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.

 

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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