My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward

My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward

Feb 4, 2014 – One of my dear friends from college sent me a link to The Moth podcast on which Mark Lukach told his story about supporting his wife through her struggle with mental illness. On May 2, 2017 Mark published his first book, My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward

Two weeks after my friend Jen sent me the link to Mark’s story, we were on vacation in Florida for my grandmother’s 90th birthday. I sat my family down – Ben, my mom and my dad – around the kitchen table to listen together. Tears flowed. Giulia’s story had so many parallels to my own. I was so moved and impressed by how her husband could articulate what he had went through as he watched her struggle with her illness, helpless at times but he never gave up on getting her well.

In reading Mark’s book, I had a glimpse of what my family and husband must have gone through during the early stages of my illness. The research, navigating the system, figuring out how to best support me as I called my parents sobbing every day for a year. Actually, their response to my depression seemed intuitive. Both my parents were so supportive and patient with me as I struggled to understand what was happening to me. My mom and I are similar in our typical impatience with nearly everything, but this was different. It must have hurt them to see me in such pain. 

This was brought to light in Mark’s storytelling. He was able to so eloquently take the reader into the thoughts and emotions running through his mind as he watched his wife lose hers. I often think about how terrifying it must have been for Ben and my family to see me lose control of my thinking. To this day Ben has a hard time talking about it.

My guess is this book was as therapeutic and healing for Mark to write as participating in This Is My Brave has been to me and my storytellers. Each time we are able to unpack those complicated memories from our experiences with mental illness, we relieve the burden of holding onto those heavy secrets. 

Loving someone who lives with a mental health issue is definitely not easy. But I don’t think a person has ultimate control over who they fall in love with. And with the statistics on the number of people living with mental health issues, chances are high most relationships face these challenges. In our case, and in Mark and Giulia’s, the journey only made us stronger. It changed my relationship with Ben for the better and I wouldn’t change a thing. My guess is Mark and Giulia wouldn’t either.

To order My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward, use our This Is My Brave Amazon Smile link and we’ll earn a tiny donation. {I had pre-ordered the book and was lucky to receive this beautiful coloring page from Mark and Giulia’s son Jonas when it shipped in February. Been meaning to write this review ever since.}

Fun side note: Since connecting with Mark and Giulia on Twitter a few years ago, we’re hoping to meet in person this summer since Mark’s family still owns a beach house at Bethany Beach and my parents just bought one. It’s neat when internet friends meet up in person. Today is also Mark’s Birthday! Happy Birthday, Mark!

Conversations on heaven

Rare Bird Anna Whiston-Donaldson book review

We’re in the midst of a season of change. I’m doing what I can to hold onto summer, while simultaneously longing for fall to begin already. I’m ready for brisk breezes, crispy leaves crunching under my Uggs as I walk to the bus stop to pick up my now-First Grader from another day at school, preschooler in tow.

With only a handful of potential pool days left, I piled the kids in the car last week for a couple of hours at our neighborhood pool before dinnertime. The air was warm, I had the radio on, and the kids were carrying on their own little conversation in the backseat while I sang along to a country pop tune. As the song came to an end, Vivian piped up and caught me off guard with a serious question.

“When are we going to die, Mommy?”

Whoa. Where did this come from? Had that last song mentioned dying as some country songs do?

Before I could even address her curiosity, her brother dove into his own explanation.

“When God calls you back to heaven, Vivi. He’s the only person who knows when we’ll die.”

Wow. Are my four and six year olds really discussing death?

And before I could ask him where he had learned this bit of wisdom, I remembered.

I remembered how I told them about Anna’s son Jack and his accident when they saw me reading Rare Bird last year. God called Jack home to heaven four years ago.

No one knows how much time we have. There are no guarantees.

I am not an intensely religious person, although I do believe in God and I believe there is a heaven. I do believe there is another phase after our lives here. I am hopeful I’ll meet all the people I’ve loved through life in heaven eventually. My heart tells me this place we’re in now is just the preparation for what’s next.

Rare Bird taught me so many things, and I truly feel it’s a book that everyone should read for the wisdom Anna shares within its pages. We never know when life will throw us a curve ball. Something that may knock us down so hard that we fear we may never be able to get back up. And yet, Anna did just that, and continues to face each day with grace and love and kindness.

I constantly think about life and death, and question whether I’m making the most of my time. I have my good days and bad days, like everyone else. I think as long as we love deeply and treat every day as the true gift it is, we’re living a good life.

Jack lived a very good life. Much too short, but he’s home now. In heaven with God. And as Anna says in this new video about the book, it’s not as far away as she had thought.

Rare Bird comes out in paperback in a week, but you can pre-order it on Amazon now.

Sending love to Anna, Tim and Margaret, this week and always. Thinking of Jack and the memories {and God winks} he blessed them with, some of which are described within the pages of Rare Bird.

Follow Anna’s blog: AnInchOfGray, her Facebook page for the book, and her author page for info on readings and events.

Books that heal & inspire

Books-that-heal-inspire

This is the fifth post of a 12-week series on How I Learned to Manage My Bipolar Illness by Cultivating a Healthy Lifestyle.

Reading is one of my passions. Lately making time to read has been a challenge. Still, knowing that a good read can be extremely beneficial to my mental health, I do my best to fit it into my schedule.

My favorite books tell stories straight from the heart. So naturally, I gravitate to memoir. I find other people’s true life stories fascinating, mostly because I like to learn from the experiences they write about. It’s almost as if I’m living vicariously through them while reading their words.

Ever since my diagnosis, I’ve sought out books dealing with mental illness and all the devastation, sorrow, exhilaration and exhaustion that comes with it. I wanted to know I could find a way to live with bipolar disorder. I wanted to find examples of people who were not only overcoming their illness, but living highly successful lives despite their mental health disorders.

I just finished reading Resilience: Two Sisters and a Story of Mental Illness by Jessie Close with Pete Earley. I was captivated from page 1 of this unimaginable story of Jessie’s lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder. It wasn’t until adulthood that she was finally properly diagnosed and received treatment. Her illness controlled her life until Jessie realized that she wanted, and deserved, a better life. Through the help of her family and sister, actress Glenn Close, Jessie was able to turn her life around. She became a leading advocate for mental health awareness when she joined Glenn in founding Bring Change 2 Mind. I highly recommend Resilience if you’re looking for a story about hope.

Here are some of my other favorite memoirs about mental illness:

An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison

Crazy: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness by Pete Earley

Learning to Breathe by Priscilla Warner

Haldol and Hyacinths: A Bipolar Life by Melody Moezzi

The Beast: A Journey Through Depression by Tracy Thompson {Tracy was in our debut This Is My Brave show!}

Hurry Down Sunshine by Michael Greenberg

Good Cop, Bad Daughter: Memoirs of an Unlikely Police Officer by Karen Lynch

Detour: My Bipolar Road Trip in 4D by Lizzie Simon

Madness: A Bipolar Life by Marya Hornbacher {Marya is in our Boston This Is My Brave show!}

Freefall to Fly by Rebekah Lyons

Perfect Chaos: A Daugher’s Journey to Survive Bipolar, A Mother’s Struggle to Save Her by Linea and Cinda Johnson

I’ve found parts of my own story wedged within each of these books. Reading helps me to realize I’m not alone. In making time to read, I allow myself to get lost in the brave stories of authors like these I’ve listed. I am encouraged by their fierce determination, their drive to get well and stay well, and their willingness to continue to share their experiences to help others.

They are my tribe.

What’s your favorite memoir about mental illness? Let’s connect on Goodreads!

Rare Bird – A Book About Life

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{Anna Whiston-Donaldson’s beautiful debut book Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love launches today and is available on Amazon.}

Death is a part of life. Nothing about this truth is easy to accept. But chances are pretty high that if we love deeply, at one point or another in our lifetime we will suffer tremendous loss.

I haven’t experienced this rite of passage yet in my life. Sometimes I get scared and anxious about losing the people I love the most. How would I survive without them? Would I ever be able to experience joy and laughter again if I were to lose those who send me into fits of giggles complete with tears rolling down my cheeks. Do I tell them I love them enough? Will I ever see them again after they leave this Earth?

I met Anna only after she had lost her son Jack in a tragic flash flood in a town only 25 minutes from where I live. In 2011, when a mutual friend and author/blogger wrote a post about Jack’s accident, I immediately clicked over and read Anna’s blog in disbelief and started praying along with the rest of her loyal readers and the masses of people sending love and strength to Anna, Tim and Margaret.

How could God let this happen to such a loving, spiritual family such as the Donaldson’s? I had a hard time believing it was true. I struggle with my faith, especially in times of crisis like this. This unfathomable tragedy made me doubt Him even more.

At our mutual friend’s book signing in April last year, I spotted Anna in line waiting to congratulate Glennon and get her book signed. Weeks earlier, I was surprised when I saw a comment from Anna pop up on my blog post about Wild Mountain, a memoir writers retreat I had attended in March. She mentioned in her note to me that she wished she could have been there and it was then that I knew she was writing a book.

We made plans to meet for lunch and talked of the craft of writing, but mainly just got to know each other. We spoke of our upbringing and faith, and I was so appreciative of her openness and honesty with me even though it was our first time getting together. I’m an open book, and I loved that Anna felt comfortable enough to be the same with me. It’s just her nature. She’s thoughtful, smart, easy to talk to, funny and I didn’t want our lunch date to end.

At that lunch, Anna gave me a blue Lego heart keychain left over from Jack’s service and to this day it is in my hands nearly every day. This handsome, witty, intelligent young man who I’d never had the pleasure of meeting would from that point on enter my mind whenever I reach for my car keys. I already knew he loved Legos, the bible, and being silly like your typical 12-yr old boy, but I couldn’t wait to read Anna’s book to learn even more about Jack.

I wouldn’t have to wait long. I was honored when Anna handed me an early copy of the book before it hit the pre-order stage (although I pre-ordered my own hardcover copy months ago, now available on Amazon). Once I sat down to read Rare Bird, I couldn’t stop. From the introduction of her own childhood to tales of family life with Jack and his goofiness which made me laugh out loud. I pictured my two kids six years into the future and realized exactly why I loved Anna’s book so much.

It’s about life. And how no matter how hard we try to plan for the future, we cannot guarantee that it’ll unfold the way we had hoped. There will be unthinkable losses, whether it’s the passing of a dear loved one or the news of a terminal illness, forcing us to embrace the past as much as the present. Anna’s words are a reminder that we should never take any moment for granted because no one knows what the future holds. Each day is a gift.

Anna’s writing is captivating from the first chapter to the last. She held back nothing because she knew in her heart while she was writing Rare Bird that her vulnerability would help others. And not just those who had lost a child suddenly. This book to me explained so much about love and life and why we’re here. Plus, it gave me hope for heaven. The signs Jack sent were some of my favorite parts of the book. Anna selflessly shares these intimate moments within the pages of Rare Bird.

I read and loved Anna’s book because I wanted to know what it felt like to experience early grief and also how to walk lovingly beside someone who is on such a journey. I wanted to understand how to wrap my arms around a friend moving through grief or a traumatic change in their life. Because life is hard. And chances are, it won’t reveal itself to us the way we expect.

Which is why we have each other to learn from and hold onto.

I love you, Anna. Thank you for sharing so much of Jack with us. He will always be in my heart. And I am here for you holding space.