Elephant in the Room, Part 3

I learned about the elephant in the room, the situation everyone knows about but no one discusses it, when mental illness entered our life in 2004.

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In reality, it may have been there before then, but I didn’t know the signs. As a result, it entered in silence, much like the elephants that entered our campsite in the wild in 2011.

I think the elephants are magnificent creatures. For one thing, they live in families with a matriarch at the helm. The older the matriarch, the more successful they manage their family. Her experiences help the herd adapt to the changes in their circumstances. Why? Elephants have an amazing memory, according to Scientific American. She uses it to the advantage of the herd.

When schizophrenia attacked our daughter, Amber in 2004, our family reacted in a way that was similar to a matriarchal pachyderm. We surrounded her. Our experiences guided us to protect her and help her into recovery. Our extended family and friends rallied around us and we used a herd mentality to fight off the invader and chase it into submission.

I think elephants resemble mental illness. They can enter in silence.

As a result of my experience in the wild game parks in Africa, I learned they can leave a path of destruction behind them. Left unchecked, they ravage a landscape in search of food. Mental illness can do the same. Sometimes, if left alone with no advocate or management, it can devastate lives.

destructionThere’s s a fable from India about six blind men in a village. They heard about an elephant and set out to discover it. Upon their return, they had six different reactions about what an elephant is like. Each man touched a different part and knew only how that section felt. They couldn’t agree on what it resembled – a wall, a pipe, a tree, a pillar, a hand fan, or a rope. In reality, each man was correct for it was what he had observed. So much like mental illness, each person, each family experiences it in a different way. That is what they know, therefore it is correct for them.

So I don’t compare our journey through mental illness with any other one. Each of us are on a journey, but mental illness shares  common symptoms. I think we all feel frustrated stressed, heart-broken, hopeless, and at times, alone. We get angry at the unfairness as it strikes those we love. But I can take my feelings and turn them into compassion, support and a resilient attitude. I can strive to continue to learn about mental illness, give to research so that scientists can unlock the answers. And I can dream of the day that everyone can enjoy a life spent in recovery.

I vow to continue to bring awareness to the elephant in the room, to spread a message of hope, to erase the stigma that surrounds mental illness and to reach out to those who struggle. I want everyone to know that it is a biological issue, not a character flaw. One day I hope to see everyone who battled mental illness strut and wear a t-shirt that states, “Survivor.”

Book Review: Rightfully Ours

It sent me a clear message about the struggles that some teens face

I won a copy Rightfully Ours, by Carolyn Astfalk from a Facebook giveaway. I began reading it on Saturday morning and finished it on Monday afternoon. I found myself picking it up in spite of a flurry of activities, anxious to discover what came next.

As I read I thought, “This would be a great book for teens to read.” Even though it’s been almost fifty years since I fell into this age group, the feelings and thoughts of my youth came back in vivid memories as I read. Carolyn wrote how my brain tells me that I felt.

I liked the style of the writing. The main characters had flaws so they didn’t feel like cardboard caricatures. It had just the right amount of descriptive scenery to transport me to rural Pennsylvania, but not so much that I skipped those paragraphs. I thought the feelings between Paul and Rachel developed at a speed that felt real. Often times, one party feels differently and it takes time for the relationship to morph from friendship to deep feelings of affection. I liked the way Carolyn handled those thoughts and reactions, as well as how innocent situations can escalate out of control.

I also liked the way the author wove her beliefs into the story without it feeling preachy. It sent me a clear message about the struggles that some teens face and their wish to discover a way to handles their passions.

Coming of age stories fall into “one of my favorite” categories for novels, and this story lived up to my expectations.

I would recommend this book for teens, especially those in a dating relationship, and for those who wish to understand them. I plan to pass on Rightfully Ours to a local high school library so teenagers can enjoy this fast-moving, readable novel with plenty of action and a mystery that held my interest.

Memorial Day 2017

I want to think about the sacrifices made by so many people.

Today, Memorial Day 2017, I want to think about the sacrifices made by so many people.

I found this royalty-free photo at Pixabay. It touched my heart and conscience. Not all come home to hug their loved ones. This picture says more than I can express with my words.

Because I care so deeply about mental health, I can’t help but think of those who come home, but are never the same. They continually live with the horrors of war that manifests as PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.)  The stressful environment they endured altered them forever.

“PTSD is a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event.

It is natural to feel afraid during and after a traumatic situation. Fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to help defend against danger or to avoid it. This “fight-or-flight” response is a typical reaction meant to protect a person from harm. Nearly everyone will experience a range of reactions after trauma, yet most people recover from initial symptoms naturally. Those who continue to experience problems may be diagnosed with PTSD. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they are not in danger.”  National Institute of Health.

Today, I remember all those affected. The ones who made the ultimate sacrifice, their families, and the ones who battle once they return home.

I plan to spend time in worship, attend a ceremony in honor of this day at a local cemetery, and spend time with my mom. She and Dad married after he returned from WWII. He’s passed on, but she remembers.  It’s the least I can do.

Words…

Today I want to focus on positive words.

Yesterday I talked about the power of words. I focused on the effects of negative words.  Today I spotlight positive words that impacted me. Here are a few reviews for Broken Brain, Fortified Faith from Goodreads. I am truly grateful to these authors who took time out of their busy lives to read my book. Thank you to all who wrote reviews and for your kind words.


“Broken Brain, Fortified Faith by Virginia Pillars is the most absorbing book I have read all year. It is a true account of the rough road to accurate diagnosis and medical treatment of an independent college student who develops schizophrenia, but it reads like an exciting investigative mystery novel. The student, “Amber”, a name given to protect the young lady’s privacy, is fortunate to have been born into a family of faith and friends, because it took all the family, friends and faith she could use to navigate the mental health system. Amazingly, Amber, with the monumental help of her advocate mother, eventually does manage to achieve a successful plane of independent living again, though it takes many years. Written in the mother’s POV, Pillars is delightfully revealing about her reactions and chaotic emotions to the repercussions of her daughter’s illness upon the extended family, and then the coldness of some of the professionals, and the horror of drug side effects encountered. When it becomes obvious how important it will be to document events for her daughter’s healthcare, Pillars’ husband suggests she keep a comprehensive journal. Details from this journal provide the descriptive information for the story and make this book a must read for anyone involved in the mental health care of self or a loved one.
In moments of peace, Pillars’ faith “her as she adopts an attitude of gratitude, thanking The Creator for the gift of all the great advice and concrete help from friends and family He sends her way. She knows the Lord intimately enough to lean on Him with petitions for increased knowledge and wisdom as she tackles the mountains of paperwork required to reduce Amber’s debts for medical, hospital, apartment, student loans, etc. Only a loving mother would attempt the overwhelming tour-de-force Pillars engages in for the sake of her suffering child. When all looks the bleakest, Pillars clutches to her heart the hints of recovery that peek through. Hope sustains and victory prevails in this vastly readable true account.”  Elaine Lyons Bach


Broken Brain, Fortified Faith is the true story of how one woman deals with her adult daughter’s diagnosis of schizophrenia, several hospitalizations, legal issues, and other family crises, over a two-year period, including: infertility, the death of an infant grandson, and her daughter-in-law’s breast cancer. This memoir describes how the family struggles with these difficult issues and responds to the setbacks with the help of trusted friends and support groups.

Once I began reading Broken Brain, Fortified Faith, I found it difficult to put down. It is a compelling read, understandable, and well-written. The author writes in a captivating, candid style, sharing all her emotions – her anger, frustrations, and heartaches, as well as her blessings, hopes, and joys.

The central theme of this book — the miraculous power of love and prayer to bring healing and hope in the midst of pain and suffering – captured my heart. Reading this book was like having an intimate conversation with a good friend, the kind of friend who is honest, loyal, and supportive. The author is certainly someone I would want for a friend in a time of difficulty – a woman of fortitude, prayer, and patience who finds her strength in the Rock, the Fortress, and the Deliverer. By sharing her beautiful memoir, she is blessing many who feel alone in these challenging trials.

Broken Brain, Fortified Faith is the poignant, uplifting, and hopeful story of one woman and her family to conquer crises by drawing strength from one another and God to deal with the trials He sends them. It is a book that I especially recommend for all who have had to deal with the stigma of a mental health diagnosis, their family members and friends, and those who counsel and assist them.” Jean M. Heimann


“This is an inspiring, courageous story of one family’s journey through the fear and isolation of mental illness. It sends the most powerful message of all: there is always hope.” Barbara Claypole White Barbara is an award-winning author who writes novels with characters who deal with mental illness.


Words. The words written by others uplifted me and gave me courage to move forward as I speak to groups. I will strive to use my words to encourage, to show compassion, to express my sadness to life’s tragedies without judgement, to acknowledge both the pain and triumph of others, and to support those around me.

Sticks ‘n Stones

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

I heard this childhood rhyme on the school playground many times while I grew up. Usually it was after one classmate hurled an insult at another.

I thought about these words after a recent social media post left me feeling unsettled. I had read a Facebook post by an acquaintance that read, “Am I Bipolar, or what?” The person went on to question her choice in music. I groaned as disappointment set in.

Really? I thought how can you compare a choice in types of music with Bipolar- a debilitating brain disorder? I felt the comment made light of an illness and perpetuated stigma – as if a person had a choice to be Bipolar or not. I made a public comment expressing my concern with the choice of words and the spread of stigma. This wasn’t the first time I had expressed my displeasure about making light of mental illness. But in the past, I sent it as a personal message. I’m not sure why I didn’t choose this route and instead posted my comment on the person’s page that day. There wasn’t a reply, so I didn’t add anything further.

Later that day, I had a phone call to tell me that my comments on the post had upset my Facebook friend. The caller admonished me, pointing out that it was indeed a correct use of the phrase, bipolar. The caller had looked it up and read the description from the dictionary.

I didn’t intend to offend my Facebook friend, so once I knew that I had, I sent an apology in a private message and removed my post. My friend’s response assured me my observation was understood – that it was a result of my well-publicized passion for mental illness. Somehow, I didn’t feel better. I no longer believe the childhood chant. Sticks and stone can break bones. Words can hurt. Period. I had just done it to a friend in my effort to educate. It made me think about words and how they hurt.

Social media enables us to use words to hurt on a broader scale. Words that drive a nail into our wall of defense, now seen by scores of individuals are repeated and hammered permanently into our self-worth and we tend to believe them.

The Facebook interaction left me pondering the tide of word censorship, the use of words and my view on the subject. Have we become a society that is too sensitive to common words and their new implied meaning? I thought about bipolar, the word that started all of this and decided to explore it. Before 2005, I wouldn’t have given the word a thought. But, in 2005, I became involved in the world of mental illness. I’d always known that it existed, but I didn’t think I’d become an advocate for those affected.

This attitude changed in 2005 when I learned about the world of mental illness by default. I had a stream-lined education when schizophrenia manifested in our twenty-four-year-old daughter. But through the grace of God, I found the organization, NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness.) Through this group, I found guidance and understanding. My attitude toward mental illness changed. Along with that came an awareness of my own use of words. I no longer tell someone, “You’re delusional,” when I think their logic seems confused. I’d witnessed my loved one suffer the mental anguish that accompanies delusions. I catch myself before I tell someone, “You’re crazy,” and replace it with “I think that’s silly” or “I don’t agree.” Why? Because too often I’ve heard it referred to as a component of a mental health condition.

I decided to explore word censorship by typing bipolar into the google search engine. The first definition referred to having or relating to two poles or extremities, such as north or south poles. The next one stated: a biological disorder of the brain. Most people call it mental illness. Reading this made me think about my use of words.

This led me to another question: when did bipolar become a term for the previously named Manic Depression? More internet research gave me the answer. On April 14, 1980, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) changed the classification diagnosis – thirty-seven years ago.

So, with that knowledge I had to ask myself again, “Am I over-sensitive about the use of the word bipolar? And if the answer is yes, do I have the right to call people out on social media? Does this help the cause or just hurt feelings?

I stewed about it for hours before I came to the conclusion: I rarely hear the word bipolar used anymore except in reference to mental illness. Yes, bipolar can mean opposites, such as north and south poles with magnets or undecided because of opposing views. But I also realized for most of my life, I’d only heard a more common phrase, “polar opposites” that referred to indecision. But the most important revelation: I can only control my own words.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4:29 I like this verse. It says a lot to me.

When I publicly chastise others for their use of words, it sounds judgmental. Is that building them up? Isn’t a better approach to lead by example? Or to share my view privately with an explanation why I prefer to use alternate words?

I know me. I will wince when I hear others make fun of mental health hospitals, call someone delusional or crazy, or refer to indecisiveness as bipolar. But I will hold my tongue in public or keep my fingers off the keyboard. A better approach for me is to explain my view on the use of words with compassion and a gentle spirit. In addition, I plan to choose my own words with care, being mindful of how they will affect others. Because sticks and stones may break my bones, but my words can also harm others.

WOW!

good things can happen from bad circumstances when I learn from them; when I share them with others.

I’m doing a happy dance today because of yesterday, May 24.

Let me explain. Earlier this year I submitted my book, Broken Brain, Fortified Faith to two different awards. One award: the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval (SOA.); the second one: the coveted Selah Award.

What are they?

From the website for the SOA: “The purpose of the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval is to help Catholic bookstores and venues in their determination of the Catholicity of a work. This reassurance from a professional organization can assist authors in marketing alogo-color-cwg-soa-copynd promoting their works. Books are also judged by their editorial integrity as well.

Readers can be assured that SoA books will not offend their faith and have a certain level of editorial quality.”

At the end of March I received notice that Broken Brain, Fortified Faith had received the SOA.  I did a happy dance!

On May 2, I received an email that Broken Brain, Fortified Faith had made the finalists list for The Selah Award. From their Facebook page: “The Selah Awards, which are awarded annually at BRMCWC, are awarded to books within Christian publishing that are considered excellent within their genre.”

Talk about excited!

Last night, the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference (BRMCWCSelahs_Seal_WINNER_2017[3098]) announced the Selah awards for the top books in each genre. Since I couldn’t go, I tuned in via twitter which posted as they were announced. I’m glad I was alone during the awards. As I read my name in the twitter feed, “Winner, Memoir, Virginia Pillars — Broken Brain, Fortified Faith (Familius) contd,” I cried tears of gratitude  –  and no one watched.

If you’ve read this blog, you may understand that I didn’t think of myself as a author. I didn’t write much until I hit my 50’s. (Yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks.) Even as I met with success, I didn’t consider myself in the same category with the award-winning authors. I just didn’t. I’m too new in the world of writing and publishing.

This morning, after I calmed down a bit I picked up one of my daily devotionals. I sat stunned as I read yesterday’s reflection. (I hadn’t taken the time yesterday –  shame on me.)

As I read the words written by Twila Belk in her book, Raindrops from Heaven, I had a feeling of empowerment.

May 24When I work in tandem with the Holy Spirit, powerful things happen. My mouth moves, and messages come out that I didn’t even have in my head. And those messages impact lives. It’s so much fun! Thank you for giving me stories to tell and for the power to get them said.”

“It IS fun!”

Don’t get me wrong, the story I wrote was NOT fun. Anything, but, and I’d never wish the situation on anyone. But happen it did, and to our family. But the second installment of my story is fun. The writing, the publishing, the awards! Now, I truly believe even when I didn’t feel capable to write and share our story, the Holy Spirit guided me. I asked, listened and then moved forward.

If reading our story, or my thoughts in this blog helps another person, then I feel it gives the journey I took meaning.

Rejoice with me. It can happen. And to top it off, the award came during Mental Health Awareness month. Broken Brain, Fortified Faith shares my struggles as my daughter battled schizophrenia. Now, I hope, countless people are aware! Plus, as a final bonus, I get to put award stickers on my book and my press release reads: “Award-winning author.”

Wow! Somebody pinch me.

One Mother’s Story

…the cruel nature of mental illness. One family who did everything to help their daughter.

Today I want to post another mother’s story.  A librarian I met recently sent me this link to a regional newspaper, The Cedar Rapids Gazette, where this story appeared during Mental Health Awareness Month. It illustrates the cruel nature of mental illness. One family who did everything to help their daughter. They loved her, they enveloped her with support, they searched for the proper treatment and doctors. And yet, recovery continues to elude them. And this mother’s heart remains shattered.

One Mother’s Story

My heart feels heavy for this family. Even though I don’t know them personally, I feel as though I do. Their story shares so many similar traits with other families I meet. And my heart continues to break with theirs. But sitting around in sadness doesn’t help the situation.

I can only resolve to remember that we, as a culture, have so much work to do. I personally feel compelled to pray for answers for others who battle each day and their families. I want to support the families and the individuals who feel hopeless and helpless in the face of an unrelenting, cruel illness. I vow to strive to bring awareness to those who misunderstand this biological illness and somehow think it’s a character flaw. I want to continue to donate to help fund the research to unlock the mysteries of the broken brain.