Wednesday 26 June 2019

Weepy, Angry, Catatonic: Three Kinds of Depression and How You Can Help

By Julie A. Fast

Depression has many modes. I divide it into a few categories: weepy, angry and catatonic. Knowing what kind of depression your friend experiences is a good place to start when it comes to offering help. Fran and Marty’s book High Tide, Low Tide covers this topic well.

The following examples show what people go through during each of these three kinds of depression. If you are unsure what your friend experiences, I suggest you read this blog together when they are stable. Ask them, “Do you experience what is in this blog? I would like to know more how to help when this happens. We can talk about it now while you are feeling better and I will then know what to do when I see the depression show up!”

I would LOVE a friend to do this for me, so please know that you are needed when we are depressed.

Weepy Depression

If I’m talking with you about things in a weepy, sad way and this is different from how I normally express myself there is a good chance the depression has a hold on me. When I’m sick, the news is simply overwhelming. I will start to talk about how the world is a bad place and how scary everything is now. I will cry over relationships and work and will be unable to hold myself together watching sad movies or when I see any kind of situation where someone is being harmed.

When I’m stable, I have a filter for these things. I hardly ever cry and when I do, it will have a good reason behind it. When the weepy depression hits me, I cry like a baby at everything. The tears are different too. They are like waterfalls. There are no tear drops like with regular crying. Instead, I have waterworks coming out of my eyes! The crying is endless!

If you see me tearing up, turning my head away so you don’t see me cry or I simply cry in front of you because I am so depressed, I can’t hide it, I DO want you to say something. I want you to say, “I can see the nasty depression has a hold of you. You told me the tears come really easily when the depression is around. Let’s talk about your plan and how I can help you get out of this downswing.”

Angry Depression

I’m a right nasty bitch when the irritated depression hits me. No one is safe from my rotten thinking. Everything upsets me! You will notice that while I am normally a pretty good listener, you will say things that piss me off more. I might even snap at you and say something unkind. I want you to know that this is not the real me.

It doesn’t mean that it’s ok. It’s not and I am working on it, but if you notice that I am much more irritated, upset, nasty and downright mean, don’t just take it or walk off or fight with me! Instead, I want you to say this, “You told me that you have depression that makes you really irritated. I see signs of this right now. It is hard on me, but I’m willing to work through it with you. We can focus on getting you out of this downswing. I don’t want depression to affect our relationship. I want to work together on this.”

I know that many of my past relationships would have been saved if my friends just knew what to say. Yes, I am responsible for what I say and I’m working on that. I want to let you know that sometimes the depression is stronger than I am and I do need help sometimes. Let’s work on this together.

Catatonic Depression

When I’m really depressed, you will not know it by looking at me. I simply won’t show it to you. My face will be a mask when we meet. I will do everything possible to hide what I am going through. It’s as though I’m a puzzle I want someone to solve, but I simply won’t give them the pieces! I can’t. The depression is so violating! It gives me thoughts that no one loves me, so how on earth do I break through that and tell you that I am hurting with this illness? It would be like saying I love you to someone I know will never love me back. I can’t feel or see that you care about me when I’m depressed.

For this reason, I need you to look for the other signs of my depression as you won’t be able to read it in my face. Am I talking less? Do I hang back or say no in situations where I would normally participate? Does my phone go to voice mail? Do my text replies get shorter or are all emojis? These are signs I am not doing well. I do want your help, but the kind of depression I have makes me silent. You can always ask me, is the depression rough right now? I will tell you the truth. Then, we can get out and do something together. Something active. This is what I need when I’m catatonic. I need the reminder that my body can still move.

Being friends with someone who has depression takes patience and a willingness to help when the depression is controlling how your friend thinks and behaves. As someone with depression, I wish that I were more able to control how it affects my brain, but I simply can’t. Instead, I need people in my life who will help me get through the down times so that we can go back to enjoying the good times.


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 19 June 2019

Don't Be a Jerk: How to Respond Responsibly on Social Media

We’ve all been there. Someone you follow on social media shares something that concerns or alarms you. You wonder if they’re safe. You want to respond. Reach out. Check everything’s OK. We’ve all been there because we all care.

Ironically, that’s how Fran and I met. I say ironically because we never would have connected if I’d not got it so spectacularly wrong. I posted a ridiculously inept comment (“Flooding light and love into your world”) on the Facebook wall of someone who was in acute distress. Quite rightly, Fran — who I’d never met until that moment — called me out on it. I don’t believe my comment added to the young woman’s distress, but it might have done. At best it was naïve and unhelpful.

What might I have done instead? I might have kept silent. I might have found better words. I might have messaged the woman privately, as Fran did, rather than post my words on her wall for all to see.

Here are my top tips for responding responsibly on social media.

If It’s Personal Keep It Private

If you only take one point away from this article let this be the one. Yes, social media is meant to be social. Yes, it’s tempting for a whole heap of reasons to share our thoughts, advice and suggestions with the wider online community. HOWEVER, it’s not always appropriate to do so. If what you want to say is personal, it’s better to go private.

Whatever the social media platform there will be ways to contact the other person privately if they wish to be contacted. Facebook has PMs (private messages), Twitter and Instagram have DMs (direct messages). If you have the person’s contact details there’s also e-mail, text (SMS), or a phone call.

Respect Other People’s Privacy

It might not be possible to contact the person privately. You might not be friended or following one another. They may have a private account. They may even have blocked you. It’s frustrating, but going public or taking steps to circumvent the other person’s preferences or privacy settings is neither cool nor clever. It’s actually pretty low. Just don’t.

Watch Your Words

Words are powerful things. Consider the impact yours might have on the person you’re addressing and anyone else who might see them, especially if you don’t know them personally. What seems obvious or reasonable to you may not be viewed by others in the same light.

Check Your Ego in at the Door

Take a moment to ask yourself why you want to comment or respond at all. Are you adding something positive to the online community, debate, or conversation, or is it more about you? Will it help someone or is it about boosting your ego as an expert, helper, advocate, or fixer? Are your intentions kind in heart and mind? It’s not always about you.

Respect Yourself and Your Reputation

Disagreements and misunderstandings can escalate quickly on social media. People tend to take sides to support those they know and care about, while others like to fan the flames for their own reasons. A stray remark or inappropriate act on your part might badly affect your credibility, reputation, and standing in the online community.

Thanks but No Thanks

Sharing is part of the social media landscape but don’t assume you’re doing the other person a favour by sharing their content more widely than they intended or are comfortable with. This is especially relevant if you have a significantly wider following than they do. It’s unlikely to be an issue if you simply pass on a link they have shared, but might be if you broadcast something personal they’ve chosen to share to a particular audience.

Sometimes the Past Is Best Left in the Past

It’s not only current things we need to think about. Facebook’s Memories feature reminds us of things we shared in years gone by, or that other people shared if we were tagged in them. Take a moment before reposting historic items. You may cherish the memory but others may have reasons for wanting to not remember. If you have the slightest doubt, ask first.

If You Mess Up, Fess Up

There’s a great quote by American-Mexican comedian Louis Székely (a.k.a. Louis C.K.):

When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t.

If you get it wrong — and we all do from time to time — apologise sincerely and immediately. Delete your tweet, post, or comment if asked to or if you feel it might limit the damage. Don’t make things worse by trying to justify what you did or why you did it, or (worst of all) denying you caused harm or upset. It may be unintentional but you don’t get to tell someone they shouldn’t be upset by what you chose to do.

We Are Not Amused

If you’re a fan of The Simpsons you might recall Krusty the Clown attempting to excuse an offensive remark:

When you look at me like that, it’s a joke.

If your comment or contribution misfired don’t try and pass it off as a joke, even if you intended it to be amusing. Accusing other people of being thin-skinned or having no sense of humour won’t win you any favours. “You know it was just a joke, right?” is crass and ignorant. You can do better.

A Gift Freely Given

It is nice to be thanked, but offer your contribution as a gift without strings and with no expectation of reward. The other person doesn’t owe you a “thank you” or an explanation if they’d rather not follow your suggestions, especially if they didn’t expressly ask for help or guidance.

Stay Safe

It’s one thing to respond responsibly, but what do you do when others fail to behave well? If you come across inappropriate or irresponsible behaviour there are steps you can take to hide or report the content or the person posting it. Options vary from platform to platform but are likely to include muting, reporting, unfollowing / unfriending, and blocking.

Facebook: What should I do if I see something I don’t like on Facebook?

Twitter: Safety and Security

Instagram: Privacy and Security (includes Reporting Content You Don’t Like)

LinkedIn: Safety Centre (includes What do I do if I see abuse?)

You might want to take it up with the person directly, of course, but whatever you do keep yourself safe.

Keep Caring

The online community can be an amazing and incredibly supportive place to hang out, and we all have a responsibility to keep it that way. Think before you post or respond, but don’t let a healthy caution stop you reaching out to someone in need.

Bear in mind that there are no absolute rules. What might be right or acceptable to one person in a particular situation could evoke distress or harm in another. Honest mistakes are always going to happen because we are human. But with a little forethought we can reduce the risk of causing upset or doing harm.

I find it helpful to remember that behind every social media account there is a real person doing their best.


Wednesday 12 June 2019

Hidden Histories: Mining in the North East

Photo: Peter Fannen

Aimee Wilson of I’m NOT Disordered and I recently attended Hidden Histories: Mining in the North East as official bloggers.

Aimee has written about the day here. Our social media posts before, during, and after the event can be found on the #hiddenhistories hashtag on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Official photography by Peter Fannen (PJFimages)

Shakespeare Hall, Durham

The venue was Shakespeare Hall, home of the Durham Community Association which hosts a range of groups, classes, and clubs. The modest entrance on North Road belies the building’s impressive architecture and facilities.

A Bit of Background

Organised by Sophie Hopkins and Eliza Colin Hodges, Hidden Histories featured speakers from Beamish Museum, the Auckland Project, and GMB Trade Union.

In Hidden Histories we aim to bring together different generations and different demographics of the North East to break down barriers of stigma that could be caused by a lack of understanding of historic and present conditions.

By learning about the importance of mining in the area, we will address a complex and an often untold piece of British history and what it means today, and how these different geographies have been affected by it in both positive and negative ways. We want to create discussion and document breakthroughs as people connect to the place they are in.

The Idea Behind Hidden Histories: A Bit of Background

Opening Speech

Photo: Martin Baker

Sophie and Eliza shared how they first connected on a residential run by Jack Drum Arts, how the idea for Hidden Histories came about, and their aims and hopes for the event.

Their talk was described as “most inspiring” by Laura Emerson Roberts, Lead Arts and Music Worker at Jack Drum.

They also showed a short video called Wallace the Pit Pony created by Jack Drum as part of Film Encounters; a heritage education film project for primary school children.

Partners Introduction

Photo: Martin Baker

Laura Emerson Roberts and Helen Ward — respectively Lead Arts and Music Worker, and Managing Director at Jack Drum CIC — spoke next. Jack Drum CIC is a community arts organisation producing theatre, music, film, and arts events.

Sophie and Eliza met at a six day residential run by Jack Drum as part of the British Council’s Active Citizens social leadership program. Participants developed skills to design and implement social action projects to affect positive and lasting change in their communities.

Mining in the North East

Photo: Peter Fannen

The event proper opened with a talk covering 500 years of mining in the region by Jonathan Kindleysides, Head of Industry at Beamish Museum. History was never my favourite subject at school, but Jonathan’s passion and knowledge brought the subject to life.

There was a lot to cover in a relatively short time but Jonathan gave a good account of the broad sweep of history and the lives of the miners, their families, and wider communities through to the forced pit closures of the 1980s.

I was particularly struck by the account of miners being lowered into the mines on chains long before the development of proper lifts, and the role of the “sinkers,” specialist workers who traveled from coal field to coal field sinking the initial mine shafts.

Agree / Disagree Activity

Photo: Peter Fannen

After a break for coffee and mingling there was a group activity led by Eliza and Sophie. We each had red (no), green (yes), and yellow (unsure/maybe) cards to hold aloft in response to a series of questions.

  • Do you change how you talk depending on the situation?
  • Do you feel safe with everyone in this room?
  • Should local history be taught in universities and schools?
  • Is mining history still relevant?
  • Should the mines still be open today?

The exercise led to the sharing of some very interesting stories and opinions.

Panel Discussion

Photo: Martin Baker

Next was a panel discussion with Sophie, Eliza, Neve Ovenden, and Hannah Ruddick. Neve is president of the Durham University Working Class Students Association (DUWCSA) and a founding member of the Durham Student–Worker Solidarity Group. Hannah is Branch A61 Youth Officer, LGBT+ Officer, and LGBT+ Regional Equality Forum Delegate for the GMB Trade Union.

I found this section the most personally challenging (which is to say rewarding) as I have little in the way of lived experience or family history comparable to what was being discussed. I am not of working class stock and was sufficiently privileged to not realise the extent of my privilege for decades. One of the speakers, I think it was Sophie, commented that everyone has a close attachment to their region of origin. I seem to be missing that gene. As I’ve written elsewhere, I have little sense of rootedness. It is something I am sure I will return to.

Lunch and Music

Photo: Martin Baker

An excellent cold buffet lunch was served in an adjacent room while Brendan Hoar (aka Mr Pelican) provided musical entertainment in the main hall.

Brendan is currently working on a project called Music for the Mind, focusing on mental health awareness.

Follow him on Bandcamp, Facebook, and Youtube.

A Life Worth Living?

Photo: Peter Fannen

After lunch there was a talk by Sylvie Donna. Sylvie is a lecturer at Durham University and founder-director of Fresh Heart Publishing.

The talk centred on the book A Life Worth Living? the Life of a Miner in the North East of England in the Late 20th Century by Ned Cowen. Originally self-published in the 1970s, the book was re-edited and expanded by Sylvie in collaboration with the original author’s family.

Published in 2012 under Fresh Hearth’s Another World imprint, A Life Worth Living? is available from Amazon.


Photo: Peter Fannen

Next on the programme were four workshops which took place simultaneously in the main hall.

  • Making a Mark: Boot Polish, Charcoal and Printing, led by Carys Funnell from The Auckland Project
  • I Remember... Durham, led by poet Tony Gadd
  • The Miners’ Experience, Campaigns and Legacy, led by Sylvie Donna
  • Discussion group led by Neve Ovenden and Hannah Ruddick

Aimee took part in Making a Mark [video] while I chose Tony Gadd’s poetry workshop. I first met Tony at the Newcastle Literary Salon and was interested to learn more about him and his work. He introduced himself to the group with an “elevator pitch” poem. I thought we’d be asked to compose a similar piece of our own but in keeping with the day’s theme Tony invited us to write a poem that shared some aspect of our own hidden histories. Here is mine:

I remember a faded black and white
photograph, square, white-bordered,
taken on my father’s Kodak Brownie
that sits now on a high shelf in my home
awaiting a roll of film and some attention
to bring it to life.

A photograph taken by my mother
I suppose. Who else?
A photograph of me, a child of six or seven,
younger maybe, beside my father. The
only photograph I recall of him standing,
bent in later years by arthritis and crippling pain.

The two of us, father and son, at the docks in Bootle.
In the background, huge, some ship or other.
One moment frozen in time ...

Coal to Canvas: Mining Art in Bishop Auckland

Photo: Martin Baker

The final talk was by Carys Funnell, Learning Officer at The Auckland Project. According to its website,

The Auckland Project is like nothing you’ve come across before. It’s a project that spans over a thousand years, seven venues in one beautiful setting. We’re all about Bishop Auckland, a small town but one with a big history and big ambitions.

Carys spoke passionately about the Mining Art Gallery and the history of creativity in mining communities throughout the region.

Wrap Up and Evaluation

The event closed with a look back on the day by Sophie and Eliza. All too soon it was time for me and Aimee to head back to Newcastle taking with us some good memories, a few new friends, and lots to think about.

In Other Words

I asked a couple of people to share their thoughts of the event.

The preparation for the event was very thorough. Volunteers were briefed and deployed effectively, information packs for participants were of a high quality and useful, the space was transformed brilliantly, refreshments were well presented, and the venue was well-chosen.

The selection of speakers was diverse and interesting, reflecting very well the aims of the event — to inform people able the mining heritage of the North East and to prompt discussion and interaction between generations and between locals and students. The technical set-up was well-thought out and well executed, with projection capabilities and PA system to ensure that all presentations were accessible.

Most inspiring was the opening speech given by Sophie and Eliza themselves. They spoke thoughtfully and articulately about the project and about their personal journey developing the skills to change and unite their communities for the better.

Well done, ladies!

— Laura Emerson Roberts, Lead Arts and Music Worker, Jack Drum Arts

The following is excerpted from a longer write-up of the day by Mick Watson:

I am 52. This disclosure regards my age may seem irrelevant. However, I feel it’s very relevant to understand my viewpoint regards the fascinating & well-organised Hidden Histories: Mining in the North East event by people considerably younger than I. I have to point out that by & large my age group were the last to experience working mines that were still producing coal. My children never saw a working pit.

With critical thinking at the foremost, my first unspoken surprised reaction to the title of the event is why do the young people feel that the North East’s history regarding mining is actually hidden? Do they mean hidden from them? Hidden from my age group & culture? […] It got me thinking which is exactly what the event was all about & linking this to the knowledge pertaining to young people whether local or not, town or gown. […] I am not really sure our Mining History is hidden at all. The student should look for the history.

I learned that young people are not afraid to speak publicly about their own mental health issues, I am proud of them. My generation don’t like opening up like this generally.

I learned that some young people generally seem to be acutely aware of social class division. The word elite was uttered many, many times out loud during the event. I know in some people’s minds class is an issue but maybe this is just my opinion but the older you get that class division disappears, you realise, yes some people have more money, but we are all equal, the Queen still has to go for a poo, just the same as you or me ha-ha!

My advice is to be yourself, find your inner voice & be you.

— Mick Watson

Further Information

If you are interested to learn more about Hidden Histories, check out the Facebook event, the blog announcement, or email


My Day at the Hidden Histories: Mining in the North East Event

By Mick Watson

Martin Baker asked if I would like to share my impressions of the Hidden Histories: Mining in the North East event held in Durham on the 5th June, 2019. I enjoyed the day and was happy to oblige.

I am 52.

This disclosure regards my age may seem irrelevant. However, I feel it’s very relevant to understand my viewpoint regards the fascinating & well-organised Hidden Histories: Mining in the North East event by people considerably younger than I. I have to point out that by & large my age group were the last to experience working mines that were still producing coal. My children never saw a working pit.


With critical thinking at the foremost, my first unspoken surprised reaction to the title of the event is why do the young people feel that the North East’s history regarding mining is actually hidden? Do they mean hidden from them? Hidden from my age group & culture? Surely not hidden from my age group & culture? Surely not hidden from local young people? Or is it? It got me thinking which is exactly what the event was all about & linking this to the knowledge pertaining to young people whether local or not, town or gown.

What seems possibly alien regarding mining history to young people from Durham University who are mainly from out of the area is actually not to my age group or maybe even to many local young people. There isn’t anything hidden about it.

The mining heritage is all around my culture, it was all around my life as I grew up & still is I suppose. Some examples being the thousands & thousands of historic mine workings such as drift mines, deep capped mines, coal tub ways, waggon ways & old abandoned railways that are all over the North East of England. Have a walk in Kepier Woods, from Durham to Belmont Viaduct, then keep walking 10 minutes more past the Viaduct & see an old drift mine, The Grange Drift mine belching water stained orange from Iron Oxide. Beamish Museum near Durham springs to mind which has a drift mine in situ, Shildon Railway Museum has many examples of the mining heritage.

Many old pit villages have old coal tubs with memorial plaques dedicated to the men & boys who died at their local pit, many villages have old mining winding gear wheels located as lasting memorials & some local schools & community centres have fibre glass made pit ponies pulling old coal tubs. Visit Tanfield Railway to see old coal mining history. Visit Washington F pit museum.

The Redhills Miners Welfare Hall located in Durham was a symbol of the Mine Unions power, still worth a visit today to experience coal mining history. Visit Durham Mining Museum located in Spennymoor, County Durham that has a huge archive with photographs and documents that are all mining related and/or social history. Our mining heritage is taught in local schools at Primary school level & verbally by parents & grandparents. Look to the statue of Lord Londonderry sitting on his horse in Durham Market Place, still lording it over the peasants, a man who evicted his own miners & families when they formed their Union, he made them homeless, he made some of the miners & their families live in caves in Blackhall. That was the class system at its worst. Penshaw Monument located on a hill that overlooks Sunderland & can be seen from parts of County Durham is an enormous beacon of the British Empirical way of life & to its coal mine owning family. Look at the open cast mining sites still ongoing in County Durham & Northumberland. The songs, the poetry & the paintings, it’s all there!

The list is almost endless of examples of County Durham’s mining heritage.

I am not really sure our Mining History is hidden at all. The student should look for the history.

What I learned: Linking the past to the present. Nothing is new under the sun.

I heard the interesting Beamish Museum speaker allude to poor working conditions & miners suffering from down time & no wages at certain times when coal was cheap & wasn’t worth selling. We touched on the miners strikes. I pointed out how this occurred during the 1990s at Nissan car plant & is still ongoing regarding standing the factory down when car sales are poor & improving hours when car sales go up. I heard the Union speaker voicing concerns regarding zero hours & poor working conditions nowadays & hope my message got across that despite Unions nothing is new. Nothing has changed & never will regarding the working man & woman unfortunately. The owner wins every time.


a debate I noticed only a few of us older people voted for a return of the mines if it were at all possible. The younger generation almost all said no to the return of the mining industry. Interesting as coal can be produced to burn cleaner nowadays. I agree we have to fight to save the planet regards the climate but wonder if the older generation voted for the return of coal mining were influenced actually as they shoulder the socio economic burden of families, mortgages etc. etc. when the students don’t have that burden? The socio-economic regeneration of the North East would be immense with a return of the coal mining industry in juxtaposition to the desolation once wreaked by Margaret Thatcher on this region. The North East has never recovered.

My age being relevant (once again).

I learned that young people are not afraid to speak publicly about their own mental health issues, I am proud of them. My generation don’t like opening up like this generally.

I learned that some young people generally seem to be acutely aware of social class division. The word elite was uttered many, many times out loud during the event. I know in some people’s minds class is an issue but maybe this is just my opinion but the older you get that class division disappears, you realise, yes some people have more money, but we are all equal, the Queen still has to go for a poo, just the same as you or me ha-ha!

My advice is to be yourself, find your inner voice & be you.


Wednesday 5 June 2019

In the Beginning


I’ve always told myself that I would never submit anything anonymously. I guess the vain part of me wanted the glory. It wasn’t until I considered telling this part of my story that I felt I couldn’t truly be me. That’s not to say that I’m ashamed of what I’ve been through. I’m trying hard to work past that feeling, and this is step one.

I didn’t think I would ever be sitting here sharing so much of myself with the outside world. I kept my mouth shut to protect other people, mostly my parents. I wouldn’t have been able to tell them. It would have caused more grief than I could ever stand to put them through.

My mom and dad are gone now, and it’s time to stop worrying that I will disappoint them. The other people involved are still alive, and I don’t care about protecting them. I’m doing this anonymously now to protect myself. Something I wish I could have done before now.

It’s all still incredibly painful, even all these years later. The nightmares and the PTSD are all piled up on top of the bipolar disorder. It’s more than anyone should have to endure. Here I am, struggling to keep my head above water.

For the first time, in a public way, I’m admitting to being sexually assaulted by two family members. I was nine years old when it happened, and I can recall four separate incidents. That may not seem like a lot; I know I was lucky. It could have gone on for years. That doesn’t make my pain any less valid.

I spent a lot of time alone as a kid. I guess the attention, no matter how toxic, was better than no attention at all. I wanted to be loved, and I didn’t think anything was wrong. As I got older and realized what I had been through, I blamed myself for all of it. As if I was asking for it.

For many years I kept my secret, not even remembering until I turned 18. Suddenly, there were nightmares and flashbacks that were far too real. It took a little time, but eventually, I could recall every detail. Before I realized what was happening, I was cutting myself and dwelling on self-loathing.

The self-injury plagued me for years, and I was in an out of different types of facilities. I got involved with men that treated me badly, but it didn’t matter to me. I wanted the attention. I kept my secret for years. I didn’t see any other alternative. I thought I could handle it.

Here I am, at my age, still carrying around the trauma from what happened to me. I never told anyone that could have helped me in any way. The people responsible for all this pain are still around, but we have no relationship. I’ve struggled for years with the idea that there were more victims because I didn’t speak up about it. It’s a feeling of guilt that I don’t know if I’ll ever get over.

Maybe talking about it even in an anonymous way will help me move forward with treatment. Maybe a time will come when I won’t carry so much guilt. Perhaps all of this will make it easier for someone else to come forward. Helping someone would make it a little less painful.

For now, I lead a pretty good life. I’m happily married to a man that values and respects me. I still have my day-to-day struggles. I suppose I always will. At least I know that I’ve started to take steps in the right direction, no matter how painful they may be.


Saturday 1 June 2019

Six People I Admire in the Mental Health Community

I was recently gifted a copy of Diana Fox’s 365 Blog Topic Ideas: For The Lifestyle Blogger Who Has Nothing to Write About by fellow blogger Aimee Wilson. As I looked through the suggested topics one leapt out at me. I couldn’t believe I’d not thought of it before.

Talk about your mentors and people you look up to in your niche

Choosing who to include wasn’t easy, but one way or another each of the six people I’ve selected is making a difference by actively combating stigma and discrimination, by sharing personal stories, or by supporting people with lived experience, their friends and loved ones. They are presented in the order we first connected.

Fran Houston | Darren Hodge | Julie A. Fast | Sarah Fader | Steve O'Driscoll | Aimee Wilson


Fran Houston

What is your connection with Fran?

Fran is my best friend and co-author of two books: High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder and No One is Too Far Away: Notes from a Transatlantic Friendship.

How and when did you meet?

We met in May 2011 on the Facebook page of a mutual friend who was feeling suicidal. I posted a really dumb comment which Fran immediately picked me up on. We have been best friends ever since.

What do you admire most about Fran?

Fran lives with bipolar disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS/ME), and fibromyalgia. We’ve been best friends for over eight years and spend up to three hours a day online in each other’s company. There’s very little we haven’t talked about and we have few illusions about each other, which makes for a very deep connection. I admire Fran’s emotional honesty, her resilience, and her determination to keep moving forward even when she seems “stuck,” emotionally or otherwise.

What have you learned from her?

What haven’t I learned?! All the mental health work I am doing in the workplace and outside, all the amazing people I’ve met within the mental health community both online and locally, our two books and the blog posts and articles I have written — none of that would have happened if it wasn’t for Fran.

I have learned a great deal about myself that I never would have explored if we’d not met. Fran has the ability to hold a mirror up to me so that I see myself clearer than I have ever been able to do on my own. She challenges me to be the best version of myself I can be. That hasn’t always been easy for either of us but I’ve learned a lot about commitment and resilience along the way. I am a far better person for knowing her.

What one thing would you like Fran to know?

I’m not sure what I could say to you, Fran, that you don’t know already! But just in case you’ve forgotten, you’re stuck with me now!


Darren Hodge

What is your connection with Darren?

We are friends and fellow ASIST-trained Mental Health First Aiders.

How and when did you meet?

We met at a local Time to Change networking event in November 2013.

What do you admire most about him?

I admire Darren’s calm and gentle manner no matter what is going on, and his service to others which often involves helping people in need. I asked if he could sum his roles up for me:

I am a server and help with communion in church (there is a really grand name but no one would understand what it means!) We do our best to make everyone welcome and care for people who are on the edge. I have been involved in the voluntary sector for over thirty years. I am really drawn to Taize / Northumbrian Saints such as Aidan — they gently walked alongside people. I am often seen with people on the edge and learned British Sign Language (BSL) to communicate with a deaf friend. I also speak a bit of Urdu to build bridges with Asian friends.

What have you learned from Darren?

Darren recommended I take the Mental Health First Aid course, which I took in 2014. We met up again later that year at an Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) workshop. His experience in crisis situations is second to none and I’ve learned that it’s not about having all the answers. Offering your presence in a non-judgemental way can be exactly what someone needs.

What one thing would you like him to know?

Darren, you were hugely supportive a few years ago when I was going through a really rough time. I have never told you how much that meant to me. Thank you.


Julie A. Fast

What is your connection with Julie?

We are friends and fellow mental health authors.

How and when did you meet?

Julie and I met on social media in August 2014. I knew of her as the author of Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder and had followed her on Facebook and Twitter for a few months. I’d not had much response but I figured she was a busy lady.

One day Julie ran a Q&A session on Facebook and I asked a question about how to query agents and publishers. Julie’s response showed how much she had appreciated my approach.

You liked my Tweets and passed on my tips, sent encouraging messages and asked intelligent questions. You were not intrusive and were understanding if I didn’t actually answer your questions in a timely manner — if at all. I call this hooking your wagon to a star. If you truly care about promoting someone and your work is in alignment with theirs they will naturally want to work with you.

We have been friends ever since.

What do you admire most about her?

Julie has a wealth of knowledge and experience based on years living with bipolar disorder and her work as a family coach. She’s clear about her opinions but she’s respectful of those who might have a different perspective. Above all, Julie is a generous and steadfast supporter of other writers and has been incredibly supportive to me and Fran.

What have you learned from Julie?

From Julie I’ve learned there is something positive to be drawn from any situation, to believe in the value of one’s story, and to never give up. Her mantra “treat bipolar first” helps me support Fran and other friends when symptoms of bipolar disorder and other mental health conditions come to the fore.

What one thing would you like Julie to know?

Julie, you are a dear friend and an inspiration to me on so many levels. I love working with you and look forward to wherever our next collaboration takes us!


Sarah Fader

What is your connection with Sarah?

Sarah has guested on our blog several times and interviewed me and Fran for her podcast. She is co-founder and CEO of Eliezer Tristan Publishing who published our second book, No One Is Too Far Away: Notes from a Transatlantic Friendship.

How and when did you meet?

Sarah is CEO of Stigma Fighters, a campaign platform that encourages individuals with mental illness to share their personal stories. We connected in 2015 when I submitted my story No one is too far away to be cared for, or to care.

What do you admire most about Sarah?

Sarah is one of those people who seem to let nothing stand in their way. Think feisty, gutsy, determined. Things are often hard for her but she refuses to let life stop her being the best person she can be. She’s passionate about what she believes in and fiercely supportive of those she cares about. She is 150% herself with absolutely no pretensions.

What have you learned from her?

As someone without lived experience or a mental health diagnosis there are times I doubt my place in the mental health community. By accepting my story for the Stigma Fighters blog and later publishing it in their second anthology, Sarah gave me the confidence to believe I have something worth sharing and the courage to do so. I’ve also learned that great things can happen if you believe they can and are prepared to go after them wholeheartedly.

What one thing would you like her to know?

Sarah, you are a force of nature and I love you!


Steve O’Driscoll

What is your connection with Steve?

Steve works with several mental health groups and initiatives in and around my home town of Newcastle upon Tyne.

How and when did you meet?

We met through Time to Change at the Newcastle Mental Health Day event in February 2016.

What do you admire most about Steve?

Steve is another of those 150% genuine people. What you see is what you get. He is very open about his lived experience which he shares to support and educate others.

What have you learned from him?

In October 2018 I attended a self-harm awareness session led by Steve at Newcastle Recovery College. His knowledge and honesty opened my eyes and gave me a degree of insight I otherwise would not have had. I later wrote:

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.

What one thing would you like him to know?

Steve, you’re one of the most genuine guys I’ve ever met and I’m proud to know you. Despite my lack of lived experience you’ve always treated me with respect and that means a lot.


Aimee Wilson

What is your connection with Aimee?

We are friends and fellow mental health bloggers.

How and when did you meet?

Aimee and I met at a Time to Change session for Newcastle Mental Health Day in February 2016.

What do you admire most about her?

I was rather in awe of Aimee when we met and for a good while after because she seemed (and is!) so professional at what she does. We’ve grown to be great friends and I’ve taken her down from that pedestal, but my respect is undiminished.

I admire Aimee’s courage in writing so openly about what she lives with which includes borderline personality disorder, self-harm, and suicidality. Her blog posts tell it how it is and they can be challenging to read for that reason, but honesty is the only way to shift perceptions and foster wider understanding. I also admire how Aimee is building a rich portfolio of skills, connections, and experience. This has inspired me as I look for opportunities to expand my mental health role in the workplace and beyond.

What have you learned from Aimee?

I joke that I learn something new every time we meet, so it’s quite a list! Some are small things like ensuring I always have business cards to hand, and social media tips like using time-lapse videos to capture the essence of an event or moment. I’ve also learned to celebrate every achievement and make the most of each moment because you don’t necessarily know what’s coming up next. Aimee’s blog posts challenge my assumptions and help me “get it” a little more clearly.

What one thing would you like her to know?

Aimee, when I was struggling over my role in the mental health community the open letter you wrote me helped me see there’s a place for me even if I’ve not quite found it yet. We’ve been there for each other a few times and I’m learning lots but it’s not all about learning and support. We’re friends and fellow bloggers! I look forward to us working together lots more in the future and can’t wait for our next bloggers’ day out!