Wednesday 28 August 2019

Fighting the Stigma of Addiction and Mental Illness

By Cassidy Webb

In recovery I see a lot of people go in and out. Unfortunately, not everyone makes it back. I’ve lost a lot of friends to addiction and I’ve watched even more of them struggle with their mental health. I’ve watched mental illness take over the minds of good people to the point where it drives them back to the needle or the bar. When it’s somebody close to me, I just want to shake them. I want to shake the misery, the despair, and the fear right out of them. I want them to get well. I want them to get the help that they deserve. However, I can’t do that. I’m not that powerful.

Growing up I was told to sit quietly and look pretty. Sharing my emotions was frowned upon, and when I did, I felt judged. I felt like the outcast whom nobody understood. I became a master at shoving my emotions down until they became too much to bear. I would then break down in major depressive episodes. As a teenager, I found solace in drugs and alcohol. I didn’t have to feel anything except pure bliss if I was drunk or high.

The lack of ability to cope with my emotions and substance abuse eventually spiraled into dangerous heroin addiction and severe depression. I had lost the will to live because I was too afraid of what people would think if I asked for help. Before addiction, I was an honor roll student and had my whole life ahead of me. I didn’t want to be seen as a failure. I didn’t want to be judged.

I tried to take my own life, promising myself that if I woke up, I would go to treatment. Treatment was my last resort because I didn’t know that it was possible to be happy. I didn’t know anything about addiction or recovery. I just thought I was insane.

I was one of the lucky ones. I went to treatment once, got diagnosed with depression, learned how to cope with it appropriately, and followed the path I needed to follow to stay sober. Unfortunately, not everybody’s path is the same.

I remember my first day in treatment because I was terrified. I was surrounded by people who were astonished to find out that it was my first time in rehab. Some of them had been to over fifteen facilities and still couldn’t stay sober. Honestly, it was really discouraging. As somebody who knew nothing about mental illness or recovery, I felt like I was doomed to live a life where I was in and out of dual diagnosis treatment centers. A lot of my peers made it seem like getting sober and staying sober was impossible.

Despite this discouragement, I was determined. I didn’t do everything right — after all, I’m human and what makes me human is the fact that I make mistakes. The difference was that I learned from my mistakes and turned them into opportunities for growth. In learning from my mistakes I also embraced transparency. I set my pride aside and I admitted when I was wrong. I sought the opinions from others on how to fix it and I set out to make my wrongs right.

When I celebrated a year sober, I stood in front of both the alumni and the current clients at my treatment center. Some people I was in treatment with were still sober, others were back in treatment. I didn’t condemn them but rather gave them words of encouragement. I wanted to show the people who had been stuck on this relapse rollercoaster that they didn’t have to use again. I wanted to show the people who were in treatment for the first time, feeling as scared as I was, that they can do what I did, too. I wanted all of them to know that, although it may feel like it, this isn’t the end of the road. It doesn’t have to be.

If I could just shake these people who I see struggling and make them ask for help I would. If I could expand mental health resources to be accessible to everybody I would do it in a heartbeat. However, the only thing I can do is use the voice I have been given to share the experience that I can have. If my vulnerability affects just one person, then I have achieved my purpose as a woman in recovery.

When the mental illness goes untreated in the midst of addiction recovery, it often leads people back out to relapse. When it comes to treating addiction, I believe that it is absolutely imperative to address mental health too. After all, nearly half of those who suffer from addiction also have a co-occurring mental illness. Failing to recognize this is doing those who want to get better a major disservice. On the other hand, failing to speak up and talk about mental health is an even bigger disservice.

I believe that the first step in destigmatizing people who suffer from co-occurring disorders is to talk about it from a first-hand perspective. It is absolutely crucial to share those dirty secrets that we hold on to and it is absolutely necessary to acknowledge the times when we fall short. It’s important for those who are struggling to feel comfortable in asking for help and feel comfortable talking to others about the thoughts that run through their heads. By being completely transparent and brutally honest, we allow others to relate to us. We allow others to see that they aren’t alone.

By withholding the truth, we not only suffer in silence ourselves, but we enable others to suffer in silence. This type of suffering is the worst kind because when it comes to mental health and addiction, it can mean life or death. Most of all, we must demonstrate to others that despite how dark the past is, there can be light in the future.

About the Author

Cassidy Webb is an avid writer who works with JourneyPure to spread awareness around the disease of addiction. Her passion in life is to help others by sharing her experience, strength, and hope. You can find her and read more of her work on Twitter.


Wednesday 21 August 2019

21 Things You Didn't Know About Marty

Not even my closest friends know all this stuff!

1. What’s in a Name?

My middle name is Keith. I’ve never liked it much.

2. Schoolboy Crush

I had a major crush on my human biology teacher in Sixth Form. Her name was Helen and she was a huge inspiration to me, work-wise and creatively. As “Eleanor” she inspired some of my early poetry.

3. Cuddly Toys

When I lived in London I made cuddly toys. The budgerigars and white rats were very popular.

My favourite was Pemberton the bear who kept a dear friend of mine company for many years. After my friend died Pemberton returned home to live with me.

4. Nail-biting

I still bite my nails.

5. Wombling Free

The first concert I ever went to was The Wombles in Liverpool, 1978.

6. Pedal to the Metal

The first and only car I’ve owned was a mustard yellow Toyota Corolla, not unlike this one except mine had a CND sticker on the side. It cost £500 second hand. Two years later after spending a small fortune on the thing I got £30 for it at a scrapyard.

Highlights including losing my car keys with a few kilos of frozen blackcurrants in the boot, reversing into a bollard, and having the gear stick come away in my hands whilst driving (my passenger seemed more concerned than I was).

7. Heroic Failure

I failed my O Level English Literature exam at age 16 achieving — if that’s the right word — a grade U (Unclassified).

8. Airborne (Just)

The only time I’ve flown was from Liverpool’s Speke Airport (now John Lennon Airport) to the Isle of Man and back when I was maybe eight years old.

The flight takes forty minutes. I used to joke that the pilots turn the engines off once the plane’s in the air and glide the rest of the way!

9. Just Don’t

I hate the word “should” with a passion! It should be banned!

10. Naughty Boy

I was sent to the head teacher’s office in primary school for eating the dried pasta in art class.

11. Baby Doll Nightie

Yes, I did once go to pyjama party dressed in a friend’s baby doll nightie. Yes, I looked cute. No, there aren’t any photos.

12. Fantasy Fandom

I ran an online Tolkien fan club called Middle-earth Reunion: The Alternative Tolkien Society for ten years, and published our quarterly journal Reunion: The Journal of Middle-earth Studies and newsletter Parish’s Garden.

You can still read all our material at, mainly because I keep forgetting to cancel the hosting contract.

13. Home from Home

I lived in the nurses’ home at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital for six months in 1982 on placement from university.

14. Poetic Injustice

I stole a book of poetry by Ezra Pound from my school library.

15. Street Photog

I was Panasonic Amateur Photographer of the Year in 2003. My winning entry was a photograph of the Blue Carpet installation here in Newcastle taken from the Laing Art Gallery.

16. London Calling

My first job was at the Parkinson’s Disease Society Research Centre in London.

17. All That Glisters

I much prefer silver jewellery to gold.

18. Animal Magic

I designed a website and promotional leaflets for Wetheriggs Animal Rescue Centre.

19. Chant Along

I can sing JRR Tolkien’s Namárië (Galadriel’s Lament) in Elvish from memory.

20. Unfinished Symphony

I never completed my PhD, which is a shame because it would have been fun to call myself Doc Martin.

21. Ghastly Gastronomy

I hate gin and avocados. If there’s such a thing as avocado gin, I hate that too.


Wednesday 14 August 2019

Six Things I'd Quite Like to Do in 2019: A Midyear Update

This is a midyear update on a post I wrote back in January: Six Things I'd Quite Like to Do in 2019. Let’s see how I’ve been getting on!

1. Take Three Well-being Courses


At the start of the year I enrolled on the Overcoming Self-Sabotage course at DailyOM. I completed the first three lessons (of fourteen) but ground to a halt and haven't managed to get moving again.

I have updated my Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training, though, and am currently taking OpenLearn's Understanding autism course.

I've also completed Pluralsight's excellent Introduction to Emotional Intelligence. The course recommended the book Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend, which I bought and am working my way through. I'm finding it exciting and challenging — always a great combination!

Speaking of exciting and challenging, I've been offered the opportunity to undertake the three day Personal Leadership Programme by Living Leader later in the year. It will be scary but I've heard only great things about it from friends who have taken it already (mentioning no names, Judith, Lois, and Loveday!) and I figure I'm up for it!

2. Bring My Weight Back under 176 Pounds


My aim for this year is to bring my weight down and maintain around 173 – 176 lbs. So far it has remained stubbornly between 179 and 182 pounds which is more or less where it was at the start of the year.

There’s nothing wrong with this but I would like to get it down if I can. I know what I need to do: stop having cheese sandwiches at supper time!

3. Happy Happy Joy Joy


At the start of the year I said “I’d quite like some more joyful moments, please!” Seven and half months in, I’m doing pretty well!

I’ve shared some lovely times with Aimee Wilson on our Bloggers’ Days Out, including Newcastle’s Life Science Centre, an Easter fundraiser at the Cats Protection Adoption Centre, and an afternoon in Blyth.

July’s holiday in Ambleside was lovely, in particular evenings spent lakeside in Borrans Park or the beer garden of the Wateredge Inn. My little trek to Stock Ghyll Force waterfall was fun too. Sharing such moments with friends on chat or video calls made for some special memories.

A recent highlight was talking with Jonny Benjamin MBE at the Stranger on the Bridge and Other Stories of Friendship and Support event in Newcastle. Not because he’s “all famous” but because he’s such a lovely guy.

I’ve also realised I can have fun on my own! Last week I stopped at STACK for a drink before going on to a mental health book event. It was a beautiful evening. I was surrounded by folk enjoying the live music and atmosphere. Just for a moment I felt something close to bliss. (I suppose it could have been the Red Stripe!)

4. Meet Two Online Friends Face to Face


I was delighted to meet my friend Soph in January for coffee and a look round Newcastle’s Hancock Museum, and again in March at the Hidden Histories: Mining in the North East event. Strictly speaking we met once years ago at a Time to Change event, but we connected properly and built our friendship online.

I don’t have any other hook-ups planned as yet but there are a couple of possibles, so watch this space!

5. Have One Caffeine Free Week


I’ve yet to attempt a week without my daily two (occasionally three) cups of coffee, but I still intend to! Family, friends, and colleagues have been warned: apparently I get grumpy if I don’t have my morning dose!

6. Visit Barter Books, Alnwick


I haven't visited Barter Books in Alnwick yet, nor Keel Row Books in North Shields which was also suggested to me. No reason, apart from having been busy doing other things!

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


Thursday 8 August 2019

The Stranger on the Bridge and Other Stories of Friendship and Support

Photo: Vikki Beat

In the latest of our Bloggers’ Days Out, fellow mental health blogger Aimee Wilson and I attended Stranger on the Bridge and Other Stories of Friendship and Support at George Street Social in Newcastle.

George Street Social is an alcohol-free bar and café run by the Road to Recovery Trust which offers hope and support to people in recovery from addiction problems.

We were among the first to arrive and were greeted warmly by Lucy Nichol who I first met last year at the launch of her book A Series of Unfortunate Stereotypes. Lucy is a trustee and marketing and communications lead for the Road to Recovery Trust, and chaired the event.

Photo: Martin Baker

The first to speak was Paula Cowie who is also a Road to Recovery trustee. Paula shared her lived experience and how important the Trust and George Street Social are to the local community.

Matthew Smith from the If U Care Share Foundation went next. He spoke with great honesty and openness about his older brother Daniel who took his life at the age of nineteen, and the impact his death has had on him to this day. The devastating experience led Daniel’s family to found If U Care Share.

“Our aim is to prevent anyone feeling the pain we felt as a family when we lost Daniel. We truly believe that talking can save lives.” (Shirley Smith, If U Care Share founder and Daniel’s mother)

Third to speak was Jonny Benjamin MBE. I imagine most of us at the event knew the story of how a passing stranger stopped Jonny from taking his life in 2008:

The Stranger on the Bridge, which was made into a book and a documentary film, tells the story of how, having been recently diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder, Jonny stood on London’s Waterloo Bridge and prepared to take his own life. That was until a stranger walking across the bridge talked Jonny down from the edge.

Jonny was immediately taken to hospital and didn’t see the stranger again, but, with the support of the charity Rethink Mental Illness, he launched the #FindMike campaign, to track the stranger down. The campaign reached over 300 million people worldwide and eventually led to Neil Laybourn — the man who saved Jonny’s life.

Hearing Jonny talk about what happened on the bridge was intensely moving for me, as I’m sure it was for everyone in the room. He spoke of Neil holding space, of his being engaged and “invested.” Above all it was Neil’s positivity and lack of judgement that made the difference, as well as him telling Jonny there was no need to be embarrassed. This stranger’s acceptance, compassion, and simple humanity saved Jonny’s life.

The final speaker was Ashley Lowe, Wellbeing Manager at Newcastle United Foundation. Ashley spoke passionately about the Foundation’s wellbeing programme, their Be A Game Changer campaign, and why the football community is a great place to support your mates.

Photo: Vikki Beat

After questions from the audience there was an opportunity to meet the speakers. Lucy told me more about the events programme at George Street Social, including an upcoming evening at which she and fellow Trigger Publishing authors Mark Edwards and Paula McGuire will share their personal mental health experiences and discuss the inspiration behind their books.

Jonny and I spoke for a good while, exploring the evening’s themes of support and friendship. I told him about me and Fran, our book, and how we support each other despite being three thousand miles apart. I could easily have talked with him for hours but there were other people waiting, Aimee included. There was just time for a photo (thanks, Vikki!)

I apologised to Aimee later for monopolising Jonny’s time and for manoeuvring myself ahead of her in the queue. All I can offer in my defence is that I learned how to engage confidently with people from Aimee herself on our first Bloggers’ Day Out at Newcastle’s Life Science Centre:

Aimee is bolder than I am and I was fascinated to see how she engaged with people I might simply have nodded to in passing.

Seeing how Aimee engaged with people reminded me that you can never tell who you might meet or where a chance encounter might lead. Being passionate about your own work and interested in other people opens doors and possibilities.

All in all the evening more than lived up to its promise of being “an inspirational event for anyone interested in, experiencing or supporting someone with a mental health problem.”

You can read Aimee’s article inspired by the event on her blog I’m NOT Disordered.


The Road to Recovery Trust

If U Care Share Foundation

Jonny Benjamin
The Stranger on the Bridge: My Journey from Suicidal Despair to Hope

Newcastle United Foundation


Wednesday 7 August 2019

I Will Rise

By Tracy Leppla

Suicide is a very touchy subject with me. Why? Because I have attempted suicide four times in the past. Obviously I didn’t succeed or I wouldn’t be here today sharing my story. I remember what it was like back then. How I felt. The darkness completely took over. I felt completely lost. Everything seemed like it was caving in and there was no way out. I had no desire to live anymore. I just wanted the pain to stop and I thought that was the only solution.

At the time of my suicide attempts I did not understand my PTSD, my anxiety or my panic attacks. I was angry about everything. I hated everything and everyone. I was tired of being bullied at school. After being beat up for the fourth time at school I decided I wasn’t going to take it anymore. I started fighting back. My fighting turned from survival mode to wanting to win mode. I wanted to show all those bullies not to mess with me and it worked. But it didn’t take the anger and pain away.

I was at home alone one night. My mom was out of town and my brother was out with his friends. I took a bottle of pills, laid down on my bed and waited to die. I started vomiting and it wouldn’t stop. Late that night my brother and his friend found me. He told me later I was white as a ghost, lethargic and not responsive. He took me to the hospital thinking I had the flu or food poisoning. Little did he know he just saved my life even though I had no desire to be saved. I attempted suicide three more times after that over the course of two years. I never succeeded so I am assuming I am still here for a reason. I hid my mental health illness for years due to feeling shame and being bullied. I just now started sharing my story. Maybe this is what I am supposed to be doing. I have no idea but I feel if I can help just one person than I have succeeded. That’s enough for me.

Two months ago a student that my son went to school with and was also on the football team with committed suicide. He was only sixteen. It broke my heart to hear of this. The reason he took his own life was due to bullying. Evidently he was being bullied so bad that he thought the only way to end his suffering and pain was to end his life. Even though I did not succeed in trying to take my own life I know exactly how he must have been feeling. I will never understand how a bully can feel so much satisfaction from making another human being feel so badly about themselves. What do they get out of it? Is it power? Is it control? Why would you even want to make someone else feel that bad? I will never understand this.

I read an article the other day from The Jason Foundation, the parent resource program. It stated that more teenagers and young adults die from suicide than cancer, heart disease, Aids, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza A, and chronic lung disease combined. Yes you read that right … COMBINED. That is unacceptable to me. Each day in our nation there is an average of over 3,041 attempts of suicide by youth grades 9 through 12. If you add in 7th and 8th grade the number would be even higher. The article stated that four out of five teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs. No one took them seriously. WOW! How could you not take any sign, any gut instinct, any remark about suicide seriously?

Is there anything we can do? I am not sure. I just know that these numbers are unacceptable. No child or adult for that matter should feel like taking their own life is their only option. We need to have more support groups, more resources, more help for the Mental Health Community, especially for teens. Teens have a hard enough time feeling accepted. They are going through puberty. Their hormones are all over the place. They have to worry about what they wear, what their friends will think, they so badly want to be accepted. There is a lot of peer pressure to fit in. And of course they have to worry about the bullies.

One thing that isn’t talked about enough is depression and anxiety among teens and young adults. We as a Mental Health Community need to bring more awareness to this subject. We need to reach out and offer our support. Maybe I don’t have a clue of what I am talking about. Maybe I am reaching for something that is impossible. I do know that if I would of had more support or even one adult that showed concern for me when I was a teen I may not have tried to kill myself. Maybe if the school had more resources or someone a student could confide in without judgement it would help.

As a survivor of childhood trauma living with PTSD, anxiety and panic disorder I have decided to stop feeling shame. I decided to share my story hoping it would help me and maybe help just one person be brave enough to face their mental illness with the fierceness of a lion and conquer their fears; to hold their head up high and be proud that they fight every day to be here, to live another day. I recently became an Angel Advocate for an online support group called MH Crisis Angels that you can find on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. I have met some wonderful people online in the mental health community. This support group is there for anyone who needs a listening ear, support, or just someone to chat with if you are feeling like you are in a dark place.

I also met Steve, a wonderful person on Twitter (@Cockney_Buddha). He shares his experience with Anxiety and Depression. He uses Buddhism, yoga, and meditation for his healing. His website is amazing. I think you will enjoy it as much as I do so be sure to check it out. It’s absolutely amazing that within a few minutes of speaking with him about my photography and showing him a few photographs he gave me the little boost that I needed to show more. To actually want to show more. He truly is an amazing, kind and sincere human being who just wants to help people.

I also want to mention Jeremy Zinzan who did my interview for the live Podcast. He has a beautiful website He does a lot with meditation as well. Please check out my interview. It is forty minutes long but you get a small idea of my story straight from me.

At one point in my childhood I may have been a victim. It may have changed me forever but I survived. Every day I Continue to fight and I will Rise….

This article was originally published July 2019.

About the Author

I was diagnosed with PTSD, Anxiety and Panic disorder when I was fourteen years old due to childhood trauma. I am wife to a very supportive husband. We have been married for fourteen years. I am also a mother to four boys.

My passion is photography. I love black and white photos. I use my photography to help cope with my Anxiety. Being out in nature with my camera helps me relax and calm my mind. I am a Mental Health Advocate and want to bring awareness so there is more understanding.

You can find me on my website Controlling Chaos, on Facebook, and on Twitter.