Pastor Brad Hoefs

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

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?

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.

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Waiting Patiently by Sandy Turney

Waiting Patiently by Sandy Turney

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What do you feel when you read “wait patiently”?

For me, it brings up uncomfortable feelings! I like everything under control, and I like to control things as much as I possibly can. I don’t like to wait until the last minute to do things. I make lists and check things off as I go.  So waiting patiently is difficult for me. I feel more calm if I know what is expected or what will be happening next.  This is something I have to continually work at.

However, during difficult times, whether it’s a time of depression or having to adjust medications and waiting for them to work, I find it extremely challenging to be patient. I feel anxious and sometimes lost when I have no control. Waiting for medication to work can sometimes take a few weeks, and when we are having problems with our mental health, we all want to feel better NOW, right?

Once I was having a rough time with depression. I was trying to work through it by paying attention to my triggers and using all the tools I’ve learned to move through it. My depression became worse to the point I went to see my psychiatrist. By this time, I had dealt with it for a few months so I was really in a bad place. My doctor adjusted some of my medications and after two weeks I discovered it was causing some side effects as well as not working. So then we had to make more adjustments. Overall, it took a lot more time than I “had planned”.

In the in-between time, I was struggling. As you know, when you feel sad, cry a lot, become irritable or angry, it’s not fun and, for me, I want it fixed fast. So what happens to me in these times is I search, think, and try to figure out what I can do to make it better as quick as possible. I read articles and/or books and it seems my mind is continually thinking about what I can change to get things “normal” for me.

I constantly seek to find something I can control. And therein lies the issue, I’m trying to control things and not be patient. During this particular time, I found one of my study books which gave verses for particular areas in our lives. I looked through it and asked God to show me what He wanted me to do. I read for awhile and came across Psalms 37:7 “Be still in the presence of the Lord and wait patiently for him to act.” Immediately, the verse stuck out to me. I thought ‘really Lord, you know who you’re talking to, right?’ I sat reading the verse and I began to write it over and over; writing is therapeutic for me. I continued to talk with God and I believe He was telling me to just wait on Him. Strangely enough, it felt like the verse gave me permission; permission to rest and not be in a tizzy trying to make something happen, trying to control things….just wait.

So I did just that. When I came home from work I used that time to read, study, relax, and go to bed early. I didn’t feel like I had to be in control. Instead of searching, I had more time to be with God and let Him take care of things while I was waiting to feel better.

So I would like to encourage you to try a few things:
1. Give yourself permission to wait patiently for God to act, because He has already given us permission.
2. Learn and monitor your triggers.
3. Use the “waiting” moments to take care of yourself and draw closer to God.

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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.

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Depression Lies by Rick Qualls

Depression Lies by Rick Qualls

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Depression lies.  It takes our thoughts and twists them until they become a chain that binds us. Distorted thinking keeps us from getting the help we need.

One lie of depression is:  I will never get well.  This lie locks us into a sense of hopelessness.  Other thoughts then follow:  it won’t do any good to seek help and there is nothing I can do to get better.

The truth is that you can get well.  There is help for depression.  There are things you can do to manage your depression.  

Here are some Bible verses that speak to this very issue.  The psalmist who is in a pit of destruction writes:  “I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD. “      Psalms 40:1-3

A second lie is that we think we must get better on our own.  Our culture highly values individual independence.  Too often, seeking help is seen as a sign of weakness.

The truth is that we need help for managing depressive illness.  It takes strength to reach out to others, such as your doctors, therapists, friends,  and others.  Successful people, regardless of their venue, build a team.   

God created each of us different from one another, each with different strengths and weaknesses.  These differences are not given to divide us but rather to serve one another.  You need others, they need you. 

The Bible uses the imagery of a body to describe our relationships with one another.  “If they were all one part, where would the body be?  As it is there are many parts,but one body.  The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you’. And the head cannot say to dthe feet, “I don’t need you!” 1 Cor 19-21.

A third lie is that we are weak if we take medication.  Many resist taking medications for mental illnesses.  

The truth is we take insulin for diabetes.  We take antibiotics for infections.  Depression is an illness.  It effects us mentally by twisting our thoughts, our mood becomes low, physically we don’t process as quickly, bodily functions slow down.  There is evidence that regardless of the source of depression, brain chemistry is changed, as are neural pathways. 

Medication is a gift God has given us through scientific research.  With other diseases we seek the best treatment.  When my doctor has prescribed medication I have taken it and found it to be helpful.  I would encourage you to consider that as a possibility if your doctor and counselors recommend it.  

  “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”  Psalms 147:3

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.

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Finding Emotional Satisfaction

Finding Emotional Satisfaction

Having a mental health issue can be and usually is life altering.  So often after coming to terms with the diagnosis and the side effects of medicine can leave you asking, “Is this as good as it gets?  Really??”  This can lead us to believe that life is “over” as we knew it.  In fact, it can lead us to actually feeling lifeless.

In the edition of Fresh Hope for Mental Health, Pastor Brad and Jason Petersen discuss how Jason found his emotional satisfaction, his “sweet spot” for living after being diagnosed.  Jason talks opening about his journey to finding his passion for life once again.

Jason is a husband, dad, business owner and video blogger.  Be sure to check out his website at: www.JasonPetersen.com

After listening to this podcast we encourage you to email us at Podcast@FreshHope4MentalHealth.com with a comment or question that we will share on our next podcast.  Or you can leave a voice message for us on the site: www.FreshHope4MentalHealth.com

To listen to the podcast click on the icon below:

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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.

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Making Self-Care a Way of Life by Jamie Meyer

Making Self-Care a Way of Life by Jamie Meyer

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Having a mental health diagnosis can make it difficult to care for ourselves. For people who don’t have a diagnosis, self-care is mostly a matter of choosing and making time for the things that will lead to better health. For those of us with a brain illness, it isn’t quite that simple. The question we’re more likely to ask ourselves is “Am I able?” Ability is the key word here because there are times when our symptoms can prevent us from caring for ourselves as well as we’d like.

Although we often think of self-care as something we do, it also means protecting our thought life. Nothing good comes from feeling ashamed when you can’t get out of bed or can’t concentrate because of racing thoughts.

We need to stop comparing ourselves to people who don’t have a diagnosis and let go of the messages from our culture that tell us productivity defines our value as a person. We need to be more gentle with ourselves and accept the truth–even if we don’t “feel” it’s true–that we have great value because we are God‘s creation and are loved unconditionally by Him.

After being diagnosed with Bipolar 2, I spent many years telling myself that my life was less valuable because I could no longer work full-time or take part in all the activities I had before. I beat myself up for being lazy and not trying hard enough. I felt ashamed because I didn’t want to be around other people.

When I began to interact with like-minded people in our Fresh Hope group, I came to realize that they too felt “less than” after their diagnosis. I learned from them that it’s okay to make caring for myself a priority. I felt understood and no longer needed to hide in shame.

I’ve come to accept that I’m not the same person I was before being diagnosed. But you know what? Neither is anyone else. Everyone grows and changes over time whether they have a diagnosis or not.

I’m learning to focus on the things I’m able to do, activities that are fulfilling yet keep me mentally stable. I work evenings part-time so I don’t have to get up early and I volunteer in smaller but just as valuable ways.

Another way I care for myself is by giving back to people like myself who live with the challenges of a mental health condition. In 2012, I put my personal journey into words when I wrote the book, “Stepping Out of Depression: Fresh Hope for Women Who Hurt” (available on Amazon). I wanted women to know they were not alone in dealing with depression, that true hope and healing are possible.

I also find fulfillment in giving encouragement and support to the wonderful people in our Fresh Hope group. Doing so helps me feel like I’m making a difference in my small corner of the world.

Caring for yourself involves more than eating right, exercising and reducing stress. It includes having supportive relationships and being involved in something that is meaningful to you. Self-care also means accepting the truth that you have value and purpose because of who you are, not what you do. You choose to let go of shameful thoughts and stop putting yourself down.

When we decide to make self-care a priority, life can become more satisfying and meaningful. Although we may not escape the ongoing challenges of our brain illness, we significantly improve our chances of living well in spite of 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.

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Positive Friends Impact Depression’s Effect by Rick Quall

Positive Friends Impact Depression’s Effect by Rick Quall

By Rick Qualls

Depression lies.

It convinces you, ‘“My friends don’t want to be around me.”  “I’ll just bring everyone else down.” “I am not worthy of having friends.” “Nobody likes me anymore.”

When you are depressed, making and keeping friends can be a challenge. But research shows that a group of positive friends makes a difference.

Professor Frances Griffiths, head of social science and systems in health at Warwick Medical School University of Warwick, said: “Depression is a major public health concern worldwide. But the good news is we’ve found that a healthy mood amongst friends is linked with a significantly reduced risk of developing and increased chance of recovering from depression.”

In Griffiths study teens who have five or more mentally positive friendships have half the likelihood of depression. Those with ten friends have twice the probability of recovering from their depression symptoms.

What can you look for in positive friendships?  Good friends offer space to be yourself. They don’t try to fix you or try to make you act a certain way. They listen and offer support not judgment.

The Bible offers practical advice on developing and maintaining good friendships.

Good friends take time for each other. Friendships don’t occur in a vacuum.  “Be devoted to one another…” Romans 12:16. Spending time together doing activities that you enjoy or working on projects together create opportunities to build relationships.

Healthy friends disregard social differences, and do not avoid each other when problems arise. “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” Romans 12:16

Positive friends are not narcissistic. A narcissist can be attractive to be around at first. They are full of “self-confidence” and an energy that draws us when our self-confidence is at a low ebb.

But it is a negative signal if they manipulate you to prop up their ego. They talk about themselves and their accomplishments. They brag about knowing how to get special treatment. It is a warning if you begin to notice that all they talk about is themselves. You may notice they lack empathy or compassion or caring for others. A narcissist uses your depression against you and will make your situation worse.

Good friends develop trust over time and it becomes safe to share their deepest hearts, even the weakness and sin in our lives. “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed…James 5:16

Positive friends offer non-judgmental support and listening. Friends accept you when you are depressed, when you are grieving, or going through any kind of trials. “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” Romans 15:7

Solid relationships are based know how to put up with each other’s quirks and idiosyncrasies. Everyone has some peculiar behaviors. “…be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Eph 4:2

Friends build each other up and do not tear the other down. Words are powerful tools to help bolster one another. “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Eph 4:29

Friendships don’t just happen. We must be intentional about developing these relationships. They take time, encouragement,  trust, and sharing with one another.

These healthy friendships can have positive impact on your depression.

Depression lies. There are people around you that care.

Check out Rick’s other posts and the posts of all of our Fresh Hope bloggers at: Fresh Hope Blog

 

Photograph by Priscilla Du Preez

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.

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When Your Child is Diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder: Becoming a Loved One

When Your Child is Diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder: Becoming a Loved One

Recently someone my wife and I love very dearly was been diagnosed with bipolar II disorder. I find myself learning a lot from my wife about becoming a helpful and healthy loved one. It’s a new role for me.

You might say that my wife has a “doctorate degree” in being the loved one of someone with bipolar disorder. Not only has she been there for me for the last 20 years since my diagnosis, but also her Mother had bipolar disorder and took her own life 26 years ago. Painfully she is an expert at loving those with a diagnosis. And now together we have become loved ones of someone that we both love and have watched grow up.

As most of us know, bipolar disorder can run in families. As parents we’ve known this and have prayed that our children might be spared any more of the pain of this disorder that what they already had to overcome due to my struggle with the disorder during their childhoods. But, it has happened. One of our adult children has been diagnosed.

It’s been painful at times watching our child struggle and having to see them navigate through finding a doctor and the “trial” runs of various medicines. At times it has triggered both my wife and I of our past. Yet, both my wife and I know that our adult child can and will live a full and rich life in spite of the diagnosis. Because of our past experience, we knew that finding the “right” doctor and getting onto the “right” combination of medicine sooner than later was key to keeping our loved one from becoming sicker and to begin the process of healing.

Because of what we have experienced these past months I am once again reminded that getting well requires some initial ongoing elements to living well in spite of having bipolar disorder:

  • Finding the “right” doctor is key.

Your doctor needs to listen to and understand fully what you are experiencing before they jump to any medical conclusions. Unfortunately, some doctors have a habit of hearing key words that they assume you and they have the same definition of and they quickly jump to a diagnosis. When in fact, words can mean many different things at times and the better thing for a doctor to do is to ask, “What do you mean by that?

If your doctor does not ask you to clarify what you are saying or if they do not ask you more questions and you do not feel as though the doctor has really heard and understood you; you might not have the “right” doctor.

Your relationship with your doctor is key to getting well. If I felt as though my doctor didn’t listen to me and understand me nor care to understand me, I would be looking for a new one.

  • Having a personal advocate with at your initial doctor appointments is imperative from my perspective.

When you and I are not well our ability to be assertive for our own medical care is next to impossible. I can remember many of the years initially following being diagnosed and I found myself unable to even tell the doctor what was going on or how I really felt. I certainly didn’t have the ability to ask meaningful questions.

I believe it is imperative for your best care to have someone that you trust and that knows you well to go along with you to your doctor’s appointments. For me it made all the difference in the world. And it made a significant difference for our adult child to have someone there as an advocate. If you don’t have a family member or close friend who could be this person for you, consider having a certified peer support specialist be your advocate.

  • Having the support of family and friends makes a huge difference.

Doing mental health recovery alone is next to impossible. Those who have the support, love and understanding of family and/or a few close friends simply do better in the long run. If you don’t have those who are supportive in your life I strongly recommend that you find a good positive mental health support group and find the support and care that you need.

Our adult child is doing so much better today. And I’m learning from a different perspective that getting well is work; work that is not done alone in a vacuum.

I’m going to be selfish in this post and ask for those of you who have bipolar disorder and who have become loved ones of either children or others who have been diagnosed please give me your insights into becoming a caring and helpful loved one of someone who also has a mental health diagnosis. Thank you in advance.

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.

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Choosing Hope in the Face of Hopelessness

Choosing Hope in the Face of Hopelessness

Hopelessness is serious. Every day people fall into the hopeless hole of hopelessness due to their struggle with a mental health issue. Hopelessness begins to knock at the door of one’s heart when you feel and believe that you have no future. It happens so easily, and it can take root all too fast. Each time we face one of life’s interruptions which change our perceived future hopelessness can settle in and live rent free in our hearts and minds.

Over 20 years ago I faced a life-altering interruption due to having bipolar disorder. At that time I was pastoring one of the fastest growing churches in my denomination. However, following that painful manic episode, which had interrupted my life, I was asked to resign. It was earth-shattering. My position and the church had become my identity. I was devastated to the point of complete hopelessness. I had lost my future. Hopelessness had set in. And the deep dark hole of depression became a shameful guilt place of familiarity for me; months and months of severe depression followed.

For years prior to this interruption I had felt as though I had a monster inside of me that I had to manage.

The more stress I experienced with pastoring a growing church, the more impossible it was to control the monster within me. More times than not, the monster was controlling me. So, when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I found out that the monster had a name. And strangely enough, a small ray of hope began to break through the hopelessness what had swallowed me whole.

Why would there be a small ray of hope following my diagnosis?   After all, usually people see the diagnosis of bipolar disorder as the difficult thing to accept. Well, it was because of the people around me who helped me to see that the diagnosis and treatment of my bipolar disorder were a way back to having a future. It was the idea that the bipolar could be treated and I could have a future poked a small pinhole of hope into the darkness of hopelessness. It was not an easy journey, but it was more than worth it. With that small pinhole of hope, I could see a way forward. I began to grieve what I had lost and began to embrace a new and different future; believing that I could live well in spite of having bipolar disorder.

Dr. Sean Lopez, the author of Making Hope Happen, has done extensive research on hope for over 14 years. His research supports what I experienced. When I thought I had no future, hopelessness set in and took over. And when I could see the way to a future, hope began to start. And the clearer the future became for me, the more hope I felt.

Interestingly enough, hope can be borrowed, shared and it can be caught! Think about it, if you hang around a lot of hopeless friends, you will begin to feel hopeless. And if you hang out with people who are filled with hope you will begin to feel hopeful.

So, I have a question for you: How is your hope tank doing? Do you feel like you can see a way forward? If not, do you potentially need to let go of the future that as you thought it would be, grieve it and let it go? Do you need to embrace the new potential future? There’s no doubt that doing this is a process. It is not like switching a light switch on. But, it is a choice.

Hope is truly a choice. For me as a Christian, hope is not only a choice, but it is sure and certain. Paul reminds us that no matter what our circumstances might be there is a future because the Lord will work all things out together for our good. (Romans 8:28) So, I certainly may not “feel” hopeful, but I choose to believe Romans 8:28 and that means that there is a future. It may not have been the future as I thought it would be, but it is a future.

So, again, my question is: how is your hope tank? Is your hope tank empty? Is being a caregiver sucking the hope right out of you? Do you see a way forward into the future?

Are you strong enough to make the choice of hope? If not, I have some hope you can borrow.See, I know because of the storms I’ve been through in my life that God is at work in all things. He is with you. He has not left you. He won’t leave you. And He is FOR you and your entire family! He has a plan. It may not be the life you and I planned prior to bipolar showing up, but in spite of us having bipolar disorder He has a plan!

Everything may not be “good” right now, but all is well because of Him. He has heard every single one of your tears as a liquid prayer.   Look for that little tiny bit of light coming through the “pin” hole poking through the hopelessness you might be feeling. Choose hope. Choose it minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day and your feelings will begin to catch up. There is a future and joy is included in 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.

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Jamie’s Journey​ to Living Well in Spite of Her Mental Challenge

Jamie’s Journey​ to Living Well in Spite of Her Mental Challenge

When I went through surgery and recovery with my brain tumor people brought meals to the house, cards came in the mail, people called. But two years later when I crashed with depression, I felt forgotten. Nobody called and someone in our Bible study group told me that I just needed to get over it,” said Jamie Meyer, author of Stepping out of Depression; Fresh Hope for Women Who Hurt. (Available on Amazon.com)

Unfortunately, her experience within her church is the what too many folks who have a mental health issue have also experienced.  That is, everyone is there with prayer, home visits, and casseroles, but no one shows up following your hospitalization for depression.  In this edition of Fresh Hope for Mental Health Jamie and her husband Allen will be sharing their journey to living well in spite of the mental health challenge Jamie faced head-on.

This podcast is 42 minutes long. After listening to this podcast, we encourage you to email us at info@FreshHope.us with a comment or question that we will share on our next podcast.  Or you can leave a voice message for us on the site: www.FreshHope4MentalHealth.com

To listen to this podcast click here or on the icon below:

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Pastor Brad Hoefs, the host of Fresh Hope for Mental Health, is the founder of Fresh Hope Ministries, a network of Christian mental health support groups for those who have a diagnosis and their loved ones. In other words, Fresh Hope is a Christian mental health support group.

If you are interested in more information about Fresh Hope, go to http://www.FreshHope.us or email info@FreshHope.us or call 402.932.3089.

 

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.

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Medicine is Not a Magic Potion: Doing Your Part

Medicine is Not a Magic Potion: Doing Your Part

When you have bipolar disorder, no medication can truly change your attitude or thinking, as I learned from my late father.  It takes hard work.

My dad was the first person I knew who had bipolar disorder.  It was back in 1975 that he had a “nervous breakdown.”  For months he battled severe depression.  It was at this point he went to the family doctor, who referred him to a psychiatrist who diagnosed him with “manic depression.”  Now, when you live in a small farming community in the Midwest, this carried an enormous amount of shame, so everything about it was “hush-hush.”   After all, it was not until 1987 that Patty Duke began to speak publicly about her diagnosis.

There was no support. There was no education about it.  There was no Google.  The only thing my dad knew about it, and the only thing the rest of us knew about it, was what we were experiencing in a cloud of secrecy and shame.  It was the first time I had ever heard of Lithium.

When his depression lifted, life went on as normal.  Dad took that little pill faithfully, and life went on.  I’m pretty sure that my dad never read up on “manic depression.” My mom most likely read what little information that was available. There was no talk therapy that my dad did except for whatever small amount the psychiatrist may have done.

The second person I knew who had bipolar disorder was my mother-in-law.  She was diagnosed with it in the ‘80s. She struggled a lot.  She had trouble taking her medicine.  She sadly and painfully died from bipolar disorder in 1987.  What we experienced was so painful and so drenched in shame, yet we moved forward with a tremendous amount of support from our faith community.

On Friday, May 12th of this year, having been on vacation for all of 36 hours, my sister called to tell me that my dad had died.  It was very unexpected. We all were stunned.  Shocked. He had dropped to the floor and was gone. No words. No goodbyes. Just like that, gone.  He would have been 80 on July 22nd.  He most likely had a massive heart attack. He died with bipolar disorder, not from it. And there are many things I learned about how to and how NOT to live with bipolar disorder.

One of the major things I learned from observing my dad dealing with his diagnosis was that life can and does go on.  He got up following that long severe bout of depression and he chose to live. Dad kept going. He lived his life somewhat well in spite of his diseased brain.  However, if he had had talk therapy, more education and support, I can’t imagine how better life could have been for him.

He was “old school.”  So, he never worked through any of his issues. You could tell that there were times his mood was escalated and numerous times where there were bouts of depression.  There were still mood swings.  You certainly couldn’t get him to talk about his feelings or mood unless he was angry.  And that anger could be so incredibly intense and unpredictable—and you never really knew when that anger could go “off.”

I can’t imagine how much better life could have been for him had he done more than just take the medicine.  His approach to having bipolar disorder was simple: just take the medicine and keep going.  It was the same way that he handled having diabetes. He took the medication. He even tested his blood levels regularly.  But he never adjusted his diet, the part he truly had control over.

Over the years, I’ve met quite a few folks who have bipolar disorder, and find it so interesting that so many of us only take our medicine as though it is a “magic potion” that will fix everything, and yet don’t do our part of working along with our medicines.

I know I did this same thing for the first seven years following being diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  I took my medicine faithfully but didn’t do anything about my thinking.  I didn’t change many of my habits, nor did I work on my emotional triggers.  I didn’t learn how to handle stress better, and I had little knowledge of what parts I could do in order to work with my meds.  I just took my medicine and tried my hardest just to go on.  But, trying my “hardest” didn’t work too well.  And seven years after being diagnosed, I relapsed.  Had I not relapsed, I suspect I would still be attempting to do my best at just moving on.

It was because of my relapse that I wanted to get to the bottom of my emotional issues.  I wanted to know and understand the core issues of my manic behavior.  It was the hardest work of recovery I have done to date.  And I’m SO glad I did it!  Why?  Because I’ve been episode-free, living well in spite of having bipolar disorder, since that relapse, which was nearly 15 years ago. I credit my stability with having done my work of digging into the depths of my emotional issues and baggage, my triggers, and have learned to handle the stress in a much healthier way.

Now, this is not to say that I will never have another bipolar episode. But I am doing all I can to avoid any possible interruption and life-altering episodes of bipolar disorder.  I am also committed to doing my part, such as:

  1. Maintaining a very regular schedule
  2. Staying mindful and on top of any of the slightest changes of mood and/or feeling stable, and taking action if necessary
  3. Managing my stress
  4. Overcoming my emotional triggers
  5. Putting an end to blaming others and taking responsibility for what was “bad behavior”

I often wonder how much better my dad’s life would have been if he had only done his part and worked with the medicine to improve his relationships;  if he had learned how to pay attention to any change of his mood.  Don’t get me wrong, the quality of his life was not horrible. But, it could have been so much more if he had worked through his issues.

In spite of the fact that my dad could be a real stinker, I loved him.  And I’m missing him.  I find myself thinking about him a lot.  I also find it hard to believe that he is gone. He ran his race. He finished the course. And in spite of having been diagnosed back in the “dark ages” of mental health, he never used his diagnosis as an excuse for anything. And when I crashed and burned in 1995, he gave me the greatest gift a son could ever receive from his father.  Following my very public crash and burn, Dad put his hands on my shoulders and said, “No matter what happened, or that the problem is, you are my son. I love you, and I’m proud of you.”  What a gift that was.  I so treasure it today.  In my most hopeless situation, he spoke words of hope and love to me.

I miss my dad.  And I wonder how much better his life—and the lives of those around him—could have been if he had made the great effort of working through his emotional baggage, instead of just taking his meds as though they were going to fix the bipolar disorder like some mythical potion.  There are no medicines that one can take that change (not merely mask) your attitude or thinking. Medicine can only do so much.  The rest you and I have to do.  And it’s hard work.

How about you?  Are you doing the hard work that medicine can’t do?  Are you working along with your medicines?  Or are you waiting for your medications to take care of all of your issues?  You know, changing your thinking and behavior isn’t easy.  And while doing “our part” is an ongoing process, it is worth the hard work!  If you need courage or encouragement let me know!  I would love to cheer you on!

 

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.

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