After several months of pronounced depression this winter, I finally sat down on the bed next to my husband and confessed just how bad things had gotten. “I keep thinking about death,” I said.
“Death in general, or your own death?” he asked.
He paused. “Do you ever think about hurting yourself?”
I hesitated. “Yes.”
His face fell, as I knew it would. That’s why I’d avoided telling him for so long—I didn’t want him to carry the burden of this knowledge. I’d told my therapist and my psychiatrist and even my general practitioner about my morbid fixation, because I felt unsafe being in my head with my twisted thoughts. I needed someone with a clear mind to know what was happening, so that they could help protect me from it. Telling my doctors helped—a lot. But telling Reed brought an extra measure of relief. I was done hiding. The secret was out.
It wasn’t easy, though. Telling Reed made the problem more real, and forced both of us to take a close look at the risks we were facing and what we could do about them. My last shreds of denial were ripped away. And Reed had the whiplash which comes from sudden unpleasant revelation—he’d known I was struggling, but suicidal ideation meant I was in a completely different league than he’d thought.
As we sat on our bed together, we considered the possibility that I might need inpatient psychiatric care. I didn’t think I needed to take that drastic step, not yet. But I realized that I wasn’t far from needing to. I promised Reed and myself that if things got any worse, I would let him and my doctors know, and willingly accept hospitalization.
“But here’s the problem,” he said. “You want to do the right thing. And right now you feel confident that you will. But what about later on? How do you know you’ll be willing and able to take that step after things have gotten worse?”
My mouth went dry. He was absolutely right. Standing where I was, I was sure I wouldn’t let myself hurt myself. I was confident I would take whatever drastic measures were necessary to protect myself when and if danger became imminent. But I couldn’t predict how I would be thinking and feeling once I reached imminent danger. There was a very real possibility that by the time I was deeply in harm’s way, I would no longer be capable of or interested in saving myself.
Reed and I looked at each other, frightened. We both realized how vulnerable both of us were. “I wish you had told me sooner,” he said. I wished I had, too. Had I told him sooner, both of us would’ve had to face painful reality at an earlier stage of danger. We could’ve stepped up protective measures when I wasn’t so close to panic time. Having my doctors know wasn’t the same as having my husband know, the person most invested in my well-being and most able to intervene quickly if the need arose.
And that, I realized, was the real reason why I hadn’t told him sooner. I didn’t want to upset him, no. But I also didn’t want him to interfere. Even though I was unsettled about the path I was on, a significant part of me wanted to stay on it. I hid the truth primarily not for his sake, but for my own. Yet that hiding, which I thought was an act of preservation, was in truth an act of destruction. I was in the grips of self-delusion, telling myself I was being honest and upfront (after all, my doctors knew), but withholding information from the one person it would affect the most.
It was sobering to realize how deliberate, subtle, and perilous my cover-up had been regarding the depth of my depression. It was equally sobering to realize that over the course of many months, I’d been engaging in similar self-delusions about other weighty matters in my life. Time and again, I’d stepped onto ground that was both pleasing and uncomfortable. I’d mitigated the discomfort by releasing just enough of the secret to keep the pressure down. But I’d withheld the truth where it mattered most, so that I could prolong the so-called pleasure, the pleasure of my own undoing.
My blunt conversation with Reed helped me turn a corner. A few weeks previous my doctor had increased my dosage of antidepressants (again), but it the updose hadn’t yet taken effect (it can take several weeks for antidepressants to kick in). Reed and I both knew that if I didn’t start feeling better soon—very soon—I would need another updose, as well as additional preventative measures during the waiting period. Thankfully, within days the medication was doing its work. The threat of suicide significantly receded. I felt much safer, and so did Reed. We took steps to address the other areas of concern in my life and in our marriage, with beautiful results. But I don’t think either of us will ever be the same.
That’s a good thing, though. I hope I’ve learned from my mistakes. I hope I’ve realized how stupid and dangerous it is to pretend things aren’t as bad as they are. I hope I better understand the connection between truth and self-protection, and the vital role confession plays. It doesn’t matter if the problem is depression, or doubt, or sin—whenever I start hiding something, I begin a downward spiral that won’t break until I do the painful work of admitting the truth. And the longer I wait, the closer I will be to destroying myself, and the harder it will be to stop it.
The threat of self-deception, and how to thwart it: Discuss.