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The Verdict of Mental Health

Posted by | blog, Brandon Appelhans | No Comments

This week James Holmes was sentenced to a prison cell for the rest of his life instead of receiving the death penalty. On July 20th 2012, he opened fire inside a theater in Aurora Colorado, leaving a dozen dead and 70 wounded. Now he has been convicted and sentenced.

As the trial went on, 2 sides began to emerge. On one side were those who wanted to see Mr. Holmes punished for his crimes. After the deaths of 12 people, this side argued that Holmes had to pay for all the pain and suffering that came at his hand. They wanted justice, meaning punishing Mr. Holmes to the maximum extent of the law. On the other side were advocates, who asked for mercy because of the mental condition that plagued Mr. Holmes’ mind. Was he sane when he committed the crime? Was he aware of his actions? Was this because of James Holmes or because of mental illness? They argued for mercy on behalf of Holmes’ mental illness.

As a man with bipolar disorder, both sides of this argument sting. The 12 people killed in the theater shootings will never come back. This Thanksgiving, the families will celebrate their 3rd thanksgiving with empty chairs that used to be filed with life and laughter. This Christmas will mark the 3rd time a stocking hung on the mantle to remember the life of a loved one who will never see what is inside. Whether James Holmes was guilty or not because of his mental state, nothing will ever bring any of these people back. His actions, regardless of his mental state, left empty chairs, empty stockings, and shattered people’s lives. I have never killed anyone, fired a weapon in the direction of another person, or committed a violent crime. But this trial has asked me one very important question: what am I responsible for when I’m not stable?

Before I was stable, I never tried to hurt anyone, but I said immensely hurtful things to my family and friends. My words sliced the people I care about to pieces. I was angry, spiteful, and cruel at times. Am I responsible for that? It was the bipolar, right? Regardless of whether or not I meant to cut my family and friends down, they were cut down. The James Holmes case reminds me that regardless of whether or not I felt like I was in control of my actions, they happened, and what happened hurt people.

James Holmes was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Whether you view that as right or wrong, the ruling tells all people with mental illness one thing: get help now.

I never want to sit in court and hear about the things I did and have to reckon how I could have done them. I never want to hear about how badly I hurt my wife. I never want to sit alone because I wounded all of my friends, and they left. Regardless of whether or not these things are legally my fault, I never want them to happen.

My dad always said to leave the world a better place than it was when you came into it. Over the last number of years I have learned I am a valuable person because of the love of God. I have learned a depth of love for other people that I had never known before because I can freely give and receive love like I never could before. I know my life matters and impacts the people around me. When I think of the end of my life, I don’t want it to end with a verdict based on an insanity plea. I want it to end with the conviction that my life left a fingerprint of love on the people around me. That they knew, even for a moment, that they were valuable, because I think they are.

This last week reminded me of all the ways I have hurt people, but also reminded me of the ways that I have experienced healing and hope. It also reminded me that it is not too late to get help.

If you are scared to be diagnosed with something, because it might make you into a monster, I can tell you that a diagnosis does not make you a monster. It does not make make you less than anyone else. It does not mean that you are going to do terrible things. It means that you have the opportunity to work on healing. It does not have to hurt those around you.

If you have already hurt the people around you, and you feel ashamed of what you have done, I understand. I have walked through that too. But you are not defective, broken, or useless, and your life is not over. I have seen more healing in my own soul, and in my own relationships than I ever would have hoped for. You can get better, there is a future, and it is worth all of the pain you feel now. I know it does not feel like it, but from experience, I know it is.

If you know someone who is going through mental anguish, they do not need you to fix them, but they may need to know that when all of this clears, regardless of how badly they hurt you, you hope to be standing with them. They may need help getting the resources they need, they may need a ride to a therapist of appointment, they may need a reminder that they are worth the pain, and they may need your help to remember their meds. But more than anything, they need a friend who believes they are worth fighting for. And if you feel like they do not appreciate it, they might not, but someday they will understand exactly what it is that you gave them.

In light of the James Holmes case, the verdict more than anything tells us to get the help we need now. Instead of looking back at everything that has happened and feeling guilty, I hope you can look back in the years to come at the decisions you’ve made, and even though it was hard and painful, you can look back and be thankful for the decisions you made, about the person you became, and about how your mental illness may have been an obstacle, but it did not rule your life.

Learning from Depression

Posted by | blog, David Lalka | No Comments

I am a survivor. I owe my life to the grace of our Lord, and to the wisdom of a pastoral counselor, who knew what to do for me when my crisis exceeded his expertise. I live daily as a “recovering depressive.” That is not a sentence; it is a reality that shapes mindfulness about meds, exercise, sleep, and the like.

We are survivors; we have stared in the face of depression and suicide and chosen life. That choice is enabled by our faith, by the support of family, and friends, and by the community of others walking this way, helping each other over the hard places.

Mental disorders—clinical depression in my case—teaches us many things, and if I may, I would like to share several of my lessons.

• I am not perfect. I do not have to be perfect. The quest for perfection and my desire to impose my view of perfection on myself and others is counter-productive.

• Approval addiction is a dangerous, real narcotic. Over the years leading to my collapse, I became so starved for approval that I often manipulated people to gain their compliments and approval. I learned that I am worthy just because I am—created in the image of God.

• Adrenaline addiction is another dangerous addiction. Adrenaline addiction often forced me to live on raw energy derived solely from body chemistry not from health or ability.

• Emotional energy is not infinite. I have learned to choose wisely how and in whom to invest my finite emotional energy.

• Self-love is not evil. Before I became stable, I did not even like myself, nor did I understand how anyone else could actually love me. Self-love is not self-absorption or narcissism. It is an honest, full, free acceptance of who and what I am.

• Guarding my mind and heart is necessary for mindful well-being. That sense of well-being—that I had “grown whole in the world, at peace and in place”—was so long absent that I forgot what it was. Mindful well-being is the sense of wholeness and health as a constant companion.

• God accepts me as I am for who I am. Though his transforming work is ongoing, he is the one who made me and knows me like no other.

• Investing in family and friends has enduring value. Nurturing primary relationships is a way to have support throughout life and especially in times of difficulty.

• Clinical depression is not a death-sentence. Medications, talk therapy, and spiritual nurture allow me to live a mentally healthy life.

• Endeavoring to please others all the time is deadly. I cannot please everybody all the time. If I try to do this, I will please nobody any of the time—and I will make myself sick. I must strive to do my best in all situations, and allow the results to speak for themselves.

• When others are upset with me, I do not have to feel guilty. Yes, I do things that are thoughtless, and maybe even stupid. At times people are not pleased with me. But, their displeasure has nothing to do with me, but more to do with them.

The learning never ends. Certainly, I have learned other lessons along the way, but these form a foundation which I hope helps others.

World Suicide Prevention Day 2014

Posted by | blog, Brandon Appelhans | No Comments

Growing up, I always wanted to do things that seemed impossible. I spent hours in the backyard taking batting practice trying to become the next Ken Griffey Junior. I spent hours tooling around with my Swiss Army Knife to become the next MacGyver. I wanted to be an astrophysicist, a paleontologist, a race car driver, an engineer, a baseball player, a Corvette owner, and more.

All those times I wanted something: I wanted to live.

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. Today is a day when we remember that everyday, thousands of people take their own lives. Today is the day we remember that, for many, life is no longer about the dreams of doing something or being someone. Those dreams have faded away. Pain has blotted them out.

Suicide is a statement that life just hurts too much.

Fifteen years ago, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I spent two years falling into the grey where hopes and dreams go to die. It is the space where nothing is good, nothing is bad, everything is pain. My family and I did everything we could to keep me from dying. I only now understand the time, energy, emotion, money, and commitment my parents sacrificed. But my parents and I did not fight to keep me from dying.

We fought so that, some glorious day, I could live.

For 2 years, all of the appointments, medications, therapy sessions, failures, brokenness, depression, and hopelessness were all put in context by one thing: one day the pain would not define my life. One day I would experience something beyond all of the pain, loneliness and sorrow. Some day, I would truly live.

World Suicide Prevention Day is about hope that we will all live.

I am never going to be Ken Griffey Junior, MacGyver, an astrophysicist, a paleontologist, a race car driver,or an engineer. But I am me, and today I live. Today I will work, seeing friends and family. I will go home and see my beautiful wife. I will go to sleep tonight without fearing the darkness because it does not dominate my life anymore.

Today I dream of helping people experience the hope of knowing that mental illnesses are not going to rule their lives forever, of helping people know their own value and worth, seeing them realize that fully, and discovering the love of God even when all they feel is pain.

If today hurts so bad that you cannot see anything past the pain, I understand. I have been there too. If today you watch your loved ones and fear going to sleep because you know that the worst could happen, I understand, I have been there too. If you feel like tomorrows are only an endless repetition of the hell that was today, I have news: This season hurts, but keep working and hoping and you will have the ability to truly live.

Remembering Robin Williams

Posted by | blog, Brandon Appelhans | No Comments

Last night Robin Williams died.

This morning I find myself mourning differently than I had thought. I want to remember a man who made me (and most people) laugh. I want to remember his successes and greatness. I want to remember Mrs. Doubtfire, Hook, and Patch Adams. I want to remember him in a good light.

Today, I have seen post after post, and tweet after tweet celebrating the life of Robin Williams. Looking around, everyone was celebrating the life that Robin Williams lived, and I found myself mourning the life Robin Williams could have lived.

What would his life have looked like if there had not been a tortured soul underneath the smiles and the laughs? What would his life have looked like if beneath all of the love on the outside, was an inside unwrecked by depression? What would his life have looked like if he was free from the terror in his own mind?

With Robin Williams passing, I find myself hoping that many others can use his life as a signal. Robin was the American dream. He was witty, quick, wealthy, charming, and loved. He was also depressed, and today he is gone.

It is not enough to have everything together on the outside. It is not enough to have everything that people around you think you need to have: to have the right car, the right house, the right spouse, and the right paycheck. It is not enough to be everything that people around you want to be: to be funny, witty, lovable, and charming. If it hurts inside when you are alone, it is not enough.

The last 15 years I have spent working to heal the terror I feel inside. After years with a psychiatrist, my brain is stable enough that it no longer hurts incessantly. It actually feels fine. After more years with my counselor, I have come to know my worth because of who God made me to be, and who he knows me to be. I can experience joy and peace now because I have accepted that God made me worthy of them.

I have shared something with Robin: depression. I have learned how to deal with mine, and continue to work on myself all the time to continue to experience life more freely and deeply.

I wish that yesterday, Robin had experienced belovedness because he is good enough. I wish he would have experienced hope and joy instead of depression and sadness. I wish he had been free to be the amazing man he was without all of the pain.

Today I pray that his death is a reminder that depression does not play favorites. It sometimes consumes the most amazing and compassionate people we know. It plagues the class clowns, the preps, the jocks, the intellectuals, the hipsters, the musicians, the poets, the construction workers, the CEOs, and everything in between.

To all of the people who suffer, depression asks “will you let me help you suffer invisibly, every day?” To those who suffer, I have to say that I have made it through my darkest days. I have discovered love in a sea of self hatred. I have discovered life in the middle of what felt like death, and hope in the middle of a space that defined hopelessness. I am not alone. You can experience life and love too.

Thank you Robin for a life filled with laughs and love. I pray that we remember the laughs and the love you brought to the screen, and the dread and the darkness too, because sometimes all of us need help.