My thoughts about Mental Health, Virginia Pillars

Take my hand, help me stand.


 

Hand upLast Friday, Whispers in the Pews: Voices on Mental Illness inWhispers in the Pews 3D photo the Church released.

I feel grateful today for the people who shared the link on social media and encouraged others to read it. I feel grateful for those who read it and posted reviews on Amazon. I feel grateful for the conversations that I know will take place in our church communities, around the water coolers, one on one over coffee as a result of the voices who shared their stories and bared their souls.

I understand the concept of time. Any change in attitude takes time. A young woman recently shared with me it takes seven years from the first time we hear something to have a change of heart. In those seven years, we need to hear the message repeated by different people in different ways.

Perhaps this book will help pave the way for the subject of mental illness to go from “we don’t talk about it” to a genuine understanding and compassion for us all.

Mental illness is not a weakness in a person’s faith. I’ve met countless people in the past fourteen years whose faith can move a mountain. Mental illness struck anyway. It’s a brain disorder, not a character flaw.

Mental illness can’t be prayed away. This is not to say that God can’t work a miracle. I know God can heal mind, body, and soul. I do believe, however, that often times God works through professionals who assist those who seek recovery by:

  1. Provide medications that assist the brain to make the proper connections so it can function as it should.
  2. Provide therapy in various forms – again – to assist the brain to react differently to outside stimulus.
  3. Provide a safe space to discuss the issues that accompany mental illness.

We, as a community can help by:

  1. Provide a listening ear, without judgment. Sometimes, that means not saying anything, just listening.
  2. Help them find the professional help they seek.
  3. Treat them as before illness struck. They want acceptance and don’t want to feel set apart because of a biological illness.

Let’s offer everyone a hand to help them stand. We’re all in this together.

Advertisements
My thoughts about Mental Health, Virginia Pillars

“Shhh.” – “NO! I want to talk about it!”


How many times have we whispered about a mental health issue as our eyes dart around the crowd to see if anyone else heard us?

When mental illness blasted into our family, I reacted this way. I lowered my voice when I spoke about it. I felt embarrassed – like our family did something to cause this. Through education I received from the National Alliance on Mental Illness organization, I changed my attitude. They taught me about the biology of the brain and how to be a helpmate to those who battle it. I learned support plays a major factor in the recovery process. Yes, I said that right, recovery process. I’ve rejoiced more than once as people I love work to recover from their illness and go on to lead a fulfilling life.

Now, I’ll talk about it with anyone and everyone who will listen. I also write about it every chance I get. I want everyone to understand the difficulties that face families in the clutches of mental illness. I want our culture to react in a helpful, not a hurtful way. This means compassionate understanding.

And I learned that I’m not alone in this new way of life. Countless others have the same goal. Chris Morris from Llama Publishing brought us together to write about our Whispers in the Pews 3D photoexperiences in the church as we dealt with mental illness. He compiled and edited, Whispers in the Pews.  He explained why he began this project and how he accomplished it in this 2-part interview at InspireChristianWriters. Part 1. Part 2.

I feel honored he chose to include my essay in this important book. I hope one day everyone can go to their faith community and find the support they need when they need it. It makes a difference in their recovery process.

The book releases today – November 16.

Thank you for stopping.

Bye for now, Virginia

My thoughts about Mental Health, Virginia Pillars

Linda’s Story Illuminates a Cultural Crisis


God Knows Where I Am (1)This powerful documentary, God Knows Where I Am,  pulled back the invisibility cloak on the life of one homeless woman who battled untreated mental illness. Through Linda’s journal found beside her body in an empty farmhouse in New Hampshire, viewers lived in her world as she struggled to survive in an unforgiving environment.

Linda Bishop, a daughter, a sister, a mother, had people who cared about her. They knew she needed help, medication, and treatment. Unfortunately, during an in-hospital stay when Linda adamantly refused treatment, the hands that wanted to help her were slapped away.  Loved ones petitioned for guardianship to ensure treatment for her, but the court denied their request.  Laws set up to protect the rights of the patient allowed Linda to choose her own treatment plan.

The clear mind that guides most of us to make informed and calculated decisions on our health care had fogged over for Linda. Her brain convinced her she didn’t need medicine. Unable to help her, the staff released her, but privacy laws prevented them from notifying her family.  Linda walked through the door of the hospital, through the door of the abandoned farmhouse, and into her personal prison as her mind imposed a death sentence on an innocent inmate.

I cried as I watched Linda’s final months of life. I cried for all the Lindas with an untreated mental illness that takes their lives. I cried for their families. I cried for the pain endured by all of them. I cried because I don’t know how to protect the rights of the patient when their minds prevent them from accepting the necessary treatment that might return them to a life with loved ones.

At one time in our country’s history, people lost their rights and found themselves in an institution and no way for parole simply because another person said they had a mental illness. I don’t want to see that inflexibility ever return.

I know people who chose to walk away from treatment and live without hurting themselves or others. Can we take away that person’s right to choose?

But, what about the Linda’s?

How do we know which ones need treatment to survive and which person can manage their illness?

What if the courts had granted Linda’s family guardianship? Would treatment have helped her come to terms with her mental illness?

Would mandatory outpatient follow-up care prevented her from disappearing into a place where no one found her until it was too late?

What if the hospital had notified her family of her imminent release and the family had the opportunity to support her as they guided her into wellness?

As I said, I cried because I don’t know the answers to the hard questions. I cried because I wrestled with the memories of our family’s journey – the denial of the illness, the refusal to accept treatment, the appearance in court for committal for treatment and again for guardianship and conservatorship. I know – if things had gone differently for us…if we had been denied…and I cry for all the Lindas and their families. I want different outcomes for them. I know recovery can happen. However, it takes a village of support.  Research shows early intervention and a treatment plan help people resume productive lives.

I spent two hours last night watching this documentary on my local public television station. I encourage everyone to spend time with Linda Bishop through her written words, her sister, her daughter, and others who appear in this film. Rated TV-PG, it may give you a new glimpse into the complicated problem of mental illness, treatment, and homelessness.

Let’s keep the conversation on mental illness alive. Let’s support the people afflicted and those who love them. Let’s educate ourselves and encourage others to do the same. Let’s work together to find the answers for all the Linda Bishops in our world.

 

 

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

Book Review: Flight from Reason by Karen S. Yeiser


October 9, 2018 

Flight From Reason

After I read Mind Estranged: My Journey from Schizophrenia and Homelessness to Recovery by Bethany Yeiser, I picked up the companion book written by Bethany’s mother, Karen S. Yeiser, Flight From Reason: A Mother’s Story of Schizophrenia, Recovery, and Hope.  I wanted to learn how this family coped with the devastating illness schizophrenia. I wondered –  how did this other mom cope with the pain that came with her daughter’s journey through schizophrenia?

I’m glad I read it. I enjoyed this book, if “enjoyed” is even an appropriate word to use for a book about schizophrenia. I did find that I wanted to get into the meat of the story sooner and so I skimmed the first few chapters of family background. After that, Karen’s deep faith came through loud, clear, and consistent as she and her husband watched helplessly while Bethany turned away from them during the progression of her illness. Like me, they tried to reason with her, but they found out quickly the futility of it, as most of us parents do.

Through prayer, Bethany’s parents placed their trust in God and focused on keeping their lives intact. After four years, the situation changed enough for them to reach Bethany and help her. Because they’d kept their marriage stable and their faith strong, they welcomed her back and helped her.

I rejoiced with Karen as I finished the book and Bethany made it to recovery. This mother understands the heartache of a loved one’s mental illness and knows the relief when the recovery comes after a lot of hard work.

I recommend this to everyone who wants to understand how one family played their hand as life dealt their daughter the illness, schizophrenia.

Thank you for stopping. Check back later for more reviews on books about mental illness.

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

Book Review: Mind Estranged


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

My thoughts about Mental Health, Virginia Pillars

Mental Illness Awareness Week


October 7 – 15, 2018 is National Mental Health Awareness week.

IntoMH-Facebook-TimelinePeople with serious mental illness die on an average fifteen to thirty years earlier than the those without. What’s the difference for this disparity that’s higher than gender, racial, social economic factors?

October 7 – 15, 2018 is National Mental Health Awareness week. People with serious mental illness die on an average fifteen to thirty years earlier than the those without. What’s the difference for this disparity that’s higher than gender, racial, social economic factors?

One common misconception is that they die earlier because of suicide, overdose or accident due to their mental health condition. However, similar health conditions take their lives, just as with others in their age group. Illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, pulmonary disease, and diabetes are responsible. Why do those with mental illness die from these at a higher rate? Just like with all medical issues, the answers are not one-size fits all.

  • Risky behavior is higher for those with mental illness, such as the use of tobacco products.
  • Research continues to explore why those with a serious mental illness have a higher rate of diabetes, strokes, or cardiovascular disease.
  • Often those with a serious mental illness receive their general health care from a public mental health service or a psychiatrist as opposed to a primary health care physician.
  • Bias from those who provide health services has a couple of segments that change the treatment suggested.

1. What’s the point? Some believe those with a serious mental illness won’t recover, so why bother to treat them.

2. Failure to listen to symptoms by professionals because they attribute the complaints to the mental illness and not as a serious concern. As a result, doctors are less likely to order cardiac catheterization for symptoms associated with a heart attack. They are also less likely to order cancer screening or follow-up treatment than they would for the general population. (National Council for Behavior OcHealth, 7/10/18)

The above statistics make me sad. I’d like to see everyone make it to recovery and live a life similar to others in their age group. I’d like to see this change in my lifetime. If not, in my daughter’s.

Let’s continue to talk about mental illness. Let’s work together to help those who struggle with it. And let’s champion for our loved one to ensure they get the care they need when they need it. Sometimes, we have to act as their voice until they can speak for themselves.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Each day this week, I hope to post a book review about a book that deals with mental illness. I hope you stop back.

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

July 11


Two Friends, Two DaughtersGail and I shared high school teachers, high school friends, and over thirty years of experiences. We both started our married lives in 1975. Babies arrived in each of our families in 1976, 1978, 1980, and 1982. As our similar troops of four little ones grew, our families met often. While the children played, the four parents enjoyed some much-needed adult time. We discussed our busy lives and the challenges that came with parenting four young children. We shared laughter, exchanged stories, parenting tips, and partied with mutual friends. But, in 2011, a calendar date became the most important thing that we shared.

July 11, 2011. Sleep had eluded me in the early morning hours, despite my efforts to turn off my brain and rest. I tried my usual trick – I turned on the television, the DVD player, and popped in a movie I’d watched so many times I knew it by heart. Most nights this routine lulled me back to sleep. But that night, my method of insomnia management didn’t work. So, I went to my desk, turned on my computer, and decided to reminisce about another sleepless July 11, thirty-one years earlier.

As the memories tumbled from my brain to my computer screen, I smiled. That morning, I couldn’t sleep during in the early hours, either. Overdue with my third child, I counted the minutes between contractions. I remembered the painless labor, and the quick delivery less than thirty minutes after our arrival at the hospital that gave us our only daughter, Amber.

But, I also thought about the many challenges we (Amber, her dad and I) faced together. In 2004, Amber, stricken with the brain disorder, schizophrenia, moved home with us at the age of twenty-four. Together, Roy, Amber, and I battled against the nasty symptoms schizophrenia imposed on her. After four years, with the help of doctors, therapists, medication, plus Amber’s desire to recover, she resumed an independent lifestyle. I felt so proud of her and her determination to regain her health despite those difficult years when the symptoms had tried to beat her down.

Usually, I did my best to dwell on the positive changes and not the heartache that came with her illness, but sometimes it crept in just the same.

On July 11, 2011, I concentrated on the good memories. As I wrote that morning, I recalled the joy of her birth, and how bright her future looked now that she lived in recovery. Once I felt satisfied with my piece, I settled on the couch in the living room for a quick nap. Success. When I woke, I felt refreshed and ready to take on my day.

After my coffee, devotions, breakfast, and a shower, I walked to the addition of my house where I operated my home embroidery business. I planned to call Amber during her lunch break and sing Happy Birthday to her. My employee arrived around nine o’clock and together we worked on a stack of embroidery orders. We chatted as we worked. Around ten o’clock, the phone rang. I snatched the phone from the wall cradle.

“Good morning. This is Virginia. How may I help you today?”

“Virginia. This is Gloria, Gail’s sister.”

“Oh, hey, Gloria! How’ya doin?” I said excitedly to hear from her and ready to take an order.

“Not good. I’ve got bad news this morning.” She paused. I heard her heavy breaths. “Amanda took her life last night. Gail called me a few minutes ago. Andy found her this morning when he got up to leave for work.”

I felt like someone had kicked me in the stomach. I don’t know if I gasped out loud, but the joy I had earlier evaporated as I inhaled the horrible news,

Amanda, the daughter of my good friend, Gail. Amanda, the same age as Amber. Amanda, my daughter’s playmate from years ago when our two families met for picnics and parties. Amanda, beautiful Amanda, with her ringlets of walnut brown hair, her crystal blue eyes, and a wide smile with perfect teeth was gone. Beneath her striking exterior lurked an unseen invader. A demon that we couldn’t see; one that doctors couldn’t find with a simple blood test, but it picked away at her ability to cope. Hidden from the visible eye lurked the gnarled fingers of mental illness. It had snaked its way through her personality until most of the Amanda we knew had disappeared. Amanda wanted to fit in, to be a good mom and a trusted employee, but her brain disorder gnawed at her strength. Now, a husband, a daughter, a son, a mother, a father, a sister, two brothers, and more broken hearts than I could count mourned her exit from this world.

Amanda died after a long battle with mental illness, not just another suicide statistic, but the daughter of a good friend. I don’t remember exactly what I said. I imagine I said a hollow remark like, “I’m so sorry,” or “Let me know what I can do.”

I hung up the phone and attempted to work. I planned to go to Gail and her husband, Nick after I finished work for the day. But, I had put an unrealistic expectation on myself to think that I could concentrate on my job. I felt numb, and shaken, and devastated, and worried about Gail. Only a few hours earlier I had written about my daughter’s birth and rejoiced in her success while at the same time, my friend dealt with the horror of her daughter’s death.

Something that I had feared for my child had slammed into their world without mercy.  I thought about the days when I lived in fear. I lived in a state of constant worry that Amber would take her life – that she would lose the battle against schizophrenia. I knew the high possibility. I knew that 50% of those stricken take their life. As she made small strides toward recovery, I worried even more. I had read this time was the most crucial. It was when the illness subsided, that people felt strongly enough to attempt suicide. I remembered the pain I had in my gut, along with the continual fretful feelings as I scrutinized her every move.

I thought about Amanda and Gail. Guilt set in. Why? Why did my child live and thrive while her child left this world because she couldn’t find the help she desperately wanted and needed? I tried to put myself in Gail’s shoes. I imagined my reaction if it had been Amber instead of Amanda. My stomach churned as the feelings assaulted me over and over. “It could’ve been you. It could’ve been Amber.”

I couldn’t handle my worry and dread for Gail any longer. I sent my employee home, shut off my machines, locked my shop door, flipped the sign to CLOSED, and rushed to the side of Gail and Nick.

The pain in my chest that had been there all day exploded when Gail fell into my arms as I walked into their home. She sobbed as if she’d never stop, and I unleashed my pent-up emotions and joined her. Our anguish mingled through our tears. I wanted my arms to absorb some of her pain. I knew they couldn’t, so I just held her as we cried.

I listened as she shared feelings that no parent should have to face. I knew I had similar thoughts at times in my life, too. They seemed to come with a diagnosis of mental illness.

“You’re not alone with those feelings,” I assured her. The tears that followed didn’t wash away her grief, or my feelings of guilt as we wept together.

Why did my child dwell in recovery, while her child lost her battle? Why did we, two ordinary women get one-way tickets into the world of mental illness? We didn’t want those passports into the heartache. Our daughters didn’t want those badges of pain, so why?

Questions with no answers pounded in my mind and threatened to overtake my resolve to support my life-long friend. I pushed them aside as I chose to concentrate on the grief before me. For the next several hours, I listened and allowed Gail’s memories of Amanda, both painful and beautiful, to flow and seep into an untouchable corner in my heart. I knew that nothing out of my mouth could ease her agony. So, I listened, held her hand, wrapped my arms around her when sorrow, remorse, anger, and the torment of Amanda’s death by suicide sliced at her. As I listened, I picked up the bitter morsels of raw desolation that scattered around Gail.

And then I returned home. I had to allow her private time to grieve in a way that worked for her. I tried to keep in touch after the services for Amanda, but she wanted time to mourn alone. So, I stepped back. It slashed at my contentment to watch from a distance as she withdrew from activities such as weddings, anniversaries, and other joyous occasions. I’m guessing the pain paralyzed her, so I just made sure she knew I cared. I left the door open and kept her in my heart and prayers. I sent her notes on the anniversary date of Amanda’s death, and Christmas cards to try and leave the doorway of comfort ajar for her. But, that doorway didn’t open wide enough for me to come in for a long time.

One summer morning, after several years of almost zero communication, I called her and invited her to meet me. “I plan to take my granddaughters to the aquatic center after lunch. Would you like to join me, bring your grandchildren, and we can catch up?”

My heart leaped when she said, “Yes,” and a few hours later we sat, sipped cool drinks, as we watched as Amanda’s son and my granddaughters splashed in the water. We talked non-stop. Time had allowed her grief to form a scab, but she told me that she kept it guarded – she kept hidden it from most of the world. People that she thought she could trust didn’t understand. They pointed the finger of blame: “You should’ve…” “Why didn’t you…?” “It happened because…” Terrible words that did nothing to alleviate her pain. It only exposed her wound and broke it open again and again. Before long, Gail refused to talk about Amanda.

That afternoon, friend to friend, we compared our scars as we talked about our faith, our trust in God and that one day we will both understand. We shared our hope that Amanda is with our Savior who saw her agony and gathered her to himself. We held hands as we basked in our love for our daughters. We remembered the date we’ll forever share – July 11 – the date when I celebrate the birth of my daughter while she mourns the death of hers. We parted with a hug of support and a promise to meet again. My spirits swelled with gratitude for our friendship and for the chance to talk about Amanda with Gail.

I still don’t understand the why, nor do I expect I will this side of heaven. I healed a little more that afternoon. I know I can’t bring back those who lose their battle with mental illness, but I can walk beside their survivors as they navigate their path of desolation. I can try to fulfill a promise I made myself years ago – to react as the Bible verse Romans 12:15 states.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”