Joker: Choosing the Unsentimental and Tender Eye.

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I’m probably the last person you would expect to see the “Joker.” I’ve never cared for Rated R movies and violence. I am the mother of someone who battles a significant mental illness and I anticipated, based on the trailers, that this would rip me apart. So, I braced myself as I walked into the theater alone with pen and notebook in hand. Admittedly my heart was racing a bit.

If you’re looking for a lethargic experience in a movie, full warning: this isn’t it. I read reviews prior where people expressed how difficult it was to watch, I assumed it was due to the brutal violence. Honestly, I’ve seen worse violence on television, although admittedly I had to close my eyes in one particularly vicious scene.

The director is confronting us with something and it’s not politics, violence, or even incels. This movie is brilliantly about mental illness. We have become so accustomed to mediocre, predictable, preachy, movies, that we don’t even recognize art when we see it. “Joker” embodies the latter.

I’ve heard from other family members of people who have serious mental illness that they saw their loved one in the main character, Arthur Fleck. My friend Richard, whose brother has Schizophrenia, wrote this to me, “The theater was dead quiet the whole time, I had the impression most everyone there was in a sense watching a friend or family member struggle with mental illness. I certainly felt that way, it was like they followed my brother around for ideas. It was hard to watch and mesmerizing at the same time.”

The movie never discloses Arthur’s diagnosis, but we are drawn into the reality of his world that is fraught with misunderstanding, neglect, abuse, and cruelty. Throughout, “Joker” is laced with cleverly placed dialogue and moments that capture the futility someone in his predicament faces in gaining any semblance of empathy or reasonable assistance. It was in those moments that I wanted to pause the movie, take screen shots, and shout, “This! This!”

For quite a few years now I’ve been thrust into the mental illness advocacy world due to my own son’s disability. I’ve met countless people and stories that mirror Arthur Fleck’s. It’s an invisible world, noticed only by the outside when violence strikes. I don’t think “Joker” is about violent revenge, I think it’s telling the true and not-so-tall tale of what many people live with daily across this nation. I dare say, it’s trying to get our attention and I think it works.

As a parent, I struggle with the gut-wrenching decisions I must make about what I should and shouldn’t share publicly about my son. He cannot fully advocate for himself. In a haunting way, Arthur Fleck has done what is so beyond reach for most family members, he’s told his own story.

Now some will argue that this movie portrays mental illness in a twisted light, no doubt. My own son expressed this after seeing a television ad. Advocates argue bitterly back and forth about the correlations to violence and mental illness. I don’t think it was by accident that Arthur Fleck’s descent into violence occurs in response to a coworker’s misguided decision to give him a gun for self-defense followed by him being denied further medications and therapy.

People with untreated serious mental illness can become violent. If they have a psychotic illness, reality begins to break away when they stop taking their medications and it is a terrifying experience for them. The lines between delusions and what is real become blurred. This is the place where others need to step in and help. “Joker” begs the uncomfortable question, “who was there for Arthur Fleck?”

The more we understand this, the less mysterious and treatable mental illness becomes. The longer we grapple with the unpleasantness of this film, the more we must acknowledge that we’ve relegated people who suffer with uncomfortable and complex issues to the fringes of our society. And we are paying an ever so dear price.

To paraphrase “Joker,” we care more about the killing of three Wall Street executives and then step over the Arthur Flecks every day on our streets. Let this movie hit you square, the way it was meant to. Don’t try to add your own narrative and make it fit. In the words of Flannery O’Connor, “The “unsentimental eye” of faith in God’s goodness in the face of horrors is paradoxically the tenderest eye.” Arthur Fleck and his mother live in every city and community across this nation. “Joker” beckons us to choose the unsentimental and tender eye.

Why Christians Should Care About the Seriously Mentally Ill

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In a recent article by the Washington Post, I learned about the latest government sponsored research project being considered by President Donald Trump. This proposal is for the development of a new agency, HARPA, tasked in seeking to identify links between violent behavior and mental health using data and technology:

"The idea is for the agency to develop a “sensor suite" using advanced artificial intelligence to try and identify changes in mental status that could make an individual more prone to violent behavior. The research would ultimately be opened to the public.

HARPA would develop “breakthrough technologies with high specificity and sensitivity for early diagnosis of neuropsychiatric violence,” says a copy of the proposal. “A multi-modality solution, along with real-time data analytics, is needed to achieve such an accurate diagnosis.”

I don’t see this as alarming in the sense I’m afraid our government will set up concentration camps or that we are moving toward some sort of Minority Report scenario, but it is a sobering reflection of how society views people who struggle against serious mental illness. As a Christian, and mother of someone who has an SMI, this gives me great reason to consider again why Christians should especially care about those who are on the margins of our nation.

Image Bearers First

God created all things. I live in the beautiful state of Arizona and am privileged every day to view majestic sunsets or take small day trips up through the cactus covered desert mountains and gape wide-mouth-opened at the spectacular Grand Canyon. God’s splendor in creation is on display day after day.

If this were not enough, mankind has been granted the distinct honor of being made in God’s likeness:

“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” - Genesis 1:26-27

People who battle the disability of serious mental illness are image bearers first, no different than any of us. They are not a set of data to be analyzed or collected by our government. Individuals who are uniquely created by God, in His image, are worthy of our advocacy, care, respect, and the wise and loving inclusion in our church families.

God Loves the Helpless

Fellow Christians, we are the recipients of lavish, unmerited mercy. Dead in our sins with no help or hope. We didn’t have an inkling that we needed rescuing and yet, God loved us and sent his son to die for such rebellious and hostile sinners as us:

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” - Romans 5:6-9

Let’s not breeze past the last verse above. Helpless sinners plucked from the road toward hell that we so justly deserved. Let that picture linger in our minds for a while and think about our helpless neighbors warring in vain against the raging torrent of delusions, homelessness, filth, victimization, and imprisonment.

When we help those who cannot help themselves, we are reflecting the very heart of God. We are reflecting our own rescue stories here in this space. Do you see the gospel implications?

Saved to Share

Our nation boasts of unprecedented wealth at the moment. Do we Christians see this as an opportunity to live generously? Will we fall into society’s mindset that our government will take care of the poor and helpless? The Bible is saturated with calls to live differently:

“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.” - Isaiah 58:6-8

Assuming our nation is replete with adequate social safety nets, or consoling ourselves with thoughts like, “hey, it could always be worse,” is a poor excuse to hoard our prosperity and look the other way. God hears the invisible cries of the disabled in our prisons and streets. God calls us to move toward the helpless with the intellect, energy, prayers, money, and compassion that He has freely given to us.

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” - James 1:27

These image bearers, the ones afflicted with more severe forms of mental illness, are the orphans of today. These people are trapped. They are not a voting block. They will not get anyone elected because they probably won’t vote, they are the contemporary “undesirables.”

At the end of the day, I think that we will be judged as a nation not by how many mass shootings we prevent, how well crafted our technology becomes in detecting potential threats, or how safe we are. But we will be judged by how well we treated those who needed our help the most, those who cannot help themselves.

Christians have the unique opportunity in this era of political division and confusion to give voice to those on the fringes of our society. We have the opportunity to share the hope of the gospel, to show love, and to give dignity to those who have none. Scripture informs us about how God views people with mental disabilities. Scripture equips and shows us how to respond with the help of God’s Holy Spirit. This is why Christians should care about the seriously mentally ill, this is why we can.

P82 Project Restoration is a Christ centered organization that exists to promote life with dignity for individuals and families who are struggling against serious mental illness. We do this through advocacy, assistance, prayer, and resource development for churches.

When I Remember That God Sees

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My husband collects nice coats. Ironic because we live in the hot desert of Arizona. He doesn’t even have to search, they find him almost effortlessly. I can’t tell you how many times he has walked through the front door with a brand new jacket that he picked up at a thrift store on his lunch break, or after a good old “Saturday-morning-fruttering” (as we like to call it) around yard sales in our neighborhood. He even found a Jolly Ranchers brand jacket on a freeway, yes you read that right, a freeway! One of our adult sons, who lives in a much colder climate, still wears that relic to this day (with much envy from his friends and brothers).

We have 4 adult sons who at times venture to borrow a coat or two from their dad on the rare occurrence of a frigid day or upon the arrival of hunting season in the Fall. Our son, who battles a serious mental illness, often struggles to discern the temperatures with accuracy. He also has an affinity for his father’s coat collection. In particular, he loves his dad’s long army jackets that remind him of his childhood days spent hunting with his dad, something he can no longer do.

A few years ago, family was visiting from out of town. It was a particularly cold day in the desert Fall and we decided to stop by In-n-Out Burger for a quick bite to eat after attending church. Our son wore his dad’s army jacket that day. The restaurant was packed and our son was a bit restless, one of many accompanying effects of living with this disability. He would sit on the bench inside waiting for our food order, then step outside for a break intermittently. We intuitively gave him his space.

Just before our order was called, a police officer entered the restaurant and abruptly made a beeline toward our son sitting inside on the waiting bench. My husband stood between myself and our son, he glanced at me while putting up his arm in a cautionary gesture. He knows me well, I shift into mama-bear mode at the drop of a hat. The officer reached our son before we did, but we quickly intervened. After inquiring as to why he approached our son, he told us that someone had called saying that a homeless man was loitering in the establishment. We carefully explained how our son is disabled and that he was here with our whole family after attending church just down the road. The officer politely apologized to us and left the restaurant.

After calming down later that day, my husband declared that that was the last day he would ever allow our son to wear one of his army jackets. A seemingly innocent Sunday spent with family turned into an occasion for anger and hurt all because of how someone in a restaurant saw our son. They didn’t see a person who was struggling with intense symptoms of a disability. They didn’t see someone who was battling with every fiber in his being to relax and enjoy a few moments with visiting relatives. They didn’t see an image bearer. They saw a jacket, an agitated man. And unless they have been touched by someone near and dear who has suffered this way, they only saw one of those Schizophrenic-druggy-type people we shelve into categories. They saw one of those people who make us uncomfortable and need to be removed out of sight, away from our normal way of life.

One of my many pitfalls is a constant fight with anger over the injustice we see and experience against those who battle severe mental illnesses like Schizophrenia. I just don’t understand why people and institutions don’t see it. Why is this issue not raised to the level of other social justice causes that get everyone’s attention? Why don’t people see it? Why don’t people care?

I take solace in this truth, in the face of discrimination against this marginalized group, that God sees. That God cares. I don’t stop speaking up for my son and others. But I can do it in the strength God provides knowing that He is so much greater than myself and that this idea of wanting justice originates with Him. When I cry out in anger, “why doesn’t anyone see this?” I can remember, but there is One who does see…

“I have seen the violence done to the helpless, and I have heard the groans of the poor.” - Psalm 12:5

I can ask God to help me to trust him again. I can ask God to help me to glorify him and not sin in the face of injustice. I can ask God to help me in the waiting for him when progress seems so slow. I can take comfort in the God who sees my son.

I can remember the character of God and how he has compassion on the outcast. I can look to stories in scripture and see how God looked upon people like Hagar and her son when Abraham and Sarah cast them away into the desert alone:

“And God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is.” - Genesis 21:17

When I become discouraged and angry, which is often if I’m honest, I can remember that my view of God is becoming small while my view of self is unduly enlarged. The glaring injustice is no excuse to give in to my own efforts, my own pride and sin. But I can be honest, for sure, and say just like Paul did in the book of Romans…

“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” - Romans 7:24-25

And I can be free to continue to look to and cry out to God again like Ethan did in Psalms 89…

“How long, O LORD? Will you hide yourself forever?”

And my confidence in God can grow as I pursue Him, meditate on His character and greatness, as I remember that He sees. He cares. And His vantage point and ability to rescue and bring justice is beyond my wildest dreams, expectations, and meager human efforts. He is not bothered by the cries or angry failures of a mother, he is not inconvenienced by the needs of the seriously mentally ill, or put off by their weakness. In fact, he loves to meet us in our valleys to display his tender mercy and compassion.

But how often do I really go to him? Not enough, not enough…yet there is more grace to be had when I remember that God sees.

For further meditation:

He Gives More Grace

I dropped off my son yesterday afternoon at his assisted living home and the tears immediately began to flow. It isn’t always like this, but some days it hits me hard. Grief mixed with guilt, a stubborn feeling that tells me I’m not doing enough. A reminder that I can’t fix this thing called serious mental illness. I can’t make it better for my son, for others. Inside I want to scream out again about how much I hate schizophrenia! You are a blatant liar, an insidious thief! You rob people of clear thoughts, enjoyment of relationships, and the every-day things us “able minded” folks take for granted! I hate nothing like I hate YOU!

This morning I read Psalm 72 in my Bible and God breaks through the muck and mire, I see a king named David asking God for a heart like his own. One that loves justice and righteousness, to be a defender of the poor and needy, a refreshment to others. And I see a picture of what our great King Jesus is really like.

“Give your love of justice to the king, O God, and righteousness to the king’s son. Help him judge your people in the right way; let the poor always be treated fairly.” - Psalm 72:1-2

I’m hit square by the reality that I am so unlike God. I’m hit square in those words right there in scripture that God sees my disabled son and He cares for him fiercely like no other can. I also see how God loves and wants to refresh me.

“May the king’s rule be refreshing like spring rain on freshly cut grass, like the showers that water the earth. “ - Psalm 72:6

I’m struck by what David is really asking here, he is really asking for death. To die to self, dreams, a life of ease. He’s asking for death from seeking applause and for the crowds to think well of him. He’s asking for a life that seeks to honor God with what is near and dear to our great King’s own heart. Because death to self actually leads to life. Could it be that God wants to use my weakness to revive me for something better too?

Left to myself, I just want things to be comfortable. I want this suffering to end. And I think about how it’s easy to speak up about injustice and fight in the public square. But what do I do when God wants me to be patient again? When my schedule is interrupted? When I drop off my son at his home through grieving tears? When fears assail me like crashing waves? When I want to seek refuge on social media and Netflix binges? Dying is hard.

How can I endure when I’m lacking so much? How can I have God’s heart and grow?

But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” - James 4:6

I read on in James and see that God gives more grace. And he keeps on giving and giving, a never ending supply of grace. All God asks is that I acknowledge my weakness in humility. Paul tells the church at Corinth that weakness is actually strength. God’s grace is enough. Not only enough, but he gives more of it. Wave after relentless wave.

But do I reach for it?

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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. - 2 Corinthians 12:9

I will never be the perfect and just King. There is only One and through his life, death, and resurrection, Christ dresses me in his perfect robe of righteousness. Yet in this broken world and weak vessel I remain. At the same time this is also amazingly true: his grace is available for every temptation, grief, and failing. God hasn’t taken away my son’s ongoing suffering or changed the injustice of a broken mental illness treatment system, but I need to remember that His grace is sufficient. And as I remember, I turn to him through prayer and opening of his Word, through repentance and through rest, because he always gives more grace.



Your Child in a Psychiatric Hospital

This is the second of a two part blog series on “What It’s Like to Go Through Psychiatric Hospitalization.” Today we are sharing the insightful and informative piece by Laura, a parent of someone with a serious mental illness. You can read her son’s perspective on what it’s like to experience hospitalization here (with permission, last names withheld).

Our son was insistent: He had to fly to CERN in Switzerland, he had to announce his scientific findings at the Geneva Convention. Would we take him to the airport? My husband and I deflected the best that we could, even as Zeppy’s agitation grew. The next morning, we woke up to discover that Zeppy was gone. He had walked to town in the middle of the night – 15 miles away.

If your child has a serious mental illness, at some point you may face a crisis that is more than you can handle at home. Maybe she is talking seriously about suicide. Maybe his anger is turning to violence. Or perhaps, like Zeppy, your child is so delusional he might come to harm accidentally. At these times, medicine and therapy may not be enough.

Before starting his current medication, our son was hospitalized 5 times in 4 years. As a result, we grew increasingly better at discerning when to seek in-patient care. The first time we encountered such a crisis, our normally-quiet son was raging with emotion. We were new to the area and decided to seek help from the pastors at our local church. After listening to our son shout profanities for hours – in the church office – we received some wise advice: “You should take him to the emergency room.” It seems obvious now, but the thought that Zeppy was suffering from a medical condition never crossed our mind.

Getting to (and through) the Emergency Room

Normally, the ER is the gatekeeper to commitment in a psych hospital. But how do you get your child to the ER, especially if he is larger than you are? We were fortunate in that Zeppy generally cooperated in going to the hospital. One time we bribed him with an ice cream sandwich; another time we pretended to take him to the airport, playing along with his delusion. At least once, Zeppy was in such distress that he asked to go to the hospital. Even so, those drives were nerve-wracking. We constantly worried that he would jump out of the moving car.

As we became more experienced, we spoke with local law enforcement about our options in the event Zeppy refused to go to the ER. This is a terrible thing to think about. Once you call 911, you have no control over the situation. And because some symptoms of mental illness appear threatening, it is possible your son or daughter will be harmed by the police. Our hope was that, by speaking with local enforcement in advance, the risk of someone getting hurt in a crisis would be reduced. Thank God, we never had to execute “Plan B” and call for back-up. Nonetheless, I am glad my husband insisted on having those hard conversations.

At the emergency room, the doctor must assess whether your child meets the legal criteria for psychiatric hospitalization. The most basic standard is “danger to self or others.” Some states also allow psychiatric commitment where the patient is “gravely disabled.” This is a nuanced conversation between doctor and patient. The doctor doesn’t want to get in legal trouble (i.e., a lawsuit for false imprisonment) if she gets it wrong. You may believe with all your heart that your child needs in-patient treatment, and you may share your reasoning with the hospital staff. Ultimately, however, the decision is up to the doctor.

Expect to Lose Control


Once the ER doctor has signed off on commitment to a psych hospital, the medical staff will call around to see which facilities have open beds. The national, chronic shortage of beds in psych hospitals suddenly became personal. We had little choice in where Zeppy was sent – sometimes the facility in town, sometimes a location an hour or more away.

By this point, the ER has taken charge of your child and of the placement process. It sounds very difficult (it is), but your job is to breathe and trust that the staff will get your child to a safe place as soon as they can. Worrying and pestering the staff – always my first impulse – does not help.

If your son or daughter is over 18, you will face additional problems. Under privacy laws, hospital staff generally cannot share the medical information of adult children with their parents, at least not without the patient’s permission. Psychotic or not, by this time your child may be quite angry with you, so don’t expect immediate permission to share information. Especially when you are kept in the dark, it is easy to become frustrated and bewildered.

When it became clear Zeppy’s mental illness was not going away, we spoke to an attorney about a medical power of attorney. We were fortunate in that Zeppy was clear-minded at the time, and willing to sign the appropriate documents. The next time he was hospitalized, this gave us some leverage in getting more information from health care providers -- along with the fact that he was obviously unable to care for himself.

Sadly, some doctors are dismissive of parents, with or without a medical power of attorney. To these doctors, your questions and concerns are irrelevant at best; more likely, you have somehow contributed to your child’s problem. Although you have learned much through painful trial-and-error over the course of your child’s illness, some doctors just don’t care. It doesn’t matter that your child lives with you, that you are caring for him on a day-to-day basis, or that you are the one paying for the hospitalization! You can expect such doctors to make treatment decisions unilaterally, without consulting or even informing you, based on whatever new drug is being pushed by the pharmaceutical companies. That’s just the way it is.

A Holding Place

So your child has finally been admitted to the psych hospital. As a first order of business, you may be asked to drop off several changes of clothes. Shoelaces, belts, and strings (for example, on hoodies) are not allowed. I tried to offer books, but these were generally ignored by the staff and Zeppy alike. The first time Zeppy was admitted to the psych hospital, I asked whether he could bring his clarinet – a request quickly denied, of course. (This shows my own frame of mind at the time, that I was worried about him falling behind in band!)

In my experience, psych hospitals are like an unimaginative, indoor day camp, just with doctors and medicine. Patients mill around aimlessly, and sometimes the caretakers do as well. At one hospital, we had to check the shoes to distinguish patients from staff – staff were allowed to have laces. Expect your child to be bored.

I suppose there could be some excitement if a patient acts out. However, with modern medicine, this is rare. Any patient in danger of disruption will be heavily medicated. While distressing, this may be what your child’s brain needs to heal. I had to keep reminding myself that our efforts to help Zeppy outside the hospital had been exhausted, and that this was a safe holding place for him while we regrouped.

Keeping In Touch

Communication with your child is restricted, especially since the hospital will normally confiscate all cell phones and electronics. (Many times, I was not allowed to bring my own phone into the hospital). The hospital will have scheduled phone time and visiting hours. Don’t be surprised if your child doesn’t want to talk with you. And even if your child wants to talk, don’t be surprised if the lines are tied up during phone time.

As much as I love my son, visiting was a big downer. Sometimes Zeppy didn’t want to see me, or was indifferent to my visit, which made me sad. Many times I saw no improvement in his condition, which also made me sad. The physical environment was depressing, and there was often not much to talk about (other than his delusions). I tried not to feel guilty about skipping visitation for a day or two. We wanted to remind Zeppy that we cared, but I also couldn’t spend all my time crying.

I don’t mean to sound callous, but your child’s time in the mental hospital is the perfect time for you to rest and recuperate. You probably went through great stress during the weeks leading up to hospitalization, and there will be more stress waiting for you after your child is discharged. It’s ok to feel some relief once your child has been admitted (I did). Take advantage of the fact that, for now, your child is safe and not your responsibility. Spend some quality time alone, or with your spouse, or with good friends. If possible, schedule a short getaway weekend. The change in perspective will boost your morale for the long haul (and it is a long haul).

Don’t Expect a Breakthrough

Most psychiatric hospitalizations are short, 7-10 days. This is because - surprise surprise - insurance generally covers that length of time. Although there may be some group or individual talk therapy available, the medical staff will focus primarily on medication.

Since your child’s current medications were not sufficient to prevent a crisis, the supervising doctor will likely change them. As an outpatient, when you change medicine, you must spend several weeks tapering the old drug down, and another several weeks tapering the new drug up. But in the hospital, under close observation, the doctors can be more aggressive.

I have found that, while 7-10 days may be enough time to make sure your child does not have a bad reaction, it is not enough time to see whether the new medicine actually works. The psych hospital will give you a break from the crisis, but don’t expect a breakthrough.

In addition, continuity of care can be a big problem when your child is in the psych hospital. Because our brains are so unique, they respond in unpredictable ways to treatment. Your child’s regular doctors can be a wealth of hard-won information on your child’s condition. Yet the attending physician at the psych hospital, who may be seeing your child for the first time, is unlikely to consult your child’s regular doctors.

Zeppy had a wonderful doctor who worked hard for several years to find the best possible drug combination. However, this doctor was not affiliated with a psych hospital. When Zeppy was hospitalized, he was under the control of a completely different doctor. Two times, the attending physician at the psych hospital abruptly changed Zeppy’s medicine to brand new drugs. Not only were these drugs insanely expensive, they did not work for Zeppy. After his release, we were forced to change his drugs again, with his regular doctor, the slow way.

Eventually, circumstances forced us to change doctors. This time, the doctor was also the attending physician at a psych hospital affiliated with his medical group. It was wonderful to have continuity of care during a crisis situation. Because this doctor knew Zeppy’s medical history, and because he had a relationship with our whole family, he was able to come up with a treatment plan that was sustainable after discharge.

Release from the Psychiatric Hospital

After the allotted 7-10 days, the doctor will generally pronounce your child ready to go home. Your child may be somewhat calmer and quieter, as a result of the additional medication and boring hospital routine. Your child may also be on his best behavior, at least until release is certain. This does not mean he is “all better.”

It is extremely important to schedule an appointment with your child’s regular doctor as soon as possible. Your child’s regular doctor knows his history and hopefully recognizes what is “normal” for your child. He or she will be able to evaluate the medicine changes, and to make further adjustments.

Re-starting therapy with your child’s regular therapist can also be helpful. Unfortunately, we were not able to find a therapist willing to work with Zeppy in his post-hospital phase (they felt he did not have sufficient insight into his problems). This was quite frustrating -- I spent a lot of time banging my head against the limits of modern psychotherapy. We did receive great benefit from a therapist willing to work with us, the parents, instead of Zeppy directly.

For us, the post-hospitalization period was almost – not quite but almost – as difficult as the pre- hospitalization period. It generally took a month or longer for Zeppy’s psychosis to fade, and for him to get used to the new drug regimen. Nonetheless, the short break of not being personally responsible for Zeppy’s well-being was helpful by itself. And the whole family, especially Zeppy, gained a renewed focus on staying away from the hospital as long as possible.




A Christian Caregiver's Identity

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Recently, I deleted my personal Twitter account. It was no small decision and the cause for a good degree of consternation. I had 900+ followers and I fought hard for each and every one of them. In the end, the increasing vitriol displayed in this powerful space day after day brought me to ultimately disconnect.

But, it didn’t last long. I found that I couldn’t hold back from giving voice to the plight of the seriously mentally ill even here with Twitter’s limitations (or perhaps it’s just as basic as my lack of self control). At any rate, I went back and created a new account. I’m currently up to a whopping 8 followers now! Hooray for me.

I’ll admit, it’s been a humbling experience. It’s also been revealing. I love advocacy, I’ll never stop speaking up. But it’s not ultimately who I am, it’s simply one of many things I’m privileged to do. This seeming insignificant decision in my life begged a deeper question however: Where am I finding my identity?

During the past decade I’ve shifted into many roles as a Caregiver - from crisis coordinator to resource administrator, from guardian to grocery shopping assistant, from holding on for dear life to letting go, from mom to non-profit president, from biting my tongue (yes, there were a few times…) to advocating politically. Yet, it took a little Twitter disconnect to realize I needed to remind myself of the most important reality in my life: who I truly am in Christ.

Remembering My Way Back.

Our culture is bombarding us daily with images of strong, powerful, and successful people. If we are not careful as Christians, this can gnaw away at our identity. Add to this the battle raging within our own hearts and it’s easy to see how we can lose ourselves along the way.

Here’s the good news though, even when I lose sight of who I am, God never loses sight of me.

We all struggle with a good degree of identity theft, but for the Caregiver of someone battling a serious mental illness (or any other disability or sickness, for that matter) the lines are blurred significantly. The very nature of the illnesses themselves, coupled with the chaos of a broken mental health system, demand a lot from us, to say the least!

So what’s the remedy for a Christian caregiver like me? I think it’s as simple as taking some time to remember who I am in Christ and taking some time to interact with my Savior about how these truths translate into my daily life, even on social media.

A Helpful Tool

Jerry Bridge’s book, “Who Am I” is easy to read and can be used as a short devotional each day. There are only 8 chapters so you can finish in just over a week. Resist the temptation to dismiss the subject matter as old, familiar truths. We all forget, someone even said, “we leak.” What could be better than filling ourselves up with the rich truths about our identity in Christ! So drink up weary Caregiver!

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Our church is beginning a new sermon series on this very subject. You can view them online here soon. I’m looking forward to percolating over this topic. I’ve already begun remembering using Jerry Bridge’s book above and a renewed sense of peace and hope are springing up in my heart. I pray that for you as well.

If you are not a believer and you’re wondering what all of this talk of identity in Christ is about, check out a previous post here that explains the good news of the gospel. Whether you check it out or not, thank you for reading and supporting the work of helping families and individuals struggling against serious mental illness.

What It's Like to Go Through Psychiatric Hospitalization from a Patient's Perspective

This is the first of a two part blog series on “What It’s Like to Go Through Psychiatric Hospitalization.” We will be sharing the insightful and informative writing projects of Zeppy and Laura, a patient and a parent (with permission, last names withheld).

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In the Inpatient Facility – Zeppy

Being in the inpatient facility is, for me, a memory that is tainted with strangely sharp and defined thought patterns that, even now, I am unable to find the origination for.

Being in the inpatient facility (the psychotic/suicide/acute drug crisis ward) is boring, only lit up by the small amenities that are as welcome as they are minor, such as a small amount of candy, soda, and Netflix.

The inpatient facility isn’t for those who have done something wrong. And, it seems that most of the people who work there understand this. Unlike in prison, where I hear that the atmosphere can be vicious and cruel, malevolent and oppressing, the atmosphere of the psych ward is mostly that of confusion and sadness. The schizophrenic-types feed off each other’s babble and strangeness, amplifying their madness while misunderstanding the source. The depressive types say nothing and robotically fill out adult coloring sheets (the ones with complicated, often beautiful and fractal designs). The druggies shake their feet and breathe heavily.

The biggest impression that each facility leaves in one’s mind is of a single color. For one, bright, brilliant hospital white. For another, orange, soft, library-like illumination. For yet another, black and brown accented by doors with wood paneling.

What I experienced in the psych ward is totally different from what other schizophrenics have experienced and will experience. Every system of delusions has a different form, a different shape, a different underlying stimulation and visible symptom map. The primary sensation from one on the inside is that of misunderstanding. Why am I here? What did I do? And even: “where am I?” (Some of my answers to those questions in the moment: “In heaven.” “At the LHC [Large Hadron Collider.]” “In the middle of a tutorial for a ‘The Sims’-esque game played by an alien from another universe who is controlling my every action,” and “floating in a box of nothingness.”)

Whatever the answer, the general feeling is one of misunderstanding and being misunderstood. Of “knowing” that you don’t belong there, and yet not being able to express this to anyone. The staff, mostly comprised of blue-scrubs-wearing nurses, interacts as little as possible with the patients, except to sort out disagreements about chairs and remotes.

One overhears the inner mechanisms of other people’s delusions while in that place. Some people babble incoherently, either with or without a purpose. The end result is one of unreality.

Not only you, but everyone you see is off in the canyons of metaphysical space, experiencing the distortion of their thoughts like gravity distorts spacetime.

I’m sure that there are some good things that are buried underneath the delusion and the confusion. There must be some sort of metaphysical truth about the universe that these babbling crazies must understand, but cannot communicate. It’s like being lost in a forest of sanguine messages from every corner of reality. One tries to understand where they are coming from, and most often that results in a misunderstanding that is amplified by the fragility of the human consciousness when exposed to the unknown.

Lovecraft portrayed it perfectly: when one encounters the inscrutable gods of this reality, they lose all sense of sanity and delve into the depths of their own, dark minds. The psych ward is just the manifestation of the conclusion of this adventure.

Sanctity of Life Sunday: The Seriously Mentally Ill are Image Bearers Too

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This Sunday, January 20, 2019 is Sanctity of Life Sunday. People around the nation will honor the gift of life, from the pre-born, to the elderly and the disabled, through prayer, marches, and gatherings. Why should this matter to us? Because it matters to God. Every person is made in the image of God, Imago Dei.

Every one matters.

So God created man in his own image,

in the image of God he created him;

male and female he created them. - Genesis 1:27

In the United States, roughly 4% of the population has some form of a serious mental illness. That’s close to 10 million image bearers. At least 40% of these individuals are receiving no treatment. An even smaller percentage of this group has such severe forms of mental illness that they cannot advocate for themselves. These are the people who currently reside in our prisons and on our streets.

This Sunday, when you gather in your churches, please mention and pray for the seriously mentally ill and their families too. These are the forgotten, untouchables of our day. It’s time to include them in our prayers and advocacy efforts because they are not forgotten or marginalized by God.

Speaking up for those who cannot speak up for themselves reflects the very heart of God. Join us on this Sanctity of Life Sunday in celebrating and praying for life with dignity for those suffering on the fringe of our society.

Give $5 Worth of Light This Weekend

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It’s that time of year again! Time for our Thanksgiving Give Light weekend. As part of our effort to create bridges in the community to meet the needs of individuals with persistent mental illness, we are holding a mini-campaign of sorts this weekend (Nov. 15-18). Through our partnership with Marc Community Resources we are seeking to provide $100 Fry’s grocery gift cards for hearty Thanksgiving meals to group homes that serve men and women who struggle against a serious mental illness.

Last year we raised $1,500. This was enough for Thanksgiving and Christmas meals! Let’s see if we can match this and even raise a greater amount for 2018. Are you ready? Let’s give! Simply click on our Donation page and as you check out click “Give Light Campaign.” It’s that simple!

Thank you for your generosity, thank you for giving light to so many who are often marginalized and forgotten right here in our communities.

Discovery: Signs of Serious Mental Illness from a Mother's Perspective

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The following list is not meant to be a diagnostic tool and is not written by a medical professional. It is a collection of snapshots written from a mother’s perspective in an effort to help others. The following observations are not exhaustive, nor conclusive. But taken together, the information could inform you as to whether you see a pattern emerging in your son or daughter that warrants further intervention. Observations are listed intentionally beginning with moderate signs and increasing to severe.

Please seek the advice of a provider trained in understanding serious mental illness if you suspect your loved one needs help. For parents, we recommend a consultation with your primary care physician without your son or daughter so you can freely ask questions and discuss pertinent resources that may be available. In our opinion, not medical advice, a general MD is not as qualified as a Psychiatrist to bring an accurate diagnosis of a serious mental illness.

·       Reacts inappropriately to change or a new place they’ve never been before.

·       Has trouble concentrating in school and/or employment.

·       Does not stay focused on a sport or hobby very long.

·       Wanting to take up a hobby that they clearly have no aptitude for.

·       Inability to follow instructions with more than one step.

·  Abrupt, odd mood changes.

·       Tics like sniffing a lot, blinking. Mumbling.

·       Increasing at-risk behavior, ie., running away, truancy, drugs, alcohol, stealing.

·       Increased agitation. Responding inappropriately to situations. Anger doesn’t fit the crime.

·       Taking drugs or using alcohol to extremes.

·       Isolating themselves. Example: when at a family gathering, they lock themselves in a bedroom.

·       Believing that people are thinking or saying things about them or misinterpreting cues. You are certain it is not true.

·       Thinking that they see famous people or people you know when you go out to public places.

·       Change in sleeping patterns, not sleeping for a day or two. Sleeping excessively. Increase in these patterns.

·       Laughing inappropriately, emotionally inappropriate responses.

·       Taking longer to respond to a question you ask. Needs the question to be repeated.

·       Have increasing moments where they hear people or animals talking, whispering.

·       Dressing inappropriately, ie., winter clothes in summer and vice versa. Wearing odd, outdated, clashing clothes.

·       Believes that they see objects changing shapes, colors, melting, etc., and is not related to drug use.

·       Repetitive behavior (ie., hitting a drum over and over) with a flat affect, staring off.

·       Grandiose ideas about themselves, extreme energy at inappropriate times.

·       Neglect of personal hygiene, lack of concern for smell/ appearance.

·       Opposite of neglecting hygiene: taking an excessive amount of showers, brushing teeth over and over.

·       Aggression or violence toward family member(s). Singling out a family member and/or believing that person wants to hurt them.

·       Family becomes increasingly afraid, locking doors at night. Afraid to leave pets alone with the child. Afraid to leave child alone.

  • Talking in a “word salad,” doesn’t make sense.

  • Extreme paranoia. Believes people want to harm them, government is spying on them, covering mirrors, windows with paper, etc.

**The information on P82 Project Restoration, Inc. is not medical advice. Do not rely on it. Discuss with your provider trained in understanding serious mental illness.