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.”

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My thoughts about Mental Health, Virginia Pillars

Elephant in the Room, Part 2


Yesterday, I compared the discussion about mental illness to the elephant that’s in the room. It’s a subject we all know about, but no one talks about it. Always there, it lingers in the corners of our lives.

Today, I want to expand on elephants.

I had the great privilege to spend three weeks in the African nation of Zimbabwe. It was my dream trip of a lifetime. While there, I stepped out of my comfort zone – big time! I spent three nights in a wild game park, in a designated campsite – in a sleeping bag – in a tent! On the way to the site, I saw elephants, zebra, giraffes, monkeys, baboons, plus others such as kudu and wildebeest. I’d also walked down to the riverbank, just below our campsite, and watched the hippos and the crocodiles swim and stare at me.

With a great case of the nerves, I climbed into my sleeping bag to attempt a night’s sleep. I fell asleep to the sound of the hippos in the river, who by the way sound like a Harley, and the sound of my companions strumming their guitars around the campfire.

During the middle of the night, after I finally feel asleep, a ginormous CRASH woke me with a start. Neither my husband, Roy or myself felt brave enough to investigate so we stayed in our tent until we heard the rattle of pans as our companions cooked breakfast.

“Did you hear the elephant?” was the first question posed to us.

“That’s what made that terrible racket?” I asked.

“Yeah, it was in our campsite!”

We went to investigate and discovered an elephant had ripped down a large branch of the Mopane tree to eat the leaves and small twigs. I guess it wanted a midnight snack.

So why share this story. Because I learned something about elephants that night. It entered in silence. I thought something that large would make a lot of noise as it entered and exited our campsite. It came all three nights, but the only time I knew it was near was when I heard the crash.

So much like mental illness – it entered our life in silence and the only way I knew it had arrived was when I heard the “crash.” My crash? A co-worker called me to let me know she suspected something was terribly wrong with our child. I rushed to my daughter’s side and brought her home with me. I could no longer ignore the “elephant in the room.” I had to face mental illness.

 

 

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.