Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Mom, Mania, and Me, by Diane Dweller

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

by Diane Dweller

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

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

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

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

But I wasn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would I ever be normal again? How? When?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Contact the Author

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

 

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

TEDx Speech by Sharon Sutton

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


TEDx Speech by Sharon Sutton

Durham Marriott Hotel Royal County
Saturday 11 March 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choose experiences over possessions.
To never give up.

CHOOSE LIFE.

Thank you.

 

Speaker Profile

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

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

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

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

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

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

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


You’re Shaking!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder is available at: Amazon.ca | Amazon.com | Amazon.co.jp | Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.de | Amazon.es | Amazon.fr | Amazon.it | Barnes & Noble

 

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

People Always Disappoint, by Andrew Turman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Biography and Artist Statement

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

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

 

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Our Top 6 Posts of the Month (Feb 2017)

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

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

2. Speaking Up, a Film about Mental Health

3. Viva Mental Health, by Peter McDonnell

4. Time to Talk, Time to Listen, Time to Care

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

6. An Open Letter to My Bipolar Best Friend

The three most visited pages were News & Appearances, Contact Us, and our Resources Page.

 

The Long-Distance Caring Relationship: Our Interview for Onlinevents

I described in my recent guest post for mental health author and family coach Julie A. Fast, that Fran and I believe our book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder is relevant to people working in the caring professions, including therapists, counsellors, and trainers.

We were thus delighted to be interviewed recently by Onlinevents for their online resource library, which comprises a vast collection of video interviews, workshops and presentations to help practitioners meet their continuing professional development needs. Based in West Lothian in Scotland, Onlinevents is run by Sandra and John Wilson. In Sandra’s words:

We are passionate about searching out conversations around mental health. Onlinevents.tv provides a platform to share these conversations, which is proving to be a valuable and meaningful way to highlight authors, speakers and practitioner’s thoughts around current thinking and topics.

Sandra and I first met on Twitter, which as she notes “is an example of how the internet is great at providing connections no matter where we are in the world.” Sandra had retweeted something by Rachel Kelly, author of Black Rainbow, Walking on Sunshine, and The Happy Kitchen. We have known Rachel for some time. She contributed the foreword to High Tide, Low Tide, and has guested on our blog. I was interested to learn she has been interviewed twice for Onlinevents, talking about her experience with depression, and the strategies she has developed to manage her recovery.

After hearing something of our story, Sandra offered us an interview.

We were interested in Marty and Fran’s journey together and excited about their new book, knowing that they would provide valuable insight for our community and wider audience around mental health and relationships.

Fran and I met John on Skype ahead of time, to get to know each other and explore what topics we might cover. The three of us clicked immediately. John’s specialism is online counselling and he was particularly interested in how we use technology and social media in our long-distance, mutually supportive friendship.

Our interview was broadcast live on the Onlinevents website. It was also streamed to the video app Periscope, and to our Facebook page. The conversation ranged widely, with John feeding us comments and questions from those watching on their website. He began by asking about our friendship and how our book came to be. As Fran described:

I have had bipolar for a long time .... I lost a lot of friends when I was in my periods of mania. Depression wasn’t as bad. I wouldn’t lose friends as much when I was in depression but when I was in mania I would lose friends. So it was really important to me to somehow get the word out that it’s okay to be friends with us [people living with mental illness]. Even if we have struggles and we have problems, there’s a way to understand it.

John asked about our relationship and how it works. We described how we use all the channels that technology affords: Skype, instant messaging, e-mail, etc. As Fran put it, “It’s really like any friendship would be.” She talked about how this is particularly important for those living with mental illness.

A friend of ours who was watching posted a comment: “As Marty knows, I am big on open honest communication being a lifesaver,” which is something Fran and I agree with completely.

Someone asked if we could give some examples of how we handle difficulties in our friendship. We talked about managing our fears, and balancing Fran’s needs against my own. We touched on the three month period in the summer of 2013 when Fran was traveling in Europe with her parents. As I recounted:

This was the most intense period of our friendship .... [In the final chapters of our book] we are showing how our approaches and techniques play out in practice. How often they work and sometimes don’t work. There are certainly examples in there of how I was struggling or needing to adjust, while keeping the connection going to support Fran in whatever was going on for her.

Another contributor agreed technology can be an excellent facilitator for connection and support, but wondered whether it affects the sense of presence. As John put it, “Is it a real relationship? Do you really feel present to each other?” We talked about how the key thing for us is not physical proximity, but connection:

Fran: We have this way of being with technology which allows for a very expansive relationship.

Martin: It’s about openness. It’s about those channels of communication .... Our friendship doesn’t work because we are three thousand miles apart; it works because we are open to each other and to communicating.

John then asked about the chapter which deals with suicidal thinking.

John: I really liked how you write about this in the book. We need to hold space for each other when we go to those harder places, those darker places in our experiences, so we can be there to hear each other.

Fran: When I am in suicidal thinking it is about teasing out what’s behind it, what’s causing it ... and having someone you can talk frankly to, who’s not freaking out, who’s not rushing you off to the hospital, is really critical.

John: How do you manage to do that, to not get in a panic and be present to each other? Do you have a sense of what helps you?

Fran: It’s trust. Marty trusts me. I trust Marty. That to me feels like the single most powerful thing that helps us keep moving through it, even when it’s really really tough.

The hour passed too quickly and before we knew, it was time to draw the interview to a close.

John: What I love about how you both have been in our dialogue, and what I’ve read in your book, is this is the human condition. We struggle, as humans we struggle, and we have the capacity, if we can be ourselves, to be helpful.

Martin: Can we quote you on that? That was really good!

John: [Laughing] I really appreciate how you are with each other, how you’ve beeen with me, and the generosity and the way that you’ve written the book. So thank you for that. I appreciate you pushing at the edges of how we might be around mental health. Let’s all wave our books at the camera!

And so we did!

Our full interview is available in the Onlinevents resource library. Excerpts, including us talking about how to stay grounded when a friend is talking about suicide, will be shared on the Onlinevents YouTube channel. The Facebook version is also available (limited to the first 27 minutes of the interview): at the time of writing, it has been viewed over 180 times.


Sandra and John Wilson can be contacted via the Onlinevents website, on Facebook, and Twitter: @Onlinevents_saz (Sandra), @onlinevents (John), and @OnlineventMedia.