Pastor Brad Hoefs

Pastor | Author | Speaker | Hope Coach | Mental Health Advocate

When “I” Becomes “We” Wellness Happens

When “I” Becomes “We” Wellness Happens

From my perspective, finding at least one person that you trust can be key for successful recovery. Let’s be honest, a mental health issue, when not treated can distort your perception of reality and easily affect your behavior and choices.  And when this happens we need someone to speak into our situation to help us make the necessary corrections in the course of our mental health recovery.

For me, this person has been my wife. It took me a while to believe that she was truly on “my side”. It took me a while to truly trust that she had my best interest always in mind. I’m blessed and fortunate to have a spouse who understands and is trustworthy. I know this is not true for everyone who has a partner or is married who has a mental health challenge. And of course, if you are single it can be a challenge to find that one trustworthy friend.

But, I’m convinced having this “one person” in my life has enabled me to get past the “i” of illness. When I allowed my wife to begin to be a partner in my recovery, we moved to “we” and when you take the “i” off of illness and exchange it with “we”- you end up with wellness. And that is what I have experienced and continue to experience mental wellness.

Now we do not always agree. And when that happens she and I simply have an agreement that I bring it to the attention of my doctor either at my next appointment or if it is of such a more urgent nature that I will call him. This has happened maybe once or twice in the last twelve years. And the doctor confirmed her concern one time and the other times he has confirmed my point of view. Because sometimes her concerns are based more upon her fear of my relapsing than based upon actually bipolar issues. And she is well aware of that.

Now, this “one-person” needs to be:

  • someone that you not only trust but someone that you feel completely safe with
  • someone who believes in you
  • someone who wants to see you succeed
  • someone who believes that you can live well in spite of having bipolar disorder
  • someone who will listen and understand you, but also challenge you to push through when it would be easier to give up
  • someone who would be willing to go along with you to your doctor appointment from time to time
  • someone who will hold you accountable; who can ask you the hard questions that are key for your recovery
  • someone who access to your doctor and therapist
  • someone who has a fairly good understanding of bipolar disorder but is willing to learn a lot more and become as informed about bipolar and your particular journey with bipolar disorder as possible
  • someone who knows you and part of your daily life
  • someone that you are willing to allow to “speak-into” your recovery

Do you have someone like this to take the “i” out of your illness and make it a “we”, moving to wellness? How do you find this person? Who might this person be in your life? I’d encourage you to find this person and bring them onto your team.

Life Is 10% What Happens to You and 90% How You React to It

Life Is 10% What Happens to You and 90% How You React to It

This past year my wife and I went to my 40th high school class reunion. I had not seen many of my classmates since graduation. So, you can imagine how strange it was to see them after so many years of life. Fortunately, those in charge of the event provided us name tags to wear that not only had our name on it but also our senior class picture. And boy was that helpful!

I found myself reflecting the entire evening about how fast life goes and how no one’s life necessarily turns out like they thought it would. When you have not seen someone for 40 years, you could see in their physical appearance the toll of living. Of course, we all had aged (some better than others). And our journeys have been very different. But, it seems that even though the journeys have been very different, there is a common thread that life weaves in each person’s journey. That thread is made up of joy, happiness, disappointments, hurts, fears, brokenness, grief, hopes, mistakes, success, failures, dreams lived and many dreams lost. I could see in my classmate’s eyes that disappointments and brokenness had taken their toll. Living life can take the life out of you.

So, why do I share this with you?  Here’s why I share it: life brings with it a lot of disappointments., pain and brokenness. It’s part of the human condition. And life keeps going on whether or not you are stuck in those things. See, I believe that you and I can easily get into a mindset that having a mental health challenge “ruins” your life and we can begin to think that we can’t move forward in life and enjoy it. The truth is that everyone faces something in life. Living can quickly suck the life right out of any and everyone. A mental health challenge is just one of the many obstacles found in this “thing” we call life.

It’s easy to begin to focus so much on ourselves and how “hard” we have it that self-pity can start to creep in and take up residence in our beliefs. And while we get stuck in the pain and brokenness of bipolar disorder, life keeps going on. Life doesn’t stop. And for me, life is way, WAY too short to get so stuck in self-pity or stuck in believing that now life is “over” because of a mental health diagnosis. Yes, a mental illness/disorder can suck. Yes, a mental health issue can hinder ones’ life and alter the course of what we had hoped life to be. Yes, a mental illness is a “cross to bear” in life. But, lest you and I forget, many other crosses in life are just as difficult and some even more tragic and painful to bear. For me, it has been imperative that I remember that there are much worse crosses to bear in life than bipolar disorder. Remembering this helps keeps my self-pity at bay.

I spent seven very long years stuck in my pain and brokenness following the manic episode that brought about the collapse of my life. Self-pity was part of those seven years. I was stuck in it. I felt as though my life had been robbed from me. But, really was being stuck and feeling sorry for myself that was depriving me of life, not the bipolar disorder! And I didn’t get unstuck until I got sick and tired of feeling sorry for myself and believing that my life was over.

So, I decided I was going to live well in spite of having bipolar disorder. Those three little words, “in spite of” are the mantra of my recovery. To get unstuck I did three things:

  1. Changed how I was thinking by taking control of what I was thinking about. I did not allow myself to rehearse the pain and brokenness continually. Instead, I began to think about how the pain and brokenness could propel me into living well. (This was the hardest thing I had to do in recovery!)
  2. Set reasonable and reachable goals that continually moved me towards living life well. I stuck to the goals, and when reached, I set new ones. Failure was not an option. Yes, there were failures and set backs. But, I chose to see the set backs and failures and learning opportunities for living well.
  3. Started helping others with mental health challenges and got my focus off of myself. (This probably was the major game changer for me.) When I began focusing on helping others I found my passion again; there was purpose for all of the pain I had experienced.

Here’s what I know about life and how people live it based not only on my life but also after pastoring for the past 30 some years: everybody has “stuff.”

Everybody has pain. Everybody has tragedies and losses in their lives. Pain is pain. Whether it is the loss of a child, cancer, financial collapse, divorce or a mental health challenge: you either work through it, or you get stuck in it. (By the way, if this blog post is “ticking you off”, then you are most likely stuck in your pain.) As they say, life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.

So, how are you responding to the things that life is throwing you? How are you reacting to having bipolar disorder? Are you living well in spite of having bipolar disorder? If not, why not?

Free Fresh Hope App​

Free Fresh Hope App​

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Fresh Hope is thrilled to announce that we have now have a Fresh Hope app for both Apple and Android mobile devices.   The app allows you to have all of our online resources (blogs, videos, podcasts, newsletter, recovery principles, etc.) all at your finger tips in one place.

Click on your store’s icon, and it will take you directly to the download:

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Helpful Tips When Dealing With No Support System

Helpful Tips When Dealing With No Support System

What do you when you have no positive and encouraging support your family and/or friends?

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Research shows that when those of us with mental health challenges have a good support system of family and friends, we actually do better than those who do not have a support system. It only makes sense. After all, as it is with any challenges in life, we all do better with the support of family and friends. The support of my wife, family, and close friends was key in encouraging me and helping me to learning to live well in spite of having a bipolar disorder.

So, what do you when you have no positive and encouraging support your family and/or friends?

  1. Choose to work through your hurt from the lack of support from your family and/or friends. You can’t change people. Sometimes we have to just accept the fact that family and friends do not understand nor are they helpful; and you resenting it won’t change them and will only end up holding you back.
  1. Choose to find and establish the type of encouraging positive support system that you need. How?

a. Look for a positive, helpful, principled mental health recovery peer support group, in person or online. A support group is a great place to find friends who can be positive and supportive to whom you can be accountable on a regular basis. (For example, Fresh Hopenow has support group meetings online so no matter where you live you can find a positive and encouraging mental health support group.)

b. Finding a local peer support specialist is also another possibility for a positive support system.

c.Other places to find good friends are at church, a health club, the gym, and with special interests groups.

Remember, you and I become like the five people we spend the most time with; therefore choose friends carefully.

In spite of having a great support group of spouse, family, and friends, I’ve also had an accountability group of peers who have held me accountable for my mental health recovery and doing the things that are best for me and for my family.   This accountability group has been key in my recovery support system. They have had access to my doctor and my wife. My wife and doctor have also had access to them and to one another. I call it my “circle of accountability” which hems me in and keeps me honest.

While it’s not always been comfortable; my accountability group has empowered me to live well in the long run. Let’s be honest, too often you and I can easily tell the doctor one thing and our spouse or friends something else; only telling people what we want them to know. And while it took a lot of trust initially in the individuals who have made up my accountability group, it has served me very well.

From my perspective, it imperative for you and me to have a positive and encouraging support system and accountability. And as disappointing and hurtful as it is to have a lack of support from friends and/or family members, you can’t let that keep you from finding the support system you need. Yes, it will take effort to do so. But the effort will pay off.

What about you? Do you have the support of family and friends? If not, have you been able to establish a support system for yourself? If so, where? How?

Check out Brad’s weekly podcast: www.FreshHope4MentalHealth.com

Check out Fresh Hope’s online meetings: www.FreshHopeMeeting.com

The Long First Step: Asking for Help by Pastor Rick Qualls

The Long First Step: Asking for Help by Pastor Rick Qualls

By Pastor Rick Qualls

You knew something was wrong.

Maybe you were self aware. You recognized you weren’t enjoying anything any more. Your energy was at low ebb. You had become an angry person.

You blame your family. Their expectations of you are too high. They have drained your energy. All you are is a paycheck. They become the focus of your anger. You distance yourself physically and emotionally. There are fights and arguments.

Gradually it dawns on you they are not the problem. You are suffering. Is it depression? Burnout? Mid-life crisis?

On the other hand your friends and family may be the ones to point out that you are always angry. You don’t participate in activities any more. You stare off into space and when asked what you are thinking about you say, “Nothing” and it is the truth.

They point out that you have changed, and not for the better. In a moment of clarity you admit they are right.

They say, “Snap out of it.” They don’t know how hard you have been trying

But you are the one in charge. You take care of others. You are in control and so you tackle this problem head on.brian-mann-16600.jpg

You researched books on depression and burnout. You sought answers in podcasts. Though you do not have interest you throw yourself back into the things you once in enjoyed.

“If only you are thankful you will pull out of it.” So you made a list of your blessings. “Think good thoughts.” You tried but negative thoughts revolved around your head. You swatted them like flies but they never really go away.

“Throw yourself into your work and you will be better in no time.” So you spend more hours at work but your productivity fell off. You worry you might be fired.

Someone says, “Perhaps you are depressed.” You fight those words. Depression is for the weak. You are strong. Everyone counts on you. You have never let anyone down. You’ve got this.

You run. You meditate. You find a different job.

But you continue to suffer. Your marriage is strained. Work is more difficult than ever before. Friends are gone. You don’t know how long you can hold it together.

And then you take the first step. It has been long in coming. You ask for help.

Getting better on your own may work. But it is likely it won’t. You need help and it is the hardest thing you have ever done. Asking for help makes you feel like a failure. You feel useless. You feel helpless.

But in time you will learn these are the lies of depression. Depression is like a shroud that has covered your eyes keeping you from seeing things as they are.

You are never stronger than when you ask for help. Depression is an illness and we need compassionate helpers who can help us on a healing journey.

Where to begin? A good beginning is with your physician for a diagnosis. There are screening tests for depression and your doctor will know the symptoms for diagnosing depression.

If your physician is not comfortable treating you he can give you references to other physicians more knowledgeable about the subject. He may refer you to a psychiatrist. A psychiatrist is a physician that treats mental health issues.

Find a therapist or a counselor who is well trained in depression.  A therapist can help you learn coping and managing skills.

But asking for help means you will be honest and real. Hiding information or memories because you are embarrassed will keep your helpers from doing their job. Their job? To help you get better.

It is a paradox that strength comes when we are ready to admit that we are unable to do save things alone. It does not make us weak it makes us smart.

In the beatitudes Jesus taught the very first spiritual principle:  Blessed are those who are poor in spirit, those who are humble, those who acknowledge their need. “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of God. “

Take that first long step.

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My Journey Through Depression by Jamie Meyer

My Journey Through Depression by Jamie Meyer

by Jamie Meyer

It’s been a privilege to blog for Fresh Hope for nearly a year now. Although I’ve written a book and have always enjoyed writing, it’s completely different to bare your soul and speak honestly about the challenges you face.

I understand that living with a mental health diagnosis is difficult and many of us feel like we’re traveling this journey alone. I want these blogs to be a place where you find hope and encouragement to live a healthier, more fulfilling life; a place where you feel that someone else “gets it.”

In today’s blog I’d like to share with you my mental health journey that began when I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder in 2007. The depression reared its ugly head at the end of an extremely stressful, difficult year for our family.

Early that year we began the process of building a new house and selling the one we’d lived in for 18 years. To complicate things we had to move twice in three months because the couple who bought our house needed to move in before ours would be finished. Although I was excited when we were finally able to move in, I grieved the loss of our old house where we raised our three children and made so many wonderful family memories.

In February, our daughter became engaged to our youth pastor’s son. Although they were both young and still in college, we supported their decision to marry. Just two weeks after we moved into our new home, with the wedding in Hawaii only six weeks away, our daughter’s fiancé broke off their engagement.

The next few days were a frantic whirlwind of getting her moved home, cancelling reservations we’d made in Hawaii (losing money in the process), and trying to get our daughter re-enrolled in the out-of-state college where she’d previously attended.

If you’re a mother you know we’ll go to any length to take our children’s pain away and keep our families together. I thought I’d done admirably well in making things right for our daughter and surviving the roller coaster year we’d been through. After she returned to college and life had settled down, I took a deep breath and let myself finally relax. Instead of recuperating, I quickly spiraled down into the muck of depression.

With the help of a psychiatrist who started me on medication and a Christian therapist who helped me move past the pain of the previous year, I slowly came back to life. Although God seemed so distant when I was deeply depressed, my sense of His presence gradually returned. He gave me a passion to share my experience through writing a book, “Stepping Out of Depression: Fresh Hope for Women Who Hurt” (available on Amazon).

Following its publication in 2012, a new passion began stirring in my heart to start a support group for people like me who live with mental health challenges. I truly believe God led me to find Fresh Hope as I searched the Internet for a Christian support group. After learning more about Fresh Hope, my husband and I decided to start a group in our church.

I have learned so much since my diagnosis nearly 10 years ago. I no longer depend on therapy and medication alone to stay well. Being in Fresh Hope has taught me how to choose healthy thoughts and behaviors that will improve my mental, physical, and emotional health. The meetings provide a safe place where I’m understood and can learn from the experiences of others.

I hope you, too, will have the opportunity to experience for yourself the many benefits of being in a faith-based support group. The Fresh Hope website, http://www.freshhope.us, has a list of locations where groups are available. They also offer an online group. And who knows? God may give you the passion and desire to start a Fresh Hope support group in your community.

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30 Things You Can Do When Someone You Love is Clinically Depressed

30 Things You Can Do When Someone You Love is Clinically Depressed

When you love someone that is experiencing deep depression it can be exhausting and melanie-wasser-233297frustrating.  You want to encourage your loved one but don’t want to push them too much. Encouraging them to “push through” but knowing when not to do so is a delicate balance.  You might even find yourself feeling the depression emotionally.  No doubt caring for someone who is in the depths of depression can feel as though life is being sucked out of you.  You can end up having no idea as to how to help or encourage your loved one.

Here’s somethings my wife did for me and/or encouraged me to do when I was in the depths of depression:

  1. Encourage them to do something that they usually have enjoyed doing and do it with them.
  2. Watch an uplifting movie with them.
  3. Make them their favorite meal.
  4. Sit quietly with them. Hold their hand.
  5. Take a walk with them.
  6. Take care of yourself!
  7. Help them establish and stick to a schedule if possible.
  8. Have some expectations of them.
  9. Assure them of your unconditional love.
  10. Assure them that this will pass sooner or later.
  11. Give them a back rub.
  12. Listen to soothing, spiritually uplifting music with them.
  13. Ask them to help you make or do something.
  14. Encourage them to talk and listen carefully.
  15. Encourage them to see a doctor if they have not done so.
  16. Assure them you don’t believe that they are weak or lack faith, but that you know their brain chemistry is experiencing imbalance.
  17. Ask them to promise you that if they ever begin to feel like they begin to feel suicidal that they will tell you. If they tell you, consult with their doctor as soon as possible or contact the Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. If the situation is an emergency, dial 911.
  18. Ask them what might bring them comfort.
  19. Talk about the future. Help them see there is a future.
  20. Encourage them to exercise with you.
  21. Turn on the lights, open the windows.
  22. Find out as much as you can about depression. This is a great website: https://www.lighterblue.com/#lighter-blue
  23. Change your light bulbs to full spectrum light bulbs.
  24. Give your loved one a mood light. Northern Light Technologies has a wide variety of options.  http://northernlighttechnologies.com/  (Before purchasing these you’ll want to check with the doctor.)
  25. Get them vitamin D and B12.
  26. Remind them of times when they have overcome adversity so they know it is possible for them to do so again.
  27. Encourage them to get outside for a walk and some natural sunlight.
  28. Turn off news programs and other negative media. Control negative inputs.
  29. Where possible, encourage them to connect with friends.
  30. Pray.  Every time you find yourself worrying about your loved one, pray instead.

Please know, as a loved one it is SO important that you do take care of yourself too. Stay balanced and do somethings that you enjoy.  Take care of yourself spiritually and emotionally.  Also, know this, the Lord is with you too!  He will see you through this valley. Stay in His word. Hold to His hope. And when you can, laugh a little!  You are not alone. There is hope.  And there is healing.

Cover photo by nikko macaspac on Unsplash

 

 

A First Rate Madness: Thinking Outside the Box and Leadership

A First Rate Madness: Thinking Outside the Box and Leadership

So often when people are diagnosed with a mental illness/disorder, they begin to feel “less than” as a contributor to life.  I know that after I was diagnosed and then forced to resign as a pastor of the church I was serving, due to a manic episode, I felt broken to the point of uselessness.  But what I have discovered is that the Lord is in the business of redeeming and reframing our brokenness; He’s in the business of redeeming our pain.  The Lord never wastes pain.  In fact, I believe that it is that point of deep pain that becomes exactly the very thing that the Lord redeems for our good and then that point becomes how He uses us.  It is because of our deepest point of pain we are able to think outside of the box.  We are able to offer compassion and understanding to those who are going through the same sort of pain.

What has surprised me the most about the Lord’s redemption of my pain and past is how He is using my leadership gifts.  I am shocked at how my perspective of and the way that I lead today has changed so much since going through brokenness and pain.  Daily, because of what I have gone through and experienced, I have the opportunity to provide leadership from the point of serving those who are in pain. Before having been broken, I would never have had enough patience to come along side those who are in deep pain.  However, today my point of fulfillment, my “sweet spot” of ministry, is giving hope to those who are some of the darkest places of unimaginable pain.  I consider it a sacred privilege, and I am humbled to see how my pain is redeemed by allowing others to see how He carried me through.  It brings them hope.  When that happens, it is a holy moment that He orchestrated through my very brokenness.

My friend, if you find yourself in a dark and painful point in your journey of this life, please know this: the Lord WILL take this and make it work together for your good.  You are not suffering in vain.  There is purpose in it.  There is a blessing in it.  He is for you.  He loves you.  You are not alone.  As deep as your pain goes, joy will be high when He begins to redeem your pain.  And please know this, you are NOT “less-than“.  You are not broken merchandise.  In fact, it is at your point of brokenness that you become the most usable for His work in your life and in His Kingdom. This is about redemption. The Lord is working things together for your good even in the darkest parts of the valley you are going through.  And in the midst of the suffering and pain, there are gifts – precious gifts – that you can’t even imagine!

But, if you succumb to the feelings of worthlessness and brokenness and the feelings of “less-than” you may never find those gifts; and instead live your life believing the lie that no gifts were given through your pain – that your pain had no purpose at all.  That’s a lie. And it leads to nothing but more pain and hopelessness.  Stand on the Word of God, Romans 8:28, and don’t lean on your feelings.  Feelings are real, but sometimes they are based on a lie.  Here’s the truth:  the Lord is taking and will take ALL THINGS and work them together for your good.  He’s at work.  He’s up to something. He can be trusted. Sometimes you have to simply, by faith, choose to have hope in spite of how you feel.  Yes, hope IS a choice. You have to choose it.  It’s not a wishful-thinking type of hope, but it is a certain and sure hope.  HE WILL, yes, WILL, work out all things together for your good.  That’s a certainty.

One of the books I’ve read that really helped me to see how the Lord could use me in significant ways in spite of and even because of my having bipolar disorder is A First Rate Madness by Dr. Nassir Ghaemi.  It’s a book full of encouragement to see how those 9781594202957_custom-37b18e8c2128957810a8baffd30766d2ed28d0bf-s400-c85who have a mental health challenge can be used even in some of the most significant leadership roles as national and international leaders.  After reading it, I realized even more how the Lord could use my pain and experiences due to bipolar disorder for my good and even use it for the good of others.  See, because of what you and I have been through or even are going through causes us to see things outside of the box.  Dr. Ghaemi goes through a whole list of major historical leaders and illustrates how they were great leaders due to having had a struggle with mental health!  If you have not read the book, get it and read it!  It will encourage you greatly. Check out this NPR post about A First Rate Madness:  “Madness and Leadership, Hand in Hand

It may not feel like it will ever be possible to feel joy again.  You may not even have the energy to believe it. But it’s true.  God is at work.  And He will work it out together for your good, and He will use it to offer hope to others. And as He does that you will be amazed and filled with hope yourself.  This is a certainty – unless you believe the lie that there is no gift or purpose within what you are going through right now. Don’t believe that lie. Take captive your thinking, (Check out the post on how to overcome ruminating: click here.) focus your trust and hope in God and all His promises of good for you.

Becoming Your Own Advocate by Jamie Meyer

Becoming Your Own Advocate by Jamie Meyer

by Jamie Meyer

I remember the day I saw a psychiatrist for the first time. When he spoke the words “major depressive disorder,” I felt both relieved and discouraged. Relief that there was a valid reason why I felt numb and hopeless. Discouragement that I’d been labeled with a mental illness.

After receiving that diagnosis l faithfully took my medication and eventually began seeing a therapist at my doctor’s request. Although I started feeling better after a few months, I still relied on both of them to decide what was best for me. After all, they were the experts and my part was to follow their instructions if I wanted to get well, right?

There came a point in my recovery, however, when I desperately wanted to get off the medications and get back to the “old me.” I mentioned this to my doctor and was told that I’d most likely be on medication the rest of my life. Since my diagnosis had been changed to bipolar 2 at this point, I’m guessing he viewed this as a more serious disorder than depression, one that would require lifelong treatment.

Knowing I was in this for the long haul, I determined to learn more about my diagnosis and the things I could do to stay as healthy as possible. If I had been diagnosed with diabetes or fibromyalgia I’d be searching for more information, so why wouldn’t I take the same approach in learning about an illness in my brain?

While I found many books and articles about bipolar 2, they mostly encouraged people to stay on medications and rely on their doctors and therapists if they wanted to get well. While I agree that these professionals have more education and knowledge about mental disorders than I do, I’m the only one who’s an expert on me! Only l know what it’s like to live with the unique thoughts, feelings, and symptoms that are a part of my illness. The same is true of you as well.

Wanting to improve my thinking, behavior and emotional health, my searching led me to Fresh Hope, a faith-based support group for people experiencing mental health challenges and their loved ones. They focus on living well in spite of having a mental health issue. Fresh Hope groups emphasize that we are not victims of our illness but that we have the right to stand up for ourselves and manage our own mental health care.

Being an advocate for ourselves means we partner with our health care providers rather than giving them sole power to make decisions for us. Appointments become opportunities for mutual discussion. Our part is to communicate honestly with our doctor, letting he or she know if our meds are working or not and requesting changes if side effects are unacceptable or we feel worse instead of better.

In our therapist’s office we have the right to ask for what we need and to be honest if we’re not seeing progress. There may be times when we’ll need to change the subject of a session in order to discuss something urgent that has come up. We’re also free to respectfully disagree with our therapist’s recommendations if we don’t feel they would be helpful in our recovery.

Taking personal responsibility also includes learning about and choosing healthier thoughts and actions that will improve our mental wellness. For example, we can reduce anxiety by learning relaxation techniques or methods to slow down racing thoughts. Choosing to exercise regularly, avoiding junk food, and keeping a gratitude journal can help to improve our mental and emotional stability.

Standing up for ourselves with our doctor and therapist and choosing more positive, helpful thoughts and behaviors are just some of the ways we can manage our mental health condition. We’re less likely to feel helpless and hopeless if we take responsibility for our own wellness rather than depending on someone else to “make us better.”

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Wisdom for Living Well: Knowing the Difference Between What We Can Change and What We Can’t Change

Wisdom for Living Well: Knowing the Difference Between What We Can Change and What We Can’t Change

This line from the Serenity Prayer has been a key for me in learning how to live to well in spite of bipolar disorder:

 “The serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” (Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr [1892-1971])

After being diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1995 I spent a lot of time focused on things I could not change. Which led me to becoming frustrated, hurt and angry. This “side-trip” on my road to wellness took me down a path that had the power to make me bitter and resentful. Which was holding me back from getting better.

Thankfully my therapist at the time was able to help me get back onto a path that led to wellness and the key was in knowing the difference between the things I could change and those things that I could not change.

For instance, some of the things I could not change were:

  • I couldn’t change other people’s reactions to my mental illness including those close to me. (This was a big one for me!)
  • I couldn’t change the fact that I had (and still have) bipolar disorder and I couldn’t “will” it away.
  • I couldn’t change my past.
  • I couldn’t change the fact that I would need medicine.

This list could go on and on. But, I think you get the point.

The first one on the list was a BIG one for me to accept and come to terms with; not being able to change people’s reactions and opinions regarding my having bipolar disorder. I had lived my life with a lot of “people-pleasing”, so it really mattered to me what other people thought and said about me. So, I spent a long time and energy spinning my emotional wheels around this issue and what other thought or said was simply not something I could change and nor was it was my responsibility.

As I focused on the things I could not change I found myself not changing the things I could change!

Strangely enough, that which occupies your thinking is also the direction you go. So, as I focused and obsessed on the things that I could not change I started to become frustrated, angry and bitter about them. There certainly was neither serenity nor peace for me.

The key for me in accepting the things I couldn’t change was to change my focus to the things that I could change. And as I focused on the things I could change I began to get my life back. I know that whatever I focus on in my thinking is “where” I’m headed. I began to make a list of the things I could change and began to work on and think about those things. It took a lot of will power at first. I continue choose to focus on the things I can change so that I might live well.

Some of the things I can change:

  • I can change how I respond to others in spite of how they have reacted to my disorder.
  • I can find those who do understand and are supportive in spite of those who do not understand and not supportive.
  • I can change learn from my past and take what I have learned and apply it to today and my future. I don’t need to beat myself up over past mistakes.
  • I can choose to live life well in spite of having bipolar disorder. In other words, my whole world is not wrapped in having bipolar disorder. It is just a part of my life, not the whole of it.
  • I can change my doctor or therapist if they are not helpful

Again, this list can go on and on too.

I believe that knowing the knowing difference between the things I can change and the things that I cannot change and focusing on the things I can change has been key to my living well in spite of having bipolar disorder.

How about you? Have you or are you learning the difference? What can you change? What can’t you change? Are you focusing on the things that you can change and letting go of the things you can’t?

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