Ring the Cracked Bell

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “My imperfections and failures are as much a blessing from God as my successes and my talents and I lay them both at his feet.” In the last few months, I have been trying to follow Gandhi’s example by presenting God with all of my humiliations, rejections, and shortcomings and to try to find the lesson or the value in them. The process of getting real and embracing my authentic self has been immensely painful but also freeing.

On Wednesday, I was invited to speak in Philadelphia to a group of professionals about what it’s like to live with treatment-resistant depression.

After I talked for a half hour about my journey, a woman asked me, “How do you get through the rough days?”

I wanted to place that question in the past tense and respond as a removed expert, rattling off a handful of solutions: lessen your stress, shorten your to-do list, rely on the help of others. However, inspired by reader comments on my recent blogs, I decided to speak from the heart. Tearing up, I said, “It’s so very, very hard. All you can really do is literally put one foot in front of another.”

I told them how difficult it is to live with a condition that continually stalks you and the thick stigma associated with that – condemnations that you are not trying hard enough or doing the right things to recover. I talked about the role of honest communication in moving past the stigma but voiced the real challenges of straight talk today in the workplace, at schools, even at home – the risk of alienation from the very people from whom you need support. I spoke about the need for hope, the one thing required for anyone with treatment-resistant depression to recover, and how to find that hope. I said that as severe as my symptoms get today, I remember that my track record for getting through the darker days is 100 percent.

I was humbled by their response. They appreciated my authenticity and didn’t want a Tony Robbins version, after all.

Since I was close to the Liberty Bell I made a quick field trip.

As I looked at the bell with a formidable crack, I remembered the lyrics from Leonard Cohen’s Anthem:

Ring the bells that still can ring,

Forget your perfect offering,

There’s a crack, a crack in everything.

That’s how the light gets in.

Most of us would prefer a perfect bell, but the cracks are what make us human, able to connect with one another and recognize the beauty in the world. Cracks are the failures and humiliations that lead to our best work and offerings. They are the vulnerability that bonds us to our world and illuminates the darkness for others.

There is a valuable lesson in Kintsugi, the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with gold. By accentuating the fractures in a piece as opposed to covering them up, the pottery becomes even more valuable than its flawless original. The practice is related to the Japanese aesthetic wabi-sabi, celebrating beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.”

“The wound is the place where the Light enters you,” said Rumi

It’s also the place that light shines forth to others.

Art by the talented Anya Getter.

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25 thoughts on “Ring the Cracked Bell

  1. Your message came to me this morning – a morning I woke up feeling very sad and alone – even though I know I am not. I feel so broken right now but I hope to get to a point one day where I can embrace the brokenness and not try to hide it.

    Thank you for sharing your struggle and journey. It is very hard to explain to people that do not suffer from depression and mental disorders. It is even harder to endure when people, especially loved ones, tell us to just get over it and move on. Thank you for letting me know I am not alone.

  2. ::sigh:: Thank you once again. Sometimes, at work, I am drowning and screaming for help, and there are those who complain I’m too loud. That’s real. One hour at a time. One step at a time. Love you.

  3. I recently read the book titled “First Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Madness” . The author is Nassir Ghaemi, “academic psychiatrist, author and Professor of Psychiatry at Tufts U.” Read this. It takes a new look at (the value of a) mental illness. It includes personalities Gandhi, Winston Churchill and other very strong leaders.

  4. Thank you again Therese. Today is another day that for me will be putting 1 foot in front of the other. Thank you for reminding me that I’m not alone!

  5. Thank you Therese. This made me cry.
    We fight so hard to be heard and understood.
    Getting the right help takes time and energy when both are depleted.
    Being honest is the way forward I think. And those who you lose along the way because they can’t be empathetic ?? Let them go.
    Imagine if the broken bits of our brains were painted gold .
    We would be very rich!
    Love to you Therese.

  6. Hi Therese, such a wonderful message! I hope they listened and heard. You gathered the strength, spoke from the heart and are making history. Your photo is inspiring. God has given you a gift and thank you for using it to help all of us.

  7. You are so right on point with just being yourself..others cannot ever know what is in our heart and soul. You are a “real example” as you shared your journey ..bless you

  8. Bravery isn’t facing or even taking a bullet (though it certainly can be of course). Bravery is persistence in the face of seemingly insuperable obstacles – falling down 9 times and standing back up 10. By that standard, you are absolutely one of the bravest people I have ever known.

  9. Just know you are being salt and light. Well done, good and faithful servant. With love and blessings in the mighty and precious name of Jesus. . .
    Terry in OKC

  10. The light shining through the crack is a lovely thought, one I have heard often. Right now I am faced with 2 painful things that have deeply eroded my mood. One is false accusations and harsh rejection by the pastor of my church, my Catholic faith home for more than 40 years. I am searching for a new parish, feeling betrayed and lost. The second is a hip replacement complication that requires surgery next month.
    I so relate to your struggles … day by day

  11. Thank you Therese. It’s good to see your picture next to the bell. Glad you are continuing to fight the good fight. I know it’s so hard. I too suffer from anxiety and depression. It’s so easy to let it overwhelm you. My therapist once told me that 2 simple words can help when I’m feeling overwhelmed. I have to remember that this feeling, this situation is only true “for now” and will not always be so. That helps me hang on for the time when things will be better. And they will be better…God bless and keep you my friend.

  12. thank you so much. i just am recovering from yet another deep depression. your thoughts are precious.thinking of you and sending good thoughts your way

  13. Therese thank you. I forgot how I found you. But I get so much strength from your articles. When I think I can’t anymore, reading your articles gives me peace at least for a moment. I feel I’m not fighting this battle alone. Thank you

  14. Thank you for sharing with us, especially in non Tony Robbins fashion. Not knocking the motivational lessons either- I just feel validated in the way you describe your feelings, and find more of God’s grace and strength for me – in my own journey- through in your gift of writing.

  15. I am as open as I can be online and with my family, but currently my depression is killing my SO and he truly doesn’t deserve it as he is my full time care taker due to my broken back. I have to be silent about my depression in front of him; he simply can’t take the pain anymore. Last night his damn broke and he ranted all over me. I curled up tight and though I did my best not to cry silent tears coursed down my face. All I wanted was to be able to cut. I needed him to leave so I could cut and it was driving me insane that he would not shut up and go away. He threatened me with hospitalization. I walked away from him and shut the door between us. He fucking followed me! An hour later when things were calm again I told him he must NEVER do that to me again. I told him I understood his need to rant, but I am NOT the right person to rant to, and should he do that to me again I would simply walk out the door until he was calmed down.

  16. I am as open as I can be online and with my family, and by that I mean VERY OPEN, but currently my depression is killing my SO and he truly doesn’t deserve it as he is my full time care taker due to my broken back. NO ONE, and I mean this in the very literal sense, NO ONE, has ever loved, cared for, and cherished me as he has. So I work hard to be silent about my depression in front of him; he simply can’t take the pain anymore. Last night his damn broke and he ranted shit all over me. I curled up tight and though I did my best not to cry silent tears coursed down my face. All I wanted was to be able to cut. I needed him to leave so I could cut and it was driving me insane that he would not shut up and go away. He threatened me with hospitalization. I walked away from him and shut the door between us. He fucking followed me! An hour later when things were calm again I told him he must NEVER do that to me again. I told him I understood his need to rant, (my ex was depressed for the last 10 years we lived together and refused to seek help), but I am NOT the right person to rant to, and he must NEVER do that to me again or I would simply walk out the door until he was calmed down.

  17. Thank you, Therese, for being so genuine and vulnerable in your writing. I have been a follower and fan for a long time. It takes courage to live with a mental illness and even more courage to share your story with the world. You touch so many lives and hearts, and your words give hope. That is the greatest gift of all.

  18. I’ve had postpartum depression with both my children, and other hormonal changes brought on depression, but after a time my medication could not be increased. I realized that I was “one of them”, the treatment resistant. It felt like a death sentence. From caring family members who told me take lots of vitamins, it’s your medication causing your depression, or how one augmentation option to the other was irresponsible. Treatment resistant is not talked about enough–the drug companies are selling too many smilie faces. It was hard for me to accept, trial after trial, getting off one to try another. Wearing out my support system, faking became easier..I cried just last night when I realized I am not just trying to survive any more. I am glad I did, but it took a lot of courage and faith.

  19. Well its been a couple of years or longer Therese. Thanks again for being so gosh darn honest. I was talking with a new guy in the “program” for a while and he was very very resistant to the steps. I couldnt understand it since I did it the way they “suggested,” and….. But needless to say when he saw the ACA steps it was the the proverbial “light going on,” moment for him.
    I say all of this because I believe our condition, and I too suffer from treatment resistant major depressive disorder and complex PTSD, makes it so we think that if dont do it like everyone else does, if we dont “fit in,” there is something wrong with us. That sets off the swirling proverbial “rabbit hole,” process which usually ends up in some place where suffering is normal and relief is the momentary thing we glimpse as it comes and goes. I still always go back to,

    “In many instances we shall find that though the harm done others has not been great, the emotional harm we have done ourselves has. Very deep, sometimes quite forgotten, damaging emotional conflicts persist below the level of consciousness. At the time of these occurrences, they may actually have given our emotions violent twists which have since discolored
    our personalities and altered our lives for the worse.’

    This truly is the root of my dis-ease. More than anything thanks for being such a light house for so, so many of us. Lots of love and gratitude for being able to connect with you again and see you are still doing it. Jim

  20. Great post, Therese. So sorry you are struggling right now. One foot in front of the other. Like you said, and just as my psychologist always points out to me, our track record for getting through is 100%. Difficult to recall when we’re feeling poorly, but so, so true. Hang in there.

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