Wednesday 28 April 2021

How to Be There for a Friend When No One Else Is

Always have a willing hand to help someone, you might be the only one that does. (Roy T. Bennett)

Fran and I write a lot about having a supportive team so you’re not relying on one person all the time. I’m proud of my place on her team, amongst the other friends and professionals who help her stay safe and well. Knowing I’m not alone helps me focus on being the best friend I can be, confident there are others for Fran to call on if I’m unavailable or can’t offer what she needs. It’s the same with my other close friends. I’m part of their support teams and they’re part of mine.

But sometimes a friend is hurting, distressed, or in need, and I’m the only person around. Perhaps the other members of their team are unavailable or can’t offer what my friend needs. Maybe there isn’t anyone else. Not everyone has a team. What do I do then?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. A lot depends on what my friend needs; how available I am to help; my relevant knowledge, skills, and experience; my other responsibilities or commitments; and my personal boundaries. I find it helps to remind myself of the options: saying yes, saying no, or saying no, but. We have these options all the time, of course, but the decision is more important when there’s no one else around.

Note that I didn’t include saying maybe. There’s no place for uncertainty when a friend is in need. Be honest about whether you can help or not, but don’t defer the decision or give false hope. And, whatever you decide, follow through. I remember Fran telling me years ago how she needs people to be straight with her. She asks only that people respect her enough not to promise what they have no intention of delivering. (“Yes is OK. No is OK. Not right now is OK.”)

I tell my friends: no matter what time it is or what you think I might be doing, if you need me, ask. I’d much rather be asked and have to say no than for my friend to stay silent for fear of bothering me. This works because I trust my friends to be honest about their needs and they trust me to be honest about whether I can help.

Let’s look at those options in a little more detail.

Say Yes

Saying yes is my default response. What is friendship, after all, if it’s not being there for one another? Far from feeling used or put upon, I consider myself blessed when I can use my skills, abilities, and experience to help another person. In the words of Ruth Bebermeyer:

I never feel more given to
than when you take from me –
when you understand the joy I feel
giving to you.

That said, being a good friend doesn’t mean saying yes to every request, even when you can.

Say No

Saying no isn’t just about being honest if I’m busy or can’t meet my friend’s request for some other reason. There’s a crucial difference between helping someone in positive ways and enabling unhealthy actions and behaviours. In the early months of my friendship with Fran, I helped her pursue a very unhealthy, mania-fuelled project because I didn’t see how dangerous it was. We realised before any lasting harm was done, but it would have saved a great deal of anguish if I’d recognised sooner what was happening and said no to her requests. Fran would have hated that but it would have been better for us both in the long run.

Selflessly acquiescing to other people’s demands is also unhealthy for the giver. This is something I’ve learned over the years, most painfully by witnessing what it did to my mother. Decades of putting other people before herself led to depression, anxiety, and despair. At her funeral, the priest eulogised, “She was a saint. Literally, a saint. She always put others first.” I wanted to scream “Yes she was. She did. And look what it did to her.”

Saying no is never easy for me but it’s hardest of all when the other person has few or no alternatives. As long as it doesn’t become a habit, I think it’s okay to convert what might otherwise have been a no into a yes. Making the other person a priority is pretty much what it means to be a friend. I’m not interested in being someone who’s only there for others when it’s convenient.

Some talk to you in their free time, and some free their time to talk to you. Learn the difference. (Unknown)

But what if you really can’t say yes? Let’s look at the third option.

Say No, But

Being the only one around doesn’t make you responsible for meeting your friend’s needs, but it does mean you’re part of what happens next. If at all possible, leave your friend with a way forward. That might mean confirming they can take that next step on their own, or suggesting alternate sources of support. This may not be the answer they were looking for, but an honest and engaged no, but — rather than simply dismissing them out of hand or turning your back — can be just as helpful in the long run.

Most fundamentally, make sure your friend is safe. If they’re in acute distress or you believe they may be at risk of harm — including self-harm or suicide — consider escalating to professional services or signposting them to an appropriate crisis or support line. If that’s not appropriate or necessary, maybe there are other ways you can help rather than simply saying “sorry, you’re on your own.”

I once took a call from a friend who was lost, scared, and alone. I didn’t have a car so going to pick her up wasn’t an option, but I stayed with her on the phone until she was safely home. On other occasions, I’ve arranged taxis or loaned friends the cost of a ride to get them where they needed to be as quickly and safely as possible. Sometimes the issue isn’t the request itself, but the timing. If so, I’ll offer to meet or take their call as soon as I’m free. Work with your friend to find a solution that works for you both.

Be Kind Always

Fran and I wrote a whole book about being a supportive friend but I still get things wrong. I described how my mother’s health suffered from always putting other people’s needs before her own. I’m far from blameless in that. On many occasions I failed to offer her the support she needed. I said no when I needed to say yes. I’ve failed other people too, either by not being there when they needed me, or by being overbearing — effectively saying yes when I hadn’t even been asked for my assistance or support. I believe I’ve learned from these mistakes, although the people who are part of my support team now, and who accept me as part of theirs, are better placed than me to assess that.

I can’t be there for everyone who calls on me at all times, no matter how much I’d like to be, but where there is honesty and trust, I know the friendship isn’t at risk just because I can’t always say yes. What matters is that I feel empowered to make those decisions, and supported in doing so.

[My friendship with Fran] has taught me to be more aware of others who may be struggling. That doesn’t mean I try and help everyone, but I offer what I can and neither absent myself nor run away. To do this, I need people prepared to support me in moments of confusion, frustration, and self-doubt — and they do occur — without imposing limits on my capacity to care.

Above every other consideration, if I find myself in a position to help someone when no one else is, I remind myself of the words of the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso:

Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.


Photo by Kato Blackmore on Unsplash


Tuesday 20 April 2021

Book Review: Everything Disordered: A Practical Guide to Blogging, by Aimee Wilson

Aimee Wilson blogs at I’m NOT Disordered and has guested here at Gum on My Shoe on several occasions. I’m delighted to have this opportunity to review her new book Everything Disordered: A Practical Guide to Blogging.

Paperback: 222 pages
ISBN-13: 979-8713490348
Amazon UK | Amazon COM


This book will be of interest to anyone thinking about starting a blog but it is probably most relevant if you are blogging — or contemplating blogging — in the mental health arena. The majority of examples are drawn from the author’s experience and blog posts in this area.

Trigger Warnings

Everything Disordered includes some very honest descriptions of the author’s lived experience of mental illness, abuse, suicidality, and self-harm. This could be distressing or triggering for readers, but the author opens with a detailed note on content and trigger warnings, which also serves to orient the reader for the rest of the book.

Organisation and Content

The book is organised into seven parts.

  1. Should you blog?
  2. Choosing a blog name
  3. Blog posts
  4. Blogmas
  5. Collaborations
  6. Press and media
  7. Top tips for blogging

Each part contains practical suggestions, advice, and guidance drawn from the author’s experience as a highly successful blogger, amply illustrated with examples from her own blog posts. This approach echoes how Fran and I wrote High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder, illustrating our ideas and approaches with excerpts from our conversations to show how we put those ideas into practice. Everything Disordered takes this a stage further by including worksheets which the reader can use to explore the ideas and decisions being discussed. These and the title pages for each major section make for a colourful and engaging design.

It’s worth noting that the book doesn’t discuss the relative merits of different blogging platforms (WordPress, Blogger, Wix etc), software, or technology (computer, laptop, phone, tablet, etc). This is actually a strength, because any such advice would soon become out of date. Instead, the author focuses on the creative processes involved in blogging, which are mostly independent of platform and gadgetry.

Part 1: Should you blog?

The book opens by inviting the reader to explore why they want to start blogging, and whether they have the qualities to succeed. As a blogger myself I found this part really interesting and relevant. I agree with the author that passion is very important; passion both for your chosen subject area and for the practice of writing and maintaining a blog. Other qualities discussed are time, bravery and purpose, having a good support system, and creativity. The section on having a good support system resonated with me. Like the author, I find blogging can be a lonely pursuit and it helps to have people around you who are supportive, but who also acknowledge your autonomy and creative boundaries.

The author covers potential downsides to blogging such as triggering, overwhelm, struggling with boundaries, and receiving unwelcome reactions from others. The reader is encouraged to consider both the positive and negative aspects of blogging, and this section of the book includes the first of several worksheets for the reader to use.

Part 2: Choosing a blog name

Choosing a name for your blog might not seem that big a deal, but once chosen it’s something you are likely to be stuck with. There’s another worksheet to use when exploring ideas. The author describes how the name of your blog may influence how memorable your blog is and how other people perceive you. Also important is whether the name relates to your theme, purpose, and audience. These are relevant questions no matter what your subject area is, and are a good example of the book’s applicability beyond the mental health arena.

Part 3: Blog posts

This part of the book focuses on writing and publishing a blog post. I found the author’s discussion of sources of inspiration interesting because I use similar sources in my own blogging; personal experience, quotations, and media including social media. The author uses these in different ways to me, though, which has given me new ideas for my future writing. The media section, in particular, has led me to rethink my reluctance to blog about controversial current affairs topics. This part of the book closes with some top tips, a prepublication checklist, and some pros and cons about using photos and images, especially personal photos. I’ve written previously about choosing images for your blog posts and it’s interesting to see how another blogger approaches this topic.

Part 4: Blogmas

The book next covers the phenomenon of blogmas. (“Blogmas is where you publish a blog post every single day from December 1st until Christmas.”) The author covers the process in depth, from conceiving, planning, and writing a lengthy series of daily posts, to the benefits and potential drawbacks. There are two worksheets, and examples of the author’s blogmas posts. I’ve not attempted blogmas myself but the ideas are relevant to any series of posts and I’m sure I’ll find them useful. Topics include setting an overall theme for the series, collaboration (covered in more detail in part 5), guest posts, Q&As, and the importance of good time management and preparing material well in advance.

Part 5: Collaborations

Collaboration can be a valuable and rewarding part of blogging and the author shares tips and suggestions, generously illustrated with articles written in collaboration with organisations that include NHS Foundation Trusts, FutureLearn (an online training provider), Cats Protection, and LNER (London North Eastern Railway). Event blogging is covered in a similar manner. This is another section I found really interesting. I have blogged several events but have very limited experience of collaborating with others.

Part 6: Press and media

Working with the press and media is another area where I have very limited experience. The author’s wide experience is clear and there is a great deal for the reader to pick up and learn from.

Part 7: Top tips for blogging

The book closes with top tips for blogging, focusing on three key areas: confidence and self-belief; finding a sense of community, audience, and support; and appreciating that blogging can be a source of ongoing learning, personal development, and change.


It should be clear that I found Everything Disordered very relevant to me as a blogger in the mental health space. My life experience, writing style, and approach to blogging are very different to the author’s, but I found the book to be a wholly honest and realistic look behind-the-scenes at what it takes to be a successful blogger. I’ve learned a lot and look forward to putting what I’ve learned into practice.

Social media undoubtedly has its dark side. The author does not shy away from this reality but shows that social media in general — and blogging in particular — can be overwhelmingly positive and beneficial. Examples of how blogging has enriched and expanded the author’s life run through the book. One of my favourite quotations highlights the impact her words have had on others.

A little while after the blog post was published, a reader contacted me to tell me that after reading the post she had finally reported the abuse she’d experienced years before. [...] For the first time, I really realised that my words — my experiences, could have such a huge and important impact on readers.

Everything Disordered, page 62

This is expressed perfectly in the foreword, written by Debbie Henderson, Director of Communications and Corporate Affairs at Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust:

I would encourage anyone considering setting up a blog to read this book, not only as a practical guide, but as a true insight into the difference a well-run blog can make, not just to the author, but potentially to many other lives.

I will close with a shorter version of this review which I will post on Amazon.

A fascinating read, packed with advice and tips for the budding blogger

This fascinating and informative book is packed with behind-the-scenes insights, practical advice, and suggestions from Aimee Wilson who runs a highly successful blog called “I’m NOT Disordered.” The book is essential reading if you blog, or are thinking of blogging, in the mental health arena but the wide range of topics and ideas make it relevant no matter what you blog about.

The book covers whether blogging is right for you, choosing a name for your blog, writing and publishing posts, collaborating with individuals and organisations, event blogging, and working with the press and media. There is also a chapter on blogmas (publishing one blog post every day from December 1 until Christmas) which would be helpful when planning any series of blog posts. There are loads of tips and examples from the author's blog, and colourful worksheets you can use to explore the ideas yourself.

Highly recommended.

Everything Disordered: A Practical Guide to Blogging by Aimee Wilson is available in print from Amazon and other sellers. (Amazon UK | Amazon COM)

You can follow the author Aimee Wilson on her blog I’m NOT Disordered and on Twitter (@aimes_wilson).


Wednesday 7 April 2021

Challenging Stigma in Changing Times: My Journey with Time to Change

“Time to Change was a social movement to change the way people think and act about mental health problems. The campaign started in 2007 and closed at the end of March 2021.” (Time to Change website)

In October last year I received an email purporting to be from Time to Change, announcing the closure of the organisation at the end of March 2021. The news seemed so unlikely that I messaged the Time to Change Twitter account to check it wasn’t a scam email. Sadly, both email and news were genuine. As of March 31, 2021, Time to Change is no more. Their website and social media accounts remain for the time being, but visitors are met with the following stark message:

Time to Change closed on 31st March 2021, but the stigma and discrimination experienced by people with mental health problems hasn’t gone away. We need you to continue changing how people think and act about mental health problems.

The closure has inspired any number of social media posts and articles. Most I’ve seen have either been written from a societal perspective (such as A ground breaking campaign that changed the mental health landscape by Brian Dow, Deputy CEO of Rethink Mental Illness) or by people who themselves live with mental health issues (the two categories are not, of course, mutually exclusive). I can’t speak from a broader society perspective and I have no direct lived experience, but I’d like to share what Time to Change meant to me.

Volunteering with Time to Change

My involvement with Time to Change began in November 2013. In the two and a half years since we first met online in May 2011, Fran and I had built a rich network of connections within the mental health community in the US, mostly in the state of Maine where Fran lives. I remember Fran jokingly asking if anyone in the UK lived with mental illness, because we didn’t seem to know any individuals or organisations here. It was time for me to step up and find out what was happening on this side of the Atlantic.

Time to Change was the first UK organisation I checked out and I registered as a Champion, as TTC called its volunteers. In no time at all I received an email with details of a local networking and social event. Turning up on my own at the Crisis Cafe in Newcastle was the scariest thing I’d done in a long time, but I received a warm welcome from Angela Slater, who at the time was Time to Change Regional Coordinator and Equalities Coordinator for Disability. I remember attempting small talk with the people I was sitting next to, some of whom were new volunteers like me, and the passion of the various speakers. I particularly remember talking with Darren Hodge who told me about Mental Health First Aid training. I enjoyed the experience, but as I’ve written elsewhere it left me unsure whether I was ready to follow up and engage fully.

I enjoyed the evening, but left feeling unsure whether I had the skills and experience to contribute to what Time to Change and the other organisations and individuals I had met were doing. This was no reflection on the warmth of the welcome. Rather, it was a voice inside me that told me I was not yet ready to engage fully.

It took two years for me to reconnect with Angela and actually volunteer with Time to Change. During that time I was growing and learning. I took the MHFA training and engaged in other ways, including an appearance on local radio to talk about my friendship with Fran and the book we’d begun writing. What finally tipped the balance was an online workshop Fran and I took with research professor, author, and public speaker BrenĂ© Brown on courage and vulnerability. Within days, I heard about an upcoming awareness event in the centre of Newcastle, to coincide with Time to Change’s annual #TimeToTalk campaign. I signed up as a volunteer before the voice in my head had chance to intervene. As I wrote in my diary, “Fear of engagement has always kept me on the outside, looking in on the arena. It is time to show up for my life.”

It turned out to be one of the best decisions I’d made in a long time. I reconnected with Angela and met several people I’d see at Time to Change events over the coming years, including Aimee Wilson who is now one of my closest friends. I’ve written about the event itself elsewhere but I want to quote something I’ve found to be consistently true as I’ve learned more about sharing space, time, and conversation with people with lived experience of mental health issues.

Some stories, whether of mental illness or the often-related issues of poverty, benefits, or housing, were undeniably hard to hear. But the atmosphere wasn’t sombre in any way. No matter the content, genuine connection is empowering if we are open to hear what people are saying. And there were moments too of sheer delight, laugher, and merriment.

I volunteered with Time to Change at Northern Pride for three consecutive years (2016 through 2018). As with the first event I volunteered at, the idea was to engage members of the public about TTC’s role, mental health, and stigma. We handed out leaflets, encouraged people to make mental health related pledges, took selfies, and answered questions. After one event I told a friend:

For me, what makes it so worthwhile is when I am talking to someone who might not be used to sharing about their mental health and I comment or ask a question and they are like “yes!” In that moment there is this really genuine human connection. That happened a few times today.

Time to Talk Day

One of Time to Change’s key contributions to raising mental health awareness was establishing the annual Time to Talk Day in February.

Mental health problems affect one in four of us, yet too many people are made to feel isolated, ashamed and worthless because of this. Time to Talk Day encourages everyone to be more open about mental health – to talk, to listen, to change lives.

Talking about mental health is something Fran and I do on a day-to-day basis. It is the basis of our friendship and the cornerstone of our book High Tide, Low Tide. I wrote What Does Having a Conversation about Mental Health Look Like? for Time to Talk Day 2019 because what comes naturally to me and Fran (most of the time) can sound difficult or intimidating if you are not used to it.

Having “a conversation about mental health” might sound daunting, but it simply means allowing someone to talk openly about what’s going on for them. It might be a face-to-face conversation, a phone or video call, or a conversation by e-mail, text (SMS), or instant messaging. Whatever works for you and the other person.

Confidence and Support

Working with like-minded and like-hearted people is healthy and rewarding. I’ve grown a lot in self-confidence, directly and indirectly, from being a Time to Change volunteer. I discovered I have something valuable to contribute on a wider stage and have felt supported in doing so. I’ve met some amazing people and made good friends, including two of my closest friends, Vikki Beat and Aimee Wilson. I’ve also connected with other people and organisations locally and online, including Newcastle Recovery College (ReCoCo), Launchpad, and LEAPS. I believe I’ve grown and become a better person.

It would be wrong to give the impression that everything has been “sunshine and rainbows,” though. I’ve had periods of crippling self-doubt about my role within the mental health community, including Time to Change, because I lack lived experience of illness or mental health services. Perhaps the worst bout came in late 2018 / early 2019, as I related in Impostor Syndrome, Self-Doubt, and Legitimacy in the Mental Health Arena. The support and encouragement I received from work colleagues and friends, including people who know me through Time to Change, made a huge difference and reassured me I have a role to play and a contribution to make. I will forever be grateful for their honesty and support.

Employer Pledge Scheme

In 2018 I joined the mental health team at the company where I work, BPDTS Ltd. I knew of the Time to Change Employer Pledge Scheme and met with our Chief Exec and senior executive team to sell them the idea.

My main objective was to gain approval for the company to sign up to Time to Change’s Employer Pledge Scheme. It says a lot about our leadership team that my recommendation was approved unanimously. I’m looking forward to taking the initiative forward in the weeks to come.

It was very much a team effort, and we had superb support from our CEO down, but as Pledge Lead I can admit a good deal of personal pride when we were accepted into the scheme. The scheme itself has closed but you can still read our company’s pledge on the Time to Change website. The mental health team which I now co-lead has expanded considerably, and I look forward to even greater things as our company merges with DWP (the UK government’s Department for Work and Pensions) to form a new digital organisation.

BPDTS CEO Loveday Ryder, Martin Baker, Lois White

What Next?

I will always be proud of my association with Time to Change and grateful for the opportunities and connections it brought me, but what next? There is so much more to be done. It feels short-sighted at best for Time to Change to close when society as a whole, and each of us individually, has been so severely challenged by covid. I will miss the sense I had of being supported and encouraged by an organisation I imagined would be a permanent part of the mental health landscape. But, as the final email from Time to Change to its volunteers makes clear, we can feel proud of our successes and commit to continuing the work.

Whether you have been part of the Time to Change movement since we began in 2007 or you’ve only recently joined us on this journey, you have played a significant role in changing the way we all think and act about mental health problems. Remember that each action we take, however big or small, has the power to improve attitudes and behaviour towards those of us with mental health problems.

And while Time to Change is closing, we can all continue to use our voices to challenge mental health stigma and discrimination. Our enduring efforts will help to empower and support others to join us on this journey as we strive to create a more equitable society.

If you are wondering how the work and journey will continue, the Time to Change website has plenty of information and suggestions.

We encourage you to continue to challenge stigma and discrimination when you see it, hear it or experience it for yourselves. On this website, you’ll find a range of useful resources which will help you to take action.

There are lots of ways that you can continue to campaign around important mental health issues with our charity partners, Mind and Rethink Mental Illness. Find out how to get involved with our partners.

You can still find Time to Change on their website, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts.