Wednesday 27 September 2017

I Once Knew a Genius Who Ended up a Simpleton: My Brother Gabriel Had Epilepsy and Bipolar Disorder, by Marie Abanga

My name is Marie Abanga and I am from Cameroon in Africa. Before my brother Gabriel was diagnosed with epilepsy at the age of eleven, all I knew about the condition was the appellation “fainting fits”. In my country and probably in a large chunk of Africa, such fits are still attributed either to evil attacks or ill luck. There is so much taboo and stigma surrounding such cases, to the extent that some families would rather hide their children suffering from seizures than risk public shame. They simply are never sent to school, or withdrawn once seizures set in.

As if the epilepsy was not enough, I learned barely two months before my brother’s death that he had also been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. This made sense to me because I had witnessed firsthand several highs and lows of his behaviour, but I was left speechless. I remember a blog post I did on my blog in June 2014 on the occasion of his 33rd birthday, crying out loud: “Somebody tell me what is wrong with my brother”.

Shortly after that post, I gathered enough courage to ask my kid sister with whom he recently lived in the US, and like it was super top secret “of course”, she told me of his bipolar disorder diagnosis. Sadly, before I could start understanding anything about bipolar disorder or how to help him, he died on the 2nd of August 2014.

We probably know about all the stigma, taboo and abuse cum outright rejection of persons living with a mental illness and I won’t go there anymore. I will just say that I nearly went down the drain mentally too, both before and after my brother died. Indeed, it was my quest to learn what was wrong with my brother which helped me realize something was wrong with me. A psychotherapist I saw in Brussels mentioned PTSD. I didn’t want to dwell on the diagnosis so much, but on what I could do to take better care of myself.

For pretty much all of my life, others’ wellbeing has been my priority, and my brother’s especially. I now know I tried my best to love him even when he was at his worst. I just think if I had known what he had been diagnosed with and reached out earlier to the big online community, I would have done much better.

When my brother died I froze: I needed to write his story and immortalize it before he too became a statistic. I needed to let my family and the world know I had had enough with all the taboo and stigma, and that I was putting myself all out without fear or favour. The fierce mental health advocate was born and you wouldn’t find even a handful of those in my country–that is not bragging.

The memoir (the third of four I have so far self-published) is my tribute to my brother and all those with mental challenges and illnesses. It is titled My Brother’s Journey from Genius to Simpleton: Battling with His Mental Illness and Coping with His Loss.

I am still coping to be candid, and only recently have dealt with the last guilt I still harboured for my brother’s Waterloo. This is a big credit to the book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder. In this book, whose emotional journey reading I blogged about almost religiously, I felt it all, learned so much, braved it all, and healed so much. I am implementing a lot of lessons learned and have discovered several other resources from the website of the co-authors. It is really true that if you seek you will find.

I am the Country Director for the Foundation created in my brother’s honour. The Gbm Centre for Epilepsy and Mental Wellbeing in Cameroon is a project of the Gbm Foundation for Epilepsy and Mental Wellbeing established in the state of Massachusetts where he died. A Centre for Epilepsy and Mental Wellbeing in Cameroon will definitely be one of its kind. Yet, mental illness is one of those taboos “society” still balks at. Not because most are spared from its ravages and deliriums, but because of the stigma associated with any such illness. It is no more than a decade or so ago that the country saw its first Center for Autism. Before then, and even now, illnesses and disorders such as these are simply attributed to witchcraft, ill luck, bad parenting, and even demonic attacks.

About the Author

Marie Abanga is a lawyer, coach, consultant, author and mental health advocate, also Country Director for the Gbm Foundation for Epilepsy and Mental Wellbeing. She blogs passionately about her thrilling life and mental health advocacy at

Her books are available in paperback and for Kindle on Amazon.


Wednesday 20 September 2017

Our Top 10 Blog Posts of All Time

In honour of our readers and all the fabulous writers who have guested for us, we felt it would be great to showcase the ten most viewed posts of all time here at

Interestingly, there is a 50:50 mix of our posts and guest contributions.

Whether you are discovering them for the first time or revisiting a favourite, our top ten offers some brilliant and challenging reading. Which is your favourite?

Fancy writing for us yourself? Check our Guest Post Guidelines and get in touch. We’d love to hear from you!

Our Top 10 Blog Posts of All Time

1. Get It Right When Asking for Help with Bipolar Disorder, by Julie A. Fast

In our most popular post ever 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, discusses how to ask for help, a topic close to our hearts. (More)

2. michigan, by Mickey Solis

Actor and screenwriter Mickey Solis discusses the personal journey which led to him working on the film michigan, concerning such topics as suicide, depression and addiction. Note: several of the links in this article are no longer valid. Mickey's story most certainly is. (More)

3. Time to Talk, Time to Listen, Time to Care

Marty discusses awareness campaigns such as #TimeToTalk Day, asks what having a conversation about mental health looks like, and concludes that all of us—you, me, everyone—can make a difference. (More)

4. An Open Letter to My Bipolar Best Friend

“I am proud of us, Fran. Proud of what we do and are. Most of all, I am proud to stand at your side. I am proud to be your friend.”. (More)

5. How to Write the Best Acknowledgement Page for Your Book

Whether you have recently started writing your book or are close to publishing it, there is no wrong time to start thinking about your acknowledgement page. (More)

6. Mental Health in Social Media, by Rebecca Lombardo

Author of It’s Not Your Journey, mental health advocate, podcaster and blogger Rebecca Lombardo discusses how social media can be both a “blessing and a curse.” (More)

7. Your Thoughts Create Your Future, by Soph Hopkins

“They say ‘Your thoughts create your future’ and only you as a person can change that. I did and so can you.” Originally from Gateshead, Soph Hopkins now lives in Wales. Her first (and hopefully not last) guest post for us went straight into the top 10 within its first week of publication. If you haven’t read it yet, why not? (More)

8. It's Not Just for Kids: Reading Together for Fun and Friendship

“The most important sounds we can ever share with another person are our own voices.” Fran and I love reading together and think it would be great if more people did too! (More)

9. Mental Health First Aid (MHFA)

Marty shares what it’s like to go on a Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) course. (More)

10. Forever at the Heart, by Rachel Kelly

We are proud and delighted to host this great piece by mental health writer, speaker and campaigner Rachel Kelly, author of Black Rainbow: How Words Healed Me, My Journey Through Depression and Walking on Sunshine: 52 Small Steps to Happiness. (More)


Wednesday 13 September 2017

Talking Freely in Ely: An Invitation to Cake

I am delighted to announce I will be a guest speaker at the Talking FreELY Pop Up Cafe event, to be held at Ely Cathedral Conference Centre, Ely, Cambridgeshire, on Saturday November 4, 2017.

Talking FreELY is a community in Ely which promotes mental wellness, and empowers those suffering the effects of mental illness to seek the help they need. For full details of the event check the Talking FreELY website or Facebook event page.

Although it’s still almost two months away, I’m already excited! I’ve spent much of the past week planning my trip, including booking a room at the four star Nyton Guesthouse which is only a short walk from the Cathedral.

My invitation came through one of those delicious social media happenstances that keep me coming back for more! The first connection came earlier this year on Twitter when I saw something retweeted by a friend of ours, mental health author and speaker Rachel Kelly, about the Happy Café Ely. I’m a fairly happy chap myself (I have been called “pathologically positive” on occasion!) and love a good café. I was intrigued!

When I saw they planned a library of relevant books for customers to read, I contacted Carly at the Happy Café to offer a copy of High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder. Carly was happy to accept and our book can be found there alongside other great titles.

I look forward to visiting the café (at Julia’s Tea Rooms) when I am in Ely in November. You can read more about the Happy Café Network on the Action for Happiness website.

Carly told me about Talking FreELY and invited me to their launch event in July. That was a bit short notice for me, but she extended an invitation to attend their November event as a guest speaker. I was more than happy to accept! In addition to the guest speakers, the free event will feature an Information Zone, hot drinks and cake. Volunteers with lived experience of mental health will be on hand to talk informally.

I will be reading from our book and talking about the challenges and rewards of long-distance care-giving. If you are in the Cambridgeshire area on November 4, do come along. It would be great to meet you! Did I mention there will be cake?



Wednesday 6 September 2017

Your Thoughts Create Your Future, by Soph Hopkins

“Key to my future”—the quote that lead me to take control of my life, accept the help I need, and move on.

I have been battling severe depression, anxiety and BPD since I was fourteen years old. In that time I have been in and out of hospital due to overdosing and cutting. No one would help me. I was labelled an attention seeker. I suffered seven and a half years with sporadic help and only crisis intervention. A recent move to Wales changed all this.

Soon after the move my GP was concerned at my many attempts at taking my own life. Unfortunately, this continued. Two months ago I was assessed and put under continual assessment until I took an overdose that could have killed me.

I remember crying for help in A&E and was then taken to a hospital for assessment. I didn’t know what to think but I knew deep down I needed the help. I was kept in overnight and transferred to an acute ward the following day. Talking to the nurses upon arrival I was shocked that it took a move to Wales to get the help I needed. The move which I know is permanent was a big step for other reasons.

I didn’t know what to think when I was offered leave until I was seen by the psychiatrist. I was shocked at the fact I was not even assessed by a consultant and I was given five days leave. I later found out this was to see how I would manage. I managed four hours before I was back in. I was displaying dangerous behaviour by running into traffic. The police were brilliant with me. They listened to me and understood I desperately needed help. They spoke to the ward and it was decided I would be back as an informal inpatient.

I was discharged the following Monday but the dangerous behaviour continued and within two days I was back again. I spent a couple of weeks as an inpatient before being given leave. I managed two hours of what was supposed to be weekend leave and then was taken back in. I spent another ten days there before being discharged into 24 hours supported accommodation.

Whilst on the ward I gained an experience which I want to share. A lot of the blogs I read about being inside a psychiatric unit are based on patients who have been sectioned. A small proportion go in as “informal.” However, being informal is not as easy as it sounds. Theoretically, it is meant to be your choice to come and go as you like. However, this is not the case. I was told it was for my own safety and the safety of others. If I didn’t agree to go in as an inpatient I would go under assessment of the Mental Health Act.

I went in voluntarily but I couldn’t come and go as I pleased. However, I liked it. I felt as an inpatient I was there for a reason and to assess it fully I should be on the ward attending occupational therapy sessions and DBT. I was on daily clothing and fifteen minute observations. Whilst on the ward I learned to write if I couldn’t voice my opinions. I learned skills to cope with my cutting and dangerous road behaviour. I was also able to use art as a form of expressing myself.

Six weeks as an informal inpatient helped me so much. I was able to find myself, my future, and ME. The psychiatric ward introduced me to friends who helped me but also who I helped during recovery. These friends have played a big part in creating the new me.

After coming out of hospital I was given a Home Treatment Team who will be discharging me within a week, because the hospital rehoused me into 24 hour supported accommodation. I will have Community Mental Health Team support for six months. This and the medication and new strategies have helped me grow to love myself and have the confidence to do things.

After moving to Wales for personal reasons, I now have the help I needed for so long after spending time as an inpatient. I am on medication. I have a library of tools and skills, and a team of people to help me. I also have short term 24 hour accommodation until I can manage to live independently.

I was also able to open my eyes to how mental illness can affect others, and sometimes just because you’re not sectioned it doesn’t mean you’re not ill—you just made the choice to follow the suggested plan of treatment.

My recovery has begun and writing and art is my way forward.

They say “Your thoughts create your future” and only you as a person can change that. I did and so can you.


About the Author

Soph Hopkins is 22 years old. Originally from Gateshead, she now resides in Wales. Soph has been volunteering and campaigning since she was 14 years old. In 2014 she was Vinspired regional Volunteer of the Year for the northeast of England for bringing communities together. Vinspired is the UK's leading volunteering charity for 14–25 year olds.

2013 and 2014 marked the start of Soph’s mental health campaigning, with her spending the summers at events to raise awareness of mental health stigma. Soph also spent time in London at events with YoungMinds and Youth Focus North East on a project called Change Ur Mind, raising awareness and delivering workshops on the stigma around mental health.

Soph spent most of 2015 campaigning and raising awareness of mental health and the stigma attached. She worked with the YoungMinds media team, and was involved in many radio interviews. These were mainly for BBC Newcastle but she was also on Women’s Hour, Heart Radio and Capital FM.

Soph featured in two articles in The Times newspaper. The first article, I Wasnt Taking Seriously Until Overdose, was all about Soph. The second article, Depressed Children Seek Help On Web, covered a campaign YoungMinds worked on with The Times regarding using the internet when feeling depressed. Soph was used as a case study.

Soph has volunteered for Time to Change at many events including Time to Talk Day Newcastle, The Sunderland Airshow, and Northern Pride.

Towards the end of 2013 she was invited to work with Durham University on a research project which looked at getting young people involved in mental health research. Soph was an original member of the group and played a big part in setting it up. She was actively involved for two years, attending regional events to share the work they were doing and help gather funding.

Also in 2013 Soph participated in the Changemakers leadership program, leading to a six month placement working with local GP practices and sexual health clinics in Gateshead to make them more young person friendly. This included looking at mental health and how to improve the services offered to young people. Soph represented Changemakers (now merged with The Foyer Federation) at many local and national events, using her story of battling severe depression and suicide feelings but still putting others first.

Soph is diagnosed with depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder (BPD) and complex post-traumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD). Having spent six weeks in and out of psychiatric hospital, Soph is keen to use her experience of mental illness to help others.

Please contact Soph by email (hopkinssophie3 [at] for copies of her articles, or for more information. She is keen to hear of any mental health opportunities in Wales.