Kirsten Panachyda

Writer, Speaker, Singer-Songwriter

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#9 I am Confused: Counting Down the Painful Top Ten

Clinical Depression
Depression with self-harm
Depression with suicidal ideation
Depression with psychotic features
Major Depressive Disorder
Major Depressive Disorder with disordered eating
Major Depressive Disorder with Borderline Personality features
Bipolar Disorder II

These are just some of the “official” diagnoses that have shown up on the paperwork for my son over the years. In psychiatric diagnosis, fluidity is more often the norm than certainty, especially for adolescents. If there is a list of ten diagnostic features, and a child has five of them, instead of seven… well, do they have that or not? And so many symptoms, like hearing voices, or disordered eating, cross categories. Is it schizo-affective disorder or depression? OCD or Borderline Personality?

How about medications? Before my son was ill, I had no idea there were so many psych meds, or that hitting on the right one was often a system of trial and error. And then there are combinations and dosages, and the possibilities become endless. Each possibility has its own host of side effects.

Finding therapists, managing to get an appointment with a doctor, researching treatment facilities, plugging into outpatient programs…

And how do we pay for the care our kids need? Even if we have great insurance, it’s still complicated. If the insurance isn’t adequate, the process is opaque and frustrating at best, and heartbreaking at worst. Many resort to the juvenile criminal justice system just to get their kids into any kind of mental health pipeline.

Is it any wonder parents are battling against a paralysis of confusion?

What can help?

1) It can be perversely comforting to look around and realize that everyone else also experiences bafflement when navigating mental illness and its treatment. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and incompetent (I feel so stupid- I don’t understand any of this!), but the truth is even the smartest people have to deal with the steep learning curve. And the curve doesn’t necessarily lead all the way up to expertise.

2) Educate yourself with good, reputable resources. There is a lot of information out there. A lot of it is not helpful or dependable. Get recommendations from mental health professionals for books. Check out the National Institute for Mental Health (government), National Alliance for Mental Health (advocacy), or Mayo Clinic (hospital) websites to start gathering information.

3) Ask God for wisdom and guidance. In our family, we received answers to specific prayer for a Christian therapist (in our own town, no less!), and a pediatric psychiatrist (only a half hour drive). These came from unlikely friend-of-a-friend type connections. Ask your praying friends to join you in these requests. God cares about the particulars of our situations.

Here are some Scriptures to reassure that God wants to give us wisdom and guidance when we ask:

“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” James‬ ‭1:5‬ ‭

“For You are my rock and my fortress; For Your name’s sake You will lead me and guide me.” Psalms‬ ‭31:3‬ ‭

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you.” Psalms‬ ‭32:8‬ ‭

“Your ears will hear a word behind you, “This is the way, walk in it,” whenever you turn to the right or to the left.” Isaiah‬ ‭30:21‬

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” John‬ ‭14:26‬ ‭

Do you have stories about how God has guided you through the mental healthcare maze?
Would you like us to pray for anything for you and your family?

#10 People Don’t Understand- Counting Down the Painful Top Ten

“Boy, those teenage years can be tough, can’t they?”

“Heh, heh, heh, Mark Twain said, ‘When a child turns 12, he should be kept in a barrel and fed through a hole, until he reaches 16…at which time you should plug the hole.’ “

“Kids are so over-medicated these days.”

“Just let them know the consequences and then be consistent.”

“Every teen has mood swings. It’s the hormones.”

“Siblings always fight.”

“Boys will be boys.”

“Girls are like that.”

People. Don’t. Understand.

In a way, how can we blame them? Did we understand before it was our kids? Aren’t we, let’s be real, still bewildered by the whole thing? And don’t we have the sneaking suspicion (or full-blown confirmation) that even the most educated professionals are not totally sure about diagnosis or treatment?

Still, it’s painful to be confronted by the proof, through an ignorant comment or blank look, that other people just don’t get what we’re going through as parents whose kids have mental illness.

So what can we do? How do we treat this wound?

1) For the important people, the ones whose support you crave, those who love you and want to understand- take a deep breath. Take some time with them. Maybe gather some materials so they can get educated. Let them know that it’s not the same as everyone else’s parenting journey and why.

2) Develop your own blank look.

3) If you are up to it, confront the misconception and stigma with a gentle but truthful reply. This is better practiced ahead of time. For example: “Actually, teens with Borderline Personality Disorder experience an inability to regulate their emotions far in excess of the typical teenager. They need to learn special skills, just like someone with dyslexia needs to learn special skills in order to read.”
You don’t always need to take this step. You don’t “owe” anyone an education. But if you are feeling strong at that moment, go ahead and be an advocate. If not, see #2.

4) Talk to the One who understands. God has known every kind of parenting grief. Self-destructive choices? Check out Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. Believing lies about themselves instead of the truth? See Moses in Exodus 3 and 4, arguing with God about his inabilities. Violent and paranoid? Saul, I Samuel 20. Deceptive and manipulative? Jacob, Genesis 27 (helped along by mom- codependent?). Impulsive? Go back a couple chapters to Genesis 25 and read about Esau selling his birthright for some lentils. Suicidal? Elijah in I Kings 19. Or Judas, Matthew 27.

No matter what you are going through, He has too. And more, He sees into your heart and your days. He cares about your hurt.
He knows the sorrow. Jesus looked at His children and mourned, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.” (Matthew ‭23:37‬)

People don’t understand. How you choose to respond to their misunderstanding is up to you and depends on the situation.

God does understand. I pray you find comfort in His deep knowledge of you.
“In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” Romans ‭8:26-27‬

How about you? What have people said to you that showed lack of understanding? How did you respond?

Painful Top Ten

Every child is unique. Every family is different from every other. Yet in this “weird little club” (see post here) we share common ground. Here are the things I hear the most from mamas whose kids are struggling with mental illness:

The Painful Top Ten:
10) People don’t understand
9) I am confused
8) I feel lonely
7) I worry about my job performance/security
6) I worry about my marriage
5) I worry about my other kids
4) I am exhausted/burnt out
3) I can’t get my kid the help that is needed
2) I feel defeated
1) I don’t know what to do

Oh man, I have been in each of these quagmires. It hurts. These pains are impossible to ignore. A heaping double handful of self-doubt, anxiety, heart-ache. Life just feels hard. All the time.

How about you? Can you find yourself in the painful top ten? Or maybe you are a grandparent and you recognize it not only in yourself, but in your child who is parenting your precious grand. Or you are watching a dear friend fight the battle. Are there other painful feelings in your top ten these days?

Over the next weeks we’ll be tackling these topics in turn. My prayer is that we will offer each other some hope, some solidarity. We are unique, we are different, but let’s spend some time meeting on our common ground. I look forward to seeing you there.


I spent Wednesday afternoon through Sunday morning at the Florida Christian Writers Conference. I spent Monday sleeping fourteen hours and taking ibuprofen for my inflamed knee- a flare-up of rheumatoid arthritis brought on by fatigue.

Totally worth it.

I attended workshops on world-building and the hero’s journey. I learned about connecting with readers on social media. I sat, inspired and motivated, under the teaching of novelist Tosca Lee.

Most of all, I talked, talked, talked from the heart about my passion for my book project. It was hard to put myself out there, to offer up my “baby” for scrutiny. But I was determined, because doing it was an act of obedience to God.

Before 2018, I never had a “word of the year” like some people. I never tried to be attuned to the Spirit in that way. At the dawn of this year though, I could not ignore the word that kept popping out at me, beckoning me to follow in obedience.


Why am I doing what I’m doing?
“That I may proclaim with the voice of thanksgiving And declare all Your wonders.”
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭26:7‬ ‭NASB‬‬

How often?
“Sing to the LORD, bless His name; Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day.”
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭96:2‬ ‭NASB‬‬

I have received so much from the hand of God during my struggle and heartache as a mom of a kid with mental illness. Healing of body and soul. Comfort. The embrace of love when I grieved. Assurance that my pain and tears and effort matter. Restoration when I feared I was shattered beyond repair.

Now it is time to speak up about the wonders of the God who steps into the pit and draws us out into His embrace. It’s time to raise my voice and refuse to be silent about the good news of a God saves in this life and for the life to come. It’s time to proclaim.

At the same time, I’m listening- to you, the moms who email, the parents in the forums I’m a part of. You are devastated, mourning, overwhelmed. I know. I’ve been there and return regularly. And I long to proclaim with a gentle tone and full compassion that God is loving you through all of this.

So I’m trying to find a publishing home for my book. I’m trying to make myself available on social media when you need support. I’m trying to get out there and tell about how to rest in God in the chaos.

There is good news, and I am going to keep on proclaiming it with a voice of thanksgiving, day by day.

All that Loveliness

A pair of sandhill cranes has taken to wandering my parents’ neighborhood. In fact, I’m pretty sure they believe they have taken over the neighborhood. These four-foot tall birds poke their beaks into open garages. They linger, chatting, in the middle of the street. If a human should be so impertinent as to tap a horn, they cock their heads, look the car up and down, then slooowly meander off the pavement. The huffiness is palpable. On my daily walks, I look for their red-crested heads and greet them. Sometimes I know where to look, because I can hear the distinctive echoing call. I am quite fond of them.

They always seemed funny and friendly to me until one day when I came home with a car full of groceries. There were my buddies, foraging in my parents’ front yard, next to the driveway. “Hi guys!” I sang out, lifting the first bags and heading into the house. I walked back out, and saw these masters of the neighborhood in a different light. They came toward me purposefully, not meandering at all. For the first time, instead of admiring their red and variegated gray plumage, all I could see were those beaks. Six inches long and pointed like a rapier. And they weren’t making the trumpeting call. They were sort of… growling. In fact, they sounded just like the velociraptors from Jurassic Park.

Why were they mad at me? Did they think I was after their bugs? Or did they want a share of the groceries? Was this a shakedown? All I knew was it felt risky to walk past them to the car. I retreated, and my dad, God bless him, was left to shoo away the tall feathery dagger-raptors.

I still love them. I love that they mate for life. I love that the male and female build the nest together and care for their fledglings for nine or ten months. I love that these mated-for-life pairs still perform ritual mating dances together, until death does them part, which can be as long as twenty years. They are beautiful and entertaining.

I would rather have a few risky moments than not have all that loveliness.

It’s the same with all the best things in my life. My marriage, my children, ministry- all these come with risks to the heart. Loving anything or anyone is a risk, because it always comes with a sharp edge of possible hurt, possible loss.

I would rather risk loss than not have all that love.

Bonked on the Head

There it is. The deception, again. The hiding, the lying, the misleading- so often a part of relating to a loved one who struggles with mental illness. The broken trust, the processing, the rebuilding. Helping them have healthier coping skills and responses to distress. Being supportive, drawing loving and firm boundaries.

But… but… but… What about the fact that I am down-deep hurt? What about that knife wound of betrayal? What about my anger and frustration?

As caregivers and support system members, we are supposed to recognize that the illness is the enemy, not the one we love. We are not supposed to take it personally. We are supposed to stay the course with kindness and good training. Especially when we are the parents- we are the ones who need to be mature and act like grown-ups.

But you know what? It does hurt. We do get angry.

When my kids were little, one of the hardest things for them to learn was that it is right to say sorry even if you hurt someone unintentially. If they threw a ball that missed the mark and bonked someone in the head, they should apologize. An apology is not an admission of guilt in that circumstance, but a recognition of being the cause of someone else’s pain.

My kid can cause a wound with behavior that is not aimed at me personally with the intention to inflict hurt. But I still have the wound. What do I do with that?

Forgive. Recognize he is the cause, even if he didn’t mean to. Every good answer starts with: bring it to Jesus. Talk about it. And listen to His gentle but implacable command to forgive.

Reminding myself that my kid is not the enemy and to not take it personally might take some of the sting out. But only forgiveness cleans out the wound and allows for healing.


“Comparison of wit to wit, courage to courage, beauty to beauty, birth to birth is always odious.” Miguel Cervantes

Comparison. That poisonous cycle. It is so easy to fall into the trap of comparison, and it can be so hard to escape. In a world which measures everything from movie ticket sales to singing talent to determine success and failure, it is easy to feel like we never measure up.

I’ve seen some positive pushback in recent years, though. The “Every Body is Beautiful” movement helps women appreciate their unique physical attributes. Lots of articles and blogs have taken on the “mom wars” and offer support instead of criticism to different parenting styles. Even something like the tiny house trend speaks of a growing desire in our society to stop comparing our material wealth to feel successful.

The temptation to compare can be more subtle though. As people of faith, we want to serve and glorify God. But what if my service isn’t as “good” as someone else’s? What if my gift is not as important? What if someone else’s task seems like more fun?

Nostalgia can be another kind of comparison. Remember when our women’s Bible study was full every week? Remember when we all prayed for a miracle and that little girl was healed? More personally- remember when I used to sing all the songs in church, happy and loud, my feet dancing and my hands clapping? What happened? Why can’t God work like that now?

2500 years ago, Jewish exiles, led by a man named Zerubbabel, returned to Jerusalem from Babylon. The place had been devastated and was barely recognizable. God sent the prophet Haggai to the little band of returnees with this message:

“’Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? Does it not seem to you like nothing in comparison? But now take courage, Zerubbabel,’ declares the LORD, ‘take courage also, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and all you people of the land, take courage,’ declares the LORD, ‘and work; for I am with you,’ declares the LORD of hosts.”
‭‭Haggai‬ ‭2:3-4‬ ‭NASB‬‬

Comparing one work of God to another is as pointless as comparing physiques, parenting personalities, talent. He does the unique, right thing for the time and people He is working with now. We are asked to “take courage… take courage…. take courage… and work.” God is with us. Let’s focus on what He is doing now in our lives, and join in.

8 Beds

Today I sent a card to a darling girl. She is the daughter of my friend and she made the brave choice to reveal the suicidal ideation she was experiencing, and get help. The zip code I wrote on the envelope is not of her hometown, or in her county, or even the next county over. She is staying at a hospital which is a 2 1/2 hour drive from home. Her parents both work and there are younger siblings in the family.

I have met so many families in my friend’s situation since my son first showed signs of mental illness. Family support is crucial for the young person who is ill. Also crucial is income, company health insurance, caring for the other kids. Parents agonize over the constant juggling and less than ideal choices.

Today I want to applaud a new choice parents in the Syracuse NY area will have for their children. After years of talking and planning, Upstate Hospital has announced they will be opening eight beds for adolescents in need of psychiatric care. It may seem like a small step, but for the teens and their parents who get to stay in their own community to receive the treatment they need, it will be life-changing.

I and others have been praying for this project to come to fruition. We continue to pray that treatment options will expand even more to meet the great need, not just in the Syracuse area, but across the country. Will you join me?

Here are some things to pray for:
– that more hospitals will have in-house treatment
– that more talented young medical students will choose pediatric psychiatry as their field
– that families will receive the emotional and practical support they need when their kids are ill
– and especially for the precious kids themselves, that they would get effective treatment and assurance that they are loved by God

(With apologies to Ludwig Bemelmans)
In a building in Syracuse
Made of glass and of steel
Waited eight prayed-for beds
In which to rest and to heal.

Fantasy Life

I tried not to hobble as I made my way to the kitchen. Hobbling did not fit in with the fantasy I was trying to maintain during my trip: living as a Parisian woman in my charming apartment two blocks from the Seine. I ignored my sore feet which had been carrying me all around the city and through miles of museums. They had been shod in supportive ankle boots, not fashionable heels, so I did not consider their complaints legitimate. They were going to have to get on board with the fantasy, and at least let me walk gracefully across the room.

I fixed the perfect meal for Dan and me (he did not care about the fantasy and was lounging with his feet up): slices of baguette from the boulangerie down the street, glasses of wine from the bottle bought, after much discussion with the clerk, in the shop around the corner, three kinds of cheese chosen with help from the passionate fromagerie owner at the market. Eating cheese was one of my favorite French pastimes. So. Much. Cheese.

In France, cheese and wine are characterized by region as much as by variety. The concept of terroir reigns among the vintners, farmers, and cheesemakers. Terroir refers to everything in the environment that affects the product: water, minerals in the soil, plants eaten by the animals, climate, neighboring crops. It’s possible to receive quite an education simply by taking the time to ask questions and then listen to the market vendors and small shop owners talk about their food.

We all grow the fruit of our lives affected by our unique terroir. It can make our produce sickly and bitter, or it can feed those around us with delicious nutrition. We have a choice about what we want to offer the world. The psalmist tells us the one who follows the Lord is “like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither, and in whatever he does he prospers” (Psalm 1:3). God provides the best terroir for our fruit, and in return we can extend it to our hurting families and communities. If our fruit is grown in the environment of God’s love, then it will impart the fragrance and taste and healing of His grace. Dwelling in the environment of God’s love also keeps us – the vines, the sheep, the trees – healthy and ready to grow.

Friends, sink your roots near the life-giving water. Eat in God’s green pastures where He leads you like a Shepherd. Be nourished yourselves so that God can nourish others through you.

And sit down with some of the delicious bounty from the earth. Indulge in a little fantasy of your heavenly home, waiting to welcome you someday.

Monet and Maureen

The benches welcomed me with cushioned comfort; the hush invited a loosening of neck and shoulders. A handful of other visitors spoke in low tones, if at all. I spent a few minutes on each bench, before getting up for close examination, and then a move to the next viewpoint. Serenity intensified the experience of color, scope, light, mist, life.
I spent a holy hour at L’Orangerie in Paris, letting Monet’s magnum opus get under my skin. The oval rooms showcase the massive canvases of the artist’s offering: the view of his gardens from the blush of sunrise through dazzle of afternoon to the depth of dusk. After my lingering circuit, I returned to a bench in the last room.
This is not the view on the Monet-themed postcards, coasters, stationery, umbrellas- not the bright golds and pinks and teals. This panel shows the garden in the velvet purple and indigo of twilight. Light has departed. The vibrating life in the rest of the oval rooms is hidden by the ruling shadow.

Fifteen years previously, I had visited these paintings, but then I had lingered with the dazzle of daylight. Now my eyes followed the subtleties of brushstroke and fade of dark to darker. As I traced the artistry of shadow, my appreciation of the aging master artist grew. It occurred to me that Monet had lavished just as much care and attention on the dark section of canvas as on the rest. His eye perceived the details and beauty of the twilight garden. He didn’t just paint a block of black to indicate nightfall; he labored over day’s end with affection. He knew that the day in his garden was not complete until deep dark cloaked the view.

Last week I lost a dear friend to cancer. There is a gaping hole in her family, and in her circle of friends. We all reveled in her brightness, in the color she brought to our lives, the exuberance. When my family was deep in the crisis years of Nicholas’s illness, she faithfully prayed and listened and emailed. In the dark time, God painted her as a glow of His love.

Oh, how we will miss her! It’s not hard to wonder if God messed this one up.
But our Master Artist cares about every brushstroke that composes the picture of our lives. The times of darkness, the walking in the valley of the shadow of death, receive the same tender care and attention as the rest. He sees the sweep of the whole canvas. He chooses every shade with love. Perhaps when the view is obscured, we can more easily see the the purity of His hand at work. When I’m not distracted by the pretty flowers, bridge, ponds- maybe then is when I can focus on the Hand that is doing the painting.
Maureen, I will miss you every day on this earth. I’m grateful for the parts of your painting I got to see. I am so happy for you that you now stand encircled by the everlasting arms and see the whole thing.

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