Things That Keep Me Going

As a follow-up to my last post on chronic suicidality, I thought I’d mention some of the things that have kept me going over the years.

1) Poetry

I’m like Hermione—when life throws you lemons, go to the library. Except that it’s hard to find books that have anything helpful to say. I’ve read my share and more of self-help books, and they’re almost all completely stupid—they don’t really speak to the experience of utter despair. There are some books on depression that I’ve found to be worth reading, though they can be hard to find. I prefer memoirs, accounts of people who’ve actually experienced it. But what’s helped me the most, honestly, is poetry. Mary Oliver in particular has a way of re-connecting me with what matters in life, of making me see things differently, without being cheesy or sentimental. For example, “The Journey”:

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice – – –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
‘Mend my life!’
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations – – –
though their melancholy
was terrible. It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.

But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice,
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do– – –

determined to save
the only life you could save.

2) Family and Friends

I can’t really overstate this. Having people in my life who’ve been there through the hard times and who will talk about hard things has been a lifesaver. Figuring out the boundaries of those relationships isn’t always easy. Dealing with suicidal people can be challenging—I know that all too well, as I’ve been on both sides of those relationships. And I have to be honest and say that I’ve done some pretty messed-up things over the years when I was feeling desperate, that at times I’ve gotten overly and unfairly dependent on people. I have a lot of regret around that. The best that I can say is that I hope I’m learning to do better with that. It helps to have a good therapist (more on that in a minute). But I do have a deep appreciation for all the many, many people who’ve made a difference. People who’ve visited me in the hospital, who’ve let me spend the night at their house when things were bad, who’ve sent me encouraging messages, who’ve listened and listened, who’ve made me laugh—the list goes on. My siblings in particular have been stellar. I’m actually not in the hospital right now because my therapist suggested that I instead go stay with my brother for a while.

3) Little Things

Something I’ve learned over the years is that when you’re desperately trying to find a way to keep going, you don’t necessarily need deep, life-changing reasons, which can take a lot of time to develop. Sometimes you just have to work with what you have. For example, I remember being in a particularly bad place in the fall of 2003, but I never would have done anything because I couldn’t wait to see Return of the King. That might sound bizarre but in talking to lots of suicidal people over the years, I’ve been really struck how often it’s small things like that that tip the balance.

4) Therapy

Especially after the last few years, which have involved my working with lots and lots of different mental health professionals, I’m a bit of a skeptic about our mental health system. There are a lot of people in it who, quite frankly, have no idea what they’re doing. Finding a good therapist is no easy task. But 12 years ago, I walked into a postgraduate training clinic (selected for no other reason than its sliding scale), and was randomly assigned to someone who turned out to be an excellent match for me. Therapy has been a real game-changer. I don’t know where I would be without it. My therapist has been there through all kinds of craziness, and after over a decade of working with me, probably knows me better than anyone on the planet.

5) Procrastination

I mentioned this in my last post, but procrastination has actually kept me alive at times. Planning and carrying out a suicide attempt is a lot of work, I’ll tell myself—I’ll get to it later. Sometimes I feel too desperate and in too much pain to think that way, but sometimes inertia has actually worked in my favor. I think there’s something to be said for going with the personality traits that contribute to survival—even if they’re not the most attractive ones.

6) Religion

I put this on the list with some ambivalence, and I imagine that most of you will understand that. Religion has not been a univocal force for good in my life. And yet, at times it has made a real difference in a positive way. My personal relationship with God has been a source of frustration at times, but a source of connection and stability at others. (This is one reason why this latest bout of despair has been especially difficult, as I’m struggling with a lot of spiritual disconnection.) The community has also been a real positive, when I’ve lived in wards where I felt valued and wanted and supported.

If you’ve been through this too, feel free to add to the list.


  1. I like your list, Lynnette. Kind of along the lines of your “little things” list entry, one thing that really helps me is silliness. Laughing at silly things, even things as simple as a goofy comment someone makes on Facebook or Reddit, really makes me feel better. And as you well know, I’m prone to laugh really hard at things that sometimes don’t strike most other people as being that funny. (Unfortunately, on the downside, when I’m at my most depressed, I find it difficult to enjoy the types of things that usually make me laugh.)

  2. Thank you for posting this list, it is most helpful to me. I would add the subcategory of Obstinacy to your Inertia item.
    Your willingness to share this and to discuss it in this depth, as a natural thing that folks need to address is a great help for me in getting past the stigma of thinking it through. I admire your voice that you have developed here, and I imagine there are many who have read these posts and gained a greater understanding of their own struggles from your assist. Thank you for your candor.


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