January 9, 2019
This morning, as I drank my coffee and read my devotional books, one of them had a reflection on Ecclesiastes 3:4, A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.
Fourteen years ago, I went through a time when I forgot how to laugh. Life had heaped stress upon stress upon me as our daughter battled the symptoms of schizophrenia. She didn’t act like the daughter I knew and loved. Uneducated, I didn’t know how to deal with it, so I worried. The more I stewed, the more the life-giving human emotion of laughter floated away from me out of my reach. I had a choice before me: wallow in my misery or change my situation. I chose the latter.
First, I educated myself about the brain and what my daughter endured -what she could face in the future. Once I had a basic understanding of this, I moved forward so that when a humorous situation happened, I could once again catch it and tuck it away to lift my spirits in the days to come.
As Roy and I checked Amber into the third hospital in six weeks, the nurse asked her where she lived. “Here,” Amber said as she glared at the woman.
“No, I mean before you came here.”
“Covenant, ” Amber said defiantly. (We had just transferred Amber from Covenant, a hospital near our home town.)
Roy laughed. I snickered. The tense feeling that made my palms sweat and my heart race eased for just a moment. Amber’s answer, meant to protect her personal information from this stranger, had a lot of truth behind it. She had indeed spent her last few weeks living at Covenant. Her flippant answer showed me that schizophrenia hadn’t stolen Amber’s personality. It was still there.
Let me explain. In our home, laughter, sarcasm, and affection mingled to form a foundation as solid as the concrete in our basement walls. Roy and I met as teenagers and had built our relationship on shared laughter and faith. As our children grew up, affection mixed with sarcasm became a part of their personalities. To see this snippet still there in Amber gave me hope. Even though parts of me wept, I had a moment when I laughed.
A time to weep, and a time to laugh. I could continue to move forward.
Last Friday, Whispers in the Pews: Voices on Mental Illness in the Church released.
I feel grateful today for the people who shared the link on social media and encouraged others to read it. I feel grateful for those who read it and posted reviews on Amazon. I feel grateful for the conversations that I know will take place in our church communities, around the water coolers, one on one over coffee as a result of the voices who shared their stories and bared their souls.
I understand the concept of time. Any change in attitude takes time. A young woman recently shared with me it takes seven years from the first time we hear something to have a change of heart. In those seven years, we need to hear the message repeated by different people in different ways.
Perhaps this book will help pave the way for the subject of mental illness to go from “we don’t talk about it” to a genuine understanding and compassion for us all.
Mental illness is not a weakness in a person’s faith. I’ve met countless people in the past fourteen years whose faith can move a mountain. Mental illness struck anyway. It’s a brain disorder, not a character flaw.
Mental illness can’t be prayed away. This is not to say that God can’t work a miracle. I know God can heal mind, body, and soul. I do believe, however, that often times God works through professionals who assist those who seek recovery by:
- Provide medications that assist the brain to make the proper connections so it can function as it should.
- Provide therapy in various forms – again – to assist the brain to react differently to outside stimulus.
- Provide a safe space to discuss the issues that accompany mental illness.
We, as a community can help by:
- Provide a listening ear, without judgment. Sometimes, that means not saying anything, just listening.
- Help them find the professional help they seek.
- Treat them as before illness struck. They want acceptance and don’t want to feel set apart because of a biological illness.
Let’s offer everyone a hand to help them stand. We’re all in this together.
November 16, 2018
“Shhh…” “NO, I want to talk about it!”
How many times have we whispered about a mental health issue as our eyes dart around the crowd to see if anyone else heard us?
When mental illness blasted into our family, I reacted this way. I lowered my voice when I spoke about it. I felt embarrassed – like our family did something to cause this. Through education I received from the National Alliance on Mental Illness organization, I changed my attitude. They taught me about the biology of the brain and how to be a helpmate to those who battle it. I learned support plays a major factor in the recovery process. Yes, I said that right, recovery process. I’ve rejoiced more than once as people I love work to recover from their illness and go on to lead a fulfilling life.
Now, I’ll talk about it with anyone and everyone who will listen. I also write about it every chance I get. I want everyone to understand the difficulties that face families in the clutches of mental illness. I want our culture to react in a helpful, not a hurtful way. This means compassionate understanding.
And I learned that I’m not alone in this new way of life. Countless others have the same goal. Chris Morris from Llama Publishing brought us together to write about our experiences in the church as we dealt with mental illness. He compiled and edited, Whispers in the Pews. He explained why he began this project and how he accomplished it in this 2-part interview at InspireChristianWriters. Part 1. Part 2.
I feel honored he chose to include my essay in this important book. I hope one day everyone can go to their faith community and find the support they need when they need it. It makes a difference in their recovery process.
The book releases today – November 16.
Thank you for stopping.
Bye for now, Virginia
October 18, 2018
This powerful documentary, God Knows Where I Am, (the last time I checked, you could view it on Netflix) pulled back the invisibility cloak on the life of one homeless woman who battled untreated mental illness. Through Linda’s journal found beside her body in an empty farmhouse in New Hampshire, viewers lived in her world as she struggled to survive in an unforgiving environment.
Linda Bishop, a daughter, a sister, a mother, had people who cared about her. They knew she needed help, medication, and treatment. Unfortunately, during an in-hospital stay when Linda adamantly refused treatment, the hands that wanted to help her were slapped away. Loved ones petitioned for guardianship to ensure treatment for her, but the court denied their request. Laws set up to protect the rights of the patient allowed Linda to choose her own treatment plan.
The clear mind that guides most of us to make informed and calculated decisions on our health care had fogged over for Linda. Her brain convinced her she didn’t need medicine. Unable to help her, the staff released her, but privacy laws prevented them from notifying her family. Linda walked through the door of the hospital, through the door of the abandoned farmhouse, and into her personal prison as her mind imposed a death sentence on an innocent inmate.
I cried as I watched Linda’s final months of life. I cried for all the Lindas with an untreated mental illness that takes their lives. I cried for their families. I cried for the pain endured by all of them. I cried because I don’t know how to protect the rights of the patient when their minds prevent them from accepting the necessary treatment that might return them to a life with loved ones.
At one time in our country’s history, people lost their rights and found themselves in an institution and no way for parole simply because another person said they had a mental illness. I don’t want to see that inflexibility ever return.
I know people who chose to walk away from treatment and live without hurting themselves or others. Can we take away that person’s right to choose?
But, what about the Linda’s?
How do we know which ones need treatment to survive and which person can manage their illness?
What if the courts had granted Linda’s family guardianship? Would treatment have helped her come to terms with her mental illness?
Would mandatory outpatient follow-up care prevented her from disappearing into a place where no one found her until it was too late?
What if the hospital had notified her family of her imminent release and the family had the opportunity to support her as they guided her into wellness?
As I said, I cried because I don’t know the answers to the hard questions. I cried because I wrestled with the memories of our family’s journey – the denial of the illness, the refusal to accept treatment, the appearance in court for committal for treatment and again for guardianship and conservatorship. I know – if things had gone differently for us…if we had been denied…and I cry for all the Lindas and their families. I want different outcomes for them. I know recovery can happen. However, it takes a village of support. Research shows early intervention and a treatment plan help people resume productive lives.
I spent two hours last night watching this documentary on my local public television station. I encourage everyone to spend time with Linda Bishop through her written words, her sister, her daughter, and others who appear in this film. Rated TV-PG, it may give you a new glimpse into the complicated problem of mental illness, treatment, and homelessness.
Let’s keep the conversation on mental illness alive. Let’s support the people afflicted and those who love them. Let’s educate ourselves and encourage others to do the same. Let’s work together to find the answers for all the Linda Bishops in our world.
October 12, 2018
It’s Friday of Mental Illness Awareness Week. Several days, I posted reviews on books about mental illness, both nonfiction and fiction. I find when I read books and talk with people affected by mental illness it broadens my knowledge. I also read online research and listen to webinars and videos. Each time I do, I realize how much I don’t know. I promise myself to keep my education on this important subject in a forward motion.
As I visit with groups, I’m asked often, “How can I tell if it’s typical teenage behavior or mental illness?”
In 2016, the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation published a blog about this subject. In this article, they focused on Bipolar, which is a mood disorder.
The next few paragraphs came from their blog:
Some typical teen behavior—such as unstable moods and risky behavior with drugs or sex—can also be expressions of bipolar disorder. How can a parent tell the difference?
This is one of the toughest problems for parents. The key is the clustering of unstable moods with other symptoms. Let’s use the example of a child who goes snowboarding, jumps off a cliff, and breaks his leg. Is that a manic symptom? Well, does he also have a decreased need for sleep? Is he saying grandiose things like, “I’m the best snowboarder in the world?” Is he staying up late at night and talking faster? Does his behavior stand out, even among his friends?
If parents suspect a problem, they should first talk to the child and say, “Here’s what I’m seeing. Do you think you need to talk to somebody?” The child will probably say no. Then you go a little further and say, “Why do you think you’re more irritable? It must be hard to get through the day with such little sleep.” If you suspect that he or she does have a mood disorder, get an evaluation with a psychiatrist or a psychologist—a diagnostic evaluation that includes a full medical history. Ask for recommendations on next steps— knowing that no one doctor has all the answers.
If there are questions about whether your son or daughter’s behavior is healthy or not, it may be best to just do “watchful waiting” for a while, before insisting on medications or therapy. If your child has expressed any suicidal ideation and depression, get rid of any weapons in the house and make sure alcohol or prescription medication are not easily available.
To learn about the difference in adults and youth, monitoring their moods, should they tell their friends, how to find the right doctor, among other topics, read the rest of the article.
October 7, 2018
People with serious mental illness die on an average fifteen to thirty years earlier than the those without. What’s the difference for this disparity that’s higher than gender, racial, social economic factors?
October 7 – 15, 2018 is National Mental Health Awareness week. People with serious mental illness die on an average fifteen to thirty years earlier than the those without. What’s the difference for this disparity that’s higher than gender, racial, social economic factors?
One common misconception is that they die earlier because of suicide, overdose or accident due to their mental health condition. However, similar health conditions take their lives, just as with others in their age group. Illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, pulmonary disease, and diabetes are responsible. Why do those with mental illness die from these at a higher rate? Just like with all medical issues, the answers are not one-size fits all.
- Risky behavior is higher for those with mental illness, such as the use of tobacco products.
- Research continues to explore why those with a serious mental illness have a higher rate of diabetes, strokes, or cardiovascular disease.
- Often those with a serious mental illness receive their general health care from a public mental health service or a psychiatrist as opposed to a primary health care physician.
- Bias from those who provide health services has a couple of segments that change the treatment suggested.
1. What’s the point? Some believe those with a serious mental illness won’t recover, so why bother to treat them.
2. Failure to listen to symptoms by professionals because they attribute the complaints to the mental illness and not as a serious concern. As a result, doctors are less likely to order cardiac catheterization for symptoms associated with a heart attack. They are also less likely to order cancer screening or follow-up treatment than they would for the general population. (National Council for Behavior OcHealth, 7/10/18)
The above statistics make me sad. I’d like to see everyone make it to recovery and live a life similar to others in their age group. I’d like to see this change in my lifetime. If not, in my daughter’s.
Let’s continue to talk about mental illness. Let’s work together to help those who struggle with it. And let’s champion for our loved one to ensure they get the care they need when they need it. Sometimes, we have to act as their voice until they can speak for themselves.
Each day this week, I hope to post a book review about a book that deals with mental illness. I hope you stop back.
Approximately 20% of children are diagnosed with mental illness in a given year. Mental health issues can cause changes in their feelings or emotions; others have trouble controlling their behavior, and some suffer from anxiety. Sometimes for their classmates, these behaviors can seem funny, or scary, or make them shun the individual.
Acceptance and support can make a big difference for these children who often feel isolated, fearful, and alone. As our youth return to school, it’s a good time to have a discussion with parents and children about some ways to handle uncomfortable situations. How can we talk to our teens, preteens, even younger children?
Understanding can help bridge the chasm we see in students’ reactions to their surroundings and help them accept and cope with their illnesses. Below are some of the signs of inner struggles followed by suggestions to assist the children with mental illness who battle in social settings and coping skills. I used the acronym F.R.I.E.N.D.S. because those with mental illness often travel through the school years alone, without friends.
*Frightened, fear of fitting in, focusing on their work, that they are at fault or self-loathing.
-When speaking with our children, we can help them remember how they feel when they experience similar emotions. We can explain that those same fears are more intense for their classmates. We can encourage them to treat their schoolmates with the same fairness they want to be shown.
*Refusal to cooperate with teachers or classmates; they can react by throwing things or yelling or refuse to talk.
-We can talk with our children about appropriate reactions to volatile behavior. Stay relaxed, keep remarks to a minimum, respect them, reach out to them when they have calmed down, and react with kindness. Perhaps suggest reading together or another quiet activity.
*Intense emotions, both excitable or sadness.
-Remember first that they suffer from an invisible illness. We can’t see it like a broken arm or leg, but they are in pain. “I” statements can diffuse uncomfortable situations. “How can I help?” “I’d like you to join me at lunch or recess.”
*Embarrassed by their own behavior
-The students who act out in a class have a hard time expressing their emotions like other classmates. They can see it in themselves and often beat themselves up over it in their mind. Emotions that others find easy, they can find elusive as they try to express it. Encouragement for appropriate emotions, looking for something you both enjoy, and not laughing at them may ease the excitable energy that is often displayed.
*Noise levels can make behaviors worse
-Everyone has a different level of noise tolerance, but in mental illness, these can seem much louder and annoying to the individual. It helps to remember everyone has distinct needs. Keeping the noise level down, avoid making negative comments to them or about them may help the individual to respond in a calmer manner. School nurses and adults are there to help when situations get out of control.
*Different reactions that escalate quickly to things that no one else notices
-Mental illness can manifest small things into a dominating feeling. Often things that other classmates don’t even notice, can feel monstrous to a child with mental health issues. When we look for the things that we have in common, rather than the things that make us different, we can bridge the gaps in reaction to a manageable space. Discuss things that they both enjoy – games, TV programs, movies, etc.
*Sadness, shyness, and sensitivity are some outward signs of inner struggles.
-Ways to help those who battle mental illness can include simple things such as an approving smile, using soft voices (even if they are loud,) sitting beside them and being sensitive to their needs. It’s not our words that can make a difference, but support by sometimes staying silent and being present during times of stress.
Tomorrow is Mother’s day. I’ve celebrated this day for the past forty-two years. My first-born arrived the day after Mother’s Day that year, but I wore flowers that morning to church in anticipation of the upcoming event. That year, hubby had finished planting corn on Mother’s Day afternoon. As we visited his mom that evening, I announced that I planned to have the baby that night before he had a chance to start planting beans on Monday. I hadn’t started labor, I just made a flippant remark. Little did I know that labor would begin in a few hours – ten days before my due date. I held our newborn son the following afternoon after twenty-four hours of intense preparation.
Over the next six years, two more brothers and a sister joined in our yearly celebration of Mother’s Day. I am quite biased, but I think all four of them are amazing people. I’m proud of each of them for their compassion and caring attitudes for others and the goals they’ve each worked hard to achieve in their adult lives.
Last year, I wrote about my feelings about my journey with my daughter as she battles mental health issues. I still say, “Happy Mother’s Day to me! I am so grateful for my four children.”
Sometimes, I want to cry…
But maybe not for the common reasons that make 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 judgment, 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.