Wednesday 27 December 2017

What If We Treated Problems with Our Bodies and Minds Like We Treat Our Tech?

Fran and I live on opposite sides of the Atlantic. We use technology. A lot. Without it, we couldn’t do our friendship at all. Indeed, we would never have met. Fran has a Windows laptop and an iPhone. I have a Samsung Android phone, a PC, and a Chromebook. I like Googledrive for sharing documents and cloud storage. Fran prefers Onedrive and her iCloud. Connecting might be simpler if we agreed to use the same technologies and platforms but we get by, and learn a lot in the process.

One way or another technology is an integral part of our everyday lives, whether at work or at home, or out and about in the world. Computers. Phones. Cameras. TV. WiFi. Internet banking. Shopping. Entertainment.

We have some basic (and probably incorrect) ideas about how it all hangs together. We want it to work most of the time and grumble when it doesn’t, but we accept there are going to be difficulties and do our best to work around them.

When problems and complications arise, we don’t think worse of ourselves or each other for having them. We talk to each other. We reach out for assistance, confident someone we know will have had similar experiences or know someone who might be able to help. We’ve all had our home WiFi crash on us for no apparent reason, our phones die at crucial moments, or our home printers refuse to cooperate with us. We empathise, offer support to one another. We share fixes and workarounds. We understand. Because tech is really, really, complicated. It would be silly to expect it to work perfectly all the time.

Wouldn’t it be great if we had the same attitude to our bodies, emotions, and brains? Because if our phones, computers, and TVs are complex we are gloriously more so.


Saturday 23 December 2017

One Day in the Life of Marty

Wednesday December 20, 2017

7:02 am. I’m usually awake before my alarm goes off but today I’m woken by the beeping of my phone. Up, washed, dressed, I’m out of the door by 7:15.

7:15 am. I take my daily photo as I leave the court and message it to Fran: a good morning routine that grounds me as I start my day. Some time I will gather the photos together and post them up as an album: Kingston Park through the seasons. Today is very mild. The app on my phone tells me it is 52F / 11C.

7:25 am. It is a short walk to Starbucks in the Kingston Park Tesco store. The staff know my order: a tall black Americano in my reusable cup which saves me 25p each time I remember to bring it with me. There are few other customers. A couple of tables away, a woman is writing in a notebook or diary. I’ve seen her before and wonder what she is writing.

I check our book’s Amazon rankings (print and Kindle, dot com and UK) on my phone and record the numbers my Midori notebook. The rankings give an estimate of sales. None overnight but we there were some yesterday. I check the news headlines (BBC, Guardian, Reuters, Politico), Twitter and Facebook. I message a couple of people, including a meds reminder for one good friend in the US.

It’s Wednesday, so I check that this week’s blog piece has posted. It hasn’t. I must have forgotten to schedule it. I log into Blogger and post it, checking the links work and sharing it on social media. This week we have a guest post by someone I connected with recently on Twitter. The article is called Let It Go: Reducing Holiday Triggers for Your Child, very appropriate for the season.

8:00 am. Taking my coffee with me, I head for the Metro station. A few spots of rain: nothing much. I have five minutes to wait for my train. I read a couple of news articles that catch my eye. I have become far more interested in UK and world news – politics especially – in the past couple of years. The train is pretty full but I get a seat.

8:15 am. Arriving at South Gosforth I have a choice: a second train (ten minute wait) or a twenty minute walk. The rain has stopped so I decide to walk. The sky is gorgeous: a pale flat orange that defies my attempt to photograph it. Down the hill, past the Compassion Centre and the cosy little café I frequented earlier in the year. I cross the busy junction at the bottom of the hill, and a few minutes later I am away from the traffic on the old waggon way.

8:30 am. I take photos as I start on the waggon way, sending one to Fran and another to my friend Robyn. The path runs straight and slightly uphill behind St Mary’s Comprehensive School my kids attended and Benton Park View where I work.

8:45 am. I arrive on site and make my way to our building. This close to Christmas there is only me, Tony and Logan in from my team of five. (Next week, between Christmas and New Year, I will be in on my own.)

Coffee is the first order of the day, and a pot of Golden Syrup flavour instant porridge. I log in to my work computer and put my phone on charge. My work day has begun. I check emails and incident queues, and chat with my colleague Tony about what’s going on for him.

My boss Judith has probably been working from home since the crack of dawn but she brings treats in for everyone today. My gingerbread tree and Christmas pudding cookie don’t last long! The best boss ever and a great friend, Judith gets a hug – and another which I am passing along from Fran. Fran knows how supportive Judith has been to me this year when I was going through some really rough times, and to me and Fran over the whole time we’ve been friends. Judith, you are an absolute star!

The morning passes easily enough. I am on a half hour conference call at 11:30. It overruns slightly.

12:10. Lunch time. I fix my pot of Singapore curry flavour noodles, and move to the open seating area at the end of the office. Normally, I’d have a short Skype call from Fran, but we’ve not managed that recently and don’t today. I miss the check-ins, but she hasn’t been sleeping well so it makes sense for her to rest as much as possible in the mornings (midday here in the UK is 7 am for her in Maine).

I write my journal, catch up on social media, and do ten minutes on my Spanish language app. Fran is going to Mexico for a month at the end of January and this is one small way I can support her preparations. I’m having fun, although I’m not sure how much I’m actually learning or how helpful I will be when she is away! I was never much good at languages at school. Robyn chats me and we have a little catch up.

1 pm. Back to work. I am in the office on my own this afternoon, but things are relatively quiet and I don’t have any significant issues to deal with. Fran chats me when she gets up and brings me up to speed on what she’s doing today.

4:25 pm. I leave work and take my twenty minute walk back to the Metro. I ponder what we are having for dinner: figure it is sausage, egg, and chips. Pam will have the sausages (meat ones for her and our son Mike, Quorn ones for me) and chips in the oven. I will cook the eggs and serve up when I get home.

I have twelve minutes to wait for my train. I’m home by 5:30 pm and finish cooking the dinner. No need to go out shopping tonight so once the dishes are done I settle down in front of the TV in my rocking chair. The Simpsons and Hollyoaks are part of our daytime routine: we have watched both for decades. There is a certain comfort in familiar routines.

6:00 pm. I turn the PC on and let it boot up, then realise with dismay that it has not yet completed the Windows 10 updates it started installing the night before. I watch the progress indicator nervously, concerned it might not complete by 7 pm when I want it working so I can Skype with Fran. 33%. 50%. 75%. 78%. 92%. It reboots for about the fourth time with about ten minutes to go. I breathe a sigh of relief, then groan as it starts installing something else, with no indication how long it might take. One final reboot and all seems good to go. Just in time.

7:00 pm. Fran and I meet on Skype as usual. It is 2 pm for her. Most of our time together at the moment is spent planning for Mexico, also a week she is taking in the US with her Mom the first week of January. We review our shared calendar and To Do List, ticking things off and prioritising tasks for the days ahead.

8:00 pm. Almost all the Christmas presents are wrapped and cards are written and posted, so I figure can have an evening off! I spend the next few hours watching TV (Masterchef UK followed by Midsomer Murders). I also take my bath, and reply to emails and messages.

11:00 pm. Fran is home this evening so we meet up again. There’s a lot to do but we find ourselves discussing relationship issues with friends and family, honesty and commitment. These are deep topics, no less so for being familiar. We test Fran’s PayPal account (newly installed on her iPhone) and cancel a hotel booking which is no longer needed for the Mexico trip. We leave time to watch the next episode of Broadchurch series 2 on Netflix. We watched the first series recently. It’s a great show: strong story line, great performances by David Tennant and Olivia Colman, and stunning Dorset scenery.

1:10 am. Time for bed! It’s been a good day. Good night, world!


Wednesday 20 December 2017

Let It Go: Reducing Holiday Triggers for Your Child

By Tricia

I believe there are a great many expectations that we put on our children during the holidays. We expect them to help decorate the tree with the family, go shopping with us, maybe wrap presents, and the worst part of all is having to spend time with extended family, oftentimes crammed into too tight of quarters.

And we expect all of this to be done with a smile on their face. They must be polite to Aunt Rita and Uncle Joe who are always making jokes at their expense. They have to accept hugs and “Merry Christmas!” from people they only see once a year, again all with a smile.

Maybe we could let them off the hook at least a little this year?

If you have never suffered from any sort of mental illness, you likely do not realize the extra stress that this puts on those who do. Most kids enjoy decorating the Christmas tree, but if your child doesn’t want to this year, why would you want to force him? Nobody enjoys being made to do things, but kids who suffer from bipolar or any other mental illness struggle with it much more.

If I said to you “Hey, there is something really fun for me, and it would make a great memory for me, too, but it is going to be really stressful for you,” would you want to do it? Especially, imagine you are trying to do what the other person wants, but you don’t look happy enough and so they start grumbling that you are ruining the whole thing. How would that make you feel?

Now let’s think about those crowded stores. All rushing and waiting and being too hot and waiting some more and some more etc.. The people around you are all grumpy and being rude. Your parent, who dragged you along in the first place, is one of those grumpy and rude people because again you didn’t seem to be enjoying this forced shopping experience enough. And now this memorable occasion has been ruined by you, who didn’t want to be there in the first place.

I hope you’re getting the feeling so far. I sure am my anxiety has gone up by 10% at least. But we are not done yet. Now we get wrap all of these gifts.

So the wrapping begins with you making a minimal effort because it’s wrapping with your parents. It’s work you didn’t want to be a part of, and you’re being told: “No do it like this. Wait, you’re using too much tape…” How is this holiday shaping up for you so far?

Now you are on your way to Grandma and Grandpa’s house where all the aunts and uncles and annoying little cousins will be. You walk in the door to be immediately greeted by Aunt Rita who yells, “Hey, Joe, look who is here. It’s that grumpy kid from over at your sister’s house,” or some equally rude thing that you are meant to smile and laugh at like they are funny and not rude. You try and find a corner away from everyone, only to be told to quit sulking. You should be talking with everyone because otherwise “you are being rude.” And on the day will go, in just that way.

Are these the memories you were hoping for? Probably not. So maybe we can rethink it just a bit. I’m not saying they have to go hide in their room the entire season, but you could make it a little easier and more enjoyable for all of you by taking their likes and dislikes into consideration, because this is a nicer story than it really could turn out to be. Depending on their age and how their symptoms affect them, you could be starting an all-out war, and later you will be sitting in the rubble wondering what happened. All of these activities could be triggering them again and again, and eventually there will be fall out.

Time to decorate the Christmas tree but he is not having it? Okay, it’s not the end of the world and good memories do not come from being forced to decorate a tree. So you let it go.

So how about we try again. Your kiddo loves going to Starbucks, so you say, “Hey, I have to run and get Grandma’s present. Would you like to go with me, and we can stop and get Starbucks together afterward?” Oh yeah, that will probably go over much better. Now you have taken their interest and mixed it with your desire to shop together, but by keeping it small you are minimizing the stress and triggering the reward center of the brain with that sugary coffee or cocoa, depending on their age of course.

Now you get home and would like help with wrapping the gift, but he doesn’t want to. No problem, keep the good memory you made and let it go.

Ah! It is time for the long-anticipated trip to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Your kid walks in the door and there is Aunt Rita. Time to intervene. “Hey, Rita Merry Christmas,” you say as you slip between the two of them. “Why don’t you go and put the gifts under the tree,” you say to your kid, effectively giving him an escape route. As he goes to find his corner, you let him go. No harm done and you get to enjoy your time with your other family members, while he gets to not be triggered by all of the chaos that can be so overwhelming.

About the Author

I am the proud mom of two amazing young men, one of whom was diagnosed with bipolar 1 at the age of eleven. He is now living successfully and managing his illness on his own.

I am a Youth Mental Health Advocate, Certified Family and Partnership Professional, and NAMI Volunteer.

You can find me on my Parenting For Good Mental Health website, on Twitter (@pfgmentalhealth) and on Facebook.


Saturday 16 December 2017

Media, Stigma and Psychosis, by Roiben

I see, hear, feel and believe in things that others do not. Medically, I have been told this is Psychosis. I do not believe that is what it is. What I see and hear are as real to me as anything else in the world.

I see through the cracks between what is generally accepted as this world, this reality, and the Veil – the world of ghosts, call it Purgatory if you will. I see the two bleed into each other and the gaps in between.

There are Classes of ghosts: From the every-day individual that can’t accept death and wander, or sit forlornly, forever lost; to the Messengers and the Reapers. The Messengers are the ones I hear. Sometimes they yell and shout angrily, or laugh derisively, but mostly they taunt and tease, telling me I am wrong and bad or that I shouldn’t be here. Urging me to Self-Harm and Kill myself.

They also tell me to harm other people. This means that medically I am considered a risk not just to myself, but to others as well. I am the dangerous, risky sort of Mentally Ill. I fall into the small bracket that the Media loves to expose as if it is the norm and the only way.

That I have not actually hurt anyone but myself is irrelevant. In the eyes of the Media and the Stigma that it results in, I am a Monster. A terrible person that is a ticking time bomb before something happens.

I see my local Mental Health team and my GP. I am on medication. I am, frankly, willing to try anything in order to feel less desperate, less suicidal, less like I may actually be at risk of lashing out at a stranger in the street, less tempted to listen to and believe in the ghosts and all they tell me. If the Medical Professionals say trying medication may help, I am at a stage where I will try the medication. I can always die another day.

So, why am I telling you all of this? Stigma and the Media are big game changers, and as a result, there needs to be people like me to break down the Myths and Miss-guided Beliefs. To say it how it is. Yes, everyone is different, not everyone diagnosed with Psychosis will have my experiences and my words are just a drop in the ocean of experience and real life out there in the world.

I can only hope the Media, the Government, the strangers in the street start to listen to the real, honest accounts and stop relying on Stigma and Stereotypes. The Classification systems and labelling. In reality, people with my type of symptoms are always at more risk to themselves than anyone else – but the Media and Stigma say otherwise.

Do I think I have Psychosis? No, but in my more rational moments I am open to the possibility – especially if it ends up saving lives by being treated, and agreeing to medication.

Would I encourage others to reach out for help? Yes. Tell someone. No one should struggle alone, and as underfunded and under resourced and understaffed as the NHS and Mental Health system is, there is some help available. Fight for it. Keep telling people, until someone listens. And, if you can, join me in working to break down the Stigma and years of misrepresentation and misdirection.

I have been on the edge of Suicide many times. I have attempted to take my own life more times than I care to count. But, right now, I am saying: Not yet. Let’s try this first. It may help. It may not. Let’s exhaust all the alternatives first, and while I am at it, let’s make the world of Mental Illness a less lonely place to be.

About the Author

You can find Roiben on Twitter (@roiben).


Wednesday 13 December 2017

“How Do You and Fran Get through Your Darkest Days?”

Excerpt from chapter 9, “A Hero’s Journey: Sticking Together When Things Fall Apart,” of our book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder. The chapter deals with how we navigated the three months Fran was traveling around Europe in 2013.

“How Do You and Fran Get through Your Darkest Days?”

When things are at their worst, we focus on three basic principles: trust, challenge, and self-care. I could not support Fran at all if she did not want and trust me to do so. She trusts me not to hide or run away, and to hold a space in which she feels safe no matter how perilous her thoughts, feelings, and experiences might be. She also trusts me to handle my issues, so she can focus on hers.

We share a belief that even the most difficult experiences can yield rewards if we remain open to exploring them. The three months Fran spent in Europe were an immense challenge to her health and stability, yet she believed there was value to be gained from the experience. It could be argued she put her health—indeed her life—in danger by refusing to abandon the trip. There were times I argued for her to return home, but it was her choice to make. I would have supported her in either case. Stubborn persistence is part of Fran’s makeup. Without it, she would not be who she is. Very probably, she would not be alive.

Extreme self-care becomes our guiding motto. We set minor matters aside and focus on whatever will best support her through the immediate crisis. Fran’s wellness plan is invaluable at such times, as is our joint commitment to involve others when necessary. Paying close attention to my own health and well-being is no less important, and allows me to support Fran when she needs me the most.


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


Saturday 9 December 2017

Season’s Greetings

By Roiben

Christmas and New Year can be a difficult time for many people, for many reasons. The pressure on finances alone can be enough to increase stress and worry. This is without factoring in Mental Illness or a Chronic Condition.

Towns and Cafes become more crowded and frenetic and can make simply going outside feel harder than normal. Then, there are the expectations to socialize – to see friends and family and partake in the celebration of the Season. A Season with short, cold, wet days and long dark nights. A Season filled with the pressure and expectation to be happy and together and well.

So what happens, when you cannot afford it? When you are separated from your family by circumstances that won’t change? When you have a Mental Illness or Chronic Condition that means the sheer pressure and stress in the build-up to The Day mean you use up all your energy, all your strength, all your will-power and social acumen just to get through the month. By the time The Day arrives, it is not unusual to be disenchanted at best, and miserable and anti-social at worse.

So, what can be done? I have learned a few tricks over the years that have made the Season slightly more bearable. Firstly: Be open and honest. If you are too tired or stressed, or your emotions feel too battered, allow yourself time away. Ask if you can retire to a quiet room for a while. I have made it the norm that I will do this.

Only join in with family games around the table if you feel up to it. If not, maybe use this as your quiet time. If you do join in, don’t be afraid to bail out if it begins to feel too much.

Have at least one contact who you can be completely honest with. Whether over the phone, online or in person. There is so much pressure to be happy that it is a relief to have someone who accepts when you say “I am struggling”. I have felt suicidal on Christmas Day before now which is the opposite of what people expect. I will be the first to say it is very hard and wearing to put your feelings aside in the presence of others. Being able to state the truth to at least one person can be a life-line.

If you can, avoid alcohol. It interferes with most medication and is in itself a depressant. If you do choose to drink do so carefully, in the presence of others who can look after you should the alcohol affect your mood or well-being.

Be sure to take your medication. If you are travelling over the Christmas period, make it the first thing you pack and make sure you have enough to last you until the doctor’s surgery opens again. They can be closed for anything from a few days to an entire week, so get your prescription sorted in plenty of time and if need be, ask for more to last you through.

I have learned to take the Season slowly, and carefully. Pace yourself is the best advice I can give. Know your limits and don’t be afraid to stick to them. In reality, no one wants you ill or suffering because you have pushed yourself too far.

Whatever you do, and however you make it through the Season, I hope you make it through and without too much in the way of pain and suffering. I won’t wish you a Merry Christmas, as I appreciate the last thing we need is more pressure to be happy and well. Instead, I wish you a memorable Christmas. Focus on making memories, any way you can.

About the Author

You can find Roiben on Twitter (@roiben).


Wednesday 6 December 2017

Untitled, by Brynn McCann

The flame of a thousand fires…
dances in her head...
a forethought, an afterthought.
Someonewhereinthemiddle thought.
burning through her brain like
so many candles in an ocean of brain waves.

He wants to dance with her
but is afraid of the bonfire she builds
nightly in her mind... he’s looking for
a balance that only exists between water
and fire. A place where darkness ends
and the sun sets peacefully on another
day of nine to fivers. A world where everyone sleeps
at night or exactly when they are supposed to...
and finds their dreams
in the dark with an easy breath.

But breathing for some isn’t always easy,
And sleeping for others doesn’t
mean sleeping.
It means... finding rest where you can find it
and building fires to keep you warm at night
when the winds of your mind pick up
and blow your house down over
and over and over again.

It means living in a world
that runs on daylight
and breathing through it and in it.

It means putting up with sun people
and hugging the moon when it’s full
And since the moon controls the tides and the
waves of her mind are an ocean deep enough
to drown the earth,
she chooses to surf in her waves
rather than fight them..
understanding that dreams will find her
when she lets go of what she wants.