Interviews and Reviews

Interviews and book reviews  for Broken Brain, Fortified Faith mean the world to me.

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I appreciate all the people who take time out of their busy lives to write their reaction to our story. Until I wrote a book, I had no idea how important reviews are to an author.

It’s nice to know someone read my words, that someone found a worthwhile tidbit in what I said, and now I understand how reviews can lead others to read it, too.

Interviews allow me to reflect on new questions, plus it allows readers a chance to get to me a little better. So I appreciate it when another author, or a radio personality reaches out to ask me questions.  At a recent author fair, I had a request for such an interview by another author, who’s reached out to another segment of our culture –  military families. Of course I said, “Yes!” to Jocelyn Green, the author of fourteen books!

I met this award-winning author many years ago at a christian writers conference when she critiqued my work and gently showed me ways to improve. In addition, I’ve read three of her four Heroines Behind the Lines series set during the Civil War and recently started book four in the series, Spy of Richmond. Jocelyn interviewed me for a post on her website during Mental Health Awareness Week, October 1-7, 2017. I’m grateful to her for her thought-provoking questions and the graphics she included in the interview. The graphic used for this post is from her. (Thanks, Jocelyn!)

I’ve added the link to her website. Interview for Mental Health Awareness Week.

A reminder, broken-brain-fortified-faith-book-cover with Selah SOA winnerBroken Brain, Fortified Faith is on sale from the publisher for Mental Health Awareness Week.

P.S. Share this post to your social media page, let me know where for a chance to win a free copy of this book. (U.S. address only.) I plan to draw the winner on October 8 at 8 p.m. CST.

 

 

I hugged a stranger in a bar…

This is almost an oxymoron for me – the words “in a bar,” not that I hugged a stranger. Let me explain.

My body doesn’t handle alcohol well. It causes migraine headaches and so I made the decision years ago to drink water, coffee, milk, and an occasional orange juice. So for me to sit and sip with friends in a bar is an unusual event for me. For the record, I sat with fellow writers in the bar/grill at the Renaissance Convention Center in Schaumburg, Illinois at the Catholic Writers Guild LIVE conference.  After a day filled with new friends, learning, and sharing our faith, we gathered to share food and stories.

Because of the size of the convention center, there were other groups sharing the beautiful facility. By 9 o’clock, the bar appeared to be the destination spot for a large sampling of the various organizations that held their meetings here.

Because I’m an early riser, I knew my day needed to end. I sang “Good Night, Ladies” to the women at my table and squeezed my way through the crowd. I had almost made it to the exit when I bumped into a young woman who grinned at me. “Are you looking for a drink?” she asked.

“No, I’m looking for my room.”

She laughed and the conversation began. I inquired which group she represented. She mentioned the business, and I countered with “I’m with the writers conference.” She wanted to know what I write and of course I brought up my favorite topic – mental illness. And the bump into a stranger morphed into a connection that illustrates a sobering statistic  – one in four families deal with mental illness.

Within minutes I knew about the death of a neighbor/friend to suicide after a battle with depression. We shared grief, hope, and the cultural reaction to it. I understood the pain for I’ve experienced the loss of someone I love who suffered the same illness.

“I want to buy your book,” she mentioned. I happened to have a copy of my book, Broken Brain, Fortified Faith in my tote bag because a fellow writer asked me to bring her a copy. We hadn’t connected yet so she could purchase it. I told the young woman and she whipped out her wallet. I signed the copy as we stood in the crowd. I finally knew her name as I wrote it in the book.

We hugged and parted with a promise to reconnect via e-mail.

This is not an isolated incident. It doesn’t matter where I am, who I’m with, or the circumstances of our encounter, I meet companions on this journey.  At least twenty-five percent of people I meet have dealt, or are currently in a situation that involves mental illness. I meet people in church, at parties, while I shop, and now in a bar. I smile as I think about it. I want to be a disciple of Jesus, to take His love to all those I meet. I just didn’t think it would be in a bar and I smile at the irony. God must have a sense of humor.

And so I continue to open the door to meaningful conversations with everyone I meet. I want to share our common human experience, support others in their struggles, pray for them and their loved one. I want to bring awareness to the epidemic of mental illness, donate to the research we need to understand it more and change the culture of stigma that surrounds it. I want everyone to live in hope, that recovery is possible and that maybe one day it will happen for everyone’s loved one. We’re all in this together.

 

 

 

 

 

Among the thorns – beauty.

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

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.

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.

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.

Happy Mother’s Day to me.

Happy Mother’s Day to me and to every mom who loves someone with a mental illness. We do the best we can.

 

My daughMothers-Day-Picturester  Amber has schizophrenia and I’m glad I’m her mom.

“She’s lucky to have you for parents.” “She’s doing well because of you.”

I’ve heard this often. I usually answer them, “I’m glad I’m her mom.”

Schizophrenia tried to steal Amber from the life she envisioned for herself. Her brain disorder bombarded her with symptoms after she graduated from college and headed into the world to follow her dreams. Paranoia, delusions, visual and auditory hallucinations, distorted thinking, and confusion crippled her for many harrowing months. As she spiraled out of the reality I knew into a one that made no sense, I thought I lost my only daughter forever. The relationship I envisioned for us slipped away as the whirlpool of mental illness sucked her away.

Through treatment, things changed. She entered the recovery stage and manages her symptoms through medication and self-care. She works full-time, lives on her own, manages her own affairs, and leads a social life that makes me tired.

Thirteen years later, I have my daughter back. My husband, Roy and I have an amazing daughter. And I feel that I gained a confidant and friend. As Mother’s Day approaches, I look back and see how our relationship evolved from mother/daughter through caregiver/patient, back to mother/daughter and now – friend.

Amber and I call each other almost daily. We talk about our day, the latest book we’ve read or movie that we’ve watched. We share our thoughts about faith, situations around us and giggle over silly stories. I ask her for advice and vice versa. But beyond my conversation partner, I look at where we’ve been and I am grateful.

I would not have chosen this off-road course of life for her, or for our family. But life throws things at us that we can’t avoid. In spite of the struggles, the stress, and the heartache we had, I found joy. I leaned on my faith to help me cope until I saw a glimmer of hope again.  I feel I became a better person because of her illness and the things I learned. Things I wish I knew years ago:

  • Treat it like every other illness. Mental Illness is a biological illness. Scientists and researchers proved this. Molecular changes take place in the brain that are visible through brain imaging. So why did I feel embarrassed when Amber first became sick with the symptoms of schizophrenia? Would have I reacted this way to cancer or diabetes? Would I deny her illness? I think not.
  • Accept the illness. “It’s not your fault” became part of my daily phrases I said to Amber. She didn’t choose this for herself. She didn’t understand why her world turned against her. I repeated “I love you, I’m here for you,” often. Once I accepted her brain disorder, I moved forward. I became her advocate, caregiver, and support.
  • Early Treatment. Once I realized that Amber’s brain was in trauma, Roy and I took action. Early treatment made a huge difference in how her brain reacted to treatment. Once the doctors found the right medication, she began to heal. I learned that schizophrenia alters the brain by destroying the gray matter. Now, thirteen years later, she understands her illness and wants to stay in recovery.
  • Support can help a loved one succeed. In our family, we moved Amber home during her recovery. After a lengthy hospital stay, I treated her as if she came home from a cancer treatment. I let her choose the level of activity she could handle. I didn’t ask for her help with household chores. I helped manage her medications and appointments. As she healed, she regained the stamina and wanted to do things for herself. With this came confidence in her abilities.
  • Support for the family whose loved one faces mental illness makes a huge difference. Often time when tragedy strikes a family, the surrounding community reacts with compassion, support and financial help. But what happens to the family who deals with the tragedy of a serious brain disorder? Who steps in to hold them up? In our case, our families and friends did. They sent cards, letters, small gifts and visited Amber in the hospital. We received the same treatment, a friend even delivered a casserole! Now, support to other families ranks high on my list of priorities.
  • Educate yourself. Education played a key role for me understanding mental illness. I learned what Amber faced by reading books on the subject. I also attended the Family to Family class through NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) where I learned about the brain, symptoms, treatments and how to care for myself. I gained the tools I needed to cope.
  • Be open. Once I shared my experience with others, I felt empowered and no longer isolated. My honesty allowed people to share their own journeys with me and we could support each other.
  • Fight for them. I turned into a mama bear for her. I stood up for her when she couldn’t stand for herself. Roy and I sought the best treatment for her, switching providers if necessary. I filled out paperwork for her until she could do it for herself. Now, I get to stand to the side and root for her as she lives her life in a way that is similar to other women her age.
  • Pray. I prayed daily for her and for me. For her to understand her illness. For the doctors to find the correct medicine to help her. And wisdom and strength for me to do the right things to help her recover.

Yes, I’m grateful Amber is my daughter. I understand schizophrenia is often relentless and vicious. And that not everyone wins the battle. But I’m grateful that if Amber is one out of one hundred people to have it, that she was born into our family. I’m glad we found the help she needed and that she recaptured a life of independence packed with work, friends, faith and family.

Happy Mother’s Day to me and to every mom who loves someone with a mental illness. We do the best we can! Happy-Mothers-Day-Pictures-2

I want to pass it on…

Sometimes a song gets in my head and wants to stay.  The tune, the words play over and over in my mind in the quiet of my house. This morning it’s an old song from years ago called Pass it on. “I’ll shout it from the mountain top. I want my world to know. The Lord of love has come to me. I want to pass it on.”

Why the feeling? I spoke last week with a NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) group about our story and my book. I shared with them snippets of the agony I had when our daughter became ill and later received the diagnosis of schizophrenia. I felt hopeless, frustrated and terribly alone.

Fortunately, for our family, we found the proper treatment at the right time, she wanted to get well and we worked together for her recovery. Today, twelve years later, she remains in recovery.

She battled back from the harsh symptoms and went on to live a life similar to other individuals her age. She works full-time, manages all her own affairs and medications, and leads a social life that makes me tired. To say I’m proud of her is an understatement.

Why did it work this way for our family?

I wish I could give a concrete answer. I can only relay what happened in our family. But,  I believe we had a miracle. Yes, a miracle.

  • We turned to professionals who used their expertise. We had psychiatrists who cared and included all of us in the discussions.
  • Amber had a wonderful counselor/therapist who walked closely with her for many years.
  • We learned about the illness that invaded our child through classes by our local NAMI organization. Understanding helped me cope.
  • Amber’s best friend came to see her and take her out socially every week. This action kept her immersed in social situations with people her age.
  • Amber was driven. She pushed herself past what her dad and I felt comfortable with as she took two steps forward and then one step back.
  • I leaned on my faith. I tried to center myself each day by reading and praying to strengthen me.
  • We had the support of our families and close friends.

Yes, I think this formula produced what I feel is a miracle – professionals + education + support + faith + Amber’s determination = recovery.

It saddens me to know this isn’t the case for many families. As I volunteer with our local NAMI organization, or to speak to groups about our story, I hear heartbreaking stories of individuals who battle and the families who love them. I know they want the best for their loved ones, just as I did.

  • To them, I want to bring hope that recovery is possible. To not give up, to continue to search for answers, to ask for help, to keep hope alive.
  • To others who come to listen to an author, I want to bring awareness to an issue that affects 1 in 5 individuals and 1 in 4 families. These families need a community to stand with them, to let them know they are not alone in their journeys.
  • I want to start conversations so everyone comes to understand it’s a brain disorder, not a character flaw. My daughter certainly didn’t choose to have schizophrenia.
  • I want to pass it on:  hope, awareness, and support.

Just in case you’re interested in the song, here’s one link:

Pass it On by Kurt Kaiser