Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Helping Someone Else

By Janet Coburn

My husband used to work in a community correctional facility – essentially a jail. The residents were considered nonviolent offenders technically on parole for mostly drug crimes, but things could still get interesting. Mostly he didn’t talk about his work because he would try to dismiss it from his mind every day as he went by a certain overpass on his way home from work.

One day, though, I was bitching in disbelief about something that had happened at my work – another editor had put his table of contents in random order instead of numerical. I was appalled by the stupidity of that.

There I was ranting about it. Then my husband said, “Boy, that’s tough. All I did today was break up a fight and spot a guy who might have a septic wound. But you – the table of contents out of numerical order? Wow!” That put me in my place.

My husband was someone who helped other people. For years after he left the job, people would come up to him when he was out and about, and reminisce with him. They’d tell him about how well they were doing, how they were clean and sober, how they had jobs, how they had improved their lives. They always said thank you to my husband.

This morning when I woke up and checked my email, I found something I wasn’t expecting. There, nestled in amongst the spam, was a response to a post that I wrote back in January, about passive suicidal ideation.

In the reply, the person told of having thought about suicide but not acting on it. The response ended, “I’ll follow your advice and seek professional help.”

It’s difficult to describe what I felt then. Mostly, it was gratitude that my writing had helped someone, combined with not a little surprise at receiving a response at all. Sometimes writing is like shouting down a well. You never really know if anyone even hears you or if you’ve made a difference. Most of the time when I write this blog, I have no idea how the posts will affect my readers, if at all. But this time I knew – at least if the person followed through – that I had actually helped someone.

When I started Bipolar Me, it was to share my experiences with bipolar disorder and my thoughts on mental illness and mental health. If my writing resonated with someone, good. But I wasn’t writing with the intention of being inspiring, or helping people solve problems, or being a “good example.” I’m not a professional and the kind of advice I give (when I do) is largely commonsense – don’t stop taking your meds, seek professional help, thank your caregivers, and so on.

I’m not going to break my arm patting myself on the back here. There are lots of people who do the work of caring for the desperate and hurting every day. I am privileged to know some of them and to have even been helped by some. There are people like Sarah Fader and Gabe Howard who are advocates and activists for the mentally ill, who go out on a limb to do something to help the whole mental health community.

But today, for just a moment, I felt that I had really touched someone, really helped. It was a good feeling.

So there it is. I started this blog for self-centered reasons, to chronicle my own struggles and occasional victories. If it helped anyone, fine. If not, I still had stories to share. But now I find that having helped someone else has made a difference – in the other person, in me, in the world. Now I believe that my blog and my book could do more of that.

Originally published in April 2019 at Bipolar Me.


About the Author

Janet Coburn is a freelance writer/editor with bipolar disorder, type 2. She is the author of Bipolar Me, available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, a through other outlets. Her second book, Bipolar Us, will be published later this year by Eliezer Tristan Publishing.

Janet writes about mental health issues including talk therapy, medication, books, bullying, social aspects, and public policy, but mostly her own experiences with bipolar 2. As she says, “I am not an expert and YMMV – Your Mileage May Vary.”


Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Heartwarming Moments on the Jingle Bell Walk

I was proud to take part in this year’s Jingle Bell Walk in support of the Chris Lucas Trust which raises funds for and awareness of children’s cancer. I did the walk for the first time last year and was keen to do so again. I wasn’t alone! According to event organiser Lynn Lucas over four hundred people registered with more turning up on the night – all the more impressive given the rather damp weather we’d had all week!

The start coincided with the lighting ceremony for the huge Christmas tree outside Newcastle Civic Centre. I’d never witnessed this before and it made up for me missing the turning on of Newcastle’s main Christmas lights this year.

We set off from outside St Thomas’ church at Haymarket just after six pm. Four hundred walkers in Santa hats led by a marching band is quite something to see (and hear) and we drew plenty of attention!

The 2.5 mile route took us down Northumberland Street which looked very festive with the Christmas market in full swing and a mini fun fair complete with carousel and helter-skelter. The windows of Fenwick department store are something of a regional attraction at Christmas; this year’s theme is based on the Roald Dahl classic, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

We continued past STACK and the Tyneside Cinema before joining Dean Street close to the Theatre Royal. From there we walked down to the Quayside, under the Tyne Bridge and along the riverside to finish by the Millennium Bridge. Santa was there with his reindeer. There was music and dancing, a bubble machine, and hot chocolate for all donated by the Pitcher & Piano.

After a drink in the Pitcher & Piano it was time to head home. I called a friend of mine in the States to wish her Happy Thanksgiving and she kept me company as I walked along the Quayside and back up into the centre of town to Haymarket where the walk had started. I smiled when I realised I’d done the walk again in reverse – so if you sponsored me you really ought to pay double!

Here are a few of my personal memories of the evening:

  • The brilliant family atmosphere at the start as everyone gathered for the off.
  • The rain!
  • The man watching us go by the entrance to Eldon Square, holding the cutest puppy ever!
  • Two women waving to us all from an upstairs window on Dean Street!
  • The marching band’s (ahem) interesting selection of anthems from the WW1 playbook!
  • Singing Let It Go! WAY too loud (and without the benefit of alcohol!)

I asked organiser Lynn Lucas for her thoughts of this year’s event:

It was a great night from start to finish. The rain didn’t stop the fun and everyone supporting our charity to raise funds for childhood cancer. We try to make it magical for all with a marching band and at the finish Santa, reindeer, hot chocolate etc. The feedback has been fantastic; already looking forward to the next one! Support from everyone involved was really appreciated.

The Chris Lucas Trust is a registered charity supporting research into childhood cancer. You can find out more about the work of the Trust on their website and follow them on Twitter (@chrislucastrust). To donate directly to the Trust visit their JustGiving page. The Jingle Bell Walk has its own website