Friday 27 December 2019

Connection and Challenge: Because Not Every Phone Call Is a Great Phone Call and That's Okay

I’m not trying to make a huge thing out of this but it struck me that sometimes there’s a value in connection, in reaching out to someone, that goes beyond whatever words might be exchanged in the course of the call or conversation or whatever it might be.

Audio version here (YouTube)

A friend messaged me today to ask if I’d like to have a call with her while she was traveling to meet up with somebody. And I was “Yeah cool, let’s do that!” Unfortunately, although we started off really well, by the time my friend got onto the bus we discovered it was actually quite hard to continue with the conversation. I’m not sure if it’s because she was on the bus and maybe traveling in and out of a decent signal area, or whether there was some other technological reason, but it became difficult to hear each other. So after a little while, before we got too frustrated with it or with each other, we decided to leave it there. We’ll pick up another time.

Afterwards, I messaged my friend to say thanks for the call. She replied, “What, even though we could hardly hear each other?” And I was like “Yeah, yeah, absolutely!” That got me thinking because on one level — as a phone call, in terms of being able to talk with each other — it wasn’t the best communication experience in the world. We did get to chat a bit initially before the signal started to go dodgy, but no it wasn’t great on that level. But for me — and I like to think the same goes for my friend — it was still a success.

It was lovely to hear her voice (while I could) and to just connect. The connection itself, the fact that she wanted to connect and to call me, and that I wanted to have a call too, that has meaning in itself, over and above the success or otherwise of the call. And I’m not trying to make a huge thing out of this but it struck me that sometimes there’s a value in connection, in reaching out to someone, that goes beyond whatever words might be exchanged in the course of the call or conversation or whatever it might be.

Right now towards the end of the year I’m looking back over the past twelve months and forward to the year ahead. My two key words this year — for the past few years actually — have been Connection and Challenge. And in microcosm that little experience with my friend today sort of summed it up. Connection, certainly. There was value there for me and hopefully for her too. Challenge? Well, when I think of challenge I’m usually thinking of bigger things, but there was a technical challenge for us both which we handled pretty well. We didn’t get upset, we didn’t get cross with each other like, “It must be your fault.” “No, I think it’s your fault!” We just accepted the situation. Hey, this isn’t working for us right now is it? Let’s do it another time. We ended cleanly and nicely and rounded everything out.

In a very small-scale way it just made me smile and if I can carry that forward into next year with the small things and the bigger things then I think I’m doing okay. Because that’s what matters to me. That’s what brings value to me. Connection – with my friends, with other people, and with myself too.

Maybe it’s that no man is an island thing? I don’t know. For a long time I had very few connections or friendships outside my immediate family. And now I do! It’s not the quantity of those that’s so important it’s the quality. I have people — I have connections — which mean the world to me. They are not always easy. They are not always smooth-running. They can be challenging. Not just on a technical level like today but the connections themselves, the relationships themselves, can be challenging. But that’s what brings value to my life, and I hope through those connections I bring value to other people’s lives too.

I think I’ll bring this to a close. I don’t want to make too much of a big deal about it but it just made me smile today. If my friend’s hearing/reading this she’ll know who she is and what it’s all about.

So, keep the connections strong, keep connecting, keep the communication flowing. Bye for now.


Thursday 26 December 2019

Practical Self-Care Tips to Help You Crush Life as an Introvert

By Melissa Howard

You’re easily drained from social gatherings. Working with people leaves you depleted, and by the afternoon you can’t wait to get home and curl up with a book. You love your kids to death but crave those few minutes that allow you to decompress once they go to bed. As an introvert, there’s nothing wrong with that, and in fact, you should plan on all that and more.

Keep reading for tips to help you to take better care of your mind, body, and soul so that you can live the life you’re meant to live.

Stop Comparing Yourself to Extroverts

First of all, as an introvert, it’s critical to avoid comparing yourself with other people, especially extroverts. It might not be in your nature to be the life of the party, to be super outgoing in public, or even to be the most ambitious person. And that’s OK!

Comparison will get you nowhere, other than eating up precious energy and making you feel miserable about yourself and the person you’re comparing yourself with. Besides, you would probably be comparing their best traits to your worst traits, so it wouldn’t be an accurate comparison anyway.

Get a Steady Exercise Routine

Yes, exercise is important for introverts, just like it is with anyone else! Find something you love to do, and try to do it four or five days per week. It could be running, cycling, yoga, high-intensity interval training, or any other kind of activity that gets you moving and the endorphins flowing. As Shape explains, consistent exercise will yield lots of physical, mental, and emotional health benefits.

If you plan on exercising solo, it’s essential that you consider your safety. This is when a smartwatch can come in handy. Along with helping you keep track of your health and fitness goals, a smartwatch can help keep you safe in the event of an emergency or injury.

For example, models from the Apple Watch Series have ideal perks for exercising alone, like fall detection and emergency SOS that will contact emergency services if necessary. If you’re looking for more of a budget-friendly model, look to the Tended Protect, which Wareable points out hits a lower price point but still offers fitness tracking and fall detection.

Eat Stuff That’s Good for You

Diet is paramount to self-care. Focus on eating a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, nuts, and seeds. Eat clean when you can, and cut back on sugar, sodium, and processed foods. Your body and mind will thank you for it.

Start and End the Day Strong

As an introvert, you have to make time for yourself. In fact, if you don’t get the time to yourself that you need, you won’t have the energy necessary to live a fulfilled life, and you won’t be able to be fully present for the people who need you most. Introversion is all about recharging through solitude — and there’s no reason to feel guilty about it.

Consider waking up 15 or 30 minutes earlier in the morning to spend time in solitude, whether it’s reading, journaling, meditating or doing something else relaxing. Likewise, make time to wind down in the evenings before bed; a hot bath, listening to soothing music, and doing light stretches can go a long way in helping you fall asleep and stay asleep.

Don’t feel guilty about practicing self-care as an introvert. You and everyone in your life will be better off for it! Remember to stop comparing yourself to more extroverted people, get a consistent exercise routine and healthy diet going, and bookend your day with relaxing activities in solitude. You might be surprised by how much making little changes like these can benefit your well-being.

Photo by Brodie Vissers

About the Author

Every suicide is preventable. After losing her younger brother to suicide, Melissa Howard felt compelled to create Stop Suicide. By providing helpful resources and articles on her website, she hopes to build a lifeline of information.


Wednesday 18 December 2019

How I Unplugged the Christmas Machine and Created Stable Holidays

By Julie A. Fast

I love Christmas. I like the music and the colors. I’m listening to the Charlie Brown Christmas Soundtrack as I write this! I love the food and the snow and the lights on the houses. It is not a religious holiday for me, but one that I associate with really good childhood memories and a lot of family events.

And yet, there is also the bipolar disorder side of Christmas. Bipolar is an illness triggered by change, even if the change is positive. I write about triggers in my book Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder. For all of my adult life I’ve loved Christmas, but once my bipolar started in my late teens, I kept getting sick at this time of year.

It took me years to figure out why. My bipolar diagnosis at age 31 helped, but I still wasn’t able to handle the up and down emotions during the holiday season here in the States. (Please feel free to substitute the holiday you choose to celebrate.)

Even after my diagnosis and creating my management system I lived with very serious depression and paranoia for many years. No matter how hard I tried I could not stay stable during the holidays. Each year I would promise myself that the time between Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve — our biggest holiday celebrations in the United States — would not make me sick.

I usually failed.

Despite having plenty of people around me I had many lonely times. It was my own behavior and the illness itself that caused this. I knew I had to change if I wanted to have a positive time during the holidays. Here is what I’ve done over the past twenty years to make the holiday season a better experience. I won't lie to you and say that the holidays are easy. Nope! But they are SO much better than in the past and that creates happiness during an often stressful time.

1. Finances. I can’t keep myself stable and deal financially with supporting myself if I buy gifts during the holidays. I stopped giving gifts to adults over twenty years ago. I read a book called Unplug the Christmas Machine that changed my life. I give gifts to my nephew — and have done so for seventeen years — but adults and I have a different Christmas relationship now. It’s about being together, family, friends and good food. I simply can’t do the presents. No one has to do presents if they don’t want to! If presents are something you enjoy and if they are something you can afford, then go for it. But if you’re like me and the crowds and cost and pressure actually make you more ill and really affect your bank balance, you have permission to stop.

2. Say no if you need to. You can use the ideas in my previous post on saying no to explain to others that your choices are often far more about bipolar than what you as a person want to do. I want to say yes to most things, but there is no way I could stay stable if I said yes too much during the holidays. But (there is always this darn but with bipolar) I then feel lonely at having to say no in order to stay well. Finding that balance during the holidays is hard but I keep trying.

3. Take a moment right now to look back on holidays of the past. What worked? What didn’t work? Make a list. Be nice to yourself and change what you can and plan to make more changes in the future. The holidays show up every year! There is plenty of time for us to change. This is the year to start the process of creating holidays that work for you!

4. Plan now and do something small for this year. Keep a journal on what you go through so that you can make the BIG changes next year. This is how I progress. If you don't have plans yet and worry that you will be lonely, there is time to find a group who wants to meet YOU. There is always a place for us in the world. Sometimes, we just have to find it. I like the group for meeting new people. They do have holiday events that are open to all people!

Happy Holidays. Let’s Treat Bipolar First and have the best holidays possible.


About the Author

Julie A. Fast was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and a separate psychotic disorder in 1995. She 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 runs the award winning Bipolar Happens blog, is 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 professionals, social workers, therapists and general practitioners on bipolar disorder management skills. She also educates the public on how cannabis marijuana affects people who have bipolar disorder and psychotic disorders. 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. She struggles a lot due to bipolar disorder. Friendships keep her going.

You can find more about her work at and Her Facebook pages include Julie A. Fast, The Stable Table for parents and health care professionals, and The Stable Bed for partners. You can watch her talk at the Oxford Union here.


Sunday 15 December 2019

Audio Recording on Android with the Parrot Voice Recorder

During December my friend and fellow mental health blogger Aimee Wilson has been recording a series of daily vlog (video blog) posts. (You can find them on her YouTube channel.) I was fascinated by the insight these gave into my friend’s life and was inspired me to try something similar. With that in mind I have been exploring how to record and share short audio posts. Hopefully these will be as interesting to our audience here at Gum on My Shoe as Aimee’s vlogs have been to me.

The Technology

I wanted to be able to complete the whole workflow on my Samsung S9 phone and to record using my VicTsing Bluetooth Headset. I spent a fair amount of time testing various voice recorder apps but none picked up the audio from my headset. I finally came across Parrot Voice Recorder. It works well and I haven’t had too many issues with it. You can hear how I got on testing this setup in the first two recordings listed below.

I initially considered posting my audio clips to Soundcloud but the free option only allows for a total of three hours’ recordings. Fran and I have a YouTube channel and I decided to upload my audio clips there so they would be available alongside our other content. YouTube will only accept video files so I looked for a convenient way to convert the WAV audio files I’d recorded into movie files.

After a few tests I settled on Avee Music Player (Pro) which I used for the first five clips listed below. I have had some issues with exporting the video files, however, and at the suggestion of a friend (thanks Karl!) I used PowerDirector video editor for the final clip listed here. It seems more stable and I may stick with it in future.

The Recordings

Here are direct links to the recordings I have posted to our YouTube channel so far.

  1. Walking home : testing the Parrot Voice Recorder, part 1
  2. Walking home : testing the Parrot Voice Recorder, part 2
  3. On my way into work - Dec 11, 2019
  4. On my way home - Dec 11, 2019
  5. Marty talks about his journaling
  6. A few thoughts on politics and pathological positivity

Scroll down to play these recordings within this post.

1. Walking home : testing the Parrot Voice Recorder, part 1

[5:12] In this first recording I discuss the Parrot Voice Recorder app which I have been using to record using my Bluetooth headset. I converted the WAV file to MP4 using Avee Music Player (Pro) then uploaded the video to YouTube.

Direct link

2. Walking home : testing the Parrot Voice Recorder, part 2

[5:46] Further testing with the Parrot Voice Recorder and Avee Music Player (Pro) apps.

Direct link

3. On my way into work - Dec 11, 2019

[2:58] In this recording I discuss audio blogs / podcasts and my day ahead attending a wellbeing / mental health workshop at work.

Direct link

4. On my way home - Dec 11, 2019

[11:57] Talking about the wellbeing / mental health workshop I had attended, with a shout out to my blogging bestie Aimee Wilson and her series of daily vlogs for Vlogmas 2019.

Direct link

5. Marty talks about his journaling

[14:26] In this recording I talk about my diary writing / journaling which I have been doing for the past 45 years.

Direct link

6. A few thoughts on politics and pathological positivity

[12:52] In this recording I discuss my political awakening and pathological positivity on the morning after the UK General Election. This video was created using PowerDirector video editor for Android.

Direct link

Check our Podcasts / Audio playlist on YouTube for these and other audio and video recordings.


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