Fitness and a Harley – Dealing with bipolar disorder

Amanda Espenhain uses fitness training, counselling, and her Harley Davidson to help her deal with her bipolar disorder. Bill Phillips photo
Amanda Espenhain uses fitness training, counselling, and her Harley Davidson to help her deal with her bipolar disorder. Bill Phillips photo

BY BILL PHILLIPS

bill@pgdailynews.ca

Everyone know that fitness training will help you get your body into shape.

It can also help with your mental fitness.

Amanda Espenhain can testify to that. She’s not a competitive athlete (at least not yet) but her training regimen puts others to shame. She hits the gym every morning at 3:30 a.m. and trains until she goes to work at Northern Electric.

“It helps me start my day better, getting endorphins and balancing out the chemicals in my brain,” she says.

That imbalance of chemicals in her brain has resulted in her being bipolar. The daily exercise routine, along with professional counselling and some ‘Harley Davidson therapy,’ help her live without medication.

“I’ve always grown up on the back of bikes,” she says. “I finally stopped waiting for everyone else to insure the bikes so I could go for a ride and decided to buy my own. It’s probably the best decision I ever made because riding forces you to be present in the moment, no matter what. You can’t focus on anything else.

“Motorcycling and fitness help me with my mental health.”

Amanda started having problems when she was in her early teens.

“I started having different moods states,” she says. “It would go from high to low in a day. I would have a high period and then a low period. It was really affecting my school, every part of my life.”

It came to a head at 15 years old with suicide attempts, the last one which resulted in her being hospitalized.

“Just to get out of the hospital and to not take medication, I was told to exercise daily to balance the chemicals in my brain,” she says. “That’s what I’ve done since I got out of the hospital that day. I’ve never missed a scheduled session since.”

When she was 17 she started getting into fitness more seriously. She didn’t use a trainer, choosing to do her own research on how to train.

“I don’t compete, but I train as if I compete,” she says.

Prior to starting her training regimen she wasn’t an active person and didn’t really like sports. She did, however, ride horses and competed in gymkhana and 4-H.

It wasn’t until she was in her early 20s that she was fully diagnosed as being bipolar.

She is reaching out, on social media, to others who have mental health issues, by telling her story and offering to help others who may be struggling.

“I think it be very beneficial if there was a program people could take to learn better ways of communication, to communicate with someone who has mental health issues,” she says. “I’ve been around people who maybe say the wrong thing, they don’t know it’s the wrong thing.

“To be able to help other people, listen more, be more there and not try and give opinions about things … just be there for someone. I’m trying to be that person, who I needed, for other people.”

A recent post on Suicide Prevention Day resonated with plenty of reaction.

“I was nervous about posting it,” she says. “I had a lot of people reach out to that, which shows there are people who know they can talk to me about anything.”

She posts what she is going through, what it’s like to be bipolar, and how she has improved, such as coping better with anxiety.

“It’s not a scary thing, you’re still you,” she says. “It doesn’t change who you are at all.”

What being bipolar does is create intense highs and extreme lows.

“When I’m in a high period, I feel like can do anything,” she says. “I’m risky. I’m reckless. I’m very confident with everything I do. You can’t tell me anything. I’m on top of the world. I’ll spend money without thinking. You’re not productive, but you’re really happy.

“Then there’s the low part where you’re not productive but you’re very, very low. It’s hard to get out of that state … Bipolar is like a roller-coaster. You don’t know where you’re going, if it’s going to be high, if it’s going to be low, when it’s going to happen. It’s kind of a surprise.”

Harley Davidson enthusiast Amanda Espenhain meets fellow Harley rider John Brink and his bike. Bill Phillips photo
Harley Davidson enthusiast Amanda Espenhain meets fellow Harley rider John Brink and his bike. Bill Phillips photo

For Amanda, her routine of regular training, Harley rides, and counselling have helped her without having to take medication. But the road isn’t necessarily an easy one.

“Every day is different,” she says. “Every single morning I struggle to wake up, put on my shoes, get out the door. Every single day is a struggle. It’s what I say to myself and how I talk myself through things. I stay positive. I read a lot of self-help books. I really try to keep positive energy when I’m feeling negative. I really don’t know how to do that other than just saying things to myself, just talking myself through everything.

“With the gym being in the first part of the day, that’s what keeps me going. As long as I can get up and get to the gym, I’m fine from there.”

She still has days where something will trigger her and she can get angry or upset with things.

And she does see psychiatrists and therapists and that will continue.

“If I’m not going to have medication, I do need that,” she says. “I feel that anyone who is struggling does need someone they can talk to, someone they can trust who is not going have an opinion or say the wrong thing.”

Bipolar is different for everyone. Often it can be diagnosed as depression because the highs may be few and far between and, as such, it can’t simply be treated with anti-depressants.

Support from family and friends is also very important.

“It’s especially important for parents,” she says. “When you have a child who is struggling with mental health, you’re their biological connection … you can help your child better than anyone can. You can help a lot more than you think you can. That’s so important.

“My family is supportive, but they also don’t understand what’s going on. If there’s anything family can do, it’s is just be there.”

She is sharing her story in hopes that she can help others.

You can find her on Instagram and on Facebook.