Sunday, 21 October 2018

Thoughts Whilst Out Walking

Fran’s words from a few days ago are still with me: “The truest response is letting go ...”

Yes... let go of pain, of joy, of aching, of delight ... Do not hold on to any of it. Let it rise, have its moment, and go, to be replaced by what arises in its stead ... externally and within you.

Offer minimal resistance to what arises ... Let it pass through you, joyously, gratefully ...

We cling, we hold on, from fear. Fear of losing what was never ours to begin with. Fear of daring to reach for what is within our grasp.

This moment is all that you will ever own. It is what you have brought into being, it is what you were brought into being to experience, herenow. You are the universe’s gift to itself in this moment. No other has been granted this gift. Accept it, take it in your hands, examine its shape, colours, textures. Allow it fully into your awareness ... And let it go again ...

Life is not a lesson, though you can choose to see it as such. Life is not a trial, though you are free to live yours as though it were.

Any gift worth the name comes without strings ... you are free to decline it, trample on it, pass it on to another, keep it under lock and key ... And so it is with life, with this moment.

Originally written October 2012


Saturday, 20 October 2018

My Most Recent (Serious) Suicide Attempt

By Andrew Turman

Trigger Warning: Suicide

This article was originally published August 2017.

To set the scene: my Daddy’s birthday is the ninth of July. By the first of August of last year, I was in a full blown psychotic depression, my first. To let you know how bad things were, let me say that the whole space-time continuum had warped on me. Somehow, Rebecca would go to the store and return home before she actually left. Not really, but it was truth in my mind. I could not even do simple math, nor could I operate a calculator. I was psychotically depressed.

Symptoms of a psychotic depression include the symptoms of a major depressive episode, along with one or more psychotic symptoms, including delusions and/or hallucinations. Delusions can be classified as mood congruent or incongruent, depending on whether or not the nature of the delusions is in keeping with the individual’s mood state. Common themes of mood congruent delusions include guilt, punishment, personal inadequacy, or disease. Half of patients experience more than one kind of delusion. Delusions occur without hallucinations in about one-half to two-thirds of patients with psychotic depression. Hallucinations can be auditory, visual, olfactory (smell), or haptic (touch). Severe anhedonia, loss of interest, and psychomotor retardation are typically present. [Source: Wikipedia.]

This describes my experience perfectly. I was wracked with guilt about my role in my father’s dying day. I felt I deserved to be punished. I believed I could not perform the simplest tasks and that I was doomed to a life of despair. I shambled down the hall to the bathroom, when I was absolutely forced to get out of bed. I did not take care of myself; I did not bathe, brush my teeth, or change my clothes. I was a wreck, a shell of my usual self. I could not operate my phone or tarry on Fakebook. I was incommunicado, radio silent.

This manifested itself in my most personal relationship as well, the relationship with my wife. I would cringe when spoken to and would try to anticipate what was said to me so I could proffer an appropriate response. I just wanted silence. But the silence was violent, in my head. I was thinking of ways to die ...

I finally decided I would overdose on my medications. On August 1, 2016, my prescriptions were refilled. I had twice the lethal dose of my meds. So I took them all. Every pill in the house. Rebecca had gone to sleep. I lay awake to fulfill my destiny. I found a program from my father’s memorial service at church. I wrapped myself in the bathrobe my father died in. I unscrewed the medication bottles as I screwed up the courage to take their contents. With as little water as possible, to maximize the impact of the drugs, I faced my doom. I had done the internet research. I would have succeeded, had the meds not interfered with each other and prevented my body taking a lethal seizure. I woke up in Frederick Memorial Hospital the next day.

Let’s back up. Rebecca was totally worried about me and the state of my mental health. Often during the days preceding this event, she would “check-in” with me, to see how I was feeling. I flat out lied to her, assuring her that I was okay, not thinking about suicide, everything was fine. Little did she know when she kissed me goodnight, I was planning to take my own life.

When she woke up, she found me unresponsive. She did not know what to do. It took the urgent warnings from a dear friend to force her to call 911. While she waited for the ambulance to arrive to transport me to the hospital, in her frustration and anger, she shaved my eyebrows. (I showed her, though, because in the psych ward I found a Sharpie, and drew them back. Talk about looking crazy!)

I make jokes about it because I have to. It is how I deal with such a serious topic. Rebecca felt anger at my decision to leave her alone. In my twisted thinking, I thought I was doing her a favor, that she would be better off without me, that all her problems would be solved (when in actuality, they would only be beginning).

In the week I spent in the psych ward, not once did ANYONE ask me why I did it. That is one of the problems in the mental health system today. Even professionals do not know how to talk to people who are suffering.

Rebecca was angry. But the underlying issue was one of loss, betrayal. I had betrayed her trust, I had lied to her. I felt no one, not even she, could understand me and my feelings. My situation is by no means unique. Hundreds of people a day around the world choose death over life.

The solution is communication. Now, my wife and I are more honest with each other; she about her concern, me about my true feelings. All of us need to stop fearing talking about the real issues at hand. It is literally the difference between life and death.

About the Author

W.A. Turman was an “Army Brat,” and that explains a lot. Man of no accent, but also of every accident. Life has not always been easy for the artist and writer we affectionately call “Zen Daddy T.” A gonzo journalist along the lines of Hunter S. Thompson, an artist well-versed in the school of Ralph Steadman, including favoring beers from the Flying Dog Brewery, Andrew is an acquired taste. His abstract expressionist works bleed protest and contentment. His recent series, “Art for Airports” has drawn critical acclaim. Here are his stats: hospitalizations—88; medications—75; suicide attempts—6; ECT treatments—98.

He can be contacted via his blog, on Facebook (Andrew Turman and Zen Daddy T), Instagram (zendaddyt), and Twitter (@ZenTurman).


Wednesday, 17 October 2018

To Pieces

By Kati Rocky

I have been writing children’s and teen television for over two decades, and while I enjoy my work I was longing to dive into something meaty and serious. I have bipolar disorder, though I didn’t as a teen, and decided I wanted to write a story on the subject. Since I’m familiar with the young adult audience and how to connect with them and entertain them, I chose them as my demographic.

Before I wrote my novel, To Pieces, I studied the fiction that was out there that dealt with the subject matter so that I wasn’t redundant. I found precious little. There are a few books that have bipolar protagonists, but none of them rang true for me. Writers got the depression right, but the mania was all wrong. This prevailing inauthenticity only furthered my conviction to write the book. I wanted to create a work that got the condition right.

The story flowed from me fairly quickly but getting the book published was a lengthy and arduous process. Editors really didn’t seem to get it. Many found Jane, my main character, “wacky,” “unbelievable,” and “unrealistic.” I even had an editor suggest I write the book not in the first person of a person suffering from bipolar disorder but through the eyes of a friend or family member of the main character’s watching her suffer through a bipolar cycle.

I strongly disagreed with this notion. In Venice, where I live, you walk through the neighborhood and are greeted by a number of people in the grips of psychosis. Does this help you understand the disorder? No. I think it actually alienates people further. Manic people can be aggressive and even scary. It’s almost impossible to understand psychosis or deep depression unless you’ve had it – or been inside the head of somebody who has it, like the character in To Pieces.

Another disappointing comment I got from several editors was that they didn’t like the humor in the book. They were under the impression that bipolar disorder is one relentless bummer. This is, in fact, untrue. While mania can be devastating financially, and people often engage in risky and dangerous behavior and damage their personal relationships, mania can be very pleasurable and fun – and even funny.

Some of the wacky things manic people do are downright comical, though I am in no way trying to present mania as something positive or constructive! It is something to be avoided at all costs. Take it from one who knows the humiliation that follows mania and how exhausting it is to mop up the messes you made while you were out of your mind. Then there’s the acute uneasiness that accompanies being unable to remember chunks of your time being manic. Just what horrifying things did I do during that week that I have no memory of?

I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by how well To Pieces is doing and how many people are connecting with my main character: people with and without bipolar disorder. There is even movie interest in the book. I knew that the editors were wrong and I’m glad I stuck to my instincts and didn’t give up on the story or alter it in ways that compromised its integrity.

It is my hope that the book shines some light into a dark corner, giving people insight into bipolar disorder and empathy for the people suffering from it. I also hope that it can provide solace for teens with the illness and let them know that, with the right treatment, they can not only manage to carve out a life as a bipolar person, but they can thrive.

About the Author

I grew up in San Francisco and Marin County and attended UCLA, where I majored in creative writing. I went on to USC where I got a masters degree in professional writing. I started working in children’s and teen television as a writer, falling into the business somewhat accidentally, and have been writing TV for over two decades.

I live in Venice, CA with my husband and teenage son.

You can find me on Twitter (@KatiRocky).

My novel To Pieces is available on Amazon (print and Kindle), Barnes & Noble, and other good booksellers.


Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Attending a Self-Harm Awareness Session at ReCoCo

Image credit: Sharon McCutcheon / Unsplash

I wrote recently about how I came to enrol at Newcastle Recovery College (ReCoCo) and a little of what the college means to me and my friend Vikki Beat. Vikki is a student, volunteer, and course facilitator at ReCoCo.

The first class I enrolled for was a self-harm awareness session led by Steve O’Driscoll who I first met several years ago when I began volunteering for Time to Change. The following description is taken from the ReCoCo website:

A 2.5 hour session delivered by Steve O’Driscoll who self-harmed for over 20 years and managed to overcome his problems and now shares his experiences to help and support others and also facilitates a group in Newcastle to support people who self-harm.

The session is very relaxed and there is plenty of opportunity to ask those unanswered questions around a subject that is still taboo to many in society.

I arrived at Anderson House in plenty of time and made myself a cup of coffee while I was waiting. The session was held in one of the upstairs training rooms and at first it was pretty noisy from the construction work going on outside. Fortunately this eased up for most of the time we were there.

There were six in the class including me and Steve. I know Steve had hoped for a few more, but the numbers worked well for me. I felt accepted by and comfortable with everyone there. I am new to ReCoCo but I’d say that is part of the culture and atmosphere the college fosters.

The session covered a wide range of topics including:

  • Different types of self-harm.
  • Who self-harms and what leads to them doing so.
  • How does it feel to self-harm?
  • Signs to look out for in others.
  • Coping techniques, treatment, and self-help.
  • How to support someone.
  • The self-harm first aid kit.

Steve shared his personal journey, much of which was new to me. Those who know me and Fran know we have a “no pedestals” policy, meaning as far as possible we treat ourselves and others without elevating anyone to hero status. That said, I was deeply moved by Steve’s story and respect him immensely for the honesty with which he lives his life. It takes courage to turn a lifetime of hard experience to the service of others.

I have no equivalent first-hand experience. I took the class to learn more about a subject which affects so many, including some of my closest friends.

It wasn’t all easy to hear and engage with. Given the topic, it couldn’t be. Self-harm is about as real as it gets and Steve held little if anything back. That is what the subject deserves, as do all those whose lives are affected by it, directly or indirectly. He took time to check in with everyone from time to time in case we were struggling, and there was a short break which was very welcome.

At the end of the session Steve asked what we each had planned for the rest of the day. This is something I recognise from other courses I’ve attended, including Mental Health First Aid. It is a valuable reminder to pay attention to self-care after doing something challenging. With that in mind I’d arranged to meet up with a friend for lunch which proved the perfect opportunity to unwind.

Two and a half hours can only provide an introduction to a subject as deep and complex as self-harm. I certainly do not now consider myself an expert. That said, I learned a lot and would recommend it to anyone interested in understanding what self-harm is, what it isn’t, and how you can help yourself and others. It more than lived up to the course description.

I would like to thank Steve, ReCoCo, and the other students who attended with me. I feel better prepared and informed to support my friends and others. The rest is up to me.

For more information about Newcastle Recovery College and their courses check their website.


Wednesday, 3 October 2018

What Newcastle Recovery College Means To Me

By Martin Baker and Vikki Beat

Image credit: Alisdair Cameron

Newcastle Recovery College Collective (ReCoCo) is a joint venture between various organisations in the north east of England, “by and for service users and carers. [It is] a place where service users are able to make connections and develop their knowledge and skills in relation to recovery.”

I first heard about ReCoCo through folk I’ve met volunteering with Time to Change. I was intrigued and checked their website out a couple of times but hadn’t taken it any further until this July when my friend Vikki Beat invited me to attend the end of term party. The event also marked the college’s relocation from Broadacre House to its new home just down the road in Anderson House. I didn’t know many people at the party but I felt very welcome. I even had a dance! I remember thinking it would be great to work more closely with the college in some way but I couldn’t see how that might work as sessions are held during the week and I am in full time employment.

The college closed over the summer but I was keen to check out the autumn prospectus as soon as it came out. For the past six months I’ve been working with a fantastic group of people where I work in BPDTS to promote mental health awareness and support within the company. I immediately saw how some of ReCoCo’s courses were relevant both to me personally and to our workplace initiatives. After discussing with my manager I phoned the college to make an appointment.

My enrolment interview was last week and took about 45 minutes. Lynne explained the college’s code of conduct and collected basic information from me including any special needs or requirements I might have. She then led me through completing a Peer Support Empower Flower, which is “a self reported measurement tool based on the principles of peer support.”

I found the exercise fascinating and (gently) challenging as I was encouraged to explore how I was currently feeling in eight categories: Feeling Connected, Recognising My Strengths, Feeling Hopeful, Taking Control, Taking Responsibility, Self Worth, Having Purpose, and Keeping Myself Safe. I will repeat the exercise in a few months’ time.

I left feeling very proud to be a student for the first time in many years!

I had arranged to meet Vikki after my enrolment and she suggested we return to Anderson House for the afternoon drop in session. I’m glad we did because it gave me the opportunity to meet some of the staff, volunteers, and other students. The atmosphere was warm, gentle, and compassionate. I felt welcome and accepted, and my contributions and story were considered as respectfully as anyone else’s. (As someone without direct lived experience of mental illness, crisis, or trauma, it is a big thing for me to feel I have something worth sharing that might be of interest and value to others.) It left a powerful impression, as I wrote afterwards to my workplace mentor:

I had a great time at Newcastle Recovery College on Wednesday. I enrolled for the courses I want to do (a short session on self-harm next week, and then the Wellness Recovery Action Plan awareness course next month). A friend invited me to stay into the afternoon for the weekly drop in session.

The difference the college makes – that the staff and volunteers and students make – to the lives of the people who attend is simply staggering. The kind of staggering that makes you question what you are doing with your life. Which is where you come in, of course – to help me find a way to do more of that here at BPDTS!

I asked Vikki, who is a volunteer and course facilitator at ReCoCo as well as being a student, if she would share what the Recovery College means to her.

I started coming to the Recovery College three years ago. At the time I was experiencing stigma first hand through my career within the NHS.

The best way to describe the feeling of the Recovery College is that it’s like a family. A family without judgment. And just like a family, we argue. And like a family we kiss and make up (not literally, of course!)

Three years on and I am now a volunteer for ReCoCo and facilitate my own course. Watching nervous and anxious individuals come into the college and blossom into the confident people they become is awe-inspiring. We all struggle at times, but ReCoCo is a safe place to come and support each other.

I’d like to thank all the staff and volunteers for being my solid rock.

—Vikki Beat

I look forward to attending the first of the sessions I have enrolled for later this week. You can find out more about the Newcastle Recovery College on their website and on Twitter.


Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Things That Help

By Roiben

I can talk for a long time about my various conditions and disabilities and how they affect me. For the sake of those who do not know, I have Congenital Rubella Syndrome. This has led to a nice complicated list of conditions and disabilities including Type 1 Diabetes and mental illness.

In this article I am discussing the fact that I class myself as Deaf with a severe hearing loss, and the fact that I have a visual impairment. As a result of congenital cataracts I am completely blind in my left eye. My right eye does all of the work so is prone to getting tired quickly. I have diabetic retinopathy and astigmatism in my right eye as well.

I want to talk about five things that help me cope with these disabilities and get the best I can out of any given situation. Some are things I can do and some are things others can do to assist me. It is worth bearing in mind that disabilities are very individual and needs change from person to person. Some of these things are general and can be used across the board for people who have hearing loss or visual impairments. Others are individual to me and my experiences.

1. Lights, Camera, Action

I find good lighting helps in all cases. I need it in order to see properly. If it is dim or the light is not bright enough in a room, or a restaurant decides to dim their lights for “atmospheric” reasons, I will struggle to read text. I will also struggle to properly do things like cook and wash up. I remember in University Halls the light bulbs in the rooms were far too dim for me, so I had to have permission to have 100 watt bulbs put in.

In my flat now I have lots of smaller spot lights. These are great for ensuring there is even light across the whole of the flat, so I can see better regardless of where I chose to site myself. I often use a bright lamp and a magnifier with a light built into it for reading, especially labels and boxes for medications and food.

I also need good lighting in order to help with my hearing because I rely on lip-reading. I am one of the Deaf community who is able to lip-read, and not all of us can. However, it relies on being able to properly see the person’s lips and face. This means them not having windows or other major light-sources such as the sun behind them, and the room being generally well light and for that light to be consistent, not flickering or changing at all.

Because of this it is common for me to have to change where I am standing or sitting so that I can understand a conversation. It also means that when sitting at a circular table there will always be at least one person with a window behind them who I just cannot understand. It is also the reason I try to be the first to get into a meeting room or at a restaurant table so I can choose where to sit, to try to make sure the other people with me will not be in front of windows, flashing light decorations or other such annoyances.

2. Flexible and Adaptable

The second thing that helps is to be flexible and adaptable. This means me being flexible, to work with what I can do and make the best of it and to adapt to the various situations I am faced with. I also ask that the people around me are flexible and adaptable in order to help me. For example, if I am not understanding something you are saying try to rephrase it, or better yet adapt, and write it down or type it out on your phone or computer.

Also, for my vision I tend to need to walk on the right hand side of whoever I am walking with. This is so that if I am looking at them to lip-read what they are saying I can still see what’s going on around me with my right peripheral vision. If I am forced to walk on the left, I can look at the person but I will see nothing around me and often end up walking into things. This means the person I am walking with needs to be more adaptable to accommodate my needs.

3. Patience, a Trained Necessity

The third thing is patience. I often get frustrated with myself for not being able to understand something being said, or because I find navigating new places completely terrifying. Over years of mistakes and mishaps and much mental and emotional upheaval I have learned to try and be more patient with myself. This means giving myself time to get around and navigate a new area so that I can be more careful and less likely to fall over. It also means not putting undue pressure on myself to get things right, straight away, every single time.

I also ask and expect the people around me to be a little patient with me. I am well aware how frustrating and annoying it can be to have to repeat yourself, to have to accommodate my communication preferences and to allow me the time to figure things out. However, doing so helps me more than you may realize. It makes me feel more of a worthy human being than being told something I didn’t hear “doesn’t matter” just because the person doesn’t want to repeat or rephrase.

Still on the subject of patience, I am not a naturally quick walker. I take small steps and I have little legs and a dodgy hip. This means I don’t get around very quickly at all. Walking with me can involve a little foresight and patience. I am all for apologizing for this, and am well aware that many people would love me to walk quicker. However, I can’t and I don’t. If I am using my cane I have to ask for even more patience and “put-up-with” from the people I am with. I am told the constant-contact method I use with the cane makes it noisy (sorry, I can’t hear it) and I understand that walking with someone using a cane requires a bit of getting used to. So, the foresight is to allow me more time to get somewhere, and the patience is to not get frustrated that I am not able to meet your, or your guide dog’s, natural gait.

4. Concentration Exhaustion

In fourth place is the awareness that I get very fatigued. This is something for me, to bear in mind and plan for and compensate for. It is also for others to be aware of and accommodate for. Because of my hearing and eyesight I put in a lot of effort and concentration to complete the kind of everyday tasks that many people do not even need to think about: tasks like communicating, getting around, paying attention. For me, these things are frankly exhausting.

For my vision, I am often putting in extra effort to try to judge where people are and to pay attention to my cane’s feedback and my route so as not to walk into things or fall over. For my hearing, it takes effort to lip-read. A good lip-reader gets about 30% of the conversation from lip-reading alone. Making sense of the whole sentence and fitting the jumbled pieces together in your mind is hard work and like any hard work it is tiring.

It is worth being aware that I may need a break, I may take time out or leave earlier than I would otherwise. I get tired quickly. I get headaches and my eyes are often strained from focusing and concentrating. It is not because I do not want to be where I am. I enjoy my work and I love my friends and family. My zoning out or being tired is not from a lack of enthusiasm. Quite the opposite; it comes from the effect of having put so much effort and enthusiasm into those situations that my mind and body eventually say “enough, I’m done”.

5. There Is No Magic Fix

Because of my various disabilities and conditions I am regularly faced with people who seem to want a “cure” or a “fix” that would make me and others with disabilities “normal” (whatever that is).

I am so often met with people who, when I fail to understand them, ask if I am wearing my hearing aids or if they are working okay. The point here is that hearing aids are not a magic fix. They do not make me suddenly “not Deaf”. They simply make the sounds around me louder. They are a microphone and volume box sending sound waves into my ears. That is all. I am still Deaf. I still have sensorineural and conductive hearing loss in my ears. These mean that the sounds I hear are difficult to distinguish and understand, even with hearing aids. This is why I rely on lip-reading and context and knowing people and how their voices sound. In short, most people could be speaking Dutch for all I can understand them from hearing alone. I can tell they are talking, that is about it.

Likewise, my glasses do not make me suddenly able to see everything perfectly. Glasses are a common thing, but I still get people who do not understand why even with glasses I still need Large Print and am unable to see things further away. Glasses can only correct my vision up to a certain point. Beyond that, there is nothing that can be done.

I once had an ophthalmologist try incredibly strong lenses for my left eye. I got so little out of them that I said “No, thank you” to the offer of prescribing some for me. My glasses correct for the astigmatism in my right eye which helps my eyes to focus a little more, both for distance and for reading. I also have some correction for reading, because I do a lot of it. However, even the optician will say that they can’t fix everything. They are never going to be able to make me able to see small print without a magnifier. There is a good reason I don’t read newspapers, or magazines, or normal size print books anymore. I can’t. My glasses can’t fix that.

So, what helps? Please, be realistic. If I tell you I am Deaf, or visually impaired, believe me and don’t look for a way to make me “normal”. Don’t start recommending laser eye surgery or a cochlear implant as the next best thing that I absolutely must try as it will “cure” me. For one, they don’t suit my particular situation and for two, they are not a cure. They won’t magically make me hearing and able to see as clear as day.

Likewise, stop assuming that just because I have my hearing aids in I can magically hear everything as well as you can. They don’t work like that, they never have, and I have used hearing aids for a long time. I know they are better now than they used to be but they are still not a fix. For me they are better than going without in most cases, but sometimes frankly being without them is better.

Things That End

Although this is just a small selection of things that help, and there are a whole host of others out there, I think it is a worthy selection to start with, to work with and to use. All disabilities require an awareness of what can help and I feel those I have discussed here cover some of the main ones. They are very much individual to me but you can work from here to see how these can be transferred and adapted for other disabilities and other people.

The point I want to make is that there are many things that can be done, both in terms of helping yourself to cope and make the most of what is possible, and helping others to do so. It just takes some time, adaptability and patience. If you are not sure what may help, ask. Ask the person themselves. There is a good chance they will know from their own experiences what works and does not work for them. I am the same. If you ask me what can be done to help I am, in most cases, more than willing to let you know, or to give some pointers for the given situation.

So, let us try to help where we can. Find out those small things that can be done to help others, and to help ourselves, cope better with living in this world and getting on with each other in the process.


About the Author

You can find Roiben on Twitter (@roiben).