Brandon Appelhans Archives - Page 2 of 4 - My Quiet Cave Inc.

And life went out . . .

Posted by | Brandon Appelhans | No Comments

Today, my wife sent me a text about this season of life. She said, “Well, you and I aren’t in crisis, but it seems like everyone around us is. Eye of the storm or something, huh?”

In reality, not everyone around us is in crisis, but there are a few. For few people, we have been advocates, sometimes walking them through things so dark that nobody ever wants to be there. But someone has to, so we go.

It seems like we become a port of solace in the midst of the storm.

In those times, when someone desperately needs to know that things are going to be okay, and desperately needs an advocate, stepping in always costs me something. After the phone calls, the meetings, and then the texts and emails that follow, I always feel emotionally drained, but it is more than that. It feels like I gave a piece of my soul away through the process. It feels that in order to give them life again, I had to give them a piece of mine.

It reminds me of the story of Jesus, when a woman desperate for healing touched him because maybe, just maybe, she would finally be well. “And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my garments?’” (Mark 10:30)

In that moment, Jesus captures a feeling I have had so many times. After fighting for someone, it feels as though something has gone out from me. It is not just that they are better, but that the process of giving someone life has a cost.

First, I am not trying to compare myself to Jesus. Second, I am not saying this is a bad thing.
The emotional toll it costs to fight for someone you love is immense. But more than that, seeing that person come back to life is one of the greatest pleasures in life. I would do it for everyone if I could.

One question comes to mind “Do I have the life to give?” Because if I have it, I will give it away. That is the only thing I can do when life begins to boil up inside of me. But if I do not have it, I have nothing to give.

Jesus notes that “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:37b-38)

Life has come from understanding who I am and the value I have. Life comes from knowing what it is to be loved and what it is to be enough. Life has come from being connected to the God who loves me and who continues to overflow with love for me. Sitting under a fountain of love, in that place, I have life to give away. In that place, when a piece of my soul goes out of me and when it feels like I am giving someone else part of my life, in that place there is more life. In that place, when I experience peace and solace because I am enough and I am loved, in that place I can offer solace to others, because I know that they are enough and are loved as well.

Part of the privilege of the Christian life means sometimes being the eye of the storm.

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.

The day hope died

Posted by | Brandon Appelhans | No Comments

It was 15 years ago that I heard that my life was never going to be the same again, I had bipolar disorder. Those days were not filled with hope and joy. They were filled with dread and pain. They were filled with escapism and avoidance. I did not want this to be true. I wanted to be me before bipolar. I wanted to be free from mental disorders. I wanted to be normal.

Now, when I look back on the two intensive years of getting my bipolar managed, I can see the hope and remember that those terrible times passed. I can see the work I did and see the payoffs. I can see that those two years were only a season.

The temptation now is to look back on those times knowing the end of the story. I want to see the days throwing up because of the wrong medications and know it was part of a process. I want to see the times when I did not want to walk on this world any longer and tell myself that I always knew I could make it. But I did not. Some of those days, I did not know that it was going to be ok. Some of those nights, I just wanted the pain to stop.

I usually think about Good Friday in relation to Easter. Jesus’ disciples were counting on him to free the Jews from Roman oppression. He was their hope. Then Good Friday came, and he died. I know that Easter came. I know that he did not stay dead. But what was it like on Friday?

Good Friday is the day that hope died. Jesus was entombed; there was no hope. Nothing could get better again. I can imagine Peter speaking to the disciples, saying, “Jesus is dead. Hope is a luxury we cannot afford.”

I have spoken that sentence, that “hope is a luxury I can not afford.” I have seen hope as a commodity far beyond my own reach. How could I ever afford to hope? I would never be the person without I was without bipolar disorder. I would always have bipolar. What was there to hope for? 15 years ago, my hope died.

Between 15 and 13 years ago, I could not hear that there was hope for me, it was too overwhelming. I knew my own situation too well. At times, I thought I was not going to be able to do anything with my life. It was my Good Friday, no hope and a big mess to celebrate it.

Now seeing people everyday who are in the midst of mental disorder, I have to remember that my own hope died. I did not know if it was ever going to come back. The one thing I could hear was that someone else had made it. I could hear that, and maybe, just maybe, I could be there someday too, but there were times I could not believe that I could be better myself.

Good Friday is a reminder to remember the dark times. There are days when it feels like hope has died, and tomorrow can never be any better. There are days when life does not just lose its luster, but burdens us with the weight of living. There are Good Fridays.

There are also Easter Sundays, but who could see them from Friday?

On my Good Friday, all I could see was the pain, the hopelessness, the loss, and the failure. But something amazing happened: I found hope again. I got my bipolar managed. I learned to be whole. I experienced healing. In a way, I experienced Easter Sunday.

I have seen Good Friday. I resonate with it well. But if you are there, or are watching someone there, hope is still alive, and Sunday is coming.

Breathe

Posted by | Brandon Appelhans | No Comments

Take a breath in. And a breath out. And again, but slower.

There is life to breath. I can feel a change in myself as I take the time to breathe. I can feel the air inflate my lungs, and then feel all of that escape.

There is something familiar about this in healing, this rhythm of getting something and then breathing it out. We take something in, and then give that thing away. In a way, we breathe in, and then breathe that same thing back out into the world.

I work helping people experience hope and love in the middle of mental disorders. I live my life breathing out. I breathe out my own experience, how God met me in the hard times and the healing, and how hope seemed elusive until it was not. I breathe out the belief that people can experience healing. I breathe out practical skills to stay stable. I breathe out hope that God does not abandon us in all of this.

But sometimes, I forget to breathe in.

Try breathing out, and keep breathing out. At some point, no matter the size of your lungs, even if you have a history playing a woodwind instrument or swimming, the air runs out. At that point your lungs feel compressed, yearning for something to inflate them again.

The same is true of hope. I have had the opportunity to breathe in hope time and time again. I have had my own life changed and had the opportunity to see others changed as well. I have learned to listen to my own value and worth, and learned to accept that I am worthy of love, and that I am.

But sometimes, I just forget to breathe in.

I get caught in the breathing out. I get caught sharing all of the things that I have experienced without taking the time to heal myself and learn myself. In those times, what is left in me? I have no breath? I have the story of what God has one in my life, but when I forget to breathe, sometimes I even forget that.

Breathing in represents the exercise of growing and learning. It represents the long hours I have spent trying to hear and know my own value, only to hear that I am more than I thought. It represents the time I have spent working to decompress my own soul and figure out what is going on, only to learn that it is constantly more complicated and more healing than I would have expected. It represents time being personally healed. It represents peace in my soul.

When I breathe, sometimes say to myself, “breathe in peace, and breathe out mission.” This means that my mission is to breathe the peace that I experience back into the world.

If I am breathing in, I begin to heal and experience hope and healing in new and fresh ways. When I am breathing out, I am sharing all of that with the world. When I forget either, though, it does not bode well.

So, I type while taking in air, breathe.

Open Thank You to Co-Founder, Stephen Albi

Posted by | Brandon Appelhans, Stephen Albi | No Comments

Three years does not seem like that long a time, but it is enough time for the world to change.

Three years ago, My Quiet Cave was a dream, carried by a few ambitions individuals crazy enough to believe in it. No lives had been changed. There was no website. There was no board. There were no volunteers, promotions, materials, programs, or donors. There were just a few mad men, and a dream.

Stephen Albi was half of the team that has made My Quiet Cave what it is today. After hours scrounging through IRS policy turned into weeks and months, and after one mentoring meeting turned into years in some cases with mentees, Stephen made a huge difference with My Quiet Cave.

This is an open letter of thanks. Stephen is getting married this summer, and is pursuing his dream of being a pastor. He is no longer around the day to day operations of My Quiet Cave and is taking a break to make sure he is not given his full time job back, now as a volunteer.

In light of all this, I wanted to say thanks. Thank you Stephen for believing in me, and in a crazy dream that people like you and I can and do change the world. Thank you for spending hours in coffee shops working through paperwork. Thank you for hundreds or thousands of hours spent with mentees. Thank you for working to get websites, operations, boards, policies, and everything into place for My Quiet Cave. Thank you for working long hours for no pay, hoping that this dream would all come to something, and thank you for being faithful and allowing it to come to something.

More than all of these things, thank you for being a great friend and a great person.

If you know Stephen, please wish him well as he pursues his dream, and thank him for all of his time spent trying to paint a brighter picture of the world with My Quiet Cave.

So from all of My Quiet Cave to you, thanks.

Healing Tears

Posted by | Brandon Appelhans | No Comments

This weekend I cried. My wife and I have been working incredibly hard, and this weekend we got the opportunity to share life together. We stopped, and the tears came.

I have cried a lot over these last few years. There is an ongoing joke at my house that my kryptonite is Disney movies. For some reason, I work with people in dark places all of the time, but when the Disney movies come on, there is no stopping the tears. Everytime we begin a Disney movie, I believe that this time is going to be different. I get set, enjoy the movie, and then the tear-jerking scene begins as one of the characters does what they never thought they could.

In that moment, I am silent. My lips begin to quiver, the tears begin to form, and I cry.

Now I cry, but for years, I did not. I was, at the time, impervious, and I thought it was glorious.

For years I had fought against my own inner demons. I had fought shame and guilt and had lost. I had raging bipolar disorder, a very unhealthy self-hatred, the hormonal instability only puberty could bring, and no control over my tears.

I was in high school, and the one thing I wanted most was to be in control of my emotions. I did not want them to flair up uncontrollably. I wanted to be okay. Instead I ended up in the bathroom after 2nd period every day. I either needed to puke because of the medications, or I needed to cry. Either way, I locked myself in one of the stalls because I wanted no one to see the torture I was going through. Whatever pain this was, it was mine, and the rest of the world could not know.

After 2 years of that, I found the right concoctions to stay stable. I could smile again. I could walk from 2nd period to 3rd period without making a beeline to breakdown. I felt happy and I felt free. But I forgot how to cry.

Tears are interesting things, because they convey the deepest levels of hurt and anguish, and the highest levels of elation and bliss. They are beautiful. But I was without them.

I have heard numerous times that emotions are like water faucets. They only have two settings: on or off. For years, I did not want to feel the hurt and the pain, so I turned it all off. I put on a smile, ran out the front door, and hoped for the best.

After years, I wanted more out of life. I wanted to experience the elation and love. I began to turn the faucet back on and it hurt. I had years of unprocessed pain and brokenness that had built up inside of me. I wanted to turn my emotions back off, but I knew I could not. If I was going to be myself, I had to let the pain do its work. I had to mourn.

In the middle of the pain I found myself crying again during Disney movies. I loved to see characters overcome all of the odds and be somebody in the face of everyone who told them they could not. I saw myself in them. I knew that I was one of those characters who was told they were never going to make it, but was still celebrating at the end of the film. My soul resonated with the frequencies of love, hope, and fear conquered. My soul would rattle, and the tears began to flow.

This last weekend was a reminder. 15 years ago I shut off all of my emotions because, at the time, I could not handle them. They were far too big for my high school self to deal with. But when I shut down the emotions of pain and loss, I lost the others too. I lost what it was to love and be loved. I lost what it was to be free. I lost what it was to resonate with something so much that it made me break inside.

But then, after years of work, counseling, support and love, my heart has begun to heal. And now, I cry.

A Dandelion Perspective

Posted by | Brandon Appelhans | No Comments

Last night I sat with 7 people who suffer from mental disorders. They were broken, questioning, and hurt. Some were hopeful, some were not. Some were just plain depressed.

This morning I got up and took a shower. I got ready to go, and felt really off. I felt hopeless. I felt gassed. I felt like the things that keep me going on a day to day basis were just missing in my life. It was almost as if I had been drained by last nights class, enough so that I had lost myself.

This morning I took some time to think through what was going on with me. I took time to think about the emotions I was feeling, and why I was feeling them. I came to the understanding that I felt in some ways like I had nothing to contribute. Like I had nothing to give. Like there was no point.

It scared me.

So I started looking back at who I actually am, and something came up that has not come up in years. I am a dandelion.

In college, I was asked by a professor to write a story about who I saw myself to be. I had to personify something that represented me, and explain why. Some people chose space ships because of their potential, but I chose a weed.

I have no affinity toward dandelions. I think they muck up my grass like everyone else. However, dandelions are resilient little things. I have tried to pull many a dandelion, and watched it regrow in a matter of weeks. I have tried to poison them only to see them brown on one side and continue to grow. I have even killed them, only to have them release hundreds of little seeds all over my yard before they died completely.

In my life, I have had the opportunity to grow quickly. That means life stunk sometimes growing up. I had to opportunity to to walk through trauma, through bipolar disorder, through family members having cancer, through friends passing, through hopeless days and nights.

I am still here.

Like the dandelion of years ago, I needed a reminder that I am not the most attractive, not the fastest, and not the best at pretty much anything. However, I keep coming back.

This morning I had lost hope because my life could not really make a difference, could it? Of course it can, and it does. Everyday, people I come in contact with are hopefully better off for having met me. My job now, with My Quiet Cave, is to bring light into dark places, and help people know that there is hope. That means my life matters dearly. My job is to help people experience freedom and hope for often the first time in years. That matters dearly too. My job is to help people experience that life and joy and love are all possible to every person. That matters dearly as well.

My life does not have meaning because of my story. My life had meaning because before there was a My Quiet Cave, and before there was my current story, classes, mentoring programs and the like, I did not give up. And you do not have to either.

Some days it feels like there is no hope. Some days it feels like tomorrow is just another day and it is not going to make a difference. But just make it through today. Maybe tomorrow is the same, make it through tomorrow. No matter the number of days or the depth of the hopelessness, you matter. I matter. And as beloved children of a God who cares immensely for us, we have the privilege, at some point, of sharing the hope that got us through with those who need it desperately. And you can make it through too. I’m not the only dandelion!

The dignity of choice

Posted by | Brandon Appelhans | No Comments

This last week I met with a remarkable woman. She has been through more than I ever want to, has been in leadership positions, and out of them. She has supported people and needed their support. I was asking her about coming on board with My Quiet Cave, but then I told her that if she had too much on her plate, she was not going to hurt my feelings by saying “no.” Her response startled me. She looked at me, and voiced, “I know how to say no.”

I have heard for the past year from a good friend of mine never to say no for other people. He has been hammering that point for the last year. Then I said no for a woman, and she called me on the carpet about it.

Saying no for this person was not a bad thing because it meant she was going to be less involved with My Quiet Cave. It was not bad because she and her husband may consider doing something else. It was bad because in that moment when I slipped, I told her that I did not trust her to be able to make her own decision. I told her that she was less human.

Then I got to learn again, dignity means having the choice.

As a person, part of exercising who I am is the ability to make my own decisions. As a person with bipolar disorder, I have the choice to get help. As a husband, I have the choice to invest in my marriage. As a friend I have the choice to be present. As a director, I have the choice to continue to seek advice from grounded professionals about growing My Quiet Cave to help more people experience hope and healing. Part of being human means that I also have the ability to say no in all of these circumstances. It is my choice. It is me, exercising my dignity.

When this woman spoke back to me, she spoke as someone confident in herself. She knew her capacity. She knew her own ability. She knew what she had to do and what she could do. In her response, she took back her humanity stating “I am no a little girl. I am a person and I am good enough to make the decision for myself.” In that she communicated she had dignity. This was her choice.

In work and in life, I have learned that I have to give others the ability to make choices on their own, because that is part of being human. Even if they are making a bad decision, they have the dignity to make the choice.

A Revealing Conversation.

Posted by | Brandon Appelhans | No Comments

(Note from Stephen: So as to not take credit for something I did not write, I was sent this article by one of our supporters who asked that it be posted anonymously.)

I recently had dinner with my niece who has several mental illnesses that impact her life in significant ways.

I was able to speak with my niece about her mental illness and feelings and the conversation was really revealing.

She told me about how she cannot always control her thoughts in her mind. Certain colors, the orders of items, the placement of silverware are all things that are difficult for her to deal with if they are not just right. This was something that was difficult for me to comprehend and I asked her to explain further.

She explained how she cannot always describe how she feels and why things bother her. “This color really bothers me. It really upsets me and I cannot control it” was one of several revealing statements she made. In her young mind, she was trying to describe to me the life of someone with a mental illness.

As someone who supports others with mental illness, I learned quite a bit from my niece. This is a little girl that has received a lot of help in her life, but still needs more. She needs me to love and accept her and understand when she cannot always control her thoughts, actions and behaviors. She needs me to listen and empathize with her. She needs me to help teach her when behavior is inappropriate and to accept her when she strays. In other words, she needs me to love her unconditionally. This is something I should be able to do.

I have a Father who loves me unconditionally no matter what I do. He accepts me for who I am and corrects me and guides me to who I want to be (to look like Him). God serves as the model for how I should treat my niece (and everyone). I need to love her and others with the love that God has shown me. That is the most valuable thing I can do as someone who supports those with mental illness.

PLEASE CONSIDER SUPPORTING MQC GIVE