I Washed My Face


St. Kateri Tekakwitha slept on a bed of thorns.

St. Rose of Lima cropped her hair and disfigured her skin.

Blessed Alexandrina de Costa refused all food except the Eucharist.

The other day, I got out of bed and washed my face.

This is the most laughable comparison ever made, amirite? I am NOT a saint. Not even close. I did not complete a holy act of mortification. Not even close. To add my name and my deed to the bottom of that list, even for the purposes of contrast, makes me squirm and blush and repent.

Nevertheless, I got out of bed. I washed my face. And it was the start, the millionth start, of my climb out of depression.

When some women become pregnant, God sends them the cross of vomiting, or high blood pressure, or problems with the health of the child. Me, I get the cross that I always get, pregnant or not: another round of depression.  My hormones shift like a Tilt-a-Whirl and my body and brain go spinning away into despair and anxiety and exhaustion and muscle aches. There’s no emergency button to push to make it stop, and no clues as to when the operator will end the ride. Intellectually I know that it can’t last forever (and in my pregnancies, it does end abruptly during the second trimester!). But in those first long weeks, to my heart and soul, it feels like I’m just whirling around in the dark, myself and a baby, with no end in sight. This type of pre-natal depression may happen to as many as one in every five pregnant women. 

depressionOne of the many signs of serious depression is a nagging inner voice that you can’t shut out, whispering to you constantly as you try to live your life: “The things you do aren’t good enough, nothing matters, you aren’t good enough. Achieved something tough? Nobody cares. There’s a million people who’ve done better. Made a mistake? Of course you would. You fail at everything. Don’t care, don’t try, don’t love, hey, don’t even get out of bed! You’re not worth it. Nobody will notice. In fact, the world might be better off if you weren’t around …” 

This monologue, which is really your disease, goes on and on, wearing at you and convincing you and telling you lies. You stop your hobbies, shut out your loved ones, and eventually, you might even stop caring for yourself. Eating right, sleeping, showering, brushing your teeth, all seem pointless and difficult. Besides, you are so tired. And your body aches. So you skip it, again. And the little voice says, ” It doesn’t matter anyway. You don’t matter anyway.”

Asceticism, says the New Advent encyclopedia, “is the practice of the spiritual things, or spiritual exercises performed for the purpose of acquiring the habits of virtue.” It is the denial of of ourselves and our natural desires for the love of God and our neighbor. For most of us, it involves regular habits of prayer and fasting. For some very special saints, like those mentioned above, it also includes physical mortifications that go beyond the norm and require the approval of a spiritual director: radical self-denials of comfort, self-care and daily necessities. Properly practiced and undertaken with obedience, acts of asceticism and self-denial focus us on what’s really important in life: loving the Lord our God with all our heart, mind and strength; and loving our neighbor as ourselves. 

But what about us, the seven percent of adults with clinical depression, the one in five women with prenatal depression, the 600,000 women per year with postpartum? What should we do, those whose default is unhealthy self-denial? What should we practice, whose disordered desires are already to go alone, uncared for and unnoticed? How can we draw closer to God through asceticism? What act can we make that isn’t meaningless and worthless to everyone?

you-are-not-aloneThe toughest and most amazing saints didn’t go to great lengths to discipline their bodies because they wanted attention. They didn’t endure discomfort and pain to “be tough” or prove how holy they were. They did it because Jesus called them to be close to him in a radical way. They did it to show their love for God and neighbor. They did it because the temptations which drew them away from Christ were comfort, beauty, and the lull of daily life. So if your temptations, like mine, are to listen to the nagging little voice in your ear that tells you to give up, stop trying, and stop living your God-given life, I humbly submit that you turn the concept of asceticism and mortification on its head. For the millionth time, try again to deny that voice and take care of your mind, body and spirit. If you can’t do it for you, do it for God and your neighbor. No matter what the little voice says, even the smallest, most insignificant act of love matters. It will make a difference. 

So, where St. Kateri slept on a bed of thorns, rest a full eight hours in a warm bed.

Where Blessed Alexandrina ate nothing, eat three square, simple meals a day.

Where Rose of Lima cut her hair, brush yours. Where she scarred her face, get up, take up your cross, and wash.

DBSA {Depression, Bipolar Support Alliance}

NAMI {National Alliance of Mental Illness}


MTHFR {genetic mutation associated with depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia}

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