Both Marys were lucky enough to have read the un-edited version of the manuscript for Broken Brain, Fortified Faith: Lessons of Hope Through a Child’s Mental Illness by Virginia Pillars.
Last night I read the newly-released version, which is even more gripping, heart-rending, and ultimately…beautiful. I began reading at 8:00 and couldn’t put it down until I completed the entire book. As a mother, I could not imagine the torment of watching a child descend into madness, but I could certainly relate to the mother-bear instinct that kicked in upon the diagnosis of schizophrenia for this brave woman and her equally brave daughter.
Mental illness is not happy subject, nor is it fodder for casual conversation around the table. In fact, I would conjecture the topic of mental illness rates right up there with death in terms of our willingness to face it head on, but according to this book more people are living with mental illness than heart disease, lung disease, and cancer combined. We need to talk about it because there is a good chance someone we love will be affected by it.
Reading Pillars’ chronicle of a journey no one wants to take was difficult at times. As readers, we can’t help but put ourselves or our loved ones in the place of those who are suffering. What if this was my daughter? I thought as I read. I found myself wiping away tears a few times. It struck me as I read this memoir that this could be any one of us, that the insidious beast of mental illness crouches at the door of the best of families, waiting to pounce on its innocent prey. Pillars’ daughter Amber had a solid education, a good job, and a strong faith when she was unexpectedly gripped in the claws of mental illness. Thankfully, she also had a family who loved her and a good friend who wouldn’t give up on her. Hope remained. And in the end, it was that faith and hope, and some good medical care, that eventually brought this family out of the dark pit of despair. Amber now lives a full and productive life, and the author works tirelessly to bring hope to other families through her work with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
book reviewed by Mary Potter Kenyon