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.”

Author: Virginia Pillars, author

I'm a daughter, a farmer's wife, a mother, a grandmother, a friend, a sister-in-law, an aunt, an author, a part-time musician, a part-time businesswoman, a part-time gardener who loves to talk with people. I have a passion for my faith, my family and my friends. I love to learn and teach others what I discovered. In 2004, we discovered our daughter suffered from a debilitating disease - Paranoid Schizophrenia. I knew nothing about mental illness, but we didn't have the luxury of learning at a pace we could absorb. We had to dive in and hope we learned to swim as we came up for air. Our daughter is now in recovery and I work as a volunteer for NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) to support others who battle mental illness. I wrote my journey in the book: Broken Brain, Fortified Faith: Lessons of Hope Through a Child's Mental Illness. Ask for it by name at your favorite bookstore or purchase it directly from the publisher, Familius.com or from the Amazon or Barnes and Noble website.

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