Wednesday, 10 August 2022

Blogging Besties: A Joint Q&A With Aimee Wilson

Blogging isn’t rocket science. It’s about being yourself and putting what you have into it. (Anonymous)

I’m grateful to my friend and fellow mental health blogger Aimee Wilson for suggesting this collaboration. Over one hundred questions were submitted by readers and social media followers, from which Aimee compiled the twenty we’ve each answered. My answers are below. You can find Aimee’s on her blog I’m NOT Disordered.

We’d like to thank everyone who contributed, whether your question made the final list or not. They brought back a lot of great memories and did what all good questions do; they challenged us and made us think! I can imagine some serving as jumping off points for future articles.

Our blogs were founded a few months apart in 2013. Aimee’s blog I’m NOT Disordered is amongst the most popular for borderline personality disorder (BPD) and in 2022 was top UK blog for BPD at feedspot.com. Her book Everything Disordered: A Practical Guide to Blogging was published in 2021.

Martin’s Answers

1. Do you feel under pressure to keep going with your blog?

Yes, but it’s self-imposed. Fran and I started our blog in August 2013. We posted haphazardly to begin with but after a while I committed to publishing one post a week. With one exception, I’ve kept to that schedule. It’s a struggle sometimes, but the deadline keeps me focused. To be honest, I fear that if I let things slip and didn’t post for a time, I’d be unlikely to pick things up again.

2. Does your blogging ever feel like a job or is it for pleasure?

I get a lot of satisfaction from blogging, but it’s not something I do for pleasure. It’s more like something I need to do. Writing has always been a vital part of my life and has expressed itself in different ways over the years: the diary I’ve kept since I was fourteen, poetry, short stories and articles, the book I wrote with my best friend Fran Houston, and this blog. Writing, including blogging, is part of my self-care toolbox. It helps me explore whatever is going on for me but can also be a useful distraction technique. I don’t quite know who I’d be if I wasn’t writing (but that’s a topic for another post!)

3. How does negative feedback impact what you’re doing? And how do you cope with it?

I’ve had very little negative feedback about my blogging, or anything I’ve done in the mental health space. Family, friends, and colleagues have always been supportive and encouraging.

4. Do you think that you blog the same because of you both being mental health bloggers?

Aimee and I couldn’t be more different when it comes to our blogging! On numerous occasions we’ve attended the same event or blogged on similar topics, but our articles are always written from very different perspectives. I’d say I approach things in a straightforward, documentary way, whereas Aimee often finds unique approaches which draw on her creativity and lived experience. I like to think our styles complement each other well. I’ve certainly learned a lot from her.

5. What’s your favourite memory together?

It’s hard to pick just one! Fond memories include our first day out as friends at Newcastle’s Life Science Centre; our picnic in Aimee’s garden in 2021 after not seeing each other for a year because of covid; and the wonderful spread she put on for me for my birthday this year. My favourite memory though is when we were discussing a blogging idea I’d had, about how people sometimes fake how they’re feeling. At one point I realised I’d lost track of what Aimee was saying. I think she had too because she asked, “Do you know what I mean?” I hesitated. “I thought I did...” You maybe had to be there, but we found it hilarious and remind ourselves of it from time to time!

6. Favourite photo of you both?

It’s even harder to choose a photo than it was to decide on a favourite memory! I shortlisted half a dozen joint selfies (we love joint selfies!) but my favourite is the earliest, taken outside Newcastle Life Science Centre in January 2019.

7. Can either of you ever imagine ending your blog?

There are times when I wonder why I put myself through the weekly routine, or doubt that my blogging serves any real purpose. But then I’ll receive positive feedback from a reader, or something I’m writing about will spark a conversation with a friend, and I know it’s not time to stop. Blogging is also an important aspect of my friendship with Aimee. Writing can be a very lonely pursuit, and we each value having someone in our lives who understands what it takes to blog week after week, especially in the mental health space. I’m not saying we couldn’t still be friends if either of us stopped blogging — but I’d rather not test that out! Joking aside, Aimee is a huge inspiration to me and a big part of why I’m still blogging.

8. Do you think that your content and blog is helping to reduce mental health stigma?

In a modest way, yes. The book I co-authored with Fran (High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder) is on Bipolar UK’s recommended book list, and I’m proud to have been included in a Health Central article profiling people who have changed the public perception of bipolar disorder. I’ve also written for several mental health organisations including Bipolar UK, Mental Health First Aid England, and bp Magazine for Bipolar. As a Mental Health First Aider I’ve helped foster a more open culture around mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.

9. How does it feel to hear positive feedback when your content has resonated with a reader?

It’s the best feeling ever! A general compliment is great, but it means even more if something I’ve written has affected someone directly, or helped them relate to what a friend or loved one is going through so they can support them better. The most recent example happened a few weeks ago. A reader messaged me and Fran to share how deeply our words and experiences had moved her. “I am at a loss for words. I have actually been hit by it very hard — in a good way.” She continued, “As you say, Fran, I am realizing I need to build my life the way I need it and want it. Thank you for the book, for your advocacy. It is too bad there are not more Martys in the world!”

10. How is your own mental health impacted when you’re putting a lot of effort into your work, but people are still slipping through the net and taking their own life? Does it make you feel like you’ve wasted your time?

Hearing that someone has found themself in such extreme pain or distress that suicide or self-harm seemed their only option is very hard, but it doesn’t Invalidate the message of hope and support we do our best to put out there. On the contrary, it reinforces how important it is to share that message, and to be there for those we care about. Every life lost to illness — that’s how I think of suicide — is a tragedy, but there’s only so much any of us can do to keep those we love safe. That’s something I learned early in my friendship with Fran. As I express it in our book, “It is not that I trust Fran never to try and harm herself, or imagine our friendship guarantees her safety. [...] But I trust her not to hide her suicidal feelings from me, and to be honest with me about them. Ultimately, I trust Fran to allow me to help her stay alive.”

11. After writing something intense, how do you wind down? What do you use as self-care?

I mostly feel a sense of release when I’ve finished a blog post, especially when it’s something that seems especially important or that I’ve put a great deal of myself into. I’ll take a day or two to unwind, but my blogging schedule dictates that I’ll soon be focused on the next post. That helps me put things behind me and move forward. I might choose a lighter or less challenging topic if my previous post was particularly intense.

12. What would you like to see happen in the future for mental health services?

Aimee is better placed to answer this one, as I don’t have first-hand experience as a service user. My three main observations, from the outside as it were, are that services are overly focused on crisis intervention rather than prevention and ongoing support; services are often not available at all for those who need them, where and when they need them; and the quality of care and support seems to vary hugely depending on where you live. I’d like to see some attempt to share best practice. I believe service users should also be more involved in shaping the services and support that are provided and rewarded financially for doing so.

13. What are your thoughts on giving someone a diagnosis?

It’s no part of my role as a friend to Fran, Aimee, or anyone else to diagnose them or encourage them to self-diagnose. Diagnosis is a responsibility reserved to doctors, psychiatrists, and other clinical professionals. More generally, I think diagnostic labels such as anxiety, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, depression, or psychosis can be of value, if they help someone access appropriate treatment and support, or better understand what they’re dealing with. Labels can be problematic, though, if they’re used to stigmatise or discriminate against someone, or suggest there’s something wrong with the person themself.

14. Do you think there’s more that can be done for service users to really feel ‘heard’ by clinicians?

This is often the first question I ask when a friend has attended a clinical appointment: Do you feel you were heard? It helps to be as prepared as possible. I help Fran prepare for appointments with her psychiatrist by typing up a summary of her mental, physical, and emotional health, plus anything she specifically wants to ask. Fran sends the notes to her psychiatrist in advance of her appointment.

15. How do you feel that for some people, mental health and mental illness is only really talked about on dedicated awareness dates.

I have friends with mental health issues who find awareness days and events frustrating, dismissive, or unhelpful. I found this strange at first; surely any attempt to bring mental health to the forefront is a good thing? I’ve come to understand some of the issues and frustrations, which include the lack of professional support services and the fact that campaigns tend to avoid some of the most serious mental health conditions such as psychosis and schizophrenia. I nevertheless continue to engage with, and write for, awareness events such as Time to Talk Day (February), World Bipolar Day (March 30), Mental Health Awareness Week (May), World Suicide Prevention Day (September 10), and World Mental Health Day (October 10). Despite their limitations, I believe campaigns can make a real difference. Last year an event I attended for International Men’s Day (November) prompted me to arrange my first doctor’s appointment in three decades, to rule out the possibility of prostate cancer.

16. Do you feel your blogging is supported by the people around you?

I mentioned that family, friends, and colleagues have always supported and encouraged my writing and other mental health work. That remains true, but Aimee is the person most actively engaged with my blogging because she knows what’s involved. We often discuss what we’re working on, or check in with each other for suggestions on approach, content, or illustrations.

17. How did you both meet?

I’m interested to see if Aimee remembers this the same as me! The first conversation I recall was at an outdoor event for Newcastle Mental Health Day in February 2016, though I think we were both at the orientation session for the event the week before. I was volunteering with Time to Change and Aimee was running the social media side of things.

18. What’s your favourite thing about each other?

I have huge respect for Aimee’s courage, determination, and honesty; both in her personal life and in sharing her knowledge and experience to help others. She’s always open to new opportunities and rarely seems to get knocked back and discouraged for long. She has a great sense of humour and is someone I trust to be there for me if I need it. If I had to pick one thing, it would be that she’s not afraid to challenge me if I do or say something unhelpful or that she doesn’t agree with. That’s quite rare and very important to me.

19. What do you think has been your greatest blogging achievement?

It might sound a little trite, but my greatest achievement is knowing my words have helped people, whether in their own lives or in helping them support friends and loved ones. The single most treasured endorsement anyone has ever given me and Fran was about the book, but I like to think it relates to my blogging too: “[This is] a deeply honest and detailed account of two people’s journey as friends, which reminds us that mental illness doesn’t change what friendship is all about: being there for those we love.”

20. Aside from blogging, what’s your favourite thing to do?

I enjoy time spent in good company, whether in person or online (chat or calls) with Aimee, Fran, and other friends around the world. I also enjoy creative journaling and am teaching myself Teeline shorthand.

Over to You

You can read Aimee’s answers to these same questions on her blog I'm NOT Disordered.

We both hope you’ve found these questions and answers interesting, and that they’ve shed a little light on us as people, as friends, and as bloggers. If you have any questions or comments we’d love to hear from you!

 

Photo by Martin Baker, Newcastle Life Science Centre, January 2019

 

Wednesday, 3 August 2022

Write without Fear, Edit without Mercy: Eight Questions for the Honest Blogger

When I compiled my list of 21 Image Prompts for the Mental Health Blogger, one image in particular caught my attention. Taken by hannah grace, its call to write without fear and edit without mercy inspired me to draw up a short Q&A for anyone wanting to explore their honesty as a writer.

  1. Do you tailor your writing for your audience?
  2. Are there topics you’d never write about?
  3. What are you afraid of?
  4. Describe something intensely personal that you’ve blogged about. How did it feel?
  5. Do you always tell the truth in your blogging?
  6. How important is editing and proofreading to you?
  7. Describe your blogging approach or process.
  8. What makes a good blogger?

Whether you publish your answers on your blog or not (if you do, a link back to this article would be appreciated) it can be a very useful exercise to keep your writing genuine and on track. Are you up for the challenge? My answers are below.


1. Do You Tailor Your Writing for Your Audience?

The focus of our blog is mental health and supportive friendships, and I try to keep posts balanced between those two themes. I also write articles targeted at other writers and bloggers, especially those working in the mental health arena. Perhaps surprisingly, the most read article on our blog describes how to write the best acknowledgment page for your book. It was written based on our experiences writing High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder. Our book is a good example of tailoring my writing to a particular audience; specifically, people wanting to support friends who live with bipolar disorder or other mental health conditions.

2. Are There Topics You’d Never Write About?

In my list of 40 Mental Health Blog Topics From the Caring Friend’s Perspective, number three is Five things I will never blog about and why. It’s a subject that feels important, but I’ve never figured out how to address it properly. It’s hard to write about topics you’d never write about!

I’m wary of writing if I have little or no experience of the subject under discussion, unless I’m presenting the insights, opinions, and accounts of others who do. For example, I wrote about bipolar anger after asking several friends to share their experience of this particular symptom. I’ve also written about suicidal thinking, based on conversations with Fran and others who know first-hand what it’s like to be in such a place. I mostly discuss mental illness from the perspective of a supportive friend, although in the past couple of years I’ve begun sharing aspects of my mental health.

There are topics I’d like to write about but haven’t yet found a way to approach them as I’d wish to. These include my perspective as a caring friend when someone I know has taken an overdose or harmed themself. I can’t imagine ever writing about abuse, addiction, rape, or trauma. Those are too far beyond my lived experience for me to do them justice.

3. What Are You Afraid Of?

This is such a great question! Three quotations come to mind. The first is from John Powell’s book Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am? Insights Into Personal Growth.

Why am I afraid to tell you who I am? I am afraid to tell you who I am, because, if I tell you who I am, you may not like who I am, and it’s all that I have.

I would like to be completely honest, open, and genuine in everything I do and write, but honesty means admitting I’m afraid people might not like what I’ve shared, and won’t like me as a result. Who I am — who I really am, with my insights, experience, and wisdom; but also my faults, failings, and hang-ups — is all I have to offer. There are things I’ve chosen not to write about because of that fear. That fear is natural. It can also be healthy, in that it guards us against sharing too much or inappropriately. Maintaining healthy boundaries is important. We can be honest and genuine without sharing everything with everyone.

The second quotation is something I’ve come across several times on social media. I haven’t been able to trace its author but the challenge of it stops me short every time.

What would your life be if you weren’t afraid to fail?

I don’t enjoy failing but fear of failure plays little part in my writing. I’m never going to make a fortune from my books and blogging and I’m unlikely to find myself a guest on Orah. I’m happy when one of my blog posts atttracts plenty of pageviews or comments, or we receive a positive book review, but I don’t write with that kind of success in mind. My writing has the potential to change a few lives. I don’t need to change the world. What does scare me is the possibility of unlimited success. I’m reminded of the well-known passage by Marianne Williamson that begins:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.

A few years ago I took a leadership course at work. One exercise involved writing a personal vision statement: an aspirational what-if-anything-were-possible snapshot of my life at some point in the future. I found the exercise exhilarating, but looking back on it a year or so later I realised I’d not achieved any portion of my goals. As I’ve written elsewhere, “I began the journey but looking back I can see that I failed to follow through. I lost faith in the vision itself. Arguably, I lost faith in myself.” It was fear of success and the changes that might bring to my life which kept me stuck where I was.

4. Describe Something Intensely Personal That You’ve Blogged About. How Did It Feel?

Fran and I shared a great deal in our book, including many of our personal conversations. Some of those related to times when we were feeling unwell, upset, stressed, or otherwise vulnerable. I felt good about sharing those details, because we wanted to show what it’s like to be in a mutually supportive friendship when one friend lives with illness. We set a few boundaries about what we would share and what we’d keep private, but it was important to us that we were honest and didn’t just present the easy or palatable bits.

It took some time for me to share my experiences, thoughts, and feelings outside of my role as a supportive friend. The first really personal article I wrote was an open letter to my father, which was published in 2016 by The Good Men Project. I later wrote an open letter to my mother in response to a call for submissions by Stigma Fighters. It’s significant that each letter expressed things I would never have told my parents when they were alive, and that I’d told to very few people, if any at all. I felt very vulnerable putting myself out there like that, but it felt important and I’m glad I did so. It made it easier to share other aspects of my life, including my mental health in such posts as BOYS GET SAD TOO, and Return to Down.

5. Do You Always Tell the Truth in Your Blogging?

I mentioned above that Fran and I agreed what we would share in our book and what we’d keep private. It was important to us that we were truthful about what we did share, and we outlined our sources and methodology in the book’s introduction. We selected conversations that best illustrated whatever point was being discussed, but aside from minor edits for clarity we published our exchanges as they happened. Anything less would have felt dishonest, and misleading to our audience. I work to the same principles when I’m blogging. I choose what I want to blog about, and what I want to share or say on that topic. There may be — and indeed are — things I choose not to write about or include, but if I write it, it’s true.

6. How Important Is Editing and Proofreading to You?

Editing and proofreading are very important aspects of my writing process. No matter the topic, forum, or audience, I want to present my work to as high a standard as possible. I tend to edit as I go along, which means that writing anything takes a lot longer than if I simply wrote and then went back to edit afterwards. I’ve tried that approach but it doesn’t work for me. Reading the words I’ve just typed, moving them around a bit, replacing this word with another (and often back again later) helps me feel my way forward as I discover what shape the piece is going to take.

Once the article is written, I’ll edit it several times from top to bottom. My first drafts are usually too wordy so I’m looking to cut redundant or repetitive sections, as well as improving how the piece flows overall. I’m also checking for consistency, spelling, typos or missing words, and punctuation. I’m a stickler for smart quotes and proper em or en dashes, so I check for those too. I do a final proofing pass just before I schedule the post for publication. Typos and other errors still get through occationally, of course. If I find one I’ll correct the post, no matter how long it’s been since it was originally published.

7. Describe Your Blogging Approach or Process.

I’ve described my blogging workflow elsewhere so I’ll keep this brief. Almost all my blog posts are drafted in Google Keep on my phone (Samsung S9) or tablet (Samsung A8). This works well as I can write pretty much anywhere at any time: at home, at work, when traveling, or in one of my favourite coffee shops. I have a Bluetooth keyboard which works with either device. I rarely use my PC at all these days. Once I have the article complete in draft, I do a couple of passes of editing in Keep and then move the text into MS Word. I find it easier there to do a final pass of editing / proofreading, also to ensure all dumb quotes are converted to smart quotes, double spaces are removed, etc. If I’ve not done so already, I search for suitable images to accompany the article. I move the completed text into Blogger and add links, images, and HTML/CSS formating (headings, lists, blockquotes etc), previewing as I go. The final step is to add keywords, and schedule the article to post.

8. What Makes a Good Blogger?

I’m in danger of embarrassing my friend and fellow mental health blogger Aimee Wilson here, but for me she exemplifies the qualities that make for a good blogger.

  • Passionate about expressing herself creatively.
  • Keen to help other people by sharing her ideas, thoughts, and lived experiece.
  • Has the courage to write with honesty no matter the subject matter.
  • Generous with encouragement and support for other bloggers.
  • Open to suggestions and advice but clear about her creative vision.
  • Keen to explore new techniques and ideas.
  • Eager to pursue opportunities for collaboration with other bloggers, individuals, and organisations.
  • Writes what she wants to write, but keeps an eye on her audience’s interests and needs.

Our blogging styles are very different, but Aimee is a great inspiration to me and I’ve learned a lot from her. I can only dream of achieving the pageviews she gets on her blog, but I’m content with the connections and feedback Fran and I receive here at Gum on My Shoe. I know we’re making a difference. Does that make me a good blogger? I’ll leave that assessment for others to make, but Aimee and other great bloggers I know keep me honest in what I’m attempting to do.

Over to You

I’ve enjoyed the challenge of answering these questions, and hope you find my answers of interest. Perhaps they will inspire you to address your own writing approach and process. If you have any questions please get in touch, either in the comments below or through our contact page.

I’ll close with one of my favourite quotations about writing, by Rachel Thompson. In just a few words, it captures a lot of what I’ve explored in this article.

My only writing advice:
1) give yourself permission to write on ANY topic (even if it ruffles feathers)
2) write what scares you.

 

Photo by hannah grace at Unsplash.

 

Wednesday, 27 July 2022

Everyone Gets to Be Who They Are

I saw a social media post the other day which invited readers to share a quotation or piece of wisdom that had changed their outlook on life. The first that sprang to my mind was something I learned from Fran in the early days of our friendship.

Everyone gets to be who they are.

Fran had been telling me about someone she knew, and how their behaviour had irritated her. I made a half-joking comment to the effect that maybe she needed better friends.

“No,” she replied. “Everyone gets to be who they are.”

“Even the assholes?” I asked, now less than half joking.

“Even the assholes.”

Something about the exchange stuck with me. Along with other favourite mantras of ours such as no pedestals and baby steps are steps too, Fran and I reprise everyone gets to be who they are from time to time. Why does it resonate with me so much? I think it’s because it’s a healthy reminder that none of us is perfect. We all carry our share of hang-ups and issues around with us. Some of these might be classed as quirks or personality traits. Others are more problematic. We may be aware of them or not. We may be working to change them — or not. But in this moment we get to be who we are.

It’s important to emphasise that this isn’t an excuse for us to behave badly or inconsiderately. Neither should we tolerate abusive or otherwise hurtful behaviour in others just because “that’s how they are.” I’ve touched on this before, in a post titled Is Being “Too Sensitive” a Bad Thing?

[“Everyone gets to be who they are”] reminds me that we’re not responsible for (or able to change) other people, even those we find difficult or have issues with. On the other hand, we don’t have to excuse or condone behaviour that hurts us.

Fundamentally, I’m talking about accepting three things: people make mistakes; people can change but often don’t or haven’t done so yet; and we get to decide if we want people to remain in our lives or not. And it’s not all about other people. We are the “other people” in our friends’ lives. Sometimes, we’re the asshole. This is something I’ve written about previously:

A friend on Twitter shared a link today to her blog article about needing to let go of unhelpful, toxic people and relationships. Her words brought me face-to-face with the realisation that there have been many times in my life when, for one reason or another, someone has needed to let go of me. It’s not an easy thing to admit to oneself, but I don’t have to look too far, or too far back, to find examples.

Acceptance isn’t enough, though. Seeing ourselves clearly — and with compassion — is only the first step on the road to changing inappropriate or unhealthy outlooks, beliefs, or patterns of behaviour. We’re not required to hide or bury our true selves order to please others, but neither are we to use the “this is how I am” defense to excuse riding rough-shod over other people. As I’ve written elsewhere:

We’re each responsible for how we handle, or attempt to handle, the situations in which we find ourselves, but that doesn’t release us from responsibility for how we behave towards, relate to and interract with others. We may not know their histories, their pain, their needs, their triggers, and it is okay to get it honestly wrong sometimes, but we need always to be aware that our lives impinge on others and that good intentions don’t give us the right to wade in, unannounced or heedless of our impact on those around us.

That’s fair enough when it’s our behaviour that needs attention. It’s less straightforward when we’re talking about the impact other people have on those around them. Where do our responsibilities lie then? If someone is at risk of hurting themself or others, I believe we have a responsibility to speak up. Where that’s not the case, it falls to us to check our boundaries. Is this behaviour acceptable to us? If it falls within the allowance of grace we extend to those closest to us — and hope they extend to us — then all is well. They get to be who they are, and we’re ok with that.

Where we’re unable or unwilling to make such an allowance, we have a responsibility to protect our boundaries, ourselves, and our wellbeing. That might mean temporarily putting some distance between us and the other person or finding some other way of mitigating the effect their behaviour is having. A short break may be all that’s needed. In extreme cases we may need to part ways. Whatever happens, the important thing is to act in our best interests. No matter the situation or relationship, it does not serve us to sell ourselves short, make do, or accept less or worse than we deserve. In the words of Maryam Hasnaa At-Tauhidi:

Having compassion and empathy for why someone behaves the way they do based on their experiences, never means you have to tolerate the behavior or hold space for it. You can absolutely have compassion and set a boundary. This is what it means to also have compassion for yourself.

And that is how we get to be who we truly are.

Over to You

In this article I’ve shared a saying that has had a major and lasting impact on my life. Does it resonate with you? What do you think about the topics it brought up for me? Maybe it conjures different ideas and meanings for you.

What are your favourite quotations or sayings? Has something you heard or read had a lasting impact on you?

We’d love to hear from you, either in the comments below or via our contact page.

 

Photo by Jacek Dylag at Unsplash.

 

Wednesday, 20 July 2022

Brass Taps and Watering Cans: a Few Thoughts on Friendship, Duty, and Sacrifice

This post was inspired by a recent call with Fran, in which she described the house- and cat-sitting she was doing for a friend. The cat was no problem at all, but the house plants were a different matter. There were plants in her friend’s third floor apartment, on the balcony, and on the ground floor. Those on the ground floor were a particular concern. There was a hosepipe but it didn’t work. Keeping the plants alive in the hot weather would mean many trips up and down stairs to fetch water from the apartment in the watering can.

I listened as Fran shared how she was feeling about it all. I asked for clarification here and there, but I tried not to burden her with questions. (Fran will laugh when she reads this; to her it probably seems as though I do little but ask questions!) I agreed it was a lot to expect her to carry water down from the apartment, but didn’t pursue the matter. If there was a viable alternative, Fran would have thought of it. She was sharing her frustration at the situation, not asking me to fix it.

We were about to end our call when Fran said she felt anxious in case she hadn’t turned the garden tap off properly. I was confused. I’d assumed the hose couldn’t be used because the tap was faulty. Fran said no. The tap was fine, but she hadn’t been able to get the hosepipe to work. In that case, I ventured, could she fill the watering can from the garden tap?

A light came on for Fran. Yes! Of course she could do that! In her frustration and exasperation, she’d missed the connection; and I’d almost missed it too. If she hadn’t mentioned her anxiety, it might have gone unresolved throughout her friend’s time away. That moment changed everything for Fran. She felt relieved and far more confident about discharging her responsibilities. I felt relieved for her, and happy to have been of help.

You might wonder why I’ve chosen to write about what was — surely — a pretty mundane exchange. Significant to Fran and me, yes, but why share it? What’s the message? The bigger picture? I’ll let you judge if it was worth the effort, but even before Fran and I ended our call I knew something significant had happened, and that I’d blog about it.

To begin, it’s a great example of how Fran and I do our day-to-day conversations. We talk about what’s going on for us and share how we’re feeling, whether that’s good or not so good. On this occasion, Fran needed to share her frustrations. It’s how she processes things and lets go of them so she can move on. I do it too, although I mostly use my journal and blogging to process what’s happening for me. It also shows how important it is to pay attention, and to offer input and suggestions at the appropriate time.

More generally, the story explores three themes that are the foundation of our connection and almost everything I do in the mental health sphere: friendship, support, and responsibility. Being in a position to help someone is a blessing, but it does mean actually stepping up to the task. It might be something quick and easy, like a supportive phone call or a practical task you can complete and then get back to whatever else you were doing. Sometimes, though, being a supportive friend takes time and effort. Sometimes considerable time and effort. Sometimes, it gets in the way of whatever else you might be doing.

Mostly, you’ll know what’s involved when you offer help or accept the request for support. Not always, though. Maybe you didn’t think it through or ask the right questions. Maybe the full implications weren’t obvious to either of you at the time, or the situation changed in ways that rendered the request more time consuming or difficult than it seemed. Whatever the circumstances, support means stepping up (literally so, if your friend lives on the third floor!) and following through on what you committed to. That’s what friendship is.

That doesn’t mean you have to love every bit of it. It’s ok to find the task challenging, tiring, or inconvenient. You’re entitled to those feelings, and entitled to process them any way you need to, whether that’s sharing with someone you trust, or getting things out in the safe space of your journal. You process things, and move on. Maybe you learn something about yourself, your friend, and the nature of your friendship along the way.

Our conversation also reminded me of a short story I wrote several years ago exploring service, responsibility, and sacrifice. It doesn’t have a cat, but it does have lot of grumbling (usually I prefer to say someone is “sharing their feelings” but this is definitely grumbling!), plants, a watering can, and a temperamental standpipe. Here's a short excerpt:

William took a small plastic watering can from the holdall at his feet and made his way across to the standpipe. It stood a little way off beneath a tree where two of the gravel paths crossed. For some reason it always made him think of gallows: didn’t they used to hang people at crossroads?

Despite the sunshine the brass tap was icy cold in his hand. It was stiff and he gripped it tightly, straining to turn it on. His exertions were rewarded with the usual trickle of water. He held the can, another of his home gardening accessories, beneath the uncertain stream. From past experience William stood back from the spout as far as he could, leaning on it with one hand as he held the watering can in place with the other. The awkwardness of the stance made his neck ache to look about him and so it was that he heard their approach before he saw them.

There’s a moment of sudden enlightenment in the story which I’ve referenced previously in an article titled The Constant Gardener: How to Be Someone Your Friends Can Rely On. That article covers trust, dependability, and steadfastness, as well as some of the unhealthy sides of supportive relationships such as co-dependency and over-reliance.

The most fascinating thing for me about my conversation with Fran was how so many of these themes came together in the space of maybe fifteen minutes. Fran was frustrated that the task she’d taken on appeared far more arduous than she’d anticipated. She didn’t say so, but I imagine she was thinking she’d not have offered if she’d known what it would entail. She’d given her word, though, and was committed to fulfilling the task for her friend. At the same time, I fulfilled my role as Fran’s friend by providing space for her to process her feelings. I almost missed the opportunity to help her find a solution, but we got there in the end.

Beyond the conversation itself, it gave me an opportunity to examine these themes in a new light, not least the importance of holding and maintaining healthy boundaries. Fran’s. Mine. Other people’s. It’s helped me figure out a few things. Maybe I’ll share some thoughts on that in a future article.

I’ll close with another excerpt from my short story. As William discovers, those outdoor taps can be tricky.

Water splashed across his hand. He reached to turn off the tap but as he did so the breeze caught the last guttering stream and spattered it across his legs. He stared down at his trousers, watching as the material darkened in irregular patches. Clumsy sod.

Hopefully, Fran won’t get soaked while she’s watering her friend’s plants!

Over to You

So, was it worth the effort? For me, yes! You’ll have to answer for yourself! Have there been times when you’ve offered to help someone, only to find the task was much bigger, longer, or harder than you expected? How did you feel about that? What did you do? What are your boundaries concerning giving, or receiving, help? We’d love to hear from you, either in the comments below or through our contact page.

 

Photo by Filip Urban at Unsplash.

 

Wednesday, 13 July 2022

21 Image Prompts for the Mental Health Blogger

As bloggers, we tend to write first and then look for images to enhance or accompany what we’ve written. While searching for that perfect image I’ve frequently come across pictures which weren’t what I was looking for, but nevertheless spoke to me. I realised that images can serve as blog prompts or inspirations in their own right. With that in mind, I’ve selected 21 images from Unsplash which I feel could be useful as prompts for mental health blog posts.

Each is free to use and the Unsplash licence means no permission is needed to use the images for commercial and non-commercial purposes, although an attribution to the creator is appreciated. I’ve added a few thoughts of my own below each image, but if one moves you in a completely different direction, follow your inspiration!

You’ll find these images and more in my Mental Health Blog Prompts collection at Unsplash, so check back there from time to time for more ideas.


1. Pawel Czerwinski

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Image by Pawel Czerwinski | Image details and download links

Loneliness. Isolation. Abandonment. Sadness. Loss. Turning your back on the world. Feeling the world has turned its back on you. Loneliness vs. being on your own.


2. Dustin Belt

Image by Dustin Belt | Image details and download links

Connection. Communication. Support. Keeping in touch. Reaching out for help. Reaching out to help. Crisis and support lines. Who do you reach out to for support, and why?


3. Finn

Image by Finn | Image details and download links

Hiding our true feelings. Putting on a show. Faking it. Asking the right questions. Lifting the mask to reveal who we really are. The walls we construct to keep us safe, and how to let people in when we need to.


4. Sammie Chaffin

Image by Sammie Chaffin | Image details and download links

Friendship. Who are your true friends? Feeling alone even when you are with people. Different views on life. Which of these people do you think is depressed / anxious / suicidal?


5. Nicole Baster

Image by Nicole Baster | Image details and download links

Togetherness. We are in this together. Life gets messy. Art and creativity. What does togetherness mean to you? Community. Belonging. Allyship.


6. charlesdeluvio

Image by charlesdeluvio | Image details and download links

Listening to others. Listening skills. How to hold space for someone. My favourite coffee shop conversations. Looking in on life from the outside. Feeling isolated. Sharing different perspectives on life, mental health, trauma, or challenge. Can men ever truly understand what it’s like for a woman? Can women ever truly understand what it’s like for a man?


7. Vonecia Carswell

Image by Vonecia Carswell | Image details and download links

Friendship. Supporting one another. Solidarity. Security. Who do you have on your team? Three people I know I can count on. New friends and old friends; who do you turn to most?


8. Hello I'm Nik

Image by Hello I'm Nik | Image details and download links

What it’s like to live with anxiety. Positive (or negative) coverage of anxiety or other mental health conditions in movies, TV shows, and on social media. Online resources and support. Review mental health apps you’ve found helpful.


9. Sydney Sims

Image by Sydney Sims | Image details and download links

Positive and negative stereotypes relating to mental illness. Stigma and self-stigma. The things we tell ourselves about who we are, compared to how others see us. The power of labels and language. The words we use affect people, including ourselves, so use them wisely.


10. Keagan Henman

Image by Keagan Henman | Image details and download links

Who are you, really? Men’s mental health. This is what depression (or anxiety, or another mental health condition) looks like. Feeling different. Looking different. Feeling smothered by the expectations of others. Write a personal statement as if you were applying for your ideal job. This is who I am.


11. Nathan McDine

Image by Nathan McDine | Image details and download links

BOYS GET SAD TOO (boysgetsadtoo.com). Men’s mental health. Isolation. Feeling alone. Can fashion help spread positive messages about mental health? Specific challenges facing teenagers and young adults. Mental health services in urban settings compared to in rural communities.


12. Sydney Sims

Image by Sydney Sims | Image details and download links

The masks we wear. Pretending that we’re ok when we’re not. Three reasons your friend or loved one may be hiding the truth from you. Look beyond the smile. Strategies we use to hide our pain and navigate a world that is not always kind to people living with mental illness.


13. hannah grace

Image by hannah grace | Image details and download links

How to blog your truth. Do you tailor your writing for your audience? Are there topics you’d never write about? What are you afraid of? Describe something intensely personal that you’ve blogged about: how did it feel? Do you always tell the truth in your blogging? How important is editing and proofreading to you? Describe your blogging approach or process. What makes a good blogger?


14. Mohammad Metri

Image by Mohammad Metri | Image details and download links

Ten songs that motivate you. What music do you listen to when you are depressed (or manic, or anxious, etc)? Song lyrics that mean a lot to you, and why. Write about a famous artist or musician who lives or lived with mental health issues. Mental health and creativity.


15. Tim Mossholder

Image by Tim Mossholder | Image details and download links

Share your experiences volunteering. What does helping someone mean to you? What is the best way to ask for support if you need it? If you are or have been unemployed, how did it affect your mental health? Is it possible to help people too much? Do you need to be needed by others?


16. James Orr

Image by James Orr | Image details and download links

Just do it (or not). Social pressure to do certain things or behave in certain ways: is it healthy or not? What does success mean to you? Can you be successful and happy? Setting and keeping healthy boundaries.


17. Matthew Ball

Image by Matthew Ball | Image details and download links

Why does mental health matter? What do mental health and mental illness mean to you? Being honest and open about who we are. Is it wise to share about your mental health on social media, with family and friends, at work, etc? Do mental health awareness days and events make any difference?


18. S O C I A L . C U T

Image by S O C I A L . C U T | Image details and download links

Challenging the stories we tell ourselves about who we are. Nature vs. nurture. How much is our mental health affected by genetics and upbringing? Sharing our lived experience to help others. Tell the story of something that happened to you, but write it from a different perspective, or as fiction rather than fact.


19. Maegan Martin

Image by Maegan Martin | Image details and download links

Three books that changed how you feel about mental illness in general or one mental health condition in particular. Invite guest bloggers to share their stories and experiences. Collaborate on a joint post where you compare and contrast your personal stories. How are mental health and stigma are presented in books and media? What responsibility do writers and bloggers have to counter stigma and negative attitudes towards mental illness?


20. Jukan Tateisi

Image by Jukan Tateisi | Image details and download links

One step at a time. Baby steps are steps too. Three strategies for breaking major change into manageable steps. How it felt when you started your blog, compared to how far you’ve come. Advice for someone thinking of starting a mental health blog.


21. Jonas Jacobsson

Image by Jonas Jacobsson | Image details and download links

Healthy boundaries for helpful people. How to be there for others without being overwhelmed. Three things that have helped you help yourself or others. Ten things to say (or not say) to someone living with mental illness.


Over to You

I hope you found these ideas interesting and useful. As with my list of 40 Mental Health Blog Topics From the Caring Friend’s Perspective, there’s no need to link back to this article if you decide to use any of these images, though I’d love it if you did! Please do credit the creator if you can.