Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Helping Out at ReCoCo’s Hallow Wellbeing Event

As I described elsewhere, I recently enrolled at Newcastle Recovery College (ReCoCo) and have attended the first of several courses I intend taking there.

Last week ReCoCo held their Hallow Wellbeing fundraising event and I went along to help out, using one of my three volunteering days from work. I should note that I’m not an official trained ReCoCo volunteer, I was simply there to help out on the day as best I could, and to have fun! The latter aim was definitely achieved!

I’ve never considered myself the sort of person who does fancy dress, but as I’ve written before sometimes it’s good to challenge the stories we tell ourselves, especially those that begin "I’m not the kind of person who..."

With that in mind I allowed myself to be talked into being made up for the occasion (thanks, Vikki!). My main concern was that the heavy black and white face paint might not come off. It did (eventually!) but I think I was still sporting a little hair glitter into the office the next day.

Security is very important at ReCoCo and I spent part of the day on reception buzzing folk into the building and making sure they signed in and out.

There was a small entry charge and suggested rates for the various treatments and activities on offer. These included relaxation, massage, face painting, crystal healing, henna body art, and drumming. I’m not sure how much money was raised in the end but the collection box filled up nicely throughout the day.

I invited Carol, a dear friend of mine who is also a student at the college, if she would like to share her thoughts about the event:

I had a wonderful time at the ReCoCo Halloween party. There were so many alternative therapies on the agenda. I also received human kindness when Marty treated me to an Indian head massage. Debbie introduced me to a new style of body massage. The company was great and the ambiance was very chilled and relaxing. I recommend others to utilise and try the healthy spaces created at ReCoCo all year round. (Carol)

You can find out more about the Newcastle Recovery College on their website and on Twitter.


Wednesday, 31 October 2018

The Importance of Family

By Peter McDonnell

This weekend my brother Will is home from Bristol, a rare things these days unfortunately. I live with my mum in my childhood home and my dad lives close by. At the moment we have just finished dinner and now we are sharing things on our electronic devices and relaxing. Will doesn’t share my opinion that my new Samsung Galaxy Smartwatch is worth every penny; unnecessary is the essence of his words. I agreed in part, but I have been looking for a nice watch recently and it makes so much sense to have a smartwatch instead of a normal one that could only tell time and date, even if it was emblazoned discretely with a mid-range maker labelling like ‘Citizen’ or ‘Seiko’. My new watch is like having James Bond’s watch. There are vast options for different designs for the watch face which on its own would be a clincher for the fashion conscious.

Will told us about his recent shenanigans over dinner and desert. He is learning to drive and we talked about that too, and we began telling old stories of driving experiences we had had pre-qualification. I was stopped by the police when I was a teenager after taking my mum’s car out for a quick night time joyride as I was just learning. She didn’t let me drive her car again until I was thirty. Kudos to her for sticking to her word.

Before long we were sharing stories about underage alcohol consumption. When I was thirteen I got a bit too drunk after boldly swigging four big gulps from a whisky bottle while on holiday with my dad and brothers. While naughtily drunk / hung over I spent twenty-four hours hiding from my dad and hoping that lots of coffee would cure me but all it did was turn my vomit black. I’m not sure if my mum had heard that one before.

Will has recently visited a Whisky distillery on the Isle of Skye where they sell their whisky in their small shop at higher prices than the local supermarket. And also, get this: the local pub is 200 metres from the distillery and they buy whisky from that distillery online because it’s cheaper that way. So their bottles travel from the distillery many miles to the online distributors, then back to the pub. That’s just crazy. We agreed that it was downright unscrupulous and that some people are driven by profit a bit too much.

We revisited a bottle of walnut wine that hadn’t been touched since a French holiday in 2013. It went very well on my Belgian Chocolate ice cream. We spoke, as we often do, about whether microwaving ice cream ruins it. I have been microwaving ice cream for a quick softening for years and I have never ruined it. Lots of people seem to passionately disagree with me on this though.

We chatted about my two little princess nieces who now live in America, with my mum saying she is looking forward to them being teenagers and seeing how my older brother navigates the issue of having teenage daughters. I recalled about how my niece used to outsmart me at age two and a half. She’d take me away from her parents somehow who limit screen time and then ask if she could watch cartoons on my phone. I’d always say yes, without realising that she had a plan. She didn’t really want to pick out books and toys from her bedroom upstairs, she just wanted someone with a phone to watch cartoons on, but she couldn’t ask when her parents were in the room. I’ve always thought that was quite clever.

I do enjoy spending time with my nieces. It’s good for my mental health. The standalone best thing for my mental health is my family. When I first got ill in 2001 with grandiosely delusional psychosis it was my mum and dad who saw I was unwell and involved the local services. I was doing silly things such as planning to travel to France to meet an imaginary friend after she didn’t show up at The Ritz Hotel (I travelled to meet her at The Ritz the previous day). I needed sectioning on the local mental health ward. At this time, where I was following a delusional agenda of grandiosity, sectioning probably saved my life. My parents visited me every day during my incarceration which couldn’t have been easy, I was disrespectful and rude sometimes because nobody believed in my true identity as the modern day Jesus. I was frustrated and I accused my parents of lying to me whenever we discussed if they believed in me. Along the next few years of being in and out of mental hospitals they stuck by me closely as did my brothers and all family members who lived nearby. My grandparents were lovingly supportive; aunties, uncles and cousins too.

After three years I began to improve in my psychosis but contracted anxiety/panic. My mum, dad and brothers spent the next six years doing the balancing act of being sensitive to my anxiety while also trying to push me into doing more and more socialising. If they hadn’t started this process thirteen years ago I would be unable to socialise today. I also appreciated it when my brothers continued to laugh and joke with me. It showed that they still saw me as a person with a sense of humour even if I did have mental health problems.

I am over my anxieties now, and my psychosis is much, much, better. Both are barely even there and I owe it all to my family.

I became godfather to my second niece in 2016. Looking after them has made me a more confident person with adult responsibilities; someone who is in step with the world. I spent years trying to get back ‘in step with the world’ from about 2007 to 2013. By that I mean being normal: doing things that others do, like going to work, socialising and enjoying weekends. To have such a life, where once I was afraid of leaving the house, is just brilliant.

I have been lucky to have things fall back into place a bit for me. I hope it shows that a mental illness can sometimes pass. An important lesson I learned is to trust doctors and those that love you. I didn’t trust anybody involved in my care back in the day, but it has now become clear that of course they were not lying to me. Their advice and behaviour was a gift and I wish I had started trusting them earlier. My improvement gained good ground when I let my supportive team help me.

About the Author

You can find more of Peter’s writing on his mental health website He is also on Facebook (Peter Edward Mcdonnell) and on Twitter (@PeterMcDonnell_).


Monday, 29 October 2018

“No one is too far away to be cared for or to care”

By David Montgomery


“No one is too far away to be cared for or to care.”

It’s all about what we do and how we share.

There's so many little things we can say or post

To let others know that they matter most.


Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Seeing Red: A Look at Bipolar Anger

Anyone can get angry but bipolar disorder can take rage to unprecedented extremes. What is bipolar anger, what triggers it, and how can it be managed?

In this article we’re going to explore bipolar anger. Examples are drawn from my experience as caregiver to my best friend Fran, and others happy to share their stories.

What Does Bipolar Anger Feel Like?

It would be hard to improve on this description:

“Bipolar anger is impulsive, intense, erratic, and explosive. It is being asked a simple question and responding with irrational anger and/or irritation. It is lashing out, for no logical reason, on those that love and care for you. It’s driving down the road and whetting the blade of your pocket knife on the side mirror because someone is driving too close to you. It is the inability to listen to rational behavior and even answering the question ‘why?’” (Mariah)

Others also talked about its explosive nature:

“I can ignore issues for only so long then my anger towards another person spikes. I have been known to yell really really hard, say extremely mean things and sometimes throw things but I wouldn’t physically hurt someone.” (Susan)

“Bipolar rage is very real and it can be very, very violent. I will chase people and pick a fight.” (Julie)

The anger is mostly directed towards others but it can turn inward, manifesting as self-harm:

“I said very mean things in texts to my now ex-boyfriend. Basically I am on the attack personally without direct provocation. Then I get back in the mode of attacking myself … biting myself, pulling my hair, and hitting myself.” (Susan)

Mariah shared that anger comes easier to her than addressing what is actually happening in her life:

“It is easy for me to tell those that I love to leave me and never come back, even offering to help them pack. It is easy for me to say ‘Fuck it!’ and let people go, rather than admit that I am the one hurting inside. It is easy to push all other emotions aside and let the rage erupt inside of me until it spills out into the household, creating chaos all around me.” (Mariah)

In a similar vein Vikki describes anger as “bipolar’s go-to emotion.” This might sound like taking the easy way out but to me it reinforces how desperately hard it can be to engage more “reasonable” responses when anger takes hold.

Timing and Triggers

Jen traces her anger back to childhood and the suppression of emotions from an early age:

“I think for me, it comes from childhood trauma. I learned too soon in life that life is not always fair. I was taught that feelings should be stuffed down and I became angry about that in later life. I’m still angry about that.” (Jen)

Most contributors said that anger is more of an issue during mania, especially dysphoric mania, but it can appear at any time:

“For me mania anger was more because others thought I was on drugs when I wasn’t. When I’m depressed it’s more anger at me or the world.” (Vikki)

Fran becomes frustrated when people fail to understand or challenge her reality. When Fran was manic she was falsely accused of being drunk or of not taking her medication, which hurt and angered her greatly. Several people mentioned driving as a specific trigger:

“My bipolar anger is very unreasonable. I get angry at things that I normally don’t even notice. My worst anger is in traffic. I have absolute road rage when an episode is in full force. I have to be very, very careful when driving.” (Julie)

Other people’s anger is likely to add fuel to the fire and once the line has been crossed it can be hard to pull back:

“When others are angry I take it as a challenge. I push back and fight back until I feel as though I have ‘won.’ When I am in the cycle of my own anger I do not consider possible consequences and at those moments I do not care.” (Mariah)

Healthy Anger

As unlikely as it might seem anger can be healthy:

“We were reminded in dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) that anger is a motivator for change. We do not like something or it irritates us, so we work to change it. Without irritation and anger we would be a pretty lazy species.” (Roiben)

Anger drives Fran forward when she would otherwise become mired in self-doubt. It can also help get her message across. She once became furious when I failed to recognise how desperate things were for her. Within moments she had my full attention! We can also think of anger in the face of injustice:

“When things in my life don’t seem fair, or if I see that things are unfair for my friends, or even my country, I get angry. But maybe it’s okay to be a little angry.” (Jen)

What Helps?

There are several approaches to managing bipolar anger. It can help to avoid triggers and stressful situations. Fran’s life has become much calmer since she withdrew from social media. As she puts it, “There were plenty of good things but also plenty that pissed me off.” Calming activities such as art, listening to music, taking a bath, and meditation can help as can medication, talking therapies, prayer, and positive affirmations.

“I am trying to improve by positive self-talk in the mirror and with drawing. Self-talk is really helping!” (Susan)

It is worth remembering that the underlying reason or trigger for the anger is very often real and needs addressing. It can help to explore what is going on, either alone or with a trusted friend:

“It is not until much later, sometimes days later, that I am able to analyze my behavior.” (Mariah)

“I get so frustrated with a few of the people in my world, not so much with what they say but how they say it, and I have to ruminate for days and talk it over with Marty until I can let it go.” (Fran)

Beth describes a different approach:

“I feel I know the receiving end of the anger that came come with bi-polar. I have several friends who get angry with me on occasion, enough to tell me they want to end our friendship. I no longer try to ferret out what I did. I have come to understand that it is not based on anything I did most of the time. Talking it through can be incredibly counter-productive. Waiting it out, letting them know I am around if and when they are ready, and giving them space is about all I can do. I have been told by more than one that part of my getting the brunt end of anger is because the person knows I will not give up on them.” (Beth)

Jen finds insight in a quote from the movie Excalibur:

“Lancelot says to King Arthur ‘Your rage has unbalanced you.’ This is an amazing metaphor because I battle myself internally, like these men are doing externally and I can get unbalanced quickly.” (Jen)

Being honest about how you are feeling helps. (“A heads up. Just so you know I’m in a bad mood.”) And there is always humour.

Fran: I’m going to keep getting mad at you, Marty, because that’s the only way you’re going to learn.

Marty: You’re going to keep getting mad at me because I’m writing an article on bipolar anger!

What are your experiences with bipolar anger in yourself and in others? What works for you? What doesn’t?


Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Let’s Talk Mental Health – Leeds

By Quinn Brown

Hi guys, I just want to quickly mention Let’s Talk Mental Health, a newly formed annual series of events in different places that are dedicated to encouraging people to talk openly about mental illness. I did an event in Selby which went really well and now I’ll be doing an event in Leeds on the 17th of November.

I have NINE speakers involved and the evening will be quite a moving one to say the least. Here’s the final poster for the event and I’ll be promoting it over the next couple of weeks.

I will be speaking to one of the speakers two days after the event on her radio show and I’ll be discussing everything about the event so do please check that out when you get chance. More information on that coming soon.

Follow Let’s Talk Mental Health on Facebook and Twitter.


Sunday, 21 October 2018

Thoughts Whilst Out Walking

Fran’s words from a few days ago are still with me: “The truest response is letting go ...”

Yes... let go of pain, of joy, of aching, of delight ... Do not hold on to any of it. Let it rise, have its moment, and go, to be replaced by what arises in its stead ... externally and within you.

Offer minimal resistance to what arises ... Let it pass through you, joyously, gratefully ...

We cling, we hold on, from fear. Fear of losing what was never ours to begin with. Fear of daring to reach for what is within our grasp.

This moment is all that you will ever own. It is what you have brought into being, it is what you were brought into being to experience, herenow. You are the universe’s gift to itself in this moment. No other has been granted this gift. Accept it, take it in your hands, examine its shape, colours, textures. Allow it fully into your awareness ... And let it go again ...

Life is not a lesson, though you can choose to see it as such. Life is not a trial, though you are free to live yours as though it were.

Any gift worth the name comes without strings ... you are free to decline it, trample on it, pass it on to another, keep it under lock and key ... And so it is with life, with this moment.

Originally written October 2012


Saturday, 20 October 2018

My Most Recent (Serious) Suicide Attempt

By Andrew Turman

Trigger Warning: Suicide

This article was originally published August 2017.

To set the scene: my Daddy’s birthday is the ninth of July. By the first of August of last year, I was in a full blown psychotic depression, my first. To let you know how bad things were, let me say that the whole space-time continuum had warped on me. Somehow, Rebecca would go to the store and return home before she actually left. Not really, but it was truth in my mind. I could not even do simple math, nor could I operate a calculator. I was psychotically depressed.

Symptoms of a psychotic depression include the symptoms of a major depressive episode, along with one or more psychotic symptoms, including delusions and/or hallucinations. Delusions can be classified as mood congruent or incongruent, depending on whether or not the nature of the delusions is in keeping with the individual’s mood state. Common themes of mood congruent delusions include guilt, punishment, personal inadequacy, or disease. Half of patients experience more than one kind of delusion. Delusions occur without hallucinations in about one-half to two-thirds of patients with psychotic depression. Hallucinations can be auditory, visual, olfactory (smell), or haptic (touch). Severe anhedonia, loss of interest, and psychomotor retardation are typically present. [Source: Wikipedia.]

This describes my experience perfectly. I was wracked with guilt about my role in my father’s dying day. I felt I deserved to be punished. I believed I could not perform the simplest tasks and that I was doomed to a life of despair. I shambled down the hall to the bathroom, when I was absolutely forced to get out of bed. I did not take care of myself; I did not bathe, brush my teeth, or change my clothes. I was a wreck, a shell of my usual self. I could not operate my phone or tarry on Fakebook. I was incommunicado, radio silent.

This manifested itself in my most personal relationship as well, the relationship with my wife. I would cringe when spoken to and would try to anticipate what was said to me so I could proffer an appropriate response. I just wanted silence. But the silence was violent, in my head. I was thinking of ways to die ...

I finally decided I would overdose on my medications. On August 1, 2016, my prescriptions were refilled. I had twice the lethal dose of my meds. So I took them all. Every pill in the house. Rebecca had gone to sleep. I lay awake to fulfill my destiny. I found a program from my father’s memorial service at church. I wrapped myself in the bathrobe my father died in. I unscrewed the medication bottles as I screwed up the courage to take their contents. With as little water as possible, to maximize the impact of the drugs, I faced my doom. I had done the internet research. I would have succeeded, had the meds not interfered with each other and prevented my body taking a lethal seizure. I woke up in Frederick Memorial Hospital the next day.

Let’s back up. Rebecca was totally worried about me and the state of my mental health. Often during the days preceding this event, she would “check-in” with me, to see how I was feeling. I flat out lied to her, assuring her that I was okay, not thinking about suicide, everything was fine. Little did she know when she kissed me goodnight, I was planning to take my own life.

When she woke up, she found me unresponsive. She did not know what to do. It took the urgent warnings from a dear friend to force her to call 911. While she waited for the ambulance to arrive to transport me to the hospital, in her frustration and anger, she shaved my eyebrows. (I showed her, though, because in the psych ward I found a Sharpie, and drew them back. Talk about looking crazy!)

I make jokes about it because I have to. It is how I deal with such a serious topic. Rebecca felt anger at my decision to leave her alone. In my twisted thinking, I thought I was doing her a favor, that she would be better off without me, that all her problems would be solved (when in actuality, they would only be beginning).

In the week I spent in the psych ward, not once did ANYONE ask me why I did it. That is one of the problems in the mental health system today. Even professionals do not know how to talk to people who are suffering.

Rebecca was angry. But the underlying issue was one of loss, betrayal. I had betrayed her trust, I had lied to her. I felt no one, not even she, could understand me and my feelings. My situation is by no means unique. Hundreds of people a day around the world choose death over life.

The solution is communication. Now, my wife and I are more honest with each other; she about her concern, me about my true feelings. All of us need to stop fearing talking about the real issues at hand. It is literally the difference between life and death.

About the Author

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—88; medications—75; suicide attempts—6; ECT treatments—98.

He can be contacted via his blog, on Facebook (Andrew Turman and Zen Daddy T), Instagram (zendaddyt), and Twitter (@ZenTurman).


Wednesday, 17 October 2018

To Pieces

By Kati Rocky

I have been writing children’s and teen television for over two decades, and while I enjoy my work I was longing to dive into something meaty and serious. I have bipolar disorder, though I didn’t as a teen, and decided I wanted to write a story on the subject. Since I’m familiar with the young adult audience and how to connect with them and entertain them, I chose them as my demographic.

Before I wrote my novel, To Pieces, I studied the fiction that was out there that dealt with the subject matter so that I wasn’t redundant. I found precious little. There are a few books that have bipolar protagonists, but none of them rang true for me. Writers got the depression right, but the mania was all wrong. This prevailing inauthenticity only furthered my conviction to write the book. I wanted to create a work that got the condition right.

The story flowed from me fairly quickly but getting the book published was a lengthy and arduous process. Editors really didn’t seem to get it. Many found Jane, my main character, “wacky,” “unbelievable,” and “unrealistic.” I even had an editor suggest I write the book not in the first person of a person suffering from bipolar disorder but through the eyes of a friend or family member of the main character’s watching her suffer through a bipolar cycle.

I strongly disagreed with this notion. In Venice, where I live, you walk through the neighborhood and are greeted by a number of people in the grips of psychosis. Does this help you understand the disorder? No. I think it actually alienates people further. Manic people can be aggressive and even scary. It’s almost impossible to understand psychosis or deep depression unless you’ve had it – or been inside the head of somebody who has it, like the character in To Pieces.

Another disappointing comment I got from several editors was that they didn’t like the humor in the book. They were under the impression that bipolar disorder is one relentless bummer. This is, in fact, untrue. While mania can be devastating financially, and people often engage in risky and dangerous behavior and damage their personal relationships, mania can be very pleasurable and fun – and even funny.

Some of the wacky things manic people do are downright comical, though I am in no way trying to present mania as something positive or constructive! It is something to be avoided at all costs. Take it from one who knows the humiliation that follows mania and how exhausting it is to mop up the messes you made while you were out of your mind. Then there’s the acute uneasiness that accompanies being unable to remember chunks of your time being manic. Just what horrifying things did I do during that week that I have no memory of?

I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by how well To Pieces is doing and how many people are connecting with my main character: people with and without bipolar disorder. There is even movie interest in the book. I knew that the editors were wrong and I’m glad I stuck to my instincts and didn’t give up on the story or alter it in ways that compromised its integrity.

It is my hope that the book shines some light into a dark corner, giving people insight into bipolar disorder and empathy for the people suffering from it. I also hope that it can provide solace for teens with the illness and let them know that, with the right treatment, they can not only manage to carve out a life as a bipolar person, but they can thrive.

About the Author

I grew up in San Francisco and Marin County and attended UCLA, where I majored in creative writing. I went on to USC where I got a masters degree in professional writing. I started working in children’s and teen television as a writer, falling into the business somewhat accidentally, and have been writing TV for over two decades.

I live in Venice, CA with my husband and teenage son.

You can find me on Twitter (@KatiRocky).

My novel To Pieces is available on Amazon (print and Kindle), Barnes & Noble, and other good booksellers.


Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Attending a Self-Harm Awareness Session at ReCoCo

Image credit: Sharon McCutcheon / Unsplash

I wrote recently about how I came to enrol at Newcastle Recovery College (ReCoCo) and a little of what the college means to me and my friend Vikki Beat. Vikki is a student, volunteer, and course facilitator at ReCoCo.

The first class I enrolled for was a self-harm awareness session led by Steve O’Driscoll who I first met several years ago when I began volunteering for Time to Change. The following description is taken from the ReCoCo website:

A 2.5 hour session delivered by Steve O’Driscoll who self-harmed for over 20 years and managed to overcome his problems and now shares his experiences to help and support others and also facilitates a group in Newcastle to support people who self-harm.

The session is very relaxed and there is plenty of opportunity to ask those unanswered questions around a subject that is still taboo to many in society.

I arrived at Anderson House in plenty of time and made myself a cup of coffee while I was waiting. The session was held in one of the upstairs training rooms and at first it was pretty noisy from the construction work going on outside. Fortunately this eased up for most of the time we were there.

There were six in the class including me and Steve. I know Steve had hoped for a few more, but the numbers worked well for me. I felt accepted by and comfortable with everyone there. I am new to ReCoCo but I’d say that is part of the culture and atmosphere the college fosters.

The session covered a wide range of topics including:

  • Different types of self-harm.
  • Who self-harms and what leads to them doing so.
  • How does it feel to self-harm?
  • Signs to look out for in others.
  • Coping techniques, treatment, and self-help.
  • How to support someone.
  • The self-harm first aid kit.

Steve shared his personal journey, much of which was new to me. Those who know me and Fran know we have a “no pedestals” policy, meaning as far as possible we treat ourselves and others without elevating anyone to hero status. That said, I was deeply moved by Steve’s story and respect him immensely for the honesty with which he lives his life. It takes courage to turn a lifetime of hard experience to the service of others.

I have no equivalent first-hand experience. I took the class to learn more about a subject which affects so many, including some of my closest friends.

It wasn’t all easy to hear and engage with. Given the topic, it couldn’t be. Self-harm is about as real as it gets and Steve held little if anything back. That is what the subject deserves, as do all those whose lives are affected by it, directly or indirectly. He took time to check in with everyone from time to time in case we were struggling, and there was a short break which was very welcome.

At the end of the session Steve asked what we each had planned for the rest of the day. This is something I recognise from other courses I’ve attended, including Mental Health First Aid. It is a valuable reminder to pay attention to self-care after doing something challenging. With that in mind I’d arranged to meet up with a friend for lunch which proved the perfect opportunity to unwind.

Two and a half hours can only provide an introduction to a subject as deep and complex as self-harm. I certainly do not now consider myself an expert. That said, I learned a lot and would recommend it to anyone interested in understanding what self-harm is, what it isn’t, and how you can help yourself and others. It more than lived up to the course description.

I would like to thank Steve, ReCoCo, and the other students who attended with me. I feel better prepared and informed to support my friends and others. The rest is up to me.

For more information about Newcastle Recovery College and their courses check their website.


Wednesday, 3 October 2018

What Newcastle Recovery College Means To Me

By Martin Baker and Vikki Beat

Image credit: Alisdair Cameron

Newcastle Recovery College Collective (ReCoCo) is a joint venture between various organisations in the north east of England, “by and for service users and carers. [It is] a place where service users are able to make connections and develop their knowledge and skills in relation to recovery.”

I first heard about ReCoCo through folk I’ve met volunteering with Time to Change. I was intrigued and checked their website out a couple of times but hadn’t taken it any further until this July when my friend Vikki Beat invited me to attend the end of term party. The event also marked the college’s relocation from Broadacre House to its new home just down the road in Anderson House. I didn’t know many people at the party but I felt very welcome. I even had a dance! I remember thinking it would be great to work more closely with the college in some way but I couldn’t see how that might work as sessions are held during the week and I am in full time employment.

The college closed over the summer but I was keen to check out the autumn prospectus as soon as it came out. For the past six months I’ve been working with a fantastic group of people where I work in BPDTS to promote mental health awareness and support within the company. I immediately saw how some of ReCoCo’s courses were relevant both to me personally and to our workplace initiatives. After discussing with my manager I phoned the college to make an appointment.

My enrolment interview was last week and took about 45 minutes. Lynne explained the college’s code of conduct and collected basic information from me including any special needs or requirements I might have. She then led me through completing a Peer Support Empower Flower, which is “a self reported measurement tool based on the principles of peer support.”

I found the exercise fascinating and (gently) challenging as I was encouraged to explore how I was currently feeling in eight categories: Feeling Connected, Recognising My Strengths, Feeling Hopeful, Taking Control, Taking Responsibility, Self Worth, Having Purpose, and Keeping Myself Safe. I will repeat the exercise in a few months’ time.

I left feeling very proud to be a student for the first time in many years!

I had arranged to meet Vikki after my enrolment and she suggested we return to Anderson House for the afternoon drop in session. I’m glad we did because it gave me the opportunity to meet some of the staff, volunteers, and other students. The atmosphere was warm, gentle, and compassionate. I felt welcome and accepted, and my contributions and story were considered as respectfully as anyone else’s. (As someone without direct lived experience of mental illness, crisis, or trauma, it is a big thing for me to feel I have something worth sharing that might be of interest and value to others.) It left a powerful impression, as I wrote afterwards to my workplace mentor:

I had a great time at Newcastle Recovery College on Wednesday. I enrolled for the courses I want to do (a short session on self-harm next week, and then the Wellness Recovery Action Plan awareness course next month). A friend invited me to stay into the afternoon for the weekly drop in session.

The difference the college makes – that the staff and volunteers and students make – to the lives of the people who attend is simply staggering. The kind of staggering that makes you question what you are doing with your life. Which is where you come in, of course – to help me find a way to do more of that here at BPDTS!

I asked Vikki, who is a volunteer and course facilitator at ReCoCo as well as being a student, if she would share what the Recovery College means to her.

I started coming to the Recovery College three years ago. At the time I was experiencing stigma first hand through my career within the NHS.

The best way to describe the feeling of the Recovery College is that it’s like a family. A family without judgment. And just like a family, we argue. And like a family we kiss and make up (not literally, of course!)

Three years on and I am now a volunteer for ReCoCo and facilitate my own course. Watching nervous and anxious individuals come into the college and blossom into the confident people they become is awe-inspiring. We all struggle at times, but ReCoCo is a safe place to come and support each other.

I’d like to thank all the staff and volunteers for being my solid rock.

—Vikki Beat

I look forward to attending the first of the sessions I have enrolled for later this week. You can find out more about the Newcastle Recovery College on their website and on Twitter.


Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Things That Help

By Roiben

I can talk for a long time about my various conditions and disabilities and how they affect me. For the sake of those who do not know, I have Congenital Rubella Syndrome. This has led to a nice complicated list of conditions and disabilities including Type 1 Diabetes and mental illness.

In this article I am discussing the fact that I class myself as Deaf with a severe hearing loss, and the fact that I have a visual impairment. As a result of congenital cataracts I am completely blind in my left eye. My right eye does all of the work so is prone to getting tired quickly. I have diabetic retinopathy and astigmatism in my right eye as well.

I want to talk about five things that help me cope with these disabilities and get the best I can out of any given situation. Some are things I can do and some are things others can do to assist me. It is worth bearing in mind that disabilities are very individual and needs change from person to person. Some of these things are general and can be used across the board for people who have hearing loss or visual impairments. Others are individual to me and my experiences.

1. Lights, Camera, Action

I find good lighting helps in all cases. I need it in order to see properly. If it is dim or the light is not bright enough in a room, or a restaurant decides to dim their lights for “atmospheric” reasons, I will struggle to read text. I will also struggle to properly do things like cook and wash up. I remember in University Halls the light bulbs in the rooms were far too dim for me, so I had to have permission to have 100 watt bulbs put in.

In my flat now I have lots of smaller spot lights. These are great for ensuring there is even light across the whole of the flat, so I can see better regardless of where I chose to site myself. I often use a bright lamp and a magnifier with a light built into it for reading, especially labels and boxes for medications and food.

I also need good lighting in order to help with my hearing because I rely on lip-reading. I am one of the Deaf community who is able to lip-read, and not all of us can. However, it relies on being able to properly see the person’s lips and face. This means them not having windows or other major light-sources such as the sun behind them, and the room being generally well light and for that light to be consistent, not flickering or changing at all.

Because of this it is common for me to have to change where I am standing or sitting so that I can understand a conversation. It also means that when sitting at a circular table there will always be at least one person with a window behind them who I just cannot understand. It is also the reason I try to be the first to get into a meeting room or at a restaurant table so I can choose where to sit, to try to make sure the other people with me will not be in front of windows, flashing light decorations or other such annoyances.

2. Flexible and Adaptable

The second thing that helps is to be flexible and adaptable. This means me being flexible, to work with what I can do and make the best of it and to adapt to the various situations I am faced with. I also ask that the people around me are flexible and adaptable in order to help me. For example, if I am not understanding something you are saying try to rephrase it, or better yet adapt, and write it down or type it out on your phone or computer.

Also, for my vision I tend to need to walk on the right hand side of whoever I am walking with. This is so that if I am looking at them to lip-read what they are saying I can still see what’s going on around me with my right peripheral vision. If I am forced to walk on the left, I can look at the person but I will see nothing around me and often end up walking into things. This means the person I am walking with needs to be more adaptable to accommodate my needs.

3. Patience, a Trained Necessity

The third thing is patience. I often get frustrated with myself for not being able to understand something being said, or because I find navigating new places completely terrifying. Over years of mistakes and mishaps and much mental and emotional upheaval I have learned to try and be more patient with myself. This means giving myself time to get around and navigate a new area so that I can be more careful and less likely to fall over. It also means not putting undue pressure on myself to get things right, straight away, every single time.

I also ask and expect the people around me to be a little patient with me. I am well aware how frustrating and annoying it can be to have to repeat yourself, to have to accommodate my communication preferences and to allow me the time to figure things out. However, doing so helps me more than you may realize. It makes me feel more of a worthy human being than being told something I didn’t hear “doesn’t matter” just because the person doesn’t want to repeat or rephrase.

Still on the subject of patience, I am not a naturally quick walker. I take small steps and I have little legs and a dodgy hip. This means I don’t get around very quickly at all. Walking with me can involve a little foresight and patience. I am all for apologizing for this, and am well aware that many people would love me to walk quicker. However, I can’t and I don’t. If I am using my cane I have to ask for even more patience and “put-up-with” from the people I am with. I am told the constant-contact method I use with the cane makes it noisy (sorry, I can’t hear it) and I understand that walking with someone using a cane requires a bit of getting used to. So, the foresight is to allow me more time to get somewhere, and the patience is to not get frustrated that I am not able to meet your, or your guide dog’s, natural gait.

4. Concentration Exhaustion

In fourth place is the awareness that I get very fatigued. This is something for me, to bear in mind and plan for and compensate for. It is also for others to be aware of and accommodate for. Because of my hearing and eyesight I put in a lot of effort and concentration to complete the kind of everyday tasks that many people do not even need to think about: tasks like communicating, getting around, paying attention. For me, these things are frankly exhausting.

For my vision, I am often putting in extra effort to try to judge where people are and to pay attention to my cane’s feedback and my route so as not to walk into things or fall over. For my hearing, it takes effort to lip-read. A good lip-reader gets about 30% of the conversation from lip-reading alone. Making sense of the whole sentence and fitting the jumbled pieces together in your mind is hard work and like any hard work it is tiring.

It is worth being aware that I may need a break, I may take time out or leave earlier than I would otherwise. I get tired quickly. I get headaches and my eyes are often strained from focusing and concentrating. It is not because I do not want to be where I am. I enjoy my work and I love my friends and family. My zoning out or being tired is not from a lack of enthusiasm. Quite the opposite; it comes from the effect of having put so much effort and enthusiasm into those situations that my mind and body eventually say “enough, I’m done”.

5. There Is No Magic Fix

Because of my various disabilities and conditions I am regularly faced with people who seem to want a “cure” or a “fix” that would make me and others with disabilities “normal” (whatever that is).

I am so often met with people who, when I fail to understand them, ask if I am wearing my hearing aids or if they are working okay. The point here is that hearing aids are not a magic fix. They do not make me suddenly “not Deaf”. They simply make the sounds around me louder. They are a microphone and volume box sending sound waves into my ears. That is all. I am still Deaf. I still have sensorineural and conductive hearing loss in my ears. These mean that the sounds I hear are difficult to distinguish and understand, even with hearing aids. This is why I rely on lip-reading and context and knowing people and how their voices sound. In short, most people could be speaking Dutch for all I can understand them from hearing alone. I can tell they are talking, that is about it.

Likewise, my glasses do not make me suddenly able to see everything perfectly. Glasses are a common thing, but I still get people who do not understand why even with glasses I still need Large Print and am unable to see things further away. Glasses can only correct my vision up to a certain point. Beyond that, there is nothing that can be done.

I once had an ophthalmologist try incredibly strong lenses for my left eye. I got so little out of them that I said “No, thank you” to the offer of prescribing some for me. My glasses correct for the astigmatism in my right eye which helps my eyes to focus a little more, both for distance and for reading. I also have some correction for reading, because I do a lot of it. However, even the optician will say that they can’t fix everything. They are never going to be able to make me able to see small print without a magnifier. There is a good reason I don’t read newspapers, or magazines, or normal size print books anymore. I can’t. My glasses can’t fix that.

So, what helps? Please, be realistic. If I tell you I am Deaf, or visually impaired, believe me and don’t look for a way to make me “normal”. Don’t start recommending laser eye surgery or a cochlear implant as the next best thing that I absolutely must try as it will “cure” me. For one, they don’t suit my particular situation and for two, they are not a cure. They won’t magically make me hearing and able to see as clear as day.

Likewise, stop assuming that just because I have my hearing aids in I can magically hear everything as well as you can. They don’t work like that, they never have, and I have used hearing aids for a long time. I know they are better now than they used to be but they are still not a fix. For me they are better than going without in most cases, but sometimes frankly being without them is better.

Things That End

Although this is just a small selection of things that help, and there are a whole host of others out there, I think it is a worthy selection to start with, to work with and to use. All disabilities require an awareness of what can help and I feel those I have discussed here cover some of the main ones. They are very much individual to me but you can work from here to see how these can be transferred and adapted for other disabilities and other people.

The point I want to make is that there are many things that can be done, both in terms of helping yourself to cope and make the most of what is possible, and helping others to do so. It just takes some time, adaptability and patience. If you are not sure what may help, ask. Ask the person themselves. There is a good chance they will know from their own experiences what works and does not work for them. I am the same. If you ask me what can be done to help I am, in most cases, more than willing to let you know, or to give some pointers for the given situation.

So, let us try to help where we can. Find out those small things that can be done to help others, and to help ourselves, cope better with living in this world and getting on with each other in the process.


About the Author

You can find Roiben on Twitter (@roiben).


Monday, 24 September 2018

Announcing Our New Creative Partnership with Eliezer Tristan Publishing

Fran and I are delighted and proud to announce that we have signed to Eliezer Tristan Publishing for an exciting new project. Watch this space for further details!

Co-founded by Stigma Fighters CEO Sarah Fader and Vice President Sarah Comerford, Eliezer Tristan Publishing publishes nonfiction and fiction largely focusing on survival in its many iterations.

We encourage you to follow the ETP team on their website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Our first book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder is published by Nordland Publishing.


Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Follow Your Passion: A Merry Meeting

I bumped into an old friend and former colleague this morning as I was having coffee at Regular Jo’s at Tynemouth Market. The last time I saw Paul was in similar circumstances. He saw me one Sunday afternoon as I was sitting outside Starbucks near where I live. That was maybe eighteen months ago. I know our book High Tide, Low Tide was out, so it must have been after September 2016.

It was great to see him again today and we had a good catch up, sharing what each of us is doing these days, and checking in on folk we know or knew.

Paul left to follow his dream of working for himself at something he loves, and it is clear it’s worked out well for him. That was great to see!

On paper at least I’m doing much the same work as I was doing the last time we met. (As a matter of fact I have been doing much the same work since Paul left, which might be ten years ago now.) But I am not the same person I was then, and I can honestly say I am much happier since I started help shape the mental health initiatives we have going on within the company.

At the moment this is only a minor aspect of my role – I remain primarily engaged in the “techie stuff” of applications support – but the mental health side has transformed how I feel about “going to work” each day. It is something I am passionate about and want to develop further, with the ongoing support of colleagues and management. I think that came across to Paul as we were talking. It’s hard to hide the light inside when it burns so brightly, as Paul’s did when talking about his work and life.

So, it was a merry meeting: each of us “living the dream” and looking ahead in hope to wherever our respective journeys might take us next.

Not a bad way to spend a Saturday morning!


Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Letters to Daniel

By Amy Leigh McCorkle

Dear Daniel Craig. This journey to wellness started long before that. But this leg of the journey started with a blog I used to tell my story and share an everyday look at what life with bipolar disorder looks like. So, Dear Daniel Craig was a confessional for me. I let it all hang out. The good, the bad, and the downright ugly.

I should note here I have not met Daniel Craig. And that, as far as I know, he has no idea I even exist. Still, the simple act of using my favorite actor as silent audience seemed to be final piece in a multi-pronged treatment plan. There was medication, group and individual therapy (still is), and the support of amazing caregivers. This blog, Letters to Daniel, soon took on a life of its own, and it made me actively advocate.

People responded in a big way. They reached out to me saying I was telling their story. Or that I was telling their loved one’s story. It didn’t stop there. I gathered the letters up and turned it into a bestselling memoir of the same name. On Amazon it hit number #2 in the USA., #3 in Japan, #4 in Canada, #6 in Australia and #21 in the UK; and the top 100 in the Netherlands and Germany. I then took the “greatest hits” and narrated the letters in a documentary of the same name. It went on to win awards on the festival circuit.

Then with my caregiver and writing partner I adapted the memoir to an award winning screenplay. We now have a producer in Cincinnati, Aaron Allen of Extreme Christian Entertainment, signed on. He is running a GoFundMe for the pre-production costs. My caregiver Melissa Goodman and I are set to direct.

The exciting thing is I attended Action On Film International Film Festival and there are two A-List Producers who are interested in Letters to Daniel.

Letters to Daniel tells the story of my journey to being in recovery from breakdown to my success as an artist. It is told through the prism of my friendship and writing partnership with my caregiver. It cannot be overstated how important Missy was and still is to my recovery. There have been other caregivers, but she was on the front lines every day for the twelve years we shared an apartment as friends. She didn’t run. She didn’t hide. She chose to be my friend in the darkest of days and when I’m symptomatic now she’s still my best friend and knows what to do.

This film has been a five year dream. To be on verge of making it is thrilling. To be on verge of it possibly going mainstream has been weird but really exciting. Right now we need the pre-production costs covered. That shows the big time producers we’re not just play acting.

I remember one night watching the Soap Opera Digest Awards. Accepting his award, Maurice Benard said to all manic depressives out there if I can do it so can you. I really to needed to hear that. My dreams seemed to be lost. But here we are. Eighty-six awards and several scripts and films later Missy and I are on the verge of something big, and I would have never gotten there without her.

About the Author

Amy Leigh McCorkle is a bestselling and award winning author, blogger, screenwriter and filmmaker. With 23 published titles, two successful blogs, and a myriad of scripts she has also directed the stigma busting Letters to Daniel: Breakdown to Bestseller and All In the Family. She makes her home with her parents and her four year old tabby Luke. In her free time Amy likes to follow the University of Kentucky Wildcats.

Support Amy’s project at her GoFundMe page.

You can follow Amy on her blog, on Facebook (personal page | Letters to Daniel), on Twitter (@amylmccorkle), and on Instagram.


Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Let’s Talk about Talking: Three Conversation Types for a Mutually Caring Relationship

I am grateful to Vikki Beat for our recent conversation at Caffe Nero which led to me writing this up.

It’s no secret that Fran and I spend a lot of time talking together but it took a while for me to recognise that not all conversations are the same. Different people have different ways of talking, of course, but aside from that there are distinct types of conversation depending on what the people involved need at the time. Here are three distinct types we have found useful. I’d love to know if they resonate for you – or if they don’t! Let’s talk!

“My Turn, Your Turn.”

This is the type of conversation that comes most naturally to me, whether face-to-face (in person or on a video call), on the telephone, or in online chat. It consists of short alternating exchanges, one person speaking for a moment or two then letting the other take a turn. It works well (at least for me) where you are “shooting the breeze”, making plans, or sharing things on a fairly surface-y level. What I had to learn is there are situations where it isn’t necessarily appropriate or helpful.

“It Will Be Your Turn in a Minute.”

The “my turn, your turn” approach doesn’t work for Fran if she is trying to share something detailed or important. From her point of view, my wanting to speak every minute or so means I am constantly interrupting her train of thought. Once interrupted, she finds it next to impossible to pick up again.

This was especially so early in our friendship when Fran was in mania. It was hard enough for her to slow her thoughts to a pace and into an order where she could share them with someone else. She needed me to let her speak for a while without interrupting. Then I could take my turn, whether to comment on what she had shared, ask a question, or take things in a new direction.

This felt very unnatural to me at first – and I still find it hard sometimes – but I’ve learned that slowing things down like this (essentially conversing in short monologues rather than exchanging sentences) can be incredibly valuable whether you have difficulties marshalling your thoughts or not.

“I Need to Talk Right Now.”

There are times when we want and need to just let the words flow, to “dump” (although I hate that expression), to express whatever it is we are feeling or thinking without being interrupted, questioned, or judged. It is what Thich Nhat Hahn has called deep listening:

Deep listening simply means listening with compassion. Even if the other person is full of wrong perceptions, discrimination, blaming, judging, and criticizing, you are still capable of sitting quietly and listening, without interrupting, without reacting. Because you know that if you can listen like that, the other person will feel enormous relief. You remember that you are listening with only one purpose in mind: to give the other person a chance to express themselves, because up until now no one has taken the time to listen. (Thich Nhat Hanh)

This is important work and carries a degree of responsibility. As the listener you may feel any number of things: pain, hurt, joy, pride, love, anger. You might yearn to interrupt with advice and suggestions. It’s okay. You get to feel it all – and you get to keep it to yourself. Your input, suggestions, and opinion may be welcome later but right now your role is to be wholly present, to STFU, and to listen. It is NOT easy. At least, I do not always find it so. Persevere. It is perhaps the greatest gift you can offer another human being.

Vikki and I joked how maybe we ought to make some flags we can hold up to let the other one know what type of conversation we want or need. That might be taking things a little too far (though it would be fun!) but it is important in any relationship that both people can express what they need in the moment. As far as conversation types go this can be as simple as holding up your hand to indicate you’ve not finished talking yet, or saying “I need you to listen right now while I get all this out, okay?” Our ability to do this – and to accept that we still sometimes get it wrong – is why Fran and I work so well.

When two people are open and honest with each other and come together to share words, space, and time, it can be a truly beautiful thing.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.

~ Rumi


Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Mental vs Physical Illness: Stigma and Disability

By Roiben

I know a lot of people who struggle to see Mental Illness as a disability. Some of this is due to years of Stigma, perpetuated by a media and government which all too easily labels people as scroungers. We are accused of not trying hard enough, of just needing to pull our socks up and get on with it, and in doing so to, somehow, magically get better.

In my opinion Mental Illness is more often than not a Chronic Condition and very much fits the criteria of a disability. By way of an example, I have Type 1 Diabetes, which I manage with medication and changes to, and monitoring of, my diet and wellbeing. I have times when it is well controlled and pretty much routine day-to-day. I have other times when it is less controlled and I need to seek the advice of medical professions and maybe even go into hospital. I have been diabetic since I was four years old and it isn’t going to go away anytime soon.

I was first diagnosed with a Mental Illness when I was twelve years old. I have had times when I have been well, when my symptoms have been controlled with medications. I have had other times when I have been in crisis and needed medical intervention, changes to medication and therapy.

In my view, my Mental Illness does not go away in those periods when I am well. I am not cured. Instead, it is managed and controlled and therefore less problematic.

It astounds me that there is Stigma around the idea that people with Mental Illness can just choose to be well. It is rare for someone with diabetes or a sprained wrist to be told to think themselves better, so why do we do it with Mental Illness? Why does it have to have a time-scale before the person is clearly not putting the effort in to get better?

I would not choose to have the sometimes horribly disabling symptoms of my Mental Illness any more than I would choose to go into Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA). In either case I opt for medications, simply because that very medication is lifesaving.

We as a society need to realize that the mind, as complex and confusing as it can be, is a part of the body and has physical and psychological manifestations just like any other part of the body. The fact that my pancreas fails to produce insulin should not be any more believable or important than the fact that I have a Mental Illness.

Why do people have to be in absolute crisis with their Mental Illness before they are taken seriously and believed? Why is the emphasis placed on people actively acting on suicidal urges. Surely there should be recognition and a pathway for treatment long before someone attempts to act on them?

Surely there should be a prevention rather than cure model, like there often is for physical ailments? Shouldn’t we be doing more to view Mental Illness as an illness of a part of the body, as we do with Diabetes and Asthma? Both are chronic conditions that, despite facing their own Stigma, get much better treatment by medical professionals than someone who presents with a Mental Illness related issue. They also get much better treatment by the media, by the government and by society as a whole. Yes, Stigmas are still present, but people are much more rarely told to “just get over it” when they are hypoglycemic or having an asthma attack.

Mental Illness is a disability, and a very complex one at that. It requires far more understanding of nuances and individuality than illness with other parts of the body may require. The situation is the same, though. A part of the body is malfunctioning and may always malfunction going forwards. It requires appropriate treatment, attitudes and support. Without those treatments, healthy attitudes and support, the malfunction will get worse not better. Ultimately the person may stop attempting to get the help they need and very much deserve.


About the Author

You can find Roiben on Twitter (@roiben).


Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Twenty-Plus Years of Misdiagnosis and Incorrect Treatment

By Chris Good

Originally posted on the author’s blog.

I have a story to share. It is My Story. My goal is to provide comfort, hope and inspiration to others who may connect with what I have written. As I have a lot to share I have split My Story into three separate posts.

Chapter One: Twenty-Plus Years of Misdiagnosis and Incorrect Treatment (this post)

Chapter Two: A Life Changing Diagnosis at Age Forty

Chapter Three: Hope and Inspiration

The obvious place to start my new blog is to share my own experience of mental illness, the time span of which is my entire adult life (which at the current age of forty is in excess of twenty years), as well as all of my late teens. I also suspect that I would have suffered to some extent in my more formative years, undiagnosed.

I have thought long and hard about the length of Chapter One. Whilst I know it’s long, I do believe everything written is important and relevant. If you connect or identify with even a single part of it, I’ll be delighted. I then hope you might choose to follow me on my blogging journey, witnessing hope and fulfillment in the face of adversity.

A significant portion of the detail below was obtained in a letter I requested late in 2017 from the mental health service who had dealt with me on and off from a young age up to the age of thirty-nine, at which point I relocated. The letter was addressed to the mental health service in my new home town asking them to take on care of me and providing them with a comprehensive history. It came as a huge surprise to me that this three page letter would prove to be almost worthless in the hands of the new service.

Another thing I find remarkable is that when I received this letter in 2017 it was the first time that I had ever received anything in writing describing what my diagnosis was at various stages of my life. This in stark contrast to the physical health conditions I have experienced, for which I have a file full of letters containing diagnosis and treatment plans, without me ever having to request them. Based on my experience, such transparency just doesn’t seem to exist in the world of mental health, and I can’t understand why. Maybe in different parts of the world it’s different?

On many occasions over the past twenty years, I have been in utter despair at the lack of a clear diagnosis. The most common explanation I got from the psychiatrists I saw was that I had a combination of depression (severe, chronic, recurring, treatment resistant…) and anxiety. But no one seemed able to explain why I kept experiencing the two together with apparently equal weighting. Depression slows down the mind and the body, anxiety does the opposite. How can the two exist hand in hand? This made it extremely difficult for those around me to understand what was wrong with me – family, friends, employers, colleagues etc. When the professionals didn’t seem able to explain it, how could any normal person be expected to understand it? This weighed very heavily on me over the years and was utterly exasperating.

My History

By detailing my history, I am aiming to set the context for future posts. I promise that my story will eventually turn into one of positivity.

  • Summary: I decided to put the summary given to me by the mental health service in November 2017 at the start, to set the scene. “He has a long history of recurrent depressive disorder. He has required long term maintenance therapy with a combination of mood stabilizer (take note of the relevance of this for my next post!) and antidepressant. It is likely he will be vulnerable to relapse at times of stress and transition.” (Helpfully, by the time I saw this for the first time, we had just made a massive one!)
  • June 1994 (age 16): My introduction to the local mental health service (National Health Service). Little did I know back then how long the relationship would last or how frequent our dealings would be at times. My diagnosis was a severe depressive episode with psychotic symptoms. It is worth highlighting that I was initially prescribed antidepressant medication aged sixteen by my family GP without my parents being aware of it – this happened shortly before my referral to the Young People’s Department of the local mental health service. My memory is very patchy, but I remember being at home with my sister, me cleaning stains in the house in an obsessive, compulsive manner and washing my hands with boiling hot water, then seeing the GP who started me on the tablets and shortly afterwards experiencing horrible side effects. I continued to be troubled with symptoms of depression and anxiety on and off over the next few years.
  • September 1999 (age 21): My case with the Young People’s Department was closed.
  • March 2004 (age 26): No longer a youngster, I was referred to the Adult Mental Health Service, troubled with depression, anxiety, obsessional preoccupations, social phobia and low self-esteem. By this point I had qualified as a Chartered Accountant.
  • May 2005 (age 27): This month signified a really dark spell in my life, one which I will most definitely never forget. Following a significant deterioration in my condition, I was admitted to hospital between 3rd and 23rd May 2005. I was admitted because I was having active suicidal thoughts. Because of this I was placed under constant observation for the first three days of my stay. At the time I described myself as being tortured by my thoughts. My discharge diagnosis was major depressive illness without psychotic features.
  • The whole experience of being in hospital was utterly soul destroying. To this day I can’t drive past the hospital (the ward I stayed in is visible from the main road) without vivid flash backs. Whilst I have never experienced being in prison, I often wonder if it could be any worse than a stay in a mental health hospital. Whilst the environment serves a purpose in keeping people safe when in crisis, I struggle to think of a place less conducive to recovery. That’s my experience anyway.
  • Thankfully, following a lot of persuading and convincing my parents got the doctors to agree to release me on the promise that they would care for me. I cannot fathom the thought of having to stay a minute longer than I did in that hellish place. Meal times in the hospital were awful, sitting at a table with other very unwell people, no one talking. As was the daily ritual of queuing to take medication. Completely undignified.
  • On discharge I began attendance at a day hospital. My condition deteriorated and I continued to be troubled by depressive symptoms.
  • September 2005 (age 27): As a result of my deterioration post discharge I started receiving a course of Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT), receiving a total of eight treatments. I responded well to this and I think it was a real turning point in my recovery from the major depressive episode I had just experienced.
  • ECT is a procedure done under general anesthesia in which small electric currents are passed through the brain, intentionally triggering a brief seizure. ECT seems to cause changes in brain chemistry that can quickly reverse symptoms of certain mental illnesses.
  • April 2007 (age 29) – brighter days and a fresh start in a big new city: My case was closed by my local mental health service following maintained progress and because I had decided to make the move to a much bigger city (London) for a fresh start and to take up a new job. When I moved to London I felt like a different person with a new lease of life. I thrived on the anonymity of being in a huge city where I knew nobody and the people I did get to know knew nothing of my difficult past. I felt like people treated me at face value, in contrast to my home city where I routinely felt like I was being judged because of my history of mental illness. I had a new found confidence and shortly after moving met my now wife. For the vast majority of the near three years I spent in London, life felt great and I truly believed that the dark days of ECT, hospitalisation etc were behind me forever. Sadly, I was to be proved wrong.
  • Shortly after getting married, my wife and I left London and returned to my home city because we considered it a better and more affordable place to start a family when the time was right. We had our first child in February of 2011.
  • April 2014 (age 36): Referred back to Adult Mental Health Services complaining of anxiety and stress at work.
  • December 2015 (age 37): By this point my wife and I now had two beautiful children. I contacted the mental health team as a result of a worsening of anxiety symptoms. Shortly after, in March 2016, I was made redundant from my job. I found a new one quickly but left it after only a couple of weeks as I was unable to cope due to my worsening anxiety levels. This marked the start of a serious downward spiral which would result in many extremely challenging times over the next two and a bit years. This included being out of work for a full year. I felt in such despair and I remember bursting into tears in my kitchen one afternoon and in a conversation with my Dad telling him how I wished there was an option of euthanasia for those suffering from serious mental illness – I saw it as an end to all the suffering but with the consent and even blessing of family members. I think I saw it as a more palatable option to suicide. I guess that shows how unwell my mind was at the time. In the early days of not working I wasn’t able to do a great deal, but as I slowly started to feel better my wife returned to full time work in retail (obviously we needed an income, albeit significantly lower than the one we had when I was working) and I took on the role as chief childcarer. I quickly learnt that this role was every bit as challenging and tiring as being in the workplace.
  • March 2017 (age 39) – Another fresh start: With the passage of time thankfully I felt able to return to work. Given my positive experiences previously and my desire to experience anonymity again, in all my wisdom I decided that the only place I wanted to and felt able to work in was London. I had a good relationship with a recruitment agency there from the last time, so I felt confident I could pick something up. However, with circumstances rather different than they were when I made this move ten years earlier, this would also entail relocating as a family with my wife and our two young children, ages six and three. No doubt many saw this as madness given all we had just been through. But my wife and I were certain we wanted to give it a go as a way of getting our family life back on a positive trajectory.
  • December 2017 (age 39): Just a few months earlier all seemed to be going well, the new job in London and the family relocation successfully behind us. Three months after moving, I accepted a promoted post, albeit with trepidation. How I wish I had listened to my gut and what it was screaming out to me before I took on this more demanding job! Quite early on I knew I was out of my depth, but persevered with the support of my boss who I was completely open with. In December things really started to unravel and shortly thereafter I resigned in favour of a less challenging role elsewhere.
  • April 2018 (age 40): By April I was very unwell and had to leave my relatively new job. I was again experiencing an intolerable combination of anxiety and severe depression. Whilst they were not active, I was definitely having thoughts again that suicide may be the only means of finally ending this recurring suffering. I clearly remember walking through a park one day, tears in my eyes and feeling completely lost and hopeless. For a moment, I understood one hundred per cent why many people reach a point where they tragically decide that for them there is no alternative. Blessed with a loving and supportive wife and two wonderful sons, I was able to cling on to the thought of them to keep me hanging on.
  • Prior to things reaching this point, I tried really hard to seek intervention from my new local mental health team. I thought the comprehensive letter from the team in my old city (as mentioned above) would ensure that I would be seen promptly when necessary given my history. Not so. I was treated as someone who had contacted the service for the first time and with no previous history, joining the back of the queue. Eventually after pleading for help, I was assessed by a Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN) working in the Urgent Care Team. I obviously wasn’t considered a priority, with them referring me to a team called the Specialist Therapies Team. The waiting list was undefined, but I heard from a reliable source that it could be up to two years, yes two years. I phoned frequently in the hope that they might see me but to no avail.
  • Things continued to get worse as the weeks passed. I was suffering from intolerable insomnia, often lying wide awake with my mind racing for the entire night. I was taking prescribed sleeping tablets, but most of the time they were of no help whatsoever. My anxiety and frustration at not sleeping became so unbearable that alarmingly, I regularly began to leave the house in the middle of the night and go either walking or cycling in the pitch dark, doped on sleeping pills. I simply had to get out of the house, with no regard for my personal safety. I even ended up in the local McDonalds one night wearing a jumper and my pyjama trousers. At the time it didn’t even register.
  • Things really came to a head one night when my wife woke up at 3 a.m. to find me in a very severe state of anxiety. She was so concerned about me that she got the kids in the car and drove me to the local emergency department. For my kids this must have been a very scary experience, being plucked from their slumber and witnessing their Dad like this. I hope never to make them experience this again. What followed that night really shocked us. After a short wait the triage nurse spoke to us, and given my mental state we couldn’t believe what we were hearing when she advised that the mental health team on duty would not see me. We were told that they only see people who they believe are actively planning to commit suicide imminently. We were sent packing and told to contact my GP in the morning.
  • I did go to the GP the next morning, a new one to me who I had seen once previously. She clearly had empathy, which my previous one didn’t have one iota of. The GP said that I was clearly at ‘Crisis Point’ and she sat in front of me dictating, in her own words, a begging letter to a local psychiatrist she had seen at a recent seminar. Coincidentally, he worked in the Urgent Care Team who a short while earlier had considered my case not serious enough to require prompt attention. Eventually I did get an appointment to see him, but by this point we had sought help elsewhere as I needed help urgently. With the help of family and a family friend, we looked into private care and eventually got the name of a private psychiatrist who came very highly recommended. Being introduced to this psychiatrist was to prove life changing, as will be explained in Chapter Two.
  • Here is a list of all of the medications I have been on at some point in my life in relation to mental illness – thirteen in total (excluding the two sleep specific ones): Clomipramine, Fluoxetine, Paroxetine, Citalopram, Olanzapine, Venlafaxine, Mirtazapine, Risperidone, Diazepam and my current daily mix of Lithium Carbonate, Lamotrigine, Quetiapine and occasionally Clonazepam (on an ad-hoc basic if required). Also zopiclone and zolpidem for chronic insomnia.
  • Alternatives therapies: In addition to all the medication over the years I have had considerable input in the form of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (both privately and through the National Health Service) and occupational therapy. Privately I have also tried many other things in desperation that they may help alleviate my suffering, including hypnotherapy and Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) .
  • My other debilitating conditions: As if all of the above wasn’t enough of a challenge, I have also spent many years dealing with two physical illnesses, both very debilitating at times in their own right. The first is ulcerative colitis (a form of inflammatory bowel disease) which I was first diagnosed with eighteen years ago, the second chronic migraine which I was diagnosed with eleven years ago and currently receive botox treatment for.

If you made it this far, well done and thank you for reading. It means a huge amount to me.

I wanted to end on a very big positive note. Despite all of the pain and suffering detailed above, I’ve got through it. And to think that despite all the years of suffering, my wife and I were able to bring two beautiful sons into the world, and enjoy many joyous times together as a family over the past few years, is an absolute blessing and in many ways quite a miracle.

About the Author

Chris Good is primarily a husband and dad to two young boys. He also has considerable experience of a long term battle with mental illness, but is a novice when it comes to blogging. Rather than feeling resentful about the hand he was dealt and following the enlightening experience of a correct diagnosis at age forty, Chris is now intent on sharing his story to provide hope and inspiration to others suffering from prolonged mental health challenges that a fulfilling and rewarding life is still achievable. Chris believes that his experiences and years of struggle make him uniquely placed to help and empathise with those suffering from similar mental health conditions.

Chris’ first contact with a psychiatrist was at age sixteen and the diagnosis for the next twenty-odd years was a combination of treatment resistant depression and anxiety. In early 2018 Chris saw a highly experienced psychiatrist who completely reviewed his case and confirmed that he had been misdiagnosed and mistreated for many years. He has now been diagnosed with ultra-rapid cycling bipolar disorder. On receiving this diagnosis Chris conducted extensive research on the condition and so many things about his life and his struggles over the years finally made sense.

Chris qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 2002 whilst working with one of the “Big Four” accountancy firms. Other than his family, Chris’ main passion is cycling. He used to cycle competitively but now cycles for pleasure and fitness. Due to his long term struggles, Chris has found it extremely difficult to hold down a pressured career and to cycle consistently over the years. Chris has also suffered for many years with ulcerative colitis and chronic migraine which also make work and cycling difficult at times.

Whilst a correct diagnosis and being put on correct medication came as a huge relief to Chris and his family (and in many ways felt like reason to celebrate!) he realises that that the condition will require careful management, self-care and treatment for years to come.

Chris’ motivation to be the best person he can be is clearly his family. He feels that during their young lives to date, despite many special and enjoyable times together, his children have witnessed a dad who was just not fully alive. Now that he has been correctly diagnosed and is on the right medication, Chris is determined to change that.

You can find more about Chris and his work on his website, on Twitter (@chrisgood78), and on Instagram.