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.

 

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Poem for Marty

By Sarah Fader

Everyone has their own darkness
Mine is outside of my skin at times
Creeping slowly around
the confines of my mouth
not allowing me to speak
only telling me to feel
what I don’t want to feel.

You see my dark and
also the light even when
it’s hard to find
even when
it’s invisible to everyone around me.

That is your power
That is your gift
You sit quietly
Listening
as she talks
she cries
she needs you
and you’re not afraid
in fact you embrace the raw feelings.

I’m relieved to know that there are people
like you in the world
Thank you for loving without question
and embracing us without fear.

Don’t change who you are
Ever
And
Keep listening
It matters.

 

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. Like six million other Americans, Sarah lives with panic disorder. Through Stigma Fighters, she hopes to change the world, one mental health stigma at a time. You can find Sarah at www.sarahfader.com.

 

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Not to Punish but to Understand

Sometimes it happens that you read or hear or experience something so sharp, so surprising, so out of left field, so TRUE that it stops you in your tracks. That’s what happened the other day when I came across this quote on social media.

Imagine meeting someone who wanted to learn your past not to punish you, but to understand how you needed to be loved. (Author unknown)

There is personal relevance in the words, for me and others in my life right now. But that’s not what I want to write about. What I want to explore — and I am writing as much for me as for you, dear reader — is why it would ever be otherwise. Why are those lines so shocking? Ought not every person we meet — certainly every person we allow in close — approach us in such a way?

Perhaps. Well, yes, in fact. But for a whole heap of reasons silence and stigma and shame remain powerful forces in society at large and in the smaller, more immediate communities in which we live out our lives. Wherever we meet — in our families, schools, colleges, places of work and of worship — the response to us, to our stories and histories, so often falls short of the caring curiosity for which we yearn.

Sadder still, we punish ourselves for what we have done or said, or failed to do or failed to say; the times we believe we have let ourselves or others down. How rarely do we approach ourselves with compassion?

What would it feel like if we did? How would it feel to explore our own stories wanting not to punish but to understand how we need to be loved?

 

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Even the Good Things: A Lesson in Letting Go

There are moments when everything stops.

I felt it yesterday after a week or more filled with activity and people and work and possibilities and doubts and anxieties and joys and new friends and old friends and smiles and conversations and sharing and a movie that touched me deeply.

After all of that there came a pause. Not an ending but a natural hiatus, like the moment between breathing in and breathing out that we fail to notice most of the time because we are too busy doing or saying or thinking about other things.

And I didn’t know what to do with it. The gap. The space. I told Fran I felt flat. And she said:

Embrace the flatness

That was it. Three words. She knew I didn’t need a lecture or a diagram or a two hour conversation. And she was right. And what came to me in that moment of being reminded (re-mind-ed) was something we have been working with over the years we have been friends.

FEEL IT. CLAIM IT. LOVE IT. LET IT GO.

It can be challenging to handle powerful emotions, especially when they seem to come out of nowhere. Rather than allowing our emotions free rein, or trying to deny them, we find it helps to accept what we feel, take whatever meaning we can from the experience, and then release our attachment to it so we can move on.

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

And so that’s what I did. (In this context, “Embrace” can stand for the first three parts: Feel, Claim, Love.) I felt what I had labelled as “flatness.” And found that it was not empty or still at all. At its “flat” surface emotions rose and fell back, shifting in and out of existence even as I became aware of them. It was a dynamic emotional silence like the kind of acoustic silence that is alive with ambient sound. I smiled.

I claimed it as mine. No one else was responsible or to blame. No one else in the history of the universe past, present or future had known, or knew, or would know this moment as I had the capacity to know it. This was mine. This was me.

And I loved it. Or rather I was aware of a rush of love that began with me and expanded out to all my friends, family, all the people in my life, all the events and connections between them and me and within them and between us all. A moment of acceptance. The kind that makes you sigh out loud.

And letting go? I recalled a poem I’d read aloud to Fran a few days before. It wasn’t new to us but some things are worth revisiting.

She Let Go, by Safire Rose

Like a leaf falling from a tree, she just let go.
There was no effort.
There was no struggle.
It wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad.
It was what it was, and it is just that.

And I let go. I let go of my expectations of what flatness ought to be. I let go of any judgment about what I was feeling or not feeling or doing or not doing. I let go of my attachment to even this moment of bliss. And I smiled again, hearing a friend’s words clearly in my mind:

Vikki: Even the good things I’ve got to let go?

Martin: Not the things, but the feels, yes. How else can the next feelings arrive if you’re holding on too tightly to the old ones? You don’t have to let go of them immediately, just don’t hold on too long. It’s mostly the bad things we hold on to too long.

 

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

What a Week That Was!

I’m writing this at AMT Coffee in Newcastle’s Central Station. I am meeting a friend in an hour or so but right now it’s Marty time.

Just over a week ago I attended Newcastle Recovery College Collective’s leaving party at Broadacre House. The college is moving to new accommodation in the autumn and there was a distinct “end of an era” feel about the event which amply demonstrated how important ReCoCo is to those who use it. I had a fabulous time listening to the karaoke (Vikki you were awesome!) and even got up to dance at one point. Thanks to everyone for making me feel so welcome.

The following day I volunteered for Time to Change at Newcastle Pride. This was the third time I’d done so and as usual I had a great time catching up with old friends (hi Carol, Angela, Aimee, and Amanda) and making new ones (hi Nicki!)

We were there to engage with folk visiting the event, to share information and answer questions about Time to Change, and to help encourage a more open approach to mental health. I lost count of the conversations I had but one or two in particular left an impression on me. As I told a friend later:

For me, what makes it so worthwhile is when I am talking to someone who might not be used to sharing about their mental health and I comment or ask a question and they are like “yes!” In that moment there is this really genuine human connection. That happened a few times today.

Monday was a big day for me. It was my debut appearance on the Executive Team call at work. I was there to present the mental health initiatives I’ve been helping develop with the rest of our fledgling mental health team. I’d got myself all stressy about the technology side of attending the call, but thanks to several colleagues especially my fab boss Judith, and Cheryl who let me impersonate her for the occasion, it all went smoothly.

My main objective was to gain approval for the company to sign up to Time to Change’s Employer Pledge Scheme. It says a lot about our leadership team that my recommendation was approved unanimously. I’m looking forward to taking the initiative forward in the weeks to come.

Outside of work my week has been rich and full with phone calls and chats and face-to-face conversations with friends near and far. After a couple of weeks’ break I’ve also got back to my writing, with a new article on bipolar anger for bp Magazine. In something of a departure for me I have been able to draw on a wide range of experiences generously shared by others. It has broadened my knowledge and awareness and the final article will be far richer for it. Anger is a fascinating topic and I’m already considering a possible follow-up article (thanks Barry for that idea!)

So yes, it has been a busy week! I wonder what the next one will bring?!

 

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

How I Identify with Brain on Fire

Film review by Aimee Wilson

“Have you ever been trapped? Lost in your own body? Lost in your own mind? Lost in time? So desperate to escape. To just… get out.” — Susannah Cahalan

Firstly, thank you to Marty and Fran for asking me to write this piece on the brand-new Netflix movie Brain on Fire starring the incredible Chloe Grace Mortez. Secondly, apologies in advance — I haven’t written many film reviews, so this may not turn out how you’d assume.

I first saw the film in the ‘spotlight on’ section of the Netflix homepage and after I recognised Chloe Grace Mortez from the Kickass films and on seeing that mental health comes into it, I was determined to watch it. So, when one of my best-friends came over and said she hadn’t seen it; we knew what we’d be doing for the next hour and a half!

I guess that besides typing up the Netflix description of the film, the best way to explain it is by telling you my answer to those who have asked me ‘what’s it about?’ I say that it’s based on a true story and is about a young girl who gets all these strange symptoms and they try to say it’s mental health. Mortez’s portrayal of the main character Susannah Cahalan is incredible; the way she shows the crippling symptoms that the real Susannah Cahalan experienced speaks massively of her talent. I think that a huge reason for my enjoyment of the film is that I can identify with some of the biggest aspects of the story.

Psychologically, feeling trapped was one of the first emotions I experienced when I was abused; It felt like I couldn’t ever distance myself from myself; like my mind was trapped in my body. I think it came from dissociating during the abuse. I experienced my abuse as though I were floating from the ceiling watching it happen to another girl. Although that might seem better than experiencing it like it was actually happening to myself, I also had the conflicting feeling that it was worse because it was as though I were just standing back and watching this terrible thing happen to a poor, innocent girl; and I wasn’t doing anything to stop it. The worst bit was that I felt like I could. I was convinced that I could stop it; even from my position of floating on the ceiling.

Another symptom that is portrayed in the movie which I identify with is — obviously — when Susannah begins hearing voices. When I first experienced auditory hallucinations, it was like I was stuck in my body; I had no escape and was forced to listen to these strangers who consumed every inch of my head. Just like in the movie, not everything the voices said affected me in the same way; sometimes it was just like white noise and I’d only be able to pick out them saying my name every so often, and sometimes… yes, like in the movie… sometimes they wished me dead. I think that sometimes it didn’t actually matter to me what they were even saying; more about the fact that they were there and able to say something. Like Susannah Kahalan, the Doctors didn’t know what was wrong with me after I began hearing voices and a million different diagnoses were thrown at me before they decided on Borderline Personality Disorder.

I think that identifying with a character is always a great sign of a talented Actress and an incredible film and that’s why I’d definitely recommend you watch Brain on Fire on Netflix.

About the Author

Aimee Wilson is a 27-year-old mental health blogger who has used her personal experiences to develop a popular online profile. Aimee was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder in 2009, and after over 60 attempts on her life was admitted to a long-term, specialist psychiatric hospital almost 200 miles from home. It was during her two-and-a-half-year stay in hospital that Aimee began her blog: I’m NOT Disordered.

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

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

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

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

 

Monday, 16 July 2018

Bipolar and Saying No: Why I Can’t Always Do Fun Things with You

An open letter to a friend by Julie A. Fast

Dear Friend,

It really upsets me that I have to say no all of the time. I see that you are going to the coast and staying in a cabin while having a barbecue. That really sounds fun. A few of you went to New York last week for a vacation. That sounds amazing. Another friend often has a TV night with her friends and sleeps on the couch if she has too much wine. That sounds like fun!

Some of my friends work a seventy hour week and it sounds exciting.

Others go to sporting events and sit way up in the stands and tell me it was amazing!

I want you to know how much I appreciate it that you ask me to do these things and then explain why I can’t join you.

It’s the bipolar. I don’t ever use bipolar as an excuse for bad behavior. That is why we are such good friends. You trust me and I trust you. But I know that my inability to be as social as you might like can cause us some problems.

If there is a party, I might say no or I might have to leave early. I will never hang out all night for New Year’s Eve and that block party that everyone says is so much fun is just a lot of noise in my bipolar brain.

You are not the reason I say no. In fact, I want you to continue to ask me to do things. You might have noticed that I sometimes do say yes to the evening or day long plans!

But for now, I want you to know how much I appreciate it when we meet for breakfast. Tea or an early happy hour is really great. I love going to karaoke by the hour because we can get there early and leave early. We still get to sing!

I LOVE it that you have so many friends and that you invite me to your parties. I know it is frustrating when you hear me say I am lonely, as I am the one who often says no to your events.

I’m writing this so that we can keep our friendship strong. Here is how you can help me and here is why I appreciate your friendship SO much.

  1. Bipolar is a sleep disorder. If you think of it that way, it will help you see why I have to say no to anything that disrupts sleep. You know how you can do a hood to coast run, stay up all night manning a booth for your other runner friends, meet for pancakes the next morning and then sleep it off the next day? That is not possible for me. That situation could put me in the hospital. I know. It’s crazy, but sleep is that important.
  2. Bipolar is predictably unpredictable. I never know for sure when I will be triggered but I know my basic triggers. Crowds — so sporting events and concerts will always be hard on me. Meeting new people. I CRAVE new experiences, but my bipolar brain interprets them as stress. So anything new is a challenge.
  3. I’m easily tired out by life. Work and seeing you for coffee might be all that I can do in one day. I hate this. I really do! But I have not been in the hospital for years and my friendships are stable because I am so careful.

These are just a few of the reasons I have to say no to things you find enjoyable and easy. And here is how you can help me.

  1. Encourage me to try new things and let me know that I can leave if it gets too rough. I am NOT saying I should say no to everything. That is unreasonable. I want to say yes, but let me have an outlet. For example, if I make it 90 minutes at a party, that is a success! If I have to leave a concert early, I probably enjoyed the first part a lot!
  2. Remind me that I am in control of my life and taking care of my bipolar is what makes our friendship strong.
  3. Remind me to think of YOUR needs. I can’t say no to everything you like and expect you to only do what I like. I truly want to find middle ground. You are my guide with this. Be honest with me. I can learn!

Thank you for being such a great friend. It has been fifteen years and counting. You are the best!

Julie

 

About the Author

Julie A. Fast is the author of Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder, Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder, Get it Done When You’re Depressed and The Health Cards Treatment System for Bipolar Disorder. Julie is a board member of The International Bipolar Foundation, a columnist and blogger for BP Magazine, and won the Mental Health America journalism award for the best mental health column in the US. Julie was the recipient of the Eli Lily Reintegration award for her work in bipolar disorder advocacy. She is a bipolar disorder expert for the Dr.Oz and Oprah created site ShareCare.

Julie is CEU certified and regularly trains health care professionals including psychiatric residents, social workers, therapists and general practitioners on bipolar disorder management skills. She was the original consultant for Claire Danes for the show Homeland and is on the mental health expert registry for People Magazine.

She works as a coach for parents and partners of people with bipolar disorder. Julie is currently writing a book for children called Hortensia and the Magical Brain: Poems for Kids with Bipolar, Anxiety, Psychosis and Depression. She struggles a lot due to bipolar disorder. Friendships keep her going.

You can find more about her work at www.JulieFast.com and www.BipolarHappens.com.

 

Thursday, 12 July 2018

No Promises Asked For, Offered, or Needed. A Vacation Postcard to My Best Friend.

Monday July 9, 2018

Dear Fran

It is 7:10 p.m. here in the UK. 2:10 p.m. with you in Maine. This hour is our hour. Usually we would be on Skype, catching up on our news and our plans. Just hanging out together, as friends do the world over no matter where they live or how far apart in miles those places might be.

This isn’t a normal week, though, is it? I am on vacation here at Ambleside in the English Lake District. Travel – on either my part or yours – inevitably means some disruption to our routine. One Skype call per day instead of two, for example. Or shorter calls. Occasionally none. That used to hurt. These days not. Or not so much. We have learned to trust.

We are doing okay so far this week! We had video calls on Saturday and Sunday evenings, down by the jetty opposite the fish and chip shop. It is always fun to be on with you when I am “out and about,” able to not merely tell you what’s going on for me but show you.

The lake here at Ambleside (technically, where we are staying is called Waterhead, but it is part of the town of Ambleside). The roar of motorbikes leaving the car park next to where we were sitting yesterday. (Sadly, Skype doesn’t yet permit the sharing of smells: I would so have liked to share with you the tangy aroma of exhaust fumes as one biker revved her Harley in my face!) I showed you inside the Wateredge Inn, your first English pub. Maybe next time we will stay for a drink.

We touched a couple of times on chat earlier today to share our respective good mornings, and our weights. (At 185.2 lbs mine was close to the lowest it has been in many months which is especially rewarding given I’m on vacation when good practice is harder to maintain.)

No call today, though. Whilst I am enjoying the peace and tranquility of Borrans Park at the very northernmost point of Windermere (note I say tranquility, not silence: I can hear the lapping of waves at the shoreline, the call of birds in the air and on the water, voices from the pub, traffic, and a troupe of teenagers making their way in a very orderly fashion through the park) – whilst I am enjoying all this and taking photos and writing these words to share it with you later – you are out with friends having adventures of your own!

All being well – no promises asked for, offered, or needed – we will have our call tomorrow evening. And then you are off on a mini vacation of your own to Monhegan island! Four days. Three nights. No promises asked for, offered, or needed – but we will do our best to connect. To share words, the sounds of our voices, video, photos – the essence of who and where we are in the moment.

Because the moment is what we have to share. It is all any of us have. Seven plus years of moments have brought us to here as best friends. A heap more will carry us wherever we are set to go. Calls or not, Fran, I will be with you when you are away. As you are with me here today.

Hah! You just messaged me:

Milkshake AND ice cream. On boat.

– I figure you’re having fun! It’s not just that we are best friends, of course, is it? There is more to it than that. There is trust. And honesty. And vigilance. You messaged me earlier today:

Should I bring risperdal? I wonder if I am bordering on mania.

You mean today? Or for your trip? Definitely on the trip (it is on your packing list already). Worth bringing with you today if you are asking the question.

And so, at the mention of “milkshake AND ice cream,” I remind you to keep an eye out for that edge of mania. And that is how we are. We can switch seamlessly from whatever it might be that we are doing or talking about, into a deep and yet simple caring awareness that works both ways. (Not everyone gets that – that you are here as much for me as I am for you. In different ways, perhaps, but no less.) Thank you.

See you soon.

Marty

 

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

How Writing a Memoir Has Helped Me Talk More about My Mental Illness

By Peter McDonnell

I’m going to dive right in and begin. I hope people with similar problems with psychosis and anxiety can relate. Since writing a memoir of my experiences with psychosis, anxiety and recovery I have found that I can talk much more easily about my mental health issues.

Before I began my memoir in 2015 I had no interest in sharing how I was feeling about my illness with my supportive team (my parents who are both qualified psychiatric nurses, my various psychiatrists, my care coordinators etc.), friends, family and work colleagues. Now, just try and shut me up!

I often have to remind myself in general conversations that though my mental health and recovery fascinates me, other people are usually not as interested in my experiences as I am (but sometimes they are!). I had my annual appointment with my psychiatrist two weeks ago. She asked how I was, and so I began.

I am doing really well. I’ve been a bit blocked up with constipation – I understand that my medication (Clozapine) can sometimes affect this. I’ve been eating lots of fruit and veg and I bought some prune juice earlier today, so I expect the prune juice to work and I should be fine by tomorrow.

My anxiety is still improving, it’s at such normal levels now that I’m not really thinking about it and I’m not sure it’s any higher than what normal people get from time to time.

But I am wary that I’ve been challenging myself less recently. My nieces and their parents lived in London until a few months ago before moving to Denver, and taking the train or driving up to see them fortnightly was a challenge that helped me keep my abilities to stay on top of anxiety I think, and I do wonder sometimes if not having this regular challenge might make me rest on my laurels a bit and get too comfortable. For the last few years I have found that remembering to keep well is sometimes very important and if I forget to, I feel a certain dip in my general mental health.

I keep well by doing a mix of little and big things. Sometimes it’s just a case of asking my brain in the morning what kind of positivity I want to feel that day, and for reasons unknown to me, it works and eight times out of ten at the end of the day, I find that I have felt exactly how I told my brain I wanted to feel!

Other times I have found it helpful to push myself a bit and do more challenging things, like spending the day looking after my nieces in London. They lived in Chiswick and I’m very close to them, they are two and four years old. I think looking after them taught me responsibility and some of how to be a mature adult, and after doing the parenting thing for a bit, whether for an afternoon, overnight or for a few days and nights I felt very in step with the world.

It’s at this point that the doctor senses that I am doing well. I sense her sensing it. I then decide that I have more to say.

My psychosis and ideas of reference are still there, but I am controlling them well. I used to feel like people in queues and waiting rooms could read my thoughts, but it’s happening less recently. When it was bad I’d be standing behind someone in a queue and my ‘Telepathic Tourette’s’ would start and if the person in front of me was very ugly, then I’d hear in my mind “fuck me aren’t you ugly” and because of my stupid and annoying telepathic abilities (that I don’t think I have anymore) I’d think they heard me.

Then in my mind I’d feel like I had to explain to them, telepathically, that I don’t really think they are ugly, even if they looked like a Hyena. I am a nice person who doesn’t insult the afflicted; I’m not a ten out of ten myself!

But then like Tourette’s syndrome all the other insulting thoughts come out and the people around me can hear them, like ‘you’re a prick with a stupid haircut’ or ‘you smell like a landfill site’. It’s annoying, but recently it hasn’t been a problem and thoughts are appearing in a softer way in my head in these situations, so that’s a good bit of progress.

My job is going well, I used to get anxiety at work a few years ago, but I don’t anymore. My mental health memoir and website is coming along, I recently had a friend with lots of Facebook friends share a link to it and I got 2000 visits in four days. I have been working with a website guru to improve my website which is going well too.

By this stage my Doctor begins indicating that she isn’t interested in a haphazardly scattered lecture and that she has other people to see. So I wind it down and she does the usual thing, checking that I am still taking my Clozapine without any problems and she says that we could do a full check on everything via blood test, a sort of annual check-up of glucose levels, lipids, Amylase, B12 and calcium etc. She says that I seem to be doing very well. She gives me a blood form to take to the phlebotomist and we say goodbye.

I throw her an accidental curve ball as I remember that I wanted to ask if she could recommend a popular online psychosis journal that I might write a paper for. She says “No, sorry – but good luck with your writing, Peter”.

So that’s how I tend to speak to my psychiatrist. I hope it shows that a person can be comfortable talking about whatever they like to them. When you are ready, open up.

I rarely opened up to people about my mental health before I started writing about it in my spare time. For me it wasn’t really stigma or the taboo factor that made it difficult to talk. It was that the words were hard to find. It’s not easy to talk about why a panic attack may have started, or the processes involved with bringing about a period of good mental health, and often it’s complicated to answer a simple question like ‘how are you’ when you are at the doctor’s office. One is supposed to elaborate when they are asked how they are by their psychiatrist. In regular daily exchanges ‘fine thanks’ is sufficient.

If you are like me and have or have had limited social conversations due to staying at home a lot, because of anxiety issues perhaps, then the power of descriptive speech can begin to fade. Lots of people get embarrassed when discussing their mental health too.

Before I wrote my memoir, talking about the finer points of my mental health often felt like a fruitless endeavour – an impossible task. I felt like I could talk if I wanted to, but that there was no way I’d find the words to be understood properly. For many years I had very little insight or understanding of my illness. It felt like there was no way my team could understand it any better by me talking about it, because I didn’t even understand it myself.

But these days I talk about it all the time and talking is helpful for mental health for hundreds of reasons. So helpful in fact that there is a phrase assigned to the action of talking about mental health – ‘talking therapies’. Talking can help you take charge of your well-being.

The thing that allows me to verbalise it all is my writing. I have been writing about my mental health and recovery for at least four years now, including a book, articles like this one, papers for online mental health journals, travel articles and my blog. Writing has instilled a sense of enthusiasm, so now I find that my mental health and mental health in general (especially how my own experiences with mental health compare with other peoples) is my favourite subject. I can also find the right words when I need them and I am keen to pick up knowledge and tips through conversation.

If you want to use talking to feel better about your mental health I would recommend writing a journal of your thoughts about your mental health at the end of each day. Then when someone asks you how you are, either a friend at work or your psychiatrist, you will remember your journal and feel like you have some thoughts to share. You will often feel more enthusiastic and the words will be ready to go on the tip of your tongue.

About the Author

To read more of Peter’s writing about his journey with mental illness and recovery visit his website petermcdonnellwriter.com which has extracts from his memoir, articles written for other websites, his blog, a guest post page and more.

 

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Being Jimmy Perez: Shetland and the Art of Listening

Spoiler alert: this post touches on aspects of the British television crime drama “Shetland.”

Photo credit: Doris Pecka.

Fran and I watch a lot of tv and movies together. Our talking done for the evening, Fran turns her laptop (and thus me) to face her television and we settle down to Netflix, a DVD, or occasionally a tv show.

We can see each other reflected in the screen: Fran on her couch and me in my desk chair. We might comment on what’s going on or ask a question but it’s hard to hear each other unless Fran pauses the show. So for the most part we sit and watch – and listen – in companionable silence.

It sometimes feels like we do this a bit much. We used to talk more, sharing what had gone on for us that day or making plans for whatever was coming up. We still do that, of course, just less than we did. There are reasons for the change, not least the fact that Fran’s fatigue has been especially hard on her this year. By the time we get together of an evening she is often too tired to talk much. But the other night as we watched the British detective drama “Shetland” something fell into place for me about the value and importance of listening.

We both love the show: the stunning scenery, the gritty city environment of Glasgow, the accents, the superb writing and storylines. We’ve taken the characters very much into our hearts. Played by Douglas Henshall, Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez is one of very few male roles I’ve ever identified with or wanted to emulate. This series has seen him navigate a range of personal challenges, most notably with his detective sergeant Alison “Tosh” Macintosh (played by Alison O'Donnell), his stepdaughter Cassie (Erin Armstrong), and Cassie’s biological father Duncan (Mark Bonnar). Jimmy and Duncan have a close, awkward, almost brotherly, relationship that is beautiful to watch.

What struck me is how good Perez is with people going through crisis and change. (He is less good with his own crises and changes, but isn’t that the way of things? The series closes with a hint he may finally be finding a way forward.) Whether interviewing a suspect, talking with witnesses, confronting a violent crime boss, or engaging with colleagues, his stepdaughter, or a new lover, Jimmy Perez is usually calm and measured, although he can be assertive when necessary. He doesn’t always get it right but he owns his mistakes. He comes across as honest, genuine, and caring. He is someone you’d feel safe with.

It is this aspect of his character that most interests me. More and more I find myself in a listening role. I don’t always know what to say but I have learned that what matters most is showing up, being present, and being prepared to listen. It is good to see this demonstrated so clearly, even if it is in a fictional setting.

A friend said to me the other day, “The distinction between hearing and listening is important.” She’s right. So often we imagine we have been listening to someone when really all we did was register the sounds they made. Listening is as much about the spaces between the words (and at the end of them) as it is about the words themselves. It is not as easy as it might seem.

At a meeting last week with our company’s mental health team I suggested setting up a small lending library. I have lots of relevant books at home and am more than happy to bring them in. One is Gail Evans’ Counselling Skills for Dummies: A Practical Guide to Becoming a Better Communicator and Listener. It has lots of useful information, tips, and techniques. It is well worth checking out if you get chance. I might read it again before I take it in.

Genuine listening involves far more than letting someone talk. (Or write. Much of my listening takes place online using social media, instant messaging, and emails.) There are certain things not to do. Don’t interrupt. Don’t leap in with potential fixes or your own experiences. These get in the way and are rarely as relevant to the other person as you imagine. There are specific things you can do. Check in now and again to confirm you are picking up what the other person wants to convey. Ask for clarification if necessary. Encourage gently. If you want to know more, check out the Dummies book – or ours.

Best of all, practice. That means engaging – with your friends, colleagues, partner, children, strangers. We are all different and our needs are complex and wonderful. This was brought home to me on a neurodiversity workshop I attended recently at work. The course material was good but what I found most valuable was listening as the trainers and others in the group shared their experiences, and I shared mine. (I have just noticed I am wearing a Stigma Fighters t-shirt today with the slogan “Sharing Our Stories.”)

This is where the magic happens. We can aspire to no higher calling than to be someone others feel safe enough with to be vulnerable. Be like that. Be like Jimmy.

 

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Looking Back on a Productive and Positive Week

Saturday, June 16, 2018

I am at Tynemouth Metro station this morning. The weekend market is relatively quiet so far. Bustle without the hustle. I have a large Americano from the excellent Regular Jo’s coffee stall, and the table to myself. [Later, I was happy to share with two very dapper gentlemen I’ve spoken to before.]

I’ve caught up with my diary and written to one of my oldest (ahem, longest-standing!) friends. It is time to open my Midori notebook and think about this week’s blog post.

It has been a busy but very positive and fulfilling week for me on the mental health front. I spent an hour last evening editing the latest in a new series of articles by a great friend, renowned author and family coach Julie A. Fast. Julie’s posts are always amongst the most popular on our site. This latest one focuses on managing paranoia.

Fran and I received several messages this week from people who have read or are reading our book, or have connected with us in other ways. We’re not in the advice business but it means so much when our words resonate with others or if we have been able to shed a little light on someone else’s situation. It sounds trite but that really is what it’s all about for us.

And we gain so much in return. At the moment I am working on what will be my sixth article for Bp Magazine. (You can find the first four on my author page. The fifth will be posted up in a week or so.) My latest topic is the glamour (in the sense of enchantment) of euphoric mania. I am working from our own experience (as many of you know, Fran was in mania when we met back in 2011) but am also drawing on the experience of others who have shared with me and are happy to contribute. This kind of collaboration expands my knowledge and hopefully makes for a more rounded article. Fingers crossed on that score!

Speaking of collaboration, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere I am working with some fabulous people at the company where I work to get some new mental health initiatives off the ground. It is early days but we are beginning to pull some ideas together.

It is hard to overstate how much it means to me and I am determined to make the most of the opportunity. It has already led to new connections and conversations, new training including a half-day session next week on neurodiversity and an excellent dial-in last week on resilience, as part of Carers’ Week.

That I can do this at all is down to the support and encouragement of my boss Judith. When people care for those around them as much as she does — at work or in any other environment — anything is possible. That is the culture our newly formed mental health team is looking to foster. I drafted Vision and Mission Statements this week for us. They may be amended or someone may come up with something better altogether! But for me they capture the essence of what we are about.

OUR VISION is a working environment in which we all feel safe, supported, valued and heard.

OUR PURPOSE is to foster a workplace culture and practices free from mental health stigma and discrimination, by raising awareness of mental health conditions, support services, events and organisations, encouraging relevant education and training including Mental Health First Aid (MHFA), and providing appropriate support to colleagues, including signposting to internal and external services.

Okay. I’ve just about finished my coffee. It’s time to take a look round the market. Who knows what I might find. I am curious to find out. That’s kind of what life’s about, I think.

[I was delighted to find a superb vintage tweed jacket by Haggart’s of Aberfeldy on one of the stalls. Exactly what I have been keeping an eye out for.]

 

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Effective Strategies to Manage Paranoia in Bipolar Disorder and Schizoaffective Disorder

By Julie A. Fast

In part one of this blog, Exploring Bipolar Disorder and the Sister Diagnosis of Schizoaffective Disorder, I talked about psychosis in bipolar disorder and how some of us with bipolar also have a separate diagnosis of a psychotic disorder. Bipolar with a separate psychotic disorder is called schizoaffective disorder.

In part two I explore the topic of paranoia, a psychotic delusion. All people with bipolar disorder live with the possibility of paranoia. It’s more common than most realize. Paranoia is quite a friendship wrecker. I lived with paranoid thoughts and behaviors for many years before I learned how to control them. I still get paranoid but I’ve learned not to take it out on my friends the way I used to.

As a side note, please know that people can have paranoid behavior without having a mood disorder. Paranoid personality disorder is an example. This article is relevant to anyone who experiences paranoia.

How I Manage My Paranoia

I’ve taught myself to know what I think, say and do when I’m paranoid. I explain how I use this process in my Health Cards Treatment Plan for Bipolar Disorder. It is the only way I have found to manage my bipolar disorder as I can’t take many medications. Before I learned this system I was a tiny boat on a raging ocean of moods. I still have mood swings but I know now what they are and am able to control them. You can learn to do the same. If you’re a friend or loved one of someone with bipolar disorder or schizoaffective disorder, you can also learn to use this system to help. Here is how it works.

What I Think, Say and Do When Paranoid

What I think when I’m paranoid. Please note that I use the word ‘think’ but with delusions it really is more of a feeling than a thought.

Something isn’t right with my friend. She is upset with me and doesn’t want to tell me the truth.

People are meeting and having dinner parties and doing things without me. They don’t want me there, so they don’t invite me.

Friends think I don’t know what is going on, but I do.

Someone is upset with me. I can feel it.

No one is calling me. They are upset with me.

This is not a safe place. I have to get out of here.

Someone is following me in the car.

What I say. This is where I used to get into so much trouble! I would either say these things out loud or send an email.

I write an email or text and accuse someone of not wanting to contact me.

I ask friends, “Are you made at me?” or, “Is there something you want to talk to me about?” Or ”Is something wrong?”

I tell people, “I’m not stupid and I know that there is something wrong and you should just tell me the truth!”

J’accuse!

What I do.

I can’t look people in the eye.

I obsessively pour over emails and texts and search for hidden meanings.

I can’t sleep.

I look in my rear view mirror and see that cars are way too close. Someone is following me.

I look for recording devices. Maybe someone has hidden cameras in their kitchen.

I cut myself off from people I feel are harming me by not talking to me.

These are just a few examples. I’m interested to know if you have experienced anything listed above, either as a person with bipolar or as a friend. This paranoia symptom is often missed as it can be subtle. The internet has made paranoid communication much easier and people are very quick to accuse when it takes just a few seconds to send a message.

What if the Paranoid Feelings are Real?

I live in the creative world now and I often see my work used by other people. This is deeply distressing as you can imagine. The difference between this and what I describe above is that in most cases people actually have plagiarized my ideas. I tend to keep quiet about this as it can lead to actual paranoia, but sometimes I do have to take action. The main difference between paranoia and noticing that someone is using one of my ideas without credit is that paranoia is NEVER real. Can the two get confused? Yes, if I am paranoid I can think that someone is using my work who isn’t. This is why I use my Health Cards and never say anything unless I have facts to back me up. Even then, I might not be right!

How I Changed

One day, after a really terrible situation where I sent an awful email to a friend and effectively ended our relationship, I realized I had to change. I write about this experience in my Bp Magazine article Relationships and the Bipolar Trap. Was it easy to change? No. In fact, I still have to watch myself very carefully even though it has been almost twenty years since I sent the letter to my former friend. Here is what I do now.

  1. I memorized what I think, say and do when I’m paranoid. I can’t trust my ill self, but I can trust my well self. The well me creates the Health Card (you can simply create a list of what you think, say and do) and I then use it when I start to get paranoid. Yes, you can teach yourself the signs you are paranoid and you can learn to stop the episode from going too far. It is NOT easy. I first had to see my paranoia was a problem and then had to stick to documenting my behavior so that I could use it later.
  2. I made a promise to myself (and for the most part I have kept it) that I will NEVER, and I do mean NEVER, send a text or email or any form of communication that is accusatory. I stick to my own feelings and my own experiences. This has helped greatly. I no longer say You did this! or You are thinking this! Stopping this one action — the writing and accusing — has saved me a great deal of trouble and saved many of my relationships.
  3. I accept that I still get paranoid. My symptoms are still here but I have learned how to minimize the symptoms.
  4. I do not use any hallucinogenics. This means no cannabis (THC is a strong hallucinogenic and even when I tried low THC, or what was labeled as no THC, I got psychotic.) I keep away from any spiritual journey drugs such as magic mushrooms or Ayahuasca. My brain is too fragile to handle anything that is hallucinogenic.
  5. I tell my friends what to look for. In the beginning I needed a lot of help from others. I needed people to say, “Julie, you asked me to remind you if I thought you sounded paranoid. I am reminding you now.” This helped me a lot. Eventually, I was able to control it on my own.
  6. I keep away from people who are paranoid. I don’t have friends who believe in conspiracy theories, government cover-ups or chem trails. This doesn’t mean they are wrong and I am right. It means that this kind of person is not safe for me. It makes me ill to be around another person with paranoid thinking and talking.
  7. I put my thoughts in a journal and they STAY there. I am always shocked to go back and read what I wrote when I was sick. I think, “Good heavens. I was really paranoid. I am SO glad I didn’t say anything!”
  8. I take meds if needed. They help a lot.

It’s incredibly important to listen to others if you have the symptoms of paranoia. Your brain is not your friend when symptoms are raging. I had to ask for help with all of this.

Tips for Friends, Siblings, Family Members and Health Care Professionals

Make your own thinks, says and does list so that you will not get caught in a Bipolar Conversation. You can then decide how you want to approach the issue. I believe in preparing scripts to use when a friend is not doing well. For example,

Julie, you have been very honest with me about your bipolar disorder and I appreciate this. Right now, I feel that we are in a situation where the bipolar is doing some of the talking. I am concerned about what you are saying and feel you are in a mood swing. I’m here to discuss this with you.

Or

I know that these thoughts come up when life is stressful. I can tell you that I have not changed and you have not changed. The thoughts you have and the feelings you are experiencing sound intense, but please know they are not related to us. We can work on this together.

It helps to have a plan in place that you discuss when your friend is stable. You can ask, “What would you like me to say when I can tell you are paranoid?” And then use the words another person created for you.

Do you have signs of paranoia? Is paranoia causing problems in a friendship with someone who has bipolar? Please know that paranoia rarely goes away. It is a symptom that needs to be managed. Doing this as a team makes a lot of sense!

Julie

PS: My next post will be on trigger management. I’ll cover how I recognize and remove triggers to manage the paranoia as well as other aspects of psychosis.

 

About the Author

Julie A. Fast is the author of Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder, Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder, Get it Done When You’re Depressed and The Health Cards Treatment System for Bipolar Disorder. Julie is a board member of The International Bipolar Foundation, a columnist and blogger for BP Magazine, and won the Mental Health America journalism award for the best mental health column in the US. Julie was the recipient of the Eli Lily Reintegration award for her work in bipolar disorder advocacy. She is a bipolar disorder expert for the Dr.Oz and Oprah created site ShareCare.

Julie is CEU certified and regularly trains health care professionals including psychiatric residents, social workers, therapists and general practitioners on bipolar disorder management skills. She was the original consultant for Claire Danes for the show Homeland and is on the mental health expert registry for People Magazine.

She works as a coach for parents and partners of people with bipolar disorder. Julie is currently writing a book for children called Hortensia and the Magical Brain: Poems for Kids with Bipolar, Anxiety, Psychosis and Depression. She struggles a lot due to bipolar disorder. Friendships keep her going.

You can find more about her work at www.JulieFast.com and www.BipolarHappens.com.