Wednesday, 21 August 2019

21 Things You Didn't Know About Marty

Not even my closest friends know all this stuff!

1. What’s in a Name?

My middle name is Keith. I’ve never liked it much.

2. Schoolboy Crush

I had a major crush on my human biology teacher in Sixth Form. Her name was Helen and she was a huge inspiration to me, work-wise and creatively. As “Eleanor” she inspired some of my early poetry.

3. Cuddly Toys

When I lived in London I made cuddly toys. The budgerigars and white rats were very popular.

My favourite was Pemberton the bear who kept a dear friend of mine company for many years. After my friend died Pemberton returned home to live with me.

4. Nail-biting

I still bite my nails.

5. Wombling Free

The first concert I ever went to was The Wombles in Liverpool, 1978.

6. Pedal to the Metal

The first and only car I’ve owned was a mustard yellow Toyota Corolla, not unlike this one except mine had a CND sticker on the side. It cost £500 second hand. Two years later after spending a small fortune on the thing I got £30 for it at a scrapyard.

Highlights including losing my car keys with a few kilos of frozen blackcurrants in the boot, reversing into a bollard, and having the gear stick come away in my hands whilst driving (my passenger seemed more concerned than I was).

7. Heroic Failure

I failed my O Level English Literature exam at age 16 achieving — if that’s the right word — a grade U (Unclassified).

8. Airborne (Just)

The only time I’ve flown was from Liverpool’s Speke Airport (now John Lennon Airport) to the Isle of Man and back when I was maybe eight years old.

The flight takes forty minutes. I used to joke that the pilots turn the engines off once the plane’s in the air and glide the rest of the way!

9. Just Don’t

I hate the word “should” with a passion! It should be banned!

10. Naughty Boy

I was sent to the head teacher’s office in primary school for eating the dried pasta in art class.

11. Baby Doll Nightie

Yes, I did once go to pyjama party dressed in a friend’s baby doll nightie. Yes, I looked cute. No, there aren’t any photos.

12. Fantasy Fandom

I ran an online Tolkien fan club called Middle-earth Reunion: The Alternative Tolkien Society for ten years, and published our quarterly journal Reunion: The Journal of Middle-earth Studies and newsletter Parish’s Garden.

You can still read all our material at, mainly because I keep forgetting to cancel the hosting contract.

13. Home from Home

I lived in the nurses’ home at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital for six months in 1982 on placement from university.

14. Poetic Injustice

I stole a book of poetry by Ezra Pound from my school library.

15. Street Photog

I was Panasonic Amateur Photographer of the Year in 2003. My winning entry was a photograph of the Blue Carpet installation here in Newcastle taken from the Laing Art Gallery.

16. London Calling

My first job was at the Parkinson’s Disease Society Research Centre in London.

17. All That Glisters

I much prefer silver jewellery to gold.

18. Animal Magic

I designed a website and promotional leaflets for Wetheriggs Animal Rescue Centre.

19. Chant Along

I can sing JRR Tolkien’s Namárië (Galadriel’s Lament) in Elvish from memory.

20. Unfinished Symphony

I never completed my PhD, which is a shame because it would have been fun to call myself Doc Martin.

21. Ghastly Gastronomy

I hate gin and avocados. If there’s such a thing as avocado gin, I hate that too.


Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Six Things I'd Quite Like to Do in 2019: A Midyear Update

This is a midyear update on a post I wrote back in January: Six Things I'd Quite Like to Do in 2019. Let’s see how I’ve been getting on!

1. Take Three Well-being Courses


At the start of the year I enrolled on the Overcoming Self-Sabotage course at DailyOM. I completed the first three lessons (of fourteen) but ground to a halt and haven't managed to get moving again.

I have updated my Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training, though, and am currently taking OpenLearn's Understanding autism course.

I've also completed Pluralsight's excellent Introduction to Emotional Intelligence. The course recommended the book Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend, which I bought and am working my way through. I'm finding it exciting and challenging — always a great combination!

Speaking of exciting and challenging, I've been offered the opportunity to undertake the three day Personal Leadership Programme by Living Leader later in the year. It will be scary but I've heard only great things about it from friends who have taken it already (mentioning no names, Judith, Lois, and Loveday!) and I figure I'm up for it!

2. Bring My Weight Back under 176 Pounds


My aim for this year is to bring my weight down and maintain around 173 – 176 lbs. So far it has remained stubbornly between 179 and 182 pounds which is more or less where it was at the start of the year.

There’s nothing wrong with this but I would like to get it down if I can. I know what I need to do: stop having cheese sandwiches at supper time!

3. Happy Happy Joy Joy


At the start of the year I said “I’d quite like some more joyful moments, please!” Seven and half months in, I’m doing pretty well!

I’ve shared some lovely times with Aimee Wilson on our Bloggers’ Days Out, including Newcastle’s Life Science Centre, an Easter fundraiser at the Cats Protection Adoption Centre, and an afternoon in Blyth.

July’s holiday in Ambleside was lovely, in particular evenings spent lakeside in Borrans Park or the beer garden of the Wateredge Inn. My little trek to Stock Ghyll Force waterfall was fun too. Sharing such moments with friends on chat or video calls made for some special memories.

A recent highlight was talking with Jonny Benjamin MBE at the Stranger on the Bridge and Other Stories of Friendship and Support event in Newcastle. Not because he’s “all famous” but because he’s such a lovely guy.

I’ve also realised I can have fun on my own! Last week I stopped at STACK for a drink before going on to a mental health book event. It was a beautiful evening. I was surrounded by folk enjoying the live music and atmosphere. Just for a moment I felt something close to bliss. (I suppose it could have been the Red Stripe!)

4. Meet Two Online Friends Face to Face


I was delighted to meet my friend Soph in January for coffee and a look round Newcastle’s Hancock Museum, and again in March at the Hidden Histories: Mining in the North East event. Strictly speaking we met once years ago at a Time to Change event, but we connected properly and built our friendship online.

I don’t have any other hook-ups planned as yet but there are a couple of possibles, so watch this space!

5. Have One Caffeine Free Week


I’ve yet to attempt a week without my daily two (occasionally three) cups of coffee, but I still intend to! Family, friends, and colleagues have been warned: apparently I get grumpy if I don’t have my morning dose!

6. Visit Barter Books, Alnwick


I haven't visited Barter Books in Alnwick yet, nor Keel Row Books in North Shields which was also suggested to me. No reason, apart from having been busy doing other things!

Did you set yourself any resolutions, objectives, or “things to do” for this year? If so, how are getting on with them?


Thursday, 8 August 2019

The Stranger on the Bridge and Other Stories of Friendship and Support

Photo: Vikki Beat

In the latest of our Bloggers’ Days Out, fellow mental health blogger Aimee Wilson and I attended Stranger on the Bridge and Other Stories of Friendship and Support at George Street Social in Newcastle.

George Street Social is an alcohol-free bar and café run by the Road to Recovery Trust which offers hope and support to people in recovery from addiction problems.

We were among the first to arrive and were greeted warmly by Lucy Nichol who I first met last year at the launch of her book A Series of Unfortunate Stereotypes. Lucy is a trustee and marketing and communications lead for the Road to Recovery Trust, and chaired the event.

Photo: Martin Baker

The first to speak was Paula Cowie who is also a Road to Recovery trustee. Paula shared her lived experience and how important the Trust and George Street Social are to the local community.

Matthew Smith from the If U Care Share Foundation went next. He spoke with great honesty and openness about his older brother Daniel who took his life at the age of nineteen, and the impact his death has had on him to this day. The devastating experience led Daniel’s family to found If U Care Share.

“Our aim is to prevent anyone feeling the pain we felt as a family when we lost Daniel. We truly believe that talking can save lives.” (Shirley Smith, If U Care Share founder and Daniel’s mother)

Third to speak was Jonny Benjamin MBE. I imagine most of us at the event knew the story of how a passing stranger stopped Jonny from taking his life in 2008:

The Stranger on the Bridge, which was made into a book and a documentary film, tells the story of how, having been recently diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder, Jonny stood on London’s Waterloo Bridge and prepared to take his own life. That was until a stranger walking across the bridge talked Jonny down from the edge.

Jonny was immediately taken to hospital and didn’t see the stranger again, but, with the support of the charity Rethink Mental Illness, he launched the #FindMike campaign, to track the stranger down. The campaign reached over 300 million people worldwide and eventually led to Neil Laybourn — the man who saved Jonny’s life.

Hearing Jonny talk about what happened on the bridge was intensely moving for me, as I’m sure it was for everyone in the room. He spoke of Neil holding space, of his being engaged and “invested.” Above all it was Neil’s positivity and lack of judgement that made the difference, as well as him telling Jonny there was no need to be embarrassed. This stranger’s acceptance, compassion, and simple humanity saved Jonny’s life.

The final speaker was Ashley Lowe, Wellbeing Manager at Newcastle United Foundation. Ashley spoke passionately about the Foundation’s wellbeing programme, their Be A Game Changer campaign, and why the football community is a great place to support your mates.

Photo: Vikki Beat

After questions from the audience there was an opportunity to meet the speakers. Lucy told me more about the events programme at George Street Social, including an upcoming evening at which she and fellow Trigger Publishing authors Mark Edwards and Paula McGuire will share their personal mental health experiences and discuss the inspiration behind their books.

Jonny and I spoke for a good while, exploring the evening’s themes of support and friendship. I told him about me and Fran, our book, and how we support each other despite being three thousand miles apart. I could easily have talked with him for hours but there were other people waiting, Aimee included. There was just time for a photo (thanks, Vikki!)

I apologised to Aimee later for monopolising Jonny’s time and for manoeuvring myself ahead of her in the queue. All I can offer in my defence is that I learned how to engage confidently with people from Aimee herself on our first Bloggers’ Day Out at Newcastle’s Life Science Centre:

Aimee is bolder than I am and I was fascinated to see how she engaged with people I might simply have nodded to in passing.

Seeing how Aimee engaged with people reminded me that you can never tell who you might meet or where a chance encounter might lead. Being passionate about your own work and interested in other people opens doors and possibilities.

All in all the evening more than lived up to its promise of being “an inspirational event for anyone interested in, experiencing or supporting someone with a mental health problem.”

You can read Aimee’s article inspired by the event on her blog I’m NOT Disordered.


The Road to Recovery Trust

If U Care Share Foundation

Jonny Benjamin
The Stranger on the Bridge: My Journey from Suicidal Despair to Hope

Newcastle United Foundation


Wednesday, 7 August 2019

I Will Rise

By Tracy Leppla

Suicide is a very touchy subject with me. Why? Because I have attempted suicide four times in the past. Obviously I didn’t succeed or I wouldn’t be here today sharing my story. I remember what it was like back then. How I felt. The darkness completely took over. I felt completely lost. Everything seemed like it was caving in and there was no way out. I had no desire to live anymore. I just wanted the pain to stop and I thought that was the only solution.

At the time of my suicide attempts I did not understand my PTSD, my anxiety or my panic attacks. I was angry about everything. I hated everything and everyone. I was tired of being bullied at school. After being beat up for the fourth time at school I decided I wasn’t going to take it anymore. I started fighting back. My fighting turned from survival mode to wanting to win mode. I wanted to show all those bullies not to mess with me and it worked. But it didn’t take the anger and pain away.

I was at home alone one night. My mom was out of town and my brother was out with his friends. I took a bottle of pills, laid down on my bed and waited to die. I started vomiting and it wouldn’t stop. Late that night my brother and his friend found me. He told me later I was white as a ghost, lethargic and not responsive. He took me to the hospital thinking I had the flu or food poisoning. Little did he know he just saved my life even though I had no desire to be saved. I attempted suicide three more times after that over the course of two years. I never succeeded so I am assuming I am still here for a reason. I hid my mental health illness for years due to feeling shame and being bullied. I just now started sharing my story. Maybe this is what I am supposed to be doing. I have no idea but I feel if I can help just one person than I have succeeded. That’s enough for me.

Two months ago a student that my son went to school with and was also on the football team with committed suicide. He was only sixteen. It broke my heart to hear of this. The reason he took his own life was due to bullying. Evidently he was being bullied so bad that he thought the only way to end his suffering and pain was to end his life. Even though I did not succeed in trying to take my own life I know exactly how he must have been feeling. I will never understand how a bully can feel so much satisfaction from making another human being feel so badly about themselves. What do they get out of it? Is it power? Is it control? Why would you even want to make someone else feel that bad? I will never understand this.

I read an article the other day from The Jason Foundation, the parent resource program. It stated that more teenagers and young adults die from suicide than cancer, heart disease, Aids, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza A, and chronic lung disease combined. Yes you read that right … COMBINED. That is unacceptable to me. Each day in our nation there is an average of over 3,041 attempts of suicide by youth grades 9 through 12. If you add in 7th and 8th grade the number would be even higher. The article stated that four out of five teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs. No one took them seriously. WOW! How could you not take any sign, any gut instinct, any remark about suicide seriously?

Is there anything we can do? I am not sure. I just know that these numbers are unacceptable. No child or adult for that matter should feel like taking their own life is their only option. We need to have more support groups, more resources, more help for the Mental Health Community, especially for teens. Teens have a hard enough time feeling accepted. They are going through puberty. Their hormones are all over the place. They have to worry about what they wear, what their friends will think, they so badly want to be accepted. There is a lot of peer pressure to fit in. And of course they have to worry about the bullies.

One thing that isn’t talked about enough is depression and anxiety among teens and young adults. We as a Mental Health Community need to bring more awareness to this subject. We need to reach out and offer our support. Maybe I don’t have a clue of what I am talking about. Maybe I am reaching for something that is impossible. I do know that if I would of had more support or even one adult that showed concern for me when I was a teen I may not have tried to kill myself. Maybe if the school had more resources or someone a student could confide in without judgement it would help.

As a survivor of childhood trauma living with PTSD, anxiety and panic disorder I have decided to stop feeling shame. I decided to share my story hoping it would help me and maybe help just one person be brave enough to face their mental illness with the fierceness of a lion and conquer their fears; to hold their head up high and be proud that they fight every day to be here, to live another day. I recently became an Angel Advocate for an online support group called MH Crisis Angels that you can find on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. I have met some wonderful people online in the mental health community. This support group is there for anyone who needs a listening ear, support, or just someone to chat with if you are feeling like you are in a dark place.

I also met Steve, a wonderful person on Twitter (@Cockney_Buddha). He shares his experience with Anxiety and Depression. He uses Buddhism, yoga, and meditation for his healing. His website is amazing. I think you will enjoy it as much as I do so be sure to check it out. It’s absolutely amazing that within a few minutes of speaking with him about my photography and showing him a few photographs he gave me the little boost that I needed to show more. To actually want to show more. He truly is an amazing, kind and sincere human being who just wants to help people.

I also want to mention Jeremy Zinzan who did my interview for the live Podcast. He has a beautiful website He does a lot with meditation as well. Please check out my interview. It is forty minutes long but you get a small idea of my story straight from me.

At one point in my childhood I may have been a victim. It may have changed me forever but I survived. Every day I Continue to fight and I will Rise….

This article was originally published July 2019.

About the Author

I was diagnosed with PTSD, Anxiety and Panic disorder when I was fourteen years old due to childhood trauma. I am wife to a very supportive husband. We have been married for fourteen years. I am also a mother to four boys.

My passion is photography. I love black and white photos. I use my photography to help cope with my Anxiety. Being out in nature with my camera helps me relax and calm my mind. I am a Mental Health Advocate and want to bring awareness so there is more understanding.

You can find me on my website Controlling Chaos, on Facebook, and on Twitter.


Wednesday, 31 July 2019

The Efficacy of Electroshock: a Personal Story

By Andrew Turman

Painting by the author.

In this day and age, it perplexes me as to why Electroconvulsive Therapy, or electroshock, still seems to get a bad rap. Some people not only question its use, but also call for the ban of this controversial treatment.

I, for one, can attest to the efficacy of its use for not only depression, but also mania. Just last week, I underwent shock treatment three times to control my mania, upon which the use of very dangerous psychotropic medications do not seem to have any effect.

The treatment itself has seen little change since it was first developed: it involves brief electrical stimulation of the brain while the patient is under general anesthesia. This stimulation induces a grand mal seizure in the patient, which under close monitoring, is harmless. This seems to “reset” the brain, much like rebooting a computer. Extensive research has found ECT to be highly effective for the relief of major depression, as well as being an effective treatment for mania and other mental health disorders.

It seems that people cannot get beyond the images of ECT portrayed in the movie, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. In that film, the main protagonist portrayed by Jack Nicholson, was basically lobotomized by his treatment. This is an inaccurate depiction of the true effect of this therapy, at least in my experience, and I have had 126 treatments (and counting!). The worst side effects that I have experienced are nausea (from the anesthetic) and a slight headache. There was one time when I experienced some confusion, but I have continued to work with my psychiatrist, and have resumed treatment. My doctor is very responsive and checks on my mental state and clarity every time I am scheduled for a session. He is very professional and asks about my cognitive state as impairment can be a side effect.

To lessen the chance of cognitive impairment and unwanted side effects, I only receive unilateral, as opposed to bilateral, shocks. It is thought that only stimulating one side of the brain mitigates against the possible negative side effects or brain damage. It is only conjecture that this is true, as the how and why ECT works is largely unknown. Perhaps that is what gives people pause when this treatment is suggested. We simply do not know how or why Electroconvulsive Therapy works. It just does, and I can attest to the fact that this treatment has literally saved my life. I no longer ideate on completing suicide, unless I get psychotically depressed.

Certainly it is not a first line of treatment: the process involves going to a hospital and undergoing sedation. However, a muscle relaxer is also given, to safeguard against the side effects of enduring a grand mal seizure. When I wake up after treatment, groggy from being “put under,” I usually spend the rest of the day relaxing. The biggest side effect I feel is muscle tightness and soreness, a result of my body enduring the seizure. If need be, I can do anything I wish, it does not hinder my functioning. I prefer to hydrate (to flush the anesthetic from my system) and take it easy, but I have gone to work painting windows when I had to.

However, the efficacy of ECT is not in question. It works better than most treatments for depression, including medication. There are questions surrounding relapse, and often maintenance treatments are necessary. I have found that overall I need to have the therapy done every two weeks in order to be stable. Going without treatment longer than that tends to put me in a bad space; either I get manic or depressed.

Sometimes, however, I do need it more often. ECT is an effective tool against depression, but also against mania. Treatments can be given three times a week when my illness cycles out of control, in either direction.

What I hope to accomplish with this essay is a little bit of understanding. I am an advocate for the responsible use of this therapy, which includes informed consent by the subject. No one should be forced to endure electroshock against his or her will. However, people need to understand that it is safe and effective. No treatment is without its risk of side effects, and ECT is no exception. Memory loss is a real concern, to both my doctor and me. Measured against the effects of uncontrolled mania and/or depression, I am willing to take the risk. I am willing to endure the soreness and headaches.

I would like to say a little about my father’s role in my treatment. He would take his “telecommute Monday” off, to get me to my maintenance treatment. We would make a weekend of it, going to Pittsburgh the night before to the Holiday Inn downtown, where he would pay the “hospital rate.” He would get up early to take me to my treatment, take me to Cracker Barrel afterwards, then drop me off at my apartment before driving two and a half hours back to his house. No expense was too great for him to bear, no treatment too extreme, if I got the help I needed.

I am grateful for the profound impact ECT treatment has had on my life and the great relief it has provided, not to mention the improved functionality.

This article was originally published July 2019.

About the Author

W.A. Turman was an “Army Brat,” and that explains a lot. Man of no accent, but also of every accident. Life has not always been easy for the artist and writer we affectionately call “Zen Daddy T.” A gonzo journalist along the lines of Hunter S. Thompson, an artist well-versed in the school of Ralph Steadman, including favoring beers from the Flying Dog Brewery, Andrew is an acquired taste. His abstract expressionist works bleed protest and contentment. His recent series, “Art for Airports” has drawn critical acclaim. Here are his stats: hospitalizations—89; medications—75; suicide attempts—6; ECT treatments—128.

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


Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Four Things It's Hard for a Mental Health Ally to Hear (And Why It's Important to Listen)

I’m going to talk about a few things said to me over the years by people who have what I do not: lived experience of mental illness.

They’ve been hard to hear but I’m grateful because I’ve learned something valuable each time.

“You don’t understand”

They say we all have mental health but as Fran and I describe in our book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder there’s a fundamental difference in experience between someone like Fran who lives with mental illness and someone like me who never has.

Well or ill, we are all people. Nevertheless, it is naive, disrespectful, and dangerous to downplay the impact illness has on those affected by it. Those who are ill […] have particular life experiences, perceptions, expectations, and needs. To use Fran’s terminology, she is the ill one in our relationship; I am the well one. Nothing more or less is implied by our use of these terms.

High Tide, Low Tide, Introduction

So when someone tells me I don’t understand what it’s like for them or I can’t help because of that gulf in understanding, it hurts precisely because I get it. How can I understand what Fran is going through when she is manic or in the depths of depression, or when suicidal “stinking thinking” plagues her? How can I empathise when another friend is hallucinating and is convinced reality is other than I perceive it to be? How can I know what it means to self-harm or overdose?

I can’t. Not really.

Rather than allowing myself the ego defence of hurt pride and self-righteous indignation I’ve learned to accept “you don’t understand” as a simple statement of fact. I can’t always join my friends where they are. And that’s okay.

I’ve also learned that although our perspectives are different – indeed because our perspectives are different – we can complement and learn from each other.

I am a better person for knowing Fran. I have a greater understanding of my strengths, values, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities than ever before. I have learned more about mental and invisible illness, suicidal thinking, stigma, determination, courage, and responsibility since we became friends than in the fifty years before we met.

High Tide, Low Tide, chapter 10, “A Life worth Living”

“Don’t be so bloody positive!”

Fran calls me pathologically positive and it’s not meant as a compliment. We only met at all because she was furious at my inept response online to someone in suicidal distress. I’ve always been a positive person, but mostly I deployed it defensively to avoid facing up to how shitty life gets. It’s been hard to accept this was hopelessly naïve and prevented me engaging fully with life and with other people.

There are healthy aspects to it, of course. I can help Fran counter her illness-skewed thinking but I must never allow myself, consciously or unconsciously, to invalidate her experience or attempt to bully her out of her feelings. It also helps keep me grounded when those I care about are struggling. This is part of what my friend Aimee Wilson meant when she wrote, “I’ve seen how many people you support through social media. It’s inspiring to think of the strength you have in order to be there for so many people.”

I’m grateful to all who are patient with me as I open to a deeper understanding. I’m learning that courage isn’t about being relentlessly positive. Real courage is dealing with the shittiness of life when you’re unable to set it aside or run away from it.

“I don’t need you right now”

For me, mutual caring is an essential part of any meaningful relationship. The word mutual is crucial. I may be the “well one” and Fran the “ill one” but we each have issues, hang-ups, and needs. We support and care for each other, and the same is true of my other key friendships. That’s not to say both people will give and receive equally all the time, as this anonymous quotation attests:

A relationship isn’t always 50/50. Some days your person will struggle. You suck it up and pick up that 80/20 because they need you. That’s love.

I would add — and sometimes your person will be doing okay and need less of your support, time, and energy. This is hard for me. In our early days as friends I’d react with fear and panic to any suggestion Fran was pulling away from me. It caught us both by surprise when it first happened. It took a while for me to acknowledge what was happening and accept that Fran needing less of my support didn’t threaten our friendship or mean she no longer cared about me. I’ve learned a lot about co-dependency since then but there’s no place for complacency and we remain vigilant.

Fran values the support of “well ones” when she is poorly but I also have friends for whom the opposite is true. When they’re struggling they’re more likely to seek professional help or reach out to people with comparable lived experience. This can be hard because I want to help too. One friend became understandably frustrated having to explain to me how things were for her when she was struggling and I offered to help. What she needed were friends who understood without having to ask. It was a painful lesson but one I hope I have taken on board. Aimee shared her perspective on this in a recent blog post:

I also wanted to say that if someone you know does have a mental health crisis and doesn’t reach out to you; don’t feel offended or useless. Other people aren’t usually the first place I turn in a mental health crisis — for many reasons — but I appreciate that there are a number of people in my life who could be so helpful at those times and I just don’t give them the chance. This isn’t anything against them.

What matters far more than my bruised ego is that the person finds those best placed to provide the care they need.

“Leave me alone”

Friends part sometimes. Relationships end. Where mental health appears to have played a part in the break-up it would be easy to justify myself by recalling how unreasonable their behaviour was, or how imbalanced the relationship had become. It would be easy — and untrue. I can’t think of a single friendship which ended for such reasons.

So what happened? As I wrote a few years ago, hardest for me is where the other person acted in their best interests by severing what had become for them a toxic connection:

A friend on Twitter shared a link today to her blog article about needing to let go of unhelpful, toxic people and relationships. Her words brought me face to face with the realisation that there have been times in my life when, for one reason or another, someone has needed to let go of me. It’s not an easy thing to admit to myself […] yet there are those who choose to remain distanced from me, and who would reject any attempt I might make at reconnecting. I must respect their need to do what they need to do, and to accept responsibility for my role in what has happened.

Not every friendship ends like that, of course. Sometimes it’s simply that the person’s needs or situation have changed. Perhaps they found others better suited to support them or they no longer need to rely on me as much as before. This can be hard to hear, especially if I’ve been doing my best and would like the opportunity to learn how to become the friend they need. Ultimately, though, it’s not my decision to make.

The most I can ask is that we part with honesty, in which case there need be no lasting guilt, recriminations, or regret on either side. I am grateful to those who have parted with me on such terms. We cannot be all things to all people.

Over to You

I’ve described some of the hardest things I’ve heard as a mental health ally. If you live with mental illness I would be interested to know your thoughts about what I’ve written. If like me you have no lived experience of mental illness but have friends or loved ones who do, what are the hardest things you’ve heard and what have you learned about yourself in the process?