Winning against bipolar disorder with my faith as my anchor

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“As I lie in my bed trying to squeeze out the suicidal thoughts, the horrific pain of being all alone without one friend in the entire world, and the mortifying realization that in that moment I couldn’t care for myself, I turned to what had always gotten me through the tough times.  I turned to my anchor, which is my faith in God.”

There are a lot of stereotypes and misunderstandings about bipolar disorder and those of us who live with it on a daily basis are subject to these misperceptions.  Just last week I was giving a talk at a conference on the stigma of mental illness and addiction.  Most of the feedback was positive, but there was one person who said, “Bipolar disorder is an excuse for bad behavior.”

What?

After speaking for an hour on stigma and sharing some very personal stories about bipolar disorder, the needle never moved in this person’s mind.  And then I realized most people have absolutely no clue what those of us who have lived a lifetime with the impact of bipolar disorder have struggled through.  I’ve never once thought bipolar disorder was an excuse for anything.  A reason, yes.  An excuse, never.

My first episode was way back in 1999.  I was a director in a corporate office with a multi-million budget to manage.  Not only did I have a manic episode, I had a psychotic episode.  I ended up in an inpatient psychiatric care facility, which made me feel crazy.  And when people questioned my views and insights, I wondered if they thought I was crazy too?

Over the next 12 years, I struggled through 10 hospitalizations, a three-week stay in jail and worst of all losing most, if not all of my friends and some family members.  No one wants to be around people who are not mentally well.  It’s just a fact.  Maybe after a first episode, people may give you the benefit of the doubt.  But when the struggle goes on, everyone including family members get worn down.

I was fortunate.  I had a few strong and tough family members who have borne witness to my entire journey.  They stood with pride when I became an Olympian.  They dealt with their own disappointment when I started to struggle with my mental health.  And they hung on to see me recover and flourish again.  They believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.

I was also isolated for a long stretch of time.  I went weeks without having any family member in my home.  But I had two things that helped me bear the unbearable pain and suffering of relentless depression and suicidal thoughts.  I had my three dogs who I absolutely consider a gift from God.  And I also had my faith.

As I lie in my bed trying to squeeze out the suicidal thoughts, the horrific pain of being all alone without one friend in the entire world, and the mortifying realization that in that moment I couldn’t care for myself, I turned to what had always gotten me through the tough times.  I turned to my anchor, which is my faith in God.

Did prayer instantly solve my struggles?  No.  But it gave me hope.  And in those moments of struggle and despair, hope is the one thing that kept me going.  And that is why I feel anchored, even though managing bipolar disorder can wear me down.  I keep going because I’m driven by a higher power.  I’m driven to help other people.  I have found my calling.  And I am grateful to have a purpose.

If you’re struggling with a mental health condition, I can tell you the first thing you’ve got to do is work on getting stable.  If you have bipolar disorder, a treatment plan is 99.9% always going to include a medication regimen.  There’s just no and’s, if’s, but’s or reason to think you’re going to be the only person in the world who can manage a chronic, severe mental illness without medication.  If that’s your choice and it works for you – great.  But from experience I can tell you it’s not gonna work out well.

Secondly, I believe in mind, body and spirit.  When you combine getting stable with a personal recovery plan, spirituality is a big component of being well and balanced.

It helps to take small pieces of this very overwhelming journey to manage a mental illness.  And the one thing that’s required to have a healthy and happy life is a lot of hard work.

For those of you reading who have family members struggling, I just want to reach out and give you a big hug.  It’s not easy being you.  But whatever you do, don’t give up hope.  You’ve got to become the best salesperson in the world in selling to your loved one the whole idea that it’s okay to get help.  In fact, it’s a sign of strength to reach out.

Finally I want to finish by saying thank you to all my readers.  I’ve been blogging now for over four years.  Those who’ve been with me along the way know what journey it has been.  Thanks for all your support.  It matters.

Amy

 

People with mental illness need heros

I spent Saturday afternoon at the movie theater watching Black Panther. I came home and watched Wonder Woman. Wow! I absolutely love the superheroes. I enjoy the plot line of good conquering evil.

The truth is everybody needs a hero, but people with mental illness really need superheroes. We need to hear from the people who are living well with their illness. We need to learn from those who have conquered, those who know how to deal with their struggles.

Here are a few people who I’ve found inspiring:

Jennifer Marshall is the co-founder of This is My Brave. She wanted to find a way to help fight stigma so Jennifer created a platform where people who live with mental illness can share their stories. Jennifer lives with bipolar disorder.

Gabe Howard has so many mental health advocacy titles I don’t think I know all of them. I do know Gabe is a writer and speaker, has won many mental health advocacy awards, and was a past board member of NAMI Ohio. He often does many creative podcasts. Gabe lives with bipolar disorder.

Ellyn Saks is a professor of law at the University of Southern California. She has written a book called, “The Center Cannot Hold,” and has a great Ted Talk. I admire her strength and courage for speaking openly about her journey with schizophrenia.

Michael Phelps the most decorated athlete in Olympic history has joined the ranks of mental health advocacy. He is using his Olympic platform to raise awareness for mental illness. Michael lives with depression.

Brandon Marshall is a wide receiver in the NFL whose struggle has been borderline personality disorder. Brandon has partnered with “Bring Change to Mind” and has worked hard at promoting men’s mental health.

So these are a few of the people who I have found inspirational. It’s not that they haven’t struggled or have been cured. What they have done is shine a light so people know more about mental illness.

We can have a picture that says a person with mental illness looks lots of different ways. And we can be inspired by their willingness to share part of their journey with us.

Like many of the evil doers in the superhero stories Mental illness doesn’t play fair. Mental health advocacy is not straight forward like other illnesses with advocacy efforts (think pink). We aren’t fighting for research dollars for one illness, but many. We are fighting stigma hard, only to have our progress nearly wiped out when the loud voices with access to national media platforms make an overly generalized link between mental illness and violence.

We need lots of heroes out there to help fight the battles, because I’m afraid a few inspiring superheroes are not quite powerful enough to take on the world.

But they sure do shine a bright light for the rest of us. It’s up to us to follow the path.

“Crazy and insane” comments from an NRA spokeswoman

After watching the CNN town hall meeting held in Florida regarding the terrible school shooting tragedy, I was disheartened to hear the NRA spokeswoman use such terms as “crazy, insane, monstrous.” The acts of the shooter were incomprehensible. But those of us who live with mental illness should never be lumped into a small group of people who are violent.

The NRA spokeswoman also said “the mentally ill” should be put into a “criminal database” and be prohibited from having guns. I’m in agreement that people who have mental illness should not have guns. It’s my personal viewpoint. But criminalizing mental illness will keep people from getting the help they need.

Further, what should qualify as diagnosis that make owning a gun illegal? Does that mean a person with depression goes into the hospital with suicidal thoughts and gets flagged as a dangerous mentally ill crazy person? Or is criminalizing mental illness only reserved for the psychos like me who have bipolar disorder? Because In fact I’m the real insane monster.

Do you see how absurd this is?

I don’t want to see innocent people get hurt or killed. I think there needs to be steps taken to keep people from obtaining guns who shouldn’t have them. But the kind of words we choose to debate what should be done matter. Knee jerk reactions usually have far reaching and usually not good outcomes. Fear drives people to react and results in horrendous name calling and labeling.

My hope is wiser heads will prevail on solutions. We as a society have allowed the issues of an abundance of access to military type weapons, lack of intervention to appropriate mental health care and an overwhelming swing toward not allowing proper intervention to help someone with mental illness get stabilized.

But something very important to ponder is to ask why many other countries who have as much mental illness as the United States, but don’t have mass shootings. Or are those of us with mental illness in the United States just different than the rest of the world? That’s what the NRA is arguing. And to me their solutions to the problem are as far fetched as believing mental illness is the sole cause to all the violence in the United States, when we know only 5% of all violent acts are committed by those who have a mental illness.

I’m bothered by people who are given a national platform who do harm to millions of people by calling for the criminalization of people with mental illness. Although it’s a small effort, I’ll be giving a talk today with college students encouraging them to get the help they need if they have signs and symptoms of mental illness. But can I with clear consciousness tell them there won’t be any negative consequences to getting help? I don’t know the answer. But I do know not getting help is a bad choice.

I have bipolar and I am not violent

I had an opportunity to teach a group of school teachers about mental illness. After last weeks Florida school shooting I was prepared for questions about mental illness and violence. It’s beyond sad this is an ever occurring topic.

But what happens to those of us who live with a mental illness when the public, president and politicians point the finger quickly at mental illness as the sole explanation for the violence? It’s a complicated answer.

I’ve spent the past three years publicly talking about bipolar disorder, my psychotic episodes and the consequences of my untreated, under treated mental health condition. As confident as I am owning all of who I am, I get a little rattled and defensive when people say mental illness caused the shooting. I get upset being stigmatized into a small group, though disturbing number of people who commit horrendous crimes.

But something happened to me tonight as I taught the class and openly shared my experiences with bipolar disorder. I could talk about the fact more than 14 million people live with serious mental illness-and very few are violent. And I can also say that sometimes people with mental illness can be violent. Probably more impactful was the fact I was the “teacher” living with bipolar disorder, openly talking about it and saying, “I’m not crazy, whacko, looney, nuts, dangerous, or violent. I’m just a person with bipolar disorder who takes medication so I can live my life productively. For the most part, I’m just like everyone else.”

And as satisfying as it is to have an honest and open conversation about mental illness, most people aren’t as fortunate as me. Most people don’t have a platform where you can look people in the eye and tell them you have a mental illness and you aren’t violent. Even if they were terrified of me they were a captive audience there to of all things learn from me.

I have found there is no greater confidence builder than being open about my bipolar disorder. But I’m also realistic in knowing not everyone has the freedom in sharing that information.

Many people do believe those with mental illness are violent-end of story. That’s probably the same people who say, “It’s time to bring back mental institutions and lock me’ all up.” That was sadly an actual comment on Facebook to an article written about the Florida school shooting. I cringed when I read this…

Then, reality set in. We don’t even have enough funding for research or current mental health treatment, where are we going to find the funding to put over 14 million people in institutions that don’t exists. It’s just people scared and uniformed lashing out with what terrifies those of us with mental illness-the threat of being locked up against our will.

I digress…anyhow the point is all these comments people say about those with mental illness matter. It effects people. No one wants to be assumed as violent. Would you?

When you’re having a discussion about a mass shooting, perhaps we should consider all the facts and not try to simply blame mental illness as the only cause. There’s more to the story.

And by the way, most people with mental illness aren’t violent.

Sorry Patty Duke, bipolar disorder ain’t a brilliant madness!

I really respected Patty Duke as an actress and as an outspoken mental health advocate. She owned her illness publicly when it wasn’t cool to talk about such things. And she wrote a book called “A Brilliant Madness: Living with manic-depressive illness.” It was even a New York Times best seller. I still have my copy.

But…as much as I have heard how people with bipolar disorder are so smart and creative, artistic, bold and flamboyant I just want to call B.S. on the whole theory that an illness could make me special. I believe that those who are selling bipolar disorder as some magical, cool way of thinking are selling those of us who deal with this condition on a daily basis a big lump of coal.

It’s a real disservice to tell someone bipolar disorder can be a good thing. Is there anything good about spending many days in bed or suicidal because your so depressed you can’t get up? Is there something good about being off medications you don’t think your bipolar gift needs and then you become manic, get arrested and end up in jail? Or better yet can you find a mental health professional who will tell you, “you just think differently than other people. You don’t have to take medications, unless of course you want to.”

Oh my the stories I hear. All because we can’t seem to come to a clear consensus that having bipolar disorder is nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s no gift either. I’ve seen one to many lives ruined because people are trying to sugar coat the realities of bipolar disorder. This is a difficult illness to live with.

And…by the way…there is lots of hope. It’s not all doom and gloom. There are effective treatments. Lots of credible information online and in books. There are healthy coping strategies that one can learn. There are ways to live a good life, while also managing a chronic illness.

But for heavens sakes please stop telling people bipolar disorder is a special gift.

The other day I was having a rather deep conversation with my mother. She said, “I’m sorry I gave you the bipolar gene. I wish I could take it away.” I replied, “That’s okay, you gave me Olympic genes too. Gotta take the good with the bad.”

I’m athletic because of hard work and good genes. I’m intelligent because that’s how I was born. I have bipolar disorder and learned how to manage it. Not because I view it as a brilliant madness, but because I know it’s a wicked illness that will take you to hell and back if you let it.

Learn to manage the illness. Find the right medications. And find your brilliance in something other than madness.

Amy Gamble

The things I wish I knew!

Those of us who live with bipolar disorder know it’s not a picnic. But compared to when I was first diagnosed things have really come a long way in terms of information. If I had access to the internet in 1999 I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt my life’s course would have been altered. There’s so much information and stories of people living well with the illness. And also stories of people who are struggling. Most of the time it falls somewhere in between. But the point is there are people out there talking about living with bipolar disorder.

I’m one of those people.

I’ve been working on a new talk for upcoming keynote speeches. I usually have a few analogies or things that have really stuck in my mind. I have often heard diabetes as a reference folks with good intentions say. For example, “Hey you have bipolar disorder. It’s no different than diabetes. Just take the pills.” I really always and I do mean always hated that comparison. First of all, there’s a blood test that measure glucose levels. Second, a person with diabetes never has their sanity checked. Mental fitness is not a question that arises. Third, health care professionals hold classes to educate people about diabetes. They actually teach people how to manage their chronic physical illness. Fourth, there’s stigma with both but we all know mental illness wins the more stigmatized illness.

If I knew everything I have since learned about bipolar disorder 20 years ago, well, life would be different.

Here’s what I wish I knew:

  • Most people who have bipolar disorder need medications for life
  • Without medications relapsing episodes come more frequent and can become worse
  • The sooner you learn to accept it the easier life is gonna be
  • It takes a frustrating battle of trial and error to find the right combinations of medications. If a doctor writes you one prescription with several refills before your moods are stable -consider finding a new doctor
  • It’s gonna be hard work learning to manage it.
  • You’re going to hate taking medications at first but you have to stick to it
  • If you don’t get bipolar disorder under control it will destroy your life. Of course I don’t have a crystal ball but I’ve seen my share of lives destroyed. I’ve never seen a positive outcome by someone who chose to ignore it

My mother always used to say, “If I knew then what I know now….”. Now I just say, “Now that I know I can teach others.”

But darn. It sure would have been nice too have this knowledge. So I’m passing it along the others and hopes that it helps one person.

I’ll leave you with this one quote:

“There is no medicine like HOPE, no incentive so great, no tonic so powerful as the expectation of tomorrow.”

~Orison Marden

A story of bipolar disorder and courage

Courage

It takes courage to pick yourself up after any kind of loss or hardship.  But the kind of courage I’ve seen from my friend, Hunter has been filled with real live parallels and life lessons.  Hunter is a 27 year old who has bipolar disorder.  And he is currently staying in a state mental hospital as a result of a psychotic episode.

Hunter is a brilliant young man who had his first psychotic episode while he was in college at the University of Colorado.  He was quickly diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but like me and many other people, he didn’t realize how serious one must get about learning how to manage the condition.

From the time of his first episode about four years passed.  He struggled with inpatient hospital stays and never really got stabilized.  After a manic and psychotic episode Hunter had the misfortune of being arrested and charged for running into people in the drive through lane at a McDonalds.  He wasn’t thinking clearly, got scared and ran into the car in front and the car behind him.  No one was hurt.

But…

Hunter was thrust into the criminal justice system.  After nearly two years in jail his case finally made it into court.  He pled not guilty by reason of insanity and was sent to Patton State Hospital in California.  A year has already passed since he has been there.

Even though he has been through so much and doesn’t really know when he will be released, he maintains a positive attitude.  Yesterday he talked about the possibility of him getting a job in the hospital and perhaps taking a class.  Some days he finds it difficult to get out of bed and go to his video class.  He struggles with coming to terms with why he didn’t get the help he needed.  He wants to release his emotions, but he’s just been through so much it’s very difficult.

Although I haven’t been institutionalized for more than three weeks, I can relate to Hunter.  It wasn’t that many years ago that I struggled to get out of bed.  The grief process I went through over the losses I experienced was intensely consuming.  And sometimes the loss of my very promising business career and lifestyle that matched haunts me.  But it also gives me the wisdom to share in real time with Hunter authentic emotions.  It gives me the ability to simply say, “I understand.”

Experiences and stories don’t have to be the same to touch upon a deep level of compassion that exists for one another.  There is no one with bipolar disorder who has not struggled.  It’s a very difficult illness to manage.  Some people deal with it by harnessing the positive extra energy one can have while hypomanic.  Others try to make sense of their psychosis experiences.  Some people paint it as a gift.  Personally, I choose to call it a worthy opponent.  Something I must continually work at to beat.

Those of us who live with bipolar disorder all have one thing in common:  we all have the courage to get out of bed in the morning.  It gives us the ability to face the fear of experiencing sometimes disabling symptoms.  It challenges us to remake our lives and deal with disappointments.

It takes courage to not give up trying, even though it may be hard to keep on going.  Hunter is one of the most courageous people I know and one of the most important people in my life.  He encourages me, inspires me and fuels my passion for mental health advocacy.  He is my example of a person who forges ahead even though he doesn’t know what the future may hold.

I hope I can do the same thing.

“Courage is being scared to death…and saddling up anyway.”  ~John Wayne

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Letter To All The Bipolar Warriors

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Every so often I take a look at the blogs I have written over the past four years and see which ones people view the most.  Tonight I noticed one of the most popular was “Rebuilding a Bipolar Life.”  It was written almost four years ago.  It had to do with my quest to work on my spiritual self.

Another blog that has been very popular has been “Bipolar Disorder Destroys Life and then what’s next?”  It was written a little over three years ago.  If you’ve been following my blog or Facebook page you probably know I have found my “what’s next.”

After reading the blogs and comments I’m inspired to write a letter to my fellow bipolar warriors about some of the things I’ve learned from reflecting back in time.

Dear Bipolar Warriors,

I’m not sure where you are in the journey of living with bipolar disorder.  You may be newly diagnosed and confused as heck about this illness.  You might still be struggling trying to find the right combinations of medications.  Like me, you may have experienced a significant amount of loss because of bipolar disorder.  Maybe you’re kicking it and have mastered how to live well with bipolar.  Wherever you are on the journey here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.

Living with a chronic mental illness is challenging.  Okay.  That’s clearly an understatement.  There are challenges with people who are close to you understanding the illness, accepting that sometimes you’re not always going to feel well and giving you a chance to live to your potential when you are well.  There are complications with relationships.  It all gets better over time.

Some days it gets frustrating to have to fill pill boxes (I fill three weeks at a time).  But looking back I can tell you there was a time when I would sit on the edge of my bed, dump the pills in my hand and begrudge having to take them.  I would think, “I’m sick.  Why me?”  Then I would swallow them and go to bed feeling “less than.”  Fast forward over three years, it’s just part of my every day habit.  The pill boxes make it easy.  It’s a habit and I rarely ever forget to take the medications.  That’s what has been keeping me healthy.

But.  It doesn’t mean I have to like the whole process.  I don’t like having to call in the pharmacy for all my meds.  It’s a pain.  Some days I wish I didn’t have to do this, but it’s all part of managing the illness.  Without meds I have no idea where I’d be and I’m not ever going to take that chance to find out.  One could say, “Been there, done that.”  If you’re curious about that journey you can find my book  “Bipolar Disorder, My Biggest Competitor” on Amazon.

I am a strong proponent of finding the right combination of medications.  Besides my own story, I have my mother and sister’s examples and almost all the people who I have met needed medications to deal with this very tricky illness.  But it’s a bear finding the right ones.  Don’t give up.  Keep trying.  If you don’t like the doctor you are seeing, find a new one.  Learn about the medications for bipolar disorder.  Click here to find information on medications.

I can also share with you that recovery is possible and very likely if you have the knowledge, determination and access to care necessary.  But it’s also the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life.  For those who don’t know, I’m an Olympic athlete and that was pretty darn challenging.  Recovery makes training for the Olympics seem easy.  And let’s not forget recovery does not mean “cured.”  It means different things to different people.  For me, it means I can use my talents and skills and contribute to my community.  It means I live a peaceful existence.  And I mange my illness to the best of my ability.

But.  There are other warriors out there who are in pain.  They’re having a frustrating time with dealing with bipolar.  Medications are causing bad side effects.  I understand.  What I can tell you from experience is don’t give up.

I’m gonna sum it all up and say what has worked for me might not work for you.  But I can tell you that you must have a desire to get well, dedication to find a successful treatment plan, discipline to stick with the treatment plan and the determination to beat this very challenging competitor.

Good luck warriors.  You are not alone.

Amy

Brave souls change hearts and minds!

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Photo: “This is My Brave” cast in Wheeling, West Virginia 

There’s a special feeling when we can be a part of something far bigger than we could ever accomplish alone.  This is my overwhelming feeling of having participated in Youth Services System and NAMI Greater Wheeling’s “This is My Brave Show,” which was held last night at the historic Capitol Theatre in Wheeling.

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Photo:  The Experience Church Worship Team & Audience

If you aren’t familiar with “This is My Brave” let me shed some light on it for you.  It’s a national non-profit organization co-founded by the amazing Jennifer Marshall.  The purpose of the show is to allow those who live with mental health conditions (mental illness & substance use disorders) to share their stories through creative expression-poetry, original music, essay.  The intent is to impact the stigma of mental illness through story telling.

The sixteen cast members in our show inspired the audience and made a lasting impression on all those who attended.  Those who shared struggle with and persevere daily through challenges related to depression, anxiety, panic attacks, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, binge eating disorder, suicide attempts and alcoholism.  Our show had an added bonus with the Experience Church Worship Team (aka-the band), kicking off the show with their inspiring and impactful musical talents.

The audience feedback has been nothing but positive.

Many people have said the IQ on that stage was beyond impressive.  Translation – people with mental illness can be smart.  Multiple people said, “it was fascinating to see the broad range of socio-economic levels and diversity of those impacted by mental illness.  Translation – mental illness does not discriminate.   One gentleman said, “I’m not affected by mental illness and I never realized what people go through.  This show helped me understand what others deal with.  I’m so grateful to be here tonight.”

And…the overwhelming comment by numerous people, “This show is inspiring.”

This morning I received this amazing quote from one of our cast members, Mr. Bill Hogan.  Bill writes,

“I have been involved in a bunch of stuff in my almost 90 years but never have I been so “electrified” by a group or an event as I was last night.  I love the word mystery and last night the wonder of it all, that unidentifiable power that charged the people on the stage as a group and as individuals was wonderful and gave everyone in that theater, on stage and off , a sense of joyful peace.  Everything was lined up the way it is supposed to be.
I am thinking of a quote  by W.B. Yeats  “ Go forth teller of tales. And seize whatever prey your heart desires.  Have no fear. Everything exists.  And everything is
True. And the earth is but dust under our feet.”  I am truly blessed to have been fortunate enough to have been part of a great happening.”

And that my friends sums up my feelings of being a part of something greater than myself.  Being part of a movement to shed light on mental illness, one person and one story at a time.  As Jennifer Marshall says, “Storytelling saves lives!”  Indeed it does.

Jennifer Marshall and Cast Photo:  Jennifer Marshall speaking to the cast of “This is My Brave” Wheeling, West Virginia

10 ways to stay mentally healthy in a crazy world!

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As a person who lives with bipolar disorder, I’ve had to learn how to manage my illness and how to stay mentally healthy.  My experience as a college basketball player playing for the legendary coach Pat Summitt and my days of striving to become an Olympic athlete helped shape how I deal with surviving in this crazy world.

Here’s my top 10 list of how to stay mentally healthy in a crazy world!

1) Know what you’re thinking

When you live with bipolar disorder and learn how to manage it, you quickly learn about racing thoughts.  But the truth is lot’s of people have anxiety and that can also cause thoughts to race from one subject to the next, making it difficult to concentrate.  If the thoughts are negative it can turn a good day bad in a heart beat.

What I’ve found helpful is to pay attention to what you’re thinking.  I check in to see what my thoughts are telling me.  Am I saying, “I’m not worth anything.” Am I telling myself, “I’m a failure.”  Whatever negative thing you are telling yourself effects everything you do in your day.

My old coach Pat Summitt used to always tell me, “Amy, you’re your own worst enemy.  You’re too hard on yourself.”  I would sit across from her desk and nod.  I knew she was right, but I didn’t know how to fix the problem.  I was striving to be perfect, beating myself up when I made mistakes and torturing myself mentally with repetitive thoughts.

So, if you’re going to stay mentally healthy, take time out during the day or in the moment and think about the things you’re telling yourself.  Learn to replace those negative thoughts and it will change your day for the better.

2)  Keep the negative news in perspective

Every night my 82 year old mother can’t wait to turn on NBC news and watch Lester Holt.  In fact she’ll turn on the television and say, “Gotta watch Lester.”  I roll my eyes and laugh.  If I don’t have anything else to do I’ll sit and watch the news with her.

But what I’ve found is that almost every news story is filled with negativity.  We get told over and over again everything that is wrong with humanity.  If we watch the local news it can be worse.  One station spends about 15 minutes going through all the people who went to court for the day.

It makes people look bad.  But in my 20 year career working for Fortune 500 companies, traveling all around the world with my sports teams and for personal fun, and working with an advocacy group–I have found most people are good.  Most people care about others and want to live a peaceful and happy life.

I like learning about what’s going on in the world, but I’d rather not be inundated with negativity.  Watch the news, but realize the whole world isn’t going to hell.

3)  Focus on what you can control

We have become a fear based culture.  Almost to the point we are paranoid about where we go and what we do for fear of running into someone who wishes to do us harm.  Paralyzing fear keeps people from venturing out and living life in a carefree way.

The truth is we can’t control what happens. In fact, we have little control over few things.  I’ve found the key to stay healthy is to find the things I can control and focus on those things.  It’s much more pleasant than worrying about all the things that could happen. 

I’ve also noticed that trying to change someone else’s views or opinions is like walking up the Rocky Mountains with no shoes on.  I can’t control the fact that some people refuse to listen to an opposing viewpoint.  It’s hard to do.  But in finding the best solutions to challenges or problems it’s great to have different perspectives and experiences at the table.  We just can’t control who is willing to listen and who is not.

I practice taking a deep breath and keeping things in perspective, realizing there is very little I can control.  But how I look at things is one of them.  I choose compassion and empathy, it’s something I can control and it makes me feel good.

4)  Balance social media

I was having a conversation with my friend Betsy.  We were talking about how important it is to balance how we use social media.  She said, “I’ve disconnected–deleted all my social media accounts.  I was spending sometimes 8 hours a day on social media.  Almost addicted to Facebook and Instagram likes.”

I thought about what she was saying and then ask myself the question, “How much time am I spending on social media?”  The answer was it ebs and flows.  I’m not addicted to it, but I try to use it constructively.  I don’t allow myself to compare my life to others, especially because I know people often portray their lives as perfect on social media.

Balance is the key.  And remember there was a day when counting the number of “likes” just didn’t matter.  I find it helpful to simply disconnect at times.  It helps me stay grounded in what’s most important.

5)  Learn how to stay present

There is no greater joy to me than having an intimate conversation with someone who is fully present.  We can all sense when someone is paying attention to us and when they are not.

It’s a discipline to learn how to stay in the present.  But I’ve found it to be the most helpful way I can live.  Sometimes my past has been painful and staying in the present keeps me far away from reliving the pain all over again.

6)  Surround yourself with positive people

There are a few people in my life I can’t avoid, but I cringe when they get on a negative roll and don’t stop.  It’s as if the world is coming to an end and every human being in it are evil.  Well, I’m exaggerating-but sadly only a little bit.

But seriously I’ve learned the more I’m around positive people we lift each other up.  We focus on the positive experiences and share those with each other.

When I have a depressive episode it’s even more important to be around someone who is positive.  They always Life my spirits and help me keep on fighting.

7)  Check your attitude

Oh…this is an important one.  Attitude is everything.  How we approach challenges and problems.  How we feel with agree and disappointments.  Having a positive attitude even in the darkest of times fuels the fight for survival.

8)  Practice gratefulness

One of the things that helps me in my continuing recovery journey is being grateful.  The little reminders of things and people I’m grateful fills up my heart.  I take a deep breath and thank God for giving me my new day.  I’m grateful for all the people who have crossed my path.  I’m grateful for the ability to put things in perspective.  Honestly, when I feel gratitude it makes me happy.

9)  Learn to say “no”

The is a tough one for me.  I like to help people, but have realized I can’t do everything.  I have to set limits to stay healthy.  I have to know my boundaries.  And above all I’ve learned that it’s okay to say “no.”

10)  Don’t be afraid to get professional help

Staying mentally healthy is critically important to everyone.  But sometimes we need a little bit of extra help.  Some days it’s just nice to talk to a therapist who is completely removed from the situation.

Sometimes people need a little extra help with medications to get through some tough times, difficult and overwhelming anxiety, depression etc.  And for those of us with chronic mental health conditions it’s imperative we stay with our treatment plan especially if it’s working well.

If you had cardiovascular, respiratory, or digestive problems would you seek professional help?  Things that effect our thinking, emotions and behavior-our mental health-sometimes need professional help too.  Don’t be ashamed to get the help you need.

Hoping my top 10 list helps somebody today.  Wishing peace.  Amy