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 Post subject: Why can't women with mental illness become nuns?
PostPosted: Mon Dec 26, 2011 4:08 am 
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Hello everyone. I am a 29 year old woman who has always wanted to become a nun but there is an obstacle, I have two mental illnesses. I have Borderline Personality Disorder and Major Depression. These two disorders are controlled and easily managed as long as I take my medication. And that's why I don't understand why I can't be a nun. I have called two different convents and they both rejected me due to my mental illness. One of the sisters at one of the convents told me that it was highly unlikely I could ever become a nun due to my mental illnesses. She said that pretty much all convents will reject me because I am mentally ill. I understand that they don't want someone who is unstable living as a nun in their convent but I am stable as long as I take my medication. Plus, I have Medicaid which would cover the medicine so its not like they'd have to pay for it.

I realize that I will never become a nun and I am okay with that. Part of the reason why I couldn't become a nun is because I also have Fibromyalgia which is a chronic pain disorder. I can only imagine how difficult it would be for someone with chronic pain to live life as a nun.

However, I still don't understand why women with a manageable mental illness are forbidden from becoming nuns. Can anyone answer this for me? Thanks in advance.


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 Post subject: Re: Why can't women with mental illness become nuns?
PostPosted: Mon Dec 26, 2011 5:15 am 
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Handmaids of the Lord
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First of all {{{HUGS}}}, it must be very difficult to feel called, and really want to do something and be told-twice-'No'. However, you have to try and see it, not from your point, but from THEIR point: someone with a manageable mental illness (at the moment, manageable, but they don't know if and how it will develop 5, 10 years from now, so that's problem number 1), and a chronic pain disorder (which means that probably getting up half-way through the night, keeping the Hours, doing all the work and chores EVERY DAY, is not going to be a realistic option, because how will she fare 5, 10 years from now)...enters the convent, and is put through the postulancy/noviciate. Now...and here I can actually give you a real-life example, let's call her Jenny. When I was a postulant at a Benedictine abbey, in 1996-97, there was a woman called Jenny, who was deeply religious, and very attracted to the contemplative, cloistered lifestyle. We were on the same 'Candidate-weeks', and we used to talk a lot (as we were not in the 'cloistered part' yet, but in the guest-house we could), she was a lovely person, and casually mentioned that she had suffered from depression most of her adult life. But that it was 'under control'. Our Mother Abbess had decided to let Jenny have an extended stay as a 'Candidate' in the guest-house, and it went really well. She kept the 'Hours' (we still prayed 7x a day), worked in the vegetable garden and fitted in brilliantly. All the novices and nuns adored her and after about 3 months she was allowed to join as a 'Postulant' and have her own cell. Again, it went absolutely fine and she seemed completely settled. Infact, at that point she was doing much better than me! I found the Silence, the no-unnecessary talking, the concept of eating what is put in front of you, not complaining about the cold cells and other minor things REALLY hard. As the months went by, the fact that you were, in a sense, cut off from the world (we only saw 1 hour of TV a month, if that and read no newspapers), and spent most of the day in prayer, alone with your thoughts, alone with yourself, became increasingly hard for me. But Jenny seemed to be fine about it, her family could visit on Sunday afternoons and she settled in well. By March of the next year (so after about 9 months) she was a bit more 'quiet' and we noticed she spent more time alone, even during Recreation (the hour in the evening where we all could talk, play board-games, do puzzles and knit. With Sr Clara and Sr Martha we even played a little handball at times). For me, by then it was clear that I couldn't do this long-term...I'm a very quiet, private person who ENJOYS being alone...but with the OPTION to go for a walk, put the radio on etc...Here in the abbey, making those decisions myself, were taken away from me, I was told when to do what, I started to HATE the bell calling me to prayer, I really needed to pray when I wanted to pray, and the 'structure' of the day, where I knew '5.30, time to get up, 6am first prayers in the chapel, 6.30am Mass, 7.30am breakfast, 9am until 11am working in the vegetable garden, 11am second prayers of the day, followed by lunch at 12noon, in silence listening to a fellow nun reading etc etc...Day after day, following this strict schedule, without being able to say 'I want to do things different today'...it began to grind. By May I had made up my mind to leave, I LOVED the abbey, I'm still in touch with the nuns there, but I realised for ME it started to feel like every day lasted a year...I cried and cried when I got home, and felt such a failure...but I also knew, it just didn't suit my personality. About 2 years later I heard Jenny had left...midway through the noviciate. She had suffered from depression for a long time, had managed to contain it, and the nuns were getting increasingly worried over her...in the end, she suffered a complete breakdown and had to be hospitalised for quite a long time, and the decision was made not to allow her back. There were many nuns for whom this was very painful: they had grown attached to Jenny, and for them it had been a traumatic experience that took a long time to heal from. It was a case of her personality and her personal needs not being compatible with her feeling that she was really called to this. I know the Mother Abbess blamed herself for allowing her in, in the first place...but I think Jenny's personality would have been better suited to a less structured, more hands-on-in-the-comunity order, she may have fared better there (where as I KNOW that wouldn't interest me). The fact remains, being a nun means dying to self, doing as you're told, praying when it's on the schedule and having a VERY structured, VERY monotonous life. That is HARD for women without a mental illness...infact an aunt of mine entered the Franciscans in the late 1940s and suffered a nervous breakdown after 10 years, and was transferred to a more open order, the Sisters of Bethany, where she lived out her life...but when she was in her 90s dementia caused a lot of problems and a lot of the mental health issues from when she was younger returned. Now, she had NO mental health problems as a young woman. So, being a nun is HARD, it's not an easy option like so many people seem to think, and having the feeling that you have no control over your life, and may be asked to go places you don't want to go, that is HARD for everyone. Let alone if you already are, in the world, presenting mental health issues...Every order has to essentially make a risk-assessment: what risk is there when we allow this woman to join us. Will she be USEFUL to us, will she FIT IN with the other nuns, is she of a personality-type that finds submission/obedience easy, will she be able to wor hard for us so we can keep this convent open (the days where the Diocese would supplement ailing convents are over in most places, you've got to balance your books or you're on your own in most cases!).I think in your case they simply think: what is this going to cost us. We may get attached to her, we invest in her, but her work out-put may not be enough to keep us ticking over, and we would have to pay for her medication, for life and if -due to the stresses and strains of being a nun- she had a relapse, or became permanently unable to earn her keep, and in worst case scenario cost us a fortune in mental health nursing, it could bankrupt our convent and hurt us all. Now, that's not what you want to hear...and I know that, but that's how it is. I think also, you have to REALLY ask yourself WHY did you want to be a nun? Because ...if I'm honest, I thought it was going to be a much easier, secure (as in no unemployment, no worries about bills etc) life. And only by actually doing it, I realised that I much rather have the insecurities of life...because for me, the abbey was a wonderful time of my life, and I show my daughters pictures sometimes, but...I also know how HARD it was, how truly difficult being all alone with yourself and your thought during hours upon hours of Silence and praying can be. And it takes a certain personality, someone STRONG enough...And for THEM it is the perfect life, for them it does transcend everything and is all the ever want. But...that's a very small portion of Catholic woman-kind. For most of us, it would be intolerable! As I found out...as did Jenny.


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 Post subject: Re: Why can't women with mental illness become nuns?
PostPosted: Wed Dec 28, 2011 4:27 am 
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Handmaids of the Lord
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First up, let me state I totally understand where you are coming from. I have been diagnoised with Borderline Personality and also suffer fairly severe bi-polar, with major depressive episodes. I think Anna did a really good job of explaining the nuns side of things. I'm going to be a bit more personal.

As I said, I have been diagnoised with Borderline. My question for you is, why did you present yourself to the convents as having it "under control", especially via medication? I mean no offense by this question, but I know how it works. Borderline can not be controlled by medication. The only treatment that works is intensive therapy. If that is successful, then you may cease to fit the borderline definition. That is accepted fact amongst the psychiatric community world wide. When I say intensive therapy, I don't mean seeing a psychiastric and psychologist fairly regularly but rather having it more as a full time job. People who genuinely suffer from Borderline can not function properly in society. If your Doctor isn't trying to get you into intensive therapy, then frankly, you need a new doctor. In the short term, medication helps, but in the long term if the issues underlying the Borderline aren't dealt with it will rear it's ugly head, time and again. Unfortunately sometimes it is very easy to convince ourselves that our Borderline is under control, but if we let down our guard for even a minute, we quickly suffer the consequences. Therapy is a hard road, but I assure you, there is absolutely nothing better than been able to walk out of it one day knowing that you are a completely different person to the wreck you were when you walk in.

I think that the fact that you represented borderline as been under control so long as you take your medication also shows a further reason for convents to be wary of those who suffer mental illness. Often times we aren't aware of the effect that the illness is having on us - what is a good day for us may very well be difficult and trying for the ordinary person. When we think we're doing really well, our doctor is wondering how long it will be until we crash. A convent isn't set up to provide the sort of individualised care that those with any illness, mental or physical, require, and they don't have the knowledge to know what effect most illnesses are going to have on the community. This is especially the case for mental illness. How many people without direct experience of it even know of Borderline?

All that said, I don't think all hope is lost. If you feel a genuine call to the religious life, I'd keep looking. If God is calling you, then he has somewhere in mind. Perhaps you could find a way to communicate the way the illness effects your daily life, that doesn't rely solely on your word that it's 'undercontrol'. If I was to enter a convent, I'd absolutely willing to let the Reverend Mother speak to someone who was in my treatment team about the long term effects it would have on me. If you have gone through the intensive therapy for Borderline, and now don't exhibit most of the signs, what you were diagnoised with and who you are today are two very different things. In that case your depression may be controlled by meds, but your borderline... that was your hard work.

Anyways, you have my prayers. I hope you find where God is leading you.


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 Post subject: Re: Why can't women with mental illness become nuns?
PostPosted: Fri Dec 30, 2011 11:21 pm 
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I am not able to speak for every religious order, but some religious orders will take a person who takes medication for any physiological imbalance, as long as it works. I have seen this with two different men's orders.

Perhaps keep looking, but don't fret if they do not accept you because of the mental illness. And, don't fret in the process of looking for one. If it is God's will, He will make it happen. But, don't necessarily choose the order that accepts you, just because it's the one of the few that did-make sure they are also a good religious order and faithful, etc.

It might not be God's will for you to be a religious. And, if this is the case, you can still become a great saint by staying in a state of grace and fulfilling your duties of state. Your sanctity and union with God... is God's will, but how that comes about, He knows best in His infinite Wisdom. Just keep praying and Trust in Him.


Last edited by Dionysius on Sat Dec 31, 2011 6:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Why can't women with mental illness become nuns?
PostPosted: Sat Dec 31, 2011 9:52 am 
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You might think that some religious organizations could use your wealth of experience and knowledge you have developed in personally dealing with your medical issues to the advantage of others.

My cousin in Rome, Dr. Rosanna Squitti has been doing research on the potential link between metals in food and water, and a high fat diet and a growing incidence of alzheimers.

I say this because while I am not a medical scientist my research in the area of many fields has identified a negative side to truth, I call anti-truths, and the manipulation of symptoms by a disease industry that is ignoring the many simple causes of symptoms that can create mental illness symptoms. One writer calls this the disease conspiracy and I have to agree with his observations.

In the area of depression, anxiety, etc. Did anyone tell you that low iron, or low B12 levels, can cause this ? How about low protein levels ? There is no test for this.

Anyway, even a damaged intestinal system, or malabsorption system, caused by an undetected bacteria or parasite can create 'CHEMICAL IMBALANCES" AS YOUR BODY DOES NOT HAVE THE BASIC NUTRIENTS IT NEEDS. Have you heard of this ?

Anyway, best of luck, and hopefully you will find a group that can use your wealth of knowledge; did you ever think that those who rejected you are out of touch with their religion and may be using their position as a social club ? Sad to say.


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 Post subject: Re: Why can't women with mental illness become nuns?
PostPosted: Sat Dec 31, 2011 10:19 am 
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Every order has its own rules, for those that do exclude those with mental illness the reason is probably because belonging to the order would make it difficult for you to receive treatment, you might not have access to doctors etc

But there is probably an order somewhere out there that would accept you, my advice is to keep looking.


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 Post subject: Re: Why can't women with mental illness become nuns?
PostPosted: Sat Dec 31, 2011 10:20 am 
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Every religious order has its own rules, there is no universal rule...for those that won't accept you the reason is probably because of difficulty providing you with access to doctors etc to be treated, my advice is to keep looking


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 Post subject: Re: Why can't women with mental illness become nuns?
PostPosted: Mon Apr 09, 2012 9:12 am 
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I just wanted to add in that religious communities are also always looking out for the well being of the women who inquire as to a vocation. They want you to find the place God will make you the most happy and they will be sure to try to protect you as well from a life if they think it could harm you or not be the place that God wants you to be in.

Most often when women are turned away they look at it as a rejection of themselves. I know that hurts. But sometimes it is the community trying to do the loving thing and thinking about the women first before their own desire for more vocations.

They want you to be happy too, where God has called you!


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