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

When depression comes all I ask for is “just one more day!”

I’ve been speaking and teaching about Mental Health and Mental Illness for the past five years and writing about my own personal experience for six years. The line from one of my talks that rings in my head is, “Physical illness makes mental health worse and mental illness makes physical health worse.” It seems rather intuitive to think of it in those terms.  Of course when you have a cold or flu you aren’t ready to change the world. You want to curl up on the couch while you feel miserable and hope the symptoms go away as soon as possible.

In my efforts to learn about how best to manage my own bipolar disorder I discovered almost every single time I got bronchitis, a cold, pneumonia – a depressive episode was getting triggered. It may last for weeks or months. But the episode, as you may expect, would drag my mood further down and in one big cycle my physical symptoms would feel worse.

After years of dealing with this episodic condition I’d happily admit I’ve gotten a bit paranoid about depression. Why happily admit? Because for so many years this cycle would happen and I’d have no idea what was happening or why or what I could do to fight it. I simply muddled my way through and struggled.

On January 2 when I got pneumonia/bronchitis and was told I had a nodule on my lung, my spirits were naturally disappointed. And then this massive cloud of paranoia swept over me about whether or not depression would follow. Was I going to get over my physical illness and then have to deal with a long, tiresome struggle of depression? I worried. I cried. I pouted. I probably even muttered a few “it’s just not fair” comments in there.

Then, I got some good news about the lung nodule–only scar tissue. Relief. Check that worry filled box off. Certainly good for the mental health to get some positive news about your physical health.

Over the weekend my friend Margaret called and invited me to come visit her in Florida. I told her I was sick, tired, frustrated and depressed. She said, “I know. I can tell.” It made me feel really good to know someone cared about me that much to reach out and pick up the phone and invite me into her home knowing I was not in the best of spirits. I was touched. Having a friend is so important. Someone who cares and understands the battle of mental health conditions. Priceless.

Margaret suggested that night I take out a notebook and write down my thoughts. They could even be one word. Write my feelings. I did it the next day. As she mentioned I did feel a little better after getting everything down on paper. But there were words and phrases I picked up on that I knew signaled depression had reared it’s head.

It was actually kind of a relief. Recognizing and differentiating the physical blahs with the depressive filter. Realizing I was sliding down a bit gave me a chance to fight back. What were some things I could do to make sure I didn’t slide further into a dark abyss or as an old friend Julie used to say, “Gamble went to her cave.” The cave was code word for depression isolation.

As much as I’d like to will my chronic bronchitis cough away after six weeks, I can’t. As much as I’d like not to have the flu thrown on top of the cough, I can’t control it. But when it comes to the depression there are some things I can do to fight back. I can balance taking care of myself physically with completely isolating myself. I can listen to meditation and piano music that soothes my soul. I can try not to solve all my challenges and over think everything since I have so much time on my hands. I can burn my clove candle. I can read my BP Magazine and look for other tips. I can keep a positive attitude.

And still…it doesn’t make it fun, easy, or any less difficult to have to deal with a mental and a physical health issue all at one time. I do find value in knowing what is happening to me. I do find relief believing the way I’m feeling will get better. The cough will go away, the flu will reside, I’ll get my energy back and my spirits will lift.

Soon, I’ll be out of my cave and among the living again.

For those of you reading who struggle with bipolar or depression know you are not alone in the battle. Your feelings are valid. Your battle is real. I suggest accepting how you feel and then taking control of the things you know you can do.

I will tell all of you what I tell myself, never give up fighting.

When I was struggling with very severe depression years ago, I wrote a song on the piano. I never wrote a lot of music but I did write a few original songs. The title of the song was “God give me just one more day.”

Here’s to one more day.

Wishing you well,

Amy Gamble

 

The Power of a Dream

In the midst of suffering a physical health setback on my journey, I woke up with a coughing/wheezing fit and stumbled into a reflective moment.

I realized I’ve been able to overcome many setbacks and challenges in my life because I have always had a dream.

A dream gives us direction, helps us strive to reach our potential, gives us focus and propels us forward to the future leaving the past behind.

I’m in the middle of a physical health challenge that I don’t know the outcome and I always get concerned my mental health will suffer. I worry in the midst of bronchitis or pneumonia or an unknown test result depression might come charging from the shadows where it is always lurking.

But this time around I’m powered with overwhelming positive energy from a dream I’ve had for many years. It is pushing me to keep my thoughts focused on the positive. All my work teaching classes on mental health is serving to benefit myself as a protective factor. What I have worked hard to teach others is serving me well at a time when I need to be strong.

I never realized until this early morning how powerful having a dream can be. I want to encourage everyone to find something to dream for. Winning the lottery doesn’t count. Dreams aren’t meant to help us escape circumstances. They are meant to challenge us to grow, learn and realize our potential.

Dreams keep us going in tough times.

“Dare to dream and act on that dream.”~John Maxwell

Be well.

Amy G.

Overcoming disability shame with a strong healthy spirit

There’s little doubt to me our mind, body and spirit are inner connected, each one having a significant impact on the other.

I have wondered if perhaps a healthy mind was more important than anything else. But then I’m reminded how I’ve seen beautiful spiritual beings in those who may be at a disadvantage from a mental state.

I remember being in some of my worst positions mentally and finding prayer comforted me. I would take it one step further and say prayer saved my life on more than one occasion.

As I’ve struggled to personally take steps to grow and overcome challenges, it has occurred to me I’ve been spiritually wounded by the shame of having a disability.

No, I’m not sitting in a wheel chair with an obvious physical disability. I’m walking in full awareness with an invisible disability, one that comes and goes with symptoms depending on how much I exert myself, how much sleep I get, how many emotional triggers I deal with and how effective medications are at keeping my symptoms from getting worse.

It’s been an interesting revelation for me. As I’ve stood and explained to audiences I’ve spoken to about how shame grows. According to famous author and researcher Brene Brown, if you put shame in a petri dish it needs three things to grow: secrecy, silence and judgment.

Powerful words I find really hit the nail on the head.

Even in the mental health advocacy community I’ve heard some powerful advocates say with near disgust how most people with serious mental illness are on disability. In the context of which it was said, it was intended to insinuate we are “less than” and have not recovered because we are disabled.

It has done an interesting thing to me by owning my disability. It has freed me of shame.

In my lifetime I’ve had much shame to overcome for many different reasons. Most of which I had little to no control over. Many of which I was a victim, and yet I carried shame.

In short, I have a deep personal understanding of the devastating consequences shame can cause. It can make us devalue ourselves making us a vulnerable target to those who would, could and do take advantage. It is not fair or just or right we have to fight so hard to overcome disabling obstacles, only to be met with having to fight for our rights as well.

My growth process is a work in progress. But I am a resilient fighter. My hope is I’m blessed with the ability to balance my mind, body and spirit, knowing when mind and body are vulnerable- spirit is all powerful and can overcome the greatest challenges and the biggest critics.

But I also recognize if I take it for granted my spirit can be wounded. When that happens the dark under current finds its way into my being. Some people call it the “enemy.”

Ultimately when it comes to mind, body and spirit I’m a believer our spiritual health is most important.

Amy Gamble