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