Saturday, 16 December 2017

Media, Stigma and Psychosis, by Roiben

I see, hear, feel and believe in things that others do not. Medically, I have been told this is Psychosis. I do not believe that is what it is. What I see and hear are as real to me as anything else in the world.

I see through the cracks between what is generally accepted as this world, this reality, and the Veil – the world of ghosts, call it Purgatory if you will. I see the two bleed into each other and the gaps in between.

There are Classes of ghosts: From the every-day individual that can’t accept death and wander, or sit forlornly, forever lost; to the Messengers and the Reapers. The Messengers are the ones I hear. Sometimes they yell and shout angrily, or laugh derisively, but mostly they taunt and tease, telling me I am wrong and bad or that I shouldn’t be here. Urging me to Self-Harm and Kill myself.

They also tell me to harm other people. This means that medically I am considered a risk not just to myself, but to others as well. I am the dangerous, risky sort of Mentally Ill. I fall into the small bracket that the Media loves to expose as if it is the norm and the only way.

That I have not actually hurt anyone but myself is irrelevant. In the eyes of the Media and the Stigma that it results in, I am a Monster. A terrible person that is a ticking time bomb before something happens.

I see my local Mental Health team and my GP. I am on medication. I am, frankly, willing to try anything in order to feel less desperate, less suicidal, less like I may actually be at risk of lashing out at a stranger in the street, less tempted to listen to and believe in the ghosts and all they tell me. If the Medical Professionals say trying medication may help, I am at a stage where I will try the medication. I can always die another day.

So, why am I telling you all of this? Stigma and the Media are big game changers, and as a result, there needs to be people like me to break down the Myths and Miss-guided Beliefs. To say it how it is. Yes, everyone is different, not everyone diagnosed with Psychosis will have my experiences and my words are just a drop in the ocean of experience and real life out there in the world.

I can only hope the Media, the Government, the strangers in the street start to listen to the real, honest accounts and stop relying on Stigma and Stereotypes. The Classification systems and labelling. In reality, people with my type of symptoms are always at more risk to themselves than anyone else – but the Media and Stigma say otherwise.

Do I think I have Psychosis? No, but in my more rational moments I am open to the possibility – especially if it ends up saving lives by being treated, and agreeing to medication.

Would I encourage others to reach out for help? Yes. Tell someone. No one should struggle alone, and as underfunded and under resourced and understaffed as the NHS and Mental Health system is, there is some help available. Fight for it. Keep telling people, until someone listens. And, if you can, join me in working to break down the Stigma and years of misrepresentation and misdirection.

I have been on the edge of Suicide many times. I have attempted to take my own life more times than I care to count. But, right now, I am saying: Not yet. Let’s try this first. It may help. It may not. Let’s exhaust all the alternatives first, and while I am at it, let’s make the world of Mental Illness a less lonely place to be.

About the Author

You can find Roiben on Twitter (@roiben).

 

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

“How Do You and Fran Get through Your Darkest Days?”

Excerpt from chapter 9, “A Hero’s Journey: Sticking Together When Things Fall Apart,” of our book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder. The chapter deals with how we navigated the three months Fran was traveling around Europe in 2013.


“How Do You and Fran Get through Your Darkest Days?”

When things are at their worst, we focus on three basic principles: trust, challenge, and self-care. I could not support Fran at all if she did not want and trust me to do so. She trusts me not to hide or run away, and to hold a space in which she feels safe no matter how perilous her thoughts, feelings, and experiences might be. She also trusts me to handle my issues, so she can focus on hers.

We share a belief that even the most difficult experiences can yield rewards if we remain open to exploring them. The three months Fran spent in Europe were an immense challenge to her health and stability, yet she believed there was value to be gained from the experience. It could be argued she put her health—indeed her life—in danger by refusing to abandon the trip. There were times I argued for her to return home, but it was her choice to make. I would have supported her in either case. Stubborn persistence is part of Fran’s makeup. Without it, she would not be who she is. Very probably, she would not be alive.

Extreme self-care becomes our guiding motto. We set minor matters aside and focus on whatever will best support her through the immediate crisis. Fran’s wellness plan is invaluable at such times, as is our joint commitment to involve others when necessary. Paying close attention to my own health and well-being is no less important, and allows me to support Fran when she needs me the most.

 


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

 

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Season’s Greetings, by Roiben

Christmas and New Year can be a difficult time for many people, for many reasons. The pressure on finances alone can be enough to increase stress and worry. This is without factoring in Mental Illness or a Chronic Condition.

Towns and Cafes become more crowded and frenetic and can make simply going outside feel harder than normal. Then, there are the expectations to socialize – to see friends and family and partake in the celebration of the Season. A Season with short, cold, wet days and long dark nights. A Season filled with the pressure and expectation to be happy and together and well.

So what happens, when you cannot afford it? When you are separated from your family by circumstances that won’t change? When you have a Mental Illness or Chronic Condition that means the sheer pressure and stress in the build-up to The Day mean you use up all your energy, all your strength, all your will-power and social acumen just to get through the month. By the time The Day arrives, it is not unusual to be disenchanted at best, and miserable and anti-social at worse.

So, what can be done? I have learned a few tricks over the years that have made the Season slightly more bearable. Firstly: Be open and honest. If you are too tired or stressed, or your emotions feel too battered, allow yourself time away. Ask if you can retire to a quiet room for a while. I have made it the norm that I will do this.

Only join in with family games around the table if you feel up to it. If not, maybe use this as your quiet time. If you do join in, don’t be afraid to bail out if it begins to feel too much.

Have at least one contact who you can be completely honest with. Whether over the phone, online or in person. There is so much pressure to be happy that it is a relief to have someone who accepts when you say “I am struggling”. I have felt suicidal on Christmas Day before now which is the opposite of what people expect. I will be the first to say it is very hard and wearing to put your feelings aside in the presence of others. Being able to state the truth to at least one person can be a life-line.

If you can, avoid alcohol. It interferes with most medication and is in itself a depressant. If you do choose to drink do so carefully, in the presence of others who can look after you should the alcohol affect your mood or well-being.

Be sure to take your medication. If you are travelling over the Christmas period, make it the first thing you pack and make sure you have enough to last you until the doctor’s surgery opens again. They can be closed for anything from a few days to an entire week, so get your prescription sorted in plenty of time and if need be, ask for more to last you through.

I have learned to take the Season slowly, and carefully. Pace yourself is the best advice I can give. Know your limits and don’t be afraid to stick to them. In reality, no one wants you ill or suffering because you have pushed yourself too far.

Whatever you do, and however you make it through the Season, I hope you make it through and without too much in the way of pain and suffering. I won’t wish you a Merry Christmas, as I appreciate the last thing we need is more pressure to be happy and well. Instead, I wish you a memorable Christmas. Focus on making memories, any way you can.

About the Author

You can find Roiben on Twitter (@roiben).

 

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Untitled, by Brynn McCann

The flame of a thousand fires…
dances in her head...
a forethought, an afterthought.
Someonewhereinthemiddle thought.
burning through her brain like
so many candles in an ocean of brain waves.

He wants to dance with her
but is afraid of the bonfire she builds
nightly in her mind... he’s looking for
a balance that only exists between water
and fire. A place where darkness ends
and the sun sets peacefully on another
day of nine to fivers. A world where everyone sleeps
at night or exactly when they are supposed to...
and finds their dreams
in the dark with an easy breath.

But breathing for some isn’t always easy,
And sleeping for others doesn’t
mean sleeping.
It means... finding rest where you can find it
and building fires to keep you warm at night
when the winds of your mind pick up
and blow your house down over
and over and over again.

It means living in a world
that runs on daylight
and breathing through it and in it.

It means putting up with sun people
and hugging the moon when it’s full
And since the moon controls the tides and the
waves of her mind are an ocean deep enough
to drown the earth,
she chooses to surf in her waves
rather than fight them..
understanding that dreams will find her
when she lets go of what she wants.

 

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Communicating Is a Two Way Street, by Roiben

I was first diagnosed with a Mental Illness when I was twelve years old. I am now thirty-five. So I have grown up with Mental Illness and all that it entails. I have had many experiences through the years with both my own Mental Illness and other people’s and there are a few things I have learnt along the way. Some of these I will share here.

One of the most important things I have learnt in my life is that communication – real, open, honest communication – is the key. By which I mean, without communication you cannot have a relationship of any kind with another person.

I took a long time to learn this lesson and I learnt it the hard way. I have spent most of my life not talking about what was going on inside my own mind. Not talking about my likes and dislikes, why I acted certain ways at certain times and, ultimately, what I needed to feel safe and loved. It has led to the destruction of more than one relationship, including my relationship with my parents. My Mum does not believe in my Mental Illness. She does not get it and is of the general impression that I “make it up from stuff I read online in order to get attention”.

This belief of hers meant I stopped going to my Mum with how I was feeling and why – since the majority of the time it was intertwined with my Mental Illness. Then, over time and by extension, I stopped talking to my Dad about it too, since they shared everything I said between them. Gradually I stopped talking to them about the majority of things. Our conversations became one-sided; questions with one or two word answers. In the end, our relationship broke down.

My parents could no longer handle the surprises and shocks of my Mental Illness at its worse, when one minute I would appear fine and then the next be threatening suicide and have the police or an ambulance at the door. As a result of this my parents effectively kicked me out of the house. I now live in a little Studio on my own, and to be honest this works much better for me. I am no longer putting on a front whenever I want to walk to the kitchen and get a drink.

Communication is the key to opening many doors. When I started to open up a little and admit that I was struggling and needed help, I realized that a lot of other people felt the same way and were also struggling. Being honest also led to friendships that were far better than those I had had to date.

I learned to be more discerning with my friendships. Those who were only there to get something from me or who were not supportive of me as an individual became nothing more than acquaintances. Those who shared, back and forth, pieces of themselves, gelled and became friends, boyfriends, lovers and more. I met people on forums and on twitter, as well as friends from the days of University that I have kept in touch with. Many of these have their own stories to tell and are all the better for telling them.

More specifically, I learnt something that I now believe to my very core – communication has to go two ways. Life is a two-way street. If you are only focused on yourself and not willing to meet in the middle, your “friends” will walk the other way until they find someone who will.

Another point to make here is: Mental Illness is not an excuse to not be a good friend. I have been actively Suicidal in the past — frankly, I have been literally swallowing pills — while talking to friends online to offer them support through their own struggles. I have been on forums as a “Supporter”, actively helping others through problems with Mental Illness, whilst going through my first known episodes of Psychosis.

Being Suicidal means it is hard to drag yourself out of bed. To exist becomes a daily chore and you are out of fight, and energy – what energy? However, it is not a constant. Being Suicidal ebbs and flows with time and emotions. Even if someone is feeling at rock bottom, there will be moments when they can peek their head above the water’s edge and communicate with friends, even if just to say “I am sorry you are feeling bad right now, I am feeling uber bad”. Or, at times when even those words fail: “hugs”.

Evenings are particularly hard for me and I struggle to get out of bed in the mornings. But through the middle part of the day, even at my worst I can pass for any other person on the street. It is often at these times that I reach out to my friends and communicate about how they are, how they are holding up and what is going on in their part of the world.

Even at the most evasive, self-isolating moments, I have had instances where parts of me have reached out for another someone to understand. This action, complicated and difficult as it is, has in no uncertain terms saved my life more than once.

So, what is my message? Communicate. Both ways. Ask someone you know how they are today. Compliment people — you never know when someone may really need a kind word. Ultimately, do not struggle through this world alone. It is harsh enough WITH other people.

Loneliness is one of the world’s biggest killers. Break down its strength. Reach out.

About the Author

You can find Roiben on Twitter (@roiben).

 

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Welcome Home! Post-Vacation Support for the Bipolar Traveller

The traveller with bipolar disorder faces a number of challenges. Leaving behind proven routines and support structures, the journeying itself (especially if different time zones are involved), and the excitement of new places and opportunities are all intrinsically destabilising. Good planning including a Travel Wellness Plan goes a long way to mitigate the risks. Factoring in some post-vacation support is valuable too.

In our book High Tide, Low Tide Fran and I describe how we managed our mutually supportive friendship whilst Fran was touring Europe with her elderly parents, as well as what happened on her return home. On that occasion, Fran couldn’t rest and recuperate, as she had to immediately look for somewhere new to live, pack up, and move home. Fortunately, not every trip is quite so traumatic!

Fran has just returned from a ten day vacation with a friend to Edisto Beach in South Carolina: a round trip of 2,200 miles. She arrived home last night around 6 p.m. her time (11 p.m. for me here in the UK). We met on webcam shortly afterwards.

Fran had warned me in advance not to expect too much from her on this first call. The journey north had taken two days, and the 22 hour drive had been compounded by car troubles and a less than satisfactory motel stopover. (Note to self: pay more attention to online reviews when suggesting travel accommodation!)

I imagined we’d be on for no more than ten or fifteen minutes: long enough for me to welcome her back and to briefly catch up on anything immediately pressing. Anything else could and would have to wait. As it turned out, our call lasted an hour and a half. Fran was exhausted, but needed me to hold space for her to release what she was feeling and thinking, so she could unwind. I got to contribute but we agreed I would have my turn later. This first call was for her.

We had our usual check in at midday my time today, and will meet later on webcam. There is no specific agenda but as we move through these first post-vacation days we will be focused on a few key areas.

Vigilance. It’s more difficult to help Fran keep an eye on her health when she is away from home. We kept in regular touch on this trip using chat, and had a few voice and video calls, but far fewer and shorter than usual. Getting back to our usual structure is stabilising in itself and will help each of us assess how Fran’s doing in terms of her physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.

Catch up. I have a fair idea what Fran did while she was away because she shared things with me day-to-day and on her social media. But, as I mentioned to her last night, “I’ve had ten days of life too!” I look forward to sharing my news with Fran and hearing more of what she took away from her vacation.

Processing. We approach any experience as an opportunity for growth and learning. This curiosity has stood us in good stead in the past. We will take time over the coming days and weeks to explore what we’ve experienced while Fran has been away, celebrate our successes, and look for lessons learned.

For example, Fran mastered a new GPS (satnav) app on her phone, and successfully navigated the route to and from Edisto, as well as on day trips through the week. She and her friend also handled spending most of their time together on the trip, including the best part of four days on the road.

For both of us, being in less frequent contact always offers opportunities to explore connection, independence, and codependency in our relationship, and this trip was no exception.

Picking up the reins. We keep track of our individual and joint tasks on shared calendars and To Do Lists. We parked a number of things while Fran was away, so we will review these and pick up where we need to. This includes appointments, preparing for upcoming events and trips, and the holiday season (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year).

Hanging out. One of the things I am most looking forward to is hanging out again with Fran, especially reading together (we are currently reading Outlander by Diana Gabaldon) and working our way through all eleven series of the American sitcom Cheers on tv.

Fran loves to travel, when funds and circumstances allow. We are already planning for further trips next year. With care and forethought we know she can travel safely. And with some dedicated post-vacation support we know we can grow and move forward, both stronger for the experience.

 

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

One Small Chip: Living with Psychosis, by Roiben

Psychosis is one of the biggest Taboos still around in the Mental Health world, and by extension, in the world as a whole. You don’t often hear of people talking about Psychosis, whereas nowadays you may hear more about Depression, Bi-Polar, Borderline Personality Disorder, OCD and so on. You don’t often get told “I have (or I experience) Psychosis”.

So, what makes Psychosis such a big Taboo? Is it the unknown element that comes as a part of it? By definition Psychosis is hearing, seeing, feeling and believing things which others do not experience. It is much harder to empathize with someone suffering from Psychosis because it is harder to imagine being in that situation. One can extend one’s level of understanding for example with Depression – because everyone can understand feeling unbearably sad, having no motivation, or even the emptiness of emotion that can come as part and parcel of the disease. Yes, these things are not all and everything of experiencing Depression, but one can understand that it feels more than this. One can empathize.

Psychosis is a level of unknown that is so different for each individual experiencing it, that it is much harder to generalize and fit into a box of “it must be like when I experienced X that day, but to a bigger degree”.

Mental Illness as a whole gets blamed for a lot of things – if there is a murder, or a terrorist attack, or someone steals something from the local shop, the first thing asked in the modern-day media is: Have they got a Mental Illness? Hell, even Donald Trump is candidate for having a Mental Illness, and has been couch-diagnosed by so many people, purely because he is not your standard Politician (okay, he is a terrible Politician, but we won’t go into that here).

Psychosis is a major trigger point for being considered “at risk to other people”, even in the Mental Health field. Go to any A&E and describe an experience they count as Psychosis and the first question you will be asked is: “Have you ever hurt anybody else?” and “Have you ever been in trouble with the Police?” In the “real-world” of out there, hearing someone has Psychosis definitely means they are a danger to others and more likely to cause harm. The word Psychotic seems to be treated as a synonym for “dangerous and crazy”.

Schizophrenia, Schizoaffective disorder, Prenatal-Psychosis, Psychotic-Depression and Psychosis experienced as a part of Bi-Polar 1 are rarely talked about or admitted to openly in today’s world. Purely due to the stigma that somehow this makes you a bad person who is bound to cause harm.

In reality, people who have Psychosis are first and foremost at risk to themselves. They are much more likely to cause harm to themselves than to anyone else. Schizophrenia, for example, leads to extreme social isolation and people with this diagnosis die much younger than the average for any given country.

Psychosis, in all its forms, is hard to live with. Stigma and the sheer difficulty in explaining an experience without being ridiculed or just not believed makes someone a Social Outcast, keeping to the dark places and lonely shadows, behind the mask that says “I am normal”.

There is nothing better for someone with Psychosis than hearing “I understand you are having these experiences, and that for you they are very scary” – no disbelief, no brushing aside, no “have you hurt anyone?” (Unless the person has themselves expressed desire to harm others, the chances of them doing so are, in reality, pretty slim.)

It is so rare to hear someone accept that you have experiences that others do not, without chasing after “reality” or viewing the person admitting to these experiences as a threat to every human being they may come across. Accepting it, asking if there is any way you can help, and treating the person in the same manner you would anyone else in today’s world, is pretty much the best thing you can do.

So, what gives me right to say all this, you may be wondering? I have been told more than once that I have “Psychosis”. My main diagnosis is Depression and Anxiety, however, in with that is Psychosis. I have previously been told I have Psychotic Depression (not my current diagnosis, but it has been spun around by previous Psychiatrists).

To me, the world is a pretty scary place. I see, hear, feel and believe in things I have been told others do not believe in. To me, they are very real. I have opened up about them to seek help, mostly because my experiences have led me to Crisis point on a number of occasions. I have been suicidal, actively so – and so am considered definitely at risk to myself. So much so, that I am on bi-weekly dosette boxes for my medication as I can’t be trusted with more than two weeks’ medicine at once due to my risk of Overdose.

I am open to the idea that maybe what I experience is not real – purely because I will try anything to get better at the moment. So, if the Psychiatrists are saying I am Psychotic and medicine will help, I will give the medicine a go. The other alternative is literally to kill myself. So, I am giving the medicine a try. I am communicating with people about how I am feeling at any given moment, and keeping the floodgates open for support and understanding, because I need it to survive.

I have been told that this experience may be something I just have to “learn to live with”. That at best, medicine may make it easier to cope, but not remove the experiences altogether. Frankly, I am fine with that. It beats the current Not Coping At All.

I know that many people who experience Psychosis do learn to deal with it. They get on with their lives, they (by and large) live for many years. They could be the person sitting next to you as you read this. And I say that not to scare-monger, but rather to express the prevalence of Psychosis and the likelihood that as with many Mental Illnesses, you may well know someone, or more than one person, with a diagnosis (or perhaps they don’t, and need help).

So, what is the point I am trying to make here? Mostly, that despite being a major Taboo that is unspoken in many corners, Psychosis is not uncommon. Often, it forms part and parcel of another diagnosis. Sometimes, it is the first sign that anything is wrong. It is also not an automatic Doctrine that means any given person is “Dangerous”. As I stated above, quite the opposite is true.

I think people’s experiences should be shared more openly. The Taboo nature should be broken down bit by bit and the world be more open to people whose experiences maybe do not “fit the norm”, without automatically shutting them down and telling them they are lying, or there is no such thing, or their experiences are “all in their head” or even worse that “they are only saying this for attention”.

It is only through opening up and saying “This is happening” that anyone can get help to cope with what to them in very much real. As real as the page you are reading right now. And no one should suffer alone.

This is my little bit towards that. One small chip of the iceberg.

About the Author

You can find Roiben on Twitter (@roiben).

Photo by Luca Micheli on Unsplash.

 

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

From Here to Edisto: My Life as a GPS Angel

As I mentioned in my speech at a recent mental health event, I have occasionally been called upon to act as a personal SatNav (GPS) service for Fran when she’s traveling.

When Fran’s away from home it’s often easier for me to look stuff up online than it is for her on her cell phone. I’ve booked hotels on her behalf and checked out restaurants and places to visit. I’ve even acted as an emergency SatNav, using a combination of Facebook chat, Google maps and an app called Glympse which lets you share your location with someone. It’s never boring with Frannie!

I had opportunity to reprise this role last weekend, as Fran travelled with a friend from Portland, Maine, to Charleston in South Carolina—a journey of 1,100 miles (around 19 hours on the road). We’d planned the trip well in advance. Jim would rent the car and do the driving. Fran would navigate, a challenge she was keen to take on even if she doubted her abilities. I would be on hand if needed.

We explored a number of navigation options. Google Maps would work, but is a bit basic. Waze was recommended by friends but we didn’t find it particularly intuitive. Researching alternatives, I found HERE WeGo. It seemed straightforward to set up and we liked the fact Fran could download the maps she’d need ahead of time to save data on the road. Fran also had a printed AAA TripTik Travel Planner. Glympse would let me track Fran’s location in the event they got lost or needed me to assist.

Hours before they departed, Fran realised we’d not considered the cost of road tolls. A quick online search turned up Tollsmart, an app which gave details of each individual toll along their route including which accepted cash and which didn’t. Fran had an old E-ZPass unit, but the battery was dead. (E‑ZPass is an electronic toll collection system used on most tolled roads, bridges, and tunnels in the Midwestern and Northeastern United States.) We discussed alternatives methods of payment and I checked the options offered by their car rental company. This page has information on not paying too much on tolls when using a rental car.

Fran and Jim got on the road around 11:30 a.m. and were soon making good progress. Their original plan was to break their journey overnight in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and Fran and I had researched a few suitable hotels in advance. An hour or so into the journey they realised Fredericksburg was a little optimistic and decided to look for somewhere a little closer.

We’re thinking of stopping at Wilmington Delaware, can you find anywhere to stay?

I checked Booking.com and soon found one likely place—the White Oaks Motel at Pennsville—as well as a couple of others in the area.

Fran: Jim asks if we could get a place about an hour south of there. Tomorrow will be a long day and we need to check in around 4pm.

Martin: I found one in the Baltimore area about 3 hours from where you are now. It has various rooms available but doesn’t look as nice as the White Oaks one.

Fran: White Oaks it is then. Now to book.

Martin: Yayay

Fran: Booked. Now to put the address in the app. Jim says Big thanks to Marty. I think we all made a good call. Can you help us get to the motel?

Martin: You’ve put it in the app?

Fran: Yes but when I use the GPS I get confused. And the voice isn’t loud enough. Is it far from our path?

Martin: No it’s not far from your path. Program the app from wherever you are now, to the hotel. You are on I-95 now?

Fran: Garden State Parkway

I found that on the map but it seemed some way off the expected route.

Martin: Can you put Glympse on for a few minutes so I can see where you are?

Fran: Done. Are we on track? Below Asbury Park.

Martin: I haven’t received an email re the Glympse. Never mind. Looks like you are a little bit over to the east. Get onto 195 West.

Fran: I think we missed the exit.

Fran called me on Skype and we had a short call to confirm what road they were on and what they planned to do next. Once they were back on track I sent Fran screenshots and other details to get them to the motel.

Fran: You’re an angel. Do you have the motel number so we can tell them we’ll be late.

Martin: One moment... Here you go... When you get chance, it would help me to know where you are.

Fran: Just got on NJ Turnpike south for 195

Martin: Almost exactly one hour to go. You’re doing good!

It was about half past midnight here in the UK. Confident they’d be fine, I said goodnight and went to bed. Fran messaged me an hour or so later to let me know they’d arrived safely.

I am glad to be on this journey.. so far! We’ve navigated things well. Whew! Only 11 hour and 18 minutes from here to Edisto Beach (with no delays, stops, mistakes.. lord help me). We are supposed to be there around 4p. Sigh. We will get up at 5.30.

Five thirty a.m. for them is ten thirty a.m. here in the UK. I messaged Fran next morning to make sure they’d not overslept.

Beep! Beep! Early morning call for weary travellers.

She replied almost immediately with characteristic (and half-joking) candour.

Fran: Fuck you! It’s too early!

Martin: Good morning Fran! Good morning Jim!

Fran: Good morning! Jim says hello!

They were soon on the road. Fran sent me a short Glympse so I could see where they were. This time it worked perfectly. She was a little concerned about her phone data and asked me to check it for her: something I do when she is away from home. It was fine. We chatted on and off along the way.

Fran: It’s mostly I-95 until we get close to Edisto.

Martin: Yes. It should be easier going/navigating today. You both did really well yesterday.

Fran: I’m learning the satnav!!!

When they got to Selma I sent them a screenshot showing how far they had travelled since leaving Portland the morning before. They had about five hours left to go.

Martin: The U.S. is so BIG!!!!

Fran: YES! Wonder how many hours across the country?

Martin: I’d sooner take the train on something real long.

Fran: Me too.

Martin: So that’s something we can do some time!

They were making good progress, but you can never be complacent.

Truck ahead of us just went off road but recovered. That was unreal. But we’re safe. Damn. Send angels.

Fran put Glympse on again for the final hour or so of their journey. I watched as they missed a turn, turned back and corrected themselves.

Fran: We’re here! Our place is unbelievable. I’ll do a video of it tomorrow to show you.

Martin: You’ve both done brilliantly! I’ll let you settle in, and catch up with you tomorrow. Goodnight!

Next morning I saw Fran had posted this to her Facebook page:

After getting lost in Jersey, staying over in a Bates-like hotel, running over the treads of a truck tire, and watching a fuel truck run off the road and back on again (way scary) 22 hours on the road! We practically kissed the ground in Edisto Beach, South Carolina.

A friend had commented “Yikes! I’m glad you made it safe.”

Fran: There were angels ♥

 

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Community, Cake, and Conversation: Talking Freely in Ely

In September I wrote of my excitement at being invited to speak at the second Talking FreELY Pop Up Café in the cathedral city of Ely. It exceeded all my hopes and expectations, and I am delighted to share my experiences of the occasion now that I am back in the north east. Organised by Talking FreELY, a community project established with the aim of getting people talking about mental health, the event was held at Ely Cathedral Conference Centre on Saturday November 4, 2017.

I drove down from Newcastle upon Tyne the day before and arrived at the cosy Nyton Guest House mid-afternoon. After checking in I wandered off to familiarise myself with where I needed to be next day. I enjoyed an excellent meal at the Minster Tavern, then headed back to the guest house for the evening. Ely is a beautiful city and deserves longer than I had to properly explore. Maybe next time!

I arrived at the venue around 8:30 a.m. next morning and met up with Talking FreELY events manager Jon Evans, project manager Carly Mason, founder Tony Sigrist, and the other volunteers and helpers. Everyone was so warm and friendly I immediately felt part of the team.

We had full use of the building. There was a free café on the ground floor serving tea, coffee and cake. This area also hosted an information zone and I was offered a table to display copies of our book, leaflets and contact cards. There was a demonstration of light therapy equipment by local company Lumie downstairs, and Sarah Parkin from the Ely Mindfulness Centre held mindfulness sessions in a room on the first floor. The talks were on the second floor.

I was one of three guest speakers. The other speakers were Jess Manley and Dr Steve Case-Upton. Jess is an Outreach Project worker for Cambridgeshire based children’s charity Blue Smile. She talked about her work providing counselling, therapy and mentoring for children in schools, as well as a wide range of other services. Steve is a GP in Ely and spoke on the subject of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

I attended the first of Sarah’s mindfulness sessions. Her warm, engaged approach and the two short exercises she led did a lot to calm and centre me for my talk.

Despite it raining hard all morning the event as a whole was very well attended, and there were around forty people in the audience as Tony introduced me.

The talks were streamed live to the Talking FreELY Facebook page. Mine is also hosted on our YouTube channel.

My theme was how you can be a supportive friend to someone living with mental illness, whether you live in the same town or thousands of miles apart. It was based on an article I originally wrote for the No Stigmas Project in 2015, subsequently republished by The Mighty as 10 Ways to Support a Friend with Mental Illness When You’re Apart. The audience was lovely—they even laughed where they were supposed to! I overran my slot a little but there was time for a short Q&A. Several people approached me afterwards with questions, or simply to thank me for my contribution to the day. I had a great conversation on mental health in the workplace with someone who has recently taken on responsibilities in that area in the company where she works. This is something I would love to get involved in myself, and we intend to keep in touch and compare notes.

I loved Jess Manley’s talk about her work as a counsellor with Blue Smile, especially her demonstration of the sand box and toys she uses to engage with the children. Steve’s presentation on seasonal affective disorder drew the most questions of the day, testament to his choice of topic and perhaps the weather. I was interested to learn how difficult it can be, from a clinician’s perspective, to distinguish seasonal affective disorder from a person’s responses to other varying factors such as stress.

After Steve’s talk I went down to the café area to begin packing up. I was greeted by a lovely lady eager to buy a copy of High Tide, Low Tide. Fran and I appreciate anyone anywhere who likes our book enough to buy it, but there is something extra special about meeting someone face-to-face, discussing our book’s relevance to their situation, and signing a copy for them.

After the event had finished Carly invited me to visit Julia’s Tea Rooms, home of the Happy Café Ely. The atmosphere inside is warm and inviting, and it would surely be a favourite haunt of mine if I didn’t live two hundred and thirty miles away! Over cheddar cheese toasties we talked about how well the event had gone and what had brought each of us to want to engage with initiatives like the Happy Café, Time to Change, and Talking FreELY.

All too soon it was time for me to head back to Newcastle, but not before Carly and I had taken selfies (shelfies!) with each other and the café’s copy of High Tide, Low Tide.

I invited a few of those involved with the event to share what it meant to them.

Talking FreELY was set up to facilitate conversations about mental health and it was a delight to see so many people on Saturday doing just that, Talking FreELY. There was so much positive energy from the visitors, the speakers and the volunteers that the whole event was a moving experience.
— Carly Mason

I have been struck by how quickly and warmly Talking FreELY has been embraced in our community and beyond. You always ask yourself, “Do people really want this? Is it the right thing to do?” Seeing so many at the event and getting support from all over the UK puts all of those doubts to rest and reassures me how many people are prepared to stand up for better mental health and put an end to stigma.
— Anthony Sigrist

I was encouraged by the warmth of the people who ran the FreEly event and thoroughly enjoyed being an attendee as well as one presenting. It was inspiring to see how people from various walks of life are finding different ways to address mental health—professionally and personally. Compassion for others and determination to make a difference stood out. Much of what was said chimes with Blue Smile’s aims to support those children who experience poor mental health first or second hand and I very much look forward to hearing of future events.
— Jess Manley

Talking FreEly was formed to remove the stigma surrounding mental health and I am delighted that the second event built on the success of the first. With more people attending, some inspiring speakers which where transmitted live through Facebook as well, and some great discussion, I can honestly say that the events can only be considered a success. There are more to come in 2018 and I hope they grow and grow and support more of our amazing community.
— Jon Evans

I am immensely grateful to Carly, Jon and Tony for inviting me to be part of their day, and to everyone who attended for making me feel so welcome. You can keep in touch with Talking FreELY on their website, on Facebook and Twitter. Their next event will be on Saturday March 3, 2018. Maybe I will be there: I'd certainly love to meet up with everyone again!

 

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

My Interview in a Cupboard for BBC Radio 5 Live, by Aimee Wilson

Waking up to an invitation to speak on BBC Radio 5 Live was quite surreal, to say the least! I wish I could be cool and say that this is quite normal for my life these days (which it kind of is) but I still had the surreal ‘are-you-kidding-me?’ and ‘is-this-really-my-life?’ feelings.

It all started with Janice O’Hare! When there was finally talk (after about two years) that I could be discharged from the psychiatric hospital that was over 100 miles from home, I was assigned an Out-Of-Area Specialist/Funder—Janice! She not only helped make my discharge go as smoothly as possible, she also arranged for the step-down service I was transferred to for three months, and then my own home in the community. She even took me to collect Dolly after I’d been in my home for a week.

Needless to say, when Janice messaged me to say that BBC Radio 5 were doing a piece about mental health service users having to travel away from their local area for the appropriate treatment, I didn’t hesitate in agreeing to do the live interview for her.

Unfortunately, the interview was re-scheduled to the following day and because of prior commitments Janice was unable to accompany me. Luckily, Caroline Wild (Deputy Director of Corporate Relations and Communications) was! We’d met before on a couple of occasions so it was really helpful to have a familiar face with me. And she didn’t leave my side; not even when we were told that the studio I’d be in was the size of a cupboard. (Seriously! Take away the big headphones and mic and add some stairs and it would’ve been Harry Potter!)

I’m not sure if that was reassuring or disappointing; maybe both. I’d imagined it being a large room with the massive desks and boards of switches and buttons! On the other hand, I liked it just being big enough for the both of us—fewer people watching me!

You can hear my interview here, starting at 40 minutes in.

I was really happy with how it went, I feel like I’m getting the hang of talking to the media! Which is a good job because the following day I received an email from a reporter at Metro Radio asking if I’d do an interview with them too. It was spread out across their 4 pm, 5 pm, and 6pm news bulletins later that day!

About the Author

Aimee Wilson is a 26-year-old mental health blogger who has used her personal experiences to develop a popular online profile. Aimee was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder in 2009, and after over 60 attempts on her life was admitted to a long-term, specialist psychiatric hospital almost 200 miles from home. It was during her two-and-a-half-year stay in hospital that Aimee began her blog: I’m NOT Disordered.

Originally it was meant as an outlet for pent-up frustrations from inpatient life, and a means to document her journey through the trauma therapy that eventually led her into recovery in 2014. The blog has developed into a platform for others to tell their stories and to give their own message to the world—whatever it may be.

Aimee’s blog has grown over the past three years, and now has over a quarter of a million readers. Its popularity has resulted in three newspaper (in print) appearances, two online newspapers, BBC1 national news, ITV local news, interviews on BBC Radio 5 Live and Metro Radio; as well as a TV appearance on MADE.

Aimee has had the opportunity to work with such organisations as North Tyneside and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, Northumbria Police, Time to Change, Cygnet Healthcare; and with individuals who range from friends, family and colleagues, to well-known people in the mental health industry.

You can follow Aimee’s blog and read more about her at www.imnotdisordered.co.uk.

 

Our Top Posts of the Month (October 2017)

Check out our top posts for the past month. Posts are listed by number of page views, most popular first.

  1. How Can I Best Help My Bipolar Friend? by Julie A. Fast
  2. With Thanks: Our Book’s Acknowledgement Page
  3. Taking My Mental Illnesses to Italy for a Holiday, by Peter McDonnell
  4. Informal Admission and Being Sectioned: Seeing Life in a Psychiatric Unit from Both Sides, by Soph Hopkins
  5. How to Write the Best Acknowledgement Page for Your Book
  6. We Haven’t Sunk Yet: Caring for My Bipolar Best Friend at Home and Abroad

Our three most visited pages were:

  1. News and Appearances
  2. Resources
  3. Contact Us

 

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Informal Admission and Being Sectioned: Seeing Life in a Psychiatric Unit from Both Sides, by Soph Hopkins

In September I wrote a post about being an informal patient on a psychiatric unit. It is with great sadness that I am now able to write about life as a sectioned patient. Seeing it from both ends has been a real eye-opener for me.

I came back into the psychiatric unit after only managing four weeks of discharge. I found those four weeks a real struggle: things happened and I couldn’t cope. I was first admitted as an informal patient after being on a section 136 by the police.

Everything was going ok, but I had a few days where I struggled. I got really upset and angry at myself and ended up using destructive coping mechanisms. Unfortunately, this meant that on Friday 13th October—a day that is known to be unlucky—I was placed on section 3 of the Mental Health Act with no leave for three days. This was a shock to me. I didn’t expect the knock on my door asking me to attend an assessment under the Mental Health Act.

I always thought I would be informal. As an informal patient I took my leave for granted, being allowed out all of the time not listening to nurses’ advice shocked me. Being on a section makes me think differently.

The words “section” and “detained” sound horrible: it sounds like you’re in prison because you are put under local authority care. I didn’t like this at all, and I decided to get a copy of my papers and see what had been said. I do agree with my section because I am unsafe in the community on my own and I need the care and treatment in hospital.

Having no leave opened by eyes to how unsafe I was, but I accepted it and headed into the ward round on Monday determined to get something. It went smoothly. I was ready to argue why I needed leave but I didn’t have to. I accepted my small leave and managed to get escorted leave because I don’t have family or close friends nearby who can do my shopping for me.

Being under section 3 means you can be treated against your will. The other day I had a scare. I was so ill that I had to be forced back on to the ward. I tried to leave so many times I had to be assessed by PICU (the Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit). It is a locked ward with high staffing and limited personal possessions. It is the most secure ward for patients who aren’t in because of court or magistrate sentencing. I was and am fortunate: as long as I keep working with staff and keep taking my meds I can stay on the acute ward I was already on.

I was injected with medicine to make me feel better. I heard that I was a worry to the staff because when I get low I get so low I am capable of doing what I can to hurt myself. Waking up the next morning makes me realise how ill I can get.

I understand my section a lot more now. I am currently waiting to find out if I have been accepted onto a specialist personality disorder unit for intense psychotherapy: the average stay there is one to three years. I have an idea that hospital is going to be my home for some time, but I understand I need care and treatment.

Being diagnosed with Emotional Unstable Personality Disorder is hard to understand and I don’t want to go into it here, but there’s more to come on that. What I have learnt is there is life on a psychiatric ward. I made a close friend who really helped me understand that I have been sectioned and what it means. I have accepted that I need help, treatment and care

And most of all, I now can speak for both sides—being informal and being sectioned—and they are certainly different.

I want to leave you with a piece of advice. If you ever have to go into a psychiatric unit and get offered informal take it, but listen to the nurses and doctors. I wish I had now.

Also, if you’re homeless like me being on a section 3 does come with some benefits. They have section 117 aftercare and have to make sure you’re housed and supported when you leave hospital. Also don’t take your section leave for granted. Start small and build up.

The more you accept the more you get better.

 

About the Author

Originally from Gateshead, Soph Hopkins now resides in Wales. She has been volunteering and campaigning since she was fourteen. In 2014 she was Vinspired regional Volunteer of the Year for the northeast of England for bringing communities together. Vinspired is the UK’s leading volunteering charity for 14–25 year olds.

Soph is diagnosed with depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder (BPD) and complex post-traumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD). Having spent time in and out of psychiatric hospital, she is keen to use her experience of mental illness to help others.

Please contact Soph by email (hopkinssophie3 [at] gmail.com) for copies of her articles, or for more information. She is keen to hear of any mental health opportunities in Wales.

 

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

How Can I Best Help My Bipolar Friend? by Julie A. Fast

People with bipolar are regular people with a rotten illness. The more you can help us find ways to manage the mood swings, the more you will see the real person behind the mania and the depression.

It’s not all violets and fast cars when you’re friends with someone who has bipolar disorder. The day-to-day dragging on of mood swings and the constant vigilance we need to stay stable can take its toll on any friendship. Sticking to a plan is hard for us and you will regularly be amazed at how quickly we change our minds. Untreated bipolar can make friendships difficult. Trying to help a person with this illness can be like herding cats!

Have I shocked you? I hope so. Being prepared for the realities of our lives will allow you to stay in a relationship that can be as rewarding and lovely as it can be frustrating.

What is friendship? Why do we enter into a relationship with someone? What do we want and need from that other person and what do we expect from ourselves in the partnership? These are questions bipolar tends to bring up quite early in a relationship. Exploring them honestly at this stage, as you are searching for ways to be a better friend, helps build foundations for a friendship able to weather the ups and downs this illness inevitably brings.

I work daily to be a good friend. I manage my paranoia—a true relationship wrecker!—and I have friends who are secure enough to tell me if I’m manic and driving them crazy. My fiends know that I’m often ill. They know I have a tough time in life and that I need extra help from the people around me. I have taught them that people with bipolar are regular people with a rotten illness. The more you can help us find ways to manage the mood swings, the more you will see the real person behind the mania and the depression.

I’m sincere in my support of Martin and Fran’s book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder as it actually teaches friends how to help in specific situations. It can be used by siblings as well as friends and certainly tells the truth about the joys of a relationship with those of us with bipolar disorder minds. We are interesting!

Life is too short to waste time on bad friendships. Wouldn’t you agree?

I love it that you are here reading this, wondering how you can help your friend who has bipolar. Here are my top tips on how to create a loving and lasting relationship with someone who has the illness.

Talk openly about your needs and what you expect from someone who has bipolar

You are not responsible for the life of someone else, and walking on your tippie toes to make sure you don’t upset your friend will backfire in the end. I don’t expect my friends to give me special dispensation simply because I have this difficult illness. I want my friends to hold me to the standard expected from any friendship. This means spending equal time talking about life—I can’t just talk about myself and my woeful day every time we meet—and a focus on the positive instead of only talking about problems. It also helps if I am clear what I would like my friends to do when I get sick.

Talking about what you want from a friendship from the beginning creates an equal relationship. It will also help you see when your friend is struggling. Please remember that we are stable people who have an illness that creates symptoms. Unlike some illnesses that affect the personality, people with bipolar (when getting treatment) are more stable than sick. Friends are an enormous part of our treatment plan, so you can expect a fantastic friendship when we are managing our moods.

Be clear what you can and can’t handle and offer specific ways for your friend to get help that don’t involve you directly

It will vary from person to person but there’s a limit to how much a friend can handle. I have always had the policy that my therapist gets the brunt of my depression: I work out my illness with her and my health care team. It helps me so much if a friend tells me what they are able and willing to do. It stings a bit when someone says they need me to get help elsewhere, but it helps me, as the person with bipolar disorder, grow and learn to take care of the friendship.

Honesty trumps fear. Planning ahead prevents the inevitable email where you say the friend with bipolar is too draining. You will end up walking away from a person if you are not clear about what you need, as the caring friend. Over-caring on your part and oversharing on your friend’s part will wear anyone out. Reminding your friend that they can spread out their needs is essential to your wellbeing and your relationship.

Friendships save my life. Not because my friends are responsible for me. No. It is because friendships remind me of how great life can be. You, as a friend, mean so much. Take care of yourself, state your needs and be open about what you can and can’t handle from the beginning. This will create a great friendship!

 

About the Author

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 The Health Cards Treatment System for Bipolar Disorder. She is a columnist and blogger for BP Magazine and won the Mental Health America journalism award for the best mental health column in the US. Julie was also the recipient of the Eli Lily Reintegration award for her work in bipolar disorder advocacy. Julie is a bipolar disorder expert for the Dr.Oz and Oprah created site ShareCare.

Julie is CEU certified and regularly trains health care professionals including psychiatric residents, social workers, therapists and general practitioners on bipolar disorder management skills. 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. Julie is currently writing a book for children called Hortensia and the Magical Brain: Poems for Kids with Bipolar, Anxiety, Psychosis and Depression. She struggles a lot due to bipolar disorder. Friendships keep her going.

You can find more about her work at www.JulieFast.com and www.BipolarHappens.com. She also blogs for Bp Magazine at www.BpHope.com.

 

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Taking My Mental Illnesses to Italy for a Holiday, by Peter McDonnell

Last week I returned from a three week holiday in Italy. Because of my mental illness (grandiosely delusional psychosis and anxiety, more easily described as being ‘Crazy’—a phrase I am comfortable with) I haven’t been away from my hometown much since about 2004. These days I am so much better though, hence the bold move to leave my hometown for three weeks. I have put in a lot of work towards getting better, especially in my anxiety, and with some good luck as well, I have considered myself to be pretty much recovered since about 2016. In 2016 I flew to Ireland for my niece’s christening and in 2017 I flew to Holland for my cousin’s wedding, despite being afraid of flying, an endeavour that has the power to shake me to the core. These two trips were successful and enjoyable though, the flying was bearable, and they made me confident that I could safely enjoy three weeks in Italy, without my fading mental health issues getting in the way.

I had a good time in Italy, we stayed at a large villa next to San Gimignano, Tuscany, for two weeks, with family, including my nieces, three and one years old. My mum and I have gotten good at babysitting them, we see them quite a bit. I have found looking after them therapeutic and it has made me a wiser, more confident and happier person, even though two of them at once is challenging. For our third week, my mum, auntie and uncle and I went to Lake Como for four days, then Lake Maggiore for three days, then home to Hampshire.

I am so glad I went, that I was able to go without the holiday being ruined by mental health problems. Five years ago if someone suggested a holiday, which people did a few times, the answer was a confident ‘No’. There was no way I could leave my home overnight, what if I had a panic attack?

Italy was beautiful though. I was apprehensive about the flying, but that was all. We flew to Milan and stayed at the Airport hotel the first night. The flying went really well. It was only for one hour and a half, and it was smooth, in a jet powered Airbus. The next day, travelling with my mum, auntie and uncle, we got in the hired nine seater van, with manual transmission, and drove the five hour journey south to San Gimignano, about 30 miles from Florence. My uncle did a great job driving it, he usually drives an automatic car in the US and it was not a familiar experience to him. It was a bit funny when we scraped against other cars on the way out of the airport car park. To begin with there were some difficult gear changes, some close calls, and lots of ‘shit’s and ‘sorry guys’ before the driving became second nature to my uncle. Oh and the parking brake, or hand brake as we call it in England was a constant unremembered nuisance for the first hour or so. They don’t really use hand brakes in America as most of the cars there are automatic.

We stopped off in Parma for lunch and it was very hot and sunny, even for Italy in August. I felt comfortable in the van, amusing myself with my phone watching the GPS working on Google Maps helping to direct us southward. The roads were traffic jam free, and they sometimes wound around mountains with some spectacular scenery. We got to the villa at about six, and it was nice. A big pool, four double bedrooms with en suite bathrooms, and it had makeshift foldaway beds, and had plenty of space for us all, twelve of us.

There were wineries and vineyards dotted around the landscape, this being Chianti country, which we went to for tours and tastings, and with the villa on top of a big hill, we could see them from the pool and villa grounds. The grounds were shared with lots of nine inch (nose to tail) lizards which liked to hang around basking. On the second day I saw a snake chasing one, and asked the villa owner, Vittorio, if they were dangerous. ‘Oh no,’ he said.

It was quite spectacular on the villa grounds, a lovely sunny place, with many olive trees, grapevines hanging over the two outside eating areas, a big pomegranate tree, two barbecues, and half decent Wifi, depending on how wisely we chose our bedrooms.

We took a train into Florence, where I saw the Ponte Vecchio and Michelangelo’s David, two things I’d wanted to see for years. There was good shopping in Florence too, especially if you like leather. Two thirds of the shops are leather shops.

After two weeks, eight of the party went back to our homes in Denver, Colorado; Bristol, England; and San Anselmo, California; leaving the rest of us to spend a week at the Italian lakes. I had had two amazing weeks at the villa, my mental health was never an issue and I felt completely happy and comfortable there, and I had no reason to think that another week in Italy would be difficult in any way. So we got in the nine seater van and headed for Lake Como, with a stop off at Milan Airport to change from a van to a regular car.

It was at this point where I noticed my psychosis and anxieties trying to upset my happy brain. I don’t really know why, I think it had something to do with the negative emotion of having to say goodbye to some of my family, knowing it might be a while before I saw them again. My nieces and their parents lived close to my mum and I for their whole lives, but two months ago they moved to America, so the reality that I couldn’t see them for a while and have them in my life a lot began to dawn. There was nothing else I can think of that was making me anxious, although I am over sensitive to cloudy weather especially when I was used to the blazing sun. On our last day at the villa the weather turned and the next three days were cloudy with rain.

The way I was feeling was like I’d forgotten to take my medication. But I wasn’t that bad really. I was feeling like I had defeated my mental health problems at least 95% recently, but it was becoming more like 80%, so like I say it wasn’t particularly bad, I was able to keep it at bay, but for the four days staying at Bellagio on Lake Como I couldn’t relax properly. I found myself taking quite a few smoke breaks at the apartment we were staying in, twenty metres away from the lake shore.

It’s very steeply hilled at the shore of some of Lake Como, with lots of dwellings all situated very compactly, narrow roads, and not much space to just lie there and relax. Because of my mental health problems I was oversensitive to being all crammed in to the towns and felt a bit claustrophobic. To someone without mental health problems it wasn’t an issue at all. But Lake Como was strikingly attractive, from my bedroom window at the apartment I could see the Alps in the distance.

My first view of Lake Como was of clouds hanging over the hills, and rain, and wasn’t the piercing blue water and sunshine like I’d seen on the TV. But we took some boat trips anyway, and I enjoyed them, 80% of the time. We had some nice food at local restaurants but by this time we were getting a bit bored of pasta and pizza. We went on a hydrofoil one day which was fun.

I did start to relax more when we had packed our things and got into the car to drive to Lake Maggiore. The sunny weather had returned, and the first view of Lake Maggiore was like a postcard picture. We stayed at a hotel on the lakeshore at Stresa, and I was happy to be almost completely relaxed again. Lake Maggiore was not so densely populated, the hills weren’t so close to the water’s edge, and there was lots of space. We had lunch on a boat trip northwards on the lake, and crossed into Switzerland, where we took a scenic train through the mountains (which may or may not have been the Alps) back down to Stresa. We had two hours in the lake town of Lacarno in Switzerland where we saw chocolate shops and that a Big Mac in McDonalds costs about ten pounds.

Our flight home from Milan was scheduled for midday, with British Airways. We arrived at the baggage check in at 9.30, at the back of a queue of 100 people. After fifteen minutes we hadn’t moved so I started to worry about missing our flight. There were four desks for British Airways passengers. One of them was closed, and two of them were for business and first class passengers. I wasn’t very happy about that. As we neared the front of the queue, after an hour and a half, it became clear that we had enough time, but I was still annoyed at all the chancers trying to skip the line and use the business and first class check in.

I began questioning any passengers who went to the first class check in. ‘Excuse me, are you business or first class passengers?’ I would say. ‘Yes, yes we are’ ‘Okay no problem, carry on.’ Twice though I asked and two separate couples were just trying their luck. ‘Excuse me, are you business or first class passengers?’ ‘No, but we have already checked in online and are just dropping off our bags’. I said ‘Yeah us too, but we have been queuing for an hour and a half now, and you need to go to the back of the line. ‘ There was no way I was letting anyone take advantage like that, and I was a bit stressed. I also told someone off for trying to push into the queue at one of the shops in the airport.

I don’t like flying. The journey outward was smooth, but I was angry at the turbulence on the way home. I wanted to be like normal people who are mostly unfazed by flying. I said to myself ‘never again’ in the middle of some panicky moments as we flew over Paris. I was pissed off because I wanted to enjoy it, but every time I glanced out of the window my body and soul felt more unsettled than I had ever felt in my whole life. I think I can do a short flight, but there is no way I can fly to America for example. But I got home in one piece, and it was amazing to have done it and now these happy memories and the success of meeting the challenge to leave home for three weeks will stay with me for the rest of my life.

A quick word about challenges and progression.

A few years ago I was so stricken with mental health problems that I could hardly leave the house. In 2011 I thought I’d try going back to college to learn something, as I was not doing much with my life. There is a college one minute’s walk away from where I live, so I was happy to try, knowing that I could come home quickly if the anxiety came. I stayed at college for three years, nearly full time, taking a carpentry and joinery class, and I didn’t miss a single lesson. It taught me so much and now I can fix things around the house and I like DIY. I have three paid part time jobs now (in 2010 I was unable to work) and two of them are as a carpenter and joiner. Since 2011 I have also passed my driving test and I now drive a lot.

In 2010 I had no hope of ever being able to spend time with another person in such close proximity like being in a car with them, but I can do it now and I have driven to London lots of times. Traffic jams were a real stumbling block, but I can do them now too. Leaving town doesn’t scare me anymore either. I was afraid of train journeys, but I like them now. I can socialise however I want and am not anxious about social situations. I have taken six plane journeys in the last year, I didn’t fly for 15 years because I was afraid of flying. I have joined a gym and I work out and eat healthy. I have written a book about my experiences with mental illness, and I am currently looking for a literary agent.

I was an unfunctioning mess not so long ago, but I have met challenge after challenge and put in the work to get better, and I am the happiest I have ever been, living life to the full and usually loving it. I’ve come so far and I hope that this might encourage people to keep going in their own battles. The only thing I have difficulties with these days is turbulence on aeroplanes, and sometimes even that doesn’t bother me.

About the Author

If you would like to read more, Peter has written a book about his experiences with mental illness and recovery, called Viva Mental Health, and has a website to support it with book extracts and more. Please visit www.petermcdonnellwriter.com.

 

Saturday, 7 October 2017

With Thanks: Our Book’s Acknowledgement Page

There are far more people than we can ever list by name, but those we are able to include represent a wide spectrum of experience, knowledge and expertise—and they have all believed in us. That is awesome—and humbling.

As any author will tell you, compiling the acknowledgements is not the least part of writing a book! Whether you choose to recognise one person or one hundred (or none at all) it is a decision not to be taken lightly.

We learned so much that we wrote a blog about it, in the hope authors might benefit from our experience and our friends and readers might understand how we went about it (and, perhaps, why they were—or were not—included).

It is one year since our book, High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder was published. It seems an appropriate time to share our acknowledgements here on our blog.


Acknowledgements

We are grateful to writer, journalist, and mental health campaigner Rachel Kelly for her encouragement and support, and for contributing the foreword to our book. We thank those who permitted us to quote from personal messages and correspondence: Anne Pringle, Ansi James, Bernadette Barnes, Bridget Woodhead, Bob Keyes, Charlotte Walker, Dara Hurt, Franni C. Vitolo, Howard Baldwin, Lin Downing, Lisa Overall, and Maya Hayward. Likewise, those who offered advance endorsements, including Cheryl Ramsay, Megan Cyrulewski, and Stefanie Cary. Your belief that we had something valuable to share kept us going through the periods of self-doubt, setbacks, and uncertainty that will be familiar to any writer.

Special thanks are due to those who gave their time to read or edit our manuscript, including Creighton Taylor, Donna Betts, Donna Murphy, Jackie Charley, Julie A. Fast, Rachel Thompson, and Wendy K. Williamson. Your honesty, suggestions, and advice helped us refine our ideas and approach throughout the creative process. This book is the richer for your contributions.

We are eternally grateful to Michael Kobernus, Markus Furchner, and the team at Nordland Publishing, for taking a chance on us and welcoming us into the Nordland family.

We acknowledge and thank Fran’s professional care team, including Aaron Cloutier, Avner Eisenberg, Dr. Christina Holt, Cicely Matz, Dr. George McNeil, Heather Small, John Turrell, Julie Goell, Michael Gelsanliter, and Dr. William Jeanblanc.

We thank our families for putting up with us over the four years it has taken to bring this project to fruition, especially Martin’s wife Pam for her unwavering love and support, and their children Emma and Mike. It is to Mike we owe our introduction to Nordland Publishing. Fran thanks her mother Christa and sister Veronica for being there always. Words are inadequate to express our gratitude and love for our friends, so we simply say thank you to you all, especially Abby, Andrea, Barry, BB, Bob, Chris, Howard, Jim, James, Jeanne, Jomo, Lara, Laurel, Lin, Maya, and Peg.

We are grateful for those who inspire us and enrich our lives simply by being who they are, including Andy Behrman, Angela Slater, Brené Brown, Carrie Fisher, Claire Stewart, Darren Hodge, Deepak Chopra, Diane Atwood, Eckhart Tolle, Gabe Howard, Gayathri Ramprasad, Geneen Roth, Jessie Close, John Cariani, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Kay Redfield Jamison, Kristy Schell, Laura Hillenbrand, Oprah Winfrey, Patty Duke, Sarah Fader, Sherry Joiner, Snatam Kaur, and Steven Heslewood.

We acknowledge the many groups and organisations we have encountered, all dedicated to countering stigma and supporting those affected by mental and invisible illness, including Bring Change 2 Mind, Bipolar UK, Family Hope, Men Tell Health, MIND, NAMI Maine, The NoStigmas Network, Rethink Mental Illness, SANE, Stigma Fighters, and Time to Change.

Finally, we would like to thank the thousands of you who follow us on our blog, website, and social media platforms. Whether you are moved to comment and share our content, or quietly accompany us on our journey, you have meant—and mean—the world to us. This book is for you.

From: High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder


Reading this over, one year on, is a powerful and in many ways a sobering experience. We are humbled all over again by the encouragement, advice, help, and support we received from so many people. We are also reminded of some who are no longer present in our lives.

The journey goes on, of course. Or rather, the journeys: our book’s journey, and our journeys as individuals and as friends. We are very aware that if we were compiling our page now, there would be new names to include.

Whether your name is listed here or not, we are grateful to have you in our world!

Marty and Fran

 

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

The Flight of the Bumblebee, by Catherine Neish

If you were going to write a book about your life, what would be the title? Who would you want to read it? Would you cover anything up? Would you expose an area of your life into the light?

I want to lend you a story. It’s a story about life with mental illness but with none of the vocabulary you’d expect. You’ll read about depression, psychosis, mania, paranoia, anxiety and you will also read about recovery, finding being, mindfulness, healing, recovery.

My favourite stories are those that you can relay to a child and the adult reader also finds depth of understanding beyond the literal narrative. Are yours? Well, I hope that The Flight of the Bumblebee does just that.

In the last few weeks, I’ve added questions for individuals and book groups at the end of each chapter. I want to make it easier for you to have those ‘mental health conversations’. I find that when I have a metaphor to talk about, those chats are much easier to begin. “Have you read The Flight of the Bumblebee? Well, you know when Lil gets stuck behind a window but can’t understand why she can’t fly – that’s exactly how I feel. I can’t grasp what I’m dealing with.”

The Flight of the Bumblebee was written over a 25 year period prior to and post my diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder. It charts my personal experience using the power of narrative. I wrote sections at different periods of illness and recovery, not realising until the final year that each section could work together.

I was brought up in the UK and after I left school at 18 years old, I chose a gap-year abroad so that I could learn French before I began university. I began experiencing awful, awful persecuting thoughts. I remember being very harsh on myself: I should ‘get a grip’, ‘stop making mountains out of molehills’. I felt imprisoned inside myself. It felt like a bumblebee trapped behind a window, not understanding or knowing what my problem was all about.

I truly believed that ‘whatever it was’ was a huge flaw in my personality. I was acutely aware of the stigma that can be associated with mental illness. I refused, therefore, to go to my GP. Why was I so frightened? First of all, I thought that if the words ‘mental health’ were written in my medical notes, the words would be used against me at any medical I would need for my career. Secondly, I believed that medication would make me unnecessarily addicted. Thirdly, I didn’t want formal counselling because I thought it would open a ‘can of worms’ that I couldn’t deal with between appointments.

I opted for the most unsafe option: I simply deeply, deeply wished to believe that the emotional torture would stop! Family and friends who knew I was struggling did too. To be honest, none of us really knew what was going on and that is also highlighted in this story.

I began Durham University and I thoroughly enjoyed it. However, I experienced an emotional ‘bungee-jump’ at the end of my final year. It was like riding an emotional roller coaster. My moods swung very quickly from deep depressions to manic highs and then one day, very suddenly, my usual perception broke and my mind was flooded with thoughts, pictures and ideas of a symbolic nature. I lost my sense of social cues and even believed I could fly. My psychotic manic experiences were very difficult to talk about and that in itself caused a social nightmare. I felt embarrassed and confused. My college, St. John’s College, bent over backwards to help me. Nevertheless, I had to be hospitalised for my own safety. I resumed life without wanting any follow-up treatment, and I was sure it would never happen again. However, the emotional pendulum kept swinging.

When the bumblebee finds it hard to remain aware of the garden and the colony, it reminds me of hard times where I become pretty self-absorbed. Hard times make me question myself, and it becomes difficult to distinguish what is ‘me’ from what is ‘illness’. It becomes impossible to hear my own voice affirming what I choose to value in life. It’s harder to perceive other people positively, harder to let go of day-to-day tensions, and harder to sleep. I become acutely aware of complexities within myself.

I had a further breakdown with psychotic depression when I was a third of the way through my Post-Graduate Teacher Training. My thoughts were terrifying and so were the hallucinations. Apparently I looked white with fear. This was the very point in my life when ‘I wasn’t able to take in the extent of the horror or let out any expression of repulsion’. I needed to be hospitalised, given medication and I also agreed to electro-convulsive treatment (ECT). I was given a diagnosis of Bipolar Affective Disorder and some people even thought I would never work again.

I couldn’t ignore that I had serious illness anymore! My family and supportive friends helped me enormously. I accepted that I needed medication and I willingly took Lithium Carbonate, as prescribed, with other drugs to make a personalised pharmaceutical cocktail. The combination therapy, arranged by my psychiatrist, was working well. By this stage, I was happier to take medication as I could certainly feel its benefits but it took me years and years to come to terms with the horror of the illness and especially audio, visual and somatic hallucinations.

When we hear people talk about mental illness, we don’t often hear about the effects of stress on the body, tense muscles, headaches, digestion or other physical pains. Yet, mental illness can bring physical signs of stress as well as emotional stress. In the story, I have tried to include physical signs of stress for the bumblebee.

I think we all can make choices about our mental health. Sometimes it is easier to make skilful choices than at others, but choosing to work with a therapy can mark a turning point. Consciously working with the therapies, whether they’re talking therapies, physiotherapy, occupational therapy or art therapy, music therapy, dance therapy and so on, is beneficial. I am sure that choosing to recover makes a difference to the speed of recovery.

I was able to return to teacher training due to the enormous support from my tutor at Homerton College, Cambridge University. I also visited the local bipolar group, which was helpful as it gave me a chance to learn from my own and other people’s experiences. Some members there were working and a few were teachers, which inspired me to pursue my own teaching career.

I began my first teaching post in a rural secondary school. I started on a 45% contract, and I still teach part-time for health reasons. In that particular rural area there were no opportunities to meet other people with bipolar. However, a very competent Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN) supported me on a continuous basis. I was helped by mental health services in pastoral and in practical ways. I have felt that all the mental health professionals with whom I have worked (Occupational Therapists, Social Workers and Psychologists) have become ‘professional friends’. They are there to join hands with and face, with me, a shared reality. I think that is why I find them so valuable. They provide a guide for me to measure my moods and perspectives.

I wrote about ‘bee-ing’ or wellbeing nearly ten years after I had written about the bumblebee crashing against the window. Bee-ing reflects the calmer and settled moods I felt. Life was kind. I found it easier to cope with day-to-day activities when my life ran at a gentler pace.

I know that, for me, symptoms of bipolar can be natural responses to life’s major ups and downs. Sometimes, it can be difficult to experience normal reactions without wondering whether I’ll become ill with a bipolar episode. Nevertheless, it is crucial to remember that everyone’s feelings need to be validated, whether they have bipolar or not! Good friends and family members gently let me know if my feelings are not quite in proportion to my life’s events. Therefore, my life can be managed more assertively, and it is ultimately healthier for everyone. The message of the ‘air’ is the wisdom I have gathered over the years as I have listened and learnt from some of the largest world faiths, others and grown through my own experiences.

What about suicide? I admit that sometimes I am my own worst ‘thought-enemy’. I have experienced suicidal thoughts and have wanted to be granted blessed relief from my mind. I have heard many people say that suicide is selfish. I don’t think it’s about being selfish because at those times I have felt I have totally lost my ‘self’. I do get through though, somehow. Thankfully, most of the time, I have a healthier perspective and find life meaningful, life-affirming and fun!

How do I feel about having a ‘mental health disability’? When I meet other people with any long-term illness or disability, I feel a great sense of alliance with them. Nevertheless, the labels I’ve been given have, at times, created problems for me. The 3 D’s, coined by society, to describe bipolar: ‘disabled’, ‘disorder’, ‘disease’, are themselves disabling and can worsen existing symptoms. The price of being pigeon-holed as ‘abnormal’ includes stigma, prejudice and discrimination. Mental health comes with a vocabulary of its own, and all the words seem to carry negative connotations that can be stumbling blocks. In my experience, other people’s irrational preconceived ideas about ‘madness’ are often amplified when the illness raises its head – presenting me with a double whammy! At these times, it is good to be viewed simply as an ordinary person with bipolar.

In my view, the diagnosis of ‘Bipolar Affective Disorder’ should simply be seen as a heading for a range of psychiatric therapies, psychological therapies and additional therapies which can help control symptoms. It is a ticket to care, which includes protection by disability legislation. With a diagnosis of ‘Bipolar Disorder’, people can legitimately say that they need time to eat healthy food, exercise, relax and go for a good work-life balance because they deserve the best foundation for good health. Helpful friends and relations find out about bipolar and also realise that no two people diagnosed with bipolar are alike because no two people are alike in the first place!

If someone with Bipolar Disorder can work, then it is crucial that the workplace is supportive. I do not find it easy living with bipolar secretly simply to protect myself from stigma. Nor is it easy to disclose that I have Bipolar Disorder!

I think there is less stigma than there was ten years ago, but there is still a way to go before employers find helpful ways to support employees with mental health problems. Currently, I teach at a special needs school, and in past years my colleagues and senior staff have been supportive. I know, however, that it is rare to find such support in the workplace!

In my early 30s, I was more open to other therapies, especially counselling. Psychotherapy has helped me realise how important it is to deal with emotional issues at the appropriate time and in an appropriate way. Storing emotions from childhood has been counterproductive for me and my lack of assertiveness has been self-detrimental in the past. At that time, writing became a major part of the way I processed my thoughts and opened my eyes to the choices I could make which would help me manage my mental health more skilfully. It was the counselling process that led me to reflect on the air we breathe to keep us alive.

Why do I love the concept of the air? It is an unseen worker. Spirituality describes aspects of life that we can’t touch, taste or see. Many guides to well-being recommend exploring spirituality. In my view, prayer, meditation and thinking about what transcends beyond the here and now, such as beauty, laughter, love, understanding, peace, a sense of interconnectedness are part of well-being. They are challenging and helpfully so. Acknowledging spirituality provides a deep-seated sense of meaning, purpose and belonging. It is also very good to feel part of a community either through work, faith or secular groups.

Relaxation is an art and a science. By doing the things I love and that make me feel very safe and secure, I can learn more about the art of relaxation. I’m part of a drama therapy group, which I go to one evening a week and have done so for the last 6 years. It is a very positive and supportive group which often uses the ‘here and now’ for material. I’ve learnt that combining sound with movement is a really good way to get a break from constant unskilful ways of thinking. I enjoy a variety of relaxing activities between drama therapy evenings, walking, gym, drama, swimming, yoga, gardening, art and writing. There is a huge variety of relaxation, meditation and hypnosis CDs; the secret lies in regular practise. When I consciously give myself time to relax each day, I can almost memorise how it feels to be deeply relaxed and save it for a rainy day.

Currently, I teach and I’m training to become a counsellor. I also have a magazine style blog. I’m not ‘sorted’ but, at the moment, I’m managing my bipolar better than I have been able to in the past.

I hope you enjoy The Flight of the Bumblebee.

Catherine x

About the Author

Catherine Neish was born and brought up in Yorkshire. After a year working in France, she began a Theology degree at Durham University and subsequently studied at Homerton College, Cambridge, to train as Secondary School teacher. During her time at Cambridge, she was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder but completed teacher training at the end of December 2000 and since then she has taught both primary and secondary school pupils.

The Flight of the Bumblebee: An inspirational tale of hope and repair is available on Amazon for Kindle.

Catherine blogs at teacherwithbipolar.blogspot.co.uk and can be found on Siren Radio Wishful Thinking.