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

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 years on steroid medication. Many years later my mother asked me had I ever resented the limits my father’s condition imposed on our family. Her question astounded me. It had never occurred to me to think like that. He was simply my Dad.
Things were very different with my mother and sister. My sister was diagnosed with manic depression (bipolar disorder) in her twenties, after I had moved away from home. My mother struggled to support her, and her own mental and physical health suffered as a result. My father kept his pain and struggles largely to himself but the distress of my mother and sister were only too obvious. Their illnesses and need terrified me, and I distanced myself from both.
Illness first visited me personally in my early twenties, when I developed dermatitis on my hands and arms. It was painful and inconvenient but never affected my life seriously. I used steroidal creams when it was severe but on the whole I accepted it as something over which I had little control and would learn to live with. After several years, the condition cleared for no obvious reason and did not return.
A few years later I was hospitalized for ten days following an episode of acute abdominal pain and bleeding. It responded to anti-inflammatory medication, which I took preventatively for two years afterwards. I remember attending an out-patient appointment, six months after being discharged from hospital, expecting the results of some diagnostic tests. As I walked to my appointment I could see only two possibilities: I’d experienced either a nasty but limited inflammation, or the first visitation of some serious, chronic, and perhaps life-threatening condition. I recall feeling calm, balanced, and prepared for either eventuality. In fact, the test results were inconclusive, and the doctors had decided further tests weren’t in my interests unless it flared up again. I left the appointment feeling disappointed. Any diagnosis, even a serious one, seemed preferable to doubt and uncertainty. Fortunately, the condition never troubled me significantly again.
In my thirties, a friend developed multiple sclerosis. I knew almost nothing of the condition, and never researched it sufficiently to understand what it meant or was capable of. We lived at opposite ends of the country and weren’t often in touch, although we’d previously been close. In the early stages, her symptoms were mostly physical. She spoke pragmatically of the impact illness would have on her life, and was defiant in the face of the challenges it presented. However, her physical and mental condition deteriorated far more rapidly than anticipated. I was utterly unprepared, and watched helplessly as the woman I’d known as a dear friend was overwhelmed by illness, despair and grief. She died, far too young, at the age of forty-three. I wrote to her every day for the last two years of her life, but never once in that time picked up the telephone. I visited her home only once, after she’d died, to attend a memorial ceremony.
Looking back, I feel I squandered the opportunities life offered me to develop a compassionate understanding of illness and its impact. My stoic, almost fatalistic, attitude may have served me in dealing with my own illnesses, but left me incapable of responding with compassion to the needs and distress of others. I was paralyzed by the belief that I was supposed to make things better, to make the pain and the hurt go away, to fix things. It would be many years before I learned to open my heart and simply be there for those I cared about.
I’m still learning.

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

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: