Jesus took human form for thirty-three years before his crucifixion to enable us to have a relationship with God and open the gates of heaven. Because he became a man, he experienced the same emotions we experience. This gives me the determination to follow the path he illustrated for us through his ministry.
When I feel like shouting at someone because they upset me, I can turn to our Savior for strength. I can ask him to help me use my two ears to listen instead of my one mouth to make the situation worse.
When I feel like giving up and walking away from the situation, I can turn to our Savior for grace to persevere. Did he want to walk away from his suffering when he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane but prayed to do God’s will instead? I can pray for the grace to do the same. They will be done.
Discouragement, frustration, sorrow, joy, gratitude – every emotion I experience, Jesus knows how it feels. This gives me the confidence to get out of bed each day. To put one foot in front of the other. To turn to him over and over.
I can do this but only with the grace given to me as a gift from Jesus.
I don’t know. This journey called life has lots of curves and I’m on one now. I think I’m experiencing the proverbial empty-nest syndrome. Granted, my youngest child graduated from high school twenty years ago so maybe I’m a late bloomer. Back then, I charged ahead with my embroidery business that I had started five years earlier. It doubled in size over the next year. I had no time to think about what to do. For the next twelve years, I expanded, hired part-time employees, and filled my days from early morning until late at night. I didn’t have time to lament about the change from ballgames, after-school chats, and endless laundry to a quiet house day after day. My in-home business supplied me with a steady stream of conversation partners.
In late 2004 through 2009, my business shifted to focus on my daughter to help her through mental illness to achieve recovery. Business limped along until it could return to full speed ahead as she moved on with her life. By 2010, it was back to busy, busy, busy.
In 2008, I had an inkling to explore writing after two strangers suggested I write our story. It shocked me. I hadn’t considered this as an option for my life. Me, a writer? I jumped in and spent time with other writers. I learned so much from them. I gradually shifted my focus from a full-time businesswoman to part-time business owner and part-time writer. I took fewer orders and returned to my original business plan of a one-woman show. During 2015-2018, I spent more time writing, speaking, and social media interaction than I did with embroidery. I intended for my business to fade away a little each year.
It worked. After twenty-five years, my embroidery orders are sporadic instead of multiple ones each day. The doorbell stays silent and the machines beg for my attention. This resulted in a feeling I haven’t experienced before – empty-nest syndrome. If I’m honest, I miss the excitement that came from another order, a box of clothing to embroider or the companionship from customers. I’ve learned a huge lesson about me. I liked the uber-busy pace I kept for the last forty-four years. I always had a to-do list each day, a revolving door of people (I’m an EXTROVERT) and the satisfaction of feeling needed.
So what’s next? I don’t know. Last fall, I sent a book proposal for a daily devotional to a publisher. A few weeks ago, I received a “This doesn’t work for us at this time” email. I fell into a slump for a few days. I moped around the house and noticed the empty rooms, the lack of people, and wondered what to do.
I don’t want to stay in this frame of mind. Since I don’t know what’s next, I set some goals. As I place my trust in God to show me the next step, I’ll pray and:
Sew each day. This relaxes me when I create something from a piece of fabric.
Join a group that sews for charity. This helps me be around people plus I can give back using one of the gifts God gave me.
Write a reflection each day and pray for discernment: should approach a different publisher, self-publish, or post it on this site for anyone to read?
Organize things that got neglected for the past twenty-five years as I managed my business.
Eat nutritious food and walk more. I want to send those endorphins to my brain to help me have a more positive attitude.
I appreciate your prayers as I write the next chapter of my life.
Roses – most of us love roses. I have a beautiful rose in my kitchen – a lovely gift from a friend. When this rose is in the glass bowl, I can admire it, inhale the soothing fragrance, and feel grateful that someone grew it for my enjoyment. If I had to pick one out of the rose garden that I wish I had, but in reality resides only in my imagination, I’d probably get poked by the thorns.
I feel like I’ve been poked by thorns as I travel through life. At times, the thorns disappear completely and the beautiful flower is all I see. Other times, the thorns stick in me and it’s hard to see the petals through the tears.
It’s when I bleed from those pokes that I learn the most. If I’d been given a choice about having a child with a mental illness, I would have run in the other direction. And in the midst of the chaos when symptoms manifested and until the doctors found the correct treatment, I think I bled – a lot. My heart shattered into bits as I watched her suffering. In my determination to help her, I learned about the brain. I read everything I could get my hands on to figure out what caused this to happen to her.
As I learned, I changed. I understood that
1. this was not her choice.
2. She was as confused as I was with the changes going on in her.
3. She wanted a return to good health for herself as much as I wanted it for her.
4. She needed support to achieve her goals of recovery.
As I traveled the journey with her to recovery, I learned that I needed to still myself so I could inhale the fragrance – the beautiful bouquet that stayed the same whether I saw the beauty of the flower or felt the prick of the thorn.
I found the balm for my wounded spirit in my prayer life. It took on new meaning as I focused my gaze on my creator. I gained the strength that I needed to face the next step ahead, or to recover when we took two steps back. As she made improvements the scent of hope settled deep within me.
Today, thirteen years later, she lives in the garden of recovery. This doesn’t mean that the thorns stay away. Sometimes they prick us again. For there is no cure – not yet. But a good life, a full life, a life filled with joy is our reality. Somedays are harder than others. When she has a bad day, like everyone does, I ache with her. During those times I try to discover the perfumed scent that lingers from the good days because I know those days await her. Her bad days are just that – bad days. Short-lived and overcome. She inspires me with her determination.
Fragrances of hope that I’ve discovered:
1. I know that she makes a difference in the lives of those around her through the life she lives.
2. I’ve heard from many readers that reading our story gave them an understanding of schizophrenia that they didn’t have before.
3. I found out the support system around me that I didn’t realize that I’ve always had.
4. Humor helps me relax. I can still laugh, even when it hurts.
5. Focus on why I think God created me. This helps bring clarity to my journey through life.
These are just a few things that I’ve discovered since her illness and Broken Brain, Fortified released. They remind me that amidst the thorns, beauty will always exist. It’s up to me to stop
I spoke last night with a group in a local library. The more I share our story, the more I understand the statistic that one in four families deals with mental illness. I meet many of them.
I hear the heartache that accompanies them on their journey.
I witness the deep love they have for their family member.
I see the pride they have when their loved one manages it with success.
I see the hope that fills them when they see baby steps of improvement.
I witness courage, both in the families and those who are affected.
These families inspire me to continue to spread the word that mental illness is a brain disorder, not a character flaw. I want to share that recovery is an option. I want to share that it’s hard for the families and those who are affected.
I dream of a day when mental illness is discussed the way we talk about diabetes, or cancer.
I dream of a day when our culture reacts to mental illness with the same compassion and support that happens when a family deals with cancer or other traumatic events.
I dream of a day when a blood test reveals the exact medication needed for the brain to function properly.
I dream of a day when we have adequate doctors, therapists, and counselors to assist those who need their expertise.
I dream of a day when every family I meets shares a success story with me.
Until then, I stay grateful for the health of my daughter.
I’m grateful the doctors found the correct cocktail of medication that allows her to overcome the symptoms of schizophrenia. She works full-time, and I know she makes a difference in the lives of the people around her.
I’m grateful that she understands her brain disorder and that she knows how to take care of her own health.
I’m grateful to have my daughter back. Twelve years ago I feared the worst. I remember crying out, “I just want my daughter back.” I’ve met too many families whose loved one lost the battle, and I weep with them.
I’m grateful for her recovery. Therefore, I want to shout it from the mountaintop – I want the world to know. The Lord walked beside me through our journey because I invited Him in to my day to day world. He helped me cope.
I live in gratitude.
I’m grateful for the people who come to my presentations on mental illness.
I’m grateful for those who support my work with a book purchase.
I’m grateful for the people who share the book with their friends and families. It helps bring undertanding to those not affected.
I’m grateful for those who take time to write a review. It helps keep our story in front of others.
Last, but not least, I’m grateful to the publisher, Familius, for the publication of Broken Brain, Fortified Faith and offering it right now for at half-price for those who wish to share our journey.
Broken Brain, Fortified Faith released a little over a year ago. I intended to write this post that day, but life happened. Today, almost two months later, it still feels amazing.
I remember how I felt on September 5, 2016, the day before it’s official release. The anticipation seemed like that of little kid on Christmas Eve. I knew the tree had a package under it with my name on it. But, I didn’t know what it contained. I hadn’t asked for anything, not really. I just knew that the gift held something wonderful.
I began the release date of September 6, 2016, at Mass in a neighboring parish. I had invited my friends and family to join me. My heart swelled as many of them surrounded me to worship together. Gratitude overflowed. I didn’t expect such a brief journey from inexperienced writer to published author. It took one book query, one book proposal, and one publisher to propel me from “I want to write a book” to” I’m a published author.” For that, I thank my author friends along the way who mentored me.
After Mass, we gathered around my table to share coffee and homemade muffins. I felt loved. And excited.
Fast forward. On the anniversary date of the book’s publication, I went to Mass, again in a neighboring parish. Not the same one as last year, but one close by. I spent the rest of the day at home. But I reflected on the things that occurred over the past year. Again, my heart filled with gratitude.
I’ve had some amazing experiences, met wonderful people, listened to the heartbreaking stories of others, and I hope, brought awareness to mental illness and the effect it has on families.
I remember when Amber lived in our home and still very ill with the symptoms of schizophrenia. I didn’t think she’d ever work full-time again. She worked hard to move into recovery and has stayed there for eight years! I’m so proud of her. I love it when I’m wrong.
Is it easy? No, absolutely not. But, she pushes forward in spite of setbacks and frustrations.
Last month, I celebrated the anniversary of the book publication, but I mostly I celebrate my daughter and my faith in God. I feel he walks beside me. I just need to stay focused on what is important to me – my faith, my family, and my friends.
In the past year, our story received the Selah Award for Best Memoir and the CWG Seal of Approval. What a thrill both awards gave me! Me, an inexperienced writer, who through the grace of God, wrote a book and published it. Again, I’m overcome with gratitude.
Here’s a link to the reviews that have posted on blogs since it’s publication.
I received this book, The Bipolar Experience from Eva Marie Everson because of my interest in mental health awareness. I am grateful to read it and broaden my understanding of bipolar. It took some time to move it to the top of my “read it now” pile, but once I started I didn’t stop until I turned the last page.
The story does a wonderful job of illustrating the illness, previously known as manic-depression, now called bipolar. It furthered my understanding of someone who struggles with this. LeaAnn’s husband, Kenneth reacted in the most loving way possible – he walked beside his beloved wife until she came to the point where she would accept treatment and stay there. As a mother of someone who also chose to stay in a treatment plan, I know the challenge he must have had.
I especially felt grateful to read her account of a part of bipolar that is not discussed in polite company – hypersexuality. I appreciated reading her thoughts about the anguish it caused her. I hadn’t thought of that aspect before. Lives are destroyed because of this secretive symptom.
Each time I read a first-person account of an illness, I gain more understanding. I’ve learned that it’s not a choice for them. They don’t want to live this way. No one wakes up and decides I want to have bipolar, or schizophrenia, or depression anymore than someone chooses to have diabetes or cancer.
I believe if we all could read and experience an illness through the eyes of the ones affected, we can react in a compassionate and loving way. I recommend this book for everyone who wants to gain understanding of an illness that affects so many in our world. Once we as a culture have empathy, we can change the way we help them all cope and move into recovery.
This is almost an oxymoron for me – the words “in a bar,” not that I hugged a stranger. Let me explain.
My body doesn’t handle alcohol well. It causes migraine headaches and so I made the decision years ago to drink water, coffee, milk, and an occasional orange juice. So for me to sit and sip with friends in a bar is an unusual event for me. For the record, I sat with fellow writers in the bar/grill at the Renaissance Convention Center in Schaumburg, Illinois at the Catholic Writers Guild LIVE conference. After a day filled with new friends, learning, and sharing our faith, we gathered to share food and stories.
Because of the size of the convention center, there were other groups sharing the beautiful facility. By 9 o’clock, the bar appeared to be the destination spot for a large sampling of the various organizations that held their meetings here.
Because I’m an early riser, I knew my day needed to end. I sang “Good Night, Ladies” to the women at my table and squeezed my way through the crowd. I had almost made it to the exit when I bumped into a young woman who grinned at me. “Are you looking for a drink?” she asked.
“No, I’m looking for my room.”
She laughed and the conversation began. I inquired which group she represented. She mentioned the business, and I countered with “I’m with the writers conference.” She wanted to know what I write and of course I brought up my favorite topic – mental illness. And the bump into a stranger morphed into a connection that illustrates a sobering statistic – one in four families deal with mental illness.
Within minutes I knew about the death of a neighbor/friend to suicide after a battle with depression. We shared grief, hope, and the cultural reaction to it. I understood the pain for I’ve experienced the loss of someone I love who suffered the same illness.
“I want to buy your book,” she mentioned. I happened to have a copy of my book, Broken Brain, Fortified Faith in my tote bag because a fellow writer asked me to bring her a copy. We hadn’t connected yet so she could purchase it. I told the young woman and she whipped out her wallet. I signed the copy as we stood in the crowd. I finally knew her name as I wrote it in the book.
We hugged and parted with a promise to reconnect via e-mail.
This is not an isolated incident. It doesn’t matter where I am, who I’m with, or the circumstances of our encounter, I meet companions on this journey. At least twenty-five percent of people I meet have dealt, or are currently in a situation that involves mental illness. I meet people in church, at parties, while I shop, and now in a bar. I smile as I think about it. I want to be a disciple of Jesus, to take His love to all those I meet. I just didn’t think it would be in a bar and I smile at the irony. God must have a sense of humor.
And so I continue to open the door to meaningful conversations with everyone I meet. I want to share our common human experience, support others in their struggles, pray for them and their loved one. I want to bring awareness to the epidemic of mental illness, donate to the research we need to understand it more and change the culture of stigma that surrounds it. I want everyone to live in hope, that recovery is possible and that maybe one day it will happen for everyone’s loved one. We’re all in this together.
But recently, I’ve been called upon to do this. Two friends stopped – both of them needed someone to listen, and I think both of them wanted a different way to look at the situation that surrounds them.
Before I spoke, I said a quick prayer for guidance. I wanted to use the correct words -conversations to build up, not to tear down. Or to just listen, if that was my role.
As I listened, I heard a plea for an idea – something, anything that each of them could do to lift their spirits on a daily basis. Now, lest you think I used the cliché, look for the roses among the thorns – take a deep breath. I didn’t. First, I had to exam my own attitude. How do I react to the hard things in my life?
Sometimes my mind wants to dwell on the past. The circumstances that destroyed my vision for the future. And then doubt and discouragement swoop in and try to take roost. Was it my fault? What did I do wrong? Could I have prevented it? Could I have done something different? Why didn’t I see it before it was too late? Nag, nag, nag until the feeling of inadequacy tries to overshadow any feeling of confidence.
So how do I handle those memories? How did I handle it twelve years ago? A conversation last night during our evening meal solidified it for me. We talked about an incident from our past.
After supper, I went back through old e-mails in search of a piece of history. I didn’t find the note in question, but I did find e-mails that I’d sent during the worst part of Amber’s mental illness. I read the pleas I made to family and friends for prayers for Amber as we tried to get her help. I relived the discouragement that consumed me as I watched her brain break from our reality.
But tucked in among my words of desolation, I found snippets of hope: she signed the needed paperwork during a few seconds of coherency; we got her transferred to a different hospital; she began to accept medication for her mental illness.
When I looked back, I saw that I HAD found the positive things that happened along with the unthinkable. My faith tells me that this was the Holy Spirit at work in my life. I had begged for help and it came through those around me. When my family and friends did little things, such as send me a note that brightened my day, they became the hands of God for me. As I read the words I wrote twelve years ago, I understood that I had recognized it at the time it happened.
Somehow, during my pain-filled days as schizophrenia unleashed many of the nasty symptoms on Amber, I felt the velvety petals, and inhaled the fragrance of the proverbial rose in spite of the thorns that pricked me in the most tender areas of my life. The more I concentrated on the positives, the easier it became to find them. And in turn, I offered praise and thanksgiving.
As I read my reactions twelve years ago, I understood the words that I gave my friends earlier this week came from a source beyond me.
I had encouraged my friends to look for the positive things that are tucked in with the negative devastation. Don’t let discouragement or doubt win, I said. I had even quoted Mr. Rogers, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.
I had also shared my way of finding the helpers. I confided to both of my friends that I try to stifle discouragement and doubt with prayer. Each morning, I begin my day with a cup of coffee and a couple of my favorite devotional books. I also use an app on my phone to listen to prayers as I walk, as I wash dishes, or while I drive. These things help me stay focused and look for the positive things, the people, the helpers who reach out to others in their time of need – for I want to continue to find the roses among the thorns.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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!
My daughter 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!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.)
Earlier 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.
Earlier this month, I promised to give a review for this book in exchange for the chance to read it. Sometimes I wonder, who gets the most benefit for this opportunity – the author or the reader? After exploring Jeannie’s book, A Sea Without a Shore, I’ll wager that it is the reader.
Jeannie writes from the heart, pouring out her love and devotion to God throughout her book. I felt that she recorded her thoughts and prayers for us, the readers, so we may grow in love and devotion, too. As I read, I found myself recording phrases that stood out to me. Reflections I wanted to plant deep within my heart and soul.
One of my favorites quotes was “Material acquisition is no longer our goal. It is replaced by the practice of simplicity, engaging in matters seemingly small, but staggeringly significant.” This idea resonated with me as a way to live in peace and joy.
A few other nuggets I tucked deep in my heart include the idea of “self-examination with pointing a finger” – in other words, forgive myself. And “that all holy innocents are God’s beloved” gave me peace as I thought about my own grandson’s death years ago.
Because this book has reflections for the liturgical year, I will read each section during the appropriate season to deepen my appreciation and love for my Savior.
I’ll be honest, when I first began reading this, I had a difficult time. I’m more of a “learn from the parable” kind of gal. I think I understand why Jesus taught his followers through stories. Some of us grasp concepts and lessons more quickly through examples. As I started this book,, I found it a bit difficult to concentrate on the words. But, I realized I had the opportunity to read her thoughts and reflections. I decided I wanted to challenge myself to focus on Jeannie’s prayerful thoughts as I read. Plus, I wanted to learn a new style of spiritual growth. I willed my brain to slow down so I could embrace the reflections. I read in small bites so I could indulge myself with the prayerful thoughts. It worked. I did indeed a learn a fresh way to keep me on my spiritual journey.
If you’re looking for a book to deepen your love and devotion to God, I recommend this book. Read it slowly and savor the morsels.
But don’t just take my word for it. Snag your own copy and fall in love with your Savior.
Jeannie Ewing believes the world focuses too much on superficial happiness and then crumbles when sorrow strikes. Because life is about more than what makes us feel fuzzy inside, she writes about the hidden value of suffering and even discovering joy in the midst of grief. Jeannie shares her heart as a mom of two girls with special needs in Navigating Deep Waters: Meditations for Caregivers and is the author of From Grief to Grace: The Journey from Tragedy to Triumph. Jeannie was featured on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition and dozens of other radio shows and podcasts.
Describe a typical writing day. Are you a morning, afternoon, or night-owl writer?I am an “anytime writer.” You see, my life does not neatly fit into a box (unfortunately for me). I have two young daughters and another baby on the way. Both of our girls have different special needs that require a lot of extra time spent with various specialists, special education programs, surgeries, and counselors. I spent a good portion of my time at the disposal of a doctor’s availability, rather than what is convenient for my family. Because of this, I write when I have time. That might sound like a cop-out, but I don’t waste time. If I have 10 minutes of a lull in my day, I will write for 10 minutes. When the girls are having quiet time and I can snag an extra 20 to 30 minutes, I will write. Most of my best writing happens right after breakfast on a weekend when my husband is gracious enough to watch the girls for me. But most of what I produce is in the evenings after the girls have gone to bed.
Can you tell us about your current work-in-progress?I have 3 of them actually. The first is a book that answers common questions about what to do in specific social or religious situations – a sort of etiquette question and answer book. That proposal has been submitted to a publisher, who is in the process of checking it out. The second manuscript is one I am co-authoring with my husband, Ben. It is a parenting book about using the beatitudes as our beacon for what we do and teach our children on a daily basis. That, too, is in the process of consideration from a different publishing house. The third work-in-progress is my favorite to date. It is a book about the value of waiting and what that looks like from a cultural attitude, as well as a spiritual one. It includes various points of philosophy, but mainly I’m trying to encourage people in their tough times of waiting, especially when it is prolonged. I plan to complete that manuscript before I submit it to a potential publisher.
What inspires you when you’re writing?Prayer – Scriptures, silence, reading reflections and the lives of the saints; music – especially classical or some type of soothing instrumental music; sometimes nature inspires me, and sometimes it could be a conversation with a friend or something I observe while I’m out and about.
What’s your favorite item on your writing desk?Hmmm, probably my perpetual cup of tea!
What’s your favorite genre and why?Memoir, because I love reading about other people’s journeys in life through their own eyes.
Any advice you have for a blossoming author?Just begin. Don’t worry about the details or even the process itself. Just start somewhere and keep moving forward. Your first draft won’t be perfect, so don’t expect it to be. Don’t write with censorship; get into your own flow and let it happen naturally. Our best muse is God, so I always pray before I write.
What is your writing process like?I guess the best word I can use is ‘inspired.’ Just when I think I’ve completed a book, a new idea pops into my head and becomes more developed over time. That’s been the case for this book on waiting. When I write, it could be jotting down ideas on scraps of paper like a typical creative type, or it could mean I actually sit down and type up a chapter on my laptop. But I always, always write down inspired ideas, regardless of where I am or what I’m doing.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? Why?I don’t write fiction, so ?
When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time? Reading, taking care of my girls (homeschooling the eldest), chatting with my husband or watching movies with him, taking walks with my dog through our neighborhood.
What or who inspired you to become a writer?I’ve always been a writer, since I first learned to put words together creatively and articulately. It’s a natural talent and also a spiritual charism. I’ve enjoyed creating ideas through writing – whether fiction when I was a kid or poetry as a young adult or original research papers in college – and now non-fiction seems to be where God wants me right now.
How long have you been writing?I started journaling when I was about 9 years old. I received a Hello Kitty diary from a friend for my birthday and wrote in a journal every day ever since!
Are you Self-published or Traditional Published? Why did you choose this type of publishing?I’m a hybrid author, which means I have some books that are self-published and some that are traditionally published. I’ll be speaking more on the advantages and disadvantages of this at the Catholic Writers Conference Online in February. Essentially, I didn’t “choose” this type of publishing. It just worked out that my first book was self-published, because each step of the process I had someone offer to help me through it professionally! My second book ended up being traditionally published, because my editor at Catholic Exchange asked me if I had considered writing a book.
Anything else you’d like to share with your readers? Writing can be daunting, so don’t think it’s some romantic way of life. Most of us don’t make a grand living as writers, but we love what we do. If you are called to write, you will want to share your ideas with others in order to inspire, encourage, entertain, or teach them – maybe a combination of these, or something else.
Just for fun:
Do you have any pets? Yes! A 9-year-old pit bull mix, Lily. She’s a character! We love her as one of our family members.
Who’s your favorite musician/band? Well, I love music and a variety of genres of music. I’d say it depends, but my favorite genre of music is Renaissance or Baroque. I especially love Michael Praetorius and Tomasso Albonini.
What’s your favorite vacation spot? The mountains. It’s my dream to live in the Smokies one day.
Do you like coffee or tea? Never liked coffee, but I love tea and drink it daily with a bit of honey.
Did you go to college? If so, what was your major? Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with a minor in Religious Studies and Master of Science in Education for School Counseling
Are you a full-time writer or do you also work in another field? If so, what field?My “full-time” job is a stay-at-home mom.
Favorite Season? Fall/Winter/Spring/Summer? I like the changing seasons for different reasons. When I was a kid, my favorite season was summer, but now it’s probably fall. I love the cooler weather and gorgeous colors. Plus, there are so many fun things to do in the fall – hay rides, jumping in leaf piles, visiting pumpkin patches and carving them, apple picking and making homemade applesauce, etc.