Time to Talk Mental Illness

I had an opportunity today to deliver a presentation to 400 middle school kids about Mental Illness.  I talked about my struggles with bipolar disorder and then went on to discuss how common mental illness is.  The kids were amazing!  They were engaged and asked very insightful questions.

Before the kids came into the auditorium I turned to one of the NAMI Board Members and said, “it has been my dream for four years to deliver a presentation on Mental Illness in the schools.  I guess that dream is coming true today.”  As I watched those kids filter into the auditorium I was touched by the fact that one in five would deal with a mental illness.  I knew if I could just impact one I would have done my job.

At the end of the presentation the kids asked so many great questions.  They wanted to know which was harder for me to deal with “the mania or the depression.”  They ask me to clarify what stigma meant and they tried their best to understand other terms.

What really touched my heart was a little girl who came up to me afterwards and told me that on her walk home from school she crosses a bridge everyday.  And everyday she deals with suicidal thought that tell her to “jump.”  I responded by telling her she mattered and that those thoughts are telling her a lie.  “Don’t believe those lies!”  I encouraged and as she walked away I hoped she would always remember those words, “you matter!”

So today is the beginning of my efforts to use my gifts and talents and reach out to touch others lives.  Those who are impacted by mental illness and those who may be affected in the future.  

Today, I feel proud to have taken one small step forward to helping remove the stigma of mental illness.  Hoping that the next generation is more informed and educated than I was.

Making a difference one person at a time!

Reflections from a Bipolar Survivor

Time is precious.  I think you understand that very well when faced with a mental illness that can sometimes steal days away from you.

It was not that long ago when my struggles were so long and my spirit so low that those days stolen turned into weeks and weeks into months.  It seemed that every time I had a good day the bad days followed with a vengeance.

After years of recovery I find myself looking back at all that lost time.  It was nine years ago when I began a journey into a dark abyss. The domino affect of an untreated and under treated mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder, turned my life upside down.  The destruction was so bad that it caused my bipolar depression to worsen and suicidal thoughts became all too familiar to me.  It was a time when I was not sure I could ever rebuild my life again because I had lost so much.

There were no more birthday parties with friends, in fact, there were literally no more friends.  They were all gone.  Lost to an illness inhabiting my brain.  How could I ever imagine returning to a somewhat normal life?  

The one thing I had going for me was that I always had the underdog mentality.  I grew up in a small rural town and went on to become an Olympic Athlete.  I had beat the odds on that one, so I told myself I could beat the odds by recovering.

But it was not a quick fix.  It took years of battling bipolar disorder and years to piece back together a once very promising life.  If you are reading this now I wish I could tell you recovery is an easy journey, but if you have been there you know it is not easy.  In fact, it may be the hardest thing I have ever done.

What makes it so difficult?  For one thing, there are those darn symptoms.  The highs, the lows, the racing thoughts, the lack of motivation, and of course the dreaded suicidal thoughts.  Then there is the complete erasure of confidence and self-esteem.  Add this up and pile on a loss of a support system and you find yourself on a very very lonely road.

Looking back I used to beat myself up about how I handled my illness.  If only I had known more about bipolar disorder things could have been so different.  But I knew what I knew when I knew it and that’s the best I can do with resolving my frustration.  The thing that gives me fuel for my passion to raise awareness is the very thing that caused me the most pain.  

So here I sit nine long years later.  My symptoms well controlled by medications.  A cocktail of drugs that don’t leave me feeling like a zombie.  And surrounded by people who I can actually call my friends who support my ideas and ambitions.

The years have passed not so silently and certainly not without struggle.  But the lessons learned have been invaluable.  I just hope I can shed some light for other people so their journey might not have to be so difficult.

Time is precious.  Indeed it is!

Are You Struggling with Mental Illness?  This is for you

As you probably know mental Illness is very difficult to deal with for many reasons.  First, learning there is something wrong with our brains puts a shiver down the spine.  No one wants their credibility to be diminished because of a “label.”

But when it comes to getting a diagnosis that label can mean at the very least an explanation for what is wrong.  Secondly, the correct diagnosis allows us to get treated properly and then we can work toward leaning how to live with and manage the symptoms of our illness.

I know in my case I resisted the diagnosis of bipolar because of the stigma of mental illness.  I thought my life was over when I found out I had a serious mental illness.  I did not know anything about recovery and only wished the illness would go away.  But we all know when we have a problem it just does not go away.  We have to deal with it no matter how unpleasant that can be.

There are so many facets that challenge the very essence of who we are when that label becomes a reality in our lives.  It affects our confidence and self-esteem and rivers our ability to carry on with life in a “normal” way.

The best way I have found to deal with my own situation is to take every step and break it down into small pieces.  Find out as much as you can about whatever illness you are dealing with.  Think of it this way, if you had cancer would you just sit back and do whatever anyone told you what to do?  Or would you take an active roll in understanding what was going on?  

Research the medications you are prescribed so you know what to expect from the side effects.  Know your triggers and warning signs.  Put a plan into action if you get into a crisis situation so your loved ones know what to do to help you if for some reason you cannot help yourself.

I found it helpful to read about others who have learned to live well with their illness.  It gave me hope that one day I too could recover.  Recovery does not mean the illness went away, it just means I am able to live a full life inspite of it.

Above all, even though it sounds trite and simple never ever give up hope no matter how difficult things may be.  Take one day at a time and keep believing things will get better.  

I personally have been at rock bottom and I know it looks dark and dreary in that place.  But I also know that things do get better and sometimes it just may surprise you at how well things can turn out.

“Coming Out with Bipolar Disorder”

Over the past few years I have read many articles about people speaking publicly about their mental illness.  Most people have said it was a very positive experience, though others have said they experienced stigma in one way or another.

When I decided to start writing a blog I kept thinking about what articles I found most helpful.  I always came back to the ones that told me their story.  The “hero’s journey” where the often lonely struggle existed and then the period of rebuilding life and finally the light at the end of the tunnel.

During my long journey I will admit there were those very painful, dark and lonely days when I wondered if life was worth it anymore. I danced along the edges with suicidal ideation tormenting my mind.  I kept fighting the bipolar depression symptoms and prayed for some how and some way they would release their tight fisted grip.  But even in the moments of greatest despair I refused to give up hope not really knowing how things were going to turn out, but holding on to the idea that one day I would look back and say, “I made it!”

Over a year ago I set out to try my hand at blogging.  When I did that I wanted to be honest with those who took the time to read my posts.  This meant I would need to tell who I was and how much I had struggled.  I quietly went about my days working toward a time when I could stand up and tell people publicly about my struggle with bipolar disorder.

Because of my past athletic accomplishments I have been blessed with a great platform to speak out about mental illness.  Yesterday an article was published in my hometown newspaper and shared extensively on Facebook.  

When I first read the headline, “Mental Illness was Toughest Hurdle for Gamble,” I was struck by the fact I had publicly “come out” with something so deeply personal.  I can tell you that I was taken back by all the many people who responded to that article in such a positive way.  I simply did not expect so many people to applaud me for taking such a vocal approach to mental illness.

Not everyone may feel the need or have the desire to speak out about their own disorder, but I can tell you for me it was absolutely the best decision I have ever made.

The caveat to all of this is there are many people who are eager to open up and speak willingly about mental illness.  This says to me that today I have helped take one small step forward in fighting stigma and for that I feel very blessed to have made a difference.