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

Interviews and Reviews


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.

 

 

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My thoughts about Mental Health

Mental Health Awareness Week


In the fall of 2004, I’d never heard of Mental Health Awareness Week. It took place the week of October 3 – 9. But, as I look back, I wish I’d had known someone who was involved. I wish they’d told me about it. I wish I’d known how mental illness affects one in five adults in a given year, according to NAMI.  This stands for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a grassroots organization that works to improve the lives of people who deal with brain disorders and the families who love them.

Perhaps if I’d been aware, I’d have recognized the symptoms that my daughter had begun to exhibit in the fall of 2004. Perhaps if I’d been aware, I’d have encouraged her to seek professional help earlier. Perhaps, I could have spared her some of the pain she endured.

But, as I’ve heard often from the people I’ve met through NAMI since then, “You can’t know what no one has told you.” And no one told me.

Fortunately for our family, we found this wonderful organization within a month of the time we realized that something was wrong. That our daughter, Amber, suffered from something more serious than depression.

The people we met “told us” what we needed to know. They shared their knowledge. But more important than that, they shared their compassion and understanding. The people we met had walked a similar road before us and they took our hands to lead us through the crisis.

It’s now Mental Health Awareness Week, 2017. It began on Sunday, October 1 and ends on Saturday, October 7. I want change “You can’t know what no one has told you.” And so I talk about it. I’d like to make the journey easier for those who walk the path now, or those about to embark on a journey they don’t want to take. I share our story with anyone who will listen. I tell them it’s a brain disorder, not a character flaw. I tell them my daughter didn’t choose to have schizophrenia. Who would choose an illness – any illness – for themselves?

I tell people who will listen that it’s the brain affected that needs treatment, just like the pancreas needs treatment for diabetes. I encourage them to seek treatment. 50% of those with an illness don’t do that. Perhaps if all sought treatment, and the treatment was available to them, we could see an improvement in so many lives.

Today, our daughter lives in recovery. She received the treatment she needed and returned to an independent lifestyle. She beat schizophrenia into submission as she worked with doctors, therapists, counselors until she could return to full time employment and her own apartment. She worked hard, and I’m so proud of her.

I want our culture to support those who battle these illnesses. I want the support for the families who love them, too. I’ve witnessed the difference that treatment and support can make in the lives of those affected.celebration-from-clipartix

 

I dream of a day when everyone who falls into the category of one in five can celebrate recovery.

Let’s talk about Mental Health Awareness with everyone we know.

 

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

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Virginia's Reviews

Book Review: I Liked My Life


I read this book in a little over a day, but I’m afraid I won’t finish it for a long time. It left me feeling grumpy. Yes, grumpy. And I will spend a good chunk of my brain power in thought. As I read the book, I felt like I stared into a mirror. And that made me grumpy. What about it left me unsettled? Did some of the personalities strike too close to home? The answer – yes – and then, what’s next? Is it too late to make a change? Is it even possible at this time in my life?

Abby captured personalities, real life situations and scenarios. I didn’t know what to expect when I won a copy of this book during a Facebook promotion. A woman, successful and devoted to her family, dies. After an investigation, her death is recorded as a suicide. But – she didn’t leave a note with an explanation. Now, her husband and daughter are left to wonder why and examine their life in detail. Was their behavior a factor? Why did she do it?

I Liked My Life, by Abby Fabiaschi, exams the family left behind, but also gives insight into the situation from the deceased as she watches from above. It was a novel approach to a nationwide epidemic. As the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., it affects families daily. I’ve experienced the grief of the survivors as I stood at the grave of four people who lost the battle against mental illness in the past few years. There is no comfort for the families left behind.

I’m glad I read it, but I have to admit, I was also glad to finish it. It kept me turning the page in spite of the pain that registered deep as the story progressed.

I won’t reveal the character who reminded me of me. I think that is up to each reader to determine and I don’t want to influence them. But I’m guessing most readers can identify with one of them. I didn’t want to face some of the truths revealed to me in this story of a once happy and contented family. Tragedy rocketed them into a new reality, as happens in most families.

It’s been a while since a novel made me exam my life in detail as this one did. I know this bad case of  “the grumpies” won’t last for me. I will take my new awareness, exam it, make a plan of action, implement it, and move on. I hope I become a better version of me as a result of reading, I Liked My Life.

 

My thoughts about Mental Health, Virginia Pillars

Elephant in the Room, Part 3


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.

destructionThere’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.”

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

WOW!


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.

My thoughts about Mental Health, Virginia Pillars

Mama Bear…


As I go out and speak with people at libraries, book clubs, and organizations, I meet some amazing people. Last night was one such night.

The first woman who joined us came because she thought I was the author, Nancy C. Andreasen, MD, PhD who wrote The Broken Brain. This book revolutionized how we look at mental illness. The gal who joined us last night saw the title of my book , Broken Brain, Fortified Faith, on a library flier and thought she came to meet Dr. Andreasen.  I can see how the two books could be confused, and I must say – I didn’t ever mean to put myself in the same category as Dr. Andreasen. I read her book The Broken Brain at the beginning of my journey with my daughter. I learned so much from this wonderful woman whose writing taught me that my daughter’s brain was broken as the symptoms of schizophrenia manifested in her. Because I read The Broken Brain, I could react with compassion, instead of anger. And so, I feel honored to be mistaken for her.

An understandable mistake brought this woman, and the two other people she enticed to come thinking they would meet the author. As you might imagine, I thanked them from the bottom of my heart for their time and attention. They added much to the discussion. I hope by the end of the evening, they were glad that a mistaken identity had taken place and felt our conversation was worth their time.

Also joining us last night was a Mama Bear. I’ve read never to mess with a mother grizzly bear and her young. According to bear.org, 70% percent of killings by grizzly bears are by mother bears defending their cubs. It won’t end well, for the instinct of a mama bear is to protect her cub at all costs.

As the woman shared her story with us, I knew we had a Mama Bear in our midst. By this I mean, she protects her daughter, fought for her and for the proper treatment she knew her daughter deserved. This amazing mother is still in the fight for her child and I can tell that she will defend her daughter as their story progresses.

This woman left me filled with hope. One day, I hope all families will react as this Mama Bear did and continues to do. She advocates for her child. She demands a treatment plan instead of just a release from a facility. She stands by her child. She prays for her child. And she gives her child freedom while at the same time she watches out for her. So much like a mother bear in the wilderness who lets her cub find food as she keeps a watchful eye.

In a perfect world, everyone understands that mental illness is not a choice. That loving them as we strive to find the correct treatment for them is the best way to handle the situation. The mom I met last night illustrates to me what the world could be. She works to learn everything she can about what her child faces and shares their needs with those around her. She brings awareness with her everywhere she goes. She’s not ashamed. And she loves her child through the hard days and looks ahead for better days to come.

Some day…some day.

Until then, let’s work as hard as the Mama Bear I met last night. Not only for our children, but for everyone’s child.

I live in hope. And I’m sure glad I met this mom.