On Barb’s Bookshelf: Broken Brain, Fortified Faith

Virginia Pillars’ memoir of a mother navigating the world of parenting a young adult with a brand-new diagnosis schizophrenia is at once heart-wrenching, informative and inspiring. In Broken Brain, Fortified Faith, Pillars honestly describes her day-by-day experience with her daughter’s illness and recovery, with a view toward helping other families whose lives are touched by a frustrating disease.

While this book chronicles several very difficult years for Virginia Pillars’ entire family, the author never loses hope. The book’s subtitle, “Lessons of Hope through a Child’s Mental Illness,” proclaims loud and clear that while this story contains plenty of tears, the trials this family endured did not break them. God did not abandon them. Yes, there were times when the author questioned her ability to trust God, but again and again she was reminded to rely on her faith. Some of my favorite parts of this book were Pillars’ reflections on the devotionals she was reading during the time the events of this book took place.

The author of the day’s devotional . . . reminded me of life’s ups and downs, joys and sorrows. But most importantly, I held on to the idea: God will not abandon me in any circumstance.
The idea brought comfort to me as I thought about how recently it felt like I had trudged through one crisis after another; I felt like the proverbial boat, drifting away from my shore of faith.
I closed my book and pondered what I had just read. Is this what you want me to know, God? Keep my eyes on You? The thought “When things get hard, depend on Me; draw close to Me” remained in my soul as I went about my day. (206-7)

The author’s conversational style make a book with challenging subject matter easy to read. Pillars takes a day-by-day approach through the difficult months of diagnosis and a search for appropriate treatment, bringing the reader along for the ride to hospitals, waiting rooms, and therapists’ offices. Her first impulse, when hearing of any kind of setback, is to place her daughter in God’s hands, asking Him to be with her in that time of crisis.

And yes, setbacks happened. Schizophrenia is not an easy illness to treat, so there were definitely “one step forward, two steps back” moments–and difficult times for other family members as well. Pillars’ other children and grandchildren went through some of their own health crises during this time (I’ll tell you right now, you’re going to want tissues handy once you reach chapter 24).

It’s not a spoiler to mention that Virginia Pillars is very dedicated to mental-health advocacy now. She reaches out to others through her website, support groups, and her book. At the end of the book you’ll find a list of books, websites and other resources to help families affected by mental illness.

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About the author: Virginia Pillars lives on a farm, along with her husband of forty-two years, where she also operates an embroidery business. Virginia is the mother of four, one of whom suffered from a mental illness, and a grandmother of four with a passion for reaching out to families who are also affected. She volunteers both as an educator and support group leader for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and speaks to organizations on the effects of mental illness on families. Virginia became certified in First Aid for Mental Health in 2014. She has also been a frequent speaker on her faith journey to both youth and adults for over twenty-five years. Virginia is a member of the Catholic Writers Guild. She details her journey through mental illness with her child in her memoir, Broken Brain, Fortified Faith: Lessons of Hope Through a Child’s Mental Illness. Published in September, 2016, it is available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and all independent book stores. Find Virginia’s blog at VirginiaPillars.com; follower her on Twitter @VirginiaPillars.

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Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS

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