Six years ago today marks the anniversary of the first, and the last, time I self-harmed. Five years ago today marks the time I came closest to killing myself. I’m writing this because I no longer hate myself, I no longer consider life as not worth living, and I want to share some things that may help you or someone you know. This is not an articulated story of my life, but a compilation of a few things I’ve learned that time and suffering have shown to have helped.
It is good that you exist
That is the first thing you must know. Many do not believe it about themselves. Many do believe it about themselves because they think they are more important than others, but they even do not really understand their value, for they are comparing themselves to others, which is folly and leads to death. It is good that you exist. Your past mistakes and current imperfections do not change this fact. I am writing especially for those who do not believe me when I tell you that your existence is a good and inimitable thing. You must write this on your arm if need be, for you have been lied to by yourself, or by others, and have fallen for a ludicrous lie; therefore you must come to believe the truth. You were created by God, and He does not make mistakes. We do, but our folly is infinitely less than His goodness. That is the very thing about evil: it is emptiness, a lack of good, and so in running from God we make ourselves small and empty when we are meant to be great and wonderful. And while we can make ourselves miserable and avoid the greatness we were made for, He has made us, He sustains us by His will, and His will is love and mercy itself.
Here are some tools
Get a beautiful notebook or journal. It must be beautiful because it shall be very special to you. In it, you will write beautiful and inspiring quotes—from songs, movies, books, friends, the Bible, anything. Re-read these at least once a day. Sit with them and let them sink in. Here are some from mine.
‘Wisdom begins when we accept things as they are.’~ Tenzen (Avatar: LOK)
‘Good things don’t necessarily soften the bad things, but bad things don’t spoil the good things or make them unimportant.’~ The Doctor
‘Pride is not the opposite of shame, but its source. True humility is the only antidote to shame.’~ Iroh (TLA)
‘What you learn for yourself, you know forever.’~ Pol (The Queen’s Thief)
‘It’s hard to value another life when you view your own as disposable, hard to understand how you can have so great an effect on someone else when you don’t think you matter.’~ Mia Fontaine (Come Back)
‘Accept what happened to you. Do not fear what might have been.’~ Zaheer (LOK)
(This isn’t about fearing bad things that might have happened; it’s about fearing good things that might’ve happened instead of the bad, and fearing that it’s your fault that the bad did happen.)
‘Be brave.’~ Veronica Roth
‘Courage, dear heart.’~ Aslan
‘The only whole heart is the broken heart.’~ Dr. Peter Kreeft
‘Men spoke much in my boyhood of restricted or ruined men of genius: and it was common to say that many a man was a Great Might-Have-Been. To me, it is a more solid and startling fact that any man in the street is a Great Might-Not-Have-Been.’~ G. K. Chesterton
‘Cast all your anxieties on [God], for he cares about you.’~ 1 Peter 5:7
Create a playlist that contains peaceful songs to help you be still. Here are some suggestions: Beside You (Phildel) – Arms (Christina Perry) – When You Taught Me How to Dance (Miss Potter version #2) – Scarborough Fair (Celtic Woman) – Piano Concerto in A Major, K:488 Adagio (Mozart) – May It Be and O Come O Come Emmanuel by Enya – Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons, Op. 37s: No. 6: June, Barcarolle in G Minor – Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, Op. 20a: No. 10, Scene; just about anything by Andrea Bocelli; I Wonder as I Wander and Ubi Caritas by Audrey Assad; Lovers, Music of the Night, and Reflection by Jackie Evancho; Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent, O Come O Come Emmanuel, Hymn to St. Joseph, For Love of Me, and Hymn to the Three Hearts (and most everything) by Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles; Shelter and People Help the People by Birdy; most everything by Loreena McKennitt; Not Alone (Red).
Give thanks for the good
Create a list of things you are looking forward to, things that are more or less guaranteed: The crunchy sound of autumn leaves, tomorrow’s sunrise, rainy days with a book, that next book you want to read, that friend you haven’t made yet, freshly fallen snow in the morning. These are reasons to get up in the morning, to continue throughout each day. Really, they must be motivators. They stir up in you that desire to go a little further. There are big reasons to live, things that give meaning to life, but if you cannot notice the little beauties and precious things, you will not understand the greater ones. If you cannot appreciate a cup of water, how will you appreciate a river, or an ocean?
Keep a thankfulness journal. Write in it daily, even several times a day. Anything can go in there: a fresh cup of coffee, a sunrise you saw, the smell of flowers on the way to class, seeing a friend for a couple minutes, a stranger’s smile, a good song on the radio, your health, whatever financial means you have, friends, family, a home, a safe and secure night, a country where you have protected rights, the free time (even ten minutes) to read, your breakfast, your car or bike, your shoes and clothing, your phone, fresh water easily accessed, indoor plumbing, another day you may not have had if things had been different. Gratefulness is akin to happiness, for joy is an awareness of and resting in the good. But remember that thanks is given—and to whom? To God. This is one of the most important ways to pray, and we are told to give thanks always. This is the joy of the saints: To be aware of the good, above all, God, and to rest in that good. The greatest act of thanksgiving we can do is to give ourselves to God in humble gratefulness (this is what we do at Mass, in union with Jesus Christ Eucharist—for ‘eucharist’ means ‘thanksgiving’).
A well-ordered life
Order your life. Peace is the product of a properly ordered life. Order your life so you have time for daily prayer in meditation, especially through the Rosary. A really helpful tool for this is Dr. Mike Scherschligt’s daily Rosary podcast, which includes short meditations to help us know and love God and others through Mary and the Holy Spirit. Keep the sabbath holy by practising true leisure and going to Mass (see my previous blog post on this). Get enough sleep (at least six hours), eat healthily and regularly, and exercise regularly. Use free time outside of prayer and work or studying to spend quality time with friends in good conversation, read good books, and enjoy the beauty of nature. If you have a passion for music, writing, drawing, woodworking, beekeeping—spend time on it. Invest your life in meaningful things. But keep the priorities right, or your life will become full of vanities, that is, with emptiness. God first, then spouse, then kids, then yourself, then friends, then people you interact with, then the rest of the world, then things, and then abstract ideas.
Let us not be confused about this
God is goodness itself, and everything must be ordered to Him. But do not mistake the mistake that God is good and nothing else is. Neither forsake the giver for the gift. God is the maker and designer of all good things. Evil is a perversion of the good. Give yourself entirely to Him, for He offers nothing less to you than all of Himself, and only He can make you totally happy. And one of the main ways God shows His love for us is through friendship. I cannot emphasise enough how important my good friends have been, and still are, in my life. Seek friendship with God and with others, for these are the highest goods.
If you follow the most superficial advice I’ve given, it may help. If you follow the deeper goods, like seeking beauty and friendship, you may become happy. If you truly desire friendship with God, then no matter where you’re at, you can rest in the hope of eternal happiness with Him in Heaven. I haven’t given contradictory advice: We must live integrated lives. Seek goodness, truth, and beauty. This means to seek God, take time for prayer, and invest in good friendships; to be honest with yourself about your shortcomings, and seek wisdom from God, advice and help from friends, and maybe therapy from a good therapist; to spend time in stillness and and to wonder at nature, good art, music, literature, and the love of God. You will never be totally happy in this life. You may have a mental illness, a physical illness, or a tragedy in your life that nothing can or will undo this side of eternity. But choose the good, and be brave. Believe in the goodness of God, in His promises and all His gifts, and let the hope of Heaven—of eternal happiness in friendship with God and others—anchor you in the storms of life. Let God fill you with His love through prayer and the Sacraments, friendship and beauty, and you will live a life full of meaning. For you will love, and you will in time find your calling in this life as we venture toward Heaven.
Know that I have prayed for you, that I offer my Rosary and Chaplet of Divine Mercy tonight for you, dear reader. You are precious to God, and precious to me. I do not offer you a way out, but a way forward. True happiness is fought for with blood and tears, but ‘be of good cheer, for [He has] overcome the world.’ So come, follow Him. Everything is offered and nothing can be bought. It is for the helpless, needy, broken, sick, discouraged, lost, lonely, and unworthy of happiness that He has come for. Without Jesus we can do nothing; but with God all things are possible.
In Jesus & Mary,
St. Jude and St. Faustina, pray for us!