Wednesday 27 March 2019

Just Because You're Paranoid: How to Notice Gaslighting in Bipolar Disorder

By Beth Gadwa

Foreword by Julie A. Fast

I recently posted a note on Facebook that included a link to one of my Bp Magazine videos called Bipolar Disorder Paranoia and Keeping Your Relationships Strong. I made the point that I had to take responsibility over my own paranoia and not take it out on others. I have ruined many relationships in the past due to my untreated paranoid thinking and actions. Right under this post, bipolar disorder advocate and writer Beth Gadwa left a comment that truly opened my mind to the other side of the situation. She wrote:

Julie, please be aware that people with bipolar are also sometimes victimized and exploited in relationships. A good strategy is to “check in” with a neutral third party, such as a close friend or family member to try to determine if you are symptomatic. Being bipolar does not mean being a doormat, or turning a blind eye to infidelity or abuse. But it does absolutely mean we have to check ourselves, and pause and reflect before we act.

Wow, she was so correct! What if someone is telling YOU that you have paranoia or that you are manic for their own nefarious reasons! What if you are actually stable and someone is using your bipolar against you! What a thought! I knew I wanted to hear more. I told Martin Baker about it and as always he said, “Let’s do a post for Gum on My Shoe. This is an important topic.”

Here is the OTHER side of the symptoms story from Beth Gadwa. Thank heavens for open minds and hearts. This is how we learn. My mind was opened and expanded from her comment and I hope her stories below help you just as much as they helped me!


Julie A. Fast
Bestselling mental health author, speaker and coach |

Just Because You’re Paranoid: How to Notice Gaslighting in Bipolar Disorder

by Beth Gadwa

Julie Fast wrote a great post about the dangers of bipolar paranoia and how it can undermine core relationships. I had one question in response: What do we do in real situations of abuse, infidelity, or gaslighting when someone is using our symptoms against us in order to control a situation? In my experience, both personally and professionally, neurodiverse people are at increased risk for violence and exploitation. Yes, it is important that we know our own symptoms and work hard to not take them out on others, but it’s equally important that we don’t just blindly accept the words and accusations of others when it comes to our brains.

Julie suggested that I share my own experiences. Here are two stories, both everyday situations that could happen to anyone. I tell them with the hope that we can learn from Julie’s work and at the same time, trust our own experiences in order to protect our brains from those who are out to harm.

#1. “Chicken Wars”

My friend Teri was visiting me from Ohio, with the thought that she might move to Portland permanently. One evening I noticed she was eating takeout fried chicken in the guest room. I asked if she could eat her meal in the common area, because the greasy chicken crumbs could stain the bedding and get into the carpet, attracting vermin.

She immediately became defensive, and told me I could not tell her what to do. I did not raise my voice, but reminded her she was a guest and had been staying at the apartment for over two weeks for free. She grew more agitated. She called me manic and accused me of starting the argument because I was bipolar. I was taken aback and hurt by her words.

To me, this was a normal roommate squabble that had nothing to do with mental health. I wasn’t experiencing any mania symptoms (sleeplessness, racing thoughts) so I didn’t feel the issue was mania or hypomania. I was simply protecting my home. Because of her response to my honest feelings, I felt I couldn’t express any negative opinion in the future without it being labeled symptomatic. We eventually talked through the situation, but it had an effect on our friendship. I have noticed over time that I have become more conflict-averse, which isn’t always a good thing.

#2. “You’d Have to Be Crazy to Break up with Me”

In 2014, I was casually dating a person I met online. At first Kevin was charming, but he grew increasingly controlling and possessive. We had been dating for about three months when he announced plans to throw a reception at a fancy hotel in “our” honor, and asked me to invite my friends too.

This made me uncomfortable. I didn’t know how to exit gracefully, so I told him I didn’t want to see him anymore. He flipped out — started yelling, said that I was manic and didn’t know what I was talking about. In his mind, I didn’t “really” want to break up with him. It must be my diagnosis.

What I did next was check in with my good friend Kasey. She has known me for almost 20 years and reassured me that I didn’t seem to be manic. Kasey had only met the guy once, but she told me to watch out — his behavior fit the classic pattern of abusers and narcissists.

She was right.

The same day, Kevin had also called my sister (whom he had never met — he found her work number online) to “warn” her about my mental health. This creeped me out! Checking in with a trusted source helped me take care of myself and protect myself from a person who was out to harm.

How Can You Protect Yourself?

Relationships fail for a variety of reasons, but being told that having a negative opinion or wanting to leave was due to my mental health was not someone trying to help me. It was someone trying to control me. I focus greatly on my health and work hard to present the most stable self possible. And yet, gaslighting happened. For this reason, I believe it is essential not to have a “single point of failure” in your care network. This means that you check in with yourself and someone you trust, separate from the person who is making the accusation that your bipolar is a problem.

As a bipolar life coach, I advise my clients to stay in close touch with a broad support network of family and friends. That way if there is conflict that feels confusing, you have a neutral third party to evaluate the situation.

If you’re a friend or caregiver, be alert for symptoms as Julie suggests, but please don’t use them as a weapon. Work together with us if you worry that we are symptomatic and it is affecting our decisions. That makes us a part of a team. We need you!


About the Author

Beth Gadwa is a Certified Professional Coach with over eighteen years’ experience managing bipolar disorder. She splits her time between Portland, Oregon, and Western Massachusetts, where her partner Erik resides.

Learn more about her practice at


Saturday 23 March 2019

Kind in Mind and Heart

I was chatting to my friend Roiben the other day about coasters. Not the boats, the little place mats you put your coffee mug on. I asked if she had any particular kind in mind. She showed me some lovely ones on Etsy, but it was something about that phrase that caught my attention.

Kind in mind

It got me thinking about all the times we’re not kind in mind. Not kind-minded at all, towards others and ourselves. Often we imagine our intentions are kindly, but under the surface there’s some self-serving ego element at work.

It’s something I’ve been working with quite a bit lately, with the help of friends unafraid to hold things up to the light for me.

Kind in mind gives me a new reference against which to assess my motivations.

Kind in mind and heart takes things a step further.

“Is this kind in mind and heart?” I ask myself, as I contemplate some new course of action or intervention. I am not always going to get it right, but it’s already helping.

Maybe it can work for you too.

Incidentally, my favourite coaster is one Fran bought me, shown here with my favourite mug.


Wednesday 20 March 2019

A Heap of "S" Words and an Aitch: Stigma, Suicide, Self-Harm - and Hope

By Martin Baker and Aimee Wilson

My good friend and fellow mental health blogger Aimee Wilson recently enrolled on an online course at Future Learn, titled Understanding Suicide and Suicide Prevention Strategies in a Global Context. It took me about thirty seconds to decide to join her! This is from the course description:

On this course, you will gain a broader understanding of suicide as a worldwide issue. You will analyse global suicide rates and patterns and explore common risk factors. You will explore the social and cultural factors that can influence suicidal behaviour. You will also look at suicide prevention strategies and learn how these can be enforced in communities.

Having a study buddy is great because — as Fran and I have found many times — you have someone to share ideas and perspectives with, and to talk through any issues that come up. This is especially valuable with something as complex and important as suicidality.

As with other Future Learn courses there is an online forum where students can connect, answer or ask questions, and post comments. One of the modules, Introducing Stigma, invited us to “share examples from mental health settings that help clarify the meaning of the terms [stigma, stereotypes, and discrimination].” I posted the following to the discussion area, drawing on conversations Fran and I have had over the years:

My best friend who lives with bipolar disorder has lived with suicidal ideation for most of her adult life. [....] In her case, the perceived stigma surrounding suicide (how she would be viewed by her community after any attempt at taking her life, whatever the outcome might be) is one of the factors which in her case is protective. The stigma helps to turn her away from that edge. This is something I don’t think I have seen reported elsewhere. Not exactly a good aspect of stigma, but worth noting.

I mentioned this to Aimee on Twitter, where we have been tweeting our progress on the course. She hadn’t heard that particular point being made before either. It made sense to her, although her personal experience with stigma was different:

For me, the stigma means I find it hard to ask for help when I am feeling that way.

I replied that the impact of stigma wasn’t simple for Fran either.

Yes, and that [aspect] is also present for Fran. So it’s all very mixed up and confused/overlapping. (We go into this in our book HTLT in some detail). I guess the different aspects affect people in different ways, and not always “logically”.

Here is the key passage, from chapter 7 of High Tide, Low Tide, “The ‘S’ Word: Being There When Your Friend Is Suicidal”.

The stigma surrounding mental illness is unhelpful and dangerous to the extent it makes people less likely to seek help, or speak to someone about what they are going through. Yet paradoxically, it can be protective to some degree. As Fran sees it, the taint of suicide would follow her even in death. She would be remembered not for her successes — her career, her books, her caring relationships, or the courage she has displayed through decades of illness — but as a failure. Whether or not she survived, she would always be “Fran Houston, that woman who tried to kill herself.” As much as she despises it, the shame of suicide helps to keep her away from the edge.

Aimee and I had chance to discuss this further in person. The idea that stigma could have a protective effect gave her a perspective she’d not had before. I asked if she would share what it meant to her:

Having experienced recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), I’ve learnt that it isn’t linear. Recovery is still a rollercoaster; it’s just that you tend to actually stay on the track a lot more! So, it feels like my recovery is constantly being tested by challenges in life and it means that I’m always looking for new inspiration and new reasons to stay on that track. Hearing Fran’s thought process around suicide was really enlightening and I have definitely added it to my arsenal of inspirations I can call on when things get difficult.

And that’s why it is so important to keep the dialogue open about such “difficult” topics as stigma, suicide, suicidal thinking (also known as suicidal ideation), and self-harm. (That’s a heap of “S” words, right there!) All too often these are hidden away or talked about only in terms of statistics and strategies (another two!). Exploring trends, causes, and effects on a societal level is important, but behind every statistic is an individual with his or her personal story, experiences, insights, and potential. That can too easily be lost. As Fran’s experience of stigma shows, things are not always as simple or clear-cut as they might appear.

No one is saying stigma is a good thing. It is overwhelmingly unhelpful, unhealthy, and damaging to both individuals and society at large. But the fact that it may, under some circumstances at least, help someone step back from the edge of self-harm or suicide deserves to be acknowledged and considered alongside other factors.

When it comes to something as complex as suicidality and self-harm, the best approach is to start from the individual person’s perspective, experiences and needs. And if we cannot guess what those are — and we cannot — we need to be prepared to ask the questions.

What are you going through right now?
What helps?
What doesn’t help?
What do you need?

Sharing our stories in a spirit of openness allows us to learn from others, expand our understanding, and can bring hope. What more valuable work can there be?

How do you feel about the topics discussed in this article? Please feel free to share in the comment section below.

Further Information

If you would like to know more about courses offered by Future Learn you can find all the information on their website. There is no enrolment charge and most courses are free to access throughout the duration of the course and for 14 days afterwards. You can upgrade for unlimited access plus a Certificate of Achievement or Statement of Participation. For the course Aimee and I are taking the upgrade cost is £52 (GBP).

Aimee Wilson is a 28-year-old mental health blogger who has used her personal experiences to develop a popular online profile. Her blog I’m NOT Disordered has close to half a million readers. Aimee’s first book, When All Is Said & Typed, is available at,, and in other regions.


Sunday 17 March 2019

When She

By Aimee Wilson


When she fought, he won

When she stole, he caught her

When she looked, he hid

When she bent, he broke her

When she hurt, he caused it

When she ran, he gave chase

When she saw, he missed it

When she heard, he ignored


But when she died, they revived her
When she cut, they mended
When she swallowed, they treat
When she cried, they soothed
When she ran, they caught
When she lost hope, they showed her the way


She won back what he’d taken

She mended what he had broke

She stabilized what he had moved

She finished what he had started

She lived



About the Author

Aimee Wilson is a 28-year-old mental health blogger who has used her personal experiences to develop a popular online profile. Aimee was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder in 2009, and after over 60 attempts on her life was admitted to a long-term, specialist psychiatric hospital almost 200 miles from home. It was during her two-and-a-half-year stay in hospital that Aimee began her blog: I’m NOT Disordered.

Originally it was meant as an outlet for pent-up frustrations from inpatient life, and a means to document her journey through the trauma therapy that eventually led her into recovery in 2014. The blog has developed into a platform for others to tell their stories and to give their own message to the world — whatever it may be.

Aimee’s blog now has close to half a million readers. Its popularity has resulted in three newspaper (in print) appearances, two online newspapers, BBC1 national news, ITV local news, interviews on BBC Radio 5 Live and Metro Radio; as well as a TV appearance on MADE. Aimee has had the opportunity to work with such organisations as North Tyneside and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, Northumbria Police, Time to Change, Cygnet Healthcare; and with individuals who range from friends, family and colleagues, to well-known people in the mental health industry.

Her first book, When All Is Said & Typed, is available at,, and in other regions. You can follow Aimee’s blog and read more about her at


Wednesday 13 March 2019

Open Hands. Open Arms. Open Heart.

This important principle reminds us not to hold too tightly to people, relationships, and situations. Healthy things grow, and to grow is to change.

In the time we have known each other Fran has moved from mania to depression and out again. She has grown in self-awareness, and developed tools for looking after herself. I have learned a great deal about what it is like for someone living with illness, and how to respond to Fran’s needs and the needs of others. At times Fran needs me close beside her, at other times she needs space to grow independently.

“Open hands” recognises that change is natural, healthy, and necessary. It gives us permission to grow without feeling guilty or restricted. Imagine holding a small bird in the palm of your hand. It feels safe, protected, and cared for, but it is free to move, to grow, and even to fly away.

“Open arms” reminds us that, no matter what happens, we will always welcome each other back as friends.

“Open heart” connects our friendship to our wider network of relationships with other friends, family, and the people we encounter in our lives.”


Excerpted from chapter 1, “The Caring Friendship: Key Skills and Attitudes,” of our book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder. Available at: | | | | | | | | Barnes & Noble


Sunday 10 March 2019

My Mental Health Talk for International Women’s Day

Last week I was proud to speak at an event organised for International Women’s Day by the Women in Digital network where I work.

I’d been invited to take part by my friend and colleague Lisa Overall. We agreed on a topic for my talk — how to support a friend who lives with mental illness — based on an article I wrote originally for No Stigmas, “a global non-profit movement utilizing peer-to-peer connections to promote mental wellness and prevent suicide.” The article was subsequently published at The Mighty.

I had given the talk once before, at a Talking FreELY event in 2017, but it is a topic which resonates with many (at The Mighty my article has been “liked” more than 1,200 times) and I was confident it would work for this new audience. The room was filling nicely by the time I arrived. I’d estimate there were close to sixty people there as the event got underway. (It is possible the promise of cake had something to do with the turnout!)

After introductions, things got off to a great start with a presentation on women and mental health by Lois White who leads the mental health awareness team at BPDTS. Like me, Lois is a Mental Health First Aider, and equally passionate about the work we are doing within the company.

After her talk Lois introduced me and took charge of the projector, anticipating almost all of my “next slide, please” moments. (Thank you!) I’ve done a number of public readings and talks in the past few years, but I still get nervous. Fortunately, once I am up there I find myself calming down and easing into things.

I had the script for my talk on my Kindle to keep me on track and on schedule, but I found myself ad-libbing freely. It’s hard to know when you are in front of an audience but it seemed to go well. There were even a few laughs in appropriate places. Lisa told me later I’d had the room in the palm of my hand, so I guess I did okay!

I received some very positive feedback afterwards, which is testament to the relevance of the key message I wanted to get across: that no one is too far away to be cared for or to care; and that with some basic tech and a little imagination we can be there for our friends and loved ones, whether they live on the other side of town or an ocean away.

In the interval I got chatting with a few of the other attendees including Andy Heath who was photographing the event. I couldn’t attend all the sessions but I’m glad I stayed for the next two speakers, who shared what has influenced and motivated their life and career journeys. The message to follow what interests you most and where your passion lies rather than “chasing grades” resonated strongly for me, as did their commitment to remaining open to new challenges and opportunities.

In case anyone is wondering, I didn’t have Fran with me on live video link (maybe next time!) but she messaged me before and after my talk and was very much with me as I shared our story. I even sneaked in a mention or two (or was it three?) of our book. I still feel self-conscious doing that, but a friend told me something this week that really struck home:

You were wondering where you are in the mental health community ... you are a writer, and an adamant and steadfast supporter.

She’s right (thanks, Jen!) As I wrote recently, I have been struggling a lot with my self-confidence of late, unsure in particular of my role and place within the mental health community. My talk, the positive responses to it, and the other speakers at the event helped me reconnect with the idea that I have a voice and a message worth sharing.

For that, and much else, I am grateful for the opportunity to take part. Thank you.

Photo credit: Andy Heath, with permission.


Saturday 2 March 2019

Or Maybe You Were an Asshole

Don’t push someone away and then expect them to still be there when you have a change of mind.” (Anon)

That quotation made its way into my social media stream the other day. Maybe you’ve seen it, or something similar. Maybe you agree with the sentiment.

After all, it doesn’t feel good to be pushed away by someone you care about. It’s easy to sit back and feel self-righteously aggrieved. But things are not always what they seem.

Someone might push you away for all sorts of reasons. Maybe they have major trust issues, and very good reasons for them. Maybe they have a lot of other shit going on right now and can’t keep all their plates spinning at the same time. Maybe they need to believe someone will be there to welcome them back. Maybe it isn’t about you at all.

Or maybe you were an asshole and they needed to push you away for their safety and well-being.