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


Wednesday, 21 June 2017

How to Handle Anger Creatively in a Supportive Relationship

If you avoid conflict to keep the peace, you start a war inside yourself.—Cheryl Richardson

In the first of a new series of Question & Answer posts, Anna asks: “Do you and Fran ever get angry with each other? How do you deal with that?” Quoted passages are excerpted from our book.

In any relationship worthy of the name there will be times when one person or the other becomes irritated, frustrated, or even furiously angry. It’s important not to imagine or pretend otherwise, or hide from it when it happens. My six year friendship with Fran has transformed my relationship with anger. I am no longer afraid. It’s not that anger is a good thing in itself, but when it turns up we acknowledge it, and are honest about what is happening.

One of the most important lessons I have learned is that it is okay to get things wrong sometimes; for me to become irritated, frustrated, or angry at Fran; or for her to feel that way about me. In a relationship founded on trust and honesty, we feel safe expressing how we feel. If we allow the experience to flow without resisting it, we can emerge on the other side: still friends, cleansed, and perhaps a little wiser.

In the early stages of our friendship, I found Fran’s manic intensity exciting, but I was shocked at the frustration and anger she stirred up in me. Fran valued the emotional energy and encouraged—sometimes goaded—its expression: “Let your anger flow through you furiously, thoroughly, until it’s totally spent. It’s beautiful.” This was a revelation to me. I had spent my entire adult life trying not to become angry or upset anyone.

Irritations, grumbles, and disagreements crop up all the time, of course. They are part and parcel of life itself. Real flare ups are much rarer, but trust me we do get mad with each other sometimes! The anger is not always directed at each other. Sometimes it is triggered by other people, situations or things. We get to deal with that too.

We were talking one evening, a few months into our friendship, when I mentioned something apparently innocuous. Within moments, Fran was sobbing and furious. She hung up on me. It was the first time she had done so, other than occasionally as a joke. I had no idea what to do. I called back several times, but she failed to answer. I e-mailed her and said I was here when or if she wanted me.

I thought about how I was feeling. I was angry. Not with Fran, but with myself for having said what I did. I had not intended to hurt her, of course, nor could I reasonably have anticipated what my words would trigger. I was also concerned about her, although I trusted her to handle things, however she needed to, and to get back to me when she was ready.

As my feelings settled, I was left with a sense of calm. Something very intense had happened, but it was okay. More than that, it was important. I called Fran an hour or so later, and this time she picked up. We talked through what had happened, grateful to each other for the experience. Out of the apparent mess we had learned something new about each other and our friendship.

The source of Fran’s anger is often frustration: at her situation, at the realities of a life lived with illness, or at other people—me included—who she feels are not paying attention or taking her concerns seriously. A few times we’ve been on a call together and suddenly Fran has been crying and screaming at me that I didn’t get it: that I could never understand what she’s going through.

Paranoia can play a role. If Fran is convinced everyone is against her or hates her, I mention it to her as a potential red flag for illness. (Fran will sometimes notice it first, and share it with me so we are both aware.) But of course not all her rage is symptomatic. The world is neither fair nor pretty. All of us feel frustrated, angry and fearful from time to time. Those who live with mental illness also face stigma, ignorance and discrimination. These challenges are very real, and far more prevalent than many of us “well ones” recognise.

I get frustrated too. I get frustrated that, being 3,000 miles away, I am unable to help Fran as much as I would if we lived closer. I get frustrated if my attempts to help are clumsy or ill-fitted to her needs. And sometimes I get frustrated for no good reason at all.

I am clearer about my boundaries these days, but early in our friendship I felt I was letting Fran down if I could not do what she asked straightaway. We had been friends for about three months when things came to a head. I had helped her throughout the day and evening, but had turned my computer off and was about to go to bed. The description of what happened next comes from my diary, written the following day.

I was feeling overwhelmed about a lot of things, mostly nothing to do with Fran, but I was OK until she called after I turned the computer off and asked me to edit something to post online about wanting a ride to the Bob Dylan concert. I said I was going to bed and would do it in the morning. Fran said OK, but in a way that sounded like she was disappointed. All of a sudden I was furious at her! I hung up and turned my phone off so she couldn’t call me back. I put the computer back on and did the edit she wanted, and then e-mailed it to her. “Here you go, best I can manage. It’s twenty past midnight. I will edit the other things you wanted tomorrow. Night.”

I had no intention of talking to her again that night, but I turned my phone back on after a while, and saw she had sent me the most ridiculous cartoon video of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” All my tension and anger dissolved in an instant! Not just the stuff about Fran, but the rest of it too. I called her and we had a huge laugh about it! I learned three lessons that night. First, it is important to respect my needs as much as I respect Fran’s. The editing was not urgent; I was tired and needed sleep. Second, I have choices. I might have chosen to do the work gracefully to get it out of the way, or leave it until morning. Having a tantrum about it was also a choice. Third, I learned that extreme emotions can be cleansing. Fran defused my outburst with humour, simultaneously releasing the rest of my pent-up frustrations. As I wrote to Fran later, “I needed to get mad at you. Thank you.”

Fran often notices a shift in my mood and asks me about it before it can spill over into anger, but sometimes there is little or no warning. A couple of months ago we were talking together on webcam. Suddenly, I was more furious than I can ever recall being in my life. I was yelling at her, swearing at her, raging at her. I can still recall the fury. I can taste it. I have no recollection now of what triggered my outburst, but I know we stayed on our call. Fran waited for me to calm down. We talked it through. I could ask Fran to remind me what it was about. Perhaps I will. But the point is we can experience moments of even extreme anger, process them, and move on.

How do we do that? First and foremost we are honest and open with each other. We are not proud of our anger but neither are we ashamed. We do not take it as a personal affront or as a threat to our relationship. We talk as soon as possible, looking “under the bonnet” at what might actually have been going on. It can be a very cleansing experience, and allows us to move forward without feeling guilty or nursing bruised egos.

When I began writing this post I joked to Fran that I had enough material already so there was no need for us to get mad at each other for a while. A few days later, something happened. It no more than a minor misalignment, but it could easily have escalated if we had not been open to exploring what was happening. We were on our regular early evening call (early evening for me, early afternoon for Fran due to the time difference). Fran talked for a while about her day, how she had made a few phone calls and got movement on some things she’s been dealing with lately. When it seemed we’d talked that through, I shared what had been going on for me. I read her a new book review we’d received, and told her about an invitation I’d received to attend a mental health event later in the year.

I could tell Fran wasn’t paying attention, and as soon as I stopped speaking she took the conversation back to what she’d been talking about earlier. I let it go but I felt aggrieved. I’d have liked some acknowledgement of what I’d shared. I was also irritated by some of what Fran was saying about other people and events, as though everything and everyone was against her.

After talking for a few minutes Fran paused. She’d noticed my shift in mood. She acknowledged she was being unreasonable. She knew I was excited about my news, but couldn’t focus on that because she was so worried about what was going on for her. She was also concerned her bipolar might be kicking in again. I realised I’d not picked up on just how concerned she was about everything. Although “tired and grumpy” she had seemed to have things in hand.

It didn’t take long to talk it through. No more than a couple of minutes. Before we ended our call I told her: “I’m proud of how we do this stuff, Fran. You get to say how it is for you. I get to say how it is for me. And we get over ourselves and move on.”


Wednesday, 14 June 2017

My Support System, by Meghan Shultz

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Meghan and I have Bipolar Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, and Anxiety Disorder. Today, I’m going to tell you about my support system.

I get a lot of support from a lot of different people. My husband, my doctor, my parents, my case worker, my psychiatrist, the local hospitals, my psychologist, and my employment worker who really just likes to sit and chat rather than look for work for me which is just fine by me. But each and every one of these people plays a role in supporting me. Each in a different way. I get a lot of support. I am a lucky one. I’m in a lucky country.

Everyone plays their part. My husband plays his part on a personal level that only he can. He sees me at my worst and at my best. And when I say my best I mean at my most manic. He’s seen me in every spectrum of my disease and still he sticks around and does everything that he can to support me. And that’s not always easy. I don’t always make it easy. I’m not always an easy person to deal with. But he loves me anyway so he stays.

My husband, he takes me to appointments, he sometimes waits patiently in the car for me to finish. If it’s a long appointment he’ll go home and then come back again to pick me up. He also questions me when I start taking things that don’t look like psych meds, i.e. diet pills or laxatives. I used to have an eating disorder. Diet pills are a serious issue. He knows to question these things. But it’s not just medical things that he supports me in it’s my writing pursuits also. I want to be a writer. I guess I am a writer. And he helps to encourage that in me. He drives me to a writing group once a month and last weekend he drove me into the city to attend another writers course which will probably become a regular thing. He encourages me as well as supports me.

My parents do their best to understand what I live with, this illness, this Bipolar, but they don’t live with me so it’s different for them. It’s harder for them to understand. But they try and, like my husband, they stick around and still love me regardless. They always keep in contact with me, my mum visits often or my husband and I go round to her place, and my dad calls every couple of weeks to check in. I can’t fault them in their support. I couldn’t ask for better or more supportive parents.

Now, health professionals, you would have noticed that I see a lot of health professionals. They play a fairly big role in my treatment and support; not as big as my husband, but fairly big. I see my general doctor every week. I see my case worker fortnightly. I see my psychiatrist every few months. I see my psychologist every few weeks. My current hospital trend is that I’m an inpatient a few times a year. And I see my employment worker once a week. It seems like a lot but it’s a strong team and it works. It works for me. It supports me.

Probably the most important for me of all the health professionals would have to be my general doctor whom I see every week. I see him so often that we’ve developed quite a good relationship. We generally only have ten minute appointments but he’s never in a rush to shove me out the door. First and foremost he always asks about my symptoms and how they’ve been, if I’ve been manic or depressed over the past week. After that we’ll just sit and chat about this or that for a while. Before I leave we’ll discuss how my meds are going and if I need any refills. But the biggest thing for me is that I am on disability and he is incredibly supportive of that, he has to be, otherwise I never would have been approved for it. Everything about him is supportive and I couldn’t ask for a better doctor.

All of these people in my life that I have just listed, they don’t have to give a crap about me, they don’t have to care, they don’t have to give a shit, even if it’s their job. My doctor doesn’t have to care, my psychiatrist doesn’t have to give me the extra attention that she does when I see her. My husband doesn’t have to love me. But they do. And all of these people support me in their own ways. All in their different ways. But they all support me in some way or another.

About the Author

My name is Meghan, I’m 27 years old. Author of Always Unstable: Bipolar and Hospitalisation: A Memoir and Blogger at You can find me on Twitter at @alwaysunstable.

I love rain, tattoos, bad decisions, writing, and knitting. Also mentally ill but you already got that, right?


Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Like a Rootless Tree (Where Are Your Roots?)

“So, where are your roots?”

It’s not every day you get asked a question like that in the gents’ toilet at Bar Loco. At least, it’s not every day I get asked that in the gents’ toilet at Bar Loco. Then again, I’m not there very often.

It was the t-shirt, of course. My American Roots t-shirt. Specifically, given I was standing at the urinal, the back of the shirt which asks WHERE ARE YOUR ROOTS? in sans serif caps.

Caught off-guard, mid pee, I stumbled for an answer. “Well,” I said, looking down at my chest. “I’m not American. The shirt is. It was a gift from my bestie in Maine. I’m from Liverpool.”

“Cheshire,” my new friend responded.

“Erm.” Zipping up and turning to see who I was addressing. “Merseyside.”

“Cheshire.” He asserted, smiling.

I knew he was wrong. Liverpool was in Lancashire when I was growing up, until 1974 when I became a teenager and Liverpool became a part of the metropolitan county of Merseyside. But I didn’t feel confident enough to contradict him without googling it to check, and somehow I didn’t feel right doing that just then.

Our impromptu conversation (I was washing my hands by this stage) moved on to my Scouse accent—or rather, my lack of one. My sister is fiercely proud of her accent. My mother hates to be reminded of hers. I am indifferent. My accent was never strong, and I’ve not spent any significant time in Liverpool since I left at eighteen.

I was at University in Bradford for four years. London for three. Six months in Norwich staying in the nurses’ home at the Norfolk & Norwich Hospital (which sounds racier than it was, me not being a very racy chap). Thirty years and counting here in Newcastle. I’ve picked up a little dialect and inflection here and there. Talking on Skype with Fran three hours a day for six years has added an American twist or two. I frequently find myself somewhere mid-Atlantic, poised between tomahto and tomayto, shedule and skedule. Especially when reading aloud to Fran, which I do a lot. Especially reading books by American authors (ditto, we know a few). But that’s another story.

Where was I?

Ah yes. Bar Loco. I was there for the Newcastle Literary Salon spoken word event, and this month’s theme was PLACE AND IDENTITY. You can see where this is going—which is more than I’ve ever been able to do, really. I’ve never had much idea where I was heading. Not so much drifting as carried by whatever currents were in play at the time. Only in the past few years have I gained any sense of direction. Of purpose. Of—now I come to think about it—rootedness.

Noun. The quality or state of having roots, especially of being firmly established, settled, or entrenched.

Aside: this post’s title comes from the Damien Rice song “Like a Rootless Tree,” specifically this version with Lisa Hannigan. If you don’t know it, listen to it now. You will thank me. Really. As a friend of mine said, “I fucking LOVE this song!” (The expletive is deliberate, you’ll understand when you listen to it.) Several of those performing at the Salon—poets for the most part—had borrowed from song lyrics or titles in the pieces they shared. So I’m in good company.

I’ve attended most of the Salon events over the past year. I’ve performed three times (Jun 2016 | Jul 2016 | Sep 2016) reading excerpts from our book High Tide, Low Tide. This time, though, I was there to listen. To open myself to the frequently raw, gutsy passion of those who dare to bare and share at the mic. I’ve written before how potent and challenging the Salon is for me.

I wasn’t disappointed. One after the other, I was moved by performer and performance alike. Aidan Clarke, whose voice I would willingly drown in. Melissa Chaplin, who spoke of her own issues with dialect and accent. Iain Rowan’s performance resonated especially. He spoke of how our roots need not be limited to the places we grew up in; they can be all the places and connections we have made in our journey through life. And that got me thinking. Or rather, it got me feeling. Always a good thing for a writer to hear, so I hope Iain gets to read this.

I’ve never felt much attachment to my city and region of birth. My one remaining attachment to Liverpool is my mother. Despite having other family there, I know that when my mother dies I will never revisit. There will be nothing there for me. Nothing there of me. For me, places are rendered meaningful not by accident of birth or count of years, but by virtue of the events and relationships they held or hold.

One poem of Iain’s (“We Planets, We Comets”) recounted a summer of earnest and joyful friendship. It recalled university days and months—and poetry—of my own.

In the REAL WORLD nothing rhymes and no one cares
yet here
still, even
the furniture loves us.
Maybe we’re right
but know we’ll never leave this place
our place though fortunes raze our hopes
erase our friends and set our eager souls dutifully.

From “for Richard’s room,” in Collected Poems 1977–1984 (Lulu, 2008)

That’s part of my rootedness, for sure. Bradford. One house in particular. Where else? One cottage in Wales. A London bedsit. Our holiday cottage at Brough. Evening walks to Great Musgrave along “Memory Lane.” Keep ’em coming. The waiting room at the QEII Cruise Terminal in Southampton. Brayloo.

I’m liking this sense of rootedness Iain has gifted me! Roots don’t have to be where we were born or grew up. They are—or can be—collected along the way and carried around with us.

In which case my rootedness (I see this now) includes places I’ve never travelled. Not in person. Not in the flesh. But virtually (whatever that means) as Fran’s armchair travel buddy, tagging along in her pocket by the magic of Skype and instant messaging. Spain. Germany. Austria. Amsterdam. Peaks Island. Portland, Maine: a city I feel at home in despite my feet never having touched the sidewalk. Never having touched the pavement.

It’s a fundamental tenet of my relationship with Fran and the work we are doing in the mental health arena that physical distance need not preclude deep, meaningful and successful relationships. Our vision is a world where no one is too far away to be cared for or to care.

I once asked Fran what I contributed most to our friendship. She gave me the image of an oak tree, standing strong and tall. At the time, I hadn’t felt too grounded, solid, rooted. Looking back now, I can see things differently.

Rather than imagining myself rootless, I can choose to see myself, to feel myself, part of a network with roots deep and wide enough to encompass the globe. (Think oaks, not baobabs: a nod to the wisdom of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince who attended to the toilet of his tiny planet as we would be well advised to attend to the toilet of ours.)

Speaking of toilets, next time I’m in the gents at Bar Loco I’m going to be prepared. I know where my roots are.



Wednesday, 24 May 2017

A Visit to Wylam Brewery Tap Room

A few days ago I achieved one of the 6 Things I’d Quite Like to Do in 2017, and visited the excellent Wylam Brewery Tap Room at the Palace of Arts in Exhibition Park, Newcastle upon Tyne. The building itself is superb, with a fascinating history.

Entering the park, I was reminded of previous visits over the years. Bringing my young kids (now 27 and 30, respectively!) to the playground on summer evenings, then on to Burger King for apple pie and ice cream. Newcastle Green Festival in 2003, when the event was moved from its usual venue in Leazes Park. Newcastle Mela, on a couple of occasions.

Last year I volunteered for Time to Change at Northern Pride on the Town Moor adjoining the park (what a great day that was!). I also attended the much-slated (not by me, I enjoyed myself!) Fiesta Festival. That was the day I discovered the Tap Room for the first time. The place was packed out so I didn’t stay for a drink, but I resolved to return another time.

As I approached the Palace of Arts the other day, I found a notice saying the main part of the building was closed to the public for a wedding reception. Fortunately, the bar itself and beer garden were open. I chose a pint of Collingwood Pale Ale and settled at one of the long wooden tables outside, within sight of the lake.

I took the opportunity to jot down some notes of my morning in town in my trusty Midori Traveler’s Notebook.

Breakfast at Caffé Nero. A look round Eldon Square. A small haul of goodies from the excellent Flying Tiger store. For the princely sum of £3 I picked up a pair of wood handled scissors, a small printing set, and seven rolls of Washi tape.

The beer was great, and the atmosphere inside and outside the pub was welcoming, despite the restricted access. I finished my pint just as it began to rain. I feel I have found a new “me place,” and look forward to visiting again in the near future.

Here’s a quick update on the other “Things I Would Like to Do,” for anyone wondering!

Volunteer with Time to Change
I’ve not yet had chance to volunteer this year but look forward to doing so. If you’d like to get involved with Time to Change in any capacity, check out their Champions page.

Fundraise for a Mental Health Charity
I will be on vacation when the Alzheimer’s Society Memory Walk takes place in October, but I intend taking part in the Maine NAMI Walk again, walking here in Newcastle at the same time my American friends are doing the official walk in South Portland.

See HTLT on a College or University Reading List
We were delighted to have our book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder added to the Book Club and Counselling Students Book List at The Counsellors Cafe earlier this year. As we recently reported, we also have our book in a number of libraries around the world.

Bring My Weight Back under 180 Pounds
This is very much a work in progress! When I posted my list in January, my weight was around 190 lbs. In the past four months it has had, shall we say, its ups and down. As I write this, my weight is around 188 lbs, so there is still a way to go!

Complete a Mental Health Course
I have recently 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 have been very impressed by the content and presentation of the material, which includes a printable PDF course manual. I recommend it to anyone interested in mental health support of oneself and others.

And that’s about it for now! Keep an eye out for further updates on my list of Things I’d Quite Like to Do!



Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Spoonies Online: Friends in Need … but Also Friends Indeed?, by Teresita Bauer

If you are unfamiliar with the term “spoonie,” it refers to an article by Christine Miserandino called The Spoon Theory, in which she describes explaining to a friend what it is like to live with debilitating fatigue. Her spoons analogy has been taken up by many who live with chronic fatigue, whatever its underlying nature or diagnostic label.

Teresita Bauer is a spoonie who, in her own words, lives life to the fullest. She blogs about lifestyle issues for chronic disease patients. In her first guest post for us, she talks about her experience within the online spoonie community.

Spoonies Online: Friends in Need … but Also Friends Indeed?

The online community of spoonies is a great source of support and information. Have you ever found a friend there? Great! However, have you ever been hurt by someone online, someone you did not even know? Some people have a thick skin. Unfortunately, spoonies tend to be more vulnerable.

Obviously, the spoonie online community offers lots of advantages. You can find support, information, motivation, practical tips and advice there. You meet fellow warriors who are fighting a similar battle. Other spoonies will understand what you are going through. Not necessarily because they care about you, but because they are experiencing the same. You will never walk alone – or lie there alone, if you are bedridden.

On the other hand, online communication is more conflict-prone than offline chats are. Anonymity on the internet brings about behavior which would otherwise be considered socially unacceptable. Most social media users tend to be more impetuous and straightforward. The lack of nonverbal cues and the different possibilities of interpreting written statements add fuel to the fire.

It is one thing to understand these mechanisms and it is quite another to be able to deal with them. I have been hurt. Not once, not twice, but many times. Knowing that sharing my chronic disease experiences with other persons is risky, I have learnt to take precautionary measures.

I am online for advice and help. It should make me feel better, not worse. If it makes me feel bad, it’s time to turn my computer off. I clarify a misunderstanding once, however, I refuse getting into endless discussions. I am always aware that those online friendships which are deepening quickly can rapidly go up in smoke as well.

I rely on people who are there for me; day by day. Yet I select them carefully. Online and offline.

About the Author

Teresita Bauer was diagnosed with leukemia two years ago during her last pregnancy. She also suffers from asthma and depression. She has decided to live life to the fullest and wants to help others to do so as well. She blogs at


Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Bipolar Friendship Manifesto

The author has asked to remain anonymous.

Bipolar Friendship Manifesto

Friendship is giving, sharing, loving, accepting, supporting, and really close friends are some times better than siblings. Good friends are the ones that will be there no matter happens. They are the people that will stand up for you, protect you when it is needed, and like you exactly as you truly are. For them you do not need to change, you just have to adapt yourself. Friends are the people who you can rely on in every occasion of your life, in sadness and happiness. They are proud of you, admire you, lift you up and are there for you even if they might not agree with all your decisions.

Friendship doesn’t come with terms and conditions but it comes with healthy boundaries.

You can call me romantic, a daydreamer, sensitive, but these are pure. Growing up and influenced by good people, I have learnt that in this life loving and giving your best to others costs nothing. I have my limits and I know that they are quite broad. I do not care if some people find them annoying and weird, or if they are misinterpreted.

My dear friend, what you have is just a label. It will not define my friendship towards you. You think that you are the only one who suffers? When you yell, rage on me, you hurt my feelings deeply. I suppress everything. I am scared and I hide it, because I know that it will pass and it is not you who is talking now. I try hard not to take everything you say personally, even though every word hits me deeply. And then you ask for distance, space. Silent Treatment! Have you ever thought what this causes for me? Are you going to talk to me again? I feel guilty because I am thinking that I might have said something and hurt you. I see you talking to other people and I keep wondering what I should have done better. I want to contact you, but you have completely shut me down. You treat me like I am the responsible for your situation.

And then depression comes. You disappear from everyone. I do not know what to do. Should I send something or not? I am so confused. What if I cause more trouble for you? Should I tell you that I still care for you? I do not text you because I do not want to hurt you more. I am not angry with you. Time passes. Months …

And then one day you come back again. I delete everything and start over a new cycle. Will it be the same one or will everything be fine? Probably not. The only thing that matters though is that I care for you!

This is my advice from now on, my dearest friend:

You are in a river that has a strong stream, that’s life … Some days you are swimming in the direction of the stream, you are going really fast, you have a lot of energy and feel euphoria. That is dangerous, you will hit a rock. Now you are tired, injured, and you just let the stream lure you. That is dangerous too, you may start drowning. But you are clever, my friend: you will not allow that again, you know how to survive right? You have to swim always with the right effort and direction to be stable and enjoy the water. And I know that you are a good swimmer. You will do it! We all believe in you. Load yourself with patience and learn it. You also need help: someone to give you the right equipment, and another one to talk about it. You need the experts!

I am going to be there on the river side, but not again in the water. I am not going anywhere. I promise that. You are a wonderful person. I will be here and wait. I will just be an observer, caring for you to learn as soon as possible. And if you want to rest, some motivation, a good word, I will be by the side and wait for you. And when the water becomes calm I will dive and since you know how to swim I will be there in the storms! If you do not want that, it is still ok. Your choice.

As for what happened during your fast swimming, what we said, it doesn’t matter. Only kindness is allowed on board. We will figure it out with time. Nobody hates you. Stop picturing bad things. We all make mistakes. Just remember only our good, ridiculous moments, and be grateful and proud for yourself.


Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Sometimes You Have to Wear Your Shades on a Snowy Day, by Crystal Kinistino

One day maybe, people will look at you like you’re strange (fuck that people will always be this way). Take it as a compliment! It means you have the courage to be different, i.e; real. It means sometimes you have to walk out of your apartment on a snowy day when the clouds cover any hint of the sun, and you have to wear your shades.

People will look at you strange (fuck that people always think that way). Better to wear the shades, because sometimes it’s the only thing which can hide your pain, because some people are just that fucking brave.

Not brave in that they hide their pain, but brave in that they face it. They actually have the courage to walk out of their apartment on a snowy day with a heartbreak. Fill in the blank and use your imagination. This heartbreak can be anything, anything that brings us to our knees... disease, a loved one’s death, a loss of any sort, depression, etc.

People do not realize how brave they truly are, to be able to go out there in the world and do what they do, when everything inside of them is pulling them back into the comfort and safety of their own sanctuaries.


Tuesday, 25 April 2017

High Shelves, Low Shelves: How We Got Our Book into Libraries around the World

As authors, Fran and I naturally want our book to sell. But more importantly we want it in the hands of people who are keen to read it, whose lives might be enriched and changed by it. That means having it in libraries where it can be borrowed by people interested in it, without necessarily wanting or needing to purchase a copy. As a friend of ours, David W. Jones, recently put it:

Getting your book in local libraries ... may or may not gain buyers, but it does gain eyeballs and it helps folks who may otherwise be unable to just buy a copy right off.

High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder is in four libraries that we are aware of: one in the UK and three in the US. Two library copies have been donated by readers (for which huge thanks!) and two purchased by the libraries themselves.

Newcastle City Library (Tyne & Wear, England)

Library website | Online catalogue

I contacted my city library here in Newcastle upon Tyne as soon as our book was published, asking if they had a procedure for local authors. I received a reply by return, asking me to take in a print copy for them to look at, which I was happy to do. Within a few weeks they emailed to say they would be happy to purchase our book (from Amazon as it was apparently not on their usual supplier’s system) for their Health and Wellbeing collection. They returned the sample I had taken in, which became my personal copy (it was returned in perfect condition but I would not sell a used copy to anyone else).

It took a couple of weeks for the book to appear in the online catalogue, and several more before it was on the shelves. I visited the library each week to check—and it was a very proud moment when I spotted it there! At the time of writing, High Tide, Low Tide is out on loan. It’s a great feeling!

Warwick Public Library (Rhode Island, USA)

Library website | Online catalogue

A great friend of ours, Stacey Lehrer, bought High Tide, Low Tide to read herself, and then generously donated it to her local library in Warwick, Rhode Island. As she told us:

I’m excited for more people to see the book. All the libraries in Rhode Island are connected in one system so it would be available statewide.

Stacey’s belief in our book appears well-founded: it has been borrowed at least once since it was added to the collection.

Portland Library, Peaks Island Branch (Maine, USA)

Library website | Online catalogue

High Tide, Low Tide is not yet in the city library in Portland, Maine, but there is a copy in the Peaks Island branch thanks to another friend generously donating a copy. Fran was a resident of Peaks Island for many years, and was living there when we first met. It means a great deal to us that our book is available to island residents and visitors.

Rapid City Library (South Dakota, USA)

Library website | Online catalogue

The most recent library addition is in Rapid City, South Dakota, thanks to a dear friend, Jennifer Evans. Jennifer mentioned our book to a colleague, who requested it at the library. The library ordered a copy for their Health & Fitness Collection. High Tide, Low Tide is currently checked out, which for us as authors is brilliant to see!

Other Libraries

At the time of writing, we are aware of one more library likely to acquire a copy of our book: we will update this post as and when that is confirmed. If you spot it elsewhere, please let us know!

How to Request Our Book for Your Library

If you would like to ask your local library to stock our book (thank you!) here are the details:

Title: High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder
Authors: Martin Baker and Fran Houston
Publisher: Nordland Publishing
Date of publication: September 11, 2016
ISBN-10: 8283310216
ISBN-13: 978-8283310214
Library Classification: 616.895

Amazon UK:


Wednesday, 19 April 2017

I Have a Mental Illness, by Roiben

“I have a mental illness”, is not a phrase people say lightly. It certainly shouldn’t be. But the reasons in today’s world are not that mental illness can be horrifying and life threatening, but rather that there is an incredible weight of stigma in the world. If a terrorist attack happens “that person must be crazy”. If a politician does something we disapprove of “he must be crazy”.

So, what about all those people in the world who have real, sometimes harrowing, mental illness? Should they just “pick themselves up, and get better”? Is it really that easy? My answer is no, it is not. Mental illnesses are often complex and confusing and there is much more to it than just “deciding to be better”. Mental Illness can in many cases originate from a person’s past and how the mind deals with that, perhaps it is ingrained trauma, perhaps something from childhood, perhaps it is reactive and stems from stress at work—everyone is different. It is something that should always be taken on a case-by-case basis. Never though, have I heard of people “deciding to be better” and just magically they are better.

On the other hand, once you have decided you want to be better, is there help available? There are plenty of charities and spoke-people calling for people to “speak up” to have a conversation, to reach out, to start somewhere—Time to Talk and Heads Together come to mind. But in reality, the help is spread thin, underfunded and hard to get. One goes to their GP, who may or may not refer them to their local community mental health team (CMHT), who may or may not take you on, depending on their case-load and how much threat they view you to be in. That is if the GP takes you seriously in the first place.

I have had experiences along both lines—I have been faced with a GP who bluntly told me I did not have depression and I have also been put under the care of the CMHT. It varies, but whatever level it is at, it has to be pushed for, chased and to be honest when you have a mental illness the last thing you have energy for is chasing down your own self-care. In my current house, I waited over a year to be referred from my GP to the CMHT. I am now back with my GP only, and fear the day I am next in crisis and need to be referred again. Will the wait be as long? Will it be too little, too late?

I am lucky, I have had therapy with a lovely therapist who through a combination of mindfulness and immersion therapy got me to reassess how I viewed the essence of my mental health and how it manifests for me. (In my case, my depression and anxiety manifest as hallucinations of Ghosts and Monsters). To realize that it was my body’s way of saying “you are not coping well right now” rather than that I needed to die, imminently. To slowly learn to be compassionate to myself and realize that I am actually a nice person, even if I have a deeply ingrained belief that I shouldn’t be here. That part hasn’t changed yet and my therapist has left the service before my therapy was truly over or had dealt with everything it set out to—but I am still better than I was. I can progress from here.

Some people do not even have the choice of therapy. Or medication. Or help at all. Because stigma shuts the door on them and they either never ask for help, fearing the consequence or they ask for help and are denied. I am on medication, and have recently changed from one antidepressant to another; something my GP is guiding me through. I am lucky to have a caring and understanding GP at present. I can’t believe the contrast between previous GPs who just did not get or want to get mental health, and my current GP who tells me I can go there whenever I feel I need help.

I believe medication is needed in my case: it provides the foundation from which I can build my recovery. Without it, I am too at risk to even consider recovery. I do not believe medication is the be-all and end-all of treatment. I am a strong believer in attacking this illness from all angles and therefore therapy is just as important as medication. That is my point, though—mental illness is exactly that. It is an illness and should be treated as such, with just as much respect as physical illnesses.

If someone comes to you with a broken leg, you do not tell them to “get over it” or “pull yourself together”. You get them to see a doctor, to have an X-ray, to get a cast—which many people will happily sign with their hopes for quick healing. So why do we not yet have this for mental health? Why do people shy away from it as though it is taboo?

Yes, stigma has a lot to answer for, but the infrastructure and systems of GPs, CMHT, Accident and Emergency and other services needs an overhaul, and a lot more money put into it. It is suffering from years of budget cuts and the cultural view that it should somehow hide away at the back of the hospital out of sight (as it was, literally, in my old town).

This is illness at its hardest to face in today’s society. It is time people took a stand against that and said simply: enough is enough. We need parity of esteem, and now, not tomorrow. It is time mental illness is seen as just that: illness, which is mental.


About the Author

You can find Roiben on Twitter (@roiben).

Illustration by Zhang Xiao Bai.


Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Lifting the Curtain: Brightness, Joy, and Vigilance

As I write this, Fran is heading out to a gallery opening in Portland, and then to a classical guitar concert. Before she left, she said to me:

i feel so good.. it’s really strange.. my mind is thinking thoughts that are good.. and it’s effortless..

After months, first of depression and then debilitating fatigue, it is still early days, but something does seem to have shifted—or rather, to be shifting.

It is wonderful to see the light in her eyes again. To sense hope again. To witness the transition from darkness into light once more.

We are both aware of the need for vigilance. Bipolar is like that. Any brightness, any momentary joy, each lifting of the curtain, is suspect, and may be the prelude to mania. But as I told Fran today:

You are doing well, and it feels wholesome to me. We will be vigilant. But don’t be scared to have a nice time, to smile, to find ease and enjoyment. These things are your right. You are worthy of them; of goodness, of living life fully.


[January, 2013]


Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Mom, Mania, and Me, by Diane Dweller

Don’t judge another until you have walked two moons in his moccasins. (American Indian proverb)

My earliest memories involve my mother. And her behavior that scared me. By age five I learned when Mom got all excited and went shopping and had parties, the best thing for me to do was disappear because what came next was instant anger and whippings. I managed most days to stay out of her sight. I hid under my bed or the dining room table until I had to show up for meals.

As teens, my sister and I observed that Mom had “spells” that lasted for weeks. She would act normal for a few months then a spell would started with exuberance, fast talking and fast driving. As her thoughts and actions sped up, she turned angry and critical. Nothing I did was right. Nothing I wore looked right. Any mark less than and “A” on a report card meant I was a failure. I felt incapable, incompetent and unloved.

I started wondering during her spells, “What is she thinking? Why does she act this way? Doesn’t she know others are talking about her?” All I wanted to do was get away from her—permanently. I did at age seventeen. I married and moved to England.

It would be another ten years before I began to comprehend what Mom was experiencing. My viewpoint of her behavior changed radically after my thyroid medication was changed to a new type of pill. The new pill was a colossal mistake. My body went into a tailspin.

The following is an excerpt from my book: Mom, Mania, and Me, Surviving and Changing a Volatile Relationship.

Mom, Mania, and Me, Surviving and Changing a Volatile Relationship

by Diane Dweller

About the fourth month on the new pill my behavior really started to change. For two horrible weeks each month I turned into the Wicked Witch of the West. Dark circles surrounded my eyes making me look like Alice Cooper. If I wasn’t screaming at everyone, I was crying about every little thing. I became aggressive, angry, irritable, anxious and just plain mean. I kept exploding like a PMS time bomb.

After my period would start, Glinda the Good Witch appeared, loving everyone and all of life—happy, cheerful, caring. Two weeks later, the circles would reappear and my fangs emerge. I felt utterly powerless to control my emotions. I became frightened. Bewildered. This vicious cycle had to stop. I called and made an appointment with the internist and had to wait two weeks—two long, screaming, threatening, crying weeks.

Arriving at the doctor’s office, I took a seat on a green vinyl chair and picked up a tattered magazine, something about golf. The words blurred as I struggled to hold back the tears. Minutes dragged by. Half an hour, then an hour. All my tissues were soggy. As soon as I entered the examination room the dam burst and I dissolved into body shaking sobs. Between gasps for air I tried to explain the hell I was living, trapped in. “It has to be the thyroid pill you put me on as nothing else has changed.”

“I doubt the new pill has anything to do with your behavior,” he stated emphatically, “but I’ll order another thyroid test.” All the thyroid tests came back normal.

But I wasn’t.

My children started disappearing from my presence, like I used to disappear from Mom’s. I apologized, promising them and myself every month that I would be nicer. Month after month, I failed miserably. Rex took the brunt of my anger, confused as to who this banshee was.

I hated the feeling that I was out of control, taken over by someone else I didn’t recognize and abhorred. I started to wonder if I might be possessed by a demon like those people in the Bible.

My turbulent behavior continued. Back to the doctor I went. Sitting there on the cold examining table in a flimsy cotton examining robe, again sobbing uncontrollably, I implored him, begged him, “Please find out what is wrong. I cannot keep living on this mad roller coaster, nor can my marriage survive it.”

He tested my thyroid again and once more reported everything was normal.

Normal? Yeah, for Hell. I felt trapped in a netherworld I could not control, could not escape. A sneaky thought of suicide scared me. How can I survive thirty or forty more years of this? I have to get better. I can do it if I try harder. I can’t stay stuck in this up and down cycle. I’m getting like Mom. Oh God. Please not like Mom.

I held onto what sanity I could, trying to behave better, failing each month. I hated myself. I knew I acted terrible. I struggled to curtail my ugly behavior, my ugly words.

Would I ever be normal again? How? When?

In the middle of this turmoil, we moved to Vancouver, Canada. I went to a new doctor.

The Canadian doctor listened to my still tearful tale of woe, tested my thyroid again, perhaps with a different blood test and immediately determined that the dosage of the new thyroid medication was wrong. He reduced it to one-fourth of the amount I took—and an unquestionable miracle occurred in the next few months. Life became not only bearable again, but incredibly wonderful with exciting surprises. My hands and feet felt warm for the first time in my entire life. The inner turmoil vanished. The roller coaster came to a stop. I learned to laugh again.

What a difference the wrong and right amounts of one tiny pill had made in all our lives.

My seismic upheavals had been caused by taking too much of a medication to replace a missing natural body chemical.

Did changes in my thinking and feelings duplicate in any way Mom’s changes during her spells? She also took a thyroid supplement. It appeared she could no more stop her periodic ascensions to Planet La La than I could stop turning into that dreaded Thyroid-a-saurus every month.

What could be stimulating her behavior, causing her body and brain to act like it does? Could there be a pill she needs? Or one she should stop? During a spell did Mom feel like I did? Out of control? Helpless to stop the changes? Did she even realize her personality and behavior changed?

I had never before considered how Mom might view her spells. For the first time I considered her inability to control her behavior with some understanding. A hint of compassion found a pace in my heart.

It would be two more decades before Mom’s spells would be diagnosed as bipolar disorder.

Coping with her manic antics after the diagnosis wasn’t any easier, but after walking a year in her moccasins, never again would I view her “spells” without empathy.


Contact the Author

Diane Dweller may be contacted via her website: Her book Mom, Mania, and Me is available via Amazon in both print and ebook formats. The first chapter is available free on the author’s website.


Wednesday, 22 March 2017

TEDx Speech by Sharon Sutton

I am proud to have been in the audience at the Durham Marriott Hotel Royal County for Sharon Sutton’s recent TEDx Durham talk. In a powerful and moving speech, reproduced here in full, Sharon gives an insight into what it’s like to live with mental illness, and how she has found her purpose and passion.

TEDx Speech by Sharon Sutton

Durham Marriott Hotel Royal County
Saturday 11 March 2017

So, what do you do when you get a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder?

When I got mine in 2013, along with my prescription for a box of mood stabilisers in tow, I didn’t know what to do, whether to tell anyone, or what was to lie ahead for me, but what I did want to know, was what it meant, and, what I was going to do about it. For about a month, I kept relatively quiet about my Psychiatrists recent conclusion, however, eventually it appeared to be no secret.

For anybody that is unaware of what Bipolar Disorder is, it was formerly known as manic depression and it can affect your moods by swinging from being in a depressive to an elevated state. It’s common and can affect 1 in every 100 adults. Many people like myself are usually diagnosed when depressed.

Bipolar disorder results in just over a 9-year reduction in expected life span, and as many as one in five patients with bipolar disorder succeeds in taking their own life. Although bipolar disorder is equally common in men and women, research indicates that approximately three times as many women as men experience rapid cycling. Bipolar disorder affects nearly 6 million American adults, or about 2.6% of the U.S. population age 18 and over every year.

Side effects can include a range of symptoms from having difficulty in concentrating and remembering things, difficulty sleeping, hallucinating, self-doubt, lacking energy, to being irritable, easily distracted, talking quickly, being overjoyed, hyperactive and having racing thoughts. Mania is an extreme elevated state which can include extremely risky behaviour, but I myself have never experienced it. I have experienced hypomania though. In some of my depressive states I haven’t left the house for weeks except for school runs, I’ve cut off the outside world and barely looked after myself. On the other hand, I ‘ve jumped up and down on the bed randomly in the middle of the night being full of adrenalin along with my bedroom window wide open whilst singing loudly to the birds, all while not caring who is listening or who I may potentially annoy.

So, you’re probably wondering how all this came about.

Well, I think that my mental health problems began when I was approximately 16. I had never known much middle ground in my life, but what I knew, as did others, was that, I was different. By now I was told that I stood out from most people and I liked it. I never once wanted to blend in. Unfortunately, a year before I moved out, so I will have been about 15 years old, I spent mixing with the wrong crowd of people by getting into trouble and I was up to nothing but pure mayhem. I’m ashamed to admit that I think I became a dreg of society within that space of time.

At just 16 years old I moved out of the family home and spent 9 years in an abusive relationship with a psychopath. I was bullied, spat on, conditioned, spoken to like I was worthless, controlled, stalked, mentally, financially, sexually and physically abused and so this was the beginning of a downward spiral in my mental health. I sometimes had knives held to my throat and at one point I even had a fractured left hand and bruises on my body. It wasn’t easy to walk away from the life that I had and it was easier to put up and shut up.

Whilst I was in this relationship, age 19 by now, I took on a Fish and Chip shop for 6 years with help from family members to buy it. Not one of my best idea’s, but most definitely a learning curve I must admit. I had a love hate relationship with my business and I say this because it was what put food on my daughter’s plate and what I wanted at the time so that I could have more stability in my life.

On the bright side, my shop was listed as one of the top 50 in the UK and the only one north of Whitby to get the Sea Fish Industry Authority Award; it was ranked alongside a celebrity chef’s fish and chip shop and mentioned in numerous national newspapers and magazines.

Radio interviews followed as did photographer’s randomly turning up at my shop to get their share of photos of myself with the award. To say it was rather surreal was an understatement. It’s on my wall in my house right now and I am proud of that achievement. Nevertheless, the roller coaster of my life continued.

I was about 7 months pregnant at the time with my eldest daughter and my life literally changed overnight.

After my ex tried to unsuccessfully take mine and my daughter’s life in a car crash, I felt like I had to finally take matters into my own hands. However, I found myself being too scared to move on in my life. So, I drove in front of a lorry head on instead. I clearly didn’t know what I was thinking at the time. Luck was obviously on his and my side that day. The only thing that stopped me from driving into the lorry was the driver flashing his headlights and at that moment I swerved my car to miss it.

I was alive but sick of my life. I didn’t want to die, I just wanted my pain to end. It was more of a cry for help. I felt exhausted in every way and I wanted to leave the world behind as I thought it was my only way out. From the outside looking in it would have appeared that I had everything. A family, a business, a house and a car. This was maybe the case, but behind closed doors it was a different story. A house it was, but a home it was not. My then partner never did find out about my suicide attempt and so my life went on everyday like Groundhog Day.

After some time, I finally dared to move on. I sold the business and moved house with just me and my eldest daughter. I spoke to the Police about my violent past and unfortunately with my case being historic by then and the fact that I had little proof of what I had experienced they couldn’t really help me. I wanted to help others not to go through what I had, so I started work as a Police volunteer in Domestic Violence, Adult Vulnerability and Child Abuse Investigation. I sometimes spoke to victims, signposted people for help and I typed hundreds of transcripts of Police interviews ready for court. I loved what I did.

I met someone else, moved house again, had another child and eventually started married life. I was in the relationship for about 4 years before we parted ways. My complicated personal life continued. Disastrous toxic relationships followed, but at the same time without what has happened in my life I wouldn’t be here and where I am today. It’s now 2017, roughly ten years since I was at my lowest point in my life, now I’m stood telling you my story, pleased that I failed at my suicide attempt.

In just over 3 years what have I done with that diagnosis then?

Well, to aid myself to getting on the path to a better life I decided to teach myself what it was all about and the rest is basically history. From then I set up a Facebook page called Me, Bipolar & I to help people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Depression and Bipolar Disorder, of which I have experience all. Today that page has over 12 thousand followers worldwide, is recognised by The International Bipolar Foundation in the USA, and is looked at by Police forces, Psychiatrists and all sorts of different people.

From there I’ve looked for things that I can do and be part of. I’ve been involved in TV and scientific research, co–delivered Bipolar Disorder classes in Recovery College and University, helped raise awareness by speaking to support providers, met celebrities and spoken about mine and their experiences to them, contributed to clinical assessments, educated myself, done interviews, worked in a mental health hospital and community mental health team, become a member of different mental health charities, joined a drop in group as a volunteer, met with staff in local businesses to try and educate them, had my thoughts put in front of parliament members and even won the former Deputy Prime Minister’s Mental Health Hero Award in 2015, out of 900 nominations there were approximately 40 UK winners of which I was 1 of 3 in the North East of England to get it. The award is on my wall at home along with my Fish and Chip shop award.

I try to be an advocate by speaking out, blogging and campaigning by breaking the silence, and if more people, like myself, spoke out about mental illness there would be a lot less stigma and discrimination within society. I speak for the silent, but together we can be stronger in numbers. You know, when we learn how to work together versus against each other, things might start getting better.

So, after years of being on different medications I have been totally free of them for over 8 months now and I find that weight lifting and boxing benefit me too. I help my new partner and he helps me as we both have experience of mental health problems.

I don’t let Bipolar Disorder get in my way with what I want to achieve. It’s not an excuse but an explanation of my behaviour, and just sometimes, having bipolar disorder means waking up not knowing whether Tigger or Eeyore maybe making my decisions for me!

It doesn’t rule my world nor define me, but, it fuels my passion and inspires me. To be honest, without Bipolar Disorder I don’t think that I would be as mentally strong as I am today. I find it a curse at times, but more definitely a blessing, and from it I now have a passion and a purpose.

If there is one thing that you could take away from this speech, then please remember to try to see the person and not the diagnosis.

Change your fears, change your boundaries, change your limits and thus,

Choose your hobby as your job.
To go somewhere even if you have no idea where the road will take you.

Choose to be excited about your next idea whatever it may be.
To move out of your comfort zone.

Choose health and to look after yourself.
To help people even when you don’t want to help yourself.

Choose to be the person that you would want to know.
To smile at the person who isn’t smiling back at you.

Choose to be different and to stand out.
Not to be consumed by everything.

Choose your thoughts not to be controlled by society.
Not to be told what to do.

Choose not to let trivial things get to you.
To be inspired by whatever may inspire you and to laugh when it’s totally inconvenient to do so.

Choose to be the person that everyone wants to genuinely know.
To love the life you live.

Choose experiences over possessions.
To never give up.


Thank you.


Speaker Profile

Sharon is a multiple award winner and volunteer in the field of mental health. Sharon speaks of her illness and how it affects her yet she explains how she lives with it and how she doesn’t let it defeat her daily.

After a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder, she went onto researching the condition to find out what it was about. She is a blogger for major online newspapers and is an advocate and ambassador for the silent and standing for the broken to raise awareness by helping thousands of others worldwide.

Follow Sharon on Facebook and Twitter, and on her author page at Northern Life Magazine.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

“You’re shaking!”—When Marty Met Frannie

In June 2013 Fran travelled with her parents from New York to Hamburg via Southampton on board the RMS Queen Mary 2. The trip gave us the chance to meet face-to-face for the first time after two years as friends. I drove down to Southampton the night before, and met them when they came ashore next morning.

Excerpted from our book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder.

You’re Shaking!

I set my clothes out for the morning, checked that my camera and satnav were charged, and tried to sleep. We had our day planned but I was still anxious. What if I was not allowed into the terminal to meet them from the ship? What if Fran’s parents wanted to go to Stonehenge after all? What if we found ourselves awkward with each other?

Fortunately, a close friend was online. She chatted with me for almost two hours. She reminded me the day would be a success, no matter what we did or what happened, because I would spend it in the company of my best friend. It was a powerful lesson in compassion and trust, and I am immensely grateful for her support.

I woke several times through the night. Each time, I checked the ship’s position and webcam as she approached Southampton. She berthed on time, around half past six in the morning.

I left the hotel shortly afterwards, and parked at the cruise terminal well ahead of schedule.

All my frustrations and uncertainty melted away once I was there.

I took photographs of the RMS Queen Mary 2, and waited in the terminal building for Fran and her parents to come ashore.

And then, all in a moment, they were there. Fran was there. Not three thousand miles away on webcam, but standing in front of me. We hugged across the barrier. My excitement must have been obvious, because Fran’s first words to me were “You’re shaking!”


High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder is available at: | | | | | | | | Barnes & Noble


Wednesday, 8 March 2017

People Always Disappoint, by Andrew Turman

I have several writes in my head, itching to get out. Perhaps I can combine a few threads together to get a cohesive whole...

I have been dealing with some serious issues lately, including my own behavior. I am entering an alcohol treatment program to address my substance abuse and what happens when I drink. This is something that is a long time coming. I had the disease a long time, before I ever used. You see, addiction, in my experience is most often a hereditary disease, fostered in childhood. The use and abuse of intoxicating substances has been a problem since man first evolved.

I have done a lot of research on this topic, over the years and recently. Since my last DUI, I have been doing at least four hours of research a day on the topic of recovery. I search the Interwebz, print and other media, to seek answers to my questions. Someone recently asked me what MY ideal recovery program would be, and I will try to address some of the key components here.

First of all, I need to unambiguously state that I do not believe that our judicial system can prescribe a religious-based program to address a mental health issue. That is like a doctor diagnosing you with cancer, and telling you to go home and pray about it. It just does not make sense. Yes, pretty much everyone needs some sort of spirituality in their life, some sort of moral code that gives life meaning, and makes sense of the absurdity of it all. However, I truly do not think that some sort of God-based program is going to solve the problem of addiction.

For some people, having that “come to Jesus” moment will be enough. Putting your faith in a higher power, “as you understand it,” can help one get their life on track. But, we are only human, and faith is not a constant. We are frail beings, and often succumb to temptation. In weak moments we turn to the things that comforted us in the past, reliving patterns of behavior that we learned along the way. Often these behaviors are destructive. The problem I have with Alcoholics Anonymous, and similar groups, is that I do not believe in the traditional concept of God. I am not saying that I am an atheist, but I am a Buddhist, and have been for the past 18 years. It is not a linear path, there are ups and downs, and sometimes I skid sideways for months at a time. There is a reason it is called practice.

So, I do not consider myself a Christian. I was, growing up. But, I was sexually abused in the church as a pre-teen, and that damaged my faith. I spent many years rudderless and as a teen I experienced a lot of angst, questioned my existence. That problem only intensified as I became older, until now, when I seem to exist on caffeine and hate.

I call myself “your angry buddhist” for a reason. Just because I am comfortable with violence does not mean I am proud of it. I am simply a depressive realist when I am not an manic idealist. The pendulum swings back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

I do not find the philosophy of existentialism and Buddhism to be incongruent. I often idealize myself to be some nihilist, gonzo artist/writer, hustling hard and staying humble, just trying to make my nut each day. However, I feel something lacking.

I strive to be authentic in every facet of my life. You ask me a question, I will tell you no lies. I am upfront about my problems and my failings. I do not ask anything of people but loyalty. I don’t care if you love me, I don’t care if you are a little bit afraid of me, but you damn well better be devoted. Forgiving. As I am to you. People disappoint. That is the title of this write. It is an important point. Yes, people disappoint, but if you know that going in, if you keep your expectations extremely low, you will be able to roll with the punches and get by.

One thing I talk about is infrastructure, which can be defined as "the physical components of interrelated systems providing commodities and services essential to enable, sustain, or enhance societal living conditions.” And by living conditions, I am referring to quality of life.

What many people fail to understand is that the opposite of addiction is NOT sobriety. Rather, the opposite of addiction is connection. Social connection. I will venture to say that all addiction problems have their root in some sort of trauma. Be it war, medical emergency, financial or marital crisis, there is usually a triggering event associated with substance abuse, which unchecked, can lead to addiction issues, a medical situation that requires not a spiritual solution (although that could be part of it, as it pertains to social situations) but rather some sort of medical model. Psychology is certainly a part of medicine, and those type of theraputic approaches are ones I endorse.

Psychiatry is an more of an art, rather than a science. One could say, however, that these days, psychiatrists practice their handwriting more than they do medicine, and that some of them are not even good at that! The real work happens in weekly psychotherapy sessions with some sort of therapist, not in a fifteen minute med check every three months.

My father worked for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) for twenty years. For the last ten, his work was primarily with the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (C-SAT). This is at first glance, ironic, as his son dealt with mental health and substance abuse issues for most of his life. However, my father was just as devoted to me as I am to my own son. When I found out that my son would likely have special education issues, I changed my Master’s degree focus to Education of the Exceptional Child, specifically behavioral and emotional disorders. Because of our love, we made specific career choices, in hopes that knowledge would help the situation. Unfortunately, that was not always the case...

Today, it is almost two years since my father passed away in my arms. It has been five years since I have seen or talked to my son. My previous did not listen to my daddy’s dying pleas to see his only grandchild before he died. Much of the current noise in my head is due to unresolved issues with my son and first wife. I say this to refer to the trauma I have dealt with, and why I am having issues with using alcohol.

People need to be connected, to have relationships, in order to survive and function properly. That is what helps people with substance abuse problems become functional members of society. Sometimes it is merely the group setting that helps addicts in their recovery. This explains the success of organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous and similar groups. The friendships that are founded, the connections that are made, all contribute to recovery and the ability to stay clean.

An important message that I have is that relapse must be a part of any recovery model. It is simply unrealistic for anyone to think that a person will never touch another drink or drug until the day they die. As I have tried to make clear, people always disappoint, and people will also always be disappointed. Life never works “according to plan.” Shit happens.

What we need right now, all of us, is a better infrastructure. This should be undertaken on a national, literal scale, improving roads, bridges and other public works, but also on a micro, personal level. Each of us, in order to be come healthier, needs to work on connections, becoming active members of our communities. We need to stop burning bridges when we are in the middle of them, just to prove how desperate we are. We need to find purpose in our lives, make meaning, at the very least pretend that there is some grand purpose or design. We are greater than we allow ourselves to be. We will to power. #resist

Biography and Artist Statement

W.A. Turman was an “Army Brat,” and that explains a lot. Man of no accent, but also of every accident. Life has not always been easy for the artist and writer we affectionately call “Zen Daddy T.” A gonzo journalist along the lines of Hunter S. Thompson, an artist well-versed in the school of Ralph Steadman, including favoring beers from the Flying Dog Brewery, Andrew is an acquired taste. His abstract expressionist works bleed protest and contentment. His recent series, “Art for Airports” has drawn critical acclaim. Here are his stats: hospitalizations—77; medications—46; suicide attempts—5; ECT treatments—61.

W.A. Turman can be contacted via his Facebook page and blog.