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.


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