My thoughts about Mental Health, Virginia Pillars, Virginia's Reviews

Book Review: Mind Estranged


Mind Estranged 2I met Bethany Yeiser last summer over brunch after we found each other on social media. After I visited with her, I purchased her book, Mind Estranged: My Journey from Schizophrenia and Homelessness to Recovery.

I felt compelled to learn about her descent from a college student with a promising career to a homeless person, and back to a strong, courageous woman with a future.

I gained more insight into schizophrenia. I struggled as her mind turned against her and told her things that weren’t true. I knew my daughter’s brain did the same thing to her.  At times I had to reread it to follow as her brain misinterpreted things. But it made sense to write the book in this way because it gave me a true picture into her thought process as the illness kidnapped her ability to reason.

As she turned against her parents, I wanted to weep for them all. I couldn’t imagine the pain they must have endured during those years. When schizophrenia manifested in our daughter, I feared she’d run and we’d lose touch with her. I wanted to gather Bethany in my arms as I read how she lived on the street, scrounged for food as the delusions took over her thought process.

Bethany gave us all a window into her world as schizophrenia took over her life. She also detailed how she made it into recovery so others can live with hope.

I recommend this book to everyone. Professionals can learn, as well as the general public, what happens to the mind and the individual when schizophrenia is not treated.

I rejoiced as Bethany recovered as only a mother whose daughter shares the same diagnosis can rejoice.

Since her recovery, Bethany became a champion to help others understand. You can read more about this remarkable woman, her illness, and schizophrenia by visiting her foundation, CURESZ Comprehensive Understanding via Research and Education into Schizophrenia. There you can also read stories of other survivors.

If you need support for your family, contact your local NAMI organization (National Alliance on Mental Illness). A map will help you find your state and county.

Thanks for stopping by. More book reviews about mental illness to follow.

 

 

 

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Gratitude, My thoughts about Mental Health, Virginia Pillars

Gratitude – November 16/17


I look around and see volunteers who work tirelessly without pay or even recognition. Today, I am grateful for these good people who work for the benefit of others behind the scenes.

Today, I want to spotlight a group that many people have not heard about, and are not aware of their hard work and important service they provide. NAMI – The National Alliance on Mental Illness.

This national organization began in 1979 because a few families dreamt of a day when families received support as they dealt with their loved ones’ mental illness. It spread across our nation to reach people in all fifty states.

I found this group of wonderful, supportive people when I needed them the most. Our family was in crisis and I felt so alone. They drew me into their circle of education, comfort, and support as we dealt with the confusing world of mental illness. Through this fantastic organization, I learned about what my daughter faced, and I changed me. This helped me cope and support her in a way that enabled her to rebuild her life. She battled against her brain disorder, schizophrenia, and won. Today, she lives in recovery as she manages her illness with grace and dignity. She works full-time, manages all her own affairs (both medical and financial), lives on her own and has a social life that makes me tired.

Today, I tip my hat to the people who work to improve the lives of families everywhere, both in this wonderful organization, and to all the volunteer organizations that go about their mission to improve the lives of people they will never meet.

May God bless you in all your work. And thank you.

My thoughts about Mental Health

Mental Health Awareness Week


In the fall of 2004, I’d never heard of Mental Health Awareness Week. It took place the week of October 3 – 9. But, as I look back, I wish I’d had known someone who was involved. I wish they’d told me about it. I wish I’d known how mental illness affects one in five adults in a given year, according to NAMI.  This stands for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a grassroots organization that works to improve the lives of people who deal with brain disorders and the families who love them.

Perhaps if I’d been aware, I’d have recognized the symptoms that my daughter had begun to exhibit in the fall of 2004. Perhaps if I’d been aware, I’d have encouraged her to seek professional help earlier. Perhaps, I could have spared her some of the pain she endured.

But, as I’ve heard often from the people I’ve met through NAMI since then, “You can’t know what no one has told you.” And no one told me.

Fortunately for our family, we found this wonderful organization within a month of the time we realized that something was wrong. That our daughter, Amber, suffered from something more serious than depression.

The people we met “told us” what we needed to know. They shared their knowledge. But more important than that, they shared their compassion and understanding. The people we met had walked a similar road before us and they took our hands to lead us through the crisis.

It’s now Mental Health Awareness Week, 2017. It began on Sunday, October 1 and ends on Saturday, October 7. I want change “You can’t know what no one has told you.” And so I talk about it. I’d like to make the journey easier for those who walk the path now, or those about to embark on a journey they don’t want to take. I share our story with anyone who will listen. I tell them it’s a brain disorder, not a character flaw. I tell them my daughter didn’t choose to have schizophrenia. Who would choose an illness – any illness – for themselves?

I tell people who will listen that it’s the brain affected that needs treatment, just like the pancreas needs treatment for diabetes. I encourage them to seek treatment. 50% of those with an illness don’t do that. Perhaps if all sought treatment, and the treatment was available to them, we could see an improvement in so many lives.

Today, our daughter lives in recovery. She received the treatment she needed and returned to an independent lifestyle. She beat schizophrenia into submission as she worked with doctors, therapists, counselors until she could return to full time employment and her own apartment. She worked hard, and I’m so proud of her.

I want our culture to support those who battle these illnesses. I want the support for the families who love them, too. I’ve witnessed the difference that treatment and support can make in the lives of those affected.celebration-from-clipartix

 

I dream of a day when everyone who falls into the category of one in five can celebrate recovery.

Let’s talk about Mental Health Awareness with everyone we know.

 

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, 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