Mastering the Art of Self-Distraction

Mastering the Art of Self-Distraction

By: Brad Hoefs

Have you ever been intently focused on writing something when someone comes up behind you to ask you a question? Slightly startled, you answer the question and try to return to what you were writing, and because your train of thought was interrupted you can’t get your creative writing juices going again!  Staying focused is a necessary attribute when attempting to do many different types of things. And when our train of thought is interrupted, it is hard to continue to come back to that same focus.


Think about it, It would be next to impossible as a parent of small children if you were attempting to read the instructions and put together your latest purchase from Ikea.  Picture it, you’re sitting in the middle of the room with all of the latest parts laid out for a new dresser, and the kids are consistently asking you questions about what you were doing and demanding your attention!  It would try your patience. Chances are that you would give up because you wouldn’t be able to focus on the task. Most likely you would come to the conclusion that the assembly process would be a lot easier if you weren’t getting distracted by the kids.  


Being focused is essential for getting a lot of different types of tasks done in this life.  However, sometimes being intensely focused or “stuck” in our thinking about something is not good and we end up needing to be distracted from it.  We need to be interrupted! There are times we can become intensely focused, ruminating over and over on something negative. It’s at that point that we need to interrupt and distract our thinking.  Mastering the art of self-distraction is key to overcoming overthinking and negative ruminating. Lest our brain begins to get stuck like the needle of a record player within one of the groves of a vinyl record.  (For those of you who might be too young to know what I’m talking about, you’ll have to “Google-it.” 🙂 )

So, how does self-distraction work?  

The most important thing to do is to make a list of at least five to seven things that you like to do and refresh you, that requires you to focus on them that restores you.  For example, one of these things for me is to do artwork. I like to paint or make things out of mixed mediums. So, whenever I do that, my mind resets. It’s like a fresh reboot of my brain.  The same thing happens if I get up and take a walk or a drive. It’s these sorts of things you need to put on your list. What makes you happy? Baking? Art? Sports? A good movie? Reading? A walk? Helping someone else? Time with a friend? Crafts?

As part of your list, include three friends that you enjoy being with that you could call and ask to do any one of these activities along with you.


  1. When you recognize the need to interrupt your thinking, first make the decision that you need to interrupt your thinking, that you need to self-distract.
  2. Choose one of the things to do from your already established list of “brain reboots.”  (By the way, even if the activity doesn’t require you to change your location or space, think about doing that anyway.  A different room of the house, changing your physical space or position certainly helps disrupt your ruminating.)
  3. If the first one you choose to do, doesn’t do the trick, pick another one.
  4. If that does not work, then call a friend and ask them to do one of them with you.  If the first of the three friends aren’t home, then move to the next one on the list. Hopefully at least one of the three of them will be available. Don’t give up easily.  Keep trying to get ahold of them until one of them can do something with you. And in the meantime, do something that absolutely needs to be done that you don’t like to do. Maybe it’s laundry?  Yardwork?


What if what the thinking that you are focused on is painful but necessary to do?  Sometimes there is thinking that feels worse than ruminating, yet we need to process to move on in life.  An example of this might be the work of grief. If this is the case, then you might need to tell yourself you are going to focus on working on it for the next 45 minutes, set a timer and then when the timer goes off set a time to come back to it later in the day or the next day.  And then go to your list and refresh yourself with something you like to do that will reset your thinking.

By nature, I’m a ruminator.  I tend to over think, over process things and get my “stinkin’ thinkin'” stuck in deep ruts.  So, learning the art of self-distraction has been one of the most helpful recovery tools that I have mastered.  How about you? Do you know how to self-distract? Do you have a list of your favorite distractors? What would you add to those I’ve mentioned above?


Fresh Hope is a faith-based non-profit that empowers people to live well in spite of their mental health challenge.

YOUR gift will provide a person with God’s Fresh HOPE for daily living. Click here to donate, today.


“Why We Offer a Christian Mental Health Group at Our Church” By Dale Rose

“Why We Offer a Christian Mental Health Group at Our Church” By Dale Rose

By: Pastor Dale Rose

Mental health issues and how to deal with them came ‘out of the blue’ when our son was diagnosed as schizo-affected.  It was “upfront and personal” and very hard to deal with, but we had no choice.  The problem was ever growing as the experiment with different prescriptions did little to alleviate the paranoia, delusions and other symptoms Steve was enduring.   

As a family, where faith is paramount, we found that there wasn’t really any help within the church.  We traveled from church to church because our son believed that surely we would find the right place where this ‘problem’ could be dealt with once and for all.  Our search in the Christian community was met with one pastor who told us the problem was solved, “we cast out all the demons.”  Steve was excited, “finally someone found the problem and I’m going to be ok.”

He wasn’t ok and it was a great trial of his faith and of ours.   Steve was a Ministerial Studies graduate at one of the finest universities and found his place in ministry soon after graduation in Hawaii.    He was doing fine in a Calvary Chapel Church. It was there that he first began to exhibit signs that something was wrong. Things didn’t work out and he returned to the mainland.

For years we dealt with Steve’s mental illness as best we could.   At one time we even found a Christian therapist who was of the same denomination as us and was within our insurance program.  Unfortunately, the therapist was transferred to another distant hospital, too far for us to travel. We were met with frustration after frustration in our quest to find something besides meds and therapists who didn’t understand the spiritual aspects that were part of Steve’s particular illness.

We have found that the enemy of our soul delights in beating up those with mood disorders.  We often heard Steve say….. “God told me he was through with me, I’ve committed the unpardonable sin.”   It would require sessions of prayer and reasoning to convince him that it was a lie from hell.   We continued to support him and take him to counseling sessions and some peer support groups, some of which only made things worse.   We couldn’t find the right therapist! The support groups were not supportive at all, sometimes all the negativity only made things worse.   There didn’t seem to be any hope anywhere.

In March of 2014 I went to a symposium called Mental Health and The Church.  It was held at Saddleback Church where Rick Warren is Pastor. Before hearing any presenters, I was browsing the many books that were available for sale in the different booths.  

One of the books caught my eye, it had a simple title, FRESH HOPE.    That’s what we needed, fresh hope. Oh how we longed for something that would help us out of the pit we were in.  Speaker after speaker presented their stories and helps in regards to mental health and mood disorders. One speaker stood out,  Brad Hoefs, the author of the book I had bought before the sessions began.

Brad had his break with reality just like Steve.   It too was traumatic and life changing. Both Steve and Brad lost their ministries because of their mental health diagnosis.  When I returned to our church after the conference, I consulted with the lead pastors and told them about FRESH HOPE and that the three of us, Steve, my wife and I would like to see this ministry at our church.  At that time, one person had to have a mental health diagnosis in order to charter with FRESH HOPE. Steve was so excited when the leadership said yes to our proposal; he would once again have a place of ministry, helping facilitate a faith based mental health support group.

We began the training through the manuals and videos provided and set a date a couple of months ahead for our launch.  Sadly, we lost Steve to a massive heart attack two weeks before our launch. But having walked beside him in his journey for seventeen years, we decided that we could use our experience and knowledge gained to help others.

Four and a half years have elapsed since that symposium and we continue to minister to those who suffer from the stigma associated with mental illness.   We are doing our part to end the stigma and break the silence, we see FRESH HOPE at our church as Steve’s legacy.

I visited a mental health ward at one of our hospitals five times last week.  This week we will have our regular meeting with people looking for help and hope; they won’t leave disappointed.   Fresh Hope fills the bill! Last week twenty seven people left feel better than when they came. We recently had to change our meeting location because we outgrew the old one!  Steve would be so glad to see that his years of suffering helped us to better reach out and touch someone. Fresh Hope is an expression of God’s hand extended. Now our quest and challenge is to develop new leaders.  Our belief is that every church needs Fresh Hope! The statistics demand a response from the Christian community. I have found that Fresh Hope is the best response a church can offer!

Thank God for all of the different groups making an effort to alleviate the pain and suffering of those with mood disorders.   However, some of them are stuck in molds that aren’t the best. One church uses a program that goes for twenty-four weeks, but if you miss the first two weeks, you have to wait till they start over!   You are welcome at Fresh Hope anytime!
Picture1Pastor Dale Rose is Minister of Pastoral Care at Canyon Hills Assembly of God in Bakersfield, California.   He and his wife, Martha, facilitate the weekly Fresh Hope peer support program for the church and are ambassador-advocates for mental health issues.   Martha does the “heavy lifting” (teaching) each week.  Contact info:




Fresh Hope is a faith-based non-profit that empowers people to live well in spite of their mental health challenge.

YOUR gift will provide a person with God’s Fresh HOPE for daily living. Click here to donate, today.


Free Fresh Hope App​

Free Fresh Hope App​


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How I Dealt With People With People Who Didn’t Understand My Mental Health Issues

How I Dealt With People With People Who Didn’t Understand My Mental Health Issues

By: Stan Popovich

Throughout my 20 years of personal experience in dealing with fear and anxiety, I had a challenging time in getting my friends to understand my issues with fear, stress, and anxiety.

Most of my friends and relatives were understanding and very supportive of the fact that I struggled with fear and anxiety, however, there were times some of my friends were not very supportive. The problem was that some of these people got on my case and did not understand my situation. In order to deal with these people, I did the following.

The first thing I did was to listen to the mental health professionals and not my friends. My friends meant well but I realized that the professionals knew my situation since they were trained in the mental health fields. These professionals knew what I was going through and were properly trained. So I made the choice to listen to them and follow their advice and not my friends.

I also realized that my goal was to overcome my fearful situations and not to please my friends. I realized that I wasn’t going to waste my time arguing with my friends who were giving me a difficult time. I realized that this was not a public relations event where I needed to get everyone’s approval. This was my life and my focus was to find the ways to manage my fears.

I told my friends that the best way for them to help me was to learn more about my situation and to be more understanding. I suggested they could talk to a mental health professional, read some good books, or attend a support group where they could learn about my situation. This would give them some idea of what I was going through and hopefully would become more supportive. I also asked some of these mental health professionals on ideas on how to deal with people who were giving me a difficult time.

Some of my friends took my advice and others didn’t do anything. I eventually made the decision to distance myself from people who gave me a difficult time. This seemed cruel however I realized that if I had friends who were hindering my progress in getting better that it was better if they stayed away from me and go bother someone else. As a result, I distanced myself from those people who wouldn’t make an effort to help understand what I was going through. I surrounded myself with positive and supportive people.

It can be difficult dealing with people who get on your case and who do not support you. Many of these people think they know what is best for you, but the fact of the matter is that their advice could make things even worse. I had one friend who thought he knew everything, but the fact of the matter was that he didn’t have a clue and he gave me bad advice. Always listen and follow the advice of a mental health professional and not your friends.

I made the decision that I wanted to overcome my fearful issues and that it was not my job to get everyone’s approval. No matter what you do in life, there will always be people who will not agree with you. I realized that my mental health was more important than pleasing people who were close minded and stubborn. My advice is not to waste your time and energy on these people.


Fresh Hope is a faith-based non-profit that empowers people to live well in spite of their mental health challenge.

YOUR gift will provide a person with God’s Fresh HOPE for daily living. Click here to donate, today.


God’s Love Letter to You!

God’s Love Letter to You!

 I offer to you this letter from God your Father.

This is His love letter to YOU!

My Child,

You may not know me, but I know everything about you.   Psalm 139:1

I know when you sit down and when you rise up.   Psalm 139:2

I am familiar with all your ways.   Psalm 139:3

Even the very hairs on your head are numbered.   Matthew 10:29-31

For you were made in my image.   Genesis 1:27

In me you live and move and have your being.   Acts 17:28

For you are my offspring.    Acts 17:28

I knew you even before you were conceived.   Jeremiah 1:4-5

I chose you when I planned creation.  Ephesians 1:11-12

You were not a mistake, for all your days are written in my book.   Psalm 139:15-16

I determined the exact time of your birth and where you would live.   Acts 17:26

You are fearfully and wonderfully made.   Psalm 139:14

I knit you together in your mother’s womb.   Psalm 139:13

And brought you forth on the day you were born.   Psalm 71:6

I have been misrepresented by those who don’t know me.   John 8:41-44

I am not distant and angry, but am the complete expression of love.  1 John 4:16

And it is my desire to lavish my love on you.   1 John 3:1

Simply because you are my child and I am your Father.   1 John 3:1

I offer you more than your earthly father ever could.   Matthew 7:11

For I am the perfect father.   Matthew 5:48

Every good gift that you receive comes from my hand.   James 1:17

For I am your provider and I meet all your needs.   Matthew 6:31-33

My plan for your future has always been filled with hope.   Jeremiah 29:11

Because I love you with an everlasting love.   Jeremiah 31:3

My thoughts toward you are countless as the sand on the seashore.  Psalm 139:17-18

And I rejoice over you with singing.   Zephaniah 3:17

I will never stop doing good to you.   Jeremiah 32:40

For you are my treasured possession.  Exodus 19:5

I desire to establish you with all my heart and all my soul.   Jeremiah 32:41

And I want to show you great and marvelous things.   Jeremiah 33:3

If you seek me with all your heart, you will find me.   Deuteronomy 4:29

Delight in me and I will give you the desires of your heart.   Psalm 37:4

For it is I who gave you those desires.   Philippians 2:13

I am able to do more for you than you could possibly imagine.   Ephesians 3:20

For I am your greatest encourager.   2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

I am also the Father who comforts you in all your troubles.   2 Corinthians 1:3-4

When you are brokenhearted, I am close to you.   Psalm 34:18

As a shepherd carries a lamb, I have carried you close to my heart.   Isaiah 40:11

One day I will wipe away every tear from your eyes.   Revelation 21:3-4

And I’ll take away all the pain you have suffered on this earth.   Revelation 21:3-4

I am your Father, and I love you even as I love my son, Jesus.    John 17:23

For in Jesus, my love for you is revealed.    John 17:26

He is the exact representation of my being.   Hebrews 1:3

He came to demonstrate that I am for you, not against you.    Romans 8:31

And to tell you that I am not counting your sins.    2 Corinthians 5:18-19

Jesus died so that you and I could be reconciled.    2 Corinthians 5:18-19

His death was the ultimate expression of my love for you.   1 John 4:10

I gave up everything I loved that I might gain your love.    Romans 8:31-32

If you receive the gift of my son Jesus, you receive me.    1 John 2:23

And nothing will ever separate you from my love again.   Romans 8:38-39

Come home and I’ll throw the biggest party heaven has ever seen.   Luke 15:7

I have always been Father, and will always be Father.    Ephesians 3:14-15

My question is…Will you be my child?     John 1:12-13

I am waiting for you.    Luke 15:11-32

Love, Your Dad.
Almighty God


Permission to copy and reprint providing that it is used in its entirety and the following copyright notice is displayed…
Father’s Love Letter used by permission Father Heart Communications ©1999

Fresh Hope is a faith-based non-profit that empowers people to live well in spite of their mental health challenge.

YOUR gift will provide a person with God’s Fresh HOPE for daily living. Click here to donate, today.


Ruminating Plus Hopelessness can be Deadly.

Ruminating Plus Hopelessness can be Deadly.

Ruminating plus hopelessness can be deadly

You often find yourself ruminating over and over. Usually, it’s over a problem or situation that you haven’t been able to resolve. You have been noticing over time that your thinking is getting worse, you are finding yourself feeling more hopeless about the situation, and maybe you have begun to notice that you have been thinking more about suicide than you would care to admit.

If this has happened to you, or this is where you currently find yourself, according to research, this is not uncommon. In a research article in the Suicide and Life-threatening behavior Journal, rumination has been found to lead to hopelessness which in turns leads to a downward spiral towards suicidal ideation. According to the article, recent research has focused on predictors of suicidal ideation and behavior such as negative cognition styles, dysfunctional attitudes, hopelessness and rumination.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention currently 44, 965 people die by suicide every year or 123 people per day. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.  Since, suicidal ideation increases the likelihood of attempts, (according to the same article) it begs the argument for making ideation a critical point of detection and prevention.

Negative cognition styles, which the article refusers to as “depressogenic” thinking, refers to the way we negatively interpret negative events in our life. So, for example if my friend John didn’t say hello to me in the store and I began to think about what a jerk he was, without considering other possibilities, that would be negative inference.

Dysfunctional attitudes, to further the analog with John, could be the attributions I make about him in a negative light and then further take my encounter with John, and enlarge it to how many more people were being a “jerk” to me, and then top it off with globalization, inferring (albeit dysfunctional) that everyone is a “jerk”.

Hopelessness, or a hopeless or pessimistic outlook towards one’s future, can be another correlation to suicidal ideation, according to the article. The article adds other research that has shown a correlation to hopelessness and attempted and completed suicides. Hopelessness has been found to play a more central role as a predictor of suicidal ideation than depression.

Rumination, (or a ruminative response style) according to the article, is a tendency for individuals to reclusively mull over the causes, consequences and symptoms of their depression. The research has found this response style can lead to further hopelessness and increased suicidal ideation.


One of my greatest challenges in my recovery has been to stop ruminating.
Here are three tools that I’ve found helpful in overcoming my ruminating:

  1. Choosing with my will to control my thinking.
    Instead of allowing my mind to simply be on automatic pilot I have to choose to be in control of what I’m thinking about and how often I’m thinking about it. Even if what I’ve been ruminating about is a “worry” that is true; I at least have to choose to simply stop letting it play over and over in my mind.

As a Christian I was reminded that the Apostle Paul in the Bible says that we are to “take captive” our thinking. He also says that we should focus on what is right and true. In other words, control your thinking. And replace the negative with what is true and helpful.

  1. When ruminating I learned that it’s important to actually tell myself, out- loud, to “stop”.
    I read somewhere that if your brain here’s your voice it actually disrupts the brainwave pattern and interrupts the repetitive thinking. (It certainly works for me.) It’s similar to someone interrupting you when you are really focused on something and then it is difficult to get your focus back.
  2. Hang out with people with positive outlooks on life as much as possible.
    It is said that we become like the five people we hang around the most. So, as much as possible I nurture relationships with people who have a positive look on life.

You certainly don’t need to have bipolar disorder to have difficulties with ruminating. It is common to the human condition.

What do tools do you use to overcome your ruminating?


Fresh Hope is a faith-based non-profit that empowers people to live well in spite of their mental health challenge.

YOUR gift will provide a person with God’s Fresh HOPE for daily living. Click here to donate, today.
















Smith, J. M., Alloy, L. B., & Abramson, L. Y. (2006). Cognitive vulnerability to depression, rumination, hopelessness, and suicidal ideation: Multiple pathways to self-injurious thinking. Suicide and Life-threatening behavior36(4), 443-454.\
Smith, J. M., Alloy, L. B., & Abramson, L. Y. (2006). Cognitive vulnerability to depression, rumination, hopelessness, and suicidal ideation: Multiple pathways to self-injurious thinking. Suicide and Life-threatening behavior36(4), 443-454.

A Key to Thriving in Spite of Your Difficult Circumstances

A Key to Thriving in Spite of Your Difficult Circumstances

Over the last 30 years, I’ve spent untold hours doing pastoral counseling with what seems to be a “gazillion” or more individuals, couples and families. I’ve heard just about everything and seen even more than I’ve heard. I’ve seen what seems to be manageable problems tear families apart. Broken relationships, wounded people, discouragement, and despair seem all too familiar. But, interestingly enough there have been times when I have watched families, couples and individuals actually pull together and become stronger because of overwhelming circumstances that I was sure that no one could go through and “survive”. They not only survived, but they thrived!

I’ve asked myself what it is that those who thrive in spite of horrible life altering circumstances have that those who seem done in by even less severe circumstance do not have? I have come to the conclusion that there are some things that the “thrivers” have in common. And there seems to be one major thing that they all have in common for not just surviving but thriving in spite of their circumstances. What is that one thing? They help others in spite of their circumstances. They regularly and consistently give and help other people in spite of their pain.

Helping and giving to others gives temporary relief to one’s overwhelming circumstances. It has the power to cause a shift in one’s perception of their problems. Time and time again I have seen people going through tragic events in their lives step out of their pain to help someone else. By giving to others their focus changes. When you and I help others in spite of what is going on in our lives, it has the power to change everything. When I move the focus off of myself and onto someone else to give to them, if even for a brief moment, my personal pain is brought into focus.

It seems that when you and I lose our perspective due to our circumstances the circumstances feel even worse. When we focus only on ourselves and how horrible our circumstances might be we allow the circumstances to hold even more power and pain in our lives.

Giving and helping others in spite of what we might be going through is the release valve from the pressures of our circumstances. Just like a teapot the pressure builds in our lives when the circumstances are difficult. There has to be a release of the build up of the environmental pressure, or it leads to potential disaster.

A mental health disorder/illness can be very challenging. It can cause difficult circumstances within one’s life. It can cause you and me to become very self-focused. Which at times is necessary. But, if all we do is focus on ourselves, then bipolar disorder has the potential to hold too much power in our lives. You know what I mean?

How about you? Are you only focused on you and your circumstances? If so, have you thought about helping someone else? Or doing something for someone else? Have you found helping others to be good for you?

Check out Brad’s weekly podcast at 


Fresh Hope is a faith-based non-profit that empowers people to live well in spite of their mental health challenge.

YOUR gift will provide a person with God’s Fresh HOPE for daily living. Click here to donate, today.



7 Tools for Overcoming Bipolar Impulsivity

7 Tools for Overcoming Bipolar Impulsivity

By: Brad Hoefs 

While I have had no major mood swings or episodes in the last 12 years, I have and continue to have to self-monitor my impulse control. While I don’t struggle with the extreme impulses as I did prior to diagnosis, today the struggle is more like someone with ADD trying to stay on task without getting sidetracked by other “shiny” and seemingly more interesting things.

There’s a connection between having bipolar disorder and controlling one’s impulses.

The lack of impulse control may not only be an indicator of bipolar disorder, but explains a number of the symptoms of bipolar disorder.

Eric Johnson, a licensed mental health provider, writes:

“Bipolar mania, and the less intense hypomania, is associated with increased risk-taking behaviors like drug use, promiscuous sex, over-spending money, and other poor decisions. To compound the problem, mania brings increased energy, increased distractibility, less need for sleep, and elevated moods, which make the risky behaviors happen with increased frequency.”

 “The risk-taking behaviors generally fall into a larger category of impulsivity. Like a child with ADHD, impulsivity is a failure to consider consequences of a behavior before you act. Unlike a child with ADHD, impulsivity fueled by bipolar disorder is more dangerous. The potential outcomes include jail, serious debt, sexually transmitted diseases, physical injury and even death.”

In preparing for this post, I ran across a video of CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta explaining bipolar disorder. In a very simple way Dr. Gupta explains why so many of us who have bipolar disorder (especially those of us with bipolar disorder 1) struggle with impulse control. Click here to watch the video.

Plus, there might be some who not only have bipolar disorder and the difficulties that come with control one’s impulses, but they also might have an impulse disorder (a type of co-occurring diagnosis).

Last December I really struggled for a period of about three weeks with staying on task with the important things I needed to be about doing with my work. Instead of staying on task, I seemingly could not control the impulse to find a certain kind of gobo light that would be just “perfect” for projecting an angel on the roof of the church that I pastor. After hours and hours of looking for many days I could find nothing. And even then, I had a hard time stopping the search. I had to work extremely hard to keep myself from continuing to search. (If you ask my staff, they’d probably tell you I wasn’t all that successful!)

Now, granted, this struggle with my impulse control last December was nothing like I used to experience prior to being diagnosed. Pre-diagnosis, I had all of the classical descriptions of those with bipolar I disorder as Eric Johnson described above. Prior to treatment, I struggled with anger, raging, and compulsive spending, as well as risky behaviors. I knew that something was very wrong. It was as though I was trying to control a monster that was pressing from within. Now I have come to understand that a lot of this had to do with the impulse center of my brain that was not functioning correctly. I always thought that I just had a “quick temper”.

For example, if something irritated me or made me mad, I could not hold my tongue. The words that could not be taken back would begin to fly. Many of my relationships would be strained and or ruined due to this. Others “wrote it off” due to me having a creative temperament. Little did everyone know that it was bipolar irritability accompanied by the lack of impulse control. During those times of mania, behaviors that were strange and unexplainable would exhibit themselves; many of which I would not even recall when not in mania.

After initially being diagnosed and discovering the issues with impulse control, I found these  seven“tools”(choices to be made) for overcoming the impulse control issues:

  1. I chose to practice more self-discipline – as opposed to doing things only when I felt like doing them or when I had the impulse to do them. Even though I still struggle with procrastination, I find the more I discipline myself to complete the tasks on my “to do” list daily, I do better emotionally and physically, and I sleep better.
  1. I had to choose to be mindful at all times about what was happening around me, what I was feeling, and also identify the important things to be doing on my “to do” list.
  1. I also began to know my triggers. When triggered I would easily become more impulsive. So it was important for me to pay attention to those things that would trigger me so I could stop the flood of emotions that most likely would burst forth.
  1. I chose to take control of my tongue. Instead of lashing out with my words when angry, I found that it was easier to wait to express myself after the flood of emotions had passed. Truth is, our words easily hurt others. It’s impossible to take your words back.
  1. I chose to be accountable to others in regards to my impulse control; especially when they were seeing behaviors that would indicate that I was having difficulties controlling them.
  1. I chose to never use bipolar disorder as an excuse. Yes, there were times and still are when bipolar disorder is the reason for some of my thinking or behaviors or even mood. However, I refuse to ever use that as an excuse.
  1. I chose to believe that I could do the first six things as opposed to saying, “Gosh, I’m bipolar, that’s just the way I am. Like it or leave it.”

Today, with medicine and self-discipline, for the most part the issue of impulse control is under control. How about you? Did you or do you still experience the connection between your bipolar disorder and impulse control? If so, what are you doing about it?


Fresh Hope is a faith-based non-profit that empowers people to live well in spite of their mental health challenge.

YOUR gift will provide a person with God’s Fresh HOPE for daily living. Click here to donate, today.



Using Resilience & Positive Thinking As Antidotes to Self-Pity : Brad Hoefs

A few years ago, 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 nametags 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? After all, this is supposed to be a blog about bipolar disorder. 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 bipolar disorder “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. Bipolar disorder 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 having bipolar. Yes, bipolar disorder can suck. Yes, bipolar disorder can hinder ones’ life and alter the course of what we had hoped life to be. Yes, bipolar disorder is a “cross to bear” in life. But, lest you and I forget, there are many other crosses in life that 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 robbing 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.  In order 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 continually rehearse the pain and brokenness.  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 started 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 bipolar disorder: 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?

Fresh Hope is a faith-based non-profit that empowers people to live well in spite of their mental health challenge.

YOUR gift will provide a person with God’s Fresh HOPE for daily living. Click here to donate, today.


Trauma Matters

Trauma Matters

Trauma matters. They say that too often, most of us are unaware of the history of trauma in our lives. Whether it’s the type of childhood trauma that came about due to verbal abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect or trauma that has taken place in our adult lives; unresolved trauma has the power to mess with our brain chemistry and can certainly greatly affect bipolar disorder.

Many of us were raised by a parent who had bipolar disorder that was either not diagnosed, self-medicated or left untreated which then caused trauma within our childhoods. Which may also have been true for our parent. My father was not diagnosed with bp until my freshman year of college. Prior to that there was a level of anger and rage in our home that was the cause of a lot of trauma for me as a child. However, it was nothing compared to the severe trauma that many others suffered.

Unresolved trauma can help set the perfect storm for the onset of bipolar disorder. It affects brain chemistry. Many folks I’ve met over the past years through Fresh Hope groups also have PTSD due to some type of trauma from their childhood. I’ve also met a number of soldiers who have PTSD and working through their trauma. Unresolved trauma can cause a life full of emotional pain.

Recently I ran across an article by Kathy Broady (MSW) in which she identified 20 signs of unresolved trauma. Here are just a few of those 20 signs:

  • Addictive behaviors
  • Inability to tolerate conflicts
  • An innate belief that you are bad
  • Excessive sense of self-blame
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Unexplained but intense fears

Broady writes, “Running from your trauma history will not help you feel better. In the short-run, you might not have to face the issues, but the cost in the long-run of unresolved trauma weighs more heavily than you might suspect.”

Over the last 20 years working through my unresolved trauma has been an ongoing process for me. It has not all been childhood trauma; a fair amount has been trauma I have experienced as an adult. It has not been resolved. But, as I become aware of it I do my best to work through it. The pay off for me has been significant. Working through the trauma has allowed me to begin to untangle the trauma symptoms from the actual affects and symptoms of bipolar disorder which has and continues to allow me to experience more thriving in spite of the disorder as opposed to simply surviving the disorder. Prior to that I was blaming a lot of my “issues” on bipolar disorder when they were issues/symptoms of my unresolved trauma.

Working through my trauma has also allowed me to learn new skills for dealing with stress. I did not learn good skills for dealing with stress as a child or young adult. It’s been a life long process and is still going on. Food has been and still is one of my coping skills and when you put that together with the weight gain due to medicine it has been rather overwhelming at times. I have yet to overcome this issue. I think I’m very close to having the desire to overcome the battle with the weight. Of course, I’ve been here, done this before. But, motivated to wanting to see my grandchildren grow up.

In any case, working through one’s trauma takes courage. But, the pay off is worth it. How about you…have you or are you working through any unresolved trauma? If so, have you been able to see how the symptoms of bipolar disorder and trauma can be untangled and separated that you might be able to have a better life in your recovery?


Fresh Hope is a faith-based non-profit that empowers people to live well in spite of their mental health challenge.

YOUR gift will provide a person with God’s Fresh HOPE for daily living. Click here to donate, today.