You can overcome anything!

If I told you- you can overcome anything would you believe me?

Take two fingers and press gently on to the side of your neck. Do you feel it? If you’re reading these words you feel your heart beating. The source of life pumping blood through your veins. You’re alive today and everyday we are alive it is a gift. Even though sometimes life seems so incredibly hard.

I’ve been very blessed and maybe even a little cursed to have had so much time for inner reflection. Without reflection we don’t grow. We stay stuck in the habits and with the autopilot emotions we tell ourselves are really how we feel. We numb out with our socially acceptable glass of wine or beer or whatever other thing we use to hide, numb or bury painful emotions.

I’m a subject matter expert in being out of touch with feelings. Feelings can overwhelm our coping mechanisms. I spent years in therapy and with a library of self-help books just to be able to unravel the layers of complex emotions that make up my psyche.

I am a victim of trauma. All shapes and sizes of trauma. Sometimes the memory comes sneaking up on me like a shadow in the darkness intent on scaring me. Other moments I’m caught off guard and get triggered into a flashback that raises my fight or flight hormones and shoots spikes of anxiety up my shoulder blades.

Sometimes I disassociate. It’s also a coping mechanism. It’s a survival mechanism for the brain.

When we tug on a thread and unravel much more than we intend, it’s hard to cut it off neatly and tuck in the lose remnants. I’ve learned to be cautious on how much I allow to unravel at one time, so not to overwhelm my system. But there are days when some unwanted memories break like a dam and flood my brain.

On those days I go to bed. Take a time out. Doesn’t happen often anymore, but there was a time when it effected me daily for years.

I’ve learned that staying busy helps me cope. Finding the balance of busy is very important. Because the worst thing I can do is not acknowledge a painful past moment. And slip back into the habit of numbing emotions and wishfully thinking they’ll go away forever. They don’t. I’ve just learned how to cope with them.

Some people say, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” I’m not so sure that’s just a polite way of dismissing a difficult conversation. I think God helps me most when I’ve felt pushed to the brink. When I’ve questioned why I even got out of bed to try and face the unthinkable, unimaginable and the sometimes perceived horror of my own life’s realities.

And then suddenly as quickly as that thread unraveled, I’ve found a needle and mended the distressed fabric. The emotion that tried to lie to me and tell me I wasn’t strong enough to handle my life journey. The thought or comment that discounted my reality and minimized the effects it had on my soul.

My message to anyone reading today, is that we all have traumas we have experienced. You know the memory, the one that fills you with fear even though the event happened days, months or years ago. The worst thing any of us can do is to compare our scars and scrapes to others. When it comes to trauma, comparing is the equivalent of dismissing. There’s no such thing as, “he or she has had it far worse than me.” or My favorite, “Boy she’s a bigger mess than me.”

Trauma is not a hurdle. Trauma is more like fast moving water we have to cross barefooted with slippery stones underneath. Sometimes it helps to pick up our heads and see who is waiting on the other side. The survivors who have crossed from one side to another and sometimes back again. Making it safely every time.

God is the light that helped me find my way, even in pure darkness. And that is why I have been able to overcome everything that has been put in my path. Not because God gave it to me, but because my faith helped me make it through.

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