Wednesday 31 March 2021

What If I Never Do All the Things I Used to Do?

In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.
— Dave Hollis

A few weeks ago I was talking with a colleague about England’s road map out of lockdown. He said he felt cautiously optimistic and that he’d made a wish list of things he wants to do again when it’s possible. He asked if I’d made a list. I said no, it hadn’t occurred to me. That wasn’t entirely true. It’s not so much that it hadn’t occurred to me. At some level it feels wrong to me, even unhealthy, to make a list like that because I’d be wishing for things that are no longer possible or available.

Like most of us, I suppose, I spent the first months of lockdown imagining a time when things would start getting back to normal — or at least to something resembling how things were before. Being back in the office. Holidays. Meeting friends for coffee, drinks, meals, or days out. Hugs. As the weeks and months passed those hopes receded, but they still felt feasible. Out there somewhere a “near normal” future was waiting for me.

At some point, though, it dawned on me that things will never return to how they used to be. The impact of covid, of lockdown, of all the changes we lived through last year and are still living through, is simply too great for us to pick up where we left off. Vaccinations will allow us to move forward but right now, as England begins gradually to open up again, I can only see that many things I valued (and some I took for granted) have already gone beyond any hope of retrieval. Others may resume, but they won’t be the same. I’m not the same. We aren’t the same. How could we be, with all we have gone through?

The holiday cottage I’ve been going to for decades, the one that felt like a second home? I had to cancel two planned visits last year but what if I never get to go back because the lady who owns it — who is practically family after all these years — decides reopening is too much to deal with, with all the new restrictions, and the risk that people may cancel at short notice?

The Wateredge Inn in Ambleside, which is one of my favourite places in the world? Maybe I’ll sit there again beside the lake with a pint and my notebooks, but it won’t be this year. What if it’s never?

STACK Newcastle, my go-to hangout until covid struck, where I’ve had so many good times hanging out with friends, or calling in on my own for a beer and a falafel wrap? The venue is set to reopen and I dare say I’ll go back at some point, but with social distancing and having to book in advance the atmosphere will never be the same. What if it never feels warm and welcoming — a Marty place — again?

The Frankie & Bennie’s restaurant in Newcastle I’ve visited for years? There’s no “what if?” about this one — it never reopened after the first lockdown and is closed permanently.

My two favourite coffee shops, where I’d sit and write, or meet up with friends, and where I always felt welcome and at ease? I’m more optimistic about these but what if they never reopen fully, or are too busy and cramped to feel comfortable again?

There are bigger things to focus on, you might be thinking. Mourning the loss of my holidays, favourite coffee shops and bars hardly registers when set against the devastating hurt and loss others have endured in the past year. These are the “little things” of my life, though. The little things that are actually the big things. Because it’s not about the coffee shop, or the pub, or the bar. Not really. It’s about the connections they represented, facilitated, and hosted.

When lockdown first hit I feared my local friendships might falter because they were born — and thrived — in meet-ups for coffee and drinks, days out, and time shared face-to-face. In fact, they flourished and grew, as we replaced face-to-face encounters with online chat, voice and video calls. They transitioned, successfully if not always seamlessly, from in person friendships to online ones. And I have some prior experience and success with those. I do wonder how things will be, when we’re finally able to meet again in person, but as with the outer trappings of my BC (before covid) life there is no going back. Only forward.

So no, I don’t have a list of things I want to do again. “Like it used to be” or “like we used to do” are false hopes, illusions, to my current way of thinking at least. Instead, I will hold myself open to whatever is possible, available, present, and real.


Photo by Dylan Ferreira on Unsplash


Wednesday 24 March 2021

Free Books for World Bipolar Day

To mark World Bipolar Day 2021 Fran and I are offering our books for FREE on Kindle for five days between Monday March 29 and Friday April 2, inclusive.

In High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder we share what we’ve learned about growing a supportive, mutually rewarding friendship between a “well one” and an “ill one.” With no-nonsense advice from the caring friend’s point of view, original approaches and practical tips, illustrated with real-life conversations and examples. Buy it here.

Friendship is a beautiful part of life and an important component of long-term wellness. No One Is Too Far Away: Notes from a Transatlantic Friendship is a collection of articles from our blog which shows that mental illness needn’t be a barrier to meaningful connection; indeed it can be the glue that holds people together. Buy it here.

Once the free offer is over the prices will go back to normal.

World Bipolar Day is celebrated each year on March 30, the birthday of Vincent Van Gogh, who is thought to have lived with a bipolar condition.

The vision of World Bipolar Day is to bring world awareness to bipolar conditions and to eliminate social stigma. Through international collaboration, the goal of World Bipolar Day is to bring the world population information about bipolar conditions that will educate and improve sensitivity towards the condition.

For more information check out the following websites.


Tuesday 23 March 2021

It's ok if you don't. (Thoughts from the first covid lockdown, one year on.)

It’s ok if you don’t want to make the best of it
It’s ok if you don’t want to bake banana bread.
It’s ok if you don’t want to craft with Kirstie.
It’s ok if you don’t want to do a scavenger hunt around your home.
It’s ok if you don’t want to learn a new language.
It’s ok if you don’t want to have a quiz night with your colleagues.
It’s ok if you don’t want a movie night with your buddies.
It’s ok if you don’t want to have themed evenings with your beloved, your family, or your friends.

It’s ok to miss how it used to be.
It’s ok to feel afraid.
It’s ok to hate it.
It’s ok to be overwhelmed.
It’s ok to do this your way.


Photo by Alexas_Fotos on Unsplash.


Wednesday 17 March 2021

Nobody Is Immune from Stress, You Know

In my recent article 11 Things I Am Grateful for This Week I revealed “I’ve been experiencing a good deal of stress lately one way or another.” I thought it would be useful for me — and hopefully interesting for others — to explore what was going on for me at that time and how I handled things.

Why Was I So Stressed?

I sometimes get stressed about work or relationships, but this time the trigger was discovering the hot water tank (immersion heater) at home had stopped working. Looking back, I can see there were several strands to my stress and anxiety. The first was the immediate, practical issue of not having any hot running water and having to find someone to deal with it. I have a poor track record finding reliable tradespeople. I felt under pressure to engage someone who would do a good job for a reasonable price.

There were several other plumbing jobs which needed doing about the house, including drippping taps in the bathroom and kitchen, and a kitchen waste outlet that blocked easily despite my attempts to clear it out. I realised I could probably get these long-standing issues fixed at the same time as the water tank, but I could feel myself getting anxious about other household maintenance I’d put off and spent a long time trying to ignore. I was also scared in case bigger repairs came to light.

Most of all, I felt out of my depth. I couldn’t fix the issue itself and felt unequal to the task of finding people who could and would fix it.

What Actually Happened?

It started on Thursday February 18 when I discovered there was no hot water. I immediately went online ( and looked for an electrician to see if it could be repaired. One came out on the Saturday. He said the element had burnt out but the tank was so old it needed replacing. To his credit, he wouldn’t take any money for the callout.

I wasn’t surprised. The tank was about thirty years old. It started leaking last year but I couldn’t find anyone willing to replace it. The leak stopped on its own and I pushed it to the back of my mind. I couldn’t ignore it any longer. I went back onling and put in a new job to replace the tank. Two plumbers responded. One seemed particularly keen. I send photos and we discussed what was needed. It was looking good but nothing much happened for a week, despite chasing plumber #1 for a quote. The tank began leaking again, causing damage to the ceiling over the stairs and massively increasing my stress. I isolated and drained the tank.

I tried plumber #2 again. He agreed to call round and quoted for the work within a couple of days. It was more expensive than I’d anticipated but it needed doing. He came on Saturday March 6, replaced the ancient tank with a new hot water cylinder, and also replaced the taps and kitchen waste outlet. From start to end, it had taken sixteen days.

How Did I Feel?

My main symptoms were discomfort and pain in my gut, elevated heart rate, and headaches. They became more persistent and problematic as time went on, and were most severe in the final days before the work was done. This was different from how stress usually affects me; I tend to feel a tightness in my chest and gut but not to this extent. I was very aware my heart was racing much of the time. I checked my heart rate and stress level on my phone and found them much higher than usual. It was disturbing but in a funny way it helped that there was something tangible that validated what I was feeling. It was real. I wasn’t imagining it.

How Did I Handle It?

I took practical steps to mitigate the disruption until things could be fixed. This included buying a water heater to heat water for baths/washing. I also researched as much as I could, which helped me engage with the tradespeople and understand what they suggested.

For the stress itself, I mostly followed the strategies in my Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP). I shared what I was going through with Fran, other close friends, and colleagues including fellow Mental Health First Aiders at work. I also went out for walks (walking is one of my key wellbeing strategies) but the discomfort I was feeling got in the way of walking as much as I might have done.

Watching Grey’s Anatomy with Fran on Netflix helped a lot as a distraction, especially in the evening before I went to bed. Blogging and working on the reprint of our book No One Is Too Far Away also helped, as did exploring my thoughts and feelings in my daily journal. I reminded myself that no one had been hurt and any damage was pretty minimal. (As one of my friends puts it, no one died and no one caught fire.) I focused on things I had to be grateful for, which led to the blog post I mentioned earlier.

I reduced my coffee intake, and turned to peppermint tea when the abdominal discomfort was especially bad. I also cut down on bread to ease the bloating I was experiencing.

How Did Others Respond?

Without exception, the people I confided in listened to my grumbles without judging me or making me feel my issues were less important, serious, or immediate than theirs (although in many cases they were). With some I discussed the practical aspects of the work; what might be up with the water tank, what replacements might be appropriate, and what the work might cost.

Fran, Jen and others were supportive. (Fran had water leaks in her apartment at the time so could empathise on that level too.) Aimee asked if I needed to see a doctor. She didn’t nag me, though, and respected my wish to see if the symptoms eased once the work was done. She also sent me a hot water bottle to ease the pain, which was much appreciated! A conversation with Vikki the day after the work was complete reminded me that stress and anxiety can affect anyone, and ultimately inspired this article.

“I feel a lot less stressy now the work is done. It caught me off guard, how much it affected me, if I’m honest.”

“Nobody is immune from stress, you know.”

“That’s so true, Vikki. I’ve rarely known it affect me so much, though. It’s something for me to watch out for in future. I think it was different this time because it wasn’t something I could deal with directly myself. Also my not feeling confident about finding someone to do the work. (These plumbers were good, though, I would definitely use them again.) I’m looking forward to my walk later!”

I’m grateful to everyone I opened up to. You really helped.

How Do I Feel Now?

It was amazing how quickly the symptoms disappeared. Writing in my journal the day after the work was done I noted that the headaches had gone and I was generally feeling much calmer. As measured on my phone, my stress level and heart rate had returned to their usual levels. It took a day or two for my gut to settle but even in the first 24 hours it was much better than it had been. A week later, none of these symptoms have returned.


Looking back, I can see I did some things right. I didn’t ignore the issue, pretend it wasn’t happening, or delay in addressing it. I researched options, engaged with the electrician and plumbers, and was clear and concise describing what I needed them to do. I was open with friends and colleagues which helped a great deal. I didn’t keep it all inside, or pretend things were fine when they weren’t.

Inevitably, there are things I might have done differently. I could have chased the first plumber more when he failed to get back to me. The temptation to let it slide so I didn’t have to deal with things there and then led to several day’s delay overall, and left me feeling less in control than I might have been.

On the whole, I believe I will be better prepared if something like this happens in the future. I can plan for future work and home improvements rather than waiting until things break or need replacing. I already have a list of possible improvements and changes to work with in the coming months. I also intend to review my WRAP plan and update it to include the kind of symptoms I experienced.

Do you suffer from stress and anxiety? Do you know how to minimise its effects on you and move through it as cleanly as possible? Do you have any tips or strategies you would like to share? We would love to hear from you.


Photo by zhenhappy on Unsplash


Wednesday 10 March 2021

Positivity Rules! The poetry of Jules Clare

With great sadness, we have learnt that Jules Clare, aka The Jewelster, passed away on February 15, 2021. We are resharing this article in tribute to his great spirit.

Originally published May 2015.

Jules Clare was born in Wales in 1963. He is a Welsh Brummie Mackem poet. He supports Aston Villa. He is a born survivor. He has lived through and with a brain haemorrhage, ulcerative colitis, bi-polar affective mood disorder, acute rheumatoid arthritis and a deep vein thrombosis. He smiles a lot, especially in the face of adversity.

He is strong willed. He has been barred from the Surtees, The RAFA Club, The Kings and The Fat Brewer. All of these are shady drinking establishments in Crook. Nobody messes with The Jewelster!

He started writing poetry nine years ago during a mental health recovery phase at The County Hospital in Durham. He has not looked back since!

People love his sense of humour, his poetry’s directness, his delivery and his dress sense.

Jules puts himself out to help people. He has done a lot of work motivating mental health service users convincing them that they are priceless individuals who can reach any goal in their lives providing that they believe in themselves.

Positivity rules! You’ll never get anywhere if you don’t try!

At the time of writing Jules has had 67 poems published in national newspapers and magazines, had eleven books published and appeared on numerous radio stations; most notably the Mentally Sound show on Gravity Radio North East and James Cook Hospital in Middlesbrough.

You can find Jules' poetry on YouTube, Soundcloud and Facebook.


Friendly Miracles

I believe in miracles
I believe in my friends
They are truly spiritual human beings
In their own way
they're all sexy things
Yes, I believe in miracles
since they came around

Where did my friends come from?
Where are they going?
With a little love and understanding
they'll be there forever
supporting me, giving me space
setting me free, granting me grace

An Angel of Mercy
brought them into my life
Did they appreciate my smile?
Did they want to help me cope with strife?
They must have
because they never ran a mile

My friends touch me
I love the way they respectfully
hold on to my soul dearly
I guess that I am treated as a friend
By appreciating what they see
they give me self esteem

Yes, they make me believe in miracles
They'll keep me smiling until my very end

~ Jules Clare

Personal Respect

Life is not about winning
It’s about living
My mind is well and truly spinning
Yet I’m still giving

People treat me with little respect
I’ve formed my own Buddhist sect
Nothing affects me if I stay meek
I turn the other cheek

I give people love, peace and understanding
I give them the chance to be free
I can cope with their philandering
All I ask is that they let me be free

Life is about living
Life is about one moment at a time
It’s real and I’m not kidding
Living my life the way that I want
should not be a crime

~ Jules Clare

11 Things I'm Grateful For This Week

I’ve been experiencing a good deal of stress lately one way or another, and I thought it might help to focus on what’s been going well, and things I am grateful for. This blog post is the result and, yes, it did help.

Creative Focus

Fran and I recently announced we’re working on a new edition of our second book, No One Is Too Far Away: Notes From a Transatlantic Friendship, as the first edition is now out of print. The project has been a useful distraction from other things which have not been going so well. Last week I finished the Kindle conversion of the book and ordered a proof copy of the printed version which came the other day. My friend and fellow blogger Aimee Wilson asked if I was as excited about seeing it as I was with High Tide, Low Tide. I hadn’t really thought about it, but yes, I really was! There’s nothing quite like seeing your book in physical form and holding it in your hands for the first time.


When I’m struggling I tend to pull back from social media, and I have done so recently. That said, I came across two memes this week which resonated with me a great deal. The first reminded me of how good things can be with the right people at your side.

Always notice the people who are happy for your happiness, and sad for your sadness. They’re the ones who deserve special places in your heart.
— Helen Barry

The second is about boundaries and reminded me to pay attention to my needs.

Maybe what you’re holding onto isn’t really about them at all. Maybe it’s about you not wanting to let go of something that’s been around for so long, not wanting to part with a connection that’s been comfortable enough, even if it no longer is. Maybe you’ll find even greater comfort in the letting go, in the belief that you deserve more than they could offer, and more than you together were able to create.
— Scott Stabile

Something to Celebrate

We couldn’t meet in person but I recently had the opportunity to sing happy birthday via video call to one of my dearest friends. I hope she enjoyed it as much as I did when she sang for me on my birthday last year, which was the day lockdown was announced here in England. I still have the audio clip on my phone and it brings a smile to my face any time I play it.

Endings and Beginnings

As you may know I’m a big fan of Traveler’s Notebooks and rarely leave home without one or other (or both) of my TNs. The smaller, passport-size, notebook is my memory journal. This week I completed the current insert and am about to start a new one. End of a chapter. Opening of the next.

Walks Shared

For the past year, local walks have been my only exercise and chance to get out of the house. Fran and I haven’t been able to meet online as much as usual recently, but we adjusted to the challenge and shared video calls on my evening walks instead. I’m grateful that I got to share the sights and sounds of my local neighbourhood with her.

Staying Connected

This is relevant pretty much any time, but with everything that’s been going on I’ve been especially grateful for friends who get me and are invested in the connections we share.

Optimism and Hope

Despite the ongoing vaccination programme and the government’s roadmap for the coming months, I’ve been finding it really hard to feel positive about the near future — or the future in general. One of my favourite hospitality venues, STACK Newcastle, is taking bookings for April when they hope to reopen. Last summer, as we opened up from our first lockdown, I was on the STACK website as soon as it opened, but I’m not feeling it this time. April feels too early, whatever the roadmap might suggest. What does give me hope, and reason to be grateful, is the opportunity to reminisce with friends about times shared in the past, and plan new activities together, be that walks in the park, a garden picnic, or trips away.

Sunny Days

After weeks of cold and wet, we’ve been blessed with milder and drier days, which means I’ve been able to take more walks and go a little further. Last weekend I walked to the Ouseburn stream which I’d not visited for a while. Being out on my own gave me chance to think — and to not think — about what’s been going on recently. That was a blessing. I had my Passport TN with me (of course!) and I enjoyed taking photos of my notebook out “in the wild,” and sharing them afterwards on social media

Like Minds and Hearts

I’m happy and proud to be an active member of several Traveler’s Notebook groups on social media. The TN community is my happy place, where I can meet up with like-minded (and like-hearted) folk whose passion for journaling is shared generously and received warmly by all.

My Vaccination Date

Earlier than anticipated, I received a letter this week inviting me to book an appointment for my covid vaccination. My first jab isn’t for a few weeks, but it’s booked now and is one less thing for me to wonder — or worry — about.

New Opportunities

Completely out of the blue this week I received a twitter message from Bipolar UK, which is the UK’s largest charity for people living with bipolar disorder. The message led to a phone call which I took on my lunchtime walk. I can’t go details just yet but it represents a great opportunity for me, and I am excited to press on with it. At a time when I was feeling stressed out and not very effective at anything, it gave me a real lift.

What are you grateful for this week?


Photo by Jazmin Quaynor on Unsplash