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 4-1/2), “the most unhappy” (4-1/2 to 14), 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 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 and chronic illness and pain puts one at risk for depression.
The important thing here 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.”
Depression, nervous breakdown, suicidal thoughts, scruples, and doubts did not define St. Therese of Lisieux. It need not define us. We are more than our illnesses. Thanks be to God.
This is a re-post (on DepressedandCatholic.com)
Picture on Wikimedia Commons, public domain in the United States due to age of photo
Resource: O’Malley, Vincent J., Ordinary Suffering of Extraordinary Saints. Our Sunday Visitor, Inc.