Memorial Day 2017

I want to think about the sacrifices made by so many people.

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Today, Memorial Day 2017, I want to think about the sacrifices made by so many people.

I found this royalty-free photo at Pixabay. It touched my heart and conscience. Not all come home to hug their loved ones. This picture says more than I can express with my words.

Because I care so deeply about mental health, I can’t help but think of those who come home, but are never the same. They continually live with the horrors of war that manifests as PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.)  The stressful environment they endured altered them forever.

“PTSD is a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event.

It is natural to feel afraid during and after a traumatic situation. Fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to help defend against danger or to avoid it. This “fight-or-flight” response is a typical reaction meant to protect a person from harm. Nearly everyone will experience a range of reactions after trauma, yet most people recover from initial symptoms naturally. Those who continue to experience problems may be diagnosed with PTSD. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they are not in danger.”  National Institute of Health.

Today, I remember all those affected. The ones who made the ultimate sacrifice, their families, and the ones who battle once they return home.

I plan to spend time in worship, attend a ceremony in honor of this day at a local cemetery, and spend time with my mom. She and Dad married after he returned from WWII. He’s passed on, but she remembers.  It’s the least I can do.

Common questions – I’m proud my family.

Here’s the last of the common questions and answers that I hear as I speak.

  1. Why did you write this book which exposed your life and thoughts?

First, I feel I must tell you that writing a book was not on my bucket list. For the most part, the only thing I wrote after high school was the dreaded Christmas newsletter. It had a circulation of about one hundred (we have large families, it really isn’t that popular.) In 2008, within a week I had two strangers suggest that I write our story.  One was a nurse taking our family history for a study we were in; the other person I met and shared our story during a random conversation at a trade show. Their comments were almost identical, “People need to hear that a family can survive such things and thrive. I would read it if I saw a book like that.” I gave it some thought and prayed about it. I threw out the proverbial fleece like Jason in Judges 6:37. I wrote a piece for a local contest and prayed, “If this is your will, my piece will be accepted.” After that piece went to print, I felt compelled to share our journey through mental illness, along with how it affected my faith life. It is my hope that others can glean something from our story to benefit their life. I want to bring awareness of what happens to a family when mental illness knocks them down. I want people to see that recovery is possible, even for something as serious as schizophrenia, and that my strength to deal with everything that happened to us came from the Lord. I just had to ask for it.

  1. How is Amber doing now? (caution: extremely proud mom about to take over for the next two paragraphs)

I’m so proud of her. Since 2004, she worked hard to achieve goals that sometimes Roy and I felt were too lofty. But she pushed herself, sometimes too hard, and had to scale back. But that drive propelled her to where she is today. Amber recovered and has remained there for over eight years. Today, she lives two hours from us in a beautiful apartment. She works full-time, manages all of her own medical needs and finances, plus leads a social life that makes me tired. I tell her often that I think she should be the poster child for schizophrenia. To say she doesn’t struggle would be a disservice to her, because she does. She has limitations and continually readjusts things in her life. She tires easily and needs quiet time each day. She may have a down day, just like the rest of us, but her down days are much harder than mine. Yet, she gets back up and tries again. The prayer I asked others to pray all those years ago was answered. She understands her illness and that medication must be taken daily. Yes, I’m extremely proud of her.

  1. How are the rest of your family doing now?

I’m proud of our three boys and their families, too. All of them continue to thrive. Melinda receives a clean bill of health regularly at her cancer screenings. Both Mitchell and Melinda enjoy their jobs – I hear wonderful things about them both from those who work with them. Mitchell continues to research new ideas just as he did to help us when Amber got sick. Carter, now a teenager, stays active with school and sport activities. Madelyn, a tween, also stays active with school, sports, and she loves to cook and sew. Wesley and Suzanne both found jobs that allows them to use their talents and abilities. Wesley has had several promotions in the past few years. Ella, almost a tween keeps them busy with her studies and interest in drama. She also cooks and sews with me when she visits. Clinton met his wife and soulmate, , Evelyn, several years ago. Together, they follow their dreams, work hard for their careers, and have amazing adventures. Last, but not least, Roy continues to farm, an occupation that he loves. So, we are all doing wonderful. End of brag.

  1. Will you write a sequel or do you have plans for more books?

No, I don’t plan a sequel. Amber continues to stay in recovery and I wish to keep that part of her life private.

Yes, I’m working on a collection of stories with some humor, and/or lessons that I’ve learned throughout my life. I think God prepared me for the hard years by showering me with grace. Throughout my life, I learned how to deal with situations that I encountered. Those skills helped me to handle the hard years when they came.

I also have several ideas for novels that sometimes wake me up at night or fill my brain as I drive. I record my ideas for future use. At this point in my life, I try to listen to the Holy Spirit for guidance on the path to follow. So, as they say, “To be determined…”

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

Blog Review from Mary Potter Kenyon

Thank you, MaryPotterKenyon for your wonderful review of Broken Brain, Fortified Faith: Lessons of Hope Through a Child’s Mental Illness. Your words made my day. Our journey through schizophrenia was probably the hardest path I’ve ever had to take. But out of that period in my life came a resolve to reach out to other families who face a similar road. I like to bring hope that recovery is possible. Mental illness can be a life-long journey, but those affected can resume a lifestyle similar to others around them. It takes a tremendous amount of support, love, and dedication by the individual and those around them. I found help through NAMI, a wonderful organization providing support, education, and advocacy for mental illness.

I read with eagerness the latest news from Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, where money is distributed with grants to scientists who study the brain to unlock the mysteries of mental illness.

It’s also left my heart in a different state. I’ve become more compassionate, more mindful of the words I use, more deliberate in the actions I use on a daily basis. I practice the art of finding something each day to make me smile and try to bring the same facial exercise to those around me. Whether it be the person who checks me out at the store, a server at a restaurant, or any numerous places I encounter people, I try to bring joy.

Let’s work together to bring hope, healing, and faith to those around us. For I believe with all my heart, people who suffer from mental illness have a brain disorder – not a character flaw. They didn’t choose this for themselves. Science shows us again, and again the biological reasons for the illness. Let’s treat it as such.