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.


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.


Wednesday, 27 September 2017

I Once Knew a Genius Who Ended up a Simpleton: My Brother Gabriel Had Epilepsy and Bipolar Disorder, by Marie Abanga

My name is Marie Abanga and I am from Cameroon in Africa. Before my brother Gabriel was diagnosed with epilepsy at the age of eleven, all I knew about the condition was the appellation “fainting fits”. In my country and probably in a large chunk of Africa, such fits are still attributed either to evil attacks or ill luck. There is so much taboo and stigma surrounding such cases, to the extent that some families would rather hide their children suffering from seizures than risk public shame. They simply are never sent to school, or withdrawn once seizures set in.

As if the epilepsy was not enough, I learned barely two months before my brother’s death that he had also been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. This made sense to me because I had witnessed firsthand several highs and lows of his behaviour, but I was left speechless. I remember a blog post I did on my blog in June 2014 on the occasion of his 33rd birthday, crying out loud: “Somebody tell me what is wrong with my brother”.

Shortly after that post, I gathered enough courage to ask my kid sister with whom he recently lived in the US, and like it was super top secret “of course”, she told me of his bipolar disorder diagnosis. Sadly, before I could start understanding anything about bipolar disorder or how to help him, he died on the 2nd of August 2014.

We probably know about all the stigma, taboo and abuse cum outright rejection of persons living with a mental illness and I won’t go there anymore. I will just say that I nearly went down the drain mentally too, both before and after my brother died. Indeed, it was my quest to learn what was wrong with my brother which helped me realize something was wrong with me. A psychotherapist I saw in Brussels mentioned PTSD. I didn’t want to dwell on the diagnosis so much, but on what I could do to take better care of myself.

For pretty much all of my life, others’ wellbeing has been my priority, and my brother’s especially. I now know I tried my best to love him even when he was at his worst. I just think if I had known what he had been diagnosed with and reached out earlier to the big online community, I would have done much better.

When my brother died I froze: I needed to write his story and immortalize it before he too became a statistic. I needed to let my family and the world know I had had enough with all the taboo and stigma, and that I was putting myself all out without fear or favour. The fierce mental health advocate was born and you wouldn’t find even a handful of those in my country–that is not bragging.

The memoir (the third of four I have so far self-published) is my tribute to my brother and all those with mental challenges and illnesses. It is titled My Brother’s Journey from Genius to Simpleton: Battling with His Mental Illness and Coping with His Loss.

I am still coping to be candid, and only recently have dealt with the last guilt I still harboured for my brother’s Waterloo. This is a big credit to the book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder. In this book, whose emotional journey reading I blogged about almost religiously, I felt it all, learned so much, braved it all, and healed so much. I am implementing a lot of lessons learned and have discovered several other resources from the website of the co-authors. It is really true that if you seek you will find.

I am the Country Director for the Foundation created in my brother’s honour. The Gbm Centre for Epilepsy and Mental Wellbeing in Cameroon is a project of the Gbm Foundation for Epilepsy and Mental Wellbeing established in the state of Massachusetts where he died. A Centre for Epilepsy and Mental Wellbeing in Cameroon will definitely be one of its kind. Yet, mental illness is one of those taboos “society” still balks at. Not because most are spared from its ravages and deliriums, but because of the stigma associated with any such illness. It is no more than a decade or so ago that the country saw its first Center for Autism. Before then, and even now, illnesses and disorders such as these are simply attributed to witchcraft, ill luck, bad parenting, and even demonic attacks.

About the Author

Marie Abanga is a lawyer, coach, consultant, author and mental health advocate, also Country Director for the Gbm Foundation for Epilepsy and Mental Wellbeing. She blogs passionately about her thrilling life and mental health advocacy at marieabanga.wordpress.com.

Her books are available in paperback and for Kindle on Amazon.


Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Our Top 10 Blog Posts of All Time

In honour of our readers and all the fabulous writers who have guested for us, we felt it would be great to showcase the ten most viewed posts of all time here at GumOnMyShoe.com.

Interestingly, there is a 50:50 mix of our posts and guest contributions.

Whether you are discovering them for the first time or revisiting a favourite, our top ten offers some brilliant and challenging reading. Which is your favourite?

Fancy writing for us yourself? Check our Guest Post Guidelines and get in touch. We’d love to hear from you!

Our Top 10 Blog Posts of All Time

1. Get It Right When Asking for Help with Bipolar Disorder, by Julie A. Fast

In our most popular post ever 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, discusses how to ask for help, a topic close to our hearts. (More)

2. michigan, by Mickey Solis

Actor and screenwriter Mickey Solis discusses the personal journey which led to him working on the film michigan, concerning such topics as suicide, depression and addiction. Note: several of the links in this article are no longer valid. Mickey's story most certainly is. (More)

3. Time to Talk, Time to Listen, Time to Care

Marty discusses awareness campaigns such as #TimeToTalk Day, asks what having a conversation about mental health looks like, and concludes that all of us—you, me, everyone—can make a difference. (More)

4. An Open Letter to My Bipolar Best Friend

“I am proud of us, Fran. Proud of what we do and are. Most of all, I am proud to stand at your side. I am proud to be your friend.”. (More)

5. How to Write the Best Acknowledgement Page for Your Book

Whether you have recently started writing your book or are close to publishing it, there is no wrong time to start thinking about your acknowledgement page. (More)

6. Mental Health in Social Media, by Rebecca Lombardo

Author of It’s Not Your Journey, mental health advocate, podcaster and blogger Rebecca Lombardo discusses how social media can be both a “blessing and a curse.” (More)

7. Your Thoughts Create Your Future, by Soph Hopkins

“They say ‘Your thoughts create your future’ and only you as a person can change that. I did and so can you.” Originally from Gateshead, Soph Hopkins now lives in Wales. Her first (and hopefully not last) guest post for us went straight into the top 10 within its first week of publication. If you haven’t read it yet, why not? (More)

8. It's Not Just for Kids: Reading Together for Fun and Friendship

“The most important sounds we can ever share with another person are our own voices.” Fran and I love reading together and think it would be great if more people did too! (More)

9. Mental Health First Aid (MHFA)

Marty shares what it’s like to go on a Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) course. (More)

10. Forever at the Heart, by Rachel Kelly

We are proud and delighted to host this great piece by mental health writer, speaker and campaigner Rachel Kelly, author of Black Rainbow: How Words Healed Me, My Journey Through Depression and Walking on Sunshine: 52 Small Steps to Happiness. (More)


Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Talking Freely in Ely: An Invitation to Cake

I am delighted to announce I will be a guest speaker at the Talking FreELY Pop Up Cafe event, to be held at Ely Cathedral Conference Centre, Ely, Cambridgeshire, on Saturday November 4, 2017.

Talking FreELY is a community in Ely which promotes mental wellness, and empowers those suffering the effects of mental illness to seek the help they need. For full details of the event check the Talking FreELY website or Facebook event page.

Although it’s still almost two months away, I’m already excited! I’ve spent much of the past week planning my trip, including booking a room at the four star Nyton Guesthouse which is only a short walk from the Cathedral.

My invitation came through one of those delicious social media happenstances that keep me coming back for more! The first connection came earlier this year on Twitter when I saw something retweeted by a friend of ours, mental health author and speaker Rachel Kelly, about the Happy Café Ely. I’m a fairly happy chap myself (I have been called “pathologically positive” on occasion!) and love a good café. I was intrigued!

When I saw they planned a library of relevant books for customers to read, I contacted Carly at the Happy Café to offer a copy of High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder. Carly was happy to accept and our book can be found there alongside other great titles.

I look forward to visiting the café (at Julia’s Tea Rooms) when I am in Ely in November. You can read more about the Happy Café Network on the Action for Happiness website.

Carly told me about Talking FreELY and invited me to their launch event in July. That was a bit short notice for me, but she extended an invitation to attend their November event as a guest speaker. I was more than happy to accept! In addition to the guest speakers, the free event will feature an Information Zone, hot drinks and cake. Volunteers with lived experience of mental health will be on hand to talk informally.

I will be reading from our book and talking about the challenges and rewards of long-distance care-giving. If you are in the Cambridgeshire area on November 4, do come along. It would be great to meet you! Did I mention there will be cake?



Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Your Thoughts Create Your Future, by Soph Hopkins

“Key to my future”—the quote that lead me to take control of my life, accept the help I need, and move on.

I have been battling severe depression, anxiety and BPD since I was fourteen years old. In that time I have been in and out of hospital due to overdosing and cutting. No one would help me. I was labelled an attention seeker. I suffered seven and a half years with sporadic help and only crisis intervention. A recent move to Wales changed all this.

Soon after the move my GP was concerned at my many attempts at taking my own life. Unfortunately, this continued. Two months ago I was assessed and put under continual assessment until I took an overdose that could have killed me.

I remember crying for help in A&E and was then taken to a hospital for assessment. I didn’t know what to think but I knew deep down I needed the help. I was kept in overnight and transferred to an acute ward the following day. Talking to the nurses upon arrival I was shocked that it took a move to Wales to get the help I needed. The move which I know is permanent was a big step for other reasons.

I didn’t know what to think when I was offered leave until I was seen by the psychiatrist. I was shocked at the fact I was not even assessed by a consultant and I was given five days leave. I later found out this was to see how I would manage. I managed four hours before I was back in. I was displaying dangerous behaviour by running into traffic. The police were brilliant with me. They listened to me and understood I desperately needed help. They spoke to the ward and it was decided I would be back as an informal inpatient.

I was discharged the following Monday but the dangerous behaviour continued and within two days I was back again. I spent a couple of weeks as an inpatient before being given leave. I managed two hours of what was supposed to be weekend leave and then was taken back in. I spent another ten days there before being discharged into 24 hours supported accommodation.

Whilst on the ward I gained an experience which I want to share. A lot of the blogs I read about being inside a psychiatric unit are based on patients who have been sectioned. A small proportion go in as “informal.” However, being informal is not as easy as it sounds. Theoretically, it is meant to be your choice to come and go as you like. However, this is not the case. I was told it was for my own safety and the safety of others. If I didn’t agree to go in as an inpatient I would go under assessment of the Mental Health Act.

I went in voluntarily but I couldn’t come and go as I pleased. However, I liked it. I felt as an inpatient I was there for a reason and to assess it fully I should be on the ward attending occupational therapy sessions and DBT. I was on daily clothing and fifteen minute observations. Whilst on the ward I learned to write if I couldn’t voice my opinions. I learned skills to cope with my cutting and dangerous road behaviour. I was also able to use art as a form of expressing myself.

Six weeks as an informal inpatient helped me so much. I was able to find myself, my future, and ME. The psychiatric ward introduced me to friends who helped me but also who I helped during recovery. These friends have played a big part in creating the new me.

After coming out of hospital I was given a Home Treatment Team who will be discharging me within a week, because the hospital rehoused me into 24 hour supported accommodation. I will have Community Mental Health Team support for six months. This and the medication and new strategies have helped me grow to love myself and have the confidence to do things.

After moving to Wales for personal reasons, I now have the help I needed for so long after spending time as an inpatient. I am on medication. I have a library of tools and skills, and a team of people to help me. I also have short term 24 hour accommodation until I can manage to live independently.

I was also able to open my eyes to how mental illness can affect others, and sometimes just because you’re not sectioned it doesn’t mean you’re not ill—you just made the choice to follow the suggested plan of treatment.

My recovery has begun and writing and art is my way forward.

They say “Your thoughts create your future” and only you as a person can change that. I did and so can you.


About the Author

Soph Hopkins is 22 years old. Originally from Gateshead, she now resides in Wales. Soph has been volunteering and campaigning since she was 14 years old. 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.

2013 and 2014 marked the start of Soph’s mental health campaigning, with her spending the summers at events to raise awareness of mental health stigma. Soph also spent time in London at events with YoungMinds and Youth Focus North East on a project called Change Ur Mind, raising awareness and delivering workshops on the stigma around mental health.

Soph spent most of 2015 campaigning and raising awareness of mental health and the stigma attached. She worked with the YoungMinds media team, and was involved in many radio interviews. These were mainly for BBC Newcastle but she was also on Women’s Hour, Heart Radio and Capital FM.

Soph featured in two articles in The Times newspaper. The first article, I Wasnt Taking Seriously Until Overdose, was all about Soph. The second article, Depressed Children Seek Help On Web, covered a campaign YoungMinds worked on with The Times regarding using the internet when feeling depressed. Soph was used as a case study.

Soph has volunteered for Time to Change at many events including Time to Talk Day Newcastle, The Sunderland Airshow, and Northern Pride.

Towards the end of 2013 she was invited to work with Durham University on a research project which looked at getting young people involved in mental health research. Soph was an original member of the group and played a big part in setting it up. She was actively involved for two years, attending regional events to share the work they were doing and help gather funding.

Also in 2013 Soph participated in the Changemakers leadership program, leading to a six month placement working with local GP practices and sexual health clinics in Gateshead to make them more young person friendly. This included looking at mental health and how to improve the services offered to young people. Soph represented Changemakers (now merged with The Foyer Federation) at many local and national events, using her story of battling severe depression and suicide feelings but still putting others first.

Soph is diagnosed with depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder (BPD) and complex post-traumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD). Having spent six weeks in and out of psychiatric hospital, Soph 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.


Wednesday, 30 August 2017

When Readers Write: How to Love Feedback from Your Readers

As authors, Fran and I hope our words will touch those who encounter them. This week we have been blessed to have three readers share with us how they have been affected by our book. Excerpts are quoted here with permission.

Judy Fryer sent me a photo as she was settling down to continue reading.

Judy: My afternoon reading! Really enjoying the book and finding it helpful, interestingly written and touching.

Martin: Thank you so much! It’s beyond amazing when someone shares how they are finding the book. What works for them. What resonates. It’s a cliché to say it makes it all worth it, but it’s true!

Judy: Indeed it is so worth all the blood sweat and tears. Having ‘cared’ for my son the best I knew how 20 odd years ago, when I knew nothing about depression let alone Bipolar, I find myself thinking back and wishing I had had a resource like HTLT to support me and give me hope. It is written with such care, understanding, compassion and honestly, one cannot help but connect and feel there is a way through.

Martin: We wrote it for friends, because of course that is my relationship with Fran, that is what I/we know, and there isn’t really anything else specifically for friends. Julie A. Fast recommends it to some of her family coaching clients, especially to siblings. And you mention its relevance to you as a parent. That’s very humbling to hear.

Judy: Oh yes, it’s really helpful because if a person is new to all this depression/ bipolar etc it is mighty hard to get one’s head around it all. It’s so reassuring to have guidance from a book like yours. Thank you. I already have two people who want to read it. I want them to buy their own!

The second feedback was a review posted on Amazon by someone for whom I have the utmost respect: Stigma Fighters founder and CEO Sarah Fader. Her review includes these lines, which mean a great deal.

This is an inspirational tale for anybody living with mental illness and their loved ones. As the founder of a mental health nonprofit I highly recommend it.

I’ve known Judy and Sarah a few years now. They have followed me and Fran in our journey as friends and co-authors. The third feedback we’ve received this week comes from someone I’ve known for no more than a couple of weeks.

I met Marie Abanga through a mutual friend, Amy Gamble, when Marie posted a review of Amy’s new book, Bipolar Disorder: My Biggest Competitor. I contacted Marie to ask if she might be interested in reviewing High Tide, Low Tide. She said yes. I won’t say she is regretting it, but it is clear our book has affected Marie more deeply than she might have imagined.

She has been exploring her responses on her blog, as well as in chat conversation with me. I invite you to read the following two posts, and the comments her readers have left for her. It is clear she has some good friends who seem to know her and responded beautifully to what she shared online.

Post #1: Has anyone ever felt a stab in their soul while reading?

Now, I have read so so so many books but I never felt a stab in my soul while reading. Two days ago, I accepted to review a book and the Arc [Advance Review Copy] was sent to me. I was excited to read this book because I was looking forward to learning a lot from what promised to be an insightful book. The thing is, it is so insightful it stabs my soul. For all the reading I love and can do, I haven’t been able to go past chapter two.

Post #2: Five Reasons why I’ll finish reading High Tide Low Tide

I have come to realize the fifth and most important reason am reading this book is for me; It’s healing and making peace with and for me; and learning to be and do better for others....

In chat, I shared how welcome and valuable such honesty is:

Marie, your blog post is... Wow! Honest and raw with your feelings and emotions! So much more valuable than a simple “Yes, I liked this book.” We have had a range of responses to our book, and a good number of Amazon reviews as you have seen, but we’ve never had someone blog about their response to our book. I am so very grateful for you doing this.

I look forward to learning more about my new friend Marie as she works her way through the book. An author herself (also coach, speaker, consultant and mental health advocate), Marie has an Amazon author page, as well as her website.

The message here is that there is no “correct” response to a book. Your response to any book—especially one like ours which deals with the sometimes harsh realities of relationships, illness and support—will be personal, perhaps intensely so depending on your history, experience, and willingness to engage with what might be difficult emotions.

Fran and I obviously hope people will find our book of interest and relevance, but we have no right to expect everyone will like it, or find it easy going. We value honesty and openness in our readers every bit as much as we value it in each other and in our personal relationships.

So, if you’ve read our book please take a moment or two to let us know what you thought. How did it affect you? What did you feel? What did you like about it? Dislike? Find most challenging? Contact us directly if you would like to. Post a review on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Goodreads. It’s clear from Marie’s blog that people really do read them!

I am consoled and motivated by some lines from one of the reviews I found helpful on Amazon, written by AngryGnome “…This book is not light hearted reading… But in spite of the serious nature of the illness, it is not depressing, as it is filled with hope, humour and more than a touch of beauty.”

Thank you Marie, Sarah, Judy, and all our dear readers—for writing.


Wednesday, 23 August 2017

She Is So Not OK: Being There When Your Friend Is Suicidal

Excerpt from chapter 7, “The ‘S’ Word: Being There When Your Friend Is Suicidal,” of our book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder. The chapter deals with how we manage our relationship and keep Fran safe when she is in the grip of suicidal thinking. This passage describes how Fran and I originally met online, and my first direct exposure to suicidality.

She Is So Not OK

Suicidal thinking has been part of our friendship since we met. Indeed, it is how we met. One evening in May 2011, I found myself on the social media page of someone who was clearly going through a rough time. She didn’t seem to be online, but in the previous hour she had publically shared suicidal thoughts and feelings. There were hundreds of well-meaning comments. People were offering concern and advice, posting with increasing urgency as time passed and she did not respond. I could have clicked away to another page and put her out of my mind, but I chose to stay. We were not friends, but I knew something of her situation. I felt involved, but what could I possibly contribute that would be meaningful to her, if indeed she was there to read it?

Finally I posted something: “Flooding light and love into your world.”

The words sounded trite and inadequate, but they were the best I could manage. Someone by the name of Fran Houston responded almost immediately: “Sometimes even too much love can be overwhelming.” The comment intrigued and unsettled me. I thanked her for her reply. I think we exchanged a few more lines. Shortly afterwards, Fran sent me an online friendship invitation which I accepted without hesitation. We continued our conversation the next day.

Martin: Thanks for posting what you did last night. It brought me up sharp. I am sure you are right.

Fran: i have so been there.. and people mean well.. and it is such bullshit.. someone told her to go down the street to the health food store and get vitamins.. wtf.. she’ll be fine.. the bottom line is.. she has to save herself..

Martin: There was a lot of concern being shown, but what I sensed most was fear. I know there was fear in what I was feeling. Fear of being involved in what this woman was going through. Fear of facing someone else’s need. There was a panicky selfish worrying, too, in how people continued posting after she had clearly gone offline. The calls for her to come back and reassure them she was OK, that she was still alive. I am happy to see today that she is.

Fran: yeah.. it ends up being a lot of blah blah blah.. nothing about her and what she needs.. all about what others want to give her.. i believe in her.. i do not worry.. that is a negative energy.. it hurts people.. i know i sound harsh.. everyone so wanted to hear that she is ok.. for themselves.. to make them feel ok.. she is so not ok.. i know.. she has a long way to go..

The woman had given Fran her phone number and they were in touch over the following days. Our exchange taught me two things: there is no need to fear talking about suicide and suicidal thinking, and worrying is unhelpful. This is a powerful lesson because we all have the capacity to be supportive—or not. Fran distinguishes suicide interrupters, “those who are able to defuse the suicide bomb,” and suicide aggravators. The latter are people who, consciously or unconsciously, impact her so adversely that suicide seems a viable choice.


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


Wednesday, 16 August 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


About the Author

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

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


Wednesday, 9 August 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then alcohol came in the picture.

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

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

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

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

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

I needed to give them a voice.

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

These are “The Flawed Ones.”


About the Author

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

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

You can find his book The Flawed Ones on Goodreads.