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.
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.
There’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.”
During May, in honor of National Mental Health Awareness Month, I hope to inspire, inform, and get others involved in a topic that affects us all. I want to link to websites with the latest information about research, along with previously released webinar links.
I plan to post reviews or links to other blogs that discuss books, both fiction and nonfiction on the subject of mental illness.
I also hope to link to blogs that review my own story of my journey through mental illness with my daughter, Broken Brain, Fortified .
I hope to accomplish this twice a week.
I hope you’ll join me as I work to bring awareness to a subject that I think is the elephant in every room. You know, the one everyone knows about but no ones wants to mention.
Spiritual Reflections for the Brokenhearted, Weary and Lonely
Earlier this month, I promised to give a review for this book in exchange for the chance to read it. Sometimes I wonder, who gets the most benefit for this opportunity – the author or the reader? After exploring Jeannie’s book, A Sea Without a Shore, I’ll wager that it is the reader.
Jeannie writes from the heart, pouring out her love and devotion to God throughout her book. I felt that she recorded her thoughts and prayers for us, the readers, so we may grow in love and devotion, too. As I read, I found myself recording phrases that stood out to me. Reflections I wanted to plant deep within my heart and soul.
One of my favorites quotes was “Material acquisition is no longer our goal. It is replaced by the practice of simplicity, engaging in matters seemingly small, but staggeringly significant.” This idea resonated with me as a way to live in peace and joy.
A few other nuggets I tucked deep in my heart include the idea of “self-examination with pointing a finger” – in other words, forgive myself. And “that all holy innocents are God’s beloved” gave me peace as I thought about my own grandson’s death years ago.
Because this book has reflections for the liturgical year, I will read each section during the appropriate season to deepen my appreciation and love for my Savior.
I’ll be honest, when I first began reading this, I had a difficult time. I’m more of a “learn from the parable” kind of gal. I think I understand why Jesus taught his followers through stories. Some of us grasp concepts and lessons more quickly through examples. As I started this book,, I found it a bit difficult to concentrate on the words. But, I realized I had the opportunity to read her thoughts and reflections. I decided I wanted to challenge myself to focus on Jeannie’s prayerful thoughts as I read. Plus, I wanted to learn a new style of spiritual growth. I willed my brain to slow down so I could embrace the reflections. I read in small bites so I could indulge myself with the prayerful thoughts. It worked. I did indeed a learn a fresh way to keep me on my spiritual journey.
If you’re looking for a book to deepen your love and devotion to God, I recommend this book. Read it slowly and savor the morsels.
But don’t just take my word for it. Snag your own copy and fall in love with your Savior.
Jeannie Ewing believes the world focuses too much on superficial happiness and then crumbles when sorrow strikes. Because life is about more than what makes us feel fuzzy inside, she writes about the hidden value of suffering and even discovering joy in the midst of grief. Jeannie shares her heart as a mom of two girls with special needs in Navigating Deep Waters: Meditations for Caregivers and is the author of From Grief to Grace: The Journey from Tragedy to Triumph. Jeannie was featured on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition and dozens of other radio shows and podcasts.
Describe a typical writing day. Are you a morning, afternoon, or night-owl writer?I am an “anytime writer.” You see, my life does not neatly fit into a box (unfortunately for me). I have two young daughters and another baby on the way. Both of our girls have different special needs that require a lot of extra time spent with various specialists, special education programs, surgeries, and counselors. I spent a good portion of my time at the disposal of a doctor’s availability, rather than what is convenient for my family. Because of this, I write when I have time. That might sound like a cop-out, but I don’t waste time. If I have 10 minutes of a lull in my day, I will write for 10 minutes. When the girls are having quiet time and I can snag an extra 20 to 30 minutes, I will write. Most of my best writing happens right after breakfast on a weekend when my husband is gracious enough to watch the girls for me. But most of what I produce is in the evenings after the girls have gone to bed.
Can you tell us about your current work-in-progress?I have 3 of them actually. The first is a book that answers common questions about what to do in specific social or religious situations – a sort of etiquette question and answer book. That proposal has been submitted to a publisher, who is in the process of checking it out. The second manuscript is one I am co-authoring with my husband, Ben. It is a parenting book about using the beatitudes as our beacon for what we do and teach our children on a daily basis. That, too, is in the process of consideration from a different publishing house. The third work-in-progress is my favorite to date. It is a book about the value of waiting and what that looks like from a cultural attitude, as well as a spiritual one. It includes various points of philosophy, but mainly I’m trying to encourage people in their tough times of waiting, especially when it is prolonged. I plan to complete that manuscript before I submit it to a potential publisher.
What inspires you when you’re writing?Prayer – Scriptures, silence, reading reflections and the lives of the saints; music – especially classical or some type of soothing instrumental music; sometimes nature inspires me, and sometimes it could be a conversation with a friend or something I observe while I’m out and about.
What’s your favorite item on your writing desk?Hmmm, probably my perpetual cup of tea!
What’s your favorite genre and why?Memoir, because I love reading about other people’s journeys in life through their own eyes.
Any advice you have for a blossoming author?Just begin. Don’t worry about the details or even the process itself. Just start somewhere and keep moving forward. Your first draft won’t be perfect, so don’t expect it to be. Don’t write with censorship; get into your own flow and let it happen naturally. Our best muse is God, so I always pray before I write.
What is your writing process like?I guess the best word I can use is ‘inspired.’ Just when I think I’ve completed a book, a new idea pops into my head and becomes more developed over time. That’s been the case for this book on waiting. When I write, it could be jotting down ideas on scraps of paper like a typical creative type, or it could mean I actually sit down and type up a chapter on my laptop. But I always, always write down inspired ideas, regardless of where I am or what I’m doing.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? Why?I don’t write fiction, so ?
When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time? Reading, taking care of my girls (homeschooling the eldest), chatting with my husband or watching movies with him, taking walks with my dog through our neighborhood.
What or who inspired you to become a writer?I’ve always been a writer, since I first learned to put words together creatively and articulately. It’s a natural talent and also a spiritual charism. I’ve enjoyed creating ideas through writing – whether fiction when I was a kid or poetry as a young adult or original research papers in college – and now non-fiction seems to be where God wants me right now.
How long have you been writing?I started journaling when I was about 9 years old. I received a Hello Kitty diary from a friend for my birthday and wrote in a journal every day ever since!
Are you Self-published or Traditional Published? Why did you choose this type of publishing?I’m a hybrid author, which means I have some books that are self-published and some that are traditionally published. I’ll be speaking more on the advantages and disadvantages of this at the Catholic Writers Conference Online in February. Essentially, I didn’t “choose” this type of publishing. It just worked out that my first book was self-published, because each step of the process I had someone offer to help me through it professionally! My second book ended up being traditionally published, because my editor at Catholic Exchange asked me if I had considered writing a book.
Anything else you’d like to share with your readers? Writing can be daunting, so don’t think it’s some romantic way of life. Most of us don’t make a grand living as writers, but we love what we do. If you are called to write, you will want to share your ideas with others in order to inspire, encourage, entertain, or teach them – maybe a combination of these, or something else.
Just for fun:
Do you have any pets? Yes! A 9-year-old pit bull mix, Lily. She’s a character! We love her as one of our family members.
Who’s your favorite musician/band? Well, I love music and a variety of genres of music. I’d say it depends, but my favorite genre of music is Renaissance or Baroque. I especially love Michael Praetorius and Tomasso Albonini.
What’s your favorite vacation spot? The mountains. It’s my dream to live in the Smokies one day.
Do you like coffee or tea? Never liked coffee, but I love tea and drink it daily with a bit of honey.
Did you go to college? If so, what was your major? Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with a minor in Religious Studies and Master of Science in Education for School Counseling
Are you a full-time writer or do you also work in another field? If so, what field?My “full-time” job is a stay-at-home mom.
Favorite Season? Fall/Winter/Spring/Summer? I like the changing seasons for different reasons. When I was a kid, my favorite season was summer, but now it’s probably fall. I love the cooler weather and gorgeous colors. Plus, there are so many fun things to do in the fall – hay rides, jumping in leaf piles, visiting pumpkin patches and carving them, apple picking and making homemade applesauce, etc.
I turned sixty-three this month and I’m celebrating. I have so many reasons to be happy.
I’ve lived for sixty-three years. Not everyone gets to do that. I attended a classmates funeral when I was ten years old. That’s something I’ll never forget. Nor will I forget the following year. I was in 5th grade when my baby sister lived only one day.
When I was an infant, I almost didn’t see my 1st birthday. I had Whooping Cough at the age of three months that almost took my life. So yes, I’m celebrating my age.
I have a husband who loves me, four successful, adult children, three successful daughter-in-laws, three motivated and active grandchildren, and one grandchild home in heaven. I love my family, and they love me.
At sixty-three, the remaining ten siblings I have are all still alive, plus I have a great relationship with them. I know lots of people who can’t say that. As far as I know, I get along with the in-laws, as well as the many people in my hubby’s family.
I live in a comfortable home. I have everything I need, plus a few extras.
My mother and mother-in-law will both turn 92 this year. I’ve been blessed with two wonderful women who serve as role models for me. Both hubby and I got to spend time with our fathers as they passed from this life to the next.
I have six besties (girlfriends) that I can call whenever I need support, laughter, or share a cup of coffee. I treasure their friendship.
I get to practice my faith within a wonderful community. They even let me sing in the choir, even though I couldn’t get in the choir in high school after I auditioned. (Smile)
I look in the mirror and see that my once, dark brown hair has turned to a salt and pepper blend, with the emphasis on the salt. I like the freedom to allow it change color and be comfortable with my decision.
I have good health. No, I can’t do the things that I did in my younger years, but I’m grateful to be as mobile as I am. I can go for a walk, climb stairs, accomplish a full days work, and slide under my covers at night. I know lots of people my age who can’t.
I had a piece of carrot cake for my birthday lunch. Yes, I made it myself. But, it’s my favorite and I wanted to make sure I had some. Since I spent my birthday on a retreat, I shared it with those around me. They enjoyed it, too.
I like coffee, and I get coffee. Enough said.
I love my age. At sixty-three, I’ve had so many amazing adventures. Among them, is a trip to the country of Zimbabwe where I met local people and lots of animals.
At sixty-three, I can slow down in my day job, and I have! Through the day job that I love, I’ve met hundreds of wonderful people. Some of them became friends. Woot! Woot!
In conclusion – I’m happy with my age. I’m happy with my life.
I feel like I have a day that is a pure gift. Let me explain. My hubby had an appointment yesterday and today for a medical check-up with possible surgery for today. At our second-to-the-last appointment in a day filled with procedures and tests, he received his walking papers. The doctor went through all the test results and pronounced, “You don’t need surgery. I canceled your consultation with the surgeon that was scheduled for later today.”
Music to our ears. We high-tailed it out of the clinic, jumped in our car, checked out of the motel that we’d booked for the night, and drove the two hours to home. I could have had a meal out, but I just wanted to get home. I like my home and I enjoy my time there.
Which brings me to today – I had a different plan for today and now I have a gift – a day to do something else.
To some, my new plan might seem boring, but to me, it’s a blessing. I will go help my mom for a few hours, attend a funeral that I thought I would miss, go get some groceries that our household needs, and relish the day.
As I thought about today, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Why don’t I look at every day as a gift?”
In reality, it is. I woke up. Some don’t. I can walk to my kitchen and make coffee. Some can’t. I can drive to visit my mom or to church or to the grocery store without giving it much thought. I have a dependable car, money for fuel, and the ability to operate it.
Here’s to each day that awaits me to open, to enjoy, and to be grateful.
Every once in a while, I check different sites for my book. Since many readers go to Amazon to post reviews, I frequent it. (Thank you to all who have posted reviews!)
I just checked and Amazon put my book on sale for the lowest price I’ve seen. Today Amazon offered it for $8.90! That’s less than half-price! Broken Brain, Fortified Faith.
I’m not sure why, but I love it! I know that readers can benefit from this. So, feel free to share the link or buy the book and give it to anyone who you think may want to learn how one family coped with mental illness. Recovery can happen. It was hard, but oh, so worth it!
In the past twelve hours, I’ve received gifts that didn’t wait for later in the month. These gifts lifted my spirit.
There were so welcome after the past of days of my melancholy attitude. It started with a a phone call that left me disappointed in someone, and then morphed into a giant of oppressing sadness. I couldn’t shake the “poor me” thoughts that pounded at me.
Until the gifts from yesterday…
First, I spent some of the afternoon with people, which always lifts my mood. Yes, I’m an EXTRAVERT. I get my energy from people. The past twelve hours recharged me and changed my attitude. I needed a major gratitude adjustment.
First I sat next to a friend as I watched a Jr. High Basketball game. I hadn’t expected to see her there, so we chatted and caught up with each other’s lives. Pure gift.
From there I went to a holiday party with my local NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) chapter. I spent the evening with friends I’ve known for years, and the new ones I met as I taught a twelve week class, Family to Family, this fall. The best part of the evening came as I heard about the successes of their loved ones. I rejoice as I hear the words, “doing well,” “has a job,” “great relationship between us.” So many times I’ve heard, “The class changed my life. It was the best thing I’ve ever done for my loved one and me.” What a gift!
This morning when I checked social media, I approved the tag for this Facebook post, Free the Strange by Andrea Berns. This courageous woman shared her journey to wellness. Her talents shined through her words, as well as her determination to work towards recovery. She asked me to write the forward for her chapbook. What an honor! Congratulations to Andrea, and to all the success stories that we need to tell and celebrate with them.
Gifts come in all shapes, sizes, and look different to everyone. I received good news all around me yesterday, and I am grateful for them.
My month of gratitude adjustment draws to an end. I hope to remain
At the beginning of this month, I gave myself two goals:
To write a daily reflection on gratitude. I think it’s an important method to happiness . To look around and feel grateful. It’s too easy to fall into a negative thought process because things don’t always go in the direction that I’d like. I came up a few days shy of making my goal. But, I accomplished what I wanted – to look around for reasons to feel thankful.
To take the NaNoWriMo challenge. I wanted write a novel during the month of November. I needed to write a minimum of 50,000 words. I hit my goal on Monday, the 27, but I guess I’m too wordy. I need more than 50,000 words to finish the story. I plan to continue until I finish my rough draft. This puts my New Year’s resolution in place – to edit it and get it ready for another set of eyes to read.
My December plans include sewing a few gifts, plus Santa gave me a list to complete for him as one of his elves. In other words, back to my day job.
I thought it appropriate on my last day in November when I concentrated on gratitude to find a note in my messenger inbox. A new review for my book posted yesterday on Amazon. My heart overflowed as I read her thoughts about my book. Each time someone takes the time to read, write, and post a review for my book, Broken Brain, Fortified Faith, I am filled with gratitude. Thank you, Colleen, and everyone who posted a reaction to our story. Here’s few of her thoughts:
This is a powerful and compelling autobiographical account of one mother’s journey through the nightmare of mental illness. Virginia Pillars’ daughter, Amber, developed schizophrenia in her early twenties. As Virginia, her husband, Roy, and their sons became aware of the alternate world Amber was living in, they reached out to her. But where to begin to help her out?
…Virginia’s account is honest, compelling and revealing. It is painful as you journey with Virginia and her husband as they look for the treatment Amber needed. The disturbance that severe mental illness causes in the home life of family members is very challenging. The Pillars’ journey, like so many families, is not one of instant success…
. ..The story is very well-written. Once you start reading, it is hard to put down. There is a natural curiosity and hope that the Pillars can find the mental health professional with the right treatment for Amber. …There are many out there with family members who suffer from mild to severe mental illnesses. Virginia’s honest account opens the door to what one family experienced. It is not unique. Many families are suffering in this way. Her book does a great service in sharing the challenges and pain and the hopes and victories in navigating the road to recovery. I encourage everyone to read it and share it with others.
Last night, a member of our household returned from a trip. He’d gotten sick just before his flight home, which made for miserable plane ride. Now, the circumstance didn’t have a shred of humor in it. Not until my hubby got involved in the conversation.
He proceeded to tell of a time that he had similar symptoms when on a trip across the ocean. He described his reaction, complete with sound effects. The three of us laughed so hard we couldn’t sit up straight.
For a few minutes, we forgot his misery as we shared Roy’s hilarious memories.
Now, don’t get me wrong. We don’t think illness is funny. Nor do we dismiss another’s problems. Instead, we look at ourselves, our own reactions, and look for the humor.
It helps us cope to laugh at our mistakes, and the silly things we do. Laughter can diffuse a tense situation. It helps us look past the walls that we sometimes build around us.
Laughter releases endorphins (a feel-good hormone) which can ease stress, boost our immune system, improve our mood, increase our pain tolerance, and improve our cardiovascular health. Wow, all that from a good joke. It also releases the neurotransmitter dopamine. Think of this as a reward for our brain, which may motivate us to continue with our laughter. Maybe that’s why when I start to laugh, I can’t stop and everything sounds funny.
Maybe we should change the saying from “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” to “A laugh a day keeps the doctor away.”
Think of the last time you shared a belly laugh with someone. It felt pretty wonderful, didn’t it?
I love to laugh. I’m grateful for laughter, and the forty-two years with a husband who can make me to laugh so hard that I can’t breathe.