It was just weeks before Terry and Peter’s wedding that Peter was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. When the disease progressed and robbed Peter of his speech, Terry abandoned her career to help him sustain his financial planning business.
“We loved each other so much,” Terry says. “I swallowed a lot of despair during those years in an attempt to salvage any happiness for us that I could.”
Four years later, Peter died. Terry, widowed at 35, began her descent into despair. She began drinking and losing weight; distancing herself from family and friends. All the signs were there, but because there wasn’t enough awareness about depression, nobody recognized them. Caught up in the all-consuming need to end her suffering, Terry took an overdose, and then passed out.
Fortunately, a friend stopped by and found Terry, incoherent, and took her to an emergency room. The doctors in the ICU had no medical explanation for her recovery from ‘unexplained toxicity.’ Terry never told her secret: it was a suicide attempt.
“I was not relieved to wake up,” she recalls. “I absolutely wanted to die. Many people aren’t relieved to wake up after a suicide attempt. They are still at great risk and it’s very important for people to realize that.”
A few days later, Terry was sent home and sought treatment from a psychologist.
“We met two to three times a week for several months,” Terry says. “She was compassionate, accessible, and emotionally-challenging. She didn’t insist that I take medication, but she did insist that I investigate it as an option. Initially, I refused, mostly because of the stigma. But after my suicide attempt, I agreed to try it and fortunately, it worked for me.”
In therapy, Terry initially refused to discuss anything that came before the death of her husband. She thought her childhood was irrelevant. But her psychologist began to challenge her because it was common in therapy for a significant loss, such as Peter’s death, to trigger the resurfacing of an earlier trauma. A short time later, Terry realized that unresolved issues associated with child abuse were contributing to her depression. It was then that she was able to recall her first thoughts of suicide, at the age of ten.
“My mom and stepfather had an abusive relationship. I was sexually abused until I was 13. When my mother found out, they divorced. All these years later, the abuse is still difficult to discuss.”
“I’d always been complimented on my writing, but I never took it seriously,” Terry says. “My therapist suggested I give it a try. I remember writing at Barnes & Noble. My fingers couldn’t keep up with my thoughts!” Two years later her book, Waking Up: Climbing Through the Darkness, was published.
Now, Terry speaks in cities across the country about recovering from depression, suicide prevention, grief, loss, and the challenges of caregiving. “When I’m in front of an audience, telling my story, I feel like I’m doing an emotional striptease. I am a very private person. The work I do today is the antithesis of who I once was. But the rewards far offset the discomfort.”
For Terry, learning to live again has been a process. “Each day used to be a fight for survival. But it gets easier. Things do get better. Medication has been a very useful tool that augmented talk therapy for me. Recovery doesn’t occur overnight, but there is treatment that works. I’ve had many ‘light bulb moments,’ but there’s not any one that stands out. Rather, it was a series of them.”
Terry feels recovery is rarely a smooth process. “Fighting depression can feel like an endurance test. When you have a bad day, you run the danger of becoming hopeless. You think your depression is inevitable, or you’re back to square one. But it doesn’t work like that. Depression may recur, but it isn’t permanent. With the right support and treatment, you can find hope again.” Terry Wise can be reached through her website, www.TerryWise.com. Watch the video “The Terry Wise Story: A Suicide Attempt Survivor” on Youtube.