Wednesday 13 April 2022

I Want to Write: How Our Book HIGH TIDE LOW TIDE Came to Be Written

This is the story of how our first book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder came to be written, taken from the book’s Preface. It’s available from all good booksellers; check our book page for details.


Writing has always been an important part of my life. I remember the teacher who encouraged me by providing a notebook for my extracurricular stories. I remember being snubbed by my classmates for asking if I could submit a poem in place of the expected essay: our teacher thought it such a good idea he set poetry for the entire class. I remember volunteering as assistant editor on the school magazine because I had a crush on the teacher. I remember the yellowing copy of Ezra Pound’s poetry I borrowed from the library and neglected to return. I wrote poetry through sixth form (my final two years at school) and university; later essays, articles, and short stories. I have kept a personal diary for over forty years.

A keen science student, I studied pharmacy at the University of Bradford, Yorkshire. I graduated in 1983 and took up a postgraduate position at the Department of Neurology, Institute of Psychiatry and King’s College Hospital Medical School in London. In 1987, I moved north to work in the biomedical sciences laboratory at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary. I met my wife Pam that same year. I later retrained in business computing and have worked in the information technology services industry ever since.

I met Fran Houston online in May 2011. Fran lives with bipolar disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome, and fibromyalgia, and we joke that when she discovered I was a pharmacy graduate with three years’ research experience in neuroscience she thought all her worries were over. Here at last was someone to sort her life out for her! In fact, little I had learned in the lecture theatre or laboratory prepared me to help someone living with chronic, debilitating illness. Education is extremely valuable — I have completed a number of courses and workshops since meeting Fran which help me support her more effectively — but ultimately caring is not about how much you know, it is about who you are and what you do.

This book was conceived in October 2012. During a phone call with Fran I mentioned that I felt inspired to do something creative. Without hesitation, she suggested I write a book about befriending someone who lives with illness. The idea made a great deal of sense. Despite living three thousand miles apart, we had forged a relationship that was strong, caring, and mutually rewarding. I saw immediately that my experience could be of value to others. But if the suggestion was inspired, it was also scary. My first thought was that I had never looked on her as “someone living with illness.” I saw her as my friend.

That is the point, Marty! It is how you are with me. People do not usually treat me that way once they know I have illness. It is a powerful thing. It has helped me see that I am not just my illnesses. I have value and gifts to give.

In the weeks that followed, we discussed possible approaches, formats, and the likely audience for such a book. I researched similar titles, made notes, and sketched outlines. The further I pursued the idea the more it eluded me. I could see the book only as an autobiographical account of our friendship, and while that could be a tale worth telling, it wasn’t what Fran had envisaged. I began to lose heart. Our conversations turned to other topics and the idea of the book lapsed.

One night in late November, Fran telephoned me. It was four o’clock in the morning here in the UK. She was very excited. She had been to dinner with someone who wanted advice on how to support a friend diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Fran offered suggestions from her own experience, and mentioned she knew someone in England who was writing a book on that very subject. Her friend thought it was a great idea and wanted to know when the book would be published. My heart sank. Too sleepy to be anything but honest, I told Fran what I had come to realise, but had not until that moment shared with her. Our book was never going to happen. Fran didn’t press me for details or explanations. She said goodnight and let me get back to sleep.

I went to work next day as usual, and avoided thinking about our conversation until I was walking to catch the train home. It was a shame nothing would come of Fran’s idea. My thoughts turned to a book on depression I had recently finished reading. Written by a clinical psychologist, it had an easy style and was illustrated with snippets of conversation. It was nothing like the book Fran and I had talked about, but could a similar approach work for us? Something clicked. I messaged Fran from the train.

Thank you for mentioning our book to your friend last night, for telling me about her reaction to the idea, and for the response it stirred in me. It was the jolt I needed. Just now, in the very act of repeating to myself how our book will never come into being, I caught a glimpse of how it might. I want to rededicate myself to the project. I want to start making notes, drafting ideas. I want to write.

It was a breakthrough moment, and one utterly in keeping with the central message of the book you are holding. No matter what happens or what you are struggling with — be that some practical or creative project, your relationship with others, your own health or that of a loved one — the important thing is to set aside preconceived notions of how things should be, or whether you are up to the task. Instead, be honest with yourself about what is happening. Acknowledge your limitations, but refuse to be bound by them. Trust in your ability to grow to meet the challenge. Recognise joyfully the potential of each moment. Be who you are. Do what you can. Embrace the journey.

Martin Baker
Newcastle upon Tyne, UK


Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash.


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