Friday, June 10, 2011


Last week, my guest, author Angela Breidenbach, and I talked candidly about what it was like to be raised in a home with a paranoid schizophrenia mother. It was our intent to help others from troubled homes. There is no condemnation here, but rather we express acceptance. We hope to encourage others to hold onto God's hand when walking through tough times.

Angela is graciously giving away an e-book version of her newly released GEMS OF WISDOM to any one randomly chosen commenter who wishes to leave his or her name and e-mail address.


Angela: I think it was doubly hard because just like the child of an alcoholic, I'd make excuses for my mother's schizophrenia. I'd also take the hits too. It was almost impossible for me to get junior high and senior high managed for anything that required after school participation. Let me explain. I had to rely on Mom to drive me to concerts, plays, and special events. Many of them had grades attached to them. Most of them I was sweating whether we'd get there at all because I was still trying to get her out of bed and dressed just to get the ride to the concert. I once wore a pinned together choir dress, not sown, pinned. But I was banned from the special choir performance anyway. I was over an hour late and missed the concert choir performance. So I couldn't perform in the higher-level choir. Why? Mom had been in bed for weeks. She wouldn't help me sew the dress, she wouldn't get up to take me to the concert, and I flunked both classes that night.

Elaine: That was tough. I’m sorry you went through that. In a way, looking back, it was a good thing that my mother didn’t drive and withdrew more . . .the upshot of those times is that I was forced to become very independent and self-reliant. I’m thankful I had a couple of close friends then, and my faith. Although I didn’t become a Christian until I was 22, as far back as I can remember, I always walked holding onto God’s hand. To this day, I believe He kept me sane. Kept me moving ahead.

Angela: What seemed like you shouldn't have had that particular responsibility as a child?

Elaine: When my mother took off from home (she ran away to California, the land of storybook magic, in her eyes) I was suddenly a teenager doing laundry, cooking meals, running errands, teaching my brother how to drive, and juggling a few other things like taking over my mother's secretarial work for my father. Confession time: at first upon learning my mother had flown the proverbial coop, I was happy. Happy that she and my father's constant yelling and fights wouldn't end up more tragically as in death (as I teen, I was worried I’d come home and that they’d killed each other). I didn't mind the extra stuff. Structure. Busyness. It was all good. Then. As an adult, I now understand why I get a bit “fried” sometimes.

Angela: I really struggled. I struggled with anger, frustration, and a sense of hopelessness. The situation was out of my control yet I paid the consequences. That seemed to be a running issue for years. Much of my anger and unforgiveness were rooted in these regular, undeserved consequences. I was stuck in the cycle of how unfair it all was. I did eventually forgive, but it wasn't until much later in my adulthood. Once I gave up the need for fairness, I actually began moving into the life I was called to lead.

Elaine: Interestingly, just a few years ago anger snuck under my skin. It just all seemed unfair. For the first time—many years after the death of my other in 1988 from ovarian cancer—I was angry with my mother. It passed. Anger has to be vented, but it doesn’t do the soul any good. Some other things were also going on in my life then and I continued to pray, but more than ever, began to truly think of my relationship with God as one with my Father. I am His daughter. I just don’t want to disappoint Him. That’s all that really counts.

As a child, Angie, did you have anyone to talk to? Did anyone understand this thing called mental illness?

Angela: No, not really. I was blessed with a couple of adults that would console me in the worst of times. But they didn't understand the situation either. I'm very grateful for a woman named Linda who took me in when Mom was in the hospital, another couple, Nita and Paul, who loved on me and still do today, and my choir teacher in high school. Mr. Sheehan didn't know the full of the situation, but he was a loving Christian who did his best with what he did know. I'll always appreciate these folks for helping me through.

Elaine: That reminds me of a woman who once helped to put things into perspective for me. Shortly after my mother took off from home, Judy, aware of some of the troubles I’d faced, said, “Your mom did the best she was capable of. She loved you the best she could.” Wow. Maybe my mother was messed up and did odd things, but she loved me. In her own way. That’s the bottom line.

Angela: One of the battles our system has is how to manage the high cost of mental illness. It's never been well managed. But unless we can face the problem instead of hiding it, we relegate more children and families to the shadows. That's why I wrote Gems of Wisdom: For a Treasure-filled Life. I want so badly to help other people deal with the difficulties, the devastation, the deep hurts. I believe now God gave me a very special calling. The life I've been given is the training ground to reach out and help others with what I learn on the treasure hunt.

Elaine: I’ve always believed that there are no coincidences and randomness when it comes to God. He placed me—places me—with an array of different people in my life. Many have helped to lift my spirits . . . some, I think I’ve been around to offer my supportive shoulder. I know God has never left me and I hope to encourage others daily with this belief, as well as show it in my stories.

How do I deal with the pain? Sometimes, it hurts at the weirdest and most inopportune times, like if I see a mother/father being affectionate with their child in the cat food aisle of the grocery store or the opposite, like hearing of tragedy on the news, I will get so choked up that I have to duck out before I lose it. But, most of the time it’s like changing the radio/TV station. Don’t like a song/movie? Then change the station. Don’t like the thought/memory—then switch to something else. You don’t have to relive anything you don’t want to.

So, what do you do when the most basic desire or need or expectation of family isn't met?

Vlado /

Elaine: what can I conclude? My mother was a mentally disturbed woman. Most likely, due to a mixture of biology and social conditions, she unfortunately slipped into an illness—paranoid schizophrenia—and had not way to turn back. Unlike then, today there are improved medications that can help some of these troubled people. But, that’s moot. My mother is gone, and I pray she is eternally happy in God’s presence.

I do know one thing: I distinctly remember my mother saying that she would do anything or try anything (even electric shock treatments—though I don’t know if she did) to get rid of her illness. She did not want to be unhappy. She did not want to cause others unhappiness. And as that family friend was wise to console: My mother loved me the best she could. Okay. So, I don’t have terrific childhood memories. Yet, in comparison, I do know that it could have been far worse—and that others have had experiences that make paranoid schizophrenia look tame.

For those struggling with troubled/troubling parents (and note, I’m not talking about physically abusive and dangerous situations here) I urge you to FORGIVE them, LOVE them even if you yearn more love than they can offer you, and turn all of your heart to GOD whose love you can always count on.

Angela: I think the most powerful lesson I learned from being the daughter of a paranoid schizophrenic is that God uses broken vessels. She was one. I am one. We are all so weak, but Jesus can use our weakness to shine through His glory. He uses those things that seem impossible to minister to others. When I see this happening, I see the purpose and the hope. I understand that He knew what was going to happen in my life and whom I needed to help from what I experienced. It's a very healing and honoring place to be when I can share what I know to help someone else. It's a great honor to walk along side someone, be their guide, be their encourager. Seeing my difficulties as "boot camp" for life lets me help prepare others for the battle in their lives. It amazes me to see the triumph in another person's life when they can face down the battle with new confidence because of something I had the blessing to share. Even more so when I see them do the same for yet another person. Then I'm awestruck at the power of the ripple effect.

How about your, readers? What have you been led into because of your experience? What do you do to deal with the pain? Do you see ways to help others because of what you've discovered? We'd love to hear from you.--Angie & Elaine

Author Bio:

Angela Breidenbach is Mrs. Montana International 2009, a multi-award winning inspirational speaker and the author of the Gems of Wisdom: For a Treasure-filled Life from Journey Press, the Creative Cooking Series including the new release of Creative Cooking for Simple Elegance and the new Kindle release, Creative Cooking for Colitis. Other works by Angela include compilation books and devotionals from Guidepost, Group, and articles in magazines, ezines, and newspapers. She connects missions to her work with Hope’s Promise Orphan Ministries and the Jadyn Fred Foundation. Angela also teaches online classes and coaches one-on-one in courageous confidence, personal growth, and powerful living. She’s certified in mentor/peer counseling as a Stephen Minister and life coach. Angela serves as an assisting minister for her congregation in Missoula, MT. She volunteered as the American Christian Fiction Writer's publicity officer for two years. Not only did she walk the hard line of deciding to donate her mom's brain for the study of schizophrenia, but she’s also on the brain donation list at the Brain Bank-Harvard McLean Hospital. Angela is married with a combined family of six grown children and two grand children.

Interact with or learn more about Angela Breidenbach: on Wednesdays each week


  1. Angie, you are such a sweet and precious friend and I can see how the Lord has held your hand through all of this. He will never fail you, and He has made you unbelievably strong.

  2. Nancy Loyan SchuemannJune 10, 2011

    Elaine and Angela,
    Thank you for sharing a difficult and intimate part of your lives. Sharing is part of the healing process, as is forgiveness.
    Mental illness is prevalent in our society, yet is kept hidden due to society's non-acceptance of it. People view it as a weakness and fear being stigmatized if they admit having it or being related to someone who suffers from it. The more mental illness comes "out of the closet" (like the recent disclosure by Catherine Zeta Jones), the more educated and understanding people will become.
    I believe that everyone, at least during part of their lives, has suffered some form of mental illness (depression, phobias et al) and that no one is "normal" (whatever that is, anyway).
    As for myself, those with family members and/or friends with mental illness try my patience. I, however, accept the fact that they really can't help it and are doing the best they can with what they have. I try to forgive and love them anyway.
    To preserve my so-called sanity, I teach Middle Eastern belly dance. It not only provides physical benefits but mental and spiritual as well. Through dance, I release stress, free my spirit and escape from my problems. It boosts my self-esteem and self-confidence, making me more in-tune and accepting of myself. Writing is also a way of dealing with the stresses of life, especially keeping a journal. A journal is like my own personal therapist! Oh, and god friends who listen and care, whose shoulder you can cry on and tolerate my venting is also a coping mechanism!
    None of us is perfect. Hey, Christ WAS perfect and look what happened to him? Do we really think that our sacrifices can ever amount to what He sacrificed for us? ;-))

    Nancy Loyan Schuemann
    Cleveland, Ohio

  3. Nancy, I too thought it was wonderful of Catherine Zeta Jones--as a big-name person--to step out of the "closet of mental illness." For years, no one--whether it was the poor person suffering or the family suffering because of the one member's illness--talked about the pangs in one's mind. Why, I don't know because the mind is part of the body.

    Hugs to you as you face family members who at times can be challenging.


  4. Elaine, I admire both you and Angie for having gone through what you did and still winding up as two such amazing and talented people. Yes, God can use those with a willing heart. I'm sure He's using both of you to help others. Never let go of His hand, and never forget His love for you.

  5. Angela and Elaine, interesting discussion. I believe each of us are given life challenges for a purpose. At the time, enduring, coping and learning to function in a dysfunctional setting is often overwhelming. But, years later we're blessed with the ability to identify issues as needs of others going through whatever the topic that challenged us. And, when we step in to offer advice or guidance, I believe we do so with clout as we have been there.

  6. Thank you, Donna and Diana. You're both so right. God uses a willing heart and he also allows us those gems of wisdom that give us the clout to offer advice, guidance, and encouragemant. I've always likened it to someone recovering from an addiction. They're helped so much more by someone that has already battled that because they have an immediate affinity and comprehension. Simple analogy, but I do believe it's the same concept. Where we've gone, we can give others directions on the journey.

  7. Thank you for braving this topic. I have known a number of people with mental illness throughout my life and have always wanted to better understand their needs and fears. Recently, I've started doing research on bipolar disorder for my WIP. What I find most disturbing is when a mental illness goes undiagnosed. Without knowledge there can't be understanding or healing.
    One point you make which I particularly like is that people with mental illness show love the best they can...well, considering they have to work twice as hard as the average person to express themselves, their love must be special.


  8. Sara, I like how you just put it: "their love must be special." Ah--special. A warm & cozy word :)



  9. Right there with you, Sara :-) And yes, you've hit the target that a mentally ill person has to work much harder to express themselves. My mom loved giving gifts. They were always rummage sale or second hand, but she was consistent in finding a gift to express love and caring. I'll be honest, I rarely, if ever, liked the gift but I could totally recognize the effort and love she'd put into it. I always thanked her and tried to use it in front of her. I knew it was the best she could do. Like the widow's mite, it was enough to feel loved because the sacrifice was so great.

  10. Angie, it has been a pleasure having you as my guest these past two weeks. It's been a special time sharing so much with you, and our guests. It's also been very liberating for me and I've gained a sense of peace. I only hope that our readers, and any readers in the future, can hold onto God's hand as well and walk through any difficult times, whether it is family or any other stressful situation.

    The winner of a copy of your e-book, GEMS OF WISDOM, is Nancy! Yea, Nancy. Angie will be in touch with you :).


  11. Thank you for having me. I've really enjoyed being with you :-)

    Congratulations, Nancy, I've just sent you your book!



Add This