Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Connection, Creativity and Challenge: In Search of My First Best Destiny

This post was inspired by a TED Talk video I watched the other day, in which journalist and author Johann Hari discusses societal factors affecting our mental health. I recommend the talk in full, but for me the key message occurs seventeen minutes in. Johann is discussing a project by Professor Tim Kasser and Nathan Dungan involving a group of adults and teenagers.

Part of the point of the group was to get people to think about a moment in their life they have actually found meaning and purpose. For different people, it was different things. For some people it was music, writing, helping someone. I’m sure everyone here can think of something. And part of the point of the group was to get people to ask, “OK, how could you dedicate more of your life to pursuing these moments of meaning and purpose.”

Later that day, I dialled into the weekly coffee morning call at work. Hosted by Mental Health First Aiders, these calls offer an informal opportunity to chat about how we’re doing, share news, or anything that’s going on for us. Numbers vary, but on this occasion there were four of us on the call. Within minutes, the conversation turned to things we love doing. Travel has never been high on my agenda, but I listened as my colleagues shared places they’ve visited, trips they hope to make in the future, and even dreams of selling up and travelling around the world. I thought back to the TED Talk I’d watched. Travel doesn’t do it for me. So what does? What gives my life meaning and purpose?

For some reason, the phrase “first best destiny” sprang to mind. It comes from the movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), in which Spock rebukes Admiral Kirk for relinquishing command of a starship. “If I may be so bold,” he says. “It was a mistake for you to accept promotion. Commanding a starship is your first, best destiny. Anything else … is a waste of material.”

I’m about as likely to be promoted as I am to be offered command of a starship but the question remains. What is my first, best destiny? The question is of more than academic interest, because for some time I’ve struggled to connect with any sense of meaning or purpose. If you’re interested, I’ve shared some of this in recent articles, including THIS BOY GETS SAD TOO, Dear Marty: An Open Letter to Myself, and Belonging (Longing to Be).

Back in 2016, Fran and I signed up for Brené Brown’s online LIVING BRAVE semester. The first lesson invited us to identify and explore our values. As defined by Brown, “a value is a way of being or believing that you hold most important.” I drew up a list of twenty values, grouped as follows:

Connection / Friendship / Relationship
Challenge / Growth
Honesty / Trust / Openness / Respect / Understanding
Caring / Commitment / Compassion / Empathy
Personal fulfilment / Creativity / Self-expression / Independence
Positivity / Optimism

I chose CONNECTION and CHALLENGE as most relevant at the time. Reviewing the list now, I’ll add CREATIVITY which has always been important to me.

Connection

Anyone who knows me understands that connection with other people is incredibly important to me. My friend Robyn summed it up in a statement I’ve quoted elsewhere:

A lot of Marty’s sense of self and wellbeing relies on contact with others. This can be both a good and a bad thing depending on when and what and how balanced it is.

Robyn was wise to highlight the darker aspects. I wrote in my journal the other day, “I envy Fran the many local friends she gets to spend time with. For all its difficulties, she lives a rich life.” It’s a richness that is hard-won. In the ten years we’ve been friends, Fran has rarely felt as happy as she does right now. I’m proud of my friend and happy for her. But there is envy too, and I choose to acknowledge and work with it, rather than ignore, suppress, or wish it away. It shines a light on what’s most important for me.

I’d like to develop more local contacts, but more important than geography is the nature of the connection itself. Casual or occasional contact is fine, but if there’s nothing deeper I’m unlikely to find it rewarding. That’s not to say I don’t do light, fun, and silly. Some of the best moments I’ve enjoyed in recent years have been silly times in good company! But the connections I value most cover the whole gamut of shared experience: the silly and the serious, the delightful and the dark, the joys of life and the pain. This kind of connection isn’t for everyone but I’m grateful for the people in my life who get it, and me. As I wrote recently:

I’m blessed with friends who I love fiercely and who love me fiercely in return. Several know each other but these are individual one-to-one connections rather than a group of mutual friends. In their different ways, these people get me. The ones who really get me understand why a sense of commitment and belonging is so important to me. I love people who claim their place in my life and offer me a place in theirs.

I choose to believe that whatever else my first, best destiny involves, it will include connections as powerful and genuine as these.

Creativity

I’ve blogged many times about how important writing is to my self-expression and self-care. In Coffee and Scribbles I described some of the cafés and coffee shops that have hosted — and occasionally inspired — my writing. These days, I’m focused on my blogging, but in the past I’ve written poetry, short stories, articles, and the two books I’ve co-authored with Fran.

In the past couple of years I’ve connected with the online creative journaling community, which is a haven of calm and mutual respect. My friend Aimee and I met recently for a joint scrapbooking session which was a lot of fun! In general, though, my creative pursuits have always been conducted in private. I hadn’t given this much thought until a recent conversation with my friend Jen. She is a writer too but is also passionate about the performance arts. The closest I’ve come to performing are a few live book and poetry readings, podcasts, and radio interviews.

Working creatively on my own means I’m not limited by other people’s availability, resources, or input the way I would be if I acted on stage or screen, or played in a band. I’m free to express myself in a range of ways and media. At different times in my life I’ve painted; clay-modelled; and made cuddly toys, jewellery, wooden clocks, and an assortment of other things. I’ve designed and built websites and designed promotional leaflets and other print graphics. Photography remains important to me. Computer programming is creative too. I do far less coding in my current job than I used to, but I relish the opportunity when it arises.

I can’t imagine a time when I’m not expressing myself creatively in some way. I’m interested to discover where this takes me in the future.

Challenge

In November 2019, I took the Living Leader training offered by my employer. The three-day course covered a wide range of topics, but what left the greatest impression was one short exercise at the end of the second day. In it, we were invited to write a vision statement: an aspirational what-if-anything-were-possible snapshot of our life at some point in the future. This is excerpted from what I wrote:

I am working in a role I love. I add value to the company and my colleagues in many ways. I am grateful for the opportunities to shape a cultural change which has enabled a role for me that builds on and develop my skills and abilities outside of the traditional role structure.

I contribute to the Wellbeing and Mental Health team I helped grow. I travel. I speak and present. I mentor. My role in the workplace integrates with the work I do outside, with speaking and advocacy engagements across the mental health community here in the north-east, nationally, and internationally. I enjoy traveling and no longer feel restricted in doing so.

I will never be wealthy but I have enough to realise my goals and vision. I feel empowered to live life fully genuinely with passion and integrity. I don’t know what my life will contain in six months’ time – or next week – but I am open to the opportunities and feel equal to the challenge.

Reading those words now, my vision feels remote and implausible. But beneath those feelings lies something even more uncomfortable: the fear these goals might actually be achievable if I dared to do the work. I’m reminded of the words of Marianne Williamson in her 1992 book A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?

Fear is nothing to be afraid of, what matters is how we handle it and move forward. The course encouraged us to explore obstacles — real or imagined — that stood between us and our visions. For me these included the following limiting beliefs:

No such role exists.
I don’t have the skills needed.
I don’t deserve to fulfil my vision/dreams.
I have responsibilities that prevent me from pursuing my vision.
By following my vision I will hurt, alienate, or lose people and relationships.
I ought to just make do with what I have.
There is no path to “there” from “here.”

I wrote down a number of behaviours and actions to challenge these limiting beliefs and help me move forward. These included consulting and listening to mentors; relevant training; seeking and following up with relevant contacts; and reviewing my progress on a regular basis. I began the journey but looking back I can see that failed to follow through. I lost faith in the vision itself. Arguably, I lost faith in myself.

Any progress has been more by luck than design. How much more might I have achieved if I’d pursued my goals rather than sitting back and waiting for things to happen? This is not new behaviour; it’s how I’ve lived most of my life. I achieved a First Class Honours degree but I chose my degree subject — pharmacy — on a whim with little thought how or if I’d use it. I drifted into research, then business computing after a period of unemployment. I.T. has served me well but it does not fulfil me. (Published in 2008, my book of poetry carries the biographic note: “He now lives in Newcastle upon Tyne and works in the I.T. services industry, where he spends most days dreaming of more creative employment.”) I have exasperated my workplace mentor (sorry, Loveday!), various bosses (apologies especially to you, Judith!), and colleagues, but I still have no sense of direction. A recent change of employer may open new opportunities, but only if I can figure out what I want.

Beyond the workplace, my life bears no resemblance to my Living Leader vision. Covid would have postponed any plans I’d had in train, but I had none. In truth, I no longer look towards a life “with speaking and advocacy engagements across the mental health community here in the north-east, nationally, and internationally.” I’ve come to doubt my right to a place in that world.

As frustrating as it’s been for me and those close to me, this period of stasis and uncertainty was probably necessary. Perhaps the real challenge has been sticking it out until the time was right for things to unfold. I’m reminded of the Anaïs Nin quotation, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Maybe that day has come.

Bringing it Together

My three values — connection, creativity, and challenge — are no less relevant today than when I first identified them.

On the connection front, I need to learn how to balance my needs with the expectations of others. My friend Veronica shared a quote on social media the other day that read, “I know I come on a little strong. It’s the quickest way to weed out the people I’d overwhelm if given enough time.” Only half in jest, I commented that I could relate. Veronica replied, “You are so kind with such a beautiful way about you that your fans and friends probably want for more.” I thanked her but admitted there’s a list of people who’ve found me too much in the past, “and a shorter list of people for whom I’ve proved to be too little, mostly when I’ve overcompensated for my tendency to overwhelm.” My friend said, “Maybe the ones that find you to be ‘too much’ have been in the dark so long that your light hurts their eyes at first.” I would never claim so much, but for all my faults, doubts, and hang-ups, I can believe I add value to the people in my life, and — through my blogging and other work — to a wider audience. The challenge is to find ways to do this with less collateral damage, confusion, and alarm.

Creatively, I feel I’m ready for a shift in direction. My days as a poet are behind me, but I might return to short story writing, or something more substantial. Any new project will need to work alongside my blogging, or draw on it in some way.

It’s perhaps time to revisit the Living Leader exercise and update my vision and address those limiting beliefs. It’s a year since I took any formal training or personal development. The last was Carolyn Spring’s excellent self-paced course Dealing with Distress: Working With Suicide and Self-Harm, which I never completed. I want to finish that, and look for some additional ways to expand my knowledge and skills. This won’t necessarily be in the mental health arena. There are many people working in that sphere with greater knowledge and experience than I can ever glean from courses or workshops.

Facing up to where and who I am and deciding where I want to go next is the greatest challenge of all, and maybe it’s okay that I don’t have everything worked out yet. As Jeffrey Ricker says in his essay What is your first best destiny?:

If we think of our best destiny as a destination, we can’t always take the direct route to it. We have to make compromises, defer things, choose a detour when there’s a roadblock in the way, like real life. [...] When we know what our best destiny is, though, we can’t ignore it. We can try, but that really doesn’t work for long. I think at heart we know that anything else is a waste of material.

 

Photo by Stefan Cosma on Unsplash

 

Wednesday, 21 July 2021

Dear Marty: An Open Letter to Myself

Dear Marty,

We’ve known each other for a long time but I don’t think I’ve ever written you a letter before. I’ve thought of it a few times, even started once or twice. Maybe I won’t finish this letter either, or will decide not to send it after all. It’s scary to get real with someone you’ve known a long time but have never really been open with. But you know that, I think. It seems to me we would both benefit from some honest connection. So here goes.

I see what you post on social media but sometimes I wonder what’s really going on for you. From what you’ve shared recently it seems you’ve been going through a lot and I just wanted to reach out and ask if you’re ok. You seem to be there for other people a lot. I hope you have people who are there for you too. I’m pretty sure you do, to be honest, but hey if you ever need a new shoulder or someone to hold space for you, I’m here. I don’t find it that easy to open up, even with people I trust. But I think we would do ok.

I was talking with a mutual friend of ours the other day and she said something that made a lot of sense to me and I wanted to share it with you. It’s pretty much what prompted me to write to you, actually. She said, “A lot of Marty’s sense of self and wellbeing relies on contact with others. This can be both a good and a bad thing depending on when and what and how balanced it is.”

I wonder what you think about that. It would be good to have that conversation sometime. Does your mood depend on how your relationships are doing? if so, I get it. I’m like that. The people I’m close to are so important to me that if something goes wrong or seems to be going wrong it affects me a lot. Too much, maybe. How much is too much, though? Maybe I’d like to not react quite so much or recover my stability a bit quicker, but I wouldn’t want to be so distanced from my friends that I didn’t feel it if something changes. I can sense you nodding as you read this!

Is that what’s been going on for you lately? Some shift or change in one of your key relationships? If so, I’m not going to say don’t feel it, or try and push the feelings away. Like I say, I get it. But if I may offer a few words of support or guidance from my own experience, I’d say don’t overthink things. There’s that line from your book. The one you wrote with Fran. How does it go? “Feel it. Claim it. Love it. Let it go.” I’ve found that helpful so many times, especially when I’m feeling overwhelmed. I don’t have to explain it to you — you wrote it! But maybe you don’t need my suggestions. Feel free to tell me where to get off! I don’t mean to be pushy.

From your social media posts and what our friend said the other day, I think you’re doing the right things and paying attention to self-care. You seem to be taking yourself out for “Marty time” now that the covid restrictions are lifting. I love your coffee shop photos! They remind me of the Marty I used to know. Maybe we could hook up in person sometime? I’ll leave it to you to suggest where and when. One of your favourite coffee shops maybe? Or Stack? That looks like a great place. Is it still open after covid?

Are you reaching out to the people who care about you, though? I think you find it easier to be there for others than ask for help. I’m that way too. Is it a guy thing, do you think? There are people who love you and are here for you. Dare to reach out, Marty. There will be a hand there to take yours. Someone to listen. To help, if you need that. I’m here.

I don’t get to read everything you publish but I’ve noticed a shift in the pieces you’ve posted on your blog over the past month or two. You seem to be sharing more openly about your mental health and how you struggle too sometimes. Would you agree? I wonder if it’s a deliberate shift, or just how things have evolved naturally with your writing? However it’s happened, I think it’s important and healthy, for you personally and for your audience.

The book you wrote with Fran is about how you’re the “well one” in your friendship, with her as the “ill one.” But those terms are relative, aren’t they? “Well ones” like us struggle too. And sometimes the line between the “well ones” and the “ill ones” becomes blurred, to say the least. I’m not sure you realise how important what you’re sharing is. That “Boys Get Sad Too” piece felt like a turning point for you. Would you agree? I recognised myself in what you wrote there, for sure. It was a bit of a wake up call, to be honest.

So another reason for writing to you today is to say thank you for all you do. Maybe you do realise how much your writing affects people and the impact you’re making. I hope so. You might never end up on Oprah (I remember you telling me years ago how it was an ambition for you and Fran to appear on her show!) but you don’t have to be on national TV to make a difference.

You matter, Marty. Do you doubt that sometimes? I know I do, in my own life. It’s easy to get into a rut, and see other people going about their lives, especially those we care about, and wonder if we’re as important to them as they are to us. I think it’s natural to feel that way. Okay, I’m not qualified to say it’s natural (sometimes I wonder how different my life would have been if I’d studied psychology or counseling instead of pharmacy!) but I get that way sometimes and I know others do too. Sometimes things just get a bit too much, don’t they, and we doubt our worth and the value we are adding in the world.

There’s a line somewhere, between feeling overwhelmed, or down, or “flat” as you put it, and being clinically anxious or depressed. (I’m certainly not qualified to draw that line.) Your posts remind me to stay vigilant about how I’m doing and pay attention to any signs I’m not ok. That in itself is huge, Marty. To remind other people it matters how they’re doing, and to reach out when they need to.

That’s my tuppence-worth, anyway! (Two cents’ worth, for Fran and our American friends!)

I wonder if we could meet up face-to-face sometime. I’m free most Saturdays, or we could meet one evening after work. Whatever works best for you. Is that something you’d like to do? It’s been tough this past year or so, not being able to meet up with friends, but I see you’ve seen a few folk recently since things have been opening up. I loved the pics you shared from when you and Aimee got together for your little picnic in her garden. (Say hi to Aimee from me, please.) And your other friend who came to see you. Louise, is it?

Do you ever meet up with your male friends? Do you have guy friends? Like you, almost all my close friends are women. It’s always been that way. But lately I’ve had some great conversations with guys too, mostly at work. I’m not sure what’s changed, if anything has. Maybe I’m feeling more open to people generally. Maybe I’m exploring what it means to be me, which includes being a dude!

You wrote a while back about how you never felt you belonged. That’s very much how I feel about being a guy. Like you, I never felt I fit in with the “guy club.” I never understood the rules What I was supposed to do, or like, or not like. I never felt that pressure when hanging out with women. I’m more able to be myself. Maybe it’s like that for you? It would be good to talk about that. If you want to, of course. Too much? Am I scaring you off? I know I can be a bit much. It’s something I’ve tried to change over the years but I still get it wrong.

Heavens! I didn’t expect to write so much! When I’ve tried writing to you in the past I scarcely got past the first page, but for some reason the words are flowing today. I’m a bit scared to read it over, in case I change my mind and trash it for being too long or too pushy or just generally too much. Because it feels right to connect with you at this time, Marty. And maybe it will feel right to you too, when you read it. Sometimes you have to go with your gut, right? Take a risk. Seize the moment. That’s something I’ve learned from you and Fran.

I’m proud of you, Marty. Have I ever told you that? Maybe at specific moments in your life, when you’ve achieved something you were aiming for. It’s important to acknowledge those things, but life isn’t just about completing a checklist of achievements. I’m proud of you as a person. I’m proud to know you and count you my friend. Because you’re worth knowing. You give a lot to the people in your life, and although you’ll say you get it wrong (who doesn’t?!) you get it right too. More than most. As another mutual friend of ours told me, “Marty’s good at supporting without being a prat.” I laughed when she said that. I think you will too. You have a good sense of humour, no matter what some people might say to the contrary!

I think that’s a good place to stop. I’m glad I decided to write to you, and I hope you’re glad I did! Let me know if you fancy a face to face sometime, either a video call or in person — preferably the latter, I’m keen to try that salted caramel chocolate cheesecake you keep raving on about!

Keep on being you.

Martin

 

Photo by Owen Michael Grech on Unsplash

 

Wednesday, 14 July 2021

Millions Like Me: A Conversation with John Medl

Writer, poet, and mental health advocate John Medl hails from Ohio, USA. I chatted with him recently to discuss his life and work.

MB: Hello John, could you tell us a little about yourself?

JM: I’m an author and mental health advocate from Cincinnati, Ohio USA. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder with psychotic features in 2006, and I have general anxiety and panic attacks. I will be forty years old in October.

MB: When did you start writing?

JM: I’ve been writing since high school, but my first book wasn’t published until 2014. That first book was out of desperation. I didn’t know if I was going to survive. I wanted to tell my story in case anything happened to me.

MB: That’s a powerful motivation. How many books have you written?

JM: Five altogether. The first was Millions Like Me: My Struggle with Mental Illness, followed by Poems From a Bipolar Mind, The Last Day of July: 13 Years of Madness, The Entropy of Bipolar Disorder, and Mental Illness Is An Actual Illness. They are all available on Amazon in paperback, for Kindle, and as audiobooks.

MB: I listened to the audiobook previews and I have to say I was really impressed. How did they come about?

JM: Reading is difficult for me, and I jumped on the chance to produce audiobooks.

MB: You used the same reader for each book, I think?

JM: Yes, because she was so good. I didn’t know how a female voice would work, but I like it.

MB: Me too. I wonder if I could ask about your poetry. In our book, High Tide, Low Tide, we describe how Fran was inspired to write poetry for the very first time during a period of mania, shortly after we met in 2011. She wrote incessantly for months but her poetry stopped when she fell into depression. When she finally emerged she began writing again but the new poems were very different from her mania ones. Would you say the style of your poetry is influenced by the different phases of bipolar disorder and your mental health in general?

JM: Most of my poetry was written during mania when I felt more energetic and creative. However, some poems were written while I was more sedated. The poems were written both before and after I was diagnosed and medicated.

MB: Where can people hear more about your story?

JM: I’ve recorded podcast interviews on The Mark Howard Show, Screaming Chuy Show, and Tindel’s Razor talking about my books and my life.

MB: Fran and I have recorded a few podcasts and always enjoyed doing them. How did yours come about?

JM: Mark Howard saw that I was giving away free books in a writers’ group, and asked me to do a podcast interview with him. The other two podcast interviews were referrals from friends or colleagues.

MB: Are you on social media, if people would like to connect with you?

JM: I am on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. I also run a Facebook page called Mental Health Awareness and Support.

MB: Thanks. I will include links for all these and your books of course. What are your plans for the future? Do you have any more books in the pipeline?

JM: I finished my fifth book a few months ago, so I’m enjoying a little free time now. It was a goal of mine to convert my books into audiobooks too, and I’ve accomplished that. I’ve started painting and cooking as hobbies because I was too involved with my advocacy work. I was getting burned out. To answer your question, I’m in a little bit of a limbo right now, but I don’t plan on writing any more books.

MB: If there was one thing you’d like to share with others about what it means to live with mental illness, what would it be?

JM: So much to say! It took me five books to say everything I wanted to. Having mental illness is difficult and a lot of work, but happiness and contentment are possible. There are going to be people who don’t believe you, or even believe in mental illness. People are going to judge you for taking medication. I think the most important thing is honesty. Be honest with health professionals and yourself. Sometimes, it takes a few attempts to get the correct medications. There’s no magic pill either. Mental illness can feel a lot like work sometimes. My doctor told me once that he was there to help me, not hurt me, and that comforted me.

MB: Thank you so much, John. It’s been great to chat with you. Good luck with all you do.

Book Excerpts

Excerpt from Millions Like Me: My Struggle with Mental Illness:

There are many purposes to this book. One is to educate and inform the reader of the disorders I have (and millions of others that are affected). Another is to help motivate and inspire those with mental illness. Lastly, I want the reader to try and see what mental illness looks like from someone who suffers from it. There are many people with no experience in these matters, and it is hard to convince some that mental illness is even an illness at all. Some people think you can will your way out of it either through diet and exercise, or positive thinking, prayer, or whatever “cure” they think there is. Some people believe mental illness affects the weak-minded. Mental illness affects people at all levels of intelligence.

There are those that I could educate until I am blue in the face, but they will not be convinced otherwise. A friend described it as there being two types of people: the receptive and the non-receptive. As someone with mental illness, it’s important to know the difference and focus on the ones who will be receptive. They could be receptive to a variety of things; my symptoms and feelings for example. Just like any belief really. Like politics or religion. I think this will end up being therapeutic for me also. I use humor a lot, even though this book isn’t supposed to be humorous exactly.

Excerpt from Poems From a Bipolar Mind:

There Is Hope

I lose my mind from time to time But I always seem to find it I sometimes get excited about the future But my past looms right behind it.

Pain that pity and recovery can’t resolve An assortment of memories involved And plans that never blossomed.

But if anyone thinks for one second I will give up my hopes and dreams Just to spite the daily screams. There’s just some things I can’t repress I try to give my all and nothing less.

When I started to come out of “the fog” of the sedatives, I was feeling hopeful because my life was starting to come back together again. I want everyone to know that there is life beyond mental illness, and that “there is hope”.

Books

John Medl’s books are available on Amazon in print, for Kindle, and as audiobooks.

Millions Like Me: My Struggle with Mental Illness (2014)

Amazon link

This is my life story. This is what mental illness looks like. This is how it breathes. A real-life account of a man that is going through mental illness from the state of Ohio.

Poems From a Bipolar Mind (2017)

Amazon link

This book is a follow-up to “Millions Like Me: My Struggle with Mental Illness”. It is a collection of poems from someone who suffers from mental illness.

The Last Day of July: 13 Years of Madness (2019)

Amazon link

This is a journal detailing what it’s like to live with mental illness. Everyone is different, but this is how I experience mental illness every day.

The Entropy of Bipolar Disorder (2020)

Amazon link

This book is a collection of journal entries and social media posts related to mental illness in general and bipolar disorder specifically.

Mental Illness Is An Actual Illness (2021)

Amazon link

This book gives more insight into the total package that mental illness brings, from physical to mental ailments. It’s a collection of thoughts and philosophy from someone who suffers from mental illness.

Podcast Interviews

The Mark Howard Show (55 mins)

Screaming Chuy Show (52 mins)

Tindel’s Razor (53 mins)

Social Media

You can find John Medl on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. His Facebook page is Mental Health Awareness and Support.

Photo credit: Barbara McGraw.

 

Wednesday, 7 July 2021

On the Same Page: Thoughts Inspired While Journaling with a Friend

Cause lately I don’t even know what page you’re on.

(Taylor Swift. “The Story of Us.”)

I spent a few hours last weekend with my friend and fellow mental health blogger Aimee Wilson. We had a good catch-up (hard to shut either of us up when we get talking!), watched a movie, and ordered takeout. Best of all, we journaled: Aimee in her scrapbook and me in my beloved Passport Traveler’s Notebook.

We’re close friends but we have very different life experiences and approach things from different perspectives. Difference can be divisive. People can become so estranged they’re not only not on the same page, they’re scarcely in the same library! But as we chatted away and decorated our journals it came to me that difference isn’t something to be feared, skirted around, or avoided. Difference can be positive, complementary, and creative.

My notebook pages are far smaller than those in Aimee’s scrapbook, giving me much less real estate in which to work. She sources images and quotations from magazines, which I rarely do. I use ink stamps a good deal. Aimee doesn’t. We also have different aims in terms of what we want to capture and express in our work. On the other hand, we have a lot in common. We each love incorporating photos, stickers, and washi tape into our designs, and share a delight in the creative process itself. Working alongside Aimee as we shared ideas and traded stickers and decorative items felt warm and companionable. We were very much on the same page, even as we worked on our different pages!

Our approaches to blogging are similarly different but complementary. On a few occasions, we’ve attended an event together and each blogged about it afterwards. Our approaches reflect what the occasion represented and evoked for each of us. As an example, here’s my article about a Cats Protection fundraiser we attended, and here’s Aimee’s post inspired by the same event. Neither approach is right or wrong. We told our individual and complementary stories. We were on the same page, even if our blog pages are different.

This came to mind on a call I had with Fran the day after visiting with Aimee. I can’t always relate directly to what Fran she’s going through, especially where it closely involves some aspect of her mental health or lived experience. But on this occasion, I felt very much on the same page as Fran shared what was going on for her at the time. Although different in details, I had equivalent experiences on which to draw and could offer insights and wisdom relevant to her situation. This isn’t exactly a new thing for us. Our books are full of “on the same page” moments. But when it happens it’s no less special for being familiar. There’s a sense of commonality, of closeness, of belonging in the moment, that I find deeply rewarding.

On the same page is a great place to be — as long as you don’t get stuck there. That’s something I’ve learned from keeping a daily diary since I was fourteen years old. Pages are made to be turned. The new spreads I created in my notebook at Aimee’s invite me to record new memories in the days and weeks to come. In time the insert itself will be filled, archived, and replaced. This post, inspired by our time together and the conversation with Fran, will scroll further down our blog’s homepage as each new article is published. Even the books we’ve published invite the possibility of further books to follow, each full of pages! We intend to publish a new volume of No One Is Too Far Away in due course.

Being on the same page is great and feels wonderful. But even better is being in the same story.