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

Blog for Mental Health 2014

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“I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.”

Hi my name is Amy Gamble and I am a former Olympic Athlete who lives with Bipolar Disorder.  I was diagnosed with a mental illness 15 years ago and have struggled my way to recovery through many trials and tribulations.  I decided to start blogging because I wanted to contribute to the dialogue about mental illness.  I wanted to help raise awareness with the hope that one more voice can help eliminate Stigma.  I am excited to add my blog “Shedding Light on Mental Illness” to the many blogs out there doing good stuff.

I decided to join the pledge for the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project because I know when we join together our voices are much louder.  It’s a great cause and it is one that I completely support.

To find out more information about the Mental Health 2014 Project go to http://acanvasoftheminds.com/2014/01/07/blog-for-mental-health-2014/

Stand Up for Someone with Mental Illness

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My first exposure to mental illness came in 1984.  I was 19 years old just finishing my freshman year of college at the University of Tennessee where I was playing college basketball.  My mother had a major episode as a result of her Bipolar Disorder.  The doctor quickly threw around all these words like “psychotic episode,” “manic-depressive illness,” and “involuntary commitment.”  There was no such thing as the internet so I went to a public library and painstakingly looked up every word from my notes I had taken.  I remember feeling terrified and devastated by the entire situation.  There was no where readily to turn for information let alone support.

Since that time I became an advocate for my mother as she struggled off and on with Bipolar episodes.  I was there for her along with a few other family members during her tough times.  I stood up for her as she worked her way back to good health.  Years later when I suffered my first episode my mother returned the favor and supported me through my struggles.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to stand beside someone who lives with mental illness.  Sure it was easy to stand up for me the Olympic Athlete but how difficult is it to stand up for me a person who has Bipolar?  I did feel deserted by some friends and family members, but I realized how strong you have to be to support someone with a mental illness.  It’s not easy or I suppose everyone would do it.  Fortunately, I have a strong family support system.  They haven’t been perfect but they’ve been darn good through the good times and the bad times.

It’s easy to stand up for people when things are going well.  But when tough times come around it is so important to have support.  Standing up for mental illness to me means doing any number of little things to support this cause.  To challenge the status quo and ask people to take action and make a difference in someone’s life.

Because people were willing to stand up for me I am in recovery and because of that I can stand up for those who have a mental illness.  Hopefully I’ll make a difference one day at a time.

 

Mental Illness Can Affect Anyone

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When I first entered the mental health care system I could not believe I could be diagnosed with a mental illness.  After all I was an Olympic Athlete, a successful business person and had recently finished my master’s degree somehow getting a bipolar diagnosis at the time seemed to tarnish the other parts of my life.  It should not have made me feel ashamed to have an illness but it did.  As a matter of fact I lived with tremendous shame for many years after my initial diagnosis.

Where does the shame come from?

I think for me the shame came from a feeling of believing having bipolar disorder was my fault, as if I had brought it on by something I had done wrong.  I had not considered the genetic predisposition or in other words strong family history which most likely caused me to end up with the illness–I simply thought it was a personal weakness.  Later I learned Stigma causes such shame to exists.

It often caused me great sadness to feel so badly for having bipolar disorder.  Not only did I have to learn how to manage the illness I had to do it without talking about it with friends or family.  I wanted it to be a secret and I didn’t want anyone to know.  My struggles were deeply intense and terribly lonely.

So instead of reaching out to others for support I isolated myself and tried to hide what was wrong with me.  The repercussions were immense as I lost contact with most of my friends.  This left me to rely on my family as my sole support and in the long run I was so fortunate to have them.  Social isolation makes the illness worse and slows down the recovery process.  Looking back I’m pretty sure some people knew what was wrong with me but may not have known how to support me.  Once again Stigma plays a huge roll in keeping those of us with a mental illness from getting the support we need.

Mental illness drastically changed the course of my life.  It took many years but I finally learned to say, “I have a mental illness and it’s not my fault.”  It doesn’t matter what stage you have marched on in life mental illness can affect anyone no matter what walk of life.

If I had one or two wishes I would wish for greater compassion for those of us afflicted with mental illness and greater compassion for those who support us–as frustrating as it can be sometimes.  Finally I would hope contributing to a dialogue on mental illness may help decrease someone’s pain and suffering and that when someone does struggle you know you aren’t alone.

Amy