Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Discussing Suicide, by Roiben

Trigger Warning: Before reading this post, take a moment to consider its contents: it discusses Suicide and Mental Illness. If reading about Suicide is likely to make you feel worse, or trigger any urges to cause yourself harm, I ask that you simply look away from this post until a time when you feel more able to handle it.

Depression (and Mental Illness as a whole) is a thief and a murderer. It steals everything, little by little. Your self-worth, your enjoyment of your hobbies, your energy and motivation and then, at its worse, it can steal the will to live. The very spark of life goes out and existing becomes harder and harder to justify. Your mind screams at you to end it now! To stop the suffering.

Before you know it, you are planning your very demise. The end of you. You obsess over the many methods, whether “accidents” like getting run over by a car or train. Or the more planned occurrences: The overdose, the cuts, the alcohol, the ligature. All call to you, tempting you to make your final plans and get it over with.

This is what it is to be Suicidal.

This constant fight in the mind itself to end. Any way possible. As soon as possible. It is a constant distraction, 24/7, every waking hour. It even permeates your dreams. You plan in your sleep the best ways to die. Then, in the day time you wonder if you should get your affairs in order. Clear that debt, pay that bill, make sure X has that game, or Blu-ray, or teddy they have always liked.

There is a panic, initially, so much to sort out, to work out, to plan. But, then, when the decision has been made, there is a sense of calm. It will be over soon. Everything is in hand, plans are set, times are planned. It will be perfect and it will be over. There will be no more suffering. There is a sense of relief.

It is often said that those who are suicidal have an apparent “up-swing”. They seem better, happier, calmer. This is that calm. It comes from seeing a way out. An end to the horrible pain being felt inside. Because often, pain and suffering is all the Depression (and other Mental Illnesses) leave behind. They swallow the spark of life and leave only darkness and pain – emotional, physical, spiritual, existential pain. People who are suicidal only want to die as they see it as the only way to end the pain.

So, what can be done? Being willing to listen, to hear out all that is wrong and painful and concerning without dismissing or belittling experiences and feelings.

Then, suggest that there may still be other options. Other things that can help to dissipate the pain. There is help available. Medication, therapy, GPs, Psychiatrists. Not to say “Never”, but instead to say “Not yet”. To encourage trying everything else first.

As someone once said to me: “You can always die another day, another hour, but try this first”.

This validates the suffering, appreciates that the person is suicidal and desperate to end the suffering they feel inside but offers alternatives to try first. It doesn’t say: “This is the cure”. It says “This may help”. In my experience, it is the most successful approach ever taken.

Most important of all, be there, be willing to listen. Don’t brush things aside as insignificant or a sign that the individual needs to “buck up” and “pull themselves together”. There is nothing worse than being told if you just “thought positively” or “pulled yourself together” or “focused on the good things in life” things would be better. As though the person has not already tried.

I will end with three key things to remember:

  • Does the fact that someone chooses not to go through with it mean they were not suicidal? No.
  • Does the fact that someone has tried to end their life but is still alive mean they were not really suicidal? No, and it doesn’t help to dismiss it as a “cry for help” or “attention seeking”.
  • Can there be help, support and appreciation of the very bleak desperation behind being suicidal? Yes, and there needs to be more of it. If you can, be that someone who helps.


About the Author

You can find Roiben on Twitter (@roiben).


Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Seven Things I'd Quite Like to Do in 2018

Rather than setting myself new year resolutions, I’m choosing six things I’d quite like to do during 2018, plus one carried forward from last year. It’s something I tried last year, and it worked out nicely for me.

1. Read Two Books

As I’ve described previously (It’s Not Just for Kids: Reading Together for Fun and Friendship) Fran and I regularly read together on Skype. We’re currently reading Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon. It’s been a while since I read anything on my own, though. I’ve chosen two books to (re)read: Talk Like TED, by Carmine Gallo, and Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard.

2. Bring My Weight Back under 180 Pounds

This is the carried forward one! A year ago my weight was hovering around 190 pounds. I brought it down to 182 but it climbed again at Christmas and New Year. My long term aim is to maintain between 174 and 176 as I managed a few years back, but 180 will be a nice step on the way.

3. Have One Weekend Away From Home

A potential trip to London last spring had to be cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances but I enjoyed the opportunity to travel to Ely in November. I don’t have any personal trips planned yet for this year but I’d like to do something.

4. Attend Two Speaking Engagements

I’ve read from our book several times at the Newcastle Literary Salon, done a live radio interview, taken part in a live mental health panel discussion, recorded several podcast interviews, and was a guest speaker at last November’s Talking FreEly mental health event. (See our News and Appearances page for details of these and other engagements.)

I’d like to develop this side of things more. If you know of any speaking opportunities, please let me know.

5. See Three Movies at the Cinema

In 2014 I made a deliberate commitment to attend the cinema and saw four superb films, most at Newcastle’s Tyneside Cinema: The Imitation Game, The Danish Girl, The Theory of Everything, and Unbroken.

I’ve not been to the cinema since and would quite like to do so. I’ll see what movies take my fancy as the year progresses.

6. Find a Use for My Standard Midori

I’ve owned a Passport size Midori Travelers Notebook (TN) for a couple of years. It goes everywhere with me. It has two notebook inserts: one for random scribbles and notes, the other as a mini journal for vacations and other events.

It’s also home to any number of other bits and pieces: business cards, addresses, sticky notes, stickers and reminders.

Last spring I bought a larger, Standard size, Midori, but have yet to find a proper place for it in my world. I recently decked it out with two brand new inserts: a 64 page lined one and an unlined lightweight insert with 128 pages of thinner paper. It also has a zip pocket for stickers, notes and such. I’m interested to see where this takes me!

7. Shoot a Roll of Film

Over the years I’ve owned and used a number of film and digital cameras. I’d quite like to shoot a roll or two of film in one or more of the film cameras I still possess.

Prime candidates are the Kodak Brownie 44B which belonged to my father and my Zorki 4K rangefinder, the first “proper” camera I ever owned.

I will report back through the year on how I get on! Have you set yourself any goals or resolutions for 2018? If so, I’d love to hear them!


Sunday, 7 January 2018

Bombogenesis: Some Things You Just Can’t Plan For!

Samoset Resort, Rockport, Maine

Well, Fran and her folks made it to Samoset! Given the appalling weather (“bomb cyclone”) that has hit America’s East Coast in the past few days, Christa and Gary made decent progress from their home in New Jersey to Fran’s place in Portland, Maine. They arrived around 9 p.m. my time (4 p.m. their time), then drove on to Samoset with Fran navigating.

We’d Skyped earlier in the day, while Fran was waiting for them to arrive. I was glad to find her calm and prepared. Most of our focus over the past couple of months has been preparing for this trip, and then Mexico in another couple of weeks. It hasn’t always been easy for Fran, balancing her health and other needs with the seemingly endless items on our To Do lists and travel plans, but we approached it as we always do: one step at a time. I am proud of how she’s kept going. And now it’s not just something up ahead that we are planning for. It’s real. It’s happening.

The weather was one thing we had not bargained on. There had been times when it looked like maybe the trip wouldn’t happen, or would be delayed by a day or two. Fran had checked in with her mom every day, and we had kept a close eye on the weather and travel reports, as well as public webcams along the route they would be taking.

As we’d anticipated, the interstates had mostly been cleared after the heavy snow fall the day before, but conditions worsened once they hit the minor roads. There was one scary moment, when they went into a snow drift. Fran messaged me to get the AAA number for them, which I did (reprising my Angel Duty role from previous trips) but in the end the police got them on their way. My relief and gratitude prompted me to post on social media: “A quiet thank you to all the emergency and support services who are there for us when we need them.”

Fran messaged me a little after 7 p.m. their time (my midnight). Two little words that meant so much: “Made it!”

It’s always odd when Fran is away. I don’t know how much Skype time we will manage this week. They have Wi-Fi where they are staying, but I need to leave that up to Fran and not get grumpy or clingy if it is not as much as I would like. She is away with her mom, and that’s what this trip is mostly about. I will be there for when she needs me, as I told her the other night, when she was feeling a little uncertain how things would go.

“I’m gonna be right at your side through this week, Frannie.”

“I’m glad.”

As well as a trip in itself, Samoset is a prelude to the month Fran will spend soon in Mexico. It’s important for me (for us) to keep that bigger picture in mind. This week in Samoset. One week at home. Four weeks in Mexico. We need to stay vigilant, starting now. As we always do before a trip, we recently reviewed and updated Fran’s Travel Wellness Plan. The key things to keep an eye on remain the same:

  • Fran’s mood (and mine!)
  • Any specific flags for depression or mania
  • Her levels of energy / fatigue / pain
  • Her rest and sleeping patterns
  • Her eating and drinking

(Fran won’t weigh while she’s away but she’s been doing well recently—far better than I have!—and won’t want to have slipped back when she checks in with her scales again next week.)

I need to pay attention to my self-care and wellness too, so as to be there for Fran as effectively as possible and not over burden her with my stuff. These are lessons we learned first-hand a few years ago when Fran spent three months traveling in Europe. Our respective Wellness Plans proved invaluable, and I have reread the relevant chapters from our book in readiness for the weeks ahead.

I needed to attend to my own well-being if I was to support Fran effectively, so I drew up a wellness plan for myself loosely modelled on hers. I wrote down a list of positive activities and behaviours that were likely to help me through the summer, and gave myself permission to experience fully whatever thoughts and feelings came up, without suppressing or holding on to them.

It was important for me to accept certain aspects of our friendship would change, and I wrote a second list of expectations I needed to let go of. These included our usual morning calls, ongoing chats through the day, and voice or video calls every evening. I set myself a series of specific goals to encourage me to make the most of the time I usually spent online with Fran.

High Tide, Low Tide. Chapter 8, “Together and Apart: Handling Challenge, Change, and Codependency”

The “Things I Would Quite Like to Do in 2018” post I am working on at the moment is a good place for me to start. It’s not on that list as such but I also want to blog more—and more spontaneously—this year. Maybe I can use these musings as part of that...

—Oh look, I did!


Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Six Things I’d Have Quite Liked to Do in 2017—How Did I Get On?

Back in January I posted a list of six things I’d quite like to do in 2017. So how did I get on?

1. Volunteer with Time to Change


Following on from previous volunteering experiences with mental health charity Time to Change, I had a fantastic time at Newcastle Pride in July. You can read how I got on, as well as the thoughts of others who took part, in my post What Is It Like to Volunteer with Time to Change?

If you’d like to get involved with Time to Change yourself in any capacity, check out their Champions page.

2. Visit a Pub


This might not seem a particularly challenging objective but I rarely visit pubs, apart from when my wife Pam and I are on holiday. I specifically wanted to visit Wylam Brewery at the Palace of Arts in Newcastle upon Tyne. I achieved this goal in May, finding that the place fully lived up to my hopes.

I visited two other pubs of note this year. The 15th-century Kirkstone Pass Inn on the A592 Kirkstone Pass road is the highest pub in Cumbria, and a rare delight boasting an extensive and delicious menu.

In November I accepted an invitation to speak at Talking FreEly’s second mental health event in Ely, Cambridgeshire. I travelled down the day before and stayed at the Nyton Guest House. I had a fabulous meal and a couple of pints at the Minster Tavern in the centre of town.

You can read about my visit to Ely in my blog post Community, Cake, and Conversation, and watch my talk here.

A former favourite and Britain’s highest pub, the Tan Hill Inn featured in a Christmas 2017 tv advert for Waitrose supermarket. The advert is pretty cool but the pub itself failed to deliver when Pam and I visited in May. We looked elsewhere when we were back in the area in October. The Pack Horse Inn in Keswick, and The Beehive Inn at Eamont Bridge near Penrith are both worth a visit.

3. Fundraise for a Mental Health Charity


I didn’t do as much as I had intended, but Fran and I again took part in the NAMI Maine Walk in October.

Fran did the walk in person in South Portland; I took an equivalent walk here in Newcastle.

4. See HTLT on a College or University Reading List


Fran and I are keen to get our book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder into libraries and onto the reading lists for relevant school, college, or university courses.

As far as we know, our book isn’t on any course reading lists yet. However, it is achieving recognition in the professional sector and various lists and libraries.

If you are involved with training courses or programs and feel our book could be relevant, we’d love to hear from you!

5. Bring My Weight Back under 180 Pounds


In January 2017 my weight was hovering around 190 pounds.

As the graph shows, I’ve not achieved my target of 180 pounds (yet!) but I brought my weight down significantly and maintained for a good while between 184–186. Christmas has added a couple of pounds back, so I need to pay attention. I will carry this objective forward into 2018.

6. Complete a Mental Health Course


I 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 was impressed by the content and presentation of the material. I recommend it to anyone interested in mental health support of oneself and others.

Did you set yourself any goals for 2017? How did you get on? I will post my Things I Would Quite Like to Do in 2018 list in the New Year.



Wednesday, 27 December 2017

What If We Treated Problems with Our Bodies and Minds Like We Treat Our Tech?

Fran and I live on opposite sides of the Atlantic. We use technology. A lot. Without it, we couldn’t do our friendship at all. Indeed, we would never have met. Fran has a Windows laptop and an iPhone. I have a Samsung Android phone, a PC, and a Chromebook. I like Googledrive for sharing documents and cloud storage. Fran prefers Onedrive and her iCloud. Connecting might be simpler if we agreed to use the same technologies and platforms but we get by, and learn a lot in the process.

One way or another technology is an integral part of our everyday lives, whether at work or at home, or out and about in the world. Computers. Phones. Cameras. TV. WiFi. Internet banking. Shopping. Entertainment.

We have some basic (and probably incorrect) ideas about how it all hangs together. We want it to work most of the time and grumble when it doesn’t, but we accept there are going to be difficulties and do our best to work around them.

When problems and complications arise, we don’t think worse of ourselves or each other for having them. We talk to each other. We reach out for assistance, confident someone we know will have had similar experiences or know someone who might be able to help. We’ve all had our home WiFi crash on us for no apparent reason, our phones die at crucial moments, or our home printers refuse to cooperate with us. We empathise, offer support to one another. We share fixes and workarounds. We understand. Because tech is really, really, complicated. It would be silly to expect it to work perfectly all the time.

Wouldn’t it be great if we had the same attitude to our bodies, emotions, and brains? Because if our phones, computers, and TVs are complex we are gloriously more so.


Saturday, 23 December 2017

One Day in the Life of Marty

Wednesday December 20, 2017

7:02 am. I’m usually awake before my alarm goes off but today I’m woken by the beeping of my phone. Up, washed, dressed, I’m out of the door by 7:15.

7:15 am. I take my daily photo as I leave the court and message it to Fran: a good morning routine that grounds me as I start my day. Some time I will gather the photos together and post them up as an album: Kingston Park through the seasons. Today is very mild. The app on my phone tells me it is 52F / 11C.

7:25 am. It is a short walk to Starbucks in the Kingston Park Tesco store. The staff know my order: a tall black Americano in my reusable cup which saves me 25p each time I remember to bring it with me. There are few other customers. A couple of tables away, a woman is writing in a notebook or diary. I’ve seen her before and wonder what she is writing.

I check our book’s Amazon rankings (print and Kindle, dot com and UK) on my phone and record the numbers my Midori notebook. The rankings give an estimate of sales. None overnight but we there were some yesterday. I check the news headlines (BBC, Guardian, Reuters, Politico), Twitter and Facebook. I message a couple of people, including a meds reminder for one good friend in the US.

It’s Wednesday, so I check that this week’s blog piece has posted. It hasn’t. I must have forgotten to schedule it. I log into Blogger and post it, checking the links work and sharing it on social media. This week we have a guest post by someone I connected with recently on Twitter. The article is called Let It Go: Reducing Holiday Triggers for Your Child, very appropriate for the season.

8:00 am. Taking my coffee with me, I head for the Metro station. A few spots of rain: nothing much. I have five minutes to wait for my train. I read a couple of news articles that catch my eye. I have become far more interested in UK and world news – politics especially – in the past couple of years. The train is pretty full but I get a seat.

8:15 am. Arriving at South Gosforth I have a choice: a second train (ten minute wait) or a twenty minute walk. The rain has stopped so I decide to walk. The sky is gorgeous: a pale flat orange that defies my attempt to photograph it. Down the hill, past the Compassion Centre and the cosy little café I frequented earlier in the year. I cross the busy junction at the bottom of the hill, and a few minutes later I am away from the traffic on the old waggon way.

8:30 am. I take photos as I start on the waggon way, sending one to Fran and another to my friend Robyn. The path runs straight and slightly uphill behind St Mary’s Comprehensive School my kids attended and Benton Park View where I work.

8:45 am. I arrive on site and make my way to our building. This close to Christmas there is only me, Tony and Logan in from my team of five. (Next week, between Christmas and New Year, I will be in on my own.)

Coffee is the first order of the day, and a pot of Golden Syrup flavour instant porridge. I log in to my work computer and put my phone on charge. My work day has begun. I check emails and incident queues, and chat with my colleague Tony about what’s going on for him.

My boss Judith has probably been working from home since the crack of dawn but she brings treats in for everyone today. My gingerbread tree and Christmas pudding cookie don’t last long! The best boss ever and a great friend, Judith gets a hug – and another which I am passing along from Fran. Fran knows how supportive Judith has been to me this year when I was going through some really rough times, and to me and Fran over the whole time we’ve been friends. Judith, you are an absolute star!

The morning passes easily enough. I am on a half hour conference call at 11:30. It overruns slightly.

12:10. Lunch time. I fix my pot of Singapore curry flavour noodles, and move to the open seating area at the end of the office. Normally, I’d have a short Skype call from Fran, but we’ve not managed that recently and don’t today. I miss the check-ins, but she hasn’t been sleeping well so it makes sense for her to rest as much as possible in the mornings (midday here in the UK is 7 am for her in Maine).

I write my journal, catch up on social media, and do ten minutes on my Spanish language app. Fran is going to Mexico for a month at the end of January and this is one small way I can support her preparations. I’m having fun, although I’m not sure how much I’m actually learning or how helpful I will be when she is away! I was never much good at languages at school. Robyn chats me and we have a little catch up.

1 pm. Back to work. I am in the office on my own this afternoon, but things are relatively quiet and I don’t have any significant issues to deal with. Fran chats me when she gets up and brings me up to speed on what she’s doing today.

4:25 pm. I leave work and take my twenty minute walk back to the Metro. I ponder what we are having for dinner: figure it is sausage, egg, and chips. Pam will have the sausages (meat ones for her and our son Mike, Quorn ones for me) and chips in the oven. I will cook the eggs and serve up when I get home.

I have twelve minutes to wait for my train. I’m home by 5:30 pm and finish cooking the dinner. No need to go out shopping tonight so once the dishes are done I settle down in front of the TV in my rocking chair. The Simpsons and Hollyoaks are part of our daytime routine: we have watched both for decades. There is a certain comfort in familiar routines.

6:00 pm. I turn the PC on and let it boot up, then realise with dismay that it has not yet completed the Windows 10 updates it started installing the night before. I watch the progress indicator nervously, concerned it might not complete by 7 pm when I want it working so I can Skype with Fran. 33%. 50%. 75%. 78%. 92%. It reboots for about the fourth time with about ten minutes to go. I breathe a sigh of relief, then groan as it starts installing something else, with no indication how long it might take. One final reboot and all seems good to go. Just in time.

7:00 pm. Fran and I meet on Skype as usual. It is 2 pm for her. Most of our time together at the moment is spent planning for Mexico, also a week she is taking in the US with her Mom the first week of January. We review our shared calendar and To Do List, ticking things off and prioritising tasks for the days ahead.

8:00 pm. Almost all the Christmas presents are wrapped and cards are written and posted, so I figure can have an evening off! I spend the next few hours watching TV (Masterchef UK followed by Midsomer Murders). I also take my bath, and reply to emails and messages.

11:00 pm. Fran is home this evening so we meet up again. There’s a lot to do but we find ourselves discussing relationship issues with friends and family, honesty and commitment. These are deep topics, no less so for being familiar. We test Fran’s PayPal account (newly installed on her iPhone) and cancel a hotel booking which is no longer needed for the Mexico trip. We leave time to watch the next episode of Broadchurch series 2 on Netflix. We watched the first series recently. It’s a great show: strong story line, great performances by David Tennant and Olivia Colman, and stunning Dorset scenery.

1:10 am. Time for bed! It’s been a good day. Good night, world!