We are all survivors of something, whether big or small, simple or tragic. An earthquake, a heart attack, an algebra exam, and sometimes all of the above. Surviving is hard—not the action per se, for remaining in existence does not occur through our power, but its effects can be brutal.
People used to tell me how lucky I was to survive the near-fatal car crash of 2007, and I never knew how to respond. I did not want anyone to know how much I resented my existence, how bitter I was in the belief that my freedom and joy had died in the collision, that the only thing surviving was a blob of flesh unknown to me which was trapped in an existence of nothing but suffering. To say the least, I felt far from lucky.
A few years into my suffering, as I came to believe in the Truth of God and His Church, I started to pray, and I started to receive the Sacraments more regularly. This did not trigger a dramatic change in my circumstances. Some people think that, once you decide to believe in God, that everything becomes easy, that all efforts are successful. That is not the Gospel I read—nor is it the life I have experienced.
I have at times been graced with feeling God’s Presence—but not always—and certainly not at the beginning of my journey. (I do not mean to imply that the feeling is something earned—it is only ever an undeserved gift. I know many who were initially drawn in through an experience of feeling God’s Presence, but God knows my skeptic heart, and He chose to lead me to trust Him first.)
My journey started out quite separated from a perceived consolation. I remember walking through campus to the Newman Center for Daily Mass—and hoping that a car would hit me on the way there. I did not intend to take my own life, but I still longed to be released from it. Despite my choices to do that which was Good, I felt suffocated by my personal sufferings. Because I also had some notion of the misconception that everything would just get better, I thought that there was something wrong with me. By some miracle, I did not give up on God.
You have likely heard stories from my journey since that time. I have been very blessed. Praise God. I have lived to experience incredible things I never would have imagined possible. I have been learning true freedom. I have embraced the everlasting joy and peace that penetrate deeper than circumstance. Love. Strength. Healing. I would not change anything that has happened in my past, but I still have to ask God for the grace to persevere as I continue to move forward. I am no longer bitter or resentful—I am filled with immense gratitude for the countless blessings in my life—but I will still never consider myself lucky. (It is true that I may have been spared from a worse fate—only God knows—but, even if so, I was not spared by luck.)
It is still hard. Residual sufferings from the crash, additional traumas, broken relationships, lost loved ones, etc. I am still surviving. I am still learning how to embrace this second chance I have been given. Even after years into forming a relationship with God, even after experiencing a miraculous healing in my back through receiving Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist, even while I served as a full-time missionary, even as I have prayed daily and frequently received the Sacraments, there have been moments I have hoped my life would be taken.
I have never considered myself suicidal, but there were definitely times I was afraid that my thoughts meant I was. I never wanted to open up about how I was feeling, because I was afraid of how anyone might react. We can be so afraid of mental health and suicide, and that just makes the problem so much more isolating for the one who is struggling. This is a serious topic that I have no qualifications to speak about beyond my personal experience, but if more personal openness is what we need, I am willing to be sharing.
I am grateful to my friends who listened to me last summer when I was deeply struggling and confused about my thoughts. It was not even during a time that I wanted my life to end—on the contrary, I was somewhat paranoid and afraid I was going to die at that point—but I was feeling attacked by my former wishes for death, and I feared that it was a place where I would again be trapped. Praise God, no one panicked. People listened to me and hugged me and let me cry and ate Chipotle with me as I calmed down enough to get back in my car and drive. They loved me for the person I am, and that shattered the lie that there was reason for me to be afraid of myself.
This post might make you concerned that I am currently battling a desire to die, but that is not the case. Granted, Heaven is the ultimate goal, so an earthly death is always hoped for on some degree, but I do not have any particular desires to leave at this time. To be transparent, my shin hurt really bad, I became overwhelmed, and I started crying. I was just intending to write a short reflection for an Instagram post, but then this happened, so here it is.