In the past twelve hours, I’ve received gifts that didn’t wait for later in the month. These gifts lifted my spirit.
There were so welcome after the past of days of my melancholy attitude. It started with a phone call that left me disappointed in someone and then morphed into a giant of oppressing sadness. I couldn’t shake the “poor me” thoughts that pounded at me.
Until the gifts from yesterday…
First, I spent part of the afternoon with people, which always lifts my mood. Yes, I’m an EXTRAVERT. I get my energy from people. The past twelve hours recharged me and changed my attitude. I needed a major gratitude adjustment.
First I sat next to a friend as I watched a Jr. High Basketball game. I hadn’t expected to see her there, so we chatted and caught up with each other’s lives. Pure gift.
From there I went to a holiday party with my local NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) chapter. I spent the evening with friends I’ve known for years, and the new ones I met as I taught a twelve-week class, Family to Family, this fall. The best part of the evening came as I heard about the successes of their loved ones. I rejoice as I hear the words, “doing well,” “has a job,” “great relationship between us.” So many times I’ve heard, “The class changed my life. It was the best thing I’ve ever done for my loved one and me.” What a gift!
This morning when I checked social media, I approved the tag for this Facebook post, Free the Strange by Andrea Berns. This courageous woman shared her journey to wellness. Her talents shined through her words, as well as her determination to work towards recovery. She asked me to write the forward for her chapbook. What an honor! Congratulations to Andrea, and to all the success stories that we need to tell and celebrate with them.
Gifts come in all shapes, sizes, and look different to everyone. I received good news all around me yesterday, and I am grateful for them.
Today is a repost from a previous gratitude post. I believe in saying “Thank you.”
What’s a mentor?
I looked it up on the Merriam-Webster dictionary website and found:
A: a trusted counselor or guide
B: tutor, coach
Next, I looked up tutor: a person charged with the instruction and guidance of another
I’m glad I found the definitions, but mostly I’m glad I found my mentors.
This wonderful group of people guided me as I learned about writing. I entered my first writers workshop with no knowledge about the craft or the skill needed to put my thoughts to paper (actually to the computer screen.) The first pieces I shared with them had lots of mistakes. My mentors gave gentle, yet constructive criticism. I considered myself an infant in the life of an author. They took my hand as I grew through the toddler stage, entered “school” and worked my way through the lessons they provided.
Within the confines of a supportive community of trusted guides, tutors and coaches, I gained confidence and learned from them the correct procedure to submit the things I’d written. When it came time to write my first book query, and then my book proposal, experienced eyes found my weak areas and offered me suggestions for improvement.
I recently attended the conference that I feel gave me a solid start, the Cedar Falls Christian Writers Workshop. On my way to the first day of the three-day conference, I stopped at the post office to pick up my mail. I marveled about God’s timing. For you see, my recently won award plaque had just arrived – the 2017 Selah Award for memoir writing. From an “infant” to “I’m not even sure what grade I’m in these days” in six years!
I remember May 24, 2017 – the night the awards were announced through a live Twitter feed. I sat in my home, alone as the words, “Virginia Pillars winner of the Selah Award for Memoir” appeared on my screen. I covered my face and cried – “I never thought it would be me.” May 24 is also National Schizophrenia Awareness Day. My book, Broken Brain, Fortified Faith tells the story of our family’s experience with schizophrenia. I still tell others to pinch me – wake me up from this dream I didn’t know I had.
I want to say, “thank you” to those who helped me. If you follow me, you may know that I write under a pseudonym at the request of my family. They fear stigma will re-enter our daughter’s life, so I honor them by keeping them out of social media. I don’t publish photographs of me, or my family for this reason, but I can share the photos of my mentors. Through them, I learned to write, publish and speak about my story through schizophrenia with my child.
I’ve asked them to hold my award, for I believe some of the credit belongs to them, too. I couldn’t have done it without them.
Mary Potter Kenyon writes and speaks on the subjects of grief, cancer, friendship, the word of coupons, and writing for publication. She is currently working on her fifth book.
Shelly Beach is an award-winning author, founder of the Cedar Falls Christian Writers Workshop, author of six books and frequent speaker on PTSD.
Jolene Philo has a passion for those with special needs, especially our youth. She’s written many books and speaks extensively on the subject.
Wanda Sanchez and Shelly Beach work together in the field of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.) As co-authors of an award-winning book, Love Letters from the Edge, they speak nationwide. Reach them at PTSD Perspectives.
Missing from the line-up is Jocelyn Green. I can still remember her critique on my first piece, “Show not tell.” She taught me how to accomplish this with her gentle guidance. I wish I had her photo to share with you, my readers.
And last, but not least, these are some of the group who meet regularly and have taught me, challenged me as we shared our writings, and heaped out large scoops of encouragement. If I overlooked someone, it is not my intent. I appreciate each and every person I’ve met along the way.
I’m still a work in progress. To all my mentors, past, present, and furture, I say, “THANK YOU!”
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.
I look around and see volunteers who work tirelessly without pay or even recognition. Today, I am grateful for these good people who work for the benefit of others behind the scenes.
Today, I want to spotlight a group that many people have not heard about, and are not aware of their hard work and important service they provide. NAMI – The National Alliance on Mental Illness.
This national organization began in 1979 because a few families dreamt of a day when families received support as they dealt with their loved ones’ mental illness. It spread across our nation to reach people in all fifty states.
I found this group of wonderful, supportive people when I needed them the most. Our family was in crisis and I felt so alone. They drew me into their circle of education, comfort, and support as we dealt with the confusing world of mental illness. Through this fantastic organization, I learned about what my daughter faced, and I changed me. This helped me cope and support her in a way that enabled her to rebuild her life. She battled against her brain disorder, schizophrenia, and won. Today, she lives in recovery as she manages her illness with grace and dignity. She works full-time, manages all her own affairs (both medical and financial), lives on her own and has a social life that makes me tired.
Today, I tip my hat to the people who work to improve the lives of families everywhere, both in this wonderful organization, and to all the volunteer organizations that go about their mission to improve the lives of people they will never meet.
May God bless you in all your work. And thank you.
In the fall of 2004, I’d never heard of Mental Health Awareness Week. It took place the week of October 3 – 9. But, as I look back, I wish I’d had known someone who was involved. I wish they’d told me about it. I wish I’d known how mental illness affects one in five adults in a given year, according to NAMI. This stands for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a grassroots organization that works to improve the lives of people who deal with brain disorders and the families who love them.
Perhaps if I’d been aware, I’d have recognized the symptoms that my daughter had begun to exhibit in the fall of 2004. Perhaps if I’d been aware, I’d have encouraged her to seek professional help earlier. Perhaps, I could have spared her some of the pain she endured.
But, as I’ve heard often from the people I’ve met through NAMI since then, “You can’t know what no one has told you.” And no one told me.
Fortunately for our family, we found this wonderful organization within a month of the time we realized that something was wrong. That our daughter, Amber, suffered from something more serious than depression.
The people we met “told us” what we needed to know. They shared their knowledge. But more important than that, they shared their compassion and understanding. The people we met had walked a similar road before us and they took our hands to lead us through the crisis.
It’s now Mental Health Awareness Week, 2017. It began on Sunday, October 1 and ends on Saturday, October 7. I want change “You can’t know what no one has told you.” And so I talk about it. I’d like to make the journey easier for those who walk the path now, or those about to embark on a journey they don’t want to take. I share our story with anyone who will listen. I tell them it’s a brain disorder, not a character flaw. I tell them my daughter didn’t choose to have schizophrenia. Who would choose an illness – any illness – for themselves?
I tell people who will listen that it’s the brain affected that needs treatment, just like the pancreas needs treatment for diabetes. I encourage them to seek treatment. 50% of those with an illness don’t do that. Perhaps if all sought treatment, and the treatment was available to them, we could see an improvement in so many lives.
Today, our daughter lives in recovery. She received the treatment she needed and returned to an independent lifestyle. She beat schizophrenia into submission as she worked with doctors, therapists, counselors until she could return to full time employment and her own apartment. She worked hard, and I’m so proud of her.
I want our culture to support those who battle these illnesses. I want the support for the families who love them, too. I’ve witnessed the difference that treatment and support can make in the lives of those affected.
I dream of a day when everyone who falls into the category of one in five can celebrate recovery.
Let’s talk about Mental Health Awareness with everyone we know.
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.