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    So Many Closets

    By Dr. Tim Seelig —

    Two Disclaimers:

    1. This is not my usual rollicking romp through life’s events.
    2. I am not a trained “psy” anything … psychologist, psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, psychotherapist. People call me Dr. Tim – but I can only “play doctor” with musical things. All observations are my own and based only on my own life experiences.

    When we have made the huge leap coming out of our sexual orientation closet, we assume we’re done. Whew! We pick ourselves up, tend to the bruises and look around the house that is our life. Only then do we realize there are other closets to open and turn the light on.

    The entire world was shaken by the tragic death of Stephen Laurel “tWitch” Boss. I had two reactions. The first was shared by the world: heartbroken. The second was perhaps just mine: anger. I wasn’t angry at Twitch. I was and am angry at the self-righteous people pontificating about suicide being “the most selfish act someone can commit.” Beliefs like these can only be held by someone who has never been to the edge. They have obviously not walked through the valley of the shadow themselves or with someone they’ve loved.

    Some of my dearest friends and family have ended their own lives, either accidentally or deliberately. We’ll never know which. When you get to the edge, you can either slip and fall, or jump. I lost many during the AIDS pandemic when diagnosis was considered a death sentence.

    tWitch’s loss made me peer into one of my own closets whose door was open just a crack. I wrote about this in my memoir but have not shared it here. I have been on the precipice myself – more than once. The first instances were in the years leading up to my coming out. Other times happened in more recent years. I’m not an authority on suicide, but I know my own experience. As skewed as it may be, that moment feels selfless. “Exit stage left” seems the best thing to do. These are the thought I had:

    1. My family and friends would be better off without me.
    2. In time, my exit will have little effect on anyone.
    3. Continuing like this will hurt people more.
    4. My darkest secrets can remain behind closet doors.
    5. The pain is just too much to bear.

    I understand this makes no sense if you have not been there. I hear people ask, “Why are you depressed?” There is no answer to that question just as there is no answer to the questions about tWitch. “How could he, of all people, do this? He’s so talented. He has money and a family. He had everything.” Self-destructive thoughts are not respecters of person or position. Rich, poor, single, familied, talented, not so talented, gay, straight, not so straight. It can happen to any of us and is happening to more people than we know.

    In social media and life, we show only the pretty parts of our lives. We show the mountaintops, the smiles and laughter. In recent months, a few brave souls have dared share struggles on Facebook. It is often met with “Girl, this isn’t the place.” Then where? Facebook and other platforms have become our community, our therapists, our churches.

    My experience is that church wasn’t an answer. “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen” because I’ve learned to hide them. Years ago, a prominent family left our church to join another. When asked why, they said, “At that church we know everyone has problems, but they just don’t talk about them.” Catholics don’t help by proclaiming suicide as a mortal sin. Not only do you die when you kill yourself, but you can never be forgiven and will end up in eternal fires (with a lot of us). The one place I believe has this soul-baring sharing without judgement is the sober community. Countless lives have been saved by these brave, open, loving souls.

    Each retreat from the edge has been different for me. Once it was someone’s arms. Other times it was thoughts of watching my Grand girls grow up. Sometimes, the work ethic installed by my German father screamed, “You can’t do this. You didn’t clean your room!” There has never been a burning bush with a deep voice and lots of reverb saying, “What the hell are you thinking?” I believe the suicide closet may be the darkest of all. I am so grateful to friends, family and amazing therapists who have helped me open the door and turn the light on. They have also reminded me at every step that there is so much to live for including their love and devotion.

    What can we do as friends and family?

    1. Listen more than talk
    2. Let go of judgment and assumptions
    3. Learn everything we can about mental health, depression, and suicide
    4. Love without bounds

    The most important thing any of us can do is simply be there to offer an arm or shoulder – physical or emotional – to help pull someone back if they start to slip. Knowing you are there, confirms that the light at the end of the tunnel is not an oncoming train, but someone you love holding a light to show the way.

    For those of you who resonate with my experience, the best advice I can give you is to open your closet door, let the light and people who love you in. There is no shame here. I promise that when they get to know this part of you, they’ll love you even more. Once you have this one open, others will get easier!

    R.I.P., tWitch. In life, you entertained us beyond your and our wildest imagination. In death you are still teaching us countless important lessons as well. 

    If you get to the edge and are alone, use the phone number below.

    The National Suicide Hotline (988)

    Dr. Tim Seelig is the Conductor Laureate of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.

    TLC: Tears, Laughs and Conversations
    Published on January 12, 2023