Wednesday, 8 July 2020

SpeakUp4MentalHealth: My Interview with Amy Gamble

Last week I joined motivational speaker and mental health trainer Amy Gamble on her Speak Up 4 Mental Health podcast. We talked about my friendship with Fran, our book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder, and a number of other mental health topics. You can watch the interview here. Amy’s podcasts are also shown on West Liberty University Television (WLU-TV 14).

Amy and I first connected in 2017 and she guested on our blog shortly afterwards. Her interviews normally go out live at 11:30 am EST (4:30 pm here in the UK) but she kindly agreed to a time more convenient for me (6 pm EST, my 11 pm). We connected on Zoom twenty minutes ahead of time to check everything was working. We’d never spoken before but Amy immediately put me at my ease as we discussed how the interview would go. There was a short pause as she connected us to her Facebook group — then we were live!

3000 Miles Away, a Mental Illness and a Friendship

Martin Baker found a new friend Fran 3000 miles away during a manic episode. They've been friends for 9 years. Fascinating story of how mental health brought them together.

Posted by Amy Gamble on Friday, 3 July 2020

After introducing me to the audience Amy invited me to share how Fran and I first met. I talked about how we found ourselves in May 2011 on the Facebook page of a mutual acquaintance who was feeling suicidal. You can read more about our meeting in this excerpt from our book:

I could have clicked away to another page and put [this lady] out of my mind, but I chose to stay. We were not friends, but I knew something of her situation. I felt involved, but what could I possibly contribute that would be meaningful to her, if indeed she was there to read it?

Finally I posted something: “Flooding light and love into your world.”

The words sounded trite and inadequate, but they were the best I could manage. Someone by the name of Fran Houston responded almost immediately: “Sometimes even too much love can be overwhelming.”

My friendship with Fran begain in that moment. Amy observed that with all the social media and online contact we have these days it’s not unlikely to find ourselves in a chat room or Facebook group and realise someone is really struggling. She suggested that not everyone would have reached out as I did. That might be true but there’s an irony there. If I’d posted something more appropriate to the situation Fran would have felt no need to respond and we might never have met.

Amy asked if there had ever been a time when Fran was in crisis and I had to intervene. The question took me back to 2013 when Fran was travelling in Europe and we — jointly — invoked her wellness plan and contacted her professional support team back home. Amy and I briefly discussed WRAPs (Wellness Recovery Action Plans). You can discover more about WRAP plans here and read my personal Wellness Recovery Action Plan on our blog.

About twenty-five minutes into the interview Amy mentioned that someone called Aimee Wilson had commented on the Facebook feed:

Just wanted to say hi! I’m one of Martin’s best friends and I think it’s amazing that you’re shedding light on the incredible work he does!

I was delighted she was watching! Aimee is a dear friend and a very successful mental health blogger in her own right (check out her blog I’m NOT Disordered). I gave her a little shout-out as my “blogging bestie.” It’s fair to say she loved being mentioned!

Amy was interested to know about the UK anti-stigma campaign Time to Change. I described how I’d first connected with the organisation (shout-out to another dear friend, Angela Slater, who at the time was regional community equalities coordinator for Time to Change) and a few of the occasions I’ve volunteered with them, including for Newcastle Mental Health Day and at Northern Pride. We talked a little about the Time to Change Employer Pledge and my role in the mental health and wellbeing team at BPDTS Ltd.

All too soon we were out of time. Thirty minutes had passed so quickly, but Amy suggested the possibility of a further interview in the future, either on my own or with Fran.

It’s no secret that at times I doubt myself and my place on the wider mental health stage, but as the interview ended I felt included. Amy reminded me I have a voice and something of value to share. That means a great deal and it’s something I’ll carry with me against times when the doubts return, as they do from time to time.

You can watch our interview on Amy’s Facebook page and on West Liberty University Television (WLU-TV 14). Contact Amy Gamble on her website, on Facebook, and on Twitter.


Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Where the Magic Happens: A Few Thoughts on Friendship, Difference, and Understanding

“Friend, how did we come here down such different roads?” (Martin Baker)

I’ve always delighted in the differences between people. The gaps in thinking, experience, and outlook offer enormous potential for growth, learning, and understanding. They are where the magic happens. This isn’t always easy, of course. No matter how much we care, significant differences in attitudes and opinion can get in the way of communicating effectively. It takes patience and commitment on both sides to handle difference creatively but I believe it’s possible if both parties are open to doing so.

Difference manifests in many areas of our lives. The following differences (and more) may be present in any given relationship.

Differences in age, gender, and sexual orientation; nationality, race, and culture; marital status; wellness and illness; financial and material security; education, skills, and abilities; life experience; worldview, political and religious beliefs; employment status and history.

It’s largely on the basis of such information that we make up our minds about other people and they make up their minds about us. It’s how we describe ourselves to a new friend or on our resume. The greater the match between our profiles the more at ease we feel. Conversely, too great a mismatch can put us off and get in the way of exploring deeper. If so, we are missing out, because this kind of information says very little about us as people. We rarely describe or introduce ourselves in ways that reveal our true selves, at least not up front or all at once.

Hi! I’m Marty. I get a bit carried away by new people sometimes so you might want to watch out for that but I’m a loyal friend. I didn’t know how to cry for most of my adult life but these days I cry easily so bring tissues! I have come a long way but I haven’t stopped growing, or learning, yet. I value honesty and openness and being called out on my shit so if you’re good with that let’s grab a coffee!

If we shared this kind of information more readily — our frailties, our fears, what delights and motivates us (who we are rather than what we do or what we have) — we’d see we have more in common with one another than we might otherwise realise, and begin to see the potential for understanding that our differences represent.

I believe this is what Fran detected early in our friendship:

“Fran, I have never thought of you as someone with bipolar or chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia, just as you.”

“And that is the point! It’s how you are with me. You treat me no less. People do not treat me that way once they know I have illness. It is a powerful thing. And it has helped me see how I am. That I am not just my illness, I have value and gifts to give.”

She didn’t mean, of course, that I was blind to her illnesses or their impact. They represented — and represent — significant differences between us as friends and between the life Fran lives and the life she would prefer to live. But difference of any kind does not define us, and whilst it can be a source of misunderstanding, complication and difficulty, it can also provide an opportunity for exploration, awareness and growth.


Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash.


Wednesday, 24 June 2020

When Blogging Is Hard and What to Do About It

No matter how committed you are to your blog there will be occasions when things aren’t flowing as easily as you’d wish. It helps to have a streamlined process (I’ve described my blogging workflow elsewhere) but there are still times when I struggle with ideas, when the words won’t flow, or when I change my mind at the last minute. Here’s how I handle these issues when they arise. Maybe some of it will resonate with you.

What Should I Write About?

Most of my blogging ideas come from conversations with friends, events I’ve attended, or things I’ve seen on social media. I keep lists of promising topics but sometimes it’s hard to decide what to write about. Here are a few approaches I use when that happens.

Dana Fox’s book 365 Blog Topic Ideas For The Lifestyle Blogger Who Has Nothing to Write About was a gift from my friend and fellow mental health blogger Aimee Wilson. It’s inspired a number of articles including a profile of six people I admire in the mental health community.

It can help to talk to fellow writers and experts in your field. A meeting with Aimee last year led to a joint post with her and mental health blogger Peter McDonnell on competition and collaboration. A piece on the importance of asking questions was inspired by an article on Aimee’s blog I’m NOT Disordered. As with all collaborative work, remember to acknowledge those who have contributed or inspired your writing.

Another approach is to use or adapt content you’ve written previously. Our book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder is a rich source of material for our blog. If you have previously published content, whether that is a book or in some other format, consider excerpting it for a blog post. If you vlog or podcast, try a book reading. Fran and I have recorded book readings for our YouTube channel. Draft material can be another source of inspiration. Look through your incomplete or unpublished articles and other writing. Maybe the time has come to complete or rework the content in some way.

If you have an idea that feels too big or complex to take on, consider breaking it down into smaller pieces. Focus on one or two specific sub-topics at a time rather than trying to squeeze it all in one post.

Some promising topics may be beyond your knowledge or experience. Rather than reject the idea outright, consider approaching it from your perspective. A friend asked me recently if I’ve ever written about the mind of someone who is suicidal; what they are thinking and feeling. I could never write such an article because I have no relevant personal experience. However, I can write about supporting someone who lives with suicidal thoughts, and how to take care of yourself when your friend is suicidal.

When the Words Won’t Flow

All bloggers know the frustration of writer’s block. The time isn’t right. There are other things going on. The muse isn’t with you. You’re not in the right frame of mind. I explored this in a post called I Was Going To Write Today. The solution can be as simple as seeing these “reasons” for the excuses they are and writing anyway. Because that’s what writers do.

And in the meantime the world goes on. And other people write. And they are not necessarily “inspired.” And they probably don’t have the right pen or the perfect notebook. Maybe they found the back of an envelope to scribble on when their laptop crashed so they didn’t lose what was bursting to get out. And maybe the cat just spewed up or the baby did. Or they feel sick today or depressed or despair of ever making a difference or even getting through another day fuck even another hour but you know what they dare anyway they dare to care and write and scream sigh vomit breathe craft something from the guts of them because sometimes that’s all you have and all you can offer to the world and sometimes it is enough you are enough YOU ARE ENOUGH.

Another approach to feeling stuck is to change something. Try writing in a different setting, at a different time of day, or using a different medium. If you normally write at your computer keyboard, try your tablet or phone, or pick up a pen and write longhand in a notebook, on the back of an envelope or whatever is to hand. It could just be the impetus you need for the words to start flowing.

Sometimes all you can do is accept that you’re not going to write today. Set it aside, along with any self-judgment about not being good enough, or that you’re a failure because the words aren’t flowing for you right now. Use the time to research new ideas, read or take some training relevant to your subject area, or update your website. Actively support other bloggers in your field by sharing their content, leaving comments, and giving them some feedback.

Remember to take care of yourself too. Maybe you need to take a break, do something completely different for a while, and recharge your batteries. You’ll return refreshed and might even come up with some new ideas in the process.

If you’re stuck for content or want to inject some new energy into your blog, consider inviting others to contribute. Fran and I welcome guest bloggers and have published some fantastic content by guest writers. If you’d like to write for us check out the guidelines on our contact page.

To Publish or Not to Publish?

Sometimes I complete an article but am uncertain about publishing it. There can be a number of reasons. The first is feeling dissatisfied with what I’ve written. It can be good to hold yourself to high standards but I have a tendency to be overly self-critical. It helps to remind myself that the perfect is the enemy of the good and that “good enough” means exactly what it says. A good enough piece that gets published has the potential to reach thousands of people. That “almost there” article in your drafts folder will only ever have an audience of one.

That said, check in with yourself before sending your work out into the world. I wrote an article last year after seeing someone post inappropriately on social media. I decided not to publish because I’d focused too much on that one specific example. I’d not mentioned any names but it would not have been hard to trace the person concerned. That would only have brought additional focus to their malpractice and potential hurt to the innocent party involved. I set aside what I’d written and wrote a stronger and more general article on how to respond responsibly on social media.

It is good manners to acknowledge people who have inspired or collaborated on a blog post. Ensuring you have permission to include content others have created is responsible blogging. However, granting a publication veto to people who have contributed to an article, are referenced in it, or might be affected by its publication is a different matter — and one potentially fraught with difficulties. I’ve written posts I’m proud of but withheld from publishing or withdrawn after publication because approval was unforthcoming or withdrawn. There are no easy answers, but in future I intend paying closer attention to my boundaries as a writer and blog owner. I will focus on telling my story rather than other people’s and more clearly define roles and responsibilities in colaborative work. Hopefully, this will lead to less frustration and misunderstanding, and fewer articles that never see the light of day.


I’ve described some of the issues I encounter from time to time with my blogging and how I work around them. Perhaps some are familiar to you. How do you handle it when you are stuck for an idea, or when writer’s block strikes? Do you ever hesitate before publishing your work, or doubt it it’s good enough to be “out there”? Fran and I would love to hear from you, either in the comments below or in a guest post. If you’d like to write for us check out the guidelines on our contact page.

Happy and successful blogging!


Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash.


Wednesday, 17 June 2020

How to Take Care of Yourself When Your Friend is Suicidal

This article is excerpted and updated from chapter 7, “The ‘S’ Word: Being There When Your Friend Is Suicidal,” of our book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder. Photo by Alex Blăjan on Unsplash.

Taking Care of Myself

Being in a relationship with someone who talks about wanting to die can be stressful and draining, so remember to pay as close attention to your well-being as to your friend’s. My self-care needs are threefold. First, I need to believe I can handle myself and Fran safely. The more I learn about her illnesses and situation, the more confident I am in my ability to support her and help keep her safe. Second, I need to know what to look out for, and who to contact should I ever find myself out of my depth. I keep a copy of her wellness plan, which includes contact details for friends and key medical professionals, with me at all times. Third, I need my own support team. It is vital to have someone — a friend, colleague, family member, or perhaps someone in a more formal support or counselling role — you trust and feel able to approach if necessary. I am fortunate to have a close circle of family and friends to call on if I need to unburden myself.

Awareness and Education

Before I met Fran, I knew little about bipolar disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, or suicidal thinking. At first, I imagined I could discover all I needed to know by talking with Fran and spending time with her. I learned a great deal, but after a while I realised I needed additional sources of information. No book, website, or training course can tell me how illness affects Fran personally, but she does not know everything about mental illness and cannot provide a broader, impartial perspective. I seek to educate myself by talking to people with lived experience, by reading books and online material, by taking relevant courses and training, and by participating in the wider mental health community.

It’s Good to Talk

When Fran is actively suicidal my focus is on her, not on educating myself. At other times we discuss what happens when such thoughts arise, how she feels, and how best we can keep her safe. Fran is the expert on how her illnesses affect her personally, but I have read more widely about bipolar disorder, suicide, and suicidal thinking. Sharing allows us to learn from each other. If and when crisis comes, we are as prepared as we can be to face it together.

Fran is not the only person I talk to, however. It is a sad fact that many people have personal experience of suicide, attempted suicide, and suicidal thinking. One friend told me:

There is kind of shame involved, in having considered such a thing. But the silence that is born out of that shame leaves others feeling they are the only ones to have such feelings, and that isolation adds to their thinking. . . . In the moment, there is such despair that suicide seems to be the only option. It can feel a logical choice; the only answer. Looking back, for me, is still scary and painful. I find it hard to believe that I could feel so overwhelmed by life and yet I know that such feelings still lie under the surface of my thinking.

I am indebted to her, and to all who have shared their experiences and insights. In the course of writing our book we approached many people for permission to quote from their messages, e-mails, and social media posts. All were happy to do so. As one contributor said, “Absolutely! It’s so important. Nothing is more so.”

Books and Reading

The appendix to our book High Tide, Low Tide contains a selection of books we have found useful including some relating to suicide and suicidality. Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide, by Kay Redfield Jamison, approaches the subject of suicide and suicidal thinking with authority and compassion. Edwin Shneidman’s The Suicidal Mind is also useful. Edited by Sarah Fader, the Stigma Fighters Anthology shares personal stories written by people living with a range of conditions.

Courses and Training

The Internet is a rich source of educational and training material. In a recent post we published a listing of seventeen online suicide awareness courses and podcasts, many of which are free. I have found the following especially helpful:

ZSA Suicide Awareness Training (20 minutes) — Free
This course “aims to give you the skills and confidence to help someone who may be considering suicide. It focuses on breaking stigma and encouraging open conversations.”

Real Talk Film (15 minutes) — Free
This interactive film offers an “introduction to conversations supporting someone with suicidal thoughts. Viewer interaction influences the conversation and safely explores how to support someone in crisis.”

We Need To Talk About Suicide (90 minutes) — Free
E-Learning module from Health Education England covering who is at risk of suicide, warning signs those people might display and what you can say in response. The module also provides links to national support resources.”

LivingWorks (1 hour) — £12
This course offers “Foundational skills to help someone who is thinking about suicide connect to life-saving help. Opportunities to practice skills in a variety of conversation scenarios.”

Dealing with Distress: Working with Suicide and Self-Harm — £35
This in-depth course “explores how to support people in distress and at risk of suicide or self-harm. Aimed at counsellors and psychotherapists, it is, however, relevant to a wide range of helping professionals as well as survivors themselves. Lifetime access with 6 hours’ CPD certificate upon completion.”

Classroom training includes the excellent Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) programme. Originally developed in Australia in 2001, MHFA is available in many countries including Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, South Africa, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

I have also completed the internationally recognised Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) workshop. Widely available, ASIST is aimed at caregivers wanting to feel comfortable, confident, and competent in helping prevent the immediate risk of suicide.

The Mental Health Community

Fran and I support a number of mental health organisations and campaigns, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Mind, Bring Change 2 Mind, and Time to Change.

We also follow the blogs and social media accounts of groups and individuals working in this arena. As well as providing information and countering stigma and discrimination, the mental health community offers people the opportunity to share their experiences and extend support and encouragement to one another. Some peer support forums are run by official organisations; others are informal or run by individuals.

Social media is sometimes criticised on the grounds that a lack of professional governance may jeopardise the safety of vulnerable people through well-meaning but misguided advice. Vigilance is advisable, but in our experience, most support offered in online communities is genuine, caring, and balanced.

It may not be for everyone, but we encourage you and your friend to engage in the wider mental health community to the extent you feel comfortable. It has provided us with information, guidance, and support, and helped us feel part of something larger than our own situation. We have also found many new friends along the way. On a personal level, it has made me more aware of what it means to live with mental illness, and contributed to my ability to support Fran effectively.

If You Need Help

Our resources page includes links to suicide crisis lines / support organisations, training resources, and books. UK mental health charity Mind offers a range of help and information if you need support or are concerned for someone else.


Wednesday, 10 June 2020

Official Traveler's Company Notebooks, Inserts and Accessories

In this follow-up to Every Day Essentials for the Successful Blogger I have listed all the official Traveler's Notebook (formerly known as the Midori Traveler’s Notebook) inserts and accessories I can find.

If you know of any items I’ve missed please let me know and I will update the listing. Similar notebook systems by other makers are not included in this article.

Traveler's Notebooks and accessories can be bought from many stores around the world. Links are to The Journal Shop except where otherwise indicated. According to their website, “The Journal Shop carried every single Traveler's Notebook item ever made, so if Midori makes it, we'll have it here for you.”

For more on the history of the Traveler’s Notebook visit the Traveler’s Company website.

Traveler's Notebooks

Traveler's Notebooks come in two sizes: Regular (large; 12 x 1 x 22 cm) and Passport (small; 9.8 x 1 x 13.4 cm).

Special editions include the Narita Airport Edition sold by Traveler’s Factory at Narita International Airport, Tokyo; and the Tokyo Station Edition available from the Traveler’s Factory shop in Tokyo train station.

Traveler's Notebook, Brown

Traveler's Notebook, Black

Traveler's Notebook, Camel

Traveler's Notebook, Blue

Traveler's Passport Notebook, Brown

Traveler's Passport Notebook, Black

Traveler's Passport Notebook, Camel

Traveler's Passport Notebook, Blue

Traveler's Notebook Inserts and Accessories

Items are listed by refill number. Note that some numbers are used for more than one item.

[001] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 001 : LINED NOTEBOOK

[001] Traveler's Passport Notebook // Refill 001 : LINED MD PAPER

[002] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 002 : GRID NOTEBOOK

[002] Traveler's Passport Notebook // Refill 002 : GRID MD PAPER

[003] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 003 : PLAIN NOTEBOOK

[003] Traveler's Passport Notebook // Refill 003 : PLAIN MD PAPER

[004] Traveler's Passport Notebook // Refill 004 : ZIPPER POCKET

[005] Traveler's Passport Notebook // Refill 005 : LIGHTWEIGHT PAPER

[005] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 005 : FREE DIARY (DAILY)

[006] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 006 : POCKET STICKER (L)

[006] Traveler's Passport Notebook // Refill 006 : FREE DIARY (MONTHLY)

[007] Traveler's Passport Notebook // Refill 007 : FREE DIARY (WEEKLY)

[007] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 007 : CARD FILE

[008] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 008 : ZIPPER POCKET

[009] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 009 : REPAIR KIT / 8 BANDS

[009] Traveler's Passport Notebook // Refill 009 : KRAFT PAPER

[010] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 010 : DOUBLE SIDED STICKERS

[011] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 011 : BINDER

[011] Traveler's Passport Notebook // Refill 011 : CONNECTING BANDS

[012] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 012 : SKETCH PAPER

[012] Traveler's Passport Notebook // Refill 012 : STICKY NOTES

[013] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 013 : LIGHTWEIGHT PAPER

[013] Traveler's Notebook Passport Size // Refill 013 : MD PAPER CREAM

[014] Traveler's Notebook Passport Size // Refill 014 : DOT GRID

[014] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 014 : KRAFT PAPER

[015] Traveler's Notebook Passport Size // Refill 015 : WATERCOLOR PAPER

[015] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 015 : Pen HOLDER (S)

[016] Traveler's Notebook Passport Size // Refill 016 : BINDER

[016] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 016 : Pen HOLDER (M)

[016] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 016 : Pen HOLDER (M) BLUE

[017] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 017 : FREE DIARY (MONTHLY)

[018] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 018 : FREE DIARY (WEEKLY VERTICAL)

[019] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 019 : FREE DIARY (WEEKLY) + NOTES

[020] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 020 : KRAFT FILE

[021] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 021 : CONNECTING BANDS

[022] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 022 : STICKY NOTES

[023] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 023 : FILM POCKET STICKERS

[024] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 024 : PENHOLDER STICKER

[025] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 025 : MD PAPER CREAM

[026] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 026 : DOT GRID

[027] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 027 : WATERCOLOR PAPER

[028] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 028 : CARD FILE

[029] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 029 : THREE-FOLD FILE

[030] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 030 : BRASS CLIP

Miscellaneous Traveler's Notebook Accessories

Traveler's Notebook 10th Anniversary Tin Set

Traveler's Company Brass Pencil

Traveler's Company Brass Pen

Traveler's Company Brass Fountain Pen

Traveler's Company Brass Pen Case

Traveler's Company Brass Ruler

Traveler's Company Brass Stencil Bookmark : Alphabet

Traveler's Company Brass Stencil Bookmark : Numbers