Tuesday, March 31, 2009

St. Dymphna

St. Dymphna watercolor on paper

St. Dymphna is the patron saint of people who have mental health problems, their families and loved ones, and people who are mental health care givers
. She is also the patron saint of people who are the survivors of incest. There is a very special place that came about because of her where people with mental health are treated with the dignity, respect, and opportunity to heal that they deserve. To read more about the village of Gheel, Belgium and St. Dymphna's connection with this special community,
click here:

I was inspired to post about St. Dymphna because I just finished reading The Lives They Left Behind by Darby Penney and Peter Stastny, with photographs by Lisa Rinzler. It is a truly sobering account of individuals incarcerated in the New York State mental health system sparked by the discovery of hundreds of suitcases filled with peoples personal belongings in an attic at Willard when the giant institution was shut down. The book focuses on the lives of ten suitcase owners whom the authors researched, finding out as much as they could about who they actually were, and their personal histories. One thing I like about this book is that by it's nature it highlights the fact that each human being is valuable, interesting, and important. That for the few things you can discover about a person there is much that is unknowable and will remain a mystery, but never the less exists. It is an important reminder on a planet where so many, many people dwell together, and where we assume so much about each other without really knowing each other or valuing each others existence. Another thing I like about this book are the questions the authors ask about each person, the questions that should have been asked if these people were actually being offered anything theraputic, which they were not. I like that the authors draw the connection between trauma and it's effect on mental health and the importance of addressing the trauma to help people heal, as opposed to assuming that they are simply defective and that there is no connection between life events and our mental state.

St. Dymphna mixed media shrine, collaboration with Marcus Kwame Anderson

Sadly, the authors see a great deal still lacking in what the mental health system and modern psychiatry have to offer people in need. That people are further traumatized by what should, instead, be helping them is scary and sickening and makes me afraid for some people who are very dear to me. There is a need for the benefits of a community like Gheel to be considered and put into practice in the rest of the world so that no one is further victimized by ignorance and prejudice.

There is also an on-line exhibit connected with the book:


  1. I haven't thoroughly gone through your site yet, but I LOVE IT! You are a truly amazing painter. I suffer from intense trauma related insomnia, and just happened to find your spot while googling "patron saint of sleep". WoW. I'm particularly impressed with the union of mental illness and art here, something I wanted to do too.
    As a two-perp ritualistic incest survivor, with a resulting long scarry list of "mental Illnesses", including "Multiple Personalities", this page strikes my aorta. I am experiencing a true cure however, through a myriad of blessings, and I was hoping something like this page or group existed. I noticed a "store" in skimming - I can't read your whole page because I am so sleep deprived I can't think straight enough at the moment. As soon as I am rested and can absorb the information and beauty here, I want to purchase something.
    After I was diagnosed with all that, at age 35, I deliberately did not read any books on the subjects of my "diseases". I had a deep understanding of them myself and therefore wanted to have an entirey empirical experince through the process, in case I'd have any unique insights by the time I was better. I decided I would only read others' books after I define my own experience, and at 40 now I might be ready to check something like this book out, though I might still wait too. I was worried that if I read some scholar's opinion it might plant a seed or a tapeloop in my head which could have easily stopped my own progress in it's tracks - perhaps preventing figuring out what was best for me. In 1987 I was an art teacher for Autistic children and adults as well.
    The biggest reason I survived and am actually healing is because of art. Thank you for this.

  2. Hi Efthalia! Thank you so much for sharing. I can relate to you waiting on the books. God bless you, and your amazing strength and ability to heal. Jen

  3. No, no, thank YOU. Surely you understand the automatic isolation these phenomena create, and therefore how badly I wanted to find a place to have a voice about this.
    I was really hoping this isn't one of those blogs the admin never checks.
    I would like to talk more openly here about specific "illnesses". My story has never been told except to my lawyer and counselor. My focus in writing about it all will be concentrated on the healing process, not the damage that was done.
    I also had all the textbook addiction problems for people "like me". Now I have 15 1/2 years off heroin and 22 months off alcohol.
    Getting off alcohol and counseling have made the other biggest differences (art 1st mentioned above). 2 1/2 years ago drinking put me in such the wrong place at the wrong time that I was held hostage with another for 6 hours and we were both almost murdered. That was when I really had to change EVERYTHING. I knew it wasn't my fault - I'm an empath who cares too much - but my lifestyle made me vulnerable.
    The miracle is, without alcohol, the MP’s are disappearing, an indescribable gift for me and those who love me. I'm always the one making decisions, not an alternate personality whose choices usually get me in trouble.
    Without any book references, I coined some stages of the process. It's taken me 2.5-5 years to get to stage 3.
    STAGES: 0. - Not aware of own behavior, illness, cause of the illness, or ramification of the behavior. 1 – Newly aware of the above - still behave the same but realize it after the fact - and feel horrible. 2 - Realizing it in the moment, also extremely embarrassing and discouraging. 3 - Cathing self before something happens, and ACHIEVE PREVENTION! THAT CAN SET YOU FREE AND SELF-HATRED CAN ACTUALLY END.
    I will always struggle with PTSD but that's better too. Now stress manifests as insomnia, extra energy and productiveness. The phase immediately before was defined by hyper-ventilating and tear loaded panic attacks lasting hours or even days. This is so much better.
    The absence of alcoholol playing so heavily in my MPD improvement makes me question the whole diagnosis as the news says many experts are.
    I'd love to share how I "met" my alternates for the first time consciously, and why after meeting them, I wasn't afraid of the disease or of going deeper inside myself to gain a better understanding of "them". They only developed and came out to try to protect me when I could not protect myself. I realized their intentions were *good* and all about my best interest. They each just had flaws when it came to the protecting me job. So I have studied them ever since to use as a gauge by which to determine my own best methods of self-protection. Since they were all part-timers (lol) how could they not be flawed?
    I hope no one reading this confuses MPD with Schizophrenia. I'm sure you don't, but just in case, for the Public: MPD IS NOT GENETIC LIKE SCHIZOPHRENIA. What causes it is well documented enough, and since it is not genetic, I really hope that means it's a lot easier to treat and heal. I think it does.
    What amazes me and my friends is being able to handle things so much better than before. You know how they say "You aren't given anything you cannot get through"? Yeah, well, that's cool and all, but D! I'm finding out the stronger I get the more intense %#&^ comes my way.
    If people were told in advance what they would have to face in order to get better or off a substance, I don't think many people would. It's only after you get so far that you reap benefits.

  4. Should have read more about you before writing. My first developmental disability was an inability to read - but not for technical reasons. You have to let your guards down to read in order to assimilate what you are reading. Can't do it and watch your back at the same time. I was not allowd to speak or write either, so that's why the artist and musician came to be. Disabilities comes with gifts too, gifts that others don't have.

  5. Hi Efthalia! Thank you again for sharing. I think your insight about yourself and your healing process are going to be extremely helpful to anyone who comes across this posting. Please feel free to continue to share as you wish! I feel very heartened by your ability to survive and heal. Your being is a gift to everyone who needs to somehow heal themselves.

  6. Which saint would best serve a child from a bad home, and still in it?

  7. Hi, Maeve- a really good saint for a person in that situation is St. Eugene De Mazenod- he is the patron saint of dysfunctional families. There are several saints for child abuse victims too, like St. Germain Cousin or St. Lufthild, and St. Michael the Archangel is a good protector too.

  8. Hi,
    I have three different links to this blog and they go to different places - one all abotu Christmas, which I agree with you on. But I don't want to write about the wrong thing in the wrong place. Thanks for the saint reference.