Wednesday 26 October 2022

How I Became a Mental Health Blogger

By Janet Coburn

Of course, blogging didn’t exist when I started writing. It was quite a journey ending up where I am today. Even mental health services were a big blank to me when I was young, something that no one I knew experienced or even talked about, except to make jokes about going to “Wayne Avenue,” the location of the nearest insane asylum (as we called it then).

But it’s hard to remember a time when I didn’t write. Childish poems fueled by voracious reading. Hideously depressive poems fueled by burgeoning bipolar disorder. (I still commit poetry from time to time, writing sonnets and villanelles about bipolar disorder.)

But before I returned to poetry with more structure, I indulged in free verse – unrhymed, unmetered verse that relied on the juxtaposition of images rather than formal style. I studied creative writing in high school and college. But the bipolar disorder was undeniably with me, influencing the topics I wrote about: “Two Ways of Looking at the Same Pain” and “Whiskey on the Knife,” a poem about self-harm, are two examples.

As my poetry developed, it started reading more and more like prose, strung out in sentences that relied on line breaks with twists and jarring pauses to create poetic effects. Eventually, I gave up on poetry and simply gave in to prose. I made my living doing prose, and nonfiction at that, writing for magazines about education, technology, child care, and even martial arts.

Bipolar disorder took that away from me. After being diagnosed with clinical depression for years, I finally was identified as having bipolar 2. It was treatment-resistant for many years and during that time I was often unable to write.

My mental health blog Bipolar Me grew out of a journaling exercise. I began by listing what I did each day – not much, as I was stuck in a major depressive episode and not able to do much. But once again, what started as something else turned into prose. And by that time blogging was a thing.

I started blogging largely as an exercise for myself, to explore bipolar disorder, its symptoms and treatments, and my particular version of it. I set myself the task of posting once a week, a schedule that I still keep. I wrote short essays and longer pieces, whatever I was thinking about at the time. Hardly anyone read the blog. I sometimes wonder if the title “Bipolar Me” was a turn-off, but really that summed up my knowledge about bipolar – my own experiences.

Slowly, I started finding my voice. and finding things to say with it. Things other than what was inside my own head. Oh, I still wrote about my symptoms and my meds and my coping mechanisms, major depression and hypomania, mood swings and roller coasters. But I also started approaching the wider world of bipolar. Bipolar in the news. Bad science reporting about bipolar. TV commercials about bipolar meds. Bipolar disorder and gun violence. All of this was still through the lens of my own experience, as I have no degree in psychology, counseling, or biochemistry, for that matter.

And I started reaching a wider audience. My writing appeared in The Mighty, Invisible Illness, IBPF, Thought Catalog, Medium, and as guest posts on other bloggers’ sites. Eventually, I had enough material to make Bipolar Me into a book of the same name. And then a sequel, Bipolar Us. Both are still available on Amazon and through other outlets.

I know I’m not in the same league with mental health bloggers like Pete Earley and Gabe Howard. They are true activists and influencers, as well as terrific writers. Their work reaches thousands of people with information, analysis, inspiration, and more impact than I will likely ever have.

But I won’t give up blogging just because I’m not the best. I’ll be here every Sunday, posting my bipolar thoughts and opinions, sharing my bipolar experience, and chronicling my bipolar life.

Originally published in May 2020 at Bipolar Me.


About the Author

Janet Coburn is a freelance writer/editor with bipolar disorder, type 2. She is the author of two books: Bipolar Me and Bipolar Us.

Janet writes about mental health issues including talk therapy, medication, books, bullying, social aspects, and public policy, but mostly her own experiences with bipolar 2. As she says, “I am not an expert and YMMV – Your Mileage May Vary.”


Wednesday 19 October 2022

#AmBlogging: A Curated List of Blog Posts about Blogging

In the latest in our series of themed posts, I’ve selected articles from our backlist which cover various aspects of blogging. Scroll through them all or click a link to jump to the relevant section.

I’ve provided a short excerpt from each post, with a link to the original article. I will update the list as relevant posts are published in the future.

Blog Topics and Prompts

Struggling to come up with a compelling idea is one of the inevitable frustrations of blogging, especially if you publish frequently or to a set schedule. The articles in this section offer a variety of topics and prompts to help get your creativity flowing.

40 Mental Health Blog Topics From the Caring Friend's Perspective

Whether you’re an experienced blogger or starting out on your blogging journey, one thing I can guarantee is that you’ll sometimes struggle to find a new or engaging topic to write about. In this post I’m sharing a number of topics from my personal ideas cache, with a focus on supporting friends or loved ones who live with mental health conditions.

For convenience I’ve grouped them into themes: Blogging, Support, Healthy Friendships and Relationships, About You, Ideas and Inspiration, and Mental Health. I’ve also included links to a few other lists of mental health topics.

Read the full post here.

21 Image Prompts for the Mental Health Blogger

As bloggers, we tend to write first and then look for images to enhance or accompany what we’ve written. While searching for that perfect image I’ve frequently come across pictures which weren’t what I was looking for, but nevertheless spoke to me. I realised that images can serve as blog prompts or inspirations in their own right. With that in mind, I’ve selected 21 images from Unsplash which I feel could be useful as prompts for mental health blog posts.

Read the full post here.

Blogging Workflow

Whether you follow a tried-and-tested process or approach each project on its merits, there’s a lot to putting a blog post together. The following articles cover coming up with an an idea, writing, editing, proofreading, choosing the perfect image, and scheduling your post for publication. There are also a few ideas on what to do when things get hard, as they’re bound to from time to time!

Secrets of a Successful Blogging Workflow

Fran and I have been blogging since August 2013. Just about everything we do is a joint enterprise, although I look after the website itself and take the lead with the writing. Let’s take a look at how I go about putting one of our blog pieces together.

Read the full post here.

How to Choose the Perfect Image for Your Blog Post

If it’s true that a picture paints a thousand words, the thousand or so words you’ve written for your latest blog post deserve the very best picture you can find. But it’s not always easy! Do you struggle to find that perfect image to accompany your lovingly crafted words? Do you ever wonder if it’s okay to use that photo you found on the Internet? Read on.

Read the full post here.

When Blogging Is Hard and What to Do About It

No matter how committed you are to your blog there will be occasions when things aren’t flowing as easily as you’d wish. It helps to have a streamlined process (I’ve described my blogging workflow elsewhere) but there are still times when I struggle with ideas, when the words won’t flow, or when I change my mind at the last minute. Here’s how I handle these issues when they arise. Maybe some of it will resonate with you.

Read the full post here.

Blogging Q&As

Question and answer posts can be an interesting blog format, whether it's a guest interview with someone active in your chosen field, or an opportunity to answer questions posed by your readers. Hopefully, the following articles will give you some ideas for Q&A posts of your own.

Write without Fear, Edit without Mercy: Eight Questions for the Honest Blogger

When I compiled my list of 21 Image Prompts for the Mental Health Blogger, one image in particular caught my attention. Taken by hannah grace, its call to write without fear and edit without mercy inspired me to draw up a short Q&A for anyone wanting to explore their honesty as a writer.

Whether you publish your answers on your blog or not it can be a very useful exercise to keep your writing genuine and on track. Are you up for the challenge?

Read the full post here.

Blogging Besties: A Joint Q&A With Aimee Wilson

I’m grateful to my friend and fellow mental health blogger Aimee Wilson for suggesting this collaboration. Over one hundred questions were submitted by readers and social media followers, from which Aimee compiled the twenty we’ve each answered.

Read the full post here.

Practical Tips

Blogging is a practical craft, so here are a few pointers from my own experience, plus my friend Aimee Wilson's book.

Every Day Essentials for the Successful Blogger

In a follow up to sharing my blogging workflow I thought I’d give you a behind-the-scenes peek at my EDC (every day carry). These are the items I take with me when I’m out and about for my blogging and journaling.

Read the full post here.

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 book Everything Disordered: A Practical Guide to Blogging.

Read the full post here.

The Personal Touch

There are many bloggers writing about mental health topics, and each of us has a unique and personal voice.

How I Became a Mental Health Blogger

Of course, blogging didn’t exist when I started writing. It was quite a journey ending up where I am today. Even mental health services were a big blank to me when I was young, something that no one I knew experienced or even talked about, except to make jokes about going to “Wayne Avenue,” the location of the nearest insane asylum (as we called it then).

Read the full post by Janet Coburn here.

Over to You

If you have any thoughts about the articles we’ve included, or suggestions for topics about blogging we might explore in the future, please let us know, either in the comments below or via our contact page.


Photo by Toa Heftiba at Unsplash.


Wednesday 5 October 2022

Speaking Up, Speaking Out: Harnessing the Power of the Spoken Word for WMHD

When we speak we educate and also free ourselves from a silence that surrounds mental illness.
— Brynn McCann

Organised by the World Foundation for Mental Health and observed each year on October 10, World Mental Health Day (WMHD) is an opportunity to raise awareness of mental health issues and mobilize our efforts in support of mental health. Fran and I have shared pieces in the past to mark WMHD and other mental health awareness days and events. I was keen to do so again, but when I saw this year’s theme — Making Mental Health and Well-Being for All a Global Priority — I was unsure what to focus on or how to proceed. The topic is hugely important, but that was the problem. It felt too big, too wide-ranging, for me to address it meaningfully. Surely, anything I wrote could do no more than touch the surface.

I was pondering this when my friend and fellow mental health blogger Aimee Wilson asked if I’d like to go with her to a local WMHD event. I said yes immediately. We attended the event in 2019 and it was really good. I remember listening to presentations by local individuals and organisations, and meeting a number of interesting people. On that occasion, Aimee was one of the keynote speakers. I was incredibly proud of my friend for speaking so powerfully and honestly about her lived experience. She’s not speaking this year, but all at once I could see a connection; a way in, as it were, to writing something meaningful for WMHD.

There are few things more compelling than someone telling their story in their own voice. As Fran and I have said elsewhere, “The most important sounds we can ever share with another person are our own voices.” Speaking our truth and listening to other people doing the same counters stigma and discrimination by opening us up to lives lived differently than our own. It turns out I’m not alone in making this connection: one UK mental health charity has chosen to mark WMHD this year by focusing on “using spoken word to show the different ways people talk about their experiences.”

I’ll focus on my experience of speaking publically about mental health and wellbeing. I’m aware of the irony of writing about how important the spoken word can be; where possible I’ll provide links to video or audio recordings so you can hear me for yourself, if you’d like to!

Mentally Sound Radio Show

In May 2015 I was interviewed by Steven Hesse and Sharon Race for the Mentally Sound show on Gravity Radio NE, talking about my friendship with Fran and what I’d learned about mental health and supportive relationships. It was my first live interview and I was both nervous and incredibly excited. You can listen to the recording here.

Fran and I later recorded two episodes with Steven for his podcast Geek Apocalypse, where we discussed bipolar disorder and our friendship. You can listen to those episodes here and here (MP3).

Time to Change, Time to Talk (and Listen)

In February 2016 I volunteered with Time to Change at a mental health event in the centre of Newcastle. As a volunteer, my job was to engage members of the public in conversation about mental health. This was utterly new territory for me and my first conversations were a little tentative. I soon settled into things, though. As I wrote at the time, “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.” One conversation in particular left a lasting impression:

One very telling moment for me came when I happened to step back slightly just as the man I was talking with shared that he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. “That’s what people do,” he said. “When they find out. They step away.” I hadn’t done so because of what he said, but it brought the realities of stigma home to me in a very personal way. I was grateful to him, and told him so.

It’s a lesson I hope I’ve learned. I volunteered with Time to Change on other occasions, including Newcastle Pride for three consecutive years (2016 through 2018). 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.”

Podcasts and Interviews

I’ve mentioned my first time on the radio, and guesting with Fran on Steven Hesse’s podcast. Fran had appeared on TV and radio to talk about her first book before we met, and we’ve been interviewed together several times. If you want to know what we sound like, check out the following links. There’s a full list on our news and appearances page.

In October 2016, I was proud to appear as a panellist in Maine Behavioral Healthcare’s annual It Takes a Community forum discussing social media and mental health. You can listen to the session here, including a contribution from Fran in the audience!

Book Readings

The publication of our first book brought plenty of opportunity to tell people about it and (hopefully!) interest them enough to buy a copy. The first book readings I did were at Newcastle Literary Salon. I attended one session to get a feel for the place before my speaking gig the following month. It left a lasting impression on me, which I wrote about for the hastywords #BeReal blog series.

I knew nothing in advance about any of the people who came forward to read. That in itself was an exercise in realness: to hold each person without prejudgment, to hold myself open to whatever they’d chosen to share. There was poetry, a great short story with a twist, the opening to a new novel which completely blew me away. Some pieces were more to my taste than others but what struck me more than anything else was how everyone was introduced, welcomed, and received with equal warmth and respect: as writers and performers, but most of all as people. And it struck me this is another aspect of being real: the awareness and acceptance of our common humanity, no matter how different our individual situations and life experiences might be.

That night opened my mind to the power of the spoken word, and gave me the confidence to take my place at the mic. I read from our book on three occasions: June, July, and September 2016. Each time I felt I was amongst friends who were attentive and interested in what I had to say. I remember especially one lady who approached me after my first live reading to say how much my words had meant to her, and share a little of her story in return.

I’ve read excerpts from our book at other venues, including in the interval of a pantomime, and at a wellbeing event in Ely in November 2017. My theme for the Ely event was how you can be a supportive friend to someone living with mental illness, whether you live in the same town or thousands of miles apart. I gave the same talk later at a work event for International Women’s Day.

Fran and I have recorded ourselves reading from our book for our YouTube Channel. I recorded the following four pieces while on holiday in Cumbria.

You can read the backstory to those recordings here.

Other Voices

I’ve focused on me and Fran sharing our story of mental health, friendship, and support, but it’s not a one way street. Listening to other people’s stories is no less important.

In February 2017 I attended the premiere screening of Speaking Up, a Film about Mental Health at Newcastle’s Tyneside Cinema. This was the first in a series of short films “exploring young people’s experiences of mental health issues by producing and creating their own shorts to convey powerful, practical messages.” The first part opened my eyes to the realities of living with anxiety. The team then took to the streets of Newcastle to interview members of the public. The films are available on YouTube; I recommend checking them out.

Another great opportunity came in March 2017 when I was in the audience for my friend Sharon Sutton’s TEDx talk. In a powerful and moving speech, Sharon offered an insight into what it’s like to live with mental illness, and how she’s found her purpose and passion. I don’t have a video link, but you can read the transcript of Sharon’s talk.

Other friends have experience of public speaking about mental health. I invited two to share a few thoughts on what that means to them. We’ll hear first from Brynn McCann.

I have just started to speak publicly about mental health and my journey with Bipolar 1 and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. and I think it’s important because normalizing and breaking the stigma around mental illness is crucial.

Working with a mental illness is a full time job and I don’t think that people who don’t live with a mental illness realize this. That’s why speaking up is so important. Our stories matter, as do we.

When we speak we educate and also free ourselves from a silence that surrounds mental illness. This silence needs to be broken and talking about mental health hopefully opens up doors to understanding without judgement.

— Brynn McCann

Next we have Aimee Wilson, who blogs at I'm NOT Disordered.

Before I began blogging, I was definitely not good at public speaking! My blog, however, has given me so much more confidence and has really taught me how important it can be to talk to others about mental health.

Speaking out more can help someone feel less alone, encourage them to get help, and aid them in being better educated to support someone with a mental illness.

Without mental health being talked about, the lack of education can very easily lead to misunderstanding which will often influence stigma and discrimination. So please, don’t be afraid to initiate a conversation.

— Aimee Wilson

I’m grateful to Brynn and Aimee for their contributions.

Private Voices

Brynn’s observation that “talking about mental health hopefully opens up doors to understanding without judgement” is true of our private conversations as well as speaking out publically. The conversations we have with friends, family, and colleagues are every bit as important in breaking down the barriers of stigma and misunderstanding, and building trust and empathy.

As regular readers will know, many of my blog posts are inspired by conversations I’ve had with friends, either in person or online. My friendship with Fran is founded on our commitment to keep in touch, and in particular to keep talking. We may live 3,000 miles apart, but our voice and video calls allow us to appreciate what’s going in our lives and support each other effectively. The same is true with other friends. Text-based chat, SMS messages, e-mails, and written letters all have their place — Fran and I have used them all at different times — but there’s something special about that face-to-face connection, whether in person or online.

This is something that was highlighted for so many of us during the covid pandemic. During lockdown, voice and video calls were often the only means we had of talking to one another. Aimee and I didn’t meet in person for over a year, for example. We chatted online a lot, but occasional video calls meant a lot and helped keep us truly connected.

Risk and Responsibility

It’s important to recognise that speaking out about our lived experiences is not without risk, whether conducted publically or in private. No matter how much trust we have in our chosen audience, it’s not always possible to predict how things will go. We can clarify our meaning and respond to questions or challenge, but once our words are “out there” they cannot be taken back.

No one should feel obligated to share more than they feel comfortable doing, or in ways that feel unsafe to them. It’s not the responsibility of those living with mental health issues — or excluded or marginalised in any way — to educate the rest of society.

Over to You

In this article I’ve explored how speaking up about our lived experience — and listening to others who speak up about theirs — can help counter stigma and discrimination. Fran and I hope our story has touched people, and maybe opened them to the idea that mental illness does not preclude anyone from enjoying full, mutually supportive relationships, and that being friends with someone with a mental health diagnosis is far from the uphill struggle or constant firefighting exercise it’s sometimes imagined to be.

What are your thoughts about speaking out about mental health, whether publically or in private? If you’ve done so, was it a good experience for you? Was your audience receptive to what you were saying, or did you feel ignored, rejected, or shut down? What’s the most transformative speech you’ve heard, or the most valuable conversation you’ve had?

More generally, what does “Making Mental Health and Well-Being for All a Global Priority” mean to you, and how best can it be achieved? We’d love to hear from you, either in the comments below or via our contact page.


Saturday 1 October 2022

Stolen Summers: A Heartbreaking Tale of Betrayal, Confinement and Dreams of Escape, by Anne Goodwin

Published by Annecdotal Press, Anne Goodwin’s latest book Stolen Summers is a novella prequel to Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home which I reviewed last year in the form of an open letter to a friend. My only criticism was that I felt not all the loose ends were tied off, noting that this left room for the promised prequel. Now that it’s here, I’m excited to discover more of Matilda’s backstory. I don’t have a review of Stolen Summers at this time but I’m happy to share all the details so you can check it out for yourself. I’m grateful to Anne for a review copy.

The following information has been provided by the author.

Stolen Summers: A Heartbreaking Tale of Betrayal, Confinement and Dreams of Escape

All she has left is her sanity. Will the asylum take that from her too?

In 1939, Matilda is admitted to Ghyllside hospital, cut off from family and friends. Not quite twenty, and forced to give up her baby for adoption, she feels battered by the cruel regime. Yet she finds a surprising ally in rough-edged Doris, who risks harsh punishments to help her reach out to the brother she left behind.

Twenty-five years later, the rules have relaxed, and the women are free to leave. How will they cope in a world transformed in their absence? Do greater dangers await them outside?

The poignant prequel to Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home is a tragic yet tender story of a woman robbed of her future who summons the strength to survive.

Find out more on the author’s website.

Author bio

Anne Goodwin’s drive to understand what makes people tick led to a career in clinical psychology. That same curiosity now powers her fiction.

Anne writes about the darkness that haunts her and is wary of artificial light. She makes stuff up to tell the truth about adversity, creating characters to care about and stories to make you think. She explores identity, mental health and social justice with compassion, humour and hope.

An award-winning short-story writer, she has published three novels and a short story collection with small independent press, Inspired Quill. Her debut novel, Sugar and Snails, was shortlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize.

Away from her desk, Anne guides book-loving walkers through the Derbyshire landscape that inspired Charlotte BrontĂ«’s Jane Eyre.

Subscribers to her newsletter can download a free e-book of award-winning short stories.

Social media

Twitter: @Annecdotist
Link tree:
Book blog: Annecdotal
Amazon author page:
YouTube: Anne Goodwin’s YouTube channel
Facebook: Annecdotist
Instagram: authorannegoodwin
Newsletter: subscribe
TikTok: @annegoodwinauthor

Amazon and other ebook links

Amazon US | UK | CAN | AUS | IN

Kobo | Apple Books | Barnes & Noble

Universal link

Amazon print links


Direct review links