Sunday 28 June 2015

Skype Ambassadors for Social Good

Some of you will have seen these fun (and scarily accurate!) emoticons of us, popping up here and there on our social media. A friend asked Fran what it was all about:

“As you know, Marty and I are writing a book about how to be friends with one who lives with bipolar disorder, and we are actively bringing awareness to mental illness and to reducing stigma. Skype has invited us to be Moment Maker Ambassadors in the Social Good category. They made these cartoons for us for fun and to celebrate.”

The Skype Moment Maker Ambassador program brings together people from all over the world who use the Skype voice, messaging and video call application in fun, innovative, creative or socially meaningful ways.

Living 3,000 miles apart as we do, technology is vitally important to us. Without the internet and social media we would never have met and I could not support Fran as I do if we were unable to keep in ongoing contact. It is not too much to say that the internet and social media saves lifes. It certainly enriches lives.

Skype is one of many applications we use. There are other voice and webcam products, of course, and we have tried a few (watch this space for an upcoming blog detailing the applications we use most), but Skype is the one we keep coming back to and use every day. We believe it says something about the company’s priorities that Skype invited us to join their Ambassador program.

There are around 200 Ambassadors in twenty categories: Acting, Art & Design, Beauty, Comedy, Education, Family, Fashion, Film, Food, Gaming, Innovation, Music, Pets, Photography, Sci-Fi, Social Good, Sports, Tech, Travel, Yoga.

We are proud to join fellow Social Good Ambassadors Tyson Mayr, Claire Jenkins, Roshell Rosemond, Kimberly Brown, Jennifer Morilla — and mother/daughter duo Marla and Kasha Slavner who also joined this week.

I caught up with Marla and Kasha on their adventures for the Global Sunrise Project, a documentary film and book of short stories on global citizenship in action, told through the eyes of a teenager. I asked what being a Skype Ambassador means to them.

“We travel with purpose to connect community, and use Skype on a daily basis to facilitate many of our conversations around social good. It just made perfect sense to show the world how we can connect in a meaningful way and inspire people to take action on issues they care about.”

You can follow Marla and Kasha’s journey through their website/blog and social media channels: Twitter; Facebook; Instagram; YouTube; Pinterest.

So what happens next for us?

We’re not sure! Skype have a number of ways for people to get involved, and we intend to make the most of these opportunities to engage as widely and fully as possible — not just with Skype itself but more importantly with like-minded and like-hearted people wherever they are. Connections. Ripples. That is what it’s all about really.


Thursday 25 June 2015

Kindness is the key

This article first featured in a very successful fundraising campaign for Maine-based mental health non-profit Family Hope (

The power of family and friends’ encouragement and support when someone has a mental health issue cannot be overestimated. Even though Marty and Fran live 3,000 miles apart, their friendship has blossomed over the past four years.

Many of us don’t know what to say to someone who may be living with the effects of their illness, but the truth is we don't have to know the “right” thing to say.

Marty’s gift to Fran has been his calm, constant presence, his willingness to “be there” for her no matter what. Please take a few minutes to read about these two amazing people and the power of their friendship.

Donna Betts, Executive Director, Family Hope

Kindness is the key

Marty and I met four years ago on a mutual friend’s Facebook wall. She wanted to take her life. We didn’t want to let her. She is still here today. I was headed toward the crest of mania at the time and wanted not only to save her but the whole world. That’s how my friendship with Marty began. Even though Marty lives in the United Kingdom and I live in the US, he has become my best friend.

Four years ago, I was going through a hard time. I lived in a small community and my behavior led most people to assume that I must be drinking, that I’d stopped taking my meds, or perhaps I was just plain crazy. I’ve been told that everyone was worried about me at the time. However, apart from a very few, no one phoned to see how I was or came to visit. Mental illness is like that. No calls. No cards. No casseroles. I guess people were scared. So was I.

Marty was different. We chatted and emailed and did Skype calls daily (we still do). He didn’t try to change me. He didn’t try to fix me. He was simply there, listening, being a friend. He believed in me when I couldn’t believe in myself. One thing he said was that he wouldn’t go away no matter what I said or did. That enabled me to share freely with him. Without that safe container it’s much harder to share with people because boundaries are unclear.

I started a non-profit to change the world. It was my Grand Manic Scheme. Marty helped me with it at first, until we realized it wasn’t healthy. Then he helped me let it go. New meds, and my mania receded. I started to see the devastation and destruction I’d created while I was manic. A horrific shameful depression descended and engulfed me for the next eight months. Moment by moment thoughts of suicide pummelled me. Yet there was Marty, “holding my hand”. There were times when I hated him for being there, for not giving up on me. He was patient. Gentle. Funny. He saw the spark for life inside me and kept fanning it, never asking me to change or be different than I was.

If it wasn’t for him I would not be alive. It’s that simple. Our friendship is part of my wellness toolbox, as important as meds and other strategies I use to stay as well as possible. I take responsibility for my illness very seriously. Despite how it appeared to some people four years ago, I never missed an appointment or went off my meds at any time. They simply stopped working. That happens sometimes.

Social interactions can be lifesaving or death provoking. When people are aware and understanding they can be the tipping point between life and death. Kindness is the key.

Fran Houston
Portland, Maine
May 2015

Monday 22 June 2015

the big sea.. the big see..

I reached the pinnacle of a successful engineering career after a chaotic childhood, a rape, a cult experience, a violent marriage - only to plunge headlong into losing everything I’d gained. Mate, family, home, work, dog gone. Health gone. 1994. Major depression. 34 years old. I no longer knew who I was. I did not know how to go on. Frantically clawing my way I tried to regain my health, spending over $10k, desperately following any advice given. It didn’t work. Nothing worked. I lived in the Maine woods for a year. No running water. No electricity. No TV. No Radio. No books. No journal. Only dancing naked in the rain, snow angels under a full moon, watching frost freeze on the window pane. I was sleeping but no beauty. Twenty hours of unrefreshing sleep a day found my baseline chronic fatigue syndrome. The pain of fibromyalgia remained unrelieved. The cherry wallpaper was no consolation. Maddening.

I moved to an island. Peaks Island. Living in the old generator shack that once ran the Ferris Wheel. Sunsets were intoxicating. Dad died on Halloween, the thinnest veil between two worlds, and an aurora borealis. Easy and beautiful just like my dad. I lost my mind. Consumed with thoughts of jumping off the boat, a new friend said, “Why don't you?” My high gear got even higher. That’s how I landed at McGeachey Hall and entered your fishbowl. So many eyes on me while I told story after dramatic story. Angrily, sadly, crazily. Working with you gave me what I needed, a sense of finally being heard.

I began weaving together wisps of life in this magic place. Photography, writing, becoming an active member of the community. Making my regular boat trips to visit you. Telling you all the stories. It always felt more like a social visit than a therapy session. It was funny. I would come in all bent out of shape in fighting mode and 45 minutes later I’d be a lamb and truly feel better. Of course it would never last because illness always crept back in. I couldn’t figure out what you had done but it didn’t matter, I kept coming back. I was drawn to something of normalcy, kindness. I felt valued, worthy, honored. You never made me feel less than.

Of course I wasn’t always a lamb. You would ask me how I felt. I always answered “sad”. You would ask if I was angry. I always denied it. And get pissed that you asked. Rage was a staple. I could be a raging lion or tiger or bear, with words that spewed into my journal or out all over my friends. My mind was not capable of understanding the wholeness I was being offered. It was a sieve that everything leaked through. The battles my thoughts had with each other were nasty. Deadly, even.

I felt like Helen Keller. A wild child. We went through many drugs. I begged for more. You were always conservative while my friends’ doctors ripped through prescriptions. Each new change brought side effects lasting weeks or months, creating even more insanity. Now and then I’d get a good drug working, only to have it fail. Over and over, again and again. You always encouraged moderation. I always resisted. Remember when I almost fired you? That was rough for both of us. Something deep inside wouldn’t let me leave. There was a wisdom that bypassed my broken mind. I was safer with you.

The simple act of taking my coat at the beginning of each and every visit was unnoticeable at first. I was unaware of the effect, but there was care, worthiness and chivalry. You repeated the word “hygiene” for as long as I could remember. I had no idea what it meant or how to do it but in the later years of our therapy it slowly crept in and I remember just getting it one day. Somehow, I learned to be human again. Somehow I began to create habits for myself and grew a life I wanted. As my self-worth got woven together I began to care.

In one lucid and defining moment I made you a promise. I did not promise never to take my life. I promised I would call you first. It was an eye to eye, soul to soul commitment unbroken. I have since integrated hesitation practice with the mantra “not yet” into other parts of my life. It frees me to be more choiceful. Freedom. Choice. Response-ability.

You told me, “I can't save you, only you can save you,” and I was pissed off for years until I got it. There are things you are responsible for, and things I am responsible for. There are things I have control over and there are things I so very much do not. Wisdom is to find that edge and allow others to help you stabilize, and manage as best you can while the illness takes you up, down, all around. It’s like sailing on the ocean. There is stillness. There are storms. There is sun. There is rain. Intense and quiet. It is about weathering whatever the storm brings and believing you can make it, because someone has believed in you.

I am not cured, fixed, or healed but my life has been enhanced by our mutual knowing. My moods still swing. My symptoms still flare. But I now know how to surround myself with good souls who hold my hand while I try to balance on the seesaw of bipolar. I have tools in my toolbox. I have patched together a life that works.

You have held my hand to walk through some tough places. And you never once stopped believing in me. Being present is the greatest gift of all. That is good medicine. There is enough of me on board now.

Sail on..


[An open letter to my psychiatrist on the occasion of his retirement.]


Sunday 21 June 2015

Supporting a Friend with Depression

By Moody Mu

Like many people, I have a friend who has depression and I have found supporting her very challenging and stressful. Other people do not always understand what it is like and the different pressures we face. I have often searched for how to cope, what to do, and other peoples’ experiences, yet I have found very little useful, real or relevant information.

I started my blog to share my experiences and provide a very honest perspective on what it is like having a friend with depression. My blogs track my journey from discovering my friend was suicidal, coping with her challenging emotions/behaviours, ethical dilemmas I have faced, and much more. I hope that my story is relatable and helps if you are going through similar experiences.


When I was 14 I met my best friend at school. We became inseparable and I was closer to her than anyone else. She moved away in her early 20’s and our friendship remained as strong as ever. As we did not live close to each other we would text all the time. We used to having a running joke that we would moan about things, it started off little things but gradually I noticed the moans got more frequent and less jokey. At one point I read over our messages from the previous few days and noticed that she only said negative things. I was concerned and brought it up with her, she was not aware she was being so negative and insisted she was fine.

A few months later I got a distressed phone call saying she could not get out of bed. I was confused and could not understand how she could not do it. She was not able to express herself clearly and I did not know what to do from a distance. A couple of days later she managed to get to the doctors and she was diagnosed with depression.

Since she was diagnosed over three years ago, she has become progressively worse and her situation is now very extreme. She has become suicidal, been sectioned a number of times, has regular dissociative periods and has lost pretty much everything positive in her life. Although she has sought help, she has been consistently let down by all the services she has encountered and her condition continues to deteriorate.

As her best friend, I have been supporting her throughout everything. It has been one of the hardest things I have ever done and had no idea how stressful it would be, yet I know I will never stop loving her and supporting her.

Her depression has thrown major obstacles at our friendship, including her pushing me away, revealing a double life of lies and risky behaviour, losing all aspects of a normal friendship, relentless hopelessness, resentment and anger directed at me, as well as all the stress and worry related to suicidal plans and failed suicide attempts.

At times when faced with these issues I have felt lost and had no idea what I should do or why I am putting up with it when it seems like I try my best but only get shot down. I have wanted to walk away many times when the situation has become unbearable or I can’t face the guilt of not being able to make her better. I have felt reluctant to voice the pressure I have been under as I am not the one with depression and therefore have felt that my feelings are always going to come second. I have also felt guilt over some of the thoughts I have had, I know her emotions and behaviours are due to her illness but it does not stop the hurt and the need to sometimes be selfish in order to protect yourself. Normally when faced with negative and sometimes aggressive situations, you would leave and distance yourself from that person, however with depression it’s the opposite and I have had to learn how to handle this and still be able to stick around and support her.

I have often searched for what to do but get frustrated at the basic information on the internet for how to help a depressed friend. I have found many websites/blogs relating to the person with depression but very little for the people who are supporting them. I feel that if I had read other peoples’ experiences and knew that it was ok to feel some of the things I have felt, then it would show that it’s a natural and normal part of dealing with supporting a friend with depression.

I hope that my honest version of events helps others that are in equally difficult situations. I hope to raise awareness that it is ok to admit you are struggling too and that you are not alone in this very challenging situation.

I have enormous respect for anyone who is supporting someone who has depression. Although it does not always feel like it, we are making a huge difference so keep doing your best and hopefully one day our loved ones will win their battle against depression.

Contact the author

Wednesday 17 June 2015

The world hurts when one leaves..

Beautiful day.. Many folks out on the street and in the market.. I keep looking for those I know.. But they are not here.. They took their life.. All I can think is how could I have helped them stay.. How can we all help them stay.. The world hurts when one leaves.. I hurt..


Tuesday 9 June 2015

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

I periodically check bipolar symptoms lists to remind me of what exactly I am dealing with. It’s not about labels, it’s about understanding. This brain disease fluctuates continuously. Periods of mania can last a day or years. Same with depression. The percentage of wellness to illness I experience changes moment by moment. There is an ill part of me and there is a well part of me. Underneath it all is a place that can’t be touched by anything mortal. It’s when I forget I have an illness that I get into the most trouble. Awareness is critical.

Those with bipolar disorder often have instances of extreme happiness or sadness that are unusual or unpredictable. How can you tell this from a run-of-the-mill mood swing? Let’s look at some symptoms.

Manic symptoms

  • Intense happiness or joy; feeling “high”; overly excitable.
  • Fast speech; racing thoughts (person is hard to keep up with and may switch topics or thought patterns frequently).
  • Impulsive; instances of “high-risk” behaviors, like quitting a job or ending a relationship.
  • Insomnia or very little sleep (person can seemingly function with few hours of sleep).
  • Unrealistic ideas of grandeur (person may feel as if he/she is invincible, has super powers, or is more capable than he/she actually is).
  • Easily distracted.

Depressive symptoms

  • Loss of interest or enjoyment in once-pleasurable activities.
  • Overly depressed, hopeless or sad.
  • Thoughts of death or suicide.
  • Suicide attempts (suicide attempts are thought to affect up to 50 percent of the bipolar population, according to the Journal of Clinical Psychology).
  • Constantly feeling tired or fatigued.
  • Poor concentration.
  • Restlessness.


Grace in the midst of chaos

Like any good friends Fran and I disagree from time to time. We crash heads and get grumpy with each other, but we neither run from nor ignore our issues. We are not afraid of them. We each acknowledge the other’s point of view with respect. And then Fran gets her way! //joke//

More generally, we recognise that disagreement needn’t always be hurtful, nor is hurting something necessarily to be avoided. I find it unhelpful when people hold back from sharing with me for fear of hurting me, or do the big “sorry, sorry” thing if I share that I am feeling hurt or disturbed by what has arisen between us. Such responses invalidate my need to feel what is happening, and close down the space within which both of us might explore and grow.

As Fran messaged me earlier today, “disagreement can provide opportunity for growth and the stretching, openness and deepening of a relationship.”

It is a beautiful thing... the finding of grace in the midst of chaos.


Monday 8 June 2015

I asked for help, by Charlotte Walker

Reblogged from with permission of the author.

I asked for help

I asked for help when I was 12.
I looked, alone, in my middle school library
at a teenage health book. It told me that
depression is an illness. It is real. You can be helped.
It took me days to summon up the courage
find the words to say, “I think that I’m depressed.”
“Everyone’s depressed!” was the response.
I left it there.

I asked for help when I was 13, 15,
already suicidal, finding school a torment.
“All teenagers have mood swings.”
“It may be PMS, so track your periods.”

I asked for help when I was 17.
I got propranolol. Whatever that meant.
I didn’t feel it did much, but someone cared.

I asked for help when I was 20.
The psychiatrist, the first I’d met,
portrayed me as a liar and implied that I might drink.
He sneered at my choices
of university
of course
of fiancé
and gave me fluoxetine, which sent me high.
He didn’t care.

I saw another guy who thought I had bipolar.
Lithium, he said, was the drug of choice but
it can cause thyroid problems
renal problems
You need blood tests
chest X-ray
and you must not get pregnant, no matter what.
No one talked it through with me.
No one helped me understand what it might mean to have bipolar.
No one gave me options.
It was lithium, or nothing.
I chose nothing.

I asked for help when I was 25.
I filled in a depression scale.
No, I cannot cope
and yes I cry a lot
and yes I think about death.
My toddler’s behaviour is out of control
my newborn’s crying is out of control
my depression is out of control.
The Health Visitor frowned.
“Your score is very high.
I think it’s just because you’re self aware.”
And I had thought it was because
I was so depressed.

My GP tried to help.
With sertraline
and paroxitine
and trazadone
and venlafaxine
with no onward referral
and I remained in a kind of hell
an empty of husk of a mother
an empty husk of a person.

I asked for help when I was 27
if by asking for help you mean
spewing the contents of my medicine cabinet
from my stomach to the floor
of a curtained A&E cubicle.
When my vital organs were deemed well
I went home
five pills of chlorpromazine
in a brown childproof bottle.
They sent a CPN.
“What do you want from me?” she sighed.
“This service is for people
with serious mental health problems.”
And she left.

They sent me for assessment with a clinical psychologist.
At last my problems, the overdose, seemed taken seriously
and my name went on the waiting list.
We didn’t hear and didn’t hear
and so we phoned.
“Oh, you’ve been taken of the list.
We had a case conference and
you were not in sufficient need.”

I asked for help when I was 28.
The psychiatrist looked into my file
but did not look at me.
Every session was the same: your GP seems right
your current medication seems right
so see you in a month, then.
Repeat in August, in September, repeat repeat repeat.

I asked for help when I was 30.
and received a new and inaccurate diagnosis
something that I only knew when a letter came my way.
I did not recognise this version of the assessment
this description of my “psychopathology”
I did not recognise myself.
The unexpected upside of being told
that my personality was partially disordered
was I got the therapy I had needed 18 months ago.
I was profoundly grateful. I was profoundly angry.

I asked for help when I was 37.
I received it.

Sunday 7 June 2015

When I am depressed

When I am depressed, I am mean, edgy, negative, and argumentative. It is nothing personal. It is not even me. It is mental illness. My close friends know this and are full of support, understanding, and forgiveness.

It is a raging storm. We can only wait for it to pass and hope for limited damage.

At this time I am completely unable to do simple tasks. Brushing my teeth is herculean. As is eating, cleaning, dressing. There is no floor.

And it feels eternal..


Monday 1 June 2015

Stigma Fighters Anthology volume 1, edited by Sarah Fader

Stigma Fighters Anthology volume 1, edited by Sarah Fader, is available on Kindle and print.

This book is important. It has the potential to change lives. It has the potential to save lives.

In the Introduction, mental health speaker and advocate Gabe Howard says, “We hope reading our stories will give you a glimpse into our lives and inspire you to move forward in your own life or inspire you to support someone you love.”

He is speaking to me: one of the “well ones”. I do not myself live with mental illness, but like many of us — indeed like all of us if we only knew it or opened our eyes to notice — I know many who live with the realities of mental illness every day of their lives.

Sarah Fader, founder of Stigma Fighters and herself a contributor to the anthology expresses this so well:

I’m your neighbour, I’m sitting next to you on the train, I’m talking to you in the grocery store, I’m smiling at you as we pass one another on the street. I’m just like everyone else you meet; only I’m not. Because I live with a significant mental illness that challenges me every day. [...] But here’s the thing. Someone you’re sitting next to in a coffee shop is just like me, but they won’t tell you that. Mentally ill people are living among us; they’re just silenced continually by our society.

That silencing is stigma, “a word the mental health community uses to explain the discrimination, intolerance and prejudice people living with mental illness face every day. It’s a word that describes how unfairly we are often treated.” (Gabe Howard.)

Stigma is founded on a misguided “them and us” mentality; on the criminally falacious belief that those with mental illness are somehow “other” (and less... less valuable, less worthy, less capable... less everything-that-matters).

Reading through the stories (told with such simple courage and honesty) I was struck again and again by how ridiculously unsustainable such thinking is. The seventy people who have volunteered to share their stories are not less than anything.

It is time to wake up. There is no “them and us”. There is just us.

Or as Sarah Fader puts it: “There is no crazy...only human.”