At 44 I had it all: a good wife, two beautiful children, a loving extended family, a successful private practice in counseling psychology and the high regard of peers. How could I be suicidal? How could I, Dr. Helmuth, who helps depressed and suicidal people choose life over death, be so very close to ending my own life?
My family loved me and cared about me; that is, they loved the person they thought I was: the good boy "Jimmy," as my siblings called me; the "St. James," as I was known by peers at church; the college graduate; the responsible husband and father; the Ph.D. psychologist.
They knew my roles, achievements and my façade. But they did not know my authentic self because I did not know me, or at least was not willing then to tell anyone what I did know. I only had a vague sense of being different from other boys in my family and community. Later, as my awareness became clearer, I felt I had no choice but to hide and repress being gay.
Would my family and friends love me if they knew the secret feelings I had carried inside? Could they accept me as I am and not as they assumed I was? Would they judge me and even abandon me? It was a risk I did not want to take. Wouldn't it be better to die physically than keep enduring this living death?
I survived that crisis; I crossed the bridge rather than racing my motorcycle into the side. I chose to come out to myself, my wife, my teenage children and my parents and siblings. But in coming out, I also needed to end a 20-year marriage. This was the beginning of a painful but blissful journey of self-awareness.
Within a year of coming out I met a wonderful man who became my partner. Richard and I have been together 21 years and have made a wonderful life together that includes both our families. He also had been married and had two grown children when we met. We have been very fortunate because all our children have embraced our relationship and accepted our life partnership completely. Our blended families all took an Alaska cruise together in 2004 and had a wonderful time. In 2009 I wrote and published a book, Crossing the Bridge: From Mennonite Boy to Gay Man. The writing of the book was a major project.
What I have learned is that it does get better -- not easily, not all at once, and not without some struggle -- but it does get better if we come out and are willing to be completely honest with ourselves and others.
I have learned that being gay is more about being authentic and real than it is about sexual orientation and same-sex experiences. It is more about finding our souls and affirming and loving our true selves than about parades, shows and rights. It is about the courage to let our true life flow from deep inside us as we live and love day to day.