Trigger warning: Contains content on sexual assault and suicidal ideation
I met my wife in high school. I had just turned 16. She was a small-statured shy blonde girl, and I was a goofy geek that would never shut up. Her name was Sarah, and little did I know that we’d go on to save each other’s lives.
I may have saved Sarah’s life within the first month of meeting her. Sarah lived in a janky house with janky parents, and was consistently under supported throughout her childhood. At the beginning of the Spring of 2009 someone had broken into Sarah’s room and began sexually assaulting her. Initially Sarah was frozen, she tried screaming out but couldn’t. For one reason or another, the man left Sarah and jumped out the window before anyone could help her. He was never found.
Sarah was raised in a religion where sex or assault was not a topic to be talked about, not to mention her parents did not believe in the efficacy of therapists. So Sarah was left with virtually no one to talk to, and no real way to cope with what had happened to her. Naturally the school learned about it.
There was a period where she walked into a dilapidated barn on her parent’s property, feeling if there were any beams that she could use to hang herself with.
A month after the break-in a friend had told me that Sarah “liked me” and within a few days we were dating. I was aware of what had happened to her, but was entirely uninformed or ignorant of the trauma that the event had caused. I knew that she would get scared at night, and had a fear of windows and unlocked doors.
One night shortly after we’d started dating, she had called bawling. I wasn’t quite sure what was wrong, all I knew was that she was upset. I told her I could sing her a song to calm her down, and the film Anchorman was quite popular at the time, so I sang “Afternoon Delight.” After that – she had calmed down.
At the time of writing we’ve been together for 14 years (married for 7), and we’ve had a lot time to reflect on the early parts of our relationship. Recently Sarah had said that she likely bonded so strongly to me because I was the only person caring for her and giving her normalcy.
I struggle with perfectionism. Being a perfectionist is not a good thing, contrary to what others may think. And I can reduce my struggle down to one origin point. When I started my undergrad degree I acquired a little side gig making an instrument for an entrepreneur. I was just a freshmen, and I oversold my understanding of how to make the instrument. Long story short, I was not able to complete what was requested. Though time moved on, that failure had dug its teeth into me for good. I wouldn’t let it happen again.
Spoiler alert. It would happen again.
Going into grad school the obsession with “trying to do things right” got stronger and stronger. With each new opportunity came anxiety, and with each mistake came depression. Often times I’d internalize this and develop some pretty destructive habits. Habits that were bad for my career, relationship, mental health, you name it.
I grew a “mental tick” of thinking “You should kill yourself,” every time I did something wrong, or remembered a past mistake. I never believed I’d act on those impulses, but they did leave me feeling like garbage.
I had several “breakdown experiences” and each time, Sarah was there to talk me down, and help me through it. I wouldn’t have made it through school without her. Who knows where or what I would have been. I didn’t earn my PhD – We did.
There was an event where my self-destructive habits got bad enough and they effected Sarah so greatly, that she might have left me. I think she saw that to some degree I had been a victim of something, and that my problems could be fixed. The thing that got us to that point was agreeing to be 100% transparent with our struggles.
Sarah and I have been together for almost half of our lives now. And now that we’ve both fully opened up, and have began pursuing resources to overcome our struggles, our relationship has never been stronger.
If you’re in a relationship – I implore you to be 100% open with your partner. Prioritize your mental health, and support your partners. Life isn’t a single player game.