Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Bipolar Disorder and Psychosis: There Is Help and There Is Hope, by Amy Gamble

In my wildest dreams, I never imagined I would have had psychotic episodes. I was the “All-American” small town girl from Sherrard, West Virginia, who made it all the way to the Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea. People like me don’t get a mental illness. Right? Wrong.

As much as I liked the athletic genes I inherited, I despise the bipolar disorder gene that tossed my life into a shambles.

A lot of people have been willing to talk about the manic and depressive episodes of bipolar disorder, but few have eagerly stepped up to talk about psychotic episodes. I believe it has a great deal to do with stigma.

Psychosis equals “crazy” in the minds of “normal” people. Losing touch with reality makes for great horror movies, where the insane go on a killing rampage. The voices of those who have experienced psychotic episodes are much quieter in the world of mental health advocacy. No one wants to be thought of as a deranged psycho.

But this hurts the many people who have experienced psychosis. I know I felt tremendous shame and embarrassment, when I picked up the pieces after experiencing psychotic episodes. I never realized that more than 70% of the people who have bipolar disorder experience psychotic episodes, right along with the mania and depression.

What is psychosis? Psychosis is defined by experiencing delusions or hallucinations or some combination of both. Most often my delusions were grandiose religious delusions where I was an angel sent down to earth to save the world from evil. At one point I was found walking in the middle of downtown Phoenix, Arizona in rush hour traffic. I thought I was an angel who could walk through cars.

When I was experiencing delusions every thought seemed so incredibly real. It was like having a dream and not realizing you’re dreaming. When I had those psychotic episodes, for the most part I didn’t know I was sick. There were a couple of times when I remember coming in and out of reality. I might be able to drive a car and put gas in it, but I didn’t know my grandiose delusions were not real.

I believe psychosis is terribly cruel. It inhabited my mind causing outrageous behaviors, even though I was never a danger to others.

What has been most difficult for me has been when I remembered almost everything I did and said while I was sick. It wasn’t just remembering dreams, it was more like re-living my worst nightmare.

I know there are people out there who believe there is no such thing as mental illness. I laugh at those people. It’s so absurd to me to believe the brain never breaks down.

Psychosis is not a state of mind I enjoy. Nor has it ever been a state of mind where anything good happened to me, except the one time when I adopted a kitten. His name is Mr. Kitty and is a beautiful black and white, now nine years old cat. I don’t understand everything about psychosis, but I do know losing touch with reality makes me a vulnerable person.

The time I had walked down the streets of Phoenix caused the police to come. I can tell you this—the outcome wasn’t positive.

For the people who don’t want to take medication for bipolar disorder, I can understand your reasons why. For one, the side effects of some medications can be very wicked. And let’s face it—no one wants to believe she has a chronic health condition, which very often has to be managed with medications.

But … I know from my own personal journey and reading tons of books, if bipolar disorder is left untreated it will get worse over time. There’s no way to wish away an illness. There are many ways to effectively manage bipolar disorder, but often times it includes medication.

I just think that sometimes people search for the school of thought they want to believe. That’s what I did. The moment a friend told me, “You don’t have bipolar disorder. There’s no way. You’re too normal.” It was what I wanted to hear, even though I was “normal” because I was managing my illness with medication, exercise and living a healthy life. But when she said that to me it was exactly what I wanted to hear. I stopped the medications immediately. And I paid a significant price for that decision.

My mission is to explain how I’ve experienced bipolar disorder, especially my psychotic episodes. With experience comes wisdom. I want to share that wisdom with others, so their journey might not be as difficult as mine.

I’ve been free of episodes for almost five years. The only thing I’m really challenged with are triggers for depression. I can only imagine how much more severe my depression would be without managing and fighting it.

My psychiatrist once told me, “We have many medications to treat the mania and psychosis, but fewer that are effective for the depression. The depression is the hardest part of the illness to treat.” When I heard this I was relieved and disappointed all at one time. As far as I was concerned I never wanted to experience another psychotic episode in this lifetime. But the depression is really tough to live with at times. I suppose I was hoping for better news on that note.

If you’ve had a psychotic episode, don’t be ashamed. There are millions of people out there just like you. Whatever you’ve been through or have had to overcome, with the proper treatment you can regain and rebuild your life.

I’ve written a book about my journey with bipolar disorder. It’s called Bipolar Disorder, My Biggest Competitor: An Olympian's Journey with Mental Illness. I think I finally learned how to beat bipolar disorder. And I’m going to help other people beat it too.

My final message is—you are not alone. There is help and there is hope.

Find me on Facebook: @Amygamble1217
Check out my website and blog: www.AmyGamble.com.

 

About the Author

Amy Gamble is a small town girl who has always had big time dreams. She followed those dreams all the way to the Olympic Games. She is now the Executive Director of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) of Greater Wheeling. She is a Certified Mental Health First Aid instructor and a mental health speaker. Amy has over 18 years’ experience in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry. She has worked on Disease State Management Programs and worked as a consultant to the pharmaceutical industry authoring a Depression Training Manual for clients. Amy has a M.A. in Organizational Management and a B.A. in Communication.

Amy’s mission in life is to help those who live mental illness and their family members find help and hope. She strives to eliminate stigma by sharing openly her struggles and triumphs of living with bipolar disorder.

 

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

My Journey Through Anxiety, Depression, and the People That Changed My Life, by Jay Chirino

Nine years old. That was my age when I experienced my first depressive episode. Some people throughout the years have told me that this is impossible; no nine-year-old, especially one with a good family and loving parents, has a reason to be depressed. It still bothers me sometimes when people willingly display blatant ignorance on a subject that they are not experts on. But through the years I have learned to overcome the frustration and I’ve utilized whatever resources I’ve had at my disposal to inform and educate those that really want to have a better understanding of the mental struggles that so many of us, of any age, are challenged with every single day.

The truth is that, at the time, not even my parents believed that there was anything seriously wrong with me. They thought that my severe dislike for school had drove me to implementing new and creative ways of staying home. Yes, I did loathe school and the anxiety that dealing with the kids and the teachers brought me, but I would have chosen that burden any day over the hell that I was unexpectedly going through.

You see, I woke up one morning and my world had turned completely black and white. There were no signs of color, or optimism, or hope. There wasn’t anything to look forward to, anything to smile about. I began to question my reality and my reason for being. I started to convince myself that there was no purpose to life, that I was just a piece of breathing flesh that would bounce around the world for a few years and then begin to rot, just like everyone else. There was no reason to put one foot in front of the other and do anything; everything was useless, nothing would change the inevitable outcome. Except for the occasional trip to the toilet that would ensure that my bedsheets stayed dry, I did not much else than lay in bed, slightly more alive than dead.

I think it was about a week later that my parents began to take things more seriously, not seeing any progress on my behalf. The questions they started to ask had evolved from the basic, run-of-the-mill stuff, like, why can’t you just snap out of this, you have your entire life ahead of you! or the classic, what do you mean you don’t know why you feel like this? There must be a reason! Even though their concern was growing and they were taking me more seriously, they still refused to get me professional help. In their eyes, taking me to a psychiatrist meant that I was crazy, and I wasn’t crazy, just really, really sad. So, they resorted to the only thing they knew; prayer, bible passages, a strong effort at increasing my faith in God. Although the comfort of knowing that a higher power cares and pays attention can definitely be reassuring, in my case, at least, it wasn’t enough. I spent over a month bathed in deep sadness and worthlessness, not much else. No school, little food, no personal care, no positive thoughts, no optimism, no hope. I was basically a vegetable that entire time, and please remember, I was nine.

Then, just like it all had begun, without warning or explanation, it all started to gradually dissipate, and I could see a faint beacon of light at the end of the tunnel. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to get me feeling better. When I was able to finally get out of bed and re-incorporate myself into society, we all thought the worst was now behind me, and boy, were we wrong.

The anxiety that had always plagued me (even before the depressive episode) began to get bigger and stronger, almost like a monster that is getting well fed on a daily basis. By the time I got to high school that monster had gotten so strong that I was getting an average of three panic attacks per week. Mornings were the worst; having to wake up and get ready, physically and emotionally, to face the day ahead was a monumental undertaking. My heart would palpitate vigorously and sweat would engulf my hands. I even became proficient at a little swallowing exercise that I taught myself to avoid regurgitating, although the truth is that it wouldn’t work one hundred percent of the time. I was constantly afraid, constantly alone. Interacting with classmates was nearly impossible, being social was not an option, neither was enjoying school. When I got home all I could think about was the dread of the next day. It was constant torture, something I could not escape. I lived in a prison of my own mind and did not know how to break free. I eventually accepted the fact that this was going to be my life; this was something I would have to deal with for the rest of my days, until I died.

And then alcohol came in the picture.

I still remember my first drink: a cup of chilled, sweet sangria. I chugged the whole thing, thinking that you were supposed to drink it just like any other refreshing drink, to the dismay of the people around me. Needless to say, the buzz came on pretty fast, and it was as glorious as if God himself was reaching down from above and caressed my back with his hand, while assuring me that everything was going to be ok. The fear that I had carried with me all those years disappeared, my insecurities went away, the way I saw the world gained bright colors. I knew I wanted to feel like this all the time, and from that moment on I worked hard at making that desire a reality.

Fast-forward a few years and there you have me, two broken marriages, plenty of lost jobs, no money, no future and still no hope. My physical health was declining and my mental stability was gone. I was now a full-blown drug addict and alcoholic, and the only thing that made me happy was the prospect of my next buzz.

Twenty-five years after my parents first refused to take me to the doctor, they now begged me to seek professional help, and when your mother gets on her knees, with tears in her eyes and begs, you have no choice but to oblige.

They took me to a nearby hospital with a well-known psychiatric unit. I was there for five days, five days that changed my life in immeasurable ways. First, I learned that I was not broken beyond repair, and with the right therapy and medications I could thrive and succeed. Second, it was there where I realized that I wasn’t alone. I met so many wonderful people that had gone through similar things or worse, much, much worse. Yet there they were, fighting, doing their best to survive. I learned a lot from them, not only from their illnesses, but from their incredible hearts. I came out of that hospital a changed man, and I have to give those patients a lot of credit for that.

Fast-forward another few years and there I was, sober, employed and happy, but those patients would not escape my mind. It was as if they were asking me for help; they needed me in some way. They were screaming out but no one could hear. They had something to say, but no one cared. Then it hit me.

I needed to give them a voice.

“The Flawed Ones” is the story that I share with the wonderful people that I once met, people with considerable mental deficiencies and even bigger hearts, people that I feel fortunate were a part of my life and my recovery, people that I now present to you in my novel, and that I hope will have a similar impact on you as they did on me. For the first time in my life, I have hope.

These are “The Flawed Ones.”

 

About the Author

Jay is an author, mental health advocate and recovering addict, who spent over ten years battling his demons. Today he focuses on sharing his story and the story of others like him in order to create awareness and help eradicate the stigma that has always surrounded mental illness. He lives in Tampa, FL with Ana, his cat.

You can connect with Jay on his website/blog, also on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

You can find his book The Flawed Ones on Goodreads.

 

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

What Is It Like to Volunteer with Time to Change?

I recently volunteered with Time to Change, the UK’s largest mental health campaign, at Northern Pride on Newcastle’s Town Moor. This was the third time I’ve volunteered. The first was at Newcastle Mental Health Day 2016. The second was at last year’s Northern Pride.

It was a little after 11 a.m. when I arrived at the Health Zone marquee and met up with Angela Slater, Time to Change Community Equalities Coordinator for the North East. I’ve known Angela a couple of years now, and it was great to catch up with her and the other volunteers (Time to Change calls us Champions). Angela introduced me to a friend of hers on a nearby sexual health stall, who was dressed for the occasion as Chlamydia, one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in the UK. It made for an interesting photo!

The event proper began around 1 p.m. with the arrival of the parade. We were close to the main entrance and for an hour or so we were really busy! It doesn’t come naturally to me to engage with someone I don’t know, but once I’d chatted to a few people I relaxed into things. I found it helpful to watch how my fellow volunteers went about it, as everyone has their own style and approach.

The folded paper “pick a number” toys (sometimes called origami fortune tellers) were a great conversation starter. Those of a certain age (ahem!) remember them from days of yore; I was surprised that many younger folk also knew what they were! The flaps hid simple suggestions to connect with others about their—or your own—mental health and wellbeing. One invited you to text or call someone you know. When that came up for two people I was talking to, they immediately pulled out their mobile phones and set about connecting! We handed quite a few of the toys out as giveaways, which kept us busy replenishing the stock.

Of the people I spoke to, the consensus seemed to be that stigma and discrimination remain very much part of people’s experience, but that society is generally more open about discussing mental health. A few said younger folk are more open about discussing it than older generations. Several mentioned sports stars and celebrities who have spoken out about mental health, including the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry whose Heads Together campaign combats the stigma surrounding mental illness. Also well-known artists and performers whose lives and deaths have brought mental health to public attention.

Events like this remind me that each of us has a unique story to share. It was encouraging to hear people talk positively of the support they’ve received from friends, relatives, colleagues and professionals. I had one really good conversation about mental health in the work place. Others shared their struggles with mental health, with stigma and discrimination, or with support services, in some cases stretching back many years.

Roughly half those I asked had heard of Time to Change before. Angela told me there are two major media campaigns a year: one in February for National Time To Talk Day and another in October for World Mental Health Day (October 10 each year). Time to Change is often engaged by production companies working with mental health story lines in TV soaps and dramas.

Time to Change volunteers are under no obligation to share more than we want to, but I’m always happy to talk about how I met Fran, our mutually supportive friendship, and the book we wrote together. After all, that’s what led me into the mental health arena in the first place. Some people took away our leaflets and contact cards, and I was delighted to connect with a few later via social media.

That’s what I love about an event like this. It’s all about connection. One on one, human connection. Sharing our stories, experiences, concerns, hopes and journeys. I invited several of the Time to Change volunteers, and some of the people I met at the event, to share their impressions of the day.

I love taking Time to Change to Newcastle Pride each year because of the passionate, friendly committed Champions and how open and engaged the public are. It’s so important to talk about mental health with all of the communities within our region.
—Angela Slater

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Curiosity is the path to knowledge, and knowledge is the power to shed light and overcome obstacles. Open up. Educate. Spread the word. Don’t suffer alone.
—Vikki

The people at the Time to Change booth were extremely informative on what they do. I felt understood when I spoke about my mental health which is extremely important to me. Everyone was very friendly and I went away with lots of information and things that I can check out.
—Loretta

Mental health is a very important issue within the lgbtqia community and it was great to start so many open and positive conversations about mental health at Pride this year. As always, I had a blast!
—Alexandria Readman

The Health Tent at Newcastle Pride was a positive, supportive and encouraging area. The Time to Change stand had so many happy, friendly faces all there to help people. There because they care. Great to see Marty as a TTC Champion! Newcastle Pride outdid itself this year, a great day for all regardless of age, race, disability, orientation—keep it up!
—Sharon Race

It was great to be amongst all my close friends and make new ones. The atmosphere was electric outside. You always feel safe and happy at Pride. I take pride being a part of Pride. It’s a special part of history and joyous!
—Carol Robinson

If you would like to volunteer with Time to Change, or want to know more about their programmes, you can sign up for free with no obligation on their website.

Marty

 

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

A Behind the Scenes Look at My Latest Book Reading Videos

I recently updated our YouTube channel with four short videos of me reading excerpts from our book. I recorded them whilst on holiday at Bowness on Windermere in the English Lake District. I think the videos came out pretty well. I am standing outside. There are trees behind me. There’s a breeze blowing and I have to keep catching my hair back from my face. In a couple of places, I think you can hear sheep. I appear calm and composed, as though this was exactly how I had intended the recordings to go.

I thought you might be interested in the real story!

I’d taken my copy of High Tide, Low Tide on holiday, intending to record myself reading a selection of passages to share on our social media. On the Wednesday evening I set out on a short walk, looking for a suitable recording location. I wanted somewhere private enough that I’d not be interrupted or observed, away from traffic and other background noises, with suitable support for my smartphone on its mini tripod.

I headed north, in the direction of Ambleside. The map on my smartphone suggested I might get down to the lake, but when I got there it was all private access only. It was a lovely evening though, and quiet away from the main road. I wandered on along a narrow path, with trees to the left of me and fields to the right. I had a nice Skype call with Fran. I even saw a deer!

I found what I thought would be a good place. I fastened my phone on its mini tripod to a gate post, took out the book and began to record, but within minutes a lady came by walking her dog. We got talking, about the book (which was still in my hand) and about the local area. She told me how three hundred child survivors of the Holocaust were relocated to the Lake District after WWII. They stayed on what was then the village of Calgarth Estate, pretty much where the fields are now. You can read more of this moving story on the Lake District Holocaust Project website.

The nice dog lady walked with me most of the way back to the main road. I was disappointed not to have recorded anything, but I decided to go down to the jetty near the cottage and try there. There was no one there when I arrived. I sat on the bench and got set up, but no sooner had I started recording than the sound of shrieking rang out. Someone’s darling kids were enjoying themselves at the water’s edge nearby. Grrrrr!!! I packed up and headed back. I wasn’t happy! It seemed as though all my best efforts had come to nothing. I simply wasn’t destined to make these recordings!

I stopped by a gate, almost within sight of the cottage. The light was perfect. Someone was sure to come by if I had another go, but it was worth one last try. It took a few minutes to get my tripod secured to the gate. I had a couple of false starts, but managed to record four excerpts which I reckon came out okay. Phew!

As I headed back to the cottage, I was smiling.

The Recordings

How Much Help Is Enough? Can It Ever Be Too Much?

Do You Ever Feel Overwhelmed When Fran Is Suicidal?

What Happens When You Can't Be Together All the Time?

How Do You And Fran Get Through Your Darkest Days?

 

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Book Review: #ThisIsWhatAnxietyFeelsLike: When you think everyone hates you & so much more, by Sarah Fader (Author) and Michelle Hammer (Creator)

I have followed Sarah Fader on Twitter for several years, intially through her work with the mental health nonprofit Stigma Fighters, which gives a forum—online and in (to date) three published anthologies—to people’s experiences living with mental illness in all its many forms.

This new book brings the focus in closer, both in terms of the condition being covered—anxiety—and by limiting the descriptions to Twitter’s 140 characters, each with the associated hashtag #ThisIsWhatAnxietyFeelsLike. The book contains 51 pieces by Sarah, each brilliantly illustrated by Michelle Hammer.

Whether we have a diagnosed condition or not, we can all remember times we have been anxious. This book takes the reader in further: to reading and by extension imaging what that “regular” anxiety might be like, racked up 1,000 percent and liable to overwhelm you at any moment.

If like me you have little or no personal experience of anxiety, buy this book. Read it. Tell everyone you know about it. It’s that important. But recognise it is the start, rather than the end, of your journey.

Get on social media and follow the #ThisIsWhatAnxietyFeelsLike hashtag for many many more examples, from people all over the world. Keep your mind and heart open. You will learn a lot.

This is what countering stigma feels like.

About the Authors

Sarah Fader is the CEO and Founder of Stigma Fighters, a non-profit organization that encourages individuals with mental illness to share their personal stories. She has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Quartz, Psychology Today, The Huffington Post, HuffPost Live, and Good Day New York. Michelle Hammer is a graphic designer and artist living with paranoid schizophrenia. Her work has been featured on NBC, The Daily Mail, BuzzFeed, Mashable. Shape, A+, HelloGiggles, and Stylist. Her artwork is the most recognized on her signature clothing line Schizophrenic NYC. Michelle designs pieces of art on clothing that represent what mental illness means to her.

#ThisIsWhatAnxietyFeelsLike: When you think everyone hates you & so much more is available (print and Kindle) from Amazon.

 

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

BESIEGED: Sometimes I Just Want to Be Left Alone

It’s Saturday morning and as I often am, I’m sitting in my favourite coffee shop, Caffè Nero near the Haymarket in Newcastle. I’ve been coming here regularly since it opened. How many years is that? Before Fran and I began work on our book, for sure, and that’s pushing five years now.

It’s hard to visualise, but this used to be the City Post Office. I’ve stood in line many times—where these tables are now—for postage stamps, or to send packages off all over the world. It looks so different now! And yet, there is a sense of continuity. I may have to go elsewhere these days for my postal services (as I did this morning, to buy stamps and to mail out a copy of our book) but it is here, a large black coffee to hand (“Would you like the extra shot?” “Yes please!”), that I write my letters, cards, and postcards.

Here is also where I meet folk face-to-face. Caffè Nero is my social hub these days. The staff have changed over the years but have always been warm, personable, and supportive of my mental health work and our book. If I am meeting someone in town, here is my first choice of venue, and I have made several new friends from amongst the other regulars here. Last Saturday, a friend I know from elsewhere turned up unexpectedly. We had a great natter, and hope to meet up again soon.

For years, I had no one local to meet up with for a drink and a chat. I recall sitting in a different coffee bar, not far from here, aware that no one I knew was likely to walk in, whether accidentally or by arrangement, to greet me with a smile or a hug and share time with me over a cup of coffee.

Nowadays, I bump into people all the time! Folk I have met here at Caffè Nero, or from the monthly Literary Salon at Bar Loco (which I only learned about last year from a guy I got chatting to at Nero’s) or via Time to Change and Broadacre House. I have opened myself up to the world, and the world has opened to greet me.

But, sometimes, it all gets a bit much. Sometimes I just want to sit here and not be talked to, especially when I am clearly writing. Sometimes it’s nice to be anonymous. To be ignored. Sometimes it’s nice to be gifted a “Hi, nice to see you” without my “Hi” back being taken as an invitation to occupy my space for the next twenty minutes.

So this morning when it happened I kept my head down. Finished the letter I was writing, and kept right on going, lest any pause in my writing signal a willingness to engage. I drafted a new blog piece. This one.

And now that I am no longer besieged I can relax again. Breathe. I guess I need to work my boundaries, but at least something good came of the experience. Now it just needs a title...