Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Seven Things I’d Quite Like to Do in 2018 — How Did I Get On?

Back in January I posted a list of seven things I’d quite like to do in 2018. I shared a mid-year update, but how did I get on overall?


1. Read Two Books

ACHIEVED

The two books I originally selected to read (actually to reread) were Talk Like TED, by Carmine Gallo, and Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard.

I didn’t finish the first and haven’t started the second but I did reread Alan Garner’s The Owl Service, and Fran and I recently finished A Fatal Obsession, the latest thriller by Maine author James Hayman.


2. Bring My Weight Back under 180 Pounds

ACHIEVED

As I reported back in June, I’d had very little success through the first half of the year, but I finally found the motivation to do something about it.

I brought my weight down from 192 lbs to around 178 – 180 lbs, where it has remained for a month or so. My intention is to press on again to reattain the weight I was at a few years ago when I first brought myself down from 200 lbs. Watch this space!


3. Have One Weekend Away From Home

ACHIEVED

This one sprang from the lovely weekend I spent last year attending a mental health event organised by Talking FreELY. I envisioned something similar during 2018 and almost got my wish when the opportunity arose to be one of the guest speakers at a Let’s Talk Mental Health event in Leeds in November. Unfortunately the event had to be postponed, but I look forward to attending next year if and when it is rescheduled.

I did, in fact, have one weekend away from home, but not in the way I anticipated (“Be careful what you ask for”). As I reported in my mid-year update, my mother died in early March and I travelled down to Liverpool with my family at the end of that month for her funeral.


4. Attend Two Speaking Engagements

ACHIEVED

As I just mentioned, one speaking opportunity had to be rescheduled, but I haven’t done too badly over all. I was proud to take part in the Laughing Lasses pantomime in May as part of Mental Health Awareness Week. I read two of Fran’s poems, A Wild Hair and Urgency, and excerpts from our book High Tide, Low Tide.

I performed some of my own poetry for the first time in February at the Newcastle Literary Salon’s event on the theme of Love and Loss. I read at the Literary Salon again at the end of October, and the following month at Bar Loco’s weekly open mic event. It meant a lot to me to perform my poetry, all of it written many years ago, to very appreciative audiences.

I have also recently presented at two work events, talking about the mental health initiatives we are putting in place within the company (BPDTS).


5. See Three Movies at the Cinema

NOT ACHIEVED

I began the year well, seeing Darkest Hour at Newcastle’s Tyneside Cinema, but never seemed to find the time to watch anything else. On the other hand, Fran and I have watched a lot of movies together courtesy of Skype and Netflix.

Two stand out for me. PS: I Love You moved me far more than I anticipated. Fran and I both felt Before Sunrise, which is an achingly beautiful depiction of new, almost accidental, love.

I’m not a huge Jim Carrey fan but we watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas last week. I’m man enough to admit I was in tears at the end as the Grinch and all the Whos of Whoville unite in finding the true spirit of the season.


6. Find a Use for My Standard Midori

ACHIEVED

I have carried my larger, Standard, Midori around with me for much of the year. I have used it to draft many of the articles I have written for our own blog here at Gum On My Shoe and also my articles for bp Magazine.

I love the lightweight paper insert (insert 013) which has 128 fine blank pages, compared to the regular inserts which have 64 pages. There is some ghosting but no bleeding with the finer paper, which is perfect for me.

I filled one regular insert at the start of the year blogging Fran’s four week trip to Mexico. You can read our travel journal in five parts starting here.


7. Shoot a Roll of Film

ACHIEVED

I am delighted to report that this one is achieved! I bought a couple of rolls of black and white 35 mm film for my Zorki 4K rangefinder camera and had a great time talking photos in Newcastle and along the north-east coast.

I sent the film off with some trepidation. It was many years since I shot film at all and even longer since I did so on a fully manual camera with no light meter. (Thank heavens for Sunny 16!) I was delighted to find almost every photograph came out decently exposed and in focus where it was meant to be in focus.

I have yet to try a roll of film in my father’s Kodak Brownie 44B, but I still intend to do so.

I recently saw a Diana F+ camera on sale by a friend of mine on Depop. I leapt at the opportunity to try out one of the classic lomography models, so keep an eye out for some more film photography in the coming year.


In summary, then, it’s not been a bad year in terms of achieving the things I quite fancied doing. I haven’t yet drawn up my list of Things I’d Quite Like to Do in 2019, but I am interested to see what I might come up with. Feel free to suggest something!

 

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

The Ostrich Egg: My Journey to Mental Wealth

By Lea

It is only when we lose what we had that we realise just what we had. This is true in different elements of life. Sadly, this year it was true for me when it came to my Mental Wealth.

Between the ages of seven to twenty-two my Mental Wealth was lost, eaten alive and consumed by a range of people, from bullies at school, to the lack of trust shown by professionals who had the training to know better, and others. All this in addition to a rough deck of cards life had thrown my way.

Over those years, though, I was fortunate to spend a twenty-four week admission to The Crisis Recovery Unit, a specialist unit which was part of The Maudsley Hospital, which specialised in attempting to reach those for whom self-injury had become a coping mechanism.

I guess the best analogy I can make is that my body, my life, my experiences, my emotions were like an ostrich egg. The staff at the CRU chipped away slowly and methodically to break down the barriers I had put up as an act of self-protection. Once the external shell was cracked they chipped on until nothing remained of that egg. They then took the time and tenderness to build it back up, but equipped it with the skills and knowledge, not to mention self-confidence, that things can and will change, but that change has to come from within.

That was July 2001 through January 2002. For the first time my fears and my demons were not only heard, but they were held in mind whilst solutions – all of which I had to reach – were found and embraced. But this was not without many tears and setbacks as the journey to Mental Wealth began.

It worked. It lasted. Healthy coping mechanisms were adopted, psychiatry pushed to one side, a degree obtained, the loss of one of the few who gave unconditional love even whilst in my darkest of times, the birth of a child occurred, a divorce happened, a house move and more – all whilst maintaining that wealth.

But as is so often the case with these things, life had other ideas. In May of this year (2018) I was raped twice within six days by a so-called friend of over three years. He had methodically taken time to manipulate, use and lure me into a false sense of safety and trust. He had obtained power to know my buttons, how to push them and ultimately use them against me. I did the right thing and reported it to the police, but as all of this was going on the Mental Wealth I had gained rapidly disintegrated back to the crumbs and fragmented shell which the CRU had provided the skills and self-awareness to enable me to build back up.

Sanity fell. It fell like stale about-to-go-green-and-mouldy bread fed to ducks by children at the park. Any healthy ways to express emotion failed, and thirteen and a bit years of freedom and stability were lost. After caving in to self-destructions, and a psychiatric hospital stay, it is safe to say Mental Wealth was well and truly lost to the sink hole of life. Full blown Mental Illness had returned.

Last week the police informed me that they are unable to take the case forward to court due to lack of witnesses and/or CCTV, but who actually has these things when it comes to rape? A felt a sense of abandonment from the very agency which claims it is there to help and support, urging those who survive not to be silenced but with the emergence of the “Me Too” campaign to find their voice and speak their truth. I spoke mine, yet I am the one living with additional physical scars to layer on top of the mental and emotional ones he left as his legacy, whilst he walks the street continuing to spend his days oblivious to the damage and detrimental impact his actions have left behind.

In a vague attempt to self-soothe, self-manage – and self-sabotage if truth be known – self-injury has occurred once more, medical treatment obtained. The urges remain. The self-love for now is, temporarily I hope, on a shelf. I am trying to regain my grasp on it but it is hard. It is going to be a long journey to reclaim all I had.

If I know one thing it is that once this storm passes a butterfly will re-emerge. But it is hard to keep attuned to that vision when even as I write this I am in physical discomfort and pain following an episode of self-injury earlier this week which left my leg a mess. And I am mentally reliving all that he did those two days when he stole so much.

Asking for help is a hard yet brave step to take. I asked. I begged. I reached out. I cried. I screamed. Services were offered eventually but it took a breakdown to obtain a hospital stay. Services then deemed that due to their funding I had used my time and had to move on, although they acknowledged the distress I am living with on a daily basis. That was a sharp and bitter pill to swallow.

I am mindful that I am fortunate to have a private therapist trained in trauma who is enabling me to regrow and relearn and acknowledge and accept all that has occurred this year and its impact on me. After previous experience of being unreachable or untreatable by too many therapists my guard remains high. Nevertheless, she is thankfully equipped with the skills to see through the facade and get to my gut, to know what I need but may not want to hear, enabling me to try do things differently the next day.

So much has been lost, but I cling to the hope Mental Wealth will return some time soon. Until then all I can do is keep on as I am, vocalising when in distress, reaching out in the hope light will return, and pray no one else suffers in ways I have.

About the Author

Lea is a mid-thirty year old, Gender Fluid, Pansexual Solo Parent who lives in Leeds (Yorkshire, UK) and is Natural Term Breastfeeding their small who turns six in January 2019. Lea also happens to live with cPTSD, Fibromyalgia, and ME, and lost their sight a decade ago. Follow Lea’s Challenging Parenting Perceptions blog and Twitter (@leahtova).

 

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

The Sounds of Silence

“I wish people didn’t think silence was awkward, just enjoy it. Not every space has to be filled with words.” (Anon)

That quotation was shared recently on Facebook by a good friend of mine. I posted a response (“True, silence can be awkward, of course, but it can be lovely.”) and went on with my day. But somehow, I kept coming back to the topic of silence, and to the idea of there being more than just these two kinds, comfortable and awkward.

I hope we all know the first of these; the gentle sense of being with someone and having no need for words. I say gentle, but at times it can come upon us like a wave: the simple yet so rare awareness of sharing the moment without needing to explain or talk it away.

There is a beautiful scene near the start of the submarine movie Crimson Tide. Captain Frank Ramsey (Gene Hackman) is talking to his executive officer, Lieutenant Commander Ron Hunter (Denzel Washington), as they head out of port watching the sunset.

“Bravo, Hunter.”

“Sir?”

“You knew to shut up and enjoy the view. Most eggheads want to talk it away. Your stock just went up a couple of points.”

On the other side of the coin, of course, is the tense, cut-the-air-with-a-knife silence we have probably all experienced at some time in our lives, whether in our own relationships or as a witness, perhaps in our parental home. These silences can last for minutes, or hours, or longer. If occasional or of short duration they can give the relationship a useful pause. Not everything needs to be addressed in the moment. Things can then pick up again on the other side. But, if left unaddressed for long, these kinds of silence can take root.

Then there is the distinction between silence vs. background sounds. My friend Roiben who shared the silence quotation on Facebook is severely deaf. The nature of the sound landscape in which she finds herself can dramatically affect her ability to hear and engage with people and what is going on around her.

I find absolute silence uncomfortable. I write and think best, for example, in a café or coffee shop with plenty of ambient sound. Likewise, I cannot easily fall asleep without a tv or radio on in the background. Silence allows my mind to wander and distract me from falling asleep. If there is something quiet on the tv or radio – dialogue rather than music or action movies (disaster documentaries work really well for me!) – my mind has something to focus on, from which it can gently disengage and ease into sleep. Other friends prefer quiet or silence to relax. Fran is one of them. She can meditate in silence, for example, whereas I prefer a soundtrack of some kind, whether words or music.

There is yet another kind of silence, which occurs as a pause or gap in the connection between two people. Whatever its nature, every relationship has its natural frequency and intensity when it comes to connection. It may change from time to time but it is a function of the two people involved. Expecting the same level of contact and conversation from everyone we hold dear is a recipe for frustration and hurt.

Some people manage to have friendships where they scarcely hear from each other for months, even years, and are then able to pick up again as though nothing has changed. Perhaps you have friendships of that kind. I can’t do this! I have friends – I would still call them that – I haven’t heard from in any meaningful sense for years, but I would find it very difficult to pick up these relationships again and move forward. Why? Because we each would have changed so much in the intervening time that it would be like starting all over again. Actually, it would be harder than starting out anew because there would be so much “old stuff” to unlearn and set aside. We are all changing all the time! (If you are not changing, why not?)

I do much better where there is on-going contact; be that in person, on the phone, or online in chat or on social media. I’m in touch with several friends on a more or less daily basis. There are a few where it’s more like weekly; very few where we connect less frequently than that. In that way, we keep in step with each other’s lives, news, feelings, joys and issues. Not all the connections are the same, of course. Some are rich and full, others less intense yet no less valuable or valued.

I recently attended a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) Awareness workshop. As part of that exercise I started to work with some of my triggers. Triggers are things that can affect our wellbeing and stability in ways that are – on the surface at least – out of proportion to the reality of what has actually happened. My biggest trigger is where I sense a (real or imagined) lessening in the frequency or intensity of the connection I have with someone close to me. Maybe they are not chatting as much or as often, or seem less engaged than usual.

There might be any number of reasons for this. Perhaps they are busy, or unwell. Maybe they have things going on for them of which I am unaware. Perhaps they simply want to step back for a while from connecting with people in general, or from me in particular. These are all perfectly valid reasons and whilst I might not like it I can respect and understand them. However, my triggered response is a powerful sense of rejection and abandonment out of all proportion to whatever is actually happening. (I have no idea where this comes from, it occurred for the first time maybe a dozen years ago.) It can feel overwhelming to me and can be devastating to the relationship unless it is acknowledged and allowed to pass safely.

I am working on this issue at the moment; learning to accept and to even appreciate the spaces between meetings, messages or phone calls, or times where things appear to change for a time. I am experimenting with allowing my feelings to be there without jumping to (mostly erroneous) conclusions or assuming the relationship is in jeopardy and thus putting it in jeopardy by responding inappropriately, or demanding more from the other person than they are able or willing to provide.

I am grateful beyond words (pun intended) for the people who allow me to explore my relationship with silence in this way; those who allow me to be myself and to be honest about my hang-ups and issues; who hold space for me to work with my stuff, as I hold space for them to work with theirs. Because, ultimately, there are things that cannot be explained or communicated in words. There are things that can only be approached and appreciated in the spaces we allow into our lives. As my friend Roiben puts it:

“Some silence is comforting, to just sit with someone and know you are in company that gets you.”

And (whisper it) that is a beautiful thing.

 

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Five Fun Adventures to Enjoy with a Friend Who Has Bipolar Disorder

By Julie A. Fast

It’s fun to do things together, but it can be hard to figure out what is helpful when a person with bipolar is working hard on stability. Before I truly committed my life to bipolar management, going out drinking at karaoke was my main entertainment. These days, I look for more healing environments that allow me to have a great time and still get to bed on a schedule.

If you’re a friend of someone with bipolar disorder and wonder what you can do together that is relaxing and fun and SAFE, think of these options. I’m in Portland, Oregon in the US where there is a lot of gender openness, so even if something sounds feminine or masculine, please know that there is no limit to what we can do - as you will see by suggestion number one:

Get a pedicure or foot massage together! Find a salon with a good health record and book a joint session where you can sit and get your feet pampered while you both sit and gossip about life. Pedicure chairs are so comfortable. We have a place here in Portland where you can both sit on a big comfy couch and get a foot massage at the same time. Body massages make it hard for friends to interact, but foot massages or pedicures are perfect for talking. Look for Groupon events or special sale days and take a friend to a fun massage! (Marty, do you have Groupon in the UK? Ed: Yes, Julie we sure do!)

Sign up to do a walk or run together. There are many 5k events where you can join a walking or running group to train and then walk together on the race day. I’m not talking about walks to raise money. I’m talking about a walk or run you can to together as a team. When there is an event date, meeting to train gives those of us with bipolar a set schedule. We like schedules!

Go to group events together. Meetup.com has thousands of events around the world that offer fun and often free or low cost entertainment. My friend Karen is a tour organizer and this has opened me to a new world of events and presentations. I’ve lived in many places abroad and love it that Karen and I can go to travel events together. These are cheerful events with great pictures. We are going to an event this week about working while living abroad. Something I did in France in 2016.

Look for a karaoke box near your home and sing together! I lived in Japan for many years where private karaoke rooms were the norm. It has taken time for it to finally take hold around the world, but these days with the ease of digital music, private karaoke rooms can be amazing fun. They are not expensive when two people go at once and many companies actually have karaoke happy hours! Singing is a joyful process for many and the private room means you can goof around as much as you want at four in the afternoon without drinking and staying out too late.

Take a class together. I have taken novel writing, language classes and screenplay classes with friends. Look online for local classes and learn a new skill together! This gives you endless conversation topics and can often be done early in the evening or on the weekend.

People with bipolar appreciate friends who think of things for us to do together when our mood is low. Doing something fun with YOU can be a highlight of our day. Think of what the two of you have in common that is active and requires a specific date. This creates excitement for fun adventures and allows us to show you how much we love your company.

 

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 The Health Cards Treatment System for Bipolar Disorder. Julie is a board member of The International Bipolar Foundation, a columnist and blogger for BP Magazine, and won the Mental Health America journalism award for the best mental health column in the US. Julie was the recipient of the Eli Lily Reintegration award for her work in bipolar disorder advocacy. She is a bipolar disorder expert for the Dr.Oz and Oprah created site ShareCare.

Julie is CEU certified and regularly trains health care professionals including psychiatric residents, social workers, therapists and general practitioners on bipolar disorder management skills. 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. Julie is currently writing a book for children called Hortensia and the Magical Brain: Poems for Kids with Bipolar, Anxiety, Psychosis and Depression. She struggles a lot due to bipolar disorder. Friendships keep her going. You can find more about her work at www.JulieFast.com and www.BipolarHappens.com.

 

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Today, I simply give thanks.

Today, I simply give thanks.

I give thanks to each person in my life sharing smiles, laughter, love, tears, happiness, contrast, and the wonders of the world with me.

I give thanks to those seemingly different from me as they open my eyes to new ideas, understandings, opportunities, and ways of living.

I give my thanks to those who choose to see love, health, happiness, and possibilities in whatever situation they find themselves in at this moment.

I give thanks to those with such courage and conviction who face situations that seem insurmountable and yet find a way to not only survive but thrive.

I give thanks to YOU and ask that you add Thank You to the top of your vocabulary list. Say thank you for the good experiences. Say thank you to the contrasting experiences as there is a gem waiting to be uncovered.

Whether you say THANK YOU out loud or quietly to yourself, when you live in and with gratitude, you shine so bright you light up the world.

 

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Attending a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) Workshop at ReCoCo

Disclaimer: Wellness Recovery Action Plan® and WRAP® are registered trademarks. All rights are reserved by the copyright holder, Advocates for Human Potential, Inc.

I wrote recently about how I came to enrol at Newcastle Recovery College (ReCoCo) and a little of what the college means to me. I have also written about the first class I took, which was on self-harm awareness.

In this article I describe my experiences attending the Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) Awareness workshop. The following description is taken from the ReCoCo website:

WRAP AWARENESS

A workshop for people who experience mental health challenges and for those who care about them. It promotes a structured approach to developing a range of strategies to support self-management in recovery from distress. WRAP® (Wellness Recovery Action Plan) is a plan designed and managed by you and is designed to:

  • Decrease and prevent intrusive or troubling feelings and behaviours
  • Increase personal empowerment
  • Improve quality of life
  • Assist you in achieving your own life goals and dreams

Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) was created by Mary Ellen Copeland, an author, educator and mental health recovery advocate in the USA. You can find lots of information and resources on the Mental Health Recovery website, including a short summary video.

The ReCoCo sessions I attended were led by two facilitators. There were twelve students in the first class (two did not return for the second session). For obvious reasons I will not be sharing names or details but there was a fantastic rapport within the group and I believe we all got an enormous amount from the workshops.

The first session began with introductions and ground rules. We were also invited to gauge where we were on a scale of one (very poorly) to ten (feeling well). I judged myself to be around a seven: I was feeling positive about being there but I had a lot going on for me at the time. We covered the basics of what WRAP is and its five key recovery concepts:

  • Hope
  • Personal Responsibility
  • Education
  • Self-Advocacy
  • Support

We then started going through the separate parts of the WRAP plan itself. The facilitators invited us to contribute examples from our personal experience. These were written up and displayed around the room so we could refer back to them if necessary. Note that some of the following description may differ a little from the official Mental Health Recovery definitions and approach. Any misinterpretations, errors and omissions are mine.

Day 1

  • Wellness Tools. These are things which contribute to our feeling good and remaining stable.
  • What I’m Like When I Am Well. In this section we describe how we feel and behave when we are doing well. It serves as a reminder of what it feels to be doing well.
  • Daily Maintenance (Daily Plan). In this section we list things we need to do on a daily or regular basis to remain well.

Day 2

  • Triggers (Stressors). These are things or situations which can make us feel uncomfortable or worse.
  • Early Warning Signs. This is a list of how we feel and behave when we are starting to move away from wellness. If we are aware of these warning signs we can take action before our situation worsens into crisis. At this stage we are able to use our daily maintenance plan and wellness tools to restore us to balance.
  • When Things are Breaking Down (Crisis Point). Here we list feelings and behaviours which indicate we are feeling much worse or are approaching, or in, crisis. At this stage our usual wellness tools are not going to work and we need a stronger action plan to get back to wellness.
  • Crisis Plan. The plan includes signs that let others know they need to take over responsibility for your care and decision making, in ways you have agreed beforehand. The plan starts with identifying people you want to take over certain (specified) responsibilities and support you. It includes things that will be helpful to you as well as things that will not be helpful.
  • Post-Crisis Plan. The final part of the WRAP covers how you might return to wellness and stability after a crisis situation has occurred.

At the end of the second day’s session we were again invited to gauge where we were on the one to ten wellness scale. I felt about the same (seven) as the previous week although a lot had shifted for me in the intervening days. The WRAP workshop itself had helped me process some of what had been going on for me.

We completed our post-training evaluation and parted. I think we were all sad that we would not be continuing the class, but ReCoCo does offer one-to-one WRAP drop in sessions by appointment with the WRAP course leader. This is something I may take advantage of as I work on my own plan, which I have started to do. I may blog that in time once I have it in a more or less stable state, though by its very nature a WRAP is a living document and subject to review and change.

For more information about Newcastle Recovery College and their courses check their website.

 

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Helping Out at ReCoCo’s Hallow Wellbeing Event

As I described elsewhere, I recently enrolled at Newcastle Recovery College (ReCoCo) and have attended the first of several courses I intend taking there.

Last week ReCoCo held their Hallow Wellbeing fundraising event and I went along to help out, using one of my three volunteering days from work. I should note that I’m not an official trained ReCoCo volunteer, I was simply there to help out on the day as best I could, and to have fun! The latter aim was definitely achieved!

I’ve never considered myself the sort of person who does fancy dress, but as I’ve written before sometimes it’s good to challenge the stories we tell ourselves, especially those that begin "I’m not the kind of person who..."

With that in mind I allowed myself to be talked into being made up for the occasion (thanks, Vikki!). My main concern was that the heavy black and white face paint might not come off. It did (eventually!) but I think I was still sporting a little hair glitter into the office the next day.

Security is very important at ReCoCo and I spent part of the day on reception buzzing folk into the building and making sure they signed in and out.

There was a small entry charge and suggested rates for the various treatments and activities on offer. These included relaxation, massage, face painting, crystal healing, henna body art, and drumming. I’m not sure how much money was raised in the end but the collection box filled up nicely throughout the day.

I invited Carol, a dear friend of mine who is also a student at the college, if she would like to share her thoughts about the event:

I had a wonderful time at the ReCoCo Halloween party. There were so many alternative therapies on the agenda. I also received human kindness when Marty treated me to an Indian head massage. Debbie introduced me to a new style of body massage. The company was great and the ambiance was very chilled and relaxing. I recommend others to utilise and try the healthy spaces created at ReCoCo all year round. (Carol)

You can find out more about the Newcastle Recovery College on their website and on Twitter.

 

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

The Importance of Family

By Peter McDonnell

This weekend my brother Will is home from Bristol, a rare things these days unfortunately. I live with my mum in my childhood home and my dad lives close by. At the moment we have just finished dinner and now we are sharing things on our electronic devices and relaxing. Will doesn’t share my opinion that my new Samsung Galaxy Smartwatch is worth every penny; unnecessary is the essence of his words. I agreed in part, but I have been looking for a nice watch recently and it makes so much sense to have a smartwatch instead of a normal one that could only tell time and date, even if it was emblazoned discretely with a mid-range maker labelling like ‘Citizen’ or ‘Seiko’. My new watch is like having James Bond’s watch. There are vast options for different designs for the watch face which on its own would be a clincher for the fashion conscious.

Will told us about his recent shenanigans over dinner and desert. He is learning to drive and we talked about that too, and we began telling old stories of driving experiences we had had pre-qualification. I was stopped by the police when I was a teenager after taking my mum’s car out for a quick night time joyride as I was just learning. She didn’t let me drive her car again until I was thirty. Kudos to her for sticking to her word.

Before long we were sharing stories about underage alcohol consumption. When I was thirteen I got a bit too drunk after boldly swigging four big gulps from a whisky bottle while on holiday with my dad and brothers. While naughtily drunk / hung over I spent twenty-four hours hiding from my dad and hoping that lots of coffee would cure me but all it did was turn my vomit black. I’m not sure if my mum had heard that one before.

Will has recently visited a Whisky distillery on the Isle of Skye where they sell their whisky in their small shop at higher prices than the local supermarket. And also, get this: the local pub is 200 metres from the distillery and they buy whisky from that distillery online because it’s cheaper that way. So their bottles travel from the distillery many miles to the online distributors, then back to the pub. That’s just crazy. We agreed that it was downright unscrupulous and that some people are driven by profit a bit too much.

We revisited a bottle of walnut wine that hadn’t been touched since a French holiday in 2013. It went very well on my Belgian Chocolate ice cream. We spoke, as we often do, about whether microwaving ice cream ruins it. I have been microwaving ice cream for a quick softening for years and I have never ruined it. Lots of people seem to passionately disagree with me on this though.

We chatted about my two little princess nieces who now live in America, with my mum saying she is looking forward to them being teenagers and seeing how my older brother navigates the issue of having teenage daughters. I recalled about how my niece used to outsmart me at age two and a half. She’d take me away from her parents somehow who limit screen time and then ask if she could watch cartoons on my phone. I’d always say yes, without realising that she had a plan. She didn’t really want to pick out books and toys from her bedroom upstairs, she just wanted someone with a phone to watch cartoons on, but she couldn’t ask when her parents were in the room. I’ve always thought that was quite clever.

I do enjoy spending time with my nieces. It’s good for my mental health. The standalone best thing for my mental health is my family. When I first got ill in 2001 with grandiosely delusional psychosis it was my mum and dad who saw I was unwell and involved the local services. I was doing silly things such as planning to travel to France to meet an imaginary friend after she didn’t show up at The Ritz Hotel (I travelled to meet her at The Ritz the previous day). I needed sectioning on the local mental health ward. At this time, where I was following a delusional agenda of grandiosity, sectioning probably saved my life. My parents visited me every day during my incarceration which couldn’t have been easy, I was disrespectful and rude sometimes because nobody believed in my true identity as the modern day Jesus. I was frustrated and I accused my parents of lying to me whenever we discussed if they believed in me. Along the next few years of being in and out of mental hospitals they stuck by me closely as did my brothers and all family members who lived nearby. My grandparents were lovingly supportive; aunties, uncles and cousins too.

After three years I began to improve in my psychosis but contracted anxiety/panic. My mum, dad and brothers spent the next six years doing the balancing act of being sensitive to my anxiety while also trying to push me into doing more and more socialising. If they hadn’t started this process thirteen years ago I would be unable to socialise today. I also appreciated it when my brothers continued to laugh and joke with me. It showed that they still saw me as a person with a sense of humour even if I did have mental health problems.

I am over my anxieties now, and my psychosis is much, much, better. Both are barely even there and I owe it all to my family.

I became godfather to my second niece in 2016. Looking after them has made me a more confident person with adult responsibilities; someone who is in step with the world. I spent years trying to get back ‘in step with the world’ from about 2007 to 2013. By that I mean being normal: doing things that others do, like going to work, socialising and enjoying weekends. To have such a life, where once I was afraid of leaving the house, is just brilliant.

I have been lucky to have things fall back into place a bit for me. I hope it shows that a mental illness can sometimes pass. An important lesson I learned is to trust doctors and those that love you. I didn’t trust anybody involved in my care back in the day, but it has now become clear that of course they were not lying to me. Their advice and behaviour was a gift and I wish I had started trusting them earlier. My improvement gained good ground when I let my supportive team help me.

About the Author

You can find more of Peter’s writing on his mental health website petermcdonnellwriter.com. He is also on Facebook (Peter Edward Mcdonnell) and on Twitter (@PeterMcDonnell_).

 

Monday, 29 October 2018

“No one is too far away to be cared for or to care”

By David Montgomery

 

“No one is too far away to be cared for or to care.”

It’s all about what we do and how we share.

There's so many little things we can say or post

To let others know that they matter most.

 

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Seeing Red: A Look at Bipolar Anger

Anyone can get angry but bipolar disorder can take rage to unprecedented extremes. What is bipolar anger, what triggers it, and how can it be managed?

In this article we’re going to explore bipolar anger. Examples are drawn from my experience as caregiver to my best friend Fran, and others happy to share their stories.

What Does Bipolar Anger Feel Like?

It would be hard to improve on this description:

“Bipolar anger is impulsive, intense, erratic, and explosive. It is being asked a simple question and responding with irrational anger and/or irritation. It is lashing out, for no logical reason, on those that love and care for you. It’s driving down the road and whetting the blade of your pocket knife on the side mirror because someone is driving too close to you. It is the inability to listen to rational behavior and even answering the question ‘why?’” (Mariah)

Others also talked about its explosive nature:

“I can ignore issues for only so long then my anger towards another person spikes. I have been known to yell really really hard, say extremely mean things and sometimes throw things but I wouldn’t physically hurt someone.” (Susan)

“Bipolar rage is very real and it can be very, very violent. I will chase people and pick a fight.” (Julie)

The anger is mostly directed towards others but it can turn inward, manifesting as self-harm:

“I said very mean things in texts to my now ex-boyfriend. Basically I am on the attack personally without direct provocation. Then I get back in the mode of attacking myself … biting myself, pulling my hair, and hitting myself.” (Susan)

Mariah shared that anger comes easier to her than addressing what is actually happening in her life:

“It is easy for me to tell those that I love to leave me and never come back, even offering to help them pack. It is easy for me to say ‘Fuck it!’ and let people go, rather than admit that I am the one hurting inside. It is easy to push all other emotions aside and let the rage erupt inside of me until it spills out into the household, creating chaos all around me.” (Mariah)

In a similar vein Vikki describes anger as “bipolar’s go-to emotion.” This might sound like taking the easy way out but to me it reinforces how desperately hard it can be to engage more “reasonable” responses when anger takes hold.

Timing and Triggers

Jen traces her anger back to childhood and the suppression of emotions from an early age:

“I think for me, it comes from childhood trauma. I learned too soon in life that life is not always fair. I was taught that feelings should be stuffed down and I became angry about that in later life. I’m still angry about that.” (Jen)

Most contributors said that anger is more of an issue during mania, especially dysphoric mania, but it can appear at any time:

“For me mania anger was more because others thought I was on drugs when I wasn’t. When I’m depressed it’s more anger at me or the world.” (Vikki)

Fran becomes frustrated when people fail to understand or challenge her reality. When Fran was manic she was falsely accused of being drunk or of not taking her medication, which hurt and angered her greatly. Several people mentioned driving as a specific trigger:

“My bipolar anger is very unreasonable. I get angry at things that I normally don’t even notice. My worst anger is in traffic. I have absolute road rage when an episode is in full force. I have to be very, very careful when driving.” (Julie)

Other people’s anger is likely to add fuel to the fire and once the line has been crossed it can be hard to pull back:

“When others are angry I take it as a challenge. I push back and fight back until I feel as though I have ‘won.’ When I am in the cycle of my own anger I do not consider possible consequences and at those moments I do not care.” (Mariah)

Healthy Anger

As unlikely as it might seem anger can be healthy:

“We were reminded in dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) that anger is a motivator for change. We do not like something or it irritates us, so we work to change it. Without irritation and anger we would be a pretty lazy species.” (Roiben)

Anger drives Fran forward when she would otherwise become mired in self-doubt. It can also help get her message across. She once became furious when I failed to recognise how desperate things were for her. Within moments she had my full attention! We can also think of anger in the face of injustice:

“When things in my life don’t seem fair, or if I see that things are unfair for my friends, or even my country, I get angry. But maybe it’s okay to be a little angry.” (Jen)

What Helps?

There are several approaches to managing bipolar anger. It can help to avoid triggers and stressful situations. Fran’s life has become much calmer since she withdrew from social media. As she puts it, “There were plenty of good things but also plenty that pissed me off.” Calming activities such as art, listening to music, taking a bath, and meditation can help as can medication, talking therapies, prayer, and positive affirmations.

“I am trying to improve by positive self-talk in the mirror and with drawing. Self-talk is really helping!” (Susan)

It is worth remembering that the underlying reason or trigger for the anger is very often real and needs addressing. It can help to explore what is going on, either alone or with a trusted friend:

“It is not until much later, sometimes days later, that I am able to analyze my behavior.” (Mariah)

“I get so frustrated with a few of the people in my world, not so much with what they say but how they say it, and I have to ruminate for days and talk it over with Marty until I can let it go.” (Fran)

Beth describes a different approach:

“I feel I know the receiving end of the anger that came come with bi-polar. I have several friends who get angry with me on occasion, enough to tell me they want to end our friendship. I no longer try to ferret out what I did. I have come to understand that it is not based on anything I did most of the time. Talking it through can be incredibly counter-productive. Waiting it out, letting them know I am around if and when they are ready, and giving them space is about all I can do. I have been told by more than one that part of my getting the brunt end of anger is because the person knows I will not give up on them.” (Beth)

Jen finds insight in a quote from the movie Excalibur:

“Lancelot says to King Arthur ‘Your rage has unbalanced you.’ This is an amazing metaphor because I battle myself internally, like these men are doing externally and I can get unbalanced quickly.” (Jen)

Being honest about how you are feeling helps. (“A heads up. Just so you know I’m in a bad mood.”) And there is always humour.

Fran: I’m going to keep getting mad at you, Marty, because that’s the only way you’re going to learn.

Marty: You’re going to keep getting mad at me because I’m writing an article on bipolar anger!

What are your experiences with bipolar anger in yourself and in others? What works for you? What doesn’t?

 

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Let’s Talk Mental Health – Leeds

By Quinn Brown

Hi guys, I just want to quickly mention Let’s Talk Mental Health, a newly formed annual series of events in different places that are dedicated to encouraging people to talk openly about mental illness. I did an event in Selby which went really well and now I’ll be doing an event in Leeds on the 17th of November.

I have NINE speakers involved and the evening will be quite a moving one to say the least. Here’s the final poster for the event and I’ll be promoting it over the next couple of weeks.

I will be speaking to one of the speakers two days after the event on her radio show and I’ll be discussing everything about the event so do please check that out when you get chance. More information on that coming soon.

Follow Let’s Talk Mental Health on Facebook and Twitter.

 

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Thoughts Whilst Out Walking

Fran’s words from a few days ago are still with me: “The truest response is letting go ...”

Yes... let go of pain, of joy, of aching, of delight ... Do not hold on to any of it. Let it rise, have its moment, and go, to be replaced by what arises in its stead ... externally and within you.

Offer minimal resistance to what arises ... Let it pass through you, joyously, gratefully ...

We cling, we hold on, from fear. Fear of losing what was never ours to begin with. Fear of daring to reach for what is within our grasp.

This moment is all that you will ever own. It is what you have brought into being, it is what you were brought into being to experience, herenow. You are the universe’s gift to itself in this moment. No other has been granted this gift. Accept it, take it in your hands, examine its shape, colours, textures. Allow it fully into your awareness ... And let it go again ...

Life is not a lesson, though you can choose to see it as such. Life is not a trial, though you are free to live yours as though it were.

Any gift worth the name comes without strings ... you are free to decline it, trample on it, pass it on to another, keep it under lock and key ... And so it is with life, with this moment.

Originally written October 2012

 

Saturday, 20 October 2018

My Most Recent (Serious) Suicide Attempt

By Andrew Turman

Trigger Warning: Suicide

This article was originally published August 2017.

To set the scene: my Daddy’s birthday is the ninth of July. By the first of August of last year, I was in a full blown psychotic depression, my first. To let you know how bad things were, let me say that the whole space-time continuum had warped on me. Somehow, Rebecca would go to the store and return home before she actually left. Not really, but it was truth in my mind. I could not even do simple math, nor could I operate a calculator. I was psychotically depressed.

Symptoms of a psychotic depression include the symptoms of a major depressive episode, along with one or more psychotic symptoms, including delusions and/or hallucinations. Delusions can be classified as mood congruent or incongruent, depending on whether or not the nature of the delusions is in keeping with the individual’s mood state. Common themes of mood congruent delusions include guilt, punishment, personal inadequacy, or disease. Half of patients experience more than one kind of delusion. Delusions occur without hallucinations in about one-half to two-thirds of patients with psychotic depression. Hallucinations can be auditory, visual, olfactory (smell), or haptic (touch). Severe anhedonia, loss of interest, and psychomotor retardation are typically present. [Source: Wikipedia.]

This describes my experience perfectly. I was wracked with guilt about my role in my father’s dying day. I felt I deserved to be punished. I believed I could not perform the simplest tasks and that I was doomed to a life of despair. I shambled down the hall to the bathroom, when I was absolutely forced to get out of bed. I did not take care of myself; I did not bathe, brush my teeth, or change my clothes. I was a wreck, a shell of my usual self. I could not operate my phone or tarry on Fakebook. I was incommunicado, radio silent.

This manifested itself in my most personal relationship as well, the relationship with my wife. I would cringe when spoken to and would try to anticipate what was said to me so I could proffer an appropriate response. I just wanted silence. But the silence was violent, in my head. I was thinking of ways to die ...

I finally decided I would overdose on my medications. On August 1, 2016, my prescriptions were refilled. I had twice the lethal dose of my meds. So I took them all. Every pill in the house. Rebecca had gone to sleep. I lay awake to fulfill my destiny. I found a program from my father’s memorial service at church. I wrapped myself in the bathrobe my father died in. I unscrewed the medication bottles as I screwed up the courage to take their contents. With as little water as possible, to maximize the impact of the drugs, I faced my doom. I had done the internet research. I would have succeeded, had the meds not interfered with each other and prevented my body taking a lethal seizure. I woke up in Frederick Memorial Hospital the next day.

Let’s back up. Rebecca was totally worried about me and the state of my mental health. Often during the days preceding this event, she would “check-in” with me, to see how I was feeling. I flat out lied to her, assuring her that I was okay, not thinking about suicide, everything was fine. Little did she know when she kissed me goodnight, I was planning to take my own life.

When she woke up, she found me unresponsive. She did not know what to do. It took the urgent warnings from a dear friend to force her to call 911. While she waited for the ambulance to arrive to transport me to the hospital, in her frustration and anger, she shaved my eyebrows. (I showed her, though, because in the psych ward I found a Sharpie, and drew them back. Talk about looking crazy!)

I make jokes about it because I have to. It is how I deal with such a serious topic. Rebecca felt anger at my decision to leave her alone. In my twisted thinking, I thought I was doing her a favor, that she would be better off without me, that all her problems would be solved (when in actuality, they would only be beginning).

In the week I spent in the psych ward, not once did ANYONE ask me why I did it. That is one of the problems in the mental health system today. Even professionals do not know how to talk to people who are suffering.

Rebecca was angry. But the underlying issue was one of loss, betrayal. I had betrayed her trust, I had lied to her. I felt no one, not even she, could understand me and my feelings. My situation is by no means unique. Hundreds of people a day around the world choose death over life.

The solution is communication. Now, my wife and I are more honest with each other; she about her concern, me about my true feelings. All of us need to stop fearing talking about the real issues at hand. It is literally the difference between life and death.

About the Author

W.A. Turman was an “Army Brat,” and that explains a lot. Man of no accent, but also of every accident. Life has not always been easy for the artist and writer we affectionately call “Zen Daddy T.” A gonzo journalist along the lines of Hunter S. Thompson, an artist well-versed in the school of Ralph Steadman, including favoring beers from the Flying Dog Brewery, Andrew is an acquired taste. His abstract expressionist works bleed protest and contentment. His recent series, “Art for Airports” has drawn critical acclaim. Here are his stats: hospitalizations—88; medications—75; suicide attempts—6; ECT treatments—98.

He can be contacted via his blog, on Facebook (Andrew Turman and Zen Daddy T), Instagram (zendaddyt), and Twitter (@ZenTurman).

 

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

To Pieces

By Kati Rocky

I have been writing children’s and teen television for over two decades, and while I enjoy my work I was longing to dive into something meaty and serious. I have bipolar disorder, though I didn’t as a teen, and decided I wanted to write a story on the subject. Since I’m familiar with the young adult audience and how to connect with them and entertain them, I chose them as my demographic.

Before I wrote my novel, To Pieces, I studied the fiction that was out there that dealt with the subject matter so that I wasn’t redundant. I found precious little. There are a few books that have bipolar protagonists, but none of them rang true for me. Writers got the depression right, but the mania was all wrong. This prevailing inauthenticity only furthered my conviction to write the book. I wanted to create a work that got the condition right.

The story flowed from me fairly quickly but getting the book published was a lengthy and arduous process. Editors really didn’t seem to get it. Many found Jane, my main character, “wacky,” “unbelievable,” and “unrealistic.” I even had an editor suggest I write the book not in the first person of a person suffering from bipolar disorder but through the eyes of a friend or family member of the main character’s watching her suffer through a bipolar cycle.

I strongly disagreed with this notion. In Venice, where I live, you walk through the neighborhood and are greeted by a number of people in the grips of psychosis. Does this help you understand the disorder? No. I think it actually alienates people further. Manic people can be aggressive and even scary. It’s almost impossible to understand psychosis or deep depression unless you’ve had it – or been inside the head of somebody who has it, like the character in To Pieces.

Another disappointing comment I got from several editors was that they didn’t like the humor in the book. They were under the impression that bipolar disorder is one relentless bummer. This is, in fact, untrue. While mania can be devastating financially, and people often engage in risky and dangerous behavior and damage their personal relationships, mania can be very pleasurable and fun – and even funny.

Some of the wacky things manic people do are downright comical, though I am in no way trying to present mania as something positive or constructive! It is something to be avoided at all costs. Take it from one who knows the humiliation that follows mania and how exhausting it is to mop up the messes you made while you were out of your mind. Then there’s the acute uneasiness that accompanies being unable to remember chunks of your time being manic. Just what horrifying things did I do during that week that I have no memory of?

I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by how well To Pieces is doing and how many people are connecting with my main character: people with and without bipolar disorder. There is even movie interest in the book. I knew that the editors were wrong and I’m glad I stuck to my instincts and didn’t give up on the story or alter it in ways that compromised its integrity.

It is my hope that the book shines some light into a dark corner, giving people insight into bipolar disorder and empathy for the people suffering from it. I also hope that it can provide solace for teens with the illness and let them know that, with the right treatment, they can not only manage to carve out a life as a bipolar person, but they can thrive.

About the Author

I grew up in San Francisco and Marin County and attended UCLA, where I majored in creative writing. I went on to USC where I got a masters degree in professional writing. I started working in children’s and teen television as a writer, falling into the business somewhat accidentally, and have been writing TV for over two decades.

I live in Venice, CA with my husband and teenage son.

You can find me on Twitter (@KatiRocky).

My novel To Pieces is available on Amazon (print and Kindle), Barnes & Noble, and other good booksellers.

 

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Attending a Self-Harm Awareness Session at ReCoCo

Image credit: Sharon McCutcheon / Unsplash

I wrote recently about how I came to enrol at Newcastle Recovery College (ReCoCo) and a little of what the college means to me and my friend Vikki Beat. Vikki is a student, volunteer, and course facilitator at ReCoCo.

The first class I enrolled for was a self-harm awareness session led by Steve O’Driscoll who I first met several years ago when I began volunteering for Time to Change. The following description is taken from the ReCoCo website:

A 2.5 hour session delivered by Steve O’Driscoll who self-harmed for over 20 years and managed to overcome his problems and now shares his experiences to help and support others and also facilitates a group in Newcastle to support people who self-harm.

The session is very relaxed and there is plenty of opportunity to ask those unanswered questions around a subject that is still taboo to many in society.

I arrived at Anderson House in plenty of time and made myself a cup of coffee while I was waiting. The session was held in one of the upstairs training rooms and at first it was pretty noisy from the construction work going on outside. Fortunately this eased up for most of the time we were there.

There were six in the class including me and Steve. I know Steve had hoped for a few more, but the numbers worked well for me. I felt accepted by and comfortable with everyone there. I am new to ReCoCo but I’d say that is part of the culture and atmosphere the college fosters.

The session covered a wide range of topics including:

  • Different types of self-harm.
  • Who self-harms and what leads to them doing so.
  • How does it feel to self-harm?
  • Signs to look out for in others.
  • Coping techniques, treatment, and self-help.
  • How to support someone.
  • The self-harm first aid kit.

Steve shared his personal journey, much of which was new to me. Those who know me and Fran know we have a “no pedestals” policy, meaning as far as possible we treat ourselves and others without elevating anyone to hero status. That said, I was deeply moved by Steve’s story and respect him immensely for the honesty with which he lives his life. It takes courage to turn a lifetime of hard experience to the service of others.

I have no equivalent first-hand experience. I took the class to learn more about a subject which affects so many, including some of my closest friends.

It wasn’t all easy to hear and engage with. Given the topic, it couldn’t be. Self-harm is about as real as it gets and Steve held little if anything back. That is what the subject deserves, as do all those whose lives are affected by it, directly or indirectly. He took time to check in with everyone from time to time in case we were struggling, and there was a short break which was very welcome.

At the end of the session Steve asked what we each had planned for the rest of the day. This is something I recognise from other courses I’ve attended, including Mental Health First Aid. It is a valuable reminder to pay attention to self-care after doing something challenging. With that in mind I’d arranged to meet up with a friend for lunch which proved the perfect opportunity to unwind.

Two and a half hours can only provide an introduction to a subject as deep and complex as self-harm. I certainly do not now consider myself an expert. That said, I learned a lot and would recommend it to anyone interested in understanding what self-harm is, what it isn’t, and how you can help yourself and others. It more than lived up to the course description.

I would like to thank Steve, ReCoCo, and the other students who attended with me. I feel better prepared and informed to support my friends and others. The rest is up to me.

For more information about Newcastle Recovery College and their courses check their website.

 

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

What Newcastle Recovery College Means To Me

By Martin Baker and Vikki Beat

Image credit: Alisdair Cameron

Newcastle Recovery College Collective (ReCoCo) is a joint venture between various organisations in the north east of England, “by and for service users and carers. [It is] a place where service users are able to make connections and develop their knowledge and skills in relation to recovery.”

I first heard about ReCoCo through folk I’ve met volunteering with Time to Change. I was intrigued and checked their website out a couple of times but hadn’t taken it any further until this July when my friend Vikki Beat invited me to attend the end of term party. The event also marked the college’s relocation from Broadacre House to its new home just down the road in Anderson House. I didn’t know many people at the party but I felt very welcome. I even had a dance! I remember thinking it would be great to work more closely with the college in some way but I couldn’t see how that might work as sessions are held during the week and I am in full time employment.

The college closed over the summer but I was keen to check out the autumn prospectus as soon as it came out. For the past six months I’ve been working with a fantastic group of people where I work in BPDTS to promote mental health awareness and support within the company. I immediately saw how some of ReCoCo’s courses were relevant both to me personally and to our workplace initiatives. After discussing with my manager I phoned the college to make an appointment.

My enrolment interview was last week and took about 45 minutes. Lynne explained the college’s code of conduct and collected basic information from me including any special needs or requirements I might have. She then led me through completing a Peer Support Empower Flower, which is “a self reported measurement tool based on the principles of peer support.”

I found the exercise fascinating and (gently) challenging as I was encouraged to explore how I was currently feeling in eight categories: Feeling Connected, Recognising My Strengths, Feeling Hopeful, Taking Control, Taking Responsibility, Self Worth, Having Purpose, and Keeping Myself Safe. I will repeat the exercise in a few months’ time.

I left feeling very proud to be a student for the first time in many years!

I had arranged to meet Vikki after my enrolment and she suggested we return to Anderson House for the afternoon drop in session. I’m glad we did because it gave me the opportunity to meet some of the staff, volunteers, and other students. The atmosphere was warm, gentle, and compassionate. I felt welcome and accepted, and my contributions and story were considered as respectfully as anyone else’s. (As someone without direct lived experience of mental illness, crisis, or trauma, it is a big thing for me to feel I have something worth sharing that might be of interest and value to others.) It left a powerful impression, as I wrote afterwards to my workplace mentor:

I had a great time at Newcastle Recovery College on Wednesday. I enrolled for the courses I want to do (a short session on self-harm next week, and then the Wellness Recovery Action Plan awareness course next month). A friend invited me to stay into the afternoon for the weekly drop in session.

The difference the college makes – that the staff and volunteers and students make – to the lives of the people who attend is simply staggering. The kind of staggering that makes you question what you are doing with your life. Which is where you come in, of course – to help me find a way to do more of that here at BPDTS!

I asked Vikki, who is a volunteer and course facilitator at ReCoCo as well as being a student, if she would share what the Recovery College means to her.

I started coming to the Recovery College three years ago. At the time I was experiencing stigma first hand through my career within the NHS.

The best way to describe the feeling of the Recovery College is that it’s like a family. A family without judgment. And just like a family, we argue. And like a family we kiss and make up (not literally, of course!)

Three years on and I am now a volunteer for ReCoCo and facilitate my own course. Watching nervous and anxious individuals come into the college and blossom into the confident people they become is awe-inspiring. We all struggle at times, but ReCoCo is a safe place to come and support each other.

I’d like to thank all the staff and volunteers for being my solid rock.

—Vikki Beat

I look forward to attending the first of the sessions I have enrolled for later this week. You can find out more about the Newcastle Recovery College on their website and on Twitter.

 

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Things That Help

By Roiben

I can talk for a long time about my various conditions and disabilities and how they affect me. For the sake of those who do not know, I have Congenital Rubella Syndrome. This has led to a nice complicated list of conditions and disabilities including Type 1 Diabetes and mental illness.

In this article I am discussing the fact that I class myself as Deaf with a severe hearing loss, and the fact that I have a visual impairment. As a result of congenital cataracts I am completely blind in my left eye. My right eye does all of the work so is prone to getting tired quickly. I have diabetic retinopathy and astigmatism in my right eye as well.

I want to talk about five things that help me cope with these disabilities and get the best I can out of any given situation. Some are things I can do and some are things others can do to assist me. It is worth bearing in mind that disabilities are very individual and needs change from person to person. Some of these things are general and can be used across the board for people who have hearing loss or visual impairments. Others are individual to me and my experiences.

1. Lights, Camera, Action

I find good lighting helps in all cases. I need it in order to see properly. If it is dim or the light is not bright enough in a room, or a restaurant decides to dim their lights for “atmospheric” reasons, I will struggle to read text. I will also struggle to properly do things like cook and wash up. I remember in University Halls the light bulbs in the rooms were far too dim for me, so I had to have permission to have 100 watt bulbs put in.

In my flat now I have lots of smaller spot lights. These are great for ensuring there is even light across the whole of the flat, so I can see better regardless of where I chose to site myself. I often use a bright lamp and a magnifier with a light built into it for reading, especially labels and boxes for medications and food.

I also need good lighting in order to help with my hearing because I rely on lip-reading. I am one of the Deaf community who is able to lip-read, and not all of us can. However, it relies on being able to properly see the person’s lips and face. This means them not having windows or other major light-sources such as the sun behind them, and the room being generally well light and for that light to be consistent, not flickering or changing at all.

Because of this it is common for me to have to change where I am standing or sitting so that I can understand a conversation. It also means that when sitting at a circular table there will always be at least one person with a window behind them who I just cannot understand. It is also the reason I try to be the first to get into a meeting room or at a restaurant table so I can choose where to sit, to try to make sure the other people with me will not be in front of windows, flashing light decorations or other such annoyances.

2. Flexible and Adaptable

The second thing that helps is to be flexible and adaptable. This means me being flexible, to work with what I can do and make the best of it and to adapt to the various situations I am faced with. I also ask that the people around me are flexible and adaptable in order to help me. For example, if I am not understanding something you are saying try to rephrase it, or better yet adapt, and write it down or type it out on your phone or computer.

Also, for my vision I tend to need to walk on the right hand side of whoever I am walking with. This is so that if I am looking at them to lip-read what they are saying I can still see what’s going on around me with my right peripheral vision. If I am forced to walk on the left, I can look at the person but I will see nothing around me and often end up walking into things. This means the person I am walking with needs to be more adaptable to accommodate my needs.

3. Patience, a Trained Necessity

The third thing is patience. I often get frustrated with myself for not being able to understand something being said, or because I find navigating new places completely terrifying. Over years of mistakes and mishaps and much mental and emotional upheaval I have learned to try and be more patient with myself. This means giving myself time to get around and navigate a new area so that I can be more careful and less likely to fall over. It also means not putting undue pressure on myself to get things right, straight away, every single time.

I also ask and expect the people around me to be a little patient with me. I am well aware how frustrating and annoying it can be to have to repeat yourself, to have to accommodate my communication preferences and to allow me the time to figure things out. However, doing so helps me more than you may realize. It makes me feel more of a worthy human being than being told something I didn’t hear “doesn’t matter” just because the person doesn’t want to repeat or rephrase.

Still on the subject of patience, I am not a naturally quick walker. I take small steps and I have little legs and a dodgy hip. This means I don’t get around very quickly at all. Walking with me can involve a little foresight and patience. I am all for apologizing for this, and am well aware that many people would love me to walk quicker. However, I can’t and I don’t. If I am using my cane I have to ask for even more patience and “put-up-with” from the people I am with. I am told the constant-contact method I use with the cane makes it noisy (sorry, I can’t hear it) and I understand that walking with someone using a cane requires a bit of getting used to. So, the foresight is to allow me more time to get somewhere, and the patience is to not get frustrated that I am not able to meet your, or your guide dog’s, natural gait.

4. Concentration Exhaustion

In fourth place is the awareness that I get very fatigued. This is something for me, to bear in mind and plan for and compensate for. It is also for others to be aware of and accommodate for. Because of my hearing and eyesight I put in a lot of effort and concentration to complete the kind of everyday tasks that many people do not even need to think about: tasks like communicating, getting around, paying attention. For me, these things are frankly exhausting.

For my vision, I am often putting in extra effort to try to judge where people are and to pay attention to my cane’s feedback and my route so as not to walk into things or fall over. For my hearing, it takes effort to lip-read. A good lip-reader gets about 30% of the conversation from lip-reading alone. Making sense of the whole sentence and fitting the jumbled pieces together in your mind is hard work and like any hard work it is tiring.

It is worth being aware that I may need a break, I may take time out or leave earlier than I would otherwise. I get tired quickly. I get headaches and my eyes are often strained from focusing and concentrating. It is not because I do not want to be where I am. I enjoy my work and I love my friends and family. My zoning out or being tired is not from a lack of enthusiasm. Quite the opposite; it comes from the effect of having put so much effort and enthusiasm into those situations that my mind and body eventually say “enough, I’m done”.

5. There Is No Magic Fix

Because of my various disabilities and conditions I am regularly faced with people who seem to want a “cure” or a “fix” that would make me and others with disabilities “normal” (whatever that is).

I am so often met with people who, when I fail to understand them, ask if I am wearing my hearing aids or if they are working okay. The point here is that hearing aids are not a magic fix. They do not make me suddenly “not Deaf”. They simply make the sounds around me louder. They are a microphone and volume box sending sound waves into my ears. That is all. I am still Deaf. I still have sensorineural and conductive hearing loss in my ears. These mean that the sounds I hear are difficult to distinguish and understand, even with hearing aids. This is why I rely on lip-reading and context and knowing people and how their voices sound. In short, most people could be speaking Dutch for all I can understand them from hearing alone. I can tell they are talking, that is about it.

Likewise, my glasses do not make me suddenly able to see everything perfectly. Glasses are a common thing, but I still get people who do not understand why even with glasses I still need Large Print and am unable to see things further away. Glasses can only correct my vision up to a certain point. Beyond that, there is nothing that can be done.

I once had an ophthalmologist try incredibly strong lenses for my left eye. I got so little out of them that I said “No, thank you” to the offer of prescribing some for me. My glasses correct for the astigmatism in my right eye which helps my eyes to focus a little more, both for distance and for reading. I also have some correction for reading, because I do a lot of it. However, even the optician will say that they can’t fix everything. They are never going to be able to make me able to see small print without a magnifier. There is a good reason I don’t read newspapers, or magazines, or normal size print books anymore. I can’t. My glasses can’t fix that.

So, what helps? Please, be realistic. If I tell you I am Deaf, or visually impaired, believe me and don’t look for a way to make me “normal”. Don’t start recommending laser eye surgery or a cochlear implant as the next best thing that I absolutely must try as it will “cure” me. For one, they don’t suit my particular situation and for two, they are not a cure. They won’t magically make me hearing and able to see as clear as day.

Likewise, stop assuming that just because I have my hearing aids in I can magically hear everything as well as you can. They don’t work like that, they never have, and I have used hearing aids for a long time. I know they are better now than they used to be but they are still not a fix. For me they are better than going without in most cases, but sometimes frankly being without them is better.

Things That End

Although this is just a small selection of things that help, and there are a whole host of others out there, I think it is a worthy selection to start with, to work with and to use. All disabilities require an awareness of what can help and I feel those I have discussed here cover some of the main ones. They are very much individual to me but you can work from here to see how these can be transferred and adapted for other disabilities and other people.

The point I want to make is that there are many things that can be done, both in terms of helping yourself to cope and make the most of what is possible, and helping others to do so. It just takes some time, adaptability and patience. If you are not sure what may help, ask. Ask the person themselves. There is a good chance they will know from their own experiences what works and does not work for them. I am the same. If you ask me what can be done to help I am, in most cases, more than willing to let you know, or to give some pointers for the given situation.

So, let us try to help where we can. Find out those small things that can be done to help others, and to help ourselves, cope better with living in this world and getting on with each other in the process.

 

About the Author

You can find Roiben on Twitter (@roiben).