Room for Misery and Room for Joy: My Story


misery joyMost people who have been sober longer than a year are asked to give a “lead”—to tell their story. Mine was structurally simple, covering what it was like, what happened, and what it’s like now. Having only drank for three years, my addiction story is pretty straightforward: I stopped guzzling down mood-altering beverages.

My depression story, however, is not.

There are too many circles and uneven ends to fit into any neat, compact narrative. It seems as though the longer you dance with the demon of depression, the more embracing you become of different health philosophies and the more tolerant of unanswered questions.

Is it open-mindedness or desperation?

I don’t know.

I have come to fully appreciate the words of Buddhist nun and teacher Pema Chodron, when she writes:

We think the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.

The truth is I can’t remember a time growing up when I didn’t think something was terribly wrong with me.

I didn’t know what they were at the time, but I would have panic attacks when my mom tried to leave the house or when I’d be forced into a new situation. I suffered from night terrors, where I’d sit up in my bed with my rosary around my wrist sweating from a racing heart, trying to make sense of an image in my dreams that haunted me, something as benign as a piece of thread moving slowly and methodically, back and forth, as a metronome. I was a scrupulous kid who could never say enough Our Fathers or Hail Marys. I went to Mass every day because I was scared I was going to hell.

I tried to flee from “my feelings” as I described them then, but I couldn’t.

They’d follow me wherever I went.

My mom threatened to take me to the hospital in the fourth grade if I didn’t stop crying, which further confirmed for me the cosmic bond between my aunt and godmother, who spent most of her life in psych wards, diagnosed with bipolar and schizophrenia. That is, until she ended her life with a turn of the ignition in my grandmother’s garage.

I was sure our souls were somehow connected, and that I would suffer the same fate.

My depression morphed into an eating disorder during my adolescent years. With aspirations of becoming a professional ballerina, I lost so much weight I stopped menstruating. Since I couldn’t control anything going on around me—like my parents’ divorce and the chaos that ensued—I found security in controlling my body and the needle of the scale.

The weight came back on in high school when I discovered beer and screwdrivers. I hid bottles of vodka underneath my bed and was kicked off of my high school drill team for bringing liquor to band camp. Getting drunk was the most effective means of quieting the loud and painful thoughts inside my head; however, I was blacking out all the time, and the list of apologies I owed for obnoxious behavior the next morning was getting rather long.

Two months before high school graduation, I got sober, and shortly after that, landed at Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana. There, under the care of skilled and empathetic therapist, I began my recovery from depression. After fighting her for 18 months on taking an antidepressant, I finally tried one, which made me suicidal. I tried another, and I discovered how most people feel the majority of the time.

For the first time in my life, I wasn’t coping.

I was living.

Although my mood continued to be volatile at times—this is me we’re talking about –I experienced a relative stability between the time I graduated from college and the birth of my second child, Katherine. Meeting my husband and sharing a life with someone who accepted me just as I am proved to be a powerful antidepressant. Our love and commitment grounded me like no other relationship in my past had.

But motherhood has been full of jagged edges and painful stretches.

As soon as I began to wean my daughter from breastfeeding, my mood plummeted. It was more complicated than just depression, but I didn’t know that at the time. I had developed a pituitary tumor at some point breastfeeding, which triggered a cascade of other hormonal issues. I went from one psychiatrist to another (visited six all together), tried 22 medication combinations, and was so doped up on antipsychotic cocktails that I practically passed out in my cereal bowl.

I was finally hospitalized.


After a few months under the care of a top-notch psychiatrist from Johns Hopkins, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and stabilized on an old-fashioned medication combination of Lithium, Nortriptyline, and Zoloft. I also worked with an endocrinologist to stabilize my hormone levels and stop the growth of my tumor.

I thought I was fixed.

I dubbed Hopkins the Land of Oz.

My remission lasted two years.

The hard work began in late 2008.

The economy crashed and so did my mood. As an architect in a dead construction market, my husband didn’t have much work. In order to generate enough income for the family, I went from spilling out my guts as a mental health blogger—an occupation that fit me pretty well–to being a sterile government contractor, first consulting on change management (still not sure what it is) and then composing press releases on cloud text analytics.

Death thoughts (“I wish I were dead”) stalked me as I dropped the kids off for school, swam my laps, and went to the office. No matter how hard I tried to distract myself, they plagued me.

I tried another dozen medication combinations in a span of five years.

Ironically, when the market started to recover, I suffered a second breakdown. I was almost hospitalized. I twice put myself on the waiting list for inpatient electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) at Johns Hopkins because I had lost the capability to eat, sleep, and work.

For a good while, I simply couldn’t function.

My tumor was growing again—and I had a few thyroid nodules to complement it, plus a heart condition—producing dangerous levels of prolactin, a hormone that makes you aggressive, anxious, or both.

In January of 2014, I decided to stay on the medications I was on (Lithium, Nortriptyline, and Zoloft) and stop trying new ones or making any changes.

I was done.

Although I had always treated my illness holistically— I eat healthy, take fish-oil capsules, exercise every day, go to therapy, and pray like a saint–I was ready to take it to the next level: to investigate the connection between the brain and the gut (since the nerve cells in our intestines manufacture 80 to 90 percent of our body’s serotonin), concentrate on my pituitary and thyroid issues, start loading up on necessary vitamins and supplements, and learn how to meditate.

First I eliminated gluten and dairy from my diet and started drinking green smoothies every morning for breakfast. In fact, I eat a massive bowl of green leafy vegetables with every meal. I read book after book about how adjusting your diet can rid you of your mood disorder in six weeks. That wasn’t the case with me, although I did feel a definite difference when I said good-bye to grain, stopped drinking caffeine, and tried my best to resist sweets. I realized my blood sugar levels have an immediate impact not only on my mood, but also on my thyroid, which determines more than you think in our delicate and intricate bodies.

I started taking a very expensive probiotic, which was one of the more helpful things I have done in this holistic experiment because your brain is only as healthy as your gut. The nervous system of your intestines includes an estimated 500 neurons, which is why neuroscientists often refer to the gut as the second brain. I also loaded up on the right kind of Omega 3’s, with a 7:1 EPA to DHA ratio, and took Vitamin D, Vitamin B 12, magnesium, SAM-e, Turmeric, iron, and a good multi-vitamin.

I ended up spending a third of my writing salary on a holistic doctor and the 26 different supplements she recommended, which were too many to fit into the granny-size pill holder I bought at Rite-Aid. I did every test imaginable—sending away my urine, stole, blood, and saliva—to determine the underlying cause for my death thoughts. The closest thing I got to an answer had to do with my thyroid—my very low T3 and T4 levels–causing much of my fatigue and listlessness. I was glad to further identify the pituitary-thyroid piece of my mood puzzle, but I didn’t have any more money to invest into the experiment.

So I tried meditation.

I enrolled in the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program offered at our local hospital. I had been trying to meditate unsuccessfully for six years and was determined it was going to happen. The research published about meditation on every health website, magazine, and blog for the last ten years has promised so much—20 minutes a day and your brain suddenly chills out like the Tibetan monks—that I guess I was expecting a miracle. However, after eight weeks of participating in the program and meditating daily for 20 minutes or longer, I still had death thoughts.

One morning, not so shortly after I graduated from meditation school, I sat uncomfortably with this question: What if I wake up every morning for the rest of my life with a profound desire to die? What if I can never make the death thoughts go away?

I drank my kale smoothie and took all of my vitamins and supplements.

I meditate three times.

The desire to die was so intense I had to fight off tears, especially in front of my daughter. I had to fake extra hard that I was functioning mother.

I ran around the beautiful campus of the Naval Academy, and when I got to Hospital Point, my favorite part of the run that borders the Severn River, I let out my anguish and I cried to God, a different kind of prayer:

“It’s not about me anymore,” I said. “I’m giving you the desire to enjoy life. Take my longing for joy. Do whatever you want with it. If you can just use my life to lessen someone’s pain. That’s all.”

It was like the Prayer of St. Francis that I prayed every day—“Make me an instrument of your peace …”—or Tara Brach’s Buddhist aspiration: “May my life be of benefit to all beings.”

But it was more.

It was the purest, most heart-felt prayer I’ve ever prayed.

From a place of deep pain within me, I was offering to God my entire life—every anxious breath, every distorted thought, every word and every action, every minute of every day, as fodder for someone else’s healing, as some sort of blessing for another, because that is the only way I knew how to live with the thoughts. The way I saw it, my only purpose here was to relieve someone else of the kind of pain I feel on a regular basis.

“Believe, when you are most unhappy, that there is something for you to do in the world. So long as you can sweeten another’s pain, life is not in vain,” said Helen Keller.

Or, as Nietzsche said, “He who has a why can bear almost any how.”

I knew my why: to help other people who suffer from the same kind of death thoughts, the same sort of treatment-resistant depression.

In that moment, I felt immense relief.

From the pressure to feel joy.

From the pursuit of happiness.

From the chase of perfect health.

A few weeks later I pulled from my book shelf Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning.” I figured that a man who survived the holocaust could teach me how to live, possibly even thrive, in the midst of death thoughts. There was my answer: “The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him amble opportunity—even under the most difficult circumstances—to add a deeper meaning to his life.”

What Frankl calls logotherapy—identifying and attaching yourself to a deeper meaning or purpose—has provided me with a peace that is larger than the death thoughts, bigger than the most severe panic attack or afternoon within a psych ward.

It allows room for both misery and joy.

Having come full circle and finally finding a medication combination that works, I do believe antidepressants and mood stabilizers hold an important place in the healing process of depression or bipolar disorder. Working with a teaching institution like Johns Hopkins is key. Having tried recently to go off all my medication, I learned that I can’t treat my mood disorder alone with green smoothies, meditation, and yoga.

However, I suppose I am saved today by the realization that no one thing will fix me.

Sanity lies in a combination of everything–medication, therapy, smoothies, diet, mindfulness, exercise, and attaching yourself to a greater purpose.

Some days still feel like a 4.4 mile swim across the Chesapeake Bay. However, I have found a peace that sustains me through both misery and joy, an equanimity that makes room for misery and makes room for joy.

Artwork by the talented Anya Getter.

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Therese Borchard
I am a writer and chaplain trying to live a simple life in Annapolis, Maryland.

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66 Responses
  1. Mike Leach

    “It was the purest, most heart-felt prayer I’ve ever prayed.” Every line in this post is honest and true, and this is the purest. I see, I feel, I understand. I have hope and assurance. Thank you, Therese.

  2. Tracy

    I discovered your blog this week Therese and all I can tell you is that you are making a difference in my life- the simple solace that comes from knowing that I am not the only woman who has struggled with this since childhood- who has memories of washing my hands incessantly for no reason in middle school, of missing dance class due to depression- and those things only escalating into adulthood- it’s helpful. While no one should have to feel this way- your words and spirit are encouraging- I wish you happy thoughts- and some joy in knowing you are making a difference.

  3. Paula

    Every single day I find comfort from your raw, brutal and loving honesty.
    You are an angel sent to me to find comfort in this world.

  4. Margaret

    You are a MIRACLE. You are taking your pain, and using it to help someone else. You are a SURVIVOR. Since you’ve made it through all the many death thoughts and wishes, I know I can also. We can all hold hands, so none of us will fall. And – hold on to God’s Hand

  5. I have read parts of this story in your book, Beliefnet and personal blogs, Everyday Health articles, and on Group Beyond Blue but reading this Reader’s Digest version brought tears to my eyes! You are so brave!! I, for one, feel so privileged to be part of Group Beyond Blue. One of the things on my bucket list is to meet you in person. I’ll be praying and God will open doors!! I know life is a struggle many times and living well (or even not so well) with a mood disorder is a full-time job. I thank you for giving me a “user’s manual” through all of your writings and GBB. I am content and peaceful right now. Doing this wellness job is pretty routine. The apple cart does not get upset quite as frequently. For that I am very thankful.

  6. Paula

    This is something different. You’ve never said this before. Although the elements of your story are well documented, this is different. You definitely have the love and admiration of a broad audience and you definitely effect the way we feel about our lives. I hope it is enough.

  7. Cindy

    Therese, I had no idea you once struggled with an eating disorder. I too was anorexic in my college years. Those few months were the worst because at first I thought I had complete control amidst all the junk in my life, but soon the obsession to be thin controlled me. I still have to pray and be mindful that I don’t fall into that trap again. Thank you for sharing your complete story which is so tough and gritty.

  8. Popsie

    Thank you for sharing your story and insight. It is very moving and personal and courageous, I am so sad at the end that your life is so full of pain and you want to be at rest with God, but I respect and understand your reality, and really think it is commendable that you have shared your feelings as no doubt if you feel like this, there must be others who do too, and they very likely do not tell anyone which makes it that much harder to bear. I pray that you will have many and increased moments of peace and joy Therese, you deserve them, and you are loved by many.

  9. Reblogged this on PsycheServices Blog and commented:
    If you know anyone suffering from depression, please send them a link to Therese’s blog and ask them to read everything they can get their hands on that she has written. She shares practical knowledge based on her own experiences and writes from a place of hard won wisdom, depth of soul, compassion and honesty. Thank you Therese, for taking the risk to put it all out there to help others.

  10. Peg

    Therese, thank you once again, for sharing your self with us. I believe God is guiding you every step of the way. Peg

  11. wow,


    I know you said you’d pray for me, but


    Thanks for that.

    Helen knows what she’s talking about – thanks for keeping her in the loop. ~ Another Katherine who thinks you are cool.

    ~ Pax.

  12. Jackie Tellijohn

    I read your book from cover to cover twice the 48 hours I was in the crisis center a month ago — because I had lost my ability to stop crying — temporarily. What a comfort just to know someone else really GETS it. Now I’ve found your online support group and am finding comfort there. Thank you for bearing your heart, soul, and mind for relief of our pain…God bless you!

  13. My family wouldn’t have made it through the last year without your blog and articles. My teenage daughter went through much of what you have gone through. After years of trying most of the things you mentioned, she seems to have landed in a very good place (for now). But on the darkest days, the ones we didn’t think we’d possibly survive, your words were so helpful. I also turned to the writings of Pema Chodron, Tara Brach, Brene Brown – all of them brilliant and comforting – but yours were the ones that resonated the most. Not only did you lessen our pain, but you provided a road-map for how to get through the toughest of times. I feel beyond blessed that she seems to have figured out a path that works for her, and your writing was a big part of us finding it.

    1. Thank you so much for this, K. I have copies and pasted it in my self-esteem file. I am so very touched by your words. And that’s some pretty good company to be in! Pema Chodron, Tara Brach, Brene Brown! 🙂 May your daughter continue to do well! t

  14. Kathy

    You are a true miracle for me tonight. I went to prison because of my depression-the book that led me to the only thread that kept me sane was Man’s Search for Meaning” I hung on! and now I see, in your own words that it landed in your life at the right time as well. I am now out and searching for opportunities to be there for others—do you have any idea the number of depressed women out there?? For me it started at 17 with a diagnosed “hormonal imbalance”…thus it began. I am blessed to have found this site tonight. Suicide is not an option-tried so many times and it is just not going to happen-Honestly I am not lucky enough to die-so I am trying hard to practice acceptance. My depression is a part of me. I will not allow it to define me, but oh my goodness how tired I am of “fake it till you make it”. To my new support system/my new lifeline. Thank you. I hope that by sharing my experiences I may too say just the right thing to get someone through another tough moment. Bless you all.

  15. Kate B

    I just reread this piece and I am so pained…I don’t know how you can suffer to help others. I am breaking and I don’t know how you do it. I am greatful for you and GBB and Project GBB.

  16. Jodi

    You nailed it! You articulated my depression story and probably the tale of most who so struggle. I couldn’t stop reading until the very last word. I have found myself repeating these medication, meditation, holistic cycles throughout my 60 something years of life. I too found peace in at least using my misery to help ease another’s pain. Facilitating NAMI support groups has kept me alive. Being the one who listens to the tears and heartaches when no one else can tolerate this minefield of emotions. Thank you, thank you for describing depression so perfect in it frankness. I can finally make some sense of my existence and WILL live.

  17. Thomas Furlong

    Wow Therese! I joined two days ago, and just read your story. You just told my story, sort of. I’ve always felt inadequate, and I drank to overcome it, much earlier than you though. I started drinking every weekend, during high school, weekend warrior. After some trouble with drinking, I’ve seen my share of therapists, councilors and psychologists. Early on, I remember, one of them said I had a tendency to feel (be) down, and if I wanted any kind of a normal life, to continue counseling. Well that sounded too much like following direction. I think I knew that, and that I was alcoholic. By this time I was addicted to this weekend party life style. I learned how to maintain myself, mostly, through three marriages, and decades. In and out of drinking and using, pot was my drug of choice, I put together 7, and 4 1/2 yrs. respectfully. Then a couple of one yrs. and 15 months. After a couple knee surgeries, and a back spasm, pain meds. always took me back out. Depression seemed to get worse over the years. I tried Lexapro, and it’s precursor before it, and something else. I didn’t like the idea of meds. though. So I just quit taking the Lexapro, and did my own research online about diet and exercise, quitting wheat seemed to help, as well as exercise and supplements. They actually worked well. But not totally. I’d had my lazy moments where I wouldn’t do any of my maintenance, and noticed a significant change. Kind of downhill fast. Now it seems that I cycle in and out of depression, like weekly. Oh, and by the way, I do not recommend that anybody quits their meds, abruptly. Not a good feeling at all, like it’s electrical, a storm of sorts. I grew up secular, and so I tried religion, for a year or so. That didn’t work. Now it’s just a maintenance program, that includes diet, supplements and exercise, works for the most part. I’m still here. However, I did quit my job of seventeen years, in kind of a perfect storm moment, in July of 2012. Kind of spiraling now, with new events happening, like weekly, foreclosure, no car, no job. Seems pretty hopeless at times. I have two great daughters, that I can’t imagine doing the ultimate stupid thing too, but I think about it, a lot. I could go on, but I’m not sure this is the right forum, for it. Anyway, I don’t know where I’m going with this, maybe this my reach out?

  18. Actually the solution comes at the end of your story…total submission to the will of God…not the manmade god in any holy books but the prime mover in the universe…generator, operator, destroyer…GOD. You won’t find that in churches or therapy because it is not the American way. You might say it is the Buddhist way…doing by not doing…floating down the river of life knowing there is only a water fall at the end beyond which we cannot see…think you can handle that? I call it theofatalism…I wrote a trilog about it if you would be interested…Theofatalism.

  19. Monique

    It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it, Therese. Wow. Your writing is at once lucid, poetic, straightforward, honest and so admiringly introspective. You are truly a gift to so many of us. God bless you. Thank you for your work which is of paramount importance. XO

  20. Mary Dubuc

    Your story is much like mine although I started as a child with this huge empathetic heart and that has made my entire life devoted to trying so hard to make sure no one suffered the pain I had suffered. Everything from pretending I had been in their shoes …. I tripped all the time just like the girl in my 1st grade class (everyone had made fun of her so I would comfort all the outcasts and pretend I was clumsier or dumber anything I could do so they wouldn’t have to feel the heartfelt pain I had endured.) I have spent my whole life experiencing such unbelievable trauma after trauma that I can’t grasp as if I was suppose to, so I would have the answer for any situation just to sooth other people’s pain. Until it caught up with me through all kinds of weird health issues and been dead twice from doctor’s overdoses of morphine, sponge left in me after a c-section of the birth of my 3rd child. To have then have complications after complications all resulting in a total of supposed to have died I believe the number of times I have been given last rights or not survived the count is up to SEVEN. I could go on bottom line I am 57 and have Celiac Disease, and something the doctors aren’t finding because I am overweight but .malnourished, losing my hair, absorbing no nutrients. I was bleeding internally from a hyhenai hernia for over five years and missed diagnosed as bipolar disorder. Lost everything I worked for for over thirty years (oh that was raising 5 kids counting my husband by myself, making $250,000.00 a year working out of my beautiful modest Victorian home and giving over a $100,000.00 a year away to help others buy prescriptions, food, clothing, and even a house to a couple with 4 kids that youngest with cancer. I lost 10 rental properties, our own home, cars and a retirement fund with my Mortgage business because of the severe anemia.) I knew I was dying but they said I was bipolar. My youngest son with a brain injury was the only one that knew his mom was dying, so on March 31st 2008 he carried me to the car at 1:30 am and drove me to the hospital. when I arrived in the emergency room everyone working there how do you send me andwhen I arrived in the emergency room everyone working there was sent to my room where my Doctor told my son to go home and get his father. Suddenly I had pints of blood going in both arms, I had to swallow a tube that went into my stomach and was told by my doctor that I had waited too long to go to the hospital, said I was technically dead as I had to have a nine pint transfusion only had less than 24hrs. Left if I had not got to the hospital, then went on to tell me to say my good byes as I only had a 3% chance of survival from the large transfusion I needed. That was #7 (should have died) I sustained damage to all my major organs due to the long severe anemia. More and more to the story but now bottom line I am tired of fighting for my depressed life so I sleep. Thanks for listening to a tiny bit of my story of my life.

  21. marilyn

    after reading all the replys, thru tears, I know I am lucky, thou I think my depression is medication resistant, I used to cry at sunsets, when I was a child, and I didn’t know why, I had horrible headaches, so my mom cut my waist length hair, that my dad was so proud of, I have planned my end so many times, and I look forward to being in Heaven with God, because there will be no pain or depression anymore, but somehow I keep on going, I also have a daughter with bipolar disorder and anger issues, I find it very hard to live with her, but I have no choice, she couldn’t make it without me, either financially or mentally.

    1. sherlyn

      Are you okay? I just now saw your post. I don’t know what’s going on, but know None of my story…this is about you. You matter. Please be safe….I love you sight unseen.

    2. Katherine

      Thank you for sharing this story
      Hearing others battle with depression helps one another feel stronger in that we are not alone.At least for me it is. As if depression not enough to is the fight for dignity and fairness in a often ignorant and judgemental world.even sadder I’s the medical and legal community who have yet to learn the value of our lives.and the harm done by them to many who suffer. It is my hope that not only may we help one another in this
      Community, but also expect some insight and compassion from those who ar e. responsible as paid Proffessionals to not discrimate and give best of Care and do no more harm
      May my prayers of hope surround you through your trials.

  22. Jim

    Hi Therese,
    Your story has given me great inspiration to continually reach down deep inside and although my severe depression reigns over me, at least I can find a way not to be completely crippled by my condition.
    I have been on almost every type of anti-depressant except for MAOIs which I will not take.
    I am reaching to rediscover my faith in God and take comfort in the power of prayer.
    Thank you Therese for translating your depression into powerful help and hope for me and for all of the other people struggling with this lifelong condition

  23. Julie

    Dear Therese: 5-11-15

    Please know that your “using your pain for service” is literally helping save lives. Never forget that your efforts ARE making a difference. They are making a difference in “my” life.

    In the footsteps of author Susan Rose Blauner, I am fighting to “stay alive when my brain is trying to kill me”.

    Your following two essays offer more wisdom, comfort, understanding, guidance, encouragement and hope than anything I have encountered in the last 30+ years:

    -10 Things I Do Every Day to Beat Depression

    -The Life-Saving Power of Purpose

    I am 43 years old, female, never married, without children, hold bachelors and masters degrees, was once employed by Fortune-500 companies, now legally disabled, illness forced me to return to my childhood home to live with my parents 6 years ago. I am a survivor of complex trauma. PTSD, Treatment-Resistant Depression, Panic Disorder, plus OCD plague my existence every waking moment. A psychiatrist whom I have been blessed with now for over 20 years has unequivocally kept me alive thus far.

    Thank you Therese, so very much, for continuing to “use your pain for service”. I am forever grateful for your efforts.

    1. Thank you, Julie. I so appreciate your comment. I’m so sorry that it is so difficult for you. It doesn’t seem fair. You sound like a true survivor, and I will keep you in my prayers each day. t

  24. Tom

    Dear Therese, like so many that you’ve heard from for so long, I’ve had my struggles with depression, which for me evolved out of my childhood and the tragedies I tried to deal with equipped with only the coping skills of an average 5-9 year old. I was fortunate to find a way, after decades of trials and tribulations, treatments and medication, to mediate the negativity that depression pours over our lives with an acceptance of the fact that this is just how my life has been, that it’s no one’s fault but that I have to ability to work through it. I recently had fairly serious spinal surgery that put me flat on my back. My depression came back with a vengeance. It was the first time in over 40 years that I was away from work for more than a week’s vacation. It was the first time ever that I had to rely on my children (all of whom are still in college) to help look after me. It was the first time that my wife was in charge of me. Once that I left the hospital and my trusty morphine pump, I found myself in a constant stupor due to the pain meds that I continued to take, and about all I could do was travel between my bed and the bathroom. Sleep was my solace, my best friend and as I soon understood my eventual weakness. I decided to wean myself off the pain meds, which was painful (duh!) but necessary, and within two weeks of my surgery I was getting up, getting dressed, walking around the house and even in the backyard though most of the time I had the good sense to just rest on the recliner while watching TV. Ironically, as I started recovering physically, I fell into a complete funk emotionally. It was so bad that I would cry for no reason and felt most of the time like a worthless do-nothing. Nothing mattered, nothing made sense, I had lost all purpose. It was pure depression that repeatedly took me back to the old days where I had the “opportunity” to relive all the tragedies and deal with all the demons that I had (I thought) left behind. My forced time of inactivity was horrible, and as a diversion I went to the Internet to see whether I was the only person ever to suffer this sort of post-surgical depression. That’s when I found your article published in August 2011. It immediately cleared the way for me to understand where I was, what was wrong and what could do about it. I don’t remember your exact words but the message for me was that when you’re forced to abandon the busyness of your life, be prepared to face the pain, the frailties and maybe the demons that you’ve shoved aside or buried under a life of constant motion. My recliner, my bed, my too many hours of sleep forced me to stop and stand still long enough for my old “stuff” to come flooding back and overtaking me. That was last week. I’ll be OK as I work my way through this transition because your message put my depression in context. I’ll be taking some time out (since I’m on a forced time-out anyway) to see the changes I need to make in my life. What could have been a miserable attack of depression is quietly becoming a time for healing and change thanks to your work. I wish I had the skills to reciprocate, Thank you for being who you are and doing what you do. Tom

  25. Truth

    You are such a brave, intelligent, articulate, and compassionate individual. You have obviously, based on the testimonials posted here, helped so many people through your books and your blog. You have been proactive, doing everything that I can think of that can possibly be done to achieve stability, stop the death thoughts, and find peace. You are amazing.
    You write that you came to “accept” that you were “treatment resistant” and might not “respond” to any of the medications, having tried about 50 and more than 40 combinations, sometimes drugged into a stupor on antipsychotics, referring to the “Russian Roulette” behind ingesting psychiatric drugs. What about accepting that there is something seriously useless about these drugs and the fact that they do not work?

    Not having read much yet on your blog, I am not sure what view you have of the latest books by people like Joanna Moncrieff (The Myth of the Chemical Cure) and articles by Peter Gotzsche which point to the dangerous nature of these largely neurotoxic chemicals and the myths suggesting they “treat” any of the so-called “disorders” voted into the notorious DSM by a group of psychiatrists using checklists of paint by number “symptoms”.
    More and more doctors and medical research scientists and journalists suggest that the drugs have little advantage over placebos, no proven efficacy, cause more harm than good, simply have psychotropic effects like blunting or energizing and ultimately CREATE disturbances in the brain. What if all these drugs have contributed to your struggles, ultimately propelling you into a state of more chronic illness?

    Does it seem reasonable to “treat” people with dangerous chemicals with the potential to CAUSE psychosis, agitation, panic, depression,hallucinations, tardive dyskinesia, homicidal or suicidal ideation, bipolar mania, etc. (in addition to diabetes, high blood pressure, weight gain, hyperlipidemia, gynecomastia,kidney failure, etc.), which is then “treated” with MORE of these drugs?
    Which then often results in these “treatment resistant” seriously terrified and sick individuals signing up for ECT.
    The fact that someone as educated and intelligent as you would “sign up” to be put on a waiting list for ECT shows the degree to which psychiatry has been able to PR package a barbaric assault that causes brain damage as a valid “medical treatment”. It isn’t. It is causing multiple traumatic closed injuries to a delicate brain that runs on micro volts, pounding it with 400 volts each time, damaging the frontal lobes and resulting in grand mal seizures. Treating a compromised or hurting brain by assaulting and con-cussing it, breaching the blood brain barrier, causing petichial hemorrhages, inducing amnesia and cognitive dysfunction is a “treatment” endorsed by NAMI and the APA? Why?? Because it makes a tidy profit of about $5 billion a year and psychiatrists who have no real tools or the ability to treat the majority of distressed people feel they need to have something they can offer??
    Head concussions are never good: look at the outcome for many football and hockey players. But a “doctor” who pledges to “first do no harm” will assault and injure some poor pregnant woman or grandma with depression with ECT? And, as we learn anesthetics even given short term injure the brain and can increase risk for Alzheimer’s as can ECT, along with the risk of developing spontaneous epileptic seizures, I cannot but hope you avoid ever considering or having this done to your unique, brilliant, lovely brain. There is no benefit to be had and so many memories and IQ points to lose. The thousands and thousands of people whose lives have been destroyed by ECT actually believed they had “researched it” or “read up on it”. But with hospitals and doctors claiming it is “safe and effective”, desperate patients who would agree to the removal of an arm with a rusty spoon for a chance at relief, are being seriously lied to and misinformed. “Waiting lists” to receive brain injury? Horrifying.

  26. Colleen

    Therese, you should be nominated for a Nobel Prize.

    I thought I was alone in my daily “death thoughts” and other unrelenting streams of terrifying things that go on in my brain, despite a lifetime of treatment attempts. When I read your piece where you say your biggest daily struggle is to not take your own life, I knew I had met a kind of soul mate.

    How you are able to do the tremendous, literally life-saving work you do when I know how hard it is to just open your eyes in the morning, like it often is for me, is truly miraculous. You are clearly a channel for a Higher Power/Greater Intelligence.

    With much gratitude, I wish you peace!!

    1. Therese Borchard

      Thank you, Colleen! Many days, my work really helps. Other day …. well, it’s a struggle. Hang in there!

  27. Rick Ferraro

    Therese I have read and re-read your story many times. Each time I do I find some new insite and inspiration. We are fortunate to have you as an incredible source of inspiration. Thank you!

  28. Annie

    Hi Therese,
    Thank you for sharing your struggles-your words are both courageous and beautiful. I’ve been struggling for many years and a few years ago I finally sought help. I’ve since been diagnosed with PTSD, anxiety and depression. Oddly enough, my diagnoses and recounting some harrowing life experiences led me to stop eating and to drink heavily–I have hoped for death many times to escape such unbearable pain. I’ve immersed myself in studying trauma in graduate school and have hung onto the words of all those you mention (Frankl, Tara Brach, Brene Brown as well as a few others…Elie Wiesel, Judy Herman…even the biblical suffering of Job) I’m working hard and not drinking now but thoughts of suicide constantly plague me–I feel guilty for failing
    my three beautiful children and for failing to embrace the wonderful life I have been given. I’m not sure I have the strength to make it through this incredible struggle.

    1. Inga

      You have more strength than you believe. Don’t give up! Every new day may bring a new solution.
      Step by step. May you be happy, healthy and safe!

  29. Inga

    Thank you so much Therese, for your support.
    You are an angel. May you find inner strength to go on! Step by step. The fact that you keep strong gives strength to so many people! Thank you!

  30. Gabriel Castro

    Nobody told me that my High School graduation day would be the day when I felt the dumbest of all: What now??? What do I really want??? What purpose is there and to whom and why???? I never voiced that thought, but it was real and it landed as I walked away after the cap air toss was concluded. Immediately. Not one soul knew what I thought and how I felt.

    I Went through the cycle of Catholicism, Relativism, Agnosticism, Atheism, Reform Theology, Baptist Theology, Catholic Theology, Erasmic method of reasoning understanding the spiritual logic in the Bible. College meant 1000 + options, with the most self absorbed and the most flippant and the most indifferent and the most engaging for social justice human beings … ALL IN ONE CAMPUS!!!!! I discovered what Cults do and can do and can damage. Getting married met with the greatest surprise of it all: Added Confusion!!!!

    My family tree consists of thiefs, alcoholics, homosexuals, cheaters, liars, adulterers, wealthy, poor, loving, users, winners loosers, mockers, prima donnas and careless ones, virtuous, self made, government dependents, political party dependents, I mean, could there possibly be any more dysfunction in a family tree??? The only thing missing in my family tree: I cannot name. There was confusion everywhere. I never was the type to “fake reality”. It was real or it was not. Period. So, what is real???

    I appreciate your personal story Therese Borchard and your willingness to share. Truth be told, we live in a world that does not know how to teach, show, instruct, and demonstrate the difference between a dream/goal and reality. You “hit the nail on the head” as we say here in the South by showing that where there is joy, peace, it can be in the midst of sorrow and pain. That association can only be understood in the material world, which is what we have been brought up to believe is the beginning and the end. It is not true. There is joy , peace, righteousness because we also live in or are surrounded by a world full of sorrow, fear, and unfairness.

    My moment of truth came when I realized total surrender is of essence. I opted for the one track record that still stands the test of time, as Erasmus put it in logical terms to understand spiritual reality that is eternal and the world and life where we also experience enlightment for the progress in the world we live in where both, spiritual reality and empirical logical progress do not contradict each other. I have experienced that psychology can explain human behavior and theology explain human nature. So, If you will, I will share the breaking agent in my life in the following:

  31. Ken Reddig

    Having experienced sexual abuse as a young boy I did not tell anyone about it until I was 60 years of age. I lived with anger and tons of depression. I attempted to end my life numerous times and about 6 years ago entered a mental hospital for a total of 6 weeks. I came out of there on the road to recovery. Today i live recovery oriented and share my story across Canada. I have presented my story in schools, churches, at mental health conferences and even fund-raising banquets. I can send it to you if you wish.

  32. Emm Jubo

    This speaks directly to my soul this evening. Besides the cocktail of medications you mention, I have tried everything you named to “fix” myself. Nothing ever works completely. I’ve also thought, maybe once I get my gut fixed or my thyroid under control or I take the perfect mix of natural supplements this will all finally go away. I have felt this way for as long as I can remember. The death thoughts never go away, you just learn to ignore them and keep going.
    I recently began working for a non-profit behavioral health center, and instead of feeling like I’m making a difference, I feel more inadequate than I have in a decade at a place of employment. I’ve worked so hard on a graduate degree in mental health and have always wanted to become a professional counselor and I’m rethinking all of it this evening. Even those pesky death thoughts came to mind. The lovely faulty thinking that I try and help others with, has taken a good grip on me. Never smart enough or good enough. The strong personalities around me always win because I don’t want to compete. I just want to help others.
    Thank you so much for this beautifully written and raw article reminding us that we are all human, and these ups and downs are all a part of the great scheme of things.

  33. Aysha

    Hi Therese,
    I’m wondering if you’ve ever worried about your children (daughter mainly) being effected by everything you go through..? So sorry to ask it’s a horrible question I hope you don’t ruminate over my suggestion of it if you’ve never thought of it it’s just I need to ask someone in the hope someone will relate and talk with me about it..
    I’m separated from my husband, 4 or so years ago I suffered memories of things that scared me to death, I thought death was the enth degree but being alive and terrified out of your own skin is far worse and regardless of who or what others do I firmly believe that I wouldn’t want to wish what I experienced on any person whoever they may be.
    I got no help. I knew not getting the right help meant a disastrous thing, the aftermath of the memories etc with no real help and some help I received being damaging caused the issues to double, cause more issues etc etc
    All I worry about is my daughter, that she will be happy, strong, able to make choices, free of severe insecurity and live a relatively normal life.
    I am always stuck between – if I got real help she would have a great mother with so many great and beautiful things to offer and putting up with the unhelpful environment I live in (small country town mentality and lack of resources) makes me think come on Aysha, the world needs to change it’s not all you pull yourself up and out and see this..
    Then I think but I could set her free by letting her live with her dad and saving her from a possible future where she has to deal with the repercussions of what was an unfair fate for her mum, no help and a strong desire to get help that went unfulfilled but by default was an unfair circumstance for her causing depression and anxiety.
    She is 7 and is the love of my life, I absolutely adore her more than I can express but because of the close mindedness here the gossip around my issues, the treatment I’ve received and of course my own panic anxiety and depression (which is exacerbated due to the environment) I’ve watched her go from an adventurous child to a shy anxious child that people draw attention to which breaks my heart !
    I also know that her anxiety etc may not be my fault and could be the separation and other things and this makes me think what if I make the wrong decision and it was all anxious thinking exacerbated by living in an unhealthy space and I change our lives and send her to her dads…
    I go back and fourth and back and fourth not knowing what I should do, knowing that her anxiety is not just me but does that matter when the cards are stacked against me and I’ve no support…
    I would love your thoughts

  34. Danielle

    Hi Therese. I just want to thank you so much for sharing your story, and I honestly believe it just saved my life. I remember having my first suicidal thought at the age of 8. And at that moment I knew something had shifted inside. I had persistent suicidal thoughts again at the age of 15. And now that I am about to turn 28, I feel that suicide is the only option. And then I read your article on Everyday Health titled “What Suicidal Depression Feels Like” which led me to your website and eventually to your about page. You are someone whose story I relate to, who has found some sort of meaning out of all the chaos and has endured, and that gives me so much hope in a time when the word hope does not even exist. The thoughts are incessant. I’ve never encountered these thoughts on this magnitude and the only reason I am living is that I know my mother would not survive if I ended my life, and that there is someone such as yourself who survived and is finding meaning and purpose because of it. So thank you for sharing your story, because in this moment I have hope that there might be more. Your story has lessened my pain. I am sorry that you had to feel all of it, because I know that I would never wish this on my worst enemy. Thank you again for sharing, because I don’t know what I would have done otherwise. You have given me hope and strength. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  35. Mike Flood

    Therese –
    I’m very lucky – I don’t have a mood disorder. However, I’m very unlucky also – my family has been touched (or perhaps more precisely blasted) by depression and bipolar disorder. As a relative and friend of too many struggling people, I SO appreciate your willingness to share your life experiences and extremely insightful perspectives. You have helped so many people. Please don’t stop – ever!