Guest Post: One Simple Key to Thriving with Mental Illness

Please enjoy this guest post by my friend Brandon Appelhans. Brandon leads My Quiet Cave, an organization he cofounded to help fill the gap between the church and the world of mental health (at the end of this post, you can learn a little more about him and his work). Brandon lives with his own challenges to mental health, and he is open with his story for the sake of all of us. I hope you’ll be encouraged and inspired by his wise advice.


This summer has rushed past. I got back from vacation a few weeks ago, ready to get back into the swing of things. But I started to feel stretched around the edges. I got into my days but didn’t have words, didn’t have direction. I felt like I was pushing as hard as I could but moving less than normal. Everything took double the effort and yielded half the result. I started to feel numb. I wanted to get away, to escape what felt like a life-sucking pressure, and I didn’t know why.

One of my friends recently spoke at our church, and she spoke of her last few months. Her business took a huge hit. Initially she tried to process the heaviness alone. One of her friends reached out to her and responded with love when she felt she had nothing to offer. She pointed my friend back to the truth about herself and allowed her to find space to heal. I sat and cried as I listened to her story. I realized that this life-sucking feeling wasn’t the pressure of work, or my bipolar disorder. It wasn’t needing to change my meds or get to therapy faster. I felt alone. I felt unknown. I felt lonely.

Yesterday I got together with one of my best friends for lunch. We sat and talked. We shared about what was going on in both of our lives, our families, our jobs, and what we felt deep in our hearts about what we were feeling and how we were processing. That is our usual conversation. Our relationship as friends is based on being completely known and vulnerable, and with that safe space, both of us thrive in the rest of our lives because we have been known. I began to feel myself change as the weight I had not been able to identify on my shoulders melted away. I started to feel alive again like I hadn’t in weeks.

I realized that my problem was simple. I’m still human and I still need human things. That is how God designed us all. Regardless of our mental illness, we still need to be in community. We still need to be known. We need people.

On my way home I called one of my other best friends, who happens to live with my wife and me. We had seen each other, but we hadn’t had time for me to open up in weeks. We spoke for about 45 minutes. I was heard. He told me he understood where I was and would check in on me for the next few days.

My two friends here both know me well. We have set expectations in our relationships that we can go incredibly deep and none of us will get scared away. Nothing is too scary. Nothing is off limits. And in that space, I was known and loved, and I came back to life.

With mental illness, I can focus so much on trying to do everything right that I can miss the simple things. I can focus on exercise, sleep, my meds, and controlling stress, but miss seeing my friends.

To be well and thrive, I need to work on my mental health with meds, therapy, self-care, diet, and exercise. I also need to work on my needs as a human being with connection, seeing myself how God sees me, purpose, serving others, and finding ways to delight in life. Between the two, the mental health needs and the human needs, I can find the ability to thrive with a major mental illness, and you can too.

Brandon Appelhans is the cofounder and executive director of My Quiet Cave, a nonprofit in Denver, Colorado, dedicated to creating spaces for faith and mental health to empower the Church to engage mental illness. He, his wife, their son, and two dogs live in Denver.

© 2018 Amy Simpson.