Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Bipolar Disorder and Psychosis: There Is Help and There Is Hope, by Amy Gamble

In my wildest dreams, I never imagined I would have had psychotic episodes. I was the “All-American” small town girl from Sherrard, West Virginia, who made it all the way to the Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea. People like me don’t get a mental illness. Right? Wrong.

As much as I liked the athletic genes I inherited, I despise the bipolar disorder gene that tossed my life into a shambles.

A lot of people have been willing to talk about the manic and depressive episodes of bipolar disorder, but few have eagerly stepped up to talk about psychotic episodes. I believe it has a great deal to do with stigma.

Psychosis equals “crazy” in the minds of “normal” people. Losing touch with reality makes for great horror movies, where the insane go on a killing rampage. The voices of those who have experienced psychotic episodes are much quieter in the world of mental health advocacy. No one wants to be thought of as a deranged psycho.

But this hurts the many people who have experienced psychosis. I know I felt tremendous shame and embarrassment, when I picked up the pieces after experiencing psychotic episodes. I never realized that more than 70% of the people who have bipolar disorder experience psychotic episodes, right along with the mania and depression.

What is psychosis? Psychosis is defined by experiencing delusions or hallucinations or some combination of both. Most often my delusions were grandiose religious delusions where I was an angel sent down to earth to save the world from evil. At one point I was found walking in the middle of downtown Phoenix, Arizona in rush hour traffic. I thought I was an angel who could walk through cars.

When I was experiencing delusions every thought seemed so incredibly real. It was like having a dream and not realizing you’re dreaming. When I had those psychotic episodes, for the most part I didn’t know I was sick. There were a couple of times when I remember coming in and out of reality. I might be able to drive a car and put gas in it, but I didn’t know my grandiose delusions were not real.

I believe psychosis is terribly cruel. It inhabited my mind causing outrageous behaviors, even though I was never a danger to others.

What has been most difficult for me has been when I remembered almost everything I did and said while I was sick. It wasn’t just remembering dreams, it was more like re-living my worst nightmare.

I know there are people out there who believe there is no such thing as mental illness. I laugh at those people. It’s so absurd to me to believe the brain never breaks down.

Psychosis is not a state of mind I enjoy. Nor has it ever been a state of mind where anything good happened to me, except the one time when I adopted a kitten. His name is Mr. Kitty and is a beautiful black and white, now nine years old cat. I don’t understand everything about psychosis, but I do know losing touch with reality makes me a vulnerable person.

The time I had walked down the streets of Phoenix caused the police to come. I can tell you this—the outcome wasn’t positive.

For the people who don’t want to take medication for bipolar disorder, I can understand your reasons why. For one, the side effects of some medications can be very wicked. And let’s face it—no one wants to believe she has a chronic health condition, which very often has to be managed with medications.

But … I know from my own personal journey and reading tons of books, if bipolar disorder is left untreated it will get worse over time. There’s no way to wish away an illness. There are many ways to effectively manage bipolar disorder, but often times it includes medication.

I just think that sometimes people search for the school of thought they want to believe. That’s what I did. The moment a friend told me, “You don’t have bipolar disorder. There’s no way. You’re too normal.” It was what I wanted to hear, even though I was “normal” because I was managing my illness with medication, exercise and living a healthy life. But when she said that to me it was exactly what I wanted to hear. I stopped the medications immediately. And I paid a significant price for that decision.

My mission is to explain how I’ve experienced bipolar disorder, especially my psychotic episodes. With experience comes wisdom. I want to share that wisdom with others, so their journey might not be as difficult as mine.

I’ve been free of episodes for almost five years. The only thing I’m really challenged with are triggers for depression. I can only imagine how much more severe my depression would be without managing and fighting it.

My psychiatrist once told me, “We have many medications to treat the mania and psychosis, but fewer that are effective for the depression. The depression is the hardest part of the illness to treat.” When I heard this I was relieved and disappointed all at one time. As far as I was concerned I never wanted to experience another psychotic episode in this lifetime. But the depression is really tough to live with at times. I suppose I was hoping for better news on that note.

If you’ve had a psychotic episode, don’t be ashamed. There are millions of people out there just like you. Whatever you’ve been through or have had to overcome, with the proper treatment you can regain and rebuild your life.

I’ve written a book about my journey with bipolar disorder. It’s called Bipolar Disorder, My Biggest Competitor: An Olympian's Journey with Mental Illness. I think I finally learned how to beat bipolar disorder. And I’m going to help other people beat it too.

My final message is—you are not alone. There is help and there is hope.

Find me on Facebook: @Amygamble1217
Check out my website and blog: www.AmyGamble.com.

 

About the Author

Amy Gamble is a small town girl who has always had big time dreams. She followed those dreams all the way to the Olympic Games. She is now the Executive Director of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) of Greater Wheeling. She is a Certified Mental Health First Aid instructor and a mental health speaker. Amy has over 18 years’ experience in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry. She has worked on Disease State Management Programs and worked as a consultant to the pharmaceutical industry authoring a Depression Training Manual for clients. Amy has a M.A. in Organizational Management and a B.A. in Communication.

Amy’s mission in life is to help those who live mental illness and their family members find help and hope. She strives to eliminate stigma by sharing openly her struggles and triumphs of living with bipolar disorder.

 

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

My Journey Through Anxiety, Depression, and the People That Changed My Life, by Jay Chirino

Nine years old. That was my age when I experienced my first depressive episode. Some people throughout the years have told me that this is impossible; no nine-year-old, especially one with a good family and loving parents, has a reason to be depressed. It still bothers me sometimes when people willingly display blatant ignorance on a subject that they are not experts on. But through the years I have learned to overcome the frustration and I’ve utilized whatever resources I’ve had at my disposal to inform and educate those that really want to have a better understanding of the mental struggles that so many of us, of any age, are challenged with every single day.

The truth is that, at the time, not even my parents believed that there was anything seriously wrong with me. They thought that my severe dislike for school had drove me to implementing new and creative ways of staying home. Yes, I did loathe school and the anxiety that dealing with the kids and the teachers brought me, but I would have chosen that burden any day over the hell that I was unexpectedly going through.

You see, I woke up one morning and my world had turned completely black and white. There were no signs of color, or optimism, or hope. There wasn’t anything to look forward to, anything to smile about. I began to question my reality and my reason for being. I started to convince myself that there was no purpose to life, that I was just a piece of breathing flesh that would bounce around the world for a few years and then begin to rot, just like everyone else. There was no reason to put one foot in front of the other and do anything; everything was useless, nothing would change the inevitable outcome. Except for the occasional trip to the toilet that would ensure that my bedsheets stayed dry, I did not much else than lay in bed, slightly more alive than dead.

I think it was about a week later that my parents began to take things more seriously, not seeing any progress on my behalf. The questions they started to ask had evolved from the basic, run-of-the-mill stuff, like, why can’t you just snap out of this, you have your entire life ahead of you! or the classic, what do you mean you don’t know why you feel like this? There must be a reason! Even though their concern was growing and they were taking me more seriously, they still refused to get me professional help. In their eyes, taking me to a psychiatrist meant that I was crazy, and I wasn’t crazy, just really, really sad. So, they resorted to the only thing they knew; prayer, bible passages, a strong effort at increasing my faith in God. Although the comfort of knowing that a higher power cares and pays attention can definitely be reassuring, in my case, at least, it wasn’t enough. I spent over a month bathed in deep sadness and worthlessness, not much else. No school, little food, no personal care, no positive thoughts, no optimism, no hope. I was basically a vegetable that entire time, and please remember, I was nine.

Then, just like it all had begun, without warning or explanation, it all started to gradually dissipate, and I could see a faint beacon of light at the end of the tunnel. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to get me feeling better. When I was able to finally get out of bed and re-incorporate myself into society, we all thought the worst was now behind me, and boy, were we wrong.

The anxiety that had always plagued me (even before the depressive episode) began to get bigger and stronger, almost like a monster that is getting well fed on a daily basis. By the time I got to high school that monster had gotten so strong that I was getting an average of three panic attacks per week. Mornings were the worst; having to wake up and get ready, physically and emotionally, to face the day ahead was a monumental undertaking. My heart would palpitate vigorously and sweat would engulf my hands. I even became proficient at a little swallowing exercise that I taught myself to avoid regurgitating, although the truth is that it wouldn’t work one hundred percent of the time. I was constantly afraid, constantly alone. Interacting with classmates was nearly impossible, being social was not an option, neither was enjoying school. When I got home all I could think about was the dread of the next day. It was constant torture, something I could not escape. I lived in a prison of my own mind and did not know how to break free. I eventually accepted the fact that this was going to be my life; this was something I would have to deal with for the rest of my days, until I died.

And then alcohol came in the picture.

I still remember my first drink: a cup of chilled, sweet sangria. I chugged the whole thing, thinking that you were supposed to drink it just like any other refreshing drink, to the dismay of the people around me. Needless to say, the buzz came on pretty fast, and it was as glorious as if God himself was reaching down from above and caressed my back with his hand, while assuring me that everything was going to be ok. The fear that I had carried with me all those years disappeared, my insecurities went away, the way I saw the world gained bright colors. I knew I wanted to feel like this all the time, and from that moment on I worked hard at making that desire a reality.

Fast-forward a few years and there you have me, two broken marriages, plenty of lost jobs, no money, no future and still no hope. My physical health was declining and my mental stability was gone. I was now a full-blown drug addict and alcoholic, and the only thing that made me happy was the prospect of my next buzz.

Twenty-five years after my parents first refused to take me to the doctor, they now begged me to seek professional help, and when your mother gets on her knees, with tears in her eyes and begs, you have no choice but to oblige.

They took me to a nearby hospital with a well-known psychiatric unit. I was there for five days, five days that changed my life in immeasurable ways. First, I learned that I was not broken beyond repair, and with the right therapy and medications I could thrive and succeed. Second, it was there where I realized that I wasn’t alone. I met so many wonderful people that had gone through similar things or worse, much, much worse. Yet there they were, fighting, doing their best to survive. I learned a lot from them, not only from their illnesses, but from their incredible hearts. I came out of that hospital a changed man, and I have to give those patients a lot of credit for that.

Fast-forward another few years and there I was, sober, employed and happy, but those patients would not escape my mind. It was as if they were asking me for help; they needed me in some way. They were screaming out but no one could hear. They had something to say, but no one cared. Then it hit me.

I needed to give them a voice.

“The Flawed Ones” is the story that I share with the wonderful people that I once met, people with considerable mental deficiencies and even bigger hearts, people that I feel fortunate were a part of my life and my recovery, people that I now present to you in my novel, and that I hope will have a similar impact on you as they did on me. For the first time in my life, I have hope.

These are “The Flawed Ones.”

 

About the Author

Jay is an author, mental health advocate and recovering addict, who spent over ten years battling his demons. Today he focuses on sharing his story and the story of others like him in order to create awareness and help eradicate the stigma that has always surrounded mental illness. He lives in Tampa, FL with Ana, his cat.

You can connect with Jay on his website/blog, also on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

You can find his book The Flawed Ones on Goodreads.

 

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

What Is It Like to Volunteer with Time to Change?

I recently volunteered with Time to Change, the UK’s largest mental health campaign, at Northern Pride on Newcastle’s Town Moor. This was the third time I’ve volunteered. The first was at Newcastle Mental Health Day 2016. The second was at last year’s Northern Pride.

It was a little after 11 a.m. when I arrived at the Health Zone marquee and met up with Angela Slater, Time to Change Community Equalities Coordinator for the North East. I’ve known Angela a couple of years now, and it was great to catch up with her and the other volunteers (Time to Change calls us Champions). Angela introduced me to a friend of hers on a nearby sexual health stall, who was dressed for the occasion as Chlamydia, one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in the UK. It made for an interesting photo!

The event proper began around 1 p.m. with the arrival of the parade. We were close to the main entrance and for an hour or so we were really busy! It doesn’t come naturally to me to engage with someone I don’t know, but once I’d chatted to a few people I relaxed into things. I found it helpful to watch how my fellow volunteers went about it, as everyone has their own style and approach.

The folded paper “pick a number” toys (sometimes called origami fortune tellers) were a great conversation starter. Those of a certain age (ahem!) remember them from days of yore; I was surprised that many younger folk also knew what they were! The flaps hid simple suggestions to connect with others about their—or your own—mental health and wellbeing. One invited you to text or call someone you know. When that came up for two people I was talking to, they immediately pulled out their mobile phones and set about connecting! We handed quite a few of the toys out as giveaways, which kept us busy replenishing the stock.

Of the people I spoke to, the consensus seemed to be that stigma and discrimination remain very much part of people’s experience, but that society is generally more open about discussing mental health. A few said younger folk are more open about discussing it than older generations. Several mentioned sports stars and celebrities who have spoken out about mental health, including the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry whose Heads Together campaign combats the stigma surrounding mental illness. Also well-known artists and performers whose lives and deaths have brought mental health to public attention.

Events like this remind me that each of us has a unique story to share. It was encouraging to hear people talk positively of the support they’ve received from friends, relatives, colleagues and professionals. I had one really good conversation about mental health in the work place. Others shared their struggles with mental health, with stigma and discrimination, or with support services, in some cases stretching back many years.

Roughly half those I asked had heard of Time to Change before. Angela told me there are two major media campaigns a year: one in February for National Time To Talk Day and another in October for World Mental Health Day (October 10 each year). Time to Change is often engaged by production companies working with mental health story lines in TV soaps and dramas.

Time to Change volunteers are under no obligation to share more than we want to, but I’m always happy to talk about how I met Fran, our mutually supportive friendship, and the book we wrote together. After all, that’s what led me into the mental health arena in the first place. Some people took away our leaflets and contact cards, and I was delighted to connect with a few later via social media.

That’s what I love about an event like this. It’s all about connection. One on one, human connection. Sharing our stories, experiences, concerns, hopes and journeys. I invited several of the Time to Change volunteers, and some of the people I met at the event, to share their impressions of the day.

I love taking Time to Change to Newcastle Pride each year because of the passionate, friendly committed Champions and how open and engaged the public are. It’s so important to talk about mental health with all of the communities within our region.
—Angela Slater

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Curiosity is the path to knowledge, and knowledge is the power to shed light and overcome obstacles. Open up. Educate. Spread the word. Don’t suffer alone.
—Vikki

The people at the Time to Change booth were extremely informative on what they do. I felt understood when I spoke about my mental health which is extremely important to me. Everyone was very friendly and I went away with lots of information and things that I can check out.
—Loretta

Mental health is a very important issue within the lgbtqia community and it was great to start so many open and positive conversations about mental health at Pride this year. As always, I had a blast!
—Alexandria Readman

The Health Tent at Newcastle Pride was a positive, supportive and encouraging area. The Time to Change stand had so many happy, friendly faces all there to help people. There because they care. Great to see Marty as a TTC Champion! Newcastle Pride outdid itself this year, a great day for all regardless of age, race, disability, orientation—keep it up!
—Sharon Race

It was great to be amongst all my close friends and make new ones. The atmosphere was electric outside. You always feel safe and happy at Pride. I take pride being a part of Pride. It’s a special part of history and joyous!
—Carol Robinson

If you would like to volunteer with Time to Change, or want to know more about their programmes, you can sign up for free with no obligation on their website.

Marty

 

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.

 

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 www.alwaysunstable.com. 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.

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.

Marty

 

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!

Marty

 

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 www.lifeisanoption.com.

 

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.