Wednesday, 26 July 2017

A Behind the Scenes Look at My Latest Book Reading Videos

I recently updated our YouTube channel with four short videos of me reading excerpts from our book. I recorded them whilst on holiday at Bowness on Windermere in the English Lake District. I think the videos came out pretty well. I am standing outside. There are trees behind me. There’s a breeze blowing and I have to keep catching my hair back from my face. In a couple of places, I think you can hear sheep. I appear calm and composed, as though this was exactly how I had intended the recordings to go.

I thought you might be interested in the real story!

I’d taken my copy of High Tide, Low Tide on holiday, intending to record myself reading a selection of passages to share on our social media. On the Wednesday evening I set out on a short walk, looking for a suitable recording location. I wanted somewhere private enough that I’d not be interrupted or observed, away from traffic and other background noises, with suitable support for my smartphone on its mini tripod.

I headed north, in the direction of Ambleside. The map on my smartphone suggested I might get down to the lake, but when I got there it was all private access only. It was a lovely evening though, and quiet away from the main road. I wandered on along a narrow path, with trees to the left of me and fields to the right. I had a nice Skype call with Fran. I even saw a deer!

I found what I thought would be a good place. I fastened my phone on its mini tripod to a gate post, took out the book and began to record, but within minutes a lady came by walking her dog. We got talking, about the book (which was still in my hand) and about the local area. She told me how three hundred child survivors of the Holocaust were relocated to the Lake District after WWII. They stayed on what was then the village of Calgarth Estate, pretty much where the fields are now. You can read more of this moving story on the Lake District Holocaust Project website.

The nice dog lady walked with me most of the way back to the main road. I was disappointed not to have recorded anything, but I decided to go down to the jetty near the cottage and try there. There was no one there when I arrived. I sat on the bench and got set up, but no sooner had I started recording than the sound of shrieking rang out. Someone’s darling kids were enjoying themselves at the water’s edge nearby. Grrrrr!!! I packed up and headed back. I wasn’t happy! It seemed as though all my best efforts had come to nothing. I simply wasn’t destined to make these recordings!

I stopped by a gate, almost within sight of the cottage. The light was perfect. Someone was sure to come by if I had another go, but it was worth one last try. It took a few minutes to get my tripod secured to the gate. I had a couple of false starts, but managed to record four excerpts which I reckon came out okay. Phew!

As I headed back to the cottage, I was smiling.

The Recordings

How Much Help Is Enough? Can It Ever Be Too Much?

Do You Ever Feel Overwhelmed When Fran Is Suicidal?

What Happens When You Can't Be Together All the Time?

How Do You And Fran Get Through Your Darkest Days?

 

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Book Review: #ThisIsWhatAnxietyFeelsLike: When you think everyone hates you & so much more, by Sarah Fader (Author) and Michelle Hammer (Creator)

I have followed Sarah Fader on Twitter for several years, intially through her work with the mental health nonprofit Stigma Fighters, which gives a forum—online and in (to date) three published anthologies—to people’s experiences living with mental illness in all its many forms.

This new book brings the focus in closer, both in terms of the condition being covered—anxiety—and by limiting the descriptions to Twitter’s 140 characters, each with the associated hashtag #ThisIsWhatAnxietyFeelsLike. The book contains 51 pieces by Sarah, each brilliantly illustrated by Michelle Hammer.

Whether we have a diagnosed condition or not, we can all remember times we have been anxious. This book takes the reader in further: to reading and by extension imaging what that “regular” anxiety might be like, racked up 1,000 percent and liable to overwhelm you at any moment.

If like me you have little or no personal experience of anxiety, buy this book. Read it. Tell everyone you know about it. It’s that important. But recognise it is the start, rather than the end, of your journey.

Get on social media and follow the #ThisIsWhatAnxietyFeelsLike hashtag for many many more examples, from people all over the world. Keep your mind and heart open. You will learn a lot.

This is what countering stigma feels like.

About the Authors

Sarah Fader is the CEO and Founder of Stigma Fighters, a non-profit organization that encourages individuals with mental illness to share their personal stories. She has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Quartz, Psychology Today, The Huffington Post, HuffPost Live, and Good Day New York. Michelle Hammer is a graphic designer and artist living with paranoid schizophrenia. Her work has been featured on NBC, The Daily Mail, BuzzFeed, Mashable. Shape, A+, HelloGiggles, and Stylist. Her artwork is the most recognized on her signature clothing line Schizophrenic NYC. Michelle designs pieces of art on clothing that represent what mental illness means to her.

#ThisIsWhatAnxietyFeelsLike: When you think everyone hates you & so much more is available (print and Kindle) from Amazon.

 

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

BESIEGED: Sometimes I Just Want to Be Left Alone

It’s Saturday morning and as I often am, I’m sitting in my favourite coffee shop, Caffè Nero near the Haymarket in Newcastle. I’ve been coming here regularly since it opened. How many years is that? Before Fran and I began work on our book, for sure, and that’s pushing five years now.

It’s hard to visualise, but this used to be the City Post Office. I’ve stood in line many times—where these tables are now—for postage stamps, or to send packages off all over the world. It looks so different now! And yet, there is a sense of continuity. I may have to go elsewhere these days for my postal services (as I did this morning, to buy stamps and to mail out a copy of our book) but it is here, a large black coffee to hand (“Would you like the extra shot?” “Yes please!”), that I write my letters, cards, and postcards.

Here is also where I meet folk face-to-face. Caffè Nero is my social hub these days. The staff have changed over the years but have always been warm, personable, and supportive of my mental health work and our book. If I am meeting someone in town, here is my first choice of venue, and I have made several new friends from amongst the other regulars here. Last Saturday, a friend I know from elsewhere turned up unexpectedly. We had a great natter, and hope to meet up again soon.

For years, I had no one local to meet up with for a drink and a chat. I recall sitting in a different coffee bar, not far from here, aware that no one I knew was likely to walk in, whether accidentally or by arrangement, to greet me with a smile or a hug and share time with me over a cup of coffee.

Nowadays, I bump into people all the time! Folk I have met here at Caffè Nero, or from the monthly Literary Salon at Bar Loco (which I only learned about last year from a guy I got chatting to at Nero’s) or via Time to Change and Broadacre House. I have opened myself up to the world, and the world has opened to greet me.

But, sometimes, it all gets a bit much. Sometimes I just want to sit here and not be talked to, especially when I am clearly writing. Sometimes it’s nice to be anonymous. To be ignored. Sometimes it’s nice to be gifted a “Hi, nice to see you” without my “Hi” back being taken as an invitation to occupy my space for the next twenty minutes.

So this morning when it happened I kept my head down. Finished the letter I was writing, and kept right on going, lest any pause in my writing signal a willingness to engage. I drafted a new blog piece. This one.

And now that I am no longer besieged I can relax again. Breathe. I guess I need to work my boundaries, but at least something good came of the experience. Now it just needs a title...

 

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Mental Health in Social Media, by Rebecca Lombardo

I had my first real taste of social media back in the days of Myspace. I never considered it to be anything of value; I just thought it was something to do for fun. However, it was essentially just a waste of time. In about 2006, when I got my first email invitation to join Facebook, I had no idea that it would be both a blessing and a curse.

So, when I first ventured into the Twitter arena, I was completely lost. I didn’t understand 75% of what I was looking at, and hashtags were just tic-tac-toe boards in my experience. I had no idea what was going on, but I knew that you could see tweets from famous people from time to time, and I found that to be rather fascinating, so I stuck with it.

All these years later, social media has become my preferred method of communication. I enjoy checking my various pages and keeping up with what my friends are doing. There are times when I rely on those people to help keep me sane. Have there been negative experiences? Too many to count. If you’re not face to face, humor or sarcasm can be taken as rude behavior; which can launch you into a war of words with your friends looking on like they’re watching a tennis match.

Even with the pitfalls, if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find a valuable tool that has the potential to catapult you onto the computer screens of hundreds of thousands of people. I won’t lie, when I was new to Twitter and reaching out to others for help with promoting my book, it felt like a clique; and I didn’t belong. I sensed early on that there were mean girls (and guys) that didn’t have any desire to assist you in any way.

However, I was persistent, and I kept posting and eventually started to connect with people. People that today I am proud to call my friends. On the negative side, people are trolling social media searching for a weak spot that they can exploit. I’ve had downright scary interactions with people that made me second guess everything I stood for. But, that’s what the bullies are hoping for, and I refuse to let them win.

The camaraderie felt within the mental health community on Twitter is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. We’re a community - you might say we’re a family. We protect our own, and we lift each other up. I’ve seen it first-hand. Sure, there’s a little competition, but we’re all on the same team and ultimately have the same goal. To finally end the stigma of mental illness.

But, there’s something important that you must remember about social media. If you’re ever in a situation where you’re in so much pain, you’re having thoughts of hurting yourself, don’t go on Twitter looking for help. The worst feeling in the world is pouring your heart out and for whatever reason, nobody answers at that moment. You may not garner the attention you had anticipated, not because you aren’t important, but because we’re all working through our own issues. We’re wrapped up in our lives and our causes, and maybe we just didn’t see your post.

That will only leave you feeling more lost and hopeless. Believe me, I’ve been there. Your best bet is to talk to someone you trust face to face, like family, a friend, a therapist. Take it from me, it makes life a lot easier when you don’t rely on social media to the degree that it becomes life or death. Always remember, everyone is fighting their own battle every single day. Perhaps they’re just not stable enough themselves to offer you encouragement or advice. We’re all doing the best we can with what we have to work with.

That being said, don’t be afraid to tweet about your feelings, or a great movie you saw, or something exciting you have planned for the weekend. If you’ve selected the right group of friends, they will be there for you and both Twitter and Facebook will have their own rewards. Just try to keep in mind that you need to disconnect now and then. Don’t have your phone out at dinner, at the movies, in the car on the way to the movies. It’s not only obsessive, but it’s downright annoying.

Connecting with like-minded people has its benefits. I can’t say enough about it. Of course, you’re going to run into people who are nothing like you and some may be quite menacing. That’s what the lovely little feature called BLOCK is for, and thank God for that! Social media has the potential to be a fun and interesting experience if you learn the protocol first and try hard not to take anything personally. If someone has an issue with you, that’s their problem, not yours.

About the Author

I’m 44 years old and have been happily married for nearly 16 years. I enjoy reading, writing, music, watching movies and sports. I live in Michigan with my husband and our cats. At age 19, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I have struggled with mental illness in many forms for more than 20 years.

I’m a published author, bipolar blogger, and a mental health advocate. I am thrilled to have been selected to write for the Huffington Post and The Mighty. I just published an updated version of my book, It’s Not Your Journey, which is available on Amazon.com. Currently, my husband and I host a podcast called Voices for Change 2.0 on Saturday mornings at 11am EST.

Website: www.rebeccalombardo.com
Twitter: www.twitter.com/bekalombardo
Facebook: www.facebook.com/notyourjourney
Podcast: www.voices-for-change.net
Amazon: It’s Not Your Journey

 

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Walking Home from the Store (Old Friends)

I am walking home from Tescos. It’s a little after 6 pm. I go to the store two or three evenings a week for groceries, or treats. Most times I would be pressing home, to be back in time for my Skype call with Fran at 7 pm. Not this evening, though.

We’ve not fallen out or anything like that, it’s just she’s out with friends all day today while she’s having work done on her apartment. We have chatted on and off. The last time was about half an hour ago.

Fran: Things are going well but I am exhausted. Horizontal day tomorrow.
Marty: I’m at Tescos
Fran: 1.45 movie
Marty: Ooo what movie?
Fran: My Cousin Rachel
Marty: I will have to look it up. With J?
Fran: Yes
Marty: Cool

We met up on Skype last night at 7 pm. We went through her checklist to make sure all the preparations were done, and she carried the laptop round the apartment so I could see the progress she’s made. We usually have another call later but didn’t last night, because there was still a lot for her to do.

It’s a beautiful evening here. Sunny, but (mercifully!) much cooler than it has been lately. I hate the heat! Can’t move. Can’t think. This is lovely though. The shopping bags are heavy but I’m not in a rush. I relax into the moment.

How am I feeling?

I feel proud of Fran, for having got everything done for when the workers arrived today. It has been a huge challenge. The physical side of things, for sure; clearing and packing things away so they won’t get damaged. Exertion can easily trip Fran into a fatigue crash. It’s a little early to be sure but I’m hoping we have avoided that. Then there’s the mental and emotional stress, and the disruption to her—and our—routines. In some ways, that’s even more of a challenge to Fran’s wellbeing and stability than the physical side of things.

What else?

I feel free, in having the evening to myself—and a little guilty for feeling that! It’s rare for us not to be meeting at all. I don’t know what I will do with my time! Feels like I should (one of my most hated words!) do something special, something particular, rather than let the opportunity simply pass through my fingers. Then again, I don’t have to do anything as such. Relaxing counts.

I cross the Metro train line. Turn right at the Community Centre. It’s nice enough to take the short cut across the playing field.

Guilt slides into envy. I am envious of the friends who get to spend time with Fran today, especially the friend who will accompany her to the movies. We watch films and tv dramas together on Skype or Netflix but—three thousand miles apart—we can’t go to the cinema for real.

Observing all this is interesting! We don’t label thoughts and feelings as “good” or “bad” (those labels carry a moral weight that is mostly inappropriate). We feel what we feel, and thoughts come as they will. “Healthy” / “unhealthy” we use sometimes. “Positive” / “negative.” I choose not to label my pride, guilt, and envy, however. They are old friends. They are all welcome here.

I stop for a moment. Rearrange the bags of shopping. Move on again.

What’s that poem about visitors to the house? Ah yes.

The Guest House, by Rumi

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

I am smiling now. Once upon a time, Fran being out all day like this—being busy, having other people to be with—would have triggered stronger emotions. Fear. Abandonment. Jealousy. I have grown since then. We have grown. We understand each other better. Codependency also is an old friend.

What else?

I am proud of me and Fran. We have worked well together this past week. I helped her plan the work and chart her progress through it. I have kept her company while she worked, listened to her grumbling about it, and encouraged her when she needed it. I am aware of—and at ease with—the things I could not help with, being on the other side of the Atlantic. I couldn’t fetch things, lift things, or be out all day today with Fran while the work is going on. I’m grateful there are other friends who are able—and willing—to be there for Fran in the ways I cannot be. Gratitude is the antidote to codependency.

Not too far now. I am crossing the playing field. Local kids playing football.

I have an idea for my evening. I am going to write a blog post—this one—about how I have been feeling and processing this experience. Later I may start the Prevent training course a friend recommended to me recently. Or maybe an early night.

Tomorrow Fran is going to be pretty shattered. As she said earlier, she will need a “horizontal day.” A rest day. We will meet up on webcam, I’m sure. We will talk, share our experiences of today. Her day out. The movie. My day. My evening. My feelings—and this piece of writing they inspired. I will likely read some more from the novel we are reading together (James Hayman’s The Girl on the Bridge). Maybe we will watch some television. Doc Martin. Or Poirot.

That’s what old friends do.

 

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Anxiety is my Wingman … I Think, by Sarah Fader

I’ve had chronic anxiety since I was 15, but my symptoms (in small ways) started earlier. As a child I was quite nervous about being away from my mother. She was my safety blanket, and I wanted to be with her all the time. I still (at 37) have a close relationship with my mom, and I value her opinion so much. She is my person that I talk to when I feel down. My mom is an integral part of my support system, and I love her dearly.

But back to anxiety, which is the theme of this post. I find anxiety to be both exhilarating and debilitating. At my high positive points, I feel like I can do anything. Anxiety gives me energy, and combined with mania, I find myself writing a ton of articles, and working on several projects at once. It’s those points where I feel like anxiety is on my side. There are other points where (after the crash of manic energy) I feel low and defeated. It’s like a balloon that runs out of helium. I don’t feel like I can anymore, I’m the little engine that could NOT. That’s no fun for me, and I want to curl up in a ball and die; that’s a hyperbole, actually, I don’t want to die, but I just want relief from those overwhelming feelings of dread. It’s difficult to function when my filter is full, or my plate is empty.

I’ve heard people talk about Bipolar Disorder like a coffee filter that is filled with the grounds from coffee. When the filter is full, I can’t take on anything in life and I just want to sleep. I want to be curled up in my blanket. During those moments I can’t access the energy associated with anxiety, my wingman. I long for the times when I can do anything, or at least I feel like I can.

I refer to anxiety as my wingman, because it’s a trusted companion. You’ve heard people talk about the devil you know? Well, that’s anxiety for me. I rely on it to push me forward. Anxiety is my biggest cheerleader when I use it “right.” And that’s what I’m trying to do in my life. I want anxiety to be my best friend, rather than my worst enemy. There’s no need for anxiety to be a nemesis. It can be used for good.

Now, I want to ask you, how do you view anxiety? Is a good friend or a terrible enemy? If you have resentment toward your anxiety, perhaps you can shift that relationship. Maybe anxiety can push you forward and help you accomplish tasks. I’m trying to see the positive attributes of anxious energy so that I don’t get caught up and overwhelmed in its grasp. I believe you can do this too. In the comments section, please tell me a time where anxiety helped you. I know you can do it!

About the Author

Sarah Fader is the CEO and Founder of Stigma Fighters, a non-profit organization that encourages individuals with mental illness to share their personal stories. She has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Quartz, Psychology Today, The Huffington Post, HuffPost Live, and Good Day New York.

Sarah is a native New Yorker who enjoys naps, talking to strangers, and caring for her two small humans and two average-sized cats. Like six million other Americans, Sarah lives with panic disorder. Through Stigma Fighters, Sarah hopes to change the world, one mental health stigma at a time. You can find Sarah at www.sarahfader.com.