Sunday, 17 March 2019

When She

By Aimee Wilson

 

When she fought, he won

When she stole, he caught her

When she looked, he hid

When she bent, he broke her

When she hurt, he caused it

When she ran, he gave chase

When she saw, he missed it

When she heard, he ignored

 

But when she died, they revived her
When she cut, they mended
When she swallowed, they treat
When she cried, they soothed
When she ran, they caught
When she lost hope, they showed her the way

 

She won back what he’d taken

She mended what he had broke

She stabilized what he had moved

She finished what he had started

She lived

 

 


About the Author

Aimee Wilson is a 28-year-old mental health blogger who has used her personal experiences to develop a popular online profile. Aimee was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder in 2009, and after over 60 attempts on her life was admitted to a long-term, specialist psychiatric hospital almost 200 miles from home. It was during her two-and-a-half-year stay in hospital that Aimee began her blog: I’m NOT Disordered.

Originally it was meant as an outlet for pent-up frustrations from inpatient life, and a means to document her journey through the trauma therapy that eventually led her into recovery in 2014. The blog has developed into a platform for others to tell their stories and to give their own message to the world — whatever it may be.

Aimee’s blog now has close to half a million readers. Its popularity has resulted in three newspaper (in print) appearances, two online newspapers, BBC1 national news, ITV local news, interviews on BBC Radio 5 Live and Metro Radio; as well as a TV appearance on MADE. Aimee has had the opportunity to work with such organisations as North Tyneside and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, Northumbria Police, Time to Change, Cygnet Healthcare; and with individuals who range from friends, family and colleagues, to well-known people in the mental health industry.

Her first book, When All Is Said & Typed, is available at Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, and in other regions. You can follow Aimee’s blog and read more about her at www.imnotdisordered.co.uk.

 

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Open Hands. Open Arms. Open Heart.

This important principle reminds us not to hold too tightly to people, relationships, and situations. Healthy things grow, and to grow is to change.

In the time we have known each other Fran has moved from mania to depression and out again. She has grown in self-awareness, and developed tools for looking after herself. I have learned a great deal about what it is like for someone living with illness, and how to respond to Fran’s needs and the needs of others. At times Fran needs me close beside her, at other times she needs space to grow independently.

“Open hands” recognises that change is natural, healthy, and necessary. It gives us permission to grow without feeling guilty or restricted. Imagine holding a small bird in the palm of your hand. It feels safe, protected, and cared for, but it is free to move, to grow, and even to fly away.

“Open arms” reminds us that, no matter what happens, we will always welcome each other back as friends.

“Open heart” connects our friendship to our wider network of relationships with other friends, family, and the people we encounter in our lives.”

 

Excerpted from chapter 1, “The Caring Friendship: Key Skills and Attitudes,” of our book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder. Available at: Amazon.ca | Amazon.com | Amazon.co.jp | Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.de | Amazon.es | Amazon.fr | Amazon.it | Barnes & Noble

 

Sunday, 10 March 2019

My Mental Health Talk for International Women’s Day

Last week I was proud to speak at an event organised for International Women’s Day by the Women in Digital network where I work.

I’d been invited to take part by my friend and colleague Lisa Overall. We agreed on a topic for my talk — how to support a friend who lives with mental illness — based on an article I wrote originally for No Stigmas, “a global non-profit movement utilizing peer-to-peer connections to promote mental wellness and prevent suicide.” The article was subsequently published at The Mighty.

I had given the talk once before, at a Talking FreELY event in 2017, but it is a topic which resonates with many (at The Mighty my article has been “liked” more than 1,200 times) and I was confident it would work for this new audience. The room was filling nicely by the time I arrived. I’d estimate there were close to sixty people there as the event got underway. (It is possible the promise of cake had something to do with the turnout!)

After introductions, things got off to a great start with a presentation on women and mental health by Lois White who leads the mental health awareness team at BPDTS. Like me, Lois is a Mental Health First Aider, and equally passionate about the work we are doing within the company.

After her talk Lois introduced me and took charge of the projector, anticipating almost all of my “next slide, please” moments. (Thank you!) I’ve done a number of public readings and talks in the past few years, but I still get nervous. Fortunately, once I am up there I find myself calming down and easing into things.

I had the script for my talk on my Kindle to keep me on track and on schedule, but I found myself ad-libbing freely. It’s hard to know when you are in front of an audience but it seemed to go well. There were even a few laughs in appropriate places. Lisa told me later I’d had the room in the palm of my hand, so I guess I did okay!

I received some very positive feedback afterwards, which is testament to the relevance of the key message I wanted to get across: that no one is too far away to be cared for or to care; and that with some basic tech and a little imagination we can be there for our friends and loved ones, whether they live on the other side of town or an ocean away.

In the interval I got chatting with a few of the other attendees including Andy Heath who was photographing the event. I couldn’t attend all the sessions but I’m glad I stayed for the next two speakers, who shared what has influenced and motivated their life and career journeys. The message to follow what interests you most and where your passion lies rather than “chasing grades” resonated strongly for me, as did their commitment to remaining open to new challenges and opportunities.

In case anyone is wondering, I didn’t have Fran with me on live video link (maybe next time!) but she messaged me before and after my talk and was very much with me as I shared our story. I even sneaked in a mention or two (or was it three?) of our book. I still feel self-conscious doing that, but a friend told me something this week that really struck home:

You were wondering where you are in the mental health community ... you are a writer, and an adamant and steadfast supporter.

She’s right (thanks, Jen!) As I wrote recently, I have been struggling a lot with my self-confidence of late, unsure in particular of my role and place within the mental health community. My talk, the positive responses to it, and the other speakers at the event helped me reconnect with the idea that I have a voice and a message worth sharing.

For that, and much else, I am grateful for the opportunity to take part. Thank you.

Photo credit: Andy Heath, with permission.

 

Saturday, 2 March 2019

Or Maybe You Were an Asshole

Don’t push someone away and then expect them to still be there when you have a change of mind.” (Anon)

That quotation made its way into my social media stream the other day. Maybe you’ve seen it, or something similar. Maybe you agree with the sentiment.

After all, it doesn’t feel good to be pushed away by someone you care about. It’s easy to sit back and feel self-righteously aggrieved. But things are not always what they seem.

Someone might push you away for all sorts of reasons. Maybe they have major trust issues, and very good reasons for them. Maybe they have a lot of other shit going on right now and can’t keep all their plates spinning at the same time. Maybe they need to believe someone will be there to welcome them back. Maybe it isn’t about you at all.

Or maybe you were an asshole and they needed to push you away for their safety and well-being.

 

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

One Step at a Time: Walking for Wellness, Walking for Me

When I’m happy, I walk.
When I’m sad, or lonely or lost.
When I’m hurting, or numb.
When there’s too much to think about
Or nothing on my mind.
I walk.

Walking has played an important role in my life for as long as I can remember. So much so that it was one of the first things I included in the wellness tools section of my Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP). It’s also made its way into my writing more often than I’d realised until I began writing this article. (The idea for this piece came to me whilst, wait for it, walking into work one morning a few weeks ago.)

My family never owned a car, so when I was growing up in Liverpool if I wanted to go somewhere it was catch the bus or walk. From the age of eleven I walked thirty or forty minutes each way to and from school, lost in my thoughts about whatever was going on for me at the time. In my late teens I remember going for Sunday evening walks to West Derby village and back, a round trip of maybe an hour and a half at my ambling, contemplative pace.

About that time I started going on the Ramblers’ Association (now The Ramblers) public walks every couple of months with my aunt and her friend. I loved the exercise and the sense of freedom, being out on the hills. The people were lovely but I mostly kept my own counsel and walked separately the rest. There was one exception, a lady whose name escapes me some forty years on. Her spirit is captured, however, in one of my poems from that time.

Song to the high hills

Take my hand offered
across streams
we jump
that trickle your laughter
down the savage fen.
Share with me one day’s
journey
in this weird land,
where even the spring shuns
the mark of our
trespass
and unnamed birds cast down
forsaken echoes
from the high hills above us.
Do you not see
the whole earth bleeding …
distant mountains burn
a venous red
and at our feet
the bare rocks haemorrhage,
oozing lichen up from unseen wounds.
Believe me,
cares that clothe us
city-bound
will fall
today
like autumn leaves
       that colour in your hair
come winter’s purge.
And yet, in all of this,
a little rain might mark my sadness
sevenfold
to court you but a day
—surely inhibition falters
as we share the innocence
of exploration together.

Innocence tempting revelation.

From: Collected Poems: 1977–1984.

I joined the hiking club at university but didn’t keep it up. I do recall one hike with friends across Ilkley Moor during a thunderstorm that painted the sky in all manner of crazy hues. Instead, I took to taking urban walks on my own, mostly early in the morning. A favourite route took me out of town to a park where I would sit a while by the lake before making my way back for lectures. One day I went further than I intended and got myself a bit lost. I remember taking my shoes off and walking part of the way back barefoot across a golf course in the rain. A different early walk, along a derelict railway to the local park, was captured in another of my poems.

The Bunch of Wild Flowers

this morning
as you slept in his arms
I wandered,
picked you flowers white as sonnets
early in the morning
where the lonely go
and lovers wonder)

stirring in your arms he
tasted autumn in your hair
ascent of flowers,
brushed away the cobwebs or a dream
and (plucked one throbbing rose as red as
kisses
early in the garden
where the lovers grow
within each other’s arms

And bore you welcomes wild
of flowers truer than all orchids
my love
this morning as you slept
in his arms I wandered
gathering poems deep as daisies
early in the morning
where the lovers
go,

From: Collected Poems: 1977–1984.

Urban or rural, walking for me has always been about space: space in which to think or not think, depending on what I most need at the time. It is my instinctive response to uncertainty, challenge, and loss. When I got the news that PJ, a dear friend from university days, had died my instinctive reaction was to get out of the house and walk. It didn’t matter where, I just needed to be moving. (Years later, that one evening of loss is imprinted on these local streets, although I’ve added many overlying layers of other days, people and memories in the intervening years.) A week or so later I took the day off work and went to the coast for a solitary hike, long enough to try and process the fact that my friend was no longer here. After my mother died I walked by Crosby Marina the evening of her funeral. The words that came to me are, perhaps, a poem. If so, it is the first I’ve written in many years.

Wandering
Wondering

How do I feel
What do I feel

Release
Relief

Re birth

Stillness
Silence

Un known
Un homed

Un tethered

Still
Calm

Centred (thank you

— Liverpool, March 26, 2018

I mostly prefer to walk alone but there have been times when I’ve taken a trusted friend along. One of my dearest memories of PJ is of walking her home in the snow one dark winter night. Years later I recall another walk in the snow with a different friend, when we got seriously lost on Wimbledon Common. The walk Fran and I took around Beaulieu in 2013 when we met in person for the first time was, quite simply, precious.

We walked, and talked, and took photos of the Abbey and gardens, and went on the monorail and the old open-top bus, and walked some more, and sat, and talked some more. It was amazing—and the most natural thing in the world. If we were a little shy it didn’t show. We were just two friends out together enjoying the day.

From: High Tide, Low Tide, The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder.

Walks by the sea are special. I spent six months in Norwich on placement from university. One Sunday I drove to the coast with one of the other students for an hour or so walking on the shore.

(In the Depths of) Singing

Down the western reaches of the sea i
findme walking with a friend,
wind and seasalt wildly in the sky, you on
my mind. Late november: pebbles in a
wilderness of oceans and a fulling moon.

Something like the flesh of friends too
raw for touching walkwe. Two
investigating puddles. Our togetherness apart
we wander down our dreams while all the
waves one water can involve strike
sparks about our feet. From flints we
gather in the night.
We gather. In the

(o i love the waves that break upon
me like you)

nightly

From: Collected Poems: 1977–1984.

That memory sparks another. One morning long ago when I ought to have been at work but instead spent the day on the beach walking with a friend who understood that sometimes shared solitude is just what is needed.

A few years ago I paddled in the sea along Long Sands Beach at Whitley Bay here in the north-east. At first it was cold. Then my feet went numb. I probably should have come out at that point but I kept going to the point when my feet were hurting with cold. I got out of the water, dried my feet, and put my thick socks and boots on, expecting my feet to warm through within a few minutes. They took so long to thaw out I was beginning to think I had caused some serious damage. I have paddled in the sea several times since then, but not in quite such extreme conditions.

Over time, regular walking routes become saturated with memories. The best example of that is the walk I take each evening when on holiday at the Cumbrian cottage my family have rented for the past twenty years or so. So rich are the echoes of the people and situations I’ve brought with me in mind and heart over the years that I’ve named it Memory Lane. Fran has accompanied me on that walk many times via the magic of Skype. A few other friends have done the same.

I have done a few sponsored walks. When I was at school I organised a twenty mile walk for friends in aid of the World Wildlife Fund. I think only two of us completed the task but we did raise some money. More recently I have done the Alzheimer’s Society Memory Walk a couple of times, and taken part in the NAMI Maine Walk, accompanying Fran from 3,000 miles away. Last December I took part in the Jingle Bell Walk to raise money for children’s cancer charity The Chris Lucas Trust.

Returning to my solo walks and their place in my wellbeing, the best example is the walk I took almost every evening during the summer of 2013 when Fran was traveling in Europe. Those walks were part of my wellness plan for that period, which was the most challenging we’d faced as friends and one of the most traumatic Fran had ever experienced.

That wellness plan developed into the Wellness Recovery Action Plan I mentioned at the start of this article. It is a living document and will grow with me as my needs change, but I cannot imagine walking not being in there as one of my key wellness tools.

Well, this article has turned out to be rather long and rambling, much like many of my walks!

I will close with another passage from our book, because short or long every walk starts out as a single step, then another, then another. And where steps are concerned, size and speed are not always the most important things. The important thing is to keep moving.

As we like to say, baby steps are steps too.

This is one of our favourite [sayings]. It reminds us to stay focused in the present moment, to take life one step at a time, and to acknowledge that even the smallest advance counts as progress. Fran is very goal-oriented, and becomes frustrated if she seems to be straying off course or failing to make fast enough progress. In depression, this can reach a point where she despairs of ever achieving her targets or even progressing further towards them. At such times, “Baby steps are steps too” reminds her that she rarely stays stuck for long. She will try new ideas, or re-visit old ones, until something happens to move her forward.

From: High Tide, Low Tide, The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder.

 

Saturday, 23 February 2019

Impostor Syndrome, Self-Doubt, and Legitimacy in the Mental Health Arena

When did you start feeling like a fraud?

Fran asked me that question recently. It’s not exactly that I feel a fraud. I’ve never passed myself off as other than I am or claimed knowledge and experience I don’t have. But I have used that knowledge and experience to involve myself in groups and activities intended for people with lived experience of mental illness, which I do not have. Maybe it’s more a case of impostor syndrome than fraud.

According to Scientific American, “Impostor Syndrome is a pervasive feeling of self-doubt, insecurity, or fraudulence despite often overwhelming evidence to the contrary. It strikes smart, successful individuals. It often rears its head after an especially notable accomplishment, like admission to a prestigious university, public acclaim, winning an award, or earning a promotion.”

Putting smart and successful to one side, that description is a close fit for how I’ve been feeling, especially the university example. Last October I enrolled at ReCoCo, Newcastle’s Recovery College. I attended two excellent courses (a self-harm awareness session and a Wellness Recovery Action Plan workshop) and helped out at one of the college’s wellness events. As I wrote in a post which has been included in ReCoCo’s current prospectus, it seemed I’d found finally found somewhere I belonged.

I felt welcome and accepted, and my contributions and story [at the drop-in session] were considered as respectfully as anyone else’s. (As someone without direct lived experience of mental illness, crisis, or trauma, it is a big thing for me to feel I have something worth sharing that might be of interest and value to others.) It left a powerful impression.

Lately, though, I’m doubting the legitimacy of my enrollment. The Recovery College is explicitly organised by and for people with lived experience, and I no longer feel my interest in mental health, my desire to learn, and my role supporting Fran and other friends justify my being there. It’s not only ReCoCo. Quite rightly, the mental health community is focused on, and increasingly led by, people with lived experience of illness and services. I have been proud to volunteer with Time to Change over the past few years and have attended or been involved with various events, groups, and organisations including OPENM;NDED. Right now, I’m doubting my place in all of these.

Aimee Wilson, a mental health blogger who has worked with organisations across the north-east and beyond, told me “you have as much right as anyone to attend these events and personally, they wouldn’t be the same without you.” Aimee’s friendship and support is hugely appreciated, but I do need to work this through. Impostor syndrome undoubtedly plays a part, as does a need in me to feel I belong. A never-quite-satisfied desire for home.

Talking about this with Aimee and others, I’ve come to realise feelings of not-quite-belonging are not uncommon. Roiben has guested several times here at Gum on My Shoe. She describes how she finds herself falling between the gaps because she does not fully satisfy the criteria of different support communities:

It is difficult to feel one doesn’t fit. I get that a lot. I am often on the edge of what services and charities support. Not blind enough for RNIB, not deaf enough for some Deaf groups. I never claimed to be SI [Sight Impaired] or SSI [Severely Sight Impaired], nor did I claim to be Profoundly Deaf. Yet somehow the fact that I am not makes some people feel I am trying to take their place. I’m not. Just trying to connect, through areas I have some experience in. It’s frustrating.

One thing Roiben said resonated strongly for me:

I make a great advocate for disabilities, because I have experience of some and have friends in other areas. I have seen and experienced accessibility or lack of it in action. The fact I am not totally one or the other doesn’t diminish that in any way!

That’s very much how I feel about my mental health work. I don’t have lived experience of mental illness but I have support experience, knowledge, and some useful skills. I believe these have value. The question for me is how and where are they best exercised? Fran said to me the other day:

It’s about serving. You take what you have to offer and serve others with that. You are not an expert on lived mental illness. You are an expert on how to be friends with those that are.

Fran’s right. I am shy of being called an expert, but I can accept “expert by experience” based on my years supporting Fran and other friends who live with illness. That is my field of competence. It’s the basis of our book and what I do pretty much every day. I don’t doubt myself in that area. I’m just not sure where I fit, in the wider mental health community. It’s about serving — but where and how do I serve?