My partner, Jake, has been suicidal for as long as he can remember. Usually, he is able to push the intrusive thoughts away and get on with his day with little repercussions. While serving in the Navy, those thoughts became constant and loud, impossible to ignore. He began making plans, and in a couple of instances, acting on those plans.
Disclaimer: all of this is written with his approval. He proof read the entire post before it was published, and is comfortable sharing everything I’ve written.
Jake struggled with his mental health at several different points during his career in the Navy. At his training command he saw a Navy therapist a few times to deal with the stress of schooling. Once in Washington, he was feeling good and ready to be on an actual submarine instead of in school. That quickly changed. We arrived in Washington in January of 2019. By September, it was very obvious that he was struggling mentally. He was a shell of a person, honestly. He would go to work, come home, stare at the ceiling for a while, then go to bed and repeat. He had no interest in doing anything. He rarely had days off, and when he did he just wanted to sit around the house because he didn’t have the energy for anything else. There was a lot of pressure at work to qualify (a certification process that all reactor operators must accomplish to be able to man the reactor independently) quickly, and he struggled to handle it. Stress management has never been his strong suit; he’s working on it.
One day in November of 2019, I received a phone call while I was at work. It was his chief asking me if I knew where Jake was because he didn’t show up to the boat that day. By this point, I knew he was struggling, and I knew he had been thinking about suicide, but I didn’t realize how serious it was yet. I think we were both under the impression that the thoughts were intrusive and he dwelled on them, but he wasn’t making plans or acting on them. His chief let me know that they were going to my house to get him and take him to work. I requested they call me once they arrived to let me know he was okay. They called me when they arrived at my house to tell me that the car was there, but he wasn’t answering the door and they were calling the police to do a wellness check. At this point I rushed out of work and started the 30 minute drive home. A few moments later, I received a call from the Kitsap County Sheriff who had arrived at my house. They advised me to come home right away.
Upon arriving at my house, his chief greeted me and told me that the Sheriff did not want to break my door down. I unlocked the door, but the Sheriff said that they would not enter my house and I had to be the one to go inside. I stood in the doorway for what felt like a long time, but was probably only a few seconds, preparing myself to find my partner dead in my home. He was alive, but in a crisis situation. We talked and I convinced him to get dressed and go outside. I went outside to inform everyone that he would be out momentarily, and the Sheriff responded by yelling at me for having firearms and medications in my house. He told me I was irresponsible and this situation never should have happened. He said I wasted his time (reminder that I wasn’t even the one who called him…). When Jacob came out, his chief lectured him for missing work, for making his division’s job harder, and for making them spend two hours at his house when they all should have been working. Then they left and made him drive himself to work. They also opened a malingering case against him, which is a very serious charge for faking a mental illness to avoid work responsibilities. Everyone told him he was faking it.
After that, it seems like he told me everyday about how he had a plan to end his life. He had preferred ways he wanted to do it. That was scary because his preferred methods were so easy for him to access and I didn’t have the power to prevent him from carrying his plans out.
Another day, I was at my favorite yarn store with a dear friend when I received a call from him. He said “I’m going to do it. Please say goodbye. Please let me go.” I’m sure I turned white as a ghost. I dropped everything I was holding. I asked him where he was and he wouldn’t tell me, so I told him to not move and I hung up on him to call his chief. I explained to his chief that he was somewhere close to the boat or parking garage and he was attempting suicide. His chief sent one of his friends to find him and my friend drove me to base. I received a call from his friend while we were on our way. He told me that he was with Jake and they were safe. Then I received a call from his chief. His chief informed me that I overreacted, Jake was sent back to work, and the chief said he did not understand what the issue was because underway Jake performed so well. “It must be something about being at your home that is the problem”. My friend stayed on base with me for several hours until Jake’s shift was over so I could drive him home. Also, my bunny died that day, just to make a terrible day worse.
Jake went underway in January of 2020. When we said goodbye as I was dropping him off, I was thinking to myself “this might be the last time you ever hug him”. Neither of us expected him to survive that underway. He wrote me so many goodbye letters in his journal.
A little while before the underway, his therapist had his credentials taken away. He lost his security clearance because he was deemed unstable by medical. He wasn’t supposed to go on that underway. His therapist had hoped that with the boat gone, Jake could focus on getting himself in a better place mentally, and he would be healthy and ready to work when they returned. Instead, the boat said that he had to come. They reinstated his security clearance and told him he was going on the underway the night before they left. Jacob had one night to get ready to be gone for months. While he was packing, I was frantically writing letters that he could open on bad days, basically begging him to come home. To hold on a little longer.
I spent every day of that underway waiting for a chaplain to show up at my door to tell me Jake was gone.
When he came home from that underway, he was supposed to get a week off. They took that away. They took away his weekends, he was working 12 hour days and they were preparing to leave again immediately for an even longer period of time. One morning, Jake slept through his alarm. I woke up to a call from his friend telling me that Jake was going to be late if he didn’t hurry. I woke Jake up but he was not himself. I don’t even know how to describe that morning. He refused to move, he wouldn’t answer me, when he did speak it didn’t make sense. The only thing he said that made sense was a plan to kill himself on his way to the boat. A Navy person showed up at the door to collect him. I turned them away and called 911. I still had bad memories from the last time the police were involved in a mental health crisis situation, so I specifically asked the dispatcher to send paramedics. They didn’t listen to me. Police rang my doorbell a few minutes later and I almost didn’t let them in.
One officer talked to Jake in the bedroom while the other sat in the living room with me as I busied myself doing anything I could find. I made coffee for everyone, even though no one wanted coffee, I cleaned the table and the counters and swept the floor. The officer finally asked me to sit down so he could ask me some questions about Jake. We were lucky: those officers were amazing. They built rapport with him and treated him with respect. They convinced him to willingly go to the emergency room. I drove him in, but because of COVID I couldn’t go in with him. I sat in the parking lot for twelve hours until they told me they were keeping him overnight. I called one more time before bed to check in, and they told me that he wasn’t there anymore. Long story short, I thought the hospital had let my suicidal husband just check himself out, but they were actually transferring him to a military hospital (despite neither of us wanting that, and without telling me… that’s another story). He spent a week there.
When he went back to work after being discharged from the hospital, he was informed that he was being masted the next day. For those who aren’t military, a Captain’s mast is when a sailor is in trouble and he has to go before the captain and other superior officers and basically stand trial. He was stripped of his rank for missing work the day that he was in the ER. Jacob requested that the Captain let him be discharged from the military, and thankfully the captain agreed and signed off on the discharge paperwork. He was transferred and we began the process of getting out. He was discharged under “general, under honorable conditions”, thankfully, but they still didn’t exactly support us on our way out. We are currently fighting because they never paid us for his leave days that he had earned, and they took away our medical coverage on day one, when we were supposed to have it for 90 days after being released.
Getting discharged was the best option for us, and I’m glad it went as well as it did, because for so many it was so much worse. I was inspired to write our story because it needs to be publicized that the military is terrible to people who have a mental illness. The rate of suicides in the Navy, specifically in the Nuclear program are astronomical and nothing is being done to help these people. We are grateful that his captain cared about him enough to let him out without making it dishonorable. He could have refused to let him out at all.
Jake is doing much better now. He still has those thoughts, but the plans are gone and he is able to engage in outlets that help with stress. He’s able to take care of himself and that makes a lot of difference. Being home with all the animals helps, too! If you have questions or need to reach out, we are both pretty open about our experiences.