Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Sometimes We All Need a Hand to Hold

It doesn’t matter who you are or how well things seem to be going, sometimes we all need a hand to hold. Someone to be there, to listen to our story, to let us let it out, let it go, let it flow.

It can be hard to trust someone enough to say, hey, actually I’m not doing too good right now, especially if you know they are busy or have issues of their own. But it’s important. That trust is important. It is not only trust in the other person, it is trust in our ourselves, in the belief that our pain matters too, that we matter too. To the other person and to ourselves.

Too often we hold back, hold it all inside, when all it might take is a little sharing to lighten the load enough for us to lift our heads and see the path ahead clearly again.


Originally posted March 23, 2014 on Facebook

Photo by Austin Kehmeier on Unsplash


Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Five Things You Should Be Doing during the Coronavirus Pandemic

By Aimee Wilson

When the virus was first being talked about on social media, I honestly thought it was a joke because Corona is a popular drink among many of my friends and family! And now look at the world! I’m ashamed to say that I don’t think I started taking it seriously until things began closing and the supermarket shelves started to empty! In all honesty, I thought that people were just panicking for no reason and causing unnecessary drama.

Firstly, I don’t really pay much attention to current affairs; not because I’m ignorant. It’s just that I don’t see how worrying about something that either doesn’t concern me or that I can’t do anything about, is helpful to my mental health. Some people might think that makes me self-involved but feeling powerless is one of my triggering emotions and to hear of people starving and dying or their country being on fire, doesn’t help my safety and is there a whole lot of point in risking my safety for something I can’t change?

1. Your food shopping online

A lot of the biggest supermarkets in the UK; like Asda and Morrisons, allow you to do your grocery shopping on their website and then they’ll deliver it to your door! I think I’m going to end up doing this because my Support Worker is now unable to take me for my food shop and I get anxious doing it alone… but, of course, I still need the necessities!

2. Reading

There are a few sites making eBooks free at the moment in order to provide some form of entertainment for those who are self-isolating and a lot of libraries aren’t expecting their books back any time soon and won’t be implementing a fee for the delay. Also, if your local The Works is still open, they have a great choice of books that are 3 for £5 – absolute bargain!

3. Doing one random act of kindness per day

I’ve seen a lot of people on Twitter recently purchasing an item from someone’s Amazon wishlist and I thought that was a brilliant idea! You could also send a nice email or even just a thoughtful gif or quote! Companies are also offering discounts and freebies for healthcare workers.

4. Hitting your Netflix list!

You finally have the chance to watch all of the TV boxsets and movies that have been piling up in your Netflix watch list! It isn’t just entertainment but also a good method of escapism – even just for an hour or so – to be able to think about something other than what is going on in the world!

5. Communicating

Keep in touch with friends, family, and any necessary professionals such as support workers, carers, GP etc. My community mental health team and Richmond Fellowship are stopping personal contact sessions and appointments, and so all contact is via telephone but that still provides me with the opportunity to talk and get support.

My thoughts at the moment are with the healthcare staff, emergency services, the elderly, those who can’t afford to stock up or panic buy, and people whose mental health conditions are exacerbated by the entire pandemic.


About the Author

Aimee Wilson is a 29-year-old mental health blogger who has used her personal experiences to develop a popular online profile. Her blog I’m NOT Disordered has over half a million readers.

Aimee’s first book, When All Is Said & Typed, is available at,, and in other regions.


Main photo by Lenin Estrada on Unsplash


Monday, 23 March 2020

Coronavirus: Why "Stay Home" Is Not a Safe Option for Everyone

The author has asked to remain anonymous.

At this time of nation-wide uncertainty, many of us are preparing to spend the foreseeable future isolated at home with our families, hoping to make the best of the situation surrounded by those we care about.

However, isolating at home can be a frightening prospect for those members of our community who do not feel safe at home. This includes people living with a loved one suffering from addictions such as drugs or alcohol, and those subjected to domestic violence. I have lived with an addicted partner and know first-hand how this impacted my quality of life, as well as that of his children. Anger and frustration used to lead to domestic violence issues worsening if he could not obtain what he wanted or persuade me to get things for him immediately.

Families are advised to isolate, and with good reason, but does this leave our vulnerable neighbours less likely to be taken in by those who are “socially distancing” from the rest of the community? I was extremely lucky during the time I was going through this. Despite pushing people close to me away, I am forever grateful to the friends and neighbours whose doors I could and did knock on – sometimes at all hours of the night – if I needed somewhere safe to hide. I worry this may not be available for others when we are all in lock down.

I also had the option of hiding in cafes and pubs if I didn’t want to disturb anyone. At times I would wander the streets or 24-hour shops to give myself time to think. I used to visit a local casino and pretend I was playing on the screen machines. I really didn’t have the money to play but took advantage of the free hot drink and sandwich that was available, when I had no financial means to buy basic things like food. These options are less available to people going through this now.

The coronavirus is clearly a threat to us all, but to those seeking safety from a violent partner, the threat is very much more real at those moments when they may need to flee the danger quickly. Will they, and possibly their children, have somewhere to go on the spur of the moment? These situations often occur suddenly without time for planning.

Uncertainty about jobs means there is also less opportunity to save money in order to plan to leave or get a break from the home situation by being at work. The same applies to children now that schools are closed. People at risk may also feel less able to reach out for help and support for fear of burdening the emergency services at a time when they are already struggling to cope with increased demand.

There have been suggestions of prisoners being released early from prison. This may shorten the period of separation and “relief” a partner may be relying on, either to provide valuable headspace or to facilitate plans to leave the relationship.

Maybe not everyone we see out in the streets is deliberately defying the government social distancing advice, and it’s easy for us to judge them without knowing their story. As we prepare to spend quality family time together, please spare a thought for those unfortunate enough to not have a safe place to call home.

Useful Links

SODA: Survivors of Domestic Abuse.

Gov UK: Find out how to get help if you or someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse.

NHS: Domestic violence or abuse can happen to anyone. Find out how to recognise the signs and where to get help.

Women’s Aid: Information and support on domestic abuse.

Women’s Aid: Violence against women and girls (VAWG) sector statement on COVID-19

A message from CHILDLINE about support during the coronavirus outbreak


Saturday, 21 March 2020

How to Keep Well during the Coronavirus Outbreak

By Quinn Brown

Photo of Scarborough beach chalets by the author

As someone who suffers with crippling anxiety, it has unfortunately heightened due to the outbreak of coronavirus which is affecting pretty much the entire planet. But I have been finding ways to focus on things that are not coronavirus related. Here is what I did to help myself which could help anyone who is in the same boat.

  • Partake in some photography. I have a nephew who I have been using as my subject but you can also use objects or pets, whichever takes your fancy.
  • Put some calming music on. I’m a Motown / Marvin Gaye kind of guy myself so that type of music helps to relax me when my anxiety starts flaring up.
  • Talk to friends online or by phone. You can use apps such as Skype or Zoom or you can just use Messenger. Or if you want to hear a voice, a good old phone call is also good.
  • Indulge in a good book! I’ve been reading Dracula by Bram Stoker and it is a classic!
  • Blogging is one of my ways of venting about mental health and more so when my anxiety is rearing its ugly head. I use Wordpress for this and it’s really good!

I know not everyone is the same but the above is what I use to help me and sometimes I even do some gaming! Taking a long, relaxing bath is also a good way to relax. I could go on, the list is endless!

About the Author

My name is Quinn Brown. I am a trans man and I run my own LGBTQ-support group called seLGBTQ+ as well as helping my best friend and his wife run a mental health group called Talk Tonight Selby.

You can find me on Facebook and Twitter.


Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Coronavirus: How to Look after Your Wellbeing in Uncertain Times

There is a huge focus right now on the physical symptoms of Coronavirus (COVID-19) and how the virus will affect our day-to-day lives, but our mental health is important too. The following tips will help you, your friends and family look after yourselves and each other.

Stay Informed

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by all the coverage and statistics from around the world. It’s ok to take a break from news and social media if you need to but don’t totally lose touch with what’s happening and how it might affect you. Use reputable sources you trust to stay up to date. I have included a few links at the bottom of this article.

Stay Connected

At times like this it’s important to look out for each other. Check in with friends, family, and neighbours who might appreciate support or practical help. If you or they are self-isolating or unable to visit in person use the telephone or social media. No one is too far away to be cared for, or to care.

Stay Honest and Open

Involve your children and family in what’s going on and why things may be different from normal. Ask if they have any concerns or questions and answer as honestly as possible in an age-appropriate way. It’s ok to admit you don’t have all the answers.

Stay Focused

These are difficult and uncertain times but try and see this as a new period in your life that will pass, and make the best use of it you can. Focus on things that will support your health and wellbeing, especially if you have to self-isolate for a time.

Stay Safe

If you need support don’t be too embarrassed or proud to reach out to friends and family, or to professionals including your doctor, other professionals, or a helpline.

Links and Information

Here is a selection of websites and articles to help you support yourself and others through these times.

Coronavirus Overview (NHS)

UK helplines and support groups (NHS)

Looking after your mental health during the Coronavirus outbreak (Mental Health Foundation)

If coronavirus scares you, read this to take control over your health anxiety (Guardian)

Coronavirus: How to protect your mental health (BBC)

You can find further helplines and support organisations on our Resources page.


Wednesday, 11 March 2020

How to Use a Spreadsheet for Wellness and Self-Care

I rarely feel the need to record my self-care habits, but from time to time I find it helpful to monitor things a little more closely.

For the past ten days Fran has been staying with a friend in Arizona, after which she will visit another friend in Florida. Apart from a few days in between, she will be away from home for almost six weeks.

Although we stay in touch, vacations inevitably mean we are less in contact than usual, which can be hard on us both. I’ve also had a few things going on in my personal life that have affected me deeply. At such times it’s is all too easy to slip into feeling low, so based on my Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) I decided to use a wellness tracker to keep me in touch with healthy practices and activities.

My Wellness Tracker Spreadsheet

I first tried this back in 2013 when Fran took an extended trip around Europe. On that occasion I used a Google Docs spreadsheet and recorded brief notes about what was happening each day, how much exercise (walking) I did, any creative work such as working on our book, any reading I did (what book and for how long), and whether or not I meditated. This time I’m using an Excel spreadsheet to capture the following information on a daily basis: notes, mood, weight, eating, reading, exercise, creativity, water, and vitamins. Let’s look at these in more detail.


I use the notes column to record key events or feelings from the day.


I decided to record how I am feeling three times each day: first thing (plotted in blue), midday (orange), and evening (grey) using a six-point scale:

[5] Really good
[4] Baseline / positive
[3] OK
[2] Flat
[1] Low
[0] Struggling

I have written previously about what I mean by feeling flat.


I weigh at home each evening and track my weight in a separate spreadsheet (Fran and I have tracked our respective weights now for more than seven years) but I decided to include it in my wellness tracker to see how it relates (or doesn’t) to how I’m doing generally.


I have included two checks to help keep me on track and avoid any tendency to emotional eating (I am aware I tend to eat less if I’m feeling anxious). I record whether I ate healthily during the day; during the week this means yoghurt or porridge for breakfast and soup or a wrap for lunch. (Evening meals at home are generally healthy.) I mostly want to reinforce positive behaviours and activities, but I have a strong tendency to eat supper late at night. This is unhealthy for me and almost guarantees a gain in weight the following day. Including this in my spreadsheet holds me accountable and means I get to “fess up” to myself if I choose to indulge.


This serves as a useful reminder to drink at least one large mug of water (approx 500 ml) each day in addition to my coffee, rooibos tea — and beer!


I take multivitamins plus minerals, vitamin B complex, vitamin C, and vitamin D tablets — when I remember to! Adding them to my tracker spreadsheet encourages me to take them first thing in the morning.


I enjoy reading but find it hard to settle into it at home. My best time for reading is on my lunch break at work, so this tracker serves as a reminder to do so. I have been reading an excellent book recommended by a friend: I Hate You – Don’t Leave Me: Understanding the Borderline Personality, by Jerold J. Kreisman and Hal Straus.


As I have written elsewhere, walking has played an important role in my life for as long as I can remember, so much so that it was one of the first things I included in the wellness tools section of my Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP). I take a walk after dinner most evenings, either to the local store for groceries or a leisurely wander around the neighbourhood.


This tracker reminds me to consider some creative pursuit in my day, which usually involves writing or editing posts for our blog. This is in addition to keeping up to date in my personal journal, which I have kept for over four decades.

Observations and Conclusions

I’ve only used the checklist for a few weeks but it’s proving useful in a number of ways. I’m used to exploring my thoughts and feelings in my journal but this is the first time I’ve explicitly tracked my mood over time. I hadn’t realised how variable it can be throughout the day, how rarely it holds steady for more than a couple of days, and how quickly it bounces back after a setback if I don’t get in its way. It’s also interesting to note that my midday mood is much more stable than either morning or evening.

There’s something of a correlation between my mood and my weight, in that my weight came down during the first week when I was struggling a good deal emotionally. I think that’s largely because I’d started the tracker and was paying attention to what I ate, although as I mentioned earlier I tend to eat less when I’m anxious or stressed. As my mood stabilised my weight increased again. I think I allowed myself to overindulge in response to feeling better, especially with my late-night snacks. Not a healthy response!

My mood is closely tied in with what’s happening in my life, especially in my key relationships. This isn’t news to me (or my close friends) but the tracker has brought it into clearer focus. There’s nothing wrong with “feeling what I feel” of course, as long as I don’t take it out on those around me.

All in all, using my wellness tracker spreadsheet has helped keep me on track with healthy behaviours and highlighted areas to focus on in the future.

As I finish this article, Fran is on her way back from Arizona. It will be great to see her for a few days before her next trip, but I find I’m curious to see how things will go — for her and for me — over the next couple of weeks when she is away again. Whatever happens, I will be tracking things closely and paying attention to my self-care.

Do you track your mood and self-care in any way? If you’d like to write about your experiences with wellness tools, check our guest blogger guidelines and get in touch. We’d love to hear from you!


Saturday, 7 March 2020

Talking to Your Children about Mental Illness

By Daniel Wittler

We are starting to shine the light on mental illness in America. It’s always loomed and people have been aware of its existence but unfortunately there is a stigma with it as well. The problem with stigmas is that it can hinder people who are suffering heavily from seeking help or admitting it to anyone.

The worst thing for a person with a legitimate mental illness to do is try to handle it by themselves. The stigma needs to be eliminated. How can we as a country eliminate that stigma? By teaching our younger generations about mental health issues in a healthy way.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that:

  • 4 percent of children aged 3 to 17 years (approximately 4.5 million) have a diagnosed behaviour problem
  • 1 percent of children aged 3 to 17 years (approximately 4.4 million) have diagnosed anxiety
  • 2 percent of children aged 3 to 17 years (approximately 1.9 million) have diagnosed depression

While the numbers are staggering, they are there and represent a good number of children in our country. Even if your kids aren’t diagnosed with anything, it is inevitable that they will have someone suffering from mental illness in their life throughout school or into college. Arming your kids with the facts before they move out of your house can prove to be extremely beneficial.

Of course, there are few better things in life than showing our children all the good things life has to offer, but it is imperative to show them the dark realities as well. It’s difficult to navigate but should be treated very seriously.  

Do Your Research

There are a lot of opinions on mental health which produces a lot of misinformation. Getting your information from official websites is an important move when doing some research before talking to your children. Some high quality resources include:

  • SAMSHA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)
  • NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness)
  • AACAP (American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry)

You don’t need a PhD in mental health to have a talk with your kids about it, but you want to be armed with the facts. Misinformation can go a long way for a kid who is young and soaking everything up around them.

Planting the Seed

Remember, when deciding to first talk to your kids about mental health, you are just opening up the avenue for discussion. Specifics are not necessary and you can stay surface level at first.

Some other tips to remember:

  • Keep it simple and straightforward
  • Make sure to catch your child at a good time, if they are having a bad day or not in a good mood then it’s probably not the best time
  • Stay aware of body language and reactions, let it navigate your discussion
  • Make the information easy to process for your child, getting to in depth may not affect them, but it can confuse them

Once the initial discussion has happened it’s up to you as a parent to carry on the conversation in the future. This isn’t a one-time thing, it’s completely opening up a discussion with your kids about deeper personal issues that you should carry on the rest of your lives. If your kids are growing and feeling different than their peers in a negative way, they need to know it’s okay to voice that concern to their parents.

By starting the discussion of mental illness you can later begin to discuss things like drug addiction with your kids. Addiction and mental illness are a common thing in this country these days, they are referred to as co-occurring disorders.

Mental illness can completely dominate someone’s life if left untreated. Since we have become more aware of its prevalence, we now know that it can start at a young age. Only you as parents can gauge your child’s behavior and overall mood.

If you feel something isn’t right with your children then it’s time to look into it. Opening up a conversation is the first step into tapping into the state of their mental health.

About the Author

Daniel Wittler is a writer in recovery and mental health advocate. He has been living with depression since he was a teenager and has found ways to live and thrive with it. Daniel is a regular contributor to Pax Memphis.


Wednesday, 4 March 2020

Ten Anthems for Comfort, Celebration, Inspiration, and Healing

A few years ago Fran and I took Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly online workshop. One of the exercises invited us to select one or more arena anthems: songs “that will inspire you to stay brave when the gremlins start getting to you or when you start to doubt your ability to stay vulnerable through the tough parts.”

I chose Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” the Indigo Girls’ song “Hammer and Nail,” “By Thy Grace” by Snatam Kaur, and Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush singing “Don’t Give Up.”

I was thinking about my anthems the other day and thought it would be interesting to revisit the list. I have added six tracks which in various ways mean a great deal to me. Some of them have personal resonances which will be recognised by certain people in my life. Whether you know me personally or not I hope they move and inspire you too.

Links are to my favourite versions of the songs on Youtube.

1. Lose Yourself

You better lose yourself in the music, the moment
You own it, you better never let it go
You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow
This opportunity comes once in a lifetime

Eminem — Lose Yourself

2. Hammer and Nail

My life is part of the global life
I’d found myself becoming more immobile
When I’d think a little girl in the world can’t do anything
A distant nation my community
A street person my responsibility
If I have a care in the world I have a gift to bring

Indigo Girls — Hammer and Nail

3. By Thy Grace

It is by thy grace that I sing

Snatam Kaur — By Thy Grace

4. Don’t Give Up

Don’t give up now
We’re proud of who you are

Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush — Don’t Give Up

5. Let It Go

It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all
It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me
I’m free

Frozen — Let It Go — Official Disney UK

6. Wherever You Will Go

If I could, then I would
I’ll go wherever you will go
Way up high or down low, I’ll go wherever you will go

The Calling — Wherever You Will Go (Official Video)

7. How to Save a Life

Where did I go wrong? I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life

The Fray — How to Save a Life

8. This Is Me

I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me

The Greatest Showman — “This Is Me” with Keala Settle

9. Take Me Home

Came to you with a broken faith
Gave me more than a hand to hold
Caught before I hit the ground
Tell me I’m safe, you’ve got me now

Jess Glynne — Take Me Home

10. F**kin’ Perfect

Pretty, pretty please, don’t you ever ever feel
Like you’re less than fuckin’ perfect
Pretty pretty please, if you ever, ever feel like you’re nothing
You’re fuckin’ perfect to me!

P!nk — F**kin’ Perfect (Explicit Version)

Do you have favourite tracks that you find helpful and inspiring? We’d love to hear from you!


Monday, 2 March 2020

How Do You Put Up With Me?

No one wants to be a burden to those we care about and who care about us. As we recount in our book High Tide Low Tide, Fran once told me she didn’t understand how I could stay with her when she was so unwell:

Fran is neither a drain on me nor a burden — although she doubts this on occasion. She said to me one day, “I don’t get it. Why are you still here?” I told her no matter what is going on, whether she is having a good day or a bad day, whether I am having a good day or a bad day, I never don’t want to be here.

My answer stands to this day; not only with regard to Fran but other friends too. If I care about you, you are not a burden and I never don’t want to be here for you. That said, it is possible to overwhelm people if we share unthinkingly and without due regard to boundaries. This is what Brené Brown calls floodlighting (not to be confused with gaslighting, which is a form of emotional abuse and manipulation).

It doesn’t happen often but I occasionally become overwhelmed if I have a lot going on for me. When that happens I may be unable to hold space effectively for someone who wishes to share with me or ask for support. I always feel I’m failing as a friend but it’s important to be honest with myself and the other person so we both know what’s happening. They can then choose to find someone else to help or check back when I may be more able to give them the focus they need and deserve.

Likewise, it’s important for me to remember that those who love and care about me may not always be able to support me when and how I want them to. They have their own lives to live, their own things going on, and their own boundaries to observe.

It’s about being realistic and honest. If we expect any one person — friend, partner, family member, or professional — to always be there and meet all our needs for contact, company, counsel, and support, we’re likely to be disappointed. No matter how much we’d like to we cannot be all things at all times to everyone we care about.

A friend messaged me the other day. She said “Marty, you help me so much. I ask so much of you and I get really insecure about it because I never want you to feel used. I’m looking forward talking with you tomorrow if I haven’t overwhelmed you this morning.” I replied, “You haven’t overwhelmed me and I never feel used.” It’s true, although we recognise we cannot always be fully there for each other. A week or so ago we were both struggling. We kept in touch and supported each other as best we could, but we knew we could only do so much until at least one of us was feeling more stable.

I discussed this with another friend last week. We’ve known each other a while. We’ve had some issues but we’re honest about them and committed to our friendship. I value the fact that I can be myself with her. I can be open about my hang-ups and issues and she will listen without judging me. I hope she feels the same way. But that doesn’t mean I get to take her for granted or act disrespectfully towards her. She won’t hesitate to call me out if I’m being an asshole! That kind of honesty is important, and I think quite rare. Is it always easy? Heck, no! No one enjoys being called out for behaving poorly or hurting someone we care about. It’s necessary, though, if we are to have genuine, mutually supportive connections.

I asked one of my closest friends how she puts up with me. Her reply sums it up perfectly for me:

“Friendship goes two ways. You help, support and put up with me and I help, support and put up with you. In the journey, we find common threads and things we both like and discuss and explore the differences. It strengthens us as friends. Sometimes one or other of us needs support, and sometimes we prop each other up with mutual ‘leaning’ when we both need support. There needs to be honesty and acceptance in a friendship that things are constantly ebbing and flowing.”

I will always be grateful to those who put up with me. If you’re one of them, thank you! When I’m too much, or not enough, or getting it wrong, or you’re just not in a place where you can handle me right now, please tell me. I may not want to hear but I will listen and we’ll work with it or round it. Whatever it takes.


Wednesday, 26 February 2020

It's Okay If You Don't Know How to Help Me

Came to you with a broken faith.
Gave me more than a hand to hold.
Caught before I hit the ground.
Tell me I’m safe, you’ve got me now.

(Jess Glynne, “Take Me Home”)

Listening to Spotify recently I came across Take Me Home by Jess Glynne. In the artist’s words, “This is a song about the need to have someone who cares when you are at your most vulnerable.” I’m fortunate to have people like that in my life. People who are there for me and allow me to be there for them. You might imagine this kind of support means always knowing how to help, but that’s not the case at all.

It feels good when you’re able to offer what someone needs; be that words of comfort or advice, or practical assistance. But there are times when you will have neither the words nor any clear idea of what to do. It is important to recognise and accept when this happens without feeling a failure to yourself or the person you want to help. As I’ve written elsewhere:

Don’t feel paralysed or useless if you can’t think of anything that could possibly help. If you are present and engaged, you are helping. Often, that is precisely — and all — that is needed. You’d be surprised how rare a gift holding space for someone can be.

The same applies when you’re the one in need of support. I’ve been feeling low for a while now. A number of things are contributing to this; chief amongst them is a deep-seated uncertainty about what direction to move in career-wise. A good friend of mine, mental health blogger Aimee Wilson, messaged me after I’d told her I wasn’t doing too well.

“Are you still struggling, Marty?”

“Kinda, yeah.”

“Want to talk about it or no?”

I appreciated the gentle way she invited me to share. Nevertheless, I hesitated. I wondered what she might think if I unburdened myself about something I’d previously only mentioned to her in passing. I needed to share with someone, though and took the plunge. Aimee waited while I explained how the workplace role I’ve held for decades is coming to an end. There are opportunities to retrain but a new technical role isn’t what I want at this point in my life and career. The mental health and wellbeing work I’ve been involved in over the past two years interests me far more but there are no full-time positions of that kind where I work. I stopped typing and waited for Aimee’s reply.

“I won’t pretend that I understand the work side of your struggle but the little bit you said on mental health ... I think that as long as you aren’t pretending that you know how the service user feels and are always advising from your carer’s insight then you definitely know what you’re talking about. If I met someone struggling with their carer role then I’d definitely pass them on to you. I’m that confident that you understand and it’s something you’re very good at.”

I agreed with what Aimee said. I’m a mental health first aider. I’ve had many people tell me I’ve helped them, including carers who support friends and relatives. The book I wrote with Fran has received some great feedback. The problem is I don’t know how to turn this into a paid role in the workplace. We continued chatting and Aimee suggested a few options I might explore.

“Aimee, thanks for asking how I am. I’m pretty much at sea career-wise right now and your support makes a difference.”

“Glad I can be helpful! It’s that thing again about not wanting the friendship to be one-sided. I want you to know that as much as you’re there for me, I’m here for you.”

I knew what she meant. It’s important to both of us that our friendship is mutually supportive. That doesn’t mean things are equal all the time but in any healthy friendship there is balance and the trust that each can rely on the other. On this occasion, Aimee knew just what to say. She invited me to share if I was ready and offered support and encouragement. A few days later I checked in with her and asked how things were going. She said she was okay. There was a pause, then she asked:

“Are you okay, Marty?”

“Not so great.”


“The work thing, mostly. I feel really stuck.”

There was another short pause, then:

“I don’t know how else to help.”

It was an admission that in another context might have seemed like failure. Maybe Aimee felt it that way. But I reassured her that she was helping because she cared. I messaged her the next day:

“Thank you for checking in with me last night. In a funny way, you saying you didn’t know how else to help really helped. Because what it said to me was, ‘I don’t know what to do or say right now, Marty, but I’m here.’”

There have been plenty of times when I’ve not known how to help Aimee. We were out one day last year when Aimee was suddenly taken with excruciating pain. We spent five and a half hours at the hospital A&E department while nurses and doctors attempted to deal with Aimee’s pain and establish what was going on. There was very little I could do to help. If I'm honest I felt pretty useless. I remember saying, “I wish I could take the pain away, Aimee, but I can’t so I’ll do what I can.”

She wasn’t up to talking much until the pain was brought under control but I sat with her. Asked the medical staff for updates when they seemed to have forgotten us. Watched Grey’s Anatomy with her on her iPad. At one point she was concerned that the battery pack for her phone and iPad would run out of charge if she had to stay overnight, and she didn’t have her plug-in charger.

“If they keep you in, Aimee, I’ll lend you mine.” I paused for effect. “That's how much I love you!”

I was rewarded with a smile, which was a blessing in the circumstances.

I want to close with an excerpt from High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend's Guide to Bipolar Disorder which I wrote with my best friend and co-author Fran Houston:

The most important role you can fill is that of someone your friend can rely on, feel safe with, and trust to be always there. Fran has friends “who are designated to be the string of my balloon.” We keep her grounded in times of mania and prevent her from sinking too deeply when she is in depression.

It is a cornerstone of our friendship that I am available for Fran no matter what is happening. We have spent many hours together when she has felt depressed, manic, anxious, afraid, or suicidal. There is little I can do to help on a practical level, but I can listen and talk with her. Above all, I can simply be there so that she knows she is not alone.

I think that says it pretty well. It’s okay if you don’t always know what to do or how to help. Of course, it’s also okay to ask your friend or loved one what they need!


Have there been times when you wanted to help someone but didn’t know what to do or say? Have you asked for help but the person you asked didn’t know how? How did it feel? Was it a problem for you and the other person? Fran and I would love to hear from you so please leave a comment.

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Please Invite Me Out With You

By Amy Cullis

Ever since I started to become mentally ill, I have noticed a distinct drop in the amount of times I have been invited out by friends. I have even lost friends because of the effects of my illnesses.

Many of the times I’ve been invited out, I know I’ve cancelled and this probably leads to someone wondering if I really do want to meet up with them. The truth is, I do though. I really truly do.

I have Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Depression, Borderline Personality Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It’s hard to believe that one person can accumulate so many mental illnesses, but it is possible. Each of these illnesses affect my functioning in one way or another, and pretty much all of them can affect my ability to get out of the house and meet up with people.

My Anxiety and OCD make me worry about humiliating myself in public. I fear losing control of my bladder through not being able to get to a toilet in time. I have to complete rituals and even control the things I’m thinking otherwise I convince myself I will lose control and not be able to cope with the shame. My OCD in particular isn’t as bad these days, but in the past I have had to cancel plans last minute, or I’ve been late because I had to repeat my rituals. It takes a lot to quieten the intrusive thoughts I have around this. It also takes a lot to cut down my counting and repeating rituals. Part of me knows that logically the rituals mustn’t really affect how well I can control my bladder, but those toxic doubts of “what if?” hold me back and make me repeat them, just in case they do have an effect. The times when I’ve not been able to control my bladder, or I’ve almost not been able to, my brain puts down to not doing my rituals properly or enough. Next time I will be extra careful.

My Depression can severely impact my motivation and self-esteem. I see myself as a bad, unworthy friend; who will not be good company to be around. The thought of putting on a smile, being chatty, and coping with crowds in order to meet my friend/s can become very daunting and I may even think they don’t really want to meet up with me. If I have cancelled before, I also feel very guilty and this will make me feel too ashamed to meet up again.

My BPD has an impact on my thoughts and behaviour around friends. I may be clingy, or I might completely isolate in order to avoid abandonment and rejection. I will go through times where I cannot bear conversation. I cannot cope with the idea and even paranoia that my friends aren’t as close to me as I am to them. I feel no one will ever love me as much as I love them, and I get scared of holding on too tight, so I do the opposite. It will take so much for me to make plans, and eventually I believe I push friends away. They may think I’m not interested in meeting up with them, when in fact the opposite is true. I am so desperate to be loved and accepted that I fear what will happen if I take the plunge and attempt to make plans.

My most recent mental health diagnosis is PTSD. My main trauma has little to do with friends and friendship groups, but it can affect how I act in busy situations. When I am out of the house I can feel unsafe and out of control. I am easily startled and always on my guard. Sometimes knowing I will be like this is too much to cope with and I will cancel plans.

This may seem like a lot to take in, and may leave my friends wondering what to do. For me, though, the worst things are lack of interaction from friends and not making plans. I may cancel many times but please keep the faith that there will be times when I am able to meet up. Just to be invited means the world to me, even if I can’t make it. Please include me. Feeling left out is something I’ve experienced ever since my childhood and it doesn’t take much for me to still feel left out now. If it confuses you that I cancel so often, then talk to me! I will be more than happy to explain what’s going on. It may even bring us closer together to know why I act the way I do. I promise I will always try my best to stick to our plans, and I will try not to cancel last minute without good reason.

Communication is so important in friendship. It may even become more important when one of us falls ill and cannot get out of the house as often as we’d like. Please continue to communicate with us and include us in your plans with friends. We may have not changed. Our health has.

About the Author

Amy Cullis is a mental health and chronic illness blogger from the UK. They have a BSc (Hons) in Clinical and Health Psychology. Amy blogs at Amy’s Mystery Illness, contributes to The Mighty and has a keen interest in writing, politics, and equal rights; alongside music and photography.



Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Love and Friendship: What Valentine's Day Means to Me

Many moons ago I marked Valentine’s Day each year by exchanging friendship cards with one of my dearest friends, PJ. (Pamela Jane. She was Jane to her family, PJ or Pam to friends.) This was long before social media and instant messaging (yes really!) and we wrote letters to each other all the time, often by return of post. For years we shared the ups and downs of our lives that way; our hopes and fears and dreams for the future. I’m not sure we ever called each other best friends but that’s what we were.

Over time we drifted apart, as friends do sometimes. Our letters became less frequent. At some point we stopped sending each other Valentine’s cards. And then she got sick. Many years later I included our story in the first book I wrote with Fran.

I knew little of the disease [multiple sclerosis], and never took the trouble to ask or research what it meant. My friend spoke pragmatically of the impact it would have on her life, imagining and planning for a gradual physical deterioration. The illness advanced far more rapidly than anyone anticipated. I watched helplessly as the woman I had known was overwhelmed by disease, despair, and grief. The depth of her need terrified me. I wrote to her every day for what turned out to be the last two years of her life, but never once picked up the telephone. I visited her home only once, after her death, to attend a memorial ceremony.

From High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend's Guide to Bipolar Disorder

For a time PJ replied to my letters herself. Sometimes she had someone write on her behalf. Eventually the replies ceased altogether. Maybe she resented my attention by that point or was simply too ill to notice. Only those who stood by her could tell me and I’m too scared to ask them. It doesn’t matter now. What does matter is that I wasn’t there for her in ways that might have helped or meant something to her. That’s not something I’m proud of. She died way too young (whatever that means) in 2005 at the age of forty-three. I miss her, especially at this time of year.

I still have a lot to learn about being there in the right ways at the right time. I tend to be either “too much” or “not enough.” Two or three years ago I was struggling with another friendship. My friend had a lot to deal with. I hadn’t turned my back or walked away but I was failing to support her effectively. Things had become pretty fractured. In fact it’s fair to say our friendship was on the line. One night Fran asked me if I was so earnest about helping this friend because I believed I’d failed others in the past, PJ included. I’m sure there’s some truth there. Guilt can be a powerful motivator. One way or another – I’m not sure either of us knows how – my friend and I made it through those times and are still together.

A few days ago I hurt one of my best friends. I’m not happy that happened and my failure to recognise how much she was hurting only exacerbated the injury, but I’m proud that we worked it through the way we did. I do feel I’m learning. I messaged her the next day:

We are honest with each other. You get to call me out when I do or say something wrong. I get to do the same. And we each hurt a little when it happens, because it is painful when you hurt or upset someone you care about. And we learn a little more about each other. And we make up. And we move on, a little bit wiser for it.

That seems to me what a healthy friendship is all about. We all mess up. What matters is how we deal with it. I was never able to do that with PJ. Her illness and the impact it had on her body, and ultimately her mental health, terrified me. I had no idea how to respond and never asked what she needed. And she never dared tell me or ask, perhaps because she knew I wasn’t up to the task. What she most likely wanted was for me not to turn my back on her, and despite all those letters and cards, that’s what I did. This isn’t about beating myself up over not being a perfect friend, then or now. No one is. To be honest I’m not sure I’d want to be friends with someone who was perfect! But it is about being honest, with myself and others.

So here’s a promise to all my friends this Valentine’s Day. Card or no card, I pledge to be the best friend to you I can be; the friend you deserve.


Wednesday, 5 February 2020

#TimeToTalk: Thank You for Not Assuming I'm OK

This year’s Time to Talk Day is Thursday February 6, 2020.

I wrote recently about feeling flat which is something that happens from time to time. Many of my friends live with significant mental health issues and it would be easy for them to dismiss my accounts of when I am feeling low. It is a testament to them and the nature of our friendships that I feel safe sharing how I feel no matter how mild that might be compared to what are often dealing with.

My friend Aimee Wilson blogs at I’m NOT Disordered about her lived experience with serious mental health issues including borderline personality disorder, self-harm, and suicidality. My moods, issues, and problems are mostly trivial in comparison to hers but Aimee has always treated me with respect and empathy. The following exchange is a great example of this. It meant a lot that she did not assume I was okay but checked to be sure.

Martin: Hiya. I’m making some notes towards answering the questions at the end of your travel post. The ALL THINGS TRAVEL & MENTAL HEALTH one.

Aimee: Awesome! Some very big questions!

Martin: I was feeling a bit flat this morning actually, so this new piece inspired by yours has given me a little boost.

Aimee: Why flat?

Martin: Dunno exactly. Getting bogged down with the writing is part of it (but also the writing gets stuck when I’m not feeling so great so it’s not always clear what’s going on).

Aimee: Catch 22?

Martin: Definitely. I’ve come to recognise that I get this way every now and again. It mostly passes in a day or so.

Aimee: Hmmm. I guess rough days are kinda normal. It’s hard because being in mental health I hear things like that and instinctively think you’re struggling, but actually a lot of people have hard days and don’t have a mental health diagnosis. Just so long as you’re safe.

Martin: Thank you for not assuming I’m OK, if that makes sense.

Aimee: Of course! Just because you’re usually the support doesn’t mean you don’t need it yourself sometimes! And I’m here for you just as you are for me.

Martin: I feel better already! OK, I guess I’d better get some work done. Catch up later.

I checked back with Aimee a little later:

Martin: Our chat really helped motivate me and lift me from feeling low. Thank you.

Aimee: I’m glad it helped.

What Aimee did and said might seem simple — even commonplace — but it is precisely such “simple” conversations that are so important. As I’ve written elsewhere:

It’s extraordinarily valuable to me that I have several people who I know I can go to. I trust them and I trust myself with them. These are the people I know I’m safe with, that I can be vulnerable with if I’m feeling under the weather or something’s going on for me.

No matter who we are or what we are living with, we all need to feel that our feelings and problems are valid. It doesn’t take a lot to offer that sense of validation to someone. We can all do that. You can do that. Time to Change, the UK’s largest mental health campaign challenging stigma and discrimination has chosen the party game “Would you rather?” as the focus of this year’s Time to Talk Day, which is Thursday February 6, 2020.

Mental health problems affect one in four of us, yet too many people are made to feel isolated, ashamed and worthless because of this. Time to Talk Day encourages everyone to be more open about mental health – to talk, to listen, to change lives. We know that talking about mental health can feel awkward, but it doesn’t have to. This year, we’re using the popular game ‘Would you rather?’ to help break the ice and get the conversation flowing.

To get involved check out the Time to Change website. Share why you’re choosing to talk about mental health by using #TimeToTalk on your social media posts. Follow #TimeToTalk on Twitter and Instagram, and reply to and share posts.


Monday, 3 February 2020

Would You Rather? Time to Talk Day 2020

Time to Talk Day 2020 is Thursday February 6, 2020.

Time to Change, the UK’s largest mental health campaign challenging stigma and discrimination has chosen the party game “Would you rather?” as the focus of this year’s Time to Talk Day.

Choose talk, change lives.

Mental health problems affect one in four of us, yet too many people are made to feel isolated, ashamed and worthless because of this.

Time to Talk Day encourages everyone to be more open about mental health – to talk, to listen, to change lives.

We know that talking about mental health can feel awkward, but it doesn’t have to. This year, we’re using the popular game ‘Would you rather?’ to help break the ice and get the conversation flowing.

I have a confession to make. I’d never heard of, let alone played, this “popular game” until I started writing this article. Maybe I don’t get invited to the right kind of parties! To save you the trouble and embarrassment of googling it (as I had to!) the game is played by asking a series of questions of the form “Would you rather [do this] or [do that]?”

The questions can be light, deep, funny, silly — whatever you like. The idea is to get a conversation started in a fun and potentially interesting way. Any number of people can play, individually or in teams. You can even ask and answer the questions on your own, perhaps in a diary or journal. It’s easy to see how this fits the Time to Talk Day idea. The Time to Change website has examples of questions you might use, including:

Would you rather be stuck in a spider’s web or talk to a friend who feels trapped in their thoughts?

Would you rather kiss a jellyfish or talk to a colleague who feels all at sea?

Would you rather have the neck of an ostrich or talk to a friend who’s burying your feelings?

I thought about it and came up with a few of my own. One resonated with me especially. I’ll come back to that in a minute.

I’ve been a Time to Change Champion (the charity’s word for its registered volunteers and supporters) for several years in a personal capacity and co-lead the mental health and well-being team at work. I’m passionate about what we are doing at BPDTS Ltd and proud to have led the initiative to sign the Time to Change Employer Pledge. You can read our pledge on the Time to Change website.

I’m also one of the company’s team of mental health first aiders and it’s here that my Would you rather? question feels most relevant. The mental health first aider role involves being available to colleagues who want to reach out for a chat, information, or signposting to relevant support services.

It’s become one of the most rewarding aspects of my job. I’ll go further. My involvement in the mental health and wellbeing working group has become the single most rewarding aspect of my job, eclipsing the technical role in personal significance. I’m particularly excited to be involved in arranging mental health first aid training for others within the company.

Mental health first aid (MHFA) is certificated training delivered by trainers affiliated to Mental Health First Aid England or equivalent organisations around the world. I’ve described my experience taking the training previously. You can read how it equipped me to work in the mental health arena on the Mental Health First Aid England blog.

A healthy workplace is one which fosters an environment where we all feel able to talk with our peers, team leaders, and management. You don’t need to have completed special training to do this of course, but our mental health first aiders provide confidential points of contact. As I mentioned earlier, we offer confidential conversation, information, and signposting to support services provided within and by the company, as well as external organisations and professionals.

I hope colleagues throughout our organisation feel able to reach out to us without feeling they are imposing on our time or interfering with the techie side of our role. In my case at least, that’s never going to be an issue. There’s literally nothing more important to me than these kind of conversations.

So, what was the question that resonated so strongly with me?

Would you rather [insert any work-related task here] or have a conversation about mental health with a colleague?

I think we know the answer to that one!


Get Involved

Time to Talk Day 2020 is Thursday February 6, 2020. To get involved check out the Time to Change website. Share why you’re choosing to talk about mental health by using #TimeToTalk on your social media posts. Follow #TimeToTalk on Twitter and Instagram, and reply to and share posts. Oh, and have fun!


Wednesday, 29 January 2020

A Landscape of Labels: Mapping Illness and Wellness

Imagine looking down on your country or continent from a plane. You are aware of the general terrain: mountains, lowlands, lakes and rivers. Perhaps you recognise some locations – places you have visited or heard about – but there are no lines or labels down there on the ground to distinguish this country or state from the next.

Now take out a map of the same area. The map is not the landscape, it is a model of the landscape, and it is full of labels. This area has a line drawn around it. The area inside is labelled so. If it is a political map, the line might define a country; this line a different country, this line a county, state or principality.

Select a different map of the same region. Maybe this one displays regions in terms of economic affluence, manufacturing output, average rainfall, or languages spoken. The area that was labelled “England” will now carry other labels. The labels applied depend on their definitions, and which maps we choose.

Maps and labels are incredibly useful. Without them we would, literally, not know where we are, individually or in relation to one another. Travel would be a challenge, travel planning even more so. On the political map I live in an area labelled “Newcastle upon Tyne” within the area labelled “England.” Fran lives in an area labelled “Portland” within a rather large area labelled “United States of America.” The map of languages will tell us that our nations each have English as their first language. We learn some interesting and useful things, but the labels do not tell the whole story. They are not who we are.

I find it helpful to think of health and wellness in a similar way. There is an area of the broad landscape of emotional, physical, and mental experience which on the diagnostic map is labelled “bipolar II disorder.” Parts of this area fall within a larger region labelled “depression.” If I choose a different map, some of the labels may be different. The “depression” region is larger, maybe. There is a region labelled “manic depression” which more or less corresponds to “bipolar disorder” but doesn’t match exactly. Another map has only two regions: “health” and “illness.” You get the idea.

Wherever we are on the ground the labels applied to us depend on who is looking at us and which maps they are referring to.

The labels of illness are useful where they help to define where we are on the landscape of wellness, and which treatments and approaches may benefit us. We can think of treatment as helping and encouraging us to move from our “regions of illness” and journey towards regions labelled healthy on the map. Fran might move in and out of areas labelled “mania” or “depression,” for example. If it is not possible to make these journeys for some reason, treatments can help us live more comfortably wherever we find ourselves.

Knowing that Fran is American (was raised and lives within the geographic area labeled “America”) helps me draw useful inferences about her cultural identity, and likely points of similarity and difference between us. Similarly, knowing Fran lives in a region of the wellness landscape labelled “bipolar” helps me to approach her with a degree of understanding and empathy. In both cases of course, it is possible to draw false conclusions, or apply the labels without reconciling them with who she actually is.

It is my responsibility to remember that she is not “an American woman with bipolar,” but an individual with her own unique, personal experiences and story. The same applies to how we think and behave towards ourselves. We can use the labels for what they tell us but take care not to over-identify with them.

Fran, you were saying last night that one of the most important things with us is that I don’t see you as “an ill person.” That I see the person, the whole person that you are. You mentioned that the labels (I think you meant labels like bipolar, cfs, fibro) are useful because they help you focus on why you have certain issues, and also because they qualify you for benefits. But you said it is possible to become too attached to them?

Yes Marty.. The labels help me care for myself.. They help me to understand why I do what I do sometimes.. The problem is if I make that my identity.. the way engineering was an identity for me before I got sick..

Misinterpreting the labels of mental illness is at the root of stigma and prejudice. We don’t have the time or the energy to get to know everyone we meet. Labels act as a shortcut. I suggest it is not possible to completely avoid this kind of thinking; we appear programmed to label the world around us and it is likely we could not function as social beings if we did not. The important thing is to recognise that the labels we apply say as much about us and the maps we are using as they do about the people we are labelling.


Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Every Day Essentials for the Successful Blogger

because we wrote down one night everything in it
~ Adrian Henri

In a follow up to sharing my blogging workflow I thought I’d give you a behind-the-scenes peek at my EDC (every day carry). These are the items I take with me when I’m out and about for my blogging and journaling. This has been on my to-do list for ages. I was finally inspired to write it by a conversation with my friend and fellow mental health blogger Aimee Wilson.

Aimee: What’re you doing?

Martin: Right now, sorting what to bring out with me tomorrow. I carry so much in that green bag of mine, but it’s all essential blogging and writing stuff! I keep meaning to do a blog post about all I carry.

Aimee: That’s so funny because the new post I’m writing is about all the essentials for blogging!

Martin: No way! Really?

Aimee: This is why we’re best friends — we have so much in common!

You can read Aimee’s Essential Items for Bloggers on her blog I’m NOT Disordered. We approach things differently (compare Aimee’s post inspired by a Hidden Histories event with my more prosaic account) but with her permission I’ll use Aimee’s organisation of items into stationery, notebooks, technology, and tech accessories. To these I’ll add personal items and the bags I carry everything around in. I’ve listed everything I normally have with me, with buying links where possible.




Tech Accessories

Personal Items

  • Bisodol indigestion relief tablets
  • Paracetamol 500mg tablets
  • Ibuprofen 342mg tablets
  • Comb
  • Mints


Apart from the printers (I would take one or the other, not both) all of the above fits — just — into my trusty Lorenz Multi functional canvas bag/holdall. Clipped to the outside I have two brass binder clips and a small compass which is more decorative than functional — but you never know when you might need to know which way is north!

I also carry a cotton “Always Take the Scenic Route” shopping bag bought from Mountain Warehouse in support of the Sreepur Village in Bangladesh.

If I need more space the Lorenz fits perfectly into my Jack Wolfskin Berkeley 30L Daypack.

What Do I Do with It All?

That might seem an awful lot to carry around with me all day, so what do I do with it?

I keep a personal dairy in a series of Moleskine notebooks. My current diary is always with me so I can capture my thoughts and ideas whenever I am moved to.

I use my Standard Traveler’s Notebook for work notes and for drafting blog posts. The lightweight insert is ideal for blogging; the thinner paper means I have more pages to write in than with a regular insert.

My Passport Traveler’s Notebook is for memory keeping. I keepsake days out, holidays, and other special occasions. I decorate the pages with washi tape, stickers and stamps, also photos printed on my HP Sprocket or Paperang printers.

The gratitude journal was a recent gift from a friend and I keep it with me as a prompt to acknowledge and record moments of gratitude and appreciation through my day.

I love letter writing and keep a few sheets of writing paper, envelopes, and postcards in my bag.

The adjustable stand and Bluetooth keyboard turn my phone into a mini laptop when I want to type up my rough drafts. The stand is also great for selfies, time lapse videos, and video calls. I use my Bluetooth headset to listen to music, for voice and video calls, and recording audio blogs.

One Final Note

The Adrian Henri quotation at the top of this article has meant a lot to me since I first encountered it years ago. A fuller quotation from what is quite a long poem reads:

room gone now
room preserved forever
because of you
because of me
because we wrote down one night everything in it
because it looked like you
even when you weren’t there
room rented now like my dreams
to someone else

The idea of writing down the contents of a room in exhaustive detail remains extraordinary to me. It’s something I’ve thought about but never attempted. This article is my modest tribute to Henri’s genius.