Wednesday 1 March 2017

The Long-Distance Caring Relationship: Our Interview for Onlinevents

I described in my recent guest post for mental health author and family coach Julie A. Fast, that Fran and I believe our book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder is relevant to people working in the caring professions, including therapists, counsellors, and trainers.

We were thus delighted to be interviewed recently by Onlinevents for their online resource library, which comprises a vast collection of video interviews, workshops and presentations to help practitioners meet their continuing professional development needs. Based in West Lothian in Scotland, Onlinevents is run by Sandra and John Wilson. In Sandra’s words:

We are passionate about searching out conversations around mental health. provides a platform to share these conversations, which is proving to be a valuable and meaningful way to highlight authors, speakers and practitioner’s thoughts around current thinking and topics.

Sandra and I first met on Twitter, which as she notes “is an example of how the internet is great at providing connections no matter where we are in the world.” Sandra had retweeted something by Rachel Kelly, author of Black Rainbow, Walking on Sunshine, and The Happy Kitchen. We have known Rachel for some time. She contributed the foreword to High Tide, Low Tide, and has guested on our blog. I was interested to learn she has been interviewed twice for Onlinevents, talking about her experience with depression, and the strategies she has developed to manage her recovery.

After hearing something of our story, Sandra offered us an interview.

We were interested in Marty and Fran’s journey together and excited about their new book, knowing that they would provide valuable insight for our community and wider audience around mental health and relationships.

Fran and I met John on Skype ahead of time, to get to know each other and explore what topics we might cover. The three of us clicked immediately. John’s specialism is online counselling and he was particularly interested in how we use technology and social media in our long-distance, mutually supportive friendship.

Our interview was broadcast live on the Onlinevents website. It was also streamed to the video app Periscope, and to our Facebook page. The conversation ranged widely, with John feeding us comments and questions from those watching on their website. He began by asking about our friendship and how our book came to be. As Fran described:

I have had bipolar for a long time .... I lost a lot of friends when I was in my periods of mania. Depression wasn’t as bad. I wouldn’t lose friends as much when I was in depression but when I was in mania I would lose friends. So it was really important to me to somehow get the word out that it’s okay to be friends with us [people living with mental illness]. Even if we have struggles and we have problems, there’s a way to understand it.

John asked about our relationship and how it works. We described how we use all the channels that technology affords: Skype, instant messaging, e-mail, etc. As Fran put it, “It’s really like any friendship would be.” She talked about how this is particularly important for those living with mental illness.

A friend of ours who was watching posted a comment: “As Marty knows, I am big on open honest communication being a lifesaver,” which is something Fran and I agree with completely.

Someone asked if we could give some examples of how we handle difficulties in our friendship. We talked about managing our fears, and balancing Fran’s needs against my own. We touched on the three month period in the summer of 2013 when Fran was traveling in Europe with her parents. As I recounted:

This was the most intense period of our friendship .... [In the final chapters of our book] we are showing how our approaches and techniques play out in practice. How often they work and sometimes don’t work. There are certainly examples in there of how I was struggling or needing to adjust, while keeping the connection going to support Fran in whatever was going on for her.

Another contributor agreed technology can be an excellent facilitator for connection and support, but wondered whether it affects the sense of presence. As John put it, “Is it a real relationship? Do you really feel present to each other?” We talked about how the key thing for us is not physical proximity, but connection:

Fran: We have this way of being with technology which allows for a very expansive relationship.

Martin: It’s about openness. It’s about those channels of communication .... Our friendship doesn’t work because we are three thousand miles apart; it works because we are open to each other and to communicating.

John then asked about the chapter which deals with suicidal thinking.

John: I really liked how you write about this in the book. We need to hold space for each other when we go to those harder places, those darker places in our experiences, so we can be there to hear each other.

Fran: When I am in suicidal thinking it is about teasing out what’s behind it, what’s causing it ... and having someone you can talk frankly to, who’s not freaking out, who’s not rushing you off to the hospital, is really critical.

John: How do you manage to do that, to not get in a panic and be present to each other? Do you have a sense of what helps you?

Fran: It’s trust. Marty trusts me. I trust Marty. That to me feels like the single most powerful thing that helps us keep moving through it, even when it’s really really tough.

The hour passed too quickly and before we knew, it was time to draw the interview to a close.

John: What I love about how you both have been in our dialogue, and what I’ve read in your book, is this is the human condition. We struggle, as humans we struggle, and we have the capacity, if we can be ourselves, to be helpful.

Martin: Can we quote you on that? That was really good!

John: [Laughing] I really appreciate how you are with each other, how you’ve beeen with me, and the generosity and the way that you’ve written the book. So thank you for that. I appreciate you pushing at the edges of how we might be around mental health. Let’s all wave our books at the camera!

And so we did!

Our full interview is available in the Onlinevents resource library. Excerpts, including us talking about how to stay grounded when a friend is talking about suicide, will be shared on the Onlinevents YouTube channel. The Facebook version is also available (limited to the first 27 minutes of the interview): at the time of writing, it has been viewed over 180 times.

Sandra and John Wilson can be contacted via the Onlinevents website, on Facebook, and Twitter: @Onlinevents_saz (Sandra), @onlinevents (John), and @OnlineventMedia.


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