Can you be “normal” when you have bipolar?

Normal

I admit I have dreamt about the days when I wished I was just “normal.”  But what that meant to me was living a life without a chronic illness.  It meant not having to deal with extreme challenges and circumstances.  I was wishing for a life of serenity and peacefulness.  I assumed those who didn’t live with bipolar disorder had all those things.  I learned I was wrong.

The other day I was having lunch with my friend, Bill.  He had recently finished my book, “Bipolar Disorder, My Biggest Competitor.”  With a sincere look he said to me, “You have a talent for writing.  You should write a lot more.”  And then he looked at me directly and said, “You know you are really unusual?”  Without hesitation I shook my head and said, “Yes, I do.”  In that moment I was actually quite proud he had come to that conclusion.  He followed his statement with, “And I don’t mean because you are an Olympian.”  I nodded.  I knew he meant I’m just different.

What never entered my mind was the fact I was different because I had a mental illness.  That’s not really even half the story.  I’m different and unusual for many reasons.  I’m a bit of a rebel.  I’ve always stood up for other people who might not have been able to stand up for themselves.  I never really went along with the crowd, because I kind of think it’s much more fun to be original.  I like being different and I wear it on my sleeve.

But when I was deciding about what I would write today on my blog, the whole idea of “normal” kept coming to my mind.

On a day when I woke this morning to learn an evil man had gunned down hundreds of people in Las Vegas, a city I used to live in and a place I have visited often–in fact, I’ve stayed numerous times in Mandalay Bay-where the shooter took his wicked perch.

I sat watching the news for a few minutes before coming to work.  As I sat at my computer I couldn’t help but think about the victims and their family members.  I was sad for them and truly for our society as a whole.  To think that we aren’t really safe anywhere we go, is a creator of underlying anxiety for many people.  I personally don’t think too much about things like that-until something like this happens and I’m forced to entertain the what ifsWhat if my sister and brother-in-law were in Las Vegas this month instead of last.  What if our whole family was there at a concert at Mandalay Bay like we were a year ago in July.

So can I be “normal?”  Yes.  I have emotions and reactions just like other people.  I live, laugh, love and cry just like everyone else.  I struggle on days like today, trying to make sense out of why a person would ever do such a horrific act of violence.

 

 

Advertisements

A little bit of hope

hope

I have been blessed the past three weeks to travel around the state of West Virginia and speak about mental health to college students.  One campus had a young man who had died by suicide a few months ago.  He had been a member of one of the sports teams and suddenly quit.  He began isolating himself and stopped hanging out with friends.  Those things he did are warning signs of suicide.  But people around him didn’t know those signs.  Now they do.

Another campus had a young woman who died by suicide.  She had a diagnosed, serious mental illness.  I believe all family members who have loved ones who live with mental illness should be trained in mental health first aid.  They should know the warning signs of suicide.  Before it’s too late.

I go to college campuses to shed light on mental illness.  I want people to know there is help and there is hope.  Sometimes I get to hear the stories that inspire me and keep me fired up about spreading this message.

I had a college athlete approach me and say, “Ahh…I kinda struggle with this stuff.”  I smiled.  He knew I understood him.  It didn’t take a lot of words to hear the emotional pain in his voice.  His struggle is depression and often times that means a battle with suicidal thoughts.  When he shook my hand and said, “Thank you for sharing your story.”  It was a gift to me that in some small way I spread a little bit of hope.

Then, a few days ago I received an email from a man who had experienced a lot of tradgedy in his life.  He was overwhelmed with grief, depression and was self-medicating with alcohol.  He told me, “Thank you for what you do.  You just might have saved my life.”

I didn’t respond to his email right away.  I was overwhelmed with the responsibility of my work.  On some level I knew how important educating people about mental illness and suicide is.  But on a deeper level grasping the fact that your work can help save someone’s life takes every word I say when I give these talks to a hire level.  But the work is not about me.  It’s about reaching people of all ages, one person at a time, and allowing the gifts, talents and skills I have been blessed with to help other people.

As I’ve become more visible, I’ve received some healthy feedback, mostly positive.  But there are people out there who don’t understand why I would do this work.  Why I would write a book that would highlight some of the most difficult experiences in my life.  I did it and I would do it again.  Because sometimes all some folks need to hear is “you’re not alone in this fight.”

Turns out–a little bit of hope saves lives.  I’m humbled by this work.  I’m honored for this calling.

 

 

Remember – Mental Illness is The Enemy!

Several years ago I received a call from a friend of mine who wanted to tell me she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  It was a rather traumatic diagnosis for her to hear.  Certainly life threatening, but also treatable.  I was impressed with how she dealt with it.  She made cancer her enemy and did everything she could to fight against it.  And you know what?  She beat it.  She is now over 15 years cancer free.

What I’ve learned about mental illness is that it is also life threatening.  From the first time I experienced suicidal thoughts as a sophomore in college to the relentless dogging of “you should just kill yourself” tapes that played in my mind a few years ago.  I learned from the time I was twenty years old that depression was and will continue to be my number one enemy.  It threatens my life and makes me vulnerable at times to the hopeless thoughts that wander aimlessly into my brain.

The difference between cancer and mental illness is that there is a cure for many types of cancer.  There’s no such thing for mental illness of any kind.  Of course there are medications that make it more tolerable, but nothing that takes away all of the symptoms.  It’s a fight.  Sometimes a daily battle and other times an intermittent harsh reality of living with a chronic illness.

If you ask most people if they were afraid of cancer they would say, “yes.”  No one wants to get cancer.  But people are afraid of mental illness for all the wrong reasons.

Many people have no concept of what it’s like to suffer from so much anxiety a person can’t leave their house.  People still believe a person with depression just isn’t trying hard enough and he’s just plain lazy.  Those with bipolar disorder are labeled as trouble makers and moody.  People with schizophrenia – just plain crazy.

When my friend went to the doctor for her breast cancer consultation, I went with her.  As a matter of fact, I jumped on a 2 hour plane flight to go to her doctor appointments with her.  I wanted to show support.  I wanted her to know she wasn’t alone in the fight against her number one enemy.  The disease that was threatening to take her away from all of us much to soon.

This is how we all should rally around those who are struggling with mental illness.  The enemy is not the person who has the illness.  The enemy is the mental illness.  It’s the disease that causes an interference in thinking, emotions and behavior.  It affects the most important organ in our entire body – the brain.

Yet, those who have mental illness are often left to fend for themselves.  Especially when they aren’t fun anymore.  When the struggle is the most difficult and support is truly needed, many are left isolated and alone.  That isolation leads to a worsening of symptoms.  A more complex illness.

I want people to know that my bipolar disorder is a serious life threatening illness.  I manage it well.  But the moment I let my guard down, the minute I miss a day of taking medication, the days I don’t get enough sleep, is when the enemy threatens my life and everything I have worked hard for.  The enemy nearly destroyed me and I’m not going to let that happen again.

I just wish everyone knew mental illness is the enemy.  And if we are not diligent it will continue to steal our loved ones from us in one shape or form or the other.  Sometimes the difference is having a team to fight the illness with us.

The next time your loved one complains of depression symptoms or has a panic attack, offer compassion and a kind word.  Sometimes all it takes is saying, “Are you okay?  How can I help?”

 

Family members perspective matters 


I was having a conversation with my sister, Shelley about my journey with mental illness.  I’m not going to lie and say it was a pleasant discussion-it was tenuous.  Why?  Because neither one of us were appreciating our different perspectives.

She was coming from the place of a family member of a loved one with mental illness. The position which says, “If you had only taken your medicine nothing bad would have happened.”

I was coming from the place that said, “Bipolar disorder is a bit harder to manage than you think.  And by the way some of what happened wasn’t my fault.”

After a few days of letting the conversation sink in I came around to seeing what she was trying to say, “Mental illness is a family disease.  Every disappointment, every hospitalization, every tragedy is felt deep within the soul of family members too.”

I understood.  I have sat in the chair as a family member-my mother and another sister have bipolar disorder.  It was a long and arduous journey until they found wellness, until they recovered.  But when I look at them I don’t see bipolar disorder, I see a person.  I see a family member.  I forget about all the times it was difficult.

Family members who don’t have a mental illness have a right to their perspective.  But the problem arises when policy decisions and laws are made for people with mental illness without our perspective too.  Problems arise when we are blamed for our mental illness.

I also realized how much I had moved forward and let go of the past.  But the conversation we had brought back all the memories and flooded my brain with difficult times, struggles and nearly insurmountable challenges.  I was taken back by all I had to process.

Then, I began to think about others who haven’t spent every waking moment reading and advocating for mental illness.  It has provided me with an avenue of healing.  In my mind I’m no longer the distraught bipolar victim-I am a strong mental health advocate.  I challenged my sister to speak up for mental health and bring another family perspective into the light.

I realized all perspectives are important.  I try to understand the pain and sorrow family members feel when remembering what we went through.

But tomorrow is here.  I am alive and well.  And so are my family members.  What we do with our knowledge and wisdom, time and talents to help other people will not take away the pain of old memories, but will make us stronger in how we deal with them.

Giving a gift of understanding to each other is the first step in the process.

“Is bipolar disorder contagious?”

stock-vector-highly-contagious-diamond-shaped-yellow-warning-sign-vector-illustration-302232200

I’m driving home from the store with my 82 year old mother and we start talking about my book, “Bipolar Disorder, My Biggest Competitor,”  In many ways the book has unleashed good ole’ Esther.  Since I wrote about some of her struggles with bipolar disorder, she has talked more about it in two weeks, than I believe I have heard in more than 30 years.

Tonight she says, “People need to understand when you’re psychotic you don’t know what you’re doing.  But people don’t understand.  They think there’s something wrong with you and that they’ll get it too if they hang around you.”  “Mmm…is bipolar disorder contagious?” I asked jokingly.  “Some people think it is.  Like you have some horrible disease and if they come around they’ll get it.”  I laughed and we continued our drive home.

Then it hit me, after 30 years my mother finally articulated how bad she felt when her relatives stopped coming around.  They literally stopped inviting her to their houses.  She became an outcast.  The “crazy” sister.  Shame on them.  It’s not like all their lives were perfect either.

So, as a family member of a loved one with mental illness, I’m quick to defend my mother and sister.  But when it comes to me living with a mental illness and becoming an outcast myself, I sort of just give everyone a pass.  I suppose it’s because for so long I felt like I caused my own suffering.  It was my fault I had those episodes.

I ask my mother, “Who was there when you went through your first tough time?”  “You were,” she answered.  “Your dad didn’t know what to think.  But he would come in the house and ask me if I was doing alright.  He didn’t understand it, but he tried.  I’ll give him that”  I smiled and said, “There were a few people who I could have thrown under the bus in my book.  They did some not so nice things.  But I wanted to take the high road.  And truthfully, I didn’t want to spend time having a pity party for myself.  My life is far too blessed to feel sorry for myself.  I am exactly where I am supposed to be.”

However, as we drove further down the road I realized Esther really did have a point.  Some people treat bipolar disorder like it’s contagious.  As if a brain disease can magically rub off.  Perhaps that’s why they stop answering calls, not returning text messages or give you all your pictures and press clippings back, as one uncle did with me.  He had become ashamed of who I was, and when I needed him most he turned his back on me.

At the end of the day I just move on and say, “I’m not crazy, just contagiously bipolar.”  Whatever that means.

 

 

A Clinical Psychologist Reviews “Bipolar Disorder, My Biggest Competitor”

Many of you in the land of mental health advocacy have heard of David Susman, PhD.  He write stellar blog, is very active on social media and very supportive of people who live with mental illness.  He’s also a professor at the University of Kentucky.  I ask him to review my book and much to my surprise he agreed.  Here’s what Dr. Susman had to say:

“A First Hand Perspective on Living with Bipolar Disorder”

Amy Gamble’s account of her challenges with bipolar disorder is real, compelling, and moving. Just as the illness itself is characterized by the extreme euphoria of mania and the severe depths of depression, her narrative depicts her personal highs and lows as she struggles to understand and learn to manage this life-altering condition. From her competitive days as a collegiate and Olympic athlete, to her hospitalizations and even incarceration while in the throes of her illness, the reader gets a true sense of the battle she has fought and the slow process of ultimately reclaiming her life. As a clinical psychologist who has worked extensively with many people with serious mental illness, I was particularly impressed by her focus not only on her challenges, but also her description of her journey of recovery and the strategies that have helped her regain stability and a new-found purpose as a mental health advocate. Amy makes a powerful statement when she says “Lives can be saved with a simple message that says help is available and treatment works, and there is no shame in having a mental illness.” I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is personally affected by mental illness and for those who wish to gain a greater understanding of the effects of mental illness and the process of recovery.

“Bipolar Disorder, My Biggest Competitor” available NOW on Amazon.

Click here to order on Amazon

We all recover from something 


When you struggle with something (physical or mental illness), a relationship break-up, death of a family member or loved one, loss of job, and any number of other life’s challenges, they are often all consuming.  They take away from every other aspect in life.

As I have learned from my many struggles, there came a point in time when I just simply got tired of the struggle.  I wanted to focus my energy on the bouncing back part.   I wanted to lift my head up and shout, “I won’t be a victim any longer!”

But…all that is easier said than done.  For every book or article I have read, there is nothing that replaces the “doing” part.  There is a shift in the mind that has to take place, almost like manually shifting the gears in a car.  It takes a conscious effort.  A fierce determination to overcome the challenges and not stay in a self-pity mode, even when it may be justifiable.

I believe everyone is recovering from something.  And no matter what are circumstances may be, we all have things we struggle with and need to overcome.  Every battle is important if it’s your battle to fight.

There are several things I have found necessary in overcoming my many challenges.  I want to share those things with you in a series of blogs.

The most important aspect of my recovery journey has been the willingness to pick my head up and look around.  What the heck does that mean?  Searching for perspective.  Not so I could compare my journey to others, more so because I wanted to allow myself to be inspired.

Inspiration is a heart matter.  Have you ever noticed that when you’re hurt the emotions either keep spilling out or you turn them all off?  I always have a tendency to turn them off.  To numb myself of pain.  But allowing myself to seek inspiration opened my heart to feelings.  And those feelings, those wounds-could now be healed because I allowed myself to take off the bandage and look at it.

It turns out that seeking perspective takes a great deal of courage.  When all I wanted to do was focus on all the ways I was cheated by bipolar disorder, I had forgotten all the ways my talents and gifts had given me a world of opportunity.  I spent way to much time focusing on what I had lost and not enough time on what I had gained.  It all was a matter of perspective.

So, if your challenges seem too great to bear, your losses are mounding up, don’t be afraid to pick up your head, look around and find one thing that inspires you.  And then, watch what happens when you focus on it.  

But it’s not going to be a one time deal.  At least it wasn’t for me.  I would lift my head up, be inspired and then retreat back to the safety of my misery.  Because my misery had become comfortable.  Being inspired was outside of my comfort zone.  My heart didn’t want to participate any longer.

This is when determination comes into play.  Of course I wanted a quick fix for healing my mind, body and spirit.  But that didn’t exists.  Little wins added up to big victories and soon I was well on my way to gaining perspective and living an inspired life.

Whatever your challenge.  Keep fighting.  Don’t give up.  Pick your head up and find perspective.  Inspiration is within your grasp.  Perspective starts by lifting your head up.

Thoughts

I was like a kid at Christmas time when I finally got to release my book.  It was beyond exciting.  We (my editor and team) had been working hard for weeks.  Finally, the project was complete.  And now I get to hear the feedback.

True to form, I’m contemplating my next book project.  I think about what it takes to get past extreme disappointment.  I ponder on how someone without mental illness goes through life, and then I quickly realize I have no perspective on that–and if not mental illness than something else.  Right?

I wanted to take a thirty day blog challenge, where I actually wrote for 30 days straight.  The biggest problem is not the writing, it’s coming up with innovative topics that readers might find interesting.  And to be honest, not everyone wants to read about mental illness.  But that’s my expertise.

I found writing the book, “Bipolar Disorder, My Biggest Competitor,” one of the great challenges in my life.  Most of which had to with healing past challenges.  Deciding within myself what I wanted to reveal and what I would hold sacred.  But I like sharing and so therefore I didn’t hold much back.  I hope my readers appreciate it and can see I truly care about people.

I may be going to Texas for a talk.  I had hoped to become a National Speaker, so this fits nicely in my realm of dreams.

If you have read the book, please leave a review on Amazon.  It will help others find the book.  It might help someone else to overcome their challenges.

Have a great week everyone!  Until tomorrow!

 

 

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