Tag Archive | guidance

When Mental Illness (MI) Hit Home

MI.hits.home

I never thought it would happen. Not to my son. Not to our family.

Who plans on life with MI? Who dreams of having a son with MI? Not me. Thirty-three years ago, I felt blessed to give birth to a ‘normal’ baby boy. Chris started his life as a happy baby. After sixteen years of his life, things fell apart. Badly.

Denial worked for a time.

My life is normal. Everyone struggles with their kids from time to time. All children get in trouble at school once in a whole. Boys will be boys. He’s going through a phase.

I tried fooling myself. But, deep down inside you knew the truth. Things weren’t right. Finally, one day I couldn’t ignore the obvious. Along came a huge problem. More serious than any other. Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, a greater crisis hit.

There comes a time when the facts hit you in the face. For me, that’s literally what happened.

Two weeks before Christmas in 1996, much needed to be done. Holiday cards to address, gifts to wrap, presents to buy, baking to be done…

I planned a simple meal for dinner. After we ate, I wanted to spend time talking with my husband, Howie. Find out how his day went. Then, I’d wrap some gifts and address a few cards. If time allowed, I’d prepare for an upcoming faculty meeting. As the director of instruction at the Christian school where I worked, I didn’t always have time to plan during the day.

While I washed the dinner dishes, our oldest son came into the kitchen. Chris slumped down in a chair and stared at the floor. I sensed something was bothering him. But, I really didn’t have time for a serious discussion. I proceeded to share some small talk. Hoping that would cheer him up.

Chris’s responses seemed distant. He seemed serious and preoccupied. It became obvious I needed to re-evaluate my priorities for the evening.

I sat down and asked him, “What’s wrong, Chris?”

“Mom, I’m lonely,” he answered with tears in his eyes.

I felt a pain pierce my heart like a knife gouging my emotions. Memories of abuse he endured through the years hemorrhaged in my head. Reminders of bullying he suffered pounded my stomach like a sucker punch.

My mind raced. I couldn’t silence the thoughtless comments teachers said to me about Chris. Those comments I’d buried tormented me once again. Insensitive statements made by professionals who found it difficult to manage a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Scenes of Chris’s fellow band members ignoring him plagued me once again. It became impossible to suppress reminders of Chris’s classmates walking past him as though he didn’t exist.

Up until that night, he never showed any sadness or expressed any loneliness. His happy façade fed my denial. I chose to believe he must have gotten desensitized to the way others treated him. Thinking perhaps he didn’t even notice some of it—a benefit of having ADHD. I convinced myself none of it really bothered him.

I’m lonely, echoed in my mind. I realized all the pain from the past never went away. He would have to deal with emotional scars of rejection and teasing.

How can I watch him work through all that pain? How can I relive all those terrible memories?

Chris and I talked for about two hours. Then, I spent time talking with Howie. Not about how his day went. About Chris.

The next night, Chris needed to talk again. This time both Howie and I listened to him. We shared words of comfort and affirmation. We prayed together. That was a Thursday night.

The following night, Chris and his younger brother, Robert, prepared for their high school’s holiday musical performance. They collected their instruments and music. Hung their tuxedos by the door.

Chris came over to me while I prepared dinner.

“I can’t talk right now, Chris. I have to finish making dinner. We’ve got to quickly eat dinner and get to school.”

Chris ignored my comment. He continued the conversation we had the night before. He wouldn’t stop talking.

This isn’t fair. I spent two whole nights listening to him. I can’t deal with this now. Why is he being so demanding?

In my heart, I knew Chris was hurting. I sensed him reaching out for help. But, I felt annoyed and overwhelmed.

“Chris, just let me make dinner.”

Chris stormed away.

By Sunday night, Chris talked non-stop. There was no conversation. No back and forth communication. He didn’t acknowledge our comments in any way. His rambling words revealed thoughts which were distorted and disconnected.

Having received my training in the field of special education, I knew what was happening. I’d seen it before. Years ago, one of my students had a psychotic episode. But, all that training and experience couldn’t prepare my heart.

It didn’t help to know ahead of time what might happen. If Chris had become schizophrenic, he could be violent and unpredictable. He would need to be hospitalized.

I listened to Chris drone on, distorting verses from the Bible. He paced the floor like a caged animal. He had a dark, empty look in his eyes. I saw before me a broken young man. A son in torment. A gifted mind (with a 144 IQ) shattered.

Am I witnessing the result of all those years of pain? How am I going to face this? How can I bear to watch him unravel? Will life ever be normal? How will this affect his brother? Is this really happening?

Like many mothers, I handled whatever came my way. That’s what we do. We deal with life. But, I knew my husband and I would need help. Help beyond professionals. Help from Someone who could ease our pain and restore our son’s clarity of thought. I turned to God.

Dear Father, help! We need wisdom, strength, patience, and peace. Chris needs comfort and healing.

That was just the beginning of our trial. Thankfully, it was also the beginning of God’s protection and guidance. So began my journey with our son through MI. My heavenly Father had already started helping me through the grieving stages, gently moving me past my shock and denial.

What would I have done without God’s amazing grace? Celtic Woman sing of His “Amazing Grace.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HsCp5LG_zNE

 

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Greatest Need

jeannie.bottle

Growing up, I watched the TV show I Dream of Jeannie. I still enjoy the reruns.

What if you found a genie bottle? As master over one with unlimited powers, what would you request? Healing for your child who has mental illness (MI). Healing of your marriage. Peace in your home. A vacation at a spa resort. A shopping spree at outlet stores.

It’s fun to fantasize. For one man, however, it was his reality. The Creator of the universe spoke to King Solomon and said, “Ask! What shall I give you?” (1 Kings 4:6 and 2 Chronicles 1:7)

King Solomon asked for an understanding heart to judge God’s people (1 Kings 4:9).

Think about that. Solomon didn’t ask for riches or death to his enemies. Why was God’s wisdom so important? Because he faced a daunting task and wanted to honor God.

We face as daunting task. At times MI is so consuming we don’t know how to pray. MI impacts everything: the mood in our home, daily schedules, all members of the family, finances, our marriage… It drains us mentally, physically, and emotionally.

Most of us would say we need support—help when things seem hopeless and we’re at the end of our rope. Let’s echo Solomon’s prayer:

Father, give me an understanding heart. Give me Your wisdom. Help me know what to do and how to respond today.

God was so pleased with such a prayer that He “…gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore (1 Kings 4:29).” God even blessed Solomon with more than he requested saying, “Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings (1 Kings 3:13).”

Pray Solomon’s prayer and rest in the promise that our generous Father will supply His wisdom and more!

Let’s focus on His wisdom. Let’s trust that He will guide and direct our paths. Let’s ignore other voices (from those who don’t understand our journey). People share their earthly wisdom. But God gives us His perfect guidance.

Casting Crowns remind us to listen to His voice of truth in their song Voice of Truth.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tcuiuIwtpa4

My Introduction to Mental Illness

holding_handsEarly in my career as a special educator, I faced a particularly challenging situation with a student. Her mental illness foreshadowed things to come. God graciously provided the experience so I would recognize it in my son years later.

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September signaled the time for a new school year to begin. It was my third year of teaching at the school for the blind. I finished typing braille name tags for the desks. I’d meet my new students the next day. The building administrator stopped by my classroom to deliver an important message.

 “One of your students, Kim, is having a psychotic episode,” my supervisor told me.

I searched my memory for the meaning of “psychotic episode.” Pushing aside embarrassed feelings, I admitted my ignorance and asked, “What does that mean?”

Mr. Graham casually said, “Kim’s out of touch with reality.”

His calm tone didn’t match his words. Surely they didn’t match my reaction!

This time I could only ask myself, What does that mean?

I was trying to comprehend it all and still keep my focus on everything that was about to happen in a typical first day of school with multi-handicapped children. Panic started to set in. I bluntly asked, “Can I ask a stupid question? Why is she coming to school?”

“Kim’s parents want her to see the school psychiatrist. He’s not in yet. When he arrives, I’ll let you know.”

Somehow I’d have to deal with Kim until he came in. But, how would I manage her while greeting my other students?

Little did I know, years later I would fully understand what it meant for someone to have a psychotic episode.         But on that day it was all new to me. This was not in my lesson plans.

What am I supposed to do with her? What am I supposed to do with my other very-involved students while dealing with Kim? What am I supposed to tell my aide? 

There wasn’t much time for me to figure it out. I was filled with panic. Emotions consumed me with self-pity.

Why did this have to happen? It’s not fair.        

Like other teachers, I prepared thoroughly for the first day of school. Educators want that day to be very special and run smoothly. I was no exception. I worked hard to ensure a happy and productive start to the school year.         I prayed each student would adjust easily to their fellow classmates, to their aide, and to me.

But, this unexpected news caught me off guard. Like someone just ripped the rug of confidence right out from under me. Just moments before, excitement bubbled inside me. I eagerly anticipated the first day with them. I was looking forward to meeting my adolescent students who were blind and multi-handicapped. Because of the many hours I spent studying their files, I felt I already knew them. Their records outlined academic, physical, emotional, and social limitations. Each one had needs beyond my training. But, I felt up to the task.

Clearly, all my students presented a challenge. Teaching them would be difficult. But, I was well prepared. I planned for a smooth start. Not, however, for one of my students to be out of touch from reality. My fairy tale script for the start of school wasn’t supposed to begin with such a gaping hole.

I needed to learn an important lesson: life isn’t predictable. Things don’t always go as planned.

Some teachers have to teach with limited teaching supplies due to budget restrictions. I’ve even known teachers who had to start a school year without new textbooks. But, I’ve never known anyone who had to teach a student who had no working mind. This wasn’t covered in my college Methods of Teaching course. I realized my need for God’s guidance.

Leaning on the Lord was a new experience for me. Even though I grew up attending church every Sunday, it was all empty religion and tradition. It didn’t become real until I was in college and faced a crisis in my life.         It was then that I realized there was a difference between religion and a relationship with the Lord who cares for me personally. It all became real. Jesus died for my sins and He cares about my life. So, I said a quick prayer and continued my preparations for the first day.

Heavenly Father, give me wisdom to know how to welcome each student tomorrow. Especially Kim.        

Thankfully, all the other students arrived before Kim. Each delivered by their morning daycare workers. My fairy tale script was still intact, for the moment.

Kim arrived last, escorted by Mr. Graham. Her eyes had an empty, lifeless look to them. Not like the given-up-on-life stares I saw in another student’s custodial care institution. There was no hint of expression on her face.         It almost looked like she was asleep with her eyes open. In a daze. Like a live mannequin. Frozen in space and time.

Mr. Graham guided her to a chair. There she sat. Motionless. Catatonic.

“Welcome to class, Kim. I’m Miss Vicki. That’s Miss Sharon. We’ll be your teachers.”

No reaction.

Teaching the lessons proved easier than expected, considering the circumstances. My emotions proved to be the hardest things to manage that morning. I felt tremendous compassion for Kim. Such a strong urge to reach out to her. To connect with her some way. To ease her pain.

A foreign feeling engulfed my heart. Helplessness. That new and unfamiliar emotion would visit me often as a parent. Too often.

After a few hours, the psychiatrist arrived and took Kim away. Later that day, I learned she was in a fetal position. I couldn’t help her. All I could do was pray for her.

God was teaching me how to handle helpless situations. When things seemed out of control, I could turn to Him. Anywhere. Anytime. He was always available. Able to help those I loved.

Kim returned to school in two short weeks.

“I’ve never witnessed such a quick recovery,” the psychiatrist told me. He went on to caution me.

“Kim will experience paranoia. While she wasn’t in touch with reality, life when on. Events happened without her knowledge. She might think everyone is making things up.”

As predicted, Kim appeared quite paranoid, confused, and distrustful.

Since many of the students in the school exhibited unusual behaviors, visitors had to be approved by the public relations director. If approved, the director would inform the staff in advance of a tour. Unfortunately, around that time the director neglected to notify us of a tour. I would have requested the visitors bypass my classroom so as not to upset Kim.

My classroom had a window on each side of the door. I kept my door closed while teaching. Suddenly, without any notice, there were many faces peering into my classroom. Kim had enough vision to see the door. She noticed the faces staring at her and let out a bone-chilling scream. She put her head in her desk. I thought, ‘Serves them right for not notifying us beforehand!

My four years teaching at the school for the blind presented additional problems to solve. Some insurmountable enough to remind me of my inadequacies. Of my need for God’s guidance.

Encounters with students who had emotional problems, mental illness, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
(ADHD) were part of the job. Never did I imagine I’d face similar situations in my home. God, in His loving care and wisdom, knew those experiences would later help me as a parent.

Through those seemingly impossible problems, God showed me His power and love. Verses in the Bible came alive and had new meaning. Upheld promises bolstered my faith in a loving Father. Years later as a parent, I’d claim those same promises.

“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us…”  (Ephesians 3:20)

 “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  (Matthew 28:20)  

Thank you, Father for Your constant care when I need guidance.    

How has God prepared you for what you’re facing?