My Life by H.D. – Guest Poem

The following poem was written by my friend H.D. We’ve been friends for 8 years. He’s currently being held in a state psychiatric facility. Hopefully soon he’ll be released and be able to take the stage and share his story. Until then, I’m sharing his poem. I found it incredibly insightful. Anyone who lives with or has a loved who has bipolar, PTSD and/or struggles with addiction this poem will resonate.

My life is so contradictory it is as if it has been lived in reverse

My life is so ironic I wouldn’t be surprised if I was born in a hearse

My Life is having a slice of the American dream, a suburban fable

My life is a mutilated body, a toddler lying on an operating table

My life is an innocent boy taught never to yell or to curse

My life is a constant struggle, it stings and it hurts

My life is popularity while clicked in with the coolest kids in School

My life is a rapid rise to success, followed by a permanent position as a fool

My life is a privileged upbringing and food on the table

My life is a junkie brother that my Father would always enable

My life is the path of a warrior and the story of a survivor

My life is seeing drugs turn friends into backstabbing connivers

My life is an epic, yearlong, exotic vacation

My life is seemingly endless social deprivation

My life is a 3.8 GPA at a major University

My life is a mind skedded by psychiatric obscurity

My life is scaling massive peaks and climbing 1,000- foot rocks

My life is a battle to stand and it is agony when I walk

My life is endless mountain ranges that are covered in snow

My life is locked inside a cell with a dark, fluorescent, artificial glow

My life is a constant quest for action and thrills

My life is a daily force-fed handful of pills

My life is designer drugs and performance enhancing amphetamines

My life is barely missing a life sentence served in a state penitentiary

My life is moments of ecstasy and exciting nights without sleep

My life is terror filled unconsciously with Freddy Krueger on Elm Street

My life is being starved of rest till I scream and rip at my sheets

My life is energy so profound even the strongest meds couldn’t treat

My life is learning a language and flying around the world for a girl I never kissed

My life is a vast sea of potential wasted and opportunities forever missed

My life is Freedom to the wind, in Seattle, the city of rain

My life is the scorched Mojave Desert, stuck in confines, certifiably insane

My life is racing seamlessly through forests in an expensive Subaru sports car

My life is a continuous collection of broken bones and a bountiful set of scars

My life is on my hand and knees, searching for leftover drugs till I hurt my back

My life is Flushing a $3,000 necklace, just to see how my ego would react

My life is lived through fast paced excitement and fulfilling passions

My life is waiting endlessly for worthless commissary rations

My life is gliding through the sky at death-defying, terminal velocity

My life is seemingly ruined by a single, psychotic alleged atrocity

My life is holding onto audacious goals, I still believe I can fly

My life is day-to-day challenge, just to get by

My life is a constant case of close calls and unbelievable miracles

My life is intermittent unfortunate events, undeniably satirical

My life is overcoming incredible odds with un-phased determination

My life is a final freak accident, cheating me of remarkable coordination

My life is preachers telling me “you’re never given more than you can handle”

My life is having a guardian angel, when I still think religion is a scandal

My life is full appreciation for the moon, the stars, and all of creation

My life is characterized by risk taking behavior and suffering suicidal ideation

My life is day dreaming so much, my mind changes hand over fist

My life is waking up from a medically induced coma cuffed at both wrists

My life is a beautiful, luscious spot in nature where I prosper and thrive

My life is a barren, fenced off enclosure wondering what it means to be alive

My life is seeing and experiencing some of the world’s most amazing sights

My life is consumed by fire, as I am seared on bloody asphalt, and read my rights

My life is two severe brain disorders mixed with chemical dependence

My life is irreplaceable artwork lost through scorching fires of biblical vengeance

My life is a universe bent on pulling me down, in a world that always prevails

My life is a fate staying on track, when my luck tends to go off the rails

My life is struck by unexplained phenomena, an orb of white light in a powerful storm

My life is obliviously anything but moderate, typical, or adhering to the norm

My life can be summarized or defined in one final rhyme

My life is forever blessed and it’s cursed, at the same time

The Hero’s Journey

Imagine you’re the hero in one of your favorite movies. In a hero’s journey the character sets out from his home to learn, grow and “get beat up” from life experiences. The hero faces villains along the way and overcomes many obstacles.

The hero then comes home and helps everyone around him.

The Pandemic has made us all travel the hero’s journey. It’s never one filled with all happiness or sadness, but generally a struggle ensues. One that causes stress, pain and some level of suffering. Maybe it’s disappointments from events being canceled. Maybe it’s loneliness taken to a whole new level.

What about loss of income? Not enough work or too much work?

Maybe it’s loss and the grief which comes with it.

My message to you is remember the hero inside of you. Focus on your strengths and remember what it was like to get through a difficult time. How did you make it? Who helped you? What type of attitude did you have?

A hero learns from setbacks as much as he learns from successful ventures.

Remember in the movies the hero always wins in the end. The villains are defeated and those who are vulnerable are lifted up.

In our situation the hero has not yet returned home. We are still fighting battles and pushing back the foes.

We make it with a one day at a time approach. Deep breaths and healthy distractions. We make it one step at a time. Sometimes we have to crawl. Sometimes we are injured.

But the hero always makes it home.

You are a hero. This is your journey.

Wishing you well,

Amy Gamble

Why COVID-19 has impacted mental health

There are many reasons why COVID-19 has impacted mental health. I believe if you were to ask most people if this year has been a difficult year generally speaking they would say absolutely.

Before we even were thrust into a life altering upheaval of our daily lives, mental health challenges and substance use disorder was a public health crisis. In six years as a mental health advocate I have heard from over 100 people who were seeking information, support and sometimes advice for how to get help for themselves and/or family members.

As I embarked on attempting to help others with all I had learned over the years, I focused on educating thousands of people from high school and college students to Women’s clubs and the general public.

I share this biographical information with you to help you understand how and why I have insights into how COVID-19 has impacted mental health.

Let’s start with a commonly accepted definition of what being mentally healthy is.

According to the World Health Organization “Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which an individual can realize his or her potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”

Let’s break the definition down and discuss how COVID-19 has disrupted our collective state of well-being.

1. Realizing his or her potential

In March, most of us experienced a complete shut down of our economy and social outlets. Many people lost their job, had schools of all level cancelled, couldn’t participate in sports events, couldn’t even watch sports. We couldn’t go to church if you wanted too.

The areas that allowed us to tap into our potential had drastically and dramatically stopped, changed or got canceled indefinitely.

This alone creates a challenge for every person living on the planet who had their potential at the very least dented.

2. Can cope with the normal stresses of life

This is an easy one to explain. NOTHING about 2020 has been “normal stresses of life.”

3. Can work productivity and fruitfully

How one has been impacted by work varies, but at the very least we can surmise some have been more productive and fruitful than others. When your family owned small business is forced to close its doors after generations of existing…I wouldn’t even pretend to comprehend how people would process that.

When he or she loses their job or when predominately women have to quit their job to become school teachers, childcare providers, and then the typical role of being a stay at home parent work productivity changes significantly.

4. Make a contribution to his or her community

There are extraordinary circumstances of how so many people have contributed to their communities. Health care workers alone deserve a hero’s respect for their extraordinary efforts.

Essential workers also have daily put their health and well-being and that of their family at great risk of becoming infected. That’s an undeniable contribution to one’s community.

Others have volunteered to help with food banks. Witnessing an unprecedented amount of need in communities across the nation.

There are other examples of contributions.

And yet, other people have had to stay at home and disengage from volunteering. Imagine a retired senior who can’t volunteer because they are at too great of risk of being infected. Or simply any and all volunteer opportunities being cancelled as events with large amounts of in-person gatherings were postponed.

5. Isolation effects mental health

We were told to limit our contact with others, cancel or significantly reduce our holiday gatherings, and for the most part stay away from people not in your household when possible.

The level of impact on isolation is dependent upon each individual. But loneliness and isolation is known to cause mental health challenges or make them worse if you have them.

The list could go on and on and on.

Awareness to these challenges is one thing, how to help ourselves and others recover is another thing.

As I mentioned in the beginning of this blog post mental health challenges was already a public health crisis. The exponential rise in challenges will continue.

Everyone has some level of resilience.

Everyone has a breaking point.

What can you do about it?

Being aware of how you and your loved ones are handling this is a first step. Paying attention to coping strategies and changes in behavior is important.

Being aware of alcohol intake and other forms of numbing emotions or attempts to cope with substances is important.

Seeking professional help when needed. And not being afraid to reach out for support and help from others.

Those are a few suggestions. Doing a “how to cope with COVID” search will yield much more information and potential resources.

The most simple thing we can tell ourselves is this time too shall pass.

I’m not a fortune teller or psychic, but I do understand data and trends. This blog post is a warning of the importance of being aware of our mental health.

The impact on our collective community mental health is just beginning.

Remember challenges are one thing and solutions are another. We will all have to help each other work toward solutions.

Our mental health depends on it.

You can heal emotionally from losses?

I was giving a virtual talk last week about older adults mental health when one of the participants ask an insightful question about depression and grief. It was along the lines of how do I know when to encourage someone to get professional help for grief. My answer was when it interferes with daily activities, relationships and going to work or school. When it becomes so overwhelming a person could benefit from some professional help in coping with intense emotions.

So, how do I even know anything about grief and depression?

Because I have experienced both very intensely. Because I have studied both in my efforts to heal.

It was July 2001 when my father lost his battle with brain cancer. It’s fresh in my mind because a dear friend is experiencing a similar situation. Her stories have sparked my own deep emotions about a time when I had to come face-to-face with mortality- my fathers and my own.

Losing loved ones by any cause is very difficult. It’s beyond sad. Really I think the loss of that conscience person’s spiritual presence in our everyday lives may be the most painful.

But the spirit does live on. I think about the spirit in ways that move me emotionally. The fond memories of experiences and life lessons learned. The joy and happiness of hearing my dad’s truck pull in the driveway or the engine of the red Farmall tractor chugging up the lane.

My daddy taught me many things. How to hunt and fish. How to drive a tractor, take care of animals, bail hay, mark rows in a garden, but what I admire most was he taught me how to help others and to be a good friend.

His death began a two year period where my family would journey through losing six beloved family members.

You feel emotions and pain until you just can’t stand it anymore. You shutdown to survive. But the grief burrows deep inside. Healing comes in segments and bits and pieces.

I was a little surprised at how intensely my tears sprung up when I learned about my friend’s beloved father-in-law who is dying from cancer. I could feel her pain and it reminded me of how helpless I felt.

Loss in many forms can cause grief and grief can trigger depression. It’s very human to be sad, angry, bargain, depressed and accept as the Kubler Ross Stages of grief suggest.

But grief doesn’t start and stop. It flows with us and takes on many forms. It resurfaces with intensity around holidays, birthdays and other reminders. To deny loss of any kind doesn’t hurt is akin to lying to ourselves. Not being honest with ourselves about our emotions makes it harder on our mental health.

I remember praying to God to please take away the pain and sadness. It was overwhelming. What helped me through the grief and later through my depression wasn’t any one thing. It was many. Sometimes there are no simple solutions to complex situations.

Of course playing in the background for me was a little added stressor called bipolar disorder, which as you can imagine even more complicated my healing pathway.

What I know for certain are these few things:

1) Grief isn’t a straight linear process. It’s more like a winding journey on an old country road.

2) Healing is possible. No matter how big the losses are.

3) Professional help along the way can apply a salve for emotional wounds.

4) Compassion for ourselves and others fuels strength.

5) Holding on for just one more day is the hope that helps us cross the bridge and see the light shining even in the midst of darkness.

To all those who are experiencing losses of any kind I send you great compassion and empathy. The mind is powerful but the heart heals the soul.

Peace be with you.

Amy Gamble

Mental Healthiness Requires Work

The first pandemic in nearly a century. It’s a disaster on steroids. It has changed our daily lives. In some ways there has been some positive things that have happened. But sometimes I think those of us who try really hard to find hope in every situation look deeply to turn something extraordinarily troubling into a search for meaning and purpose.

No doubt this is a stressful situation for almost everyone. There’s always an outlier.

Stressful situations can trigger underlying mental health conditions. It can also cause an episode of depression or increase anxiety. In my case, having bipolar disorder has been a benefit and a detriment to my overall mental health.

The benefits are many. One, I know how to manage my mental health. I’ve studied it, struggled finding a balance and utilize my prescribed medications to help me stay even keel. Secondly, I have deep understanding of my illness and how it effects me. This situation has made me even more aware of how symptoms manifest in my everyday life. I’ve gained a great deal of insights in understanding my thinking, emotions and behaviors.

All valuable stuff.

On the other hand, I’ve come to realize one of the symptoms I experience is paranoia. It happens when I get stressed. The more stress – the more ruminating paranoia. It’s actually emotionally painful. Of all the symptoms of bipolar disorder that is the one symptom I never really realized or understood.

And now I do.

Reflecting back in the course of my life I can see how a little kernel of paranoia can turn into making life changing decisions in an instant. Without realizing what I was experiencing it was an extreme vulnerability. It still is. But less powerful because I am aware of it and can do something about it.

My message today is to take a moment and analyze your thinking, emotions and behavior. Stress does interesting things to our brains. The only way we can get ahead of it is to find coping mechanisms to help us deal with the situation in as healthy a way as we can. And if you are struggling reach out to a friend or family member for support. If you feel like you need a little extra help don’t be afraid to reach out to mental health care professionals.

A few things that help me are being outdoors, exercising or doing active physical work, turning off the news, praying, talking to friends and family, doing something mindless, like watching Netflix or Amazon Prime.

Most of all being aware of how this Pandemic is affecting me and what I can do to minimize the negative affects is my key to survival.

I’m reminded of a book I read years ago, “Tough Times Never Last, But Tough People Do!” In my view, the greatest power in toughness is acknowledging vulnerabilities. It’s like knowing your weakness and playing to your strength. If I can’t dribble well with my left hand, I’m not going to go left when my team needs me to drive hard to the basket. I’m gonna fake left and go hard right every time. And I’m going to work on my left hand, so I get better.

Mental healthiness requires an effort, practice and hard work. In the future we will all hopefully look back on this situation and realize we were a lot tougher than we may have thought. But it will take work to make it through and maintain mental health.

Best wishes to all of you.

Amy Gamble

Wellness Journey: Knowledge is Power

We can’t change, evolve, and grow if we don’t have knowledge. There are many places to find information these days, but the key is connecting to positive and trustworthy sources of information. Bad information from unworthy sources can divert us from our life path and if we aren’t careful cause almost irreparable harm.

I began my true Wellness Journey 12 years ago. There were always challenges and setbacks for me, but in 2008 my world as I knew it collapsed. I entered a period of deep physical, emotional and spiritual challenge as I had never experienced before.

There were several catalysts that brought me to where I ended up. It was as if I had attracted all the forces of negativity and darkness. Their influences on me would overwhelm my ability at the time to cope.

Even in my moments of mental instability I was able to realize what I was experiencing was an upheaval. I had faith that one day I would recover and find healing. My intuition and faith led me to purchase a video camera and capture what I was experiencing.

For around forty-five days in a row and then periodically over the years, I recorded myself and by doing so I now have a snapshot in time which is rich with insights for whomever I choose to share the information with. It demonstrates how far I have traveled on this journey and what is possible for others who may find themselves in a similar position.

Getting to where I am today would not have been possible without acquiring knowledge. I’ve been blessed with many people who have showed up on my path with something to teach me. I’ve learned from reading, studying, teaching others about mental health and speaking.

Every talk I gave, phone call I took, message I responded to and moments I had to reflect, are treasure troves filled with lessons to be able to take this information and help others.

The greatest gift is a transfer of knowledge. Without it – we have no roadmap to navigate our way. The more exposure we have, the easier things become.

Those who are “in the know” hold the keys for others. Whether we choose to give our keys is a personal choice.

Knowledge can be found in many places and forms. It is important to be aware of how what we are learning will help us stay true to ourselves, promote our wellness, ensure our safety and good health and be shared from a place of good intention.

I have learned to gauge everything that comes my way and I try not to judge as positive or negative. Because at the end of the day what I do with the insights I have gained can only help me evolve as a person.

As I move further along my own path of healing and good health, I will continue to share what I know to be true. One of my hopes is to make someone else’s journey a little easier.

Knowledge is the foundation of wellness and everyone deserves to be well.

Kind Regards,

Amy Gamble

Wellness Journey: Healing and harmony

I’m re-reading a book called “No Mud, No Lotus” by Thich Nhat Hanh. My dear friend Bill gave me the book a few years ago. I was in a different place in my healing journey, so the information I was processing about suffering, happiness, acceptance and many other wonderful life lessons is received very different today.

I’m reminded healing takes time.

I loved reading about how powerful staying in the present moment is. Especially striking was not allowing the ghosts of our pasts to victimize us in the present. Though I may have had suffering I don’t have to keep reliving it. I’ve learned to accept it. I don’t have to like some of the things that happened to me as a result of untreated and under treated bipolar disorder, but I can look at it from a different perspective now.

I’m reminded watering the positive seeds are important.

I’m very analytical. Sometimes that means having an overly critical eye on what needs fixed or solved. I’m an excellent problem solver. But sometimes I lose site of all that is right and all that is good.

When I look back with a focus on the positive, I find so many diamonds in the rough. Blessings too overwhelming to count. The truth is for as much trauma and tragedy I have encountered most of my experiences are overwhelmingly rich and pleasurable.

I’m reminded to honor my mind, body and spirit.

I’ve always believed in focusing on mind, body and spirit. I haven’t always practiced it. And this is okay. I accept my imperfections and am aware I will always be growing, learning, evolving and changing. Sometimes we do the best we can and this means we focus on the deepest part of our selves which cries for the most energy, until we find a balance within ourselves.

I’m reminded joy and happiness can come from the little things in life.

I’ve been a big dreamer and have benefited from this kind of mindset. My experiences are indeed so vast, as I have healed I’ve had a chance to focus on drawing upon those treasures I’ve accumulated. But at the end of the day it is still the butterfly showing up on a weed I’m about to cut down, that brings me great joy. The weed still stands for the butterfly to return and the hope of seeing its beauty again brings me happiness.

I’m reminded to find my true aspiration.

Years ago when I first went to college in my journal I wrote I wanted to help people. I pursued a degree in social work. A timeout from college to train for the Olympics took me to a different university without a social work program. But I have learned no matter the profession or what I am doing my true aspiration is to help others. The stronger I become the more energy I will have to give.

And finally I’m reminded to breathe and be grateful for my eyes, my hearing and the opportunity to pursue overall wellness. Any moment I become stressed or anxious or overthinking if I breathe I can ground myself.

I’m sharing this with you as part of my next step in my wellness journey. I know I will always have to live and manage a chronic illness, but I also have come to realize I don’t have to be a victim of it.

Bipolar disorder has not made me weaker it has in fact made me stronger. Perhaps not because I wanted it to or chose it, but it has chosen me and I am empowered to choose how I live in harmony with it.

Wishing you well.

Amy Gamble

My Brain prefers certainty and COVID-19 is not cooperating

The brain likes certainty, predictability and structure. Those things keep our stress response system from being activated. In the middle of a Pandemic all bets are off. If you’ve never had anxiety before and all the sudden find yourself worrying about everything, there’s a good chance you are not alone. Racing thoughts keeping you up at night? Unfounded fears multiplying?

Sitting alone in your car on a drive home from work, where you are deemed an “essential worker” and have been working non-stop since all of the lock downs started, suddenly you feel your chest tighten, your grasping for your breath, your legs are tingling and you think you’re going to die. Most likely you’re having a panic attack.

Mask wearing, excessive hand washing, social distancing, the number of people infected or dying everyday adds to the stress. Add in whether or not your job went away, is not coming back, or you just don’t even have a clue what’s going to happen…this all adds to stress.

In my experience managing anxiety is not an easy task, especially when so many things are outset our control. That’s the first strategy. Focus on the things you can control. We can’t control Uncle Bill’s sudden outrages over having to wear a mask in Walmart, but we can control our reaction to his emotional deluge. We have absolutely no control over politics or anyone’s political opinion, so try to restrain from arguing on Facebook with your friends or family. You won’t change their minds and it will simply add to your stress.

Breath. Sounds stupid, but it really works. Breathing deeply five times and exhaling clears the mind and relieves anxiety almost immediately. It won’t cure you, but it will help make things more manageable.

Take a time out. Walk outside in nature. It’s calming, peaceful and doesn’t have an underlying agenda.

Exercise if only for short moments. Five minutes is better than nothing. Take a five minute walk outside in the neighborhood. Do a pushup challenge with your friends. Find free online workouts you can do from home. Move the body it will help the mind.

Everyday is about taking one small step forward. We can’t get to the end of the tunnel when we can’t see the light. Right now, there’s no light shining. All we know is there’s so much we don’t know. We are living in constant uncertainty.

Be careful what you put in your body to manage these rough times. Too much of any good thing…well it turns into a not so good thing. Too many cigarettes, too much booze, etc. There’s no easy solution to this circumstance.

Take a step back and remember the times you’ve gotten through difficult times. What did you do? How did you think about what steps you needed to take? What helped? Who helped? And smile knowing you made it.

We will live through this time. It won’t be 100% unpleasant nor 100% pleasant. It will be a mixed bag. Stress will come and go. Some people will have it much worse than others. Help someone if you can. Ask for help if you need it.

One day at a time. Find the little joys that make your heart sing.

Wishing you safety and good health,

Amy Gamble

Pay attention to Mental Health warning signs and make the turn!

You’re driving down a road and suddenly see a sign indicating a sharp turn. Do you slow down? If you don’t you risk going over a steep cliff. It doesn’t mean you “will” go over the cliff…it’s importantly a warning sign to prevent an accident or death.

I’ve been a person in the past who ignored the warning signs for my mental health. At almost every turn I went off a steep cliff, nearly resulting in a pre-mature death while lost in the wilderness during a psychotic episode.

I don’t recommend ignoring the warning signs.

The one major warning sign for all mental health conditions (a.k.a. – mental illness) is the interruption of sleep. Have you ever had so much stress when you laid down to sleep the thoughts raced in your mind? Your sleep was interrupted and resulted in you feeling horrible the next day.

Chronic stress impacts are sleep habits. According to the National Institute of Health, “Sleep is important to a number of brain functions, including how neurons communicate with each other. Recent finding suggest sleep removes toxins in your brain.”

After years of ignoring warning signs I’m now hyper vigilant. If I forget every other warning sign, the fact I focus on my sleep–how little or how much–keeps me mentally healthy. If I sleep too much, it’s a good sign I’m cycling into a depressive episode and I use every coping mechanism possible to pull myself out before it gets severe.

If I sleep too little I risk having a hypomanic or manic episode. Hypomania is my warning sign. Allowing too many days without sleep revs my brain so much I can’t think straight and my thoughts race like a runaway train. I do everything in my power to prevent this from happening.

You don’t have to have a mental health condition to have poor mental health.

Coronavirus is impacting our mental health in ways that are known and in ways not yet known. Tom Insel a leading researcher and former head of the National Institute of Health notes deaths by suicide, opiod addictions and significant increases in depression will happen as a result of this pandemic.

This is a warning sign.

If each individual person knew the warning signs for mental health, we could change the curve of what is predicted. Mental health is about thinking, emotions, behavior and how we interact with others as a result of all those things.

Paying attention to our behaviors can give us warning signs. An extra glass of wine on occasion, no big deal. An entire bottle on more than one occasion, red flag. Did you know two glasses of wine a day put a man and one glass for a woman put you at risk for developing a substance use problem?

Self-medicating with drugs and alcohol is very common. I’ve fallen into the trap of drinking too much alcohol, before I even knew self-medication was a “thing.” I pay close attention to what I drink, when I drink and how much I drink if I consume any alcohol at all.

Drugs were never something I was into. Taking prescription drugs to manage a condition is one thing, using them inappropriately is another. These are all warning signs.

My suggestion is to search for positive coping tools, like mindfulness, exercise, proper sleep, meditation, reaching and connecting with a friend.

Most importantly: Get real with how you feel.

And if you aren’t feeling mentally healthy reach out for help. As my Aunt Mary Francis always used to say, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” To this I say, “Amen!”