A Martyr for the Anxious

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“Anxiety is the greatest evil that can befall a soul, except sin. God commands you to pray, but He forbids you to worry.”
-St. Francis de Sales

Today is the feast day of St. Dymphna, the patron saint of mental health and anxiety. A young woman that lived in 7th century Ireland she gave Christ her life through a vow of chastity. Amidst this time her mother passed away and her father’s mental health began to deteriorate from devastation at the loss. After time spent trying to find a wife malicious individuals suggested that her father take St. Dymphna for his wife. She immediately fled her homeland with a group of individuals in order to escape her father’s pursuit. Once she settled in Geel she is said to have established a hospital for the sick, but her father discovered her whereabouts. The party traveling with St. Dymphna was killed, and ultimately her own father took her life when she refused to break her vow of chastity.  

I read the story of St. Dymphna, someone I did not know much of before writing this post, and I am in awe. How did she live her life facing all of these trials – the death of her mother, the decline of her father’s mental health, fleeing to another land, and facing death at the hands of her own father? While I do not know what her demeanor was when she faced the moment of her death I imagine her looking to Jesus and trusting Him with her whole heart – in turn, I believe Him to be holding her head in His hands and gazing with love upon her devotion to Him in the worst of times.

I think of the anxieties that I have faced and continue to face in my own life and they are huge stumbling blocks. With obsessive-compulsive disorder it is easy to feel like a prisoner in your own body, feeling as though you have no control over your emotions, reactions, tendencies, and ultimately decisions which makes it difficult to just “let go” of the stress. Often there is a snowball effect with OCD and other forms of anxiety – the smallest things that may not bother someone at all in their life bothers me on a daily basis because of other stressors I have experienced throughout the day. I can start crying at the drop of a hat, to the point where I hate my emotions.

Amidst all of this anxiety, God has presented treasures along the way that have helped me to actually love having OCD. Meeting my husband was one of the first times I realized that my OCD is not a burden, but it truly makes me who I am. He has loved me through all of it, encouraging me to receive the support I needed to manage my OCD. Through my husband I see the eyes of Christ loving me the whole way, walking by my side and showing me the beauty in my diagnosis.

While it is still a daily battle, dealing with compulsions based upon a need to soothe obsessions that come into my head, I have grown ever closer to Christ and Our Mother through the trials that come with OCD and anxiety. It has become a choice to wake up every day and offer it to the Lord, accepting all that will come my way. When we look into the eyes of Jesus He calls us to follow, to be more like him, something of which St. Dymphna abided to the end of her earthly life.  My spiritual director once reminded me that my OCD is helping me become more like Christ, something of which has changed my life forever. Know that any anxieties, emotions, or fears that you face God conquered them all, just like He conquered death when He rose again. In times of darkness be reminded that the light will always shine brighter, all we need to do is ask God to open our hearts and receive the light so that we can navigate this life no matter how dark it may become.

“Let us throw ourselves into the ocean of His goodness, where every failing will be canceled and anxiety turned into love.” St. Paul of the Cross

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Nathalie Shultz is a joyful convert to the Catholic faith and a competitive swimmer with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).  She loves to share her passion for Catholicism with others, including her conversion story and how God continues to work miracles in her life through her OCD.  Nathalie is married to her best friend, Tommy Shultz. Her favorite saints include St. Peter the Apostle, St. Teresa of Calcutta, and St. John Paul II.  She is also a huge fan of C.S. Lewis. If you have any questions for Nathalie, or just want her to pray for you, you can email her at ignitedinchristnacc@gmail.com.