Someone once said, “Despair is a mental state which exaggerates not only our misery, but also our weakness.”

This past week I received a letter from a lady in Northern California who, regardless of the definition, is really and truly in the throes of despair. If you have ever faced a problem where the possibility of a solution seemed very remote, then you will be able to relate in a personal way to her dilemma. Her letter begins, “I saved your article on ‘faith’ that appeared in our local paper some weeks ago. I read it often. Some days it encourages me, some days not. This is a ‘not’ day. My third son, now 39, has suffered from paranoid schizophrenia for 17 years. For all those years my husband and I have been members of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, and for all those years I have been searching for something that would help our son.”

This lady then goes on to tell me that he has been hospitalized eight times, seen 14 different psychiatrists and had trials of eight different medications, none of which have ever really worked well. They don’t stop the voices -- they just quiet them for a while. In addition to these things, she has also sought help from agencies of local, state and federal government and even written letters to various “philanthropic” organizations, over 1,300 letters to the Moose Association alone. Up to this point, no one is willing to help.

However, she has discovered something that has given her a little spark of hope. Along with her letter she included an article titled, “Cheyenne Botanic Gardens.” After reading the article I learned the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens is located on three-fourths of an acre in Lions Park in Cheyenne, Wyoming. It is the only botanic garden in the country whose primary purpose is social work. All the others are basically educational plant museums. Cheyenne Botanic Gardens was started over 30 years ago and is staffed almost entirely by volunteers. The list includes senior citizens, troubled youth, juvenile offenders performing community service, and physically and mentally handicapped adults. The gardens are solar powered, and these people grow all kinds of things including vegetables, melons, flowers, and fruit. They even grow all the bulbs to maintain the parks, buildings and roadways for the city of Cheyenne. When I called and talked with the nationally acclaimed director Shane Smith, he said the therapy for the individuals involved was fantastic and had made a real difference in their value and self worth.

After talking with Shane, here is the conclusion I reached. Why couldn’t there be something like this botanic garden in this lady’s area that could help her son and others with similar needs? It would be great for senior citizens as well, not only in Northern California but also in your area. We have the Master Gardeners group here that does great work, and I know our public library has a garden spot where members of our community can plant vegetables and harvest them for their own needs and to share with others. Certainly there are lots of opportunities for those who have the time, energy and a servant’s heart to get involved.

In closing, Mrs. Raabe’s letter says that she is now 67 years of age and still suffers each day from the burden of her son’s mental illness. Sadly, not all stories have a happy ending. But it did open my eyes to the real problem of mental illness in our country. It is really an all-too-often story.