Change our thoughts improve our moods

For many years people who ran the mile believed no one could break the 4 minute mile mark. Then, in 1954 British miler Roger Banister believed if he could change some of his techniques he could break 4 minutes and he did.

As a result of his accomplishment other mile runners around the world began to consistently break the 4 minute mile mark. Of course it took more than “thinking” they could do it. There was effort involved and they had to work at it. But it all started with a thought.

Yesterday I participated in a Zoom call with Oprah. I was 1 of 40,000 people around the world participating. It was really cool.

Anyhow, Oprah shared how the two most powerful words are I am … and what follows I am will hunt you down and show up in your life.

For example, if everyday I wake up and my first thought is “I am frustrated. I am depressed. I am never going to rebound from this pandemic.” My mood will be impacted by what I think.

On the other hand, if I think “I am blessed. I am strong. I am resilient and I will make it through this,” it will set the tone for my entire day. My mood will be uplifted. I’ll start looking for opportunities. What you seek you will find.

I realize a number of people are really struggling right now. Many have lost their job, maybe isolated or possibly have extreme stress from work. If you’re one of those people I am truly sorry. I want to encourage you that now more than ever it’s important to pay attention to what you are thinking.

Thoughts have power. Mood follows thought.

I want to encourage everyone reading to make it a habit to “check-in” with what your thinking. Instead of saying, “I am never going to get through this,” we tell ourselves, “This is a hard time. I am going to make it through this.”

This pandemic is a hard time, but a good time to raise our consciousness and try out some healthy coping strategies.

Hang in there…we will get through this.

Amy Gamble

You can overcome anything!

If I told you- you can overcome anything would you believe me?

Take two fingers and press gently on to the side of your neck. Do you feel it? If you’re reading these words you feel your heart beating. The source of life pumping blood through your veins. You’re alive today and everyday we are alive it is a gift. Even though sometimes life seems so incredibly hard.

I’ve been very blessed and maybe even a little cursed to have had so much time for inner reflection. Without reflection we don’t grow. We stay stuck in the habits and with the autopilot emotions we tell ourselves are really how we feel. We numb out with our socially acceptable glass of wine or beer or whatever other thing we use to hide, numb or bury painful emotions.

I’m a subject matter expert in being out of touch with feelings. Feelings can overwhelm our coping mechanisms. I spent years in therapy and with a library of self-help books just to be able to unravel the layers of complex emotions that make up my psyche.

I am a victim of trauma. All shapes and sizes of trauma. Sometimes the memory comes sneaking up on me like a shadow in the darkness intent on scaring me. Other moments I’m caught off guard and get triggered into a flashback that raises my fight or flight hormones and shoots spikes of anxiety up my shoulder blades.

Sometimes I disassociate. It’s also a coping mechanism. It’s a survival mechanism for the brain.

When we tug on a thread and unravel much more than we intend, it’s hard to cut it off neatly and tuck in the lose remnants. I’ve learned to be cautious on how much I allow to unravel at one time, so not to overwhelm my system. But there are days when some unwanted memories break like a dam and flood my brain.

On those days I go to bed. Take a time out. Doesn’t happen often anymore, but there was a time when it effected me daily for years.

I’ve learned that staying busy helps me cope. Finding the balance of busy is very important. Because the worst thing I can do is not acknowledge a painful past moment. And slip back into the habit of numbing emotions and wishfully thinking they’ll go away forever. They don’t. I’ve just learned how to cope with them.

Some people say, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” I’m not so sure that’s just a polite way of dismissing a difficult conversation. I think God helps me most when I’ve felt pushed to the brink. When I’ve questioned why I even got out of bed to try and face the unthinkable, unimaginable and the sometimes perceived horror of my own life’s realities.

And then suddenly as quickly as that thread unraveled, I’ve found a needle and mended the distressed fabric. The emotion that tried to lie to me and tell me I wasn’t strong enough to handle my life journey. The thought or comment that discounted my reality and minimized the effects it had on my soul.

My message to anyone reading today, is that we all have traumas we have experienced. You know the memory, the one that fills you with fear even though the event happened days, months or years ago. The worst thing any of us can do is to compare our scars and scrapes to others. When it comes to trauma, comparing is the equivalent of dismissing. There’s no such thing as, “he or she has had it far worse than me.” or My favorite, “Boy she’s a bigger mess than me.”

Trauma is not a hurdle. Trauma is more like fast moving water we have to cross barefooted with slippery stones underneath. Sometimes it helps to pick up our heads and see who is waiting on the other side. The survivors who have crossed from one side to another and sometimes back again. Making it safely every time.

God is the light that helped me find my way, even in pure darkness. And that is why I have been able to overcome everything that has been put in my path. Not because God gave it to me, but because my faith helped me make it through.

When we bend, we don’t break!

I never understood how people could consider a mental illness a “gift.” The very idea of having a disability be a gift made me cringe with disgust. How could anything that caused so much pain, disappointment, embarrassing situations, and extensive losses ever be anything but a freaking curse?

And then 2020 arrived and here we all are in the middle of a dramatic, traumatic worldwide pandemic. Ironically for me to change my perspective about bipolar disorder being a gift, it had to be an earth shattering situation. A metaphoric tsunami.

At last I see the gift.

I’ve seen many articles written about how hard of a time this is for especially people who have serious mental illness. I’m not in that statistic. This time, while not easy for me, this situation I’ve used as a personal growth and reflection opportunity. That is my secret to surviving.

Here is how I see my gift working for me.

Everyday I wake up starts with a mental health check-in. How did I sleep? How are my thoughts? Am I groggy or do I have lots of energy? Do I feel depressed? Am I hopeful? Optimistic? Or do I just feel like going back to bed and sleeping away the blues? I accept whatever I feel. I don’t resist it.

I’ve learned how to manage a mental health condition by monitoring my thinking, emotions and behavior. I watch and reflect on how my brain functions.

Sounds exhausting. But when your brain never shuts off it must be occupied with something productive. So I give it tasks.

When I can’t slow my thoughts down I read to focus. I read and read and read because it’s productive and it helps me to apply my gift.

And as quickly as I can hone in on structure, tasks and discipline it’s as if a switch turns off in my brain and all I want to do is feel the breeze on my cheeks. I drift off in a free wheeling creative space that allows me to relax and dream and just be.

I never really understood how bipolar disorder affected me because it’s simply always been a part of me. Intense focus and goal driven behaviors, high achievement, and a level of empathy that hards to find. Followed sometimes in a flashing moment with a pensive subdued mood, without a care for consequences.

As I’ve learned to successfully manage bipolar disorder I’ve been given many insights to human behavior. Mostly my own. But I understand and grasp mental health to a degree I never would have if it weren’t for this great challenge in life I’ve been given.

The beauty of the gift is being able to share these insights and accumulated knowledge.

This time we are living in is best managed like a tree that is bending in the midst of a tornado. When we bend we don’t break.

Traumatic events can feel like they go on forever and continue to repeat. We are living daily in a real time traumatic event. But it doesn’t have to go on forever, nor does it have to repeat in our minds.

Staying in the present moment is a healthy coping strategy in handling everyday stress and in managing traumatic events. Bipolar disorder and all the subsequent related events around it gave me the gift of knowing and feeling how powerful the present really is.

It’s savoring all the little things in the moment. Simple things. Your child’s smile. The scoop of ice cream you put in your bowl anticipating the cool sweetness you are about to taste. For me it’s putting up a bird feeder and watching all the beautiful birds have a feeding party among different colors, shapes and sizes of nature’s gifts.

Sometimes when we are going through tough times it’s hard to see the good in that situation. Negatives don’t suddenly turn into positives. But what can happen is realizing our brains are built to bend in difficult circumstances. And when we bend we don’t break.

Because of bipolar disorder, my new found gift, I share these insights with you, because without it I might have broken long ago.

Be safe friends. There are hidden gifts in every circumstance.

Amy Gamble

It’s okay not to be okay

I’ve lost count of how many days we have had a stay at home order. It is definitely a strange time we are living in. I don’t think there’s one person who hasn’t been impacted in one way or another from this pandemic.

How many of you have dealt with disappointments? Wedding cancellations? Graduation ceremonies non-existent? Sports careers ending without a real final game in the uniform you came to love? Unemployment? Uncertainty about the future? Losing someone you love?

The list is really infinite. An overwhelming amount of disruption to the order we like to have in our lives. The plans we make, the dreams we dream and the celebrations we savor.

It doesn’t help to pass off disappointment by saying “it was meant to be.” Sad is sad. It’s a painful emotion but it’s powerful. It hurts. And yet if we fight it, deny it or ignore it-it will fester and come out in other ways.

I’ve found over the years in dealing with traumatic events, disappointments, difficult circumstances the fastest way to feeling better was to be honest about my true feelings. No one wants to feel pain or sadness but feeling it is dealing with it. And dealing and acknowledging the pain helps us heal.

This is a very difficult time. It helps me not to fight the current as if it were a rapidly moving stream. I have to go with the flow.

Some days I give myself permission to just not be okay. Knowing I will regroup the next day and come back stronger.

Fighting feelings increases stress and anxiety. Take a deep breath and stay in the present moment. Healing will happen in time.

My sincerest thoughts are with you.

Amy Gamble

Caring about others when impacted ourselves with this stressful situation.

I’ve been proud to be a Mental Health Advocate for nearly six years. In the midst of this crisis I’ve had moments when I have completely detached from news reports and stepped back from advocating for others.

I would call that survival. Doing the best I can with the situation to cope.

And then I return to my usual habits and begin to delve into data, reading and gaining knowledge. Upon reflection I realized how dire this situation is for the most vulnerable among us, those who are living in institutions of any kind and the homeless population. Those who work in those environments. Healthcare workers who are trying to save people’s lives. Truck drivers delivering packages and products. Essential workers going out everyday and putting themselves at risk in an unknown fashion.

I think about the stars in our community who are preparing meals for others. I think about courageous leaders who are making courageous choices to be conservative until having more information.

And one could arguably say I most likely think too much. But it’s both my strength and weakness. I’d rather have these profound moments of reflection and self-correction than live with my head in the sand.

I’ve learned the hard way I walk a very fine line between advocating, coaching and supporting others, while trying to manage my own challenges. At the end of the day, I decided if I don’t use my gifts, talents, skills, insights and what platform I do have, I will not be satisfied with myself.

On that note, I have learned to try and direct my frustrations with the unknown to the things I can control. Sometimes I win and sometimes I lose in that balance.

Some have said, “we are all in this together.” But I think the reality is we are all just trying our best to navigate and play the cards we have been dealt. Some have a far better hand than others. But I’ve learned in life to play the hand you have…and maybe just maybe…you’ll end up coming out ahead.

I deeply care about Mental Health Advocacy. I care a lot for others. And I’m trying to do better in giving a voice to those who don’t have one.

Will you join me if you can?

Amy Gamble

We are living through a traumatic event. How you are coping matters.

There’s never been a more important time to talk about mental health than now. Fortunately, there was already a growing movement to normalize mental health conditions and make the public more aware of early signs and symptoms. The movement was working and gaining momentum.

It’s really a blessing to have greater awareness given we are now isolated from our friends and colleagues, our lives are completely disrupted, friends and family members for some people are sick or dying, we learn everyday about new research or facts about a virus.

We are all living through a continuous traumatic event. Whether or not we become traumatized depends on the severity of outcomes and what are coping mechanisms are.

Whether or not are worries or stress begin to interfere with our thinking, emotions and behavior and disrupt are life, ability to cope, work, have relationships…the level of disruption is how we define a mental health condition. And yet every aspect of all of our lives is disrupted in some way. This puts an entire population at risk for the development of mental health conditions and/or substance use disorder.

Those of us who already deal with mental illness, well it can be hard on us. It will again depend on how well we can manage our conditions and cope with the current situation in a healthy manner.

What we have on our hands now is the opportunity to begin to think about how the stay at home orders are impacting us and our family members. What are some healthy ways to cope?

For myself, I find the outdoors to be my refuge. Nature is my church. It lifts my mood to work outside on various projects and breathe the fresh air while I listen to the gifts of nature.

Not everyone has that luxury.

I also listen to music, meditate, and limit my reading of corona virus articles. I turn off the news when I’ve heard enough for the day. I practice staying in the present moment. I’ve pulled out all my coping mechanisms.

And yet today when the weather didn’t cooperate I found myself feeling the stress of my family members. The conversations were about being frustrated with being locked in. I hadn’t really thought about it, until they talked about it and I was stuck inside.

I finally retreated to my room for some silence. Quiet. Giving my senses a chance to stop being stimulated. A deep breath, a couple Tylenol for a headache and lots of water made me feel a bit better.

I feel like we are in this for the long haul. I believe my mental health benefits when I don’t resist the obvious. I accept what is and keep moving forward just grateful I get one more day to see the sun rise and hear the birds sing.

My secret to positive mental health is acknowledging how I feel, doing healthy physical activities that improve my mood and give me a sense of accomplishment, and focusing on what I can control.

It also helps to have a Tylenol on hand for when the stress overwhelms me and I get a headache.

I accept that too. Whatever comes up I deal with it and keep on moving knowing in my heart that “this to shall pass.”

And…

the Mental Health Movement will continue with a surge of heightened awareness.

Amy Gamble

Isolation can trigger depression…don’t give in… fight back!

woman standing in front of a window
“Sometimes the room feels like a prison and though the door is open I cannot walk out.”

Isolation is a word I’m all too familiar. Having lived most of my life with the symptoms of depression, my red light warning sign for an episode flashes like an emergency vehicle in a rush to save someone’s life. When I isolate it’s because I’m already down a slippery slope of the horrible doldrums of depression. COVID-19 isolation can trigger depression even for those who don’t normally find themselves depressed.

I feel like I’m living some kind of surreal dream or episode from a science fiction movie. I go to the grocery store just to wander down the isles and see how life is being impacted. If I can see the shelves bare with my own eyes it gives me a greater sense of reality. Most of my coping strategies to ward off a depressive episode are currently unavailable.

So in the middle of a pandemic I have to learn how to change my behaviors, focus on something positive, take one day at a time, put myself on a schedule, not allow my mind to run away with drastic predictions for the future, and fall back on some things I usually do that seems to help me.

The most important thing for my mental health is to pay attention to my thoughts. If I allow my thoughts to run wild, it’s worse than a run away freight train in rush hour traffic. I will crash. I won’t be able to sleep very well. I’ll wake up in the middle of the night with my mind racing. I’ll change my mind a million times before I conclude something terribly negative.

When the stress gets turned up, my thoughts get faster. Until they slow to a turtle like pace eliminating my ability to concentrate. My head feels like a bubble.

But I can snap back these days. When people ask me what they can do to help their depression the first thing out of my mouth is monitor your thoughts. Don’t let them tell you lies. Don’t let your mind get so negative and pessimistic you just feel like giving up.

I will tell you 12 years ago when I hit a massive bump in my life path, I didn’t know if I could survive. I was mentally unwell, fired while sick and eventually lost most of my earthly possessions. It was as if I was standing in the ocean during high tide, getting knocked down and feeling like I couldn’t stand back up again quick enough. It was surreal to see years of hard work, dedication, discipline and sacrifice vanish because of factors out of my control.

For those who are going through tough times right now, I’d say to you the only way to get over the pain is go through the pain. Acknowledge it. It hurts. It’s depressing. And completely and utterly out of anyone’s control.

I find myself in a peculiar position. My path was going so well. I had everything planned out. My dreams were coming true. And then in a 24-hour news cycle life had changed dramatically. Of course I was disappointed personally. I’m sad for all the people who are hurting right now without resources, skills, coping strategies, medications or even a safe home.

Human beings are not meant to live in isolation. We are by nature group animals. If you’re feeling down, sad, irritable, angry, pessimistic, guilty, among other things, check your thoughts. Try writing them down in a journal. I like to pray it gives me comfort. Text someone. Do someone a kind favor. Don’t give in to depression.

And though it seems like the isolation, the depression, the out of control feeling is going to last forever…it won’t. The sun will shine. Things will be different, maybe even better.

Fight the depression. Don’t give in to it.

Be safe.

Amy Gamble

 

Never give up on the recovery journey

I was chatting with my good friend Bill. He said, “Amy, did you tell me you were cured of bipolar disorder?” To which I responded, ” Unfortunately no. I’m on a lifelong recovery journey. Sometimes I have set-backs, but I keep on moving.” He smiled and said, ” we are all on that journey.”

If I’ve learned anything about recovery I’ve learned you can never give up. Sure, there will be set-backs. In fact there are just times when I just don’t feel good as a mortal human being. But people around me not understanding how bipolar works think, “Oh my gosh, is she depressed? Manic? Irritable? Must be an episode.”

That’s all part of recovery too. Learning to validate your feelings even when those around you want to blame your reality or emotions on a mental illness. You see those of us with mental illness don’t get a lot of latitude when it comes to emotions. You learn this the more you recover.

Recovery is for sure not a destination. If it were a highway or road it would be the highest mountainous dirt road you could find overlooking the ocean cliffs. There are bends in the road and you must make the turns. Eventually you get off the mountain for a while and the highway gets monotonous and flat. The challenge can sometimes be to enjoy those times.

I learned about a mental health advocate who was a psychologist who had schizophrenia. He survived being institutionalized under horrendous circumstances for over ten years. The medical outlook for him was bleak. Yet Dr. Frese escaped from the hospital, eventually put himself through college and turned around and helped hundreds of people who were in institutions just like him.

He recovered from those circumstances. I’m still amazed by his story and very sorry I never had the chance to meet him. He passed away a couple of years ago. May you Rest In Peace Fred Frese.

Wherever you are in your own mental health journey or perhaps a loved ones, know that recovery is real.

Never give up hope. Never give up on a person’s journey to recover.

Amy Gamble

Perfection is hard on our mental health

As hard as I try to hold myself to high standards, I’ve discovered I’m not a machine. I still look in the mirror and find a human being looking back at me, with all of my flaws, faults and positives as well.

Sometimes I expect so much from myself, when I make a mistake or say something wrong I ruminate over it. I’m terribly hard on myself, especially when I make mistakes or hurt someone’s feelings. Perfection, as we all know, is impossible. Yet, it’s something I’ve had to fight through most of my life.

A lot of people I’m sure can relate to what it’s like to strive for perfection. When you’re an Olympic athlete, high standards, drive, determination and – yes – sometimes even perfection helps us land on the world stage.

Then, the game is over and real life begins.

I’ve spent much time and resources in therapy over the years learning how to not ruminate over mistakes and learn how to give myself a break. I practice forgiveness of self and others. When I make mistakes I try to learn from it and quickly pick up the pieces and move forward.

Every now and then I hit a bump in the road. My healthy coping strategies go out the window and I land myself back into the swirl of playing the mistakes over and over and over again. Why did I do that? Why did I say that? How could I have done this better?

~sigh~

What I have learned is – there is really a tremendous amount of freedom in owning our truths. I own my perfectionism. I let it play out a little. I give myself a break. I learn from my mistakes. I might get frustrated. I might cry (much more rare for me). I shake my head. I smile. I laugh at myself.

And then…

I move on.

Because I have learned over the years if we hold on to perfection for too long and let it rule our lives, it will really take a dent in our mental health. It can trigger obsessive thinking, interupt sleep with thoughts that won’t stop and the list is goes on and on.

I’m very quick to forgive other people when they have wronged me. I’m learning it’s okay to quickly forgive myself too.

Here’s to recognizing our human imperfection! It’s okay not to be perfect. 🙂

Amy Gamble

 

 

All is well within my soul

Dear Readers,

I never really had a “strategic mission” for my blog. When I started writing six years ago I called my blog “Shedding Light on Mental Illness.” Along the way I changed the title to “Shedding Light on Mental Health,” because I wanted to broaden the topics I wrote about.

As it turns out, the most appreciated blogs are the ones in which I share personal experience. When I get real with what is sometimes “ugly” about living with a mental illness.

I did not realize so many people were actually reading my blog until after I posted how horrible I was feeling. Surprisingly many people reached out and called, emailed and texted. And I can say that really made me feel good. It helped lift my mood.

What I learned from my recent experience with taking prednisone for bronchitis and having bipolar disorder is that it can trigger an episode. And I knew it, but I doubted what I knew.

So, I had an evening of rapid cycling bipolar disorder. What does that mean? Think of it this way…one minute your mind races so fast you think you can save the world and the next minute you want to die. It’s a horrible experience.

But I have excellent insight into my illness and have PRN meds that I can take in an emergency. In less than 24 hours the episode was over.

Moving forward with blogging is going to be about keeping it real. I’m not going to paint an unrealistic rosey picture as if I never struggle. I’m going to be honest. Because I believe that’s when I can help the most people.

I’m back on my feet, though still weak from being sick. Hoping for a good long sleep.

Thanks to all those who reached out. Rest assured I have rebounded. All is well within my soul.

Humble gratefulness for my prayers being answered.

Hope never fails!

Amy Gamble