Wednesday 28 December 2016

One Day in the Life of Marty

Wednesday December 28, 2016

I wake at 6:45 a.m., half an hour before my alarm goes off. I am always glad when that happens, I enjoy that “Ahhh good, don’t have to get up just yet!” feeling! I check my phone for any messages; snooze a little longer. I turn the alarm off with one minute to go. Rise, wash, dress, and am out of the house by 7:35.

As I walk to the Metro station, I message Fran good morning for when she wakes later, and send a photo of the tree and path just outside our court. This is a new tradition, started a couple of months ago when the leaves on that tree were first turning towards autumn. It’s a nice way of sharing how the weather is here in Newcastle without getting all meteorological.

By the time I’ve reached the Metro station, I’ve sent good morning messages to two other friends, and a meds reminder to one. Not everyone would appreciate a daily reminder to take their medication, and I would never assume to do so without an invitation. It is a measure of trust on both sides, and not something to be taken lightly.

One friend surprises me by responding almost immediately. She is on UK time like me, but she’s not back to work until next week so I wasn’t expecting her to be awake yet. We chat as I catch my first train, then my second, and on my twenty minute walk. I share photos with her along the way. We have been friends a couple of years. Mostly we chat when we are each traveling into work. I have come to enjoy her company on my commute.

I stop for coffee and a toasted cheese and egg sandwich at Quiznos, across the road from the office. It is just after nine o’clock as I arrive at my desk.

The morning passes easily. The days between Christmas and New Year are mostly quiet at work, and I make it through to lunchtime without anything major to deal with: a blessing as I am the only one in for my team this week. I’d normally expect a Skype call from Fran around midday (her 7 a.m.) but not today. I hope that means she is sleeping deeply. We will catch up later.

I check in on my social media accounts: mostly Facebook and Twitter, though I also love Instagram and Pinterest. Google Plus is still a mystery to me, and I make a note to apply myself to exploring it more in the weeks and months ahead. Maybe I can find an online tutorial.

The other friend I good-morninged this morning messages me to say hi, and asks how my day is going. We chat a little as she gets ready for her day. Like Fran, she is in the States, and her day is just beginning.

Social media is full of the recent deaths of Carrie Fisher and George Michael. As someone who habitually shies from mass emotional responses of any kind (be they nationalistic, political, sporting or whatever) I hold myself open to the various and varied tributes and resonances being shared online. The idea that this year—2016—has been “taking” the talented does not sit easily with me. I don’t see things that way. But many do, and instead of closing myself down I can choose to be curious. To read, and listen. So we learn.

A minor difference of opinion on Facebook yesterday led the other person involved to respond: “Your agreeable comment to my disagreeable comment [warmed my heart], a fellow human who respects different opinions and can discuss and laugh.” This is why I so value social media and the connections it brings.

Another perfect example happens over my lunchbreak. I am on Twitter and connect with someone who runs an online training organisation with her brother. We chat back and forth a little and she invites me and Fran to do a live interview with them sometime in the New Year. We friend on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. I love the Internet!

Around half two, Fran beeps in. She didn’t have a good night’s sleep at all. She has caught up on my news, via the “breadcrumb” messages I left her through the morning.

  • 07:29: [Photo of the tree] Good morning! Frosty start to the day here
  • 07:46: [Photo from the train]
  • 08:31: [Photo from Quiznos where I had breakfast]
  • 09:10: [Photo from the 3rd floor at work, showing the view across the park]
  • 12:48: The morning has gone by quite nicely. Went across the road for a sarnie for lunch—the day is beautiful—still chilly but bright—the air feels clean and clear.
  • 13:30: Have fixed us up with a live (skype) interview sometime, with a lady who runs an online training organisation here in the UK. Connected via Twitter. Don’t worry I am not committing us to anything specific. She is going to email a schedule of when their slots are so we can talk about it and decide when (if we want to, though it seems a good match). We can talk about it later!
  • 14:05: I have been doing a “day in the life of” blog. I will continue adding to it through today and post it up tonight or maybe tomorrow. It’s not “amazing”—but I need to get over needing things I write to be “amazing” / “world changing” all the time.

As I continue with my afternoon, Fran shares her weight with me. It has plateaued for a while now, though today it is up a bit. We have tracked our respective weights every day for the past three or four years. Over that time we’ve seen how our bodies respond (and often fail to respond) to our efforts to achieve and maintain healthy weights. In Fran’s case this is compounded by the effects of her medication. It is hard work to stick with a healthy regime, when the results do not seem to materialise.

Fran: I’m tired of exercising so much and doing well on my eating and drinking and having zero results. Makes me want to give up.

Martin: Yeah but you know how that goes. Your weight goes UP fast and bigtime. Thing is to realign your definition of success. You are preventing your weight increasing. That is not “zero results,” though it is not the result you are measuring against. (You get to hate me about now for saying that, it’s okay!)

Fran: I know that but what the hell do I need to do to lose this goddamn fat? Starve?

Martin: Well not starve no. I don’t have your calorie history with me (it is on the big spreadsheet at home) but I know you have been keeping your weekly average calories down. You have done some particularly low cal days recently so I guess continue to do those kind of days in between the others.

3 p.m. and most of my colleagues have left (they started work before I did this morning). As I work, I keep an eye on my social media notifications. Friends sharing what they are doing. Friends sharing what they are feeling (or not feeling). What they are going through. It is not always pretty. It is not always easy. It is not always nice. For me—but how much more for these I know and care about.

I have a reputation for being—in Fran’s words—“pathologically positive.” (It is not meant as a compliment.) Positivity in the face of hardship, one’s own or another’s, can be a defence mechanism. A shield. A way of running away. I did that most of my life. I still mess up. Hell, I fuck up. On a regular basis. But I am determined not to run away any longer.

Fran is heading out to the YMCA for her exercise class. I have another hour or so here in the office before home time.


It is now 9 p.m. Fran and I met on Skype between 7 and 8. We caught up on events, and discussed our respective plans for the rest of the day. Since we ended our call, I’ve drafted an email, and checked in on a couple of friends. Right now my wife Pam and I are watching Jonathon Creek on TV. Fran and I will meet up again later, to discuss the interview with the online training organisation I connected with earlier, and maybe watch an episode of our favourite show, the Gilmore Girls.

All in all, a good day.



Sunday 25 December 2016

Now I Know How

It’s surprising to find myself in the spirit of celebration. I am rarely one for special days. Often I am depressed and grumpy, a grinch, and having to fake cheeriness for others. A few years ago I began to look for little bits that light me up and dwell on them. There is so much excess and extravagance that can be overwhelming. My little bit grew every year. This year my table was graced with a garland, not one but two nutcrackers marched into my world, and an amaryllis bloomed magnificently by my window. These bits help me feel less alone. Next year a snow globe will sail on in. I never allowed myself to enjoy these frivolities before. But now I know how to cultivate a bit of joy and share it with dear friends of course.



Monday 19 December 2016

Why Do You Do It?

The following is excerpted from High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder, by Martin Baker and Fran Houston (Nordland Publishing, 2016).

Why Do You Do It?

People are sometimes surprised how much time Fran and I spend together, and the degree of support I provide. One friend commented, “Realistically, who’s got the time and energy to unfalteringly provide that level of care and dedication to someone outside your immediate family?” It is a valid question, but misses the point a little. Not everyone with mental illness wants or needs the kind of caregiving relationship that works for us. What they almost certainly do want and need are friends they can rely on.

Why is that so important? We all need support and companionship, but people living with mental illness often find friends are in short supply. Changes in mood, energy, and behaviour can strain relationships and leave people isolated precisely when they need help the most. Be the friend who doesn’t walk away when things get rough. It is not always easy for us either, but what began as a private joke captures the essence of commitment.

“You’re stuck with me now, Frannie. I hope you realise that.”

“Like gum on my shoe.”

Someone wrote to us recently, “Your journey as friends reminds us that mental illness doesn’t change what friendship is all about: being there for those we love.” That meant a lot because the reciprocal nature of our relationship is not always recognised. Fran is there for me as much as I am there for her. She is neither a drain on me nor a burden—although she doubts this on occasion.

Fran said to me today, “I don’t get it. Why are you still here?” I told her no matter what is going on, whether she is having a good day or a bad day, whether I am having a good day or a bad day, I never don’t want to be here.

I am a better person for knowing Fran. I have a greater understanding of my strengths, values, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities than ever before. I have learned more about mental and invisible illness, suicidal thinking, stigma, determination, courage, and responsibility since we became friends than in the fifty years before we met. I have explored meditation, Non-violent Communication (NVC), mindfulness, and other techniques that benefit my life enormously.

I have greatly expanded my circle of friends, met people who feel safe sharing their stories in response to mine, and learned how it feels to offer my skills and experience in the service of others. I have grown—and continue to grow—as a friend and as a man. But the most important thing I have gained is our friendship itself. Why do I do it? Because Fran is my best friend and that is what best friends do.


High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder is available at: | | | | | | | | Barnes & Noble


Thursday 15 December 2016

Substance Abuse, by W.A. Turman

Many persons affected by bipolar disorder turn to the use and abuse of substances. This is a catch-all term for anything with psychoactive properties, whether it be alcohol, street drugs, over-the-counter and prescription drugs, caffeine, or nicotine. Often substance use is done in an attempt to self-medicate, where one tries to manage the highs and lows with the use of non-prescribed substances.

This can easily slip into the abuse category, if one is not careful. Once a person has started down the slippery slope of substance abuse, it is easy to get lost in the recesses on one’s mind. Psychological dependency is much more prevalent than physical dependence. When someone has established a pattern of behavior, it is often difficult to break.

As one of my literary heroes, Wm. S. Burroughs, has said, “once a junkie, always a junkie.” Relapse is a really grave problem for any person diagnosed with bipolar disorder, especially for those dually diagnosed as “chemically dependent.” I have difficulty with being labeled as chemically dependent. I freely acknowledge that I have substance abuse issues, but I am not, nor have I ever been, physically dependent on anything.

My wife believes it is not even an issue of being psychologically dependent, but rather an issue of behavior that can be controlled. I am often driven by my primitive, or “lizard,” brain. The part of the brain that controls the pleasure centers is not the cerebrum, or higher brain functions. Driven by primitive desires, or the libido, I seek instant gratification, which for me is accomplished by getting high on marijuana.

Being a junkie is something I have to guard against every day of my life. I do not wish to return to those behaviors again, ever. Most days are easier than others, but I know it is something I will always have to deal with. I have casually used alcohol and marijuana, every once and a while, but I know that it is a dangerous proposition. I choose to use, but I do not choose to abuse. It is a very fine line, a tightrope that I do not wish to tempt myself with very often.

I know that my views on this are not popular, especially with fellow addicts, but I can only speak from my experience, which is unfortunately vast. I am not a big fan of twelve step programs, for many reasons, but they do have a place in the treatment of bipolar disorder. I do not like the fact that some individuals seem to substitute meetings for drugs, often going to several meetings a week, or even several meetings per day. However, when faced with the alternative (drinking or drugging), I guess it is preferable. Some groups, like some chapters of Narcotics Anonymous, are against all drugs, including prescribed drugs used for the treatment of BPD.

Wm. Andrew Turman (Zen Daddy T)
Monday, September 26, 2005

Biography and Artist Statement

W.A. Turman was an “Army Brat,” and that explains a lot. Man of no accent, but also of every accident. Life has not always been easy for the artist and writer we affectionately call “Zen Daddy T.” A gonzo journalist along the lines of Hunter S. Thompson, an artist well-versed in the school of Ralph Steadman, including favoring beers from the Flying Dog Brewery, Andrew is an acquired taste. His abstract expressionist works bleed protest and contentment. His recent series, “Art for Airports” has drawn critical acclaim. Here are his stats: hospitalizations—77; medications—46; suicide attempts—5; ECT treatments—61.

W.A. Turman can be contacted via his Facebook page and blog.