Wednesday, 24 February 2021

Announcing a New Edition of No One is Too Far Away: Notes from a Transatlantic Friendship

Some of you may recall the publication in 2018 of our second book, No One is Too Far Away: Notes from a Transatlantic Friendship, in which Fran and I shared the very best of our blog posts and articles. The title has been out of print for a while, but we’re delighted to announce that a new edition will be published soon by Kingston Park Publishing.

“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 they would develop a friendship that transcends time zones and international boundaries.

“In No One Is Too Far Away they share essays from their blog which show the deep-rooted value of shared experiences. Through their writings, they demonstrate that mental illness needn’t be a barrier to meaningful connection; indeed it can be the glue that holds people together.”

The new edition presents sixty selected posts (originally published on our blog between March 2014 and October 2018) in chronological order, with a new introduction. Working on it has evoked many memories and emotions — and not always the ones I might have expected. If things go well, there may well be a volume 2, bringing the collection up to the present day.

Watch this space for updates. We don’t have a publication date yet but it will be available in print and for Kindle from Amazon, and in print from Barnes and Noble and other booksellers.

 

Wednesday, 17 February 2021

I Don't Need Them Any More: The Day Fran Relinquished her Stash of Meds

Trigger warning: medication and suicidality

stash (stæʃ)
COUNTABLE NOUN: A stash of something valuable is a secret store of it.
Synonyms: hoard, supply, store, stockpile

A few weeks ago, Fran sent me a photograph. I immediately recognised the meds containers lined up on her bathroom cabinet for what they were, and what they represented.

Martin: Your old stash?

Fran: Yep.

Martin: You’re ready to let go.

Fran: Yep.

Fran had a stockpile of medication when we met in 2011. I don’t remember when she told me but it was never a secret. It wasn’t easy to accept that my new and frequently suicidal friend kept a quantity of potentially fatal medication, but I came to understand it was important to Fran, and paradoxically protective. We discuss its significance in our book High Tide, Low Tide:

Most of our conversations on the subject [of suicidality] focus on exploring and defusing her suicidal thoughts, but we occasionally touch on how she imagines she would kill herself. In her autobiographical essay “Lessons of the Night,” she wrote: “I still do have a stash of pills because I do feel that people should have that right, especially when you are old and everyone else is making decisions for you.” We talk about what her stockpile represents, why she keeps it, and whether she anticipates ever disposing of it. I have never told, or even asked, her to do so.

when i was very ill a friend gave me a lethal amount of pills.. i never asked why.. i was just grateful to add to my stash.. the strength it took to resist that temptation was herculean.. many times i’d take them all out affectionately counting them and googling their effectiveness.. i needed the insurance to escape.. perhaps because this was the only thing in my life i had control over.. and i needed to do it my way, not everyone else’s way..

You might disagree with my acceptance of Fran keeping a potentially lethal collection of tablets close to hand, but my reasoning is threefold. First, I would have no way of knowing for sure if Fran had complied with any order or suggestion of mine to dispose of her tablets. Second, an overdose of tablets is statistically less likely to be fatal than other methods she might adopt. Third, and most important of all, I believe it is important to keep the dialogue open between us, and for Fran to take responsibility for her safety.

No matter the opinion of others, her stash has been a vital component of Fran’s strategy for self-preservation for many years. She voluntarily disposed of approximately half the tablets some time ago. Persuading or forcing her to get rid of the rest before she is ready would not only damage our relationship, it would deny her the opportunity to reach that decision on her own.

And now, after all these years, Fran had reached her decision. Ironically, she has no recollection of halving her stockpile back in 2013. She wasn’t at all well back then, following a traumatic summer traveling in Europe. The following is excerpted from our book:

We always knew the summer would be an immense challenge for Fran, and anticipated an extended period of rest and recuperation afterwards. Instead, she returned from Europe needing to find a new home, pack up her belongings, and move from the little house she had lived in for seven years.

As our chat history shows, she nevertheless decided to get rid of half her meds as she decluttered and prepared to move home.

Martin: Thanks for the photo. That’s quite a stash. Did you realise you had so much? I imagine this is the first time you have taken them all out for a while?

Fran: Yes.. I never have.. I will keep some.. And get rid of others..

She sent another photo later.

Martin: Is that all you are keeping?

Fran: Yes..

Martin: Well done. Proud of you. How do you feel?

Fran: I feel OK.. Could have let go of more.. But glad of what I did do..

Coming back to the present day, Fran followed through on her intention. We discussed it on our call that evening.

Fran: I took my meds to the police station today and handed them over.

Martin: How did it feel?

Fran: It felt good. It didn’t feel big and dramatic.

Martin: I sensed that, when you were talking about it the other day. It is a big thing because you had them for years, but at the same time it’s not dramatic, because it’s the right time for you to give them up.

Fran: Yeah. I was doing all this clearing out in my apartment and it just made sense to clear that out too. I want to get to a place where I only have things that matter to me in the apartment.

Martin: And you don’t need them any more?

Fran: That’s right. I walked half an hour there and half an hour back, so I got my exercise too!

Martin: Win:win!

To say I’m proud of her doesn’t begin to capture how I feel. It’s not that she was doing anything wrong and has finally seen the error of her ways. Far from it. There’s a tiny part of me tucked away somewhere that wonders how things will be for Fran in the future, without her stash of medication, when it’s been part of her life — and part of her wellness toolbox — for so long. We’ll take that as it comes. What I’m absolutely and unreservedly proud about is that Fran took this decision on her own, and feels so good about it.

Fran is not alone in having stockpiled medication or other items related to suicide, such as goodbye letters. Whether these were felt to be protective (as Fran always considered her stash) or not at the time, people I’ve spoken to who’ve chosen voluntarily to relinquish them speak of relief, or of it being a big step in their journey towards wellbeing.

Do you have any similar experiences you would like to share? If so, we would love to hear from you.

 

Wednesday, 10 February 2021

The Awkward Armadillo: A Journey Into Writing

By Aimee Larson

Several years ago, I came across a memoir called Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. I have to admit, as I stood at the bookstore, I did not know who Jenny Lawson was. According to her bio, she was a well-known blogger called “The Bloggess” and this was the first book she has ever written.

I stared at the front cover, a taxidermied mouse that was holding up a skull in similarity to William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. My random soul appreciated this very book cover, and I knew I had to get this book. I did not know about her writing style, and to be quite honest, this was the first memoir that I even thought about reading.

I checked out the book and remember running over to my then-boyfriend (spoiler alert: now husband) and showed him the book as though I found a unicorn. He smiled at me, not at all surprised that I picked a book based on the cover. I can always appreciate randomness, add in animals, and well, you have my heart and soul as a reader, and let’s be honest, my kid-like energy creeping up for topics and anything that I found of interest.

Fast forward that night, sitting up in bed and reading my first memoir. Jenny Lawson, I found out, dealt with many battles of mental illness. Not only that, she was random and absolutely hilarious through her storytelling and the odd events in her life. I finished the book in one sitting. I sat there, absolutely amazed. I couldn’t help but feel similar and yet different from Jenny.

I have fought through anxiety for as long as I could remember. Growing up as a kid though, no one really wanted to label it. I was thrown into the “she’s just shy” label even though I felt like I was trying to keep my heart from beating out of its chest with any small group or large group setting. No one ever wants to admit when something is not right, with themselves or individuals they care about. No, I didn’t have any mental illness label till much, much later. Not till I was in my middle 20s and had fought for years through my depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses that soon got labeled once I saw a therapist... again.

A few days went by and suddenly an idea came into mind. I had always wanted to write a book. I am not the best with grammar, and I always made excuses for myself. The monsters of self-doubt digging their useless comments into my brain.

“Why would anyone be interested in anything you have to write?”, “You’re just going to fail and waste your time, just like you always do,” among other lines that kept smashing into my brain and holding me back from what I wanted.

No, I always limited what I wanted if I thought I was going to fail. Why waste your time on something that will not be successful? My answer to that is this, there is no such thing as wasting time if you are working towards yourself. This is the same thing that goes through mental health. When one is experiencing depression or anxiety, there is this demand that we are not allowed to give ourselves self-care. That we are lazy if we decide to take that bubble bath we have been craving. Or perhaps take an hour to read that book we’ve been putting off because weren’t getting anything done at work or at home.

Spoiler alert, self-care is getting things done. Self-care and the ability to recognize when our brains need a break is one of the most important parts of life. Through many trials and errors, I continued to push myself past the point of wanting to shut down. I kept trying to work unpaid overtime at my job to show that I was doing my best. I kept beating myself for not cleaning the house when I felt like I was at the very edge of tears. Not because anything was specifically wrong, other than my brain is my worst enemy at the time.

My boyfriend, even before we got married, has always been the most supportive person in my life. He just knew from the vibe I would bring in, that the monsters beat me up pretty good that day. As soon as I mentioned or would even start saying “I should start cleaning...” he would say “Nope, not allowed. You’re taking an easy. Let me grab your favorite blanket. Do you want to stay in the bedroom by yourself, or do you want company?” It took me a while to get the hint, my brain was an absolute jerk. One that at times undermined my own values and tried to hide what I really wanted in this life.

Weeks after reading Jenny Lawson’s memoir, I started writing my story. My story growing up with Anxiety. My experiences witnessing my dad withering away on and off from depression. My own journey through this odd thing called life. It was not easy, there were many times I stared at the screen and wondered “why is my story important?” I couldn’t answer that for the life of me. Until many months later, I did answer that question to myself. There are many individuals that feel they need to be silent due to mental illness. That they need to tuck away self-care because it’s a waste. That there were individuals fighting their own monsters every single day and trying to scrape up another reason to continue to breathe.

The Awkward Armadillo was not easy to write. I took many breaks for the past three years writing my book. I think that was the best part though. I wanted a book that was pure and yet raw with emotion. I wanted to tell my story in a humorous way because, well, life is strange and sometimes we just have to shake our head and be, like, “Really, life? Do I really need extra life experience points in this route?”

Mental health is one of the most important aspects of life. Yet, it is so hard to speak up or put into words exactly how and what we are feeling. The only way to get better at expressing ourselves is by releasing that out into the world, whether that is through writing, art or communicating. Every day is a battle worth speaking for.

To this I say, YOU ARE NOT ALONE in your fight.

About the Author

Aimee Larson is a socially awkward girl who lives in the suburbs of Chicago, IL. She is a poet, writer and author of The Awkward Armadillo: A Mental Health Memoir. She hopes to dive into writing more books, including fantasy and poetry books.

Follow Aimee on Facebook (personal page, author page), Twitter (@AimeeBooks), and Amazon (author page), or email her at Larson4506[at]gmail.com.

 

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend's Guide to Bipolar Disorder (Revised edition)

A few weeks ago, Fran and I reported our new creative partnership with Kingston Park Publishing. Today we are delighted and proud to announce the publication by KPP of a new revised edition of our book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder.

When we launched the first edition back in 2016, I commented that “writing a book — a book like ours at least — isn’t about the book itself. Not really. It’s about connections.”

Throughout its four year journey from inception to realisation, our book has brought me and Fran into contact — into connection — with folk we simply would not otherwise have met. Some call it networking. Some call it platform building. It is both these things, and much more. It is what happens when you find your feet on the right road (what Spock described to Kirk as one’s “first, best destiny”) and open yourself to what the journey may bring.

Those words are no less true today, a further four years down the road. Our book has met with considerable success, led to important new friendships, and opened the door for us in many ways. A major highlight was a feature article by Bob Keyes in the Maine Sunday Telegram. We are particularly proud that Bipolar UK lists High Tide Low Tide amongst its top books on bipolar disorder.

More important than success or kudos, though, is knowing our book has helped people. That’s why Fran and I wrote it in the first place, and why we’re excited to release this new edition. The book’s content itself is unchanged but we’ve corrected a few inconsistencies and brought the references and resources up to date. The Kindle version has also been updated to improve readability. With a new publisher and price point, we hope this revised edition will carry our message of hope to an even wider audience.

Published by Kingston Park Publishing, High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder (Revised edition) is available for Kindle, and in print from Amazon and other booksellers.

Amazon COM: Print | Kindle
Amazon UK: Print | Kindle

For further details and sellers see our books page.

Copies of the first edition (Nordland Publishing, 2016) may still be available from Amazon and other sellers for a time.

 

Wednesday, 27 January 2021

Team Marty (Because No One Can Be Everything for Everyone)

Find your tribe. Love them hard.

When you’re in a close mutually supportive friendship like Fran and I are, it’s tempting to feel your friend should be there for you all the time. It’s unhealthy, though, to pile expectations onto the other person like that. It can stoke resentment on their part and disappointment on yours when, inevitably, they are unable to meet those expectations. Fran and I were talking about this the other day. She told me she’s happy I have other people in my life because meeting all my needs would be too much for her. It started me thinking about those other friendships and how grateful I am for them.

I won’t embarrass anyone by naming them but these are my people. My tribe. Team Marty. I couldn’t be who I am, do what I do, without them. There’s no significance in the order I’ve written about them or how many words I’ve used. I’ve separated some roles out, so there are more sections than there are people. No role, and no friend, is more important to me than the rest.


The friend I turn to first when I’m struggling or unsure because she gets it. Who says “I know what you mean,” and usually does. Who shares her experience and values mine. The friend who is honest about her fears and doubts, mix-ups and mistakes, and hears mine without judging me.

The friend who understands my passion for writing, because it’s hers too. Who bounces ideas around with me and shares the ups and downs of the creative process. Who celebrates my successes. Who inspires me to think bigger and bolder, and not limit my ambition.

The friend I feel at home with no matter where we are or how we’re connecting.

The friend who keeps me honest and calls me out on my shit when I need someone to do that. Who respects my abandonment issues without indulging them.

The friend who lets me in close.

The friend who reminds me there’s a rhythm to connection. That sometimes I’m not the person she needs and that’s OK, it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong.

The friend who shares the delight of simple things; coffee shops and bars, music and laughter and honest conversation.

The friend who trusts me to be there.

The friend I check in with first thing. Who kept me company on my commute (when commuting was a thing) and still does through the workday. Who shares her love of art and music, and hopes and fears and plans and dreams. Who gently asks if there’s anything I need.

The friend who makes me laugh despite the state of the world. Who asks how I am and won’t let me get away with “I’m OK” without asking again just to be sure. Who is there for me even though most of my problems pale in comparison to hers. Who trusts me with her darkness and knows the questions to ask.


Do you have a tribe, a team, people you go to and who come to you? Take a moment to appreciate them, their role in your life, and your role in theirs.

 

Photo by Daan Stevens on Unsplash