Wednesday 27 June 2018

Being Jimmy Perez: Shetland and the Art of Listening

Spoiler alert: this post touches on aspects of the British television crime drama “Shetland.”

Photo credit: Doris Pecka.

Fran and I watch a lot of tv and movies together. Our talking done for the evening, Fran turns her laptop (and thus me) to face her television and we settle down to Netflix, a DVD, or occasionally a tv show.

We can see each other reflected in the screen: Fran on her couch and me in my desk chair. We might comment on what’s going on or ask a question but it’s hard to hear each other unless Fran pauses the show. So for the most part we sit and watch – and listen – in companionable silence.

It sometimes feels like we do this a bit much. We used to talk more, sharing what had gone on for us that day or making plans for whatever was coming up. We still do that, of course, just less than we did. There are reasons for the change, not least the fact that Fran’s fatigue has been especially hard on her this year. By the time we get together of an evening she is often too tired to talk much. But the other night as we watched the British detective drama “Shetland” something fell into place for me about the value and importance of listening.

We both love the show: the stunning scenery, the gritty city environment of Glasgow, the accents, the superb writing and storylines. We’ve taken the characters very much into our hearts. Played by Douglas Henshall, Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez is one of very few male roles I’ve ever identified with or wanted to emulate. This series has seen him navigate a range of personal challenges, most notably with his detective sergeant Alison “Tosh” Macintosh (played by Alison O'Donnell), his stepdaughter Cassie (Erin Armstrong), and Cassie’s biological father Duncan (Mark Bonnar). Jimmy and Duncan have a close, awkward, almost brotherly, relationship that is beautiful to watch.

What struck me is how good Perez is with people going through crisis and change. (He is less good with his own crises and changes, but isn’t that the way of things? The series closes with a hint he may finally be finding a way forward.) Whether interviewing a suspect, talking with witnesses, confronting a violent crime boss, or engaging with colleagues, his stepdaughter, or a new lover, Jimmy Perez is usually calm and measured, although he can be assertive when necessary. He doesn’t always get it right but he owns his mistakes. He comes across as honest, genuine, and caring. He is someone you’d feel safe with.

It is this aspect of his character that most interests me. More and more I find myself in a listening role. I don’t always know what to say but I have learned that what matters most is showing up, being present, and being prepared to listen. It is good to see this demonstrated so clearly, even if it is in a fictional setting.

A friend said to me the other day, “The distinction between hearing and listening is important.” She’s right. So often we imagine we have been listening to someone when really all we did was register the sounds they made. Listening is as much about the spaces between the words (and at the end of them) as it is about the words themselves. It is not as easy as it might seem.

At a meeting last week with our company’s mental health team I suggested setting up a small lending library. I have lots of relevant books at home and am more than happy to bring them in. One is Gail Evans’ Counselling Skills for Dummies: A Practical Guide to Becoming a Better Communicator and Listener. It has lots of useful information, tips, and techniques. It is well worth checking out if you get chance. I might read it again before I take it in.

Genuine listening involves far more than letting someone talk. (Or write. Much of my listening takes place online using social media, instant messaging, and emails.) There are certain things not to do. Don’t interrupt. Don’t leap in with potential fixes or your own experiences. These get in the way and are rarely as relevant to the other person as you imagine. There are specific things you can do. Check in now and again to confirm you are picking up what the other person wants to convey. Ask for clarification if necessary. Encourage gently. If you want to know more, check out the Dummies book – or ours.

Best of all, practice. That means engaging – with your friends, colleagues, partner, children, strangers. We are all different and our needs are complex and wonderful. This was brought home to me on a neurodiversity workshop I attended recently at work. The course material was good but what I found most valuable was listening as the trainers and others in the group shared their experiences, and I shared mine. (I have just noticed I am wearing a Stigma Fighters t-shirt today with the slogan “Sharing Our Stories.”)

This is where the magic happens. We can aspire to no higher calling than to be someone others feel safe enough with to be vulnerable. Be like that. Be like Jimmy.


Wednesday 20 June 2018

Looking Back on a Productive and Positive Week

Saturday, June 16, 2018

I am at Tynemouth Metro station this morning. The weekend market is relatively quiet so far. Bustle without the hustle. I have a large Americano from the excellent Regular Jo’s coffee stall, and the table to myself. [Later, I was happy to share with two very dapper gentlemen I’ve spoken to before.]

I’ve caught up with my diary and written to one of my oldest (ahem, longest-standing!) friends. It is time to open my Midori notebook and think about this week’s blog post.

It has been a busy but very positive and fulfilling week for me on the mental health front. I spent an hour last evening editing the latest in a new series of articles by a great friend, renowned author and family coach Julie A. Fast. Julie’s posts are always amongst the most popular on our site. This latest one focuses on managing paranoia.

Fran and I received several messages this week from people who have read or are reading our book, or have connected with us in other ways. We’re not in the advice business but it means so much when our words resonate with others or if we have been able to shed a little light on someone else’s situation. It sounds trite but that really is what it’s all about for us.

And we gain so much in return. At the moment I am working on what will be my sixth article for Bp Magazine. (You can find the first four on my author page. The fifth will be posted up in a week or so.) My latest topic is the glamour (in the sense of enchantment) of euphoric mania. I am working from our own experience (as many of you know, Fran was in mania when we met back in 2011) but am also drawing on the experience of others who have shared with me and are happy to contribute. This kind of collaboration expands my knowledge and hopefully makes for a more rounded article. Fingers crossed on that score!

Speaking of collaboration, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere I am working with some fabulous people at the company where I work to get some new mental health initiatives off the ground. It is early days but we are beginning to pull some ideas together.

It is hard to overstate how much it means to me and I am determined to make the most of the opportunity. It has already led to new connections and conversations, new training including a half-day session next week on neurodiversity and an excellent dial-in last week on resilience, as part of Carers’ Week.

That I can do this at all is down to the support and encouragement of my boss Judith. When people care for those around them as much as she does — at work or in any other environment — anything is possible. That is the culture our newly formed mental health team is looking to foster. I drafted Vision and Mission Statements this week for us. They may be amended or someone may come up with something better altogether! But for me they capture the essence of what we are about.

OUR VISION is a working environment in which we all feel safe, supported, valued and heard.

OUR PURPOSE is to foster a workplace culture and practices free from mental health stigma and discrimination, by raising awareness of mental health conditions, support services, events and organisations, encouraging relevant education and training including Mental Health First Aid (MHFA), and providing appropriate support to colleagues, including signposting to internal and external services.

Okay. I’ve just about finished my coffee. It’s time to take a look round the market. Who knows what I might find. I am curious to find out. That’s kind of what life’s about, I think.

[I was delighted to find a superb vintage tweed jacket by Haggart’s of Aberfeldy on one of the stalls. Exactly what I have been keeping an eye out for.]


Saturday 16 June 2018

Effective Strategies to Manage Paranoia in Bipolar Disorder and Schizoaffective Disorder

By Julie A. Fast

In part one of this blog, Exploring Bipolar Disorder and the Sister Diagnosis of Schizoaffective Disorder, I talked about psychosis in bipolar disorder and how some of us with bipolar also have a separate diagnosis of a psychotic disorder. Bipolar with a separate psychotic disorder is called schizoaffective disorder.

In part two I explore the topic of paranoia, a psychotic delusion. All people with bipolar disorder live with the possibility of paranoia. It’s more common than most realize. Paranoia is quite a friendship wrecker. I lived with paranoid thoughts and behaviors for many years before I learned how to control them. I still get paranoid but I’ve learned not to take it out on my friends the way I used to.

As a side note, please know that people can have paranoid behavior without having a mood disorder. Paranoid personality disorder is an example. This article is relevant to anyone who experiences paranoia.

How I Manage My Paranoia

I’ve taught myself to know what I think, say and do when I’m paranoid. I explain how I use this process in my Health Cards Treatment Plan for Bipolar Disorder. It is the only way I have found to manage my bipolar disorder as I can’t take many medications. Before I learned this system I was a tiny boat on a raging ocean of moods. I still have mood swings but I know now what they are and am able to control them. You can learn to do the same. If you’re a friend or loved one of someone with bipolar disorder or schizoaffective disorder, you can also learn to use this system to help. Here is how it works.

What I Think, Say and Do When Paranoid

What I think when I’m paranoid. Please note that I use the word ‘think’ but with delusions it really is more of a feeling than a thought.

Something isn’t right with my friend. She is upset with me and doesn’t want to tell me the truth.

People are meeting and having dinner parties and doing things without me. They don’t want me there, so they don’t invite me.

Friends think I don’t know what is going on, but I do.

Someone is upset with me. I can feel it.

No one is calling me. They are upset with me.

This is not a safe place. I have to get out of here.

Someone is following me in the car.

What I say. This is where I used to get into so much trouble! I would either say these things out loud or send an email.

I write an email or text and accuse someone of not wanting to contact me.

I ask friends, “Are you made at me?” or, “Is there something you want to talk to me about?” Or ”Is something wrong?”

I tell people, “I’m not stupid and I know that there is something wrong and you should just tell me the truth!”


What I do.

I can’t look people in the eye.

I obsessively pour over emails and texts and search for hidden meanings.

I can’t sleep.

I look in my rear view mirror and see that cars are way too close. Someone is following me.

I look for recording devices. Maybe someone has hidden cameras in their kitchen.

I cut myself off from people I feel are harming me by not talking to me.

These are just a few examples. I’m interested to know if you have experienced anything listed above, either as a person with bipolar or as a friend. This paranoia symptom is often missed as it can be subtle. The internet has made paranoid communication much easier and people are very quick to accuse when it takes just a few seconds to send a message.

What if the Paranoid Feelings are Real?

I live in the creative world now and I often see my work used by other people. This is deeply distressing as you can imagine. The difference between this and what I describe above is that in most cases people actually have plagiarized my ideas. I tend to keep quiet about this as it can lead to actual paranoia, but sometimes I do have to take action. The main difference between paranoia and noticing that someone is using one of my ideas without credit is that paranoia is NEVER real. Can the two get confused? Yes, if I am paranoid I can think that someone is using my work who isn’t. This is why I use my Health Cards and never say anything unless I have facts to back me up. Even then, I might not be right!

How I Changed

One day, after a really terrible situation where I sent an awful email to a friend and effectively ended our relationship, I realized I had to change. I write about this experience in my Bp Magazine article Relationships and the Bipolar Trap. Was it easy to change? No. In fact, I still have to watch myself very carefully even though it has been almost twenty years since I sent the letter to my former friend. Here is what I do now.

  1. I memorized what I think, say and do when I’m paranoid. I can’t trust my ill self, but I can trust my well self. The well me creates the Health Card (you can simply create a list of what you think, say and do) and I then use it when I start to get paranoid. Yes, you can teach yourself the signs you are paranoid and you can learn to stop the episode from going too far. It is NOT easy. I first had to see my paranoia was a problem and then had to stick to documenting my behavior so that I could use it later.
  2. I made a promise to myself (and for the most part I have kept it) that I will NEVER, and I do mean NEVER, send a text or email or any form of communication that is accusatory. I stick to my own feelings and my own experiences. This has helped greatly. I no longer say You did this! or You are thinking this! Stopping this one action — the writing and accusing — has saved me a great deal of trouble and saved many of my relationships.
  3. I accept that I still get paranoid. My symptoms are still here but I have learned how to minimize the symptoms.
  4. I do not use any hallucinogenics. This means no cannabis (THC is a strong hallucinogenic and even when I tried low THC, or what was labeled as no THC, I got psychotic.) I keep away from any spiritual journey drugs such as magic mushrooms or Ayahuasca. My brain is too fragile to handle anything that is hallucinogenic.
  5. I tell my friends what to look for. In the beginning I needed a lot of help from others. I needed people to say, “Julie, you asked me to remind you if I thought you sounded paranoid. I am reminding you now.” This helped me a lot. Eventually, I was able to control it on my own.
  6. I keep away from people who are paranoid. I don’t have friends who believe in conspiracy theories, government cover-ups or chem trails. This doesn’t mean they are wrong and I am right. It means that this kind of person is not safe for me. It makes me ill to be around another person with paranoid thinking and talking.
  7. I put my thoughts in a journal and they STAY there. I am always shocked to go back and read what I wrote when I was sick. I think, “Good heavens. I was really paranoid. I am SO glad I didn’t say anything!”
  8. I take meds if needed. They help a lot.

It’s incredibly important to listen to others if you have the symptoms of paranoia. Your brain is not your friend when symptoms are raging. I had to ask for help with all of this.

Tips for Friends, Siblings, Family Members and Health Care Professionals

Make your own thinks, says and does list so that you will not get caught in a Bipolar Conversation. You can then decide how you want to approach the issue. I believe in preparing scripts to use when a friend is not doing well. For example,

Julie, you have been very honest with me about your bipolar disorder and I appreciate this. Right now, I feel that we are in a situation where the bipolar is doing some of the talking. I am concerned about what you are saying and feel you are in a mood swing. I’m here to discuss this with you.


I know that these thoughts come up when life is stressful. I can tell you that I have not changed and you have not changed. The thoughts you have and the feelings you are experiencing sound intense, but please know they are not related to us. We can work on this together.

It helps to have a plan in place that you discuss when your friend is stable. You can ask, “What would you like me to say when I can tell you are paranoid?” And then use the words another person created for you.

Do you have signs of paranoia? Is paranoia causing problems in a friendship with someone who has bipolar? Please know that paranoia rarely goes away. It is a symptom that needs to be managed. Doing this as a team makes a lot of sense!


PS: My next post will be on trigger management. I’ll cover how I recognize and remove triggers to manage the paranoia as well as other aspects of psychosis.


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 and


Wednesday 13 June 2018

Frustration and Codependency: Getting It Wrong Is Okay

When Fran and I were developing the ideas for our book I kept a series of “Scrapbook” documents. In them I recorded anything that occurred in our lives which seemed relevant and might prove useful or helpful. Excerpts from our conversations, social media chat, and emails; snippets from my personal journal; ideas and questions; links to websites, books, and other reference material. This post is taken from notes made in December 2012, with a few minor edits for clarity.

Frustration and Codependency: Getting It Wrong Is Okay

Thursday December 13, 2012

Last night at 11 p.m. I was waiting for Fran to get home and come online. She messaged me to say she was home and was going to send [her friend] a happy birthday message. I was happy to hear that and thought she wouldn’t be long ... then she messaged that she was going to check my Facebook Wall. I started to get impatient. I felt Fran could have come on cam with me while she did that. But I put on some gentle music and did some meditative breathing while I was waiting.

Fran came on cam a little later around 11:25 or 11:30 and the first thing she said was that she had found the “two minutes of calm” video I’d posted and had meditated to that (and in fact rather longer than two minutes). I did feel pissed off then, partly because I had thought Fran and I could have done that together (which we did, later, once I had regained my composure).

Part of me recognised that — of course — Fran was and is free to do whatever she wants to do before coming online to meet with me, and she’d been out all day and must have wanted and needed a little space to herself first… But another part of me was feeling aggrieved, thinking that she knew I was waiting for her and would be eager to see her. It was a classic pouty moment!

Of course, it didn’t last too long! Fran was great with me and allowed me to feel what I was feeling, until I was ready to let go of it. THAT is why we work so well together. We understand how these things work. The day before she had been all uptight about not having heard back from [her friend] about accommodation for their trip to Barcelona and I gave her space to feel and express that so she was ready later to talk with [her friend] and get things sorted. That is what we do for each other.

All that led onto something else that is really important regarding our book.

Fran said the book needs to include difficulties the well one (caregiver) experiences as the ill one moves towards wellness: the shifts in role, the sense of abandonment. The sense that all this care has been given and what is the caregiver going to get back in return? It fit what had just happened: me feeling Fran should want to be with me as much as I wanted to be with her, whereas in fact she was taking care of herself and paying attention to what she needed in a very healthy way.

It also fit with my abandonment responses at different times, when Fran has wanted and needed to find her own space. We have plenty of examples to draw on! This is a really important topic.


Wednesday 6 June 2018

Seven Things I'd Quite Like to Do in 2018: A Midyear Update

This is a midyear update on a post I wrote back in January: Seven Things I'd Quite Like to Do in 2018. Let’s see how I’ve been getting on!

1. Read Two Books

Back in January I selected two books to read (actually, to reread): Talk Like TED, by Carmine Gallo, and Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard. I have read maybe half of Talk Like TED, so I’m going to declare this one as “ongoing.” Fran and I are reading the first Outlander novel by Diana Gabaldon which counts too! I have recently thought to reread The Owl Service, by Alan Garner, not least because of its relevance to an article I am researching on the glamour (“magic or enchantment”) of mania. This was inspired by a quote from Tennyson’s Idylls of the King.

And called her like that maiden in the tale
Whom Gwydion made by glamour out of flowers

The ancient tale of Gwydion and Blodeuwedd is central to Garner’s story, which I have known and loved for years.

2. Bring My Weight Back Under 180 Pounds

I cannot tell a lie, I am not doing at all well with this one! My weight is holding more or less steady, but around 191 lbs give or take the pound or so which represents the normal “noise in the signal.” This noise is present no matter what a person weighs or whether their weight is fundamentally stable or trending up or down. This is why I weigh every day. It is the best way of tracking the genuine trend though the noise. I have (mostly!) stopped having sandwiches (or anything else to eat) late at night, which is my main failing when it comes to establishing a healthy regime. It’s clear I need to pay closer attention to what the numbers are telling me. (And to Fran who is doing a lot better at this than I am these days!)

3. Have One Weekend Away From Home

This one is achieved, although not in the way I might have expected. (That said, the possibility was at the back of my mind at the start of the year.)

My mother died on March 8 and I travelled down to Liverpool with my family at the end of that month for her funeral. Despite the circumstances — or perhaps because of them — it was a meaningful trip for me on many levels. My key memories are of walking by the riverfront with Pam, Mike, and Emma on the morning of the funeral, and the three of us reminiscing at the hotel the night before.

After the funeral I spent some time on my own, walking beside the marina. Some lines came to me which I will share here. Not poetry, perhaps.


How do I feel
What do I feel


Re birth


Un known
Un homed

Un tethered


Centred (thank you

— Liverpool, March 26, 2018

4. Attend Two Speaking Engagements

I’ve not (yet!) had been invited to give a talk like I did at last November’s Talking FreELY event but I was asked to perform at the recent Laughing Lasses pantomime here in Newcastle for 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 have also been invited to read at a fundraiser for mental health charity MIND in November, which I am really looking forward to. (Thanks, Aimee!)

Last week I took up the opportunity to read two of my poems at the Newcastle Literary Salon’s event on the theme of Love and Loss. I read Valentine’s Day (massacred) and What Happened to the Lovetrees? which fit the bill perfectly. It was the first time I have performed any of my poetry in public. I think I did okay.

5. See Three Movies at the Cinema

I saw Darkest Hour at Newcastle’s lovely Tyneside Cinema. I enjoyed the experience but found the film itself disappointing. Gary Oldman was feted (and won numerous awards including an Academy Award for Best Actor) for his performance as Churchill. It was certainly an amazing performance by the makeup department but I simply didn’t feel it. The cinematographic technique of having the camera zoom out rapidly (and vertically, twice) was cumbersome and unnecessary. Likewise, the couple of battle field vignettes added nothing to the story. A few historical inaccuracies are to be expected, but the scene where Churchill took to the Tube to mix with the “common folk” was beyond ridiculous. On the other hand the critics loved the film — so what do I know?

Fran and I have watched several good movies together (via Skype) on DVD and Netflix. My Best Friend’s Wedding and My Big Fat Greek Wedding were great (our nod to A Certain Other Wedding). Ditto Notting Hill, an old favourite of mine. The TV drama Shetland is brilliant, by the way, if you get chance to see it. That’s what we are watching at the moment. It could almost persuade me to go live on a tiny island in the North Sea. Except, yunno, Wi-Fi.

6. Find a Use for My Standard Midori

This one is accomplished! After a few false starts last year I have settled on using my “big” Midori Traveler’s Notebook for planning and writing my blog posts. I started early in the year when I filled one insert with daily updates on Fran’s month-long trip to Mexico. Since that time most of my posts for our blog and all my articles for BP Magazine have started life in my Midori.

Once drafted, I type up my notes and edit them on the PC but writing with my fountain pen in my Midori allows me to “just write” more freely than I manage when at the keyboard or on my phone.

7. Shoot a Roll of Film

I am a little disappointed in myself that I have nothing to report on this one. In retrospect it would have been good to take my father’s Kodak Brownie 44B camera down to Liverpool when we were there for my mother’s funeral but it didn’t occur to me at the time. This is one I definitely want to focus on (pun intended!) in the months to come.

Did you set yourself any resolutions, objectives, or “things to do” for this year? If so, how are you doing with them?