ABOUT, Author In Training, Faith is important to me., Gratitude, My thoughts about Mental Health, Virginia Pillars

Podcast on the Curiosity Hour

A huge thank you to Dan Sterenchuk and Tommy Estlund for the invitation to join them for a podcast on the Curiosity Hour.

Unless you come to hear me speak, you only know me through the words I type on Facebook, on this blog, on Pinterest, Goodreads, and comments on Amazon. Here’s a chance to hear my voice.

 

I love to talk about our story, mental illness, and my faith. I speak with libraries, organizations, churches, and book clubs.

Contact me to schedule an event.

virginiapillars@gmail.com

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Gratitude, My thoughts about Mental Health, Virginia Pillars

Gratitude – November 21

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.

Together, let’s make a difference. Thank you!

 

 

 

 

Guest Blogs, Virginia Pillars

An opened gift.

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.

Enjoy.

by Meagan Frank

Different Dream Parenting.

CWG Book Blast

Jeanie Heimann

Jocelyn Green

Catholic Reads

Mary Potter Kenyon

Franciscan Mom

Jeanie Egolf, Author of Molly McBride and the Purple Habit

Happy Anniversary, Broken Brain, Fortified Faith. You’ve been a gift.

Thanks for stopping by today. Virginia

 

Virginia's Reviews

The Bipolar Experience book review

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.

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

I hugged a stranger in a bar…

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Faith is important to me.

Among the thorns – beauty.

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.

My thoughts about Mental Health

Sometimes I want to cry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I read further…

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

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

I highlighted the lines that drew the tears.

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

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

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

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

Sometimes I cry tears of gratitude.