Saturday, 16 February 2019

Announcing Our New Book, “No One is Too Far Away: Notes from a Transatlantic Friendship”

Back in September we announced our new creative partnership with Eliezer Tristan Publishing. The fruits of that partnership can now be revealed!

Available in print and for Kindle, No One is Too Far Away: Notes from a Transatlantic Friendship showcases the very best of our blog posts and articles.

“Friendship is a beautiful part of life and an important component of long-term wellness. When Martin Baker met Fran Houston online, he never imagined that they would develop a connection that transcends time zones and international boundaries.

“In Notes from a Transatlantic Friendship, journal entries from Baker and Houston show us the deep-rooted value of intimate bonds and shared experiences. Through their writings, the authors demonstrate that mental illness needn’t be a barrier; indeed it can be the glue that holds people together.”

No One is Too Far Away: Notes from a Transatlantic Friendship is available in print and for Kindle from Amazon (COM | UK) and in print from Barnes and Noble and other booksellers. Also on Goodreads.

 

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

When All Is Said & Typed, by Aimee Wilson

Fran and I are delighted to introduce the new book by a dear friend of ours, Aimee Wilson. Aimee’s mental health blog I’m NOT Disordered has had huge success across the world, with numerous media appearances and collaborations. Recently published for Kindle, When All Is Said & Typed is a complete collection of articles from I’m NOT Disordered published between January 2013 and January 2019.

The articles are arranged by chronological order in five topics: The Power of Writing, The Impact of the Media, The Devastation, The Progress, and The People. The book can be read as a self-help guide or as a source of inspiration as it leads the reader through Aimee’s journey from psychiatric hospitalization to recovery.

When All Is Said & Typed is available for Kindle at Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, and in other regions.


Foreword

I’ve always loved writing so putting my everything into a book seemed like the natural next step.

I remember when I was young, and I used to write hundreds of short stories about ponies and horses that my Nana always loved to read. As I got older, I seemed to be so bogged down in homework that I lost writing as a hobby and interest and it became more of a chore. I was always in the highest sets in English class with having the top predicted grades and in Middle School a teacher predicted that I’d be a Journalist (she said a Political one but that’s not going to happen!).

Later, in High School, I kept diaries. When the abuse started, I actually found these a really helpful outlet when it became apparent that — for a number of reasons — I couldn’t confide in anyone. I didn’t — for one minute — imagine that two years later; after being sectioned under the Mental Health Act (1983), I’d end up giving these diaries to the Police as evidence of the abuse.

But I think that — even with my poorly mental health — it was actually an important life lesson; it taught me just how profound writing can be. The impact that writing has can be life-changing. As a writer, you can shape a person’s mood, their ethics, or even just their day! I think that writing about mental health can be even more powerful with 1 in 4 people experiencing mental health problems at some point in their life, it’s often a more personal and ‘close to home’ topic.

In starting my mental health blog I’m NOT Disordered in January 2013, I basically made writing my everything and what started as a hobby quickly became more of a career. I can’t ever stop thinking about how lucky I am to be able to do something I love and something that I’m passionate about.

I’d like to give special thanks to my Mum, my best-friends; Lauren and Ellie, my Aunt, Cygnet Healthcare, Richmond Fellowship, Northumbria Police and Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust.

 

I’d like to dedicate this book to my Nana who would have cried with happiness when she’d seen it.

 

When All Is Said & Typed is available at Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, and in other regions.


About the Author

Aimee Wilson is a 28-year-old mental health blogger who has used her personal experiences to develop a popular online profile. Aimee was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder in 2009, and after over 60 attempts on her life was admitted to a long-term, specialist psychiatric hospital almost 200 miles from home. It was during her two-and-a-half-year stay in hospital that Aimee began her blog: I’m NOT Disordered.

Originally it was meant as an outlet for pent-up frustrations from inpatient life, and a means to document her journey through the trauma therapy that eventually led her into recovery in 2014. The blog has developed into a platform for others to tell their stories and to give their own message to the world — whatever it may be.

Aimee’s blog now has close to half a million readers. Its popularity has resulted in three newspaper (in print) appearances, two online newspapers, BBC1 national news, ITV local news, interviews on BBC Radio 5 Live and Metro Radio; as well as a TV appearance on MADE. Aimee has had the opportunity to work with such organisations as North Tyneside and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, Northumbria Police, Time to Change, Cygnet Healthcare; and with individuals who range from friends, family and colleagues, to well-known people in the mental health industry.

Her first book, When All Is Said & Typed, is available at Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, and in other regions.

You can follow Aimee’s blog and read more about her at www.imnotdisordered.co.uk.

 

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

What Does Having a Conversation about Mental Health Look Like? #TimeToTalkDay

Thursday February 7 2019 is #TimeToTalk Day, an annual event organised by Time to Change to focus attention on mental health. (Time to Change was formed in 2009 by MIND and Rethink Mental Illness, with the aim of reducing mental health-related stigma and discrimination.)

Some feel that awareness campaigns trivialise the lived experience of people with serious mental illness, giving the impression that talking to someone or going for a walk can fix things, or take the place of professional treatment and support. I wholeheartedly agree that a chat with a friend or a breath of fresh air is never going to cure anyone. But I do believe—as the following quotation from Time to Change makes clear—there is much we can do to lessen the burden of isolation and misunderstanding.

Conversations about mental health change lives.
At the moment, too many people with mental health problems are made to feel isolated, ashamed and worthless by other people’s reactions. But talking about mental health doesn’t need to be difficult. It can be as simple as making time to have a cup of tea or go for a walk, and listening to someone talk about how they feel. Being open about mental health and ready to listen can make a positive difference to someone’s life.
This is what Time to Talk Day is all about—giving us all the chance to talk and listen about mental health.

Having “a conversation about mental health” might sound daunting, but it simply means allowing someone to talk openly about what’s going on for them. It might be a face-to-face conversation, a phone or video call, or a conversation by e-mail, text (SMS), or instant messaging. Whatever works for you and the other person.

Whatever the channel, there are a few things that distinguish a supportive conversation from the normal everyday kind. I find the following reminders helpful.

Don’t interrupt. This is self-explanatory, but can be one of the hardest to remember. Let the other person share what they want to share, without giving in to the urge to interrupt with your own ideas, suggestions, and questions. I certainly need reminding of this one!

It’s their story, not yours. Don’t monopolise the conversation by recalling times you have been through what they are talking about. “I know just what you mean” is particularly unhelpful. No matter how similar your experiences might seem, their situation is uniquely theirs, and what worked—or didn’t work—for you might not be relevant to them at all. If you are asked for suggestions or advice, fair enough, but wait until you are asked.

Save your judgments for later. It’s hard to listen to someone without analysing and mentally judging what you are hearing. This isn’t wrong in itself—you might need to assess whether the person is in immediate danger, or in need of professional help—but beyond that, your internal dialogue only serves to distance you from what they are sharing with you.

You don’t have to fix everything. Depending on your relationship (partner, child, parent, family member, close friend, colleague, acquaintance, or stranger) you may be in a position to offer help, advice, or support. But it is not your responsibility to fix everything, so hold back with your suggestions unless they are asked for. On the other hand, don’t feel paralysed or useless if you can’t think of anything that could possibly help. If you are present and engaged, you are helping. Often, that is precisely—and all—that is needed. You’d be surprised how rare a gift holding space for someone can be. As Time to Change put it:

“It’s #TimeToTalk because if you say something, you realise how many people around you haven’t, and needed to”

But I’m Busy

We are all so busy these days. School, college, work, commuting, chores, children, our own issues and problems, fill our days—and often our nights too. When are we supposed to find time for all these conversations?

#TimeToTalk isn’t about blocking out chunks of “Mental Health Conversation Time” in your calendar—although it might involve committing to meet up for lunch with that friend you haven’t seen in a while, calling on a relative on your way home from work, or turning off the TV after dinner to talk with your partner or child. It’s about being open to what the other person wants to talk about, and not being scared if that includes their mental health, or that of someone they care about.

Think of the people you talk to already. The colleague who gives you a ride home. The person you speak to every Saturday in your favourite café. Social media and the internet mean you can connect with almost anyone, almost anywhere, at almost any time.

It’s Not All about Mental Health

You won’t always be “talking about mental health,” of course. Open conversations span the full gamut of topics: deep and trivial, funny and sad. But if they are genuine, they encompass whatever is going on for you and the other person, and often that does include some aspect of mental health. That said, if you are open to such conversations, you might find yourself having more and more of them. I consider it a privilege that people feel at ease talking with me about topics which so often are kept hidden, because they attract judgemental attitudes, stigma, and discrimination.

Balance and Boundaries

You can’t be there at all times for everyone, however. You are not a 24/7/365 crisis line. Aside from the dangers of burning yourself out, doing too much can lead to codependency, which is unhealthy for both you and the other person. Don’t take on too much, and pay attention to your own health—physical and mental. Remember that #TimeToTalk includes sharing your issues and concerns, as well as listening to those of others.

What Difference Can I Make, Really?

Fran and I believe passionately that all of us—you, me, everyone—can make a difference. Fran knows this first-hand, and I can do no better than close by sharing her words from the Epilogue to our book.

There are many like me who live in invisible institutions of stigma, shame, and silence, the walls built by others from without, or by ourselves from within. Dismantling these walls invites connection. Be the gum on someone’s shoe who has one foot inside and one foot outside. Stick around. It may not be easy but you can help someone make a life worth living. Maybe even save a life. One little bit by one little bit. A smile, a wink, a hello, a listening ear, a helping hand, a friendship all work together to interrupt the grasp of illness.
Be open and honest, with your friend and others you meet. Judge not, for misunderstandings abound. Acceptance, understanding, and kindness can pave another way. Let’s.

 

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

My Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP)

A couple of months ago I attended a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) Awareness workshop at Newcastle Recovery College Collective (ReCoCo). The two day workshop covered the purpose and structure of Wellness Recovery Action Plans, and invited us to consider drawing up our own.

In this article I’m sharing the WRAP I put together after attending the workshop, with a few changes I’ve made since then and minor edits for privacy. I make no claim that this is “how to do a WRAP” but it works for me. I will update it as my needs and situation change, and as my understanding of WRAP grows.


Wellness Recovery Action Plan

Martin Baker, January 2019

 

My Wellness Tools

These things help keep me well.

  • Calls and chat with Fran and other trusted friends
  • Diary / journaling
  • Taking regular me-time
  • Coffee shops
  • Walking
  • Blogging
  • Listening to music
  • Meditation
  • Planning / calendar (help with staying organised)

 

What I’m Like When I Am Well

When I feel like this I am doing well.

  • Feel generally positive about life
  • Creative
  • Keen to take up challenges
  • Energised, even on relatively little sleep
  • Feel good about myself and my body

When I behave like this I am well.

  • Have good self-care (eg dental hygiene / shaving)
  • Pay attention to how I am dressed
  • Communicative / chatty (but not pushy)
  • Organised / productive / able to multi-task
  • Generous with my help, time, and gifts (but not overbearing)
  • Supportive of others
  • Active on social media

 

Daily Maintenance (Daily Routine)

These things support my wellness.

Morning

  • Wake 7 am
  • Check-ins online with friends
  • First coffee of the day at Costa
  • Walk into work from Metro station (20 mins)

Working day

  • Drink water / vitamin C
  • Journal at lunch time
  • Second coffee of the day
  • Walk to Metro station (20 mins)

Evening

  • Prepare dinner
  • Grocery shopping at Tesco (Wednesday and Friday)
  • Occasionally, go for a walk
  • Call with Fran 7 pm
  • Call with Fran 11 pm
  • Bed 1 am

Saturdays

  • Me-time (eg town or coast)
  • Call with Fran 6 pm
  • Call with Fran 11 pm
  • Bed 1 am

Sundays

  • Lie in until 9:30 am
  • Cook Sunday lunch
  • Coffee at Costa
  • Grocery shopping at Tesco
  • Call with Fran 6 pm
  • Call with Fran 11 pm
  • Bed 1 am

 

Triggers

These things can turn an OK day bad really quickly.

  • Changes in relationships (which I perceive as lessening / loss / abandonment)
  • Uncertainty / lack of clarity in communications
  • Getting overwhelmed by competing demands for my time / attention

Triggered response.

  • Anxiety / panicky
  • Sense of loss / abandonment
  • Get pushy and/or clingy

 

Early Warning Signs

When I feel like this I am starting to get unwell.

  • Lack of appetite
  • I have difficulty focusing
  • I have difficulty sleeping
  • I feel stressed / tense (tension in my face, headaches)
  • I feel anxious (tension in my gut)
  • I feel overwhelmed / unable to balance things as usual
  • Physically tired

When I behave like this I am starting to get unwell.

  • Lack of self-care (forget to brush my teeth / don’t shave as often)
  • Less attention to my appearance (“why bother?”)
  • Eat supper, leading to weight increasing
  • Over-attentive / clingy / pushy (trying to get the clarity I am after)
  • Withdrawing from people / social media
  • Starting to exhibit risky behaviour / relationships

 

Coping Strategies

These things help me come back to wellness.

  • Talking about things with Fran and other trusted friends (but not over processing)
  • Pulling back to assess what is happening
  • Temporary withdraw from social media
  • Make a list of allowed / not allowed behaviours (eg Friendship Guidelines)
  • Check my WRAP especially maintenance plan and wellness tools
  • Focus on writing / blogging / reading
  • Being reminded how my actions are impacting others

 

Crisis Point

When I feel like this I am at crisis point.

  • Running / rehearsing conversations and scenarios in my head
  • Catastrophizing (feel like everything is lost / gone to shit)
  • Feeling hard done by
  • Feeling I will never get what I want in life
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Feeling extreme panic / imminent loss
  • Obsessive focus / unable to step back

When I behave like this I am at crisis point.

  • Overanalysing everything (in my journal, in conversations with Fran etc)
  • Holding pity parties
  • Refusing or unable to accept responsibility for my actions
  • Isolating (eg withdrawing from social media)
  • Undereating (response to stress / anxiety)
  • Overeating (response to feeling despondent)
  • Risky behaviour / relationships
  • Impulsive

 

Crisis Plan

My Supporters and Their Roles.

  • Fran and other trusted friends, with roles and contact details

These things will help me.

  • Talking things over with someone I trust
  • Being heard
  • Being reassured that the person I am talking to will not leave me
  • Honesty
  • Reminders to self-care
  • Perspective from people I trust

These things will not help me.

  • Being judged
  • Being shamed
  • Not being heard
  • Being told how my actions are impacting others (this would help earlier but not at crisis point)

 

Post Crisis

This is how I can get back to safety.

  • Take it slowly / steadily (don’t rush back to things too quickly)
  • Re-establish my wellness tools and structures
  • Acceptance of what has happened without judgment
  • Acceptance that recovery is a process
  • Take responsibility again
  • Reward myself (do something nice for myself)

 


If you would like to know more about Wellness Recovery Action Plans check out my earlier article or visit the official Mental Health Recovery website.

 

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Complex Simplicity: The Art of Being Honest

This article was originally published as a guest post on Peter McDonnell’s blog.

I am grateful to Peter for inviting me to guest on his blog. He didn’t set a specific topic so as I sit here in one of my favourite coffee shops on a Saturday morning I’m wondering what to write about. What to share.

On the table beside me is the book I have been re-reading for the first time in decades: John Powell’s Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am? It’s not a book about mental health as such. It is a book about communication; about sharing our truths, doubts, fears, delights, and hang-ups with one another; and in so doing, allowing understanding and compassion to grow. (It is Powell’s contention that only by being honest and open with others can we come to know ourselves.) And that is of relevance to all of us, whether we live with a mental health diagnosis or not.

This kind of honest communication is fundamental to the close, caring, mutually supportive relationship I have with my best friend Fran Houston. It is also the central message of our book, High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder. When it works – when you allow it to work – the rewards can be immense, as I said to Fran just yesterday:

Martin: Things are so much simpler when we can be honest with each other.

Fran: It is because we feel safe and we trust.

Note that I said “simpler” there, not “simple”! Emotional honesty isn’t something that comes easy to me. There have been very few people in my life I’ve trusted enough to be vulnerable with. And doing so doesn’t guarantee an easy ride! It’s not about easy, it’s about real. It requires courage on both sides; not only to share your truth honestly but to face the consequences of your honesty, and the other person’s.

The exchange I quoted earlier between me and Fran was in response to a less-than-easy exchange yesterday on one of our twice daily video calls. (We live three thousand miles apart on opposite sides of the Atlantic. Our relationship is lived online using chat, emails, and voice and video calls.) We caught up on our news since we’d last met online, including our respective weights (we have been weight loss buddies for the past six years or so). I then moved on to talk about a friend of mine who has been having a rough time. Fran listened patiently, then drew me back to centre. It was clear that from her perspective things were far from okay.

I knew Fran’s weight has been increasing lately, and that she was disappointed and annoyed at her apparent inability to get on top of what was happening. But I hadn’t recognised just how desperate she was feeling about it, or that she felt alone in dealing with the complex and conflicting issues it brought up for her. She didn’t feel I was on board with it – and her – at all.

Fran’s honesty brought me up short. There was a flicker of defensive ego response – “I’ve had a lot going on for me recently, Fran, you know that.” – but that lasted no more than a moment or two. It was true, I have been working through some personal issues of my own for a while now. Fran has been there for me, which I have greatly appreciated, but I probably took my eye off the ball in terms of what was going on for her and what support she herself needed.

We stayed present with each other. We stayed calm. We stayed online. We talked, and listened. I asked Fran what I could do to help her. She suggested some practical things I could do but most of all what she needed was for me to hear her, and be there for and with her. We agreed I would be more vigilant, and that Fran would let me know if she again felt I was not fully on board in the ways she needed me to be.

I am proud of how we handled what might have been an awkward or contentious situation. We each got to share who we were and what was going on for us at that moment. We accepted without judgment what we were hearing. We acknowledged what was missing, what was needful. We recommitted to each other. And we moved on as friends, together.

 

Saturday, 12 January 2019

The Things That I Want A New Friend To Know

By Charlotte Underwood

Creating and maintaining new relationships is incredibly hard for me. I am so used to people leaving me or even taking advantage. It seems that it can prove a real task to find someone who is willing to take the time to listen, to understand and to develop something more than having you as the person they only talk to when they are bored or need advice. I do not think I am an amazing friend, I don’t see myself as a special person but I am someone who can see the way people respond to me. This is what I want them to know, if a friendship is to grow:

1. I Am Introverted

I am a born introvert, and while I certainly had better years with more confidence, I have always thrived in my own space. I like the quiet and emptiness of my own home sometimes. I get overwhelmed with social events, they exhaust me so please understand I need to recover. I don’t like phone calls and even messaging a person can stress me out. I know I am bad at replying but it’s not personal. My energy levels go up and down and some days I am more willing to go out than others. If I cancel, it’s likely not your fault, I just need to prevent a relapse. I am not a people person, I never will be, but my friends mean so much to me, even when I don’t show it.

2. I Have A Past

When we meet, you may recognize my name, you may remember my face. Maybe we have mutual friends or I was mentioned in your past. Please know that I do have a past, just like you do. I am not entirely proud of my actions but they happened and all I can do now is learn from them. I’ve not had an easy start to life, I still am trying to find settled seas, so when I act in a way that bothers you, or I offend you, talk to me and let me know. I have a lot of trauma to adjust to and recover from. It has shaped me and I fight back on it every day, but I don’t want to hurt anyone. I don’t want to hurt you. Please don’t judge me for my past and who it made me to be. I mean well and if you let me, I can show that you that I am more than what happened years or a decade ago.

3. I Am Still Human

I can be difficult sometimes because of my depression and anxiety. I may do or say things that you do not understand. I can be compulsive and erratic and need you more than you need me. But as much as I may have to fight the shackles of my mental illness, know that I am still human. I am still me. I am more than my bad choices, I am more than my relapses and I am more than the label that is attached to me. The only label that really matters, is that I am your friend and I intend to be a good one. Just know that real friends can see more than just the person on the outside.

I think the most important thing of all, is that I am loyal, I am empathic and I will give my friends everything they give to me and more; but it’s a two-way street and no relationship is worth harming either person’s mental health.

 

About the Author

Charlotte Underwood is a twenty-three year old from Norfolk, UK. She is a growing mental health advocate and writer who aims to inform and education on mental health. The goal is to be a friend to those in need. She believes no one should feel alone. Charlotte blogs at charlotteunderwoodauthor.com. You can also find her on Twitter and on Facebook.