As a kid, I used to borrow Reader’s Digest Condensed Books from my grandmother. I skipped over the adventure novels and romances in favor of family stories, especially the family memoirs that centered on children battling serious illness or overcoming challenges due to cerebral palsy, paralysis, or other circumstances — and then there was that one particular book about the family who adopted 19 kids, most with physical challenges.
I think such books would be harder for me to read now that I’m a mom. Childish curiosity would be replaced by empathy, because I know what it’s like for moms whose children face serious illness. I am one of those moms.
I eagerly read Julie Overlease’s memoir, Hope Upon Impact, even though I knew it covered that difficult topic: a mom suffering through, praying through, and powering through her sixth-grade daughter’s traumatic brain injury (TBI) after the child was struck by a large falling tree limb.
Hope Upon Impact, recently published by Paraclete Press, is a combination spiritual memoir and medical miracle story. As I read this book, the community support that the Overlease family received after Evelyn’s accident stood out to me the most. Having endured two lengthy, critical, and overlapping medical crises in my close family this fall, I recognize the little and big ways people reached out to us. The church, school, and sports communities surrounding the Overlease family definitely took care of that family in a big way, and it was uplifting to see.
At the end of the book, the author quotes a homily from a priest at her parish, Fr. Justin Hamilton:
Everything we encounter in life is exactly what God knows is best for us, no matter how disagreeable or hard it is to embrace. That’s not at all to say that some things, like losing a loved one, dealing with a chronic illness, or losing one’s job are objectively good things. Rather, God is able to take painful, challenging events like this and apply them to our lives in such a way that they are transformed into the very best thing for us, the catalyst for the deepest growth, the best way to purify our love and sharpen our faith, if only we would embrace them just like He embraced His cross. The key to this is finding God in these moments, knowing that He is always present in our lives, if only we look for Him and ask Him to reveal Himself. (181)
Hope Upon Impact is an amazing story of God’s providence, community support, and family strength.
Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.
Lately I’ve found myself reading memoir after memoir. But I’m not into the “celebrity memoir” type of book; I prefer books about real people facing real-life challenges. Tara Meissner’s book, Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis, invites the reader into the world–and the soul–of a young woman enduring the effects of bipolar disorder.
The strength of this book lies in the author’s honest, no-holds-barred description of her psychotic break with reality and her journey toward recovery.
Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis is a moving and honest psychology memoir about the things that break us and how we heal. It offers a raw view of a 33-year-old wife and mother swallowed by psychosis. The psychotic episode includes meeting Jesus Christ, dancing with Ellen DeGeneres, and narrowly escaping eternity in the underworld.
Casually called a nervous breakdown, psychosis is an entrapment outside of self where hallucinations and delusions anchor. Family, doctors, and fellow patients witnessed a nonverbal, confused, distraught shell of a woman. In the security of a psychiatric care center, the week-long psychosis broke and spit out a bipolar patient in the cushioned place of middle class medicine.
Outpatient recovery consumed the better part of a year with psychiatric treatment and spiritual contemplation. Left scarred and damaged, health returned allowing her to tentatively embrace a grace and peace earned through acceptance of bipolar disorder.
Accepting Bipolar and Finding Grace
by Tara Meissner
I used to pray a lot. Almost like a zealot. Prayer alone was never enough to keep me at peace and allow me to live with grace. Grace to me is living with the capacity to tolerate, accommodate, and forgive people. Peace is sustaining a moment where I am dignified, elegant, and beautiful.
Christians use the word grace to mean a gift to humankind from God in the form of His infinite love, mercy and goodwill.
Disease of any sort makes us question an all knowing and all powerful God. Humans lack the capacity to understand what logic could allow disease from a loving God. Some even say the disease is the devil.
Certainly this is true in history concerning mental illness; some Christians consider mental illness spiritual warfare. This confuses people to think mental illnesses are the devil possessing someone. The cure then is prayer and fully accepting Jesus into one’s life.
In ancient times, a person with epilepsy may have appeared possessed by the devil. (Please note, that I am not discrediting with the concept of evil and that the devil can possess people; this is written on the first page of the bible.) I am only emphasizing the point that mental illness is an organic, biological condition. It is not a supernatural occurrence of evil residing in those afflicted.
I was raised Catholic, received the sacraments, attended Mass regularly, had my son in Catholic school, and habitually prayed the rosary. My transgressions, which I sought reconciliation from, did not invite the devil to take the form of a mental illness inside me. Still, I suffered from depression off and on for nearly 15 years and suffered a psychotic break from reality in 2010. This is commonly called a nervous breakdown.
Since then, I have accepted bipolar disorder as a part of my whole. It is not evil inside me; it does not make me unworthy of love. It is a disease that I can and do treat.
Without the complications of a mistreated and misunderstood mood disorder, I can wake each day with a sense of peace. I can stop pleading to God to cure me. I can stop promising to be a better Christian so that I do not have to suffer with mental illness. I can accept that bad things happen to good people.
With free will, I have chosen to treat the bad, my bipolar disorder. Because treatment for bipolar disorder can reduce and/or eliminate symptoms in up to 90 percent of people living with bipolar, I live well and have peace. I no longer deny the disease. I no longer feel guilty of having done something to deserve it.
I can pause long enough to enjoy the smile on my children’s faces, the array of colors in a sunset, my husband’s embrace, great belly laughs with girl friends, and many other pleasures of life. Living with grace doesn’t always mean the absence of bad days. I also fully experience pain, regret, and sadness. However, these emotions do not disturb the peace I have achieved by eliminating the symptoms of a mood disorder.
Maia Szalavitz, a health writer and author, said “Addiction and mental illness are not demons. Let’s stop acting as if prayer is the main answer.”
I am reminded of the serenity prayer, courage to changes the things we can and accept the things we can’t and know the difference. I must accept that I have bipolar disorder. I changed how it affected my life, by learning to understand it and treat it. Only now am I able to live gracefully.
About the author: Tara Meissner is a former journalist and a lifelong creative writer. She holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree and works part-time at her local library. Tara lives in Wisconsin with her husband, Mike, and their three sons. She writes longhand in composition notebooks. Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis is her first book.