Wednesday, 24 May 2017

A Visit to Wylam Brewery Tap Room

A few days ago I achieved one of the 6 Things I’d Quite Like to Do in 2017, and visited the excellent Wylam Brewery Tap Room at the Palace of Arts in Exhibition Park, Newcastle upon Tyne. The building itself is superb, with a fascinating history.

Entering the park, I was reminded of previous visits over the years. Bringing my young kids (now 27 and 30, respectively!) to the playground on summer evenings, then on to Burger King for apple pie and ice cream. Newcastle Green Festival in 2003, when the event was moved from its usual venue in Leazes Park. Newcastle Mela, on a couple of occasions.

Last year I volunteered for Time to Change at Northern Pride on the Town Moor adjoining the park (what a great day that was!). I also attended the much-slated (not by me, I enjoyed myself!) Fiesta Festival. That was the day I discovered the Tap Room for the first time. The place was packed out so I didn’t stay for a drink, but I resolved to return another time.

As I approached the Palace of Arts the other day, I found a notice saying the main part of the building was closed to the public for a wedding reception. Fortunately, the bar itself and beer garden were open. I chose a pint of Collingwood Pale Ale and settled at one of the long wooden tables outside, within sight of the lake.

I took the opportunity to jot down some notes of my morning in town in my trusty Midori Traveler’s Notebook.

Breakfast at CaffĂ© Nero. A look round Eldon Square. A small haul of goodies from the excellent Flying Tiger store. For the princely sum of £3 I picked up a pair of wood handled scissors, a small printing set, and seven rolls of Washi tape.

The beer was great, and the atmosphere inside and outside the pub was welcoming, despite the restricted access. I finished my pint just as it began to rain. I feel I have found a new “me place,” and look forward to visiting again in the near future.

Here’s a quick update on the other “Things I Would Like to Do,” for anyone wondering!

Volunteer with Time to Change
I’ve not yet had chance to volunteer this year but look forward to doing so. If you’d like to get involved with Time to Change in any capacity, check out their Champions page.

Fundraise for a Mental Health Charity
I will be on vacation when the Alzheimer’s Society Memory Walk takes place in October, but I intend taking part in the Maine NAMI Walk again, walking here in Newcastle at the same time my American friends are doing the official walk in South Portland.

See HTLT on a College or University Reading List
We were delighted to have our book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder added to the Book Club and Counselling Students Book List at The Counsellors Cafe earlier this year. As we recently reported, we also have our book in a number of libraries around the world.

Bring My Weight Back under 180 Pounds
This is very much a work in progress! When I posted my list in January, my weight was around 190 lbs. In the past four months it has had, shall we say, its ups and down. As I write this, my weight is around 188 lbs, so there is still a way to go!

Complete a Mental Health Course
I have recently completed the excellent free online Ally Training Course offered by NoStigmas. The three self-paced modules cover Self Care, Peer Support, and Advocacy and I have been very impressed by the content and presentation of the material, which includes a printable PDF course manual. I recommend it to anyone interested in mental health support of oneself and others.

And that’s about it for now! Keep an eye out for further updates on my list of Things I’d Quite Like to Do!



Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Spoonies Online: Friends in Need … but Also Friends Indeed?, by Teresita Bauer

If you are unfamiliar with the term “spoonie,” it refers to an article by Christine Miserandino called The Spoon Theory, in which she describes explaining to a friend what it is like to live with debilitating fatigue. Her spoons analogy has been taken up by many who live with chronic fatigue, whatever its underlying nature or diagnostic label.

Teresita Bauer is a spoonie who, in her own words, lives life to the fullest. She blogs about lifestyle issues for chronic disease patients. In her first guest post for us, she talks about her experience within the online spoonie community.

Spoonies Online: Friends in Need … but Also Friends Indeed?

The online community of spoonies is a great source of support and information. Have you ever found a friend there? Great! However, have you ever been hurt by someone online, someone you did not even know? Some people have a thick skin. Unfortunately, spoonies tend to be more vulnerable.

Obviously, the spoonie online community offers lots of advantages. You can find support, information, motivation, practical tips and advice there. You meet fellow warriors who are fighting a similar battle. Other spoonies will understand what you are going through. Not necessarily because they care about you, but because they are experiencing the same. You will never walk alone – or lie there alone, if you are bedridden.

On the other hand, online communication is more conflict-prone than offline chats are. Anonymity on the internet brings about behavior which would otherwise be considered socially unacceptable. Most social media users tend to be more impetuous and straightforward. The lack of nonverbal cues and the different possibilities of interpreting written statements add fuel to the fire.

It is one thing to understand these mechanisms and it is quite another to be able to deal with them. I have been hurt. Not once, not twice, but many times. Knowing that sharing my chronic disease experiences with other persons is risky, I have learnt to take precautionary measures.

I am online for advice and help. It should make me feel better, not worse. If it makes me feel bad, it’s time to turn my computer off. I clarify a misunderstanding once, however, I refuse getting into endless discussions. I am always aware that those online friendships which are deepening quickly can rapidly go up in smoke as well.

I rely on people who are there for me; day by day. Yet I select them carefully. Online and offline.

About the Author

Teresita Bauer was diagnosed with leukemia two years ago during her last pregnancy. She also suffers from asthma and depression. She has decided to live life to the fullest and wants to help others to do so as well. She blogs at


Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Bipolar Friendship Manifesto

The author has asked to remain anonymous.

Bipolar Friendship Manifesto

Friendship is giving, sharing, loving, accepting, supporting, and really close friends are some times better than siblings. Good friends are the ones that will be there no matter happens. They are the people that will stand up for you, protect you when it is needed, and like you exactly as you truly are. For them you do not need to change, you just have to adapt yourself. Friends are the people who you can rely on in every occasion of your life, in sadness and happiness. They are proud of you, admire you, lift you up and are there for you even if they might not agree with all your decisions.

Friendship doesn’t come with terms and conditions but it comes with healthy boundaries.

You can call me romantic, a daydreamer, sensitive, but these are pure. Growing up and influenced by good people, I have learnt that in this life loving and giving your best to others costs nothing. I have my limits and I know that they are quite broad. I do not care if some people find them annoying and weird, or if they are misinterpreted.

My dear friend, what you have is just a label. It will not define my friendship towards you. You think that you are the only one who suffers? When you yell, rage on me, you hurt my feelings deeply. I suppress everything. I am scared and I hide it, because I know that it will pass and it is not you who is talking now. I try hard not to take everything you say personally, even though every word hits me deeply. And then you ask for distance, space. Silent Treatment! Have you ever thought what this causes for me? Are you going to talk to me again? I feel guilty because I am thinking that I might have said something and hurt you. I see you talking to other people and I keep wondering what I should have done better. I want to contact you, but you have completely shut me down. You treat me like I am the responsible for your situation.

And then depression comes. You disappear from everyone. I do not know what to do. Should I send something or not? I am so confused. What if I cause more trouble for you? Should I tell you that I still care for you? I do not text you because I do not want to hurt you more. I am not angry with you. Time passes. Months …

And then one day you come back again. I delete everything and start over a new cycle. Will it be the same one or will everything be fine? Probably not. The only thing that matters though is that I care for you!

This is my advice from now on, my dearest friend:

You are in a river that has a strong stream, that’s life … Some days you are swimming in the direction of the stream, you are going really fast, you have a lot of energy and feel euphoria. That is dangerous, you will hit a rock. Now you are tired, injured, and you just let the stream lure you. That is dangerous too, you may start drowning. But you are clever, my friend: you will not allow that again, you know how to survive right? You have to swim always with the right effort and direction to be stable and enjoy the water. And I know that you are a good swimmer. You will do it! We all believe in you. Load yourself with patience and learn it. You also need help: someone to give you the right equipment, and another one to talk about it. You need the experts!

I am going to be there on the river side, but not again in the water. I am not going anywhere. I promise that. You are a wonderful person. I will be here and wait. I will just be an observer, caring for you to learn as soon as possible. And if you want to rest, some motivation, a good word, I will be by the side and wait for you. And when the water becomes calm I will dive and since you know how to swim I will be there in the storms! If you do not want that, it is still ok. Your choice.

As for what happened during your fast swimming, what we said, it doesn’t matter. Only kindness is allowed on board. We will figure it out with time. Nobody hates you. Stop picturing bad things. We all make mistakes. Just remember only our good, ridiculous moments, and be grateful and proud for yourself.


Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Sometimes You Have to Wear Your Shades on a Snowy Day, by Crystal Kinistino

One day maybe, people will look at you like you’re strange (fuck that people will always be this way). Take it as a compliment! It means you have the courage to be different, i.e; real. It means sometimes you have to walk out of your apartment on a snowy day when the clouds cover any hint of the sun, and you have to wear your shades.

People will look at you strange (fuck that people always think that way). Better to wear the shades, because sometimes it’s the only thing which can hide your pain, because some people are just that fucking brave.

Not brave in that they hide their pain, but brave in that they face it. They actually have the courage to walk out of their apartment on a snowy day with a heartbreak. Fill in the blank and use your imagination. This heartbreak can be anything, anything that brings us to our knees... disease, a loved one’s death, a loss of any sort, depression, etc.

People do not realize how brave they truly are, to be able to go out there in the world and do what they do, when everything inside of them is pulling them back into the comfort and safety of their own sanctuaries.


Tuesday, 25 April 2017

High Shelves, Low Shelves: How We Got Our Book into Libraries around the World

As authors, Fran and I naturally want our book to sell. But more importantly we want it in the hands of people who are keen to read it, whose lives might be enriched and changed by it. That means having it in libraries where it can be borrowed by people interested in it, without necessarily wanting or needing to purchase a copy. As a friend of ours, David W. Jones, recently put it:

Getting your book in local libraries ... may or may not gain buyers, but it does gain eyeballs and it helps folks who may otherwise be unable to just buy a copy right off.

High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder is in four libraries that we are aware of: one in the UK and three in the US. Two library copies have been donated by readers (for which huge thanks!) and two purchased by the libraries themselves.

Newcastle City Library (Tyne & Wear, England)

Library website | Online catalogue

I contacted my city library here in Newcastle upon Tyne as soon as our book was published, asking if they had a procedure for local authors. I received a reply by return, asking me to take in a print copy for them to look at, which I was happy to do. Within a few weeks they emailed to say they would be happy to purchase our book (from Amazon as it was apparently not on their usual supplier’s system) for their Health and Wellbeing collection. They returned the sample I had taken in, which became my personal copy (it was returned in perfect condition but I would not sell a used copy to anyone else).

It took a couple of weeks for the book to appear in the online catalogue, and several more before it was on the shelves. I visited the library each week to check—and it was a very proud moment when I spotted it there! At the time of writing, High Tide, Low Tide is out on loan. It’s a great feeling!

Warwick Public Library (Rhode Island, USA)

Library website | Online catalogue

A great friend of ours, Stacey Lehrer, bought High Tide, Low Tide to read herself, and then generously donated it to her local library in Warwick, Rhode Island. As she told us:

I’m excited for more people to see the book. All the libraries in Rhode Island are connected in one system so it would be available statewide.

Stacey’s belief in our book appears well-founded: it has been borrowed at least once since it was added to the collection.

Portland Library, Peaks Island Branch (Maine, USA)

Library website | Online catalogue

High Tide, Low Tide is not yet in the city library in Portland, Maine, but there is a copy in the Peaks Island branch thanks to another friend generously donating a copy. Fran was a resident of Peaks Island for many years, and was living there when we first met. It means a great deal to us that our book is available to island residents and visitors.

Rapid City Library (South Dakota, USA)

Library website | Online catalogue

The most recent library addition is in Rapid City, South Dakota, thanks to a dear friend, Jennifer Evans. Jennifer mentioned our book to a colleague, who requested it at the library. The library ordered a copy for their Health & Fitness Collection. High Tide, Low Tide is currently checked out, which for us as authors is brilliant to see!

Other Libraries

At the time of writing, we are aware of one more library likely to acquire a copy of our book: we will update this post as and when that is confirmed. If you spot it elsewhere, please let us know!

How to Request Our Book for Your Library

If you would like to ask your local library to stock our book (thank you!) here are the details:

Title: High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder
Authors: Martin Baker and Fran Houston
Publisher: Nordland Publishing
Date of publication: September 11, 2016
ISBN-10: 8283310216
ISBN-13: 978-8283310214
Library Classification: 616.895

Amazon UK:


Wednesday, 19 April 2017

I Have a Mental Illness, by Roiben

“I have a mental illness”, is not a phrase people say lightly. It certainly shouldn’t be. But the reasons in today’s world are not that mental illness can be horrifying and life threatening, but rather that there is an incredible weight of stigma in the world. If a terrorist attack happens “that person must be crazy”. If a politician does something we disapprove of “he must be crazy”.

So, what about all those people in the world who have real, sometimes harrowing, mental illness? Should they just “pick themselves up, and get better”? Is it really that easy? My answer is no, it is not. Mental illnesses are often complex and confusing and there is much more to it than just “deciding to be better”. Mental Illness can in many cases originate from a person’s past and how the mind deals with that, perhaps it is ingrained trauma, perhaps something from childhood, perhaps it is reactive and stems from stress at work—everyone is different. It is something that should always be taken on a case-by-case basis. Never though, have I heard of people “deciding to be better” and just magically they are better.

On the other hand, once you have decided you want to be better, is there help available? There are plenty of charities and spoke-people calling for people to “speak up” to have a conversation, to reach out, to start somewhere—Time to Talk and Heads Together come to mind. But in reality, the help is spread thin, underfunded and hard to get. One goes to their GP, who may or may not refer them to their local community mental health team (CMHT), who may or may not take you on, depending on their case-load and how much threat they view you to be in. That is if the GP takes you seriously in the first place.

I have had experiences along both lines—I have been faced with a GP who bluntly told me I did not have depression and I have also been put under the care of the CMHT. It varies, but whatever level it is at, it has to be pushed for, chased and to be honest when you have a mental illness the last thing you have energy for is chasing down your own self-care. In my current house, I waited over a year to be referred from my GP to the CMHT. I am now back with my GP only, and fear the day I am next in crisis and need to be referred again. Will the wait be as long? Will it be too little, too late?

I am lucky, I have had therapy with a lovely therapist who through a combination of mindfulness and immersion therapy got me to reassess how I viewed the essence of my mental health and how it manifests for me. (In my case, my depression and anxiety manifest as hallucinations of Ghosts and Monsters). To realize that it was my body’s way of saying “you are not coping well right now” rather than that I needed to die, imminently. To slowly learn to be compassionate to myself and realize that I am actually a nice person, even if I have a deeply ingrained belief that I shouldn’t be here. That part hasn’t changed yet and my therapist has left the service before my therapy was truly over or had dealt with everything it set out to—but I am still better than I was. I can progress from here.

Some people do not even have the choice of therapy. Or medication. Or help at all. Because stigma shuts the door on them and they either never ask for help, fearing the consequence or they ask for help and are denied. I am on medication, and have recently changed from one antidepressant to another; something my GP is guiding me through. I am lucky to have a caring and understanding GP at present. I can’t believe the contrast between previous GPs who just did not get or want to get mental health, and my current GP who tells me I can go there whenever I feel I need help.

I believe medication is needed in my case: it provides the foundation from which I can build my recovery. Without it, I am too at risk to even consider recovery. I do not believe medication is the be-all and end-all of treatment. I am a strong believer in attacking this illness from all angles and therefore therapy is just as important as medication. That is my point, though—mental illness is exactly that. It is an illness and should be treated as such, with just as much respect as physical illnesses.

If someone comes to you with a broken leg, you do not tell them to “get over it” or “pull yourself together”. You get them to see a doctor, to have an X-ray, to get a cast—which many people will happily sign with their hopes for quick healing. So why do we not yet have this for mental health? Why do people shy away from it as though it is taboo?

Yes, stigma has a lot to answer for, but the infrastructure and systems of GPs, CMHT, Accident and Emergency and other services needs an overhaul, and a lot more money put into it. It is suffering from years of budget cuts and the cultural view that it should somehow hide away at the back of the hospital out of sight (as it was, literally, in my old town).

This is illness at its hardest to face in today’s society. It is time people took a stand against that and said simply: enough is enough. We need parity of esteem, and now, not tomorrow. It is time mental illness is seen as just that: illness, which is mental.


About the Author

You can find Roiben on Twitter (@roiben).

Illustration by Zhang Xiao Bai.