Wednesday, 8 July 2020

SpeakUp4MentalHealth: My Interview with Amy Gamble

Last week I joined motivational speaker and mental health trainer Amy Gamble on her Speak Up 4 Mental Health podcast. We talked about my friendship with Fran, our book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder, and a number of other mental health topics. You can watch the interview here. Amy’s podcasts are also shown on West Liberty University Television (WLU-TV 14).

Amy and I first connected in 2017 and she guested on our blog shortly afterwards. Her interviews normally go out live at 11:30 am EST (4:30 pm here in the UK) but she kindly agreed to a time more convenient for me (6 pm EST, my 11 pm). We connected on Zoom twenty minutes ahead of time to check everything was working. We’d never spoken before but Amy immediately put me at my ease as we discussed how the interview would go. There was a short pause as she connected us to her Facebook group — then we were live!

3000 Miles Away, a Mental Illness and a Friendship

Martin Baker found a new friend Fran 3000 miles away during a manic episode. They've been friends for 9 years. Fascinating story of how mental health brought them together.

Posted by Amy Gamble on Friday, 3 July 2020

After introducing me to the audience Amy invited me to share how Fran and I first met. I talked about how we found ourselves in May 2011 on the Facebook page of a mutual acquaintance who was feeling suicidal. You can read more about our meeting in this excerpt from our book:

I could have clicked away to another page and put [this lady] out of my mind, but I chose to stay. We were not friends, but I knew something of her situation. I felt involved, but what could I possibly contribute that would be meaningful to her, if indeed she was there to read it?

Finally I posted something: “Flooding light and love into your world.”

The words sounded trite and inadequate, but they were the best I could manage. Someone by the name of Fran Houston responded almost immediately: “Sometimes even too much love can be overwhelming.”

My friendship with Fran begain in that moment. Amy observed that with all the social media and online contact we have these days it’s not unlikely to find ourselves in a chat room or Facebook group and realise someone is really struggling. She suggested that not everyone would have reached out as I did. That might be true but there’s an irony there. If I’d posted something more appropriate to the situation Fran would have felt no need to respond and we might never have met.

Amy asked if there had ever been a time when Fran was in crisis and I had to intervene. The question took me back to 2013 when Fran was travelling in Europe and we — jointly — invoked her wellness plan and contacted her professional support team back home. Amy and I briefly discussed WRAPs (Wellness Recovery Action Plans). You can discover more about WRAP plans here and read my personal Wellness Recovery Action Plan on our blog.

About twenty-five minutes into the interview Amy mentioned that someone called Aimee Wilson had commented on the Facebook feed:

Just wanted to say hi! I’m one of Martin’s best friends and I think it’s amazing that you’re shedding light on the incredible work he does!

I was delighted she was watching! Aimee is a dear friend and a very successful mental health blogger in her own right (check out her blog I’m NOT Disordered). I gave her a little shout-out as my “blogging bestie.” It’s fair to say she loved being mentioned!

Amy was interested to know about the UK anti-stigma campaign Time to Change. I described how I’d first connected with the organisation (shout-out to another dear friend, Angela Slater, who at the time was regional community equalities coordinator for Time to Change) and a few of the occasions I’ve volunteered with them, including for Newcastle Mental Health Day and at Northern Pride. We talked a little about the Time to Change Employer Pledge and my role in the mental health and wellbeing team at BPDTS Ltd.

All too soon we were out of time. Thirty minutes had passed so quickly, but Amy suggested the possibility of a further interview in the future, either on my own or with Fran.

It’s no secret that at times I doubt myself and my place on the wider mental health stage, but as the interview ended I felt included. Amy reminded me I have a voice and something of value to share. That means a great deal and it’s something I’ll carry with me against times when the doubts return, as they do from time to time.

You can watch our interview on Amy’s Facebook page and on West Liberty University Television (WLU-TV 14). Contact Amy Gamble on her website, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

 

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Where the Magic Happens: A Few Thoughts on Friendship, Difference, and Understanding

“Friend, how did we come here down such different roads?” (Martin Baker)

I’ve always delighted in the differences between people. The gaps in thinking, experience, and outlook offer enormous potential for growth, learning, and understanding. They are where the magic happens. This isn’t always easy, of course. No matter how much we care, significant differences in attitudes and opinion can get in the way of communicating effectively. It takes patience and commitment on both sides to handle difference creatively but I believe it’s possible if both parties are open to doing so.

Difference manifests in many areas of our lives. The following differences (and more) may be present in any given relationship.

Differences in age, gender, and sexual orientation; nationality, race, and culture; marital status; wellness and illness; financial and material security; education, skills, and abilities; life experience; worldview, political and religious beliefs; employment status and history.

It’s largely on the basis of such information that we make up our minds about other people and they make up their minds about us. It’s how we describe ourselves to a new friend or on our resume. The greater the match between our profiles the more at ease we feel. Conversely, too great a mismatch can put us off and get in the way of exploring deeper. If so, we are missing out, because this kind of information says very little about us as people. We rarely describe or introduce ourselves in ways that reveal our true selves, at least not up front or all at once.

Hi! I’m Marty. I get a bit carried away by new people sometimes so you might want to watch out for that but I’m a loyal friend. I didn’t know how to cry for most of my adult life but these days I cry easily so bring tissues! I have come a long way but I haven’t stopped growing, or learning, yet. I value honesty and openness and being called out on my shit so if you’re good with that let’s grab a coffee!

If we shared this kind of information more readily — our frailties, our fears, what delights and motivates us (who we are rather than what we do or what we have) — we’d see we have more in common with one another than we might otherwise realise, and begin to see the potential for understanding that our differences represent.

I believe this is what Fran detected early in our friendship:

“Fran, I have never thought of you as someone with bipolar or chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia, just as you.”

“And that is the point! It’s how you are with me. You treat me no less. People do not treat me that way once they know I have illness. It is a powerful thing. And it has helped me see how I am. That I am not just my illness, I have value and gifts to give.”

She didn’t mean, of course, that I was blind to her illnesses or their impact. They represented — and represent — significant differences between us as friends and between the life Fran lives and the life she would prefer to live. But difference of any kind does not define us, and whilst it can be a source of misunderstanding, complication and difficulty, it can also provide an opportunity for exploration, awareness and growth.

 

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash.

 

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

When Blogging Is Hard and What to Do About It

No matter how committed you are to your blog there will be occasions when things aren’t flowing as easily as you’d wish. It helps to have a streamlined process (I’ve described my blogging workflow elsewhere) but there are still times when I struggle with ideas, when the words won’t flow, or when I change my mind at the last minute. Here’s how I handle these issues when they arise. Maybe some of it will resonate with you.

What Should I Write About?

Most of my blogging ideas come from conversations with friends, events I’ve attended, or things I’ve seen on social media. I keep lists of promising topics but sometimes it’s hard to decide what to write about. Here are a few approaches I use when that happens.

Dana Fox’s book 365 Blog Topic Ideas For The Lifestyle Blogger Who Has Nothing to Write About was a gift from my friend and fellow mental health blogger Aimee Wilson. It’s inspired a number of articles including a profile of six people I admire in the mental health community.

It can help to talk to fellow writers and experts in your field. A meeting with Aimee last year led to a joint post with her and mental health blogger Peter McDonnell on competition and collaboration. A piece on the importance of asking questions was inspired by an article on Aimee’s blog I’m NOT Disordered. As with all collaborative work, remember to acknowledge those who have contributed or inspired your writing.

Another approach is to use or adapt content you’ve written previously. Our book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder is a rich source of material for our blog. If you have previously published content, whether that is a book or in some other format, consider excerpting it for a blog post. If you vlog or podcast, try a book reading. Fran and I have recorded book readings for our YouTube channel. Draft material can be another source of inspiration. Look through your incomplete or unpublished articles and other writing. Maybe the time has come to complete or rework the content in some way.

If you have an idea that feels too big or complex to take on, consider breaking it down into smaller pieces. Focus on one or two specific sub-topics at a time rather than trying to squeeze it all in one post.

Some promising topics may be beyond your knowledge or experience. Rather than reject the idea outright, consider approaching it from your perspective. A friend asked me recently if I’ve ever written about the mind of someone who is suicidal; what they are thinking and feeling. I could never write such an article because I have no relevant personal experience. However, I can write about supporting someone who lives with suicidal thoughts, and how to take care of yourself when your friend is suicidal.

When the Words Won’t Flow

All bloggers know the frustration of writer’s block. The time isn’t right. There are other things going on. The muse isn’t with you. You’re not in the right frame of mind. I explored this in a post called I Was Going To Write Today. The solution can be as simple as seeing these “reasons” for the excuses they are and writing anyway. Because that’s what writers do.

And in the meantime the world goes on. And other people write. And they are not necessarily “inspired.” And they probably don’t have the right pen or the perfect notebook. Maybe they found the back of an envelope to scribble on when their laptop crashed so they didn’t lose what was bursting to get out. And maybe the cat just spewed up or the baby did. Or they feel sick today or depressed or despair of ever making a difference or even getting through another day fuck even another hour but you know what they dare anyway they dare to care and write and scream sigh vomit breathe craft something from the guts of them because sometimes that’s all you have and all you can offer to the world and sometimes it is enough you are enough YOU ARE ENOUGH.

Another approach to feeling stuck is to change something. Try writing in a different setting, at a different time of day, or using a different medium. If you normally write at your computer keyboard, try your tablet or phone, or pick up a pen and write longhand in a notebook, on the back of an envelope or whatever is to hand. It could just be the impetus you need for the words to start flowing.

Sometimes all you can do is accept that you’re not going to write today. Set it aside, along with any self-judgment about not being good enough, or that you’re a failure because the words aren’t flowing for you right now. Use the time to research new ideas, read or take some training relevant to your subject area, or update your website. Actively support other bloggers in your field by sharing their content, leaving comments, and giving them some feedback.

Remember to take care of yourself too. Maybe you need to take a break, do something completely different for a while, and recharge your batteries. You’ll return refreshed and might even come up with some new ideas in the process.

If you’re stuck for content or want to inject some new energy into your blog, consider inviting others to contribute. Fran and I welcome guest bloggers and have published some fantastic content by guest writers. If you’d like to write for us check out the guidelines on our contact page.

To Publish or Not to Publish?

Sometimes I complete an article but am uncertain about publishing it. There can be a number of reasons. The first is feeling dissatisfied with what I’ve written. It can be good to hold yourself to high standards but I have a tendency to be overly self-critical. It helps to remind myself that the perfect is the enemy of the good and that “good enough” means exactly what it says. A good enough piece that gets published has the potential to reach thousands of people. That “almost there” article in your drafts folder will only ever have an audience of one.

That said, check in with yourself before sending your work out into the world. I wrote an article last year after seeing someone post inappropriately on social media. I decided not to publish because I’d focused too much on that one specific example. I’d not mentioned any names but it would not have been hard to trace the person concerned. That would only have brought additional focus to their malpractice and potential hurt to the innocent party involved. I set aside what I’d written and wrote a stronger and more general article on how to respond responsibly on social media.

It is good manners to acknowledge people who have inspired or collaborated on a blog post. Ensuring you have permission to include content others have created is responsible blogging. However, granting a publication veto to people who have contributed to an article, are referenced in it, or might be affected by its publication is a different matter — and one potentially fraught with difficulties. I’ve written posts I’m proud of but withheld from publishing or withdrawn after publication because approval was unforthcoming or withdrawn. There are no easy answers, but in future I intend paying closer attention to my boundaries as a writer and blog owner. I will focus on telling my story rather than other people’s and more clearly define roles and responsibilities in colaborative work. Hopefully, this will lead to less frustration and misunderstanding, and fewer articles that never see the light of day.

 

I’ve described some of the issues I encounter from time to time with my blogging and how I work around them. Perhaps some are familiar to you. How do you handle it when you are stuck for an idea, or when writer’s block strikes? Do you ever hesitate before publishing your work, or doubt it it’s good enough to be “out there”? Fran and I would love to hear from you, either in the comments below or in a guest post. If you’d like to write for us check out the guidelines on our contact page.

Happy and successful blogging!

 

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash.

 

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

How to Take Care of Yourself When Your Friend is Suicidal

This article is excerpted and updated from chapter 7, “The ‘S’ Word: Being There When Your Friend Is Suicidal,” of our book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder. Photo by Alex Blăjan on Unsplash.

Taking Care of Myself

Being in a relationship with someone who talks about wanting to die can be stressful and draining, so remember to pay as close attention to your well-being as to your friend’s. My self-care needs are threefold. First, I need to believe I can handle myself and Fran safely. The more I learn about her illnesses and situation, the more confident I am in my ability to support her and help keep her safe. Second, I need to know what to look out for, and who to contact should I ever find myself out of my depth. I keep a copy of her wellness plan, which includes contact details for friends and key medical professionals, with me at all times. Third, I need my own support team. It is vital to have someone — a friend, colleague, family member, or perhaps someone in a more formal support or counselling role — you trust and feel able to approach if necessary. I am fortunate to have a close circle of family and friends to call on if I need to unburden myself.

Awareness and Education

Before I met Fran, I knew little about bipolar disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, or suicidal thinking. At first, I imagined I could discover all I needed to know by talking with Fran and spending time with her. I learned a great deal, but after a while I realised I needed additional sources of information. No book, website, or training course can tell me how illness affects Fran personally, but she does not know everything about mental illness and cannot provide a broader, impartial perspective. I seek to educate myself by talking to people with lived experience, by reading books and online material, by taking relevant courses and training, and by participating in the wider mental health community.

It’s Good to Talk

When Fran is actively suicidal my focus is on her, not on educating myself. At other times we discuss what happens when such thoughts arise, how she feels, and how best we can keep her safe. Fran is the expert on how her illnesses affect her personally, but I have read more widely about bipolar disorder, suicide, and suicidal thinking. Sharing allows us to learn from each other. If and when crisis comes, we are as prepared as we can be to face it together.

Fran is not the only person I talk to, however. It is a sad fact that many people have personal experience of suicide, attempted suicide, and suicidal thinking. One friend told me:

There is kind of shame involved, in having considered such a thing. But the silence that is born out of that shame leaves others feeling they are the only ones to have such feelings, and that isolation adds to their thinking. . . . In the moment, there is such despair that suicide seems to be the only option. It can feel a logical choice; the only answer. Looking back, for me, is still scary and painful. I find it hard to believe that I could feel so overwhelmed by life and yet I know that such feelings still lie under the surface of my thinking.

I am indebted to her, and to all who have shared their experiences and insights. In the course of writing our book we approached many people for permission to quote from their messages, e-mails, and social media posts. All were happy to do so. As one contributor said, “Absolutely! It’s so important. Nothing is more so.”

Books and Reading

The appendix to our book High Tide, Low Tide contains a selection of books we have found useful including some relating to suicide and suicidality. Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide, by Kay Redfield Jamison, approaches the subject of suicide and suicidal thinking with authority and compassion. Edwin Shneidman’s The Suicidal Mind is also useful. Edited by Sarah Fader, the Stigma Fighters Anthology shares personal stories written by people living with a range of conditions.

Courses and Training

The Internet is a rich source of educational and training material. In a recent post we published a listing of seventeen online suicide awareness courses and podcasts, many of which are free. I have found the following especially helpful:

ZSA Suicide Awareness Training (20 minutes) — Free
This course “aims to give you the skills and confidence to help someone who may be considering suicide. It focuses on breaking stigma and encouraging open conversations.”

Real Talk Film (15 minutes) — Free
This interactive film offers an “introduction to conversations supporting someone with suicidal thoughts. Viewer interaction influences the conversation and safely explores how to support someone in crisis.”

We Need To Talk About Suicide (90 minutes) — Free
E-Learning module from Health Education England covering who is at risk of suicide, warning signs those people might display and what you can say in response. The module also provides links to national support resources.”

LivingWorks (1 hour) — £12
This course offers “Foundational skills to help someone who is thinking about suicide connect to life-saving help. Opportunities to practice skills in a variety of conversation scenarios.”

Dealing with Distress: Working with Suicide and Self-Harm — £35
This in-depth course “explores how to support people in distress and at risk of suicide or self-harm. Aimed at counsellors and psychotherapists, it is, however, relevant to a wide range of helping professionals as well as survivors themselves. Lifetime access with 6 hours’ CPD certificate upon completion.”

Classroom training includes the excellent Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) programme. Originally developed in Australia in 2001, MHFA is available in many countries including Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, South Africa, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

I have also completed the internationally recognised Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) workshop. Widely available, ASIST is aimed at caregivers wanting to feel comfortable, confident, and competent in helping prevent the immediate risk of suicide.

The Mental Health Community

Fran and I support a number of mental health organisations and campaigns, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Mind, Bring Change 2 Mind, and Time to Change.

We also follow the blogs and social media accounts of groups and individuals working in this arena. As well as providing information and countering stigma and discrimination, the mental health community offers people the opportunity to share their experiences and extend support and encouragement to one another. Some peer support forums are run by official organisations; others are informal or run by individuals.

Social media is sometimes criticised on the grounds that a lack of professional governance may jeopardise the safety of vulnerable people through well-meaning but misguided advice. Vigilance is advisable, but in our experience, most support offered in online communities is genuine, caring, and balanced.

It may not be for everyone, but we encourage you and your friend to engage in the wider mental health community to the extent you feel comfortable. It has provided us with information, guidance, and support, and helped us feel part of something larger than our own situation. We have also found many new friends along the way. On a personal level, it has made me more aware of what it means to live with mental illness, and contributed to my ability to support Fran effectively.

If You Need Help

Our resources page includes links to suicide crisis lines / support organisations, training resources, and books. UK mental health charity Mind offers a range of help and information if you need support or are concerned for someone else.

 

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

Official Traveler's Company Notebooks, Inserts and Accessories

In this follow-up to Every Day Essentials for the Successful Blogger I have listed all the official Traveler's Notebook (formerly known as the Midori Traveler’s Notebook) inserts and accessories I can find.

If you know of any items I’ve missed please let me know and I will update the listing. Similar notebook systems by other makers are not included in this article.

Traveler's Notebooks and accessories can be bought from many stores around the world. Links are to The Journal Shop except where otherwise indicated. According to their website, “The Journal Shop carried every single Traveler's Notebook item ever made, so if Midori makes it, we'll have it here for you.”

For more on the history of the Traveler’s Notebook visit the Traveler’s Company website.

Traveler's Notebooks

Traveler's Notebooks come in two sizes: Regular (large; 12 x 1 x 22 cm) and Passport (small; 9.8 x 1 x 13.4 cm).

Special editions include the Narita Airport Edition sold by Traveler’s Factory at Narita International Airport, Tokyo; and the Tokyo Station Edition available from the Traveler’s Factory shop in Tokyo train station.

Traveler's Notebook, Brown

Traveler's Notebook, Black

Traveler's Notebook, Camel

Traveler's Notebook, Blue

Traveler's Passport Notebook, Brown

Traveler's Passport Notebook, Black

Traveler's Passport Notebook, Camel

Traveler's Passport Notebook, Blue

Traveler's Notebook Inserts and Accessories

Items are listed by refill number. Note that some numbers are used for more than one item.

[001] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 001 : LINED NOTEBOOK

[001] Traveler's Passport Notebook // Refill 001 : LINED MD PAPER

[002] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 002 : GRID NOTEBOOK

[002] Traveler's Passport Notebook // Refill 002 : GRID MD PAPER

[003] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 003 : PLAIN NOTEBOOK

[003] Traveler's Passport Notebook // Refill 003 : PLAIN MD PAPER

[004] Traveler's Passport Notebook // Refill 004 : ZIPPER POCKET

[005] Traveler's Passport Notebook // Refill 005 : LIGHTWEIGHT PAPER

[005] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 005 : FREE DIARY (DAILY)

[006] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 006 : POCKET STICKER (L)

[006] Traveler's Passport Notebook // Refill 006 : FREE DIARY (MONTHLY)

[007] Traveler's Passport Notebook // Refill 007 : FREE DIARY (WEEKLY)

[007] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 007 : CARD FILE

[008] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 008 : ZIPPER POCKET

[009] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 009 : REPAIR KIT / 8 BANDS

[009] Traveler's Passport Notebook // Refill 009 : KRAFT PAPER

[010] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 010 : DOUBLE SIDED STICKERS

[011] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 011 : BINDER

[011] Traveler's Passport Notebook // Refill 011 : CONNECTING BANDS

[012] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 012 : SKETCH PAPER

[012] Traveler's Passport Notebook // Refill 012 : STICKY NOTES

[013] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 013 : LIGHTWEIGHT PAPER

[013] Traveler's Notebook Passport Size // Refill 013 : MD PAPER CREAM

[014] Traveler's Notebook Passport Size // Refill 014 : DOT GRID

[014] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 014 : KRAFT PAPER

[015] Traveler's Notebook Passport Size // Refill 015 : WATERCOLOR PAPER

[015] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 015 : Pen HOLDER (S)

[016] Traveler's Notebook Passport Size // Refill 016 : BINDER

[016] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 016 : Pen HOLDER (M)

[016] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 016 : Pen HOLDER (M) BLUE

[017] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 017 : FREE DIARY (MONTHLY)

[018] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 018 : FREE DIARY (WEEKLY VERTICAL)

[019] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 019 : FREE DIARY (WEEKLY) + NOTES

[020] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 020 : KRAFT FILE

[021] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 021 : CONNECTING BANDS

[022] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 022 : STICKY NOTES

[023] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 023 : FILM POCKET STICKERS

[024] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 024 : PENHOLDER STICKER

[025] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 025 : MD PAPER CREAM

[026] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 026 : DOT GRID

[027] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 027 : WATERCOLOR PAPER

[028] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 028 : CARD FILE

[029] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 029 : THREE-FOLD FILE

[030] Traveler's Notebook // Refill 030 : BRASS CLIP

Miscellaneous Traveler's Notebook Accessories

Traveler's Notebook 10th Anniversary Tin Set

Traveler's Company Brass Pencil

Traveler's Company Brass Pen

Traveler's Company Brass Fountain Pen

Traveler's Company Brass Pen Case

Traveler's Company Brass Ruler

Traveler's Company Brass Stencil Bookmark : Alphabet

Traveler's Company Brass Stencil Bookmark : Numbers

 

Sunday, 31 May 2020

It's Sunday and I'm Not Doing Very Well

It’s Sunday and I’m not doing very well.

When I’m struggling it’s usually because of difficulties in one of my key relationships, but that’s not the case right now. I don’t feel estranged from or at odds with anyone. Everything is solid. Or was. My low mood may become an issue if I don’t clear it soon. It’s been with me a few days now. It would probably be easier if it was due to a problem with one of my friends; something they’d done, or I’d done. It might not be simple to work through but I’d have a focus.

The trigger for this was a work call I was on a few days ago. Colleagues were discussing how we might have to work from home for the remainder of the year; indeed, that we might never return to the office the way we were before lockdown. That’s not a new thought, and at this stage it’s little more than a possibility, but my mood plummeted after that meeting. I’ve adapted to working from home better than I thought I would, but that doesn’t mean I want to be stuck at home forever. Not in my current role anyway. It feeds into the broader issues I’ve been having for six months or more, about my role and future at work. What I’m doing. What I want to do. I’ve not made much progress. Despite the best endeavours of my manager and my workplace mentor, I’m no further forward.

More fundamentally still, it brings up deep-seated feelings of not being enough. Not doing enough. Not having much of anything to contribute. Right now, it feels like I’ve been living a lie for a long time; that it’s all been a sham and I’m about to be found out. In the workplace, with my mental health work, as a friend. Everything. Objectively, I know that’s untrue but when the feelings get as big as this, as diffuse as this, it’s hard to stay logical. Or rather, logic doesn’t seem to make much of a difference.

The wider, deeper, uncertainty over covid is playing its part. I weathered lockdown better than I’d imagined, partly because the rules were straightforward and most seemed to be following them. As the country starts to open up again, I’m fearful of what will happen locally, nationally, internationally. I’m hardly alone in that fear, I know. And many people have things far harder than I do. Guilt is part of it, too. What reason or right do I have to feel this way? I have things pretty easy.

The only thing to do is let the feelings be here until they pass.

In the meantime, though, I’m not doing great. I’m not writing. My journal, yes, but nothing else. I owe letters, emails and calls to friends. I have an important guest article in hand but I’ve ground to a halt on it. I’m waiting for input from someone but that needn’t stop me working on the rest of the piece. If I’m honest, I’m using the delay as an excuse not to write because I don’t feel up to it right now.

Talking usually helps me process whatever is going on for me, but not always. If I’m not ready or able to open up — and right now it’s too big and uncertain for me to explain or explore — talking can be unhelpful, especially if I end up feeling guilty for not sharing with people who care about me. What does help is knowing I have people who will listen when I’m ready and who can simply be there in the meantime. Like I said to one friend yesterday, “Thank you for caring. And thank you for accepting me saying ‘no thanks’.”

The best thing for me right now is to distract myself until the mood shifts enough to pick up the threads of what’s going on beneath the surface. Walking helps a little. Netflix and movies help a little. Practical creativity helps a little. For the past week or so I’ve been revamping the lapboard I use when I’m writing at home. I showed a friend how I was getting on with it last night. I hadn’t thought about it as therapy until she asked if it was helping and I realised it was.

And maybe writing this is helping a little. I’m going to post it before I decide there’s no point. Maybe it will help someone realise they’re not alone if they’re feeling low.

 

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

17 Online Suicide Awareness Courses and Podcasts

A recent BBC news article reported that since the coronavirus lockdown began in the UK more than half a million people have accessed the twenty-minute suicide awareness course run by the Zero Suicide Alliance (ZSA).

Joe Rafferty from ZSA said the true impact of Covid-19 on mental health will not become clear until the pandemic is over, but that “the stress and worry of the coronavirus is bound to have impacted people’s mental health.” He added that “Suicide is a serious public health issue and every single death by suicide devastates families, friends and communities”.

According to the Office for National Statistics, more than 6,500 suicides were registered in the UK in 2018, with three-quarters of them among men. The suicide prevention charity Grassroots offers the following statistics:

In the UK, 1 in 5 think about suicide in their lifetime, which means there are 4 people who can help.

1 in 4 experience mental ill-health in their lifetime, which means there is nothing unusual about having difficulties with mental health.

1 in 15 attempt suicide in their lifetime. Through education and training, we can better reach out to people when they’re at their most vulnerable.

This article presents a selection of online suicide awareness courses and podcasts for anyone who wants to learn about this challenging subject that is a lived reality for many. No course or podcast can make you an expert overnight. You will, however, be better equipped to help someone who may be considering suicide and be in need of support. Many of these resources also address wider issues including stigma and the importance of open communication.


Online Suicide Awareness Training

ZSA Gateway Module (5–10 minutes) — Free
Partly funded by the Department of Health, the Zero Suicide Alliance (ZSA) has reached a total of one million participants since its launch in 2017. This short module presents “a very brief introduction to suicide awareness. In just 5–10 minutes you could learn skills to help someone considering suicide. It will give you tips on how to approach someone if you are worried they may be considering taking their own life.”

ZSA Suicide Awareness Training (20 minutes) — Free
This course offers “a more in-depth suicide awareness training session which takes approximately 20 minutes. It aims to give you the skills and confidence to help someone who may be considering suicide. It focuses on breaking stigma and encouraging open conversations.”

Stay Alive app — Free
Stay Alive is a mobile app offered by Grassroots, “a small, Brighton based charity with a simple but powerful goal: that no one should have to contemplate suicide alone.”

Our free suicide prevention resource for the UK is packed with useful information and tools to help you stay safe in crisis. You can use it if you are having thoughts of suicide or if you are concerned about someone else who may be considering suicide.

Stay Alive is available on Google Play and the Apple Store.

Real Talk Film (15 minutes) — Free
This course offers an “introduction to conversations supporting someone with suicidal thoughts. Viewer interaction influences the conversation and safely explores how to support someone in crisis.”

We Need To Talk About Suicide (90 minutes) — Free
E-Learning module from Health Education England covering who is at risk of suicide, warning signs those people might display and what you can say in response. The module also provides links to national support resources.”

LivingWorks – Start (1 hour) — £12
This course offers “Foundational skills to help someone who is thinking about suicide connect to life-saving help. Opportunities to practice skills in a variety of conversation scenarios.”

Mental Health First Aid Half-day Webinar (4 hours) — £££
This course “offers an understanding of what mental health is and how to challenge stigma; a basic knowledge of some common mental health issues; an introduction to looking after your own mental health and maintaining wellbeing; confidence to support someone in distress or who may be experiencing a mental health issue.” Group of 8–25 learners.

Suicide First Aid Webinar (2 hours) — £££
This course covers: “The impact and value of personal and professional experience with suicide; Barriers that prevent people at risk seeking help; Prevalence of suicide thoughts and suicidal behaviours; The Signs of Suicide and the Suicide-Safety Guide; Partnership working and community resources.” Group of 10–20 learners.

QPR Gatekeeper Training (60 minutes) — $29.95
QPR Gatekeeper training (the acronym stands for Question, Persuade, Refer) is one of several training programs developed by the QPR Institute. The course fee includes the e-book Suicide: the Forever Decision, by Paul Quinnett, Ph.D.

esuicideTALK (2 hour) — $20
This course is a one–two hour exploration in suicide awareness.

It is intended for all members of a community, ages 15 and up. Organized around the question ‘should we talk about suicide?’ this program provides a structure in which session members can safely explore some of the most challenging attitudinal issues about suicide, and encourages every member to find a part that they can play in preventing suicide.

esuicideTALK is designed to suit your schedule and lifestyle. You can take esuicideTALK on any computer with an Internet connection. esuicideTALK is aimed at all members and groups in a community. Its goal is to help make direct, open and honest talk about suicide easier.

Understanding Suicide and Suicide Prevention Strategies in a Global Context (12 hours)
On this course, “you will gain a broader understanding of suicide as a worldwide issue. You will analyse global suicide rates and patterns and explore common risk factors. You will explore the social and cultural factors that can influence suicidal behaviour. You will also look at suicide prevention strategies and learn how these can be enforced in communities.” 12 hours over 3 weeks

Counseling on Access to Lethal Means (2 hours) — Free
This course shows how “reducing access to lethal means, such as firearms and medication, can determine whether a person at risk for suicide lives or dies. This course is about how to reduce access to the methods people use to kill themselves. It covers who needs lethal means counseling and how to work with people at risk for suicide — and their families — to reduce access.”

Dealing with Distress: Working with Suicide and Self-Harm Online Training — £35 (free taster session)
This course “explores how to support people in distress and at risk of suicide or self-harm. Aimed at counsellors and psychotherapists, it is, however, relevant to a wide range of helping professionals as well as survivors themselves. Lifetime access with 6 hours’ CPD certificate upon completion.”


Podcasts

Papyrus Hopecast
Papyrus Hopecast is a podcast which looks to make suicide part of everyday conversations.

The Center for Suicide Awareness’ Podcast
Podcasts by The Center for Suicide Awareness.

Suicide and Hope
A podcast discussion with Stanford psychologist and suicidologist Rebecca Bernert, PhD.

Let’s Talk about Suicide Prevention
This episode of the Mental Health Foundation podcast comprises interviews with Byron Vincent, a writer, broadcaster and performance artist with lived experience of bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder; Mark Rowland, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation; and Linda Liao, Digital Manager at the Mental Health Foundation.


Suicide Crisis Resources

If you are thinking about suicide, read this first.
This powerful piece is a must-read for anyone considering suicide or wanting to understand more about suicidal thinking.

If you are feeling suicidal now, please stop long enough to read this. It will only take about five minutes. I do not want to talk you out of your bad feelings. I am not a therapist or other mental health professional — only someone who knows what it is like to be in pain.

Grassroots Crisis and Support
If you are having thoughts of suicide or are in a suicidal crisis, or if you are worried about someone else, Grassroots offers a range of tips, helplines, websites, downloadable resources and other services.

 

Saturday, 23 May 2020

Wearing T-Shirts Is Not Enough

Monday was the start of Mental Health Awareness Week here in the UK. Dressing for my day working from home I picked through my collection of mental health t-shirts. Andy “Electroboy” Behrman’s KEEP TALKING ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH tee. Gabe Howard’s iconic :): shirt. One each from Bipolar UK, NAMI, No Stigmas, and Stigma Fighters. I chose the No Stigmas one for the start of the week.

I made myself a cup of coffee and turned on my work laptop. My new post for Mental Health Awareness Week would be going up on the work intranet. I’d have emails and calls through the week with the mental health and wellness team. Content and activities to plan. But what was I doing, really? Making a difference? Countering stigma? I suddenly felt deflated. Adrift. A fraud.

For a moment I was back thirty-five years or so at a CND rally in Hyde Park in London, taking in the sunshine and the music, eyeing up the women in their rainbow coloured tops and faded blue jeans, affronted by the guy on stage declaring loudly to the crowd “Wearing badges is not enough!” Funny the things that stick with you. I could almost hear him adding “— or bleedin’ t-shirts.”

I’m not completely clueless about mental illness and stigma. I’m primary caregiver and life-line to my best friend Fran, despite us living opposite sides of the Atlantic. I know what our relationship means to her. For the past nine years, I’ve been her constant companion as she’s ridden the tides of mania, depression, suicidal thinking, debilitating fatigue, and pain. I’ve seen what it costs her to navigate the stigma and ignorance of a society which places the highest regard on those who are able-bodied and — especially — able-minded. She’s told me many times she’s only alive today because of me being here. I take that at face value. It is powerful and deeply humbling.

But on the wider stage, what do I have to contribute? Diagnosis-free, with no direct experience of mental illness, trauma, or stigma to share, I stand on the other side of the well/ill divide. It’s never been an issue for me and Fran, but for some people I am “not mental enough” to help or understand. I get it. I’d probably feel the same way. What do I know, really?

Well or ill, it’s easy to feel frustrated and overwhelmed. A few years ago Fran posted daily on social media throughout May for mental health month, and I was with her day after day as she handled the fallout. The ones who, well-meaning or otherwise, failed to get what she — and many others — dared to share. The people on my social media feed who found it amusing to share jokes about waking up on a psychiatric ward. The trolling and abuse friends of ours have faced on their blogs and on social media.

Not that I always get it right, either. I’ve encountered discord recently with friends when discussion has faltered and connections have stretched to breaking point. At such times I doubt my ability to write, to find anything significant or “edgy” enough to write about. My work seems pale compared to that of others I know and admire, Fran included.

I thought back a few years to when I landed the opportunity to write a guest post for Wearable Therapy. The irony of writing for a socially aware clothing company wasn’t lost on me. I smiled. Maybe I had something to say after all. I pulled that guest post up and read it for the first time in years. It might have demoralised me further but for some reason it lifted me. I recalled how a friend had written expressing heartfelt gratitude to everyone — her professional team, family, and friends — who’d been there for her in recent days. My contribution had been modest enough, but I knew I was included in her thank you. I was tagged on a social media thread by someone I admire greatly and have often felt in awe of because of her ability to write eloquently and powerfully. Her message was deeply connecting and encouraging.

I thought back to other supportive messages Fran and I have received over the years from people who’ve told us they’ve been affected by our book and our story. It’s not an ego thing to recognise that what you are doing affects people’s lives, maybe even save lives.

Because it’s not always the “big” things that have the most impact. Like the random conversation I had years ago in a coffee bar that led me to a local literary event on the subject of physical and mental health. I met some great people that day, people who live their lives and share their stories with courage and passion. Or the chance comment on Facebook that lead to a lifetime, and life-changing, best friendship.

So I will go on. I will go on supporting Fran in all she does and sharing our story because the story of how a well one and an ill one manage their friendship needs to be heard. I will champion all who are doing their own amazing things. I will call out stigma and discrimination wherever I find it. And I will wear my t-shirts with pride. It isn’t enough, no. Not on its own. But it can be part of enough. Because you never know when a KEEP TALKING ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH shirt might spark a conversation; might give someone confidence and permission to open up or ask for help.

And I will keep challenging myself and connecting, living my life and speaking my truth as only I can, side by side with my best friend, shoulder to shoulder with all who are working and hoping and living toward the day when STIGMA IS NO MORE. Now that will be a t-shirt worth wearing.

 

Based on Wearing T-Shirts Is Not Enough, Stand Up : Speak Up, June 2016.

 

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

10 Ways I Was Kind to Myself This Week

The theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) is kindness. In a recent article I described sixteen ways we can bring more kindness into our lives, including being kind to ourselves. I’d like to share a few ways I’ve been kind to myself in the past week.

1. Boundary Work

Kindness isn’t always easy, whether it’s showing kindness to others, accepting it from others, or being kind to yourself. Kindness isn’t fluffy, soppy, or superficial. At its heart, kindness is about honesty, respect, and maintaining healthy boundaries. I’ve done a lot of work this week on my boundaries, to see which are truly important and protect me from harm, and which are walls my ego has erected to defend an inflated sense of self-worth. It’s tough work but I feel I’m making progress, with the help of friends I trust to be honest with me. That’s kindness in action, right there.

2. A Time to Celebrate

I’ve written elsewhere how important it is to recognise our successes and achievements. You may not think there’s much to celebrate at the moment, living as we are through the coronavirus pandemic. It might even feel inappropriate, but there has never been a greater need for celebration. My friend Vikki and I celebrated two years of friendship last week. Ordinarily, we might have met in person for drinks and a meal. That’s out of the question for now but we got together on a video call to drink a toast (or several!) to our friendship and to celebrate her success landing a new job.

3. A Trip Down Memory Lane

A few days ago I helped Fran select some of her favourite travel photos for a slide show evening she’s planning with friends. I don’t have any such plans myself but I treated myself by looking back over my photographs from the past few years. It brought back loads of memories — and a few tears!

4. Movie Night

Fran and I watch a lot of movies and dramas together on our Skype calls (NCIS is a real favourite). A few days ago she suggested Guardians of the Galaxy. To be honest, I wasn’t keen. It’s not something I’d normally watch. I was feeling really low that day and couldn’t think of anything else to suggest, so we put it on. It turned out to be exactly what I needed. The action and humour helped me forget what was going on with me for a while. We’re watching Guardians of the Galaxy 2 now!

5. Reaching Out

When we are struggling it’s not always easy to reach out to someone for support. No matter how much we trust someone, it takes energy to open up and share what is going on for us — and handle the response. Keeping things inside isn’t always healthy, though, and I’m proud to say I let friends know I was struggling this week and allowed them to be there for me.

6. Treat Myself

If you asked how I like to treat myself I’d probably say spending time with friends, whether in person (in the dim and distant pre-coronavirus past!) or online. I’ve been more than blessed on that score this week, but when I was at the supermarket the other day I decided to indulge one of my guilty pleasures — and bought myself a loaf of olive bread. I’ve been known to eat an entire loaf of olive bread on my walk back from the store, but this time it did make it home intact! I ate some (okay maybe half) for my evening meal with a range of cheeses and a bottle of McEwan’s Champion ale. Now that’s what I call a treat!

7. Creative Journaling

I made time this week to do some creative work in my Traveler’s notebooks. I hand-stamped some stickers and completed a couple of pages to mark recent significant moments. I’ve also spent time in a number of Facebook groups for Traveler’s Notebook fans. Two of my favourites are Midori Traveler’s Notebook (genuine or bust) which is a private group, Cafe Journaling (public), and Midori Traveler’s Notebook Customization Group (private). These and similar groups are a delight to me. People share their notebooks, page spreads, and ideas with no hint of ego. There’s a wonderful sense of shared interest and passion, and a complete absence of argument or disagreement. It is an act of self-kindness to spend time browsing the content and gently connecting with like-minded folk all over the world.

8. Window Shopping

I haven’t indulged in any extravagant purchases since we entered lockdown but that doesn’t mean I’ve not been window shopping! A few times this week I set other concerns aside to continue my search for the perfect every day carry (EDC) bag! It’s very expensive (USD 249; approx GBP 205) and a little larger than I need, but my current crush is the Wotan Trooper bag (medium size). A man can dream!

9. Permission to Feel

A few years ago Fran and I took Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly online workshop. One of the first activities was to write one or more “permission slips” for the course. I wrote three, including one which has stood me in good stead ever since.

I give myself permission to fully experience whatever comes up during this time, knowing I am safe.

I copied it into my travel journal when I accompanied Fran (virtually) on her month-long trip to Mexico in 2018. You can read my account of that trip here. It helped me this past week to acknowledge all I was feeling — a mix of emotions including hurt, regret, inadequacy at work and as a friend, frustration, and anger (directed mostly at myself) — without self-judgment or self-pity getting in the way. It's an important stage in processing any strong emotions and is the first step in the four-step process Fran and I use a lot: “Feel it. Claim it. Love it. Let it go.” (I have written about that process several times including here.)

10. I Am Enough

I sometimes feel that I’m not a good enough friend, that I’m not supporting people as best I could, that I’m not being true to myself in my writing and blogging, that I’m always getting things wrong, and so on. An article I read this week — What It Means to Be Enough by Melissa Camara Wilkins — reminded me that it’s okay to be less than perfect.

You are enough does not mean that you have to be self-sufficient. It doesn’t mean that you don’t need anyone or anything else. It means you understand how much you do need, how small you are in this great grand universe — and that you don’t have to be even one inch bigger than that.

You are enough absolutely does not mean that you never need help. When you know you are enough, it’s easier to ask for help. It’s easier to admit your weaknesses. You know that your imperfections and your difficulties don’t reflect on your worth, because you are already enough, just as you are.

Taken together with several important conversations with friends this week, Melissa’s article (I urge you to read it all) helped me be kind to myself. It helped me see that I’m doing okay. I can and will work to improve, to learn, to grow. But right now, I am me. I am enough. And that’s all I ever need to be.

Mental Health Awareness Week

Mental Health Awareness Week (18–24 May 2020) is the UK’s national week to raise awareness of mental health and mental health problems and inspire action to promote the message of good mental health for all. It has been run by the Mental Health Foundation since 2001. There are lots of ways you can take part. Visit the official FAQ and Resources pages for details, and sign up for the email newsletter.

 

Monday, 18 May 2020

A Few Thoughts on Gratitude and Kindness

This cute little Gratitude Journal was a gift from a friend at Christmas. I wrote in it more or less every day at first and loved finding at least one thing in the day to be grateful for. Things got in the way, though and I found I was only using it occasionally.

I hadn't looked at it since we went into lockdown but last weekend I was thinking about Mental Health Awareness Week and its theme of kindness. I found my Gratitude Journal and read through the things I'd included at the start of the year. I added a few recent things I'm grateful for, like the three and a half hour call I had last week with the friend who gifted me the journal to celebrate our two years of friendship.

Maybe you have a gratitude journal too, or a jar, or some other way you choose to remember the little things that can mean so much. Maybe you have a great memory and don't need anything! What are you grateful for today?

 

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

#MHAW - 16 Ways to Be Kind

“You can always give something, even if it is only kindness.” (Anne Frank)

We are sometimes called upon to provide long-term help or caregiving for friends, family members, or loved ones, but small acts of kindness are no less important and can make a huge difference to a person’s life, including ours. As individuals and as a society we have never needed kindness more than we do now, in the midst of a global pandemic. In recognition of this, the Mental Health Foundation chose kindness as the theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) which runs from 18–24 May.

We have chosen kindness because of its singular ability to unlock our shared humanity. Kindness strengthens relationships, develops community and deepens solidarity. It is a cornerstone of our individual and collective mental health. Wisdom from every culture across history recognises that kindness is something that all human beings need to experience and practise to be fully alive.

Here are sixteen ideas to bring more kindness into our lives and the lives of those around us.

1. Give People What They Need, Not What You Need to Give Them

Kindness is about offering help where it is needed, not satisfying a desire to “do good” for its own sake. It’s easy to imagine we know what’s best for someone but take a moment to check in with yourself before wading in to fix things. Even better, ask what they need most or would appreciate. Taking time to tune in to someone else’s needs is an act of kindness in itself.

2. Learn and Share

Next time someone asks a question to which you don’t know the answer, go out of your way to research the solution and pass it back in ways that are helpful to them. That is far kinder than replying “It’s on the internet, you can look it up for yourself.” Not everyone is confident wading through a multitude of often contradictory search results. Do the work for them and share your understanding, not merely information. You will help someone and expand your knowledge at the same time. Win-win. Kindness is like that.

3. Can I Help with That?

Each of us has a unique set of skills, resources, and experience. Make the most of yours by helping a friend with something they’re finding difficult that’s easy for you. Maybe you know how to set up a Zoom meeting, host an online movie night, or can help someone through hard times in some other way. Perhaps you have time in your schedule to keep someone company online who is self-isolating or shielding, or otherwise would appreciate the contact.

4. Kindness Is a No Judgment Zone

Did you ever see someone asking for help, on the street or online, and pass them by because maybe they’re not genuinely in need or you wonder what they might do with the money? Put your suspicions, judgements and counter-arguments on hold for a day and take the next person you meet at face value.

5. Be More Elephant

They say elephants never forget. I can’t remember if that’s true but if someone has trouble attending appointments, taking their medication regularly, or remembering birthdays in time to send a card, offer to remind them or help them set up an automated reminder on their phone. I call a friend first thing each weekday morning to make sure she’s awake and getting ready for work. I message another friend with a daily meds reminder. In both cases my offer was accepted because it was valuable to them. I’ve had similar offers declined because my suggestion was unnecessary or would prove unhelpful. Kindness is respectful always — which is worth remembering!

6. Hello There!

Sometimes it really is the smallest things that mean the most. Text, message or phone someone to ask how they’re doing, ask if they need anything, let them know you appreciate them, or just wish them sunshine in their day.

7. Pay Kindness Forward

If a person does something nice for us we tend to feel obliged to return the favour. Based on a movie of the same name, “Pay It Forward” invites us to pay good deeds forward to someone else instead. Check the Pay It Forward website for details.

8. Respect and Reliability

We all make mistakes but be someone your friends can rely on not to mess them around. Be punctual. Don’t change arrangements on a whim or at the last moment. When you do need to change plans let your friend know what’s happening as soon as possible. It’s not rocket science, but it is respectful and it is kind.

9. Thank You

Take a moment to acknowledge — and thank — the people in your life who are there for you.

10. No More Stigma, No More No Casseroles

Such is the stigma associated with mental illness that “No casseroles” has come to signify the lack of support that many people experience. Friends and neighbours simply don’t drop round with a prepared meal, offers of help, or ongoing support the way they do for people living with serious physical conditions. Challenge the stigma. Break the mould. Be kind.

11. It’s in the Post

Send someone in your life a handwritten letter, card, or small gift for no reason other than to let them know you’re thinking of them. If getting to the shops or post office isn’t an option there are online services such as Thortful, Moonpig, Funky Pigeon, and Papier where you can choose and customise a card and have it sent directly to your friend or loved one.

12. Kindness on Wheels

If you have a car there may be someone who would appreciate an offer to drive them to medical appointments, collect a prescription, or fetch groceries for them. Remember to follow the national guidance to protect yourself and others from coronavirus. There are specific guidelines on how to help others safely.

13. It’s Good to Listen

We all need someone sometimes to simply be there for us, to listen to whatever is troubling us without judging us or jumping in with fixes. Be the friend who will hold space and hear things that others won’t stay around to listen to.

14. Lemon Squares for the Soul

Invite a friend round (virtually, of course!) to cook or bake with you. Don’t let a little thing like distance get in your way! My best friend Fran and I have baked together even though we live 3,000 miles apart. (Okay, Fran baked and I encouraged!) If you don’t bake you could buy some nice cakes or cookies and have an online coffee morning with friends, or take some round to someone local who might appreciate them.

15. Kindness Isn’t Just for Other People

We all want to be there for our friends and loved ones, but self-kindness is also a thing! Here are a few ways you can be kind to yourself — see what works for you.  

  • Find a little space every now and then to chill out your way. Take a bath, put on a movie, read a book, or listen to music.
  • Celebrate your successes, even (especially) the little things.
  • Take care of yourself by paying attention to your eating and sleeping patterns.
  • Treat your body to some gentle exercise if you are able to. If you are self-isolating or shielding look for an online exercise or yoga class you can do from home.
  • Allow yourself to be less than perfect. It’s okay if all you did today was get through. It is enough. You are enough.
  • Sometimes the best medicine is a bit of silliness, so give yourself permission to be silly in whatever way works for you!

There are more ideas for being kind to yourself in this article by “recovering lawyer” Marelisa Fabrega at Daring to Live Fully.

16. Take Part in Mental Health Awareness Week

Mental Health Awareness Week (18–24 May 2020) is the UK’s national week to raise awareness of mental health and mental health problems and inspire action to promote the message of good mental health for all. It has been run by the Mental Health Foundation since 2001. There are lots of ways you can take part. Visit the official FAQ and Resources pages for details, and sign up for the email newsletter.

We’ve shared a number of ways you can bring a little kindness into the world, but you will have ideas and examples of your own. We’d love to hear them! What does kindness mean to you? How has someone’s kindness helped you? What acts of kindness have you performed, heard about, or witnessed?

 

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash.

 

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

Cold, Wet, and Grumpy: A Few Thoughts on Expectation and Acceptance

When I set out for my evening walk last Friday I was feeling good. I’d finished my first week working from home after a fortnight’s lockdown vacation and was looking forward to the weekend. The weather forecast held the possibility of rain but I was well prepared. My Doc Martens boots, a micropile fleece and gilet for warmth, and a light raincoat that is past its best but more than adequate for the occasional shower.

In a small bag beneath my coat I carried my journal, my favourite fountain pen, and a birthday card I needed to post. I also had my phone and Bluetooth headset. As I headed out I messaged one of my best friends to see if she fancied joining me on a video call. She replied to say she was about to have her dinner. I was disappointed; a little dejected. I loved having company on my walks and a call would have set me up for the weekend after a busy week.

I smiled to myself, recognising the frustration and feelings of abandonment that tend to arise when things don’t go the way I want or expect them to. I’m better at handling them than I used to be. My friend and I hadn’t spoken in a few days but there was nothing wrong. She wasn’t cross with me. She didn’t hate me. We hadn’t fallen out of friends. She was having her dinner, that’s all!

I walked on until I got to my favourite bench. I often stopped there to write or think, or write about thinking. I took out my journal and began to explore what was going on for me. I managed four and a half sentences before it started raining. It was little more than a fine drizzle but journaling would have to wait. It was okay. I’d still get my walk, and I could call at the little shop for milk and a few groceries so there’d be less for me to carry home from the supermarket next day. I might pick up a couple of beers. If my friend had finished eating she might still be up for a call. If not, I’d send her a few photos along the way. It would be fine.

The rain wasn’t easing. If anything, it was getting heavier by the minute. I sheltered beneath a stand of trees at the roadside. It’s one of the most photogenic spots on my walk but it was too dull for photos. Even the bluebells and snowdrops looked forlorn. Most days, I’d walk a few hundred yards further to the small bridge that spans the Ouseburn. There are cherry trees laden with blossom on the other side of the stream: beyond that, a field with three or four horses. Not this time, though. It was too wet to walk any further. I was beginning to feel a long way from home. There’d be no shelter once I moved from the cover of the trees. If my friend messaged now to say she was free it was too wet to have my phone out for a video call. Voice would work because I could keep my phone in my pocket, but I wasn’t even sure I was up for that now.

As I headed back I could feel my mood shifting from disappointment into annoyance, frustration, and resentment. No relaxing walk. No call. Not even the opportunity to journal how I was feeling. In different circumstances, I’d have found it easier to be philosophical. In different circumstances, I’d be turning to one of the key mantras that Fran and I talk about in our book High Tide, Low Tide:

Feel it. Claim it. Love it. Let it go.

I scowled as I crossed the road. I was certainly FEELING IT. My resentment and grouchiness had reached epic levels. How dare my friend be eating her dinner when I wanted to connect with her? How dare it rain so hard that we couldn’t have had a call anyway? How dare the water be running off my coat and drenching my trousers? My feet were dry in my DMs but that seemed little comfort. I could only hope the birthday card wasn’t getting wet inside my bag. There was no way I was going to make it as far as the postbox now — or the shop. The whole purpose of my walk — every aspect of it — had been taken from me. By this point, I was hoping my friend wouldn’t message to say she was free — and furious that she hadn’t. Oh, I was feeling it all right!

I stomped on. What came next? Oh yes. I always struggled with the CLAIM IT part. It was hard to accept my feelings and responses as my responsibility. They were, though. My friend had done nothing wrong. She wasn’t ignoring me. She hadn’t cancelled plans at the last minute. She was having her dinner. Likewise, the universe wasn’t conspiring against me. What arrogance, to imagine my plans worthy of the universe going out of its way to get in mine! I’d been looking forward to a nice walk and a call with my friend. It hadn’t worked out. It was raining. That’s all that had happened. End of. The feelings that had been triggered in me were no one’s responsibility but mine. A glimmer of awareness opened up for me.

If the rain had stopped and the sun had come out it would have been nice. It didn’t, but I could feel a certain lightness as I turned for home. I wasn’t easy to LOVE IT but my mood was beginning to shift. It was okay for me to be grumpy. Who enjoys getting soaking wet when they’d hoped for a pleasant walk? Who would be happy if they didn’t get to talk with a beloved friend? No one, right? I could forgive myself for “getting in a tizz,” as my mother might have said. I could be gentle towards myself for doing the best I could in the circumstances. I could love myself — and my friend, and the universe — for being precisely how and who and what we were in that moment.

As I arrived home I could finally LET IT GO. I messaged my friend.

Got drenched on my walk *sad face* Didn't get as far as the little shop so no beer until Tesco tomorrow. Warm now in my pjs and my rocking chair though *smiley face*

Maybe it will rain again on my walk tonight. Maybe not. Maybe I’ll get to speak to my friend today. Maybe not. Whatever happens, I will hold the moment lightly and gently for what it is.