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: