Pastor Brad Hoefs

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

Outside the veil by Julie Thomas

Outside the veil by Julie Thomas

The unrelenting agony behind the veil of any of our depression struggles are rarely brought to light. You and I may …and I use the word may loosely, we may scrape up the courage to tell a friend or two about our struggle with mental illness. But many a times, the disclosing is left off at the title page. We may confess – “I’m struggling with depression,” or “I’m having anxiety attacks” or “please don’t tell anyone, but I’ve been diagnosed with clinical depression.” We give out the title of our book. Only, no one, gets to read Chapter 1 or 2, or 3….

We are so troubled by what people may think, or what people may say. And rightfully so at times, because many people simply do not understand, or even try to understand, the challenges that those battling mental illness face. We battle one more symptom when it comes to this illness. It’s called shame… I have recently been so convicted of my shame in talking about the struggle. Because, this is real, the symptoms are real, just as real as they are in any other bodily illness.
If we can talk about the symptoms of illnesses that take our body down, we should be able to do the same with illnesses that plague our mind.

I’ve held back from sharing so many times. Because, I’ve been tirelessly instructed to “get over it” or that I was “imagining things” or that I needed to “eat more.” I was expected to get over my illness promptly, and at the command of the advise giver. And believe me, I really did want to “get over it“…except that I just couldn’t. No matter how hard I tried.

I had two babies to mother and a semester to complete in graduate school at the time and I just could not afford to stay down at will. If anything, the suggestions that were being imposed on me, when I really could not make them happen, started to get suffocating.

When I began to unveil my battle with depression, I was surprised to hear confessions from one person after the other that they have been struggling with the same. And yet, holding back because of shame. I didn’t share my struggle with anyone for a long time. I masked it as best as I could. However, when the struggle seemed endless, we started opening up to a handful of friends. Some of whom are still mentors and friends to this day. Some others, shied away from expressing support and rather expressed opinions.

So, it would be wise to use discretion in deciding between those you want to share your struggle with and those you don’t.
Especially, when you are smack down in the center of the struggle. Because one careless word from the other, will send you further downhill.

And so, I did start sharing. Little did I know, there were many just like me, concealed in the shadows. Painfully comfortable behind the dark veil of depression. Dressing up their everyday like I did. Masking their pain just as convincingly as I did.

Are you ready to open your book? Ready to share your chapter 1? Are you ready to step outside the veil of depression and into the light?

But when anything is exposed and reproved by the light, it is made visible and clear; and where everything is visible and clear there is light” (Ephesians 5: 13)

Making Self-Care a Way of Life by Jamie Meyer

Making Self-Care a Way of Life by Jamie Meyer

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.

How I Dealt With People Who Did Not Understand My Mental Health Issues by Stan Popovich

How I Dealt With People Who Did Not 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.

Satan is a Jerk!

Satan is a Jerk!

It is so frustrating to me the garbage Satan can put in your head. So many times he says to me, “you haven’t been studying your bible, God is so disappointed in you”. “You haven’t prayed in so long, do you really think God will hear you now?” “You were doing so well spiritually. What happened, oh I know you always do this you can’t be consistent with anything.”,

Have you ever heard those questions or similar questions that Satan uses to beat you down?  I believe we all do, but I believe those of us who suffer from feelings of low self-esteem or low self-worth hear them a lot more and louder.  For me, it is easier to agree with what Satan says especially when I am suffering through a difficult time.

What has helped me a lot through these times is simply christian music.  I like contemporary christian music like Mercy Me, Casting Crowns, etc.  The things many christian artists sing about is life, the things we feel, and the things we fail it.  BUT in the same song, they let you know there is a God bigger than the thoughts that Satan puts in our heads.  They let us know we are loved and God never leaves our side even when we leave His.  They sing about forgiveness and Him being there with open arms when we are ready to come back.

Every time I listen to these songs, I am reminded of God’s love.  God does not belittle us or make us feel bad or put bad questioning thoughts in our heads; that’s Satan, the jerk!  Just remember the next time a negative thought goes through your head; God made you on purpose!  Don’t let Satan tell you otherwise.

Waiting Patiently by Sandy Turney

Waiting Patiently by Sandy Turney

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.

Depression Lies by Rick Qualls

Depression Lies by Rick Qualls

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

Facing Real Together by Lindsay Hausch

Facing Real Together by Lindsay Hausch

I heard her cries with my heart, more than my ears, each wail reverberating in my aching chest. I cradled her head and held her rigid body against mine as she yelled, “no, no, no,” then heaved a shaky breath to release another loud howl. I whispered in her ear “I’m here. I love you,” again and again, as I swayed and tasted the salty tears that ran down her neck.

For five minutes I felt the waves of emotions that coursed through her tired body, confusion, anger, frustration, fear as she succumbed to exhaustion. I absorbed her helpless desperation, but wouldn’t, couldn’t, let myself collapse beneath it. Instead I just held her, rocked her, and continued my chant, “I’m here. I love you.”

There is a sacred space we enter with another person when we can let them feel what they are feeling without avoidance, advice, judgement, or tense discomfort. Simply to tell them, “I’m here and I love you.”

I am not in my daughter’s skin, and so I don’t know what it feels like to have steroids coursing through me, creating a surge of unpredictable emotions and moods. This little girl has all these new big feelings without words to even make sense out of them. I want to understand what she feels, I want to tell her how to make it better, or distract her somehow. But in this desperate moment, after a sleepless night, a long morning, and still no nap, I can only be here with her as a witness.

Yes darling, you are miserable. Your body aches, you are tired but your body won’t behave and sleep as it should. You feel angry and powerless. You want mommy to make it all better, and you are learning, maybe for the first time, that there are some things that mommy can’t fix. But I am here, I am with you in this. I love you.

And in this brave moment between a helpless baby, and her helpless mommy, I begin to learn a lot about how to help someone heal. Because when we are confused, overcome by big emotions we can’t explain, when life hurts and we feel too tired to even make our bed, we don’t need advice; we don’t need platitudes, or our pain to be wiped away like an unsightly smudge of dirt. We need a brave person to stay and hold us through the waves of grief, anger, desperation, and longing, to whisper lovingly, “I am here.”

Because when life knocks the breath out of us, sometimes the bravest thing to do is to inhale and exhale those first few breaths, to be held by the loving arms of those there to support you, and fearlessly succumb to the illusive sleep that our tired souls need.

Sometimes its another person holding us up. Sometimes its on our knees in the sacred  space of solitude. But as we cry out in weakness, “I am tired, I am scared, Lord I am hurting,”  He says “I Am.” In Him we find a perfect match for our needs and emptiness. So we can cry, and shout, or blink silent tears, and wait for His peace to roll over us like a blanket and His grace to hum like a lullaby, “I Am here. I love you.”

“Stubborn cloud, I watch you rolling past
What would it take for you to cry at last
Don’t be afraid to let your feelings show
If we dry up, then we won’t grow”

Grow by J.J. Heller

That One Thing by Jamie Meyer

That One Thing by Jamie Meyer

Despite my best efforts to make managing my diagnosis a priority, there’s one thing that continues to resist my attempts to control it. That “one thing” for me is a significant event that is followed by the return of depression symptoms. What is so frustrating is that these big events are enjoyable, special times for me: vacations, holidays, out-of-town friends staying with us, or family coming to visit. What do I have to be depressed about, right?

Each of us have triggers that when they happen can cause us to experience symptoms and become unstable. What is your “one thing,” your biggest trigger? Perhaps you have more than one but try to identify the one that trips you up the most. Is it a family member or difficult relationship? Something or someone that triggers feelings of anger?

Mary Ellen Copeland, creator of the Wellness Recovery Action Plan or WRAP, encourages individuals to identify their triggers and come up with a plan to address them. (Click here to learn more about how you can develop your own WRAP). I must be a slow learner because it’s taken me several years to make the connection between significant events and the emotional letdown that occurs afterwards.

I believe the reason my “one thing” continues to be my one thing is that I haven’t created an action plan, as Mary Ellen Copeland recommends. As a rule I have a great time when special activities take place, but for several days afterwards I feel tired, unmotivated, and depressed. I think there’s a saying—“if you fail to plan, then you plan to fail”—that accurately describes my experience.

Although vacations, holidays, and being together with people I care about are uplifting, I’ve never given much thought to the downsides. What I’ve learned is that during these special times I’m generally more busy and physically active than normal. I usually don’t get a break from being around people and my normal sleep schedule is disrupted.

My ideal recovery plan would include doing some fun and relaxing things and soaking up some silence, which may include taking a people-break. I’d also get back to my regular sleep schedule and eat at normal times. What I won’t do is sit around the house reading and watching TV and calling it “rest.”

When you’re able to identify a trigger and take a closer look at how it affects you, it becomes easier to plan how you’ll respond. My husband and I are looking forward to traveling to Denver next month to visit our son, daughter-in-law, and grandson. We’ll have a wonderful time together talking, laughing, eating, and celebrating our grandson’s first birthday. When we get back home I’ll put my plan into action for the first time. My hope is that by following the plan I will remain emotionally stable.

The better we understand ourselves—what triggers us and how it affects us—the better our chances of making healthy, healing choices. By responding to your “one thing” with a plan that will keep you stable, you’ll have “one less thing” to be concerned about.

Bundle of Joy to Postpartum Blues

Bundle of Joy to Postpartum Blues

I left the hospital three days after the birth of my second son. And like any mom, I was overjoyed to have my baby! And he has turned out to be a fun-loving, amusing little bundle of fun. Not so little anymore. This was six years ago. Did I mention I have two of these precious bundles? A sweet, gentle-hearted big brother too.

However, you can probably predict from the drift of this narrative that the joy of childbirth was short-lived.

I “left the hospital.” Only, I didn’t. I came home. But my mind, tarried at the hospital. Pacing up and down the hallway of the postpartum floor. Leaving me with a gloom, that I had left something behind. I could see the halls, an empty hospital crib, I could see the doors to the postpartum rooms. I felt like I was searching for something. I just didn’t know what!

I would have probably shed a sizable number of calories had the mental pacing I took on been literal. Sounds unreal? But, it had become a disturbing reality to my mind. I started to believe that I had wronged my child. A child who was perfectly whole. I began to mourn over my baby as though I had lost him. I was convinced that his premature birth was due to the lack of nurturing from his mama.

My days seemed blurry, delusional. I wasn’t able to keep track of myself, my surroundings, my kids, …everything! At this time, I was in graduate school, with a newborn and two year old. Needless to say, these alone were draining. And now something else had taken over my reality. Depression took over. Postpartum depression.

A lot of days, months and eventually years were spent in confusion and frustration. The diagnosis for postpartum came months after the mental confusion arose. I was started off on prescription medication to treat the symptoms. The symptoms however, would not yield to treatment. They began to multiply.

And alongside depression came another diagnosis…fibromyalgia. And pain flared up all over the body, accompanied by chronic fatigue, difficulty focusing, even immobility. The pain made me sensitive even to the slightest touch.

Everyday I dragged myself out of bed to try and keep up with routine – the kids, school, laundry, cooking. And unknowingly, these became merely robotic functions. My mind was more lost than ever. So lost that many times it send me running out of the house in a frenzy, barefoot, in the dark of the night. I didn’t know why I was running. All I knew was that I wanted to get away. Away from whatever was tormenting me. Only, it came home with me.

Everyday I held my babies. But my heart grew more distant from them. Even the daily feeding, reading, could not gather the bond I should have had toward them.

The distressing thing in this, is the shame my heart experienced while shouldering all of this. I felt responsible for the early birth of my child. I felt like people would judge me for the way I was; unwell, weak and withered. And indeed, some did.

Although it could have been sooner, I was finally able to assure myself that I wasn’t responsible for my illness or struggles. And that I am blessed to have these healthy, beautiful children.

I know that the past cannot be undone. But the mind kept wanting to go back and bandage all the hurt, make it better. And at other times, it felt like all the bandages in the world could not fix the pain.

I didn’t do it until almost two years into my struggle, but I started to share my struggle with those that were close to me and would genuinely care. I was fortunate to have my life sustained because of this care. Meanwhile, in my surrounding, the life of a young mother battling postpartum depression was tragically torn away from her precious children. Like many mothers, suffering in silence because of the guilt of feeling sadness after the birth of her bundle of joy.

If you are in the middle of your struggle with postpartum depression or any form of depression, I beg of you; don’t struggle in the dark. When you’re going through this, everything in your being will tell you that you are alone or strange.

That is far from the truth. Share your story with someone your heart trusts. Join a support group in your community or churches. You may see the faces of people that relate to you. Whose struggles are yours too. Look for support sites like Fresh Hope, where you could read about journeys of depression that may resonate with yours. Whether you’ve crossed over from depression or still walking it, our journeys matter.

God…the source of all comfort….comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.”

(2 Corinthians‬ ‭1:3-4‬)

Forgiveness: The Power to Heal by Jamie Meyer

Forgiveness: The Power to Heal by Jamie Meyer

Holding a grudge and refusing to forgive hurts you more than it hurts the other person. I liken it to being held captive by a ball and chain. Unable to move forward in life we remain stuck in the past, continually ruminating on what someone did to us. Unforgiveness makes it more difficult to “live well” in spite of having a mental health diagnosis.

It’s human nature to want justice. We want the other person to pay for what they did. At the very least we want an apology. Deep down we even question whether the way we were treated contributed to triggering our mental illness or worsened it.

How were you hurt at the hands of another? Were you bullied, made fun of, or stigmatized because you were different from your peers? Maybe you were hurt, or continue to be, in a relationship. They didn’t understand so they said hurtful things, ignored you, or walked away, leaving you feeling abandoned and alone. I’ll let you fill in the blank.

As is true of all things in God’s kingdom, hope for healing is found in Christ alone. Are you thinking that there’s no way you can possibly forgive your enemy? Jesus tells us “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27). I think that pretty much covers everything, no matter how grievous the violation. If we invite God into the process, then forgiveness is possible.

Refusal to forgive is often the result of not understanding what it means to forgive a person. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to forget what the person did or tell yourself the hurtful experience didn’t matter. As much as you might want to, you can never erase those painful experiences from your memory.

Forgiveness does not mean you let the other person off the hook either. They are still responsible for what they did. The person who hurt you may never come to you and say they’re sorry. In fact, they may have already passed away. Regardless, it’s comforting to know they’re accountable to someone greater than you: “Never take your own revenge….’Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19).

Probably the greatest misunderstanding about forgiveness is that it involves reconciliation with the offender. That’s wonderful if it’s something you want but in most cases there’s no desire to restore the relationship. Why risk the chance of being hurt again? Part of caring for ourselves and maintaining stability requires choosing healthy relationships.

Forgiveness is a process, one that takes time. You don’t wake up one morning and decide you’re going to forgive someone. Telling yourself “I forgive ___” won’t take away the hurt and resentment you feel.

A better place to start is by asking yourself some questions: Do I honestly believe the person who hurt me will someday tell me they’re sorry for their actions? What if they did apologize and beg for my forgiveness? Would that make up for the damage it caused in my life, the happiness and peace of mind I could have had, or how my life may have turned out differently? If that day came, it honestly wouldn’t be enough.

The process of forgiveness begins with accepting the reality that in all likelihood there will be no admittance of guilt, no apology, nor will they have become a better person over time. Letting go of those expectations and the need to get even will enable you to break free of the ball and chain.

The past and its memories will always be a part of you but you’ll no longer be weighed down by them emotionally. Although the length of time it takes to heal varies from person to person, forgiveness is something you do for you. In return you receive freedom, joy, inner peace, and the ability to move forward with hope.

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