Among the thorns – beauty.

It’s a cliche, see the roses among the thorns.

Advertisements

But recently, I’ve been called upon to do this. Two friends stopped –  both of them needed someone to listen, and I think both of them wanted a different way to look at the situation that surrounds them.

Before I spoke, I said a quick prayer for guidance. I wanted to use the correct words -conversations to build up, not to tear down. Or to just listen, if that was my role.

As I listened, I heard a plea for an idea – something, anything that each of them could do to lift their spirits on a daily basis. Now, lest you think I used the cliché, look for the roses among the thorns – take a deep breath. I didn’t. First, I had to exam my own attitude. How do I react to the hard things in my life?

Sometimes my mind wants to dwell on the past. The circumstances that destroyed my vision for the future. And then doubt and discouragement swoop in and try to take roost. Was it my fault? What did I do wrong? Could I have prevented it? Could I have done something different? Why didn’t I see it before it was too late? Nag, nag, nag until the feeling of inadequacy tries to overshadow any feeling of confidence.

So how do I handle those memories? How did I handle it twelve years ago? A conversation last night during our evening meal solidified it for me. We talked about an incident from our past.

After supper, I went back through old e-mails in search of a piece of history. I didn’t find the note in question, but I did find e-mails that I’d sent during the worst part of Amber’s mental illness. I read the pleas I made to family and friends for prayers for Amber as we tried to get her help. I relived the discouragement that consumed me as I watched her brain break from our reality.

But tucked in among my words of desolation, I found snippets of hope: she signed the needed paperwork during a few seconds of coherency; we got her transferred to a different hospital; she began to accept medication for her mental illness.

When I looked back, I saw that I HAD found the positive things that happened along with the unthinkable. My faith tells me that this was the Holy Spirit at work in my life. I had begged for help and it came through those around me. When my family and friends did little things, such as send me a note that brightened my day, they became the hands of God for me. As I read the words I wrote twelve years ago, I understood that I had recognized it at the time it happened.

Somehow, during my pain-filled days as schizophrenia unleashed many of the nasty symptoms on Amber, I felt the velvety petals, and inhaled the fragrance of the proverbial rose in spite of the thorns that pricked me in the most tender areas of my life. The more I  concentrated on the positives, the easier it became to find them. And in turn, I offered praise and thanksgiving.

As I read my reactions twelve years ago, I understood the words that I gave my friends earlier this week came from a source beyond me.

I had encouraged my friends to look for the positive things that are tucked in with the negative devastation. Don’t let discouragement or doubt win, I said. I had even quoted Mr. Rogers, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.

I had also shared my way of finding the helpers. I confided to both of my friends that I try to stifle discouragement and doubt with prayer. Each morning, I begin my day with a cup of coffee and a couple of my favorite devotional books. I also use an app on my phone to listen to prayers as I walk, as I wash dishes, or while I drive. These things help me stay focused and look for the positive things, the people, the helpers who reach out to others in their time of need – for I want to continue to find the roses among the thorns.

Thank you to my mentors!

There’s a popular saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Thank you to my village!

Mentors.

What’s a mentor?

I looked it up on the Merriam-Webster dictionary website and found:

A: a trusted counselor or guide

B:  tutor, coach

Next, I looked up tutor: a person charged with the instruction and guidance of another

I’m glad I found the definitions, but mostly I’m glad I found my mentors.

This wonderful group of people guided me as I learned about writing. I entered my first writers workshop with no knowledge about the craft or the skill needed to put my thoughts to paper (actually to the computer screen.) The first pieces I shared with them had lots of mistakes. My mentors gave gentle,  yet constructive criticism. I considered myself an infant in the life of an author. They took my hand as I grew through the toddler stage, entered “school” and worked my way through the lessons they provided.

Within the confines of a supportive community of trusted guides, tutors and coaches, I gained confidence and learned from them the correct procedure to submit the things I’d written. When it came time to write my first book query, and then my book proposal, experienced eyes found my weak areas and offered me suggestions for improvement.

I recently attended the conference that I feel gave me a solid start, the Cedar Falls Christian Writers Workshop. On my way to the first day of the three-day conference, I stopped at the post office to pick up my mail. I marveled about God’s timing. For you see, my recently won award plague had just arrived – the 2017 Selah Award for memoir writing. From an “infant” to “I’m not even sure what grade I’m in these days” in six years!

I remember May 24, 2017 – the night the awards were announced through a live Twitter feed. I sat in my home, alone as the words, “Virginia Pillars winner of the Selah Award for Memoir” appeared on my screen. I covered my face and cried – “I never thought it would be me.” May 24 is also National Schizophrenia Awareness Day. My book, Broken Brain, Fortified Faith tells the story of our family’s experience with schizophrenia. I still tell others to pinch me – wake me up from this dream I didn’t know I had.

I want to say, “thank you” to those who helped me. If you follow me, you may know that I write under a pseudonym at the request of my family. They fear stigma will re-enter our daughter’s life, so I honor them by keeping them out of social media. I don’t publish photographs of me, or my family for this reason, but I can share the photos of my mentors. Through them, I learned to write, publish and speak about my story through schizophrenia with my child. 

I’ve asked them to hold my award, for I believe some of the credit belongs to them, too. I couldn’t have done it without them.

Mary Kenyon

 

 

Mary Potter Kenyon writes and speaks on the subjects of grief, cancer, friendship, the word of coupons, and writing for publication. She is currently working on her fifth book.

 

 

Shelly
Shelly Beach

Shelly Beach is an award-winning author, founder of the Cedar Falls Christian Writers Workshop, author of six books and frequent speaker on PTSD.

Jolene
Jolene Philo

Jolene Philo has a passion for those with special needs, especially our youth. She’s written many books and speaks extensively on the subject.

Wanda
Wanda Sanchez

Wanda Sanchez and Shelly Beach work together in the field of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.) As co-authors of an award-winning book, Love Letters from the Edge, they speak nationwide. Reach them at PTSD Perspectives.

Mary Humston
Mary Jedlicka Humston

Mary Jedlicka Humstom co-authored Mary and Me: A Lasting Link Through Ink with Mary Potter Kenyon. It tells their friendship of over thirty years through the art of letter writing.

And last, but not least, these are some of the group who meet regularly and have taught me, challenged me as we shared our writings, and heaped out large scoops of encouragement. If I overlooked someone, it is not my intent. I appreciate each and every person I’ve met along the way.

writers group

THANK YOU!

 

 

Book Review: I Liked My Life

I read this book in a little over a day, but I’m afraid I won’t finish it for a long time. It left me feeling grumpy. Yes, grumpy. And I will spend a good chunk of my brain power in thought. As I read the book, I felt like I stared into a mirror. And that made me grumpy. What about it left me unsettled? Did some of the personalities strike too close to home? The answer – yes – and then, what’s next? Is it too late to make a change? Is it even possible at this time in my life?

Abby captured personalities, real life situations and scenarios. I didn’t know what to expect when I won a copy of this book during a Facebook promotion. A woman, successful and devoted to her family, dies. After an investigation, her death is recorded as a suicide. But – she didn’t leave a note with an explanation. Now, her husband and daughter are left to wonder why and examine their life in detail. Was their behavior a factor? Why did she do it?

I Liked My Life, by Abby Fabiaschi, exams the family left behind, but also gives insight into the situation from the deceased as she watches from above. It was a novel approach to a nationwide epidemic. As the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., it affects families daily. I’ve experienced the grief of the survivors as I stood at the grave of four people who lost the battle against mental illness in the past few years. There is no comfort for the families left behind.

I’m glad I read it, but I have to admit, I was also glad to finish it. It kept me turning the page in spite of the pain that registered deep as the story progressed.

I won’t reveal the character who reminded me of me. I think that is up to each reader to determine and I don’t want to influence them. But I’m guessing most readers can identify with one of them. I didn’t want to face some of the truths revealed to me in this story of a once happy and contented family. Tragedy rocketed them into a new reality, as happens in most families.

It’s been a while since a novel made me exam my life in detail as this one did. I know this bad case of  “the grumpies” won’t last for me. I will take my new awareness, exam it, make a plan of action, implement it, and move on. I hope I become a better version of me as a result of reading, I Liked My Life.

 

Sometimes I want to cry.

I like to devour new information about schizophrenia as it becomes available. I feel excited when new research studies get released as I gobble up the results. And then I want to cry.

But maybe not for the common reasons that makes a mom cry when her child has schizophrenia. Our child battled the symptoms and came through it as a survivor, a victorious survivor. But it took a lot of work and support.

As I read new information, I get emotional. How did we know how to do the things that we did to help our daughter, Amber, during her first episode of psychosis in 2004? I remember the feelings of frustration, hopelessness, helplessness. I also remember that I begged the Lord for help. I listened for an answer and followed the instructions given to us (my husband, Roy and I.) Many of those answers came through the people around us. We just had to listen.

Some of the things came through our eldest son, Mitchell who’d spent hours researching articles at trusted sources on the internet. First, he encouraged us to leave our state of denial behind and act quickly. “I think she has schizophrenia,” was a comment I remember with clarity. “She’s not going to get well without treatment, she’ll only get worse,” he said to us without judgement, only compassion.

If I’m honest, I wanted to live in a bubble where I thought my love would fix the problem. Our son didn’t let me. He helped me face reality and as a result, we had Amber in forced treatment a little over one month after we moved her home. Today, over a decade later, she’s in a maintenance mode as she stays in treatment.

Other plans of actions came through our local NAMI organization and the classes they offered, as well as through ideas generated during my daily devotion/prayer time. Again, I listened and reacted. I treated her as a mom would treat all the other illnesses our children get, such as cancer. I let her rest when she needed it. I cared for her, took her to treatments, managed her medicines, and held her when she cried.

Slowly, Amber recovered through treatment which included medication, therapy, education, brain exercises, and lots of support.

Since 2004, I delved into published articles where I’ve discovered that early treatment is part of the equation that may allow long-term successful treatment. This morning, this article published on May 31, 2017 by the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, almost brought me to tears.

“For people with psychosis in early stage schizophrenia, early treatment is important. Patients whose psychotic symptoms go untreated for longer periods tend to have more severe symptoms and a lower quality of life, even after treatment.

New research published March 15 in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology finds that a longer period of untreated psychosis is also associated with less connectivity to and from the striatum, a part of the brain linked to antipsychotic treatment outcomes.”

What if Mitchell hadn’t persisted? What if he hadn’t reacted the way he did which forced us into a court committal for hospitalization/medication? What if we hadn’t listened?

I read further…

“At the time the study began, participants had been taking antipsychotic medications for no more than 2 years. Brain scans were taken for each patient, and their symptoms were monitored for 12 weeks while they were treated with a second-generation antipsychotic (aripiprazole, risperidone, or risperidone plus an omega-3 fatty acid supplement).

The researchers found that not only did those whose symptoms had been untreated the longest have the worst treatment outcomes, they also had less brain activity connecting the striatum to specific regions in the brain’s cerebral cortex”

I highlighted the lines that drew the tears.

a second-generation antipsychotic (aripiprazole, risperidone, or risperidone…  About a month after we realized that our daughter needed help, the doctors prescribed an injectable antipsychotic to stabilize her. I read the list and knew she received one of them. In the beginning, she refused antipsychotic medications. The first doctor she saw told her she had mild depression and that’s where her brain wanted her to stay – she didn’t have schizophrenia – she didn’t need that medication. That’s when we went through the courts to force her to take medication. She stayed on the injectable for the first year or so. Later, she switched to pill form. In the spring of 2007, she understood that her brain needed medication to function properly – much like a pancreas needs insulin or metformin for diabetes.

plus an omega-3 fatty acid supplement). Mitchell also brought bottles of high quality fish oil supplements that she took each meal. He’d found an article about fish oil helping with brain function. He found the pills, purchased them for his sister and delivered them to our home. She had a steady dose of the omega-2 fatty acid supplement for the first few years.

I begged the Lord to send me wisdom. He did – through the people around me. He gave me the grace to listen to those wiser than myself. And it makes me want to weep in gratitude as Amber stays in recovery.

It’s been almost twelve years since we discovered she battled the symptoms of schizophrenia. Today, she lives on her own, works full-time and manages everything herself. She’s proof to me that early treatment does indeed work. What if I hadn’t listened? Would she be where she is today?

Sometimes I cry tears of gratitude.