Over the weekend, my husband and I participated in a marriage retreat. We were given many writing assignments. The last one was to answer the question “Why do I want to go on living?” The following is what I wrote.
Three months ago, I sat at this same desk, in a small, private room at Bon Secours Retreat and Conference Center in Marriottsville, Maryland. While I wasn’t actively suicidal, I no longer wanted to live — my mind was caught in repetitive fantasies of death. I was desperate to find a means of relieving the excruciating pain and escape my inner torment. I considered hospitalization, but knew that I didn’t belong there since I could keep myself safe. Unlike depressive episodes in my past with clear, physiological symptoms, my suffering was more psychological in nature. It was associated with bleeding old wounds, with reconciling regrets and analyzing tapes of self-hatred, with feeling the sharp pangs that happen when you come to consciousness and self-awareness. A five-day stay in an inpatient psych unit, unfortunately, couldn’t smooth my graveled road to self-growth.
Three days of silence
Instead of hospitalization, I gave myself the gift of a three-day silent retreat. The quiet, the spiritual direction, the hiatus from my responsibilities, and the change of scenery allowed for deep self-reflection. I asked myself the same question then: Why do I want to keep on living? However, to arrive at the answer, I needed to begin with the more obvious question, Why do I want so badly to die?
The truth is that I didn’t want to die. I just wanted a reprieve from the pain. It was as if I held in my core a massive knot of despair. My initial task was to identify the locus of the hurt and tease it apart into mini knots of distress before I could begin to soothe my anguish. I asked myself a series of questions I have been dodging most of my life: Why do I hate myself so much? What am I running from and why? Who am I? Who do I want to become?
Answering them entailed peeling off old scabs and disinfecting the wounds with an antiseptic. There was no way around the sting of the cleansing process. In those three days and in the months preceding it, I rolled over the rocks of trauma, inquired into my dysfunctional behavior patterns, and examined my self-bashing tapes. I walked around with exposed wounds, feeling the raw loneliness, abandonment, shame, and anger associated with them. I allowed myself to feel the very real pain that I avoided as a young girl and teenager, the ache that led to addictions and distractions in my adult years.
A bridge over troubled waters
Then I considered the first question: Why do I want to keep on living? I peered out my window and gazed at the beautiful copper footbridge over a reflecting pond with koi fish. It reminded much so much of the campus of Saint Mary’s College. Almost 25 years ago, Eric proposed to me at the gazebo overlooking the St. Joseph River on that campus. A year later we exchanged our vows at the Church of Our Lady of Loretto by the gazebo. I remembered the wedding photos we took on a footbridge at Saint Mary’s that resembled the one I was looking at.
I thought about the commencement address I delivered at Saint Mary’s, where a crowd of about 4,000 people gathered on the lawn outside LeMans Hall, not too far from the footbridge. I urged the graduating seniors to learn from their failures, to let God fill in their cracks of imperfection, to have the courage to be themselves even when doing so feels uncomfortable, and to risk rejection in order to pursue their dreams. As I stood at the podium, I remember feeling fully alive, like I was doing exactly was I was created to do. It was ten minutes that proved “I was more than I thought I could be,” as the lyrics of “One Moment in Time” say. I recall looking out into the audience and seeing the smiles of Eric, David, and Katherine.
That, in essence, summed up my reasons for wanting to live: my family and my vocation to inspire others.
Why I want to go on living
I believe coincidences are God’s way of getting your attention. It makes sense, then, that Eric and I would wind up in the same room that I stayed in three months ago when I was so despondent. As I attempt to answer the question today, many of my reasons for wanting to live are the same.
I want to be an example of hope to my kids, to my husband, and to my readers. I want to be a living testament to the light that comes after darkness. I want my life to be consistent with my belief that the sun never disappears – it’s just tucked behind the clouds at times — and that it is always darkest before dawn. I don’t want to quit on the thousands of readers I have heard from in the last 12 years, thanking me for hope and inspiration. I don’t want one desperate moment to erase my life’s work and invalidate my overriding message of courage and perseverance.
I want to be an active participant in my kids’ future. I want to see David and Katherine graduate from college, to be a mother of the bride and groom, and to hold my grandchildren in my arms – preferably in that order.
I want to be an instrument of God’s peace, a reconciling force in other people’s relationships. I want to share my journey of self-empowerment with readers, offering some companionship and insight for healing from trauma, recovering from addiction, and persisting through the painful process of self-discovery to a place of calm and self-compassion. I want to offer balm to those who wish to heal old wounds of self-hatred.
I want to live boldly. I want to feel alive in everything I do and say. I want to dance like no one is watching, write like no one is reading, speak like no one is listening. I want to compose original music with my words and actions, mastering my own balance between silence and sound, to be less afraid of singing in my own voice.
This weekend has added another reason for me to live, inspired by the spilling of guts between Eric and me and the exchange of true intimacy.
I want to experience the kind of radical, illogical, and terrifying love between two people who risk everything to be vulnerable to each other. I want to take a crazy gamble and trust another human being with my whole heart, holding the shattered pieces of that heart in my hand should it break to pieces. I want to trash everything I was taught about the need to protect oneself in a relationship and see what happens if I throw away my back-up plan. I want to move past the fear and trepidation that gets in the way of commitment, and want to love another human being as best I can. I want to inspire other women whose pain prevents intimacy, and want to be an example of loving boldly.
Ask yourself the same question. Why do you want to go on living?
O, so wonderful! So honest, good, and so Therese. I love that you still write with your indestructible humor (“… preferably in that order.”) You ARE an example of hope. Dance like no one is watching, girl, dance like that when people ARE watching. Love ya, Therese. — Mike
How could the timing of this post be so amazing? I was so seriously asking myself that very question this morning. Is the pain worth the limited satisfaction?
This was not the “winter blues” talking…it was my bruised soul. The birds are actually singing outside but the clouds encircled my head and smothered what should have been joy.
What I am about to tell you is the Greatest Miracle of my 70 years. No imagination or magical thinking” here. I was crying, asking myself how to escape this life. My adopted daughter saw the pain and offered to do anything, Anything to Help.
Animals have been my lifesavers over the years so she opted to bring me one of our friendly outdoor bunnies to hold. For me, holding an animal and connecting with their simple and innocent spirits is pure therapy.
So she brought big gray Jessica, who lept into my arms and settled in for a serious snuggle. But my daughter noticed something unusual in their cage and went back to check. SHE RETURNED WITH BABIES. The males and females are in separate cages and such a thing just could Not have happened. They were soft and beautiful and had just opened their eyes. They were a mysterious, tangible, undeniable symbol of hope to hold in my wrinkled hands. They were completely relaxed and calm and their peace invaded my very being. Our new male cat jumped on the bed and purred while they crawled over and around him with absolute trust.
Then they were put back with their Bunny Mom and I scan my phone. There is your wonderful article waiting. And yes, I have a reason to live. God sent me Therese and Baby Bunnies on this day and I sufficient hope to keep up the fight.
Wow Therese, this post reaĺly grabbed at my heart and hung on because this is a question I have struggled with for the past 30 plus years and maybe all my life. But most of all as I went through therapy and uncovered repressed memories of the real depravity of human nature even among Christian communities and where a child should feel the safest, in her own family and extended family.
I have been a Christian since I wad 41/2 years old and had utter faith and trust in God as my Father and Jesus as my Saviour that nothing bad would happen to me. What i did not know then what that it had already been happening to me at night and my nighttime parts held those memories keeping the daytime parts safe from them. Until the abuse began to leak into the daytime as well when more new parts had to be created.
I was very blessed to have the support and counsel of a wonderful Godly Christian man who showed me true Christian love by taking my suicidal calls very late at night and talking me down for 2 hours or more until 2am or later. He repeatedly told me how much God loved me, even the damaged broken parts of me and would have me look up passages of familiar Scripture with him to reinforce it. He was never judgemental when I was self harming. Not lot like my housemate, who wad a GP or my own GP, who would get impatient with me when they had to patch up the deep cuts on my arms. It got to the point where I just took care of them myself so that I didn’t gave to keep saying I didn’t KNOW why I hurt myself. But that made them more angry.
I did not know till just recently that this wonderful man had sacrificed hours of sleep to listen and talk to me all those nights as he had to be up before 5am to catch the train into the city to work. Yet he never said anything and never complained and NEVER rushed me off the phone. He was my angel sent from God who saved my life.
All those years of being on very high doses of pain meds and antidepressants were very nearly the end of me last year. I came so closeto ending it all as I was taking myself off one of my long-term pain meds that had caused a lot of health issues over the tears but had been a life saver when I was in so much physical pain from remembering the abuse. To top it off the best counsellor I have ever had had to retire sick very suddenly before I got the chance to say goodbye and I was left floundering with only a very good Crisis Line for support. I am finally off the pain meds and it has made an enormous difference to my life physically and emotionally. I have been able to reduce my antidepressants in the last few months as well as all my other shorter acting pain meds and gave never felt happier in my life before.
But I begin therapy with a new Psychologist today to finish off the work left incomplete last year, so I will have to see how I go for the next few months. The suicidal thoughts are always there lurking in the background along with the words spoken so long ago “useless, worthless, hopeless individual” which have always defined me until I decided “no more”.
I am not sure if I will ever be able to give up on therapy and the sound of going on silent retreats is wonderful to me. I would love to be able to go somewhere just for a break from the noise and clutter of my life but the financial and physical cost at the moment is just too high.
Thank you Therese for your honesty and openness.
This is a truly amazing post. And, yes, so timely! February is that time of the year, just before the resurrecting Spring kicks in, when the night feels darkest and the winter feels coldest. Regaining hold of one’s own meaning for going on with life could mean the whole difference between being or not being. Thank you Therese!
Therese I am so thankful for you and all of your beautifully written articles! You put into words what so many people think and feel, but may not be able to articulate. So many times while reading what you have written I’ve thought ‘that’s it, that’s what I’ve been feeling!’ or ‘oh my gosh that happened to me too!’. Your openness and honesty are so refreshing and inspiring. And as a fellow practicing Catholic I can also relate to the good and bad that come with a lifetime of our Faith.
I’m so sorry that you and so many others deal with this debilitating condition! My depression is linked to chronic pain after 12 spine surgeries and an almost totally fused spine. The only levels unfused are the occipital to the C-1, and C-1 to C-2. While I was recuperating from surgeries my wonderful husband disappeared and had some other issues, and was diagnosed with bipolar 1. His condition has been very much medicine resistant for the past 10 years.
Thank you for letting us know we’re not alone out here! You are such a wonderful person to be so public with your fight to help the rest of us.
LOVE YOU!!! I think you might appreciate a book by Lysa Terkeurst, It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way. I love the descriptions she gives of wrestling between 2 gardens, the original one in Eden, and the One to come in Glory, (or however it theologically really is…). The point is that here is the wrestle, the knowing there is a PERFECTION we are longing for but is completely elusive here, with moments and touches of the divine that keep us wrestling for HIS truth and Love…. and Purity… and HOPE! Yet we encounter the depths of despair in the midst of the 2 gardens, and can only move forward KNOWING why we choose to LIVE…. I know I have said this here before, my 25 year old daughter, states it takes FAITH daily, and He (our dear LORD!!) is worth it and I believe she is learning, that so is SHE!!!
I loved this posting. Therese, please keep writing and sharing …. and hoping and believing and praying.
May the Lord continue to bless you. I have read and shared your book(s), blog, etc.
You helped me. You have helped those to whom I shared you. May you receive blessings as you have been a blessing. Peace, G
Thank you for putting in words the way I and many others sometimes feel and also providing wonderful reasons for keeping on this journey called life. Blessings, Jon
Therese, I have reached many goals in life and today, most of them ring quite hollow to me. I don’t have a positive response to your question. I am tired. So tired. And while not actively suicidal, it’s more of passive ideation. I have many titles: daughter, sister, mother, friend, teacher, professor, confident. And yet, I have no idea who I really am and see very little in my future of any import. It’s a sort of Laisse Faire attitude. I go through the motions, taking my meds, going to work, taking care of my elderly parents. But honestly, when they are gone, I feel my time will have no clear purpose. I have no “Why”. How can I ever get it back?
Hi Lisa. I have the exact same feelings as you. I am STILL looking for a way to accept myself and find a way to live in this world. To find a life worth living. I am 57 years old and its so easy to just want to give up. I struggle daily with self worth and emptiness. I am on disability for my mental illness and am trying to find purpose…comfort…anything to feel alive and not worthless. I, too, am caring for my elderly mother..so feel like my life is on hold. I wish you well. You seem to be dealing with a lot. I love and hear you sister.
Therese, You are a beacon of infinite hope, love, and care. I have been following you for a few years now. Your words have inspired and uplifted me.
I also went to Saint Mary’s and felt it’s spirit-seeking and strength-lending.
Much gratitude is sent your way.
I wish you some of the strength that Saint Mary’s offered and great love to carry on.
I will use these ideas for my own struggle too.