Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Painting, Photography and Positive Mental Health

By Peter McDonnell

As on most weekends, today I was out and about visiting nearby open gardens run by The National Garden Scheme. My mum and I park the car after the usual drive through villages of thatched cottages, village halls, churches and well-kept lawns. During lockdown the large properties that host the gardens are not busy and we are often treated to a personal tour by the owners. You can see how happy they are sharing stories old and new about how their gardens came to be. You can pick out the differences of the owners’ individual spots of fondness, occasionally accompanied by a comment of slight aversion to their spouse’s decision to place some quirky item amongst the otherwise perfect design!

We walk around for about an hour, my mum teaching me the names and attributes of flowers. This is where I get my photography done. Most of the roses are past their best now that it is August, but I’ve taken many photographs of my favourite flower over the last two months.

I think they look especially good climbing up or falling over the top of a stone wall, so much so that I did an oil painting of a photo I took of roses on the wall of a thatched cottage that we saw on one of our recent summer afternoons out.

Rosy Cottage on Abbey Road

Painting and photography has made a real difference to my mental health

I started painting in March, inspired by the coronavirus lockdown. I bought some acrylic paints when I was eighteen in 2000, and they sat in the loft unused for twenty years. Occasionally I’d think about them but it always seemed like a chore to fetch them down and use them.

Recently, though, I watched a few TV programmes about how to paint, including ‘The Joy of Painting’ by the wonderful Bob Ross, the American guy with the afro hairstyle who in the 80’s presented clips painting quick but skilled scenes where he talked us through how it was done.

Inspired, I got the paints out and set myself up in my garden. By the end of the day I had completed something that wasn’t half bad! Of course, it wasn’t skilled but it was imaginative and colourful. I remember thinking about David Hockney and how his works are rarely based on accuracy and he gets on okay… he sells his paintings for millions, £94 million is his record.

Not having the burden of accuracy increased the enjoyment I felt. I remembered a few of Bob Ross’ tips (paint the background first, distant objects need less detail etc.) and away I went. A few days later I bought some canvasses, oil paints etc., and started my second painting. For that one I had a few really interesting ideas about provoking some thought, and the big tree that was the centre of focus looked fantastic. After a couple of days I couldn’t have been happier with the result. Then on to the next one … I have now painted about twenty canvasses. I can’t stop! My boss at one of my part-time jobs liked my online gallery and asked me to paint a series of murals in his large shop. I’m halfway through and it’s a pleasure.

If you are wondering about the connection with mental health, I’m so happy while I’m painting my murals. Mixing up the colours, being adventurous and bold and feeling it actually work into something alluring is a feeling that stays with me for the rest of the day. I step back and feel a sense of achievement. People come and go in the shop and often ask about it. They compliment me too if I’m lucky. I feel a little boost every time someone says they are impressed. When I go to my evening part-time job, colleagues ask how I am and I always say ‘I’m fantastic’ because I am, because I’ve been painting. Some people have spoken about being a little slowed down in activity during the pandemic, but I’ve surprised myself. I’ve never been so productive.

My favourite artists and inspirations are Van Gogh, Monet, Manet and Hockney. I knew who these artists were before lockdown but that was all. Since getting into painting I’ve also started looking at art. I’ve ‘caught the bug’ and I found a wonderful app, the Google Arts and Culture app, which has told me all about these guys. This new passion will be by my side until I’m old. I know much of their work intimately now. A real joy.

Mental Health

I was diagnosed with ‘cannabis-induced psychosis with delusions of a grandiose nature’ and serious anxiety in 2002 and 2005. It has mostly fallen away now. I consider myself ninety percent recovered due to good luck, support and hard work. I have had a long, serious and interesting journey. I am still on anti-psychotic and anti-anxiety medication. The antipsychotic worked wonders for me. I think of it with actual fondness. But it dulls the brain slightly, for some more than others, as do many medications. It slows me down in my cognitive abilities etc, and I feel the difference most profoundly in my memory. Before medication it worked smoothly and quite effortlessly, but these days if I don’t write things down or use mnemonic tips, information and everything else is subject to something of a disappearing act.

Since I started painting though, the creative side of my brain has returned in an enjoyable and controlled way. It’s also affected my memory in a very positive way. A few days after my new hobby began I found that I was remembering things – the best-before dates on refrigerated items coolly awaiting dinnertime consumption, numbers on paperwork at work, my mum’s varying weekly schedule. I must say it’s a welcome change after so many years of being on the forgetful side. It’s connected to the painting and the creativity in the same way that it’s easier to remember a colourful scene than a black and white one. So as well as all the joy of painting it’s improving my memory and cognitive skills too in a real way.

So having that working away, it helps me to build on it, which is where the photography comes in amongst other things. When I’m taking pics of flowers and nature and sharing them, it’s another piece of my mind that is awakened and happy indulging in a hobby. During my recovery my supportive team encouraged distraction techniques, activities that got me out and about, and spending time on an activity that I could enjoy.

One thing I have found for myself is that maintaining good mental health requires small but consistent efforts and doing things every day to keep me happy. This is part of why painting and photography have been so helpful. It seems like a cliché sometimes that art is good for mental health but knowing how it has helped me I’d really recommend it. I hope the positivity continues!

Thanks for reading. I have more to see on my mental health blog petesmentalhealth.com including my online art gallery and posts about how my medication turned my life around, a post about visiting Monet’s garden in France last year, and more about art and mental health.

About the Author

Pete is thirty-eight and lives in Hampshire, England. He is very open about mental health and discussing his journey. He has lived through serious psychosis, suicide attempts, hospitalisations, and panic attacks, then had a slow but steady recovery helped by writing and blogging, and more recently art and photography. He is now enjoying life and working on his memoirs. He is always keen for new visitors to his mental health website and blog petesmentalhealth.com.

 

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Julie A. Fast on Kanye West, Bipolar Disorder, and Relationships

Kanye West’s recent public struggles with bipolar disorder have brought considerable attention to a condition which affects millions around the world.

One of our regular contributors Julie A. Fast wrote an article for Psychology Today called Is Kanye West Just a Grandiose, Attention-Seeking Rapper? in which she discussed the difference between bragging and grandiose mania/psychosis.

She was subsequently interviewed for US television on the topic of Kanye West and bipolar disorder. It’s worth reading the article before watching the video (below) as Julie mentions it regularly in her interview.

In the interview, Julie talks about herself, bipolar disorder and why it’s so hard for people like Kanye to get help, even with his wealth and resources. She also talks about the message that his wife Kim Kardashian posted on Instagram, from which the following is excerpted:

“Living with bi-polar disorder does not diminish or invalidate his dreams and his creative ideas, no matter how big or unobtainable they may feel to some. That is part of his genius and as we have all witnessed, many of his dreams have come true. We as a society talk about giving grace to the issue of mental health as a whole, however we should also give it to the individuals who are living with it in times when they need it the most. I kindly ask that the media and public give us the compassion and empathy that is needed so that we can get through this. Thank you for those who have expressed concern for Kanye's well-being and for your understanding.” (Kim Kardashian)

Author of Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder, Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder, and Get it Done When You’re Depressed, Julie is well-placed to offer her perspective on the subject of romantic relationships and bipolar disorder:

  • She has bipolar disorder and a psychotic disorder. She was originally diagnosed with bipolar disorder; later changed to schizoaffective disorder. When a person has bipolar disorder and a separate psychotic disorder, the diagnosis is more complex.
  • Julie was in a relationship for ten years with a man who has bipolar I (bipolar 1 disorder).
  • She wrote the first book ever for the partner of a person with a mental health disorder. Her book Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder: Understanding and Helping Your Partner has sold over 400,000 copies and remains the #1 book for partners in the world.
  • As you can tell from her Psychology Today article, she has been a fan of rap music since the 1980s!

Julie has guested on our blog several times and is a huge champion of our work. She was an original reviewer for our book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder which opens with her words:

Friendship soothes the soul and provides hope for people with bipolar disorder and yet the illness creates unique challenges to the friendships we so desperately want and need. Marty and Fran specifically address these challenges in this bright, uplifting and brutally honest book. Filled with stories and practical tips, there is more laughter than sorrow as the reader learns to cultivate a loving, kind and caring friendship that transcends the illness and creates a lasting bond.

Julie often tells people that High Tide, Low Tide is one of the best books for siblings of people with bipolar disorder, as they don’t get the attention they need due to their sibling’s illness. We love working with her and are proud to know her as a friend as well as a valued contributor to Gum on My Shoe.

 

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

The Roles of a Friend

This article is excerpted from chapter 1, “The Caring Friendship: Key Skills and Attitudes,” of our book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder. Photo by nonresident on Unsplash.


No matter who we are, we all assume various roles in our relationships with others. At different times, Fran and I have used a variety of labels to clarify our respective roles. These include friend, best friend, listener, confidant, teacher, balancer, haven, gate-keeper, and advocate. The three most fundamental are listener, balancer, and haven.

Being a Good Listener

Being a good listener is a very specific skill; knowing a person well and caring about them does not necessarily make the role easier. Four key points help me focus on what is important.

  • Don’t interrupt.
  • Remember it’s their story, not yours.
  • Save your judgments for later.
  • Don’t try to fix everything.

Don’t Interrupt

It is hard to listen to someone in distress—especially a friend or loved one—without offering comments, questions, suggestions, or potential fixes. Nevertheless, your friend needs to feel able to share without being interrupted or pressured to find a solution. This doesn’t mean you must listen in complete silence, but resist the temptation to interject or influence the story. Small supportive comments will help things along, and occasionally echoing back what your friend has been saying will reassure both of you that the message is getting across. Ask for clarification if you do not understand, but do not pester for details. Allow your friend to share what they are ready to share.

Fran’s thoughts sometimes flow so rapidly that she struggles to express them coherently. She hates me interrupting because it breaks her concentration; she finds it almost impossible to pick up the thread afterwards. This was hard for me in our early days. I found the frequent admonitions to “Just let me finish!” frustrating. I was interested in what she had to say, but often felt I was missing the opportunity to contribute ideas of my own or explore hers. If I pushed her, she would lose track and become irritated. Our tempers sometimes got the better of us, but gradually we learned to work together. These days, Fran lets me know if she is having trouble marshalling her thoughts, and I allow her to finish what she is saying before taking my turn. I still catch myself talking when I should be listening, but I am better at it than I used to be.

It’s Their Story, Not Yours

If we have had similar experiences it is tempting to share. (“Oh, I know just how you feel. That happened to me.”) We want to show we understand what our friend is going through, but the ways in which we were affected, how we responded, and the lessons we learned––or failed to learn––are part of our life story not theirs. No matter how well-meant, our recollections and advice are likely to be neither relevant nor helpful. We are also shifting the focus away from our friend, who might imagine we value their story less than we do our own.

On the other hand, you may feel at a disadvantage if you have no similar experiences to draw on. I am fortunate to have known no major traumas in my life, and used to imagine this prevented me from connecting with people whose life stories were complex or traumatic. My friendship with Fran has taught me that whilst shared experiences can be useful, they are less important than a willingness to hold oneself open and honest. I no longer feel the need to apologise for the lack of trauma in my life.

Save Your Judgments for Later

Most of us like to believe we can listen to our friends without judging them, but there is a difference between forming an opinion (judgment) and imposing it on someone else. The former is healthy and necessary; the latter is, generally, unhelpful. Our opinions are based on our personal scales of goodness, rightness, or usefulness; if your friend trusts you then these scales are part of the person they trust. What counts is how you handle your opinions.

You have a responsibility to voice your concerns if you believe your friend’s situation or behaviour places them in danger. If the risk is serious or imminent it may be necessary to tell others; perhaps your friend’s doctor, psychiatrist, hospital, or the police. We describe just such a situation in chapter 9. Otherwise, save your opinions for later, rather than interrupting what your friend is telling you. Note the beliefs that underlie your judgments. They tend to say more about you than they do your friend.

Don’t Try to Fix Everything

This is the one I find hardest to put into practice! I have a tendency to suggest fixes for whatever seems to be wrong or broken. Fran will often ask for assistance, and I am happy to help if I can, but I need to remind myself that it is not my responsibility to resolve everything for her. To think otherwise would be unhealthy and disempowering for Fran. To focus only on what seems broken also robs her of the opportunity to simply talk through what is on her mind. Unless your friend specifically asks for assistance, assume that what they need right now is someone to listen. Better still, ask what your friend needs.

Being a Balancer

When Fran is in mania everything appears black or white to her. People are either angels or devils. Everyone loves her or everyone hates her. If things are going well, the universe is on her side and she is heedless of normal checks, precautions, and concerns. If something goes wrong, the whole world is against her. Depression skews her thinking heavily towards the dark. She loses track of even small successes and forgets that someone said something kind or was helpful. Things have always been as bleak and hopeless as they seem to be in that moment, and always will be.

It is part of my balancing role to notice such unhealthy patterns, bring them to Fran’s attention, and gently counter them. I first acknowledge that her thoughts and feelings are real to her. If I am unsure how factually accurate they are (did so–and–so really say or do what Fran is telling me they did?) I might try and draw out further details, or check Fran’s story against other evidence. I then offer Fran my own interpretation—not necessarily as the truth, but as an alternative which might not have occurred to her. I am not always successful, but over time, this approach has helped shift Fran towards a more balanced way of thinking.

Being a Haven

The most important role you can fill is that of someone your friend can rely on, feel safe with, and trust to be always there. Fran has friends “who are designated to be the string of my balloon.” We keep her grounded in times of mania, and prevent her from sinking too deeply when she is in depression. It is a cornerstone of our friendship that I am available for Fran no matter what is happening. We have spent many hours together when she has felt depressed, manic, anxious, afraid, or suicidal. There is little I can do to help on a practical level, but I can listen and talk with her. Above all, I can simply be there so that she knows she is not alone. Fran has written of this aspect of our friendship.

[Marty] didn’t try to change me. He didn’t try to fix me. He was simply there, listening, being a friend. He believed in me when I couldn’t believe in myself. One thing he said was that he wouldn’t go away no matter what I said or did. That enabled me to share freely with him. Without that safe container it’s much harder to share with people because boundaries are unclear.

 

Wednesday, 22 July 2020

The Languages of Love and Bipolar Disorder

By Janet Coburn

In 1995, Dr. Gary Chapman published his popular relationship book, The Five Love Languages. In it he proposed that there are different ways – or “languages” – that people use to communicate their love. Problems happen when one partner doesn’t speak the same language as the other; for example, when one gives the other literal gifts while the other yearns for time together.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about love and bipolar disorder lately and it occurred to me that the five love languages could be a helpful lens for looking at relationships. In particular, they might help a person realize what the other one needs when experiencing symptoms of the disorder.

Here are the five love languages and how they might be helpful if you are in a relationship with someone who has bipolar disorder.

Words of affirmation. I’m not talking here about the kinds of affirmation we are supposed to look in the mirror and give ourselves. I mean words of affirmation that come from outside, from another person, and are gifts of love. Everyone needs affirmations at times, but for people whose love language is words of affirmation, they can be positively soul-feeding.

For the bipolar person, these affirmations can be as simple as, “Thank you for coming out with me,” or “Congratulations on getting the bills paid,” or even, “I know you can do it,” or “I knew you could do it!” And for the bipolar person who struggles with self-esteem, imposter syndrome, or lack of motivation, these can be the words that keep us going.

Quality time. Quality time doesn’t have to mean an elaborate outing or a two-week vacation. It can be as simple as sitting on the sofa with your partner watching a movie, or cooking together. Especially when there’s something else you could be doing. Giving up that other activity to spend time with your loved one is another kind of love-gift.

Quality time – extended periods of togetherness – can be extra special to someone with bipolar who feels lonely, isolated, or unlovable. Just the idea that someone wants to spend time with you, even though you can barely stand to be with yourself, sends a powerful message.

Receiving gifts. There are people who value physical gifts and see in them the care and attention that another person spends selecting just the right thing. Diamond rings are unnecessary. In this language of love, a simple houseplant can even be preferable.

You probably shouldn’t expect a physical gift to “cheer up” a person with bipolar depression. As with any gift, the important thing is knowing what the person values and providing it to them. Comfort objects such as plush animals, mp3s of calming or favorite music, or a weighted blanket to ward off panic may be just the thing. Even a silly coffee mug with an appropriate saying can become a treasured item.

Acts of service. If the person you love values acts of service, then your way of speaking that love is accomplished when you do something for her or him. Doing the dishes or some other chore that usually falls to the loved one is one example.

For the bipolar person, acts of service that speak of love may be as simple as handling phone calls and visitors, or doing the shopping when he or she just can’t face the grocery store. “I’ll do it for you” is a powerful message that says, “I care about you and want to help ease your burdens.”

Physical touch. Strange as it may seem, some people never think of physical touch as a language of love unless they’re talking about sex. Of course, the physical and emotional intimacy of sex can speak love, but other kinds of touch do just as well for some people.

Bipolar people in the manic phase can have a high sex drive and appreciate some sexual attention even if you wouldn’t ordinarily want it at that time of day, for example. But the bipolar person can crave touch without sex as well. Hugging and cuddling, sitting close with an arm around the shoulders, and even a touch on the shoulder as you leave a room can speak volumes.

The important part of this is to learn and know what your partner values – what language of love she or he speaks – and to give it to them. Mixed signals, speaking the language that you would want instead of the one that your partner does, will not be processed as love. Physical gifts to one who hears love in affirmations will miss the mark.

Obviously, the best thing to do is to ask your partner which “language” they speak. But she or he may not even realize that there are different languages or which one is theirs. Observation, attention, and even trial and error may be necessary to get the communication going. But if you want to speak love to a person with bipolar disorder, these are communication skills that can be vital.

Originally published in February 2019 at Bipolar Me.

 

About the Author

Janet Coburn is a freelance writer/editor with bipolar disorder, type 2. She is the author of two books: Bipolar Me and Bipolar Us.

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

 

Wednesday, 15 July 2020

Beauty Everywhere: Engaging with the Natural World

“If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.” (Laura Ingalls Wilder)

Covid-19 has curtailed many of the activities that brought meaning to our lives. However, for many of us it has provided an opportunity to engage more with our immediate surroundings. Wherever we live and no matter our personal circumstances we can all invite the natural world into our lives.

Garden Visitors

Working from home has given me the chance to observe the wildlife in our garden more than ever before. Several times a day I step away from my laptop and take a stroll around the estate — aka our small overgrown garden.

We keep a variety of feeders stocked with sunflower seeds, peanuts, fat treats, and mealworms and have been blessed by visits from a wide range of species including blue tit, great tit, goldfinch, greenfinch, chaffinch, bullfinch, blackbird, robin, wood pigeon, starling, house sparrow, wren, lesser spotted woodpecker, and magpie. The feeders have also attracted a grey squirrel, a rat, several mice, and a black cat that goes by the name of Milo. Our garden has been visited by a young hedgehog in the past few days.

Out and About

I’ve not been more than a couple of miles from home since the start of lockdown but I walk for exercise every day and have discovered treasures I never knew were on my doorstep. These include a sheltered spot beside the Ouseburn stream which is almost completely hidden from view despite being no more than a few hundred yards from the main road. It’s the perfect place to sit and relax. I often take my notebook and journal or do some creative writing. I’ve found a woodland path through a narrow stand of trees on the edge of the ever-expanding housing development, surprised heron along the stream, and watched swallows harvesting midges on the wing. From time to time I’ve set myself a specific challenge while on my walks. One day I photographed as many “small things” as possible; the tiny plants, insects and details that are so easily overlooked. Another time, I challenged myself to photograph as many different colours, patterns, and textures as I could find.

Garden Free Wildlife

If you don’t have a garden you might think there’s little scope for encountering nature, but window feeders will attract birds and you can grow plants, herbs, and vegetables in a window box or in pots on your window sill.

Wild London has factsheets and instructions for a wide range of indoor activities including planting window boxes, buying a window bird feeder, helping birds avoid window accidents, making your own binoculars, and wildlife yoga.

The BBC has ideas for engaging with and helping wildlife from the comfort of your home and Friends of the Earth offers tips on how to help wildlife when you don’t have a garden, focusing on neighbourhood and community projects. These may not all be possible at the present time but there is nothing to stop you planning ahead for when restrictions are lifted.

Mindful Moments

Indoors or out, sometimes we all need a little peace and quiet. BBC Springwatch has twelve short mindful moments videos (“No music, no commentary – just the beautiful sights and sounds of nature.”) If you fancy something a little longer, you can unwind with twenty minutes of peaceful footage from Springwatch 2020.

For All the Family

Open to children between 6 and 15 years old, Green Blue Peter badges are awarded for sending in “letters, pictures and makes that are about or inspired by the environment, conservation or nature”. There are over 200 attractions in the UK that give you free entry as a Blue Peter badge holder.

Bird Aware Solent has a Lockdown Learning page with links to wildlife-based learning activities for the whole family. Wild London have a fantastic range of fact sheets and ideas for outdoor activities including gardening for wildlife, insect and wildlife spotting, making a hedgehog house, building a garden hide, and taking a stag beetle survey! For rainy days or if you don’t have a garden they have plenty of craft ideas too, such as making leaf tiles, model butterflies, saltdough creatures and butterfly paintings.

Quizzes and Fact Sheets

Test your wildlife knowledge with these three quizzes from the BBC Springwatch team: brilliant birds, incredible insects, and marvellous mammals. Wildlife Watch has a wide range of full-colour identification sheets (PDF) to print or take on your phone or tablet when you are out wildlife spotting.

There’s an App for That!

There are many free apps for the budding naturalist so check out these selections compiled by the NHBS (Natural History Book Service) and BBC Springwatch.

 

Saturday, 11 July 2020

Bad Sh*t Happens to Good People Too

I don’t believe that if you do good, good things will happen. Everything is completely accidental and random. Sometimes bad things happen to very good people and sometimes good things happen to bad people. But at least if you try to do good things, then you’re spending your time doing something worthwhile.
— Helen Mirren

I recently came across the following two related statements on social media:

“Bad things don’t happen to good people.”

“Nice things happen to nice people.”

They struck me as unhealthy at best; at worst stigmatising and judgemental. It was particularly disturbing because they were posted by someone who claims to be a mental health advocate dedicated to combating stigma.

Their author aside, what’s my issue with these statements? At first glance they seem innocuous enough: comforting platitudes of the sort we’ve probably all uttered at some point in our lives. But that’s the point. Such “innocuous” remarks, masquerading as positivity, seep into our collective subconscious.

“Bad things don’t happen to good people” implies we’re not good people if bad things have happened or are happening to us. Illness? Abuse? Trauma? Unemployment? Homelessness? Bereavement? If we’ve experienced these, the logic goes, we’re not innocent victims or survivors. We are complicit; guilty of attracting these things into our lives because we weren’t good enough in some way. It’s a claim, implicit or otherwise, that I reject utterly.

“Nice things happen to nice people” is more subtle. It doesn’t blame us for the bad stuff in our lives. Instead, it places full responsibility on our shoulders for manifesting the good stuff. Don’t have the things you want yet? Still mired in depression, anxiety, poverty? Addicted? Suicidal? Be a nicer person. Try harder. It’s a short hop from there to the religious equivalent I’ve seen in practice: pray harder, believe more, give yourself to Jesus/God completely.

Both statements play into the false narrative that some people deserve good (or bad) things to happen to them and others don’t. It’s a narrative that can easily lead to envy, resentment, self-recrimination, self-loathing, and despair when we don’t receive what we feel we’re due, whilst others have more than we believe they deserve.

It does matter what kind of people we are and how we go about our lives. I believe we have a responsibility to be the best we know how to be and do all we can to care for ourselves and others. As Helen Mirren says, “if you try to do good things, then you’re spending your time doing something worthwhile.”

Just don’t imagine that doing good will necessarily protect you from bad things or attract good things into your life. It doesn’t work that way. Bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people. Yes it sucks. Do good anyway.

“Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.” (Kent M. Keith)

Don’t throw lines like “Bad things don’t happen to good people” or “Nice things happen to nice people” around as though they don’t affect people. They can and they do, in unhealthy and harmful ways.

And, please, please, please, don’t judge others — or yourself — based on how life appears to have treated them.

 

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.