My Brain prefers certainty and COVID-19 is not cooperating

The brain likes certainty, predictability and structure. Those things keep our stress response system from being activated. In the middle of a Pandemic all bets are off. If you’ve never had anxiety before and all the sudden find yourself worrying about everything, there’s a good chance you are not alone. Racing thoughts keeping you up at night? Unfounded fears multiplying?

Sitting alone in your car on a drive home from work, where you are deemed an “essential worker” and have been working non-stop since all of the lock downs started, suddenly you feel your chest tighten, your grasping for your breath, your legs are tingling and you think you’re going to die. Most likely you’re having a panic attack.

Mask wearing, excessive hand washing, social distancing, the number of people infected or dying everyday adds to the stress. Add in whether or not your job went away, is not coming back, or you just don’t even have a clue what’s going to happen…this all adds to stress.

In my experience managing anxiety is not an easy task, especially when so many things are outset our control. That’s the first strategy. Focus on the things you can control. We can’t control Uncle Bill’s sudden outrages over having to wear a mask in Walmart, but we can control our reaction to his emotional deluge. We have absolutely no control over politics or anyone’s political opinion, so try to restrain from arguing on Facebook with your friends or family. You won’t change their minds and it will simply add to your stress.

Breath. Sounds stupid, but it really works. Breathing deeply five times and exhaling clears the mind and relieves anxiety almost immediately. It won’t cure you, but it will help make things more manageable.

Take a time out. Walk outside in nature. It’s calming, peaceful and doesn’t have an underlying agenda.

Exercise if only for short moments. Five minutes is better than nothing. Take a five minute walk outside in the neighborhood. Do a pushup challenge with your friends. Find free online workouts you can do from home. Move the body it will help the mind.

Everyday is about taking one small step forward. We can’t get to the end of the tunnel when we can’t see the light. Right now, there’s no light shining. All we know is there’s so much we don’t know. We are living in constant uncertainty.

Be careful what you put in your body to manage these rough times. Too much of any good thing…well it turns into a not so good thing. Too many cigarettes, too much booze, etc. There’s no easy solution to this circumstance.

Take a step back and remember the times you’ve gotten through difficult times. What did you do? How did you think about what steps you needed to take? What helped? Who helped? And smile knowing you made it.

We will live through this time. It won’t be 100% unpleasant nor 100% pleasant. It will be a mixed bag. Stress will come and go. Some people will have it much worse than others. Help someone if you can. Ask for help if you need it.

One day at a time. Find the little joys that make your heart sing.

Wishing you safety and good health,

Amy Gamble

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