Wednesday, 20 March 2019

A Heap of "S" Words and an Aitch: Stigma, Suicide, Self-Harm - and Hope

By Martin Baker and Aimee Wilson

My good friend and fellow mental health blogger Aimee Wilson recently enrolled on an online course at Future Learn, titled Understanding Suicide and Suicide Prevention Strategies in a Global Context. It took me about thirty seconds to decide to join her! This is from the course description:

On this course, you will gain a broader understanding of suicide as a worldwide issue. You will analyse global suicide rates and patterns and explore common risk factors. You will explore the social and cultural factors that can influence suicidal behaviour. You will also look at suicide prevention strategies and learn how these can be enforced in communities.

Having a study buddy is great because — as Fran and I have found many times — you have someone to share ideas and perspectives with, and to talk through any issues that come up. This is especially valuable with something as complex and important as suicidality.

As with other Future Learn courses there is an online forum where students can connect, answer or ask questions, and post comments. One of the modules, Introducing Stigma, invited us to “share examples from mental health settings that help clarify the meaning of the terms [stigma, stereotypes, and discrimination].” I posted the following to the discussion area, drawing on conversations Fran and I have had over the years:

My best friend who lives with bipolar disorder has lived with suicidal ideation for most of her adult life. [....] In her case, the perceived stigma surrounding suicide (how she would be viewed by her community after any attempt at taking her life, whatever the outcome might be) is one of the factors which in her case is protective. The stigma helps to turn her away from that edge. This is something I don’t think I have seen reported elsewhere. Not exactly a good aspect of stigma, but worth noting.

I mentioned this to Aimee on Twitter, where we have been tweeting our progress on the course. She hadn’t heard that particular point being made before either. It made sense to her, although her personal experience with stigma was different:

For me, the stigma means I find it hard to ask for help when I am feeling that way.

I replied that the impact of stigma wasn’t simple for Fran either.

Yes, and that [aspect] is also present for Fran. So it’s all very mixed up and confused/overlapping. (We go into this in our book HTLT in some detail). I guess the different aspects affect people in different ways, and not always “logically”.

Here is the key passage, from chapter 7 of High Tide, Low Tide, “The ‘S’ Word: Being There When Your Friend Is Suicidal”.

The stigma surrounding mental illness is unhelpful and dangerous to the extent it makes people less likely to seek help, or speak to someone about what they are going through. Yet paradoxically, it can be protective to some degree. As Fran sees it, the taint of suicide would follow her even in death. She would be remembered not for her successes — her career, her books, her caring relationships, or the courage she has displayed through decades of illness — but as a failure. Whether or not she survived, she would always be “Fran Houston, that woman who tried to kill herself.” As much as she despises it, the shame of suicide helps to keep her away from the edge.

Aimee and I had chance to discuss this further in person. The idea that stigma could have a protective effect gave her a perspective she’d not had before. I asked if she would share what it meant to her:

Having experienced recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), I’ve learnt that it isn’t linear. Recovery is still a rollercoaster; it’s just that you tend to actually stay on the track a lot more! So, it feels like my recovery is constantly being tested by challenges in life and it means that I’m always looking for new inspiration and new reasons to stay on that track. Hearing Fran’s thought process around suicide was really enlightening and I have definitely added it to my arsenal of inspirations I can call on when things get difficult.

And that’s why it is so important to keep the dialogue open about such “difficult” topics as stigma, suicide, suicidal thinking (also known as suicidal ideation), and self-harm. (That’s a heap of “S” words, right there!) All too often these are hidden away or talked about only in terms of statistics and strategies (another two!). Exploring trends, causes, and effects on a societal level is important, but behind every statistic is an individual with his or her personal story, experiences, insights, and potential. That can too easily be lost. As Fran’s experience of stigma shows, things are not always as simple or clear-cut as they might appear.

No one is saying stigma is a good thing. It is overwhelmingly unhelpful, unhealthy, and damaging to both individuals and society at large. But the fact that it may, under some circumstances at least, help someone step back from the edge of self-harm or suicide deserves to be acknowledged and considered alongside other factors.

When it comes to something as complex as suicidality and self-harm, the best approach is to start from the individual person’s perspective, experiences and needs. And if we cannot guess what those are — and we cannot — we need to be prepared to ask the questions.

What are you going through right now?
What helps?
What doesn’t help?
What do you need?

Sharing our stories in a spirit of openness allows us to learn from others, expand our understanding, and can bring hope. What more valuable work can there be?

How do you feel about the topics discussed in this article? Please feel free to share in the comment section below.

Further Information

If you would like to know more about courses offered by Future Learn you can find all the information on their website. There is no enrolment charge and most courses are free to access throughout the duration of the course and for 14 days afterwards. You can upgrade for unlimited access plus a Certificate of Achievement or Statement of Participation. For the course Aimee and I are taking the upgrade cost is £52 (GBP).

Aimee Wilson is a 28-year-old mental health blogger who has used her personal experiences to develop a popular online profile. Her blog I’m NOT Disordered has close to half a million readers. Aimee’s first book, When All Is Said & Typed, is available at Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, and in other regions.

 

Sunday, 17 March 2019

When She

By Aimee Wilson

 

When she fought, he won

When she stole, he caught her

When she looked, he hid

When she bent, he broke her

When she hurt, he caused it

When she ran, he gave chase

When she saw, he missed it

When she heard, he ignored

 

But when she died, they revived her
When she cut, they mended
When she swallowed, they treat
When she cried, they soothed
When she ran, they caught
When she lost hope, they showed her the way

 

She won back what he’d taken

She mended what he had broke

She stabilized what he had moved

She finished what he had started

She lived

 

 


About the Author

Aimee Wilson is a 28-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 now has close to half 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.

Her first book, When All Is Said & Typed, is available at Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, and in other regions. You can follow Aimee’s blog and read more about her at www.imnotdisordered.co.uk.

 

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Open Hands. Open Arms. Open Heart.

This important principle reminds us not to hold too tightly to people, relationships, and situations. Healthy things grow, and to grow is to change.

In the time we have known each other Fran has moved from mania to depression and out again. She has grown in self-awareness, and developed tools for looking after herself. I have learned a great deal about what it is like for someone living with illness, and how to respond to Fran’s needs and the needs of others. At times Fran needs me close beside her, at other times she needs space to grow independently.

“Open hands” recognises that change is natural, healthy, and necessary. It gives us permission to grow without feeling guilty or restricted. Imagine holding a small bird in the palm of your hand. It feels safe, protected, and cared for, but it is free to move, to grow, and even to fly away.

“Open arms” reminds us that, no matter what happens, we will always welcome each other back as friends.

“Open heart” connects our friendship to our wider network of relationships with other friends, family, and the people we encounter in our lives.”

 

Excerpted from chapter 1, “The Caring Friendship: Key Skills and Attitudes,” of our book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder. Available at: Amazon.ca | Amazon.com | Amazon.co.jp | Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.de | Amazon.es | Amazon.fr | Amazon.it | Barnes & Noble

 

Sunday, 10 March 2019

My Mental Health Talk for International Women’s Day

Last week I was proud to speak at an event organised for International Women’s Day by the Women in Digital network where I work.

I’d been invited to take part by my friend and colleague Lisa Overall. We agreed on a topic for my talk — how to support a friend who lives with mental illness — based on an article I wrote originally for No Stigmas, “a global non-profit movement utilizing peer-to-peer connections to promote mental wellness and prevent suicide.” The article was subsequently published at The Mighty.

I had given the talk once before, at a Talking FreELY event in 2017, but it is a topic which resonates with many (at The Mighty my article has been “liked” more than 1,200 times) and I was confident it would work for this new audience. The room was filling nicely by the time I arrived. I’d estimate there were close to sixty people there as the event got underway. (It is possible the promise of cake had something to do with the turnout!)

After introductions, things got off to a great start with a presentation on women and mental health by Lois White who leads the mental health awareness team at BPDTS. Like me, Lois is a Mental Health First Aider, and equally passionate about the work we are doing within the company.

After her talk Lois introduced me and took charge of the projector, anticipating almost all of my “next slide, please” moments. (Thank you!) I’ve done a number of public readings and talks in the past few years, but I still get nervous. Fortunately, once I am up there I find myself calming down and easing into things.

I had the script for my talk on my Kindle to keep me on track and on schedule, but I found myself ad-libbing freely. It’s hard to know when you are in front of an audience but it seemed to go well. There were even a few laughs in appropriate places. Lisa told me later I’d had the room in the palm of my hand, so I guess I did okay!

I received some very positive feedback afterwards, which is testament to the relevance of the key message I wanted to get across: that no one is too far away to be cared for or to care; and that with some basic tech and a little imagination we can be there for our friends and loved ones, whether they live on the other side of town or an ocean away.

In the interval I got chatting with a few of the other attendees including Andy Heath who was photographing the event. I couldn’t attend all the sessions but I’m glad I stayed for the next two speakers, who shared what has influenced and motivated their life and career journeys. The message to follow what interests you most and where your passion lies rather than “chasing grades” resonated strongly for me, as did their commitment to remaining open to new challenges and opportunities.

In case anyone is wondering, I didn’t have Fran with me on live video link (maybe next time!) but she messaged me before and after my talk and was very much with me as I shared our story. I even sneaked in a mention or two (or was it three?) of our book. I still feel self-conscious doing that, but a friend told me something this week that really struck home:

You were wondering where you are in the mental health community ... you are a writer, and an adamant and steadfast supporter.

She’s right (thanks, Jen!) As I wrote recently, I have been struggling a lot with my self-confidence of late, unsure in particular of my role and place within the mental health community. My talk, the positive responses to it, and the other speakers at the event helped me reconnect with the idea that I have a voice and a message worth sharing.

For that, and much else, I am grateful for the opportunity to take part. Thank you.

Photo credit: Andy Heath, with permission.

 

Saturday, 2 March 2019

Or Maybe You Were an Asshole

Don’t push someone away and then expect them to still be there when you have a change of mind.” (Anon)

That quotation made its way into my social media stream the other day. Maybe you’ve seen it, or something similar. Maybe you agree with the sentiment.

After all, it doesn’t feel good to be pushed away by someone you care about. It’s easy to sit back and feel self-righteously aggrieved. But things are not always what they seem.

Someone might push you away for all sorts of reasons. Maybe they have major trust issues, and very good reasons for them. Maybe they have a lot of other shit going on right now and can’t keep all their plates spinning at the same time. Maybe they need to believe someone will be there to welcome them back. Maybe it isn’t about you at all.

Or maybe you were an asshole and they needed to push you away for their safety and well-being.

 

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

One Step at a Time: Walking for Wellness, Walking for Me

When I’m happy, I walk.
When I’m sad, or lonely or lost.
When I’m hurting, or numb.
When there’s too much to think about
Or nothing on my mind.
I walk.

Walking has played an important role in my life for as long as I can remember. So much so that it was one of the first things I included in the wellness tools section of my Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP). It’s also made its way into my writing more often than I’d realised until I began writing this article. (The idea for this piece came to me whilst, wait for it, walking into work one morning a few weeks ago.)

My family never owned a car, so when I was growing up in Liverpool if I wanted to go somewhere it was catch the bus or walk. From the age of eleven I walked thirty or forty minutes each way to and from school, lost in my thoughts about whatever was going on for me at the time. In my late teens I remember going for Sunday evening walks to West Derby village and back, a round trip of maybe an hour and a half at my ambling, contemplative pace.

About that time I started going on the Ramblers’ Association (now The Ramblers) public walks every couple of months with my aunt and her friend. I loved the exercise and the sense of freedom, being out on the hills. The people were lovely but I mostly kept my own counsel and walked separately the rest. There was one exception, a lady whose name escapes me some forty years on. Her spirit is captured, however, in one of my poems from that time.

Song to the high hills

Take my hand offered
across streams
we jump
that trickle your laughter
down the savage fen.
Share with me one day’s
journey
in this weird land,
where even the spring shuns
the mark of our
trespass
and unnamed birds cast down
forsaken echoes
from the high hills above us.
Do you not see
the whole earth bleeding …
distant mountains burn
a venous red
and at our feet
the bare rocks haemorrhage,
oozing lichen up from unseen wounds.
Believe me,
cares that clothe us
city-bound
will fall
today
like autumn leaves
       that colour in your hair
come winter’s purge.
And yet, in all of this,
a little rain might mark my sadness
sevenfold
to court you but a day
—surely inhibition falters
as we share the innocence
of exploration together.

Innocence tempting revelation.

From: Collected Poems: 1977–1984.

I joined the hiking club at university but didn’t keep it up. I do recall one hike with friends across Ilkley Moor during a thunderstorm that painted the sky in all manner of crazy hues. Instead, I took to taking urban walks on my own, mostly early in the morning. A favourite route took me out of town to a park where I would sit a while by the lake before making my way back for lectures. One day I went further than I intended and got myself a bit lost. I remember taking my shoes off and walking part of the way back barefoot across a golf course in the rain. A different early walk, along a derelict railway to the local park, was captured in another of my poems.

The Bunch of Wild Flowers

this morning
as you slept in his arms
I wandered,
picked you flowers white as sonnets
early in the morning
where the lonely go
and lovers wonder)

stirring in your arms he
tasted autumn in your hair
ascent of flowers,
brushed away the cobwebs or a dream
and (plucked one throbbing rose as red as
kisses
early in the garden
where the lovers grow
within each other’s arms

And bore you welcomes wild
of flowers truer than all orchids
my love
this morning as you slept
in his arms I wandered
gathering poems deep as daisies
early in the morning
where the lovers
go,

From: Collected Poems: 1977–1984.

Urban or rural, walking for me has always been about space: space in which to think or not think, depending on what I most need at the time. It is my instinctive response to uncertainty, challenge, and loss. When I got the news that PJ, a dear friend from university days, had died my instinctive reaction was to get out of the house and walk. It didn’t matter where, I just needed to be moving. (Years later, that one evening of loss is imprinted on these local streets, although I’ve added many overlying layers of other days, people and memories in the intervening years.) A week or so later I took the day off work and went to the coast for a solitary hike, long enough to try and process the fact that my friend was no longer here. After my mother died I walked by Crosby Marina the evening of her funeral. The words that came to me are, perhaps, a poem. If so, it is the first I’ve written in many years.

Wandering
Wondering

How do I feel
What do I feel

Release
Relief

Re birth

Stillness
Silence

Un known
Un homed

Un tethered

Still
Calm

Centred (thank you

— Liverpool, March 26, 2018

I mostly prefer to walk alone but there have been times when I’ve taken a trusted friend along. One of my dearest memories of PJ is of walking her home in the snow one dark winter night. Years later I recall another walk in the snow with a different friend, when we got seriously lost on Wimbledon Common. The walk Fran and I took around Beaulieu in 2013 when we met in person for the first time was, quite simply, precious.

We walked, and talked, and took photos of the Abbey and gardens, and went on the monorail and the old open-top bus, and walked some more, and sat, and talked some more. It was amazing—and the most natural thing in the world. If we were a little shy it didn’t show. We were just two friends out together enjoying the day.

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

Walks by the sea are special. I spent six months in Norwich on placement from university. One Sunday I drove to the coast with one of the other students for an hour or so walking on the shore.

(In the Depths of) Singing

Down the western reaches of the sea i
findme walking with a friend,
wind and seasalt wildly in the sky, you on
my mind. Late november: pebbles in a
wilderness of oceans and a fulling moon.

Something like the flesh of friends too
raw for touching walkwe. Two
investigating puddles. Our togetherness apart
we wander down our dreams while all the
waves one water can involve strike
sparks about our feet. From flints we
gather in the night.
We gather. In the

(o i love the waves that break upon
me like you)

nightly

From: Collected Poems: 1977–1984.

That memory sparks another. One morning long ago when I ought to have been at work but instead spent the day on the beach walking with a friend who understood that sometimes shared solitude is just what is needed.

A few years ago I paddled in the sea along Long Sands Beach at Whitley Bay here in the north-east. At first it was cold. Then my feet went numb. I probably should have come out at that point but I kept going to the point when my feet were hurting with cold. I got out of the water, dried my feet, and put my thick socks and boots on, expecting my feet to warm through within a few minutes. They took so long to thaw out I was beginning to think I had caused some serious damage. I have paddled in the sea several times since then, but not in quite such extreme conditions.

Over time, regular walking routes become saturated with memories. The best example of that is the walk I take each evening when on holiday at the Cumbrian cottage my family have rented for the past twenty years or so. So rich are the echoes of the people and situations I’ve brought with me in mind and heart over the years that I’ve named it Memory Lane. Fran has accompanied me on that walk many times via the magic of Skype. A few other friends have done the same.

I have done a few sponsored walks. When I was at school I organised a twenty mile walk for friends in aid of the World Wildlife Fund. I think only two of us completed the task but we did raise some money. More recently I have done the Alzheimer’s Society Memory Walk a couple of times, and taken part in the NAMI Maine Walk, accompanying Fran from 3,000 miles away. Last December I took part in the Jingle Bell Walk to raise money for children’s cancer charity The Chris Lucas Trust.

Returning to my solo walks and their place in my wellbeing, the best example is the walk I took almost every evening during the summer of 2013 when Fran was traveling in Europe. Those walks were part of my wellness plan for that period, which was the most challenging we’d faced as friends and one of the most traumatic Fran had ever experienced.

That wellness plan developed into the Wellness Recovery Action Plan I mentioned at the start of this article. It is a living document and will grow with me as my needs change, but I cannot imagine walking not being in there as one of my key wellness tools.

Well, this article has turned out to be rather long and rambling, much like many of my walks!

I will close with another passage from our book, because short or long every walk starts out as a single step, then another, then another. And where steps are concerned, size and speed are not always the most important things. The important thing is to keep moving.

As we like to say, baby steps are steps too.

This is one of our favourite [sayings]. It reminds us to stay focused in the present moment, to take life one step at a time, and to acknowledge that even the smallest advance counts as progress. Fran is very goal-oriented, and becomes frustrated if she seems to be straying off course or failing to make fast enough progress. In depression, this can reach a point where she despairs of ever achieving her targets or even progressing further towards them. At such times, “Baby steps are steps too” reminds her that she rarely stays stuck for long. She will try new ideas, or re-visit old ones, until something happens to move her forward.

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

 

Saturday, 23 February 2019

Impostor Syndrome, Self-Doubt, and Legitimacy in the Mental Health Arena

When did you start feeling like a fraud?

Fran asked me that question recently. It’s not exactly that I feel a fraud. I’ve never passed myself off as other than I am or claimed knowledge and experience I don’t have. But I have used that knowledge and experience to involve myself in groups and activities intended for people with lived experience of mental illness, which I do not have. Maybe it’s more a case of impostor syndrome than fraud.

According to Scientific American, “Impostor Syndrome is a pervasive feeling of self-doubt, insecurity, or fraudulence despite often overwhelming evidence to the contrary. It strikes smart, successful individuals. It often rears its head after an especially notable accomplishment, like admission to a prestigious university, public acclaim, winning an award, or earning a promotion.”

Putting smart and successful to one side, that description is a close fit for how I’ve been feeling, especially the university example. Last October I enrolled at ReCoCo, Newcastle’s Recovery College. I attended two excellent courses (a self-harm awareness session and a Wellness Recovery Action Plan workshop) and helped out at one of the college’s wellness events. As I wrote in a post which has been included in ReCoCo’s current prospectus, it seemed I’d found finally found somewhere I belonged.

I felt welcome and accepted, and my contributions and story [at the drop-in session] were considered as respectfully as anyone else’s. (As someone without direct lived experience of mental illness, crisis, or trauma, it is a big thing for me to feel I have something worth sharing that might be of interest and value to others.) It left a powerful impression.

Lately, though, I’m doubting the legitimacy of my enrollment. The Recovery College is explicitly organised by and for people with lived experience, and I no longer feel my interest in mental health, my desire to learn, and my role supporting Fran and other friends justify my being there. It’s not only ReCoCo. Quite rightly, the mental health community is focused on, and increasingly led by, people with lived experience of illness and services. I have been proud to volunteer with Time to Change over the past few years and have attended or been involved with various events, groups, and organisations including OPENM;NDED. Right now, I’m doubting my place in all of these.

Aimee Wilson, a mental health blogger who has worked with organisations across the north-east and beyond, told me “you have as much right as anyone to attend these events and personally, they wouldn’t be the same without you.” Aimee’s friendship and support is hugely appreciated, but I do need to work this through. Impostor syndrome undoubtedly plays a part, as does a need in me to feel I belong. A never-quite-satisfied desire for home.

Talking about this with Aimee and others, I’ve come to realise feelings of not-quite-belonging are not uncommon. Roiben has guested several times here at Gum on My Shoe. She describes how she finds herself falling between the gaps because she does not fully satisfy the criteria of different support communities:

It is difficult to feel one doesn’t fit. I get that a lot. I am often on the edge of what services and charities support. Not blind enough for RNIB, not deaf enough for some Deaf groups. I never claimed to be SI [Sight Impaired] or SSI [Severely Sight Impaired], nor did I claim to be Profoundly Deaf. Yet somehow the fact that I am not makes some people feel I am trying to take their place. I’m not. Just trying to connect, through areas I have some experience in. It’s frustrating.

One thing Roiben said resonated strongly for me:

I make a great advocate for disabilities, because I have experience of some and have friends in other areas. I have seen and experienced accessibility or lack of it in action. The fact I am not totally one or the other doesn’t diminish that in any way!

That’s very much how I feel about my mental health work. I don’t have lived experience of mental illness but I have support experience, knowledge, and some useful skills. I believe these have value. The question for me is how and where are they best exercised? Fran said to me the other day:

It’s about serving. You take what you have to offer and serve others with that. You are not an expert on lived mental illness. You are an expert on how to be friends with those that are.

Fran’s right. I am shy of being called an expert, but I can accept “expert by experience” based on my years supporting Fran and other friends who live with illness. That is my field of competence. It’s the basis of our book and what I do pretty much every day. I don’t doubt myself in that area. I’m just not sure where I fit, in the wider mental health community. It’s about serving — but where and how do I serve?

 

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

How to Gently and Kindly Talk with a Friend About Difficult Bipolar Symptoms

By Julie A. Fast

As friends of people with bipolar and schizoaffective disorder we want to be understanding and kind regarding the struggles people with serious mental illness face. But — and it is a very big BUT — there is a line to be drawn in terms of what you as a friend can handle, especially if the person’s symptoms are active.

I see this from both sides. I have bipolar disorder and a psychotic disorder myself. I know what the symptoms can do to our minds, and ultimately how they can affect our friendships. I have lost or left many relationships with people who have untreated mental health symptoms. On one occasion a friend with schizoaffective disorder decided that I had stolen one of her ideas. She texted me at 11:30 p.m. on a Saturday night and said:

I am very upset with you! I just saw your latest blog post and you’re using my ideas in this post and this is not cool. I need you to take it down and print a retraction!

Another time, a friend with bipolar one decided that he wanted to live the manic life and went off all meds, saying:

I am finally free to live the life I have always wanted!

Let’s look at these situations in more detail.

Scenario One: Paranoia

It was Saturday night. I was asleep and suddenly my phone (that I keep switched on in order to use a sleep app) started buzzing with texts. They were from a good friend, so I assumed she was in a crisis and I sat up so that I could be there for her.

Yikes!

I read text after text accusing me of stealing her ideas. I naturally had the thought Oh no! What have I done?! But when I read them again I realized that there was nothing specific in them. I had not done anything that she could point to that made any sense. I recognized that my friend was experiencing psychotic paranoia and that I was suddenly, after a long term friendship, the TARGET.

It felt terrible. It was a little scary, to be honest.

I was a good friend to her and reading these accusatory words felt like a punch in the stomach. I of course know that she has bipolar and a psychotic disorder. I know that, as I do myself, she gets paranoid. But I have a policy in my own life that I don’t take my symptoms out on the people in my life and I ask the same of my friends. I won’t be the target of a late night paranoia attack, just as I will not let my paranoia make a similar late night attack on someone else.

Believe me, I did this in the past and ruined many relationships, but I have taught myself to manage my paranoia. I thought my friend had done the same. We talked through her worries the next day, but six months later it happened again. This time she accused me of not spending enough time with her and not helping her with her new book project. Of course, as with all paranoia, it FELT real, but she was not being realistic. She was ill with psychosis.

After much sadness and worry I decided that I could not be in this relationship and simply stopped contacting her. I was the “bad guy” who left, but I am ok with that. I didn’t feel protected from her mental health symptoms. I need to be protected if someone is my friend.

I did try to talk with her about how her paranoia affected me but she was in a strong delusion and I could tell that talking was not going to work. I am not here to change anyone. She has a team around her to take care of her. She is fine and I am fine. Our relationship simply ran its course. This often happens and it is a normal part of life. Did I get upset? Of course! She was my friend! But I have boundaries in place to keep myself well enough to be who I want to be in the world and I had to let this relationship go.

Scenario Two: Mania

After a thirteen year friendship, a dear friend of mine who has always worked hard to stay stable suddenly decided to stop all medications in order to live a “manic life.” I felt deep worry about this and let him know my feelings. My policy in life is to let people be who they are. Then I can decide if I want to be with that person. I don’t change people. I knew his plan would be a disaster, but he is allowed to make his own decisions.

I love this person and am still deeply conflicted about what happened. But as with my friend who has paranoid psychosis, a person with bipolar has to be working on their stability to be in my life. Otherwise, I will get sick as well.

In this case, my dear and kind friend, who I will call Marcus, decided that mania was more fun than responsibility. As a result he went off all meds, left his partner and kids and decided to relive his youth. He moved out of his house and got his own place. Before long our phone calls were about the people he was meeting in bars and how he finally felt free for the first time in his life. He told me he was using weed. That really set my alarm bells ringing. Cannabis and bipolar do not mix: the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in the cannabis can make us manic and psychotic. I was deeply worried and let him know from the beginning. I gave an opinion and stated my needs.

He came to visit for a weekend and I could tell he was manic from the minute he arrived. His eyes were wild and he was dressed flamboyantly. He openly talked about the handsome men he met at the coffee shop and sat in positions that were sexually suggestive. He was being very outgoing and nice to everyone around him but he was NOT focused on our relationship. He was not bothering anyone, but I could tell he was not himself. It was like the lid had been taken off a jar of bees.

This continued all morning. At lunch he was talking and talking about his new life and playing pool and trying weed, and suddenly I realized that I felt incredibly uncomfortable. He knows my position on cannabis as it made me very psychotic and manic, and in our state it is not well regulated. Marcus would never touch the stuff when stable. When he said this so nonchalantly, I woke up to the situation. I asked him if he was still off his meds.

Oh yes Julie! I went off months ago. They were making me so fat and I was so tired all of the time. Making kids’ lunches and doing homework with them. I had enough! I feel like a real person for the first time in my life!

This continued for a few hours. Finally, I realized that this was not healthy for me. I was getting agitated and worried. Due to my policy of not telling people what to do, but always telling people what I need so that they can decide what works for them, I said the following, right there at my kitchen table:

Marcus, you know how much I care about you. We have been friends for many years and you have been there for me when life was really tough. A large part of our relationship has been working together to manage our bipolar. You help me test the ideas in my books. You were there when I needed to explain my system to the world. I am forever grateful. I am not here to change people and I am not here to tell people what to do. But, you know that my life is based on being stable.

When you say, “I feel that I have been in jail for all of these years. The marriage and the kids were a rope around my neck and now I am free! I don’t need the meds and I need you to understand that this is my choice and I am finally feeling great for the first time in my life!” it is mania talking.

You do not talk this way when you’re stable. I’m not comfortable being around mania. It is truly a trigger for me and I ought to know about triggers as I wrote a book about it and you have always helped me market this book! I love you and you know you are important to me, but I can’t be around this. I ask that you cut your trip short and go home now. This is the best for both of us.

He was very understanding. This was an episode of euphoric mania and people tend to be open to anything during this kind of episode, but I could tell he had no idea that his mood swing was creating one in me. In the past I would have waited it out and become more ill. Not now. Now, I focus on what I need and I let people know this in a calm and kind way. I have to take care of my bipolar disorder first or I literally will not sleep, and then the mania starts in my brain. Oh, this was hard. I loved Marcus, his kindness and friendship, but the decisions he was making were not safe for anyone. We sent a few emails back and forth and eventually I said the following:

Marcus, you visited my house while manic. You didn’t tell me until I was sitting in front of you that you had been off your meds for a few months. I know this is not my business and you don’t have to call me and tell me what you’re doing. This is your life. But I can tell you that this mania is incredibly frustrating, and if I’m really honest it is scary for me.

To see you like this reminds me of my manic days and I feel in a bit of a panic to think of what your kids are going through right now. I am not going to tell you what to do, but I am so sorry, I can’t be around you when the mania is given free reign. It is too stimulating for me and it is very distressing. You know my feelings on the topic.

He was very understanding, but from friends I hear Marcus is still off his meds to this day.

My goal is to help you as a friend of someone with bipolar disorder or schizoaffective disorder figure out what YOU need in the relationship. I could have called his doctor or his ex. I could have gotten involved but that was not my role, and never had been my role throughout our long relationship. Someone who is very manic and using cannabis is not someone I can have in my life. This is not a judgement. It is not about him at all. It is about me. I need stable people around me. I can love my friends with bipolar and psychotic disorders, but I can also be very clear that relationships work best when both people are working on stability.

Your thoughts as a friend?

 

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.

 

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Announcing Our New Book, “No One is Too Far Away: Notes from a Transatlantic Friendship”

Back in September we announced our new creative partnership with Eliezer Tristan Publishing. The fruits of that partnership can now be revealed!

Available in print and for Kindle, No One is Too Far Away: Notes from a Transatlantic Friendship showcases the very best of our blog posts and articles.

“Friendship is a beautiful part of life and an important component of long-term wellness. When Martin Baker met Fran Houston online, he never imagined that they would develop a connection that transcends time zones and international boundaries.

“In Notes from a Transatlantic Friendship, journal entries from Baker and Houston show us the deep-rooted value of intimate bonds and shared experiences. Through their writings, the authors demonstrate that mental illness needn’t be a barrier; indeed it can be the glue that holds people together.”

No One is Too Far Away: Notes from a Transatlantic Friendship is available in print and for Kindle from Amazon (COM | UK) and in print from Barnes and Noble and other booksellers. Also on Goodreads.

 

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

When All Is Said & Typed, by Aimee Wilson

Fran and I are delighted to introduce the new book by a dear friend of ours, Aimee Wilson. Aimee’s mental health blog I’m NOT Disordered has had huge success across the world, with numerous media appearances and collaborations. Recently published for Kindle, When All Is Said & Typed is a complete collection of articles from I’m NOT Disordered published between January 2013 and January 2019.

The articles are arranged by chronological order in five topics: The Power of Writing, The Impact of the Media, The Devastation, The Progress, and The People. The book can be read as a self-help guide or as a source of inspiration as it leads the reader through Aimee’s journey from psychiatric hospitalization to recovery.

When All Is Said & Typed is available for Kindle at Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, and in other regions.


Foreword

I’ve always loved writing so putting my everything into a book seemed like the natural next step.

I remember when I was young, and I used to write hundreds of short stories about ponies and horses that my Nana always loved to read. As I got older, I seemed to be so bogged down in homework that I lost writing as a hobby and interest and it became more of a chore. I was always in the highest sets in English class with having the top predicted grades and in Middle School a teacher predicted that I’d be a Journalist (she said a Political one but that’s not going to happen!).

Later, in High School, I kept diaries. When the abuse started, I actually found these a really helpful outlet when it became apparent that — for a number of reasons — I couldn’t confide in anyone. I didn’t — for one minute — imagine that two years later; after being sectioned under the Mental Health Act (1983), I’d end up giving these diaries to the Police as evidence of the abuse.

But I think that — even with my poorly mental health — it was actually an important life lesson; it taught me just how profound writing can be. The impact that writing has can be life-changing. As a writer, you can shape a person’s mood, their ethics, or even just their day! I think that writing about mental health can be even more powerful with 1 in 4 people experiencing mental health problems at some point in their life, it’s often a more personal and ‘close to home’ topic.

In starting my mental health blog I’m NOT Disordered in January 2013, I basically made writing my everything and what started as a hobby quickly became more of a career. I can’t ever stop thinking about how lucky I am to be able to do something I love and something that I’m passionate about.

I’d like to give special thanks to my Mum, my best-friends; Lauren and Ellie, my Aunt, Cygnet Healthcare, Richmond Fellowship, Northumbria Police and Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust.

 

I’d like to dedicate this book to my Nana who would have cried with happiness when she’d seen it.

 

When All Is Said & Typed is available at Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, and in other regions.


About the Author

Aimee Wilson is a 28-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 now has close to half 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.

Her first book, When All Is Said & Typed, is available at Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, and in other regions.

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

 

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

What Does Having a Conversation about Mental Health Look Like? #TimeToTalkDay

Thursday February 7 2019 is #TimeToTalk Day, an annual event organised by Time to Change to focus attention on mental health. (Time to Change was formed in 2009 by MIND and Rethink Mental Illness, with the aim of reducing mental health-related stigma and discrimination.)

Some feel that awareness campaigns trivialise the lived experience of people with serious mental illness, giving the impression that talking to someone or going for a walk can fix things, or take the place of professional treatment and support. I wholeheartedly agree that a chat with a friend or a breath of fresh air is never going to cure anyone. But I do believe—as the following quotation from Time to Change makes clear—there is much we can do to lessen the burden of isolation and misunderstanding.

Conversations about mental health change lives.
At the moment, too many people with mental health problems are made to feel isolated, ashamed and worthless by other people’s reactions. But talking about mental health doesn’t need to be difficult. It can be as simple as making time to have a cup of tea or go for a walk, and listening to someone talk about how they feel. Being open about mental health and ready to listen can make a positive difference to someone’s life.
This is what Time to Talk Day is all about—giving us all the chance to talk and listen about mental health.

Having “a conversation about mental health” might sound daunting, but it simply means allowing someone to talk openly about what’s going on for them. It might be a face-to-face conversation, a phone or video call, or a conversation by e-mail, text (SMS), or instant messaging. Whatever works for you and the other person.

Whatever the channel, there are a few things that distinguish a supportive conversation from the normal everyday kind. I find the following reminders helpful.

Don’t interrupt. This is self-explanatory, but can be one of the hardest to remember. Let the other person share what they want to share, without giving in to the urge to interrupt with your own ideas, suggestions, and questions. I certainly need reminding of this one!

It’s their story, not yours. Don’t monopolise the conversation by recalling times you have been through what they are talking about. “I know just what you mean” is particularly unhelpful. No matter how similar your experiences might seem, their situation is uniquely theirs, and what worked—or didn’t work—for you might not be relevant to them at all. If you are asked for suggestions or advice, fair enough, but wait until you are asked.

Save your judgments for later. It’s hard to listen to someone without analysing and mentally judging what you are hearing. This isn’t wrong in itself—you might need to assess whether the person is in immediate danger, or in need of professional help—but beyond that, your internal dialogue only serves to distance you from what they are sharing with you.

You don’t have to fix everything. Depending on your relationship (partner, child, parent, family member, close friend, colleague, acquaintance, or stranger) you may be in a position to offer help, advice, or support. But it is not your responsibility to fix everything, so hold back with your suggestions unless they are asked for. On the other hand, don’t feel paralysed or useless if you can’t think of anything that could possibly help. If you are present and engaged, you are helping. Often, that is precisely—and all—that is needed. You’d be surprised how rare a gift holding space for someone can be. As Time to Change put it:

“It’s #TimeToTalk because if you say something, you realise how many people around you haven’t, and needed to”

But I’m Busy

We are all so busy these days. School, college, work, commuting, chores, children, our own issues and problems, fill our days—and often our nights too. When are we supposed to find time for all these conversations?

#TimeToTalk isn’t about blocking out chunks of “Mental Health Conversation Time” in your calendar—although it might involve committing to meet up for lunch with that friend you haven’t seen in a while, calling on a relative on your way home from work, or turning off the TV after dinner to talk with your partner or child. It’s about being open to what the other person wants to talk about, and not being scared if that includes their mental health, or that of someone they care about.

Think of the people you talk to already. The colleague who gives you a ride home. The person you speak to every Saturday in your favourite café. Social media and the internet mean you can connect with almost anyone, almost anywhere, at almost any time.

It’s Not All about Mental Health

You won’t always be “talking about mental health,” of course. Open conversations span the full gamut of topics: deep and trivial, funny and sad. But if they are genuine, they encompass whatever is going on for you and the other person, and often that does include some aspect of mental health. That said, if you are open to such conversations, you might find yourself having more and more of them. I consider it a privilege that people feel at ease talking with me about topics which so often are kept hidden, because they attract judgemental attitudes, stigma, and discrimination.

Balance and Boundaries

You can’t be there at all times for everyone, however. You are not a 24/7/365 crisis line. Aside from the dangers of burning yourself out, doing too much can lead to codependency, which is unhealthy for both you and the other person. Don’t take on too much, and pay attention to your own health—physical and mental. Remember that #TimeToTalk includes sharing your issues and concerns, as well as listening to those of others.

What Difference Can I Make, Really?

Fran and I believe passionately that all of us—you, me, everyone—can make a difference. Fran knows this first-hand, and I can do no better than close by sharing her words from the Epilogue to our book.

There are many like me who live in invisible institutions of stigma, shame, and silence, the walls built by others from without, or by ourselves from within. Dismantling these walls invites connection. Be the gum on someone’s shoe who has one foot inside and one foot outside. Stick around. It may not be easy but you can help someone make a life worth living. Maybe even save a life. One little bit by one little bit. A smile, a wink, a hello, a listening ear, a helping hand, a friendship all work together to interrupt the grasp of illness.
Be open and honest, with your friend and others you meet. Judge not, for misunderstandings abound. Acceptance, understanding, and kindness can pave another way. Let’s.

 

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

My Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP)

A couple of months ago I attended a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) Awareness workshop at Newcastle Recovery College Collective (ReCoCo). The two day workshop covered the purpose and structure of Wellness Recovery Action Plans, and invited us to consider drawing up our own.

In this article I’m sharing the WRAP I put together after attending the workshop, with a few changes I’ve made since then and minor edits for privacy. I make no claim that this is “how to do a WRAP” but it works for me. I will update it as my needs and situation change, and as my understanding of WRAP grows.


Wellness Recovery Action Plan

Martin Baker, January 2019

 

My Wellness Tools

These things help keep me well.

  • Calls and chat with Fran and other trusted friends
  • Diary / journaling
  • Taking regular me-time
  • Coffee shops
  • Walking
  • Blogging
  • Listening to music
  • Meditation
  • Planning / calendar (help with staying organised)

 

What I’m Like When I Am Well

When I feel like this I am doing well.

  • Feel generally positive about life
  • Creative
  • Keen to take up challenges
  • Energised, even on relatively little sleep
  • Feel good about myself and my body

When I behave like this I am well.

  • Have good self-care (eg dental hygiene / shaving)
  • Pay attention to how I am dressed
  • Communicative / chatty (but not pushy)
  • Organised / productive / able to multi-task
  • Generous with my help, time, and gifts (but not overbearing)
  • Supportive of others
  • Active on social media

 

Daily Maintenance (Daily Routine)

These things support my wellness.

Morning

  • Wake 7 am
  • Check-ins online with friends
  • First coffee of the day at Costa
  • Walk into work from Metro station (20 mins)

Working day

  • Drink water / vitamin C
  • Journal at lunch time
  • Second coffee of the day
  • Walk to Metro station (20 mins)

Evening

  • Prepare dinner
  • Grocery shopping at Tesco (Wednesday and Friday)
  • Occasionally, go for a walk
  • Call with Fran 7 pm
  • Call with Fran 11 pm
  • Bed 1 am

Saturdays

  • Me-time (eg town or coast)
  • Call with Fran 6 pm
  • Call with Fran 11 pm
  • Bed 1 am

Sundays

  • Lie in until 9:30 am
  • Cook Sunday lunch
  • Coffee at Costa
  • Grocery shopping at Tesco
  • Call with Fran 6 pm
  • Call with Fran 11 pm
  • Bed 1 am

 

Triggers

These things can turn an OK day bad really quickly.

  • Changes in relationships (which I perceive as lessening / loss / abandonment)
  • Uncertainty / lack of clarity in communications
  • Getting overwhelmed by competing demands for my time / attention

Triggered response.

  • Anxiety / panicky
  • Sense of loss / abandonment
  • Get pushy and/or clingy

 

Early Warning Signs

When I feel like this I am starting to get unwell.

  • Lack of appetite
  • I have difficulty focusing
  • I have difficulty sleeping
  • I feel stressed / tense (tension in my face, headaches)
  • I feel anxious (tension in my gut)
  • I feel overwhelmed / unable to balance things as usual
  • Physically tired

When I behave like this I am starting to get unwell.

  • Lack of self-care (forget to brush my teeth / don’t shave as often)
  • Less attention to my appearance (“why bother?”)
  • Eat supper, leading to weight increasing
  • Over-attentive / clingy / pushy (trying to get the clarity I am after)
  • Withdrawing from people / social media
  • Starting to exhibit risky behaviour / relationships

 

Coping Strategies

These things help me come back to wellness.

  • Talking about things with Fran and other trusted friends (but not over processing)
  • Pulling back to assess what is happening
  • Temporary withdraw from social media
  • Make a list of allowed / not allowed behaviours (eg Friendship Guidelines)
  • Check my WRAP especially maintenance plan and wellness tools
  • Focus on writing / blogging / reading
  • Being reminded how my actions are impacting others

 

Crisis Point

When I feel like this I am at crisis point.

  • Running / rehearsing conversations and scenarios in my head
  • Catastrophizing (feel like everything is lost / gone to shit)
  • Feeling hard done by
  • Feeling I will never get what I want in life
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Feeling extreme panic / imminent loss
  • Obsessive focus / unable to step back

When I behave like this I am at crisis point.

  • Overanalysing everything (in my journal, in conversations with Fran etc)
  • Holding pity parties
  • Refusing or unable to accept responsibility for my actions
  • Isolating (eg withdrawing from social media)
  • Undereating (response to stress / anxiety)
  • Overeating (response to feeling despondent)
  • Risky behaviour / relationships
  • Impulsive

 

Crisis Plan

My Supporters and Their Roles.

  • Fran and other trusted friends, with roles and contact details

These things will help me.

  • Talking things over with someone I trust
  • Being heard
  • Being reassured that the person I am talking to will not leave me
  • Honesty
  • Reminders to self-care
  • Perspective from people I trust

These things will not help me.

  • Being judged
  • Being shamed
  • Not being heard
  • Being told how my actions are impacting others (this would help earlier but not at crisis point)

 

Post Crisis

This is how I can get back to safety.

  • Take it slowly / steadily (don’t rush back to things too quickly)
  • Re-establish my wellness tools and structures
  • Acceptance of what has happened without judgment
  • Acceptance that recovery is a process
  • Take responsibility again
  • Reward myself (do something nice for myself)

 


If you would like to know more about Wellness Recovery Action Plans check out my earlier article or visit the official Mental Health Recovery website.

 

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Complex Simplicity: The Art of Being Honest

This article was originally published as a guest post on Peter McDonnell’s blog.

I am grateful to Peter for inviting me to guest on his blog. He didn’t set a specific topic so as I sit here in one of my favourite coffee shops on a Saturday morning I’m wondering what to write about. What to share.

On the table beside me is the book I have been re-reading for the first time in decades: John Powell’s Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am? It’s not a book about mental health as such. It is a book about communication; about sharing our truths, doubts, fears, delights, and hang-ups with one another; and in so doing, allowing understanding and compassion to grow. (It is Powell’s contention that only by being honest and open with others can we come to know ourselves.) And that is of relevance to all of us, whether we live with a mental health diagnosis or not.

This kind of honest communication is fundamental to the close, caring, mutually supportive relationship I have with my best friend Fran Houston. It is also the central message of our book, High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder. When it works – when you allow it to work – the rewards can be immense, as I said to Fran just yesterday:

Martin: Things are so much simpler when we can be honest with each other.

Fran: It is because we feel safe and we trust.

Note that I said “simpler” there, not “simple”! Emotional honesty isn’t something that comes easy to me. There have been very few people in my life I’ve trusted enough to be vulnerable with. And doing so doesn’t guarantee an easy ride! It’s not about easy, it’s about real. It requires courage on both sides; not only to share your truth honestly but to face the consequences of your honesty, and the other person’s.

The exchange I quoted earlier between me and Fran was in response to a less-than-easy exchange yesterday on one of our twice daily video calls. (We live three thousand miles apart on opposite sides of the Atlantic. Our relationship is lived online using chat, emails, and voice and video calls.) We caught up on our news since we’d last met online, including our respective weights (we have been weight loss buddies for the past six years or so). I then moved on to talk about a friend of mine who has been having a rough time. Fran listened patiently, then drew me back to centre. It was clear that from her perspective things were far from okay.

I knew Fran’s weight has been increasing lately, and that she was disappointed and annoyed at her apparent inability to get on top of what was happening. But I hadn’t recognised just how desperate she was feeling about it, or that she felt alone in dealing with the complex and conflicting issues it brought up for her. She didn’t feel I was on board with it – and her – at all.

Fran’s honesty brought me up short. There was a flicker of defensive ego response – “I’ve had a lot going on for me recently, Fran, you know that.” – but that lasted no more than a moment or two. It was true, I have been working through some personal issues of my own for a while now. Fran has been there for me, which I have greatly appreciated, but I probably took my eye off the ball in terms of what was going on for her and what support she herself needed.

We stayed present with each other. We stayed calm. We stayed online. We talked, and listened. I asked Fran what I could do to help her. She suggested some practical things I could do but most of all what she needed was for me to hear her, and be there for and with her. We agreed I would be more vigilant, and that Fran would let me know if she again felt I was not fully on board in the ways she needed me to be.

I am proud of how we handled what might have been an awkward or contentious situation. We each got to share who we were and what was going on for us at that moment. We accepted without judgment what we were hearing. We acknowledged what was missing, what was needful. We recommitted to each other. And we moved on as friends, together.

 

Saturday, 12 January 2019

The Things That I Want A New Friend To Know

By Charlotte Underwood

Creating and maintaining new relationships is incredibly hard for me. I am so used to people leaving me or even taking advantage. It seems that it can prove a real task to find someone who is willing to take the time to listen, to understand and to develop something more than having you as the person they only talk to when they are bored or need advice. I do not think I am an amazing friend, I don’t see myself as a special person but I am someone who can see the way people respond to me. This is what I want them to know, if a friendship is to grow:

1. I Am Introverted

I am a born introvert, and while I certainly had better years with more confidence, I have always thrived in my own space. I like the quiet and emptiness of my own home sometimes. I get overwhelmed with social events, they exhaust me so please understand I need to recover. I don’t like phone calls and even messaging a person can stress me out. I know I am bad at replying but it’s not personal. My energy levels go up and down and some days I am more willing to go out than others. If I cancel, it’s likely not your fault, I just need to prevent a relapse. I am not a people person, I never will be, but my friends mean so much to me, even when I don’t show it.

2. I Have A Past

When we meet, you may recognize my name, you may remember my face. Maybe we have mutual friends or I was mentioned in your past. Please know that I do have a past, just like you do. I am not entirely proud of my actions but they happened and all I can do now is learn from them. I’ve not had an easy start to life, I still am trying to find settled seas, so when I act in a way that bothers you, or I offend you, talk to me and let me know. I have a lot of trauma to adjust to and recover from. It has shaped me and I fight back on it every day, but I don’t want to hurt anyone. I don’t want to hurt you. Please don’t judge me for my past and who it made me to be. I mean well and if you let me, I can show that you that I am more than what happened years or a decade ago.

3. I Am Still Human

I can be difficult sometimes because of my depression and anxiety. I may do or say things that you do not understand. I can be compulsive and erratic and need you more than you need me. But as much as I may have to fight the shackles of my mental illness, know that I am still human. I am still me. I am more than my bad choices, I am more than my relapses and I am more than the label that is attached to me. The only label that really matters, is that I am your friend and I intend to be a good one. Just know that real friends can see more than just the person on the outside.

I think the most important thing of all, is that I am loyal, I am empathic and I will give my friends everything they give to me and more; but it’s a two-way street and no relationship is worth harming either person’s mental health.

 

About the Author

Charlotte Underwood is a twenty-three year old from Norfolk, UK. She is a growing mental health advocate and writer who aims to inform and education on mental health. The goal is to be a friend to those in need. She believes no one should feel alone. Charlotte blogs at charlotteunderwoodauthor.com. You can also find her on Twitter and on Facebook.

 

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Bloggers About Town: A Day out with Aimee Wilson

Number 3 in my list of six things I would quite like to do in 2019 is the hope for some joyful moments that would take me out of myself. On that score my year is off to a great start after meeting up with mental health blogger Aimee Wilson last weekend.

We first met three years ago at an event organised for Newcastle Mental Health Day 2016. I was volunteering for Time to Change and Aimee was running the social media side of things. We’ve met several times since then, mostly at mental health events or volunteering. This was the first time we’d arranged to meet up as friends and we were both really looking forward to it.

One key thing we have in common is that we each blog on mental health topics, and this was very much a “Bloggers Day Out.” We both started blogging in 2013. Aimee began I’m NOT disordered in January of that year and we were also meeting to celebrate her blog’s success and sixth anniversary. With close to half a million readers, it is a success worth celebrating!

I started my day with coffee at Costa in Kingston Park then caught the train into Newcastle. I had a couple of hours before we were due to meet and called into the Central Library to visit the book Fran and I wrote, High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder. It’s still a thrill to see it on the shelves; even more if it’s not on the shelves, because that means someone has taken it out to read!

Aimee was on her way by this time, and Tweeted a short vlog as she was waiting for her bus. Shortly afterwards she realised she’d forgotten the USB cable to recharge her iPhone. I was happy to pay a quick visit to the Tiger store in Eldon Square to pick her up a new one. There followed a fun exchange as we sorted out which length and colour cable would be best. (Note to self: it was never going to be the green one, really, was it?!)

I met Aimee from her bus (“It’s like being famous!”) and we headed off for the Life Science Centre. The walk gave us time to catch up on what we have been doing of late, and to talk about our plans for the day. We found we have several things in common, not least the fact that we are never off our mobile phones! For some people that would be an issue but we are both bloggers passionate about social media and it felt completely natural to be taking photos and videos, tweeting and posting as we went about our day.

I’d not visited the Life Science Centre for years but it had the same hands-on, interactive and exploratory feel I remembered so well. We didn’t get to see and do everything in the time we were there but we had a lot of fun and learned some stuff too. The first thing we encountered was a performance of water magic, showing the sticky properties of water and surface tension. The demonstrator Josh had the young audience (and those like me who are perhaps not quite so young) enthralled. All the staff we met at Life were brilliant, engaged, and friendly, which makes a huge difference to the experience for visitors.

The Making Space area is appropriate for ages 5+ which we figured included us! Demonstrator Lily showed us the choice of card models available to make. Aimee chose to make a robot; in fact she made two in the end. I was going to sit it out and watch, but before long I’d joined in too. It was a lot of fun, and far trickier than it looked! Fortunately Lily and Danny were around to give us a hand where needed. Aimee borrowed my phone stand and recorded a time-lapse video while she made her robots. It’s a technique I’m keen to try once I figure out how to do it on my phone.

We moved on to the Experiment Zone where I got to wear a lab coat for the first time in decades. We chose the fake snow experiment and did really well following the on screen instructions. We even cleaned up afterwards! From there we made our way round a few of the other areas to the gift shop, and then headed off. We’re intending to return another time to check out the Science Theatre and 4D Motion Ride, and any other bits we didn’t get to see.

We had a quick look in Primark for wellies (don’t ask) and Card Factory where Aimee picked a huge number 6 helium balloon to celebrate her blog’s birthday the following day. Then it was off to Frankie and Benny’s for pink gin and pizza (Brewdog Punk IPA for Marty). It was good to sit and reflect on our day and what we have in store for the coming months with our blogging and other projects.

I mentioned earlier that I learned some stuff as well as having fun. What did I learn?

Be bold. I am much better at starting conversations than I used to be (volunteering at public events with Time to Change has been brilliant for that) but Aimee is bolder than I am and I was fascinated to see how she engaged with people I might simply have nodded to in passing.

Keep my contact cards handy! Several times I found myself hunting for one of my cards as Aimee introduced me as an author and fellow blogger. Next time I will keep them closer to hand!

Get permission and names. Aimee reminded me to ask for permission to use any photos which included any of the staff (I was careful not to include other visitors to the centre).

Be interested. Seeing how Aimee engaged with people reminded me that you can never tell who you might meet or where a chance encounter might lead. Being passionate about your own work and interested in other people opens doors and possibilities.

Acknowledge good service and nice people. It is good to acknowledge when people have gone that little bit further or been especially helpful. Aimee gave shout outs on Twitter to the staff at Life who made such a difference to our visit, and to our charming waitress at Frankie and Benny’s.

All in all it was a brilliant day and hopefully it won’t be long before we meet up again for another Bloggers About Town jaunt.

 


Links and Guest Posts

Aimee Wilson blogs at I’m NOT disordered. You can also find her on Twitter (@aimes_wilson) and Instagram (aimes_wilson).

Fran and I have hosted two guest posts by Aimee to date: a review of the Netflix movie Brain on Fire, and an account of her interview in a cupboard for BBC Radio 5 Live.

Aimee has hosted several guest articles of ours including an author Q&A one year after High Tide, Low Tide was published, a 24 hours with piece by me and Fran, an account of my key relationships for Mental Health Awareness Week 2016, and an article for Time to Talk Day 2017.