Faith is important to me., How To Eat an Elephant, My thoughts about Mental Health, Virginia Pillars

Elephant in the Room


We’ve all heard the term, “elephant in the room” – the subject everyone knows about, but no one talks about it. Well, not in polite company anyway…

When I grew up, back in the 60’s and 70’s, lots of subjects fell into this category. Pregnancy, for one. PG was the term I heard often when I listened to my mother and aunts talk over coffee.

Cancer was another one. When the adults in my life discussed the “illness,” they referred to it as “C.” I don’t know if they thought they would catch it or what. But I didn’t hear the word cancer.

Of course, mental illness. I heard the term, nervous breakdown once in a while, but I didn’t know what that meant. People kept these struggles behind their front door. We didn’t know about them.

Fast forward fifty-some years. We’ve changed our thoughts on what is a topic of polite conversation. We chat about pregnancy and cancer often, with either joy, as is often the case for expecting a child, or concern over the devastating illness cancer. We, as a culture, rally around those who face cancer with cards, letters, fund-raisers, and food. We promise to pray for them.

Mental illness has lagged behind the other two subjects as one we feel we can tell our family and friends to obtain support. It’s still the elephant in the room. There is still some amount of stigma and shame associated with this illness that science has proven to have a biological base.

I know when it struck our family in 2004, I reacted the same way. I kept it to myself. I didn’t tell those around me on a daily basis. I told immediate family and no one else. I was embarrassed. Why? Because I didn’t know other families who dealt with it. I thought we’d be judged. What had I done as a mom to cause this? Why didn’t I prevent it?

Once I realized that my child suffered from a broken brain, I changed my attitude. I reached out to extended family and friends. I found support. I found understanding. I found people who promised to pray for our situation. And I found healing.

One in five individuals deals with a mental health issue at some time in their life. One in four families knows about the pain that accompanies it. More wages are lost to mental illness than cancer, heart and lung disease combined.

Let’s start a conversation. Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Let’s continue it. Let’s let others know of our struggles. Let’s support others in theirs. Let’s rally around families as they deal with the unthinkable. How about a gift card for gas? It takes many trips to doctors, therapists, hospital visits, and food. Can we send a card or note to let them know they are in our thoughts and prayers?

I’ve heard it said in NAMI groups, “No one brings you a casserole when your loved one is in a mental health unit…” We did. We actually had someone bring us a casserole when our child was in the hospital. But the best part – they sat and shared a meal with us. They stayed with us to listen and cry with us.  They reminded me of the friends at the end of the book of Job.  They didn’t say anything because they knew our pain was so great.

Because of my own experience, I reach out to others and give them permission to talk about whatever it is they need to say.

 

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Faith is important to me., My thoughts about Mental Health, Virginia Pillars

My first award!


Last year I joined the Catholic Writers Guild after I attended their LIVE conference. This is a professional group of writers, artists, editors, illustrators, and allies whose mission is to build a vibrant Catholic literary culture (taken from their FAQ page.)

logo color CWG SOA - CopyEarlier this year I applied for their Seal of Approval. On March 30, an email gave me the wonderful news that my first book, Broken Brain, Fortified Faith received the SOA. Basically this means that my readers  can read it with the understanding that this book will not offend their Catholic faith or annoy the grammar police.

Knowing I have the approval of my fellow Catholic professionals means a lot. I want to thank all the people who helped with my faith formation over the years and the editor who worked with me at Familius,  Lindsay Painter Sandberg.

Let’s continue to talk about mental illness. My journey through the scary world of schizophrenia is similar to almost every family that I’ve met. When we talk about it, we give them permission to share their pain and ask for support. I know I felt alone when I first discovered schizophrenia had invaded our daughter. I found help through the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) , this group of wonderful, supportive people.

I couldn’t write my story without including my faith journey, too. It’s part of who I am and how I made it without complete despair. So let’s continue to talk about that, too.  NAMI has an organization, FaithNet  for all those who wish to keep the two connected: mental illness and faith.

I hope one day those families and individuals who battle mental illness can feel comfortable going to their family, friends, and their church community for the support and prayers they need. I also hope for a culture where we talk about mental illness the same way we discuss cancer or diabetes. For it’s a biological disorder, not a character flaw.