Sunday, April 27, 2008

Woman’s Call to Priesthood Actually a Raging Case of OCD

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Leonora Simmons recently came to terms with the fact that her 'vocation' was actually an anxiety disorder.

LOS ANGELES – What appeared to one woman to be a lifelong – and thwarted -- call to the Catholic priesthood has actually turned out to be an undiagnosed case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD.)

“Since the age of five I felt called to the Roman Catholic priesthood,” said Leonora Simmons, a 43-year-old legal secretary who attends St. Theodore Catholic Church in Santa Monica. “When I would go to mass with my family and watch the priest consecrate the host, I initially had such feelings of joy and love for God. Gradually, though, I began to have these intrusive thoughts and feelings that I should walk up there, that I should be doing the consecrating,” she said. “It didn’t make much sense to me because I knew a little girl couldn’t be a priest.”

Simmons said around that same time that she also had intrusive thoughts about being contaminated by direct mail pieces from Pizza Hut, that the letter “F” would bring her bad luck, and that if she touched batteries, she was going to have a “really bad day.” However, she said she didn’t see any of this as unusual. “It seemed like typical five-year-old-girl stuff,” she said.
“I told Sister Louise at our church about my feelings, and pretty soon, a group of older, unmarried women at the church began telling me that I might have a vocation to the priesthood,” Simmons said.

After years of “fighting the call,” Simmons said she finally relented to what she thought was God’s promptings and fell in with what she says now was the wrong crowd. “I was cutting my hair short, buying polyester suits from JCPenney’s, and wearing those lace-up shoes with the high wedges because all my friends were doing it,” she said, shaking her head.

She started taking Reiki classes at All Saints’ Episcopal Church downtown to learn about the ancient Japanese art of inner healing, and became part of the Women’s Priest Movement. While involved with the movement, Simmons said she began dating a transgendered man who was going to become a womanpriest because he disagreed with the Church’s teaching on sexuality and women’s ordination. “Yeah, it was a complicated relationship,” she said.

During her years in the wilderness, Simmons said she also felt a lot of anger toward God. “Why was God calling me, someone who could never be a priest, to be a priest? It seemed so unfair, and besides that, I really hated the shoes and the haircut,” she said.

Clarity finally came a few weeks after she began taking the prescription drug Paxil to ease the depression she experienced following her father’s death. “I was walking the labyrinth and meditating at All Saints’ Church, like I always do twice a week. As I approached the center of the labyrinth, it all just seemed so silly to me – the call, the desire to be a priest, the way I was wearing my hair, and even walking the labyrinth. I wondered where all the years went.”

Dr. Craig Forester, Simmons’ psychiatrist, is the one who prescribed Paxil to alleviate her depression. “Once we saw that the Paxil was making a lot of difference in her thinking, we decided to add some cognitive therapy to the program, and since that time, she has been making remarkable progress. For example, she regularly orders from Pizza Hut, and is growing her hair out into a stylish bob.”

Simmons agreed that the new program has changed her life for the better, and that she has accepted who she is, where she is. “Just because a compulsive thought pops in my head doesn’t mean I have to go with it.”

Striving to be a Higher Being