Wednesday 29 April 2020

A Postcard from My Lockdown Vacation

I don’t take vacations away from my friends. I take them with me!

If not for coronavirus this would be the final day of my week away at the cottage in Langrigg, Cumbria. I’d be having lunch somewhere, quite possibly the Beehive Inn at Eamont Bridge. Veggie lasagne and chips, and a half-pint of something. Instead, I’m sitting in my garden at home.

The cottage booking was cancelled, of course. Hire car too. Instead of a week visiting places up and down the east coast — Holy Island, Bamburgh, Alnwick Garden, Morpeth, Belsay, Blyth — and a week in the Lake District, I’ve spent the fortnight at home in lockdown. No car. No trips out. No visiting friends and family. A weekly walk to the supermarket for groceries. Occasional visits to the local corner shop. My daily walk for exercise. The house. The garden.

Before the holiday I’d had three weeks working from home. That wasn’t easy and I’m not looking forward to getting back to it. It was all so new, strange, and scary. The country — indeed much of the world — in lockdown and no idea how long our lives would be put on hold. It’s the end of the fifth week of lockdown here in the UK and to use an overworked phrase it has become the new normal.

But five weeks and one staycation in, I can honestly say I’m doing okay. As I write that I feel a sense of embarrassment. Guilt. Shame, even. How can I be “doing okay”? This is a global pandemic. People are getting sick and dying every day. Many have lost jobs, homes, loved ones. Education at all levels is in stasis. Parents are trying to keep their children safe, entertained and learning while dealing with their own issues. People are short — some desperately so — of money, food, and hope.

And here I am, on the final day of what has turned out to be a rewarding and peaceful fortnight at home.

I’m aware of how privileged my situation is. I may not want to go back to work on Monday but I have a job to go to that is as secure as any are these days. I’m healthy and not in need of anything essential. I’m classed as a key worker and I know I’m playing my part but like many others, I wonder if I’m doing enough.

One of my best friends enrolled for the NHS Volunteer Responder scheme and has been supporting people from home while she is in isolation. I considered doing the same but it would mean pulling back from the friends and loved ones I’m already supporting — and who support me — on a daily basis, pandemic or not.

I’ve written elsewhere about how important it is to me, and for me, to keep in close touch with people. As well as — hopefully — helping others navigate these times, it’s vital to my wellbeing. I’ve shared photos from my holiday on social media as I would have done if I’d been out and about each day visiting familiar and new places. It’s been a challenge at times to find things to photograph about the house or in the garden or on my daily walk, but it’s also been fun. I think it’s honed my photographer’s eye, and brought to my attention things I might otherwise have overlooked.

I’ve made notes in my memory journal as I normally do on holiday and kept my regular diary of course. On the face of it, there’s not been a lot to record. Days in lockdown are inevitably similar but there have been some genuine highlights that have meant a great deal to me. I’ve especially enjoyed video calls with friends, sharing the sights and sounds on my evening walks, visits to the shops, and birdsong in the garden. In turn, friends have brought me into their homes, gardens, and lives.

These are simple things and I was sharing like this with people before coronavirus hit. But I think we’re all more aware now of what really matters to us, and are doing all we can to connect and stay connected. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, of course. Some of the conversations I’ve had recently have touched on darker themes including depression, anxiety, suicidality and self-harm; money and employment worries; concern for family, friends, and loved ones including beloved pets; healthcare; politics — and of course the pandemic itself. We must be able to acknowledge these and the emotions and thoughts that accompany them. Acknowledge them, and share with people we trust.

A friend told me this morning she’s keeping going by staying busy and supporting and encouraging others. Another friend described how she’d connected with someone whose story gave her the courage to share her own. Another supports her best friend, the way Fran and I are there for each other. Talking isn’t always enough, of course, and I look for other ways to help where I can.

I’d wondered if there was much point taking these two weeks of annual leave when I’d be stuck at home, but I’m glad I did. It’s been a valuable time for me. No matter how things go in the weeks and months ahead I will look back on this fortnight with gratitude. I always say I don’t take holidays away from my friends; I take them along with me. That’s never been more true than now. Thank you for being with me on my lockdown staycation.


Sunday 26 April 2020

Bipolar Stability, Keeping It Silly and Moving Forward during the Coronavirus Pandemic

In this video best-selling mental health author Julie A. Fast talks about living life with bipolar disorder, a psychotic disorder, anxiety and a head injury during the coronavirus pandemic.

She shares how being silly and creative helps her get things done even when depression and anxiety make her want to isolate in her room in front of the television. She hopes that her hair bouquet makes you smile and brings some joy to your day.

Here are the additional links Julie mentions in her video:

Julie says, “I love Marty and Fran’s work. Their focus on friendship is life-changing. I love the newsletters and the posts from people around the world who remind me that I’m not alone. We are in this together.”

Julie is the author of Get it Done When You’re Depressed, Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder, Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder and The Health Cards Treatment System for Bipolar Disorder. You can find her on Facebook at Julie A. Fast and on Instagram @JulieFast.


Saturday 25 April 2020

Letters to the World

By Daisy Davidson

As a young person living in such unprecedented times, I felt empowered to use my free time for the better. I saw on social media and in the news how people are struggling to cope with being isolated and the impact that this pandemic will be having on people’s mental health.

It may be easier to cope if you have close family and friends or if you’re tech-savvy with social media. However, a lot of people are isolated in day-to-day life and the most social contact they get is at a local cafe or pub.

I wanted to create a website for everybody and therefore, I made it as simple to use as possible. I made sure no email, phone number or any other personal details were necessary. I hope that people can find comfort in the fact that they’re not alone in how they’re feeling. I felt it crucial that the writers’ anonymity is kept, unless they choose otherwise, as people can often fear the judgement of others.

My website Letters to the World took around ten days to create and it was far from easy. I have little experience in making websites apart from having created a simple online store for my mum before. However, it was an enjoyable task though frustrating at times and I finally felt that I was making the most out of all this spare time in isolation.

What I have found even harder than making the site was spreading the word about it. So far, I have been on my local radio and used Twitter as a great way to make people aware of my website. So I would be grateful if any readers would share the site on social media or with friends and family.

Letters to the World is available in thirteen different languages as I felt there is so much to learn from how other countries and cultures are coping with this pandemic. As a UK citizen, I have been very grateful for the NHS and I wanted to learn more about how the healthcare systems in other countries are coping right now. Mental health is a global concern and I wanted my website to help as many people as possible.

My favourite feature of the site is the map, where you can see the most recent visitors to the website. I have had visitors from America all the way across to Australia, so I believe slowly the word about Letters to the World is being spread. I get no financial gain from my website but I have gained a lot of optimism and comfort from reading peoples letters and I hope other readers feel the same.

I would love for all of you reading this to add your own letter to the website, short or long. I know sometimes it can be hard to know where to start so here are my top tips:

  • Begin with your overall and immediate feelings, whether they are negative or positive.
  • Discuss how you have been using your free time and any challenges you have faced in carrying on with hobbies etc.
  • End with what you’re grateful for because we are all lucky in one sense or another.

I hope this website can be helpful for some of you and I would be grateful if you could spread the word. It is a challenging time for all of us but by talking and coming together we will get through it. We need to not only work as individual countries but come together as a world.


Twitter: @Lettersttworld


Wednesday 22 April 2020

"Remember When?" - Building Shared Experience in Unprecedented Times

We are going through the pandemic together.
— Fran Houston

In our recent article for Diane Atwood’s award-winning blog Catching Health, Fran and I shared how the coronavirus lockdown is affecting our 3,000 mile friendship. The title we chose — Stay Home, Stay Safe, Stay Connected — highlights our commitment to staying in touch with each other, other friends and loved ones.

Fran: Marty and I meet every day on Skype to hang out and process what is going on in the world and relax watching movies together. I talk with other friends on the phone.

Martin: Connection is also really important to me. I can’t meet friends in person but I’m keeping in touch with as many as possible.

I have friends I talk or chat to every day, coronavirus or not. But since the lockdown I’ve also been reaching out to folk I contact less frequently, or who I’ve not heard from in a while. Fran is doing the same. I’m sure it’s true for most of us. I was thinking about this the other day. It occurred to me that we’re doing more than checking to see people are okay. We’re supporting each other, yes. But even more than that, we’re sharing our experiences in what truly are unprecedented times.

Those experiences are different. Some are undeniably harder than others, but all are valid. Maybe you’re a key worker on the front line or support someone who is. Maybe you’re working because you have no choice, are furloughed, or have been laid off. Maybe you’re in quarantine; caring for loved ones; volunteering time, energy or resources; or simply following the imperative to stay home. However this pandemic is affecting you, your experience is unique and your contribution matters. You matter.

We are living through times none of us anticipated or prepared for. We didn’t choose to be here but are here nonetheless. There is no road map to guide us safely to the other side, no book of instructions, no guru with all the answers. We are navigating as we go, discovering what works for us and what doesn’t. The pandemic has not only changed our circumstances, it is changing our lives, our relationships, our very selves. Some of the changes are subtle; many are more fundamental; others devastating, even brutal. The full impact may not become clear for years, but it’s certain none of us will emerge unchallenged or unscarred.

The people we hold close now will forever be part of our coronavirus experience. We will turn to them in months and years to come for comfort and to validate what it meant to live through these times. “Remember when?” will help us make sense of it all. That is something powerful and profound, and worth preparing for.

Here are a few suggestions to help build shared experiences that will last far longer than the pandemic.

1. Who are your people? Who is there for you and with you through all of this? Who are you laughing with, crying with, listening to, singing to, watching movies with? Who’s there for you and allows you to be there for them? Family, colleagues, friends new and old, neighbours, or former strangers, these are your people.

2. What memories are you building? Good or bad, these days are part of our lives, our individual, shared, and collective memory. We cannot un-live this, as much as we might want to. Much of it will be hard to look back on, especially if we’ve lost loved ones, jobs, money, education, or opportunities. Those who have accompanied us will be those we need in times to come. What stories have you listened to and told? What laughter have you shared? What tears have you shed together?

3. What are you learning? What are you discovering about yourself, your family and friends, and how the world works? Maybe there are things — or people — you took for granted, or things you thought important which don’t seem so vital now.

4. How will you remember? You might think there’s no way you’ll forget what you’re living through right now, but memory doesn’t always work the way we’d like it to. Build shared experiences you’ll cherish in years to come. Photos are an obvious starting point, but be creative. Screenshot fun times you’re having with friends on Skype or Zoom (with their permission, of course). Share recipes and swap photos of the results! Send someone a video message. If you’re able to, mail a greetings card or letter, a small gift, or self-care package; it will be something tangible for them to treasure.

5. Not everything needs to be shared. Some things will be too personal to share, even with those you trust and are closest to. Consider starting a journal or mood diary, or write a letter to yourself in the future. Be as honest as you need to be. This is your life. These are your thoughts and feelings.

There will be tears and pain when we look back on the pandemic of 2020. But there will also be joy and laughter, and the comfort that comes from surviving dark times in good company.


Photo credit: Edwin Hooper at Unsplash


Wednesday 15 April 2020


By Andrea Marie

Patience, passion and persistence are three of the many great qualities of my friend Martin Baker. Thank you, Marty, for your invitations to contribute to your blog. Thank you for believing, by asking again every so often, that I would not only agree but follow through. That day has come. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to participate and begin to find my voice.

This past February I treated myself with a trip to one of my favorite cities, Amsterdam. It was a wonderful time, and less crowded than I am accustomed to due to the season. I made new friends, visited with old friends and walked all over the city that I love. It graced me with some new energy and renewed hopes and dreams for myself after several years of illness, loss, grieving and survival.

Finally, that light that had seemed dimmer was radiating once again. I could feel it. It was peace, happiness and hope inside of me. Maybe I could even pursue a dream or two again. I was very excited as I found myself dreaming of a plan to live in Amsterdam, for a period of time at least.

Enter word of a virus in China that is spreading like wildfire.

Passing through customs for my return trip, every passenger was questioned as to if they had traveled to China or had contact with anyone relating to the coronavirus. If so, the individual was restricted from boarding the aircraft. Having never experienced such an inquiry, it was in that moment I knew I was returning to NYC/NJ – and the virus would not be far behind. If they were questioning us in the north of Europe about a virus outbreak in China, there must be something big looming.

Arriving stateside, other than the same questions to every single person going through customs, there didn’t seem to be much concern about the virus on the other side of the world. Sadly, this is a common disposition here and nothing new. Americans are stereotyped – often for good reason – as possessing a belief that we are exclusive and things cannot happen here to us. Until it comes home to roost. Then the gnashing of teeth and blame games begin. Personally, I don’t subscribe to such fantastical and fanatical thinking and wonder (doubtfully) if it is limited to Americans or is perhaps a human issue of character… But I digress.

The first case of the virus came to NYC March 1. It is also the day that I decided to in essence self-quarantine. The news had reported that asymptomatic people could spread the virus, there were no tests available and now there are tests but not enough to test asymptomatic folks. Staying home made sense to me, so as to not catch or spread the virus. Just one month later there are over 125,000 cases in NY/NJ. The new cases are started to decline here but rise in other areas of the United States. There is word that the government plans to reopen on May 1. In my opinion that would be a premature move and a deadly mistake.

This global pandemic is showing us the best and the worst of humanity, as crisis tends to do. It displays the age-old mortal struggle; Good vs. Evil, if you will. Selflessness vs. Greed. Humility vs. Ego. Life vs. Death. In the end, each of us gets to choose which side we contribute to.

As for me, my dreams are on hold. Amsterdam will have to wait for me. She’s been there since 1275 so I am sure she will come through and welcome me with open arms as soon as she possibly can. For now, I’ll stay as positive and grateful as I can for that is where true freedom lives, in the heart.


Wednesday 8 April 2020

How to Deal with Early Recovery during the Pandemic

By Daniel Wittler

We are in the midst of a very difficult time. Covid-19 has taken away many of the luxuries we have in life and have taken for granted. Of course, many of these things are materialistic and possible to live without. There are certain groups of people that are being much more affected than most. I can’t tell you how many times a day I wonder how people in early recovery are doing while this is going on.

I think about myself in early recovery and there were days where the biggest thing I needed was to go to a meeting and talk to somebody about the giant funk I was in that day and what I could do about it. There is a lot of power in simply talking to one another in recovery. Someone in early recovery feeling trapped and stuck from the outside world is a terrifying thought.

Thankfully, with all of the advances of technology we are not truly alone. We are able to connect with our friends and family through internet/webcam services. Sure it’s not the same as being with someone in person but it sure is much better than being all alone! For those in early recovery, let’s go over some ways to still build your recovery.

Zoom / Skype meetings

A big trend has been online meetings for everyone stuck at home, I have even heard of IOP programs doing webcam meetings to keep everyone who is part of the program connected to each other and able to get therapy still. Let’s be real, the absolute worst for anyone in recovery, new or long-time, is to isolate and not talk to anybody. When we do that our minds begin to take over and things can get ugly quick. This is the last thing we want to happen.

The beauty of online meetings is that you can still hear a message of hope, and can also share the struggle of being stuck inside while trying to maintain your sobriety. Remember you are not the only person struggling in early recovery during this pandemic! Sometimes, sharing your struggle and hearing people relate to it really gives a great perspective and can help you get through the day.

Meditation / Affirmations

I am a big believer of starting your mornings with some type of ritual. For me personally, when I wake up, my head is filled up with a lot of negative thoughts. I don’t know what it is about sleep but my head becomes completely negative even after having a very positive day the day before.

For a long time in recovery I would just roll out of bed and head to work with little thought about getting in the right frame of mind. About a year ago I began waking up at least an hour and a half before work and practicing some things such as the following.

  • Meditation — It is very simple to get started, but hard to master. Meditation means just getting your mind still and quiet for a small amount of time. The effect is extremely powerful and benefits range from peace of mind to major inspiration.
  • Positive Affirmations — We can be our own worst enemies; sometimes it’s necessary to sit down and tell yourself what you like about yourself. Starting your morning by telling yourself what you like about yourself may sound silly, but it has a powerful effect.
  • Pen and Paper — There is a lot of power in pen and paper. Get an empty notebook and after meditating sit and write anything you are inspired to. I’ll take a few minutes to write stuff down every morning. Sometimes it’s affirmations, other times it’s my plan for the day. It can be anything that you feel like doing. It’s a simple and powerful tool; make it your own.

Find Your Gratitude

Gratitude does not come to most of us naturally, unfortunately. I am very prone to self-centered and negative thoughts. Once we get sober and develop some self-awareness, we must catch ourselves in that negative state of mind and pause. When you pause, think about what you are truly grateful for now that you are sober.

To be perfectly blunt, imagine how much harder it would be to continue your addiction during this whole pandemic crisis. The fact that you made the decision to get sober in an extremely troubling and scary time should be something that gives you a real boost. Remind yourself of what you are grateful for throughout the day, even if it’s the same handful of things. Reflecting on gratitude is like a shot of positivity every time we go over it.

Above all during this troubling time, remember that you are absolutely not alone. Do what you need to do and go that extra mile to strengthen your recovery. Whether it’s reaching out to people on the phone or online all day, developing a nice practice and ritual for yourself or simply focusing on what you are grateful for. Every new day sober should feel like a new victory, every tough moment you survive will strengthen your soul. You can do this.

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 Riverbend.

Photo credit: Dustin Belt via Unsplash.


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