Category Archives: Illness

The telephone call by Florence Lee

This blog was written by Florence Lee, a guest blogger. Thanks for sharing it with us.

man on cellphone

Early one morning, almost before I had time to take my first breath, the telephone rang. My already burdened heart sank deeper into the very pit of my stomach. Was it my son, my sweet forty-two-year-old son, diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia twenty years back? What now?

It was during his military service, reserve duty, that he went into overwhelm. His experience in Gaza, plus the pressure of college examinations, the suicide of his best friend, the death of his therapist in an airplane crash … need I go on?

I picked up the telephone. His voice was strong. The measure of his mood close to that of his former self.

“I love you, Mom,” he said. “I want to tell you that all you can do is do and hope it will turn out well.”

“Thank you for those wise words,” I answered. “I truly needed them this morning.”

He laughed. “I was talking about myself, not YOU.”

Shortly after, I ate, dressed, and continued to fulfil my plans for the day all the while hoping that the day would go well for both of us, whatever it was that we did.


This  blog ends with a four – letter – word

hope 1I have lived through a great deal of sadness, shock and grief and I managed to survive each time. My children did too. We all learned to move on and overcome adversity.

I even learned to dream a bit. Every single week I dream I’m going to win the lottery. I dream that cyclamens will bloom again in my lawn the way they did so mysteriously last year. I dreamed that my eight-year-old-car would pass the licensing test again this year – and it did!

More than anything else, I dream that my family will remain healthy. I also dream of a world without illness and senseless violence. I believe that  circumstances will change for the better in the future.

Nobody can live without hope. In fact, the four letter word I wrote about is    H    O    P    E.

hope 2










He traveled the backbone of the world in his imagination …

Map of South Africa….


Over a period of 16 years, my son, took his passport and even during times of extreme unrest, bought tickets to various destinations in the world, informing us at the last minute that he was not up to flying and leaving me to organize a refund. More often than not, all I’d managed was a partial refund … or nothing at all. He’d envisioned visiting North America and Thailand, Spain and Brazil, New Zealand and Australia. My son was convinced that leaving home where THE ESTABLISHMENT was against him, would be different. Convinced that his voices would not follow him, he decided to visit South Africa; destination, family in Johannesburg and Cape Town. I was amazed at the amount of medication my late husband had managed to obtain for him and equally surprised that a psychiatrist had written out that many prescriptions. I was also deeply touched that my family had agreed to host him in his present condition and will never forget their hospitality.

 My son organized a passport, threw a few belongings into a suitcase while  I contacted the family making sure that somebody would meet him at the Jan Smuts Airport, (today known as Tambo International Airport) a flight of about 9 hours. It proved to be uneventful. At first he was thrilled with the attention lavished on him by family as well as by the beauty of the country. He managed to travel a bit, but his excitement soon wore off and it wasn’t long before we heard: ‘THEY are against me. Nobody will allow me to get better. THEY have planted microphones in South Africa too, The VOICES are back.’ Even though he had bought an open ticket for a year, it wasn’t long before he was booked on a flight home. We were at the airport to meet him and the son who alighted from the plane was a far different person from the excited lad who had left home only three months previously.

Where had the money for this trip come from, you might ask? Before his diagnosis of Paranoid Schizophrenia, he and an acquaintance had organized a newspaper delivery business. Later he managed to hold down a job as a Realtor and sold well. That was the money he’d used for these trips. He only informed us of upcoming bookings a few days before departure date.

Not long after his return home, his condition deteriorated and we started the long, uphill process of psychiatrists and rehabilitation once again. He must have been in his late 20’s at this stage.


Teachers who are in a depression


This is the third and last in a series of three blogs on depression

teacherAs any teacher knows, students feast on any perceived weakness they can possibly find, especially in a new teacher. If a teacher is in a depression, it comes across to the students. Students might realize that the teacher in question is not really happy as a teacher or with the school or the education department itself. And, if that is the way a teacher appears to his/her students, they will not believe in that person as a teacher. Because teachers are only human, it makes them susceptible to depression the same as the rest of the population. They are in a catch 22 situation. Teaching requires a huge emotional input, so why shouldn’t teachers be depressed the way the rest of us can be? As a young boy in grade 5, I first held a knife and wondered what damage I could do to myself with it. I’ve had to deal with depression for a long time, and what I have learned is, that one can’t simply wish depression away. It doesn’t work that way at all.

I do believe that teaching might not be the right profession for some due to the extreme pressure and expectations involved. It is a rather rigid kind of life, particularly for a sensitive person who might overreact to pressure or to the unexpected failures which are bound to occur every day. As a result, there will be no shortage of small or large reasons to trigger a depression. I still teach although I took off a year to get myself back on track and I now love it and wouldn’t change my profession for anything.


What not to say to a person with a mental illness

orange flower

My son cringed when someone said; ‘For heaven’s sake find something to do with your time. You need a distraction.’BUT ignoring his illness did not help either. Nothing anyone said could make it disappear. He needed the right kind of attention.

‘Don’t you WANT to get better?’ was something we often heard. Of course he wanted to feel good again. As if he were not doing all he could.

When someone told him; ‘Your attitude needs to be changed drastically,’ it made him feel like a failure; unwanted.

‘Stop focusing on the negatives and try to see some positves,’ was not helpful either.

‘You’re getting the best medical attention you know!’ Your parents are doing all they can,’ made him feel as if he were not really trying to get better. He hated having a mental illness, distrusted the voices he heard, didn’t trust people either, especially not  doctors.’

‘Snap out of it. It’s enough already. Look how much time you’ve wasted being ill.’ As if a person is able to snap out of a mental illness!’

‘Aren’t you sick and tired of staying at home in bed? Find a job, dammit!’ ‘This made him feel like the worst kind of failure.’

‘It’s a mental illness that you have and  not a life sentence, you know. Do something about it. Surely you can beat it.’

So … what should people have said to my son? The best responses would possibly have been :-

I’m sorry to hear about your illness.

Is there anything I can do to help you?

I’ll see if I can ask around about a part time job for you.

Would you like to go out with me for a drive into the countryside one weekend? (Don’t just say that and not really mean it.)

Come over tonight and we can listen to music together or watch a movie.

 These positive statements could be very helpful and make the ill person feel more like everyone else.




stigma 2 fear of stigma Most physical illnesses are limited. However, they cannot cripple love nor shatter hope. Physical illness does not corrode faith nor destroy peace of mind. Physical illness does not destroy friendships nor suppress memories. Physical illness does not silence courage nor conquer people’s spirits. Continue reading

What my life is made up of ….

wisteria 6


I seemed to spend my time dodging from work to family and to friends, as well as endeavoring to keep my health intact. If I missed a day’s work, I knew that I could make up that lost time. But, family and friends are made of glass and if I dropped one of them, our relationship would be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, marked or even shattered. It could never be the same again. Health? I knew I had to live at a slower pace, but could I? I am not sure.

So, what I’d been doing was striving for balance in my life. But, how could I achieve that? I tried not to compare myself to others because I thought it was the very difference in each of us that made us special.

I learned not to set my goals by what other people deemed important. After all, I was the only person who knew what was best for me.

I learned not to take anything for granted, especially appertaining to near and dear ones. I handled them with kid gloves as my life would be meaningless without them all.

I had learned how destructive it was to live in the past or in the future. By living life one day at a time, I hoped to enjoy all the days of my life.

Knowledge is weightless, a treasure that I could carry easily, so I was no longer afraid to learn.

While I still had something to give, I wasn’t about to give up. Nothing was really over until the moment I stopped trying.

For a very long time, I shut love out of my life, not wanting to expose myself to hurt again. Now, I no longer do so. Once again I have learned a lot along the way. The quickest way to receive love, it to give it; the fastest way to lose love is to hold onto it too tightly;  and the best way to keep love is to give it wings.

I very often admit how less than perfect I am and maybe it is this fragile thread that binds people together.

I’m trying not to run too fast lest I forget not only where I’ve been, but where I’m going.

I am no longer afraid to take risks. By taking chances, I’ve learnt how to be brave.

I’ll always be aware of the fact that a person’s greatest emotional need is to feel appreciated.

I now endeavor to use time and words more carefully as neither can be retrieved. Life is not a race, rather, a journey to be savored each step of the way. But, I still have a lot to learn, and one day at a time, I hope to enjoy all the days of my life.

Knowledge is weightless, a treasure that I can easily carry, so I’m no longer afraid to learn.

While I still have something to give, I won’t give up. Nothing is really over until the moment I stop trying.

I very often admit how less than perfect I am. It is this fragile thread that binds people together.

I’m trying not to run so fast that I might forget not only where I’ve been, but where I’m going.

I am no longer afraid to encounter risks. By taking chances, I’ve learnt how to be brave.

I’ll always be aware of the fact that a person’s greatest emotional need is to feel appreciated.

I now endeavor to use time and words carefully as neither can be retrieved. Life is not a race, rather, a journey to be savored each step of the way.


The Price of a Miracle

When I heard the story I am about to relate here, I felt sure that my readers would understand why I posted it even though it has nothing to do with my usual blogging subjects. Please bear with me as we can all do with a miracle from time to time.

A little girl went to her bedroom, pulled out a money box from its hiding place in her closet and poured the coins out onto the floor. Then she counted them painstakingly – not once, not twice, but three times. She returned the coins to their hiding place, twisted the cap tightly, then slipped out of the back door and made her way to Rexall’s Drug Store which was six blocks away. She knew that she had to watch out for the large red Indian Chief sign above the door of the store.

She entered and waited patiently for the pharmacist to attend to her but he was far too busy. She moved her feet about on the rough wooden floor, making a noise to get his attention. Then she cleared her throat; … to no avail. The pharmacist continued talking on the telephone. Eventually she banged on the glass counter and that did the trick.

      ‘What do you want?’ the pharmacist asked in an irritated manner. ‘I’m talking to my brother in Chicago, you know. And I haven’t done that for a long time,’ he said, without waiting for her reply.

      ‘I need to talk to you about my brother,’ she replied in the same tone. ‘He’s really very ill … and, I want … I need to buy a miracle.’ 

      ‘What did you say?’ the pharmacist asked. ‘My brother has something bad growing inside his head and my Daddy says only a miracle can save him now. So, please tell me how much a miracle will cost, sir.’

      ‘We don’t sell miracles here, little girl. I’m sorry but I can’t help you,’ he said, his tone softening a little.

      ‘But I have the money to pay for it … and if that isn’t enough, I can get more. Just tell me how much I need to give you.’

 There was another man in the store who chose that moment to stoop down to ask the little girl a question. ‘What kind of miracle does your brother need?’

      ‘I don’t know,’ she replied, tears welling up in her eyes. I just know that he’s really sick and my Mum says he needs an operation. But, my Daddy can’t pay for it so I want to use my money.’

      ‘How much do you have?’ asked the man.

      ‘One dollar and eleven cents,’ she whispered. ‘And it’s all the money that I have. But, I can get some more if I need to.’

      ‘Well, that’s a coincidence,’ smiled the man. ‘A dollar and eleven cents is the exact price you need for a miracle for a little brother.’ He took the money in one hand and with the other, grasped her little hand saying; ‘Take me to your house. I want to see your brother and meet your parents. Then we will decide whether I have the miracle that you need.’

 That man was Dr. Carlton Armstrong, a surgeon who specialized in neuro-surgery. He operated on her brother free of charge and it wasn’t long before his patient was home again and doing well.

  ‘What happened was a real miracle,’ the little girl’s mother told her. ‘ I wonder how much it would have cost?’ The child smiled because she knew exactly how much a miracle was worth: one dollar and eleven cents, plus the faith of a little girl, of course.

If I can stop one heart fom breaking….



a sunsetThis poem, written by Emily Dickinson, comes to my mind at least once a day, so I am going to share it as it means so much to me.

 IF I can stop one heart from breaking,

I shall not live in vain.

If I can ease one life the aching,

Or cool one pain,

Or help one fainting robin

Unto his nest again,

I shall not live in vain.

Almost every week I receive calls or mails from people in distress, people who have visited therapists, but who need contact with somebody who has experienced mental illness in a person who is near and dear to them, and it is at those times that this poem comes to mind. And of course I do what I can to ease their pain. There is not a lot that I can do, but simply by listening, really listening, and showing them that I understand, it helps.



Waking up with pain as your bedfellow

‘Mental Illness fills my brain. It takes over completely .There is no escape. The voices! Oh the voices! If you could live in my mind for just one day, you would not think I was okay. You might understand what it is like, to have no peace of mind. I get tired from simply trying to do regular things, tired from simply trying to live my life. The medication I am given does not seem to help. I don’t know what to do.’

Chronic pain fills me inside and takes over my body. There is no escape. It is crushing. If you could live in my body for just one day, you’d never think I was okay. You might understand what it’s like to be tired from simply trying to live and do what’s required. I wish I could explain the depth of my pain It’s never-ending, so hard to explain. I’m aching inside, not easy to hide. I wish I could tell you how I honestly feel. But would you believe that my pain was so real?’

                                   flowering bush

So remember: Your life may not be tied in ribbons, but, it is still a gift.