Writing about Difficult Things

As I write about my mother’s schizophrenia, I must admit, it’s stressful. I intend to finish my book by the end of February. I’ve talked about writing a book for over 20 years. If I don’t do it now, I may not have another chance.

I have a few wonderful, supportive friends. One of my friends recently said, “You are brave. I know it’s not easy.” I thanked her. I shared the beginning chapters with a few people, and she was the only person who acknowledged that it is not something I do lightly.

Writing is not an easy task. Writing about difficult, personal things makes the road more like a mountain to climb.

Some would say, “Why do it?!!”

My response, “I feel I must. Most people don’t know what they don’t know about schizophrenia.”

I’ve heard the following from some very intelligent friends with good intentions:

“Can’t they pull themselves up by their boot straps?!”

“I think they hear voices from another dimension.”

“Don’t air dirty laundry.”

One of the worst comments I heard from a co-worker who didn’t know my mother was mentally ill. “Some people should not continue living.”

I was asked to give a devotion at work one Monday morning years ago. The movie, “Beautiful Mind” came out the year before. I had always wanted to tell my mother’s story, so I kept it brief, but I tried to convey how horrible the illness is, what a mystery it is and how this life is thankfully, not all there is.

It was awkward. I knew it would be. One co-worker looked at the floor the entire time. Another told me that had to be hard. It’s a shame that we can’t be open about schizophrenia. Society talks about all kinds of things. The Me Too movement has opened the flood gates on discussing sexual violence and harassment. It has empowered women who have been victims. They now have a voice.

I keep waiting for the flood gates to open regarding mental illness. We all have stories. I struggle with mine. There is a certain amount of shame I feel over something that I had absolutely no control over.

Perhaps you are considering how to push back your inner voice that says, “don’t do it”, “this is embarrassing,” and “what will people think of me.” If you are committed to telling your story, do it “awkwardly”, do it “bravely” and do it “kindly”. Listen to some Brene Brown podcasts. She interviews some very, very brave authors.

Be sure to take care of yourself while you tell your story. Establish a routine, if possible. Get plenty of sleep. Rest when you need to. Visit with your friends and laugh over silly things. Write the hard stuff. Take your weapons – your pen and paper and push against the hard stuff. Put your armour on, but take it off when you’re done writing, take a long walk…..and just breathe.

Treat yourself with kindness. You deserve it.

Diary of a 2nd Grade Cowgirl

There will be great victories on this New Year’s Day. Lots of Bowl games. Lots of excitement. There will be wins and there will be losses. It’s the way life goes.

This morning, I woke up thinking about a small victory I had when I was in the 2nd grade.

It was picture day, so that meant the school had a list of things we could and couldn’t wear. On this particular picture day, I decided I had to wear my cowboy boots. They were black and fit like a glove. The following words were repeated more than once by my parents and sister, “They will NOT be able to see your boots!”

I did not care. You know how it is. If you feel good in some new shoes or you’re wearing a designer purse, it’s sort of like having a super power. I don’t know of any cartoon characters that become stronger when they put on a pair of shoes, but if you’re a woman, you understand the power of rocking your favorite outfit with your favorite boots.

It did not happen often in my house, but I actually won the battle. They finally gave in and this 2nd grader pranced to school in a red plaid dress, long black stringy hair and, yes, her black cowboy boots. It is my favorite school picture. I had a smile on my face like I was the Queen of West Texas 1965.

Happy New Year Everyone! Put on those cowboy boots, y’all!

Oprah’s Book Club

I discovered a fascinating book, “Hidden Valley Road” by Robert Kolker. It is one of Oprah’s Book Club picks, which are on Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/oprahsbookclub/?hl=en

Out of a family of 12, there were 6 siblings who had schizophrenia. They lived on Hidden Valley Road in Colorado. As was the case with my mother, the severe symptoms and psychotic breaks occurred in their twenties.

There are still many mysteries surrounding this horrible illness; however, this book has opened some necessary doors.

It reads like a novel. Robert Kolker has done a wonderful job telling some horrific stories. I only wish he could tell mine.

For some reason, I feel I have found gold.

The Comforter Has Come

I’ve experienced hopelessness and deep emotional pain, but I am so very thankful that there is an Emmanuel who gives us hope and incredible joy!

I began searching for God when I was a pre-teen. It went deeper than a casual desire to know Him. My older sister began to tell me about living water and the story of the woman at the well. When I heard her sing the song in church, I began to weep. I had no idea that there was a God who loved me, a God who could hear me, and a God who could “quench the thirsting in my soul”. My soul was so very thirsty. He filled my cup. He brought me joy through despair. He can do the same for you.

Friends of the Past, Present and Future

If you have found a friend, her price is far above any cryptocurrency one might own.

She’s there with a special bandaid when you burn your hand or make a bad choice.

She’s there when you fall – not to laugh at you but help you up.

She cooks for you until she’s too tired to stand.

She cleans up your messes, not just the ones found in the kitchen.

She listens when your heart hurts.

She cries when you weep.

You can laugh with her over the silliest of things.

Lucy and Ethel have nothing on them.

“Charm is deceitful and beauty is fleeting”, but a true dyed in the wool friend who can cheer you on, she is a treasure that no amount of money can buy.

Thank you to ALL my friends, past present and future.

Mental Health Centers

Many decades ago, I was part of a carpool that left San Marcos, Texas and arrived in Austin for jobs we had with the State of Texas. We were not a talkative group, and I was new to the area.

I sat next to a gentleman who helped change my family’s life. He happened to be a member of the Scheib family, which initially did not mean a great deal to me. I must have brought up the need for mental health services, and he told me about the Scheib Center in San Marcos. It was a godsend.

I’m not sure if my father thought my mother’s mental illness would magically go away when we moved near her parents, or if he just felt like he needed to focus on food and shelter for us. It was clear to me that after decades of dealing with her schizophrenia, which included delusions, hallucinations, attempted suicides, multiple traumatic events, multiple stays in Big Springs State Hospital, my mother’s schizophrenia had to be dealt with.

My father retired from teaching in El Paso in 1979. What are the odds that I would end up in a carpool with a member of the Scheib family? I knew very few people in the area. All my friends were back in El Paso where I grew up.

“The Scheib Center was started as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation in 1971 with money bequeathed by Dr. and Mrs. Scheib for the purpose of providing services to the developmentally disabled and emotionally disturbed individuals in the San Marcos/Hays County area. The service programs were in partnership with the Texas Department of MHMR. The Scheib Center provided the buildings and the Texas Department of MHMR provided the money and staff.”

I learned quickly that Scheib Center (https://www.scheibcenter.org) offered several services to not only their clients or patients but also to their family members. Once my father heard it from me, he quickly went into action. My mother’s medications were lined up. We had a social worker. I still remember her first name. She spent time talking with me over the phone, and helped navigate my family through very difficult waters.

It is the first and only place where I talked with my mother’s psychiatrist. “Is it nature or nurture?” I asked him. He laughed a bit and said, “if we knew that we could be of much more help to people. It says in your mother’s notes that without medication, she would need…..”

And with that I close. It was clear to everyone in our family that Mother had to have her medication. Without it, her life would spin totally out of control. In turn, it would affect her entire family.

While the holidays are filled with warm fuzzies for many folks, those who suffer from mental illness are sometimes overwhelmed with it all. If you know someone in crisis, please reach out to your community. If there is not a Scheib type center, maybe you could help start one.

Thank you, Katy. Thank you, Buck. Thank you Dr. ___ but most of all, thank you Scheib Center for being there for the community. We need more places like yours.

Photo by nagaraju gajula on Pexels.com

Trauma and Play

The idea of two diametrically opposed words has been in my thoughts.

I believe it is essential for anyone who has been through any kind of trauma to play. Yes, play. I just listened to Brene Brown’s podcast on spotify https://open.spotify.com/show/4P86ZzHf7EOlRG7do9LkKZ.

She says something really deep and something I’ve known about myself. We have to incorporate play into our lives. Brene said in her recent broadcast on “Unlocking Us” that she is not giving up pickle ball when things get tough. I hear you, girl.

I was so fortunate that while I was going through traumatic events in my childhood, I had a bicycle and rode around my safe neighborhood. The kids in the area played softball in the street. We played Red Light, Green Light. We stayed out till dark and just played. We had fun. That may have been part of what saved me.

Even today, I make time for play. I play cards, penny poker, liverpool, gin rummy, joker….you get the idea, anything fun! As crazy as it sounds, I know this about me. I need to focus on fun things that have absolutely nothing to do with writing, trauma or deep stuff. I suspect research shows that we need it.

I love the Christmas season, but I know that it can be stressful. Expectations are high. “Must find the perfect gift,” your brain has probably told you a 1,000 times. No, really, you don’t. Sit with that thought. You do NOT have to purchase the perfect gift. In fact, I would argue there is no perfect gift.

“And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

The Grinch

My favorite gifts are ones that money cannot buy. Reading with a child, sharing a butterfly kiss, spending time with friends and family, sharing your faith and what keeps you going…..these are treasures. I hope you find them during this season. I hope you play.

Here’s a paradox: I have little money but enough to get by; however, I’m as rich as I’ve ever been.

Faith and Hope

I would not be alive today if not for my faith in God. He sustains me. He holds me up when I cannot stand. He wraps His loving arms of hope around me.

I recently wrote about my mother running down the street with only a slip on. It felt very freeing to share that. Isn’t it amazing when we share our secrets, and the world doesn’t come to an end. We share our uttermost thoughts, and God loves us through it.

As a child and later as a teenager, I turned to the Bible for answers. I could have turned to drugs and other destructive addictions.

I walked a different path, and it has made all the difference.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44272/the-road-not-taken

Photo by Taryn Elliott on Pexels.com

Running with a Slip On

At this writing, I will soon be 65. I was probably 8 years old and in the 3rd grade when the following happened, I’ve never written it down, nor have I told anyone. Strange because I think of it often.

I am not certain if I wanted to stay home from school on this particular day, or if I came home from lunch and Mother agreed I could stay home. I was not physically harmed in any way, but what I witnessed has left scars of a different kind. It revolves around hangers and since I see them in my closet every day, they are reminders, some would call them triggers.

On this particular school day, Mother and I were reading children’s books in bed. I remember she had her slip on. My school clothes were on. The phone rang a few times. Mother did not answer. Since I wasn’t at school and should have been, they must have called my father who taught 6th grade at a school about 30 minutes away.

While we were reading a book, my father came in the door shouting. “Where is Nancy?!!!” It alarmed my mother so much that she jumped out of bed and began screaming. There were wire hangers on the bed, and in the melee, one of them caused a very small amount of blood on her back. My father yelled, but he was never, ever violent. He never physically assaulted my mother who had paranoid schizophrenia.

I remember my mother exiting through the front door with her slip on. She went screaming down the street, “He’s going to kill me! He’s going to kill me!” She was shouting so that all the neighbors could hear. My father hollered and waved at me, “Go back to school!!”

How could I leave this intense scene? I’m sure I stayed to see what would happen next. Again, my father screamed, “Go back to school!!” I left and walked myself back to my classroom. My classmates and teacher were curious about where I had been. I most likely did not hear anything the teacher said the rest of the day. I was probably in shock. Later that day, I was called to the principal’s office where my father was seated. I’m sure he told him about the events that had happened. Mr. Goodman, the principal, probably didn’t want to know. I’m not sure I would have if I were the principal.

I don’t remember what happened next. I suspect my mother had to go to the local psych ward, and my father and I marched through the following days as best we could. I don’t remember ever discussing it with anyone, including my parents.

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