I didn't blame them for saying I wasn't ready to leave. Angry and despondent, I hadn't exactly been an ideal patient. One morning in group therapy, I had slammed down my writing journal and my copy of "What Happy People Know."
"What does it take? What the hell does it take to feel better?" I yelled. "Why are you guys getting better and I’m not?" I brought my hands to my face and started to bawl. I felt completely frustrated, tired of trying every cognitive-behavioral technique I knew, practicing relaxation exercises, composing gratitude lists, and praying with Scripture every morning. Nothing seemed to work.
On my last day of treatment I said farewell to the nurses, who told me that the program helps 95 percent of patients. I suppose I was in the other 5 percent. Wondering where I had gone wrong, I ripped off my hospital badge and climbed into my car. I wept the whole way home. I also issued God an ultimatum: "I can’t do it anymore. I can’t go on feeling this way. I’ve been doing my part. I’m working with a doctor. I’m retraining my thoughts. I’m exercising. I’m trying to be grateful. I’m praying. But listen, something just isn’t working, and unless you give me a sign that I’m supposed to hang on, I’m out of here." I meant business. I had stored over twenty bottles' worth of old prescription drugs in the garage in case I got desperate.
My shoulders slumped over, I used my last reserve of energy to pick up the mail from the box outside my house. Shuffling through the envelopes, I saw a letter from a woman named Rose whom I had met in Buffalo, N.Y. almost a year before, when I had given a speech to an audience of over 500 Catholics. I ripped open the envelope to find a card with an image of St. Therese surrounded by roses and the words "I will spend my heaven in doing good upon earth." Inside the card I found my name and an announcement that a novena would be offered for my intention by Carmelite nuns (St. Therese's order), as requested by Rose.
A Sign from St. Therese
My eyes were already swollen with tears when I saw the medal of St. Therese that Rose had enclosed. It matched the one I had been carrying in my pocket ever since the day my depression set in. On the front of the medal was a profile of St. Therese; on the back, above a crucifix and bouquet of roses, was the inscription “After my death I will let fall a shower of roses.”
That wasn’t the last day of my struggle with depression, of course. Recovery from any condition, and especially mental illness, takes time, patience, work, and faith. What the medal and novena did was give me the extra ounce of hope I so desperately needed, the hope that enabled me to pitch that bag of old drugs in my garage and believe that if I kept on putting one foot in front of another, I would be walking in the light before too long. Blessed by the best shower of roses that St. Therese could have given her troubled namesake, I am confident now that I will find the strength I need in moments of weakness. And I also want to be a missionary of St. Therese’s generous and childlike love, sending flowers of hope, as Rose did for me, especially when I sense that someone else might be struggling with a crippling and frightening mental illness like mine.