**Please keep in mind that I am an absolute laymen when it comes to religion. This brief back story is a generalisation of how I interpret the life and miracles of Saint Dymphna.
Saint Dymphna, the patron Saint of mental illness, was born during the 7th century to a pagan father (Damon, King of Oriel) and Christian mother. At age fourteen Dymphna consecrated herself to Christ, and soon after her mother died. Her father suffered terribly from the death of his wife, and his mental health rapidly deteriorated. When pressed to remarry, his eye turned to his daughter due to the resemblance she bore to her mother. Upon hearing this, Dymphna, along with her Priest and a few guardians fled her father’s kingdom to avoid the marriage. Eventually, her father was able to trace her to Belgium, and when she refused to return with him he killed the Priest, and cut off Dymphna’s head. Initially her remains were placed in a cave, and eventually found a permanent resting place in Gheel, Belgium. From the time of her placement in the tomb to the present, people who have visited her remains have reported being cured of their mental illnesses, and other illnesses occurring in the brain. It is because of these miracles that she became the patron Saint of the mentally ill.
Officially, Saint Dymphna is the patron Saint of the nervous, emotionally disturbed, mentally ill, those who suffer neurological disorders, and the victims of incest. Fittingly, she is also the patron Saint of psychologists, psychiatrists, and neurologists.
I do not identify with a particular religion, nor have I decided whether or not I believe in a God. I do however, have an interest in religion, and do my best to educate myself in the hopes that I will someday figure out where my soul is going when I move on. I will say that I am drawn to certain aspects of many religions, and Saint Dymphna has struck a chord with me.
A young girl, who had chosen a life of chastity and with a passion for helping others in the name of her Lord, was the victim of mental illness. She is far from being the only innocent bystander, and her martyrdom has reminded me that illness can easily be brought to madness. Parents, whom suffering from mental illness, sometimes paired with addictions, take the lives of their children – and sometimes their own. They cannot separate their nightmares from reality, and they can find no other way to quiet the demons that are screaming inside of them. Their minds, pinwheels being spun by hurricane-force winds – all of the colours blurred together with no way to slow down and see all of the colours for what they really are.
It is a fine line that separates a lot of us from those like King Damon, a line kept in place by a mix of medication, therapy, a solid support system, and meditation. I do believe that our best weapon against the darkness inside is our own internal reflection. Daily affirmations confirming our self-worth are a vital part of recovery and maintenance. When I don’t boost myself up from the inside, no amount of medication can make me feel better. It is a combination of all of these things that help me function, help me be a good mother, and help me project confidence to the outside world. The love of my children coupled with the support of my friends and family keep me motivated to get out of bed each morning. I can always count on hugs from my daughters, and words of encouragement from my husband, brother, sister, and friends when I am not at my emotional best. Not having a support system would be devastating. Even though I identify as antisocial and have problems with intimacy and touch, I still need to feel loved – without that validation no amount of daily affirmations or medication would make me feel better.
So many of us are missing one or more of these integral puzzle pieces, and are suffering tremendously because of it; some us fatally. If these sufferers cannot reach help before their internal implosion, they could take someone with them. It may not be a parent harming or killing a child, it could be the employee of a company who stabs a co-worker, a student who shoots their classmates. These tragedies CAN be PREVENTED. We need to not only recognise the signs of mental illness, but be willing to act to help these souls. Early intervention and treatment could save so many, but we have to be willing to help. Everyone deserves protection and care, and though I know not every tragedy can be prevented, I know that we could make a big difference if we were more proactive.
We all know someone who suffers from mental illness, either in the open like me, or in silence like so many. Helping doesn’t mean dragging someone to a doctor; it is as simple as being a friend. Take an interest in their lives, take them for lunch, or go for a walk with them. Sometimes a smile can change a person’s whole day. Check in on them, and don’t forget that condescension and judgement gets you nowhere. People suffering from mental illness and addictions are vulnerable; treating them like an 18th century leper will only cause harm.
I urge everyone, religious or not, to live by the example that the young Dymphna has set for us. Be compassionate, take gentle care, be the light that someone absorbs to stay alive. Offer your love, find the Saint inside of you and protect the ones you know and love. You may not be the cure, but you can be a part of it.
Pray for us.
To learn more about Saint Dymphna, check out http://www.franciscanmissionassoc.org/requests_stdymphna_story.cfm She also has a wiki page, because internet. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dymphna