Archive | December 2015

Strange

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In the midst of the Christmas gift-giving, my mother noticed something odd. With a frisky tone of voice, she pointed out, “Howie’s listening to a glass … we’ve lost him.”

All eyes shifted to see my husband, who in fact was holding a glass to his ear.

Howie explained, “My ears are hot and the cold glass—”

“No need to explain,” interrupted my mom, playfully. With a frolicsome smile, she spun her hand at the wrist as if wiping his explanation away.

Her implied message, said in jest: we love and accept you no matter what you do.

Here’s the thing about strange behaviors: some are easy to accept. Others: not so much.

Strange, Funny, and Humorous:

Some strange actions tickle our imagination and make us laugh. Like unusual things captured on YouTube videos.

Babies are always a favorite subject in YouTube videos. Like the ones in these “Funny Baby Videos”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_FvTVWjLiHM

Add music and narration to funny animals and you’ve got a hilarious funny animal video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OOr8ryJUOyQ

Strange, and Not So Funny:

Mom’s raising kids with mental illness (MI) often witness strange behaviors in their own homes. Seeing our children act in unusual ways is far from funny. It’s concerning and heart-breaking. The strange happenings seem so foreign to “normal” life. We convince ourselves we’re the only ones enduring such an abnormal existence.

If people could peek into our home, they couldn’t possibly understand such bizarre behaviors. No one would believe what’s going on in our home.

The fact is there are countless other moms who WOULD understand. Because they’ve also faced what we’ve faced. There is nothing we’ve experienced that hasn’t been experienced by other moms throughout all time. And since others have experienced and are experiencing what we’re going through, we’re not alone. Others understand.

Solomon guarantees that, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

We can be sure of Solomon’s insight because, “God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the people of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt” (1 Kings 4:29-30).

So Peter cautions us, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12).

Strange and Accepted:

Think about your child who has MI. Is there anything he would do that would make you stop loving him? Are there any behaviors that would seem so extreme that you’d lose your compassion for him? No. Your love is unconditional.

The rest of the world may think our kids are a bit odd and seek an explanation. But, like my mother, we simply say in our hearts: “No need to explain.” And love them no matter what.


 

NOTE: This message is not to imply that life with a child who has MI is full of strange behaviors. Unexpected behaviors may occur, but they’re not constant. Life is simply complicated. A lot like everyone else’s life: full of ups and downs, twists and turns. Happy times and hard times.

 

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Comfort Food

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Mom’s Sweet Potato Casserole

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Thanksgiving Turkey

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Grandma’s Homemade Chocolate Cake

I sat at the kitchen table planning my day, not expecting the surprise. Without saying a word, Chris presented me with a soft pretzel. He simply put the treat on the table and left the room. His gesture satisfied my taste buds and warmed my heart.

It was the best comfort food I had eaten in a long time. Because it came from Chris. One of his most admirable character traits is thoughtfulness. Happily, mental illness (MI) hasn’t ravaged his thoughtfulness. Chris gives the best gifts ever.

Chris knew I’d appreciate a soft pretzel from our local pretzel store—the only place we ever go to buy pretzels. The blessing lingered long after I had devoured the pretzel, because it was a for-no-reason gift. They’re the best kind!

A side note: Philly is known for its soft pretzels. But not all soft pretzels are created equal. No self-respecting resident of Philadelphia would settle for a street vendor’s “soft pretzel” (and I use that term loosely when used in reference to those cold and hard cheap imitations). A true Philadelphian seeks out stores which bake soft pretzels daily on the premises. Those soft and warm pretzels are made with only the finest dough.

I’ll cherish that memory of Chris giving me comfort food. It’s usually moms who provide comfort food. What is it about food? It arouses emotions and triggers memories. It’s enjoyed in the context of happy social events. For those of us raising kids with MI, food can be thought of in the context of two periods in our lives: times before MI hit, and times during and after MI.

Food triggers powerful memories: Before MI struck, our lives were full of happy food-related events. Christmas cookies remind me of when I baked cookies with the boys each year. Popcorn reminds me of the countless weekends the whole family went to the movies. The Ground Round Restaurant was the place our family regularly ate with the boys’ grandmother. Strawberry jelly reminds me of when I picked strawberries with the boys (and returned home to make jelly). The smell of hot dogs transports me to all the football games where the boys participated in their marching band performances.

We still enjoy happy food-related events with Chris. They’re even more precious to me now.

Food for kids with MI: Once MI became part of our lives, food took on a different role. It became part of Chris’s treatment plan. His neuropsychiatrist helped Chris understand how different foods could help or hurt his emotional stability. We learned, for example, that carbohydrates can impact emotions. Note: Scroll down to find a few links to articles written on the subject of nutrition and MI.

Food expresses love, compassion, and appreciation. We bake to bless others. We cook meals to encourage a patient or widow. We plan parties to celebrate accomplishments. The Bible is full of references to food.

We read of God’s compassion toward widows when He gave instructions regarding food for them (Deuteronomy 24:19-21).  That’s a reminder that His heart is compassionate toward us.

We read of God’s provision to His people in the wilderness, when bread came like rain from heaven and quails covered the camp (Exodus 16: 4, 11-19, 35). That’s a reminder that He provides for us.

We read of God’s promise to give “food in due season” (Psalm 104:27-28 and Psalm 145:15).

Christmas season—reflect on what Jesus did with food:

Christmas is a great time to reflect on events that involved Christ and food. Each one reminds us of what we need most. Moms raising kids with MI need to remember God’s love, Christ’s power and provision, Jesus’ ever-present life surrounding us, and His second coming (when there will be an end to our sorrow and to our child’s torment).

  • Christ multiplied food to demonstrate His power and provision. (Mark 6:32-44)
  • Christ’s birth was evidence of God’s love for us. (John 3:16)
  • He celebrated the Passover with his apostles, foretelling his death and resurrection.

We have the assurance that He is alive.


 

NUTRITION AND MI:

In an article, “Carbohydrate Reward and Psychosis: An Explanation For Neuroleptic Induced Weight Gain and Path to Improved Mental Health?” researchers state that, “evidence for nutrition interventions to improve psychotic symptoms has received little attention.”  Authors of the article, Simon Thornley,  Bruce Russell, and Rob Kydd, go on to say, “Carbohydrate modified diets may also provide an adjunct to antipsychotic medication, potentially limiting unintended effects such as weight gain and adverse increases of other indices of cardiovascular risk.” Their concluding remarks include this recommendation: “The common link drawn between eating, psychosis and mid-brain dopaminergic reward, logically, suggests that psychosis may be improved, by modifying carbohydrate consumption.”

In Mental Health Foundation’s online article, “Diet and Mental Health” they warn about the impact carbohydrates can have on emotions. They recommend that people, “Avoid sugar and sugary drinks, cakes, sweets and puddings. These are loaded with calories but have little nutritional value and may trigger mood swings because of their sugar content.”

Dr. Daniel K. Hall-Flavin clarifies the impact food has on mental illness (MI). The Mayo Clinic posted his article titled “Is it true that certain foods worsen anxiety and others have a calming effect?” In it, Dr. Hall-Flavin specifies which carbohydrates would benefit someone with anxiety.

Eat complex carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are thought to increase the amount of serotonin in your brain, which has a calming effect. Eat foods rich in complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains — for example, oatmeal, quinoa, whole-grain breads and whole-grain cereals. Steer clear of foods that contain simple carbohydrates, such as sugary foods and drinks.”

Getting Away: Guilt or Gratitude?

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Twin Oxen, Williamsburg, VA

“We won’t be able to go on our vacation,” a friend told me. Her son had just been admitted to a psychiatric unit again. “I don’t think it would be right for all of us to take a trip while he is in the hospital,” she explained.

“Now would be the perfect time for you to get away,” I assured her. “He’s being well taken care of and will be safe while you’re gone. You need to enjoy some rest and relaxation with your other family members.”

It’s only natural for a mother to stay close to a sick child. You don’t have to tell us. When it comes to having a child with mental illness (MI), tending to a sick child is endless. Months and years pass without any breaks. There’s never a good time to get away.

Recently my husband and I planned a three-day trip to Williamsburg. With limited funds, we chose to travel on Thanksgiving Day when the hotel rates would be considerably less. Low gas prices made traveling by car doable. We could afford to take a mini-vacation. But we couldn’t afford to take our son. I fought guilt feelings.

 We should take Chris along. He never gets to go on vacations. How could I even consider leaving him on Thanksgiving?

But I knew I needed to get away. WE needed to get away. It would be good for our marriage. It was necessary to be proactive, to protect our marriage. A healthy marriage finds time for the couple to be together.

It’s just not easy to get away, especially when you have a child with MI. Before this trip, Howie and I had taken trips. Mostly to see our grandchildren. Other trips had been coupled with Howie’s business trips. It had been ten years since Howie and I had gone away just the two of us to spend time alone together.

To ease my conscience, I wondered what God thought about us taking a trip. Matthew 11:28-30 came to mind.

Jesus has the answer for people like us who are dog-tired from daily burdens. He recommends, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

In Colonial Williamsburg I spotted two oxen pulling a cart. I stood close enough to reach out and stroke their fur (but wasn’t permitted). Standing next to them was like standing next to a small car. Their massive muscles revealed overwhelming power. Yoked together, they could carry huge loads.

Suddenly I remembered the words of Matthew 11:28-30 and felt gratitude instead of guilt. It was as if God had sent those oxen as a reminder to me. I heard God whisper, “I know you’re weary and burdened. Give Me your burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and find rest for your soul.”

Maybe you can’t afford to get away even for a brief trip. Instead of getting away, imagine going to—going to Him. The one who will give you rest.

“Rest for your souls”: is that what you need? God is powerful enough to carry any load. Another version of Matthew 11:28-30 may describe your situation, your need, and your rest-giving Lord.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly”  [Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)].