attempts to help him, now is the time to cut your ties and limit the information you're getting about him.

Take care of yourself, get the support you need, and I'm so sorry that you've had to go through this turmoil and sadness. You sound like a kind, thoughtful, and compassionate person. Focus some of that on yourself and know that you have no power to override the decisions others make in their own lives.
posted by quince at 11:40 AM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

None of this is your fault, and there is nothing more you can do for him. You've done your best. He has to take responsibility for himself. His actions are no reflection on you, nor are they your responsibility.

I know you feel guilty, but understand that there is no reason to feel that way. It's him, not you.
posted by cnc at 12:32 PM on July 18, 2013

You know when you leave a job and just know they're going to fuck up The Big Contract or whatever? This is the same thing. Not your problem anymore.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:50 PM on July 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

In addition to the great advice to talk to your therapist, please do call the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE.

I can't tell you how many 3 AM calls I made to them, crying, sobbing, thinking about going back - and how helpful they were in reinforcing my agency, my choices, and helping me to calm down and distract myself.

You've only been out about a week or so, right? IT GETS SO MUCH BETTER. It does. I promise.

I'm nine months out, I still am doing regular therapy (good for you on the EMDR, by the way - that was a lifesaver for me in terms of stopping the PTSD I was experiencing) and my life is amazing now. I have a bunch of friends, including a best friend that I really love and am so glad I found; a hot, successful, sweet, kind, nice, and loving boyfriend who treats me like an equal; I've gained ten much-needed pounds; I have the cutest cat; I am making leaps and bounds at work and got promoted... the list of "this is why my life is good now" feels too good to be true. True story: sometimes I think to myself "What would I be doing right now if I was still with him?" and the answer always - always - makes me feel this weird mixture of sickness and elation: I don't have to do that anymore!

You will survive this. You're a survivor. If you had asked me "what would your perfect life look like now" in the week that I left? It would probably have revolved around him. "I hope that he gets help" or "I hope he doesn't kill himself" (yeah my ex threatened suicide all the time in a similar way to yours) or "Maybe I should go back because the way he feels is my fault."

Now? When asked "What would your perfect life look like"? You know what I would say? The one I have now, even though my abusive ex still emails me. Even though we work at the same place and I occasionally have to see him at work.

This is the life that I was meant to have. I control myself. He doesn't control me anymore. I am free. But freedom doesn't happen when you step out the door and go no-contact. Freedom happens when you start to heal - and that is a process. Healing is a process, and you are doing a great job so far.

Keep doing what you're doing. It will get better.
posted by sockermom at 12:57 PM on July 18, 2013 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I'll stop commenting in this thread after this, but I wanted leave a few links to resources on the topic of leaving an abusive relationship and staying out.

Here are some threads that helped me a ton while I was leaving:
- Should I go back?
- I thought the hard part was over
- Help me help myself
- Please help me leave my abusive fiancee
- How much is too much when you're empathizing with a narcissist?
- To stay gone or go back

And here are a few books on what to do after leaving an abusive relationship that I recently purchased for the library I started at our local women's shelter:
- Healing the Trauma of Abuse: A Women's Workbook
- Healing the Trauma of Domestic Violence: A Workbook for Women
- It's my life now: Starting over after an abusive relationship or domestic violence
- The Power to Break Free Workbook: For Victims & Survivors of Domestic Violence
posted by sockermom at 1:14 PM on July 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've been in a very similar situation to this and I have two observations to offer:

1) Your ex needs to put on his big boy pants and take responsibility for his own life

2) This is an opportunity for you to learn how to treasure yourself and allow other people into your life who will do likewise

posted by strelitzia at 1:42 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

There's a decent chance that his talk of suicide was nothing more than threats. Threats used to control and manipulate you, to draw you in close and keep you from ever leaving by making you feel responsible for keeping him alive.

Sometimes on Intervention they frame these situations as such: You tried to be his treatment team, and you failed, so now you're fired. It's not a reflection on your worth or your love for him-- no one can be a treatment team to their significant other. But now you're fired, and you no longer have to feel accountable for him or his actions. You are totally free to move on with your life and find happiness, and his life is now his problem and his alone.
posted by fox problems at 1:52 PM on July 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

From your last post:

He talked about hating people and wanting to kill them.

If you go back, contact him or get involved with him in any way, how do you know you wouldn't be one of those people?
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 2:17 PM on July 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

I have been in this situation, with just about as equally fucked up a person. I remember those terrible days, of being wrapped up in his drama, guilty, terrified, wanting to go back, not sure if what everyone (EVERYONE!) told me was right, unsure of myself, panicky, post-traumatic stress, depression... oh, it was so fucking horrible.

It's been several years. My life is SO SO much better. I have questions and problems and issues but, my God, my life revolves around me and what I want and I am not wasting my time on Earth doing things that make NO forward progress at all. I can do things I think are fun, or interesting, or meaningful or creative or that move my career and interests forward, or that I just think sound good in the moment.

So here are some things that helped me:

- THIS IS MENTAL ILLNESS. All of that super crazy stuff -- about how he is in charge of the relationship because he's smarter and killing himself cold-bloodedly so he won't be hooked up to tubes -- that is NOT unique. Not special. Not a sign of anything great about him. That's mental illness. He is completely fucked up in ways that are not only not your fault, but are probably the result of brain chemistry that is not even his fault, and that our current state of knowledge doesn't always let us fix. He is very sick. You cannot fix him. It is possible that, like late-stage breast cancer, certain genetic diseases, and gunshot wounds to the heart, no one can currently fix his problem. This is not your fault.

- WHAT IS IMPORTANT IN LIFE? You have been wrapped up in his drama for a very long time. His drama is bullshit. It doesn't make you rich, smart, kind, helpful, educated, physically fit, entertained... it doesn't do ANYTHING for you. Start thinking about things you want to do, things on your bucket list, and DO THEM.

- THIS TAKES A REALLY LONG TIME. Getting over something like this is not easy and it takes a lot of one-on-one counseling, learning about what you've been through, making new plans for your life... it's a lot of work and will take longer than you think. But other people have done it, and you're up for it.
posted by 3491again at 2:54 PM on July 18, 2013 [6 favorites]

I'm a therapist, but I'm not your therapist, and I've worked and lived with survivors of abuse and trauma before. Speaking generally, someone in an abusive relationship can be convinced by their abuser that the abusive behavior is always their fault. For months and years you can go on believing that if you are prettier or thinner or less "selfish," or more attentive to their needs, then they and their behavior will change. But it's not true. Nothing you can ever do will make this person not abusive to you. You have permission to give up on him.

Your hopefulness is misplaced here but I believe firmly that it is a positive quality you possess and that someone will come along who deserves it. Heck, you deserve it. You've been very brave and you've made this change. Because you have mixed feelings doesn't mean that leaving him is not the right thing to do. It is the right thing. You know that but it will take time to feel it fully. I'll be cheering you on.
posted by sister nunchaku of love and mercy at 3:31 PM on July 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

How should I be thinking and feeling about this?

First, you should heed what many in this thread have said about the futility of trying to help him. You did your best, but he won't change until he decides to and nothing you can do will change that. So that's step 1, accepting that.

Step 2 is to reallocate all the processing power your brain is using on him to something else. You should find other, positive, productive things you can be occupying your mind with that have nothing to do with him, and when you recognize that you are thinking about him, make yourself focus on something else instead.

It takes work, but you can retrain your brain to stop thinking about him so much. When you start to succeed at that your feelings will recalibrate to a more appropriate level. You will feel the relief of detaching from this guy and all the awfulness he represents to your life.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 5:58 PM on July 18, 2013

His type of suicidal ideation is not unique. It also is not caused by you, and it's not something you can fix.

Don't torture yourself about when you left him-- you needed to leave him, and it was always going to be a bad time for him.
posted by RainyJay at 8:37 PM on July 18, 2013

You're closer now than you've ever been to complete control over your own life - nothing has ever been so important - you must hold the ground you've gained so far and lock yourself tight against the temptation to run to "help" him again.

You cannot help him, but you can help yourself and you've got a good start on it. Please, please hold on.

The pressure, the temptation to go back, comes and goes in waves and that will continue for a time. When it hits, you must grab hold of a nearby tree or lock yourself in the house or do whatever you have to do to hang on and not give in. It might help to make yourself a symbol for strength; maybe a padlock whose key is in the hands of a local women's shelter; when you feel the pull to him, you lock that damn lock and know that it's too late to do anything because the lock is locked.

Bravery isn't something that just happens - it's something that has to be worked at. You're not a loser, you're a winner for sure, and he's never acknowledged your value as anything except as an extension of himself. Refuse now to play that game anymore.

My heart is with you.
posted by aryma at 10:29 PM on July 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

I've been with someone who was suicidal before. The difference? He was also an incredibly sweet, lovely human being. Everyone loved him but he'd experienced intense, unrelenting trauma and suffered from treatment resistant depression. Walking away was torturous.

It was also the best thing I ever did. It's sad to write that, but I know it's true.

In your case, the situation is even more cut and dry. This person is actively rejecting you. He doesn't want help and he definitely doesn't want your help. Yes, he is sick but none of that matters if he doesn't want to get well. He has to want it for himself.

The horrible reality is this: some people aren't fixable. Some people don't even want to be alive and there is nothing anyone can do to stop them from hastening their own passing. Part of moving on is accepting that you have no control here. He may kill himself. God forbid, but it's in the realm of possible outcomes, and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.

You want to reconnect because you are scared to feel all the terrible things you will feel if this comes to pass, so I say just force yourself into that place and feel those feelings. Lean in to it. Mourn him like he's dead.

The only way out is through.
posted by amycup at 11:48 PM on July 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Co-dependency support group. Some people would have just walked away, leaving an adult to be responsible for himself. If you are not able to make that break, you need to honour that and take appropriate measures to protect your own mental health.

That you still feel connected, and experience an ongoing sense of dread, means that you are remaining attached emotionally to a person that rationally you have separated from yourself. You need a space to deal with those emotions and come to terms with them. I don't think there is going to be a quick fix, rather you may need ongoing support and a safe place to share your experience – to verbalise it – until it has been drained of its power. Therapy is a good start. Support groups are great, for you have the opportunity to connect with other people who carry similar burdens. This is not something you alone are carrying around, rather it's a type of figment that lots of people can carry around.

As far as he goes, I would suppose you have a somewhat incomplete grieving process going on. You sound like you are mourning the relationship, and sad that it has ended – which is natural regardless of the quality. It was significant, and you did care. That you are becoming attached to the worse possible outcome, and trying to find ways to go back into it is a pretty strong sign that you are having trouble dealing with the separation. Consequently, your mind has latched onto the fact that you may be the only thing that can save him! and therefore are willing to potentially again sacrifice yourself for his benefit.

Grieving is a social process, and there again a support group may help. For, in the end, this is not about him at all. This about you, and getting back to a complete version of yourself. You don't owe him anything. As sad as the results may be, he is fully responsible for his own actions. You are not at all responsible for his actions any longer. To entertain thoughts that you are is the mind fighting for a familiar comfort – a familiar comfort that is ultimately corrosive and destructive.

You've already made the first (and arguably most difficult step), so now you just have to keep walking.
posted by nickrussell at 1:48 AM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

First of all, well done for leaving.

Well done for staying away
. You have done well.

and, *HUGS*

Not to trivialise what you're going through, but quitting anything, there are times when relapsing is a danger. I guess you're in one of those times now. For quitting smoking, it's about 2 weeks in, you feel you've done it, the danger is past, you feel it wouldn't do any harm to revisit what you were so afraid of.

This is nothing but the-process-of-being-hooked-on-something trying to fool you into getting embroiled with it again.

This is one reason why it's so hard to quit things: you make a big effort, and get away. The immediate danger and fear recedes. You regain a little bit of self-confidence. This is a danger time. Realise that once the big decision is taken, you must take smaller decisions every day in order to stay free. And all of these decisions are achievements, and you should be proud of them. But stay strong and keep making them, day by day. It won't be for ever.
posted by glasseyes at 4:56 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

You left a terribly abusive relationship. Good for you.

Consider that his suicide threats were another method he used to control you. Having you terrified that he was going to die, and that you would somehow be responsible, is just another way he can control you and try to prevent you from leaving him.

A friend of mine was in a relationship with someone who was emotionally abusive. She lived in a constant state of panic that he was going to kill himself. They broke up years ago, he's still alive, and still a shithead.
posted by inertia at 10:58 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks again to all. I need to keep hearing this for a while. I printed out the answers to my first question, taped them into my journal, and highlighted certain things. I will do the same with this one.
posted by Rainflower at 9:01 PM on July 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

he wanted me to sell my car and go with him to a conference, and then drive around the country looking for a place for us to settle... he would snarl at me to shut up and accept the fact that he was in charge of the relationship because of his higher intelligence and my questioning him meant I didn't trust him.

He also told me not to worry about not having a car, because if he decided to dump me he would make sure it was somewhere that had public transportation and he would give me enough cash to live on for a month while I looked for a job.

I would be scared out of my mind for you if you had told us that before breaking up with him. I would be frantic that he was planning to murder you.
posted by cairdeas at 7:52 PM on July 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

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