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

July 11


Two Friends, Two DaughtersGail and I shared high school teachers, high school friends, and over thirty years of experiences. We both started our married lives in 1975. Babies arrived in each of our families in 1976, 1978, 1980, and 1982. As our similar troops of four little ones grew, our families met often. While the children played, the four parents enjoyed some much-needed adult time. We discussed our busy lives and the challenges that came with parenting four young children. We shared laughter, exchanged stories, parenting tips, and partied with mutual friends. But, in 2011, a calendar date became the most important thing that we shared.

July 11, 2011. Sleep had eluded me in the early morning hours, despite my efforts to turn off my brain and rest. I tried my usual trick – I turned on the television, the DVD player, and popped in a movie I’d watched so many times I knew it by heart. Most nights this routine lulled me back to sleep. But that night, my method of insomnia management didn’t work. So, I went to my desk, turned on my computer, and decided to reminisce about another sleepless July 11, thirty-one years earlier.

As the memories tumbled from my brain to my computer screen, I smiled. That morning, I couldn’t sleep during in the early hours, either. Overdue with my third child, I counted the minutes between contractions. I remembered the painless labor, and the quick delivery less than thirty minutes after our arrival at the hospital that gave us our only daughter, Amber.

But, I also thought about the many challenges we (Amber, her dad and I) faced together. In 2004, Amber, stricken with the brain disorder, schizophrenia, moved home with us at the age of twenty-four. Together, Roy, Amber, and I battled against the nasty symptoms schizophrenia imposed on her. After four years, with the help of doctors, therapists, medication, plus Amber’s desire to recover, she resumed an independent lifestyle. I felt so proud of her and her determination to regain her health despite those difficult years when the symptoms had tried to beat her down.

Usually, I did my best to dwell on the positive changes and not the heartache that came with her illness, but sometimes it crept in just the same.

On July 11, 2011, I concentrated on the good memories. As I wrote that morning, I recalled the joy of her birth, and how bright her future looked now that she lived in recovery. Once I felt satisfied with my piece, I settled on the couch in the living room for a quick nap. Success. When I woke, I felt refreshed and ready to take on my day.

After my coffee, devotions, breakfast, and a shower, I walked to the addition of my house where I operated my home embroidery business. I planned to call Amber during her lunch break and sing Happy Birthday to her. My employee arrived around nine o’clock and together we worked on a stack of embroidery orders. We chatted as we worked. Around ten o’clock, the phone rang. I snatched the phone from the wall cradle.

“Good morning. This is Virginia. How may I help you today?”

“Virginia. This is Gloria, Gail’s sister.”

“Oh, hey, Gloria! How’ya doin?” I said excitedly to hear from her and ready to take an order.

“Not good. I’ve got bad news this morning.” She paused. I heard her heavy breaths. “Amanda took her life last night. Gail called me a few minutes ago. Andy found her this morning when he got up to leave for work.”

I felt like someone had kicked me in the stomach. I don’t know if I gasped out loud, but the joy I had earlier evaporated as I inhaled the horrible news,

Amanda, the daughter of my good friend, Gail. Amanda, the same age as Amber. Amanda, my daughter’s playmate from years ago when our two families met for picnics and parties. Amanda, beautiful Amanda, with her ringlets of walnut brown hair, her crystal blue eyes, and a wide smile with perfect teeth was gone. Beneath her striking exterior lurked an unseen invader. A demon that we couldn’t see; one that doctors couldn’t find with a simple blood test, but it picked away at her ability to cope. Hidden from the visible eye lurked the gnarled fingers of mental illness. It had snaked its way through her personality until most of the Amanda we knew had disappeared. Amanda wanted to fit in, to be a good mom and a trusted employee, but her brain disorder gnawed at her strength. Now, a husband, a daughter, a son, a mother, a father, a sister, two brothers, and more broken hearts than I could count mourned her exit from this world.

Amanda died after a long battle with mental illness, not just another suicide statistic, but the daughter of a good friend. I don’t remember exactly what I said. I imagine I said a hollow remark like, “I’m so sorry,” or “Let me know what I can do.”

I hung up the phone and attempted to work. I planned to go to Gail and her husband, Nick after I finished work for the day. But, I had put an unrealistic expectation on myself to think that I could concentrate on my job. I felt numb, and shaken, and devastated, and worried about Gail. Only a few hours earlier I had written about my daughter’s birth and rejoiced in her success while at the same time, my friend dealt with the horror of her daughter’s death.

Something that I had feared for my child had slammed into their world without mercy.  I thought about the days when I lived in fear. I lived in a state of constant worry that Amber would take her life – that she would lose the battle against schizophrenia. I knew the high possibility. I knew that 50% of those stricken take their life. As she made small strides toward recovery, I worried even more. I had read this time was the most crucial. It was when the illness subsided, that people felt strongly enough to attempt suicide. I remembered the pain I had in my gut, along with the continual fretful feelings as I scrutinized her every move.

I thought about Amanda and Gail. Guilt set in. Why? Why did my child live and thrive while her child left this world because she couldn’t find the help she desperately wanted and needed? I tried to put myself in Gail’s shoes. I imagined my reaction if it had been Amber instead of Amanda. My stomach churned as the feelings assaulted me over and over. “It could’ve been you. It could’ve been Amber.”

I couldn’t handle my worry and dread for Gail any longer. I sent my employee home, shut off my machines, locked my shop door, flipped the sign to CLOSED, and rushed to the side of Gail and Nick.

The pain in my chest that had been there all day exploded when Gail fell into my arms as I walked into their home. She sobbed as if she’d never stop, and I unleashed my pent-up emotions and joined her. Our anguish mingled through our tears. I wanted my arms to absorb some of her pain. I knew they couldn’t, so I just held her as we cried.

I listened as she shared feelings that no parent should have to face. I knew I had similar thoughts at times in my life, too. They seemed to come with a diagnosis of mental illness.

“You’re not alone with those feelings,” I assured her. The tears that followed didn’t wash away her grief, or my feelings of guilt as we wept together.

Why did my child dwell in recovery, while her child lost her battle? Why did we, two ordinary women get one-way tickets into the world of mental illness? We didn’t want those passports into the heartache. Our daughters didn’t want those badges of pain, so why?

Questions with no answers pounded in my mind and threatened to overtake my resolve to support my life-long friend. I pushed them aside as I chose to concentrate on the grief before me. For the next several hours, I listened and allowed Gail’s memories of Amanda, both painful and beautiful, to flow and seep into an untouchable corner in my heart. I knew that nothing out of my mouth could ease her agony. So, I listened, held her hand, wrapped my arms around her when sorrow, remorse, anger, and the torment of Amanda’s death by suicide sliced at her. As I listened, I picked up the bitter morsels of raw desolation that scattered around Gail.

And then I returned home. I had to allow her private time to grieve in a way that worked for her. I tried to keep in touch after the services for Amanda, but she wanted time to mourn alone. So, I stepped back. It slashed at my contentment to watch from a distance as she withdrew from activities such as weddings, anniversaries, and other joyous occasions. I’m guessing the pain paralyzed her, so I just made sure she knew I cared. I left the door open and kept her in my heart and prayers. I sent her notes on the anniversary date of Amanda’s death, and Christmas cards to try and leave the doorway of comfort ajar for her. But, that doorway didn’t open wide enough for me to come in for a long time.

One summer morning, after several years of almost zero communication, I called her and invited her to meet me. “I plan to take my granddaughters to the aquatic center after lunch. Would you like to join me, bring your grandchildren, and we can catch up?”

My heart leaped when she said, “Yes,” and a few hours later we sat, sipped cool drinks, as we watched as Amanda’s son and my granddaughters splashed in the water. We talked non-stop. Time had allowed her grief to form a scab, but she told me that she kept it guarded – she kept hidden it from most of the world. People that she thought she could trust didn’t understand. They pointed the finger of blame: “You should’ve…” “Why didn’t you…?” “It happened because…” Terrible words that did nothing to alleviate her pain. It only exposed her wound and broke it open again and again. Before long, Gail refused to talk about Amanda.

That afternoon, friend to friend, we compared our scars as we talked about our faith, our trust in God and that one day we will both understand. We shared our hope that Amanda is with our Savior who saw her agony and gathered her to himself. We held hands as we basked in our love for our daughters. We remembered the date we’ll forever share – July 11 – the date when I celebrate the birth of my daughter while she mourns the death of hers. We parted with a hug of support and a promise to meet again. My spirits swelled with gratitude for our friendship and for the chance to talk about Amanda with Gail.

I still don’t understand the why, nor do I expect I will this side of heaven. I healed a little more that afternoon. I know I can’t bring back those who lose their battle with mental illness, but I can walk beside their survivors as they navigate their path of desolation. I can try to fulfill a promise I made myself years ago – to react as the Bible verse Romans 12:15 states.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”

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My thoughts about Mental Health, Virginia Pillars

Roses, Thorns, and Fragrances


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
and
Smell.The.Roses.

My thoughts about Mental Health, Virginia Pillars

Mother’s Day 2018


_I'm glad that I'm her mom!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.”

I felt honored when The Mighty chose to post it for Mother’s Day.

 

 

My thoughts about Mental Health, Virginia Pillars

Mother’s Day 2018


_I'm glad that I'm her mom!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.”

I felt honored when The Mighty chose to post it for Mother’s Day.

 

 

Gratitude, My thoughts about Mental Health, Virginia Pillars

Gifts …


In the past twelve hours, I’ve received gifts that didn’t wait for later in the month.  These gifts lifted my spirit.

There were so welcome after the past of days of my melancholy attitude. It started with a phone call that left me disappointed in someone and then morphed into a giant of oppressing sadness. I couldn’t shake the “poor me” thoughts that pounded at me.

Until the gifts from yesterday…

First, I spent part of the afternoon with people, which always lifts my mood. Yes, I’m an EXTRAVERT. I get my energy from people. The past twelve hours recharged me and changed my attitude. I needed a major gratitude adjustment.

First I sat next to a friend as I watched a Jr. High Basketball game. I hadn’t expected to see her there, so we chatted and caught up with each other’s lives. Pure gift.

From there I went to a holiday party with my local NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) chapter. I spent the evening with friends I’ve known for years, and the new ones I met as I taught a twelve-week class, Family to Family, this fall. The best part of the evening came as I heard about the successes of their loved ones. I rejoice as I hear the words, “doing well,” “has a job,” “great relationship between us.” So many times I’ve heard, “The class changed my life. It was the best thing I’ve ever done for my loved one and me.” What a gift!

This morning when I checked social media, I approved the tag for this Facebook post, Free the Strange by Andrea Berns. This courageous woman shared her journey to wellness. Her talents shined through her words, as well as her determination to work towards recovery. She asked me to write the forward for her chapbook. What an honor! Congratulations to Andrea, and to all the success stories that we need to tell and celebrate with them.

Gifts come in all shapes, sizes, and look different to everyone. I received good news all around me yesterday, and I am grateful for them.

 

Gratitude, Virginia Pillars

Gratitude – November 30


At the beginning of this month, I gave myself two goals:

  1. To write a daily reflection on gratitude. I think it’s an important method to happiness . To look around and feel grateful. It’s too easy to fall into a negative thought process because things don’t always go in the direction that I’d like. I came up a few days shy of making my goal. But, I accomplished what I wanted – to look around for reasons to feel thankful.
  2. To take the NaNoWriMo challenge. I wanted write a novel during the month of November. I needed to write a minimum of 50,000 words. I hit my goal on Monday,  the 27, but I guess I’m too wordy. I need more than 50,000 words to finish the story. I plan to continue until I finish my rough draft. This puts my New Year’s resolution in place – to edit it and get it ready for another set of eyes to read.

My December plans include sewing a few gifts, plus Santa gave me a list to complete for him as one of his elves. In other words, back to my day job.

I thought it appropriate on my last day in November when I concentrated on gratitude to find a note in my messenger inbox. A new review for my book posted yesterday on Amazon. My heart overflowed as I read her thoughts about my book. Each time someone takes the time to read, write, and post a review for my book, Broken Brain, Fortified Faith, I am filled with gratitude. Thank you, Colleen, and everyone who posted a reaction to our story. Here’s few of her thoughts:

     This is a powerful and compelling autobiographical account of one mother’s journey through the nightmare of mental illness. Virginia Pillars’ daughter, Amber, developed schizophrenia in her early twenties. As Virginia, her husband, Roy, and their sons became aware of the alternate world Amber was living in, they reached out to her. But where to begin to help her out?
…Virginia’s account is honest, compelling and revealing. It is painful as you journey with Virginia and her husband as they look for the treatment Amber needed. The disturbance that severe mental illness causes in the home life of family members is very challenging. The Pillars’ journey, like so many families, is not one of instant success…
. ..The story is very well-written. Once you start reading, it is hard to put down. There is a natural curiosity and hope that the Pillars can find the mental health professional with the right treatment for Amber.                                                                                                                        …There are many out there with family members who suffer from mild to severe mental illnesses. Virginia’s honest account opens the door to what one family experienced. It is not unique. Many families are suffering in this way. Her book does a great service in sharing the challenges and pain and the hopes and victories in navigating the road to recovery. I encourage everyone to read it and share it with others.

For the complete review and others, you’ll find them at Amazon, and Goodreads.

Thank you to all of you who followed along for my month of gratitude. May your December be a season of preparation and joy.

 

Gratitude, Virginia Pillars

Gratitude – November 28


Laughter. Today, I’m grateful for laughter.

Last night, a member of our household returned from a trip. He’d gotten sick just before his flight home, which made for miserable plane ride. Now, the circumstance didn’t have a shred of humor in it. Not until my hubby got involved in the conversation.

He proceeded to tell of a time that he had similar symptoms when on a trip across the ocean. He described his reaction, complete with sound effects. The three of us laughed so hard we couldn’t sit up straight.

For a few minutes, we forgot his misery as we shared Roy’s hilarious memories.

Now, don’t get me wrong. We don’t think illness is funny. Nor do we dismiss another’s problems. Instead, we look at ourselves, our own reactions, and look for the humor.

It helps us cope to laugh at our mistakes, and the silly things we do. Laughter can diffuse a tense situation. It helps us look past the walls that we sometimes build around us.

Laughter releases endorphins (a feel-good hormone) which can ease stress, boost our immune system, improve our mood, increase our pain tolerance, and improve our cardiovascular health. Wow, all that from a good joke. It also releases the neurotransmitter dopamine.  Think of this as a reward for our brain, which may motivate us to continue with our laughter. Maybe that’s why when I start to laugh, I can’t stop and everything sounds funny.

Maybe we should change the saying from “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” to “A laugh a day keeps the doctor away.”

Think of the last time you shared a belly laugh with someone. It felt pretty wonderful, didn’t it?

I love to laugh. I’m grateful for laughter, and the forty-two years with a husband who can make me to laugh so hard that I can’t breathe.