6 Reasons Why You Should Take Your Mental Health Seriously

By Stan Popovich

Many people underestimate the impact that mental illness can have on an individual or family. It can be difficult to admit that you have a mental health problem in your life. Secondly, it can be just as difficult in getting the people you know to understand your situation without making any kinds of judgments.

As a result, many people do not say anything and hope that their mental health issues just goes away, which usually is not the case.

So, here are 6 reasons why you should take your mental health very seriously!

1. Your situation may not improve: Your anxieties and fears can be extremely difficult to manage and more than likely you will need some help. Just as you talk to your doctor about your regular health, you should not be embarrassed in seeking help for your mental health. If left untreated, your anxieties, fears, and depression could get worse.

2. Drugs and alcohol just makes things worse: Drugs and alcohol can make your problems even more complicated. Drowning yourself in your career and job doesn’t work either in the long run. Many people have said that drugs and alcohol will only add more misery to your situation. Be smart and learn how to cope with your mental health issues by talking to a qualified professional.

3. Avoiding your problems does not work:  Eventually, you will have to confront your fears and mental health issues. Save yourself the time and heartache and confront your problems now rather than later. You will save months or even years of suffering by getting help right away. The sooner you get assistance the faster you will start getting some relief.

4.  Many people struggle nowadays: Everyone deals with fear, stress, and anxiety in one’s life whether your friends and others care to admit it. In addition, do not be embarrassed that you are getting help. We all learn new things from others on a daily basis and learning how to manage your anxieties is no different. In addition, your goal is to get your life back on track and not to get everyone’s approval. If people start asking you questions, just say your dealing with stress and leave it at that. Most people can relate to dealing with stress and will more than likely stop bothering you.

5. You have a variety of options: There are many mental health support groups, organizations, and counselors in your area that can help get your life back on track. Talk to your doctor to get more details on where you can go for some assistance. Help is available but you must be willing to make the choice of getting better. Remember that every problem has a solution. You just have to make the effort to find the answers.

6. Do not make the mistake of doing nothing: There are many people who struggled with anxiety and addiction, and they tried to ignore their problems. As a result, some of these people struggled on a daily basis and eventually they became very distant and unresponsive. Many of them lost their lives. Do not let this happen to you!

Stan is the author of “A Layman’s Guide to Managing Fear” which covers a variety of techniques that can drastically improve your mental health. For more information, please visit Stan’s website at http://www.managingfear.com

Developing an Attitude of Gratitude

Mike Jacquart

“When we fail to notice the positive, our brains naturally emphasize the negative.”

I ran across this statement in an article in Time magazine. I read it. Then I re-read it. Then I thought about it. BINGO. What a perfect post for Thanksgiving! Why do we need to have a holiday each year to remind us to be thankful for all of the good things in our lives? Shouldn’t that just come naturally? Sometimes it does, sure.

Unfortunately, studies reveal that negative emotions involve more thinking, and that information is processed more thoroughly than positive ones. “Thus, we tend to ruminate more about unpleasant words – and use stronger words to describe them – than happy ones,” states Professor Clifford Nass, co-author of The Man Who Lied to His Laptop: What Machines Teach Us About Human Relationships.

But as anyone knows who has read Pastor Brad Hoefs’ landmark book, Fresh Hope: Living Well in Spite of a Mental Health Diagnosis, or attended a Fresh Hope support group, all is not lost.

Far from it. But don’t pay attention to what society says. Our affluence as Americans too often drowns out the everyday blessings in our lives – like food and shelter –that poor people in Third World countries would love to have. The upcoming Thanksgiving holiday provides a perfect opportunity to change thoughts of selfishness to ones of appreciation.

Contemplating “wants” versus “needs” is a big help for me in this regard. We “want” a new car. We “need” transportation. We “want” a newer, larger house. We “need” a roof over our heads. We “want” a kitchen as nice as the one neighbor Bob just redid. We “need” food in whatever kitchen we do have.

You get the idea.

What would our world be like if we paid more attention to “needs” instead of “wants,” than the associated negativity that comes much more easily to us?

Being thankful isn’t a one-day thing, it’s a lifestyle. I’m going to give it a try. What about you?

Mike Jacquart is the author of Climbing out of Darkness: A Personal Journey into Mental Wellness. For more information, contact Mike at madjac@tds.net

How To Live A Life Of Heroic Disgrace: Drop the Mic

By Scott Box

Yesterday during church, the microphone in front of the kick drum fell off the stage. I want to be clear: the microphone was turned on in the sound system and crashed onto a polished concrete floor while a couple hundred people were singing. Specifically, I was the one leading the singing at Shiloh Ranch Church in Powell Butte, Oregon. And I was the one who knocked the microphone off the platform—whoopsies and grrrrrrr.

You see, occasionally, I’ll put a kick drum in front of me to play while singing and strumming the guitar at the same time. To non-musicians, that might sound like a fantastic feat. I suppose it is a cool parlor trick at some level. Still, in my experience, each time I finish the song I am playing with the kick drum, I am deeply relieved that I didn’t train wreck the music, become a terrible distraction or fall over because I lost my balance—the leg I’m leaning against always gets terribly shaky toward the end of the song.

Additionally, when an unforeseen distraction occurs as I’m stretched to my musical limit—like the microphone incident—I have a minimal threshold to address the distraction with grace. Yesterday, I suspect the “sonic boom” that bounced around the sanctuary startled everyone except older folks who had turned their hearing aids off. And wow, did it scare me! I hadn’t anticipated the mic would rattle off the platform. And there was no way to hide what had happened. People’s eyes could see the problem, and the ringing in their ears left no doubt. The good news was that I quickly processed the culprit of the loud bang and continued to lead the worship song without stopping. But I did send a loud, goofy giggle of recognition through my microphone. By God’s grace, I held it together enough not to blurt out my historical go-to, “&$#@!!!”—cough—that would have provided an additional and memorable distraction. Further, no one fainted in fright or died of a heart attack from the loud noise, so this was a win. 

I realize it may not land with everyone, but being diagnosed with bipolar disorder was a bit like a drum mic doing a face plant onto a concrete floor in front of a big crowd of people who were at least partially focused on me (a reality of being a person up on a platform, even in a church). My diagnosis took a year, but it came on the heels of a few public expressions of symptomatic behavior. Regardless, the reality of the life changes and maturity I would have to achieve hit my wife, Kariann, and me hard. Think about your experience with your mental diagnosis, your family member’s or your friend’s. Diagnosis or bad behavior generally occurs at inopportune times. There are exceptions, but even things done in private are eventually exposed publicly, which often results in (significant) discomfort and embarrassment. Sure, we know that people aren’t thinking about us always. They’re thinking about themselves, mostly. But people are drawn to drama. In my experience, when I provided the bipolar drama, others had no problem looking out from behind their curtains to take a peek at my life before going back to thinking about themselves. It’s the nature of the mic drop—it gets people’s attention. That’s normal. When there’s a big freakin’ “boom,” I look, too. I understand.

So years ago, when the bipolar “microphone hit the ground” in my life, I knew I gave a community of people I wanted to impress a look into an area I thought made me weak and dirty. And while that is partially true, it’s not the complete truth. My bipolar disorder has made me strong. Managing bipolar has made my marriage better, not worse because bipolar disorder has drawn me (and my wife, Kariann) into desperate dependence on Jesus Christ. In this way, learning how to become healthy and manage bipolar disorder in private has proven to have very public results. And this is a glorious thing, in my opinion. So rather than pretend like others can’t see or don’t care about our bipolar adventures, Kariann and I decided to put our lives on display, not because we are perfect, but because Jesus has made us healthy despite not healing me. And that’s the point. 

Even after the “bipolar mic” dived into my life, we didn’t give up on each other—I’m so thankful Kariann didn’t give on on me or her faithfulness to Jesus. The song of our life has continued. We keep playing the drum and singing the lyrics. And the beat goes on. Yes, there have been plenty of frustrated cussing and questioning God moments over the years, but there has been so much more laughing, love, joy, and peace; so much Jesus. I look forward to sharing more about the Box family’s journey in the months ahead. 

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this. Yesterday, after the microphone hit the ground, my friend, Shiloh Ranch’s lead pastor, Joe Pearson, rushed to the platform, lifted and repositioned the mic. Immediately, the sanctuary was filled with the rich, low-end sound of the kick drum again. I thank God Joe wasn’t afraid of being associated with me anymore because I dropped the mic. I thank God that Joe wasn’t nervous about stepping out in front of many people to help me. Joe was willing to help set things right even after an event that would make a great video on the “Worship Fails” YouTube channel. And that’s a good friend. That’s a good church. That’s the heartbeat of the life of salvation and restoration. And, yep, we get to do it together. We must.

Kariann was the primary person who helped me understand that God intended to put our journey to health on display. But there have been many others, too. In this ministry application, I do not have to imagine the extraordinary community and friendships a person will build in the Fresh Hope network. Because Jesus is in charge of the whole enterprise, we can expect our relationships with one another within Fresh Hope to be like pastor Joe was to me yesterday at Shiloh Ranch Church, like Kariann has been to me for twenty-five years of marriage and like Jesus has always been. Expect the exceptional. Expect the miraculous. Expect Jesus to save the day every day. Then, tell your story to tell Jesus’ story. Figurative, “mic drop.” —S


Scott and Kariann Box live in Redmond, Oregon. Scott serves as Pastor of Development at Shiloh Ranch Church and has been a worship leader for over twenty-five years. Kariann works as a Realtor in Central Oregon and supports Scott’s…creative spirit. They have two children, a one-hundred-pound Labradoodle and a four-pound Shih Tzu without teeth. Scott is the author of HEROIC DISGRACE: Order out of chaos. Hope out of fear. ― A Worship Hero Story 

How to let go

by María Elena Rivas

My son’s story is too long to tell in a blog.

It is almost 18 years of living with the joys and sorrows, victories and defeats. Now he is about to turn 18 and he will be legally independent. His mental health diagnosis is right in the middle: it doesn’t make him unable to make his own decisions but it doesn’t make him always able to make the right decisions either.

I know every parent’s life is a constant struggle to learn when to let go, but for parents with children with a disability or mental illness, the struggle is much more difficult. It’s scary to let go of a child you’ve seen fall a hundred times. You can’t imagine what can happen when he’s no longer around.

The last few years of trying to survive his adolescence had left me weary, so I decided to seek the help of a therapist friend. From the beginning her advice was: “You have to release him into the Lord’s hands”.

I couldn’t do it.

It was like when my father-in-law couldn’t lie in bed after his stroke. He wanted to do it but some neurons just couldn’t connect to give the command to his body, so my mother-in-law had to help him. The same thing happened to me. There were neurons in my heart that could not connect and I could not open my hands. I felt like I couldn’t get my hands on the abundant life Jesus promised, so I decided to ask the Lord for a miracle. I wrote this prayer in my journal:

“Lord, connect those neurons in my heart that do not allow me to let go of my son. My heart needs rest, but I can’t seem to get my soul into a position of rest. Give me the faith to believe that you are in control of everything. If not one little bird falls without your consent, help me to understand that you will never forsake my son.”

Months have passed and I have begun to feel a small improvement. My hands have begun to open little by little. I know I have a long way to go and I know that the battle of faith will continue for a lifetime, but I have begun to feel more peace in the midst of difficult circumstances.

I don’t know if you are in a similar situation to mine. There are thousands of things that are out of your control as your child grows up and goes their own way. Your role as a parent is changing and that may fill you with fear.

Ask the Lord to help you let go.

Remember that your child will never be alone. He has a heavenly Father who loves him much more than you do and will never leave him. He is worthy of all your trust.

If you would like to learn more about the resources Fresh Hope and Key Ministry offer to parents of children with disability or mental health diagnosis, feel free to reach out to maria@freshhope.us

What is a Hope Coach?

by Peggy Rice, Hope Coach Trainer

As I mentioned in my last blog post , a Hope Coach is someone who helps a person move from “stuck” to “unstuck,” from hopelessness to hope.  A Hope Coach is trained to listen to the Hope Seeker’s story, ask good questions, and help the Hope Seeker find a way to move forward in the situation.

A Hope Coach is a peer, not a counselor or therapist. She (or he) won’t be giving advice. She won’t be problem solving, but will help the Hope Seeker do their own problem solving, find their own solutions.  A Hope Coach will listen, because we believe the once a person’s pain is simply heard – listened to – the Seeker may begin to see a way forward, see the next steps to take.

A Hope Coach is trained and certified to:

  • Be an exceptional listener. As they minister to people who are hurting and feeling hopeless, they ask key questions and respond with compassion.
  • Help others process the pain of what they are going through – helping people process the honest emotions of painful situations.
  • Speak faith-based hope into the situation – into the other’s feelings of hopelessness.

A Hope Coach is a compassionate listener in a short-term relationship, meeting 2-5 times with a Hope Seeker, who is stuck in pain and cannot see a way forward. The Hope Coach is trained to be a good listener, helping the Hope Seeker process their honest emotions and pain, while offering the assurance of hope that will overcome and work for the Hope Seeker’s good. The Hope Coach brings the power of hope through listening and caring questions, and through their compassionate presence. Sometimes, a Hope Seeker just needs to share their story with someone who will listen! A Hope Coach might share part of their own story to help illustrate from their own personal experience.

A Hope Coach completes an 8-hour training offered by Fresh Hope, complete with quizzes and a Practicum. In this process, they learn good questions to ask at each phase of the Hope Coaching Process. Questions like:

  • What’s been the hardest part of the situation?
  • How does this make you feel?
  • What parts of this situation can you control?
  • How can you take charge of these things to begin to move forward?
  • Where do you see this situation in 3 months? 6 months?
  • What would be your” next first” step?

Questions like these allow the Hope Seeker to move from processing the pain to beginning to move forward. The Hope Coach is with them to guide them along the way.

So: who can be a Hope Coach? Someone who is a compassionate listener, a caring individual, and willing to go through the training offered by Fresh Hope.

If this interests you, you can find more information, including details on finding a Hope Coach, or becoming a Hope Coach, at freshhope.us.

(Sections of this blog post are from the booklet Hope Coach Training, a Ministry of Fresh Hope, by Pastor Brad Hoefs and Chaplain Joy Stevens, 2020)

5 Tips for Preparing for the Dark Days of Winter

By Pastor Brad Hoefs

As the days get shorter and the weather gets colder, many people start to feel the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). If you are someone who struggles with SAD, it’s important to start preparing now for the dark days of winter. By taking steps to boost your mood and manage your symptoms, you can make it through the season feeling happier and healthier. In this post, we’ll share five tips for preparing for winter with SAD.

1. Get outside while you can: While it’s still relatively mild outside, make an effort to get outside and soak up some sunlight each day. Going for a walk, sitting on a park bench or eating lunch outside can all help boost your mood and give you a dose of much-needed vitamin D. As the days get shorter, it can be difficult to get enough sunlight, so try to make the most of it while you still can.

2. Invest in a light therapy lamp: Light therapy lamps are a popular option for those with SAD. These lamps mimic natural sunlight and can help regulate your body’s circadian rhythm, which can become disrupted during the winter months. Using a light therapy lamp for just 30 minutes a day can make a big difference in your mood and energy levels.

3. Make time for self-care: When the weather is cold and dreary, it can be easy to neglect your self-care routine. But it’s more important than ever to prioritize your mental health during this time. Make time for activities that you enjoy, whether that’s getting a massage, taking a hot bath, or reading a good book. Whatever it is, make sure it’s something that makes you feel happy and relaxed.

4. Stay social: Winter can be a lonely time, especially for those with SAD. To combat this, try to stay social and maintain your connections with friends and family. Plan regular get-togethers or activities that you enjoy, whether that’s going to the movies, having a dinner party or going out for brunch. Spending time with people you care about can boost your mood and keep you feeling connected.

5. Consider talking to a therapist: Finally, if you’re struggling with SAD, don’t hesitate to reach out for professional help. Talking to a therapist can give you the tools and support you need to manage your symptoms and feel better. They may recommend other treatments, such as medication or cognitive-behavioral therapy.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the prospect of another long, dark winter when you have SAD. But by taking proactive steps to care for yourself and manage your symptoms, you can make it through the season feeling happier and healthier. Whether it’s getting outside, investing in a light therapy lamp, or making time for self-care and socializing, there are many things you can do to prepare for winter with SAD. If you’re struggling, remember that you don’t have to go through this alone. Reach out for help and support, and remember that spring will be here before you know it.

A New Group to Support the Mental Health Needs of Families with Disabilities

By Catherine Boyle

Almost one year ago, Pastor Brad Hoefs and Dr. Steve Grcevich from Key Ministry had a conversation about the mental health needs of families with disabilities. This was not the first time these two ministry leaders had discussed the unique challenges of these families, including the mental health needs that too often go unacknowledged or unsupported. Based on Fresh Hope’s work collaborating with other organizations, Pastor Brad and Dr. G committed to collaborate to create resources for a new mental health support group. Over the following months, the expertise of these two ministries were combined into a new curriculum called “Fresh Hope for Families with Disabilities.”

The Fresh Hope for Families with Disabilities course takes the principles, research and experiences of previous Fresh Hope groups and adapts them for the specific needs and experiences of caregiving parents of children with disabilities. Similar to the other Fresh Hope groups, Fresh Hope for Families with Disabilities has Eight Tenets that serve as universal principles for caregiving parents, as well as their loved ones, to live well in spite of their mental health needs. 

In late spring, Key Ministry recruited facilitators and participants for two pilot groups. During July and August, these two groups met weekly online for eight weeks, going through the new curriculum. At the end of the pilot period, the group facilitators and participants offered feedback to refine and improve the finished product.

I am thrilled to announce that the first official Fresh Hope for Families with Disabilities group will launch on November 2, as one of the online offerings on Fresh Hope’s 12/7 schedule. This new group will be facilitated by Tom and Julie Meekins, who have extensive experience facilitating small groups, and are leaders in disability ministry. Tom and Julie served as one of the facilitator teams for summer pilot of this curriculum.

When I say that I am thrilled that this curriculum is launching, it’s actually God answering a prayer I prayed six years ago, before I was even part of Key Ministry. And truthfully, I had forgotten this prayer until several months ago.

While working on this project, I found an entry from my prayer journal dated August 1, 2017. On that day, I wrote about my desire to create mental health support groups. In that entry, I wrote that I felt like God wanted this to be something to support the needs of caregivers. My life experience includes personal understanding of the challenges of families living with disabilities of various kinds, and how that experience can leave you searching for hope, or even drawn into a crisis of faith.

November is National Family Caregivers Month, and the fact that this group is launching when it is seems very much like God’s perfect timing. For people who live with the unique challenges of families with disabilities—whether physical, neurodevelopmental or mental health related disabilities—this curriculum may just be one of the ways that God brings restoration, encouragement and healing to your family. When you see God open up resources and support you never knew existed, hope can flourish, in spite of your circumstances.

We encourage you to sign up for this group by using this link. The curriculum will be available for purchase soon on the Fresh Hope website, and linked to purchase from the Key Ministry website. We will share news about the release date for the curriculum on the Fresh Hope and Key Ministry websites and social media. If you choose to buy the curriculum, we strongly encourage you to join one of the online groups, to help you grow your support network and learn from and with others in similar circumstances. There’s nothing like finding out that you’re not alone after all, that God sees you, loves you and has not forgotten about you.

If you have questions, feel free to reach out to the Key Ministry team, catherine@keyministry.org or maria@freshhope.us

Music as Therapy

By Mike Jacquart

Some strategies for living well with a mental health diagnosis are fairly obvious and straightforward. Medication. Individual and/or group therapy. For many others, prayer and/or meditation. Others, however, tend to fly under the radar. One of them, exercise, was discussed in an earlier post on this blog. Another overlooked strategy is music.

I am not talking about simply having music on in the background while you’re doing a hundred other things. Rather, I’m referring to making your favorite form of music an integral part of your day. Music can serve as a means of relieving stress, getting your day off to a “peppy” start, or as a form of therapy when you are feeling particularly down. It can take time to figure out which genre, and which specific tunes, can lift you up on the most. More on that in a minute.

First, WHY is music so therapeutic. I wondered about that myself for many years. Even during the darkest periods of my life, listening to music from my favorite rock groups, and attending their concerts, kept me going, lifting me up in ways that no other form of “therapy” ever did. LONG before my diagnosis, music, essentially, served as my “medication.” It was not as useful, mind you, but it sure did help!

Marina London, collaborator of my book, Climbing out of Darkness: A Personal Journey into Mental Wellness, explained it to me (and to readers). “Music was a source of solace and comfort for you,” she wrote.

Indeed. While I cannot recall a lot of aspects from my everyday life, I have many fond, detailed memories from concerts. These recollections can be so vivid it’s like I saw Fleetwood Mac or Bruce
Springsteen weeks or months, and not decades ago. But why has music been such a personal refuge?
“Listening to music with others at a concert helped you feel a sense of belonging, and camaraderie with
other attendees, thus helping you feel less lonely,” Marina explained.

Bingo! I thought. Since I often felt lonely, sullen, and depressed, that is exactly what music often did to lift my sagging spirits. Today, my mental health diagnosis is not a big part of my life, but it does rear its ugly head from time to time. When it does, listening to favorite songs remains one of my coping strategies. If I’m in a spiritual mood, Oh Happy Day by the Edwin Hawkins Singers, is a sure pick-me-up.

Many secular songs also change my thoughts from feeling unhappy, sad, even hopeless, to experiencing happiness, thankfulness, and optimism. Sometimes I even picture a slightly different take on the tune. For instance, I love envisioning God singing to me in I’ll Stand by You by the Pretenders. If rockers are more your bag, Hold Your Head Up by Argent is a possibility.

Those are but two examples. I could list many others. Of course, you will need to find your own favorites to help you feel better on a particularly bad day.

The point is, I believe music is an underrated form of therapy – and not only for those with a mental health diagnosis, but anyone really. Music is the universal language that touches and reaches us in ways that nothing else does.

Mental health for men is a series of blog posts and podcasts developed and distributed by Fresh Hope for Mental Health http://freshhope.us. (where this post originally appeared). Portions are excerpted from Mike’s book, Climbing out of Darkness: A Personal Journey into Mental Wellness. For more information, contact Mike at madjac@tds.net

The Role of Exercise in Mental Health

By Mike Jacquart

I am not a clinician or a dietitian, but I do know from my own experiences that exercise plays a role in our mental health – perhaps an important one.

I have suffered from depression, sometimes for extensive periods, but even during my darkest days I was often successful at finding time to exercise – more specifically, riding my bicycle. My line of thinking was, there were a LOT of things out of my control, but one thing I DID have control over, was whether or not to ride my bike. I felt that if I did not accomplish anything else that particular day, I could at the very least say that I got some exercise on my bike, usually for three miles, sometimes longer. (Don’t give me too much credit for this – physical conditions have since limited me to walking these days, but hey, that’s still good, right?)

The Huffington Post lists 13 mental health benefits of exercise at https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/27/mental-health-benefits-exercise_n_2956099.html. I don’t particularly agree with all of them, but I definitely concur with some, namely:

  • Remember that exercise reduces stress. Many studies allude to this. For one thing, exercise increases concentrations of norepinephrine, a chemical that can moderate the brain’s response to stress. As much stress as most of us seem to be under in today’s fast-paced society, it would seem that stress-reduction alone is a good reason to exercise.
  • Enjoy the great outdoors. I am very fortunate to live in a small community where a quarter-mile or so out of town, I can be biking near the woods and often sight animals such as deer, turkey, and others. I also like riding a stationary bike indoors when it’s cold, rainy, or snowy out, but taking in the great outdoors is definitely one of the best parts about bike riding. But let’s face it, for Northerners like myself, indoor exercise alone can get rather dull until the temps warm up this time of year. One more benefit: You notice a LOT more of your surroundings when you’re going much slower, on a bike, as opposed to whizzing by on the same roads with your car.
  • Tap into your creative side. Feeling uninspired in your cubicle or home office? Sometimes a break in
    routine such as going for a walk, bike ride, or gardening, for starters, can relax yourself sufficiently enough that ideas that were simply not coming to light sitting at a keyboard, just might pop into your brain when you’re out and about, doing something.
  • Enhance happy chemicals. As I mentioned, I think this is THE most important, and yet overlooked,
    reason to exercise! “Exercise releases endorphins, which create feelings of happiness and euphoria.
    Studies have shown that exercise can even alleviate symptoms among the clinically depressed. For this reason, docs recommend that people suffering from depression or anxiety (or those who are just feeling blue) pencil in plenty of gym time. In some cases, exercise can be just as effective as antidepressant pills in treating depression.” (Italics mine; the effects of exercise may vary widely from person to person.)
  • Don’t worry about not exercising a lot. Some people get the notion that if they’re not big exercise enthusiasts, exercising isn’t worth the time. Not true! Studies have shown that exercising for just 30 minutes several times a week can boost overall mood.

So there you have it. Get out there and exercise – the benefits are mental as well as physical. If someone who can sometimes be content being a couch potato like me can do it, anyone can. Like a lot of things, it’s often a case of mind over matter, and your mind matters. So, hurry up and get started!

Mental health for men is a new series of blog posts and podcasts developed and distributed by Fresh Hope for Mental Health http://freshhope.us. (where this post originally appeared). Portions are excerpted from Mike’s book, Climbing out of Darkness: A Personal Journey into Mental Wellness. For more information, contact Mike at madjac@tds.net

I Don’t Need to Pretend I’m Different than I Am

By Mike Jacquart

Realizing that you have mental health diagnoses is not easy, but over time I came to recognize that they are part (not all!) of what makes me who I am as a unique individual created by God.

But when you’re a kid, you want to be like your peers, and I don’t think this necessarily changes a lot as a young adult. Finally coming to this realization was a freeing experience, not unlike the Eagles’ lyric in Already Gone: “So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains, and we never even know we have the key.”

I am MIKE, not Billy, Jim, Steve nor anyone else. So, why did I spend so much of my life wanting to be like them, and then wondering why, in wanting to be like others, I was unknowingly forging chains of unhappiness and discontent?

Like the opening statement, “I don’t need to pretend I’m different than I am,” the following are a few more truisms that can be truly liberating for anyone who not only reads them, but allows their meaning to sink in. While useful contemplations for any reader, I believe them to be even more freeing for a person whose cognitive challenges have led them to suffer in silence, wondering why they are dissimilar.

I don’t need to feel guilty about my boundaries. We periodically discuss the importance of setting personal boundaries in my Fresh Hope support group. When we don’t establish our limits and make them known to others, we can find ourselves taking on too much and getting stressed out. This can particularly be true in interactions with the toxic individuals that many of us have in our lives. As much as possible, LIMIT your contact with these persons. Toxic people fuel more toxicity. Surround yourself with positive people who respect your time and your limitations.

I don’t have to minimize my emotions. This can be a tough one for guys who are often raised from little on to rein in our feelings. Last year, I was at a guys’ retreat and my friends were flabbergasted when I lit into them regarding inaccurate statements, they made about mental illness in a discussion we just had about the topic. Why was I supposed to feel guilty for saying what was on my mind? It’s true there can be a right and wrong place for emotional outbursts, but with no one else around, this was clearly an acceptable situation in my view. And yet, as macho guys, they saw a blowup like that as a no-no. Baloney.

I don’t need to feel bad for staying home. Social isolation is a common trait of people who suffer from depression. Bowing out of a social invitation in our go-go society may be a trifle awkward for friends or family, but does this have to be the case? It’s unlikely you’d have to make an excuse for staying home if you had a migraine. So, why are you supposed to apologize for having a bad mental health day? One might calmly ask the person if they’d change their mind about attending, but then leave it at that.

I don’t have to anticipate people’s needs. Case in point: friends are in town for a big car show, and I assume they will want to go out for Thursday breakfast like usual. So, I tell my wife she’ll have to eat by herself, only to learn they want to go to the local diner on Friday instead. You often can’t anticipate people’s needs so why put a lot of effort into it? If you made plans with your spouse on Friday because Thursday was the usual guys’ day, isn’t that on them if they changed their mind?

Long story short, it is often not necessary to explain yourself or to overextend yourself to be enough. Chances are, it took time and learning strategies to go from surviving to thriving in your life. Don’t let someone take that away from you. Repeat after me: I don’t need to pretend I’m different than I am.

Mental health for men is a new series of blog posts and podcasts developed and distributed by Fresh Hope for Mental Health http://freshhope.us. Portions are excerpted from Mike’s book, Climbing out of Darkness: A Personal Journey into Mental Wellness. For more information, contact Mike at madjac@tds.net