Tag Archive | mental illness

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?

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What do you see?

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“So Pharaoh asked them, ‘Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?’”  (Genesis 41:38)

Does it irk you when someone advises, “Look for the silver lining”? Maybe you fight the urge to snap back, “That’s easy for you to say!”

My son, Chris, and I share the same dark cloud of disability. His mental illness (MI), mine multiple sclerosis (MS).

One day Chris asked me, “Do you feel like you’re in prison because of your illness?”

I replied, “I’m sure anyone could feel like they’re imprisoned by their disability. Chronic illness often steals freedom. It robs people of what they love doing. But, I don’t feel like I’m in prison. My MS isn’t in control of my life. God is.”

How could I manage to offer such a response? I surely didn’t follow the advice from a popular song. “Grey skies are gonna clear up, put on a happy face.”

Who wants to live life waiting for grey skies to clear up? What if they don’t? Does that mean God’s forgotten us? No!

Who wants to simply put on a happy face? Wouldn’t we rather feel true joy that radiates on our face?

Am I happy about my MS? Absolutely not! But, my physical challenges have caused me to understand the fruit of the Holy Spirit. God’s power enables me to have His joy while enduring longsuffering. It’s a power others have called upon in far worse trials. People like Corrie ten Boom.

How could Corrie ten Boom speak of God’s love when surrounded by the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp? The same way Paul and Silas could sing while in prison (Acts 16:25). God’s power inside them, the Holy Spirit, filled them with supernatural joy and peace. That’s the kind of joy and peace I want!

Jonah shows us that an affliction can change a person’s perspective. (Jonah 2:2) After spending three days and nights in the belly of the fish, Jonah lifted his voice to God with a “voice of thanksgiving.” (Jonah 1:17 to Jonah 2:9)

Job shows us that even if all is lost, we can still praise God. After losing everything, Job said, “I know that my Redeemer lives.” (Job 19:25)

Joseph faced betrayal from his brothers (Genesis 37: 23-28) and from his master’s wife (Genesis 39:10, 17-20). But Joseph didn’t become bitter. God prospered whatever he did. Pharaoh even knew the secret to Joseph: the Spirit of God lived in him.

Clouds can serve as reminders to us. When we look into the sky, we have a choice. Will we look at the grey cloud or the silver lining? Do we focus on the darkness around us or the Light shining inside us?

The clouds can remind us of the ‘great cloud of witness’ – the heroes of faith listed in Hebrews. (Hebrews 12:1) Those fellow believers are cheering us on. Telling us we can have joy in spite of our struggles.

Halloween and a Troubled Mind: A Bad Combination

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8

I have multiple sclerosis (MS). Heat and MS are a bad combination. Heat and humidity make my aches more painful.

So, I avoid them at all cost. There are things I can do in my home. Lowering the temperature revives me. Air conditioning is like medicine. Closed blinds scream, “Sun, do not enter!”

But, outside searing rays are all around. Exposure to the heat seems inevitable during the summer. Am I doomed to a reclusive life four months of the year?

No! I refuse to be banished from outdoor activities. A cooling vest, a battery operated hand-held fan, and a large floppy hat protect me from burning temperatures. Life is more bearable. Avoiding a bad combination is the key.

Others know the dangers of harmful exposures.

The diabetic refrains from binging on sugar. The lung cancer patient ceases from smoking cigarettes. Sweets and smoking feed those diseases. Resisting past indulgences improves one’s health.

What should someone with mental illness (MI) avoid? Halloween. Exposure to disturbing images can’t be good for someone with MI. Such a person needs relief from distorted thinking or turbulent emotions.

Should we resign ourselves to the steady diet of ugliness October brings?

No! We can refuse to have our children’s heads contaminated with grotesque get-ups masquerading as fun costumes. And feed our kids spiritually healthy food instead. Filling their minds with joy and hope.

The Bible is our sword of defense. God’s Truth can shift the focus to pure and pleasant thoughts. That’s how we combat their troubled thinking and dark emotions.

When Chris was recovering from his first psychotic episode, I gave him a 2” X 3” Bible verse card each day.  He kept it in his pocket. That tiny card became his private lifeline in the midst of assailing ugly thoughts. During his school day, he had instant access to biblical truths.

Whenever he began to feel overwhelmed, fearful, or sad, he reached for the card. Healing promises refreshed his soul. Helping him to refocus on God’s love.

I, too, find refreshment in His Word. Reflecting on God’s faithfulness gives me strength. I feed on the promises of the Bible. They are a feast for my heart.

A Reason to Smile

“But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high.” Psalm 3:3

Does putting on a happy face work? It depends on the goal. It might succeed in fooling others. But, we can’t fool ourselves by pretending to be cheerful. We can attempt to hide sorrow and pain. But, a fake smile can’t change the fact that there is turmoil either in our heart or in our home (or both).

This past weekend I had a reason to smile.  Our son, Chris, participated in his church’s celebration of the arts.  The fact that he’s actively involved with his church makes me happy. When his performance went well, I smiled. The reason for my sheer delight came when I introduced myself to one of Chris’s friends.

“Hi, I’m Chris’s mother.”

“Hello, Mrs. Chandler. I’m so glad Chris is my friend.”

It warmed my heart to hear that comment.

People who have mental illness (MI) are often excluded, misunderstood, ostracized, or ignored. What a joy to know someone sincerely values their friendship with Chris!

Any mom is happiest when everything is going well for her kids. If her kids are cheerful, so is she. Our children can be the greatest source of joy.  Or sorrow.

A mother of a child who has MI yearns for that child to be content and peaceful. To have a reason to smile.

We grow weary of putting on a superficial smile. Painting it on like lipstick to conceal opposing feelings. To hide the shame. To pretend everything is normal and fine in our lives.

But God cares about what’s behind that façade. In His Word we read that, “Even in laughter the heart may sorrow…” (Proverbs 14:13).  Our Father knows when we’re putting on a good front. He sees past the false expression, to the hidden sorrow. He knows the solution requires more than a Kodak-moment smile.

No wonder the word smile appears infrequently in the Bible. It’s much easier to find words like: delight, joy, grateful, and cheerful. Those deeper emotions swell up inside until they spill over to our face.  They give us a real reason to smile.

God can fill our hearts with such joy that it bubbles up from our soul and onto our face. We see depression causing our child to curl up, with head hung low. And find hope in the Lifter of heads. The One who can restore joy to our children and to us.

How has God given you a reason to smile?

Clearer Thinking, Calmer Emotions

“Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, all you who hope in the Lord.”  Psalm 31:24  (NKJV)

Do you wish your child could have clearer thinking and calmer emotions? Is that your wish, your prayer, or an impossible dream?

It’s easier for me to reflect on the care-free days of the past. My thoughts often drift back to before Chris entered elementary school. Those memories draw me back to simpler times. I welcome those daydreams. They help me relive times when Chris seemed happier.

Back then, observations from complete strangers sounded like, “He’s such a happy little boy.”

It’s true. Chris smiled all the time, up until he turned five.

That’s when struggles at school sucked that smile right off his face. Difficulties caused in part by his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

But those struggles don’t come close to the challenges of mental illness (MI).

Nowadays, it’s rare to see a relaxed smile on his face.

How I yearn to ease his pain. Remove any torment.

That’s why I love to hear occasional comments from him which give me a glimpse of happier emotions. Recently Chris shared, “I’m more content than I’ve ever been. It’s nice to have freedom from responsibilities.”

What mother of a child who has MI hasn’t wished she could put a band aide on her child’s turbulent emotions? Kiss away memories of rejection. Vacuum the fog from her child’s mind.

But we can’t change thoughts and feelings. There is One who can. Why do we have trouble trusting God to do that mighty work?

We trust teachers to care for our kids and police officers to protect us. Unwavering faith in machines is demonstrated every day. People enter an elevator without fearing it will crash to the basement. They trust it will gently deliver them to the selected floor. Meals are prepared with confidence that ovens will cook instead of explode and burn. Most of us find security in locks and alarm systems.

We even trust forces of nature we can’t see. Sliding boards are monuments to our belief in gravity. Sails are installed on boats as proof of our trust in the wind.

Why can’t we trust God who has all power and perfect love? The Creator of the universe, the One who conquered death, can surely work mightily in the hearts and minds of people.

When I’m resigned to “fact” that my son will always suffer with MI, I’m denying the power of God. Living in the past because realities of today are too hard to face is no way to live. Resignation and denial can be overcome by hope. Hope in a living and loving Father.

Have you entered the dungeon of daily?

“You, Lord, are my lamp; the Lord turns my darkness into light.”  2 Samuel 22:29

The expression, “There’s light @ the end of the tunnel,” offers no hope when the tunnel feels like a circle with no end.

Years ago, I entered a dungeon of daily. Chris experienced a break from reality. His mind raced. He spoke nonstop and paced the floor. The doctor prescribed medication to help stabilize him.

After two months, we could have a conversation with him. The medicine worked. But, we still had no idea what caused the psychotic episode.

The next several months consisted of weekly visits with a psychiatrist. During the day, Chris exhibited unpredictable behaviors. One minute he’d sob, “Why? Why is my life shattered?” The next minute, he’d pound his fist through the wall.

Eventually, Chris needed to be hospitalized. He received full time treatment in a psychiatric ward at our local hospital.  Partial-care treatment followed. After that, homebound instructors visited our home.

Through it all I wondered, Will life ever be normal again? What does the future hold for Chris? How long can I go on like this?

I held onto the promise that God would never abandon me. I looked for Him in my endless tunnel. And found Him in many ways.

God protected us from literal harm during Chris’s violent outbursts. My heavenly Father revealed His presence to Chris in the psychiatric ward through a nurse—a fellow believer. He gave me perfect peace in the midst of great sorrow.

Dealing with mental illness can make us feel like we are being swallowed up alive. Living a dreary existence. Stuck inside a never-ending pit of uncertainty.

But that’s not the truth. We may not know what our future holds, but we know Who holds the future. We can be certain of His presence in our darkest times. There is light in the tunnel. The Lord turns our darkness into light. He’ll guide us through the tunnel.

The same God who protected Daniel in the lion’s den will protect us. The same Lord who walked with Daniel’s friends in the furnace will walk with us. The same Father who heard Jonah’s prayer in the pit of a big fish will hear our prayers.

How has the Lord turned your darkness into light?

What’s it like to raise a child with mental illness?


Welcome to my new blog. I’ve started this blog to meet other mothers who are raising a child (or children) with mental illness. Our son, Chris, was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder in 1997. He’s now 31 yrs. old and lives with my husband and me. Howie and I also have a son, Robert, who is 29 yrs. old. He lives with his wife, Kristie, and their 9 month old daughter, Sofie.

My intention is to provide a place where we can find support. You’re not alone. Together we can encourage one another. Posts in the form of devotionals will show how we can find hope in the Lord. Those personal stories will shed light on what our lives are like, while illustrating how God can be found in the midst of turmoil.

How has God met your greatest need?