Thursday 18 December 2014

will you?..

i'm doing really really well right now but it may not always be so.. i have bipolar.. it's not my fault.. it's not who I am.. i also have cfs and fibro.. will you still like me when i'm ill?.. will you ignore me?.. will you unfriend me?.. even block me?.. will you still love me when i'm not nice and sweet and how you'd like me to be?..



Wednesday 10 December 2014

Fran Houston: MPBN interview with Jennifer Rooks, 2 Feb 2011

How a Peaks Island woman struggling with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and depression created a book about the people of her island.

A funny thing happened to me in December 2010. I wrote a piece called "Lessons of the Night" straight from my heart, even though I was sick. I sent it in to a tv station and they extended an invitation for an interview. This is what transpired..


Video link: Fran's interview starts at 15:50.

Wednesday 26 November 2014

While it’s fresh, by Michael Baker

I was asked by Martin to contribute to his blog regarding my experiences with ME/CFS. This was right after an extremely poor night’s sleep, but luckily my mood is not tied to my sleep so I was very polite in accepting!

How to explain it...

Firstly, a couple of things about me. My name is Michael and I am 24 years of age, currently living at home. This past year has seen the beginnings of my ME, and it is a considerable struggle living with it. I would never have called myself healthy. I have lived with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome for those who don’t know) for most of my adult life; since I went to university anyway. But after several months of crippling fatigue I finally got a diagnosis, a tentative one anyway.

As to my experiences, the best way to describe ME, for me at any rate, is the crippling, almost toxic fatigue. It does not go away with rest (for example, I had 12 hours of sleep one night, and woke up just as wiped out as I had been the day earlier).

It is very difficult to lessen the damaging effects it has on your body, because you simply cannot function to a reasonable degree. It does feel like poison coursing through your system, and although it isn’t life-threatening, the effects it has on your lifestyle are considerable.

When speaking with Martin this morning about my particularly bad night’s sleep, he suggested I write this now ‘while it’s fresh’. Unfortunately, and many ME sufferers can agree with me on this one, it is always fresh. It sticks with you 24/7. But support is there and support is a godsend.

Keep fighting, everyone.


Tuesday 25 November 2014

Above ground, below ground.

i am always amused when friends say wow you are out all the time doing lots of fun stuff..

truth is, the happy face on the outside doesn't always tell the pain, fatigue and torment on the inside.. photos posted from delightful places don't tell the story of what it costs to be there..

having three chronic, invisible mental and physical illnesses is a full time job requiring much effort and care.. i rest a lot.. i meditate a lot.. i regularly flatline.. i work harder now than i ever did as an engineer..

time with friends, time with music, art, theatre, just time out.. is part of my wellness regime, as well as just something i like to do, as everyone does.. but it takes a lot to get there.. my bucket needs to be full or nearly full or i'll run into trouble..

self care, connections, and enjoyment are critical components of my staying alive..

only a few see the whole story.. i try to present well to the world, so others need not suffer my travails or worry about me.. and so I don’t get hurt.. especially by well meaning ones..

what else is there but to smile anyway..


Saturday 18 October 2014

Worthy of the telling

It’s two years since Fran first suggested we write a book about my experiences as the friend of someone living with illness.

Writing a book isn’t something to be taken on lightly or casually, but I didn’t anticipate just how much would be involved with the book itself (research, study, writing, editing, and all the work we’ve done in the quest to find a literary agent) or how much the journey would challenge and enrich me.

I’ve taken courses I would never have thought of taking if it wasn't for Gum on My Shoe, including the excellent Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) and ASIST workshops. I’ve expanded my awareness and involvement in the online mental health community developing our social media presence. Most importantly of all, I’ve met some wonderful people.

Last night, Fran and I met up with a dear friend we’ve each known online since 2011 but had never previously met face to face. It was great to all hang out together: to laugh and talk and share something of our personal stories. Our friend asked about the book: what lay behind it, how it’s progressing... As we talked, I was moved by how deeply our story resonated with her.

She’s not the first person to tell us our message is important and deserves to be told. Fran and I are best friends, neither more nor less, but what we do, what we’ve learned and discovered, what we are, seems to strike a chord with people. Whilst that’s always very encouraging to hear, there’ve been times when I’ve questioned my ability to do justice to our message, our friendship, and ultimately to Fran herself.

I guess all writers doubt themselves at times, but our friend’s response last night was so genuine and spontaneous that I felt a renewed belief in myself, in Fran, and in what we are doing. Our story is worthy of the telling, and today I know I am worthy to tell it.


PS: We’re still looking for a literary agent, so if you know of one, or are one, please let us know!

Saturday 27 September 2014

Depression’s Reason, by Kim Rachelle Robinson

You see them look, and shake their head.
“Why doesn’t she just get out of bed?”

That same old question, you always hear,
“What’s wrong with you now, my friend, my dear?”

That million dollar question, they want to know,
It has no answer, how would I not know?

It’s hard for those who love you to stick around,
Who wants to watch a loved one only frown?

We understand that, believe it or not,
For neither do we like to see your eyes drop.

Our world around us, could be crumbling down,
Or nothing bad at all could be going down.

Depression has no logic, no rhyme or reason,
It simply has to come and go, just like the four seasons.

~ Kim Rachelle Robinson


Tuesday 23 September 2014

"What happens when you can't be together all the time?"

The simple answer is that we get to find out what’s really important in our relationship. When friends are used to always being there for each other it's courageous to risk months with no certainty of regular contact, especially when one person lives with mental illness and the relationship is crucial to their stability.
That's what happened during the summer of 2013, and let’s be honest, it wasn't easy. We were as careful about planning as time permitted and put such safeguards in place as we could contrive. We made it through what was without doubt the most challenging period in our friendship, and one of the most trying of Fran's life, but there were times when it hurt to be so out of touch and times when I was genuinely concerned for Fran's well-being and safety.
There are healthy and unhealthy aspects of any close relationship. The healthy include mutual support and encouragement, having someone to share things with, and simply 'hanging out'. For Fran, this means knowing that no matter what happens, I will be there for her if and when she needs me. Less healthy aspects mostly come under the banner of co-dependence, which we looked at earlier.
Difficult times help distinguish the healthy aspects from the unhealthy ones, assuming you genuinely want to find out. A summer 'apart' was daunting and potentially dangerous, but Fran wanted to go and from the start we saw it as an opportunity to counter co-dependence in our relationship and discover what was left when almost all of the familiar structure was removed. I believe we succeeded, and emerged stronger for the experience.

We learned to let go of the need to be in touch as regularly or for as long as usual, and to make the most of whatever opportunities we did have to be together. In the chaotic uncertainty of the summer, with plans changing all the time and us frequently under pressure to decide what to do next, we were forced to relax our attachment to specific outcomes. Instead, we learned to focus more on the present moment, and work together with whatever we found there.

In short, the summer taught us to trust. To trust ourselves, each other, and whatever life brings us.

Gum on My Shoe: One Step at a Time with My Bipolar Best Friend Chapter 8 ("Embracing Joy")

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Embracing the Journey

This first appeared as a guest post on Julie A. Fast's blog, 7 September, 2014. Thanks Julie!

Like many of the friends I’ve met on the internet, Marty charmed me with his commitment to helping those with bipolar disorder, especially his friend Fran. I asked him to write about his experiences as a friend of someone who has bipolar disorder and how it has changed his life.
~Julie A. Fast

“You’re stuck with me now, Frannie.”
“Like gum on my shoe!”

People are always interested when I say I’m writing a book called Gum on My Shoe. “What’s it about,” they ask? I say, “It describes my friendship with Fran who lives 3000 miles away. Fran has bipolar disorder. She gets depressed, manic sometimes and is frequently suicidal. Despite the distance, I’m her main support.”

I wonder if you can guess some of the responses I get:

“Gee that’s rough on you!”
“I couldn’t do that!”
“She’s lucky to have you!”

I always reply in the same way: It’s not rough on me at all, our friendship is a giving, loving and very rewarding two way street. You might find yourself in a similar situation one day, don’t sell yourself – or your friends – short! And yes, Fran is lucky. And so am I, to have her in my life.

Recently someone asked a different question, “What gifts does your friendship bring you?” I could tell she understood how and why I get so much from being friends with someone who has bipolar disorder. Being friends with an “ill” person is challenging. Of course it is! But it’s also powerfully rewarding, life-affirming — and joyful.

We’ve been friends now for three years, and we’ve journeyed together through mania, depression and debilitating fatigue, with suicidal thinking a more or less constant companion. Fran’s said many times she wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my support: “We live 3,000 miles apart — and I would not be alive without you.”

But our friendship has never been a burden. I’ve learned so much, and I’m still learning. I’m learning about tears, laughter, despair and the courage it takes to live an honest life. We share life’s ups and downs — and an occasional beer — like all friends do. We meditate together and I’m also exploring mindfulness and other life-skills. I’ve taken courses including Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) and Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST).

I’m learning I can make a difference and that I have a voice and a reason to use it. I’m meeting some amazing people.

I’m embracing the journey. One step at a time.



Monday 1 September 2014

Chapter 8, Embracing Joy

When friends are used to always being there for each other, it's courageous to risk months with no certainty of regular contact, especially when the relationship is crucial to the stability of someone with mental illness.

Chapter eight, Embracing Joy, covers five weeks in May and June 2013, from the first suggestion that Fran might accompany her parents in Europe for the summer, to the authors meeting face to face in Southampton, England.

From chapter outline, Gum on My Shoe: One Step at a Time with My Bipolar Best Friend.

Dissolving the Circle

This first appeared as a guest post on Megan Cyrulewski's blog, 29 August, 2014.

Many thanks Megan for inviting me to guest on your blog today. My name is Martin Baker — Marty, please — and I'm co-author with Fran Houston of Gum on My Shoe: One Step at a Time with My Bipolar Best Friend (currently seeking an agent).

Since Megan invited me I've been pondering a suitable topic for this blog. Several suggested themselves but none felt quite right. Then, a few days ago, I found myself sitting in a coffee bar with a new friend, discussing the nature of friendship and how my relationship to people has changed over the years. My friend seemed to find it of interest (perhaps she was being kind — she seems kind) and I thought others might find it interesting too. Fingers crossed!

Years ago, my model of people and relationships looked something like this:

My world comprised an Inner Circle of "Special People" (immediate family and close friends, most of whom I'd known for years) and "everybody else". The model had served me for many years. My special people — the relationships I had with them — appeared to satisfy all my needs, so I felt no need to engage meaningfully with anyone else. The model, and my life, was stable — and stale, although I couldn't see that at the time.

And then, one of my Special People died.

I'd imagined myself supported by the relationships I had with my Special People. One of those relationships had come to an end but the others would surely readjust to keep me — to keep each other — supported. Except they didn't. That's not to criticise my friends: good people, all. But the relationships had faded over the years. I take my share of responsibility for that. Relationships need tending and caring for and I'd become lazy. I just hadn't seen what was happening until it was too late. About that time, my world looked something like this:

I had my immediate family — and pretty much no one else. I had never felt more alone.

I needed more people in my life but I had no idea how to go about it, how to "do the people thing". In particular, I'd never understood the day-to-day conversations that others seemed to handle effortlessly: holidays, family stuff, sports, music. I'd never seen the point of that kind of conversation, or of investing energy in people I scarcely knew. But something had to change, and I set about learning. I began passing the time of day with people. Colleagues. Shop assistants. Neighbours. Anyone and everyone.

For the longest time it felt completely unnatural to me, but I persevered ("fake it until you make it," as they say). And to my surprise I discovered there was pleasure to be found in such exchanges. More importantly, I began to "get it". I got that the "point" of talking about holidays and sports and each other's kids and the other things people talk about at bus stops or at the water cooler isn't those things at all, but the simple human connection that such conversation recognises and honours.

I still struggled, because I remained commited to my old model. For a time I found myself trying to repopulate my collection of "Special People", but that placed a terrible strain on myself and others, as I tried to decide whether my new (or newly developing) relationship with this person or that person was "special" enough to be promoted to the Inner Circle. I confused several people in the process and deeply hurt at least one. It's not something I am proud of.

But, finally I got it. I dissolved the model and replaced it with another.

Pretty, isn't it?! In my world now there is no Inner Circle: just me and — everybody else! Of course, some people are closer to me than others, some relationships are stronger than others, but there is no circle, no event horizon. It's been a revelation. Everything is dynamic, rich, colourful. And I feel free. I am free.

I'm free to strike up a conversation one day with someone at the next table to me in a cafe, who seems to be having a rough time. I'm free to chat holiday plans with a couple I bump into most weekends. I'm free to sign up for a course without stressing that I won't know anyone or whether I will be able to engage. I'm free to meet a new friend for coffee, to enjoy her company and the conversation, and for us to part without needing to know when we will next get together.

I am free to enjoy each friend for who they are, and each relationship for what it is.

I am free to be myself.



Thursday 28 August 2014

Giving is where the heart is

When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed. (Maya Angelou)

Yesterday my wife and son took part in the "ice bucket challenge" in support of ALS/MND. It was a lot of fun for us all (I held the camera) and afterwards we each donated to one of the MND charities. We have no personal connection to the charity and I'm not aware of knowing anyone with the condition. Like millions of others, we took part, and donated, because of the viral nature of the campaign. Nothing wrong in that, right?

I certainly don't begrudge the attention which has been focused on this debilitating condition, nor the monies which have been raised to fund research and support those who live with it. Others have chosen to use the same "ice bucket challenge" format to raise money or focus attention on other conditions or issues. Some huge amounts of money have been pledged (even allowing for those who may have posted videos of themselves being doused and forgotten to donate).

There's surely a sense in which "a pound is a pound is a pound" (feel free to replace with your national currency) irrespective of what motivates the giving. But it's easy to get caught up in taking part in, or contributing to, such fundraising (and fun-raising) events without ever truly engaging.

On a personal level, that is largely true of the zip-line challenge I did earlier this year in aid of the homelessness charity Crisis. It was a lot of fun, I met some lovely people, and personally raised over £700. But I'm not sure how much more engaged I am in the issues facing homeless people on the streets of Newcastle, or elsewhere. Hopefully the money I raised will make a real difference for others, but how much difference did the experience make for me?

Next month I will take part in a 10 km walk to raise funds for the Alzheimer's Society, and will be supporting Fran in the NAMI walk she's doing on the other side of the Atlantic in aid of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The NAMI one is different in that I do feel genuinely and personally engaged, but so far I haven't taken the trouble to find out more than the little I already know about the impact of Alzheimer's disease on those living with it, their friends and families. I will raise some money, isn't that enough?

Something tells me it may not be.

Fran and I are on week three of a 21 day meditation course presented by Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra. Yesterday's meditation was entitled "Being of Service", with the key message "My soul expands when I help others."

Today in meditation we activate the sense of service. But instead of approaching service in the conventional sense, as a sort of obligation, we will look at it from the perspective of higher states of consciousness. In this view, service is not only a humanitarian effort, it is a path of joy and self-realization. It is an opportunity to grow in happiness, not a duty. (Deepak Chopra)

Looking at things this way, our intention in giving service (financially or otherwise) matters very much. "A pound is not necessarily a pound". True service, true giving, blesses and enriches both giver and receiver, and more deeply and meaningfully than an ice-cold soaking or a 23 second zip-line slide across the Tyne. It doesn't have to be a big thing, but it can be a heart thing.

Or, as Fran puts it:

In giving, caring, living, every little bit counts..


Wednesday 27 August 2014

A few thoughts on meds and compliance, by Chris Roberts

I have bipolar I/manic phase disorder. The psychotic symptoms and/or tendencies I get during mania episodes include schizophrenia, paranoia and delusions (which are different from hallucinations).

I know for me it's really important to keep to taking my meds regularly as prescribed. I am on med. management with my psychologist and I see a nurse for my treatment plan. My son is a nurse and is in charge of my med. management at home. Before that, when I was doing it by myself, I'd be okay for a while but during my mania episodes I would forget and take too much, and then have to be hospitalized for a toxic dose.

It has taken over thirty years for this to all come together and that is why I am keen to help others if I can. A few friends and I have started using social media to remind each other to take our meds, because we know how important it is. The meds do not cure but they help us to manage our mental/emotional disorders. You have to have the correct diagnoses and a good psychologist that can prescribe the right medications for your specific illnesses.


Tuesday 26 August 2014

Shoes Win Prizes! Enter our summer book giveaway!

Fran and I are delighted to announce the Gum on My Shoe summer giveaway. Share your favourite footwear for a chance to win some amazing prizes!

Fabulous prizes

We're grateful to the authors who generously made copies of their books available for the giveaway. You rock!

  • Two Bipolar Chicks Guide To Survival: Tips for Living with Bipolar Disorder, signed by authors Wendy K. Williamson and Honora Rose (link)
  • Who Am I? How My Daughter Taught Me to Let Go and Live Again, signed by author Megan Cyrulewski (link)
  • Moorestorms: A Guide For The Bipolar Parent, signed by author Rebecca Moore, founder of The Bipolar Parenting Foundation (link)
  • Pompeii, A Short Story, by Tina Concetta Marzocca (link)
  • The Reason I Jump: One Boy's Voice from the Silence of Autism, by Naoki Higashida (link)
  • For the Love of Peaks: Island Portraits and Stories, A Collection, signed by author Fran Houston (link)
  • Collected Poems: 1977–1984, signed by author Martin Baker (link)
  • Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder: Understanding and Helping Your Partner, by Julie A Fast and John D Preston PsyD ABPP (link)
  • Sherry Goes Sane: Living A Life With Schizo-Affective Disorder, by Sherry Joiner (link)
  • Shadows in the Sun: Healing from Depression and Finding the Light Within, by Gayathri Ramprasad (link)
  • Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder: A 4-Step Plan for You and Your Loved Ones to Manage the Illness and Create Lasting Stability, by Julie A Fast and John D Preston (link)
  • Get It Done When You're Depressed, by Julie A Fast and John D Preston (link)

There will also be mystery prizes!

How to enter

All you have to do is take a photo of your favourite pair of shoes (feet and gum are optional!) and share it with us!

  • You can post the photo to the Gum on My Shoe Facebook page (link)
  • or tweet your photo on Twitter making sure you tag your entry with @GumOnMyShoeBook #ShoesWinPrizes
  • or email your photo to Marty at

If you're unable to take or post a photo, you can describe your favourite shoes in words and share your description instead. One entry per person, please.

Be sure to get your entry in before midnight BST (7pm EDT) on Tuesday 30 September. Fran and I will draw one name at random for each prize (maximum one prize per person) and announce the winners on the Gum on My Shoe blog and social media.

Entries may be shared on our Facebook page and retweeted.

If you have any problem entering, please don't hesitate to contact us.

Good luck!


You can follow the entries in our Facebook album.


Friday 8 August 2014

Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST)

Following on from my blog about the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) course I took in February, I'd like to share my experience of the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) workshop I attended last week. The two day workshop was organised and delivered by Chester-le-Street and Durham City Mind and held the Cragside Education Centre Campus for Ageing (formally Newcastle General Hospital), Newcastle upon Tyne.

What is ASIST?

ASIST is one of several programs developed by LivingWorks Education, a public service corporation focusing on understanding and preventing suicide. Other programs include eSuicideTALK which I have taken and highly recommend to anyone wanting to increase their awareness (see below for details of this and other programs).

The ASIST workshop is for caregivers who want to feel more comfortable, confident and competent in helping to prevent the immediate risk of suicide. The two-day intensive workshops are taught in small groups of no more than fifteen participants to one trainer (our workshop had eighteen participants and two trainers). The emphasis is on how to help a person at risk stay safe and seek further help. The practical training enables participants to recognize someone who is suicidal and gives them the skills and confidence to intervene, but also to deal with the emotional legacy of coming into contact with someone who is feeling suicidal.

After attending the workshop, participants are able to:

  • Recognise calls for help
  • Reach out and offer support
  • Assess the risk of suicide
  • Apply a suicide intervention model
  • Link people with community resources

The workshop was free to attend but this may depend on location, the organising body, and what funding is available.

Who teaches it?

Our trainers were Emma Power and Charles McCaughey from Chester-le-Street and Durham City Mind. In Charles' own words: "The last training session of ASIST was held at Newcastle General Hospital. Fantastic group all ready and willing to help people stay safe."

Who is it for?

If you look on the LivingWorks website (links below) you will read that the ASIST programme is aimed at mental health practitioners, counsellors, teachers, ministers, police, fire and other emergency service workers, community volunteers, workers in health, welfare or criminal justice, and people concerned about family or friends.

You might be thinking "Oh, I'm not a professional, it's not really for someone like me." Don't let that stop you registering. ASIST is for anyone who wants to feel more comfortable, confident and competent in helping to prevent the immediate risk of suicide. Of the eighteen people on our course, I was the only "civilian". The others worked or volunteered in a variety of care and support roles, and most had considerable experience helping people who are living through extremely hard times.

With few credentials other than my three year friendship with Fran and a passionate desire to learn how better to support her and others, I arrived feeling something of an "amateur", but that soon passed. Everyone brought their own experience to the table. We were all there to share and to learn, and I felt fully included and my contributions valued. If you are interested enough to be reading this, ASIST is for you.

What is it like?

I don't want to give too much detail away but it's fair to say I found the ASIST workshop intense, challenging and powerfully rewarding.

ASIST intervention is based on the principle of helping to keep someone "safe for now", and presents a structured (but flexible) model called the Pathway for Assisting Life. Phase one of the model is called Connecting with Suicide, and focuses on establishing a connection and determining whether the person we are concerned about is actually considering suicide. If so, we move into the second phase, Understanding Choices. Here the emphasis is on hearing the person's story, allowing them to share and explore their situation and options. The focus is on allowing, and if necessary gently guiding, them to find their 'turning point': a moment of awareness that there is some part of them which does not want to die. Having reached this turning point, the care-giver's role is to support them through the third phase, Asisting Life. The aim is to identify specific actions which the person can take to keep them "safe for now", perhaps with assistance from the care-giver or other agencies. These actions are collected into a "SafePlan", which the person is invited to commit to.

The workshop is trainer-led, with slides and video presentations, but also involves active participation from those attending. No pressure was put on us to share or do anything we weren't happy with, but I think we all recognised that in order to get the most from the workshop it was necessary to take an active part. There were a number of role-play scenarios. In each, the person at risk was played by one of the trainers, with the other trainer facilitating as we collectively took the role of the care-giver. Most were conducted with the group as a whole, others in smaller groups.

Inevitably, some of these role-plays brought up powerful emotions, and a good deal of attention was focused on us taking care of our own well-being, not only during the workshop but at other times when we might be faced with such difficult situations in real life. I personally felt safe and supported throughout the two days, both by Emma and Charles and also by all the other participants.

Two of those who attended were kind enough to share their thoughts afterwards.

The ASIST course refreshed my belief in our potential to reach out to each other and truly make a difference. I came away feeling I had been given the skills which could help someone feel less without hope and options. A truly moving course, the sensitivity and encouragement the trainers and participants gifted to me will without doubt remain a very happy memory for me. (Claire Stewart)
I have been a first aider for many years and would encourage all first aiders to get training in mental health. Over the last couple of years, several shouts have turned into mental health urgent responses involving a combination of physical injury, substance misuse and people at risk to themselves. ASIST and MHFA are extremely valuable helping people to care for others. Both are two day courses and include video clips, role play and being able to empathise with people who are at their lowest." (Darren Hodge)

Two days cannot fully equip someone to handle any situation perfectly, but I feel confident in my ability to recognise someone at risk and that I have the tools to intervene effectively. I would recommend ASIST to anyone wishing to contribute to a suicide safer community.


Related programs

These descriptions are taken from the LivingWorks website.

eSuicideTALK (online, 2 hours self-study)
"The esuicideTALK awareness program is for any individuals, groups, communities or organizations wanting to raise awareness and open discussion about suicide. The program objective is to help make it easier to have open and honest talk about suicide. The desired outcome for this program is to increase awareness of the wide range of activities a person, community or organization can do to help prevent suicide."

SuicideTALK (90 minutes)
"The suicideTALK awareness program is for any individuals, groups, communities or organizations wanting to raise awareness and open discussion about suicide. The program objective is to help make it easier to have open and honest talk about suicide. The desired outcome for this program is to increase suicide intervention skills and build community networks."

SafeTALK (3.5 hours)
"The safeTALK program is for any individuals, groups, communities or organizations wanting to be alert to persons with thoughts of suicide and to connect them to suicide intervention resources. The program objective is to help participants recognize people thinking of suicide, their invitations for help and learn to apply basic TALK steps. The desired outcome for this program is to increase the number of people in the community who are alert to suicide and take the first steps to help a person with thoughts keep safe."

SuicideCARE (one day)
"The suicideCARE program is for those who provide services for people at risk of suicide. The program objective is to introduce advanced clinical competencies beyond first aid. The desired outcome for this program is to increase helpers' self-awareness and knowledge of approaches and roles in providing post-intervention support."

Useful links

LivingWorks programs


Find ASIST Training

Chester-le-Street and Durham City Mind


Saturday 2 August 2014

Who Am I?  How My Daughter Taught Me to Let Go and Live Again, by Megan Cyrulewski

Megan’s book, Who Am I? How My Daughter Taught Me to Let Go and Live Again, is about her journey into post-partum depression, anxiety disorder, panic attacks, stays in the psych ward, divorce, emotional abuse, domestic violence, law school, how she managed to graduate from law school and a beautiful little girl who emerged from all of this chaos.

Author Bio

Megan Cyrulewski has been writing short stories ever since she was ten-years-old. After attending Grand Valley State University, Megan eventually settled into a career in the non-profit sector for eight years. She decided to change careers and went back to school to get her law degree from Thomas M. Cooley Law School. While in school, she documented her divorce, child custody battle and postpartum depression struggles in her memoir. Megan lives in Michigan with her 3-year-old daughter who loves to dance, run, read, and snuggle time with Mommy. Megan also enjoys her volunteer work with various organizations in and around metro-Detroit.


On January 18, 2012, we all convened in the courthouse for the Motion for Parenting Time hearing. My dad and I arrived with my attorney, but Tyler loved an audience so he brought his dad, step-mom, and his new on-again off-again girlfriend, Heather. Tyler walked in with his posse in tow, cocky as hell. It took all of two minutes for the judge to knock him off his feet.

The Judge addressed our respective attorneys. “Why are we here?”

“Your honor,” Tyler’s attorney began, “my client has clearly been denied his parenti—”

The Judge didn’t even let him finish. “How?” She turned to my attorney. “Don?”

“Your honor, as you can see in the divorce decree, there was supposed to be a review when the minor child turned twelve-months-old. The Defendant has ignored that review.”

“I–if I may, your honor,” Tyler’s attorney sputtered.

“I see the review in the decree. It’s here in black and white,” she told Tyler’s attorney. “What is the problem? Why didn’t you understand the review? Your client signed the divorce decree.”

Tyler’s attorney tried again. “But your honor—”

The judge cut him off. “There is to be a review conducted by the Friend of the Court referee assigned to the parties. Until then, the Defendant will continue his parenting time schedule as agreed upon in the divorce decree. Dismissed.”

And that was it. After eight police reports and numerous harassing text messages, phone calls, and e-mails, we won. As Don and Tyler’s attorney went to speak with the clerk to file the necessary paperwork, Don told us to wait for him outside the courtroom.

As we exited the courtroom, the hallway was so packed with people that my dad and I were only able to find enough space to lean against the wall. We were talking about the court proceedings when we looked up at saw Tyler and his new girlfriend standing right across from us.

“Why do you lie about everything?” Tyler screamed.

Heather walked up to me and stood about an inch from my face. “As a mother myself, you should be happy that Tyler is the father of your child.”

My jaw dropped. “I’m sorry but I don’t know you.”

She smirked. “Well you’re going to get to know me, bitch.”

Tyler made a big show of pulling her from me like I was going to punch her or something. By this time, everyone in the hallway was watching us. We were pure entertainment.

Heather continued her rant. “Two times in the psych ward, Megan? What a great mother you are.”

“Where is your mom, the real mother of our child?” Tyler screamed. “She’s the one who takes care of Madelyne.”

My dad and I tried to move away from Tyler and Heather but they followed us.

“Do you have to take a Xanax because of your anxiety?”

“Go take your Xanax and sleeping pills, you drug addict,” Tyler shouted.

Finally, Don emerged from the courtroom and pulled us into a quiet corridor. He explained that I needed to call our referee to set-up a meeting to discuss a visitation schedule. I told Don about the verbal assault by Tyler and Heather. Don said he would call Tyler’s attorney to let him know that Heather would not be allowed in my house.

Upon leaving the courthouse, Heather screamed, “See you on Sunday, Megan.”

I turned toward her and said calmly, “I don’t know you, but you are not welcome in my home.”

That night, Tyler sent me multiple texts attacking my mothering skills, my supposed drug addictions, how he was going to fight for joint custody of Madelyne, how Heather would be accompanying him for his visitations, and a barrage of other insults:

  • “Get a life already.”
  • “Don’t you have something better to do than wasting your parents’ money?”
  • “Go take your pills and relax, oh yeah, then your parents would have to watch our daughter. Oh yeah, they already do.”
  • “Go talk to your friends. Oh yeah, you don’t have any because of how crazy you are.”
  • “Interesting to know you’ve been to the hospital a couple of times. You really need to get it together.”
  • “Better go call your lawyer and make up some more stuff about me.”
  • “Don’t be mad at your sorry life.”
  • “I am sure living with Mom and Dad the rest of your life will be fun.”
  • “When you get a job, then you can pay me child support. Fun.”

I finally had to turn my phone off at midnight.

Buy links

Who Am I?  How My Daughter Taught Me to Let Go and Live Again is available in paperback from all good booksellers, Kindle and Nook.

Contact the author


Thursday 24 July 2014

Innocent unawareness, prejudice, and fear

"Why is it so very hard for friends without illness to 'get it'?"

Fran asked that question yesterday in a social media group we're both members of. My response grew into some wider contemplations about awareness, prejudice and fear, which I thought would also be worth sharing here. I'd welcome any comments.

As one of the "well ones", I guess there are many different reasons why it can be hard to understand what someone with illness is going through.

Innocent unawareness

Through knowing Fran I've come to a far greater awareness of what it means to live with illness, including mental illness, but my knowledge and understanding is still partial. For example, I have no specific understanding of what someone with schizophrenia, say, might go through, because I have had no direct experience of that.

I would call this "innocent unawareness" in the sense that it comes from simple un-knowing. What is important is to be aware of those gaps in our understanding, and not allow those gaps to be filled in with unhelpful, incorrect, or even harmful, judgements and assumptions.


I doubt many of you reading this need lessons in how much stigma and prejudice still surrounds mental illness, especially from someone like me who has never experienced it myself. Those of us well ones who are "innocently unaware" can certainly cause hurt and distress, but there is a difference when it comes from personal or institutionally ingrained prejudice and ignorance.

Given how many people live with mental illness of some kind (we all know the one in four statistics) I find it hard to credit how such hurtful misinformation is still in circulation, but my incredulity won't help dissolve it. It shouldn't fall to the "ill ones" to have to try and educate the well population, but in many cases it does.

And let's not kid ourselves it's an easy ask, even at an individual level, even with family and friends who "should" be open to understanding, who "should" be prepared - eager even - to listen to what their loved ones are going through.


I think fear underlies a lot of prejudice and "wilful unawareness". In saying that I don't mean to excuse those who hold prejudiced and stigmatising views: we all have responsibility to acknowledge where by action or omission we hurt others, and to work to change those behaviours.

Through my friendship with Fran I have come to understand how important all this is, and to want to use my energy and skills, such as they are, to help defuse stigma and prejudice. But I am also very aware that I have not always been so open and aware.

My sister was diagnosed with manic depression in her twenties, and my mother has lived with anxiety, breakdowns and depression for many years, brought on or exacerbated by the strain of supporting my sister. I wasn't present for either of them, and I know that was largely through ignorance and fear. I am not proud of that, but I can acknowledge it happened, and hope to have learned something from it.

So, where does that leave us (and it is us, it has to be us. Not "us and them" but "us all")? I don't know. I guess just trying to make it through from day to day. Together. One step at a time.


Thursday 10 July 2014

"How do you treat bipolar? Will my friend recover?"

Someone diagnosed with bipolar disorder is unlikely to ever be permanently 'fixed' or 'cured', but that's not to say there is no hope, or that life will be unremittingly grim. Each person, like each diagnosis, is unique. Some people have periods of remission and stability lasting for years. Others may be less fortunate, but our experience is that it is possible to recover from the acute phases of mania and depression, and to take positive steps towards maintaining stability and wellness. These steps involve developing habits and strategies (including taking medication as prescribed) that foster self-care, and remaining vigilant for behaviours which might herald the approach of mania or depression.

During an acute episode of mania or depression the focus is on managing the symptoms and restoring the person to a place of balance. Once relatively stable, the emphasis shifts to maintaining balance and minimising the frequency and severity of future episodes. It is neither an exact science nor a fine art. Each change in treatment, especially a change in medication or dosage, requires time to stabilise and assess, in terms of useful effects and side-effects.

For someone with bipolar disorder, and for those who love and care for them, wellness can never be taken for granted. It's not something you can find and hold on to, or somewhere you can reach which is forever free from illness. It's more like a skill which has to be developed, practiced and refined: an ability to navigate a route through shifting sands, or sail a steady course through treacherous waters.

Gum on My Shoe: One Step at a Time with My Bipolar Best Friend Chapter 3 ("The Well of Wellness")

Sunday 29 June 2014

"What is bipolar?"

We use 'bipolar disorder' throughout this book, but it's important to recognise that the term covers a range of symptoms which may be experienced differently by different people. Reflecting this, people are often given a more specific diagnosis such as bipolar I (type one bipolar disorder), bipolar II (type two), rapid cycling, or cyclothymic disorder (cyclothymia).
We will look at these labels in more detail later but in simple terms bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness or manic depression, is a disorder of the brain which manifests as abnormal levels of mood and energy.
Everyone experiences life's ups and downs, and it can be difficult to draw clear lines between the extremes of the 'normal' range and mild or early stages of a bipolar episode. It may not be obvious to others but someone with bipolar disorder needs to constantly monitor where they are against a shifting landscape characterised by regions of relative stability, depression and mania.
In addition to prescribed medication and therapies it takes considerable awareness, focus and energy to remain vigilant in this way, but bipolar episodes, whether of depression or mania, are by definition severely debilitating and may threaten life itself.

Gum on My Shoe: One Step at a Time with My Bipolar Best Friend
Chapter 2 ("The Way of Illness")

Saturday 28 June 2014

Marty's experience of illness

This article is excerpted from chapter 2, “The Illness Experience: Understanding Your Friend’s Diagnosis and Symptoms,” of our book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder.

My father had chronic rheumatoid arthritis throughout his adult life. My memories are of a man progressively crippled by disease who refused to let it affect him more than absolutely necessary. He died when I was eighteen years old from infections his body was unable to fight after decades on oral steroids. My mother once asked me if I had resented the limitations his disability imposed on our family. The question astounded me. It had never occurred to me to think like that.

In my early twenties, I developed dermatitis on my hands and arms. It was painful and inconvenient, but I accepted it as something over which I had little control. It eventually cleared and has not returned.

A few years later, I was hospitalized following an episode of acute abdominal pain and bleeding. The condition responded to anti-inflammatory medication, which I took preventatively for two years afterwards. I recall attending an outpatient appointment to learn the results of some diagnostic tests. I was prepared to discover I had experienced either a nasty but limited inflammation, or the first visitation of some serious, perhaps life-threatening, condition.

The results were inconclusive, and the doctors decided further tests would not be performed unless the condition reoccurred. I remember feeling cheated. Even a serious diagnosis seemed preferable to doubt and uncertainty. Fortunately, the condition never troubled me significantly again.

Ten years later, a friend developed multiple sclerosis. I knew little of the disease, and never took the trouble to ask or research what it meant. My friend spoke pragmatically of the impact it would have on her life, imagining and planning for a gradual physical deterioration. The illness advanced far more rapidly than anyone anticipated. I watched helplessly as the woman I had known was overwhelmed by disease, despair, and grief. The depth of her need terrified me. I wrote to her every day for what turned out to be the last two years of her life, but never once picked up the telephone. I visited her home only once, after her death, to attend a memorial ceremony.

Looking back, I see I squandered many opportunities to develop a compassionate understanding of illness and its impact. My stoic attitude helped me deal with my own ill health, but left me incapable of responding with compassion to the needs of others. I mistakenly believed that caring for someone meant making their pain and hurt go away. It would be many years before I learned to open my heart and simply be there for those I care about. I am still learning.


Experience and understanding

Directly or indirectly, illness visits and affects our lives in different ways. Our attitudes towards illness (and the ill) are influenced by our experiences, as well as our broader values and beliefs.
No matter what views we hold it’s important to remember that others may think differently about what it means to be ill and how best to respond to the challenge.
We support those living with illness best if we can respect our differences and remain open, caring and non-judgemental.

Gum on My Shoe: One Step at a Time with My Bipolar Best Friend
Chapter 2, "The Way of Illness".

Tuesday 17 June 2014

Letting go

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.

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.

I've never intended to hurt or maim anyone, yet there are those who choose to remain distanced from me, and who would reject any attempt I might make at reconnecting. I must respect their need to do what they need to do, and to accept responsibility for my role in what has happened.

It's not easy to do that, but really all it needs is a little awareness. A little respect. Or, as Fran posted on Facebook earlier today:

be addicted to kindness..
in both the giving and receiving..
change the world..


Thursday 5 June 2014

In the REAL WORLD people care

This week I changed the username of my personal Facebook page from nothingrhymes to That is: has changed to (the dots are optional so martybakerauthor works just as well).

Nothingrhymes referred to a line in a poem I wrote many years ago.

For Richard’s room

This room    your room    our room
all she has seen and shown us
- pain and passion truth and tears
like laughlines on a face too used to sorrow
comprimised.     Picture and prose
her walls display the madness of our little world
where innocence and we find consolation.
In the REAL WORLD nothing rhymes and no one cares
yet here
          still, even                     the furniture loves us.
Maybe we’re right
but know we’ll never leave this place
our place though fortunes raze our hopes
erase our friends and set our eager souls dutifully
. When sunsets over Silverdale and forgets to rise
we won’t sigh    I won’t sigh but remember
after all isn’t that what living’s about, forever?

The label continues to have a personal resonance for me but I have moved on. More importantly, I have moved out, into the REAL WORLD, and found that, in fact, people do care. Deeply. My new username reflects that shift in perception, as well as my current identification as an author.

I’ve updated links to my Facebook page, including those on the contact page of this website, but Facebook doesn’t provide forwarding from the old address to the new so if anyone tries to follow any old links they will get a “Page not found” error. Hopefully there won’t be too many of those.

If you are thinking about changing your own Facebook username, this page may be useful: Bear in mind that you can only change the username for your personal Facebook page once, so think carefully before doing so!

My book, Collected Poems 1977–1984, is available (print and Kindle) from and, as well as other booksellers.


Wednesday 4 June 2014

Lemon squares for the soul

Two nights ago Fran and I baked lemon squares. To be more accurate, Fran baked lemon squares while I read out from the recipe and kept an eye on the time while they were in the oven. It’s not the first time we’ve baked or cooked together. First time it was banana bread. Second and third time it was banana bread too (it was good banana bread!) After that we made chicken soup. Proper chicken soup, with a carcass, onions, mushrooms, celery, lentils, the works. When I used to make chicken soup I’d throw in a handful of pearl barley. Fran wanted rice. Lots and lots of rice. I did my best to dissuade her (“Frannie, wait... Nooooo!”) but that’s another story. Where was I? Oh yeah, lemon squares!

As you can see from the photo, they came out really well (the photo was taken just after the tray came out of the oven and before they were cool enough to cut up). It’s just a shame I won’t get to taste them! Most of the time living 3,000 miles apart on opposite sides of the Atlantic is a minor inconvenience. But oh my, those lemon squares look good!

If you would like to try the recipe:

Saturday 31 May 2014

The tiniest of shifts towards life

At ten o'clock in the morning of 14 January 2008, Jonny Benjamin was standing on the wrong side of the railings on London’s Waterloo Bridge. Distressed, hopeless, and moments from jumping into the Thames, he was approached by a man who offered him a cup of coffee. Jonny never knew the stranger’s name but six years later he was reunited with the man who saved his life.

Neil Laybourn came forward after Jonny's Find 'Mike' campaign went viral. Launched with the support of the charity Rethink Mental Illness, the appeal was shared by celebrities from Boy George to UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. The hashtag #FindMike trended around the world and the story was picked up by television, radio and print media.

Find 'Mike' brought mental illness and suicide prevention to a global audience, and reminds us that helping someone in crisis isn’t the preserve of the specially trained or unusually gifted. The importance of human connections is recognised by The International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) and the World Health Organization. The theme of World Suicide Prevention Day 2014 is 'One World Connected': "Reaching out to those who have become disconnected from others and offering them support and friendship may be a life-saving act." (IASP website,

Or, as Fran puts it: "It doesn't have to be anything big or dramatic. It just needs to allow the tiniest of shifts towards life."

A fascinating and deeply moving documentary film of Jonny's story was released on 29 May 2014: You can download a wonderful full colour document [PDF format] containing background information, interviews and information:

Thursday 10 April 2014

With spots of heaven sprinkled in

It's hard when you have invisible, incurable, chronic illnesses. I have three. My days and nights are spent 'managing' symptoms that come and go or linger, without any sense or reason. There is no control over the simplest of things. Conventional and alternative medicine has not substantially helped. For the past 20 years, I have tried everything. I have spent countless amounts of money.

Hope is running out. I work at acceptance but my patience wears thin. My courage is spent. The energy it takes to not complain - so I won’t be judged or have endless 'fixes' suggested by friends and strangers - is too much to bear.

I wish I had cancer. That would make things so much easier. It would be defined. It would be understood. It would even garner compassion. There would be an end. Either remission or death. With this, I live in a hell on earth with spots of heaven sprinkled in when I come up for air and a true friend grabs my hand.


Thursday 20 March 2014

Happy International Realness Day

Today is the first day of spring, International Happiness Day, and my birthday, so I guess I should be happy. As a matter of fact, I am, but the expectation that we should be happy on any particular day (our birthday, Christmas, a friend’s wedding, International Happiness Day) denies our right to feel - and crucially to express - whatever we happen to be experiencing in the moment.

I tweeted earlier today that, for me, happiness isn't about being smiley and "happy happy" all the time. It's about being genuine, and connecting with people. Maybe what I’m thinking of isn’t “happiness” at all, because being genuine and connecting can and frequently does cover a wide gamut of emotions and experiences, not all of which are cosy or easy. Maybe it’s “real-ness”. It is what happens when we allow ourselves and each other to experience the moment (this moment, this today moment). Whatever you want to call it, it is what I find most valuable and rewarding in life.

Fran sometimes wonders why I’m always so pleased to see her, even when she is depressed or fatigued or otherwise “not good company”. I prefer when she is stable and able to enjoy life, but the value and reward I find in our time together isn’t dependent on her health or mood. It comes from us sharing whatever is happening in our lives openly and honestly as friends. And, of course, it cuts both ways. Occasionally (whisper it), it is me who is pissed off or angry or otherwise “not good company”.

So let’s allow ourselves and each other to experience and share whatever we are feeling. I think we will all be a lot happier as a result.

Now is a gift. That’s why they call it the present.

I was thinking today (it being my birthday and all) about the essence of giving and receiving, which is to share simply, open-handedly and open-heartedly, without expectation of gratitude or return. I was reminded of two poems, which I would like to share with you. Call it a gift.


A blade of grass

You ask for a poem.
I offer you a blade of grass.
You say it is not good enough.
You ask for a poem.

I say this blade of grass will do.
It has dressed itself in frost,
It is more immediate
Than any image of my making.

You say it is not a poem,
It is a blade of grass and grass
Is not quite good enough.
I offer you a blade of grass.

You are indignant.
You say it is too easy to offer grass.
It is absurd.
Anyone can offer a blade of grass.

You ask for a poem.
And so I write you a tragedy about
How a blade of grass
Becomes more and more difficult to offer,

And about how as you grow older
A blade of grass
Becomes more difficult to accept.

by Brian Patten

I never feel more given to
than when you take from me,
when you understand the joy I feel
giving to you.
And you know my giving isn't done
to put you in my debt,
but because I want to live the love
I feel for you.
To receive with grace
may be the greatest giving.
There's no way I can separate
the two.
When you give to me,
I give you my receiving.
When you take from me. I feel so
given to.

by Ruth Bebermeyer

Monday 17 March 2014

Gum on My Shoe Concept Statement

“You’re stuck with me now, Frannie. I hope you realise that.”
“Like gum on my shoe...”

Best friends Marty and Fran live three thousand miles apart. Fran has lived with depression and bipolar disorder for over twenty years: Marty is her main support, carer and lifeline. In Gum on My Shoe: One Step at a Time with My Bipolar Best Friend, they share what they’ve learned about growing a close, mutually supportive relationship between a “well one” and an “ill one”.

This book is a companion guide for those walking a similar road. With one in four experiencing mental illness in any given year, you or someone you know may be one of them.

Using plain, non-technical language, real life conversations and examples from their own experience, Marty and Fran offer original approaches and practical tips for taking the good and the bad “One step at a time”. Uniquely, they show how technology and the internet mean no one is too far away to care, or to be cared for.

Written from the well one’s perspective, this book focuses on being there. Discover how to build a relationship strong and flexible enough to handle mania, depression, and suicidal thinking. Explore what illness means, learn strategies for wellness and how best to support your loved one and take care of yourself, whether you live on the same street or oceans apart.

Draft Concept Statement for Gum on My Shoe: One Step at a Time with My Bipolar Best Friend, by Martin Baker and Fran Houston, March 2014.

Tuesday 11 March 2014

Beautiful Disaster: An autobiography, by Kim R. Robinson

I was very excited when my friend Martin Baker, co-author of Gum On My Shoe, asked me to write a piece for Gum’s blog site. His knowledge and constant encouragement have both been invaluable to me as I’m writing my autobiography.

I’m a 44yr old mother of three, and grandmother of one. Writing has always come naturally to me, and I’ve had the idea of my book in my “head” for years before actually starting it. I’ve been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder for seventeen years, and spent fourteen of those years educating myself about the illness.

At the time I was diagnosed, the illness wasn’t as widespread and as easily diagnosed as it is these days. Patients that were diagnosed didn’t really talk about it. I’m quite positive that the term “crazy” wasn’t as accepted as it is now. I consider it a pet name, and am not offended by it at all. We didn’t have websites, facebook pages, etc to read about it in private. What we knew was what our doctors told us, normally in the form of 15 minute visits.

Having this illness has definitely changed my life drastically, as it does with everybody. I have had the same running psychiatrist for seventeen years, and for that I am grateful. I knew I needed help, and I got it. I have a long history of simply “taking meds”, hoping I would be cured. Medication is extremely necessary, but not alone. Medication, consistent medical care, and education about the illness and learning the tools for which to help yourself during whatever “episode” you are going through, is the key. Even with using these steps, Bipolar isn’t going away, but can be managed. You CAN live a functionable, normal life.

Beautiful Disaster begins with describing myself and my life, in my early teen years. Before I was even diagnosed. My life began with a more depressive side, rather than a manic side. One of the most informative ways a physician can diagnose bipolar, is through life-patterns. The book goes through different stages of my life, ie marrying five times, having three children, and the good and bad in between. As you near the end of the book, you will see the pattern of a bipolar life. Thankfully, the latter part of my life, is spent taking care of myself, writing my autobiography, and helping others through the Facebook community page, and website.

My passion is this book, because not only am I helping myself (greatest therapy of all!), I’m helping others, and most importantly, I’m able to show my children, family and friends how the illness affected my life and decisions I’ve made and why. In my mind, it’s leaving an explanation, if you will. The greatest feeling for me is helping others, and if I was born with this illness, for the reason of helping others through it, then I accept God’s plan for me. Something good can come out of something not-so-good.

Where am I now? I still see the same psychiatrist who diagnosed me seventeen years ago. Through him I have been on just about every med there is. Knowing now that I never needed antipsychotics, and antidepressants never did anything for me. I’d like to say to patients just starting out on medication, when a physician prescribes more than one new drug at a time, it’s very hard to tell which medicine is doing what. Ask your physician if he’s comfortable with introducing one at a time. After that you will more clearly be able to tell what interactions, symptoms or effects whether good or bad they have on you. After all the meds I’ve been on, I’m happy to say I’m only currently taking an anti-seizure/mood stabilizer Lamictal, 100 mg twice a day, and Ativan 2 mg four times a day.

This diagnosis is serious, as it changes every spectrum of your life. However, it does NOT have to be a life sentence. My opinion of the best you can do?

  1. Keep psychiatric care, whether clinical or private
  2. Never stop trying with meds

You can contact Kim at the following links:

Saturday 1 March 2014

A Life Without Walls

My name is Mariah A. Rackliff. Although I have been writing since I was thirteen years old, A Room Without Walls is my first published work. At the age of thirteen I began to write as a way to cope with feelings of extreme hyperactivity, extreme sadness, and a constant flight of ideas.

I wrote many poems from this time until I was in my early twenties. At that time I stopped writing so much because I became so addicted to alcohol and the idea that it was the only way I was able to cope.

After receiving a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature, I began working as a special educational technician. During the summers I worked as an Employment Specialist for a local agency helping children with mental health diagnoses.

During this time, I worked on receiving my second Bachelor’s Degree in Social Science. Six years later I began working as a Children’s In-Home Program Manager, and a Residential Supervisor. After this time, I decided to make another change and apply for a Master’s Program in English Literature/Creative Writing. I am currently three quarters of the way through the Master’s Program and am looking forward to graduating.

I began writing A Room Without Walls over two years ago when I finally got sober, after binge drinking every weekend for nearly 25 years. It was a long, often traumatic writing experience; however, now that it is finished and I’ve published it, it has been extremely healing. The memoir details my life from childhood until the present time. The narrative is stream-of-consciousness and poetry. I begin each chapter with a poem that is related to the upcoming chapter.

A Room Without Walls contains adult content and possibly triggers for those that suffer from PTSD, bipolar disorder, and addiction. At times the memoir is graphic, vulgar, and raw. Please read with caution if any of these topics may offend or trigger you. It is my hope that the memoir will reach an audience of people with similar diagnoses and those that have lived through parallel experiences.

I hope that by reading the memoir people with these experiences will find reassurance that they are not alone, encouragement, and inspiration to tell their own stories.

A Room Without Walls is available in print and electronic (Kindle) editions:

You can contact Mariah at her Facebook page:

Wednesday 26 February 2014

All about the Book

The next part of the book proposal to be written is called About the Book.

"Isn't it ALL about the book?" you might ask, and you'd be right, up to a point. But as we have been discovering, a book proposal has to cover rather more ground than "Hey this is a great book, sign us up!"

There are sections covering the market (audience), our credentials as authors, other books already published, production details, promotion, brief chapter summaries and sample chapters... phew! In many ways, the About the Book section is a summary of all those parts, and then some... and it's important to get it right.

I had my big pad of paper out earlier, and my best fountain pen, and did some scribbling... out of which, I believe, came some useful ideas which we will be looking to develop in the next few days.

Wish us luck!

Thursday 20 February 2014

A little update

We’ve not provided any updates for a little while but rest assured, we are working away behind the scenes!

The main focus at the moment continues to be putting together the book proposal for "Gum on My Shoe". That is taking longer than we (certainly Marty) originally imagined, mostly because we’ve never written one before and were a bit naïve as to what it entails. It’s challenging, but as we go through the process we are gaining a far better sense of where we want to go with the book, and who our main audience will be.

Marty has been active on Twitter recently, and has met some great people over there. If you would like to follow us there, our Twitter handle is @GumOnMyShoeBook. We’d love to hear from you!

We’ve also been blessed in finding some great people to provide words of endorsement, which should stand us in very good stead. Mighty thanks to those who have done so, or have said they might!

The support and encouragement of you all means the world to us. We really couldn’t do this without you!

Sunday 16 February 2014

Guest post: Chris Roberts

Introducing an occasional series of guest posts. Today, Chris Roberts shares her story and reveals what Gum on My Shoe means to her.

I have Bipolar I, which includes the psychotic symptoms during the mania episodes. The psychotic symptoms include schizophrenia, paranoia, and delusions. I was first hospitalized when I was a little over 17 and a half, and off and on for over 30 yrs.

There was no such diagnosis for Bipolar Disorder back then and it was thought that I suffered a drug overdose and would not come out of it. It wasn't until I was about 34 yrs. old that I was diagnosed. I'm almost 55 yrs. old now and have less severe manic episodes, but still suffer with mood swings and the intense emotions that go along with the disorder. I haven't had to be hospitalized in several years now. I take an anti-psychotic, mania meds, and an anti-depressant, to help not cure the disorder.

I enjoy the Gum on My Shoe Facebook page, because it further educates people about what it's like to have the Bipolar Disorder, which is not really known about all that much!

Thank you, Marty and Fran, for allowing me to be a part of something that hopefully will shed more light on the subject!

Monday 10 February 2014

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA)

I’d like to share my experience of the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) course I completed last week, because it deserves to be far more widely known about than it is. I’d never heard of Mental Health First Aid until I attended an event organised by the "Time To Change" programme, but it sounded just what I was looking for and I registered on the first available course. I had to take time off work, and pay for the course myself, but I can honestly say it’s the best investment I’ve made in a long time.

What is MHFA?

"Mental Health First Aid is an educational course which teaches people how to identify, understand and help a person who may be developing a mental health problem. In the same way as we learn physical first aid, mental health first aid teaches you how to recognise those crucial warning signs of mental ill health." [MHFA England website]

Four versions of the course are available in the UK.

  • Lite (3 hours, £75)
  • Standard (2 days, £300)
  • Youth (2 days, £300)

There is also a version of the course tailored for the Armed Forces. The prices I've listed are from the MHFA England website, but do check locally. The Standard course I did cost £95 for the two days (not £300).

Who teaches it?

According to the MHFA England website, there are over 650 instructors delivering the course in England. I was lucky to have the pick of the bunch. Bridget Woodhead and Rob Errington, of HealthWorks Newcastle, are simply exceptional. Having completed the course, I can’t imagine it being delivered by anyone else (unless maybe Ant and Dec, but they tend to be pretty fully booked these days).

Who is it for?

The course is listed as suitable for social care professionals, ambulance workers, nurses, school teachers, managers, as well as those with personal experience of mental illness, their friends and family. If you are thinking "I don’t really fit into any of those categories", don’t be put off. Find a course (there are some useful links below) and give it a go. You won’t be disappointed.

Of the thirteen in the class, I was the only one there in a purely "personal" capacity. The others represented a range of support services, including other parts of HealthWorks, which provides support for people wanting to make positive changes to maintain or improve their health, and Your Homes Newcastle, which manages council homes on behalf of Newcastle City Council. There was a great mix of personalities, ages and experience.

What is it like?

For anyone wondering, there was no role-play involved. There were several short exercises performed in groups of three or four. These were interesting and thought-provoking but not difficult, and fostered a positive atmosphere of sharing and working together.

The course is divided into four main parts. The first day covers depression and suicide/suicidal thinking: day 2 discusses anxiety disorders and psychosis. I found it odd that bipolar disorder was covered under psychosis (by definition only type 1 bipolar includes psychotic episodes) and mania/hypomania were scarcely mentioned. I feel it would benefit from a section of its own, but I recognise not everything can be covered in a two day course. Much of day one was directly relevant to type 2 bipolar, and very useful to me personally.

The value of the course extended far beyond the slides and booklet we were working from. It was stressed from the start that we were under no obligation to share more than we felt comfortable doing, but many of us felt safe doing so which added immensely to the experience. It really brought home to me that "mental health issues" don’t only happen to "other people". They are a part of all our lives in one way or another, whether we experience them directly, or in those we meet, know and care about. I came away with a deep respect for everyone there, and I am proud to count several as new friends.

And afterwards?

I think we were all sad that the course was only on for two days: we got so much out of it that we would gladly have returned for a few more sessions. Sue Field was on the course and kindly shared her experiences with me afterwards:

The MHFA course was a fantastic insight and introduction into mental health issues. I feel that this course should be compulsory for everyone as it looks at the stigma that is associated with mental ill health and how difficult it can be to be diagnosed with a mental illness. I haven't stopped talking about it to my friends, family and colleagues and it has highlighted the need for more services and support to help people to get professional help as early as possible. It has made me realise that I am passionate about helping people who are suffering with mental illness and am currently in the process of trying to find employment in this area. It was a very positive and motivational course made even more enjoyable by the fantastic course facilitators.

Rob generously shared his own perspective:

For Bridget and myself, talking about mental health is not a job but a passion. For more than five years we have delivered this training to hundreds of people and no two courses are the same. For some participants it builds on the significant knowledge and experience they already have. For other people it is a process of peeling back the layers of the myths and assumptions they have been told in the media to reveal a new understanding of what mental health is. And for some the two days are a safe place where they can feel that they aren't alone. It is a privilege to be able to explore these issues with people and we have learned so much ourselves along the way.

I wholeheartedly recommend the MHFA course to anyone. I found it built on my own knowledge and experience, and fired me to learn more. I’ve booked a place on an Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) course in July. Sadly, that won’t be conducted by Rob and Bridget. Whoever I get has a hard act to follow!


Useful links

Healthworks Newcastle

MHFA United Kingdom

MHFA United States

MHFA Canada

Sunday 5 January 2014

The darkness is coming (poem)

The darkness is coming

by Bernadette Barnes

have you ever heard the voice of the darkness
as it whispers sweet entreaties in the night
have you trembled at the fearful thought
that there may be no retuning of the light
down and down you slowly slip away
into the ever widening gulf of the abyss
caressed by the velvet hand of terror
and anointed by the devil’s frigid kiss
trapped in the web of sleeplessness
longing for the pale pink light of dawn
but somehow inky midnight clings and cloys
as the waking nightmare goes on and on
then when all trace of hope has vanished
and your soul knows you will never survive
a golden sun crests the distant horizon
and you are shocked to find you are alive
so you rise and set out to face the world
but still the darkness speaks in dulcet tones
keeping you trapped in its firm and icy grip
as it deftly whimpers and softly moans
then you know that this time will be lost to you
though you may walk in the sunshine all day
for you are still at the bottom of the abyss
and for now there will be no turning away

The darkness has overtaken me many times and I try to shelter my inner fire as I await the mood shift which will come..., eventually. I suppose that I wrote and wanted to share this with those in mind, whom I know have also been to the bottom of the abyss. It is always good to know that others know and understand.

It is not always a matter of choice in this life..., sometimes we are simply overwhelmed by feelings of despair and darkness that many will never experience (nor would I want them to) and which can seem insurmountable. Trust me when I say that if we could choose to cast this off, we would, in a heart beat.

No one would harbour these feelings a moment longer than possible, but once darkness takes you the very best one can hope for is a helpful friend who understands and walks along the edge of the abyss and calls out to you until you find your way out. A friend who then embraces you and smiles a welcome home.