Wednesday 26 July 2017

A Behind the Scenes Look at My Latest Book Reading Videos

I recently updated our YouTube channel with four short videos of me reading excerpts from our book. I recorded them whilst on holiday at Bowness on Windermere in the English Lake District. I think the videos came out pretty well. I am standing outside. There are trees behind me. There’s a breeze blowing and I have to keep catching my hair back from my face. In a couple of places, I think you can hear sheep. I appear calm and composed, as though this was exactly how I had intended the recordings to go.

I thought you might be interested in the real story!

I’d taken my copy of High Tide, Low Tide on holiday, intending to record myself reading a selection of passages to share on our social media. On the Wednesday evening I set out on a short walk, looking for a suitable recording location. I wanted somewhere private enough that I’d not be interrupted or observed, away from traffic and other background noises, with suitable support for my smartphone on its mini tripod.

I headed north, in the direction of Ambleside. The map on my smartphone suggested I might get down to the lake, but when I got there it was all private access only. It was a lovely evening though, and quiet away from the main road. I wandered on along a narrow path, with trees to the left of me and fields to the right. I had a nice Skype call with Fran. I even saw a deer!

I found what I thought would be a good place. I fastened my phone on its mini tripod to a gate post, took out the book and began to record, but within minutes a lady came by walking her dog. We got talking, about the book (which was still in my hand) and about the local area. She told me how three hundred child survivors of the Holocaust were relocated to the Lake District after WWII. They stayed on what was then the village of Calgarth Estate, pretty much where the fields are now. You can read more of this moving story on the Lake District Holocaust Project website.

The nice dog lady walked with me most of the way back to the main road. I was disappointed not to have recorded anything, but I decided to go down to the jetty near the cottage and try there. There was no one there when I arrived. I sat on the bench and got set up, but no sooner had I started recording than the sound of shrieking rang out. Someone’s darling kids were enjoying themselves at the water’s edge nearby. Grrrrr!!! I packed up and headed back. I wasn’t happy! It seemed as though all my best efforts had come to nothing. I simply wasn’t destined to make these recordings!

I stopped by a gate, almost within sight of the cottage. The light was perfect. Someone was sure to come by if I had another go, but it was worth one last try. It took a few minutes to get my tripod secured to the gate. I had a couple of false starts, but managed to record four excerpts which I reckon came out okay. Phew!

As I headed back to the cottage, I was smiling.

The Recordings

How Much Help Is Enough? Can It Ever Be Too Much?

Do You Ever Feel Overwhelmed When Fran Is Suicidal?

What Happens When You Can't Be Together All the Time?

How Do You And Fran Get Through Your Darkest Days?


Wednesday 19 July 2017

Book Review: #ThisIsWhatAnxietyFeelsLike: When you think everyone hates you & so much more, by Sarah Fader (Author) and Michelle Hammer (Creator)

I have followed Sarah Fader on Twitter for several years, intially through her work with the mental health nonprofit Stigma Fighters, which gives a forum—online and in (to date) three published anthologies—to people’s experiences living with mental illness in all its many forms.

This new book brings the focus in closer, both in terms of the condition being covered—anxiety—and by limiting the descriptions to Twitter’s 140 characters, each with the associated hashtag #ThisIsWhatAnxietyFeelsLike. The book contains 51 pieces by Sarah, each brilliantly illustrated by Michelle Hammer.

Whether we have a diagnosed condition or not, we can all remember times we have been anxious. This book takes the reader in further: to reading and by extension imaging what that “regular” anxiety might be like, racked up 1,000 percent and liable to overwhelm you at any moment.

If like me you have little or no personal experience of anxiety, buy this book. Read it. Tell everyone you know about it. It’s that important. But recognise it is the start, rather than the end, of your journey.

Get on social media and follow the #ThisIsWhatAnxietyFeelsLike hashtag for many many more examples, from people all over the world. Keep your mind and heart open. You will learn a lot.

This is what countering stigma feels like.

About the Authors

Sarah Fader is the CEO and Founder of Stigma Fighters, a non-profit organization that encourages individuals with mental illness to share their personal stories. She has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Quartz, Psychology Today, The Huffington Post, HuffPost Live, and Good Day New York. Michelle Hammer is a graphic designer and artist living with paranoid schizophrenia. Her work has been featured on NBC, The Daily Mail, BuzzFeed, Mashable. Shape, A+, HelloGiggles, and Stylist. Her artwork is the most recognized on her signature clothing line Schizophrenic NYC. Michelle designs pieces of art on clothing that represent what mental illness means to her.

#ThisIsWhatAnxietyFeelsLike: When you think everyone hates you & so much more is available (print and Kindle) from Amazon.


Wednesday 12 July 2017

BESIEGED: Sometimes I Just Want to Be Left Alone

It’s Saturday morning and as I often am, I’m sitting in my favourite coffee shop, Caffè Nero near the Haymarket in Newcastle. I’ve been coming here regularly since it opened. How many years is that? Before Fran and I began work on our book, for sure, and that’s pushing five years now.

It’s hard to visualise, but this used to be the City Post Office. I’ve stood in line many times—where these tables are now—for postage stamps, or to send packages off all over the world. It looks so different now! And yet, there is a sense of continuity. I may have to go elsewhere these days for my postal services (as I did this morning, to buy stamps and to mail out a copy of our book) but it is here, a large black coffee to hand (“Would you like the extra shot?” “Yes please!”), that I write my letters, cards, and postcards.

Here is also where I meet folk face-to-face. Caffè Nero is my social hub these days. The staff have changed over the years but have always been warm, personable, and supportive of my mental health work and our book. If I am meeting someone in town, here is my first choice of venue, and I have made several new friends from amongst the other regulars here. Last Saturday, a friend I know from elsewhere turned up unexpectedly. We had a great natter, and hope to meet up again soon.

For years, I had no one local to meet up with for a drink and a chat. I recall sitting in a different coffee bar, not far from here, aware that no one I knew was likely to walk in, whether accidentally or by arrangement, to greet me with a smile or a hug and share time with me over a cup of coffee.

Nowadays, I bump into people all the time! Folk I have met here at Caffè Nero, or from the monthly Literary Salon at Bar Loco (which I only learned about last year from a guy I got chatting to at Nero’s) or via Time to Change and Broadacre House. I have opened myself up to the world, and the world has opened to greet me.

But, sometimes, it all gets a bit much. Sometimes I just want to sit here and not be talked to, especially when I am clearly writing. Sometimes it’s nice to be anonymous. To be ignored. Sometimes it’s nice to be gifted a “Hi, nice to see you” without my “Hi” back being taken as an invitation to occupy my space for the next twenty minutes.

So this morning when it happened I kept my head down. Finished the letter I was writing, and kept right on going, lest any pause in my writing signal a willingness to engage. I drafted a new blog piece. This one.

And now that I am no longer besieged I can relax again. Breathe. I guess I need to work my boundaries, but at least something good came of the experience. Now it just needs a title...



Wednesday 5 July 2017

Mental Health in Social Media, by Rebecca Lombardo

I had my first real taste of social media back in the days of Myspace. I never considered it to be anything of value; I just thought it was something to do for fun. However, it was essentially just a waste of time. In about 2006, when I got my first email invitation to join Facebook, I had no idea that it would be both a blessing and a curse.

So, when I first ventured into the Twitter arena, I was completely lost. I didn’t understand 75% of what I was looking at, and hashtags were just tic-tac-toe boards in my experience. I had no idea what was going on, but I knew that you could see tweets from famous people from time to time, and I found that to be rather fascinating, so I stuck with it.

All these years later, social media has become my preferred method of communication. I enjoy checking my various pages and keeping up with what my friends are doing. There are times when I rely on those people to help keep me sane. Have there been negative experiences? Too many to count. If you’re not face to face, humor or sarcasm can be taken as rude behavior; which can launch you into a war of words with your friends looking on like they’re watching a tennis match.

Even with the pitfalls, if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find a valuable tool that has the potential to catapult you onto the computer screens of hundreds of thousands of people. I won’t lie, when I was new to Twitter and reaching out to others for help with promoting my book, it felt like a clique; and I didn’t belong. I sensed early on that there were mean girls (and guys) that didn’t have any desire to assist you in any way.

However, I was persistent, and I kept posting and eventually started to connect with people. People that today I am proud to call my friends. On the negative side, people are trolling social media searching for a weak spot that they can exploit. I’ve had downright scary interactions with people that made me second guess everything I stood for. But, that’s what the bullies are hoping for, and I refuse to let them win.

The camaraderie felt within the mental health community on Twitter is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. We’re a community - you might say we’re a family. We protect our own, and we lift each other up. I’ve seen it first-hand. Sure, there’s a little competition, but we’re all on the same team and ultimately have the same goal. To finally end the stigma of mental illness.

But, there’s something important that you must remember about social media. If you’re ever in a situation where you’re in so much pain, you’re having thoughts of hurting yourself, don’t go on Twitter looking for help. The worst feeling in the world is pouring your heart out and for whatever reason, nobody answers at that moment. You may not garner the attention you had anticipated, not because you aren’t important, but because we’re all working through our own issues. We’re wrapped up in our lives and our causes, and maybe we just didn’t see your post.

That will only leave you feeling more lost and hopeless. Believe me, I’ve been there. Your best bet is to talk to someone you trust face to face, like family, a friend, a therapist. Take it from me, it makes life a lot easier when you don’t rely on social media to the degree that it becomes life or death. Always remember, everyone is fighting their own battle every single day. Perhaps they’re just not stable enough themselves to offer you encouragement or advice. We’re all doing the best we can with what we have to work with.

That being said, don’t be afraid to tweet about your feelings, or a great movie you saw, or something exciting you have planned for the weekend. If you’ve selected the right group of friends, they will be there for you and both Twitter and Facebook will have their own rewards. Just try to keep in mind that you need to disconnect now and then. Don’t have your phone out at dinner, at the movies, in the car on the way to the movies. It’s not only obsessive, but it’s downright annoying.

Connecting with like-minded people has its benefits. I can’t say enough about it. Of course, you’re going to run into people who are nothing like you and some may be quite menacing. That’s what the lovely little feature called BLOCK is for, and thank God for that! Social media has the potential to be a fun and interesting experience if you learn the protocol first and try hard not to take anything personally. If someone has an issue with you, that’s their problem, not yours.

About the Author

I’m 44 years old and have been happily married for nearly 16 years. I enjoy reading, writing, music, watching movies and sports. I live in Michigan with my husband and our cats. At age 19, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I have struggled with mental illness in many forms for more than 20 years.

I’m a published author, bipolar blogger, and a mental health advocate. I am thrilled to have been selected to write for the Huffington Post and The Mighty. I just published an updated version of my book, It’s Not Your Journey, which is available on Currently, my husband and I host a podcast called Voices for Change 2.0 on Saturday mornings at 11am EST.

Amazon: It’s Not Your Journey