Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Our Mexican Adventure, Part Five: It’s What We Do

I give myself permission to fully experience whatever comes up during this trip, knowing I am safe.—Martin Baker

Fran has been in Mexico for a month, for dental treatment. I kept a journal throughout the trip, and compiled my day-by-day notes into a series of weekly blog posts.

This fifth post covers Fran’s final week in the town of Ajijic in the State of Jalisco, on the north shore of Lake Chapala.

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five

Our Mexican Adventure, Part Five: It’s What We Do

Wednesday, February 14, 2018, 7:30 a.m. UK time

Yesterday (Tuesday) was Shrove Tuesday here in the UK, and Mardi Gras Carnival in Mexico. Fran went out in Ajijic and found a great spot to watch the parade and festivities. She talked with local folk, including the children of one family who were sitting close by.

It wasn’t a situation Fran feels comfortable in (“I hate parades. I hate crowds. But this is as close as I’ll get to Mardi Gras.”) but she wanted the experience. And it certainly was an experience! People, colour, noise—and lots of flour!

“Me and my stuff are covered. Dammit. How can anyone think this is fun? It’s in my phone, hair, purse, shoes, jacket, etc. But I made some nice connections. I’m finally using my iTranslate app to talk to people!”

We caught up properly back at her apartment, after she’d had a (hot!) shower and washed out all the flour. We were on for a couple of hours and were able to properly catch up on what’s been going on for each of us. We sat on the veranda, shared a beer, and took in the evening. I also got to meet Felix and Don who own the place. I really loved Felix’s NYC shirt! Seeing and hearing how Fran interacts with the people around her, especially those she connects well with, helps me “place” her better in her environment and get a better handle on how she is doing. It’s also a lot of fun for me!

Thursday, February 15, 2018, 7:30 a.m. UK time

We didn’t get to have any Skype calls yesterday (Wednesday). I was really busy at work and Fran had a full day too. After her massage session, she went with a friend to the hot springs.

“Just finished hot tubs:

I can’t wait to hear about it all!

Friday, February 16, 2018, 7:30 a.m. UK time

Fran went for what was supposed to be her final dental appointment yesterday (Thursday) but it turns out they couldn’t do the crowns, so she will go back on Saturday. Other than that, it went well.

We had two or three short calls in the evening. There were a few technical difficulties, but we stayed calm and tried again later. I was able to catch Fran up on some of what has been going on for me here. She isn’t allowed solid food now until her crowns are done. She invited me to join her. So today (Friday), I’ll not have any solid food until dinner this evening.

Other than that, I followed up on the new blogging opportunity I mentioned the other day. It sounds really exciting if it comes off. I also asked Laura Marchildon who runs the Our Bipolar Family website if she would like to review our book. (Thanks, Laura!) It feels good, in the midst of other stuff that is going on for me right now, to be progressing things in our mental health work. I took some me-time too, including time away from the PC. I also did a Loving Kindness meditation for the first time in ages. It helped, on a number of levels.

Saturday, February 17, 2018, 10:30 a.m. UK time

I’m sitting at a corner table in Porter’s café in Tynemouth, beneath a big poster of the US flag. I’m maintaining my partial fast in support of Fran, which is a real pity because they have some amazing cakes and tray-bakes here, not to mention porridge! On the other hand, my weight dropped 2 lbs yesterday after my first day of partial fasting, so that’s something!

Fran struggled quite a bit yesterday with not being able to eat. She made up for it with plenty of liquids, including a margarita in the afternoon and a large glass of red wine when we met on Skype in the evening. It’s fair to say she was a bit tiddly! She’d had a grand day out, though, visiting the island fort of Mezcala on Lake Chapala. She posted a great photo on Facebook from the fort. She was really sleepy from her day out and drinking on an otherwise empty stomach. After talking for a little while she went for a lie down and fell asleep to me reading from Outlander.

We may or may not get to have a call tonight (Saturday night) but if not, last evening’s call was a great way to round out our shared trip to Mexico. We’ve stayed in touch well, and if there have been times when I’ve got irritable and grumpy (which there have!) or Fran has (ditto!) then we have moved through them easily.

Last night Fran said she hoped I wasn’t cross she’d been less present for me, with being away. It’s true that I’ve had stuff going on, and had Fran been at home I probably would have explored it with her more than I’ve been able to. But she has been there for me—more than on previous trips in fact—and has been very supportive. And I’ve been blessed to find caring support in other places. (You know who you are. Thank you.)

I’ve used my Wellness Plan (today’s trip to Tynemouth and the coast is a part of my self-care strategy) and moved through things as they have come up. I am proud of how Fran and I have each handled things.

Sunday, February 18, 2018, 10:25 a.m. UK time

I really enjoyed my day at the coast yesterday (Saturday). It gave me space to think—and not think. A pause in the pace and intensity of this past week or so. Fran’s dental work—her four crowns—went well. (“Done. I’ve been crowned!”) Afterwards, she met up with a friend for a meal—filet mignon and mashed potatoes—at Los Telares.

I wasn’t at all sure we would get to talk, but she called me as she walked back to the apartment from the restaurant. Voice only, but it was good to hear in person how she was feeling after the dental work, and at the end of her time in Ajijic. I also got the—now familiar to me—sounds of the town. Kids playing in the street. Snatches of Spanish from people as we passed by. And the dreadfully busy street Fran has christened “Butchers’ Boulevard.” I was genuinely relieved to make it safely across! I walked Fran back to the apartment, then said goodnight. It was close to one in the morning here in the UK, 7 p.m. in Mexico.

Today Fran will finish packing. She has a ride booked from Ajijic to the airport at Guadalajara. Then three flights and a bus ride home. Houston. Chicago. Boston. Portland. I will keep an eye on things for any delays or other changes. Hopefully it will be more straightforward than it was on the way out. As I posted on Fran’s Facebook wall: “Safe and sure on your journey home!”

Monday, February 19, 2018, 7:35 a.m. UK time

Well, as the changes to the flights/times in my journal show, things didn’t exactly go according to plan yesterday (Sunday)!

The flight from Guadalajara to Houston went fine, but there were delays with the flight to Chicago which threatened her final connection. So… Plan B! Fran rearranged her tickets so she would overnight at the airport and catch an early direct flight to Boston. I updated the flights in my calendar, and the details I’d stored in my United Airways and Flight Hero apps so I could keep an eye on any delays. We checked to see if her bus ticket from Boston to Portland would still be valid (it would). It looked workable, apart from the fourteen or so hours Fran would have to spend at the airport. (“You can’t drink beer all night!” “I won’t!”)

Then Fran saw there was a better way. Plan C! More rearrangements and updates, but there was a flight from Houston to Newark within the hour, arriving just after midnight local time. That’s where she is now. Her final flight, to Boston, is scheduled for 6 a.m. her time (my 11 a.m., we are back to five hours apart again—yay!) So, still quite a wait for her, but the end is in sight.

Traveling long distances like this is mentally and physically brutal, but once she is home later today there’s not a lot she needs to do for at least a couple of days. R&R is definitely in order!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018, 7:30 a.m. UK time

I wrote yesterday (Monday) morning that travel can be brutal for Fran, physically and mentally, and this journey home from Mexico has certainly been that. She caught her final flight from Newark to Boston fine, but it was a scramble to make her bus connection.

”Welcome to Boston, Fran!”

”On plane. Stopped on runway. Hope we move fast. I really really want to get that bus but we’re not moving. God damn. I am so sick of everything going wrong for me. I won’t make it.”

”It was always going to be close, but I did think we would make the bus.”

”Those two hours until the next bus are gonna kill me.”

”It might be delayed departing. When you do get off, you need exit door B115. The bus stop is right outside.”

We did make the bus, just, but Fran had no time to look for her luggage. It turned out her suitcase was in Chicago anyway. Fran arranged for it to be sent on. I think it was delivered to her late evening. The two hour journey passed without incident (“Yay Maine. The bus was comfortable.”) and a friend met Fran and drove her back to her apartment, stopping off for groceries on the way. Fran was finally home.

I was expecting exhaustion but Fran also had bad neck pain, a headache and nausea which progressed to vomiting. I encouraged her to stay hydrated but she could keep nothing down.

”I’m wasted. My head is pounding. My neck is killing me. When will it stop.”

”Did you get any sleep at all, overnight or today?”

”Spotty. I won’t Skype at 2. Maybe 6 for a little bit.”

”That’s fine, Fran. You in bed?”

”On couch.”

”Bed might be better for your back/neck.”

Twenty minutes later: “I’m in bed.” We Skyped at 6 p.m. (my 11 p.m.) but not for long. I left her to rest, but we chatted on and off for a couple of hours.

”I feel so sick I’m crying. Headache. Neck ache. Shivering. Nauseous.”

”I didn’t realise it was this bad. Just so I’m sure, you did take your regular meds yesterday/today with all the traveling?”


”Thanks. You’re doing the right things. Do we need to think about seeing if someone can come sit with you?”

”Hold my hair.”

”Holding it back”

”I’m so glad I am home dealing with this rather than traveling.”

”Omg yes. This would have been a nightmare overnight at the airport.”

It was getting late.

”I’m going to bed. How are you feeling now? Still being sick?”

”A little better. I hope to sleep now.”

There were no further messages overnight so, fingers crossed, Fran is sleeping. She doesn’t need to be up early, or leave the apartment today. Extreme self-care. Back to basics. Pick up gently with things over the next few days. We will keep a watchful eye on her state of being as she emerges from this crash fatigue.

There will be time enough to look back over the past four weeks in Mexico. Unpack. Sort through photos. Engage, gradually, with friends both at home and online.

And, no doubt, there will be other trips to think about, though we don’t have any planned for this year. Travel is in Fran’s bones, and I will support her as best I can. I will be here for her, as she is here for me.

It’s what we do.

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five


Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Our Mexican Adventure, Part Four: Far in Miles, Close in Heart and Care

I give myself permission to fully experience whatever comes up during this trip, knowing I am safe.—Martin Baker

Fran is in Mexico right now for dental treatment. I am keeping a journal throughout the trip, and compiling my day-by-day notes into a series of weekly blog posts.

This post covers Fran’s third week in the town of Ajijic in the State of Jalisco, on the north shore of Lake Chapala.

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five

Our Mexican Adventure, Part Four: Far in Miles, Close in Heart and Care

Wednesday, February 7, 2018, 7:30 a.m. UK time

Fran still has a bandaid across her nose from the fall she took the other day, but her other injuries seem much healed. Mood-wise, she also appears less drained/down, which bodes well for today, when she has her first dental appointment. Fingers crossed that goes smoothly.

We had two calls yesterday (Tuesday). The first was sitting on a bench down by the lake; the second as she packed for her move to the new apartment where she will stay for the remainder of the trip. A friend helped her move. There was a message for me when I woke this morning to let me know she got there fine.

Thursday, February 8, 2018, 7:30 a.m. UK time

The first day of Fran’s dental work went well yesterday (Wednesday), with fillings to one side of her mouth. The other side will be done on Monday. The periodontal (gum) work will be today (Thursday).

I was surprised Fran was able to talk and eat more or less normally afterwards. We met for a while when she was chilling out in a café after the procedure, and later had a lovely two hour call, back at her new apartment.

Fran took me on a tour of the place but mostly we sat and talked. It was the best call we’ve here and the conversation ranged widely. I held space for Fran to share her stuff, and I got to share mine. I felt listened to, valued, and safe.

Friday, February 9, 2018, 7:35 a.m. UK time

Fran had a very full day yesterday (Thursday) with her periodontal (gum) surgery appointment at eleven her time. We chatted a little beforehand when she went for coffee, and afterwards as she went off to find the pharmacy to get her meds. That was a twenty-five minute walk along the very busy main road. I helped her find an alternative route that wouldn’t be quite so busy.

The surgery itself went well, and she didn’t seem in too much pain or discomfort when we met again later back at the apartment. She wasn’t up for doing too much of the talking, and I got to share some of the details from my day. That included the Mental Health First Aid course at work next month which my lovely boss Judith is keen I should attend. I’d love to, if there are places available.

While we were on our call, there was big thunderstorm, which Fran LOVED! I couldn’t see the flashes of lightning but I could tell them from Fran’s reaction, and soon learned to pause whatever we were talking about. I felt a strong flash of frustration when Fran told me she needed to stop our conversation so she could experience the present (Mexico) moment to the full, but we handled it well.

She was clear about her needs, and my frustration at being “set aside” in favour of a thunderstorm passed as easily as the storm itself eventually did. And I got to experience it too—the sounds of thunder and rain, and Fran’s delighted, awestruck response. Moments like this are what friendship is about.

Saturday, February 10, 2018, 10:15 a.m. UK time

Yesterday (Friday) was a quiet day for Fran in Ajijic, and a busy day for me in the office here in Newcastle! We had a good chat early evening when Fran was out at a restaurant. Our conversation is summarised by something she posted up on Facebook.

Since I have been in Mexico I have taken most of my meals on my own. The beauty of this is that I can truly take in the Mexican food, decorations, and music, noticing what would not be noticed if I had company, and connecting with the servers to the point where they know my name. And I get to share my experiences with Marty, who is always with me even though he is across the sea. It’s great to have a bestest friend!

We looked up how far apart we are geographically. It hadn’t occurred to me that it’s so much more than the usual 3,000 miles, It came back as 8,878 km, which is 5,515 miles! Fran posted that on Facebook too. A friend of ours, Judy, commented: “Interesting! Far in miles, close in heart and care.” That meant a lot because not everyone gets it about distance friendships.

Fran was really tired by the time we got together later, but we had an hour or so on Skype. I read from Outlander, and we talked about suicidality.

Sunday, February 11, 2018, 1:15 p.m. UK time

We had another good video call yesterday (Saturday) afternoon, when I was at the Costa coffee shop at Blackwell’s Books in town. We talked about how she’s been feeling during this trip and about life generally. We continued the theme when we met in the evening, sat together on a bench at the lake side. Fran pointed out a heron. They must be common here because she’s mentioned them a few times. There was also one on one of the murals she showed me the other day.

Fran’s mood has definitely dropped. Depression? Perhaps, although it seems more a natural response to her feelings and thoughts about the trip, and whether she will be up to major travel like this in the future. Is that dream up for her? In part, Mexico was to see how she’d handle a trip like this on her own. I feel she’s done remarkably well, but Fran doesn’t see it that way.

There are things she might do and places she might go, if she had more confidence, or someone to do things with. The bus ride experience put her off trying again. Her fall shook her more than I realised at the time. Typically, I focused more on the physical side of things—the cuts and scrapes—and didn’t factor in how much it shook her self-confidence. That oh so busy main street is an issue too, because of the actual danger involved in crossing it, but also because of the impulses it engenders.

Later, Fran showed me a listing of local events that are on this coming week. Our final week in Mexico. I’m not sure if she’ll want to take any of those up. I hope so. But she did go out with a friend for dinner last night (Saturday night). She just messaged me, “Had a nice time and a nice dinner last night. Great conversations. Thought provoking.”

I’m so glad! Awkwardness and uncertainty in relationships disconcert her and leave her wondering if it’s her fault. Congenial company is exactly what she needs: to connect with people and feel valued and welcome. Isn’t that what we all want?

Monday, February 12, 2018, 7:30 a.m. UK time

On our call early evening yesterday (Sunday) I was delighted to hear what a great time Fran had had the previous evening. The good conversation, and the opportunity to just be herself, seems to have made a big difference. She told me “Generally I think I have fragile self worth.” Well, things like this help reset that perception. Later, she was invited to a local Mexican lady’s 21st birthday party. I’ve not heard yet how that went but I’m hoping and expecting she had a good time.

Later today, she will be back at the dentist for her final work, apart from a final check-up appointment on Thursday.

I spent my Sunday evening working on the new piece for the STOP Suicide website (it takes me so long to write anything!) and this week’s Mexico blog, which I will start putting together tonight.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018, 7:30 a.m. UK time

I didn’t get to see Fran yesterday (Monday) but we did chat on and off through the day. Amongst other things, we touched on her other friendships and mine: those that work and those that don’t so well.

“Why do I keep getting hung up on the people and relationships where it’s hard, or where things break down? It’s okay, Fran, I’m just journaling my thoughts here.”

“I always do this too.”

“Yeah, I was thinking that. The parallels between us and our hang-ups.”

“I’m always trying to win people over. It’s part of my self esteem project.”

“I never feel I live up to other people’s expectations of me. I think I try too hard. Or maybe people expect too much. The relationships that work for me are where I feel at ease to say my stuff, and the other person does too. Where I am not afraid to speak up.”

Fran’s dental work went well, although she needs one further procedure (“I need a crown! My first!”) which will be done on Thursday. She also had a hearing test and has arranged a massage session for tomorrow, so she’s clearly decided to make the most of her final week in Mexico.

In the evening I focused on my writing. I got the Mexico blog ready to go up, apart from this entry I am writing now which I will type up tonight. I also completed—bar final edits and proof-reading—my piece for the STOP Suicide website.

Usually, I am keen for Fran to get back from her trips, but I’d be happy to stay here a bit longer.

“I’m going to miss Ajijic, Fran.”
“Me too.”

There are still five days left: plenty of time for lots to happen. That’s the thing, traveling with Fran, you never quite know what is around the corner. It’s never boring!

Continues here.

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five


Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Our Mexican Adventure, Part Three: “Did We Just Buy a Condo?”

I give myself permission to fully experience whatever comes up during this trip, knowing I am safe.—Martin Baker

Fran is in Mexico right now for dental treatment. I am keeping a journal throughout the trip, and compiling my day-by-day notes into a series of weekly blog posts.

This post covers Fran’s second week in the town of Ajijic in the State of Jalisco, on the north shore of Lake Chapala.

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five

Our Mexican Adventure, Part Three: “Did We Just Buy a Condo?”

Wednesday, January 31, 7:30 a.m. UK time

Fran and I had a brilliant Skype video call yesterday (Tuesday) at a café called Black and White in the Plaza. Fran propped her phone up on the table so I could see what was going on while we talked. It wasn’t too busy and no one took the slightest notice. We were careful not to have the volume up too high.

After a while, Fran saw someone she knew and called her over: a lovely lady called Paula from “the other Portland” (the one in Oregon!) The three of us nattered away as though we’d all known each other for years. Paula seemed amused and delighted that I felt so fully present with them there.

Fran asked Paula about the “Super Blue Blood Moon” happening today (Wednesday), but the 6 a.m. meet up at the lakeside was just too early for Fran to contemplate! They plan to meet up on Thursday, though, to visit the hot springs which are a short bus ride away.

Thursday, February 1, 7:25 a.m. UK time

Fran visited the Black and White café again yesterday (Wednesday). She is great at connecting with new people she meets on vacation (“I do better with strangers than friends.”) Later, she messaged me: “Hanging out with friends,” and had a “deep deep talk” with one lady. We managed a short video call as I walked to the Metro station for the train after work. It was fun to show Fran the route I walk every day.

My evening was busy and satisfying. I watched a TV programme about the influence of the moon on life on earth (likely scheduled because of the Super Moon thing) and chatted online with a couple of friends. Later, I found some great music tracks on YouTube and made a decent start on a new piece of writing; about our book, suicide and suicidal thinking. It was about one in the morning when I went to bed.

The final message of the day from Fran: “Pizza! I’ve tried to come here for days! Finally it’s open!”

Friday, February 2, 7:25 a.m. UK time

Fran went to the hot springs at Hotel Balneario yesterday (Thursday). It didn’t exactly go to plan.

She headed out to catch the bus, but despite asking several people if she was in the right place none of the buses stopped for her. She got more and more frustrated and cross with herself for not having walked to meet her friends and travel with them. (“I did plan it with them but nothing worked except them getting there and me not.”)

I suggested she tried Uber but she didn’t want to do that. In the end she messaged one of her friends who told her she needed to walk about a mile along the road if she wanted to catch the bus. She headed off. A little later:

“On stupid bus.”
“Put stupid Glympse on so I can see where you are. Do we know where we are going?”

Fran showed me the leaflet. I located the place on Google maps and sent her screenshots to show where she needed to be, whilst simultaneously tracking her on Glympse. A nice lady on the bus helped by telling Fran where to get off. Finally she was there, and met up with her friends. She had a good time, and got a ride home, just missing a torrential downpour.

We had a thirty minute call when she got back. She was cold, hungry, and grumpy.

“Shivering under the covers. I hope I don’t get sick.”
“Any headaches today?”
“No. Just shivering.”

She seemed pretty low: understandable after the day she’d had. It took a while for her to fully engage with me, but after a bit we settled into our usual way of being with each other, and talked more readily. She is enjoying making new friends. She has invitations to dinner today (Friday) and tomorrow (Saturday). After we finished our call and she’d rested a while she headed out again, this time to a friend’s birthday celebration—“with cake!”

Thursday was #TimeToTalkDay here in the UK and I wore my Time to Change tshirt into work. I was back on Facebook after my little break, and had a good conversation on one of my posts about the value (or otherwise) of awareness events like this.

At work, I had three mental health related conversations. That’s not at all unusual, actually: testament partly to the “looking out for each other” ethos my boss Judith engenders in her team.

Friday, 10:30 p.m. UK time

Fran’s been busy today (Friday), including a tour round some local properties with a realtor (estate agent) which she arranged the other day. I messaged her when she got back.

“Did we just buy a condo?”
“Nope, but she was nice.”

Right now, she’s at Isabella’s restaurant meeting friends for dinner. I doubt we will have any calls until tomorrow. I could have done with a natter, but it’s okay. My day has been full—and heavy. I have been wrestling with one long-term friendship for a while and it kind of came to a head today. One in which I have struggled to accept the reality that I am not meeting my friend’s support needs, and our relationship is not meeting my needs either. Not a failure, but a reminder that caring for someone isn’t always enough, and that we need to keep an eye on our own well-being as well as the other person’s.

On a more positive note, I received a lovely message from a lady thanking me and Fran for writing our book, which she was ordering to help her friend better support her. And then, tonight, a major new opportunity in the mental health arena presented itself (thanks, Julie!)

Saturday, February 3, 6 p.m. UK time

I have been out most of today (Saturday) with my family for my son’s Michael’s birthday meal. Mike is a fantasy novelist, blogger, and cartographer. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook, and on his blog.

Fran has also been out, first for brunch and now visiting some gardens. She posted up a gorgeous sunset photo last night from down by the lake. Unfortunately, things didn’t go so well as she made her way home.

“Please don’t worry. I fell on my face walking home last night. I sent a piccie. I should have stuck with my beers. I had margaritas and egg nog. I don’t remember falling on my face but I do remember someone watching over me. The good thing is, I broke no teeth or leg or eye.”

The photo showed some dried blood, minor cuts and scrapes on her nose and upper lip. I’m hoping it won’t look too bad once she has cleaned herself up. But it will be sore and I know she will be concerned that she let it happen. The roads are pretty uneven and cobbled. That might be how it happened, although if she had been drinking too much that likely contributed too.

“Steve said it was the margaritas, and now I have my margarita story.”
“Yeah—I was wondering if I’d have anything interesting for this week’s blog…”

I just have to trust that she’s okay.

“My friends are concerned about me.”
“I am too, Fran.”
“I know.”

We may not get to have a call or even chat much more today, as she is invited to dinner later with some other friends. There are times when the miles between us matter very little. And there are times like this.

Sunday, February 4, 1:10 p.m. UK time

Fran rested in the afternoon yesterday (Saturday) after her trip out for brunch/gardens. We got to catch up on chat later, before she went out for dinner with her friend Helen.

She is planning a resting day today (Sunday), and wants to work on her photos and finances. She plans to watch tonight’s Super Bowl if possible. I found an iPhone app (Televista Deportes) which might work, if she decides not to go out anywhere to see it. We’ll see. I’m hoping we will connect for a call at some point.

She sent another selfie: she has a cut to her upper lip and a bandaid across the bridge of her nose, but she managed a smile and I don’t think there will be too much bruising, nor a black eye.

“I’ve had more things happen here in the last 2 weeks than I’ve had in the past year.”
“How do you feel about that?”
“Probably shouldn’t move here.”

Monday, February 5, 7:30 p.m. UK time

I enjoyed yesterday (Sunday). I cooked lunch for my wife and son, went out for coffee and a few groceries, and spent the afternoon watching Columbo. I also chatted online a bit with a couple of friends. It’s good to have people you feel comfortable and safe with, to share whatever might be going on for you without being judged.

I feel fully “caught up” again with Fran. We had a couple of voice calls through the day. We did a bit of “work”—we selected ten of her photos from the past week, emailed them out to her “postcard from Mexico” mailing list, and also posted them on Facebook.

Best of all, we watched the Super Bowl! Fran hadn’t wanted to go out anywhere and there wasn’t a TV available to watch it on in the apartment.

After exploring a few options we found the best way was for me to have the game playing on my PC on the BBC Sport website. I then shared my screen with Fran via Skype. It meant we could be together on webcam and watch/hear the game at the same time.

The picture was a bit “watercolour-y” at Fran’s end. I pointed out it was probably easier to watch than in previous years, when Fran shared the Super Bowl experience with me by pointing her webcam across her apartment at her tiny TV!

Tuesday, February 6, 7:30 p.m. UK time

I focused my energies yesterday (Monday) on my writing and blogging, and replied to a very exciting email regarding a new opportunity in the mental health arena.

Fran was really tired when we met on Skype last night (early evening for her). She is allowed to be tired of course, but it felt more than that. When I notice something that could potentially be more than it seems, I bring it into the open. Sometimes Fran will want to explore it, sometimes not. Last night, not.

“I know you’re really tired, Fran, but you also seem—flat, maybe?”
“I am flat.”

Instead, we talked about what's coming up in the next few days and I read more from Outlander, the novel we are reading together. After our call, Fran had an invitation to watch a movie with friends, but decided to stay in and rest until bed time.

We’re just over half-way through this trip. Later today (Tuesday) Fran will move from this apartment to another one nearby, where she will stay for the remainder of the trip.Tomorrow she has her first appointment at Dental Express, which is what started all this in the first place.

It’s been quite an experience so far. Full. Exciting. Moving. Challenging. Painful—especially for Fran’s nose. I can’t wait to find out what happens next!

Continues here.

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five


Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Our Mexican Adventure, Part Two: “Well, the Good Thing Is…”

I give myself permission to fully experience whatever comes up during this trip, knowing I am safe.—Martin Baker

As I described in part one of this series, Fran is in Mexico right now. I am keeping a journal throughout the trip, and compiling my day-by-day notes into a series of weekly blog posts.

This post covers Fran’s first week in the town of Ajijic in the State of Jalisco, on the north shore of Lake Chapala.

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five

Our Mexican Adventure, Part Two: “Well, the Good Thing Is…”

Wednesday, January 24, 7:35 a.m. UK time

I had a nice call with Fran yesterday (Tuesday). She’d slept better (the first night she’d woken freezing cold and had to put on extra layers) and sounded calm. She was glad she’d decided to stay in and rest the night before. The call set us both up for the day.

Fran went out for brunch in Guadalajara yesterday, checked out from Hotel Frances at noon and then caught her ride to Ajijic (“Hola, Enrique!”) She picked up the keys to the apartment, and started to get settled in.

Unfortunately, when she unpacked she discovered one of her tops has gone missing from her suitcase. She was understandably upset and it did nothing to help her feel at ease.

I’m nervous about this whole trip. My Bali top going missing really pissed me off, along with all the other things. I brought my best ones goddammit. I should have brought the old ones. I cannot get these any more. They don’t make them.

“… all the other things” include some issues with her phone charger. I’m not sure what is up with that, but she will be able to charge her phone and her back-up battery pack via the PC at the apartment if necessary. She enjoyed dinner at her friend’s place, though. She let me know when she got home.

Back.. horizontal.. whew.. Evening was fun.. Ted walked me home..

Her choice of words didn’t escape my notice.

That’s nice, Fran. It is home, for the next few weeks.

Wednesday, January 24, 1:30 p.m. UK time

“I’ve had enough now.”
“Shall I send the helicopter?”
“Yes, please.”

That’s how our phone call began just now. Despite how it sounds, Fran’s hanging in there. It’s just all very new and also very exhausting for her. She plans to meet up with friends again today at some point, possibly for a jaunt to Chapala market, and then dinner this evening. The issue with the phone charger doesn’t seem too bad after all. It might just be a dodgy connection. Fran took two plugs and several USB cables, so she should be okay.

Thursday, January 25, 7:30 a.m. UK time

Fran went out exploring yesterday (Wednesday) afternoon. She got a bit lost when she went looking for a particular coffee bar / café, but a nice lady helped her out and she got there in the end. It threw her a bit though. Later on, back at her apartment, we had a great video call—our first of this trip. She gave me a tour of the apartment and I also got to see the mountains! Seeing it all live helps me get a feel for where (and how) she is.

And how is she? I’m not going to say she’s struggling but she isn’t settled in yet and things like getting a bit lost, and not knowing the language, and her Bali top going missing, and having a bit of a sore tummy, all add up to her not enjoying it as much as she’d like to. She is also uncertain about how it will be once her friends return from their vacation tomorrow (Friday), so she no longer has the apartment all to herself. On the other hand, that could help her. She is feeling a bit—not lonely, but on her own having to do things, make plans and decisions herself.

She has travelled on her own before but not for quite a while, and the times I’m thinking of (trips to Europe before I met her) were distinctly mania-fuelled. Thankfully, that is not the case this time. She said last night she’s realised she prefers traveling with a companion. (Yes, I am with her, but it’s not the same.)

As for me—I’m doing okay! Last evening I read some more of the book Talk Like TED, and chatted online with a few folk. I had a beer, watched some TV, and had an early night. I am keeping busy, but also allowing space and time for myself. My Wellness Plan helps. I have referred to is a few times and it helps keep me on track.

At work today (Thursday) I learned about a Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) course they are putting on in March. I put my name down for it (at my boss’ insistence—she is incredibly supportive of all my mental health work). It’s four years since I took the course and I’d love to refresh my skills. I am encouraging colleagues to consider it too.

Friday, January 26, 7:35 a.m. UK time

Fran and I Skyped twice yesterday (Thursday) evening. On the first call, I helped compile and send the first of her “postcard” emails to friends. I downloaded the photos we’d selected from her iCloud, and resized them in Photoshop. We emailed them out, and also posted them to Facebook. Fran only has her phone to work on and it is easier for me to do the fiddly bits on my PC.

Time to fess up! I got rather frustrated and grumpy when the technology wouldn’t work the way we wanted it to. Fran stayed calm, though, rather than getting cross at me for getting cross. That helped me move through what I was feeling without it blowing up into more than it was. Fran is tired, for sure, and feeling a bit “off,” but she wrote something today which shows how well she is handling things.

It hasn’t all been easy but my new mantra is “Well, the good thing is…” That way I can turn it around and be ok with whatever is. Ajijic is a simple sweet town with lots of color and complexity. I’m glad to be experiencing all that it is.

When we met later we checked through Fran’s spending, and then put “work” aside and just hung out for a while. This included me reading some more of Outlander. I imagine it is the first time this story of 18th Century Scotland, written by an American, has been read in the UK by a Brit to an American in Mexico!

Saturday, January 27, 11:00 a.m. UK time

Fran and I had a nice voice call last night (Friday) at around 11 p.m. (her 5 p.m.). She’d been out and about throughout the day, including visiting one lovely looking café (Casa del Cafe) after another place she’d gone to had been closed. I was looking through some of her photos and bounced one back to her that I especially liked.

“Oh, this is gorgeous, Fran.”
“That’s where I am right now!”

Later, she met up with her two hosts, who had returned from vacation. After spending some time with them, Fran retired to her room, which is where we had our call. We talked about what we’d been up to, and our plans for the next few days. In Fran’s case that included a boat trip today (Saturday) to Scorpion Island, and a visit to some hot springs on Monday with a lady she’s met here. We need to research the hot springs a bit before then!

I feel we are doing really well: individually, and as a team. I spent my time last evening working on the website, and I started reading the 30-Day Book Marketing Challenge, by Rachel Thompson, which arrived yesterday. I was immediately inspired to update the cover image and bio on my Twitter account—so I figure it’s already working!

When I came into town today (Saturday) I planned to go to the Starbucks across the road from Central Station, only it was full. I went back into the station to check the other coffee bars but they were also pretty busy. So, I stomped off to walk to the library. I could feel myself getting stressed and angry because things weren’t going the way I’d wanted them to. But I remembered my Wellness Plan, and Fran’s “dropping the hot coal” strategy. It worked! I could feel the stress leave me as I walked. I thought also of how Fran had handled having to change her plans for a burger the day before, when the first place she chose was shut. She is generally better than me at this stuff, but I’m rather proud, how I handled things this morning!

Saturday, January 27, 2:45 p.m. UK time

I’m at Costa Coffee in Blackwell’s Bookshop, and just had a fun video call with Fran! It was 8:45 a.m. for Fran, and the house cleaner was due at 9 a.m. so we didn’t have very long but it was good to catch up. She went out to a local festival last night with one of her friends, then for something to eat which included some kind of “Aztec soup” and a “medium” beer that turned out to be huge!

Sunday, January 28, 1:10 p.m. UK time

There’s not much to write today as we didn’t get to have any more calls yesterday (Saturday) with Fran out all day on her trip to the island. I’ve seen her photos—lots of them!—and I’d say she had a good time. We did chat a bit, though. Fran messaged me this yesterday evening.

“I don’t have anything planned for Sunday except TSA [completing her compensation claim for the loss of her Bali top] and photo processing. You will be blown away. It will be hard to choose.”
“That’s cool. I can help with that if you want.”
“Yep. Are you keeping track of my activities day by day?”
“Yes. That’s what’s in my journal, and will be in the weekly blogs.”
“I’m settling into this new place and people.”

That final comment is so important, and so healthy. One week ago, Fran was on her outward journey from Portland to Guadalajara. It’s been quite a week for us both! But she’s doing fine. I am too. Last night (Saturday) I typed up my Mexico journal notes and started working them into what will be this week’s blog post. I watched some TV, chatted with friends online, and watched a documentary on YouTube.

Monday, January 29, 12:00 p.m. UK time

Fran and I met twice yesterday (Sunday). On our first call I shared what had been happening in my world. We then looked over her to do list for the day, which included getting her latest photos sent out to her “postcard” mailing list and posted to Facebook. Between us we selected ten photos: quite a challenge as there were loads of great ones! I downloaded them to my PC and resized them in Photoshop. We also composed a reply to an email from TSA (Transportation Security Administration) regarding Fran’s compensation claim for the top that went missing from her luggage.

When we met up again later, Fran was in a local blues bar! “Shall we do the TSA and photo things now? I plan to show you Ajijic after.” It took a little while but the emails and posting to Facebook went smoothly, and without me getting all frustrated like I had earlier in the week!

With our chores done, Fran took me on a Skype walkabout through the streets of the town. It was wonderful to see all the sights—the colourful buildings, the people, the murals, the dog and horse poop.

We ended up at the market in the plaza, which was buzzing with people. No one seemed remotely phased at the sight of Fran holding her phone up to the side of her head as we walked and talked together. Well, apart from one little girl in the market who did look at us a bit funny!

Then Fran bumped into someone she knew who invited her to join his party for dinner. Fran at first said thanks, maybe another time, but then changed her mind and dropped me to take up the invitation. Maybe I was being petty but it really hurt. I could have kept it to myself but that’s not how we do things, so after calming down a bit I messaged Fran to share how I was feeling.

“Oh shit.. I’m so sorry.. It was just in the moment.. I didn’t mean to make you feel that way.”
“It hurt, to be dropped like that.”
“I realize that. I would’ve felt the same way. I was trying to make it special then I fucked up.”
“It was special, Fran. I fuck up sometimes too! It’s ok. I just needed you to know.”
“It was fun carrying you around. We’ll do it again.”

It was pretty late by then, and we said good night. I thought about it a lot on my way into work this morning. I got to be honest. Fran got to be honest. We both got a bit hurt but there was no lasting harm. It’s what we do. I realised too that there was more going on for me last night than just having our conversation cut short. I’ve been feeling pressured lately in various ways. I’d looked forward to chilling out with Fran and things didn’t work out the way I’d hoped. (In NVC terms, my needs weren’t met.) That’s the top and bottom of it, really. I’ve not been taking very good care of my boundaries.

With this in mind, I decided to give myself some space today and posted this up on my Facebook: as much as a reminder to myself as anything/anyone else.

A bit overwhelmed with stuff at the moment. If you are waiting to hear from me I will get back to you when I can. Feel free to nudge me but I may not respond straight away. Thanks.

I will spend some time with my Wellness Plan today. It will serve us both well.

Tuesday, January 30, 07:30 a.m. UK time

What a difference a day can make! I feel so much better this morning! I kept off Facebook yesterday (Monday) and focused on my writing. Fran and I did some work together including further emails to TSA. We also looked at the hot springs she’s hoping to visit at some point.

Later on, we went on another walk around Ajijic. Fran seems very confident navigating the town. She put Glympse on so I could track where we were. It was fun to follow our progress on the map whilst simultaneously seeing what was going on via our video call. I know there are other parts of the town Fran would like to share with me. I hope so, because it was a lot of fun!

The only scary moment was when we crossed one incredibly busy road. I confess I held my breath as we dashed across—the cars seemed to flash by so fast! After our hiccup the day before, it was a great example of how it’s possible to move forward without carrying grievances and issues along with you.

Overnight I had an email from a great friend of ours; best-selling author Julie A. Fast. She mentioned an exciting new writing opportunity but having seen my Facebook post, wondered if I might needed time before taking it any further. I so appreciated her consideration. I wrote back and said no, I’m good. This short break isn’t about turning away people or opportunities that resonate with me. It’s about paying attention to my boundaries so I can focus my energies where they can do the most good.

And that feels very healthy indeed.

Continues here.

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five


Saturday, 27 January 2018

Two Poems by Kenneth J Cody

City of Sadness

My life is sealed by two distinct black walls,
An interstate of racing thoughts,
Scattered throughout a city of morbid ruin.
Suicidal cells circulating,
Polluting the air of this decomposing surrounding,
Tearing holes in each brain wave.

There are many doors painting the walls,
Each an opening to a hidden reality.
On each door protrudes an industrial strength lock,
Designed to protect oneself from eternal sadness.

In a constant war with the one who holds the Key,
Whose power so strong,
Can open every door,
Creating a lowness of absorbing disease.
A growing desperation to be free,
To cut all power,
By destroying the one who holds the Key,

Manic Depression.

Whenever presented with an unlocked door,
Shadowed memories of utter discomfort become visible.
Revealing an empty bed maintained by a broken heart.
Soon all other memories begin to surface,
Like tiny thorns imbedded into my brain.

A bottle of empty pills,
Unprotected intercourse,
An aborted fetus,
As well as many mistakes gift-wrapped in hopes of a surprise,
But instead further mental torture.

Lost in internal suffering,
And hopes to one day rebuild my city with Lexapro bricks.


Your Skin Has Feeling

His canvas is pasty,
Cold and unforgiving.
Vomiting due to its existence,
Covering his blood like an icy blanket.

His canvas is weeping,
Begging to be left alone.

Leave me be,
For I am not your enemy.

With waves breaking without warning,
His eyes are saturated in the ocean...

Created subconsciously from the craters,
Burnt into his canvas randomly,
He knows not what he does,
Only that the pain disappears each moment.


Determined to destroy his inner self,
Only to torture his canvas,
which is innocent.


About the Author

I was born and raised in Virginia and currently reside in Florida with my wife Melissa and four beautiful children. I am a non-combat disabled veteran and suffer from Bipolar Disorder type 1 with psychotic features, rapid cycle and mixed episodes. I write poetry to escape the turmoil associated with this disorder and overcoming the pain and suffering I have experienced. You can find me on my website:


Thursday, 25 January 2018

OCD Makes My Life Hard

I am checking for my wallet again. It's the third time I've done this and I don't actually want to do it. But I'm scared that it's gone. What if it's missing? Then I have to go get my driver's license again and my debit card replaced. My OCD makes me compulsively check to see that things are in place. I want to feel comforted. I want to feel like things are okay. I'm working on positively reinforcing myself when I refrain from checking, which is a treatment for OCD. The less I engage with checking the better. The more I can practice self-control and work in therapy with this behavior, the better it is for me and for the people I am close to.

I want to be better, but I know that "better" is a judgment on myself. Let me rephrase - I want to be able to control the compulsions to check things. I want to not have a mental illness but I don't have the choice. We are born into this world with certain flaws if you consider mental illness a flaw; some people don't. In any case, living with mental illness is hard. Living with bipolar disorder is difficult and people do the best that they can.

The same goes for OCD. OCD is considered an anxiety disorder and it's frustrating. Sometimes my brain doesn't let me function. Sometimes I can't do what I'd like to do. I want more for myself than this repetitive thought pattern nonsense. My brain is glitching and I know it's not my fault or my brain's fault. It still doesn't make it easier. It makes me feel bad about myself. Even though I didn't do anything wrong.

OCD is something that we cannot control to an extent. CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy) helps to fight against negative thought patterns that keep us from having a positively charged life. But, CBT is part of a treatment plan. Psychiatric medication has been found to be effective for OCD and it helps alleviate the intensity of the thoughts. Exposure therapy is another treatment which helps address the symptoms of OCD and give people some clarity on how realistically dangerous their thoughts are.

OCD is creative and it tries to focus on what we fear the most. For example, I am afraid of dying and my OCD knows this and plays off it. It tells me I am dying of a mysterious disease and there's no hope for me. It's sad and scary, but I've learned to recognize the signs of the destructive thought patterns and talk about them in therapy. That's the most important thing right now.

If you're out there struggling with OCD and intrusive thoughts about your fears, please know that I am with you. I feel your pain! There's hope for you.

About the Author

Sarah Fader is the CEO and Founder of Stigma Fighters, a non-profit organization that encourages individuals with mental illness to share their personal stories. She has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Quartz, Psychology Today, The Huffington Post, HuffPost Live, and Good Day New York.

Sarah is a native New Yorker who enjoys naps, talking to strangers, and caring for her two small humans and two average-sized cats. Like six million other Americans, Sarah lives with panic disorder. Through Stigma Fighters, Sarah hopes to change the world, one mental health stigma at a time.


Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Our Mexican Adventure, Part One: “I Got My Crew”

I give myself permission to fully experience whatever comes up during this trip, knowing I am safe.—Martin Baker

In our book, Fran and I describe how we handled our distance, mutually supportive, friendship while she was traveling in Europe for three months in 2013. Fran has taken a few shorter trips since then, but nothing comparable in terms of length, distance, or potential impact on her health and wellbeing. Until now.

Right now, she is newly arrived in Mexico for a month to undertake dental work. I thought it would be interesting to blog my side of things in a series of weekly posts. In this first post, we move through the week leading up to Fran’s arrival in Guadalajara.

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five

Our Mexican Adventure, Part One: “I Got My Crew”

I am starting this as a log/journal of our four week trip to Mexico, Jan–Feb 2018. My intention is to record and explore my side of the experience as part of my own Wellness Plan, and as a source of material for our blog. I am thinking of maybe publishing a weekly summary, and/or any specific things that come up. This also meets one of my Seven Things I’d Quite Like to Do in 2018 goals: the one about finding a purpose for my larger, Standard size, Midori Traveler’s Notebook. [Opening page in my Mexico travel journal]

Tuesday, January 16, 7:40 a.m.

Fran and I were both tired when we met on Skype last night (Monday). I was tired from my day at work and then my evening meeting with Time to Change and Cygnus to discuss possible mental health initiatives in Northumberland. Fran was tired from a day that had been filled with people. She’d enjoyed the connections (lunch with a friend, and various online and phone conversations) but she realised another day had slipped by without having made a start on her packing. That definitely needs to start today!

Tuesday. Wednesday. Thursday. Friday. Saturday. Five days left to get everything done. Which we will! The great thing is Fran is aware she needs to allow space/time for resting as well as doing. So, after we’d talked about our respective days, I read to her (Outlander) and we watched some Midsomer Murders on Netflix until it was time to say good night, a little earlier than usual.

I wasn’t feeling too good myself yesterday, and sort of dumped that on Fran in the afternoon when I was deciding if I was up to going to the mental health event. Today, I will hold myself open to whatever Fran needs me to help her with, which will probably include packing this evening. We got this.

Wednesday, January 17, 7:40 a.m.

Well, Fran didn’t get any work done on her packing or finances yesterday (Tuesday), so those have moved into today. (It is a “snow day” in Portland today and she doesn’t intend to go out at all.) Yesterday she went to her Forever Fit class, and to her massage appointment. We did do some important emails for the trip, including arranging transport from Guadalajara to Ajijic next week. I did try to encourage/insist that we did at least a little packing when we met at 11 p.m. (her 6 p.m.) but Fran was adamant she didn’t want to, so we had a talk instead, and some reading, and watched a David Attenborough wildlife show on Netflix.

We also had another attempt at getting the mifi device to work, but it’s not connecting. I found some more detailed notes online which we can try at some point. Frustrating, that it doesn’t work, but we are not anticipating needing to use it.

I think I will see if there is another 21 day meditation challenge in the next few weeks. That is something I could do, as part of my self-care plan.

Thursday, January 18, 7:35 a.m.

I don’t think Fran’s done any actual putting-things-in-the-suitcase packing yet, BUT she had a very productive day yesterday (Wednesday): finances, emails etc. and I have no doubt she is on track for Sunday.

We have had to accept defeat on the mifi front. We followed the additional instructions last night but still no “green light.” We went through the To Do list together. It is mostly all done now. And overnight Fran heard back from Dental Express to confirm they can drive her from Guadalajara to Ajijic on Tuesday.

I’m also pleased with how I am preparing for the next four weeks. I have this journal/log which will feed my blogging, and my list of Things I Would Quite Like to Do to keep me on track. I know I will really feel it when Fran and I are less in touch than usual, especially at the times we are usually on Skype. I give myself permission to feel whatever comes up—and not hold on too tight to it.


Friday, January 19, 7:35 a.m.

Fran is well on track now! She carried her laptop on a little tour of the apartment last night while we were on Skype so I could see how she is getting all her clothes, meds, and other things ready for the trip. She is stepping steadily though these final days, doing what she needs to, and resting too.

We read together (Outlander) and watched more of Planet Earth. Fran is blown away by the programme in all its aspects: the teams who go out to capture the footage, the production teams, Attenborough himself… It feeds her sense of wonder and is a great reminder (re-minder) to me, to stay in the moment. To pay attention to what is going on.

I’m feeling prepared for the next few weeks. I found a talk by a mental health author called Lucy Nichol at Waterstones bookstore in March and booked a ticket. Good to have some things ahead in my calendar. Stepping stones through the year, and maybe some friends will want to go too.

Saturday, January 20, 10 a.m.

Yesterday, I compiled my personal Wellness Plan for the Mexico trip, and printed it out so I can keep it to hand in my journal. I am excited about seeing how we (I) do. Fran got lots more done through the morning, and had everything to hand to do the physical packing when we had our Skype at 7 p.m. (her 2 p.m.) Fran had been concerned not everything would fit into her luggage—but it did! As she packed things, I marked them off on our packing list, and afterwards read it back to Fran so we knew we’d not missed anything.

We did her suitcase and backpack in about 40 minutes, and did the rest when we met again later. Fran was so delighted and relieved that everything went fit! It was a big weight off her shoulders.

We did have a couple of scares. There was an earthquake in the Mexico region, although not especially close to where we are going. And a friend shared a travel advisory notice which was a bit scary, but fortunately it seems to be okay in Jalisco. We will remain vigilant—but we are going!

Sunday, January 21, 1 p.m.

Last night Fran and I met for our final pre-Mexico Skype call. There was nothing really to do, but we read through our packing and To Do lists one last time just to be sure. We talked a little about how the journey might go, acutely aware of the significance of this trip to us both. I told her I am ready for it from my point of view. I have my Wellness Plan, and I am curious too, which is always a healthy way to approach change. We watched another episode of Planet Earth, then said good night.

This morning—Sunday—I messaged her as we’d arranged, to make sure she was up for our friend Beth to drive her to the bus station. She was already awake. I double checked she was actually up out of bed, and that she’d packed the very final things, including her phone charger and cables. She had. She messaged me just before leaving her apartment.

I am as ready as I can be. A bit scared too. Today’s Angel Card is “Awakening.”

Later, talking about the trip as a whole, she said: “I will feel fear. I will counter it with being present.”

Beth was on time and stayed with Fran until she was on the bus (thank you, Beth!) During the drive to Boston, Fran got a bit unsure about gate numbers for her flights, so I looked them up for her on the United Airlines app.

“I can’t imagine doing any of this without you.”
“You’re stuck with me now, Frannie. Didn’t you know that?”

Monday, January 22, 07:35 a.m.

Fran messaged me just now, as I headed out of the house on my way to work. She is safe in her hotel room in Guadalajara (“Hotel Frances is gorgeous”) but it was a hell of a journey for her yesterday.

The first leg, Boston–Newark, went fine, but the next departure was delayed which meant she couldn’t catch her final scheduled flight to Guadalajara. The replacement flight was also delayed, so that she didn’t land in Mexico until around twenty past midnight local time.

I stayed with Fran most of the way. We couldn’t chat when she was in the air of course but I tracked the flights (and the delays!) via the United Airlines app and website. I messaged the hotel to let them know Fran would be late. I’m not sure if they got the message (Fran also tried to call them with no success) but it all worked out in the end.

Fran was also concerned about how she would get to the hotel so late at night. It was about a 30 minute drive from the airport. This was something I couldn’t help with, so she posted in one of the Ajijic Facebook groups for suggestions.

My flight into Guadalajara tonight got delayed by three hours, so I land at midnight. I had planned on using Uber but am wondering if anyone has a trusted driver willing to drive me from the airport to Hotel Frances. I am ecstatic about spending a month in Ajijic and meeting some of you!

People in the group were really helpful and supportive: a great example of using a wider support network when needed. I kept Fran company on chat while she waited at Houston for her final flight, which was also delayed.

“I just checked online, Fran. They’re waiting for crew.”
“I got my crew—you.”

It was around 3:20 a.m. my time when she boarded and we said good night. (“Thanks for staying with me.” “Of course.”)

So—she is in her room in “her” hotel (Hotel Frances) in Guadalajara. Exhausted, but safe. She’s taken her meds (we’ve agreed that I will remind her to take them for at least the next few days as she settles into her new routine). She doesn’t have her luggage, and the AT&T data package for her phone doesn’t seem to be working yet, but hopefully both those issues will be resolved later today.

We are here (HERENOW). That’s what matters.

Tuesday, January 23, 7:30 a.m.

I had a few chat conversations with Fran through the day yesterday (Monday) and a lovely Skype call in the evening. It was just ten minutes or so but it grounded me and gave me a handle on how she is doing. She was really tired, of course, but she’d had a good time being shown around Guadalajara by a friend of hers who lives there. She took lots of great photos, too.

Fran was reunited with her luggage: it was delivered to her hotel in the afternoon. Her data/phone are also working now. I had a great chat session with Daniel on the AT&T support line. As well as providing the technical help we needed (it was a setting on Fran’s phone we’d forgotten about) Daniel was really nice and friendly. He commented that Fran and I were clearly good friends which led to a conversation about our book and the website and the journal/blog I am doing for the trip. I said he might even get a mention—so here you go, Daniel!

When Fran and I had our Skype call it was around 5 p.m. Mexico time. Fran was about to have a rest and was considering going for a stroll later. In the end, she decided to focus on self-care. I know she wanted to make the most of being in Guadalajara but she recognised her body needed to rest.

I thought about going out but there would be lots of people, and the sun is setting. I thought about going downstairs to the bar or restaurant but there’s lots of people. I’ve had people all day Sunday and today. So I think staying in and resting feels like what I need to do. Tomorrow morning I’ll explore, but tonight is mine. I don’t need to push myself.

Today (Tuesday) a car provided by Dental Express will collect Fran from her hotel and drive her to Ajijic, which is about an hour south of Guadalajara, on the north shore of Lake Chapala. She will collect the keys to her friend’s apartment and can then finally unpack and relax. It’s been quite a week. I’m so proud of her.

Hey, Fran—you did it (we did it)! We’re in Mexico!

Continues here.

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five


Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Discussing Suicide

By Roiben

Trigger Warning: Before reading this post, take a moment to consider its contents: it discusses Suicide and Mental Illness. If reading about Suicide is likely to make you feel worse, or trigger any urges to cause yourself harm, I ask that you simply look away from this post until a time when you feel more able to handle it.

Depression (and Mental Illness as a whole) is a thief and a murderer. It steals everything, little by little. Your self-worth, your enjoyment of your hobbies, your energy and motivation and then, at its worse, it can steal the will to live. The very spark of life goes out and existing becomes harder and harder to justify. Your mind screams at you to end it now! To stop the suffering.

Before you know it, you are planning your very demise. The end of you. You obsess over the many methods, whether “accidents” like getting run over by a car or train. Or the more planned occurrences: The overdose, the cuts, the alcohol, the ligature. All call to you, tempting you to make your final plans and get it over with.

This is what it is to be Suicidal.

This constant fight in the mind itself to end. Any way possible. As soon as possible. It is a constant distraction, 24/7, every waking hour. It even permeates your dreams. You plan in your sleep the best ways to die. Then, in the day time you wonder if you should get your affairs in order. Clear that debt, pay that bill, make sure X has that game, or Blu-ray, or teddy they have always liked.

There is a panic, initially, so much to sort out, to work out, to plan. But, then, when the decision has been made, there is a sense of calm. It will be over soon. Everything is in hand, plans are set, times are planned. It will be perfect and it will be over. There will be no more suffering. There is a sense of relief.

It is often said that those who are suicidal have an apparent “up-swing”. They seem better, happier, calmer. This is that calm. It comes from seeing a way out. An end to the horrible pain being felt inside. Because often, pain and suffering is all the Depression (and other Mental Illnesses) leave behind. They swallow the spark of life and leave only darkness and pain – emotional, physical, spiritual, existential pain. People who are suicidal only want to die as they see it as the only way to end the pain.

So, what can be done? Being willing to listen, to hear out all that is wrong and painful and concerning without dismissing or belittling experiences and feelings.

Then, suggest that there may still be other options. Other things that can help to dissipate the pain. There is help available. Medication, therapy, GPs, Psychiatrists. Not to say “Never”, but instead to say “Not yet”. To encourage trying everything else first.

As someone once said to me: “You can always die another day, another hour, but try this first”.

This validates the suffering, appreciates that the person is suicidal and desperate to end the suffering they feel inside but offers alternatives to try first. It doesn’t say: “This is the cure”. It says “This may help”. In my experience, it is the most successful approach ever taken.

Most important of all, be there, be willing to listen. Don’t brush things aside as insignificant or a sign that the individual needs to “buck up” and “pull themselves together”. There is nothing worse than being told if you just “thought positively” or “pulled yourself together” or “focused on the good things in life” things would be better. As though the person has not already tried.

I will end with three key things to remember:

  • Does the fact that someone chooses not to go through with it mean they were not suicidal? No.
  • Does the fact that someone has tried to end their life but is still alive mean they were not really suicidal? No, and it doesn’t help to dismiss it as a “cry for help” or “attention seeking”.
  • Can there be help, support and appreciation of the very bleak desperation behind being suicidal? Yes, and there needs to be more of it. If you can, be that someone who helps.


About the Author

You can find Roiben on Twitter (@roiben).


Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Seven Things I'd Quite Like to Do in 2018

Rather than setting myself new year resolutions, I’m choosing six things I’d quite like to do during 2018, plus one carried forward from last year. It’s something I tried last year, and it worked out nicely for me.

1. Read Two Books

As I’ve described previously (It’s Not Just for Kids: Reading Together for Fun and Friendship) Fran and I regularly read together on Skype. We’re currently reading Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon. It’s been a while since I read anything on my own, though. I’ve chosen two books to (re)read: Talk Like TED, by Carmine Gallo, and Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard.

2. Bring My Weight Back under 180 Pounds

This is the carried forward one! A year ago my weight was hovering around 190 pounds. I brought it down to 182 but it climbed again at Christmas and New Year. My long term aim is to maintain between 174 and 176 as I managed a few years back, but 180 will be a nice step on the way.

3. Have One Weekend Away From Home

A potential trip to London last spring had to be cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances but I enjoyed the opportunity to travel to Ely in November. I don’t have any personal trips planned yet for this year but I’d like to do something.

4. Attend Two Speaking Engagements

I’ve read from our book several times at the Newcastle Literary Salon, done a live radio interview, taken part in a live mental health panel discussion, recorded several podcast interviews, and was a guest speaker at last November’s Talking FreEly mental health event. (See our News and Appearances page for details of these and other engagements.)

I’d like to develop this side of things more. If you know of any speaking opportunities, please let me know.

5. See Three Movies at the Cinema

In 2014 I made a deliberate commitment to attend the cinema and saw four superb films, most at Newcastle’s Tyneside Cinema: The Imitation Game, The Danish Girl, The Theory of Everything, and Unbroken.

I’ve not been to the cinema since and would quite like to do so. I’ll see what movies take my fancy as the year progresses.

6. Find a Use for My Standard Midori

I’ve owned a Passport size Midori Travelers Notebook (TN) for a couple of years. It goes everywhere with me. It has two notebook inserts: one for random scribbles and notes, the other as a mini journal for vacations and other events.

It’s also home to any number of other bits and pieces: business cards, addresses, sticky notes, stickers and reminders.

Last spring I bought a larger, Standard size, Midori, but have yet to find a proper place for it in my world. I recently decked it out with two brand new inserts: a 64 page lined one and an unlined lightweight insert with 128 pages of thinner paper. It also has a zip pocket for stickers, notes and such. I’m interested to see where this takes me!

7. Shoot a Roll of Film

Over the years I’ve owned and used a number of film and digital cameras. I’d quite like to shoot a roll or two of film in one or more of the film cameras I still possess.

Prime candidates are the Kodak Brownie 44B which belonged to my father and my Zorki 4K rangefinder, the first “proper” camera I ever owned.

I will report back through the year on how I get on! Have you set yourself any goals or resolutions for 2018? If so, I’d love to hear them!