Monday, 22 April 2019

No I'm Not Taking Any Cats Home! A Visit to the Cats Protection Tyneside Adoption Centre With Aimee Wilson

(But I did take home three Teddy Bears, a heap of books, and some beard conditioner.)

On Easter Monday my friend and fellow blogger Aimee Wilson and I went along to the Easter Fayre & Pawsome Afternoon Tea at the Cats Protection Tyneside Adoption Centre in Gateshead.

You can read Aimee’s post about the day here.

Aimee had invited me along as the latest in our line of bloggers’ days out. We’ve previously visited Newcastle’s Life Science Centre, Tynemouth’s Blue Reef Aquarium, and had a day out in Blyth. I always learn a few things or come away with some new ideas. I’m happy to report our latest day out was no exception.

Customer Engagement Advisor Chris Jackson took us on a guided tour. I was very impressed at the facilities and Chris’ knowledge and obvious passion for his job. The Tyneside Adoption Centre is the first purpose-built Cats Protection rehoming facility in the North East. According to their website they have 42 outdoor heated pens, and “work tirelessly to provide support in the local area, with the aim of re-homing unwanted, abandoned or stray cats to suitable homes.” They hope to help a minimum of five hundred cats a year “with the help of our dedicated staff, volunteers and supporter network.”

The staff and volunteers were well represented at the event, running the stalls and taking interested folk to see the cats. The food and tombola were especially popular. We kept going back to the tombola and left with a fine haul. A bit of swapping added to the fun. I gave Aimee a rather nice stag’s head candle holder I won, and Aimee gave me the beard conditioning lotion she ended up with! Two very nice ladies gifted me the teddy bears they won after hearing how my wife Pam collects cuddly toys. (Pam says thank you!) I’m keeping the copy of Stephen Fry’s autobiography The Fry Chronicles for myself.

Aimee and I got to visit a couple of the cats, which were gorgeous. As tempting as it was, and despite significant “encouragement” (thanks, Aimee!) I managed not to bring any of them home.

I was surprised and delighted to have two excellent conversations about mental health with people I’d never met before. I don’t know why I was surprised. Mental health features in almost all our lives one way or another, and if you initiate a conversation it’s not at all unusual to find someone with a story to share. At the Easter Fayre I found two.

Chris had made a table available for me and Aimee to display our contact cards. (I’d brought plenty of cards along with me, a lesson I’d learned on our first bloggers’ day out!) We were sitting at the table and it was natural to point out to folk that yes they were our cards and to share a little of our respective stories. The conversations flowed from there.

Afterwards, Aimee and I talked about our blogs and our books (High Tide, Low Tide and No One Is Too Far Away in my case; Aimee’s book is called When All Is Said & Typed) and how their value is not measured in pageviews or book sales, but the impact our stories have on individual people’s lives, and the impact other people’s stories have on us. I am grateful for the reminder, and to the two people who shared with me today.

I said I always learn something when I am out with Aimee. What did I learn this time? I learned that cats don’t necessarily want their tummies rubbed when they roll around on their backs. I learned that if you keep trying on a tombola you’ll win something eventually. I learned that Aimee is a really good navigator (I managed to get us lost a couple of times on the way to the event). Oh, and I learned that being cheeky can be an asset!

All in all I had a fabulous time and the event raised over £475 to support the centre’s work.

Cats Protection is the UK’s leading feline welfare charity. Their vision is a world where every cat is treated with kindness and an understanding of its needs. You can contact the Tyneside Adoption Centre on their website, on Facebook, or Twitter.

Aimee Wilson is a 28-year-old mental health blogger who has used her personal experiences to develop a popular online profile. Her blog I’m NOT Disordered has over half a million readers. Aimee’s first book, When All Is Said & Typed, is available at Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, and in other regions.

 

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

S E L F L O V E

By Charlotte Underwood

I hate my body. I just do. I can remember looking into the mirror and hating my body as a child. Even as a teenager, I hated it. As an adult, still not a fan.

I’ve been so many different weights, my body’s changed with age. I’ve worked out, dyed my hair, got tattoos and piercings. But nothing makes me happy.

The thing is, self love is more than a mirror. It’s deeper. Self love is mental.

When you judge someone for their appearance, they remember it. When you call someone fat, they feel it. When you break someone’s confidence, they know it.

My low self-esteem comes from years of being called ‘fat’, ‘obese’, ‘ugly’ and ‘unlovable’, all by people I trusted. I actually didn’t hate how I looked, until someone told me where to look.

That’s important to remember, this whole epidemic of people wanting to change how they look, doing diets, hurting their body’s to be ‘perfect’... is because we created it. We made that. We made people feel this way.

So I don’t care about your personal preference of appearance. I don’t care about your judgement on fat, thin and in between. I don’t care if you have ideals. You. Do. Not. Shame. Someone.

If you don’t find someone attractive, that’s fine, but you don’t need to project that onto them. Let people live, let people be happy, let them enjoy the body that keeps them alive. Not one person has the right to set the standard of ‘the way we should look’.

And my friends, change your body if you want, but only if it’s really because you want, not because you’ve been pushed into it by judgement. Make sure everything you do for you, is for you.

#bodypositive #bodytransformation #bodyconfidence #beauty #lifestyle #wellbeing #wellness #recovery

Originally posted on Instagram.

 

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.

 

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Sometimes We Need to Ask the Questions

We don’t have the answers to everything, sometimes we just need to ask the questions.” (John Rotter)

The above quotation is taken from an article by John Rotter, Marketing and Communications Assistant at MHFA England. It expresses perfectly why asking questions is such an important aspect of mental health literacy.

This post was inspired by an open letter to me by fellow mental health blogger Aimee Wilson in response to an article I wrote recently about imposter syndrome, self-doubt, and legitimacy. In her letter, Aimee described how important it is to have people she can turn to for support.

Having gone through my mental health journey with my Mum being my main source of support, I think that I now know how essential it is to have the support of another person through your times of struggle and the challenges thrown at you. [....] The difficulty comes in allowing yourself to lean on another person or even to just admit that you need to lean on them!

Something she went on to say caught my attention.

I love that you ask me questions when I’m struggling because it’s much more helpful than you just sitting there and nodding along, pretending to understand.

That meant a lot, not least because Fran and I have long advocated asking questions in the context of caring, supportive relationships. But what kinds of questions are most helpful?

What Do You Need?

Asking your friend what they need is one of the simplest and yet most important questions you can ask. This came up recently in conversation with another mental health blogger, Laura Riordan. We were chatting about how we support friends who live with mental health issues, and Laura said:

Maybe I can just listen instead of making any suggestions. Some people desperately want advice [....] And some just want to be heard.

I agreed wholeheartedly.

Yes, Laura. I’m a believer in not pushing suggestions or advice on people unless they ask for it. What people often need is space to share, safe from judgement. The best thing is simply to ask: what do you need right now?

This is echoed in a line from our book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder:

Supporting Fran means paying attention to her needs and not assuming I know best. This can be as simple as asking, “What do you need most right now?”

How Is It For You?

For someone like me with no lived experience to draw on, asking questions helps me understand what my friends are going through. That’s what Aimee was talking about when she said she loves that I ask her questions when she is struggling. On that occasion, we were talking about self-harm. I’d asked how it was that sometimes self-harm expresses itself for her as an overdose, sometimes as cutting, sometimes in other ways. Was there a difference, I wondered, in the kind of situations that led to her taking these different actions, what they represented for her, or the effect on her afterwards? Aimee was a little thrown by the questions. I don’t think she had been asked to think about it in quite that way before, but as she wrote in her open letter it was clearly of value to her:

In asking these questions, you’ve helped me to make a better sense of my self-harm and that, is one of the first steps in changing the behaviour and moving forwards in my recovery.

It also helped me learn a little more about what my friend lives with and how she handles things.

Getting Real

Asking questions is not a passive activity. A question invites a response, and you may not get back what you anticipated or are comfortable with. In addition to talking with Aimee about self-harm, conversations with Fran and other friends regularly touch on suicide and suicidal thinking. Things can get real very quickly. Depending on the circumstances, you might want or need to ask further questions or take action. If your friend appears to be struggling, be prepared to ask the important questions.

  • Are you feeling suicidal, or thinking of doing something to harm yourself?
  • Do you feel you are safe right now?
  • Do we need to think about how to help you stay safe?

Also ask how your friend would like you to proceed if you become concerned for their safety. Respect their wishes and opinions, but be clear that you will involve other people or support services if necessary. That way you both know where you stand. We have a selection of crisis lines and support organisations on our Resources page.

Care and Understanding

Questions are not always about crisis, suicide, or self-harm, of course. Asking appropriate questions can let your friend know you are aware of their situation and needs. I described a few such situations in my article 5 Must-Read Rules to Help Your Friend with Anxiety and Bipolar Disorder for Bp Magazine.

I may not have a mental health diagnosis but I struggle too at times. I get stressed, uncertain, frustrated, and stuck. It’s happened quite a lot in the past few months. I’m blessed in having friends who are unafraid to hold things up to the light for me, and that includes asking the kind of questions that challenge me to explore what I think I know, my motives, and expectations. It really helps. Here is an example from a recent chat with Aimee:

Aimee: Hi Marty. How are you?

Marty: I’m OK. I was feeling a bit down over the weekend but am doing better today. I was very busy at work and there were train delays but I’m home now.

Aimee: Aw why do you think you were feeling down?

Marty: After feeling “stuck” for a while, as you know, my writing got going again recently. Our day out in Blyth and joint blogging ideas helped, and the Mental Health First Aid conference I went to. All that gave me a boost. I think what’s happened is that energy has run out of steam a bit. Does that make sense?

Aimee: Of course. Totally understand. Well here’s a little assignment for you...

Aimee invited me to contribute to an article she was writing and shared her draft with me. It helped me shift how I’d been feeling and generated some possible new ways forward. Later, I let her know how much I appreciated the support.

Marty: Thank you for asking if I knew why I’d been feeling down, Aimee. It helped me focus on what might have been behind it. Also, thanks for knowing that giving me a “little assignment” would help!

Aimee: Of course! This friendship isn’t just you being here for me when I’m struggling!

Ask Yourself First

It can be helpful to ask questions, but that doesn’t mean bombarding your friend with them all the time. It’s also important not to come across as insincere, patronising, or condescending. These are sure ways to annoy and alienate someone! If you are at all unsure, take a few moments and ask yourself a few questions before proceeding.

  • What do I want to achieve by asking this question?
  • Am I inviting my friend to do something, or to share something with me?
  • Am I prepared for whatever kind of response I get back, be that positive, negative, partial, uncertain, none at all, or my friend asking me a question in return?

Finally, is this question, and my motive for asking it, kind in mind and heart?

Over to You

What is the best, most insightful question you have ever been asked? What kinds of questions do not help you at all? Have you asked someone a question that made a real difference? Are there times you feel questions are inappropriate or unnecessary? We’d love to hear from you.

 

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Competition and Collaboration in the Blogging World | A Chat with Marty and Aimee

Following on from our Bloggers About Town visit to Newcastle’s Life Science Centre in January, and a jaunt to the Blue Reef Aquarium at Tynemouth, I met up with fellow mental health blogger Aimee Wilson last weekend in Blyth, Northumberland. This involved an hour long bus ride for me, which made it quite the adventure!

Aimee met me from my bus (“I feel like a celebrity!” “Lmao you’re a VIP!”) and we wandered down to the quayside to look at the boats (pretty sure that blooming big one was a ship, actually!) and a fascinating sculpture, The Spirit of the Staithes by artist Simon Packard.

After taking photos we retired to the Commissioners Quay Inn for lunch. We were soon deep in conversation — and both checking our phones!

Marty: I like that we can both be on our phones and we “get it.”

Aimee: Yeah, everyone else just thinks you’re being rude! That’s why I’m so glad I have a friend who blogs — blogging is such a big part of my life that it makes a big difference to have someone who can…

Marty: Identify?

Aimee: Yes! Someone who I can identify with. Actually, I want to pick your brain about something… So, I got a message off another blogger the other day — Peter McDonnell, you know him I think — saying he’s meeting up with a Police Officer after being inspired by my work with Northumbria Police. I asked where he lived, in case I knew the Officer. He told me — he doesn’t live up here so it’s fine — and asked why it mattered to me.

Marty: Sure I know Peter, he’s a great guy. And why did it matter to you?

Aimee: It’s nothing to do with Peter at all. It’s more to do with whether I knew the Officer he was planning to see.

Marty: Let’s see if I have got this right. Let’s say I’m the Police Officer and I’ve done a post for your blog and then another blogger approaches me wanting to work with me... is that what you mean?

Aimee: Yeah! I think it’s more about my insecurities; like, I’d be worried I wasn’t good enough. You know? Like, maybe my work and my blog weren’t enough for them.

Marty: I can see where you’re coming from.

Aimee: But then I try and look at it like, “well it’s not a competition!”

Marty nods and gives a thumbs up whilst drinking his pint.

Aimee: I mean, on the one hand, we shouldn’t be comparing ourselves to other bloggers. But on the other hand, the comparison can help us to improve what we do. If you see someone’s content you like, you can take inspiration from that and use it to push yourself further.

Marty: Like, when you look at a blog with loads of readers — like yours! —

Aimee: Thanks!

Marty: It makes you ask yourself what you can do to get your blog to the same level.

Aimee: Yeah! I think it’s natural to have some sort of competitiveness — it’s a good thing — but it’s important to not let that get you down and cause you to put too much pressure on yourself.

Marty: And I think it’s important to remember what we’re trying to say through our blogs too.

Aimee: Yeah, like in this case the important thing is to get the message out that the Police are working with mental health services to better their own capabilities when they’re called to attend a mental health crisis. That message is more important than worrying about someone being “better” than you.

Marty: I think so, yes. I do get your concern, though. This is your work. You have worked hard to network and grow connections with individual people and with organisations, like with Northumbria Police. You don’t want someone else taking advantage of your hard work. But Peter isn’t doing that, he has been inspired by your work to do something similar in his own area.

Aimee: Definitely! It’s a compliment, really.

Marty: It is, yes. Bottom line, working with other bloggers to counter stigma is more important than worrying about someone picking up on your good ideas and doing their own thing with them.

Aimee: I’m thinking this would make a good blog post. Feel free to shoot me down but what about if we did it like a script layout?

Marty: Works for me!

And that’s what we did! Aimee checked in with Peter McDonnell, the mental health blogger who’d asked her about working with the Police. She wanted to make sure he was ok with us using the feelings that came up for her as the inspiration for this article. She also wanted him to know how much she appreciated the respect he’d shown by letting her know he intended to do the police piece. Peter was very generous about it and gave permission for us to mention him by name. He also said this, which Aimee found really helpful:

I think if your police friend started working with other bloggers after he’d already worked with you, it’d be because he had a nice experience with you, a blogger, and wanted to do it again, with the next blogger that gave him an opportunity.

Thank you, Peter.

 


Aimee Wilson is a 28-year-old mental health blogger who has used her personal experiences to develop a popular online profile. Her blog I’m NOT Disordered has close to half a million readers. Aimee’s first book, When All Is Said & Typed, is available at Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, and in other regions.

Peter McDonnell, 36, is an author, woodworker and mental health advocate from Basingstoke, Hampshire, UK. You can find him and his website at www.petesmentalhealthtravel.com.

 

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Just Because You're Paranoid: How to Notice Gaslighting in Bipolar Disorder

By Beth Gadwa

Foreword by Julie A. Fast

I recently posted a note on Facebook that included a link to one of my Bp Magazine videos called Bipolar Disorder Paranoia and Keeping Your Relationships Strong. I made the point that I had to take responsibility over my own paranoia and not take it out on others. I have ruined many relationships in the past due to my untreated paranoid thinking and actions. Right under this post, bipolar disorder advocate and writer Beth Gadwa left a comment that truly opened my mind to the other side of the situation. She wrote:

Julie, please be aware that people with bipolar are also sometimes victimized and exploited in relationships. A good strategy is to “check in” with a neutral third party, such as a close friend or family member to try to determine if you are symptomatic. Being bipolar does not mean being a doormat, or turning a blind eye to infidelity or abuse. But it does absolutely mean we have to check ourselves, and pause and reflect before we act.

Wow, she was so correct! What if someone is telling YOU that you have paranoia or that you are manic for their own nefarious reasons! What if you are actually stable and someone is using your bipolar against you! What a thought! I knew I wanted to hear more. I told Martin Baker about it and as always he said, “Let’s do a post for Gum on My Shoe. This is an important topic.”

Here is the OTHER side of the symptoms story from Beth Gadwa. Thank heavens for open minds and hearts. This is how we learn. My mind was opened and expanded from her comment and I hope her stories below help you just as much as they helped me!

Julie

Julie A. Fast
Bestselling mental health author, speaker and coach
www.juliefast.com | www.BipolarHappens.com


Just Because You’re Paranoid: How to Notice Gaslighting in Bipolar Disorder

by Beth Gadwa

Julie Fast wrote a great post about the dangers of bipolar paranoia and how it can undermine core relationships. I had one question in response: What do we do in real situations of abuse, infidelity, or gaslighting when someone is using our symptoms against us in order to control a situation? In my experience, both personally and professionally, neurodiverse people are at increased risk for violence and exploitation. Yes, it is important that we know our own symptoms and work hard to not take them out on others, but it’s equally important that we don’t just blindly accept the words and accusations of others when it comes to our brains.

Julie suggested that I share my own experiences. Here are two stories, both everyday situations that could happen to anyone. I tell them with the hope that we can learn from Julie’s work and at the same time, trust our own experiences in order to protect our brains from those who are out to harm.

#1. “Chicken Wars”

My friend Teri was visiting me from Ohio, with the thought that she might move to Portland permanently. One evening I noticed she was eating takeout fried chicken in the guest room. I asked if she could eat her meal in the common area, because the greasy chicken crumbs could stain the bedding and get into the carpet, attracting vermin.

She immediately became defensive, and told me I could not tell her what to do. I did not raise my voice, but reminded her she was a guest and had been staying at the apartment for over two weeks for free. She grew more agitated. She called me manic and accused me of starting the argument because I was bipolar. I was taken aback and hurt by her words.

To me, this was a normal roommate squabble that had nothing to do with mental health. I wasn’t experiencing any mania symptoms (sleeplessness, racing thoughts) so I didn’t feel the issue was mania or hypomania. I was simply protecting my home. Because of her response to my honest feelings, I felt I couldn’t express any negative opinion in the future without it being labeled symptomatic. We eventually talked through the situation, but it had an effect on our friendship. I have noticed over time that I have become more conflict-averse, which isn’t always a good thing.

#2. “You’d Have to Be Crazy to Break up with Me”

In 2014, I was casually dating a person I met online. At first Kevin was charming, but he grew increasingly controlling and possessive. We had been dating for about three months when he announced plans to throw a reception at a fancy hotel in “our” honor, and asked me to invite my friends too.

This made me uncomfortable. I didn’t know how to exit gracefully, so I told him I didn’t want to see him anymore. He flipped out — started yelling, said that I was manic and didn’t know what I was talking about. In his mind, I didn’t “really” want to break up with him. It must be my diagnosis.

What I did next was check in with my good friend Kasey. She has known me for almost 20 years and reassured me that I didn’t seem to be manic. Kasey had only met the guy once, but she told me to watch out — his behavior fit the classic pattern of abusers and narcissists.

She was right.

The same day, Kevin had also called my sister (whom he had never met — he found her work number online) to “warn” her about my mental health. This creeped me out! Checking in with a trusted source helped me take care of myself and protect myself from a person who was out to harm.

How Can You Protect Yourself?

Relationships fail for a variety of reasons, but being told that having a negative opinion or wanting to leave was due to my mental health was not someone trying to help me. It was someone trying to control me. I focus greatly on my health and work hard to present the most stable self possible. And yet, gaslighting happened. For this reason, I believe it is essential not to have a “single point of failure” in your care network. This means that you check in with yourself and someone you trust, separate from the person who is making the accusation that your bipolar is a problem.

As a bipolar life coach, I advise my clients to stay in close touch with a broad support network of family and friends. That way if there is conflict that feels confusing, you have a neutral third party to evaluate the situation.

If you’re a friend or caregiver, be alert for symptoms as Julie suggests, but please don’t use them as a weapon. Work together with us if you worry that we are symptomatic and it is affecting our decisions. That makes us a part of a team. We need you!

 

About the Author

Beth Gadwa is a Certified Professional Coach with over eighteen years’ experience managing bipolar disorder. She splits her time between Portland, Oregon, and Western Massachusetts, where her partner Erik resides.

Learn more about her practice at bipolarlifecoach.com.

 

Saturday, 23 March 2019

Kind in Mind and Heart

I was chatting to my friend Roiben the other day about coasters. Not the boats, the little place mats you put your coffee mug on. I asked if she had any particular kind in mind. She showed me some lovely ones on Etsy, but it was something about that phrase that caught my attention.

Kind in mind

It got me thinking about all the times we’re not kind in mind. Not kind-minded at all, towards others and ourselves. Often we imagine our intentions are kindly, but under the surface there’s some self-serving ego element at work.

It’s something I’ve been working with quite a bit lately, with the help of friends unafraid to hold things up to the light for me.

Kind in mind gives me a new reference against which to assess my motivations.

Kind in mind and heart takes things a step further.

“Is this kind in mind and heart?” I ask myself, as I contemplate some new course of action or intervention. I am not always going to get it right, but it’s already helping.

Maybe it can work for you too.

Incidentally, my favourite coaster is one Fran bought me, shown here with my favourite mug.