When the good day arrives!


One of the things I learned in a recovery workshop is to create new dreams after having your life interrupted with a psychiatric illness. I created a dream to become a mental health advocate, but I soon learned that creating a dream is one thing and living it is another.

I think my impatience is a result of having too much time on my hands. Not all days but some days a few hours of free time can feel like sitting in the dentist chair having my teeth pulled. When I am feeling good and overall having a good day I feel like I can accomplish so much more.  But on those bad days, like yesterday, I have no desire to do anything.

I wish I had a crystal ball that could tell me when the good days would bless me with their presence. I could be so productive if I had something of value to do. But what kind of job out there rewards people for having outstanding days periodically? There are so few that I have found I need to get creative and figure out a way to utilize my time more wisely.

Yesterday I read an article about a research project that NAMI conducted. It said that people with mental illness had an 80% unemployment rate in the United States. From everything I have read it seems that most other countries fall about in the same statistical ratio. So what does this say about mental illness and employment? The article does not address those of us who may be underemployed, which is an entirely different issue too.

What are we supposed to do when we have those good days?  I guess reading and writing is one way to spend time in a valuable manner. I just have to keep from getting too frustrated with myself because I recognize having too much time on my hands is not the best thing for my mental health. I am a goal directed individual and the more goals I can have for myself the better I feel.

The problem comes when I start wishing there was an immediate “feel good” solution for me on those days when I am far more capable of doing complex tasks.  These are the times when I focus hard on positive self-talk. It’s really easy to go down the path of “let’s beat up Amy today,” even though I know it is not a healthy thing to do. I may say something like, “If I tried harder I could accomplish more.” “I need to be more organized with my time.” Then I get all excited about having a new plan of action and I wake up the next day and getting out of bed may be the best I can accomplish.

This up and down road makes it a harder to check off the “to-do” list. It also makes it more difficult to have consistent approaches to various goals ultimately making it harder to have achievements. Certainly it is not impossible, just more difficult.

If I had one wish I would hope for more resources to be placed in helping those of us living with a mental illness to have working projects where we could utilize our skill sets. Maybe a collaborative writing project where we contributed to a group writing project. I don’t know the answer. I just know I need something I can feel good about.

Bipolar Disorder Cheated Me!


Do you ever feel like your mental illness cheated you out of something? There are some days when I open my eyes after a long night’s rest and I just lie there in bed. I start thinking about what my day holds for me. What do I have to accomplish? Do I work today or am I going to have to figure out how I can be productive for the day? At times I get frustrated with this merry go round. I am tempted to fall back into dreaming about the past where getting up in the morning guaranteed I was going to have a full plate of activities and things to do.

In my recovery journey I came to realize that having a sense of purpose was one of the most important parts of getting well and staying well. Of course it is not always easy to accomplish this goal, but when I do I feel so much better about myself.

Today is just not one of those days. Today I feel like I have been cheated. I feel short-changed in the game of life– all my past dreams and ambitions stolen away from me because I ended up with a rather severe case of bipolar disorder. This vicious illness robbed me of my life as I once knew it.

There I said it. I have made it clear that I loathe bipolar disorder. I am not one of those people who like the manic highs with endless creative energy. I hate everything about this disorder. Some would say because it is a part of me I must hate myself too. But I don’t really look at it like that. I look at it as an illness separate and apart from me. It may affect my moods, but it does not influence the positive aspects of myself anymore than I like being thought of as a negative person when I am depressed.

It’s an illness. A nasty mental illness. I don’t think people who have cancer love their disease, nor do they romanticize it. There is nothing positive about living with an illness whether it is mental or physical. It is exactly what it is—an illness.

I know some people will take issue with me and in attempt to make me feel better about having a mental illness they will point out all the famous people and celebrities who also have lived with bipolar disorder. This does not make me feel better. It only tells me that mental illness does not discriminate. It also tells me that people who have lived with or currently live with a mental illness have done some pretty extraordinary things. I am grateful for those stories. But it still doesn’t make me feel any better on a day-to-day basis of struggling with my own illness.

So on days like today, when I would rather have stayed in bed all day long, I consider it a success to have let my feet hit the floor. I hold on to the fact that I am in no way alone in the battle against a mental illness. And I know that I am not alone in having those days when I feel like I have been cheated.

I am not willing to pretend my journey with bipolar disorder has been or will ever be easy. Some days I win and some days the whole idea of having this illness gets the best of me.  When that happens I look for the small wins and hope for a better tomorrow.


The Strengths Recovery Path-Part 1

JTR-textYears ago I went through a 12 week course called the “Pathways to Recovery.”  The local chapter of the Depression Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) sponsored it.

At first I was very skeptical about the workshop. I thought, “What am I going to learn that’s going to help me?” After suffering from a very long major depressive episode, I knew I needed an extra boost to get me up and moving again.

So I enrolled in the program and received this fantastic workbook called “Pathways to Recovery: A Strengths Recovery Self-Help Workbook.” It is filled with a wealth of information. One of the things I like is one definition of recovery as listed below:

“Recovery is a deeply personal, unique process of changing one’s attitudes, values, feelings, goals, skills, and/or roles. It’s a way of living a satisfying, hopeful, and contributing life even within the limitations caused by the illness. Recovery involves the development of new meaning and purpose in one’s life as one grows beyond the catastrophic effects of mental illness.”

~William Anthony, Director, Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, Boston University

I liked this definition because it seemed to hit on all the areas that I know has been touched in my own journey of recovery. Many times I have struggled to pick myself back up after having setbacks and I have turned to this workbook for information. I have sat down and made new goals for myself, in light of the fact I could now face my limitations with a different attitude.

In my view I think that is one of the keys in recovery. The honest look into your current situation that says, “I am not the person I used to be, but I still have a great deal to offer. I can make new dreams and goals.”

In the course we spent a significant amount of time identifying our strengths. As a matter of fact, an entire chapter was devoted to help you point out and identify your strengths. The book suggests that we usually have a tendency to pay attention to our problems, personal deficits and weaknesses more than we actually pay attention to what we are good at.

If you want to take a stab at seeing how many strengths you can identify try taking a piece of paper and write down what you think are your strengths. It’s kind of fun. What I realized is that I had about three things I wrote down. They ask the question of whether you found it hard or not. “Yes,” was my answer.

I took a quote from the strengths chapter that highlights something I believe is true:

“If you constantly think of illness, you eventually become ill; if you believe yourself to be beautiful, you become so.” ~Shakti Gawain

The workbook encourages you to move from a problem orientation to a strengths orientation. Here are a couple of examples:

Problem Orientation: Instead of focusing on my problems, symptoms and deficits…Strengths Orientation: I am primarily concerned with what I want, desire, and dream of.

Problem Orientation: Rather than see myself as my diagnostic label…Strengths Orientation: I see myself as a unique human being, with a strong mind, body and spirit.

The whole idea of changing our attitude and focusing on the solution instead of on the problem begins to shift our minds. It is a great way to move from getting down to looking for the “good” things about us. Because everyone on this journey of recovery knows you have to learn how to be kind to yourself and focus on the positive aspects so you can overcome the challenges.








Returning to Work After a Psychiatric Disability

One aspect of recovering from a mental illness is returning to the work force. Although statistics are not that favorable in supporting those of us who want to return to work, there are some resources I have found to be somewhat helpful. Working is more than just a paycheck. It is a means for social interaction, a chance to utilize skills and a great way to build confidence. Not everyone can go back to work, but those who want to try deserve to have resources in place to support the process.

In my own personal search for resources I have found a few web sites to be of value. The first site is called Employment Resources and the second is Mental Health Works. These two sites are specific to those people who are recovering from a mental illness and who want to return to work. I have provided a bit more information and the links below.

The most important thing I have found is to believe in yourself and know that if you continue to be persistent you will find a place in the work force. It might take a few different jobs to get you back on track again, but hopefully each one will provide some value to you. If anyone would like to be a part of a support group for those who want to return to work send me an email at agamble162@aol.com with your contact information and I will organize a support group teleconference.

Here are two web sites with good information.

Mental Health Works – Mental Health Works is a national initiative of the Canadian Mental Health Association. They have a wealth of information about going back to work after a period of absence caused from a psychiatric disability. Although some of the information is specific to Canada, the Steps to Employment guide provides many exercises and tips to get ready for a job search. I like that this guide talks about the challenges we face after having been out of the work force for a little while. I found it very resourceful in helping me identify my strengths. It also has examples of different kinds of resumes, and based on the information you can decide what you need for your job search.

Employment Resources -Hamilton County Ohio Mental Health and Recovery Services Board provides valuable on-line resources to help people with psychiatric disabilities return to work. The resources link to valuable information to assist you with everything from resume writing to obtain a small business loan to starting your own business. A couple of the links are not found, but there are still some valuable resources worth reading.

I hope you find some of the information helpful.