Wednesday 22 February 2017

Get It Right When Asking for Help with Bipolar Disorder

Fran and I are delighted to welcome Julie A. Fast, author of Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder: Understanding and Helping Your Partner, Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder and Get it Done When You’re Depressed.

Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder is Julie’s book for the overall treatment of bipolar disorder. It’s a great companion to High Tide, Low Tide for anyone who wants to know more about the illness.

Here, Julie discusses how to ask for help, a topic close to our hearts.

Get It Right When Asking for Help with Bipolar Disorder

When I was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder two with psychotic features in 1995 at age 31, my life was a mess. Two months earlier, I left my partner (who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder one the previous year) and flew to China to have an adventure. Yes. China. I then got depressed and psychotic in Hong Kong and finally got the help I needed back in the States.

When I say my life was a mess when I was finally diagnosed, I’m talking about my relationships. My mood swings were out of control and when I heard I had bipolar disorder, I didn’t feel shame. I was relieved! I finally had answers and I was going to tell all of the people in my life about this and get some help!

I ended up overwhelming people by asking for too much. Here are the two key mistakes I made and what I do now to get it right.

Mistake #1: Asking for Too Much from One Person or the Wrong Person

It’s natural to want a partner, close friend or family member to help. I have learned that helping is not the same thing as loving someone. Some people can give love and some can give you specific support with your bipolar disorder symptoms. Learn what people can and can’t do. I always ask people how much information they want to know. Some say, tell me everything! Others are honest and say they find the topic too stressful. It’s not that they don’t care about me. They care greatly. It’s just not a good topic for us if we are out to have fun.

I have a therapist, prescriber, parent, nephew, coauthors and my social media community such as the amazing Martin Baker to turn to when I get sick. I no longer overwhelm one person with my needs. When my symptoms get really serious, it’s time for professional help. When that is not available, there are certain family members who can handle this illness, and finally I have friends who do not get overwhelmed by my needs. It’s like having a calling tree. Start at the top with people who let you know they are able and willing to help, and go from there.

Mistake #2: Expecting People to Know What to Do

It’s not innate to know how to help someone in a mood swing. Most people understand basic communication tools, but have no idea how to talk to someone who is depressed or manic. This leads to what I call The Bipolar Conversation. (This is explained in my book Take Charge of Bipolar.) Here is an example:

You: I’m really down today and don’t know what to do. Life seems pointless and I look at the world and just feel so helpless. My meds aren’t working and I have no energy. I cry all day.

A person who cares: Oh, you are going to be ok. It will pass. There are beautiful things in the world too. You just have to stay positive and get out more!

Yikes. This response is loving and kind, but NOT helpful. This leads to the looping Bipolar Conversation:

You: But you don’t understand. I can’t see the positive. I can’t figure out what to do.

This is when the person who cares starts to get frustrated. You can change this by letting people know exactly how to help you. You do this when you are stable so that people can truly help you when you get sick. Here is an example of what you might say:

People with depression all talk the same. You will notice I have a pattern when I get sick. When you hear me say something like this:

I’m really down today and don’t know what to do. Life seems pointless and I look at the world and just feel so helpless. My meds aren’t working and I have no energy. I cry all day.

Here is what you can say:
I hear that you are depressed. You asked me to remind you that you always talk this way when you are depressed. This means it’s time to treat the depression and NOT have a conversation on how terrible life is right now. Let’s get out of the house, go for walk and make a plan to get your meds adjusted as a first step.

When you teach someone how to help you, they will be ready when you are ill. This works every time. My book Get it Done When You’re Depressed is filled with specific strategies friends can use to help someone who is depressed. It’s a great companion to High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder. Martin and Fran’s book specifically illustrates how friends can create a plan to help each other when the mood swings start. It is especially helpful for those who experience suicidal thoughts.

After my diagnosis, I eventually realized that what works best is taking care of myself as much as possible before I ask for help. I have a motto: Treat Bipolar First. I know what each of my mood swings looks like. I have a plan in place that I use the minute the symptoms show up. Once I have done all I can for myself, I reach out. This is NEVER easy, but it works quickly. Bipolar disorder affects me daily. I need help. Using the two strategies above helps me maintain relationships while staying stable.

Over time, you can learn to do the same!


A Note from Julie

My current project is a Kickstarter for Hortensia and the Magical Brain. My passion is early childhood education for children with diagnosed mental health symptoms, including early onset bipolar disorder. These are the kids who have difficultly at school and are often in hospitals. My management plan works for these kids, I just had to have a way to get it to parents and health care professionals who want to help.


About the Author

Julie A. Fast is the author of Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder, Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder, Get it Done When You’re Depressed and Bipolar Happens! She is a columnist and blogger for BP Magazine for Bipolar at and won the Mental Health America journalism award for the best mental health column in the United States. She was the original consultant for Claire Danes for the show Homeland and is on the mental health expert registry for People Magazine.

She works as a coach for parents and partners of people with bipolar disorder and other mental health concerns and is currently writing a book for children called Hortensia and the Magical Brain: Poems for Kids with Bipolar, Anxiety, Psychosis and Depression.

You can find more about her work at and on Facebook at Julie A. Fast. Click here to visit her blog and read Martin’s latest guest post.

Magazine Articles

Julie’s Articles for Bp Magazine

And finally, the most popular bipolar disorder blog of all time with over 500,000 views!


Wednesday 15 February 2017

Viva Mental Health, by Peter McDonnell

Hello all. My name is Peter McDonnell and this is an extract from my new book, ‘Viva Mental Health’. The idea is that it is a cheerful take on having a serious mental illness. I was very delusional, in grandiose ways (I thought I was the modern day Jesus Christ, sent to Earth by God to make some positive changes, at the time it made sense) and I also had psychosis back in 2001 when I first got ill. I later developed anxiety problems. I was lucky, I got better, and sharing my story is proving to be very enjoyable. If you would like to read more extracts and find out more about me and my book, you can visit my website I have made to support my writing.

At times I thought I had a telepathic relationship with various people, and that I could talk to people on the television telepathically. I spent a lot of time talking to Britney Spears, who became a sort of ‘Imaginary friend’. This extract is about when I thought she was sending me telepathic messages to meet her, so off I went. This was in December 2001.

Chapter 2 – Crazy? Me?

Because of complications at home I was staying at my dad’s for a bit, he was two minutes’ walk away from my mum’s, and I could stay there anytime. One day when he was at work, I broke a light switch. I had hit it, for some reason. Either I was having a talk with the switch itself, (I thought that objects had souls that I could talk to), and grew mad at it, or I was talking telepathically to a human and they angered me, so I hit the light switch as if to say ‘this is what will happen to you if you keep angering me’. Maybe a person in my head was telling me to hit it just for a laugh.

I decided I would repair it. Repairing things is fun. I needed to take the broken parts to B and Q and find a replacement. I didn’t know how to turn off the electricity, but I got a screwdriver and removed the plastic cover anyway. I disconnected the wires from the switch mechanism. I was now looking at the metal casing embedded in the wall and two bare wires, one red, one brown. I thought to myself ‘I know this is dangerous but God won’t let me get hurt.’ I decided to do it as quickly as possible and as I yanked the casing free from the wall, the two bare wires both touched the casing and I was electrocuted, receiving a strong shock in my arm. I was not thrown across the room or anything, but it hurt. I felt myself, no damage at all. I was lucky to hardly have been injured.

One day I was low on weed and money, so my THC flooded brain offered me the perfect solution. This day would not be like the others, this day I would meet with my imaginary friend, Britney Spears. I searched my feelings for where she was, and the idea grew that she was currently staying at The Ritz Hotel in London, room 213. The number 213 moved into my mind’s eye for no particular reason as I routinely turned on the television at about midday, so no reason not to, I would depart right away. I telepathically sent my idea of meeting her in London, a short train journey away, to my friend, who had a car. I waited for the whole afternoon, but my friend didn’t show. His loss.

That evening I put on my roller blades, and left for the train station. I soon boarded one of Network Rail’s worst carriages and got off at Waterloo station in London. I didn’t have anything on me except ten pounds, a book to read on the train, my personal stereo and possibly some cigarettes. I think I even took my passport, just in case. I was and still like to be quite a positive thinker, and I thought there may even be a chance that this time tomorrow I would be koching with Britney at her California mansion, if she had one. Or who knows?

I wore my rollerblades and had my regular shoes, one in each hand. I was wearing jeans and a casual ‘Nautica’ jacket. The plan was to meet Britney, in room 213, at The Ritz. After the night, we would both go to my home in Basingstoke, and I would pick up some things, and introduce her quickly to my parents and possibly my friends, then it was onto new amazing things.

I skated from Waterloo Train station to The Ritz, I think it took me about an hour and 45 minutes, using my instinct to decode Gods instructions to me, as to the route. If I saw a road sign that randomly stood out to me, I would follow it. It was dark and cold, but I was convinced that I was in good mental health, and I was quite happy, skating along, enjoying London, listening to ‘Oops I did it again’ on my personal stereo.

The main entrance to The Ritz was surprisingly understated. There was no one on the door so I rolled straight in, still wearing my skates with a shoe in each hand, and queued up in a short line of smartly dressed wealthy looking people. When I reached the front of the queue, I calmly asked the clerk, ‘Can you tell me which room Ms Spears is in please’. She dutifully checked her books. ‘Sir we don’t have a room for Ms Spears’. I replied ‘I think she’s in room 213’ ‘We don’t have any reservations for a Ms Spears’. I was a bit surprised, but I knew that sometimes people checked in with a false name, so I left the desk clerk to call security while I had a look around for myself. I started up the grand staircase, finding it difficult to walk upstairs sideways, as I still had on my roller blades. I wasn’t exactly blending in with my surroundings. When I got to the first floor I found somewhere to sit down and took off my skates and put on my Nikes, making a mental note that if I ever were to repeat the exercise, to change footwear on the ground floor.

I found room 213 easily enough, knocked on the door and waited. A cleaner answered, who did not speak English, but I could see that there was no one in this large room. I hallucinated hearing Britney’s voice behind me and turned around, but there was nobody there. I rethought my plan. I needed the loo, so I wandered through the restaurant on the ground floor to find the bathroom, and then wandered back to reception. The Ritz in London is an impressively grand and attractive place. Piano playing hung in the atmosphere of the spacious restaurant, melodic mainly right hand playing, Debussy, I think. I could almost hear Britney Spears in the music. I went back to room 213 and just hung around for a bit. I decided to check out the top floor, she may be in one of the nice rooms. I walked around the corridors for a bit longer, but soon the security man found me. He was not a large man, but he looked authoritative enough to deal with the odd straggler. He accompanied me to the exit, where there were black cabs waiting to pick people up, and while leaving, I wandered whether I should put my skates back on or take a taxi to the train station to go home.

This was my only experience of The Ritz, until a year later when I tried the same thing again, but more about that journey later.

I thought I would skate to Waterloo train station, and see a bit of London in the process. I don’t remember much about the trip back home, but I do recall stopping at a cinema and buying a coffee flavoured ice cream, playing on some arcades, and stopping to give five pounds to a homeless person on a busy street, where it occurred to me that an hour ago I thought that five pounds would be such an incredibly small amount of money to me by now, as Britney would be paying my way until I capitalised on my newfound fame.

I remember skating alongside the Thames, possibly near Westminster. I also remember skating across the Thames on a road bridge but I can’t remember which one. The only other thing I remember about travelling back to Waterloo train station at about nine pm through busy streets was almost flooring a lady with a broken leg who was using crutches, as my roller skating proficiency bubbled over into over confidence and the situation got away from me. She sent me an annoyed look as I apologised and I was embarrassed and newly schooled. I was careful after that. I soon boarded a busy train home, and I read a Mario Puzo book while travelling, not The Godfather but one of his lesser known stories.

Although I didn’t find my imaginary friend on that wintry night out to London, I did enjoy myself. As I got nearer to home I was wandering where she was. I concluded that she had been unable to meet me, and that she had tried also but failed. She could be anywhere in the world, but we had got our wires crossed. As I was on my street, almost home, I thought, maybe she left The Ritz to meet me at my house, and that’s why she wasn’t there. Maybe she was right here – 100 metres away, having a chat and a cup of tea with my mum as we speak. This was good, the evening endeavour was not to be wasted after all. I began to look for expensive cars parked on the street, none there, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything. I opened the door and she was – not there. I was disappointed, but a nice joint would soon sort that out, it always did, temporarily, but I paid for it by being affected by more craziness. Some people can smoke weed perpetually and not be adversely affected. For me it felt good, but didn’t do me any favours in the long run. It was fair to say that the craziness had been brewing up without my awareness for months. My awareness of reality was dim.

The next morning I was trying to meet Britney again, and I was feeling like maybe Paris was a good idea. The fact of the timing of my meet up thoughts was happening now suggested to me that now was the best time to do it, she must be in the neighbourhood, and wasn’t in London. The next best place for a meet up would be Paris. Paris would be a fitting place to meet up with a star like Britney. If I went to the Eiffel Tower she would surely show up. I made up my mind to go to Paris. As I write this I’m wishing I was still so adventurous.

At times I was sure that I was really linked to Britney Spears. At other times it felt like she was imaginary. I thought it best to at least try and find out by putting in the effort to meet her.

About the Author

Peter McDonnell lives in Hampshire, England. You can contact him via his website, which includes a number of excerpts from his book.


Sunday 12 February 2017

Speaking Up, a Film about Mental Health

Yesterday I was privileged to attend the premiere screening of Speaking Up at Newcastle’s Tyneside Cinema. This was the first in what is to be a series of short films “exploring young people’s experiences of mental health issues by producing and creating their own shorts to convey powerful, practical messages.”

Running a little under twenty minutes, the film certainly delivers. The first part really opened my eyes to the realities of living with anxiety. The team then took to the streets of Newcastle to interview members of the public. Having volunteered on those same streets for last year’s Newcastle Mental Health Day, I was interested to hear what people had to say.

Folk were asked what terms such as “mental health issues,” “anxiety,” and “depression” meant to them. I found it encouraging that so many felt able to share their opinions, concerns and personal experiences to camera. I got the sense most were unused to having the opportunity to do so.

Several spoke of stigma, and the need for more to be done for those living with mental illness. There is clearly still a way to go, but this is the sort of thing which helps break down barriers. One person suggested stigma is perhaps less prevalent in the younger generation. Initiatives such as Speaking up bring hope that things can change, by giving younger people the opportunity to share their lived experience in ways directly meaningful to them, and to a wider audience.

Kudos to Sharon Race, Alisdair Stewart Cameron, and the whole Speaking Up team for what they are doing. Sharon commented:

Speaking Up is important to highlight that young people also live with mental health issues which they want to speak out about. The participants were so wonderful to work with — creative, clever and witty. We are pleased to announce Launchpad have secured funding for Speaking Up Too, which will take place in the Summer holidays.

I invited my friend Carol Robinson to share her thoughts about the screening:

The short film was made this summer It was great to be an extra and to see the great work Sharon Race completed. The interviews on the streets of Newcastle were intriguing. It was good to see discrimination around mental health is being tackled so positively, and the public attitude is so positive and honest.

UPDATE: Speaking up was shown as an introduction to the main features at the MiLAN - Medicine in Literature and the Arts at Newcastle film festival starting on Monday 11 February.

UPDATE: Speaking Up is now available to watch on YouTube.

If you would like to know more about this initiative, or fancy getting involved, check out the Speaking Up Facebook page.

Organised by Launchpad, Speaking Up runs free film making workshops for 15-25 year olds in Tyne & Wear on the 5th Floor of Broadacre House, Market Street, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 6HQ. Speaking Up is funded by the Community Foundation Tyne & Wear.



Sunday 5 February 2017

Using the Darktime

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). This section covers part of Fran’s two-week cruise from Amsterdam to New York aboard the MS Eurodam.

Using the Darktime

Our first opportunity to connect properly was in Reykjavik, five days into the cruise. Fran was desperately fatigued, and in emotional and physical pain. She was relieved to have made it through the summer but fearful of the future. We had always known the summer would be hard, but instead of recuperating she faced finding somewhere to live, packing, leaving her community, and settling into somewhere new. It was not merely daunting, it was potentially dangerous.

Fran: I’ve missed you..
Martin: I’ve missed you too.
Fran: You help me beat my depression..
Mary: That’s because I come down there to find you, in the darkness where you are. I sit with you until you are ready to walk out again into the sunlight.
Fran: From this bleak harsh landscape..
Martin: Iceland?
Fran: Yes..
Martin: The landscape can be an analogy for your depression. Let’s use this part of the journey, this Darktime. Feel the sadness, and then leave it behind on these shores.
Fran: I don’t like this part of the trip.. Coming home.. It’s scary..
Martin: Find me a stronger word than scary.
Fran: Terrifying..
Martin: Good. If it’s terrifying then say so. Feel it fully. Because if you can feel it, it will keep you from falling deeper into depression.
Fran: I haven’t made the most of Norway and Iceland.. I don’t like them.. They are not warm like Germany..
Martin: On the way back to the ship, find me one thing that delights you. A smile. A ray of sunlight. Anything.

She messaged me later.

Fran: We sail soon..
Martin: What did you find for me?
Fran: The bus driver.. And a woman named Cindy who went to buy a swimsuit..
Martin: As you found two things I will ask for three tomorrow.
Fran: The blue of the water.. The brown of Mum’s eye.. The niceness of people caring for us..
Martin: I said tomorrow! That’s cheating! (Thank you.)

They were at sea for the next four days. We were able to chat when they reached Nanortalik in Greenland, and I was relieved to discover her mood had lifted a little. I didn’t expect us to be in touch again until they landed in Newfoundland, but some personal news required me to contact Fran the next day.

Despite the cost, we exchanged text messages throughout that day and for the remainder of the cruise. It helped Fran process her feelings from the summer and prepare for all she would face once she returned home. She was by turns angry, tearful, and depressed. Most of all, she was exhausted. One bright moment occurred as they reached Halifax, Nova Scotia. I was at work, and a colleague found a webcam that showed the Eurodam as it berthed at the ferry terminal.

Martin: Frannie, I have the ship on webcam! I watched you coming in. The camera is looking down on the ship from outside the terminal.
Fran: Would you see me if I waved?
Martin: Maybe! Are you at a window?
Fran: I could go up top on the back deck..
Martin: Yes do! Let me know when you get there!
Fran: OK.. I’m by the stacks..
Martin: I think I can see you! Walk about a bit.
Fran: I’m right by the railing..
Martin: Yes! I can see you! I am waving!
Fran: Can you see my big belly?
Martin: Haha! No but I can see you!
Fran: I’m going back down now.. I don’t have a coat and it’s cold..
Martin: Go and warm yourself up! I can’t believe I just saw you on webcam from all the way over here!
Fran: That was awesome.. Thank you for doing it with me..
Martin: Thank Barry, he found the webcam!
Fran: Thank you, Barry!

I took a screenshot of Fran waving, and shared it on our social media pages.

A little later she went ashore and we were able to talk. The call only lasted a few minutes, but it was our first since Amsterdam and helped us feel connected again.


You can watch the live Halifax Pier 21 webcam here.


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