Editorial Review

Dear Readers,

I wanted to take a moment and share with you my first editorial review for my book, “Bipolar Disorder, My Biggest Competitor:  An Olympian’s Journey with Mental Illness.”

Betsy Bethel, Life Editor from the Wheeling Newsregister and Intelligencer says, “Amy Gamble is a champion for mental health, advocating for awareness, improved care and the removal of stigma. In her book, she painstakingly describes the details of her own battle with bipolar disorder that led her from the U.S. Olympic team to a prosperous career for a top Fortune 500 company to a small jail cell in Montana and — eventually — to recovery. Amy’s firsthand experiences with the obstacles of our own health care and justice systems are chilling. And just when you think her nightmare has to be over, it starts all over again. You come to understand that mental illness truly levels the field: No amount of money, prestige or physical strength can protect you from it. But her survival instinct, her faith in God, and the work ethic she developed growing up on a West Virginia farm and honed as an Olympic athlete kept her trudging onward through her darkest days. The book is in part a cautionary tale — a “what not to do” — for the health care industry, as well as for families of those who are mentally ill and sick individuals themselves. Above all, it is a story of Amy’s redemption, a reclaiming of the life she thought she lost and the emerging of a true champion who dares to dream again. Mental illness won far too many battles in Amy’s life, but through her own education, proper care and sheer determination, she won the war. By sharing her story, she has ensured that her struggles were not in vain and many people will benefit from her victory.”

Click Here to Order

 

 

 

I AM Depression…

I’m the fog clouding the pathway of your life journey. Sometimes I come even when the sun shines. I’m eerie and heavy. I make it hard for you to see. I cause deep emotional pain. But I’m invisible to others. Only you know I’m here.

My presence is haunting. I get inside your mind and shout ugly things. I scream, “You’re not worth anything. You’re a failure! You’re lazy.” Then, I sliver up to you when you least expect it and tell you the world would be better off without you. I tell you I’ll make the voices stop, if you’ll just make a deal with me.

Then, you cry. I like it when you cry. I like to see what effect I’m having on you. When you wipe your tears I’m still here. You can’t cry me away. I don’t like other people around you, because they tell you to fight me. I convince you—you’re better off alone.

Alone. I’m the only one who controls you. I love polluting your thoughts. It gives me pleasure to watch you fall deeper into my grasp. My ultimate goal is to fill you up with nothingness. You’ll only be a shell of yourself. People will leave you alone. You won’t be fun anymore. But I will be with you. I won’t let go. Please don’t try to fight me.

You start to whisper a prayer. I hate prayers. Prayers are hopeful. Prayers destroy my power.

You take yourself to the doctor and ask for help. I hate the doctor. The doctor will help you.

You get a pill box and start taking medication. I hate medication. It causes my power to fade.

You make yourself fight me, but I’m a tough opponent. I’m not going away easily.

You start reaching out and talking to others. They know my secrets.

You win the battle. But there will be more. I’m always lurking. Waiting to reappear.

I AM depression.

 

Why are we afraid to talk psychosis?

Imagine you have been in a long deep sleep, filled with far fetched dreams-maybe even nightmares.  Did you ever wake up and say, “Wow!  That dream was so real.”  And maybe it takes a little while to regain your sense of consciousness.  To decipher between what was a dream and what was not.

Now imagine, you’re awake and your mind begins to have an altered reality.  You’re thinking and believing things that aren’t really true.  Maybe you believe the world is coming to an end or everyone is trying to kill you.  Paranoid about everyone and everything.  The mind you relied on to take you to a high level of success is now playing mean and cruel tricks on you.  But it’s all too real.  You can’t tell you’re brain is malfunctioning.

People are starting to look at you strangely.  You’re still perceptive and know they’re looking at you, questioning your sanity.  But that only adds to your paranoia.  The filters you have are gone.  Everyone is surely out to get you.

Then, to make matters worse, you hear a voice in your head.  A voice that’s not an inner voice of wisdom, but an extra voice intended to confuse you.  But only you know it’s there and no one else knows you are hearing it.  It’s as real to you as you are breathing.

Now add a sprinkle of mania to those thoughts.  Not only are the thoughts not based in reality, they’re coming faster and faster.  Only you can interpret what is going on in your own mind and now it’s off kilter.  The reality mirrors have broken.  There is no waking up from a bad dream.  It’s now a real live nightmare and those who love you are freaking out.  They can see you, but you can’t see yourself.

The real problem begins when you start acting on what you believe.  The thoughts start turning into actions.  The actions are bizarre and out of character.  Loved ones start to get scared.

It’s a medical condition to have a psychotic episode.  Yet our culture treats it like a scene in a bad horror movie.  Did you ever notice the bad guys are usually the person with mental illness who escapes from a mental institution?  The person with a mental illness is often portrayed as the deranged killer.  And here it comes…the words are finally uttered…he’s a psycho.  Psycho.  The really bad personalized word for a person having a psychotic episode.

For the most part, people who have not had any experience with a loved one who has a severe mental illness, like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or PTSD, will not have any understanding of psychosis, and even then, many loved ones really don’t understand either. The media does well to play over and over when a person with mental illness commits a crime, but they do very little to explain the most severe mental illnesses.  The most severe symptoms.

But yet, we are all still so afraid to have a real live conversation about psychosis.  Those of us who have experienced psychosis are scared to step-up and explain what happened during an episode.  We don’t want to be labeled as crazy, whacko, looney, psycho or nuts.  All disparaging words that do little to explain the malfunction of the brain.  That’s right.  The brain is responsible for how we think, feel and behave.  It’s the control center for our bodies.  But we treat it with so little respect.  And when it makes a misstep we label it with nasty words.

I contend we don’t talk about psychosis because we are afraid.  And that fear is perpetuated by our silence.  This is why we need more people to speak up about what it’s like to experience a psychotic episode.  Survivors testimonies are the key to better understanding, improved treatment and a cultural shift.

We fear what we don’t understand.  I write to help people understand.  I write to stop the silence.  I write because I care.

Living well with bipolar disorder

Over three years ago when I first started blogging, I never shared my blog post on Facebook, I had not given a talk on mental illness and I was a ways from living well.  I was still angry I had been dealt the Bipolar card and I was struggling to accept myself.

I wanted desperately to feel apart of a community.  It meant something to me to be involved in helping other people.  I had a vision for what I wanted my life to look like, but getting there was a ways off.

Now, a month away from launching my book “Bipolar Disorder, My Biggest Competitor,” I can honestly say my vision has become a reality.  I feel free from all the baggage from the past.  I have learned to accept myself and all the things I am proud of and all the things I am not.  

I love helping other people learn about mental illness and I enjoy the mental health first aid classes I teach.  This week I’m teaching a group of principals.  I’m excited to continue shedding light on mental illness.

But what has changed for me in the past few months is that I now have a drive to also have some fun.  I realized more aspects of myself were coming to life.  I’ve been spending more time outdoors and really loving it.  Things have been coming together and I’ve felt blessed.

When I wrote that blog post three years ago about recovery-this is the life I had imagined.  I’m more than grateful I get to live the dream.  And excited to say recovery is possible and living well is a realistic dream.  

I love it when things work out the way I imagined they could.

Two Childhood Friends Reunite

Lori Whitwam, an author, editor and one of my childhood friends, wrote an especially personal blogpost of how she came to help me with my book, “Bipolar Disorder, My Biggest Competitor:  An Olympian Journey with Mental Illness.”  Clearly without Lori, God, the Universe’s mystery and lots of support, I wouldn’t be anywhere close to publishing my book.

Read the article Lori wrote on her blog today.  It’s especially touching and a testament to how people can be brought together for the greater good.

A Project Close to My Heart by Lori Whitwam.

To Tell or Not to Tell-Getting passed insecurity

am I good enough

In January 2014, I went to the computer and learned how to use wordpress.  I decided I was going to start writing about mental illness.  It was truly scary.  What was running through my mind were things like–what will people think?  I’ll never be able to coach basketball again.  People will think I am crazy.  What if no one ever talks to me again?  How will this effect my ability to work? Do I write well enough for anyone to read it?  

The thoughts rambled on and I definitely pushed myself forward.   Writing had always been a way I found to heal myself.  A few years ago I needed a lot of healing.  The benefits far out weighed the risks.  Sharing became a powerful empowering tool.

How did it all turn out?

Well, the sky did not fall. People still talked to me.  I coached a girl’s basketball team this year. I don’t know if people think I am crazy or not, but I learned not to really care very much.  The people who love me, still love me.

What are the next big steps?

In the past year I have been writing a book about my experiences with bipolar disorder.  When I first started writing I was really guarded and conservative.  I was deciding very carefully what I would say and what I would not.  But as time passed I would have these revelations and would reassure myself that I could talk openly about anything I wanted to.  I believe people respect honesty and I decided leaving out very important truths was a bit on the side of dishonesty.

So, the next big step is putting everything on the line and telling my story including all the ugly stuff you might find hidden in a basement corner.  The things I hesitated to talk about…just like three years ago when I typed those first few words of my biography…scaryWhat will people think?  What if no one ever talks to me again? 

Insecurity is perhaps my biggest hurdle.  My old Coach the late Pat Summitt always used to tell me I was my own worst enemy.  I doubted myself too much.  But the thing about it is I was able to overcome my worst enemy.  And I am about to do it again in a big way.

 

Beating Bipolar: Fake It Till You Make It

strength-quotes-picture

I am one of the lucky ones.  I have made it back from a stage 4 mental illness.  I am currently enjoying five years of stability with only a few intermittent depressive episodes.  I am virtually symptom free.  I manage my illness well with the help of an excellent psychiatrist.

One of the biggest losses I suffered was the loss of confidence.  It felt like I had fallen off a cliff.  This confident, respected, Olympic athlete and professional had turned into a shadow of myself.  I walked with my shoulders bent forward hoping no one would notice me.  For the most part I stayed isolated so I would not feel bad.  When I came out to play life I let people push me around a bit, question my abilities in subtle ways and sometimes put me down.  More than anything, I doubted myself.

I had been standing in the ring with my biggest competitor-bipolar disorder.  It punched me so hard and knocked me down so many times I did not know if I could get up again.  When I did my legs were wobbly.  I lost countless bouts.  Then, I began to win.  Small wins multiplied.  I kept pushing myself.  Every person I met along my journey good or bad, helped me to re-build my confidence.  Every experience turned into a learning opportunity.  A confidence building exercise.

Confidence is a very tricky thing.  You can’t get it without making mistakes.  You can’t get it without being willing to put yourself out there and look foolish.  You have to be willing to know playing the game means you are going to lose sometimes, and quite frankly losing hurts.

Winning back confidence is one of the greatest gifts I could have ever received.  It means that I can go out on any court in life and lace up my sneakers.  I can draw upon all those experiences, including working at the Shoe Department vacuuming floors, and know that with grit and determination I just worked my way back to the starting team!

On April 24, 2017 I was the keynote speaker at a statewide event.  It was my 73 talk in two years.  I gave my first talk on mental health to a group of people who came to listen because they supported me and they wanted to see what I had to say.  My second talk was to a group of 400 middle school students.  Some people say if you can talk to middle school students you can talk to anyone.  I think that’s true.

What I know for sure is that you can’t be willing to step in the ring without having some confidence.  What I am most proud of is I never gave up.  Even when I left a conversation feeling a little weird and a lot unsure of myself.  I walked away and licked my wounds, put a smile on my face and kept going.

So how do you build confidence?  Step up to the line and take that first shot.  Eventually it will go in.  You can’t be afraid to lose or fail or miss the shot.  And even if you are afraid you “fake it till you make it.”  Works every time.

 

The Danger of Stigma

I posted on Facebook today this:  “Stigma is shame.  Shame causes silence.  Silence hurts everyone.”  I was struck by a comment from one of my friends who said, “Stigma is the root of all suffering whose ripples expand and touch countless others…”  Wow.

Her comment really struck a cord with me.  I know from my experience how much stigma impacted my willingness to get help and stay with a treatment plan.  Stigma caused me to internalize a tremendous amount of guilt because I had this mental illness “label.”

I don’t believe in labels, but I do believe in diagnosis.  Without the correct diagnosis I was put on the wrong medications and it made my underlying condition worse.  It is important to know what is going on and if it takes a “label” to help someone I am okay with that.  But the fact that we even think of mental health conditions as labels means we have a problem.

I read a great deal about mental illness.  I don’t read as much about mental health because I have a good understanding of what it takes to be mentally healthy.  But as I researched information for an upcoming talk I am giving I found there is such a difference between what mental health advocates use to describe a mental illness.  Here are some of them:  mental health issue, mental health concern, brain disorder, mental health condition, and finally mental illness.  All of us advocates are trying to make it okay to talk about mental illness.  We are all trying to fight against the stigma.  Some do it in a different language because of the great stigma attached to the words mental illness.

Here is the question I ask myself – what words make the most impact?  I find myself using them all interchangeably.  But I have to say there is a big difference between a mental health issue and a severe mental illness.  An issue is something we can get over a severe mental illness is something that requires a life long battle.  I believe if we are going to educate we have to be real and raw.  Let’s get real about what we are dealing with and then let’s work to help people know it is okay to get help.

Experience is our greatest teacher.  I have been on this journey with mental illness for more than 30 years.  Trust me when I tell you the stigma of mental illness is dangerous and we must do everything in our power to eliminate it.  Lives are at stake.