Tag Archives: mental illness

Back Story

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This is the story of my violin and how I began to play it.  The label inside reads, “Caspar da Salo in Brescia 1595.”  Caspar da Salo or Gasparo was an Italian violin maker in the 16th century.  He earned the title of a “violin master” for his highly decorated violins with their rich tone and projection.  Only about 80 of them are still in existence today.  My violin is not one of them.  While this doesn’t diminish its value as a family heirloom, it does bring me some comfort to know that it is indeed replaceable.

Mine is probably a German copy from the turn of the century.  It was previously owned by my great uncle William Covington, or Billy.  My great uncle died relatively young and it was passed on to my grandmother, Florence Mozelle Covington Grimmer.  We inherited it sometime in the 1980’s when my sister and I started taking summer violin lessons in Dallas.  We started on an 1/8 size violin that I now have for my children, but the large violin sat in its case like a beautiful secret waiting to be let out.Image

Over the years, my violin has come to resemble my relationship with God. When things are going well and I feel connected and have time to read the Bible, I usually have lots of time to practice too.  When I am too busy, too stressed or too sick, it usually stays in its case.  I grew into this violin about the time I was twelve and my family moved to Colorado.  This was also the beginning of my struggle with depression.  At first, it seemed like I was just having a hard time adjusting to the move.  I didn’t make friends very quickly and stayed in my room missing Wisconsin.  Then it seemed like I was becoming more and more distant from my family.  I withdrew from several activities without much explanation.  Although much of my emotional imbalance was due to a still undiagnosed mental illness, it by no means excuses the angry, selfish way I treated my parents.  I blamed them for my unhappiness and wanted nothing more than to get out of the house.

I recently had the opportunity to tell my story to a young girl, Amy, who is about to move cross country with her family of five kids.  I felt like 20 years of my life flashed before my eyes and I was talking to a younger version of myself.  I wanted to tell her it was going to all turn out wonderful in the end and God had good plans for her.  But I realized I can’t promise her that.  God has not promised that we will never go through difficulty, never be lonely or depressed or go through a season of mental anguish.  What He has promised is that He will never leave us or forsake us.  David Platt put it this way, “God is not only with you in your suffering, God is for you in your suffering.”  My move to Colorado ushered in almost a decade of fighting with my parents, rebelling with friends, trying to soothe the pain with drugs and alcohol and eventually lead to several suicide attempts.  As I look back, I feel such sorrow over the hurt I caused my parents and the wasted opportunities I had to bring others to Christ.  Much of my own pain could have been prevented had I tried to express these feelings to God in prayer instead of holding them inside and growing angry and bitter.

We have just finished studying the life of Joseph in Bible Study Fellowship.  One of the best comments the lecturer made was, “God does not always prevent things from happening. Our response to what happens is more important than what happens. . .  He doesn’t always satisfy our painful circumstances, He sustains us through them.”  And so, Amy, what I can promise is this:  It isn’t going to be easy or fun.  It may even be downright miserable, but you can choose to sit in your room and feel sorry for yourself or venture out into the Great Adventure God has waiting for you.  The reward in the end may not be the life you envisioned, but one day you may be able to sit across from someone in the exact same situation and say, “No matter how bad the facts look, the truth is that God is in control.  Ask God what He is trying to teach you through the people or circumstances that you feel are ruining your life.”  (Chris Booth, BSF)  In other words, hang on to your family, because years from now, they are the ones who will see you through your best and worst times.  Use this time when you are not yet involved in a bunch of activities with friends to draw closer to your parents and siblings because you will not all be living in the same house forever.

When I was practicing my violin in the basement in Colorado and dreaming of escape, I had no idea that one day we would both end up broken in the middle of the jungle.  I felt like the worst thing imaginable was being in a new town and a new school away from my old friends.  At that point, I wanted to be as far away from my family as possible.  Eight years later, I was confused and scared and all I wanted to do was come home.  And my dad, who I had previously blamed for all my problems, would fly halfway across the world to bring me there.

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Violin Story or The Day I Broke My Neck

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This is not the story I wanted to write.  I started to write this while my violins were still in the shop, when I was still overflowing with joy and anticipation at seeing them renovated and made whole.  Since moving to the Colorado “desert”, my violin has started to split apart at the seams.  Before I spent a lot of money repairing it, I brought in my older violin to see which one needed more work.  The repairman thought he could make them both playable for less than I would have to spend on a new instrument.  When I went to pick them up, I could tell something was wrong when the owner and the other luthier cleared out of the shop.  The man who did repair them seemed a little hesitant and my heart was in my throat when he told me “Well, I had to take the back off the newer one.”  When he showed it to me, I had to hold back the tears.  It was badly cracked and scratched all the way around.  It looked worse than before.  There were gaping holes in the seams that he said he fixed with glue. I tried a few haltering tuning notes then put it back in the case and asked the question that was burning in my mind,  “And the other one?”

Violin

“The other one is ok.  You can still play it.  I just put a new string on it.”  I’m sorry, what was that? I was thinking.  “After I took the back off the other one, I didn’t want to mess with it.”  In my complete shock and dismay over the new violin, I missed the most important thing he said. “You can still play it.”  I had pictured this moment so many times in my head.  I would pull out that ancient violin, my old symbol of loss and longing and it would be amazing, better than new.  I would pick it up and play the song I been born to play, a triumphant hymn of praise to the God who had redeemed and healed me, just like this broken violin.  Instead, thirteen years of thinking my violin was basically dead in the water and all it needed was a D string?  Tell me you’re joking!  What do you mean I can still play it?  It has a broken neck!  The end is patched, the sound post is being held up with a piece of string!  I am embarrassed to look at it, let alone play it.  I quickly paid the man, thanked him for his time and cried all the way home.

It’s been a long journey to get to this point.  When I smashed my violin over my knee in Brazil, I thought that was the death break for my instrument.  I thought I was liberating myself from a curse that had lead me down this path of mental anguish.  I thought a lot of things that were not really true because I was completely out of touch with reality.  I remember saying “I broke my violin; I killed my baby” among other nonsensical things.  When I got back to the States, it was glued together by a friend to preserve it as an heirloom, but was not (I thought) acoustically sound or playable.  My parents bought a replacement violin for me and I moved on.  But really I will never move on from that moment.  I feel my mind and spirit are permanently scarred by the trauma I suffered both from my own poor choices and the treatment of others while I was mentally ill.   There are things about that fateful moment I will never fully understand, but I can no longer keep it locked in the “case” like my violin because I am ashamed of it.  It’s time to let go.

In a lot of ways, I am like that broken violin.  Redeemed, yet not fully restored; valued, yet not valuable apart from my Owner; beautiful yet scarred;  broken, yet able to play a melody of praise.  In recent years I have neglected playing at all because I will never be the concert musician I wanted to be in college.  I don’t have the time and energy to practice after kids and quite honestly, I was never that good to begin with.  I might never get past playing on the music team at church, but the words that are ringing in my mind are “You can still play.”  After all these years, after my wounded pride when I wasn’t any where near the level of the other musicians at Moody, my bitterness over children taking up my practice time and my own neglect of the instrument, I can still play.

God has given me a story to share and while it is not the story I wanted to tell, it is the one I am living.  It is not about a wonderfully talented musician with a priceless instrument restored to play concerts for thousands.  It is about grace.  It is about God taking me at my weakest, most helpless moments and teaching me to rely on Him.  It is about my parents’ forgiveness after I broke a family heirloom and trashed their family name with my recklessness and poor choices. It is about my husband loving me after all the mistakes of my past and giving me his name.  It is about the day to day struggles of living with a serious mental illness that by most statistics would make it impossible for me to be a wife and mother, yet through the power of God I am able to do both.  And I can still play.