Christine Nofli is a brave soul. When I asked her to share something deeply personal about her life for a guest post, she laid her guts bare to me. And now, you. A spiritual person, Christine shares how she coped when her world began to implode. Thank you Christine, for sharing a piece of your world.
Writing Through Life’s Tragedies by Christine Nolfi
Mental illness is hard to describe to anyone unfamiliar with the signs. I think of the last years of my marriage as the frog in the pot: Drop a frog into a pot of boiling water and it’ll jump back out. Drop the frog in and slowly raise the heat, and the frog will boil to death.
I was the frog at risk of boiling to death. Worse still, my children were in the pot too.
In February 2004, my husband and I were in the Las Vegas airport when he broke down and made a confession that was terrifying. I already knew Scott was suicidal. At some level, I understood that a man capable of killing himself might take his wife and kids along for a ride straight to hell. But that was the easy stuff. What he told me in the airport made me realize I needed to end my marriage. And I needed to wade through the mire of divorce while continuing to protect my husband or he would kill himself.
My prayer life became intense—I read the Bible for strength and stayed in an ongoing conversation with God, day and night. As my family struggled, I desperately sought shore.
Mental illness can be like a virus. It can infect other members of a family. Don’t ask me how this works—I’m a novelist and not a psychiatrist. But within months of Scott’s nervous breakdown in the Vegas airport, my youngest daughter announced to her fifth grade class that she wanted to die. While I tried to manage Scott as he began anti-depressants and my other children bounced off walls, she’d been sneaking into the kitchen and making cuts on her arms with a paring knife. My daughter’s psychologist explained how adept children were at hiding the signs of depression, even going so far as to live in long-sleeve shirts year round.
Months of counseling passed and by late 2005, Scott was settled in an apartment while we mapped out our divorce … and my daughter’s knife fetish reached an all-time high. The Cleveland Clinic asked me to have her admitted in the adolescent lock-down unit for several days while they tried to stabilize her. The day of her admittance still haunts me, the lonely waiting room with its wall of Plexiglas overlooking the Clinic campus—how the Plexiglas bore a thousand marks etched by children in various stages of mental illness, the angry profanity, the sorrowful pleas and haunting, disjointed sentences. Sunlight glimmered through the marks, bringing them into high relief and driving each message into me with painstaking clarity.
On the third day, The Clinic asked me to come down to bring my daughter home. But they wouldn’t let us leave. The nurse instructed me to call my soon-to-be-ex husband at his office and ask him to come immediately. He did, and a nurse took our daughter off to a play area while three psychiatrists escorted Scott and I into a private room.
I can’t tell you what it’s like to realize you’ve become one of the women society must protect. Me? Need protection? Why, I was a great mother. I was educated. I’d run a company before adopting my four kids at the grand old age of 37. Talk about arrogance. I was so over my head, I didn’t know I was drowning or that my children were going down with me.
In a state of shock, I listened as the psychiatrists told Scott he was normalizing mental illness for our children. He was making them sick. Not that I had much time to accept the truth: within a month of my daughter’s release from The Clinic, I learned my mother was dying of lung cancer. As I struggled to gain my sea legs as a single parent, as I stumbled in from a meeting with Scott or my daughter’s psychologist and my other kids veered from anger to tears, I began the long trek of caring for a dying parent.
If you’re wondering how any woman could survive so much tragedy in such a short amount of time, here’s an answer from Exodus, Chapter 23 Verse 20: I am sending an angel before you, to guard you on the way and bring you to the place I have prepared.
Angels began to appear everywhere I looked. The boy my oldest daughter began dating would stay late to help my younger kids with homework. A woman on the school PTO quietly took me aside and shared her husband’s struggles with depression. The adults involved in Life Teen at our church kept my kids busy with fun activities, and my older sister dragged me to yoga class to ensure I didn’t have a heart attack. I began swimming laps and visiting the gym daily with a deep, unshakeable knowledge: my four children had lost their biological parents and their adoptive father, but they wouldn’t lose me.
Something else happened during this most difficult phase of my life: I began writing fiction full-time. Don’t ask me how I found the time to write—I did. If there’s such a thing as God putting a fire in your belly, He lit me up like a Roman candle. I wrote in every free moment, whether it was 5 AM or in between kids’ sporting events. And the stuff pouring out of me was pretty good.
The first book completed, Second Chance Grill, became a finalist in a national competition. I signed with my first agent but our relationship didn’t work out. The second book, Treasure Me, became a finalist in an international competition and Publisher’s Weekly gave the work a complimentary review. Agents all over the country were suddenly interested in my career. They began to do something they never do: they’d write lovely letters on how to make the book even better. One agent actually called and wasted an hour of her day telling me exactly how to improve the novel. Another agent said I’d eventually make it on the bestseller’s lists because I had the power to make women laugh and cry on page after page.
Will my career flourish? I don’t know. Do I worry about it? No. Whenever I’m exhausted or disheartened by the amount of work involved in launching a publishing career, I remember: my family survived. There was a time in my life when I could’ve lost either my ex-husband or my youngest daughter.
My family survived. That’s good enough for me.
About the Author: Recently Christine’s debut Treasure Me became a finalist in the 2012 Next Generation Indie Awards and was listed as “highly recommended” on The Midwest Book Review’s Bookwatch. Her second release, The Tree of Everlasting Knowledge, continues to earn high marks on GoodReads and Amazon. Look for her third release, Second Chance Grill, in October. Visit Christine at www.christinenolfi.com and @christinenolfi on Twitter.
Treasure Me on Amazon
The Tree of Everlasting Knowledge on Amazon
* * * * *
Please comment below and share your own experiences!
Did you enjoy this article? Subscribe to my blog and you’ll never miss my weekly posts! Just enter your email address over on the right hand side of this page >>>>. It’s easy, and I won’t share your email address with anyone!
Need personalized help? Check out my services page.