My thoughts about Mental Health, Virginia Pillars

Mental Illness Awareness Week


October 7 – 15, 2018 is National Mental Health Awareness week.

IntoMH-Facebook-TimelinePeople with serious mental illness die on an average fifteen to thirty years earlier than the those without. What’s the difference for this disparity that’s higher than gender, racial, social economic factors?

October 7 – 15, 2018 is National Mental Health Awareness week. People with serious mental illness die on an average fifteen to thirty years earlier than the those without. What’s the difference for this disparity that’s higher than gender, racial, social economic factors?

One common misconception is that they die earlier because of suicide, overdose or accident due to their mental health condition. However, similar health conditions take their lives, just as with others in their age group. Illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, pulmonary disease, and diabetes are responsible. Why do those with mental illness die from these at a higher rate? Just like with all medical issues, the answers are not one-size fits all.

  • Risky behavior is higher for those with mental illness, such as the use of tobacco products.
  • Research continues to explore why those with a serious mental illness have a higher rate of diabetes, strokes, or cardiovascular disease.
  • Often those with a serious mental illness receive their general health care from a public mental health service or a psychiatrist as opposed to a primary health care physician.
  • Bias from those who provide health services has a couple of segments that change the treatment suggested.

1. What’s the point? Some believe those with a serious mental illness won’t recover, so why bother to treat them.

2. Failure to listen to symptoms by professionals because they attribute the complaints to the mental illness and not as a serious concern. As a result, doctors are less likely to order cardiac catheterization for symptoms associated with a heart attack. They are also less likely to order cancer screening or follow-up treatment than they would for the general population. (National Council for Behavior OcHealth, 7/10/18)

The above statistics make me sad. I’d like to see everyone make it to recovery and live a life similar to others in their age group. I’d like to see this change in my lifetime. If not, in my daughter’s.

Let’s continue to talk about mental illness. Let’s work together to help those who struggle with it. And let’s champion for our loved one to ensure they get the care they need when they need it. Sometimes, we have to act as their voice until they can speak for themselves.

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Each day this week, I hope to post a book review about a book that deals with mental illness. I hope you stop back.

My thoughts about Mental Health

Sometimes I want to cry.


But maybe not for the common reasons that make a mom cry when her child has schizophrenia. Our child battled the symptoms and came through it as a survivor, a victorious survivor. But it took a lot of work and support.

As I read new information, I get emotional. How did we know how to do the things that we did to help our daughter, Amber, during her first episode of psychosis in 2004? I remember the feelings of frustration, hopelessness, helplessness. I also remember that I begged the Lord for help. I listened for an answer and followed the instructions given to us (my husband, Roy, and I.) Many of those answers came through the people around us. We just had to listen.

Some of the things came through our eldest son, Mitchell who’d spent hours researching articles at trusted sources on the internet. First, he encouraged us to leave our state of denial behind and act quickly. “I think she has schizophrenia,” was a comment I remember with clarity. “She’s not going to get well without treatment, she’ll only get worse,” he said to us without judgment, only compassion.

If I’m honest, I wanted to live in a bubble where I thought my love would fix the problem. Our son didn’t let me. He helped me face reality and as a result, we had Amber in forced treatment a little over one month after we moved her home. Today, over a decade later, she’s in a maintenance mode as she stays in treatment.

Other plans of actions came through our local NAMI organization and the classes they offered, as well as through ideas generated during my daily devotion/prayer time. Again, I listened and reacted. I treated her as a mom would treat all the other illnesses our children get, such as cancer. I let her rest when she needed it. I cared for her, took her to treatments, managed her medicines, and held her when she cried.

Slowly, Amber recovered through treatment which included medication, therapy, education, brain exercises, and lots of support.

Since 2004, I delved into published articles where I’ve discovered that early treatment is part of the equation that may allow long-term successful treatment. This morning, this article published on May 31, 2017, by the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, almost brought me to tears.

“For people with psychosis in early-stage schizophrenia, early treatment is important. Patients whose psychotic symptoms go untreated for longer periods tend to have more severe symptoms and a lower quality of life, even after treatment.

New research published March 15 in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology finds that a longer period of untreated psychosis is also associated with less connectivity to and from the striatum, a part of the brain linked to antipsychotic treatment outcomes.”

What if Mitchell hadn’t persisted? What if he hadn’t reacted the way he did which forced us into a court committal for hospitalization/medication? What if we hadn’t listened?

I read further…

“At the time the study began, participants had been taking antipsychotic medications for no more than 2 years. Brain scans were taken for each patient, and their symptoms were monitored for 12 weeks while they were treated with a second-generation antipsychotic (aripiprazole, risperidone, or risperidone plus an omega-3 fatty acid supplement).

The researchers found that not only did those whose symptoms had been untreated the longest have the worst treatment outcomes, they also had less brain activity connecting the striatum to specific regions in the brain’s cerebral cortex”

I highlighted the lines that drew the tears.

a second-generation antipsychotic (aripiprazole, risperidone, or risperidone…  About a month after we realized that our daughter needed help, the doctors prescribed an injectable antipsychotic to stabilize her. I read the list and knew she received one of them. In the beginning, she refused antipsychotic medications. The first doctor she saw told her she had mild depression and that’s where her brain wanted her to stay – she didn’t have schizophrenia – she didn’t need that medication. That’s when we went through the courts to force her to take medication. She stayed on the injectable for the first year or so. Later, she switched to pill form. In the spring of 2007, she understood that her brain needed medication to function properly – much like a pancreas needs insulin or metformin for diabetes.

plus an omega-3 fatty acid supplement). Mitchell also brought bottles of high-quality fish oil supplements that she took each meal. He’d found an article about fish oil helping with brain function. He found the pills, purchased them for his sister and delivered them to our home. She had a steady dose of the omega-2 fatty acid supplement for the first few years.

I begged the Lord to send me wisdom. He did – through the people around me. He gave me the grace to listen to those wiser than myself. And it makes me want to weep in gratitude as Amber stays in recovery.

It’s been almost twelve years since we discovered she battled the symptoms of schizophrenia. Today, she lives on her own, works full-time and manages everything herself. She’s proof to me that early treatment does indeed work. What if I hadn’t listened? Would she be where she is today?

Sometimes I cry tears of gratitude.

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.”

My thoughts about Mental Health, Virginia Pillars

Sticks ‘n Stones


Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

I heard this childhood rhyme on the school playground many times while I grew up. Usually it was after one classmate hurled an insult at another.

I thought about these words after a recent social media post left me feeling unsettled. I had read a Facebook post by an acquaintance that read, “Am I Bipolar, or what?” The person went on to question her choice in music. I groaned as disappointment set in.

Really? I thought how can you compare a choice in types of music with Bipolar- a debilitating brain disorder? I felt the comment made light of an illness and perpetuated stigma – as if a person had a choice to be Bipolar or not. I made a public comment expressing my concern with the choice of words and the spread of stigma. This wasn’t the first time I had expressed my displeasure about making light of mental illness. But in the past, I sent it as a personal message. I’m not sure why I didn’t choose this route and instead posted my comment on the person’s page that day. There wasn’t a reply, so I didn’t add anything further.

Later that day, I had a phone call to tell me that my comments on the post had upset my Facebook friend. The caller admonished me, pointing out that it was indeed a correct use of the phrase, bipolar. The caller had looked it up and read the description from the dictionary.

I didn’t intend to offend my Facebook friend, so once I knew that I had, I sent an apology in a private message and removed my post. My friend’s response assured me my observation was understood – that it was a result of my well-publicized passion for mental illness. Somehow, I didn’t feel better. I no longer believe the childhood chant. Sticks and stone can break bones. Words can hurt. Period. I had just done it to a friend in my effort to educate. It made me think about words and how they hurt.

Social media enables us to use words to hurt on a broader scale. Words that drive a nail into our wall of defense, now seen by scores of individuals are repeated and hammered permanently into our self-worth and we tend to believe them.

The Facebook interaction left me pondering the tide of word censorship, the use of words and my view on the subject. Have we become a society that is too sensitive to common words and their new implied meaning? I thought about bipolar, the word that started all of this and decided to explore it. Before 2005, I wouldn’t have given the word a thought. But, in 2005, I became involved in the world of mental illness. I’d always known that it existed, but I didn’t think I’d become an advocate for those affected.

This attitude changed in 2005 when I learned about the world of mental illness by default. I had a stream-lined education when schizophrenia manifested in our twenty-four-year-old daughter. But through the grace of God, I found the organization, NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness.) Through this group, I found guidance and understanding. My attitude toward mental illness changed. Along with that came an awareness of my own use of words. I no longer tell someone, “You’re delusional,” when I think their logic seems confused. I’d witnessed my loved one suffer the mental anguish that accompanies delusions. I catch myself before I tell someone, “You’re crazy,” and replace it with “I think that’s silly” or “I don’t agree.” Why? Because too often I’ve heard it referred to as a component of a mental health condition.

I decided to explore word censorship by typing bipolar into the google search engine. The first definition referred to having or relating to two poles or extremities, such as north or south poles. The next one stated: a biological disorder of the brain. Most people call it mental illness. Reading this made me think about my use of words.

This led me to another question: when did bipolar become a term for the previously named Manic Depression? More internet research gave me the answer. On April 14, 1980, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) changed the classification diagnosis – thirty-seven years ago.

So, with that knowledge I had to ask myself again, “Am I over-sensitive about the use of the word bipolar? And if the answer is yes, do I have the right to call people out on social media? Does this help the cause or just hurt feelings?

I stewed about it for hours before I came to the conclusion: I rarely hear the word bipolar used anymore except in reference to mental illness. Yes, bipolar can mean opposites, such as north and south poles with magnets or undecided because of opposing views. But I also realized for most of my life, I’d only heard a more common phrase, “polar opposites” that referred to indecision. But the most important revelation: I can only control my own words.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4:29 I like this verse. It says a lot to me.

When I publicly chastise others for their use of words, it sounds judgmental. Is that building them up? Isn’t a better approach to lead by example? Or to share my view privately with an explanation why I prefer to use alternate words?

I know me. I will wince when I hear others make fun of mental health hospitals, call someone delusional or crazy, or refer to indecisiveness as bipolar. But I will hold my tongue in public or keep my fingers off the keyboard. A better approach for me is to explain my view on the use of words with compassion and a gentle spirit. In addition, I plan to choose my own words with care, being mindful of how they will affect others. Because sticks and stones may break my bones, but my words can also harm others.

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

One Mother’s Story


Today I want to post another mother’s story.  A librarian I met recently sent me this link to a regional newspaper, The Cedar Rapids Gazette, where this story appeared during Mental Health Awareness Month. It illustrates the cruel nature of mental illness. One family who did everything to help their daughter. They loved her, they enveloped her with support, they searched for the proper treatment and doctors. And yet, recovery continues to elude them. And this mother’s heart remains shattered.

One Mother’s Story

My heart feels heavy for this family. Even though I don’t know them personally, I feel as though I do. Their story shares so many similar traits with other families I meet. And my heart continues to break with theirs. But sitting around in sadness doesn’t help the situation.

I can only resolve to remember that we, as a culture, have so much work to do. I personally feel compelled to pray for answers for others who battle each day and their families. I want to support the families and the individuals who feel hopeless and helpless in the face of an unrelenting, cruel illness. I vow to strive to bring awareness to those who misunderstand this biological illness and somehow think it’s a character flaw. I want to continue to donate to help fund the research to unlock the mysteries of the broken brain.

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.

My thoughts about Mental Health, Virginia Pillars

Did you see it coming?


I’ve been asked this question quite often:

  1. Looking back, did you see anything in her childhood that would indicate she could develop schizophrenia?

No, I didn’t see anything that I feel would indicate a predisposition to schizophrenia. As a toddler and young girl, she liked things neat and orderly. I think of her then as “particular about things.” She kept her room neat and tidy. She paid attention to details. I remember one incident when she was gone overnight and we let a guest use her room for the night. When he left, I thought I had put everything back in the exact place. But she noticed the tissue box had been moved. The day she turned thirteen, I think she changed overnight. She went from “always neat” to “her clothes carpeted her bedroom floor.”

Did I see anything else? Perhaps, one comment from her sixth-grade music teacher gave a slight indication. “Watch her,” she mentioned to me one day as I volunteered in the school library. “I see similarities in her that I see in my daughter who battles anorexia nervosa.” I remember feeling bewildered. I’m guessing I said that I’d watch her, but I didn’t see anything that alarmed me and quickly forgot. That comment was probably the only thing that I would call an indication of something looming, but dit it point to schizophrenia – no.  I didn’t remember it until years after she became ill with schizophrenia and I began to write about our journey. Basically, Amber seemed like any other teenager – busy with school, extra-curricular activities, and she enjoyed time with friends.

2. Do you have schizophrenia in your family history?

Yes, my husband’s aunt and my first cousin. But, if I look at statistics alone, it makes sense. One in one hundred people battle this illness. I have more than one hundred relatives, including aunts, uncles and cousins. My husband comes from a large family, too. For each of us to have a relative with schizophrenia follows the law of average. Amber developed it when medications and treatments had advanced beyond the treatment available to the aunt and cousin. As a result, she recovered and went on to resume a life similar to other women her age. Our other relatives – the aunt spent her life in an institution, and the cousin lives in a group home.

 

My thoughts about Mental Health, Virginia Pillars

More Common Questions


 

  1. How did her brothers react?

Like us, they were concerned and wanted to help her. Our eldest son was the only one who lived close by. He stopped often to check on the situation and offer suggestions. He suspected schizophrenia and was instrumental in helping us move out of denial and into action. His support meant the world to us, even when he had to do the hard things. Our second son lived two hours away and our youngest son lived several states away. They called, learned what they could and offered phone support as best they could. They read books to try and understand what our family faced. After my sons read my book, Broken Brain, Fortified Faith, all three of them said, “I didn’t know it was this bad.” To which I replied, “How could you know if I didn’t tell you?”  If I’m honest, I didn’t know how. I could only try and cope with the situation.

      2.  Why didn’t you tell your family and friends at first?

At first I was embarrassed by Amber’s illness. I thought she could snap out of it if she really tried. But I was wrong – she couldn’t. She was trapped in a whirlpool of madness that sucked her down where we couldn’t reach her. In less than a month, her mental state crumbled until she became convinced that there was a conspiracy against her life. Every magazine, newspaper, and television program was about her. We felt we had to tell our families and closest friends after she verbally attacked another family member during a gathering. We opened up to our families via e-mails to keep them informed.  As a result of my frequent notes to them, our families and friends supported us in every way they could. They sent letters, notes, cards, visited Amber in the hospital, and someone even brought a casserole to our home.

Looking back, telling our families and friends was the one of two best things I did for us, and for Amber. We found the National Alliance on Mental Illness, plus we shared our situation with those close to us. These two things brought the support, love, and prayers we craved. And yes, I know, I have amazing people who surround me. Not all people react as they did and I am grateful for our family and friends. They are a gift.

Guest Blogs

Book Review @ FranciscanMom.com


Thank you, for this wonderful review Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS.

A few lines from Barb’s Bookshelf review:

Virginia Pillars’ memoir of a mother navigating the world of parenting a young adult with a brand-new diagnosis schizophrenia is at once heart-wrenching, informative and inspiring. In Broken Brain, Fortified Faith, Pillars honestly describes her day-by-day experience with her daughter’s illness and recovery, with a view toward helping other families whose lives are touched by a frustrating disease.

“The author’s conversational style make a book with challenging subject matter easy to read. Pillars takes a day-by-day approach through the difficult months of diagnosis and a search for appropriate treatment, bringing the reader along for the ride to hospitals, waiting rooms, and therapists’ offices. Her first impulse, when hearing of any kind of setback, is to place her daughter in God’s hands, asking Him to be with her in that time of crisis.”

Read the rest of her review on Barb’s Bookshelf.

Barb also blogs at CatholicMom and Cook and Count.

I appreciate the time other people give me when they read my book and write a review. We’re all busy people and most everyone I know puts too much on their plate each day. So I am grateful to other authors who take time for my project!

Thank you, Barb!

 

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

Happy Mother’s Day to me.


 

My daughMothers-Day-Picturester  Amber has schizophrenia and I’m glad I’m her mom.

“She’s lucky to have you for parents.” “She’s doing well because of you.”

I’ve heard this often. I usually answer them, “I’m glad I’m her mom.”

Schizophrenia tried to steal Amber from the life she envisioned for herself. Her brain disorder bombarded her with symptoms after she graduated from college and headed into the world to follow her dreams. Paranoia, delusions, visual and auditory hallucinations, distorted thinking, and confusion crippled her for many harrowing months. As she spiraled out of the reality I knew into a one that made no sense, I thought I lost my only daughter forever. The relationship I envisioned for us slipped away as the whirlpool of mental illness sucked her away.

Through treatment, things changed. She entered the recovery stage and manages her symptoms through medication and self-care. She works full-time, lives on her own, manages her own affairs, and leads a social life that makes me tired.

Thirteen years later, I have my daughter back. My husband, Roy and I have an amazing daughter. And I feel that I gained a confidant and friend. As Mother’s Day approaches, I look back and see how our relationship evolved from mother/daughter through caregiver/patient, back to mother/daughter and now – friend.

Amber and I call each other almost daily. We talk about our day, the latest book we’ve read or movie that we’ve watched. We share our thoughts about faith, situations around us and giggle over silly stories. I ask her for advice and vice versa. But beyond my conversation partner, I look at where we’ve been and I am grateful.

I would not have chosen this off-road course of life for her, or for our family. But life throws things at us that we can’t avoid. In spite of the struggles, the stress, and the heartache we had, I found joy. I leaned on my faith to help me cope until I saw a glimmer of hope again.  I feel I became a better person because of her illness and the things I learned. Things I wish I knew years ago:

  • Treat it like every other illness. Mental Illness is a biological illness. Scientists and researchers proved this. Molecular changes take place in the brain that are visible through brain imaging. So why did I feel embarrassed when Amber first became sick with the symptoms of schizophrenia? Would have I reacted this way to cancer or diabetes? Would I deny her illness? I think not.
  • Accept the illness. “It’s not your fault” became part of my daily phrases I said to Amber. She didn’t choose this for herself. She didn’t understand why her world turned against her. I repeated “I love you, I’m here for you,” often. Once I accepted her brain disorder, I moved forward. I became her advocate, caregiver, and support.
  • Early Treatment. Once I realized that Amber’s brain was in trauma, Roy and I took action. Early treatment made a huge difference in how her brain reacted to treatment. Once the doctors found the right medication, she began to heal. I learned that schizophrenia alters the brain by destroying the gray matter. Now, thirteen years later, she understands her illness and wants to stay in recovery.
  • Support can help a loved one succeed. In our family, we moved Amber home during her recovery. After a lengthy hospital stay, I treated her as if she came home from a cancer treatment. I let her choose the level of activity she could handle. I didn’t ask for her help with household chores. I helped manage her medications and appointments. As she healed, she regained the stamina and wanted to do things for herself. With this came confidence in her abilities.
  • Support for the family whose loved one faces mental illness makes a huge difference. Often time when tragedy strikes a family, the surrounding community reacts with compassion, support and financial help. But what happens to the family who deals with the tragedy of a serious brain disorder? Who steps in to hold them up? In our case, our families and friends did. They sent cards, letters, small gifts and visited Amber in the hospital. We received the same treatment, a friend even delivered a casserole! Now, support to other families ranks high on my list of priorities.
  • Educate yourself. Education played a key role for me understanding mental illness. I learned what Amber faced by reading books on the subject. I also attended the Family to Family class through NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) where I learned about the brain, symptoms, treatments and how to care for myself. I gained the tools I needed to cope.
  • Be open. Once I shared my experience with others, I felt empowered and no longer isolated. My honesty allowed people to share their own journeys with me and we could support each other.
  • Fight for them. I turned into a mama bear for her. I stood up for her when she couldn’t stand for herself. Roy and I sought the best treatment for her, switching providers if necessary. I filled out paperwork for her until she could do it for herself. Now, I get to stand to the side and root for her as she lives her life in a way that is similar to other women her age.
  • Pray. I prayed daily for her and for me. For her to understand her illness. For the doctors to find the correct medicine to help her. And wisdom and strength for me to do the right things to help her recover.

Yes, I’m grateful Amber is my daughter. I understand schizophrenia is often relentless and vicious. And that not everyone wins the battle. But I’m grateful that if Amber is one out of one hundred people to have it, that she was born into our family. I’m glad we found the help she needed and that she recaptured a life of independence packed with work, friends, faith and family.

Happy Mother’s Day to me and to every mom who loves someone with a mental illness. We do the best we can! Happy-Mothers-Day-Pictures-2

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

I want to pass it on…


Sometimes a song gets in my head and wants to stay.  The tune, the words play over and over in my mind in the quiet of my house. This morning it’s an old song from years ago called Pass it on. “I’ll shout it from the mountain top. I want my world to know. The Lord of love has come to me. I want to pass it on.”

Why the feeling? I spoke last week with a NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) group about our story and my book. I shared with them snippets of the agony I had when our daughter became ill and later received the diagnosis of schizophrenia. I felt hopeless, frustrated and terribly alone.

Fortunately, for our family, we found the proper treatment at the right time, she wanted to get well and we worked together for her recovery. Today, twelve years later, she remains in recovery.

She battled back from the harsh symptoms and went on to live a life similar to other individuals her age. She works full-time, manages all her own affairs and medications, and leads a social life that makes me tired. To say I’m proud of her is an understatement.

Why did it work this way for our family?

I wish I could give a concrete answer. I can only relay what happened in our family. But,  I believe we had a miracle. Yes, a miracle.

  • We turned to professionals who used their expertise. We had psychiatrists who cared and included all of us in the discussions.
  • Amber had a wonderful counselor/therapist who walked closely with her for many years.
  • We learned about the illness that invaded our child through classes by our local NAMI organization. Understanding helped me cope.
  • Amber’s best friend came to see her and take her out socially every week. This action kept her immersed in social situations with people her age.
  • Amber was driven. She pushed herself past what her dad and I felt comfortable with as she took two steps forward and then one step back.
  • I leaned on my faith. I tried to center myself each day by reading and praying to strengthen me.
  • We had the support of our families and close friends.

Yes, I think this formula produced what I feel is a miracle – professionals + education + support + faith + Amber’s determination = recovery.

It saddens me to know this isn’t the case for many families. As I volunteer with our local NAMI organization, or to speak to groups about our story, I hear heartbreaking stories of individuals who battle and the families who love them. I know they want the best for their loved ones, just as I did.

  • To them, I want to bring hope that recovery is possible. To not give up, to continue to search for answers, to ask for help, to keep hope alive.
  • To others who come to listen to an author, I want to bring awareness to an issue that affects 1 in 5 individuals and 1 in 4 families. These families need a community to stand with them, to let them know they are not alone in their journeys.
  • I want to start conversations so everyone comes to understand it’s a brain disorder, not a character flaw. My daughter certainly didn’t choose to have schizophrenia.
  • I want to pass it on:  hope, awareness, and support.

Just in case you’re interested in the song, here’s one link:

Pass it On by Kurt Kaiser

 

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

Memoir -Schizophrenia – Struggles – Healing. A review by Jean Heiman


Jean Heiman wrote a wonderful view for my book, Broken Brain, Fortified Faith, at Catholic Fire. According to the website’s tagline, “If you are what you should be, you’ll set the world on fire.”

First, thank you Jean Heiman. I appreciate your time to read Broken Brain, Fortified Faith and write a review. Your kind words mean a great deal to me.

Just a few lines of her review:

“This memoir describes how the family struggles with these difficult issues and responds to the setbacks with the help of trusted friends and support groups.”

“…I found it difficult to put down. It is a compelling read, understandable, and well-written.”

“…poignant, uplifting, and hopeful story of one woman and her family to conquer crises…”

“…recommend for all who have had to deal with the stigma of a mental health diagnosis…”

Please visit her website  to read the entire review at Catholic Fire.

I used my faith to get through my struggles while I dealt with the agony of schizophrenia as it unleashed most of the nasty symptoms it had to offer on my daughter. It’s who I am. My faith may look different than my readers, but I hope that will not deter anyone from joining our family as I detail our journey from despair to hope to recovery.  I also hope those who read my book, Broken Brain, Fortified Faith,  find the support and guidance as I did. It helped me cope and react with love, patience and a resolve to help her manage a painful and frightening time in her life. I found wonderful, free education and supportive people who understood our situation through our local NAMI organization, which stands for The National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Thanks so much for stopping by today.

Virginia Pillars

 

Guest Blogs, My thoughts about Mental Health, Virginia Pillars

Jessica…


May 8, 2017

I  read a story this morning that left me saddened for situations that I know are all too common. A young woman with promise and it sounds like a big heart lost her battle. Here’s her mother’s post. Let’s stop the stigma.

With the author’s permission to spotlight her blog today, I give you the first paragraph, but click on the link to read one mother’s story.  Please.

pickingupthepieces63 ©pickingupthepieces

Her Mission is our Hope©

This is my beautiful daughter. Born 4-17-86 died 3-10-15. Her death certificate says she died by a gun shot wound. That’s only part of the truth. That doesn’t explain the real cause which is Mental Illness, more specific Depression and Bipolar disorder.  ©pickingupthepieces63

 

 

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.

 

Guest Blogs, My thoughts about Mental Health, Virginia Pillars

Book Review by Jeanie Ewing


Thank you, Jeannie Ewing for this wonderful review!

Broken Brain, Fortified Faith

I stumbled upon this book when I was at my brief EWTN visit last summer.  It was atop a stack of books and magazines in the great room of the guest house where I stayed, and I picked it up, curious and intrigued.  After a moment, I decided I would swap this book for another I had finished on my trip.

A few months later, I discovered the author, Virginia Pillars, on social media.  We briefly connected, and I realized it was time for me to start reading the book.  The initial intrigue I felt was due to the fact that I also have mental illness in my family.  We do not have a history of schizophrenia, but bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder are both quite prevalent.  Plus, with my background and interest in psychology and counseling, I knew it was an important read.

Pillars’ book is a memoir, which is very fascinating and well written.  She describes her family’s journey through her daughter’s diagnosis of schizophrenia and several hospitalizations, as well as other tragedies they endured in only a two-year span: the death of her infant grandson and her daughter-in-law’s bout with cancer.

What sustained Pillars through all of this?  Her faith.  Like most of us, she was shaken and her faith was also tested, but she very honestly explains how she moved from discouragement to hope – through reading her daily devotionals to helpful books and connecting with close friends and family members, many of whom were true godsends to her at the time she needed the most encouragement.

Broken Brain, Fortified Faith is a book that will both inspire and inform anyone who is struggling to understand a loved one’s diagnosis of mental illness.  In addition to the eloquent underpinning of her grief journey, Pillars includes a short list of helpful resources for her readers to peruse more thoroughly, including the NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill) website and the books that helped her understand mental illness in general.

Above all, the best point she makes is how important it is for each of us to do our part in helping to change the culture of stigma surrounding mental illness.  If we learn how to advocate for those who suffer in this invisible way, we can help change people’s hearts and minds about mental illness.  The truth remains: we often fear what we do not understand.  Education and advocacy are key to unraveling the mystery of mental illness, and Broken Brain, Fortified Faith is a smart resource for those who work in the mental health industry or as a personal companion through the toughest moments you will face with your loved one.

Copyright 2017 Jeannie Ewing, all rights reserved.

My thoughts about Mental Health, Virginia Pillars

We’re in…


 

Statistics show that one in five adults are affected by a mental health condition in a given year. 20 % of our population! I admit, I didn’t think about this much. It happened to someone else, another family – not mine.

From 1975 on, when Roy and I got married , my family appeared to be “normal.” By 2004, we had four adult children, all of them on their own. They worked or continued to study while Roy, my husband and I worked and enjoyed our jobs.

In late 2004, we became part of the statistic – 1 in 5 individuals affected, 1 in 4 families and the 1 in 100 individuals that deal with schizophrenia. I could not ignore it any longer. Over the course of a few months, I took a crash course in how to handle a loved one with a mental health condition.

I’m so grateful I found our local NAMI organization. The National Alliance on Mental Illness offered me a shoulder to lean on and the education to understand. As a result of their support, I was able to react to my situation with love and patience. I learned all I could by reading books on the subject and taking the Family to Family class. But that’s me. It’s how I roll. It’s how life has taught me to react.

Our story has a happy ending. Our child lived with us for four years and came to understand her illness. She worked hard to move into recovery and stay there. It’s been nine years since her first episode of psychosis. With the help of doctors, therapists, counselors, family and friends she fought against the symptoms and won. Today she works full-time, lives on her own and manages all her own affairs. She understands her need for medication, regular doctor appointments and a counselor she can trust.

To say I’m proud of my child is an understatement. We may be part of the statistic, but it doesn’t define her or our family.  She isn’t schizophrenic, she has schizophrenia and she manages her illness.

As a result of my journey, I work now to bring awareness and hope to the families whose loved one suffers.  I understand that when a child battles an illness, the family’s life changes forever, too.  Now, I feel compelled to support other families who travel a similar path. I work to offer awareness to a wide-spread issue and also to bring hope that recovery is possible. I dream of a day when it happens for everyone. Until then, I plan to continue to involve others in a discussion about mental health conditions. It affects us all.

For information about free education about mental health conditions go to National Alliance on Mental Illness Programs.

To find publications about mental health conditions visit the National Institute of Mental Health.

Broken Brain Fortified Faith book coverBroken Brain, Fortified Faith

 

 

 

My thoughts about Mental Health, Virginia Pillars

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month


IntoMH-MHM-Twitter-HeaderDuring May, in honor of National Mental Health Awareness Month, I hope to inspire, inform, and get others involved in a topic that affects us all. I want to link to websites with the latest information about research, along with previously released webinar links.

I plan to post reviews or links to other blogs that discuss books, both fiction and nonfiction on the subject of mental illness.

I also hope to link to blogs that review my own story of my journey through mental illness with my daughter, Broken Brain, Fortified Faith .

I hope to accomplish this twice a week.

I hope you’ll join me as I work to bring awareness to a subject that I think is the elephant in every room. You know, the one everyone knows about but no ones wants to mention.

Let’s talk. Come join me. Bring your friends.

For more information on mental illness visit:

NAMI National Alliance on Mental Illness

Brain & Behavior Research Foundation

 

 

 

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

My first award!


Last year I joined the Catholic Writers Guild after I attended their LIVE conference. This is a professional group of writers, artists, editors, illustrators, and allies whose mission is to build a vibrant Catholic literary culture (taken from their FAQ page.)

logo color CWG SOA - CopyEarlier this year I applied for their Seal of Approval. On March 30, an email gave me the wonderful news that my first book, Broken Brain, Fortified Faith received the SOA. Basically this means that my readers  can read it with the understanding that this book will not offend their Catholic faith or annoy the grammar police.

Knowing I have the approval of my fellow Catholic professionals means a lot. I want to thank all the people who helped with my faith formation over the years and the editor who worked with me at Familius,  Lindsay Painter Sandberg.

Let’s continue to talk about mental illness. My journey through the scary world of schizophrenia is similar to almost every family that I’ve met. When we talk about it, we give them permission to share their pain and ask for support. I know I felt alone when I first discovered schizophrenia had invaded our daughter. I found help through the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) , this group of wonderful, supportive people.

I couldn’t write my story without including my faith journey, too. It’s part of who I am and how I made it without complete despair. So let’s continue to talk about that, too.  NAMI has an organization, FaithNet  for all those who wish to keep the two connected: mental illness and faith.

I hope one day those families and individuals who battle mental illness can feel comfortable going to their family, friends, and their church community for the support and prayers they need. I also hope for a culture where we talk about mental illness the same way we discuss cancer or diabetes. For it’s a biological disorder, not a character flaw.

 

 

 

Virginia Pillars

Book Club Questions


Book Club Questions

1. What do you think was Virginia’s purpose in writing this memoir? Why do you think she would share her inner turmoil with readers?
2. How much did know about schizophrenia and/or mental illness before you read this book? Did you learn something new?
3. Virginia discusses her family and friends’ reactions to Amber’s illness. What can we do to support families dealing with mental illness? Can I do this? Why or why not?
4. Virginia shared their reactions to Amber’s illness. How would you react?
5. What surprised you most in the book?
6. Did any specific part of the book leave an impression on you? Share the passage and the effect it had on you.
7. What did you think about mental illness before reading this book? Did these ideas change after reading Broken Brain, Fortified Faith? Are they better or worse?
8. What can we do to help eliminate the stigma that still surrounds mental health in today’s culture?
9. Did you take away a lesson from this book? Why is this important?
10. Do you want to read more books about mental illness? Why or why not?

Want to purchase books for our book club as a group? Familius can help you.

Want to know more from Virginia? Invite me to your book club.

 

 

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