Wednesday 29 December 2021

2021: My Year in Photos and Blog Posts

At the end of 2020 I shared one photo and one blog post for each month of a year that nobody could have predicted.

Since then, in the UK at least, vaccinations and other measures have enabled certain sectors of society to open up a good deal, but any reprieve has been far from permanent or even, and the much-lauded “new normal” remains frustratingly out of reach. Other parts of the world have fared, and continue to fare, far worse. With the Omicron variant rampant, it’s impossible to say what will happen next.

It’s in this context that I’m sharing my personal look back over 2021.


I took a local walk for exercise almost every day during lockdown in 2020, often exploring beside the Ouseburn stream. It’s been months since I’ve been back but this snow scene from January reminds me of a period in my life when it provided much valued me-time in uncertain times.

I’ve chosen a blog post that acknowledges and celebrates “Team Marty” — the people in my life who help me in so many different ways.


Continuing the snowy theme, I’ve chosen this photo of a local garden fence which was decorated by the family living there during lockdown last year. It remains a potent reminder of hope and community spirit.

February marked a important turning point for me and Fran, with the publication of new editions of our books: High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder (Revised Edition), and No One is Too Far Away: Notes from a Transatlantic Friendship.


I struggled quite a bit in the early part of this year, but March offered a measure of hope as the covid-19 vaccination rollout began here in the UK. I received my first dose at the end of the month, at Newcastle’s Centre for Life.

In an attempt to shift my mood, I shared a post focusing on things I was grateful for, including a renewed creative focus, celebrating my birthday, reminiscing with friends, and new writing opportunities.


Cafés and coffee shops had reopened by this point, but with outdoor seating only. It took a while for me to feel comfortable returning to my previous favourite establishments (Caffè Nero in Newcastle and my local Costa Coffee). The photo I’ve chosen shows my collection of notebooks set up on outside the Grand Coffee House, opposite Newcastle’s Civic Centre. It was my first trip into town of the year apart from getting my vaccination.

The mental health anti-stigma organisation Time to Change closed at the end of March. In Challenging Stigma in Changing Times: My Journey with Time to Change I shared my experiences as a volunteer with TTC and my feelings as it ceased its operations.

I’m including one more post from April because I feel it carries an important message for us all. In How to Be There for a Friend When No One Else Is I shared how I approach the situation in which I’m the only person available to respond to someone in need of help or support.


This little chap (or lady) was an occasional — and very welcome — visitor to the garden this year.

I was proud to be invited by author Anne Goodwin to review her novel Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home. The book gave me lots to think about and I chose to write the review in the form of an open letter to my friend and fellow mental health blogger Aimee Wilson.


Another dear friend of mine drove up to Newcastle in June to meet me for coffee. It was the first time Louise and I had met in person since we connected online two years ago, and the first time I’d visited Costa Coffee since hospitality restrictions were lifted. The photo shows us sitting on my favourite bench!

The post I’ve selected from June is the first in which I focused on my mental health, rather than other people’s. I’m proud of myself for writing it, because I had to overcome a good deal of internal inhibition and doubt before I could say publically, actually yeah, there are times when I struggle too. The title of the post — THIS BOY GETS SAD TOO — echoes BOYS GET SAD TOO, a clothing brand which has resonated with me since I first heard of it this year. You can see a BGST pin badge in the lapel of my tweed jacket in the photo of me and Louise.


Aimee and I took a day trip to Edinburgh in July. It was a bit of a rainy day, but we had a marvellous time. It was, and remains, the furthest I’ve ventured from Newcastle since the pandemic began. It would be good to return in future when the sun is shining!

I’ve written open letters to Fran before (I shared one earlier this year to mark our ten year anniversary as friends), but during July I wrote an open letter to myself. I found it an interesting — and enlightening — experience.


The photo I’ve chosen for August was taken in my local coffee shop, Costa Coffee in Kingston Park. Before covid struck, I used to call in seven days a week. These days, it’s far less often, but I still cherish every visit. The atmosphere is great, the staff are lovely, and the coffee is second to none.

During August I met up with two more friends, Paul and Fiona, for an urban ramble around Newcastle. There was great conversation, new places to discover, and coffee and cake in the Baltic gallery’s balcony café overlooking the Tyne.


Despite the relative relaxating of restrictions, I’ve continued to work from home and have mostly stayed close to where I live. This photo was taken on one of my local walks, which have given me plenty of opportunity to get some exercise, and mull over what’s been going on for me.

On one such walk it occurred to me that there’d been a significant downward shift in my mood over the past year or so. I explored this in a post titled Return to Down. In retrospect, it’s one of the most significant pieces I’ve written in a long time.


In August, I wrote an article about trust and responsibility, inspired by a drive I took with a friend of mine. We’ve been out a few times since and the photo commemorates a return visit to the Walls End Pub Restaurant. The halloumi platter was simply superb!

The post I’ve chosen is one I’d wanted to write for some time. It’s about how to be a steadfast and dependable friend; someone people know they can rely on.


Autumn has always been my favourite time of year, and this photo captures some of the gorgeous colour I’ve witnessed on my walks this year.

Two trees were lost to me during 2021. One stood at the edge of the playing field close to where I live. It was cut down early this year for no apparent reason. The loss affected me more than I might have imagined. For years, I’d sent Fran a photo of the tree each (pre-covid) morning as I set out for work, or when I set out on my daily walk. Storm Arwen hit the UK in November, and sufficiently damaged a tree in my back garden that it had to be felled for safety. Each time I stand at the back door now, or take a call with a friend in the garden, I’m reminded of the loss, and how things can change in an instant.

I explored a different kind of change in a post titled Supportive Disengagement: How to Be There for Your Friend When They Need Space. It’s something I’ve found helpful with various friends at different times. As the article describes, “accepting a friend’s need for disengagement and supporting them through it is one of the most profoundly caring acts we will ever perform.”


Aimee and I visited the beautiful cathedral city of Durham in December. Although it’s only a twenty minute train ride from Newcastle, I’d not been since we attended a local history event in June 2019. It was great to be back and we had a lovely time browsing the Christmas markets, including the splendid craft market on Palace Green between the cathedral and castle.

International Men’s Day fell on November 19, but for me it’s most significant impact was captured in two posts I wrote during December. A talk I attended for IMD convinced me of the importance of paying attention to my physical health. A few days later, I booked my first doctor’s appointment in thirty years to address my concerns. That led to an in-person visit to my GP surgery for blood tests and an internal exam to rule out prostate issues. All seems well, but I was anxious ahead of the appointment. I shared my feelings in a post I hope will be of value to others awaiting medical tests, diagnoses, and decisions.

Post of the Year

It was hard to choose one photo from all those I’ve taken this year, but I’ve selected this selfie taken on December 27 at my favourite coffee shop, Costa Coffee. As I mentioned earlier, the BOYS GET SAD TOO message is something that resonates strongly with me and it’s something I intend to explore further in the coming year.

As my post of the year, I’ve selected a guest post by a dear friend of mine. My choice might seem a little immodest, in that it’s written as an open letter to me. That’s not the reason for selecting it, however. I’m doing so because it’s a powerful testament to what connection and friendship can mean, and the difference all of us can make in the world.

I truly have learned how to be a better person because of you. I treat people better and love them more fully because you taught me and are still teaching me how to do just that. And isn’t that what real friendship is about? Mutual respect, being present, not judging. I can tell you anything and you support me right through. That is true friendship. That is a miracle.

And that’s really what this blog — and everything I endeavour to do in the mental health and friendship arena — is all about.


Wednesday 22 December 2021

The Miracle of Light: An Open Letter to My Friend Marty

By Brynn McCann

December 8, 2021.

Dear Marty.

It’s late here; 12:42 am. As per usual, I am sleepless. It’s seven forty-two your time. A whole new day in your world and an end to one in mine.

You would have been proud of me today. I advocated hard for the right meds to get me to sleep. The thing is, I shouldn’t have to work so hard to get the care I need, on top of living with my illness. South Dakota does a poor job of taking care of it’s mental health clients. Something needs to change.

You know, for the last six years, you have been a constant source of light in a dim room I’ve lived in. You’ve accepted me as I am and loved me just as I am. You never judge and you lead by example... and that’s the best way to lead, I think.

Your “pathological positivity,” as you call it, is infectious and it always helps me to see what’s good in me, even when I can’t see it myself. I mean, you think I’m pretty even though I’m overweight and I feel like a frump queen.

We are kindred spirits and even though we’ve never met in person, we really work hard at truly seeing the other, and we succeed at that more than we fail.

I truly have learned how to be a better person because of you. I treat people better and love them more fully because you taught me and are still teaching me how to do just that.

And isn’t that what real friendship is about? Mutual respect, being present, not judging. I can tell you anything and you support me right through. That is true friendship. That is a miracle.

And because it is the holidays, we will call it the miracle of light. We can all do this. Be a torch for each other, always.

Merry Christmas, Marty.



Photo by Marcus Dall Col on Unsplash.


Wednesday 15 December 2021

How I Feel about Tomorrow's Appointment with My Doctor

Written Tuesday December 7, 2021.

Two weeks ago I described how I was inspired by an International Men’s Day presentation to book an appointment with my doctor for the first time in decades. My follow-up appointment for blood and urine tests, and an internal examination, is tomorrow. The idea is to — hopefully — rule out any issues with my prostate and get a better handle on what’s going on.

As I prepare to take this next step, I’m acutely aware of the anxiety and uncertainty it’s brought to the fore. I can’t be the only person who feels this way ahead of a medical appointment, so I thought I’d share some of my thoughts and feelings, in the hope they may help others.

It’s Out of My Hands

I was chatting with my friend Aimee Wilson earlier today and she offered an insight which I found really helpful.

I’ll be glad when I’ve got this appointment out of the way tomorrow.

Oh yes! Are you getting anxious or….?

I’m a bit on edge about it, yeah. Just because I’ve not had an in-person GP appointment in so long. Also that sense of well, if there is anything wrong, tomorrow is when the process of finding out and dealing with it starts, if you know what I mean.

Of course I get it. Maybies just remember that if there is anything wrong, you’re doing everything you can about it. Like, it’s kinda out of your hands. That might be intimidating or scary but I hope it’s comforting!

It’s kinda both, but comforting too! Thank you, it helps.

That idea of things being out of my hands, and in the hand of professionals instead, is something I’ve not experienced since I was in hospital years ago. I was in a lot of pain back then, which isn’t the case now at all, but Aimee has reminded me it can feel good to let go of worrying about things and allow others to take on the responsibility for a while.

It’s Not a Competition

I feel nervous, but I’m aware that the anxiety and apprehension I’m experiencing are minor compared to what many people go through when they engage with mental or physical health services.

I don’t say that to dismiss or minimise what I’m feeling. I’m a firm believer that whatever someone is going through is valid and important, no matter how it might compare with someone else’s experience. Depending how things go tomorrow, maybe I will have more to be concerned about next time I’m waiting to see the doctor,

It’s very easy to allow your thoughts, fears, questions, and uncertainties dominate your thinking. I can’t simply stop feeling anxious or stressed, but I can do my best not to dwell on how things might work out after tomorrow. I give myself permission to feel what I’m feeling right now, for what it is.

My friends’ courage in seeking professional advice, support, and treatment, especially when it may be difficult, painful, or triggering, helps to ground me. If my friends can do that, I can do this.

Educate Yourself but Don’t Self-Diagnose

I was finally nudged into making an appointment by an online session about men’s health I attended through work. Listening to some of the symptoms and issues men — especially men around my age — are prone to made me realise I could no longer ignore some things I’ve been putting up with for a while now.

Before my first — phone — appointment, I researched my symptoms online, some of the underlying issues that could be causing them, and how those conditions are diagnosed. Having that information to hand helped when I spoke to the doctor, as I understood the questions she asked, and the next steps she recommended. Those next steps are what is happening tomorrow.

On the other hand, it’s important not to rely on the Internet for information, and not to use it to self-diagnose. My degree was in pharmacy so I have some medical knowledge, but I’m happy to leave any relevant diagnoses to the professionals. It’s kind of what Aimee was saying when she said about putting myself in their hands.

I’ve not looked into the more serious possibilities. If I end up going down that road, I’ll want all the information I can get, but at this stage it would serve no useful purpose and is only likely to worry me further.

Take Notes When You Can

It’s a good idea to jot down any questions and concerns before going for any medical appointment. It means you’re less likely to get outside and realise you forgot to ask that one question you really wanted to ask, or mention something that feels important to you.

One thing I want to ask tomorrow is when I might expect the results of the tests they’re doing, as well as what the next steps might be.

It’s also worth taking time immediately after an appointment to record what was said, and how you feel about it. Do you have a follow up appointment booked? Are you now waiting on some test results? Do you have decisions to make about treatment options? Capture them as soon as you can, while things are fresh in your mind, and refer back to them in the days and weeks ahead.

Don’t Ignore What You’re Thinking and Feeling

Whether you feel you’re handling things well or poorly, pay attention to how it’s all affecting you. Stress and undertainty aren’t pleasant but they can be useful if you don’t try and push it all aside.

There’s no right way to handle these things, so do what works for you. Writing is a big part of my self-care toolbox, whether it’s in the form of blogging for a wider audience or journaling privately. Just sitting here now and writing this blog post is helping to distract me and calm my nerves about tomorrow.

I also find it helps to share what I’m going through with other people, although that does depend on what’s going on for me and who might be available to talk it over with.

Whatever coping strategies work for you, do that.

Ask For and Accept Help and Support

Everyone I’ve told has been incredibly supportive. Thus far, I’ve not had anything particularly difficult to handle, but having mentioned my concerns early on, such as they are, reassures me there are people I can turn to in the — hopefully unlikely — event there’s something serious going on for me. I can’t know what support might be necessary or appropriate but I know they are there for me.

Keep Going

One of my favourite mottos is “Baby steps are steps too.” Often, we get overwhelmed by everything that is going on in our lives, or in the wider world. It can feel like there’s nothing we can do to change things or make a difference. I’m not in that place right now but I can imagine being there if things were to develop in less than favourable ways.

One thing my close friends have in common is that no matter what’s going on for them, whether it’s health-related or not, they rarely stay stuck for long. They may feel overwhelmed by doubt and uncertainty but they remain open to new ideas and possibilities. It’s never long before they are taking that next step forward.

In the words of Chinese philosopher and writer Lao Tzu, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Over to You

In this post, I’ve shared some of my thoughts and feelings as I await my medical check-up tomorrow. Have you ever been on the brink of medical tests or assessments that might potentially prove serious, even life-changing? How did you feel about it? What steps did you take to deal with how you were feeling? What helped? What didn’t? I’d love to hear from you, either in the comments to this post, or via our contact page.

Further Reading

I’ve included a few links relating to men’s physical and mental health. It’s good to be well-informed, but if you have concerns about your health don’t try and self-diagnose. Do what I (finally) did and make an appointment with a health professional.


Photo by Online Marketing on Unsplash.


Wednesday 1 December 2021

How International Men's Day Inspired My First Doctor's Appointment in 30 Years

In my last post, I described two calls I attended ahead of this year’s International Men’s Day. They gave me plenty to think about, but another session may end up having a more fundamental and long-lasting impact. On International Men’s Day itself, I dialled in to a presentation on men’s health by Steven Pearson-Brown from ToHealth Ltd. It wasn’t the first such call I’ve attended, but for some reason, this one really struck home; perhaps because it was part of the wider focus on men’s health and wellbeing.

I listened attentively as Steven discussed a range of topics including weight, exercise, and healthy eating. I’ve been paying more attention to these of late, having put on most of the weight I’d managed to lose. It’s tough to find yourself almost back where you began seven or eight years ago, doubting you can go through that journey again. Steven’s presentation helped reinforce the message that I’m right not to give up. It was another section of his talk, though, that really caught my attention.

My Health History

Before I come to that, let me share a little of my health history. The following is excerpted from a section in our book High Tide, Low Tide which discusses my experience of illness. You can read the full section on our blog.

In my early twenties, I developed dermatitis on my hands and arms. It was painful and inconvenient, but I accepted it as something over which I had little control. It eventually cleared and has not returned.

A few years later [in 1987], I was hospitalized following an episode of acute abdominal pain and bleeding. The condition responded to anti-inflammatory medication, which I took preventatively for two years afterwards. I recall attending an outpatient appointment to learn the results of some diagnostic tests. I was prepared to discover I had experienced either a nasty but limited inflammation, or the first visitation of some serious, perhaps life-threatening, condition.

The results were inconclusive, and the doctors decided further tests would not be performed unless the condition reoccurred. I remember feeling cheated. Even a serious diagnosis seemed preferable to doubt and uncertainty. Fortunately, the condition never troubled me significantly again.

That was more than thirty years ago and for most of that time, my health has been fine. I’ve had a few bouts of abdominal discomfort but nothing that led to me phoning my doctor. I didn’t ignore my health altogether, though. I had a routine bowel cancer screening examination in 2016, a skin cancer screening at work, and a general wellness check about three years ago. It was at this point I discovered I no longer had a GP. At some point, the NHS surgery I’d been with had gone private. I don’t recall being informed of the fact, but in any case, I failed to register with another practice.

Scroll forward to 2020. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic and I figured maybe it was about time I found myself a doctor. It took a couple of attempts, but I eventually registered with a practice within walking distance of home. It made things much easier when it came to getting my flu jab last winter (a first for me), and my covid vaccinations this year.

Making the Decision

I mentioned that I’ve put back most of the weight I lost over the past few years, but my heart rate and blood pressure are healthy enough. I enjoy a beer or two at home or out with friends but I’ve not been drunk or hungover since I lived in London in the mid-1980s.

As I get older, however, I find myself paying more attention to what my body’s doing, or not doing as well as it used to. Something I’ve become increasingly aware of over the past year or so is that I need to urinate more than I used to, both at night and during the day. I didn’t pay too much attention last year when I was working from home and unable to meet up with anyone socially, but it’s become more of an issue since lockdown ended, especially if I’ve wanted to go out for a drink. It’s inconvenient, and a little embarrassing, to keep having to go to the toilet, although the few friends I go out with are understanding. I could continue to live with the inconvenience, but it can indicate underlying issues in men of a certain age. Pretty much my age, in fact.

I’d known all this for a while and not done anything about it, but as I listened to Steven talking about prostate cancer and how important it is to get checked out as early as possible, I made a promise to myself to do just that. Three days later, I booked my first appointment with a GP in over thirty years. Fingers crossed, there’s nothing seriously wrong, but I wasn’t going to ignore or put it off any longer. There were a couple of other things I wanted to discuss with the doctor, but this was the main one and the reason for making the appointment.

How the Appointment Went

Initial appointments are conducted by phone. I was on edge waiting for the call to come through, but everything went well. The doctor was lovely and very thorough. She asked lots of questions but explained things as we went along so I understood why she needed to know and the potential significance of my answers. I got to say what I wanted, and felt involved and listened to. I was glad I’d made notes in advance. They helped me stay on track and cover everything I wanted to mention or ask. This is something I’ve learned over the years from helping Fran prepare for appointments with her psychiatrist.

The doctor agreed my symptoms might indicate issues with my prostate — not necessarily cancer — but said there are other possibilities to consider, including type 2 diabetes. We agreed the next stage is for me to have a physical examination and blood and urine tests. I have an appointment booked to attend the surgery in a couple of weeks. I was surprised, and pleased, to get a follow-up appointment so promptly. I dare say I’ll be anxious nearer the time, but for now, I’m happy to have started the process. It wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought it might be.

Support and Encouragement

The friends I’ve told have been incredibly supportive and encouraging. One put it this way: “As someone living with a chronic condition, it’s hard to imagine being so healthy that you don’t need a doctor for thirty years, but I’m proud of you for exploring it now.” They understand that taking this step is a big thing for me precisely because I’ve been healthy enough over the years to ignore any niggling doubts or symptoms. Until now.

I wasn’t sure about sharing all this in a blog post when I don’t even know if there’s anything wrong. Hopefully, there isn’t. Many of my friends live with serious physical and mental health conditions but like most people, they consult their doctors when they need to without feeling the need to tell everyone about it. The one exception — and my inspiration for writing this post — is my friend and fellow mental health blogger Aimee Wilson. Aimee blogs about her lived experience with an honesty that has opened my eyes to a lot of things and helps many people who find themselves in similar situations to hers.

Maybe there are people out there — men in particular — who’ll read this and think, if Martin can call his doctor and make an appointment, I can do it. If just one person does that, I’m content.

Further Reading

I’ve included a few links relating to men’s physical and mental health. It’s good to be well-informed, but if you have concerns about your health don’t try and self-diagnose. Do what I (finally) did and make an appointment with a health professional.


Photo by Shopify Partners from Burst.