I have the pleasure of talking with Amy Gamble today about her struggle with the highs and lows of mental illness. I’m proud to call her a friend and she is a true inspiration. I’ve had my own difficult journey with Bipolar Disorder and when I tell you it’s a miracle Amy came out alive, it’s 100% true. Not only did Amy survive, but she also took charge of her life and went on to write her first book Bipolar Disorder, My Biggest Competitor: An Olympian’s Journey with Mental Illness.
Background on Amy*
Gamble tells how the illness also affects her mother, pitched her head first into a nightmare of highs and lows. While it robbed her of her dreams of playing Division 1 ball, it also helped vault her to the U.S. Olympic handball team, leading her to travel the world and compete at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. She was a top performer in sales for Merck, the pharmaceutical giant, but ironically her untreated illness plunged her to the bottom rungs of society. She became stuck in a revolving door of mental hospitals, doctors’ offices and even jails across the U.S., discovering deep-rooted deficiencies in the systems that are supposed to help the country’s most vulnerable citizens.
At the scariest point, she found herself wandering aimlessly at night in a snow-covered mountain forest on the Montana/Idaho border with only moccasins on her feet and a sweatshirt to keep her warm. She was hopelessly lost, freezing and not in her right mind. *
Thank you, Amy, for talking with me today. I learned more about Amy from the AP overview, so I’ll start there.
What positives came out of being in a Psychiatric Hospital?
My last psychiatric hospitalization was 12 years ago. It was a hospital far away from my hometown, but the care I received was excellent. I was put on a regiment of medications that got me started on the right track and helped immensely in my recovery journey. The staff members at the hospital were encouraging and really believed in recovery. Overall, it was a really positive experience for me.
Did your mental illness impact your Olympic dream?
I made the 1988 Olympic Team in Team Handball. While I struggled at times with depression, I was able to overcome my challenges and become an Olympian.
You have a successful career as Mental Health Advocate and Speaker, how did your Speaking career start.
I began speaking to groups through a local NAMI chapter. My third talk was an interview at a large church with an audience of 300 people. Once I started speaking I began to attend a Toastmasters group and was coached and encouraged by members of the toastmaster group. From 2015 – 2023, I’ve given over 250 talks and mental health trainings reaching over 15,000 people.
You have a passion for advocating for Mental Illness, what organizations do you belong to?
I’m a local NAMI member and I support DBSA (Depression Bipolar Support Alliance)
How did you keep motivated while working your first jobs after the crash?
I felt like working would give me a sense of purpose, a reason to get out of bed in the morning. I looked forward to going to my jobs, even if sometimes I had a little struggle in getting there. Maybe I’d have a rough day or just felt tired. But it didn’t matter because I was driven to get better and work helped me to do that.
Do you have any words of wisdom on life with a mental illness?
Be a student of your mental illness. Learn everything you can learn on how the illness affects you, what are the common symptoms and how can I alleviate most of my symptoms. Make sure you’re getting better or improving under the care of mental health care professionals, whether that’s a psychiatrist or therapist, or both.
Why did you stop blogging for 2 years?
I took a break from social media. I took time out to reflect and work on some other things.
What are your hobbies and what type of books/magazines do you read for fun?
My number one hobby is reading. I love to read! I’m currently reading “Atlas of the Heart,” by Brene Brown. I’ve also recently finished reading “Wild,” by Cheryl Strayed. Usually, I have two or three books I’m reading at the same time.
I also enjoy exercising, though I’m not always on schedule. I’ve really tried to get into a good habit since April of this year. So far, so good.
I know you are writing a new book about your PTSD, without giving too much information, what can you share with us.
I’m so excited about my new book. The book is really about resilience, as illustrated by how the impact of past traumas (primarily sexual assault) interrupted my life and caused symptoms of PTSD, even though the traumatic events had occurred decades prior. I talk about the collision course between bipolar disorder and PTSD and how my past traumas were overlooked by many mental health care professionals until they couldn’t be overlooked anymore. My number one goal is to give a voice to a woman who may not have had one.
Listen to a great interview with Amy by NAMI
Please follow Amy at Shedding A Light On Mental Illness and be sure to tell her I said Hello!
Amy’s second book covers her PTSD and more of her journey not shared in the first book. Here are a few questions Amy answers with her second book.
How she got down from the mountain?
What happened next?
How did She end up in jail? More than once?
I hope this post inspires, encourages you to keep going, or gives you information to help others with Mental Health challenges.
Thank you, Amy, for your insight.