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.