Today is the Feast of St. Therese of Lisieux, a woman who writes in her autobiography that her life was divided into three stages: the happiest (birth to four and a half years old), “the most unhappy” (four and a half years old to fourteen years old), and her life at Carmel. During these times she experienced many of the risk factors for depression and struggled with symptoms of the illness itself.
When Therese was four and a half, her mother died. Shortly after, Therese’s older sisters, who had become nurturing mother figures for Therese, left for the cloistered convent. These kinds of early childhood catastrophic losses can create the kinds of changes in the structure and function of the brain that make one automatically vulnerable to depression.
At the age of ten Therese suffered what appeared to be a nervous breakdown. She thrashed around in her bed, banged her head against the post, and had hallucinations. At twelve she became scrupulous, a mental health problem that she never overcame. Today we know scrupulosity to be symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder. All of these symptoms are often found co-existing with depression.
St. Therese of Lisieux, Doctor of the Church, describes herself as having extreme doubts of God’s existence. She called the atheists of the time her brothers and sisters. After years of suffering tuberculosis, these doubts and “a depressed spirit” became worse and she was tempted to suicide. 90% or more of the thoughts to end one’s life come from depression. An already vulnerable brain becomes more impaired with each added trauma (emotional or physical) and/or chronic stress.
The important thing is that St. Therese stubbornly held on to her faith. She did this not because of health, good spirits, comforting assurances, miraculous healings, or religious experiences but by the tenacity of her choice to believe. She writes: “While I do not have the joy of faith, I am trying to carry out its works at least. I believe that I have made more acts of faith in this past year than all through my whole life.”
We are more than our depressions, obsessive-compulsions, doubts, fears, and anxieties. We are children of God! Thanks be to God!
Resource: O’Malley, Vincent J., Ordinary Suffering of Extraordinary Saints. Our Sunday Visitor, Inc.
This is a post from last year.