Wednesday, 22 March 2017

TEDx Speech by Sharon Sutton

I am proud to have been in the audience at the Durham Marriott Hotel Royal County for Sharon Sutton’s recent TEDx Durham talk. In a powerful and moving speech, reproduced here in full, Sharon gives an insight into what it’s like to live with mental illness, and how she has found her purpose and passion.

TEDx Speech by Sharon Sutton

Durham Marriott Hotel Royal County
Saturday 11 March 2017

So, what do you do when you get a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder?

When I got mine in 2013, along with my prescription for a box of mood stabilisers in tow, I didn’t know what to do, whether to tell anyone, or what was to lie ahead for me, but what I did want to know, was what it meant, and, what I was going to do about it. For about a month, I kept relatively quiet about my Psychiatrists recent conclusion, however, eventually it appeared to be no secret.

For anybody that is unaware of what Bipolar Disorder is, it was formerly known as manic depression and it can affect your moods by swinging from being in a depressive to an elevated state. It’s common and can affect 1 in every 100 adults. Many people like myself are usually diagnosed when depressed.

Bipolar disorder results in just over a 9-year reduction in expected life span, and as many as one in five patients with bipolar disorder succeeds in taking their own life. Although bipolar disorder is equally common in men and women, research indicates that approximately three times as many women as men experience rapid cycling. Bipolar disorder affects nearly 6 million American adults, or about 2.6% of the U.S. population age 18 and over every year.

Side effects can include a range of symptoms from having difficulty in concentrating and remembering things, difficulty sleeping, hallucinating, self-doubt, lacking energy, to being irritable, easily distracted, talking quickly, being overjoyed, hyperactive and having racing thoughts. Mania is an extreme elevated state which can include extremely risky behaviour, but I myself have never experienced it. I have experienced hypomania though. In some of my depressive states I haven’t left the house for weeks except for school runs, I’ve cut off the outside world and barely looked after myself. On the other hand, I ‘ve jumped up and down on the bed randomly in the middle of the night being full of adrenalin along with my bedroom window wide open whilst singing loudly to the birds, all while not caring who is listening or who I may potentially annoy.

So, you’re probably wondering how all this came about.

Well, I think that my mental health problems began when I was approximately 16. I had never known much middle ground in my life, but what I knew, as did others, was that, I was different. By now I was told that I stood out from most people and I liked it. I never once wanted to blend in. Unfortunately, a year before I moved out, so I will have been about 15 years old, I spent mixing with the wrong crowd of people by getting into trouble and I was up to nothing but pure mayhem. I’m ashamed to admit that I think I became a dreg of society within that space of time.

At just 16 years old I moved out of the family home and spent 9 years in an abusive relationship with a psychopath. I was bullied, spat on, conditioned, spoken to like I was worthless, controlled, stalked, mentally, financially, sexually and physically abused and so this was the beginning of a downward spiral in my mental health. I sometimes had knives held to my throat and at one point I even had a fractured left hand and bruises on my body. It wasn’t easy to walk away from the life that I had and it was easier to put up and shut up.

Whilst I was in this relationship, age 19 by now, I took on a Fish and Chip shop for 6 years with help from family members to buy it. Not one of my best idea’s, but most definitely a learning curve I must admit. I had a love hate relationship with my business and I say this because it was what put food on my daughter’s plate and what I wanted at the time so that I could have more stability in my life.

On the bright side, my shop was listed as one of the top 50 in the UK and the only one north of Whitby to get the Sea Fish Industry Authority Award; it was ranked alongside a celebrity chef’s fish and chip shop and mentioned in numerous national newspapers and magazines.

Radio interviews followed as did photographer’s randomly turning up at my shop to get their share of photos of myself with the award. To say it was rather surreal was an understatement. It’s on my wall in my house right now and I am proud of that achievement. Nevertheless, the roller coaster of my life continued.

I was about 7 months pregnant at the time with my eldest daughter and my life literally changed overnight.

After my ex tried to unsuccessfully take mine and my daughter’s life in a car crash, I felt like I had to finally take matters into my own hands. However, I found myself being too scared to move on in my life. So, I drove in front of a lorry head on instead. I clearly didn’t know what I was thinking at the time. Luck was obviously on his and my side that day. The only thing that stopped me from driving into the lorry was the driver flashing his headlights and at that moment I swerved my car to miss it.

I was alive but sick of my life. I didn’t want to die, I just wanted my pain to end. It was more of a cry for help. I felt exhausted in every way and I wanted to leave the world behind as I thought it was my only way out. From the outside looking in it would have appeared that I had everything. A family, a business, a house and a car. This was maybe the case, but behind closed doors it was a different story. A house it was, but a home it was not. My then partner never did find out about my suicide attempt and so my life went on everyday like Groundhog Day.

After some time, I finally dared to move on. I sold the business and moved house with just me and my eldest daughter. I spoke to the Police about my violent past and unfortunately with my case being historic by then and the fact that I had little proof of what I had experienced they couldn’t really help me. I wanted to help others not to go through what I had, so I started work as a Police volunteer in Domestic Violence, Adult Vulnerability and Child Abuse Investigation. I sometimes spoke to victims, signposted people for help and I typed hundreds of transcripts of Police interviews ready for court. I loved what I did.

I met someone else, moved house again, had another child and eventually started married life. I was in the relationship for about 4 years before we parted ways. My complicated personal life continued. Disastrous toxic relationships followed, but at the same time without what has happened in my life I wouldn’t be here and where I am today. It’s now 2017, roughly ten years since I was at my lowest point in my life, now I’m stood telling you my story, pleased that I failed at my suicide attempt.

In just over 3 years what have I done with that diagnosis then?

Well, to aid myself to getting on the path to a better life I decided to teach myself what it was all about and the rest is basically history. From then I set up a Facebook page called Me, Bipolar & I to help people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Depression and Bipolar Disorder, of which I have experience all. Today that page has over 12 thousand followers worldwide, is recognised by The International Bipolar Foundation in the USA, and is looked at by Police forces, Psychiatrists and all sorts of different people.

From there I’ve looked for things that I can do and be part of. I’ve been involved in TV and scientific research, co–delivered Bipolar Disorder classes in Recovery College and University, helped raise awareness by speaking to support providers, met celebrities and spoken about mine and their experiences to them, contributed to clinical assessments, educated myself, done interviews, worked in a mental health hospital and community mental health team, become a member of different mental health charities, joined a drop in group as a volunteer, met with staff in local businesses to try and educate them, had my thoughts put in front of parliament members and even won the former Deputy Prime Minister’s Mental Health Hero Award in 2015, out of 900 nominations there were approximately 40 UK winners of which I was 1 of 3 in the North East of England to get it. The award is on my wall at home along with my Fish and Chip shop award.

I try to be an advocate by speaking out, blogging and campaigning by breaking the silence, and if more people, like myself, spoke out about mental illness there would be a lot less stigma and discrimination within society. I speak for the silent, but together we can be stronger in numbers. You know, when we learn how to work together versus against each other, things might start getting better.

So, after years of being on different medications I have been totally free of them for over 8 months now and I find that weight lifting and boxing benefit me too. I help my new partner and he helps me as we both have experience of mental health problems.

I don’t let Bipolar Disorder get in my way with what I want to achieve. It’s not an excuse but an explanation of my behaviour, and just sometimes, having bipolar disorder means waking up not knowing whether Tigger or Eeyore maybe making my decisions for me!

It doesn’t rule my world nor define me, but, it fuels my passion and inspires me. To be honest, without Bipolar Disorder I don’t think that I would be as mentally strong as I am today. I find it a curse at times, but more definitely a blessing, and from it I now have a passion and a purpose.

If there is one thing that you could take away from this speech, then please remember to try to see the person and not the diagnosis.

Change your fears, change your boundaries, change your limits and thus,

Choose your hobby as your job.
To go somewhere even if you have no idea where the road will take you.

Choose to be excited about your next idea whatever it may be.
To move out of your comfort zone.

Choose health and to look after yourself.
To help people even when you don’t want to help yourself.

Choose to be the person that you would want to know.
To smile at the person who isn’t smiling back at you.

Choose to be different and to stand out.
Not to be consumed by everything.

Choose your thoughts not to be controlled by society.
Not to be told what to do.

Choose not to let trivial things get to you.
To be inspired by whatever may inspire you and to laugh when it’s totally inconvenient to do so.

Choose to be the person that everyone wants to genuinely know.
To love the life you live.

Choose experiences over possessions.
To never give up.


Thank you.


Speaker Profile

Sharon is a multiple award winner and volunteer in the field of mental health. Sharon speaks of her illness and how it affects her yet she explains how she lives with it and how she doesn’t let it defeat her daily.

After a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder, she went onto researching the condition to find out what it was about. She is a blogger for major online newspapers and is an advocate and ambassador for the silent and standing for the broken to raise awareness by helping thousands of others worldwide.

Follow Sharon on Facebook and Twitter, and on her author page at Northern Life Magazine.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

“You’re shaking!”—When Marty Met Frannie

In June 2013 Fran travelled with her parents from New York to Hamburg via Southampton on board the RMS Queen Mary 2. The trip gave us the chance to meet face-to-face for the first time after two years as friends. I drove down to Southampton the night before, and met them when they came ashore next morning.

Excerpted from our book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder.

You’re Shaking!

I set my clothes out for the morning, checked that my camera and satnav were charged, and tried to sleep. We had our day planned but I was still anxious. What if I was not allowed into the terminal to meet them from the ship? What if Fran’s parents wanted to go to Stonehenge after all? What if we found ourselves awkward with each other?

Fortunately, a close friend was online. She chatted with me for almost two hours. She reminded me the day would be a success, no matter what we did or what happened, because I would spend it in the company of my best friend. It was a powerful lesson in compassion and trust, and I am immensely grateful for her support.

I woke several times through the night. Each time, I checked the ship’s position and webcam as she approached Southampton. She berthed on time, around half past six in the morning.

I left the hotel shortly afterwards, and parked at the cruise terminal well ahead of schedule.

All my frustrations and uncertainty melted away once I was there.

I took photographs of the RMS Queen Mary 2, and waited in the terminal building for Fran and her parents to come ashore.

And then, all in a moment, they were there. Fran was there. Not three thousand miles away on webcam, but standing in front of me. We hugged across the barrier. My excitement must have been obvious, because Fran’s first words to me were “You’re shaking!”


High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder is available at: | | | | | | | | Barnes & Noble


Wednesday, 8 March 2017

People Always Disappoint, by Andrew Turman

I have several writes in my head, itching to get out. Perhaps I can combine a few threads together to get a cohesive whole...

I have been dealing with some serious issues lately, including my own behavior. I am entering an alcohol treatment program to address my substance abuse and what happens when I drink. This is something that is a long time coming. I had the disease a long time, before I ever used. You see, addiction, in my experience is most often a hereditary disease, fostered in childhood. The use and abuse of intoxicating substances has been a problem since man first evolved.

I have done a lot of research on this topic, over the years and recently. Since my last DUI, I have been doing at least four hours of research a day on the topic of recovery. I search the Interwebz, print and other media, to seek answers to my questions. Someone recently asked me what MY ideal recovery program would be, and I will try to address some of the key components here.

First of all, I need to unambiguously state that I do not believe that our judicial system can prescribe a religious-based program to address a mental health issue. That is like a doctor diagnosing you with cancer, and telling you to go home and pray about it. It just does not make sense. Yes, pretty much everyone needs some sort of spirituality in their life, some sort of moral code that gives life meaning, and makes sense of the absurdity of it all. However, I truly do not think that some sort of God-based program is going to solve the problem of addiction.

For some people, having that “come to Jesus” moment will be enough. Putting your faith in a higher power, “as you understand it,” can help one get their life on track. But, we are only human, and faith is not a constant. We are frail beings, and often succumb to temptation. In weak moments we turn to the things that comforted us in the past, reliving patterns of behavior that we learned along the way. Often these behaviors are destructive. The problem I have with Alcoholics Anonymous, and similar groups, is that I do not believe in the traditional concept of God. I am not saying that I am an atheist, but I am a Buddhist, and have been for the past 18 years. It is not a linear path, there are ups and downs, and sometimes I skid sideways for months at a time. There is a reason it is called practice.

So, I do not consider myself a Christian. I was, growing up. But, I was sexually abused in the church as a pre-teen, and that damaged my faith. I spent many years rudderless and as a teen I experienced a lot of angst, questioned my existence. That problem only intensified as I became older, until now, when I seem to exist on caffeine and hate.

I call myself “your angry buddhist” for a reason. Just because I am comfortable with violence does not mean I am proud of it. I am simply a depressive realist when I am not an manic idealist. The pendulum swings back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

I do not find the philosophy of existentialism and Buddhism to be incongruent. I often idealize myself to be some nihilist, gonzo artist/writer, hustling hard and staying humble, just trying to make my nut each day. However, I feel something lacking.

I strive to be authentic in every facet of my life. You ask me a question, I will tell you no lies. I am upfront about my problems and my failings. I do not ask anything of people but loyalty. I don’t care if you love me, I don’t care if you are a little bit afraid of me, but you damn well better be devoted. Forgiving. As I am to you. People disappoint. That is the title of this write. It is an important point. Yes, people disappoint, but if you know that going in, if you keep your expectations extremely low, you will be able to roll with the punches and get by.

One thing I talk about is infrastructure, which can be defined as "the physical components of interrelated systems providing commodities and services essential to enable, sustain, or enhance societal living conditions.” And by living conditions, I am referring to quality of life.

What many people fail to understand is that the opposite of addiction is NOT sobriety. Rather, the opposite of addiction is connection. Social connection. I will venture to say that all addiction problems have their root in some sort of trauma. Be it war, medical emergency, financial or marital crisis, there is usually a triggering event associated with substance abuse, which unchecked, can lead to addiction issues, a medical situation that requires not a spiritual solution (although that could be part of it, as it pertains to social situations) but rather some sort of medical model. Psychology is certainly a part of medicine, and those type of theraputic approaches are ones I endorse.

Psychiatry is an more of an art, rather than a science. One could say, however, that these days, psychiatrists practice their handwriting more than they do medicine, and that some of them are not even good at that! The real work happens in weekly psychotherapy sessions with some sort of therapist, not in a fifteen minute med check every three months.

My father worked for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) for twenty years. For the last ten, his work was primarily with the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (C-SAT). This is at first glance, ironic, as his son dealt with mental health and substance abuse issues for most of his life. However, my father was just as devoted to me as I am to my own son. When I found out that my son would likely have special education issues, I changed my Master’s degree focus to Education of the Exceptional Child, specifically behavioral and emotional disorders. Because of our love, we made specific career choices, in hopes that knowledge would help the situation. Unfortunately, that was not always the case...

Today, it is almost two years since my father passed away in my arms. It has been five years since I have seen or talked to my son. My previous did not listen to my daddy’s dying pleas to see his only grandchild before he died. Much of the current noise in my head is due to unresolved issues with my son and first wife. I say this to refer to the trauma I have dealt with, and why I am having issues with using alcohol.

People need to be connected, to have relationships, in order to survive and function properly. That is what helps people with substance abuse problems become functional members of society. Sometimes it is merely the group setting that helps addicts in their recovery. This explains the success of organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous and similar groups. The friendships that are founded, the connections that are made, all contribute to recovery and the ability to stay clean.

An important message that I have is that relapse must be a part of any recovery model. It is simply unrealistic for anyone to think that a person will never touch another drink or drug until the day they die. As I have tried to make clear, people always disappoint, and people will also always be disappointed. Life never works “according to plan.” Shit happens.

What we need right now, all of us, is a better infrastructure. This should be undertaken on a national, literal scale, improving roads, bridges and other public works, but also on a micro, personal level. Each of us, in order to be come healthier, needs to work on connections, becoming active members of our communities. We need to stop burning bridges when we are in the middle of them, just to prove how desperate we are. We need to find purpose in our lives, make meaning, at the very least pretend that there is some grand purpose or design. We are greater than we allow ourselves to be. We will to power. #resist

Biography and Artist Statement

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—77; medications—46; suicide attempts—5; ECT treatments—61.

W.A. Turman can be contacted via his Facebook page and blog.


Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Our Top 6 Posts of the Month (Feb 2017)

Check out our top six posts for the past month. Posts are listed by number of pageviews, most popular first.

1. Get It Right When Asking for Help with Bipolar Disorder, by Julie A. Fast

2. Speaking Up, a Film about Mental Health

3. Viva Mental Health, by Peter McDonnell

4. Time to Talk, Time to Listen, Time to Care

5. It's Not Just for Kids: Reading Together for Fun and Friendship

6. An Open Letter to My Bipolar Best Friend

The three most visited pages were News & Appearances, Contact Us, and our Resources Page.


The Long-Distance Caring Relationship: Our Interview for Onlinevents

I described in my recent guest post for mental health author and family coach Julie A. Fast, that Fran and I believe our book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder is relevant to people working in the caring professions, including therapists, counsellors, and trainers.

We were thus delighted to be interviewed recently by Onlinevents for their online resource library, which comprises a vast collection of video interviews, workshops and presentations to help practitioners meet their continuing professional development needs. Based in West Lothian in Scotland, Onlinevents is run by Sandra and John Wilson. In Sandra’s words:

We are passionate about searching out conversations around mental health. provides a platform to share these conversations, which is proving to be a valuable and meaningful way to highlight authors, speakers and practitioner’s thoughts around current thinking and topics.

Sandra and I first met on Twitter, which as she notes “is an example of how the internet is great at providing connections no matter where we are in the world.” Sandra had retweeted something by Rachel Kelly, author of Black Rainbow, Walking on Sunshine, and The Happy Kitchen. We have known Rachel for some time. She contributed the foreword to High Tide, Low Tide, and has guested on our blog. I was interested to learn she has been interviewed twice for Onlinevents, talking about her experience with depression, and the strategies she has developed to manage her recovery.

After hearing something of our story, Sandra offered us an interview.

We were interested in Marty and Fran’s journey together and excited about their new book, knowing that they would provide valuable insight for our community and wider audience around mental health and relationships.

Fran and I met John on Skype ahead of time, to get to know each other and explore what topics we might cover. The three of us clicked immediately. John’s specialism is online counselling and he was particularly interested in how we use technology and social media in our long-distance, mutually supportive friendship.

Our interview was broadcast live on the Onlinevents website. It was also streamed to the video app Periscope, and to our Facebook page. The conversation ranged widely, with John feeding us comments and questions from those watching on their website. He began by asking about our friendship and how our book came to be. As Fran described:

I have had bipolar for a long time .... I lost a lot of friends when I was in my periods of mania. Depression wasn’t as bad. I wouldn’t lose friends as much when I was in depression but when I was in mania I would lose friends. So it was really important to me to somehow get the word out that it’s okay to be friends with us [people living with mental illness]. Even if we have struggles and we have problems, there’s a way to understand it.

John asked about our relationship and how it works. We described how we use all the channels that technology affords: Skype, instant messaging, e-mail, etc. As Fran put it, “It’s really like any friendship would be.” She talked about how this is particularly important for those living with mental illness.

A friend of ours who was watching posted a comment: “As Marty knows, I am big on open honest communication being a lifesaver,” which is something Fran and I agree with completely.

Someone asked if we could give some examples of how we handle difficulties in our friendship. We talked about managing our fears, and balancing Fran’s needs against my own. We touched on the three month period in the summer of 2013 when Fran was traveling in Europe with her parents. As I recounted:

This was the most intense period of our friendship .... [In the final chapters of our book] we are showing how our approaches and techniques play out in practice. How often they work and sometimes don’t work. There are certainly examples in there of how I was struggling or needing to adjust, while keeping the connection going to support Fran in whatever was going on for her.

Another contributor agreed technology can be an excellent facilitator for connection and support, but wondered whether it affects the sense of presence. As John put it, “Is it a real relationship? Do you really feel present to each other?” We talked about how the key thing for us is not physical proximity, but connection:

Fran: We have this way of being with technology which allows for a very expansive relationship.

Martin: It’s about openness. It’s about those channels of communication .... Our friendship doesn’t work because we are three thousand miles apart; it works because we are open to each other and to communicating.

John then asked about the chapter which deals with suicidal thinking.

John: I really liked how you write about this in the book. We need to hold space for each other when we go to those harder places, those darker places in our experiences, so we can be there to hear each other.

Fran: When I am in suicidal thinking it is about teasing out what’s behind it, what’s causing it ... and having someone you can talk frankly to, who’s not freaking out, who’s not rushing you off to the hospital, is really critical.

John: How do you manage to do that, to not get in a panic and be present to each other? Do you have a sense of what helps you?

Fran: It’s trust. Marty trusts me. I trust Marty. That to me feels like the single most powerful thing that helps us keep moving through it, even when it’s really really tough.

The hour passed too quickly and before we knew, it was time to draw the interview to a close.

John: What I love about how you both have been in our dialogue, and what I’ve read in your book, is this is the human condition. We struggle, as humans we struggle, and we have the capacity, if we can be ourselves, to be helpful.

Martin: Can we quote you on that? That was really good!

John: [Laughing] I really appreciate how you are with each other, how you’ve beeen with me, and the generosity and the way that you’ve written the book. So thank you for that. I appreciate you pushing at the edges of how we might be around mental health. Let’s all wave our books at the camera!

And so we did!

Our full interview is available in the Onlinevents resource library. Excerpts, including us talking about how to stay grounded when a friend is talking about suicide, will be shared on the Onlinevents YouTube channel. The Facebook version is also available (limited to the first 27 minutes of the interview): at the time of writing, it has been viewed over 180 times.

Sandra and John Wilson can be contacted via the Onlinevents website, on Facebook, and Twitter: @Onlinevents_saz (Sandra), @onlinevents (John), and @OnlineventMedia.


Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Get It Right When Asking for Help with Bipolar Disorder, by Julie A. Fast

Fran and I are delighted to welcome Julie A. Fast, author of Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder: Understanding and Helping Your Partner, Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder and Get it Done When You’re Depressed.

Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder is Julie’s book for the overall treatment of bipolar disorder. It’s a great companion to High Tide, Low Tide for anyone who wants to know more about the illness.

Here, Julie discusses how to ask for help, a topic close to our hearts.

Get It Right When Asking for Help with Bipolar Disorder

When I was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder two with psychotic features in 1995 at age 31, my life was a mess. Two months earlier, I left my partner (who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder one the previous year) and flew to China to have an adventure. Yes. China. I then got depressed and psychotic in Hong Kong and finally got the help I needed back in the States.

When I say my life was a mess when I was finally diagnosed, I’m talking about my relationships. My mood swings were out of control and when I heard I had bipolar disorder, I didn’t feel shame. I was relieved! I finally had answers and I was going to tell all of the people in my life about this and get some help!

I ended up overwhelming people by asking for too much. Here are the two key mistakes I made and what I do now to get it right.

Mistake #1: Asking for Too Much from One Person or the Wrong Person

It’s natural to want a partner, close friend or family member to help. I have learned that helping is not the same thing as loving someone. Some people can give love and some can give you specific support with your bipolar disorder symptoms. Learn what people can and can’t do. I always ask people how much information they want to know. Some say, tell me everything! Others are honest and say they find the topic too stressful. It’s not that they don’t care about me. They care greatly. It’s just not a good topic for us if we are out to have fun.

I have a therapist, prescriber, parent, nephew, coauthors and my social media community such as the amazing Martin Baker to turn to when I get sick. I no longer overwhelm one person with my needs. When my symptoms get really serious, it’s time for professional help. When that is not available, there are certain family members who can handle this illness, and finally I have friends who do not get overwhelmed by my needs. It’s like having a calling tree. Start at the top with people who let you know they are able and willing to help, and go from there.

Mistake #2: Expecting People to Know What to Do

It’s not innate to know how to help someone in a mood swing. Most people understand basic communication tools, but have no idea how to talk to someone who is depressed or manic. This leads to what I call The Bipolar Conversation. (This is explained in my book Take Charge of Bipolar.) Here is an example:

You: I’m really down today and don’t know what to do. Life seems pointless and I look at the world and just feel so helpless. My meds aren’t working and I have no energy. I cry all day.

A person who cares: Oh, you are going to be ok. It will pass. There are beautiful things in the world too. You just have to stay positive and get out more!

Yikes. This response is loving and kind, but NOT helpful. This leads to the looping Bipolar Conversation:

You: But you don’t understand. I can’t see the positive. I can’t figure out what to do.

This is when the person who cares starts to get frustrated. You can change this by letting people know exactly how to help you. You do this when you are stable so that people can truly help you when you get sick. Here is an example of what you might say:

People with depression all talk the same. You will notice I have a pattern when I get sick. When you hear me say something like this:

I’m really down today and don’t know what to do. Life seems pointless and I look at the world and just feel so helpless. My meds aren’t working and I have no energy. I cry all day.

Here is what you can say:
I hear that you are depressed. You asked me to remind you that you always talk this way when you are depressed. This means it’s time to treat the depression and NOT have a conversation on how terrible life is right now. Let’s get out of the house, go for walk and make a plan to get your meds adjusted as a first step.

When you teach someone how to help you, they will be ready when you are ill. This works every time. My book Get it Done When You’re Depressed is filled with specific strategies friends can use to help someone who is depressed. It’s a great companion to High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder. Martin and Fran’s book specifically illustrates how friends can create a plan to help each other when the mood swings start. It is especially helpful for those who experience suicidal thoughts.

After my diagnosis, I eventually realized that what works best is taking care of myself as much as possible before I ask for help. I have a motto: Treat Bipolar First. I know what each of my mood swings looks like. I have a plan in place that I use the minute the symptoms show up. Once I have done all I can for myself, I reach out. This is NEVER easy, but it works quickly. Bipolar disorder affects me daily. I need help. Using the two strategies above helps me maintain relationships while staying stable.

Over time, you can learn to do the same!


A Note from Julie

My current project is a Kickstarter for Hortensia and the Magical Brain. My passion is early childhood education for children with diagnosed mental health symptoms, including early onset bipolar disorder. These are the kids who have difficultly at school and are often in hospitals. My management plan works for these kids, I just had to have a way to get it to parents and health care professionals who want to help.


About the Author

Julie A. Fast is the author of Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder, Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder, Get it Done When You’re Depressed and Bipolar Happens! She is a columnist and blogger for BP Magazine for Bipolar at and won the Mental Health America journalism award for the best mental health column in the United States. She was the original consultant for Claire Danes for the show Homeland and is on the mental health expert registry for People Magazine.

She works as a coach for parents and partners of people with bipolar disorder and other mental health concerns and is currently writing a book for children called Hortensia and the Magical Brain: Poems for Kids with Bipolar, Anxiety, Psychosis and Depression.

You can find more about her work at and on Facebook at Julie A. Fast. Click here to visit her blog and read Martin’s latest guest post.

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Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Viva Mental Health, by Peter McDonnell

Hello all. My name is Peter McDonnell and this is an extract from my new book, ‘Viva Mental Health’. The idea is that it is a cheerful take on having a serious mental illness. I was very delusional, in grandiose ways (I thought I was the modern day Jesus Christ, sent to Earth by God to make some positive changes, at the time it made sense) and I also had psychosis back in 2001 when I first got ill. I later developed anxiety problems. I was lucky, I got better, and sharing my story is proving to be very enjoyable. If you would like to read more extracts and find out more about me and my book, you can visit my website I have made to support my writing.

At times I thought I had a telepathic relationship with various people, and that I could talk to people on the television telepathically. I spent a lot of time talking to Britney Spears, who became a sort of ‘Imaginary friend’. This extract is about when I thought she was sending me telepathic messages to meet her, so off I went. This was in December 2001.

Chapter 2 – Crazy? Me?

Because of complications at home I was staying at my dad’s for a bit, he was two minutes’ walk away from my mum’s, and I could stay there anytime. One day when he was at work, I broke a light switch. I had hit it, for some reason. Either I was having a talk with the switch itself, (I thought that objects had souls that I could talk to), and grew mad at it, or I was talking telepathically to a human and they angered me, so I hit the light switch as if to say ‘this is what will happen to you if you keep angering me’. Maybe a person in my head was telling me to hit it just for a laugh.

I decided I would repair it. Repairing things is fun. I needed to take the broken parts to B and Q and find a replacement. I didn’t know how to turn off the electricity, but I got a screwdriver and removed the plastic cover anyway. I disconnected the wires from the switch mechanism. I was now looking at the metal casing embedded in the wall and two bare wires, one red, one brown. I thought to myself ‘I know this is dangerous but God won’t let me get hurt.’ I decided to do it as quickly as possible and as I yanked the casing free from the wall, the two bare wires both touched the casing and I was electrocuted, receiving a strong shock in my arm. I was not thrown across the room or anything, but it hurt. I felt myself, no damage at all. I was lucky to hardly have been injured.

One day I was low on weed and money, so my THC flooded brain offered me the perfect solution. This day would not be like the others, this day I would meet with my imaginary friend, Britney Spears. I searched my feelings for where she was, and the idea grew that she was currently staying at The Ritz Hotel in London, room 213. The number 213 moved into my mind’s eye for no particular reason as I routinely turned on the television at about midday, so no reason not to, I would depart right away. I telepathically sent my idea of meeting her in London, a short train journey away, to my friend, who had a car. I waited for the whole afternoon, but my friend didn’t show. His loss.

That evening I put on my roller blades, and left for the train station. I soon boarded one of Network Rail’s worst carriages and got off at Waterloo station in London. I didn’t have anything on me except ten pounds, a book to read on the train, my personal stereo and possibly some cigarettes. I think I even took my passport, just in case. I was and still like to be quite a positive thinker, and I thought there may even be a chance that this time tomorrow I would be koching with Britney at her California mansion, if she had one. Or who knows?

I wore my rollerblades and had my regular shoes, one in each hand. I was wearing jeans and a casual ‘Nautica’ jacket. The plan was to meet Britney, in room 213, at The Ritz. After the night, we would both go to my home in Basingstoke, and I would pick up some things, and introduce her quickly to my parents and possibly my friends, then it was onto new amazing things.

I skated from Waterloo Train station to The Ritz, I think it took me about an hour and 45 minutes, using my instinct to decode Gods instructions to me, as to the route. If I saw a road sign that randomly stood out to me, I would follow it. It was dark and cold, but I was convinced that I was in good mental health, and I was quite happy, skating along, enjoying London, listening to ‘Oops I did it again’ on my personal stereo.

The main entrance to The Ritz was surprisingly understated. There was no one on the door so I rolled straight in, still wearing my skates with a shoe in each hand, and queued up in a short line of smartly dressed wealthy looking people. When I reached the front of the queue, I calmly asked the clerk, ‘Can you tell me which room Ms Spears is in please’. She dutifully checked her books. ‘Sir we don’t have a room for Ms Spears’. I replied ‘I think she’s in room 213’ ‘We don’t have any reservations for a Ms Spears’. I was a bit surprised, but I knew that sometimes people checked in with a false name, so I left the desk clerk to call security while I had a look around for myself. I started up the grand staircase, finding it difficult to walk upstairs sideways, as I still had on my roller blades. I wasn’t exactly blending in with my surroundings. When I got to the first floor I found somewhere to sit down and took off my skates and put on my Nikes, making a mental note that if I ever were to repeat the exercise, to change footwear on the ground floor.

I found room 213 easily enough, knocked on the door and waited. A cleaner answered, who did not speak English, but I could see that there was no one in this large room. I hallucinated hearing Britney’s voice behind me and turned around, but there was nobody there. I rethought my plan. I needed the loo, so I wandered through the restaurant on the ground floor to find the bathroom, and then wandered back to reception. The Ritz in London is an impressively grand and attractive place. Piano playing hung in the atmosphere of the spacious restaurant, melodic mainly right hand playing, Debussy, I think. I could almost hear Britney Spears in the music. I went back to room 213 and just hung around for a bit. I decided to check out the top floor, she may be in one of the nice rooms. I walked around the corridors for a bit longer, but soon the security man found me. He was not a large man, but he looked authoritative enough to deal with the odd straggler. He accompanied me to the exit, where there were black cabs waiting to pick people up, and while leaving, I wandered whether I should put my skates back on or take a taxi to the train station to go home.

This was my only experience of The Ritz, until a year later when I tried the same thing again, but more about that journey later.

I thought I would skate to Waterloo train station, and see a bit of London in the process. I don’t remember much about the trip back home, but I do recall stopping at a cinema and buying a coffee flavoured ice cream, playing on some arcades, and stopping to give five pounds to a homeless person on a busy street, where it occurred to me that an hour ago I thought that five pounds would be such an incredibly small amount of money to me by now, as Britney would be paying my way until I capitalised on my newfound fame.

I remember skating alongside the Thames, possibly near Westminster. I also remember skating across the Thames on a road bridge but I can’t remember which one. The only other thing I remember about travelling back to Waterloo train station at about nine pm through busy streets was almost flooring a lady with a broken leg who was using crutches, as my roller skating proficiency bubbled over into over confidence and the situation got away from me. She sent me an annoyed look as I apologised and I was embarrassed and newly schooled. I was careful after that. I soon boarded a busy train home, and I read a Mario Puzo book while travelling, not The Godfather but one of his lesser known stories.

Although I didn’t find my imaginary friend on that wintry night out to London, I did enjoy myself. As I got nearer to home I was wandering where she was. I concluded that she had been unable to meet me, and that she had tried also but failed. She could be anywhere in the world, but we had got our wires crossed. As I was on my street, almost home, I thought, maybe she left The Ritz to meet me at my house, and that’s why she wasn’t there. Maybe she was right here – 100 metres away, having a chat and a cup of tea with my mum as we speak. This was good, the evening endeavour was not to be wasted after all. I began to look for expensive cars parked on the street, none there, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything. I opened the door and she was – not there. I was disappointed, but a nice joint would soon sort that out, it always did, temporarily, but I paid for it by being affected by more craziness. Some people can smoke weed perpetually and not be adversely affected. For me it felt good, but didn’t do me any favours in the long run. It was fair to say that the craziness had been brewing up without my awareness for months. My awareness of reality was dim.

The next morning I was trying to meet Britney again, and I was feeling like maybe Paris was a good idea. The fact of the timing of my meet up thoughts was happening now suggested to me that now was the best time to do it, she must be in the neighbourhood, and wasn’t in London. The next best place for a meet up would be Paris. Paris would be a fitting place to meet up with a star like Britney. If I went to the Eiffel Tower she would surely show up. I made up my mind to go to Paris. As I write this I’m wishing I was still so adventurous.

At times I was sure that I was really linked to Britney Spears. At other times it felt like she was imaginary. I thought it best to at least try and find out by putting in the effort to meet her.

About the Author

Peter McDonnell lives in Hampshire, England. You can contact him via his website, which includes a number of excerpts from his book.