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Dealing with pet loss and mental illness

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Our Pet “Praying”

A friend of mine has been dealing with her adult son’s recent psychotic episode. In the midst of it all, they had to put their beloved pet down. Where can she (or anyone) go for comfort at such a time?

How could I comfort my friend? I sent her a sympathy card and enclosed this message:


A Symbol of Unconditional Love by Vicki

“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.” Psalm 103:11

How can we comprehend such love?

A little child draws a picture to show his love for a parent. God’s expression of love can be seen in His creation. He paints an exquisite sunset to bless us. How can we fathom such tenderness toward us? Is it even possible to understand how much He loves us? The King of all kings loves us unconditionally.

We get a peek at unconditional love through our beloved pets. Sometimes we feel foolish or even guilty that our pets mean as much to us as family members. Why do we love them so? Maybe it’s because we yearn for that unconditional love they show us. Each day, we receive unearned affection from our pets.

If we neglect our dog in the business of life, he still loves us. No matter how long we leave our pet, he faithfully sits by the door or the window waiting for us. When we are brokenhearted, he sticks close to us and licks away our tears. He is happiest simply when near us. If we yell at our four-legged companion or mistreat him, he’s forgiving. Our furry family member can be so gentle and yet can still protect. He sees us at our worst and loves us anyway. One of the few things in life we can depend on is his constant adoration.

No wonder, we grieve so much when they die. Routines and daily activities will never be the same. Entering home without their celebratory greeting will be painful to bear. Through tears, we’ll do simple tasks like putting dishes in the dishwasher. How we’ll miss their presence. How we wish they could live longer!

One thing remains. Unconditional love. Not from our pet, but from God. We recall our faithful dog and remember He is faithful. We picture our pet waiting for us and know God waits faithfully for us if we stray from Him. The memory of our pet sitting at the door conjures up a picture of a patient Father waiting at the door of our heart (Revelation 3:20). The exuberance our dog showed at our return reminds us of the exhilaration and compassion the prodigal son’s father showed his long-lost child (Luke 15:20).  Then, we begin to understand the sheer joy we bring to our Father.

We mourn our loss, but are comforted by the fact that our Father is close to the brokenhearted (Psalm 147:3). The sudden lack of protection of our watch dog is replaced by the assurance that God protects us (Psalm 46:1).

The tears we shed were once licked away by our dog. A reminder that God will one day wipe away every tear (Revelation 21:4). We reflect on the many things we did with our furry friend. Then, think of our true and perfect Friend (John 15:15).

Our pet demonstrated unlimited forgiveness. God offers life-saving forgiveness (1 John 1:9).

Our hands which once embraced a loving pet now cling to God’s message of love. We cuddle up with the Bible and read words from One who is acquainted with grief. Our heavenly Father willingly watched His only Son die. For us.


I pray this has comforted you in some way, as well.

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Comfort Food

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Mom’s Sweet Potato Casserole

Thanksgiving.2

Thanksgiving Turkey

Thanksgiving.4

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.”

Thanksgiving: Praise and Prayers for Those Suffering

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What comes to mind when you think of the word ‘spread’ at Thanksgiving? For most people, that word conjures up fond memories of a huge feast. A golden turkey surrounded by Aunt Sally’s stuffing, Cousin Sarah’s sweet potato topped with marshmallows, Ben’s bean casserole, and more. Followed by another spread of desserts. Apple pie a la mode, pumpkin pie, and the ever-popular Grandma’s homemade chocolate cake.

Sitting around the holiday table with loved ones can be uncomfortable—in more ways than one. We pig out on the food. And wind up stuffed. Uncle John raises awkward conversations. And we wish we could crawl under the table.

As Thanksgiving approaches, a mother raising a child with mental illness (MI) might have additional things on her mind. Instead of enjoying fond memories of a food spread, some of us fight emotions. Fear spreads as we conjure up thoughts of worst-case scenarios.

Will my child with MI be stable enough to join in the celebration? Will other family members be accepting of him? What if his symptoms emerge? How will others react if he doesn’t eat? How will I respond to probing questions? Can I bear seeing him sitting in a corner all alone another year?

Most Americans pause to thank God on Thanksgiving. Surely, those of us raising kids with MI have a list of praises for God at this time. That He’s protected our own sanity, if nothing else. Wouldn’t it be a relief if Thanksgiving was also a time to send prayers for those who are suffering?

We may feel alone in our journey, but we’re not the only ones who suffer. Everyone suffers at one time or another. President Lincoln demonstrated his awareness of that fact in his Thanksgiving Proclamation. Find his words of compassion in a portion of that proclamation:

“I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans. mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity, and union.”

Lincoln was referring to the suffering of the nation faced with civil strife. He invited citizens to pray for ‘the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.’ Those same words could be applied to us.

Here’s my Thanksgiving Day prayer for you:

Dear Father,

I thank You for how You’ve provided for mothers raising children with MI. For those who have seen Your hand in their lives and who have seen improvement in their children. I’m grateful for Your protection. For each mother reading this, I now ask that You give ‘full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union’ in her home.  May Your love spread in the hearts of each family member. Bless each one with a truly joyous Thanksgiving Day. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Tangible Reminders

Bible Post-Its 002

What’s the strangest thing you have in your home? I’ve got a giant work boot, the size of an umbrella stroller, and a mannequin.

Mannequin

Why, you ask? Those items were part of a collection I had when I taught second graders. The mannequin served as a 3D bulletin board. The giant boot was the perfect size for an eight year old to rest and read a book.  They remind me of fun times.

Other items remind me of God’s work in my life. Like the Post-its in my Bible. When our son, Rob, was a senior in high school, he wanted to have devotions with me. The Post-its represent portions of the Bible we read together. I’ll never remove them.

There’s someone in the Bible who put an unusual item in his tent (or some believe he put it in God’s tabernacle). Read what the boy, David did just after he killed the giant.

“David took the head of the Philistine, and brought it to Jerusalem; but he put his armour in his tent” [1 Samuel 17:54 (KJV)].

What an odd thing to do: store the enemy’s armor in his tent! Why would he do such a thing? It served as a reminder of how God enabled him to have victory over a giant.

Has God enabled you to have victory over the mental illness (MI) giant? What can you use as reminders? Why is it important to have tangible reminders?

We try to forget horrible times when our child struggled with MI. So, we tend to forget that God revealed His power, peace, and presence when we needed it most. That’s why we need reminders. Concrete items preserve the memory of His sufficiency. They help us when challenges return (as we know they will with MI). When the enemy attempts to incinerate our faith, those memories extinguish his efforts. Each memory strengthens our fortress of divine assurance, which protects our heart from breaking.

I know God will carry me through, just as He has done in the past.

My tokens of God’s goodness include: entries in my journal and Bible verses God embedded in my heart during difficult times. I also cherish photographs which depict Chris’s restored mental stability and renewed joy.

What items do you have or could you collect?

Run

Run.Is.40.31

“Cherish the moment,” said our seven-year-old son. Chris stared across the water gazing at Tom Sawyer Island. His first visit to Disney World captivated him. Even a child could appreciate the serene paradise.

Have you experienced moments like that? Times that you wanted to freeze time?

I’ve collected several “cherish-the-moment” memories. Periodically I “page through” those mental images. I’m sure you’ve got similar snapshots in your mental photo album. Most of my favorite memories are those of family members. Like these:

Our Dream-Come-True Day

Our Dream-Come-True Day

Beach Blessings: Chris and Rob with my mom

Beach Blessings: Chris and Rob with my mom

Chris reciting Luke 2:8-14

Chris reciting Luke 2:8-14

Listen to Chris’s own words:

Some of my treasured moments capture my greatest passions. Like God’s creation and music. Here are two of those “cherish-the-moment” snapshots:

Second Honeymoon Moment: Hawaii Cove

Second Honeymoon Moment: Hawaii Cove

I once had the opportunity to attend a musical performance of   “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band. Prior to that experience, I had never heard such perfection in music. [Treat yourself to a sample by listening to them perform John Philip Sousa’s march “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”]

Those of us raising children with mental illness (MI) have an additional category of special memories. We relish ordinary activities more than most moms. Like going on a family outing that’s stress-free. Or watching our child interact happily with a friend.

Recently I added one of those moments to my collection. Chris participated in a 5K run. He asked me to take pictures of the event. Howie joined me as we stood in the rain watching the participants. Joy flooded my heart as I watched Chris run along the route. He looked so focused and fit.

Chris.5K

After the race ended, the three of us enjoyed a celebratory meal at Red Lobster. All throughout dinner, Chris chatted happily about the event.

I’ve savored that memory and reflected on it often. God spoke to my heart saying, “I delight in watching you run your race.”

I imagined God running alongside me, guiding me, protecting me, and cheering me on. Can you envision that same scene? THAT’S a memory we can all share!

Our Companion has promised that, “When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble” (Proverbs 4:12).

Our other son, Rob once ran a twenty-six mile marathon. He told me that most marathon runners “hit the wall.” It’s a sudden wave of fatigue that sets in at about 20 miles into a marathon. God has entered us in the MI marathon. Sooner or later we all have moments of fatigue. When we feel as if our mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual resources have been depleted.

At those moments, how do we go on? By focusing on the end of our race.

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” (1 Corinthians 9:24-25).

When we’re worn out and weary, God encourages us by promising that, “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

Man’s GPS (Global Positioning System) will only help us navigate as we travel roads. We have access to a far better system: GPS, God’s Positioning System that helps us navigate through life.

When we’re unsure where to turn, Scripture provides guidance. We can say with assurance, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Psalm 119:105).

Marshals guided runners along the course.

Marshals guided runners along the course.

“In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:6).

Our race in life will also be followed by a wonderful meal. I look forward to the feast that will be in heaven. An angel foretold of it saying, “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” (Revelation 19:9).

Not Alone

Not.alone

Whoa! I didn’t see THAT coming!!!

Our lives had become less stressful and more uneventful. Chris seemed more stable. Life felt somewhat normal. The turbulence of Chris’s mental illness (MI) had disappeared. Or so I thought. It simply took up residence inside me! I never expected inner turmoil to hit me. Not when things seemed to be resolved. Chris had appeared to have recovered from his psychotic episode. God had helped me hold it together during the time Chris needed me. It made no sense that I’d start losing it for no apparent reason.

This part of our story illustrates how God met my personal needs. When loneliness and torment hit, God provided: freedom from my anguish, strengthening of my heart, restoration of my soul, protection of my sanity, assurances of His presence, and healing as a result of His comfort.

♦♦♦♦♦♦

MI had shaken our lives. But our household seemed to be recovering. We were picking up the pieces of our lives and moving on. Just like the calmness that follows an earthquake. But just like with an earthquake, I experienced aftershocks.

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines ‘aftershocks’ as, “an aftereffect of a distressing or traumatic event.”

My mind, body, and emotions were reacting to the traumatic events surrounding Chris’s hospitalization. Painful reactions hit unexpectedly. Without obvious provocation.

December 1997 was a tough month for me. The holiday season brought many reminders of the previous year. Buying gifts, baking cookies, addressing cards, and … band rehearsals.

Something would trigger a memory and I’d experience a flashback. Before then, I didn’t know much about flashbacks. I had mistakenly thought flashbacks only happened to soldiers who had witnessed horrific things in battle. Suddenly they became very real. Too real. My mind and emotions would instantly be rocketed back to the Christmas season of 1996.

Like the time I attended a faculty meeting. Teachers were meeting with the music teacher to discuss details of the upcoming elementary Christmas program.

“First graders will be singing ‘Joy to the World’,” she explained.

She began playing the carol. Memories of Chris playing that song sabotaged my thoughts and emotions. All I could hear was his trumpet playing the tune in a distorted way. His voice, almost audible, echoed in my mind saying, “When I sound the trumpet by playing the song the right way, the world will end.”

The flashback unleased suppressed emotions. My heart began pounding. The dam, holding back months of tears, started to leak. Before it erupted, I quietly excused myself and headed for the nearest bathroom.

Obviously the year before I hadn’t processed what I’d seen. Hadn’t dealt with my emotions. No wonder. I had been consumed with helping Chris return to reality.

Flashbacks caught me by surprise. Causing my emotions to spill out. I found myself falling apart at unexpected times and inopportune places.  The more my mind periodically replayed awful scenes, the deeper my depression grew.

The enemy taunted me with fears that I might lose my own mind. But I trusted in the promise that, “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).”

Dear Father, Your Word says, “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you (Isaiah 26:3).” Oh how I need Your perfect peace! Help me through my grief and flashbacks.

I rested in my firm belief that, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind [Timothy 1:7 (NKJV)].”

A sound mind. That was my goal. God was the Glue that held me together. My divine Sanity Preserver prevented me from tumbling into a deep pit of inconsolable despair.

I felt exhausted all the time. So I ate foods with carbohydrates, hoping they’d give me the energy needed to face each day.

During this time of flashbacks and depression, sound sleep eluded me. I needed rest. Like God’s people who wandered forty years in the wilderness. God knew they were tired and fearful. So He gave Joshua the perfect words of encouragement for them. Joshua relayed the message and said, “Remember the command that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you after he said, ‘The Lord your God will give you rest by giving you this land.’”

When I read Joshua 1:13 it felt like God was speaking to me.

Thank You, Father, for Your promise to give me rest.

The familiar twenty-third Psalm offered new hope for me. It guaranteed my soul would be restored. And promised me His presence and comfort.

“He restores my soul;He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; Your rod and Your staff they comfort me [Psalm 23:3-4 (NKJV)].”

Each flashback threatened to break my heart once again.

“God, help me!” is all I could utter. Offering up the prayer of a drowning person. God threw me His Life Saver in the shape of Psalm 31:23-24.

“Oh, love the Lord, all you His saints! For the Lord preserves the faithful … Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart, All you who hope in the Lord  (NKJV).”

Yes, Lord, my hope is in You. Thank You for hearing my cry. I praise You for strengthening my broken heart.

My carbohydrate diet led to weight gain. I gained lots of weight. That motivated me to go to Dr. Kent (the physician who first treated Chris when he became out of touch from reality).

“What can I do to deal with my fatigue?” I asked.

Knowing what I’d been going through with Chris he asked, “Is it possible you’re depressed?”

“I guess it’s possible,” I replied.

“I’ll write you a prescription for Prozac. That should help remove the cloud and help you sleep better.”

Reluctantly, I took the medication. If I’d learned nothing else, I’d learned to take MI seriously. Even my own depression.

Once the holiday season ended, I began feeling much better. As Dr. Kent predicted, the medication lifted the cloud and helped me sleep better. So I stopped taking the Prozac. There were a few more months before the next critical period. During those winter months, things remained uneventful with Chris.

Work got busier for me. In addition to my usual responsibilities as Director of Instruction and Director of Special Education, I was planning a Math and Bible Olympics for the school. Applications for new students began pouring in. With not enough time to do everything at work, I read the applications at home. I was back to spending time working at home. But this time I was careful to spend a more reasonable amount of time. Mindful of my need to stay focused on Chris’s well-being.

During that winter the Lord led several parents my way who had children with some sort of MI. Many of the mothers expressed trouble dealing with their situation. I wasn’t alone in my struggles.

One of our neighbors told me her daughter had symptoms of a head injury.

“Kelly has suffered a head injury. We don’t know what caused it. And we don’t know what the future holds for her. Life has become so uncertain.”

“I have some idea what you’re experiencing. Chris suffered a psychotic episode a year ago. His MI turned our lives upside down,” I confided.

My news helped the mother feel safe to admit the truth.

“Actually, the doctors told us Kelly’s symptoms are psychosomatic. They didn’t find any evidence that she suffered a head injury.”

“A psychiatrist would know what’s best for Kelly. Let me know if you want the name of a good psychiatrist.”

“I’m not convinced she didn’t have a head injury. Please don’t tell anyone what I’ve told you,” was her only reply.

Apparently the mother couldn’t deal with the thought of her daughter having MI. It seemed easier for her to continue believing the cause of the symptoms was related to a head injury.

Another mother told me she had to take medication to treat panic attacks.

“My son’s MI has caused me to get panic attacks,” she confided.

Several parents asked me for advice. Many wanted to know how to get their children with MI to agree to speak to a psychologist. One father of a teenage son with MI asked a slightly different question.

“My son isn’t happy with the psychiatrist he’s going to. His MI prevents him from going to school. If he discontinues treatment, he’ll never get back to school. What should I do?”

“Find another psychiatrist,” I answered.

He answered in an exhausted tone, “Yeah, I know that might help. I just can’t seem to find the time or the energy to even begin looking for another doctor.”

I completely understood.

Another husband and wife were contemplating putting their seriously depressed son in foster care. A mutual friend shared the news with me and added this judgmental statement:

“Can you believe they would even consider abandoning their own son?”

“Unless you’ve experienced what they’re going through, you can’t begin to understand what it’s like. You can’t possibly imagine what it’s like to have a child who is suffering from an illness you can’t see or measure. You can’t know the pain of having a child who rejects your love or attempts to nurture and comfort. And there’s no break to the misery. Because of the nature of MI, parents can’t get out together. They go months without any respite time for themselves.”

It helped to discover I wasn’t alone. Knowing others who were experiencing MI comforted me some. Not nearly as much as the realization that God was with me at all times. His constant presence comforted me. I found true rest and perfect peace in His presence.

His steadfast companionship yielded great strength and courage. I faced each new day with the assurance He’d be with me. When I started to feel emotionally fragile, Deuteronomy 31:6 restored my confidence. Reminding me to, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” And He never left me.

♦♦♦♦♦♦

You may be experiencing flashbacks or struggling to recover from bad experiences with your child’s MI. Ask God for His grace by praying the words of Psalm 25:16-17.

“Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. Relieve the troubles of my heart and free me from my anguish.”

 

 

A Mother’s Thoughts & Feelings

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NOTE: I wrote this message weeks ago and neglected to post it. This part of my story tells about the time right before Chris was hospitalized. Hopefully, the comfort offered in this message won’t be lost in any confusion.

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It tugs at our heart. The face of an orphan boy. Dark eyes, staring into the distance, reflect the death of his dream. To live with loving parents. “All hope is dead,” his lifeless expression cries out. “Love is for others. Not for me.”

Oliver sang of his search for love. As if wandering in a desert, he thirsted for love. Yearning for it. Longing for it.

“Where is love?

Does it fall from skies above?

Is it underneath the willow tree

That I’ve been dreaming of?”

We can relate to Oliver’s search for love when we can’t find God’s love. We wonder, “Where are You, God? Why are You silent?”

Our journey raising a child with mental illness (MI) can cause us to feel helpless, hopeless, and sad. We desperately need to feel God’s presence. In the haze of MI, His love gets blurred.

When we need Him most, He reveals His comfort and care. This next part of our story illustrates how God provided comfort. He brought into focus His faithfulness. His presence became crystal clear.

The last past weeks I’ve shared details about our journey. In the first part of our story [‘When Mental Illness (MI) Hit Home’] I shared how Chris had begun to unravel in 1996. His reality had given way to unstable thoughts and fractured emotions. My heavenly Father provided guidance and started helping me through my grieving. The second part of our story (‘Unprepared & Sad, but Unflinching’) showed how God provided peace and protection for me and medical care for Chris. In my post ‘What’s it like?’ I explained how God provided endurance and wisdom. Now I’ll tell about how His provision of comfort and an awareness of His presence.

♦♦♦♦♦♦

To understand the measure of His comfort, I’ll first share my thoughts and emotions.

What does a mother think and feel when her son is out of touch with reality? I wondered what precipitated the breakdown. Will I have to hear something horrific that happened to Chris to cause such torment?

I imagined what it would be like if Chris stabbed me.

I’ve heard some people on the news describe what it’s like to be stabbed. They said if feels like being punched. Others claimed they didn’t even know they had been stabbed. So, it might not be too painful.

I thought about how I would react if he killed himself.

If Chris kills himself, the loss will be devastating. But the Lord will sustain me just as He has through other trials. I’ll be happy for Chris, knowing he’s out of the world that has been so miserable to him for most of his life.

I marveled at how the Lord was enabling me to go on for days without sleep, under extreme sorrow.

Dear Father, How can I endure watching Chris in torment? His MI has ravaged my emotions. Without You, I couldn’t hold it together. I’m amazed at Your power to help me remain calm. Thank You for flooding my head with verses of assurance.

Two months after his breakdown, Chris was more stable. But clearly still troubled, unpredictable, and violent. He started seeing a Christian neuropsychiatrist. Dr. Kipley. He diagnosed Chris’s condition: schizoaffective disorder. Medicine could treat the condition. But, the thought of giving him medicine scared me. I didn’t know how to administer it and live. So, Chris didn’t get the treatment he needed. Instead of getting better, he got worse.

At one appointment with Dr. Kipley, Chris appeared very agitated. He yelled at the doctor and threatened him.

“You have to get Chris into the hospital as soon as possible. He’s becoming very dangerous,” Dr. Kipley advised.

“With Chris as dangerous as he is, how can I get him to the hospital without him first harming me?” I asked.

“You must find a way. He needs hospitalization,” was all he could answer.

A few nights later, we all went to the movies. When we returned home, Robert and Howie went upstairs. Chris approached me in the kitchen. He had an audiocassette tape in his hand. Breaking it in front of me he said, “This is what I will do to you.”

Suddenly, he karate chopped my jaw. My earring flew off. I resisted the temptation to touch my jaw. I didn’t want to feel how badly it had broken. Strangely enough, I didn’t feel any pain.

Chris turned and walked slowly towards the steps. As he passed a wall, he punched a hole in it. I followed him upstairs, anticipating he would attack my unsuspecting husband.

Chris walked into our bedroom and began to speak calmly to Howie, as if nothing happened.

Unprovoked, he suddenly attacked Howie with a powerful karate foot kick.

Following the psychiatrist’s instructions I said, “I’ll have to call an ambulance.”

Chris blew up. He started yelling, left our room, and went into his bedroom. One minute later, he emerged seemingly much calmer.

“I’m sorry. Please don’t send me to the hospital.”

“I won’t. But if you do it again, we’ll have to call for an ambulance.”

I felt grateful the incident ended. I gently touched my jaw. Amazingly, it wasn’t broken. Without a doubt, God protected me from injury. There’s no way my jaw could have withstood such a blow from a strong teenager. His hands could break several boards with one swift chop. There’s no way I could remain calm in the face of senseless and unpredictable violence.

Thank You, Father, for Your protection and presence. Thank You for helping me remain calm.

I had gotten better at recognizing God’s love and care. I had learned to focus on His presence which always dissolved emotional turbulence. The One who calmed the raging waters, calmed my fears and sadness. He filled me with divine peace—even in the midst of unsettled circumstances.

God's love and care coming into focus

God’s love and care coming into focus

Having gone through an experience like that, you would think I’d get Chris into the hospital immediately. Next time, we might not be as fortunate. But, there’s no way to explain how difficult it is to commit your son to a psychiatric ward against his will.

I know hospitalization will ultimately be for Chris’s good. But I also know it initially will be sheer agony. Chris will think we’ve betrayed him. I dread the inevitable. Father, help me feel Your presence. Comfort me as we make this heart-wrenching decision.  

What I required, God revealed.

God meets our every need. He’ll direct us to mental health care specialists for our kids. For us, He’ll provide wisdom for our actions, physical strength for each day, and comfort for our emotions.

No need to wander to find His love.

Or wonder if He’s there.

Our faithful Father will reveal

His tender love and care.

God's love & care clearly seen

God’s love & care clearly seen

Celebrate God’s love as sing along with Hillsong Kids: ‘I Could Sing of Your Love Forever’

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mnPVJYTW9s8