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.