The Courage to Share

It was three years ago when I started to blog.  I really enjoyed meeting so many people from all over the world.  What writing about mental illness came down to was the “Courage to Share,” an honest story sometimes filled with pain or struggle.

What I have learned is when I have been willing to share my story with others I receive so much in return that I almost feel overwhelmed by the amount of support.

One thing I hope I have been able to do is to offer hope to people who live with mental illness or their family members.  Someone said to me today, “Mental Illness is just so sad.  I don’t know how you can find fun or joy in what you do.”  I was surprised by the comment.  Sure suffering is plentiful when it comes to mental illness but hope is alive and well.

I truly believe the book I have written “Bipolar Disorder My Biggest Competitor” will be real in that there are struggles-but also be filled with the hope for recovery.  

Most of all I want to encourage others to share their stories in any format.  It is a gift that keeps on giving.  The courage to share is the grace in healing.

Amy

New Book is Coming Soon!

Just wanted to let you know I have been working on a memoir called “Bipolar Disorder, My Biggest Competitor.”  The day is getting closer, but I still have lots of work to do.  I will keep you updated when it is finished.  I am looking for a Mental Health Awareness Month launch date!

The story will really highlight lots of injustices those with mental illness deal with.  I am hoping the book will give a voice to many people who often don’t have one.

So…stay tuned for more updates!  amygamble_1amygamble_2amygamble-upright_nospine

 

Pleased with progress 

When I started on this mental health advocacy journey I did not have any idea what to expect.  Three years ago I began blogging anonymously just to be able to express some of my frustrations of living with a mental illness.

My anonymity lasted about six months and at that point I decided I would rather live authentically and maybe I could help a few other people by being honest about my struggles.

That one step of courage has led me down a path filled with blessings.  I have met and intereacted with hundreds of people following my heart to raise awareness for mental illness.  People from all over the country and in some cases all over the world.  There are many kindred spirits who have picked up a banner to raise the flag for our cause–mental health advocacy!

Starting this new year I am already taken back by the invitations I have been receiving to speak about mental illness.  I am overwhelmed by the interest and willingness for different professional groups to have the desire to learn more about the issues and challenges of living with a mental illness.

My inbox is pleasantly surprised to be invited to the parties.  The places where people are gathering to shed light on mental illness and suicide.  Advocacy is happening and our culture is beginning to shift in how we start having these dialogues.  

For my small part in pushing the cause forward-I feel proud.  Mostly because I was willing to be vulnerable to help make a difference.  And it seems that honesty has some power to help fuel the movement even if in a small way.

No matter who you are or where you are fighting for your cause…keep up the work.  Eventually people will hear you and change can happen.  One day we will end the stigma once and for all.

Here’s to powerful social change in 2017! It is time stigma goes down in history.

How the election affected our Mental Health

election

Not too many people would disagree that this has been the most unusual presidential election in modern day history.  The build up to this election has caused social media “friends” to “unfriend” each other; posts on both sides of the aisle spewed with outrageous stories and half-truths; media predictions that were way off the mark; and the popular vote won by the losing candidate.

With the election of Mr. Trump some people are thrilled and others are scared.  But emotions are still raw and running high among the two different camps.  I contend that all of this does nothing good for our mental health.

If you are celebrating a victory you might feel happy, but in many cases are still fighting with people who are protesting or who are against Mr. Trump.  I have seen people calling each other names on social media.  For example, the protestors are called “cry baby’s,” “spoiled brats,” etc.  So if you are doing the spewing of derogatory name calling, I have a news flash –  it is still not good for mental health to get all upset.  Conflict causes an increase in anxiety and the more you spew the more anxious you get.  The bottom line is you probably are not going to influence whether the protestors line the streets or not, so maybe accepting some people are not too happy is the faster path to a peaceful mind.

On the other hand, if you are mourning Hillary Clinton’s loss it can feel depressing and sad.  There is also a tendency to start predicting how the country is going to hell.  How all decisions Donald Trump makes will be the end of America.  Painting this kind of negative picture also raises anxiety and can trigger depression.  There has never been any single president in the history of America who has “ruined” the United States.  I really doubt one person can have that effect.

What is best for our mental health?  In my mind the key to a balanced and healthy mind comes down to a balanced perspective.  Trying to respect whatever feelings this election may have brought up and moving toward having some closure.  Learning to agree to disagree and find a common ground with each other is critically important.

Of course we always have the option to “take all our marbles and go home.”  Continuing our disputes on Facebook and bringing all that negative energy to whatever environment we are standing in.  But ultimately negativity affects the person who is carrying it more than it affects anyone else.

Let’s try not to judge each other and learn to respect our differences.  Our mental health depends on it.

 

 

I witnessed stigma in the making today.

blogstigma

Today I had the opportunity to attend a lunch n’ learn on bipolar disorder.  The gentleman presenting was a clinical psychologist who I have known from being on a working group together.  He is a very nice man.  However, today I witnessed one of the things that contribute to the stigma of mental illness in an astounding way.

His talk started out very informative about bipolar disorder signs and symptoms.  He explained really well about mania, depression and everything in between.  But then the whole talk took a downward turn.  He started sharing six stories about people he had involuntarily committed.  If the story had been told from a factual standpoint on how people with bipolar disorder can put themselves at risk, I would have been fine with it.  Except the stories told were laughed at and even the audience laughed as well.  At one point a YouTube Video was shown of a man who said he was experiencing a manic episode.  It was over the top.

I guess you had to be there to really understand my perspective.  I did not want to be rude and get up and leave, so I sat through a very painful hour of stigmatizing people with mental illness as crazy, looney and psycho with no hope for recovery.  At one point I considered raising my hand and saying, “I am one of those bipolar type I patients who have recovered.  What can you say about me?”  I decided against that strategy.

What I did do is tell the organizer who joked about having a manic episode based on all the criteria he just learned that the talk needed to be more balanced.  Yes there are people with bipolar disorder who run naked in neighborhoods.  Yes there are people with bipolar disorder who are homeless.  But there is also another side.  These people are someone’s wife, husband, friend, daughter, son, brother, sister etc.  .

Rather than embarrass the speaker I decided to have a private conversation with him at the end.  I said to him, “I have bipolar disorder type I.  Did you know that?”  “No I didn’t know that,” he said rather surprised.  And then I said, “I have my own sensational stories.  But I am also an Olympian, have a master’s degree and have worked in Corporate America for many years.  And by the way, people do recover.”

I think he was shocked that I said that to him.  Of course I was very diplomatic, but it really struck a cord with me.  I will have the opportunity to speak with this audience in March.  I plan to spend a great deal of time talking about stigma.  I hope what I say will help repair some of the damage that was done today.

What to do after a mental illness diagnosis 


No one wants to hear those words you have an illness.  But outside of cancer there are few diagnosis that trump a mental illness label.  It can be very depressing.  So now that you have it -what do you do next?

Here are some common answers to that question:

1.  Deny it.  Belief the doctor or therapist is wrong and you are perfectly healthy.  It is everyone else who has the problem.

2.  Cry.  It is a sad day to get told something is not quite right and that maybe you will need medications for the rest of your life.  That’s no fun to hear.  Grab a box of tissues and let it all sink in.

3. Rejoice.  Well a little dramatic but if you were looking for something to explain how you thought or felt or acted and now all of a sudden things made sense that’s a pretty good day.

4.  Question.  Is the doctor right?  Get a second opinion.

5. Accept it and start learning how to recognize warning signs of the illness.  Become a student and learn everything you can so you manage the illness and it does not manage you.

6.  Ignore it.  Pretend as if the doctor has not just told you you have a severe mental illness and you will need treatment most likely for the rest of your life.

In my personal journey I have done each one of those responses.  #6 is by far the worst choice in my personal experience.  But I do understand all the choices and know everyone has their own reasons for choosing how they react and deal with it.

No matter where you are in your process think about what worked the best for you.   In the end #5 gave me my life back.  It is my choice and recommendation for others confronted with this challenge.

Second Chances for Life

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Idaho National Forest

Four years ago I almost lost my life because of untreated bipolar disorder.  During a manic and psychotic episode I drove 3300 miles until finally landing in the mountains, lost on foot in the Idaho National Forest.

In the middle of winter, after two days of surviving without a coat, socks or backpacking gear I was rescued by two people riding ATV’s.  I don’t think I would have survived the elements for one more day.  My only injury was dehydration and frostbite.

Because of my experience I am a person who feels very strongly about finding the right treatment regimen.  I am adamant that bipolar disorder left untreated can lead to unwanted and serious consequences.

But I can also say that it is imperative to find the right treatment team.  I was under the care of a physician and therapist at the time of my episode.  But I lost insight into my illness and then stopped all my medications.

For a very long time I blamed myself for what happened.  Then I realized that having bipolar disorder is not my fault.  Where I am accountable is making certain  I do the best job possible in managing my illness.

The first time anyone shed light on bipolar disorder signs and symptoms was in the hospital in Idaho.  I wish more treatment facilities would take the time to educate patients about their illness.  It made a world of difference to me.

This experience among others, has taught me not only about bipolar disorder but also about myself.  I learned that even in my most compromised state of mind I had the will to live.  I learned just how strong I have been.  I learned it was not my time to go.

With this second chance at life I want to make sure I help educate others about mental illness.  I want to help eliminate stigma because it dramatically affects all of us.

I also want to share I have recovered.  Even though I have been to a stage 4 mental illness I have gotten better.  I work.  Give talks.  Write.  Advocate.

No matter where you are in your struggle with mental illness, know you can get well.  It is a fight but it is possible.  I am living proof.

“Never underestimate your ability to make a difference in someone’s life.”

Why keeping a positive attitude matters inspite of depression

It is frustrating to live with depression.  I get it.  I walk to the beat of humming depression almost everyday.  It is clearly frustrating to take a handful of medications and not eliminate my symptoms entirely.  

What helps me feel better is that I try very hard to maintain a positive attitude. Is it easy?  No.  But it is truly imperative.

I never realized how much depression could influence my thoughts until a friend gave me some feedback one day.  She said, “Amy, you and I are just different. You see the glass half empty and I see it half full.”  

Ouch.  I always thought of myself as a positive person with a good attitude but unknowingly I had gotten a bit cynical because of my untreated depression.  But as much as I did not appreciate her input at the time I can now look back and say I am glad she said it.

There is a lot to be said for paying attention to what thoughts we have going through our minds.  Practicing mindfulness is a great help in managing depression.  A bit of staying in check with whether my views are really negative or simply impacted because I may not feel well.  

Sometimes other people who don’t experience depression will not be able to relate to how I feel.  But I have learned I also have to understand how they feel too.

No one wants to be around a person who perpetuates negativity even if it is caused from an illness. But more importantly I have found the more I focus on being upbeat and positive the more my mood lifts.  If I am only feeling the hum of depression often times I can move my mood just enough to feel better.

Focusing on a positive attitude has really helped me.  I hope it helps you too.  And by the way someone who cares enough to give you feedback is worth her weight in gold.

Twitter- Amygamble

http://www.amygamble.com

Facing the Truth

Her blinders have been removed

She has taken her gloves off and removed her coat

She sits in stillness with peaceful knowing

Knowing from the soul

Inspired by the spirit

 

The storm came along with no warning

It whirled and twirled devastation

Leaving people shocked, hurt, stunned and dismayed

The creation of fear perpetuated

Numbness permeated and opened wounds

 

Left behind were the remnants of missing pieces

The young woman and old soul stood strong

But the powerful force of the storm threw her to unconsciousness

When she awoke it was apparent to her she was the storm

Crushed by the aftermath of viewing what she left behind

 

Deeply saddened with what she unknowingly had done

Egoically embarrassed, ashamed, and guilty

Incapable of seeing what the mirrors were telling her

Her prayers were answered one day

She ask to be shown so she could heal

 

She prayed for strength and courage

She prayed for forgiveness of self and others

She lay helpless crying for hours in her bed

She faced her naked body and viewed her own destruction

 

Overtaken by grief, hurt, sadness, disappointment

But inspired by unconditional love

 

She is a person hurt by her past

She is a human being

She is not defined by labels

She is not willing to give up

She is walking her journey one step at a time

 

Who is she?  Who is this woman with such great strength?

She is not alone

 

@amyjgamble

amygamble.com

 

Lessons of hardships and insights for those living with mental illness

Walking through adversity is neither all dark and certainly not all light.  It is a kaleidoscope of colors filled with a variety of emotions.

My life has been defined by my ability to overcome adversity.  For the most part I have faced my challenges head on even though I have been impacted by a periodicly disabling condition – bipolar disorder.  I have lived with this disability all my life though you cannot see my wheelchair I assure you it is there.

My comparison is not to discount the great challenges both physical and mental faced by those who do need wheelchairs.  It is more to visually demonstrate the impact of a disabling mental condition.  The challenges of overcoming the affects of facing sometimes severe limitations can only be highlighted by what is obviously understood.  

What is equally important is to acknowledge that some people can recover and live fulfilling lives despite their mental health condition. While others find the struggle overwhelming, limiting and relentless.

There was a period in my life where I saw the latter as my fate.  Stripped of my dignity, confidence and self-esteem the journey back to living became the greatest challenge of my life.

What is inherent in my journey is the importance of overcoming adversity and the necessity of finding hope even in the darkest places.

Last night I had an opportunity to share some insights of what I have learned with a young man.  

Lesson:  If you do not treat bipolar disorder it will get worse!

“Bipolar disorder will destroy you if you do not get a treatment plan and follow it,” I said to a young college student who sat at a support group meeting and declared he was no longer taking medication.  I did not hesitate to share those rather strong words.  They are words I wish I had heard many years ago by someone who had walked in my shoes.

I also told him, “You can have a great life if you learn how to manage your illness.”

I aim to not rain on anyone’s parade but to give a dose of reality about mental illness.  We don’t get to choose what are challenge is in life, but we do choose how we deal with it.  Ignoring a mental illness is not going to make it go away.  Serious mental illnesses, like major depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia will get worse over time if they are not treated.

I have been a person who almost lost my life because of untreated bipolar disorder.    I believe my life purpose is to reach out and help other people not make the same mistakes.  But it is my hardships and adversity that gives me incredibly valuable insights.  

One of the greatest gifts is being in a position to help other people.  In an intriguing way the person most helped is often the giver.  I am blessed to share my insights and I hope you find value in my words.