Archives

Surviving Survival Mode

Tyler Park Newtown, PA

Photo taken by Vicki Chandler at Tyler Park Newtown, PA

How would you describe your life raising a child with mental illness (MI)? Have you ever witnessed your loved one’s sweet personality engulfed by psychosis? Could you even begin to explain what it’s like to see that loved one in a psychiatric unit? How would you describe the impact that had on your life and your family?

A close friend’s four-word description spoke volumes: “We’re in survival mode.”

How would you convey that message? What details would you share to help someone understand ‘survival mode’? Here’s my attempt to further clarify those two words:

Survival Mode

It’s a minute-by-minute existence.

An emptiness filled with despair.

Trivial cares swallowed by mental illness.

Secretly crying, “This isn’t fair!”

There ARE no adequate words to describe what it’s like to see your own child in a psychiatric unit. Broken and in torment. No wonder our hearts break when we learn of friends enduring the same anguish.

That’s precisely why my heart is breaking. Just thinking about their ordeal brought it all back to me (the times our son endured a psychotic episode). Their news filled me with empathy. Empathy led to pain. Pain thrust me to a local park. There, I found a temporary escape from the distractions of the world. There, I found the oasis of God’s creation.

Just two side notes:

The park is located in a very congested Philadelphia suburb. So, if you feel drawn to escape distractions (for a short time), I’ll bet you could find a quiet corner of your world. If it’s not possible for you to escape your home (while watching your child), perhaps a video I made will offer you a virtual escape.

There are many families dealing with similar unspeakable trials. The details may vary, but the sense of loneliness is the same. If that’s you, I wanted to share my heart in a more personal way. So, I grabbed my video camera and tripod. And headed to the park. The brief message I recorded (below) isn’t a professional-quality movie. It’s just sincere words of encouragement, from my heart to yours.

https://youtu.be/DBID02_zNJ8

Advertisements

Prepared and Protected

wisdom.sm

I wonder if I’ll get a few good pictures at this renaissance fair.

Photography is my hobby. All my cares disappear when I’m involved in a photo shoot. It’s my escape. I get so focused on the next image to capture that I can ignore everything. Once, I was oblivious to the fact that mosquitoes were biting me. The breathtaking sunset seemed to activate only my visual senses. That outing yielded stunning pictures, and two armfuls of mosquito bites!

Whenever I go on a photo shoot, I’m excited if it yields just one fantastic photograph. However, the renaissance fair didn’t hold much promise. I entered the fairgrounds and disappointment hit. At first glance, nothing seemed snapshot-worthy. No good Kodak moments presented themselves. But, I wandered around snapping pictures anyway.

Nothing really excited me. Until I came upon the birds of prey. A thin rope surrounded three birds, each tethered to a perch on the ground. The owl grabbed my attention. I’d never been so close to a live owl. Inches separated me from the gorgeous bird. I could have reached out and touched it. But, I resisted the temptation.

Suddenly, loud clanging sounds pierced the silence. Behind me, two costumed men were having a sword fight. Each time their swords clashed, the owl spun its head around. The huge eyes stared in my direction. I stood mesmerized. Suddenly, I jolted to my sense, set my camera on the sports function, and snapped away.

Humans do something similar when on high alert. Someone shouts, “Heads us!” and we duck. A ball is thrown in our direction and we automatically protect ourselves. If only we can hold that picture in our mind as a symbol of what to do with mental illness (MI). At the first indication that more challenges are being hurled our way, the best thing to do would be to lower our head in prayer.

Our reflexes protect us from physical injury due to an incoming ball. Can we likewise learn to respond with instant prayer to incoming trials? Can we get better at responding quicker with spiritual protection? When we see our child slipping, can our immediate response be to bow our heads in prayer?

That’s not always my immediate reaction. Here’s an admission: initially my emotions drive my reactions. Worries come. Tears flow. Problem-solving thoughts swirl in my head. It’s not my automatic response to seek God’s help.

So here’s my resolve: When sorrow is heading to my heart, I’ll strive to get better at seeking God’s protection—FIRST.

By the way…isn’t the phrase, “heads up” the wrong thing to scream? Shouldn’t we instead shout, “Heads down?” While contemplating those words of misdirection, I considered using them for spiritual protection. If I can keep my spiritual “heads up”, with my heart lifted to God, I just bet I could face the next trial with more of His peace. Make sense?

Here’s my plan. The next time I sense things are shaky with Chris, I’ll repeat to myself, “Heads up … Heads up … Heads up …” That’ll remind me to turn my heart heavenward, bow my head in prayer, and trust Him. I know He’ll remind me of His faithfulness. And that He’ll provide the peace and protection needed. In addition, He’ll help me prepare for whatever by giving me His wisdom.

Most of us have a first aid kit. We’re prepared for any physical injury or illness. In our heart, we can have a MI first aid kit: prayer and God’s Word. That’s a kit which will keep us prepared, protected, and at peace.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5).

Gone, but Not Gone

flower.sprout

Here’s what I have to say to my illness.

Wretched multiple sclerosis (MS),

You may have whittled down my ability to teach. You may have invaded my brain with countless lesions. Making it difficult for me to meet the demands of full-time teaching. But, I’m still teaching occasionally. You may suck the energy out of my body. But, not my life. I’m NOT gone. Neither are my skills and talents.

Always defiant and victorious, Vicki

Life created by God:

Consider a forsythia bush. It maintains the potential to display beauty regardless of the season. In winter, its branches look dead. But, deep inside its lifeless appearance lays a vibrant life.

I’m like that winter branch. I still have the potential to share God’s love regardless of my symptoms. I’ve found new ways to bless others. Instead of baking cookies, I snap photographs of God’s creation. And use them to design calendars.

zoo.peacock  zoo.flamgo  zoo.peacock2

Regardless of the seasons in my life, I remain the person God created me to be. I have the assurance that, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made…” (Psalm 139:14a). MS hasn’t destroyed who I am. My disease may have altered my plans. But, my illness can’t demolish God’s plan for my life.

Similarly, mental illness (MI) may have stripped your children of their desire to do anything. But, it hasn’t robbed them of their God-given talents and skills. Ask God to reveal evidence of those abilities.

God has given me glimpses of my son’s talents and skills. Chris occasionally plays his keyboard. The music I hear doesn’t merely fill me with pride. It fills me with gratitude.

That’s the Chris I know and love.

Recently, Chris was telling me about the operating system (OS) he had created for computers.

“Check out my website, Mom. Visitors will find instructions how to install the free OS.”

When I clicked on his site, I had no clue what it all meant, but was amazed. I was blown away by the clarity of his language. Obviously, MI hadn’t robbed him of his technical ability, or his ability to explain directions in understandable terms.

Life with a purpose:

Has despondency has left your child with little or no motivation to function? Or does your child desperately want to contribute, but isn’t sure how? Does MI seem to present insurmountable obstacles?

Do you look at our child with MI and wonder what will become of him? You’re not alone. Many grapple with the question, “What gives meaning to my child’s life?”

Perhaps, you’re determined that his existence won’t be all about MI. Ask God to arouse in him a desire to use his creativity or skills. Seek God’s wisdom to discern His plan for your child.

Power for living:

We imagine our kids living a life full of challenges. And our hearts are broken. What hope can we gain from the Bible? Did anyone face unending trials? The apostle Paul did. So, when he shares hopeful words, we listen.

First, read what Paul endured:

“Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked” (2 Corinthians 11:23-27).

It’s no surprise that Paul didn’t think he could endure it any longer. Join me in my “conversation” with Paul.

When you reached your limit, what did you do, Paul?

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9).

So, God’s grace helped you?

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).

It’s encouraging to hear that God’s power and grace worked through you. I pray my child will experience that same indwelling, divine power and grace.


Grace that’s never gone

So how did Paul endure? God’s grace remained with him.

 Regardless of the challenges our kids have to face, they will always have access to God’s grace.

Like Paul, I can say, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” And by the grace of God, our children will be who they are…who the Creator made them to be.

If you feel beaten down, let Hillsong’s “You Are My Strength” minister to you. The lyrics tell of God’s amazing grace:

“In the fullness of Your grace

In the power of Your name

You lift me up

You lift me up”

Listen to their song over and over until the lyrics block out all the thoughts that attempt to discourage you. The Truth is that God’s grace will lift you up.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwvGFWKBo4o

Death of a Dream

fall.leaves

In a matter of days these trees will look dead. When the leaves are gone, I’ll miss their beauty.

In winter, I’ll stare at bare branches and know they’ll come alive again in the spring. Green leaves will adorn them once more. Months later, fall will return. My favorite season. So I won’t mourn the loss of autumn.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the seasons of life could be that predictable? Perhaps we could endure tough times with our child who has mental illness (MI) if we knew in three months things would get easier.

What season are you in with your child who has mental illness (MI)? Maybe you’re enjoying the springtime of an easier phase. Or perhaps it feels like you’re enduring the doldrums of winter.

Has your child’s joy withered away?  Do you long to see his eyes sparkle again? Do you wonder if his spring will ever return?

It’s as if your child is there, but not there. He’s alive, but the former happy-go-lucky child is gone.

We need to grieve the loss of our former child. We mourn because we’ve experienced the death of a dream. We envisioned a certain life for our child. Those hopes are gone.

I don’t know about you, but I can be tough on myself. Impatient with my own emotions, I chastise myself.

Snap out of it, Vicki. Deal with it. Don’t add your emotions into the mix.

Like anyone going through grief, we need assurances things will get better. We find hope in passages like Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4.

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity … a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.”

God has ordained a time for us to laugh again. Joy will return.

We need comforting as we go through the stages of our grief. The Bible promises God’s comfort. Isaiah is just one book of the Bible where we find reasons to be comforted.

God will restore our joy: “The Lord will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the Lord. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing.”  (Isaiah 51:3)

God’s Word is reliable. We can depend on its promises: “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.” (Isaiah 40:8)

God provides strength: “…The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary … He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.”  (Isaiah 40:28-29)

God is with us: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  (Isaiah 41:10)

God’s Son knows what we’re going through: In Isaiah 53:3-4 we read, “He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief … Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” (NKJV)

We look forward to the ultimate end to grief. “He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces.”   Isaiah 25:8

Be comforted dear friend.

Your grief cannot sabotage the serenity you have in the Lord as you focus on Him. Reflect on His steadfast love for you as you listen to “Steadfast Love” from Scripture Lullabies.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BdT1XQ5ZRuk

Feeling Helpless

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. ”  (Psalm 8:3-5)

Most of us would rather go through a trial ourselves than watch our children in turmoil.

When our kids struggle, we do all we can for them. We help in different ways, depending on the problem and the age of the child. Sometimes, we provide physical assistance. Other times, our children need a listening ear and a prayer. Older ones might want guidance or advice.

Sometimes there are limitations to what we can do to help. The ongoing pain our child experiences can pierce our own heart.

When my son, Chris, was in kindergarten he struggled with his behavior due to his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Every day after school, his teacher asked to speak to me about something he did wrong.   Even though Chris was trying as hard as he could to behave appropriately, his impulsivity got him into trouble.

We did all we could at home. We prayed with him, taught him how to behave, shared appropriate scripture, and even role played situations he might encounter in the classroom. The problem seemed impossible to solve.

How could I help my son understand that God still loved him in spite of his circumstances? How could I teach him (and myself) that God would help him with this problem and all his future problems?

Around that time, my mother gave Chris a chrysalis. Such exquisite beauty! The beautiful oval-shaped creation looked like an earring. Resembling a pale green porcelain vase dotted and lined with gold. God created it and all things simply by speaking, “Let there be…”  Such power!

God provided an answer to the cry of my heart. He showed me how to explain God’s love and power to my son.

I pointed to the chrysalis and said, “If God can create such beauty simply by speaking it into existence, then He can certainly help you with any problem.”

God’s creation demonstrates His power and it draws us closer to His love. This stanza of God’s Garden by Dorothy Frances Gurney (London: Country Life, 1913) expresses it well:

The kiss of the sun for pardon,

The song of the birds for mirth,–

One is nearer God’s heart in a garden

Than anywhere else on earth.

When it becomes unbearable to watch our children cope with their struggles, we can look to the One who overcame death. He provided a way for us to have everlasting life. He also provided a way for us to live victoriously while on earth. He gave us the Helper.

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. ”  John 14:26

How do you endure watching your child suffer with mental illness?