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.


Wednesday, 31 October 2018

The Importance of Family

By Peter McDonnell

This weekend my brother Will is home from Bristol, a rare things these days unfortunately. I live with my mum in my childhood home and my dad lives close by. At the moment we have just finished dinner and now we are sharing things on our electronic devices and relaxing. Will doesn’t share my opinion that my new Samsung Galaxy Smartwatch is worth every penny; unnecessary is the essence of his words. I agreed in part, but I have been looking for a nice watch recently and it makes so much sense to have a smartwatch instead of a normal one that could only tell time and date, even if it was emblazoned discretely with a mid-range maker labelling like ‘Citizen’ or ‘Seiko’. My new watch is like having James Bond’s watch. There are vast options for different designs for the watch face which on its own would be a clincher for the fashion conscious.

Will told us about his recent shenanigans over dinner and desert. He is learning to drive and we talked about that too, and we began telling old stories of driving experiences we had had pre-qualification. I was stopped by the police when I was a teenager after taking my mum’s car out for a quick night time joyride as I was just learning. She didn’t let me drive her car again until I was thirty. Kudos to her for sticking to her word.

Before long we were sharing stories about underage alcohol consumption. When I was thirteen I got a bit too drunk after boldly swigging four big gulps from a whisky bottle while on holiday with my dad and brothers. While naughtily drunk / hung over I spent twenty-four hours hiding from my dad and hoping that lots of coffee would cure me but all it did was turn my vomit black. I’m not sure if my mum had heard that one before.

Will has recently visited a Whisky distillery on the Isle of Skye where they sell their whisky in their small shop at higher prices than the local supermarket. And also, get this: the local pub is 200 metres from the distillery and they buy whisky from that distillery online because it’s cheaper that way. So their bottles travel from the distillery many miles to the online distributors, then back to the pub. That’s just crazy. We agreed that it was downright unscrupulous and that some people are driven by profit a bit too much.

We revisited a bottle of walnut wine that hadn’t been touched since a French holiday in 2013. It went very well on my Belgian Chocolate ice cream. We spoke, as we often do, about whether microwaving ice cream ruins it. I have been microwaving ice cream for a quick softening for years and I have never ruined it. Lots of people seem to passionately disagree with me on this though.

We chatted about my two little princess nieces who now live in America, with my mum saying she is looking forward to them being teenagers and seeing how my older brother navigates the issue of having teenage daughters. I recalled about how my niece used to outsmart me at age two and a half. She’d take me away from her parents somehow who limit screen time and then ask if she could watch cartoons on my phone. I’d always say yes, without realising that she had a plan. She didn’t really want to pick out books and toys from her bedroom upstairs, she just wanted someone with a phone to watch cartoons on, but she couldn’t ask when her parents were in the room. I’ve always thought that was quite clever.

I do enjoy spending time with my nieces. It’s good for my mental health. The standalone best thing for my mental health is my family. When I first got ill in 2001 with grandiosely delusional psychosis it was my mum and dad who saw I was unwell and involved the local services. I was doing silly things such as planning to travel to France to meet an imaginary friend after she didn’t show up at The Ritz Hotel (I travelled to meet her at The Ritz the previous day). I needed sectioning on the local mental health ward. At this time, where I was following a delusional agenda of grandiosity, sectioning probably saved my life. My parents visited me every day during my incarceration which couldn’t have been easy, I was disrespectful and rude sometimes because nobody believed in my true identity as the modern day Jesus. I was frustrated and I accused my parents of lying to me whenever we discussed if they believed in me. Along the next few years of being in and out of mental hospitals they stuck by me closely as did my brothers and all family members who lived nearby. My grandparents were lovingly supportive; aunties, uncles and cousins too.

After three years I began to improve in my psychosis but contracted anxiety/panic. My mum, dad and brothers spent the next six years doing the balancing act of being sensitive to my anxiety while also trying to push me into doing more and more socialising. If they hadn’t started this process thirteen years ago I would be unable to socialise today. I also appreciated it when my brothers continued to laugh and joke with me. It showed that they still saw me as a person with a sense of humour even if I did have mental health problems.

I am over my anxieties now, and my psychosis is much, much, better. Both are barely even there and I owe it all to my family.

I became godfather to my second niece in 2016. Looking after them has made me a more confident person with adult responsibilities; someone who is in step with the world. I spent years trying to get back ‘in step with the world’ from about 2007 to 2013. By that I mean being normal: doing things that others do, like going to work, socialising and enjoying weekends. To have such a life, where once I was afraid of leaving the house, is just brilliant.

I have been lucky to have things fall back into place a bit for me. I hope it shows that a mental illness can sometimes pass. An important lesson I learned is to trust doctors and those that love you. I didn’t trust anybody involved in my care back in the day, but it has now become clear that of course they were not lying to me. Their advice and behaviour was a gift and I wish I had started trusting them earlier. My improvement gained good ground when I let my supportive team help me.

About the Author

You can find more of Peter’s writing on his mental health website He is also on Facebook (Peter Edward Mcdonnell) and on Twitter (@PeterMcDonnell_).


Monday, 29 October 2018

“No one is too far away to be cared for or to care”

By David Montgomery


“No one is too far away to be cared for or to care.”

It’s all about what we do and how we share.

There's so many little things we can say or post

To let others know that they matter most.


Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Seeing Red: A Look at Bipolar Anger

Anyone can get angry but bipolar disorder can take rage to unprecedented extremes. What is bipolar anger, what triggers it, and how can it be managed?

In this article we’re going to explore bipolar anger. Examples are drawn from my experience as caregiver to my best friend Fran, and others happy to share their stories.

What Does Bipolar Anger Feel Like?

It would be hard to improve on this description:

“Bipolar anger is impulsive, intense, erratic, and explosive. It is being asked a simple question and responding with irrational anger and/or irritation. It is lashing out, for no logical reason, on those that love and care for you. It’s driving down the road and whetting the blade of your pocket knife on the side mirror because someone is driving too close to you. It is the inability to listen to rational behavior and even answering the question ‘why?’” (Mariah)

Others also talked about its explosive nature:

“I can ignore issues for only so long then my anger towards another person spikes. I have been known to yell really really hard, say extremely mean things and sometimes throw things but I wouldn’t physically hurt someone.” (Susan)

“Bipolar rage is very real and it can be very, very violent. I will chase people and pick a fight.” (Julie)

The anger is mostly directed towards others but it can turn inward, manifesting as self-harm:

“I said very mean things in texts to my now ex-boyfriend. Basically I am on the attack personally without direct provocation. Then I get back in the mode of attacking myself … biting myself, pulling my hair, and hitting myself.” (Susan)

Mariah shared that anger comes easier to her than addressing what is actually happening in her life:

“It is easy for me to tell those that I love to leave me and never come back, even offering to help them pack. It is easy for me to say ‘Fuck it!’ and let people go, rather than admit that I am the one hurting inside. It is easy to push all other emotions aside and let the rage erupt inside of me until it spills out into the household, creating chaos all around me.” (Mariah)

In a similar vein Vikki describes anger as “bipolar’s go-to emotion.” This might sound like taking the easy way out but to me it reinforces how desperately hard it can be to engage more “reasonable” responses when anger takes hold.

Timing and Triggers

Jen traces her anger back to childhood and the suppression of emotions from an early age:

“I think for me, it comes from childhood trauma. I learned too soon in life that life is not always fair. I was taught that feelings should be stuffed down and I became angry about that in later life. I’m still angry about that.” (Jen)

Most contributors said that anger is more of an issue during mania, especially dysphoric mania, but it can appear at any time:

“For me mania anger was more because others thought I was on drugs when I wasn’t. When I’m depressed it’s more anger at me or the world.” (Vikki)

Fran becomes frustrated when people fail to understand or challenge her reality. When Fran was manic she was falsely accused of being drunk or of not taking her medication, which hurt and angered her greatly. Several people mentioned driving as a specific trigger:

“My bipolar anger is very unreasonable. I get angry at things that I normally don’t even notice. My worst anger is in traffic. I have absolute road rage when an episode is in full force. I have to be very, very careful when driving.” (Julie)

Other people’s anger is likely to add fuel to the fire and once the line has been crossed it can be hard to pull back:

“When others are angry I take it as a challenge. I push back and fight back until I feel as though I have ‘won.’ When I am in the cycle of my own anger I do not consider possible consequences and at those moments I do not care.” (Mariah)

Healthy Anger

As unlikely as it might seem anger can be healthy:

“We were reminded in dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) that anger is a motivator for change. We do not like something or it irritates us, so we work to change it. Without irritation and anger we would be a pretty lazy species.” (Roiben)

Anger drives Fran forward when she would otherwise become mired in self-doubt. It can also help get her message across. She once became furious when I failed to recognise how desperate things were for her. Within moments she had my full attention! We can also think of anger in the face of injustice:

“When things in my life don’t seem fair, or if I see that things are unfair for my friends, or even my country, I get angry. But maybe it’s okay to be a little angry.” (Jen)

What Helps?

There are several approaches to managing bipolar anger. It can help to avoid triggers and stressful situations. Fran’s life has become much calmer since she withdrew from social media. As she puts it, “There were plenty of good things but also plenty that pissed me off.” Calming activities such as art, listening to music, taking a bath, and meditation can help as can medication, talking therapies, prayer, and positive affirmations.

“I am trying to improve by positive self-talk in the mirror and with drawing. Self-talk is really helping!” (Susan)

It is worth remembering that the underlying reason or trigger for the anger is very often real and needs addressing. It can help to explore what is going on, either alone or with a trusted friend:

“It is not until much later, sometimes days later, that I am able to analyze my behavior.” (Mariah)

“I get so frustrated with a few of the people in my world, not so much with what they say but how they say it, and I have to ruminate for days and talk it over with Marty until I can let it go.” (Fran)

Beth describes a different approach:

“I feel I know the receiving end of the anger that came come with bi-polar. I have several friends who get angry with me on occasion, enough to tell me they want to end our friendship. I no longer try to ferret out what I did. I have come to understand that it is not based on anything I did most of the time. Talking it through can be incredibly counter-productive. Waiting it out, letting them know I am around if and when they are ready, and giving them space is about all I can do. I have been told by more than one that part of my getting the brunt end of anger is because the person knows I will not give up on them.” (Beth)

Jen finds insight in a quote from the movie Excalibur:

“Lancelot says to King Arthur ‘Your rage has unbalanced you.’ This is an amazing metaphor because I battle myself internally, like these men are doing externally and I can get unbalanced quickly.” (Jen)

Being honest about how you are feeling helps. (“A heads up. Just so you know I’m in a bad mood.”) And there is always humour.

Fran: I’m going to keep getting mad at you, Marty, because that’s the only way you’re going to learn.

Marty: You’re going to keep getting mad at me because I’m writing an article on bipolar anger!

What are your experiences with bipolar anger in yourself and in others? What works for you? What doesn’t?


Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Let’s Talk Mental Health – Leeds

By Quinn Brown

Hi guys, I just want to quickly mention Let’s Talk Mental Health, a newly formed annual series of events in different places that are dedicated to encouraging people to talk openly about mental illness. I did an event in Selby which went really well and now I’ll be doing an event in Leeds on the 17th of November.

I have NINE speakers involved and the evening will be quite a moving one to say the least. Here’s the final poster for the event and I’ll be promoting it over the next couple of weeks.

I will be speaking to one of the speakers two days after the event on her radio show and I’ll be discussing everything about the event so do please check that out when you get chance. More information on that coming soon.

Follow Let’s Talk Mental Health on Facebook and Twitter.


Sunday, 21 October 2018

Thoughts Whilst Out Walking

Fran’s words from a few days ago are still with me: “The truest response is letting go ...”

Yes... let go of pain, of joy, of aching, of delight ... Do not hold on to any of it. Let it rise, have its moment, and go, to be replaced by what arises in its stead ... externally and within you.

Offer minimal resistance to what arises ... Let it pass through you, joyously, gratefully ...

We cling, we hold on, from fear. Fear of losing what was never ours to begin with. Fear of daring to reach for what is within our grasp.

This moment is all that you will ever own. It is what you have brought into being, it is what you were brought into being to experience, herenow. You are the universe’s gift to itself in this moment. No other has been granted this gift. Accept it, take it in your hands, examine its shape, colours, textures. Allow it fully into your awareness ... And let it go again ...

Life is not a lesson, though you can choose to see it as such. Life is not a trial, though you are free to live yours as though it were.

Any gift worth the name comes without strings ... you are free to decline it, trample on it, pass it on to another, keep it under lock and key ... And so it is with life, with this moment.

Originally written October 2012