The Second Pilgrimage: On Letting Go and Loving More

I want to thank all my readers for the outpouring of support. It has meant more to me than you know.

There is so much to say, and I’m not sure how to say all of it, so I will try to tackle it bit by bit.

My acute series of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) was life-saving to say the least. It restored my vision and perspective, saved some of the most important relationships in my life, and left me much more spiritual and wise. I underwent 13 seizures that successfully treated my depression and mania. I have, however, experienced a lot of processing problems and other cognitive complications as a result, so that is why I have not written and will probably not write for awhile longer. My concentration and word retention are still lacking. The other day I gave the waitress a tip for 150 percent – I suppose that explains it best.

As I said to a friend, however, when you can’t use your brain (or you are using your brain in other ways – as my doctor likes to say), you are forced to grow your heart, and that is what I have been doing for the last three months. I have been giving my undivided attention to my kids, my husband, and closest friends, because in the last few years I was so busy trying to expand an online network and advance professionally that I did not give them the time, attention, and care they deserved.

Toward the end of my pilgrimage in Spain a woman told me that Camino doesn’t give you what you want. It gives you what you need.

I wanted to arrive in Santiago an empowered woman who was free of her labels (addict, bipolar, etc.). With every step I took along the Spanish countryside I wanted to carve new neural passageways in my brain and prove that I could free myself of tormenting thoughts with my will power.

Instead, a few days after my return I admitted myself into John Hopkins psychiatric unit — in a dangerous, suicidal mixed state of mania and depression.

At my initial intake session with the team of psychiatrists, I explained how I tried to redirect these anguishing death thoughts 50 times a minute in Spain.

“I just couldn’t do it.” My voice cracked and I started to cry. “I couldn’t get rid of the thoughts.”

One of the doctors said to me, “I think most of you knows that you can’t control this illness, but there’s still a little part of you that thinks you can. I suggest you pray the Serenity Prayer”:

God, Grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change,

The courage to change the things that I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

The Serenity Prayer became a theme throughout my month stay there, my second pilgrimage, where I learned the lesson I needed to learn: how to get out of the way in order to maintain a semblance of peace. Whenever I took back the reins, the result was not pretty.

Right before the second session of ECT, the nurse casually mentioned to me that they were going to adjust the medicine a tad because I moved during the first seizure.

I asked the ECT doctor when he came in if you can still have a good seizure if you move.

“You didn’t move,” he said.

Most people would let this go, but I was fixated on it. My agitation going into ECT resulted in horrible paranoia coming out of anesthesia. I was totally convinced there was a conspiracy going on where the folks in white robes were stealing our brains to make playmates for ET and his family. In this paranoid state, I sized up the security guard, planning my escape.

I could totally take him, I thought to myself. Only 35 miles home. I walked that several days in Spain. No problem. I just have to yank out this IV. It will hurt but I can do it.

A few hours later I knew that the no one was trying to steal my brain and had no agenda of tackling the security guard; however, I was still obsessing about whether or not I moved and how I could control my seizures.

I brought it up to the physician who was treating me.

“It doesn’t matter if you moved or not,” he said to me. “Look. There’s a lot here you can’t control, so I suggest you go back to the Serenity Prayer.”

That interaction summed up the painful lesson of my second pilgrimage. I don’t have as much control as I think I do. The more I can remember that, the better shot I have for peace.

Ironically, the real spiritual progress for me didn’t take place in the chapels on the path to Santiago. It happened every time an anesthesiologist placed a mask over my mouth and told me to breathe. The more control I tried to assert, the more agitated I became coming out of anesthesia. But if I could envision myself falling back into the arms of Jesus – like He was my buddy in the Girl Scouts, ready to catch me during the trust fall—then I’d wake up peaceful.

In his beautiful book Searching for and Maintaining Peace, Father Jacque Philippe compares faith to a parachute. You have to jump into the void in order to experience it. Over and over again in the hospital, in moments of panic and frustration, I jumped into that void. In each of the 13 sessions of ECT, I trusted that the parachute would hold me.

Fr. Philippe writes, “Peace is born of humility.”

In the last four months I have been humbled like I have never been before.

It has been by far the most painful period of my life, but also the most fruitful. My marriage is stronger than it has been in years, and my kids seem very content to have their mom fully present to them as I haven’t been in a long time.

As a woman who has always felt the need to produce and succeed in order to be loved and accepted, I have had to tell people that until my cognitive abilities heal, I have nothing I can give to them besides good company, kindness, and a laugh. I have had to simplify and say no to things that I thought I needed to feel okay about myself. I have had to shed the outside layer of myself and get down to the core – trusting that there are at least a few people in my life who love me unconditionally and don’t mind the spacey, forgetful, less ambitious version of myself.

In the end, my pilgrimage to Spain led me to the second pilgrimage to Hopkins, where the real conversion and spiritual transformation took place, where I learned to let go of the control I thought I had and trust God in all things, and to love intensely—with all my being. The writing? That may come in time. I hope so, anyway.

Thanks again for your support.

And thank you to the wonderful team at Hopkins (including my psychiatrist) for restoring my health.

Stay tuned.

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67 thoughts on “The Second Pilgrimage: On Letting Go and Loving More

  1. It is sooo good to hear from you Therese! Hearing about your pilgrimage(s) is an answer to many people’s prayers. Your usual transparency, honesty and humor is a blessing to read. I will continue to pray for you as you continue on this journey of healing and discovery. Thank you for all you have done for so many of us who fight this fight.

    1. Dear Therese – I think you have to let go and let God parent you at times – to know when to fight and when to be patient – there’s is no advice I can give you that you can’t give yourself – I wish you happiness peace and love in your life ❤️ you deserve it all

  2. Dear Therese I am so happy you are OK. I’ve been praying for you and just yesterday asked the Lord how you were doing. They wanted me to take those ect treatments 14 years ago after the murder of my son, but I wouldn’t let them. Don’t worry about us, your readers, but take all the time you need to get well and enjoy your family. May God bless you with total healing and peace and blessings to your family also.

  3. Your writings have no doubt been an inspiration to me over the years. I think your writing resonates with me because it comes from one who has actually experienced the pain of depression and faced it with courage. Your writing also has a certain depth and transparency I don’t often see. I pray you will continue to improve and that your invaluable influence will expand further.

  4. Dear Therese,
    Your cognitive powers maybe disabled and your concentration compromised.
    But I can assure you that what you have written is very powerful and moving.
    And gives a huge insight to mental health it’s tricks it plays. And it’s power.
    Your courage and determination is a huge example to us all to keep going.
    I too would be obsessing on how to keep still. One seed planted in ones mind and we can’t let go.
    You deserve love Therese and support. You give so much .
    I feel humbled to read your story.
    Acceptance is so difficult when we strive so hard.
    Love hugs and kisses to you.
    Lizzie

  5. Just so, so happy to see this post and to learn that the ECT brought the improvement you sought. You are enough. You are enough. Continue to get better and to be well, and enjoy your family and your amazing self.

    1. Dear Therese – I think you have to let go and let God parent you at times – to know when to fight and when to be patient – there’s is no advice I can give you that you can’t give yourself – I wish you happiness peace and love in your life ❤️ you deserve it all

  6. Whew! It’s so good to hear from you!!! There have been prayers for you, your husband, your kids. And, those prayers were answered.

    Good company, kindness, laughter…. Other than a Milk Dud, what more could we ask for?

  7. It is so amazing how we can work so hard in the wrong direction and only Through suffering turn and find the right 1. I pray that you will continue to discover unexpected pathways that clarify your purpose to you.

  8. So very glad to see your name pop up in my inbox. I have thought about you these past months and wished for you the best. You have worked so very hard and suffered so very much and yet you are so very brave. Continue to get better and enjoy your family and loved ones. You truly deserve peace.
    I wish you the best.

  9. You cannot know what your writings mean to me. It validates that we are all “normal” but with an illness. Oh how I wish people would finally understand that. You, however, through your consistent transparency, give me such renewed strength and validation that I really need. Thank you for being authentic.

  10. Thank you for your thoughts. Amazingly I have had you on my mind for the last week…and now I hear from you directly.! You are enough. God will continue to bless and care for you…moment by moment. Bask in the love of family and friends.

  11. You still possess all your cognitive writing skills, so don’t worry about that at all. Take care and stay in love and loving. It’s the best healing. Thanks for your witness.

  12. Good afternoon mrs Therese, even though i dont understand about the zeisures you have always inspirated me all these years. I am Elizabeth from the Dominican Republic and have gone thru 5 Major depression and suicide attempts as well. I did not know but you Will be in my prayers everyday. Dont Rush yourself take your time you have helped a huge amount of People latín ones. Very happy you are with us again. May god blessed you always. I understand you perfectly.

  13. Beautiful … welcome back!🌹
    Did you know your last post: “A Different Kind of Strength” was written on June 9 – a special St. Thérèse day?
    On June 9, 1895, when St. Thérèse was 22, she had a mystical moment of ecstasy while praying the Stations of the Cross. This event is now known as: “Thérèse Plunged Into the Fire of Love.”
    On June 9, 1897, when St. Thérèse was 24 and just a few months from her death, she made her famous statement about a shower of roses. Her blood and Carmelite sister, Marie, expressed the sadness that would be experienced when Thérèse would be gone. The Little Flower replied,
    “Oh, no, you will see; it will be like a shower of roses.”
    🌹❌⭕️🌹

  14. The common theme to our comments is our joy to hear from you and to learn how you’re doing. I pray you continue to recover and regain in all ways and enjoy comfort and peace of mind. Blessings…

  15. Therese,
    Thanks for touching base with me regarding your health through email. I am very blessed that you are in the process of recovery. Always know that their are people who care about you. Please continue to write as many people rely on this strength of yours.

    Blessings,
    Marcelo Perez
    http://www.marceloperez.gq
    Public Speaker | Author | Survivor

  16. I was so thrilled to see your name in my in-box today. I have found it amazing how often I’ve thought of you in the past months, wishing you well, having never even met you. Your honest sharing made me feel a closeness to you that I haven’t known a lot in my so-called real life. I am so relieved to know that your hard choice was a good one and that you’re finally getting the healing that you and your family so deserve.

  17. Dear Therese, sending my love with a great amount of admiration.
    God bless you, dear one.
    Live free and know you are truly loved.

  18. Blessings for you Therese, glad you made it back and now are in good hands to care for you. We will survive, you need to put yourself first and your family, in order to help others!!! Love and hugs Jo

  19. Therese,
    It’s amazingly wonderful to hear (read) from you again. You inspire so many with your writing prose and the stories you produce. I first stumbled across your column when I was in the darkest hour of depression. Your articles helped save my life. I direct others with mental health issues to search you online and follow your writings. My hope is that you will find the inner strength to keep writing, not in the quantity you have in the past, just the occassional post.
    The comments already posted here really share the impact you have on so many. You are a blessing to all of us.

  20. Therese, I am so happy you are ALIVE with life again. Your sharing with us gives me so much hope and I learn so much from you and those who help you either by way of doctors, spiritual authors, whatever. Thank you for being so down to earth for us. Peg Diesburg

  21. Dear Therese, Thank you so much for sharing your progress with all of us. Even though we don’t know each other in person, we know each other in spirit. Your beautiful spirit always shines through. If you are at a loss for words, it does not show in your writing. So much feeling comes through and the way your express yourself is remarkable and so helpful. I am so relieved you are home and doing well. I hate to see you suffer, it just never seems fair. You were so brave to receive the ECT treatments. Those of us who live with such a life threatening illness know we can do everything healthy and it doesn’t cure us, we accept medical intervention to survive. It didn’t sound easy and required so much surrender and trust. You are so brave and courageous. You are a gift to the world. Much love to you dear one. Take good care of yourself. You are so cherished. Luey

  22. COGNITIVE EFFECTS —>
    Therese, so very glad that the ECT worked for you! While it likely depends on whether you had bilateral micro-pulse or unilateral micro pulse treatments, know that the brain is an incredible organ and may surprise you with time. I lost 7-9 years of memory and, I *thought*, my knowledge of the Spanish language (fluent) was lost forever. Recently, though, it came back to me entirely in a random moment when I overheard a couple near me at a restaurant speaking the language! All in all, thank you for helping to eradicate the stigma of ECT and tout it’s frequent life-saving benefits. I wish you well! Best, abbey

  23. I have been thinking about you and praying for you Therese..I am so happy that you are feeling more at peace..
    What you said about faith is so true..It has helped me so much to come out of the abyss..Thank you for the book recommendation.
    God Bless you on your continuing journey..
    I will keep you in my prayers❤

  24. Gee, golly Willikers, Therese! Thanks for writing. I’m one of the hundreds who love you without reservation. I will look forward to reading when you’re ready. Peace.

  25. Therese,

    Take it one step and one day at a time, you are in my prayers as you figure out what you want to do
    with your career and happy your family has remained unconditionally strong and full of love 💕 for you during your recovery. I think of you often and want you to know I send you love, serenity and grace on new road forward.

    😘 xo Jane (your friend from the Johns Hopkins Mood Disorders Symposium April 2018)

  26. Therese, I am so glad to get a message from you. I haven’t followed you for a long time but I quickly learned how special you are, and I love your sharing, your honesty, and your insight. Thank you so much for all you have given. Please continue to take care of yourself. Blessings wonderful woman!

  27. Therese:
    I’m glad you’re home and recovering from your ECTs. I hope you see the result you are looking for. You have much more courage than I do. I’ve always been skeptical; downright scared of those treatments. You deserve the relief you receive from them. You haven’t given up and I don’t think you ever will. You are a Warrior.
    With love, Debbie T.

  28. Dear Theresa, I’m so glad to hear from you. I first noticed you a few months ago you when I read an article from Everyday Health about how to cope with depression and anxiety. The last point you listed was if all else fails, pray Hail Marys over and over. You resonated with my Catholic heart. When I found out you also lived with Bi-polar you then became my cyber-friend. After reading your blog I signed up. Then you vanished and I waited for you to come back. I’m so glad you are feeling healthier. My heart goes out to you. When I was sixteen and again when I was twenty-two I spend time on a mental health ward. Those were difficult times. I never thought anyone would ever marry a woman with mental health issues. God is so good! He gifted me with a extremely caring husband who loves me unconditionally, three great children, two great in-laws and four darling grandchildren. Yes, I have ups and downs but things seem to work out by the grace of God. I’m so pleased that you are able to make more memories with your husband, children and close friends. Thanks for sharing about your life so that others, like me, may be encouraged. I pray for continued healing for you. God truly delights in you!

  29. Dearest Terese,

    So happy to hear you are finding peace. Somehow the life we plan and try to control has a way of bringing us to our knees. You are surrendering to the One and only, may God continue to hold you and may you continue to let go. One of my favorite Zen proverbs is “Let go or be dragged”. The reward of letting go is possible, you are on your way!

    Love,

    Mary

  30. Dear Therese, you’ve been on my mind and as I wondered when we’d hear from you, your email appeared. So thankful the treatment worked and you are better. It gives hope to all. Looking forward to whatever you share with us next. God bless.

  31. God bless you Therese.
    And thank you much for reaching out to us.
    One of my takeaways on this is that we don’t need to ‘Do” to be significant; we simply need to “Be’ and Know we’re Already significant.

  32. Amen and Right On!!!
    I had almost exactly the experience you just had, five years ago.
    I could write forever but your personal experiences are far more powerful.
    I now live with two paraphrased quotes.
    “We all are a little broken.”
    I believe that you, Therese, are the source
    for this one.
    Again paraphrasing
    “You did what you knew
    And when you knew better you did
    better.”
    Paraphrasing Maya Angelou.
    Keep up the good fight and may you have many beautiful choices.

  33. Thank you so much for the post. It came just when I needed it..seek and you shall find is so true……i had a unusually bad day that day..now the next day feel good in myseld.. That treatment you had I had years ago when I had a major breakdown .. Tablets were not working so the doctor decided to use it to help me and it helped greatly. So glad for you….Dont we learn lessons in life with things that happen to us..Glad that you are enjoying your family more and them too enjoying you. You are so benificial to folk not just your family…My thoughts are with you 😊

  34. Therese, may God bless every step of this current pilgrimage. He is there behind you every step of the way. I will pray for your success, and wait for your return in a time that is good for your health. God bless, Pat

  35. God Bless You!!!! As a woman, mother, grandmother and wife——-your courageous honesty is the most refreshing ‘share’ I have read in—-well, just about forever!!!!
    I am past 65 and still fighting the battle of major depression that has become an overwhelming battle. I have been on different medications for about 40 years and did have 10 ECT treatments about 10 years ago. I struggle because of my age, at this point, on what to do—- to do more than merely survive another day. Bless you, for all you share!!!! It means more than the mere words that I can think up, to tell you how much your honesty means to me!!!

  36. Therese, I am so glad that you are in the light again, basking in the glow of life with family and friends. I too, have had ECT, and the weight lifted. I did have some cognitive issues for a few months afterward. Several years have passed and I am in a better place now than I could ever have imagined during the darkest of days. You have been a beacon of light and encouragement to me as you have to so many. I am one of many who prayed for you when I read that you were going to have ECT. Blessings to you and your family. ❤️

  37. Therese, what’s most important is that you take care of yourself. By the looks of everyone’s comments you’ve done a great deal of good for a lot of people. You certainly have for me. Your love for all of us who suffer is tremendous. So, accept our love in return and take the time you need to get better.

  38. Dear Therese, beautiful posting …. continue to heal and feel well. You have so many who care and want to see you better and better. This reminds me of a rose plant that looks like wooden branches and thorns, but after time and the right conditions, it blooms into a beautiful rosebush full of fragrant and colorful roses! God bless you ♡, and thank you as always for sharing your journey ♡

  39. Dearest Therese, you are amazing. And you are strong. You knew what you needed to do to care for yourself and you did it. So, I’d say that Dwayne Johnson strength is in you. ECT isn’t an easy decision but you made it and went through it. In my estimation, that’s STRENGTH! You have always been a blessing to me through your blogs. For this I am grateful. May you feel the love of all here and bask in it and heal according to however you need to heal. And bless you and bless your family. If you ever decide to write again…wonderful. If not…wonderful. You matter first. God bless you and your family always!

  40. Therese, you are a Love! A dear & giving person who’s suffered long & deeply. Plz, just rest, take all the time you need to heal & heal & heal some more. I always am eager to read your sharing & always benefit but your health is what’s most important- take all the time you need. Time with your Family is precious, they must be thrilled that you have this chance to heal & grow & feel better! I know I am!

  41. Loved the title, “letting go & loving more”. It is applicable in life at all aspects. Being positive and happy is solution for every situation in life. You wrote the words beautifully, thanks. Keep sharing more! 🙂

  42. Therese, you are such a strong and amazing person. You have helped so many people with your kindness and sharing. I will continue you to
    keep you in my prayers. God Bless you!

  43. Dear Thérèse, I am so thankful that you are at peace and in the warm embrace of your loving family. Enjoy this special time of healing and recovery. You are loved by many, but especially by the One who is always waiting as you trustingly fall into His loving arms. May your peace and trust continue, always…

  44. I’ve kept your open, heartfelt letter- your honesty & vulnerability touch my heart & soul beyond words. I’ve just reread your beautiful letter & must thank you, thank you, thank you. Isn’t it hilarious (you’ve heard of the HilariousWorld of Depression?)that I can clearly see, believe, understand that OF COURSE One, you, cannot control depression’s loud, relentless voice & message of negativity! It’s not possible! Not ”this day,’ ‘this way’ or ‘another way’, no. & yet I’ve done what you have- ‘ok, I’ll go away, clear my head, I’ll get better, ‘ ‘what I really need is x,’ or ‘y’ or ‘z’. You are brave to choose the therapeutic approach you have. But even more than brave, you were desperate. & even more than that, you were willing to be humbled. Turning our life & our will over to the care of God, the 3rd Step of the 12 Steps. I just love you, Therese. I appreciate your sharing. You’ve helped me every single time you’ve shared.

  45. Therese,

    Words cannot express how happy I was to see your post. I am glad to hear the treatments helped you. Even though I know your aren’t writing as much, I still find myself coming to your site when I feel anxious, afraid and…I guess depressed. Your words comfort me. As others have mentioned, your writings are a blessing and a gift from God. Under your fragile exterior, you are strong and brave. Thank you for all you have done for me and for the countless others. We are all a little better because of you.

  46. Therese,

    just you be. just be you. be in your belly as your inhalation lifts it. invite your
    “demons” into that space rather than trying to cast them out. treat
    grim thoughts as on a par with your positives, welcoming them
    all and encouraging each and every one of them take a seat and relax in your abdomen.

    so be it.

    your friend,

    SJ.

  47. Hi. Therese, A friend shared you blog with me and had to send a message. After decades of doctors, meds, suicide attempts, hospitalizations, I finally acquiesced and submitted to ECT. There are no words to describe the terror of what it would do to me yet there was no other way. I am now 8 months out and the transformation has been a miracle. Not only did the depression subside but the anxiety did also which was not supposed to happen. I have come to accept that I will need maintenance ECT as the grey is hovering again but I’m okay with the side effects knowing that I will be free of the depression. My empathy and desire to help others suffering is my mission and desire from God to hopefully give hope in whatever way I can. Thank you for your honesty. Christine

    1. Christine, Therese, you who have turned to ECT – THANK YOU for sharing your experiences! My goodness, you’re the only people I know who’ve used this resource, I’m deeply appreciative of your honest sharing. Your sharing is greatly valuable to those of us who also have depression that’s resisted prior medicines & other treatments. I’m fearful of ECT, yet I’m afraid of depression each time it comes on in full force, as it does. I can consider ECT as a viable option, based on the experiences of actual, real people.

  48. Therese. I have so much respect and admiration for you as battle your depression. You are an amazingly strong person. We feel your strength!
    You’ve helped me as my daughter hit bottom a year and a half ago. She is labeled treatment resistant, too. In Sept 2018 she started seeing a psychiatrist at Mayo Clinic. In Oct. 2018 she, too, had ECT – 10 treatments. She is better today than she had been the previous 2 years.

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