Wednesday 28 October 2015

Facebook and my wellness toolbox

I took a break from Facebook recently, partly because a handful of people told me I was posting too much.. and partly because their judgments affected my health..

What I learned from the experience was that Facebook has value for me.. It feeds me.. When I am flat on my back in pain and fatigue my ability to get out and about is severely restricted, Facebook brings the world to me..

Why is that a bad thing?.. Why are people offended that I post too much and have too many friends and too much fun?.. Or maybe they are fed up with me posting about mental illness?..

Others enthusiastically encourage me to post both my words and photos because it interests and helps them.. Who would you have me listen to?..

What you probably don’t realize is that Facebook is part of my wellness toolbox.. Many times I have little or no energy to be out in the world.. Facebook keeps me connected, and connection helps me stay away from the edge..

Suicidal thinking is a daily presence in my world.. Social media might just be the thread that keeps someone hanging on. I positively know that is true for me..

So before you tell someone they post too much or the wrong things you might stop and think.. Maybe find other caring things to say.. or caring questions to ask..

If I never had a like or comment my posting patterns would be different, but I am regularly swamped with responses that indicate that what I have to say is relevant.. I don’t mind people telling me to shut up, just have your reasons ready. If they are stigma and fear based, perhaps challenge yourself to look deeper..

We all have important things to say.. We all are valuable..


This piece was originally posted on Fran’s Facebook page, where it generated more than 120 Likes and almost 100 comments within 24 hours.


Embracing the Future, by Michael Baker

Hey everyone! It’s been a while since my last blog post. A lot has happened in the meantime, not all of it good, but this time I definitely have some good, and hopefully inspiring, news to report!

I’ve been working on a fantasy novel for nearly three years now (check out my author page). I had been making steady but slow progress, mainly because living with CFS, depression and IBS takes up a lot of my energy.

My fortunes changed this past June, when I was contacted by a representative of Nordland Publishing, a great little publishing company based in Norway. After a lot of Skype calls I was invited to join a group of writers who pool ideas and help each other.

I can’t overemphasise how good it has been for me; since meeting them I’ve finished the first draft of Book 1, transformed my plans into a trilogy and made it a lot more streamlined. The group I’m with are all great people and it’s been a huge boon for me.

I have saved the best news for last. I recently submitted a short story Profound Fiction’s Halloween anthology The Corpse Candle and other Nightmares. I was sceptical, as the piece I submitted was pretty dark. I’m proud to say, though, it was accepted!

The anthology is available now for Kindle, so please take a look if horror is your thing! (My story, “Sade,” begins at location 1522 in the book.)

This is my first ever published work, and I’m over the moon with it.

I’ll be back soon with another blog!



Sunday 25 October 2015

Lady Zen: Quicksand

We are proud to showcase an original piece by lyric fusion poet Alzenira Quezada, a.k.a. Lady Zen.

Some time ago, Fran was moved deeply by Lady Zen’s performance of “Quicksand” at a bar in Portland, Maine. She recently approached the artist to request a written version.

“I remember so well the three dimensional inloveness I felt when you performed it at MJ’s. Inside myself I correlated the quicksand to mental illness and the wiggling to the struggle for life.”

What Lady Zen wrote for Fran is more than a transcript of her live performance. In Fran’s words, “Your offering in a more documentary vein expanded my thinking. Thank you.”

“How to Get Yourself Out of Quicksand” is presented with the author’s permission.

How to Get Yourself Out of Quicksand

by Alzenira Quezada

It was one of those nights when I wanted to turn off my mind and watch mindless television when I surfed upon a documentary about what to do if you find you’ve fallen into quicksand.

As I watched I couldn’t help but think how this valuable survival information was applicable to our everyday lives. How we humans are affected by mental illness, depression, and grief—pools of emotional quicksand. Those unforeseeable circumstances that mix with our vulnerabilities and create a soupy mess of slow sinking feelings that paralyze us.

But did you know that quicksand is only a slightly dangerous situation?

Yes, it’s true being stuck in quicksand could ultimately be fatal but as it turns out, it’s not too difficult to free yourself from it. It’s like anything in life you just gotta know how to work with it. What actually causes people to sink and die in quicksand is panic. When we find we have stumbled into quicksand, our nervous systems give us every indication to panic but that only makes things worse. Before long we’ve taken the leap from a sticky situation to deadly one.

Thrashing about in quicksand stirs up sediment and water causing a suctioning effect—much in same way memories can trigger a flood of dormant sentiments in our thought patterns.

These attitudes, thoughts, and opinions stir up anxieties which often lead to us feeling hopelessly stuck. When the individual sinks lower and lower or becomes too afraid to do anything at all—or waits for some miraculous event to lift them out of the muck, all the while continuing to sink—this is where real danger lies.

If you do nothing at all or wait too long you will be exposed to the elements or worse—the devises of imagination and most “pools” are only a few feet deep.

Completely sinking in quicksand is virtually impossible. I mean it can happen but because of physics—the whole volume vs. mass thing—it turns out we are very buoyant in quicksand. Generally, the most one will sink is waist deep. Who would have thought?

If you find you’ve stepped in quicksand, take immediate steps back. Depending on how far you’ve gotten yourself in, I can assure you it may take several hours to get yourself out.

The obstacle becomes our minds—the more we struggle the harder it is to believe we can free ourselves from these kinds of situations, but we can—easily enough.

For the bystander seeing someone fall into quicksand can be particularly traumatizing. Especially since the general consensus about quicksand is that it’s deadly and will swallow everything whole within seconds—but that’s not true.

It’s imperative that everyone stay calm. Don’t grab someone who is falling into quicksand. Remember the more you try to pull someone out, chances are you will only cause tremendous physical pain.

If you pull too hard it can feel as though the body will be torn in two as the suctioning effect keeps pulling equally as hard as those on solid ground.

Let’s assume for a moment that you have no resources to get yourself out of quicksand. You’re alone and don’t have a walking stick or a rope; there’s no solid bank within reach—it’s just you and the quicksand.

One of first things you gotta do is throw off any heavy attachments, anything that is weighing you down. Unstrap any negative self-talk or belief that you can’t get yourself out of this situation. Toss all that aside and take a deep breath.

Be aware of what’s on your feet. If possible, get out of your shoes. Often the shoes we wear are too flat or inflexible and can increase the suctioning effect when they tread into quicksand.

If aware you’re headed into territory where there is a high likelihood of quicksand—change your shoes. Better yet, go barefoot so you can be more in tune with sensitive shifts in the stability of the ground.

If you find you’re stuck from feet to ankles, as slowly as you can, wiggle your toes. When things begin to loosen a bit, rock back and forth as if you are tapping your toes in slow motion. This is really important: slow everything way down.

If you get tired—rest. Extracting yourself from quicksand is physically exhausting but eventually you will be able to move your foot and can take that all important first step.

In order to move forward, you must patiently loose the other foot and accept that the one you just freed is going to sink yet again. I know, it’s hard and at some points disappointing to not make more progress but again, this is not a quick process—be patient and gentle.

If in quicksand up to your thighs, repeat the above instructions—wiggling your feet in small slow circular movements. The water and sediment will begin to separate making it easier to remove yourself from the situation. If it is more serious—say that you find yourself sinking deeper as a result of your actions—stop and move on to the next step.

Quicksand can be tricky and unpredictable but if you are moving slow enough you can stop adverse reactions—like firm ground turning into more quicksand or getting yourself in deeper—just slow everything way down. Remember, quicksand is much more dense and complicated than water and makes you more buoyant.

If in quicksand waist deep, lean back and relax a bit—which I assure you is much scarier than it actually is. Pretend you are floating on a still tranquil lake.

Once you are on your back the pressure actually reduces the suctioning effect and provides a small window of opportunity to free your feet. When this happens, gently raise your arms as if in surrender and use your hands as paddles.

Don’t submerge your hands, don’t paddle with your whole arms in big sweeping movements, just gently brush along the surface. All the time in the world is yours, breathe deep and float. Gently paddling yourself back to solid ground.

I hope this helps, after all you never know when you’ll find yourself smack dab in the middle of a couple of feet of quicksand or god forbid one of those particularly deep pools.

Just to recap: keep as much air in your lungs as possible—don’t yell and scream or resist by thrashing about. Keep air in your lungs. You can’t sink if there’s air in your lungs. Not only will it help to relax you it makes you more buoyant and peaceful and you need to stay as calm as you can.

Take lots of breaks, work judiciously, don’t get too tired and every once in while test the ground you’re walking on. It could mean the difference between a quiet hike through life and a wrestling match with a big, messy pool of quicksand.

For an introduction to Lady Zen’s performances check out Poem for Baltimore and Faith, Hope and Love (The Fogcutters feat. Lady Zen).

You can also follow her website, Soundcloud, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Facebook.


Tuesday 13 October 2015

got tears..

Many years ago when my life completely fell apart I cried like no one. I lost everything, outside and inside. The betrayal of my body took the cake. Every day for 2-3 hours for 2 years I wept. It was Niagra Falls weeping. And wailing. I played Melissa Etheridge while I was lain in my exquisite tub and let it all rip. I thought I would get to the end of it. That somehow if I cried enough my life would resume and get better somehow. Well no. I cried until there was not one more tear left. I gingerly picked up the broken pieces of my world and simply crawled baby steps. The only other option was death. I was close. I went to the woods of Maine. Where my eyes were like dried raisins. No matter if I was sad I could get no relief from tears no more. No relief at all. Today I have tears. Again. They squeak out like mice. And they are welcome.



Sunday 11 October 2015

Maine Voices

Reach out and show you care. Friendship is good medicine and being present is the greatest gift of all. (Fran Houston)

Fran’s op-ed article Maine Voices: Time for mental health awareness was published in the Maine Sunday Telegram on October 4, 2015, marking the start of Mental Health Awareness Week.

In it she described her history of mental illness, and her experiences working with psychiatrist George McNeil.

Dr. McNeil gave me what I needed most — the sense of being heard.

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.

With Dr. McNeil’s help, I got better. I am not cured. 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 disorder. And I have tools in my wellness toolbox.

Fran’s heartfelt account resonated with many who read it. One wrote to her:

This is a powerful description of what you have gone through and manage all the time. If it helps one person who reads this, you have achieved what you want, and if it enlightens one person about mental illness, that is equally important. This is a piece that should be shared to reach many more people. To have shared your experience is powerful in itself. Your testimony about your doctors should also help to encourage others to seek out medical care. We all need to be open to discuss this. (Liz Wagner.)

The article was shared widely. We would like to thank the following in particular:

Maine Behavioral Healthcare (“Great article!”); Family Hope (“Fantastic article by Family Hope friend, Fran Houston. We are always amazed and appreciative of her openness to share her total self with the world.”); Catching Health, with Diane Atwood (“Beautifully expressed by Fran Houston, a woman with many gifts to share.”); Bob Keyes, journalist (“Courageous column about mental health awareness by my friend Fran Houston.”); NAMI Maine (“Well said!”).

Note: “An op-ed (originally short for ‘opposite the editorial page’) is a piece typically published by newspapers, magazines, and the like which expresses the opinions of a named author usually not affiliated with the publication’s editorial board.” (Wikipedia.)

Saturday 10 October 2015

Raise your head, raise your heart.

What an amazing week this has been. A week of awareness. A week of passionate and compassionate people making a difference.

I had an opinion piece in the Maine Sunday Telegram and attended two local events; an It Takes A Community public forum for Maine Behavioral Healthcare, and a fundraiser evening for mental health non-profit Family Hope featuring humorist Tim Sample of the Maine Humor Company.

It was hard for me. I don’t do events well. I get social anxiety. I get exhausted. My pain flares. My thoughts race. I can’t hear well. I can’t see well. It costs me. But the reward was gold. Attending these Mental Health Awareness Week events gave me the best gift ever. The reminder that there are people who care.

One soul there had undergone ECT every 2 weeks for 17 years. Forced. We all were riveted. Speechless. Breathless. I met someone who helps those in extreme situations and shared how this affected me. How amazing it is that there are many reaching out to those who can’t. We are all so different, as different as all the mental illnesses there are. Like a diamond. All the facets are needed and beautiful. And a rainbow shines.

Each of us has something unique to offer. Each of us has a part to play that no one else can.

Today is World Mental Health Day! Please take action, raise your head, raise your heart and raise awareness in your community.