My thoughts about Mental Health, Virginia Pillars

To medicate or not to medicate? That is the question.


I hope Shakespeare fans don’t roll their eyes because I changed his famous quote from Hamlet. It fit my thoughts perfectly today.

Yesterday, a photo of my book, Broken Brain, Fortified Faith posted to a group I belong to on Facebook. Below the photo, the moderator added a synopsis of our story. In one of the comments, I read a negative opinion about medications. This helped me remember that we don’t all agree that medicines help someone with mental illness. The person who posted the comment seemed against them and listed their reasons.

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My opinion is different. And since this is my blog, I will share my thoughts about medication and mental illness. I believe the correct medications helped my daughter get her life back.

In 2004, my adult, college-educated daughter, Amber began to act differently from her usual self. It quickly spiraled into a world of fear for her as paranoid thoughts overtook her. At first, I thought it would pass. It didn’t. Instead, it got worse and worse. Eventually, she lost the ability to communicate with us.

It wasn’t until we got her into treatment with a psychiatrist (M.D. with additional education in psychiatry) that things improved for her. He diagnosed her with schizophrenia. He prescribed medicine and recommended therapy. We moved her back home. I helped her manage the medications and took her to see a counselor until she felt well enough to do it for herself. This treatment plan helped her brain form the proper connections again and I saw improvement come at a slow, but steady pace. It took several years of her hard work and patience but she regained her independence.

I believe the medications that Amber took then and still takes today are the reason she lives a life similar to other people her age. At one point, while under the care of her psychiatrist, still in our home, and in therapy twice month, she stopped taking the anti-psychotic medication. The symptoms that plagued her earlier returned with a vengeance. This convinced Amber (and me) that she needed the medication.

Today, she works full-time, lives on her own, and manages her illness with ongoing treatment while she leads a busy social life.

Since this happened in our family, I like to read about scientists who study the brain and what occurs during mental illness. Brain imaging helps them track the processes both with medication and without. They continue to discover new treatments such as magnetic therapy as well as the effects different medications have on the molecular processes in the brain. I live with the hope that through research, treatments become even more effective with fewer side effects. If you want to learn more about medications, the National Institute of Mental Health discusses medications, what they do, and the side effects caused by using them.

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Faith is important to me., Gratitude, Virginia Pillars

What’s next?


I don’t know. This journey called life has lots of curves and I’m on one now. I think I’m experiencing the proverbial empty-nest syndrome. Granted, my youngest child graduated from high school twenty years ago so maybe I’m a late bloomer. Back then, I charged ahead with my embroidery business that I had started five years earlier. It doubled in size over the next year. I had no time to think about what to do. For the next twelve years, I expanded, hired part-time employees, and filled my days from early morning until late at night. I didn’t have time to lament about the change from ballgames, after-school chats, and endless laundry to a quiet house day after day. My in-home business supplied me with a steady stream of conversation partners.

In late 2004 through 2009, my business shifted to focus on my daughter to help her through mental illness to achieve recovery. Business limped along until it could return to full speed ahead as she moved on with her life. By 2010, it was back to busy, busy, busy.

In 2008, I had an inkling to explore writing after two strangers suggested I write our story. It shocked me. I hadn’t considered this as an option for my life. Me, a writer? I jumped in and spent time with other writers. I learned so much from them. I gradually shifted my focus from a full-time businesswoman to part-time business owner and part-time writer. I took fewer orders and returned to my original business plan of a one-woman show. During 2015-2018, I spent more time writing, speaking, and social media interaction than I did with embroidery. I intended for my business to fade away a little each year.

It worked. After twenty-five years, my embroidery orders are sporadic instead of multiple ones each day. The doorbell stays silent and the machines beg for my attention. This resulted in a feeling I haven’t experienced before – empty-nest syndrome. If I’m honest, I miss the excitement that came from another order, a box of clothing to embroider or the companionship from customers. I’ve learned a huge lesson about me. I liked the uber-busy pace I kept for the last forty-four years. I always had a to-do list each day, a revolving door of people (I’m an EXTROVERT) and the satisfaction of feeling needed.

So what’s next? I don’t know. Last fall, I sent a book proposal for a daily devotional to a publisher. A few weeks ago, I received a “This doesn’t work for us at this time” email. I fell into a slump for a few days. I moped around the house and noticed the empty rooms, the lack of people, and wondered what to do.

I don’t want to stay in this frame of mind. Since I don’t know what’s next, I set some goals. As I place my trust in God to show me the next step, I’ll pray and:

  • Sew each day. This relaxes me when I create something from a piece of fabric.
  • Join a group that sews for charity. This helps me be around people plus I can give back using one of the gifts God gave me.
  • Write a reflection each day and pray for discernment: should approach a different publisher, self-publish, or post it on this site for anyone to read?
  • Organize things that got neglected for the past twenty-five years as I managed my business.
  • Eat nutritious food and walk more. I want to send those endorphins to my brain to help me have a more positive attitude.

I appreciate your prayers as I write the next chapter of my life.

Bye for now.

Virginia

My thoughts about Mental Health, Virginia Pillars

A time to weep, and a time to laugh.


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.

Faith is important to me., Gratitude, Virginia Pillars

A look back, a look ahead.


January 4, 2019past present future

My house still looks like Christmas. Decorations adorn the mantel, the lighted trees still bring a smile to my face, and the nativity sets remind me why I celebrate Christmas. I bask in the joy of the season until January 6, the feast of the Epiphany when my faith remembers the three wise who came bearing gifts for the infant, Jesus.

I remember a past Christmas as I look to the new year ahead.  Now, I see it with clarity. I understand why things happened the way it did. I can see how my actions affected the situation. Let me explain.

Fourteen years ago, the joy of the Christmas season eluded me. Our daughter lived in the clutches of schizophrenia as her brain betrayed her. She lived in a world of paranoia, fear, and confusion. We’d moved her back home with us, but we didn’t understand what she faced. Our Christmas celebrations teetered between explosive and devastating as her brain disorder caused her to fling unfounded accusations at family members. Fears of a disjointed family unit swirled in my thoughts. Would our family unit survive? How do we survive?

We sought help from others who’d walked a similar path before us. We didn’t turn against each other. Instead, we worked together to find her the treatment and support she needed. Friends and family lifted our spirits as they assured us of their prayers as they visited us and Amber when she spent weeks in a hospital, brought her small gifts, and someone even brought a casserole to lighten our load.

As I look back, I know God worked through them and we weren’t alone, even though I felt like it.  Over the next few years, Amber learned about her illness, accepted it, and the treatment she needed for long-term recovery.  Fourteen years later, and I continue to thank God for the miracle of her recovery. She works full-time, has a social life, and makes me proud with her determination to give back to the world around her.

Because of my experience, I developed a new purpose. I want to reach out to other families caught in the snares of mental illness. I want to walk beside them and give them hope. This month, support groups resume in our area and I plan to attend the sessions. Together, we can learn more about the brain and how to help our loved ones – and ourselves in the process.

In a quest to grow as a person, I set some goals for 2019:

  1. I continue to write a daily devotional book where I deal with mental illness. In it, I think about Bible verses and the lessons I’ve learned about faith as I struggle with the messiness of life.  I strive to steady my gaze on the Lord and invite readers to join me. I don’t know if a publisher will pick it up. I hope it happens. Plan B and Plan C bounce around in my head if it doesn’t.
  2. Last year, I started my first novel. I vowed to finish it this year. I’m excited to see how the story ends.
  3. My TBR (To Be Read) pile looms above me on my bookshelf by my chair. My list to read this year includes biographies, fiction, and spiritual enrichment.  Nonfiction/Biographies: Crazy by Pete Early; Fiction: a couple of  novels by Lisa Wingate that I picked up at a yard sale, Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Relly, Orphan Train, and Last Girl Seen by Nina Laurin; Spiritual Enrichment: Thomas Merton, Miracles in Our Midst,  Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World, Having a Mary Spirit in a Martha World, and several books of prayer reflections. When I read a variety of authors, I learn more about the craft.
  4. Last month, I started on an organization spree for my house. It’s something that no one else notices, but it sure makes me feel wonderful to have nooks and crannies in a neat order. I plan to continue until I make it through each closet. It may take more than this year, but I’ll stay calm and carry on.
  5. I want to improve my stamina. My children gave me a wrist device to check my steps, etc. I get up and walk when it tells me I’ve sat too long. My last goal for 2019 is to meet the daily challenge it gives me in steps and stairs. So far, so good. Only 361 days to go.

Thanks for stopping.

Bye for now.

Virginia

 

My thoughts about Mental Health, Virginia Pillars

Take my hand, help me stand.


 

Hand upLast Friday, Whispers in the Pews: Voices on Mental Illness inWhispers in the Pews 3D photo 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:

  1. Provide medications that assist the brain to make the proper connections so it can function as it should.
  2. Provide therapy in various forms – again – to assist the brain to react differently to outside stimulus.
  3. Provide a safe space to discuss the issues that accompany mental illness.

We, as a community can help by:

  1. Provide a listening ear, without judgment. Sometimes, that means not saying anything, just listening.
  2. Help them find the professional help they seek.
  3. 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.

My thoughts about Mental Health, Virginia Pillars

“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 Whispers in the Pews 3D photoexperiences 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

My thoughts about Mental Health, Virginia Pillars

Linda’s Story Illuminates a Cultural Crisis


God Knows Where I Am (1)This powerful documentary, God Knows Where I Am,  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.