If you were to ask anyone what they think of me, you would probably hear words like bubbly, loud, and friendly. Words people wouldn’t use to describe me are anxious, depressed, stressed, and scared, but that’s exactly what I am. All of the time.
In March of 2013, I was in a pretty awful motorcycle wreck. Someone under the influence of pills crossed the center median and struck my friend and I. Thankfully, I was the only one who got hurt, but my injuries were extensive. I would end up losing my left leg above the knee, breaking my right collarbone, and my right lung would collapse. After ten surgeries and thirty-four days in the hospital, I was discharged.
Since I was in high school, I had only worked one job and I loved dancing. Jazz and Contemporary are my chosen styles, being from Oklahoma two-step and West Coast swing were a must. My life was pretty fun. Dancing three to four days a week was my stress reliever. It kept me sane.
After the accident, I lost my job and it left me unable to dance. My world was officially crumbling before my eyes. Before the accident my anxiety wasn’t that bad. I had a very strong type A personality. I had my little quirks, but it wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle.
After the accident, my anxiety intensified. The first panic attack I had was when I got out of the hospital. It was triggered by something so simple and minuscule, but it drove me to a breaking point.
Being from Oklahoma I had a love for boots. Some friends wanted to take me out to a dance hall and I wanted to wear them, to feel normal again. I couldn’t get them on my prosthetic foot. The ankle didn’t bend like an actual ankle. After failing for about 30 minutes to get one boot on, I freaked out and ended up throwing it.
I was crying so hard that I couldn’t breathe, talk, or move. I was immobilized over something so small. It was a kick to my face that I might need help. I went to my doctor and explained what was going on. That’s when I was prescribed my first medication. I hated it.
Fast forward three and a half years and this is where we are. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I have severe anxiety. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I have depression. I also speak up about having both.
Shattering the Stigma of Mental Illness
Mental illness has always had a stigma to it. My goal is to completely shatter that stigma using any source I have available to me. Whether that is social media, conferences, one on one interaction, or things like this blog, the stigma needs to disappear. I was asked to write this after I posted on Facebook about falling back into the cycle, falling back into old, unhealthy habits.
I could never imagine that I could help other people like this. In all honesty the night I was asked to write this, I decided to go to the bar with some friends. All was good until someone asked me about my post on Facebook. That’s when my night spiraled. I ended up having a panic attack at the bar. How embarrassing is that?! I mean, really? I learned how to control my emotions and my triggers, but that night was something different.
Amber twirls around in her blue dress and UNYQ Performance™ prosthetic cover at the Amputee Coalition Conference in June, 2016
There were a bunch of different triggers to my anxiety and panic attacks. The one that hit me on this particular night was learning that my best friend of 13 years was planning on moving to Texas and soon. She’s the one person that knows everything about me, the good and the bad. We’ve known each other since we were 13 or 14, went to highschool together, grew up together, and now we even work together.
Just thinking she wouldn’t be five minutes down the road, that she would be eight hours away, sent me into a downward spiral. When you struggle with mental illness, you need to have someone who’s in your corner. Who knows if they tell you to calm down, they’re only going to make it worse. Not to sound like Grey’s Anatomy, but she really is the person I turn to when I get dark and twisty.
The thing with anxiety, depression, or any other mental illness, is that it doesn’t discriminate. Anyone can be affected by it. It’s finding ways to cope with it that makes you a stronger person. For me, I hated the medication that my doctors had prescribed me. They made me feel like a zombie, a shell of a person.
Discovering Adaptive Athletics
I made the decision to stop taking them and find a different outlet, something healthier than prescription drugs. So I started CrossFit. Let me tell ya’ll, it was not easy going into a box, with one leg and being out of the workout game for so long. If I ever felt like an outsider, this took the cake. I stayed, I worked with my coaches to make things more adaptable. It became the outlet that I needed, I fell in love with it.
Amber gets ready to lift! Photo by Kyle Canady, owner of Gymology where Amber started CrossFit.
As time went on, I became more and more serious about it. It was everything that I didn’t know I needed. Unfortunately cycles happen and old habits come back.
At the beginning of August, I went to Florida to go to Prosthetics and Orthotics Association (POA) in Orlando for a new socket. Mine just wasn’t keeping up with my anymore, especially where CrossFit was concerned. I was there for two weeks, working out every morning before I went into the office, and then during the day at POA in their gym. It was pure bliss!
Then it was time to come home, time to go back to reality. I honestly don’t know what happened, or when the cycle started. Coming home to an empty apartment and being by myself hit me like a rock this time. I started coming straight home from work, totally skipping the gym, then just lying in bed in the dark until I went to sleep.
Amber uses her Ottobock running blade to jump rope for the first time since losing her leg. Photo by Kyle Canady.
For me though, realizing that I’m falling into old, unhealthy habits, is the kick in the butt I need to get back in the gym. I would be lying if I said I never thought about self-harm in the beginning. Now that I have the experience, and I can see the warning signs. I like to think that I have a little bit more control over things.
We never truly win against anxiety and depression. It will always be a constant battle. Since we battle daily, it’s the small successes that make it a win. Getting out of bed, going to the gym, having a conversation with someone, even smiling is a victory.
Me writing this entry is my victory. My battle is a coin flip every day. It’s my choice on how I face the day. Even though I still have my bad days, I try to have those small victories by trying to make someone laugh at a bad joke, or being the class clown that I normally am.
Everyone has a mask they wear on the daily. Mine just happens to be different than everyone else’s. That’s not to say the person I am in public isn’t the person I am. But when I get home and the struggle between me, myself, and I starts, things can get dark if I’m not careful.
Setting Goals & Creating a Community
And now it’s time for a change. It’s time for my goals to be known. In the next year, I want to be a completely different person. I’ve already changed so much in the last year. This year, is my year. I want to be more active in the adaptive community, to be a voice for someone who struggles. I want to do more with I Am Adaptive and UNYQ. I want to help veterans coming home that are struggling with the reality of losing a limb. Not just veterans but anyone facing this situation.
I want to be part of an all adaptive box. Whether that’s being part of the planning, constructing, or recruiting process, I want it to become a reality. I want a place where anybody with a disability can go and feel comfortable, with all adaptive coaches.
That’s something not many places can offer. Most if not all can’t even offer a single adaptive coach. I want to get my certification and start coaching. Then I want to branch out. By the end of 2017 I want to move to North Carolina.
I know I will never be fully in control of my anxiety and depression, it doesn’t work like that. Finding something that drives me that I’m passionate about has been the greatest medicine I could have ever hoped for. If I could give anyone any advice, it would be this:
Do not be scared to speak up, to find someone to talk to and to find an outlet. Do not think you are in this all alone because you aren’t. Find your outlet, find your passion. Make your goals known so there will be people there to support you. There is always someone there to talk to, who can relate to what you’re going through. Do not ever let anyone tell you that your struggle is just overreacting or made up in your head. Believe in the small victories and the small wins. Those are going to get you everywhere!