Check out our top six posts for the past month. Posts are listed by number of pageviews, most popular first.
Check out our top six posts for the past month. Posts are listed by number of pageviews, most popular first.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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
Library Classification: 616.895
Amazon UK: www.amazon.co.uk/High-Tide-Low-Friends-Disorder/dp/8283310216
“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.
You can find Roiben on Twitter (@roiben).
Illustration by Zhang Xiao Bai.
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.
Check out our top six posts for the past month. Posts are listed by number of pageviews, most popular first.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: Amazon.ca | Amazon.com | Amazon.co.jp | Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.de | Amazon.es | Amazon.fr | Amazon.it | Barnes & Noble
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
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.
I described in my recent guest post for mental health author and family coach Julie A. Fast, that Fran and I believe our book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder is relevant to people working in the caring professions, including therapists, counsellors, and trainers.
We were thus delighted to be interviewed recently by Onlinevents for their online resource library, which comprises a vast collection of video interviews, workshops and presentations to help practitioners meet their continuing professional development needs. Based in West Lothian in Scotland, Onlinevents is run by Sandra and John Wilson. In Sandra’s words:
We are passionate about searching out conversations around mental health. Onlinevents.tv provides a platform to share these conversations, which is proving to be a valuable and meaningful way to highlight authors, speakers and practitioner’s thoughts around current thinking and topics.
Sandra and I first met on Twitter, which as she notes “is an example of how the internet is great at providing connections no matter where we are in the world.” Sandra had retweeted something by Rachel Kelly, author of Black Rainbow, Walking on Sunshine, and The Happy Kitchen. We have known Rachel for some time. She contributed the foreword to High Tide, Low Tide, and has guested on our blog. I was interested to learn she has been interviewed twice for Onlinevents, talking about her experience with depression, and the strategies she has developed to manage her recovery.
After hearing something of our story, Sandra offered us an interview.
We were interested in Marty and Fran’s journey together and excited about their new book, knowing that they would provide valuable insight for our community and wider audience around mental health and relationships.
Fran and I met John on Skype ahead of time, to get to know each other and explore what topics we might cover. The three of us clicked immediately. John’s specialism is online counselling and he was particularly interested in how we use technology and social media in our long-distance, mutually supportive friendship.
Our interview was broadcast live on the Onlinevents website. It was also streamed to the video app Periscope, and to our Facebook page. The conversation ranged widely, with John feeding us comments and questions from those watching on their website. He began by asking about our friendship and how our book came to be. As Fran described:
I have had bipolar for a long time .... I lost a lot of friends when I was in my periods of mania. Depression wasn’t as bad. I wouldn’t lose friends as much when I was in depression but when I was in mania I would lose friends. So it was really important to me to somehow get the word out that it’s okay to be friends with us [people living with mental illness]. Even if we have struggles and we have problems, there’s a way to understand it.
John asked about our relationship and how it works. We described how we use all the channels that technology affords: Skype, instant messaging, e-mail, etc. As Fran put it, “It’s really like any friendship would be.” She talked about how this is particularly important for those living with mental illness.
A friend of ours who was watching posted a comment: “As Marty knows, I am big on open honest communication being a lifesaver,” which is something Fran and I agree with completely.
Someone asked if we could give some examples of how we handle difficulties in our friendship. We talked about managing our fears, and balancing Fran’s needs against my own. We touched on the three month period in the summer of 2013 when Fran was traveling in Europe with her parents. As I recounted:
This was the most intense period of our friendship .... [In the final chapters of our book] we are showing how our approaches and techniques play out in practice. How often they work and sometimes don’t work. There are certainly examples in there of how I was struggling or needing to adjust, while keeping the connection going to support Fran in whatever was going on for her.
Another contributor agreed technology can be an excellent facilitator for connection and support, but wondered whether it affects the sense of presence. As John put it, “Is it a real relationship? Do you really feel present to each other?” We talked about how the key thing for us is not physical proximity, but connection:
Fran: We have this way of being with technology which allows for a very expansive relationship.
Martin: It’s about openness. It’s about those channels of communication .... Our friendship doesn’t work because we are three thousand miles apart; it works because we are open to each other and to communicating.
John then asked about the chapter which deals with suicidal thinking.
John: I really liked how you write about this in the book. We need to hold space for each other when we go to those harder places, those darker places in our experiences, so we can be there to hear each other.
Fran: When I am in suicidal thinking it is about teasing out what’s behind it, what’s causing it ... and having someone you can talk frankly to, who’s not freaking out, who’s not rushing you off to the hospital, is really critical.
John: How do you manage to do that, to not get in a panic and be present to each other? Do you have a sense of what helps you?
Fran: It’s trust. Marty trusts me. I trust Marty. That to me feels like the single most powerful thing that helps us keep moving through it, even when it’s really really tough.
The hour passed too quickly and before we knew, it was time to draw the interview to a close.
John: What I love about how you both have been in our dialogue, and what I’ve read in your book, is this is the human condition. We struggle, as humans we struggle, and we have the capacity, if we can be ourselves, to be helpful.
Martin: Can we quote you on that? That was really good!
John: [Laughing] I really appreciate how you are with each other, how you’ve beeen with me, and the generosity and the way that you’ve written the book. So thank you for that. I appreciate you pushing at the edges of how we might be around mental health. Let’s all wave our books at the camera!
And so we did!
Our full interview is available in the Onlinevents resource library. Excerpts, including us talking about how to stay grounded when a friend is talking about suicide, will be shared on the Onlinevents YouTube channel. The Facebook version is also available (limited to the first 27 minutes of the interview): at the time of writing, it has been viewed over 180 times.
Fran and I are delighted to welcome Julie A. Fast, author of Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder: Understanding and Helping Your Partner, Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder and Get it Done When You’re Depressed.
Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder is Julie’s book for the overall treatment of bipolar disorder. It’s a great companion to High Tide, Low Tide for anyone who wants to know more about the illness.
Here, Julie discusses how to ask for help, a topic close to our hearts.
When I was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder two with psychotic features in 1995 at age 31, my life was a mess. Two months earlier, I left my partner (who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder one the previous year) and flew to China to have an adventure. Yes. China. I then got depressed and psychotic in Hong Kong and finally got the help I needed back in the States.
When I say my life was a mess when I was finally diagnosed, I’m talking about my relationships. My mood swings were out of control and when I heard I had bipolar disorder, I didn’t feel shame. I was relieved! I finally had answers and I was going to tell all of the people in my life about this and get some help!
I ended up overwhelming people by asking for too much. Here are the two key mistakes I made and what I do now to get it right.
Mistake #1: Asking for Too Much from One Person or the Wrong Person
It’s natural to want a partner, close friend or family member to help. I have learned that helping is not the same thing as loving someone. Some people can give love and some can give you specific support with your bipolar disorder symptoms. Learn what people can and can’t do. I always ask people how much information they want to know. Some say, tell me everything! Others are honest and say they find the topic too stressful. It’s not that they don’t care about me. They care greatly. It’s just not a good topic for us if we are out to have fun.
I have a therapist, prescriber, parent, nephew, coauthors and my social media community such as the amazing Martin Baker to turn to when I get sick. I no longer overwhelm one person with my needs. When my symptoms get really serious, it’s time for professional help. When that is not available, there are certain family members who can handle this illness, and finally I have friends who do not get overwhelmed by my needs. It’s like having a calling tree. Start at the top with people who let you know they are able and willing to help, and go from there.
Mistake #2: Expecting People to Know What to Do
It’s not innate to know how to help someone in a mood swing. Most people understand basic communication tools, but have no idea how to talk to someone who is depressed or manic. This leads to what I call The Bipolar Conversation. (This is explained in my book Take Charge of Bipolar.) Here is an example:
You: I’m really down today and don’t know what to do. Life seems pointless and I look at the world and just feel so helpless. My meds aren’t working and I have no energy. I cry all day.
A person who cares: Oh, you are going to be ok. It will pass. There are beautiful things in the world too. You just have to stay positive and get out more!
Yikes. This response is loving and kind, but NOT helpful. This leads to the looping Bipolar Conversation:
You: But you don’t understand. I can’t see the positive. I can’t figure out what to do.
This is when the person who cares starts to get frustrated. You can change this by letting people know exactly how to help you. You do this when you are stable so that people can truly help you when you get sick. Here is an example of what you might say:
People with depression all talk the same. You will notice I have a pattern when I get sick. When you hear me say something like this:Here is what you can say:
I’m really down today and don’t know what to do. Life seems pointless and I look at the world and just feel so helpless. My meds aren’t working and I have no energy. I cry all day.I hear that you are depressed. You asked me to remind you that you always talk this way when you are depressed. This means it’s time to treat the depression and NOT have a conversation on how terrible life is right now. Let’s get out of the house, go for walk and make a plan to get your meds adjusted as a first step.
When you teach someone how to help you, they will be ready when you are ill. This works every time. My book Get it Done When You’re Depressed is filled with specific strategies friends can use to help someone who is depressed. It’s a great companion to High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder. Martin and Fran’s book specifically illustrates how friends can create a plan to help each other when the mood swings start. It is especially helpful for those who experience suicidal thoughts.
After my diagnosis, I eventually realized that what works best is taking care of myself as much as possible before I ask for help. I have a motto: Treat Bipolar First. I know what each of my mood swings looks like. I have a plan in place that I use the minute the symptoms show up. Once I have done all I can for myself, I reach out. This is NEVER easy, but it works quickly. Bipolar disorder affects me daily. I need help. Using the two strategies above helps me maintain relationships while staying stable.
Over time, you can learn to do the same!
My current project is a Kickstarter for Hortensia and the Magical Brain. My passion is early childhood education for children with diagnosed mental health symptoms, including early onset bipolar disorder. These are the kids who have difficultly at school and are often in hospitals. My management plan works for these kids, I just had to have a way to get it to parents and health care professionals who want to help.
Julie A. Fast is the author of Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder, Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder, Get it Done When You’re Depressed and Bipolar Happens! She is a columnist and blogger for BP Magazine for Bipolar at www.BPHope.com and won the Mental Health America journalism award for the best mental health column in the United States. She was the original consultant for Claire Danes for the show Homeland and is on the mental health expert registry for People Magazine.
She works as a coach for parents and partners of people with bipolar disorder and other mental health concerns and is currently writing a book for children called Hortensia and the Magical Brain: Poems for Kids with Bipolar, Anxiety, Psychosis and Depression.
Julie’s Articles for Bp Magazine
And finally, the most popular bipolar disorder blog of all time with over 500,000 views!
Hello all. My name is Peter McDonnell and this is an extract from my new book, ‘Viva Mental Health’. The idea is that it is a cheerful take on having a serious mental illness. I was very delusional, in grandiose ways (I thought I was the modern day Jesus Christ, sent to Earth by God to make some positive changes, at the time it made sense) and I also had psychosis back in 2001 when I first got ill. I later developed anxiety problems. I was lucky, I got better, and sharing my story is proving to be very enjoyable. If you would like to read more extracts and find out more about me and my book, you can visit my website I have made to support my writing.
At times I thought I had a telepathic relationship with various people, and that I could talk to people on the television telepathically. I spent a lot of time talking to Britney Spears, who became a sort of ‘Imaginary friend’. This extract is about when I thought she was sending me telepathic messages to meet her, so off I went. This was in December 2001.
Because of complications at home I was staying at my dad’s for a bit, he was two minutes’ walk away from my mum’s, and I could stay there anytime. One day when he was at work, I broke a light switch. I had hit it, for some reason. Either I was having a talk with the switch itself, (I thought that objects had souls that I could talk to), and grew mad at it, or I was talking telepathically to a human and they angered me, so I hit the light switch as if to say ‘this is what will happen to you if you keep angering me’. Maybe a person in my head was telling me to hit it just for a laugh.
I decided I would repair it. Repairing things is fun. I needed to take the broken parts to B and Q and find a replacement. I didn’t know how to turn off the electricity, but I got a screwdriver and removed the plastic cover anyway. I disconnected the wires from the switch mechanism. I was now looking at the metal casing embedded in the wall and two bare wires, one red, one brown. I thought to myself ‘I know this is dangerous but God won’t let me get hurt.’ I decided to do it as quickly as possible and as I yanked the casing free from the wall, the two bare wires both touched the casing and I was electrocuted, receiving a strong shock in my arm. I was not thrown across the room or anything, but it hurt. I felt myself, no damage at all. I was lucky to hardly have been injured.
One day I was low on weed and money, so my THC flooded brain offered me the perfect solution. This day would not be like the others, this day I would meet with my imaginary friend, Britney Spears. I searched my feelings for where she was, and the idea grew that she was currently staying at The Ritz Hotel in London, room 213. The number 213 moved into my mind’s eye for no particular reason as I routinely turned on the television at about midday, so no reason not to, I would depart right away. I telepathically sent my idea of meeting her in London, a short train journey away, to my friend, who had a car. I waited for the whole afternoon, but my friend didn’t show. His loss.
That evening I put on my roller blades, and left for the train station. I soon boarded one of Network Rail’s worst carriages and got off at Waterloo station in London. I didn’t have anything on me except ten pounds, a book to read on the train, my personal stereo and possibly some cigarettes. I think I even took my passport, just in case. I was and still like to be quite a positive thinker, and I thought there may even be a chance that this time tomorrow I would be koching with Britney at her California mansion, if she had one. Or who knows?
I wore my rollerblades and had my regular shoes, one in each hand. I was wearing jeans and a casual ‘Nautica’ jacket. The plan was to meet Britney, in room 213, at The Ritz. After the night, we would both go to my home in Basingstoke, and I would pick up some things, and introduce her quickly to my parents and possibly my friends, then it was onto new amazing things.
I skated from Waterloo Train station to The Ritz, I think it took me about an hour and 45 minutes, using my instinct to decode Gods instructions to me, as to the route. If I saw a road sign that randomly stood out to me, I would follow it. It was dark and cold, but I was convinced that I was in good mental health, and I was quite happy, skating along, enjoying London, listening to ‘Oops I did it again’ on my personal stereo.
The main entrance to The Ritz was surprisingly understated. There was no one on the door so I rolled straight in, still wearing my skates with a shoe in each hand, and queued up in a short line of smartly dressed wealthy looking people. When I reached the front of the queue, I calmly asked the clerk, ‘Can you tell me which room Ms Spears is in please’. She dutifully checked her books. ‘Sir we don’t have a room for Ms Spears’. I replied ‘I think she’s in room 213’ ‘We don’t have any reservations for a Ms Spears’. I was a bit surprised, but I knew that sometimes people checked in with a false name, so I left the desk clerk to call security while I had a look around for myself. I started up the grand staircase, finding it difficult to walk upstairs sideways, as I still had on my roller blades. I wasn’t exactly blending in with my surroundings. When I got to the first floor I found somewhere to sit down and took off my skates and put on my Nikes, making a mental note that if I ever were to repeat the exercise, to change footwear on the ground floor.
I found room 213 easily enough, knocked on the door and waited. A cleaner answered, who did not speak English, but I could see that there was no one in this large room. I hallucinated hearing Britney’s voice behind me and turned around, but there was nobody there. I rethought my plan. I needed the loo, so I wandered through the restaurant on the ground floor to find the bathroom, and then wandered back to reception. The Ritz in London is an impressively grand and attractive place. Piano playing hung in the atmosphere of the spacious restaurant, melodic mainly right hand playing, Debussy, I think. I could almost hear Britney Spears in the music. I went back to room 213 and just hung around for a bit. I decided to check out the top floor, she may be in one of the nice rooms. I walked around the corridors for a bit longer, but soon the security man found me. He was not a large man, but he looked authoritative enough to deal with the odd straggler. He accompanied me to the exit, where there were black cabs waiting to pick people up, and while leaving, I wandered whether I should put my skates back on or take a taxi to the train station to go home.
This was my only experience of The Ritz, until a year later when I tried the same thing again, but more about that journey later.
I thought I would skate to Waterloo train station, and see a bit of London in the process. I don’t remember much about the trip back home, but I do recall stopping at a cinema and buying a coffee flavoured ice cream, playing on some arcades, and stopping to give five pounds to a homeless person on a busy street, where it occurred to me that an hour ago I thought that five pounds would be such an incredibly small amount of money to me by now, as Britney would be paying my way until I capitalised on my newfound fame.
I remember skating alongside the Thames, possibly near Westminster. I also remember skating across the Thames on a road bridge but I can’t remember which one. The only other thing I remember about travelling back to Waterloo train station at about nine pm through busy streets was almost flooring a lady with a broken leg who was using crutches, as my roller skating proficiency bubbled over into over confidence and the situation got away from me. She sent me an annoyed look as I apologised and I was embarrassed and newly schooled. I was careful after that. I soon boarded a busy train home, and I read a Mario Puzo book while travelling, not The Godfather but one of his lesser known stories.
Although I didn’t find my imaginary friend on that wintry night out to London, I did enjoy myself. As I got nearer to home I was wandering where she was. I concluded that she had been unable to meet me, and that she had tried also but failed. She could be anywhere in the world, but we had got our wires crossed. As I was on my street, almost home, I thought, maybe she left The Ritz to meet me at my house, and that’s why she wasn’t there. Maybe she was right here – 100 metres away, having a chat and a cup of tea with my mum as we speak. This was good, the evening endeavour was not to be wasted after all. I began to look for expensive cars parked on the street, none there, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything. I opened the door and she was – not there. I was disappointed, but a nice joint would soon sort that out, it always did, temporarily, but I paid for it by being affected by more craziness. Some people can smoke weed perpetually and not be adversely affected. For me it felt good, but didn’t do me any favours in the long run. It was fair to say that the craziness had been brewing up without my awareness for months. My awareness of reality was dim.
The next morning I was trying to meet Britney again, and I was feeling like maybe Paris was a good idea. The fact of the timing of my meet up thoughts was happening now suggested to me that now was the best time to do it, she must be in the neighbourhood, and wasn’t in London. The next best place for a meet up would be Paris. Paris would be a fitting place to meet up with a star like Britney. If I went to the Eiffel Tower she would surely show up. I made up my mind to go to Paris. As I write this I’m wishing I was still so adventurous.
At times I was sure that I was really linked to Britney Spears. At other times it felt like she was imaginary. I thought it best to at least try and find out by putting in the effort to meet her.
Peter McDonnell lives in Hampshire, England. You can contact him via his website www.petermcdonnellwriter.com, which includes a number of excerpts from his book.
Yesterday I was privileged to attend the premiere screening of Speaking Up at Newcastle’s Tyneside Cinema. This was the first in what is to be a series of short films “exploring young people’s experiences of mental health issues by producing and creating their own shorts to convey powerful, practical messages.”
Running a little under twenty minutes, the film certainly delivers. The first part really opened my eyes to the realities of living with anxiety. The team then took to the streets of Newcastle to interview members of the public. Having volunteered on those same streets for last year’s Newcastle Mental Health Day, I was interested to hear what people had to say.
Folk were asked what terms such as “mental health issues,” “anxiety,” and “depression” meant to them. I found it encouraging that so many felt able to share their opinions, concerns and personal experiences to camera. I got the sense most were unused to having the opportunity to do so.
Several spoke of stigma, and the need for more to be done for those living with mental illness. There is clearly still a way to go, but this is the sort of thing which helps break down barriers. One person suggested stigma is perhaps less prevalent in the younger generation. Initiatives such as Speaking up bring hope that things can change, by giving younger people the opportunity to share their lived experience in ways directly meaningful to them, and to a wider audience.
Kudos to Sharon Race, Alisdair Stewart Cameron, and the whole Speaking Up team for what they are doing. Sharon commented:
Speaking Up is important to highlight that young people also live with mental health issues which they want to speak out about. The participants were so wonderful to work with — creative, clever and witty. We are pleased to announce Launchpad have secured funding for Speaking Up Too, which will take place in the Summer holidays.
I invited my friend Carol Robinson to share her thoughts about the screening:
The short film was made this summer It was great to be an extra and to see the great work Sharon Race completed. The interviews on the streets of Newcastle were intriguing. It was good to see discrimination around mental health is being tackled so positively, and the public attitude is so positive and honest.
UPDATE: Speaking up was shown as an introduction to the main features at the MiLAN - Medicine in Literature and the Arts at Newcastle film festival starting on Monday 11 February.
UPDATE: Speaking Up is now available to watch on YouTube.
If you would like to know more about this initiative, or fancy getting involved, check out the Speaking Up Facebook page.
Organised by Launchpad, Speaking Up runs free film making workshops for 15-25 year olds in Tyne & Wear on the 5th Floor of Broadacre House, Market Street, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 6HQ. Speaking Up is funded by the Community Foundation Tyne & Wear.
The following is excerpted from High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder, by Martin Baker and Fran Houston (Nordland Publishing, 2016). This section covers part of Fran’s two-week cruise from Amsterdam to New York aboard the MS Eurodam.
Our first opportunity to connect properly was in Reykjavik, five days into the cruise. Fran was desperately fatigued, and in emotional and physical pain. She was relieved to have made it through the summer but fearful of the future. We had always known the summer would be hard, but instead of recuperating she faced finding somewhere to live, packing, leaving her community, and settling into somewhere new. It was not merely daunting, it was potentially dangerous.
Fran: I’ve missed you..
Martin: I’ve missed you too.
Fran: You help me beat my depression..
Mary: That’s because I come down there to find you, in the darkness where you are. I sit with you until you are ready to walk out again into the sunlight.
Fran: From this bleak harsh landscape..
Martin: The landscape can be an analogy for your depression. Let’s use this part of the journey, this Darktime. Feel the sadness, and then leave it behind on these shores.
Fran: I don’t like this part of the trip.. Coming home.. It’s scary..
Martin: Find me a stronger word than scary.
Martin: Good. If it’s terrifying then say so. Feel it fully. Because if you can feel it, it will keep you from falling deeper into depression.
Fran: I haven’t made the most of Norway and Iceland.. I don’t like them.. They are not warm like Germany..
Martin: On the way back to the ship, find me one thing that delights you. A smile. A ray of sunlight. Anything.
She messaged me later.
Fran: We sail soon..
Martin: What did you find for me?
Fran: The bus driver.. And a woman named Cindy who went to buy a swimsuit..
Martin: As you found two things I will ask for three tomorrow.
Fran: The blue of the water.. The brown of Mum’s eye.. The niceness of people caring for us..
Martin: I said tomorrow! That’s cheating! (Thank you.)
They were at sea for the next four days. We were able to chat when they reached Nanortalik in Greenland, and I was relieved to discover her mood had lifted a little. I didn’t expect us to be in touch again until they landed in Newfoundland, but some personal news required me to contact Fran the next day.
Despite the cost, we exchanged text messages throughout that day and for the remainder of the cruise. It helped Fran process her feelings from the summer and prepare for all she would face once she returned home. She was by turns angry, tearful, and depressed. Most of all, she was exhausted. One bright moment occurred as they reached Halifax, Nova Scotia. I was at work, and a colleague found a webcam that showed the Eurodam as it berthed at the ferry terminal.
Martin: Frannie, I have the ship on webcam! I watched you coming in. The camera is looking down on the ship from outside the terminal.
Fran: Would you see me if I waved?
Martin: Maybe! Are you at a window?
Fran: I could go up top on the back deck..
Martin: Yes do! Let me know when you get there!
Fran: OK.. I’m by the stacks..
Martin: I think I can see you! Walk about a bit.
Fran: I’m right by the railing..
Martin: Yes! I can see you! I am waving!
Fran: Can you see my big belly?
Martin: Haha! No but I can see you!
Fran: I’m going back down now.. I don’t have a coat and it’s cold..
Martin: Go and warm yourself up! I can’t believe I just saw you on webcam from all the way over here!
Fran: That was awesome.. Thank you for doing it with me..
Martin: Thank Barry, he found the webcam!
Fran: Thank you, Barry!
I took a screenshot of Fran waving, and shared it on our social media pages.
A little later she went ashore and we were able to talk. The call only lasted a few minutes, but it was our first since Amsterdam and helped us feel connected again.
You can watch the live Halifax Pier 21 webcam here.
High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder is available at: Amazon.ca | Amazon.com | Amazon.co.jp | Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.de | Amazon.es | Amazon.fr | Amazon.it | Barnes & Noble
Thursday February 2 2017 is #TimeToTalk Day, an annual event organised by Time to Change to focus attention on mental health. (Time to Change was formed in 2009 by MIND and Rethink Mental Illness, with the aim of reducing mental health-related stigma and discrimination.)
Some feel that awareness campaigns trivialise the lived experience of people with serious mental illness, giving the impression that talking to someone or going for a walk can fix things, or take the place of professional treatment and support. I wholeheartedly agree that a chat with a friend or a breath of fresh air is never going to cure anyone. But I do believe—as the following quotation from the #TimeToTalk webpage makes clear—there is much we can do to lessen the burden of isolation and misunderstanding.
Conversations about mental health change lives.
At the moment, too many people with mental health problems are made to feel isolated, ashamed and worthless by other people’s reactions. But talking about mental health doesn’t need to be difficult. It can be as simple as making time to have a cup of tea or go for a walk, and listening to someone talk about how they feel. Being open about mental health and ready to listen can make a positive difference to someone’s life.
This is what Time to Talk Day is all about—giving us all the chance to talk and listen about mental health.
Having “a conversation about mental health” might sound daunting, but it simply means allowing someone to talk openly about what’s going on for them. It might be a face-to-face conversation, a phone or video call, or a conversation by e-mail, text (SMS), or instant messaging. Whatever works for you and the other person.
Whatever the channel, there are a few things that distinguish a supportive conversation from the normal everyday kind. I find the following reminders helpful.
Don’t interrupt. This is self-explanatory, but can be one of the hardest to remember. Let the other person share what they want to share, without giving in to the urge to interrupt with your own ideas, suggestions, and questions. I certainly need reminding of this one!
It’s their story, not yours. Don’t monopolise the conversation by recalling times you have been through what they are talking about. “I know just what you mean” is particularly unhelpful. No matter how similar your experiences might seem, their situation is uniquely theirs, and what worked—or didn’t work—for you might not be relevant to them at all. If you are asked for suggestions or advice, fair enough, but wait until you are asked.
Save your judgments for later. It’s hard to listen to someone without analysing and mentally judging what you are hearing. This isn’t wrong in itself—you might need to assess whether the person is in immediate danger, or in need of professional help—but beyond that, your internal dialogue only serves to distance you from what they are sharing with you.
You don’t have to fix everything. Depending on your relationship (partner, child, parent, family member, close friend, colleague, acquaintance, or stranger) you may be in a position to offer help, advice, or support. But it is not your responsibility to fix everything, so hold back with your suggestions unless they are asked for. On the other hand, don’t feel paralysed or useless if you can’t think of anything that could possibly help. If you are present and engaged, you are helping. Often, that is precisely—and all—that is needed. You’d be surprised how rare a gift holding space for someone can be. As it says on the #TimeToTalk webpage:
“It’s #TimeToTalk because if you say something, you realise how many people around you haven’t, and needed to”
We are all so busy these days. School, college, work, commuting, chores, children, our own issues and problems, fill our days—and often our nights too. When are we supposed to find time for all these conversations?
#TimeToTalk isn’t about blocking out chunks of “Mental Health Conversation Time” in your calendar—although it might involve committing to meet up for lunch with that friend you haven’t seen in a while, calling on a relative on your way home from work, or turning off the TV after dinner to talk with your partner or child. It’s about being open to what the other person wants to talk about, and not being scared if that includes their mental health, or that of someone they care about.
Think of the people you talk to already. The colleague who gives you a ride home. The person you speak to every Saturday in your favourite café. Social media and the internet mean you can connect with almost anyone, almost anywhere, at almost any time.
You won’t always be “talking about mental health,” of course. Open conversations span the full gamut of topics: deep and trivial, funny and sad. But if they are genuine, they encompass whatever is going on for you and the other person, and often that does include some aspect of mental health. That said, if you are open to such conversations, you might find yourself having more and more of them. I consider it a privilege that people feel at ease talking with me about topics which so often are kept hidden, because they attract judgemental attitudes, stigma, and discrimination.
You can’t be there at all times for everyone, however. You are not a 24/7/365 crisis line. Aside from the dangers of burning yourself out, doing too much can lead to codependency, which is unhealthy for both you and the other person. Don’t take on too much, and pay attention to your own health—physical and mental. Remember that #TimeToTalk includes sharing your issues and concerns, as well as listening to those of others.
Fran and I believe passionately that all of us—you, me, everyone—can make a difference. Fran knows this first-hand, and I can do no better than close by sharing her words from the Epilogue to our book.
There are many like me who live in invisible institutions of stigma, shame, and silence, the walls built by others from without, or by ourselves from within. Dismantling these walls invites connection. Be the gum on someone’s shoe who has one foot inside and one foot outside. Stick around. It may not be easy but you can help someone make a life worth living. Maybe even save a life. One little bit by one little bit. A smile, a wink, a hello, a listening ear, a helping hand, a friendship all work together to interrupt the grasp of illness.
Be open and honest, with your friend and others you meet. Judge not, for misunderstandings abound. Acceptance, understanding, and kindness can pave another way. Let’s.