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.
Roses – most of us love roses. I have a beautiful rose in my kitchen – a lovely gift from a friend. When this rose is in the glass bowl, I can admire it, inhale the soothing fragrance, and feel grateful that someone grew it for my enjoyment. If I had to pick one out of the rose garden that I wish I had, but in reality resides only in my imagination, I’d probably get poked by the thorns.
I feel like I’ve been poked by thorns as I travel through life. At times, the thorns disappear completely and the beautiful flower is all I see. Other times, the thorns stick in me and it’s hard to see the petals through the tears.
It’s when I bleed from those pokes that I learn the most. If I’d been given a choice about having a child with a mental illness, I would have run in the other direction. And in the midst of the chaos when symptoms manifested and until the doctors found the correct treatment, I think I bled – a lot. My heart shattered into bits as I watched her suffering. In my determination to help her, I learned about the brain. I read everything I could get my hands on to figure out what caused this to happen to her.
As I learned, I changed. I understood that
1. this was not her choice.
2. She was as confused as I was with the changes going on in her.
3. She wanted a return to good health for herself as much as I wanted it for her.
4. She needed support to achieve her goals of recovery.
As I traveled the journey with her to recovery, I learned that I needed to still myself so I could inhale the fragrance – the beautiful bouquet that stayed the same whether I saw the beauty of the flower or felt the prick of the thorn.
I found the balm for my wounded spirit in my prayer life. It took on new meaning as I focused my gaze on my creator. I gained the strength that I needed to face the next step ahead, or to recover when we took two steps back. As she made improvements the scent of hope settled deep within me.
Today, thirteen years later, she lives in the garden of recovery. This doesn’t mean that the thorns stay away. Sometimes they prick us again. For there is no cure – not yet. But a good life, a full life, a life filled with joy is our reality. Somedays are harder than others. When she has a bad day, like everyone does, I ache with her. During those times I try to discover the perfumed scent that lingers from the good days because I know those days await her. Her bad days are just that – bad days. Short-lived and overcome. She inspires me with her determination.
Fragrances of hope that I’ve discovered:
1. I know that she makes a difference in the lives of those around her through the life she lives.
2. I’ve heard from many readers that reading our story gave them an understanding of schizophrenia that they didn’t have before.
3. I found out the support system around me that I didn’t realize that I’ve always had.
4. Humor helps me relax. I can still laugh, even when it hurts.
5. Focus on why I think God created me. This helps bring clarity to my journey through life.
These are just a few things that I’ve discovered since her illness and Broken Brain, Fortified released. They remind me that amidst the thorns, beauty will always exist. It’s up to me to stop
Every once in a while, I check different sites for my book. Since many readers go to Amazon to post reviews, I frequent it. (Thank you to all who have posted reviews!)
I just checked and Amazon put my book on sale for the lowest price I’ve seen. Today Amazon offered it for $8.90! That’s less than half-price! Broken Brain, Fortified Faith.
I’m not sure why, but I love it! I know that readers can benefit from this. So, feel free to share the link or buy the book and give it to anyone who you think may want to learn how one family coped with mental illness. Recovery can happen. It was hard, but oh, so worth it!
Today is a repost from a previous gratitude post. I believe in saying “Thank you.”
What’s a mentor?
I looked it up on the Merriam-Webster dictionary website and found:
A: a trusted counselor or guide
B: tutor, coach
Next, I looked up tutor: a person charged with the instruction and guidance of another
I’m glad I found the definitions, but mostly I’m glad I found my mentors.
This wonderful group of people guided me as I learned about writing. I entered my first writers workshop with no knowledge about the craft or the skill needed to put my thoughts to paper (actually to the computer screen.) The first pieces I shared with them had lots of mistakes. My mentors gave gentle, yet constructive criticism. I considered myself an infant in the life of an author. They took my hand as I grew through the toddler stage, entered “school” and worked my way through the lessons they provided.
Within the confines of a supportive community of trusted guides, tutors and coaches, I gained confidence and learned from them the correct procedure to submit the things I’d written. When it came time to write my first book query, and then my book proposal, experienced eyes found my weak areas and offered me suggestions for improvement.
I recently attended the conference that I feel gave me a solid start, the Cedar Falls Christian Writers Workshop. On my way to the first day of the three-day conference, I stopped at the post office to pick up my mail. I marveled about God’s timing. For you see, my recently won award plaque had just arrived – the 2017 Selah Award for memoir writing. From an “infant” to “I’m not even sure what grade I’m in these days” in six years!
I remember May 24, 2017 – the night the awards were announced through a live Twitter feed. I sat in my home, alone as the words, “Virginia Pillars winner of the Selah Award for Memoir” appeared on my screen. I covered my face and cried – “I never thought it would be me.” May 24 is also National Schizophrenia Awareness Day. My book, Broken Brain, Fortified Faith tells the story of our family’s experience with schizophrenia. I still tell others to pinch me – wake me up from this dream I didn’t know I had.
I want to say, “thank you” to those who helped me. If you follow me, you may know that I write under a pseudonym at the request of my family. They fear stigma will re-enter our daughter’s life, so I honor them by keeping them out of social media. I don’t publish photographs of me, or my family for this reason, but I can share the photos of my mentors. Through them, I learned to write, publish and speak about my story through schizophrenia with my child.
I’ve asked them to hold my award, for I believe some of the credit belongs to them, too. I couldn’t have done it without them.
Mary Potter Kenyon writes and speaks on the subjects of grief, cancer, friendship, the word of coupons, and writing for publication. She is currently working on her fifth book.
Shelly Beach is an award-winning author, founder of the Cedar Falls Christian Writers Workshop, author of six books and frequent speaker on PTSD.
Jolene Philo has a passion for those with special needs, especially our youth. She’s written many books and speaks extensively on the subject.
Wanda Sanchez and Shelly Beach work together in the field of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.) As co-authors of an award-winning book, Love Letters from the Edge, they speak nationwide. Reach them at PTSD Perspectives.
Missing from the line-up is Jocelyn Green. I can still remember her critique on my first piece, “Show not tell.” She taught me how to accomplish this with her gentle guidance. I wish I had her photo to share with you, my readers.
And last, but not least, these are some of the group who meet regularly and have taught me, challenged me as we shared our writings, and heaped out large scoops of encouragement. If I overlooked someone, it is not my intent. I appreciate each and every person I’ve met along the way.
I’m still a work in progress. To all my mentors, past, present, and furture, I say, “THANK YOU!”
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 received this book, The Bipolar Experience from Eva Marie Everson because of my interest in mental health awareness. I am grateful to read it and broaden my understanding of bipolar. It took some time to move it to the top of my “read it now” pile, but once I started I didn’t stop until I turned the last page.
The story does a wonderful job of illustrating the illness, previously known as manic-depression, now called bipolar. It furthered my understanding of someone who struggles with this. LeaAnn’s husband, Kenneth reacted in the most loving way possible – he walked beside his beloved wife until she came to the point where she would accept treatment and stay there. As a mother of someone who also chose to stay in a treatment plan, I know the challenge he must have had.
I especially felt grateful to read her account of a part of bipolar that is not discussed in polite company – hypersexuality. I appreciated reading her thoughts about the anguish it caused her. I hadn’t thought of that aspect before. Lives are destroyed because of this secretive symptom.
Each time I read a first-person account of an illness, I gain more understanding. I’ve learned that it’s not a choice for them. They don’t want to live this way. No one wakes up and decides I want to have bipolar, or schizophrenia, or depression anymore than someone chooses to have diabetes or cancer.
I believe if we all could read and experience an illness through the eyes of the ones affected, we can react in a compassionate and loving way. I recommend this book for everyone who wants to gain understanding of an illness that affects so many in our world. Once we as a culture have empathy, we can change the way we help them all cope and move into recovery.