Tuesday, 4 December 2018

The Sounds of Silence

“I wish people didn’t think silence was awkward, just enjoy it. Not every space has to be filled with words.” (Anon)

That quotation was shared recently on Facebook by a good friend of mine. I posted a response (“True, silence can be awkward, of course, but it can be lovely.”) and went on with my day. But somehow, I kept coming back to the topic of silence, and to the idea of there being more than just these two kinds, comfortable and awkward.

I hope we all know the first of these; the gentle sense of being with someone and having no need for words. I say gentle, but at times it can come upon us like a wave: the simple yet so rare awareness of sharing the moment without needing to explain or talk it away.

There is a beautiful scene near the start of the submarine movie Crimson Tide. Captain Frank Ramsey (Gene Hackman) is talking to his executive officer, Lieutenant Commander Ron Hunter (Denzel Washington), as they head out of port watching the sunset.

“Bravo, Hunter.”


“You knew to shut up and enjoy the view. Most eggheads want to talk it away. Your stock just went up a couple of points.”

On the other side of the coin, of course, is the tense, cut-the-air-with-a-knife silence we have probably all experienced at some time in our lives, whether in our own relationships or as a witness, perhaps in our parental home. These silences can last for minutes, or hours, or longer. If occasional or of short duration they can give the relationship a useful pause. Not everything needs to be addressed in the moment. Things can then pick up again on the other side. But, if left unaddressed for long, these kinds of silence can take root.

Then there is the distinction between silence vs. background sounds. My friend Roiben who shared the silence quotation on Facebook is severely deaf. The nature of the sound landscape in which she finds herself can dramatically affect her ability to hear and engage with people and what is going on around her.

I find absolute silence uncomfortable. I write and think best, for example, in a cafĂ© or coffee shop with plenty of ambient sound. Likewise, I cannot easily fall asleep without a tv or radio on in the background. Silence allows my mind to wander and distract me from falling asleep. If there is something quiet on the tv or radio – dialogue rather than music or action movies (disaster documentaries work really well for me!) – my mind has something to focus on, from which it can gently disengage and ease into sleep. Other friends prefer quiet or silence to relax. Fran is one of them. She can meditate in silence, for example, whereas I prefer a soundtrack of some kind, whether words or music.

There is yet another kind of silence, which occurs as a pause or gap in the connection between two people. Whatever its nature, every relationship has its natural frequency and intensity when it comes to connection. It may change from time to time but it is a function of the two people involved. Expecting the same level of contact and conversation from everyone we hold dear is a recipe for frustration and hurt.

Some people manage to have friendships where they scarcely hear from each other for months, even years, and are then able to pick up again as though nothing has changed. Perhaps you have friendships of that kind. I can’t do this! I have friends – I would still call them that – I haven’t heard from in any meaningful sense for years, but I would find it very difficult to pick up these relationships again and move forward. Why? Because we each would have changed so much in the intervening time that it would be like starting all over again. Actually, it would be harder than starting out anew because there would be so much “old stuff” to unlearn and set aside. We are all changing all the time! (If you are not changing, why not?)

I do much better where there is on-going contact; be that in person, on the phone, or online in chat or on social media. I’m in touch with several friends on a more or less daily basis. There are a few where it’s more like weekly; very few where we connect less frequently than that. In that way, we keep in step with each other’s lives, news, feelings, joys and issues. Not all the connections are the same, of course. Some are rich and full, others less intense yet no less valuable or valued.

I recently attended a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) Awareness workshop. As part of that exercise I started to work with some of my triggers. Triggers are things that can affect our wellbeing and stability in ways that are – on the surface at least – out of proportion to the reality of what has actually happened. My biggest trigger is where I sense a (real or imagined) lessening in the frequency or intensity of the connection I have with someone close to me. Maybe they are not chatting as much or as often, or seem less engaged than usual.

There might be any number of reasons for this. Perhaps they are busy, or unwell. Maybe they have things going on for them of which I am unaware. Perhaps they simply want to step back for a while from connecting with people in general, or from me in particular. These are all perfectly valid reasons and whilst I might not like it I can respect and understand them. However, my triggered response is a powerful sense of rejection and abandonment out of all proportion to whatever is actually happening. (I have no idea where this comes from, it occurred for the first time maybe a dozen years ago.) It can feel overwhelming to me and can be devastating to the relationship unless it is acknowledged and allowed to pass safely.

I am working on this issue at the moment; learning to accept and to even appreciate the spaces between meetings, messages or phone calls, or times where things appear to change for a time. I am experimenting with allowing my feelings to be there without jumping to (mostly erroneous) conclusions or assuming the relationship is in jeopardy and thus putting it in jeopardy by responding inappropriately, or demanding more from the other person than they are able or willing to provide.

I am grateful beyond words (pun intended) for the people who allow me to explore my relationship with silence in this way; those who allow me to be myself and to be honest about my hang-ups and issues; who hold space for me to work with my stuff, as I hold space for them to work with theirs. Because, ultimately, there are things that cannot be explained or communicated in words. There are things that can only be approached and appreciated in the spaces we allow into our lives. As my friend Roiben puts it:

“Some silence is comforting, to just sit with someone and know you are in company that gets you.”

And (whisper it) that is a beautiful thing.


Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Five Fun Adventures to Enjoy with a Friend Who Has Bipolar Disorder

By Julie A. Fast

It’s fun to do things together, but it can be hard to figure out what is helpful when a person with bipolar is working hard on stability. Before I truly committed my life to bipolar management, going out drinking at karaoke was my main entertainment. These days, I look for more healing environments that allow me to have a great time and still get to bed on a schedule.

If you’re a friend of someone with bipolar disorder and wonder what you can do together that is relaxing and fun and SAFE, think of these options. I’m in Portland, Oregon in the US where there is a lot of gender openness, so even if something sounds feminine or masculine, please know that there is no limit to what we can do - as you will see by suggestion number one:

Get a pedicure or foot massage together! Find a salon with a good health record and book a joint session where you can sit and get your feet pampered while you both sit and gossip about life. Pedicure chairs are so comfortable. We have a place here in Portland where you can both sit on a big comfy couch and get a foot massage at the same time. Body massages make it hard for friends to interact, but foot massages or pedicures are perfect for talking. Look for Groupon events or special sale days and take a friend to a fun massage! (Marty, do you have Groupon in the UK? Ed: Yes, Julie we sure do!)

Sign up to do a walk or run together. There are many 5k events where you can join a walking or running group to train and then walk together on the race day. I’m not talking about walks to raise money. I’m talking about a walk or run you can to together as a team. When there is an event date, meeting to train gives those of us with bipolar a set schedule. We like schedules!

Go to group events together. Meetup.com has thousands of events around the world that offer fun and often free or low cost entertainment. My friend Karen is a tour organizer and this has opened me to a new world of events and presentations. I’ve lived in many places abroad and love it that Karen and I can go to travel events together. These are cheerful events with great pictures. We are going to an event this week about working while living abroad. Something I did in France in 2016.

Look for a karaoke box near your home and sing together! I lived in Japan for many years where private karaoke rooms were the norm. It has taken time for it to finally take hold around the world, but these days with the ease of digital music, private karaoke rooms can be amazing fun. They are not expensive when two people go at once and many companies actually have karaoke happy hours! Singing is a joyful process for many and the private room means you can goof around as much as you want at four in the afternoon without drinking and staying out too late.

Take a class together. I have taken novel writing, language classes and screenplay classes with friends. Look online for local classes and learn a new skill together! This gives you endless conversation topics and can often be done early in the evening or on the weekend.

People with bipolar appreciate friends who think of things for us to do together when our mood is low. Doing something fun with YOU can be a highlight of our day. Think of what the two of you have in common that is active and requires a specific date. This creates excitement for fun adventures and allows us to show you how much we love your company.


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 The Health Cards Treatment System for Bipolar Disorder. Julie is a board member of The International Bipolar Foundation, a columnist and blogger for BP Magazine, and won the Mental Health America journalism award for the best mental health column in the US. Julie was the recipient of the Eli Lily Reintegration award for her work in bipolar disorder advocacy. She is a bipolar disorder expert for the Dr.Oz and Oprah created site ShareCare.

Julie is CEU certified and regularly trains health care professionals including psychiatric residents, social workers, therapists and general practitioners on bipolar disorder management skills. 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. Julie is currently writing a book for children called Hortensia and the Magical Brain: Poems for Kids with Bipolar, Anxiety, Psychosis and Depression. She struggles a lot due to bipolar disorder. Friendships keep her going. You can find more about her work at www.JulieFast.com and www.BipolarHappens.com.


Sunday, 25 November 2018

Today, I simply give thanks.

Today, I simply give thanks.

I give thanks to each person in my life sharing smiles, laughter, love, tears, happiness, contrast, and the wonders of the world with me.

I give thanks to those seemingly different from me as they open my eyes to new ideas, understandings, opportunities, and ways of living.

I give my thanks to those who choose to see love, health, happiness, and possibilities in whatever situation they find themselves in at this moment.

I give thanks to those with such courage and conviction who face situations that seem insurmountable and yet find a way to not only survive but thrive.

I give thanks to YOU and ask that you add Thank You to the top of your vocabulary list. Say thank you for the good experiences. Say thank you to the contrasting experiences as there is a gem waiting to be uncovered.

Whether you say THANK YOU out loud or quietly to yourself, when you live in and with gratitude, you shine so bright you light up the world.


Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Attending a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) Workshop at ReCoCo

Disclaimer: Wellness Recovery Action Plan® and WRAP® are registered trademarks. All rights are reserved by the copyright holder, Advocates for Human Potential, Inc.

I wrote recently about how I came to enrol at Newcastle Recovery College (ReCoCo) and a little of what the college means to me. I have also written about the first class I took, which was on self-harm awareness.

In this article I describe my experiences attending the Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) Awareness workshop. The following description is taken from the ReCoCo website:


A workshop for people who experience mental health challenges and for those who care about them. It promotes a structured approach to developing a range of strategies to support self-management in recovery from distress. WRAP® (Wellness Recovery Action Plan) is a plan designed and managed by you and is designed to:

  • Decrease and prevent intrusive or troubling feelings and behaviours
  • Increase personal empowerment
  • Improve quality of life
  • Assist you in achieving your own life goals and dreams

Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) was created by Mary Ellen Copeland, an author, educator and mental health recovery advocate in the USA. You can find lots of information and resources on the Mental Health Recovery website, including a short summary video.

The ReCoCo sessions I attended were led by two facilitators. There were twelve students in the first class (two did not return for the second session). For obvious reasons I will not be sharing names or details but there was a fantastic rapport within the group and I believe we all got an enormous amount from the workshops.

The first session began with introductions and ground rules. We were also invited to gauge where we were on a scale of one (very poorly) to ten (feeling well). I judged myself to be around a seven: I was feeling positive about being there but I had a lot going on for me at the time. We covered the basics of what WRAP is and its five key recovery concepts:

  • Hope
  • Personal Responsibility
  • Education
  • Self-Advocacy
  • Support

We then started going through the separate parts of the WRAP plan itself. The facilitators invited us to contribute examples from our personal experience. These were written up and displayed around the room so we could refer back to them if necessary. Note that some of the following description may differ a little from the official Mental Health Recovery definitions and approach. Any misinterpretations, errors and omissions are mine.

Day 1

  • Wellness Tools. These are things which contribute to our feeling good and remaining stable.
  • What I’m Like When I Am Well. In this section we describe how we feel and behave when we are doing well. It serves as a reminder of what it feels to be doing well.
  • Daily Maintenance (Daily Plan). In this section we list things we need to do on a daily or regular basis to remain well.

Day 2

  • Triggers (Stressors). These are things or situations which can make us feel uncomfortable or worse.
  • Early Warning Signs. This is a list of how we feel and behave when we are starting to move away from wellness. If we are aware of these warning signs we can take action before our situation worsens into crisis. At this stage we are able to use our daily maintenance plan and wellness tools to restore us to balance.
  • When Things are Breaking Down (Crisis Point). Here we list feelings and behaviours which indicate we are feeling much worse or are approaching, or in, crisis. At this stage our usual wellness tools are not going to work and we need a stronger action plan to get back to wellness.
  • Crisis Plan. The plan includes signs that let others know they need to take over responsibility for your care and decision making, in ways you have agreed beforehand. The plan starts with identifying people you want to take over certain (specified) responsibilities and support you. It includes things that will be helpful to you as well as things that will not be helpful.
  • Post-Crisis Plan. The final part of the WRAP covers how you might return to wellness and stability after a crisis situation has occurred.

At the end of the second day’s session we were again invited to gauge where we were on the one to ten wellness scale. I felt about the same (seven) as the previous week although a lot had shifted for me in the intervening days. The WRAP workshop itself had helped me process some of what had been going on for me.

We completed our post-training evaluation and parted. I think we were all sad that we would not be continuing the class, but ReCoCo does offer one-to-one WRAP drop in sessions by appointment with the WRAP course leader. This is something I may take advantage of as I work on my own plan, which I have started to do. I may blog that in time once I have it in a more or less stable state, though by its very nature a WRAP is a living document and subject to review and change.

For more information about Newcastle Recovery College and their courses check their website.


Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Helping Out at ReCoCo’s Hallow Wellbeing Event

As I described elsewhere, I recently enrolled at Newcastle Recovery College (ReCoCo) and have attended the first of several courses I intend taking there.

Last week ReCoCo held their Hallow Wellbeing fundraising event and I went along to help out, using one of my three volunteering days from work. I should note that I’m not an official trained ReCoCo volunteer, I was simply there to help out on the day as best I could, and to have fun! The latter aim was definitely achieved!

I’ve never considered myself the sort of person who does fancy dress, but as I’ve written before sometimes it’s good to challenge the stories we tell ourselves, especially those that begin "I’m not the kind of person who..."

With that in mind I allowed myself to be talked into being made up for the occasion (thanks, Vikki!). My main concern was that the heavy black and white face paint might not come off. It did (eventually!) but I think I was still sporting a little hair glitter into the office the next day.

Security is very important at ReCoCo and I spent part of the day on reception buzzing folk into the building and making sure they signed in and out.

There was a small entry charge and suggested rates for the various treatments and activities on offer. These included relaxation, massage, face painting, crystal healing, henna body art, and drumming. I’m not sure how much money was raised in the end but the collection box filled up nicely throughout the day.

I invited Carol, a dear friend of mine who is also a student at the college, if she would like to share her thoughts about the event:

I had a wonderful time at the ReCoCo Halloween party. There were so many alternative therapies on the agenda. I also received human kindness when Marty treated me to an Indian head massage. Debbie introduced me to a new style of body massage. The company was great and the ambiance was very chilled and relaxing. I recommend others to utilise and try the healthy spaces created at ReCoCo all year round. (Carol)

You can find out more about the Newcastle Recovery College on their website and on Twitter.