Wednesday 10 April 2024

We Are Only Asked to Love: Celebrating 18 Years of TWLOHA

We are only asked to love, to offer hope to the many hopeless.

— Jamie Tworkowski, “To Write Love on Her Arms”

It’s a commonplace that wearing t-shirts is not enough. It takes more than a pithy slogan or eye-catching design to effect real and lasting change in the world. That said, mental health merchandise can prove a conversation starter, and open the door to genuine and open exchange. I’ve acquired quite a collection over the years. Mostly t-shirts but I also have two excellent hoodies from BOYS GET SAD TOO. I wear them all with pride, but I figured I didn’t need any more. But when an ad by mental health non-profit To Write Love On Her Arms crossed my screen recently, I couldn’t resist.

I knew very little about the organisation, but I placed my order within minutes. The t-shirt arrived a week or so later. The carefully packed box included a bookmark and a booklet describing what TWLOHA are all about. The shirt itself is undoubtedly eye-catching. As well as the main message — How Are You REALLY Doing? — in huge letters on the front there’s a smaller reminder (“You deserve the space to be honest.”) and the TWLOHA logo on the back.

Less expected were the words printed inside the garment.

Your feelings are allowed to exist without judgment. You are more than the pain and trauma you may have inherited. You are living proof of generational hope and resilience, of strength and community carried through the years. Your honest and vulnerable self is worth loving, and your voice deserves to be heard.

It’s the kind of touch that tells me they’re not just on the mental health merchandise bandwagon. They know what they’re doing. And they care. A visit to their website reveals their mission statement.

To Write Love On Her Arms is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire, and also to invest directly into treatment and recovery.

The TWLOHA journey began with a story. Literally, in that their name comes from the title of a story written by founder Jamie Tworkowski about helping a friend deal with addiction, depression, self-injury, and suicidal thoughts. The story is full of Christian imagery which I personally find difficult. However, the website makes it clear that it’s not a religious or faith-based organisation. “TWLOHA believes that mental health care should be available and accessible to all regardless of religion, belief, gender, race, disability, age, sexual orientation, or financial status.”

Religious overtones aside, Jamie’s telling of his friend’s story is powerful and moving. There’s a good deal I can relate to, from my experience being a supportive friend to Fran and others. They‘re clearly doing something right because TWLOHA has just celebrated its eighteenth anniversary and is active in many areas. There’s too much for me to cover in detail, but I’ll highlight a few things that caught my attention.

The TWLOHA Store
In addition to t-shirts and hoodies, they sell a wide range of garments and merchandise. These include stickers, greetings cards, mugs, magnets, keyring, and journals. They offer gift cards if you want to treat a friend but aren’t sure what they’d choose.

The TWLOHA Blog
According to their website, TWLOHA has shared over 1,100 blog posts, and their weekly blog is well worth a visit. They welcome guest submissions, see their FAQ page for details.

The TWLOHA Podcast
Recent podcast episodes include such topics as suicide loss and sibling grief, the woes of using fashion as a mental health check, therapy deserts, body dysmorphia, and burnout.

Self-care
It’s great to see a page devoted to self-care ideas and techniques. These include suggestions you can try in the moment, as well as longer term strategies to take care of yourself.

Find Help
The main search tool on their Find Help page is US-based, but there’s also a link to international support organisations. For the UK, this is the crisis text line SHOUT, and the Samaritans.

The Hopeful
TWLOHA have their own free (and ad-free) app called The Hopeful, focused on self-care, awareness, and connection. There are links to TWLOHA blog posts and podcast episodes, a mood and gratitude journal, and the option of daily notifications and reminders. I’ve only used it for a couple of days but I like the layout and I can see it being a helpful and accessible resource.

All in all, I’m incredibly impressed by everything that TWLOHA have achieved in the past eighteen years and wish them all success in the future. It’s clear from the feedback on their social media posts that they have a brilliant rapport and connection with their supporters. That’s great to see. On a personal note, I commented on one of their posts the other day to congratulate TWLOHA on their anniversary and received a very warm reply. That kind of engagement is incredibly important. I look forward to exploring their content more fully, and perhaps submiting something for their blog.

I’ll close with an excerpt from an article I wrote back in 2020 titled Wearing T-Shirts Is Not Enough. The message is no less relevant to me today and I believe it speaks to the spirit and vision of TWLOHA.

I will go on supporting Fran in all she does and sharing our story because the story of how a well one and an ill one manage their friendship needs to be heard. I will champion all who are doing their own amazing things. I will call out stigma and discrimination wherever I find it. And I will wear my t-shirts with pride. It isn’t enough, no. Not on its own. But it can be part of enough. Because you never know when a KEEP TALKING ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH shirt might spark a conversation; might give someone confidence and permission to open up or ask for help.

You can find TWLOHA on their website, Twitter/X, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.

 

Photo by Shaira Dela Peña on Unsplash.

 

Wednesday 27 March 2024

Free Books for World Bipolar Day

To mark World Bipolar Day 2024 Fran and I are offering our books for FREE on Kindle for five days between Friday March 29 and Tuesday April 2, inclusive.

In High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder we share what we’ve learned about growing a supportive, mutually rewarding friendship between a “well one” and an “ill one.” With no-nonsense advice from the caring friend’s point of view, original approaches and practical tips, illustrated with real-life conversations and examples. Buy it here.

Friendship is a beautiful part of life and an important component of long-term wellness. No One Is Too Far Away: Notes from a Transatlantic Friendship is a collection of articles from our blog which shows that mental illness needn’t be a barrier to meaningful connection; indeed it can be the glue that holds people together. Buy it here.

Once the free offer is over the prices will go back to normal.

World Bipolar Day is celebrated each year on March 30, the birthday of Vincent Van Gogh, who is thought to have lived with a bipolar condition.

The vision of World Bipolar Day is to bring world awareness to bipolar conditions and to eliminate social stigma. Through international collaboration, the goal of World Bipolar Day is to bring the world population information about bipolar conditions that will educate and improve sensitivity towards the condition.

For more information check out the following websites.

 

Wednesday 20 March 2024

The Joy of Missing Out: Not Doing Things Is a Thing I Do Now

I am now quite cured of seeking pleasure in society, be it country or town. A sensible man ought to find sufficient company in himself.

— Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights

A few Fridays ago, I found myself contemplating the weekend ahead of me. Aside from a few chores I was free to spend it any way I chose. I turned options over in my mind. A trip to the coast? Tynemouth, maybe. Whitley Bay. Cullercoats. South Shields. A day in the city? A walk down to the Quayside. Eldon Square. The library. The natural history museum. Caffè Nero. Further afield, perhaps? Durham. Hexham. These were all places I used to visit regularly. None of them stirred interest or excitement. Not even a little.

I ask myself this question almost every week. The answer seldom varies: coffee and scribbles. It’s worth the time it takes to check in with myself, though. To make sure that writing for four or five hours at the coffee shop is how I want to spend my day, and not simply a routine I’ve fallen into. There are a few exceptions. Every month or so I meet up with my friend and fellow blogger Aimee. Twice a year in April and October I take time off work and rent a car for days out. In the summer, a week in the Lake District. A handful of other day trips or events. If you’re looking for me on a Saturday, though, it’s a safe bet I’ll be at Costa Coffee. It’s where almost all my blog posts are written, this one included.

It wasn’t always this way. Until 2020, I went out every weekend. More often or not, I’d catch the train into Newcastle city centre, but any of the places I mentioned earlier would have been on the cards. I enjoyed meeting up with friends, but I was more than happy being out on my own. The pandemic reset things for me. I got used to not going places, and found meaning in activities that didn’t require traveling far, if at all. I made an effort to pick up the threads once restrictions lifted, but with very few exceptions the allure had evaporated. I wouldn’t necessarily say covid taught me what was truly important to me, but I discovered that many things I’d cherished previously were no longer on the list.

It’s fair to say I saw it coming. I blogged right through the pandemic, exploring what was happening and what might lie on the other side. Two posts are especially relevant to what I’m discussing here. Prescient, even. I shared my early thoughts and feelings in A Postcard from My Lockdown Vacation. It was April 2020, a matter of weeks into the first UK lockdown. I was accutely aware of my privileged situation. My job was secure and I could work from home. I had no significant health or money worries. That said, it was a time of extreme uncertainty for me, as it was for everyone. All plans and expectations for the year ahead had been upended, with no idea how long the disruption would last or how things would be afterwards. I was nevertheless able to write that “five weeks and one staycation in, I can honestly say I’m doing okay.”

A year later, the impact of the pandemic was becoming clear. In What If I Never Do All the Things I Used to Do? I described some of the changes covid had wrought in my life. These were trivial on a global scale, but significant personally. Several of the places I used to go and the things I used to do were beyond recall. A favourite restaurant closed, never to reopen. A much loved holiday cottage taken off the market. Other activities and venues had survived but things weren’t the same. How could they be? I was sad, but holding on to the past wasn’t a healthy option. As I wrote, “I don’t have a list of things I want to do again. Like it used to be or like we used to do are false hopes, illusions, to my current way of thinking at least. Instead, I will hold myself open to whatever is possible, available, present, and real.” Three years on, those words remain valid.

I’ve written previously about living vicariously through the experiences of others. A few weeks ago I accompanied Fran on a video call as she walked from her apartment down to the water front of Portland. Photos, messages, and calls keep our 3,000 mile friendship strong. As we’ve long asserted, no one is too far away to be cared for, or to care. The same is true of other friends, whether they live abroad or here in the UK. I take great pleasure in the photos friends share of places I used to visit. I simply have no interest in revisiting them myself. I’m less interested in exploring the physical world and more interested in exploring the inner realm of my thoughts and feelings.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, though it might raise concern in others. Losing interest in things that previously brought joy, meaning, and value is a classic — and valid — indicator for depression. I’m not dismissing the possibility. On the contrary, I’ve written extensively about feeling low at times, of lacking a sense of purpose and direction. That’s not what I’m exploring here, however. I use the word explore deliberately. I use it a lot in my blog posts, regardless of the topic under discussion. It’s what I’m doing, internally, when I’m not out there doing stuff. Doing stuff can be fun, exciting, and healthy. It can also be a distraction from what’s really going on. Slowing down, withdrawing from doing and going, offers me the opportunity to examine what’s important to me and what isn’t.

I’m reminded of something a friend shared with me once, about living life as if it’s an expedition. So, what’s my expedition? What am I exploring? In addition to my mental health, I write on a range of topics that are relevant to me personally. These include toxic masculinity, the creative tension between wanting to communicate and wanting to hide, alexithymia (finding it hard to express one’s feelings in words), and the absurdist philosophy of Albert Camus.

How and where do I engage in this kind of inner exploration? For most of my life, I’ve taken myself off for a good long walk if I had something on my mind. During my teenage years in Liverpool I’d regularly go for local walks, as well as day-long hikes around the country with my favourite aunt. At university in Bradford I’d do the same. The nearby park and abandoned railway line were regular haunts, but I’d occasionally head out of the city if I needed more time and space. Prior to 2020, I valued the twenty minutes it took to walk to and from my office from the train station. It gave me the chance to unwind, to think through whatever was going on for me, or set things aside and not think at all. Throughout the pandemic I took two or three local walks a day. I’ve let that lapse, but I might start again, especially now it’s spring and the weather is improving. My point is that walking helped me explore things internally. That was its primary purpose and value to me. Typing away for hours in a coffee shop might not be as good for my physical health, but it affords the equivalent scope for inner exploration. One that feels more in tune with my life currently.

The term I used in the title of this piece — the joy of missing out — warrants explanation. Often abbreviated to JOMO, it stands as a counterpoint to FOMO, the fear of missing out. How do I feel about this situation in which I find myself? Does spending almost all my free time not doing things and going places still bring me joy? In a word, yes. I feel at ease, content, able to focus my attention where and how I wish. It brings satisfaction, value, and peace. Lucy Maude Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables, captured this perfectly.

I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens, but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string.

— L. M. Montgomery

I’m not missing out by living my life in this way at this time. On the contrary, I choose to “do things and go places” when they’re important or valuable to me, rather than out of habit or as a distraction. It’s about choosing, not isolating. I’m not taking this inner journey alone. My blog posts may be the public account of my adventures, but they are are inspired by — and contribute to — the life I share with friends and family. I’m blessed to have people who invite me into their lives and enjoy an active role in mine. I rarely feel alone, and almost never lonely. In the words of American poet and essayist Kathleen Norris, “Anything, everything, little or big becomes an adventure when the right person shares it.”

 

I’d like to thank photographer Ishan Gupta. It took longer than usual to find the perfect image for this article, but the moment I discovered Ishan’s gallery at Unsplash I knew my search was over.

 

Wednesday 13 March 2024

One Finger at a Time: Fran's Strategy for Getting Things Done

Who’s your favourite vampire?
The one from Sesame Street.
He doesn’t count.
I assure you, he does.

— Source unknown

This post was inspired by a recent conversation with Fran. We were discussing items on her to do list, and she mentioned the next five things she planned to get done. I was impressed she could remember them.

“I have them in my fingers,” she said.

I asked what she meant. She told me she can deal with up to five things at a time, and that she uses her fingers to keep track. I was intrigued. I’ve known Fran almost thirteen years. This was new to me. She said the technique first came to her when she lived on Peaks Island before moving to her current home on the mainland. She’d walk on Centennial Beach composing haikus in her head and using her fingers to remember the lines until she got home and could write them down.

I remembered the haikus. It was the spring of 2012. Fran was emerging from the devastating depression that had engulfed her the previous fall after months of mania. Those short poems — so different in nature from the poetry she’d written whilst manic — were a sign she was returning to herself. More, they were a reminder that she was alive. As she’s said of those days, “I was trying to save my life, to get out of the house onto Centennial and wait for the haikus to come. That was all I had.” Twelve years later, and in a far better place mentally, the finger technique still works for her.

The commonly held idea that short-term memory can hold up to seven items has been revised in recent years. The capacity is now thought to be four, plus or minus one depending on circumstances. This fits with my experience. Phone numbers and security codes — the kind banks send to your phone — are beyond my capacity. If I can’t write them down I have to take the digits three or four at a time.

A friend described a memory test she’d recently undergone as part of a broader mental assessment. The test involved memorising a sequence of unrelated words and recalling them at the end of the assessment. Just thinking about that appals me! I don’t think it’s an age thing as such. I’ll be sixty-three next month but I’ve never found it easy to remember phone numbers and other such details. I can recall only two phone numbers: my childhood landline, and my current landline. I couldn’t tell you my mobile number without looking it up. A technique such as Fran’s could be helpful. My memory isn’t likely to improve unless I take steps to develop it.

Fran doesn’t only use her fingers, of course. We’re both fans of to do lists, both analogue and digital. We used Trello to manage the countless activities and ideas when we were planning, writing, and publishing our book. Being able to share activities in real time was invaluable, as was the ability to easily update task details and deadlines. I’ve less need of such functionality these days, but Fran still uses Trello for certain tasks. When she’s planning to travel we create packing and to do lists for the trip on Onedrive. That way I can help her pack and ensure nothing important gets missed.

A simple checklist widget on my phone’s homescreen suffices to keep me on top of my blogging schedule, as well as household tasks such as submitting meter readings and paying bills. I set alerts on my phone to remind me to get up on time, and a fifteen minute reminder through the working day so my login doesn’t timeout. I have a spiral bound notebook for work and begin each entry with a checklist of items for the day. I write paper grocery lists when I go to the supermarket, and recite a mental checklist before heading out: wallet, token for the shopping trolley, shopping list, phone.

Mostly, Fran prefers handwritten lists. She updates them as needed and transfers three to five priority items to a separate list to keep her focused and prevent her getting overwhelmed. Her finger technique fits into this approach well, allowing her to remember new or completed tasks until she can update her lists. With no such technique to hand (pun intended) I keep a scrapbook text document on my phone. I use that to capture new ideas or tasks as they arise, moving them elsewhere when I get chance or simply deleting them when they’re done.

On the whole, Fran and I do pretty well. We accomplish most of the things we need to without forgetting too many or missing deadlines. Maybe it doesn’t matter how we prioritise and manage the things we need to do as long as they get done. That’s what counts. I must try and remember that!

Over to You

In this post I’ve described how Fran uses her fingers to keep track of things she wants to remember, as well as a few other techniques we find helpful. How to you remember things? What strategies and tools have you found useful? We’d love to hear from you, either in the comments below or via our contact page.

 

Photo by Dynamic Wang at Unsplash.

 

Wednesday 6 March 2024

I Don't Know You but Thanks: Ten Content Creators Who Make Me Happy

The digital realm is so rich. I thought it would be fun to share a few creators I’ve been fortunate enough to encounter online. I don’t know any of them personally, but one way or another they mean a lot to me. The ten creators I’ve selected are:

I love discovering what they’ve shared in the past and look forward to their latest content. I hope you will too.


Elyse Myers

I don’t remember when or how I first came across Elyse Myers. It may have been one of her fast-paced fake-but-should-be-real business idea videos. Her content is varied but always engaging. There’s humour, vulnerability, and creativity — she can count crochet, songwriting, and singing amongst her many talents. What comes across most is a deep and very genuine sense of who she is as a person. I don’t know her, but if I did I feel we’d be friends.

One of her most moving posts is a short video titled All of a sudden, I realized how far I’ve come. Elyse is talking to camera about her day when she stops short, suddely aware of what she’s just said. “This is the best day. I love ... being alive.” Watch it. You’ll feel it.

My favourite song of hers is Unhinged which I discovered through a short clip shared by Jason Swanson who set her original recording to guitar accompaniment. Other versions include this one where Elyse responds to Jason’s video and an extended five minute version.

You can find Elyse Myers on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Spotify.


Mentour Pilot

Despite only having flown twice in my life (the ridiculously short hop from Liverpool to the Isle of Man and back, a total flight time of around 80 minutes) I’ve been fascinated by aviation for as long as I can remember. I live close to Newcastle International Airport and loved watching the planes from the observation deck until it was closed to the public. I owned an airband scanner radio for a number of years. It’s natural then that I would follow a number of aviation channels. Two stand head and shoulders above the rest.

Petter Hornfeldt is a Swedish training captain and type-rating instructor / examiner. The videos he shares on his Mentour Pilot channel are always meticulously researched and produced to the highest standards. They’re a delight to watch, no matter whether Petter’s discussing the latest aircraft and airline news, or historic accidents and incidents. He’s especially good at explaining the often very technical background to the stories, and relating them to his own experience as a working pilot and instructor. He comes across as a really nice, genuine guy who I’d love to know as a friend.

You can find Mentour Pilot on Facebook, YouTube, and Petter’s website.


74 Gear

The second aviation channel I look out for is 74 Gear, by pilot Kelsey Hughes. Much of his content focuses on sharing and explaining aviation clips sent in by his channel’s followers. These include mistakes made by pilots or ATC controllers, but tend to be non-fatal incidents rather than the disasters covered by other channels. He’s also great at debunking incorrect or dangerous aviation advice given by other social media influencers.

Kelsey’s style is very different from Petter Hornfeldt’s at Mentour Pilot, but no less engaging. I love his honesty and enthusiasm and how he opens his videos. “Hey 74 Crew. Welcome back. If you don’t know me, my name’s Kelsey, I’m a 747 pilot. My channel, 74 Gear, is all about aviation.” He’s not wrong.

You can find 74 Gear on Facebook and YouTube.


Len Pennie

I know of Len Pennie through her Miss Punny Pennie channel, where she shares a new Scots word of the day. Her passion for what she does comes across strongly. As many of the content creators I’m featuring do, she engages with her audience and frequently responds to comments left in comments on her previous videos.

You can find Len Pennie on YouTube and Instagram. Her new book Poyums is out in print, e-book, and audiobook formats.


Grey St Opticians

I wrote two blog posts last year about visiting Grey St Opticians in Newcastle for my first eye exam in decades: To See and Be Seen and I Can See Clearly. The atmosphere, help, and service I received were all superb, and I’ve become a keen follower of their social media accounts. I love how passionate they are about what they do, and the fabulous frames they showcase. I won’t need new glasses for a couple more years but I know where I’ll go when I do.

You can follow Grey St Opticians on Facebook and Instagram.


Abraham Piper

I chanced on Abraham through his short videos on Facebook. It’s hard to characterise his content as it’s quite varied, but he shares his thoughts on language, relationships, religion, and good living. On his website he describes himself as “an artist, writer, and pseudo-intellectual online entertainer.” Based on what he shares online, he’s someone else I’d be very happy to meet for coffee. That’s unlikely, given he lives in Minneapolis, but you get the idea!

You can find Abraham Piper on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and his website.


Dad Joke Guys

There’s not a lot to say about Logan Lisle and the Dad Joke Guys beyond the fact I’m addicted to their gloriously groanful jokes and deadpan delivery. Check them out. Here’s a five minute compilation to get you started. And here’s another one.

You can find the Dad Joke Guys on Facebook and YouTube.


Jason Ladanye

I’ve never played a hand of poker. The only card games I’ve ever played are pontoon and solitaire. I’m nonetheless mesmerised by the talents of professional card magician Jason Ladanye. His close-up sleight-of-hand leaves me incredulous. I simply don’t see how it’s possible to do what he does! The occasionally dodgy joke aside, I’m also a huge fan of his bone dry, self-aggrandising style as he effortlessly — he makes it appear effortless, I’m sure it’s not — executes challenges posed by his followers. You may love him, as I do. You may hate him. You will be amazed.

You can find Jason Ladanye on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and his website.


The Pior Family

It’s not uncommon these days for people to share details of their family lives online but there can be few who do so as delightfully as the Pior family from Canada: Franki, Stevie, mom Karalea, and dad Swav. If feel-good is your thing, check them out.

You can find the Pior Family on YouTube and Instagram.


Tom Scott

Tom Scott is an English creator who shares a wide range of fun and educational content. I especially enjoy his series of videos where he poses obscure questions to guests who have to figure out the answers. He comes across as another really genuine person passionate about sharing things he finds of interest. In researching this article I learned Tom is taking a break from creating video content. That’s a pity, but there’s a huge amount of his previous content out there to explore and enjoy.

You can find Tom Scott on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.


Over to You

In this article I’ve shared ten content creators whose work I love. As I expressed it to a friend the other day, “They’re the kind of people that even though you don’t know them, when you see they’ve shared something new it’s like ‘Yay!’”

I’ve included links to the channels I use (mostly Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram) but it’s likely they’re also active elsewhere. If you like the sound of any of them, check them out on your favourite platforms.

Which creators do you look out for? Whose content brightens your day? Who feels like a friend even though you’ve never met? Fran and I would love to hear from you, either in the comments below or via our contact page.

 

Photo by Tim Mossholder at Unsplash.

 

Wednesday 28 February 2024

Self-Injury Awareness Day

TW: Mention of self-harm and self-injury.

Observed annually on March 1, Self-Injury Awareness Day (SIAD) is an international day dedicated to raising awareness of self-harm and self-injury. Fran and I haven’t marked SIAD before, but we have shared articles relating to these topics. I thought it would be useful to draw these items together in one place and include a selection of helpful resources.

What Is Self-Injury? Is it the Same as Self-Harm?

These terms are often used interchangeably but there’s a difference, with self-harm being broader in scope. I find the LifeSIGNS definition of self-injury and its relationship to self-harm really helpful.

Self-harm includes many harmful behaviours such as self-injury, but includes such diverse matters as eating disorders, risk taking behaviour, drug and alcohol misuse.

Self-injury falls under the umbrella of self-harm, and is a direct behaviour that causes injury and damage to one’s body.

There’s a very helpful diagram on their website which makes this distinction clear and highlights how complex the interplay between these behaviours can be.

As useful as definitions are, it’s important not to get too hung up on the labels. What matters is that we respect the reality our friends and loved ones are dealing with. That includes respecting the words they use to describe what’s happening for them and why. As LifeSIGNS puts it, “It’s about coping. The harmful actions, the differences between self-injury and self-harm, are not as important as recognising that the person is in distress, and trying to cope.”

I know this from personal experience. On one occasion a few years ago, my insistence on using the label I felt was most appropriate got in the way of being there for a friend who saw things differently. We got past it, but it was a lesson that’s stuck with me.

Being There for Someone Affected by Self-Injury and Self-Harm

Fran and I have shared a number of blog posts dealing with self-harm and self-injury, most from the perspective of a caring friend.

We’ve also shared articles by guest contributors, including:

Fran and I are always happy to receive guest submissions. If you’d like to contribute, on this topic or any other, check out the guidelines on our contact page.

Further Reading and Resources

LifeSIGNS is a forward thinking, user-led voluntary organisation founded in 2002. LifeSIGNS provides a variety of helpful resources, support and training to anyone affected by self-injury; including people who self-injure, friends and family, and health care workers.

Self-injury Support offers support for women and girls with experience of self-harm.

Hub of Hope is a UK based mental health database to help you find serices and support groups local to you.

Find a Helpline helps you find free, confidential support from a helpline or hotline near you. Online chat, text or phone.

Our resources page includes a number of crisis and helpline links.

 

Illustration based on an image by Nuur Muhammad Husni Labib at Vecteezy.

 

Wednesday 21 February 2024

How Do I Feel Now? Living with Alexithymia

Last week in Exploring Alexithymia and Emotional Blindness I described how hard I find it to communicate my emotions, and that there’s a word for that — alexithymia. I’ve looked further into the topic since then and thought it would be useful to share what I’ve learned. If you struggle to express how you feel, this is for you.

What Is Alexithymia?

Also called emotional blindness, Alexithymia (literally “no words for emotions”) is a personality trait where you have difficulty experiencing, identifying, and expressing how you feel. It’s estimated that one person in ten has alexithymia. The proportion is higher in people with certain mental and neurodevelopmental conditions. Given that I only learned the word existed a few weeks ago, it may seem premature to claim it applies to me. That said, I recognise many of its traits and score highly on alexithymia self-assessments. More on those later. The following description by UK charity Autistica resonates strongly with me.

People who have alexithymia may have have trouble identifying, understanding and describing emotions. They may also struggle to show or feel emotions that are seen as socially appropriate, such as happiness on a joyous occasion.

The inability to “feel along” with the crowd is something I’ve been aware of all my life. Whether it’s societal grief at the death of a famous actor, artist, or musician, or the collective fervour that follows the performance of local or national sports teams, communal emotion leaves me cold. I’m unable to partake or even understand why I’d want to. I’m amused, rather than confused or upset, but the failure to engage in such shared experience is undeniably isolating. The death in 2023 of Sean MacGowan was a notable exception. The outpouring of grief at his death moved and intrigued me, leading me to explore his life and legacy in The Last of the Irish Rover.

How Are You?

Fran hates to be asked how she is, but I don’t mind the question. In fact, I’m happy when someone close to me asks how I’m doing, not least because what’s going on in my life is usually far less problematic, stressful, or intense than what’s happening in theirs. That said, I’m more likely to respond with what’s happening to me rather than how I’m feeling. My situation, rather than my emotions. The latter might get a one word high-level label. Good. Chill. Tired. It’s no surprise that friends rarely enquire explicitly about my feelings. They understand I find it hard to answer with clarity or precision.

How Sad the Song?

Alexithymia isn’t a lack of emotions. It’s finding it difficult to put those emotions into words. I was eighteen when my father died. We’d been close, yet the best words I could find at the time were “How sad the song.” Did I feel sad? I felt something, but I’d struggle as much to name those feelings now as I did then. Relief was there, after his long illness. Uncertainty, too, at what his death meant for the family. But there were no tears. My mother died in 2018. The evening after her funeral, I found myself alone by the shore. It was many years since I’d written any poetry, but a handful of lines came to me and I jotted them down as I walked.

Wandering
Wondering

How do I feel
What do I feel

Release
Relief

Re birth

Stillness
Silence

Un known
Un homed

Un tethered

Still
Calm

Centred (thank you

— Liverpool, March 26, 2018

The lack of question marks in the lines “How do I feel | What do I feel” is noteworthy. Despite pondering my emotions, it’s as though I daren’t ask myself outright. What was I afraid of? (Was I afraid?) The answers? Or the shame of knowing there were none I could voice. The lines that follow these un-questions — release, relief, and so on — aren’t answers. Not really. They’re not what I was feeling. They’re more like signs along the path I was walking that evening. Each suggested something I might be feeling, but none was sufficiently accurate. Only at the end, as I headed back to the hotel, did I find something I could attach a label to. How did I feel? Still. Calm. Centred. The gratitude was real.

I’ve attempted to write about bereavement and loss before, only to run aground. The new perspective of alexithymia may allow me to pick up where I left off. Because while I didn’t experience strong emotions at the death of my parents, I have felt and do feel deeply at other times. The following is from my draft notes on the subject.

My parents’ deaths scarcely touched me, emotionally. My friend’s death [in 2005] did, but much less than I suspect I was supposed to feel. Yet a shift in one friendship maybe ten years ago brought me to my knees, and to floods of tears. Break-ups with friends, permanent or not, have devastated me for weeks, even months, yet death leaves me relatively unmoved. Why? What’s going on?

I identified two possible explanations.

The key for me is abandonment. I didn’t feel abandoned by either of my parents. My father’s was too early [I was eighteen years old] but not entirely unheralded. My mother’s was much later and long-anticipated.

And again:

The loss of a relationship, a friendship, can be harder because no matter how unlikely or unhealthy it might be, there is always the possibility of reconnection. Of recovery. Of a second (or third, or fourth) chance. Death is different.

That might seem the wrong way round. Surely, death should be more impactful, precisely because it’s final, with no opportunity to reconnect. I can only say that it doesn’t feel that way for me. It’s not only loss that I feel intensely. Jealous, angry, sad, empty, lost — I’ve known these and more. Joy too, delight, pride in myself and others, passion, love, exhilaration. But life can’t be lived in extremes all the time. What do I feel more generally? This is where I have the most trouble putting things into words. This is partly because my most commonly experienced mood is characterised by the absence of any identifiable emotion. I’ve explored this previously in Flatness and Disinclination, a post which began life as an audio recoding.

I wanted to see if I could capture a little of how I’ve been feeling since some time yesterday. It’s what I tend to call “flat.” That’s verbal shorthand for a sense of feeling fairly low. Not actively low or depressed; it’s more like the absence of any specific emotion than the presence of a negative one, if that makes sense.

It’s one of the few times I’ve spoken openly about my feelings.

The Physicality of Emotions

Something I find hard to wrap my head around is how physically other people seem to experience their emotions. The following passage at The Village Counsellor expresses this perfectly.

Feelings are fundamentally physical experiences: things happening in our bodies, in response to things happening in our environment. That claim might come as a bit of a surprise to some people, as it once did to me, because the culture I grew up in (white working class Britain in the 70s) gave me to understand that feelings were a lot less concrete, more ambiguous, than that. I’d go so far as to say they were less real than that: they were an entirely subjective, interior experience, with no real-world, observable existence.

When I read those words for the first time, especially the first sentence, my instinctive reaction was “What?? Really?? No way! Emotions aren’t like that!” At least, with rare extreme exceptions, they aren’t like that for me. Perhaps this goes some way to explaining why I find it hard to express my feelings in words. If they had more of a physical component, would they be easier to label, to describe to someone else? The cultural explanation makes sense, but maybe there’s something more fundamental going on here. Am I wired differently? Is that what this label of alexithymia represents?

Self-Assessment Questionnaires

In my previous blog post about alexithymia I mentioned scoring four and a bit out of six on one self-assessment questionnaire, and 129 out of 185 on the more detailed test at Alexithymia Online. Let’s look at the latter assessment in more detail, as well as a few others I’ve tried since.

Alexithymia Online Test

On this test, 0–94 indicates no alexithymia traits, 95–112 indicates possible alexithymia, and 113–185 indicates alexithymia. As well as an overall score, the test gives a breakdown in a number of areas.

  • Overall — high alexithymia traits
  • Difficulty identifying feelings — high alexithymia traits
  • Difficulty describing feelings — high alexithymia traits
  • Externally-oriented thinking — high alexithymia traits
  • Restricted emotional processes — high alexithymia traits
  • Sexual difficulties and disinterest — high alexithymia traits
  • Problematic interpersonal relationships — no alexithymia traits
  • Vicarious interpretation of feelings — no alexithymia traits

As you can see, I scored “high” on the test as a whole and in five of the seven sub-categories.

Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20)

The next test I tried is the Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20). I scored 70 out of a possible 100, where 0–51 indicates no alexithymia, 52–60 possible alexithymia, and 61–100 alexithymia present. The results invite you to focus on whichever sub-category you score most highly in, but I scored almost equally across the three. (Difficulty Describing Feelings: 23, Difficulty Identifying Feelings: 24, Externally-Oriented Thinking: 23.)

Perth Alexithymia Questionnaire (PEQ)

The third test I tried is offered as a feature of the excellent Animi app, which I’ll describe in more detail later. According to the app, the test is based on the Perth Alexithymia Questionnaire (PEQ). Overall, I scored 137 out of a maximum of 168, which equates to “very high alexithymia.” Subscores are given in five areas. Mine varied between 36/56 (Tendency to not focus attention on one’s own positive or negative emotions) and 25/28 (Difficulty describing and communicating one’s own positive feelings). All represented high to very high alexithymia.

Toronto Empathy Questionnaire (TEQ)

Some resources suggest a link between alexithymia and a lack of empathy or understanding. To explore this, I took the Toronto Empathy Questionnaire (TEQ). I scored 53 out of a maximum of 64. According to the test site, scores of 45 or higher indicate higher than normal empathy.

Animi

Animi is advertised as “the first app dedicated to improving alexithymia, emotional awareness and emotional intelligence.” It’s free to use and available for Android and iPhone. The core of the app is a searchable encyclopedia of emotional states. Each entry (such as afraid, bitter, content, gloomy, to pick a few at random) has a short definition, associated physical symptoms, example situations where it might manifest, the physiological function the emotion performs, and a host of related concepts including analogies, similar feelings, thoughts, expressions, and needs.

As well as searching the encyclopedia directly, the app offers two novel approaches to identifying what you might be feeling. Body Sensations presents you with a mannequin image. You select which part of your body is experiencing physical sensations, and then narrow down your choices. For example, if you select head, there is a slider to categorise the sensations in your head on a scale between detached and intense.

You’re then presented with an Emotional Compass screen where you can clarify things further. This is done by dragging a marker across a square grid. The horizontal axis runs between unpleasant on the left and pleasant on the right. The vertical axis runs between low energy and high energy. Based on where you drag the marker, the app suggests four likely feelings from the encyclopedia, which you can further refine. At any time you can go into the encyclopedia to explore the suggested emotions. When you finally select the emotion that best represents your situation, you are invited to write a few words about what may have led to you feeling this way. These entries build into a personal log.

The second approach bypasses the bodily sensations part and takes you straight to the Emotional Compass screen. As I mentioned earlier, the app also invites you to take an alexithymia test, the results of which are stored in the app and can be reviewed at any time. There’s a link to a Discord forum (Animi app – alexithymia community) which at the time of writing has 218 members. I am not on Discord and haven’t tried the forum, so can’t comment on it’s relevance or value.

There’s a great YouTube video by the app’s developer which I do recommend. There are a lot of very positive comments from people who’ve found the app helpful. I’m not sure how much I’ll use it myself but it does provide a very interesting and accessible route to exploring my emotions and how they manifest for me.

How Does it Feel to Have Alexithymia?

There’s an obvious irony in attempting to describe how I feel about discovering I’ve a personality trait that makes it difficult to express my feelings. In my previous post on alixithymia I mentioned the NVC Feelings Inventory, which is intended to help identify and articulate what we’re feeling in the moment. I’ve always had difficulty with this, but turning to it now, I’d select the following.

Feelings when needs are being met
Empowered
Curious
Interested

Feelings when needs are not being met
Self-conscious
Vulnerable

It certainly feels as though something important is happening as I explore what alexithymia may mean for me. I know I’m not alone in this. Several people I’ve spoken to about alexithymia have said it resonates strongly for them, and I’ve already had some very meaningful conversations with colleagues and friends. I’ll close with something that made me smile the other day. Fran described a conversation she’d had with a mutual friend of ours who she thought would find it relevant.

Did you know, there’s a word for you and Marty. It begins with “A”.

Is it “asshole”?

I checked and “like an asshole” isn’t in the NVC Feelings Inventory. I’ll keep it in mind, however. I’m sure I’ll find a use for it one day!

Over to You

In this post I’ve explored alexithymia in some depth, with links to online self-assessment tests and a helpful app. Does any of this resonate for you? Do you struggle to identify what you’re feeling and communite your emotions to others? If so, I’d love to hear from you, either in the comments below or via our contact page.

 

Photo by Markus Winkler at Unsplash.

 

Wednesday 14 February 2024

How Do I Feel? Exploring Alexithymia and Emotional Blindness

And sometimes I have kept my feelings to myself, because I could find no language to describe them in.

— Jane Austen

This post was inspired by a conversation with Fran. She’d shared a piece of writing with me and asked how I felt reading it. Not what I thought about it or whether it could be improved, but how it made me feel. As simple as it sounds, her question brought me up sharp. I didn’t know how to answer. It wasn’t that I hadn’t felt anything. I just had no idea how to convey my feelings to her. I didn’t know where to start. In that moment I realised this is a big deal. Because it wasn’t just my feelings about this one passage of Fran’s that eluded me. I’ve been a writer most of my life, but I’ve always found it hard to communicate my emotions in words.

I remembered my discomfiture years ago when Fran and I began studying Non-Violent Communication (NVC). This technique focuses on identifying feelings and needs as a means to understanding what’s going on in our lives. To aid the process, there are two lists, a Needs Inventory and a Feelings Inventory. The latter contains well over two hundred feelings categorised into feelings when our needs are satisfied (86) and feelings when our needs are not satisfied (147). The idea is to use the list to identify our feelings in the moment, but I was overwhelmed at the number of options. Surely there weren’t that many feelings? (Incidentally, overwhelmed is in the needs not being met list, in the “tense” category alongside anxious, crank, distressed, and more.) I understood the purpose of the inventory was to help me clarify what was going on for me emotionally, but I found it incredibly hard to label how I was feeling at any particular time. Was I tired, for example, or was I exhausted, weary, worn out, or lethargic? Calm, or comfortable, mellow, quiet, or relaxed, all of which are in the peaceful category of feelings when our needs are being met.

It reminded me of working with colours in web and graphic design. It depends a bit on how we define things but around ten million colours can be seen with the naked eye. (1,000 levels of light-dark times 100 levels of red-green times 100 levels of yellow-blue.) Most phone cameras capture 8-bit colour, which means they can distinguish almost seventeen million colour values. Recent models can operate at 10-bit which equates to one billion colour values — way more than we can distinguish visually. Not all of these have distinguishing names, of course. It varies depending on specification but the HTML4 colour palette lists 140 names in total, including sixteen basic colours (aqua, black, blue, fuchsia, gray, green, lime, maroon, navy, olive, purple, red, silver, teal, white, and yellow). I get it, but ask me what colour the sky is, or the coffee in my cup, or the ink in my fountain pen, and I’ll struggle to reply in anything but the most basic terms. The sky is grey with flashes of blue. My coffee is dark brown. The inks in the pens I’m using are black, blue, and brown.

Back in the days when I counted myself a poet (blame Ezra Pound’s “And Thus In Nineveh” for such pretentions) I was acutely aware of how hard it was to label my feelings. No single word could accomplish the task. It was only in the mesh of words, creatively and poetically woven together, that I could capture anything of the shape and nature of my emotions. Imagine an opaque sheet draped over objects on a table. We don’t know their precise nature but we can sense their shape and texture, and their relation to one another. A further example of how hard I find it to express my feelings in writing is my use of “dot words.” This started years ago but I still do it in my journal and other personal writing. I place a dot (period) at the start of a word to indicate I’m using it in a deliberately non-precise way. It’s not so much an approximation, more a place-holder for something I can’t adequately describe or convey. I might write “I’m feeling .low today” as shorthand for “I’m feeling something I can’t really express that’s not exactly low or depressed or flat but something like that.” It saves a lot of time. I’d no idea there was a word for this difficulty in expressing my emotions but there is.

Alexithymia, also called emotional blindness, is a neuropsychological phenomenon characterized by significant challenges in recognizing, expressing, and describing one’s own emotions.

There’s an excellent overview on its presentation and overlap with other conditions including depression, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and trauma in Alexithymia: When You Have No Words To Describe How You’re Feeling. The article includes a downloadable guide to describing your emotions (similar to the NVC Feelings Inventory) and the following self-assessment checklist.

True/False Self-Assessment

Ask yourself if any of the statements are true to you.

1. I generally don’t know how I feel.

2. I typically don’t have words to describe what I’m feeling, and resort to simply saying statements such as “I’m fine,” or “I don’t know.”

3. I usually have difficulty expressing how I feel about other people.

4. When relating to others, it’s hard for me to imagine how they could be feeling.

5. It’s easier for me to talk about situations/events rather than feelings.

6. I get confused or have a hard time understanding the physical manifestations of my emotions.

I’d answer true to four of those six statements (1, 2, 3, and 5). I don’t find it hard to imagine how someone is feeling, although I’d struggle to express it to them or someone else. Regarding statement 6, I have occasionally been surprised at my emotional response to situations and events. I never cried through most of my adult life. Then one day the dam broke and I ugly cried for two hours over something that, objectively, warranted no such response. More generally, though, I’m not confused by my emotions or how they manifest. I feel a wide range of emotions. I just find it really hard to label or communicate them.

I used the word label there deliberately. To me, words are labels we attach to things. Communication requires that we attach the same labels to the same things. This is straightforward enough with physical objects. I’m happy to accept that you and I label the same things with the word tree, for example. When it comes to emotional states, though, I struggle to find the right label because I don’t know what you use it for. If I tell you I’m distressed or delighted, how do you know what I’m labeling with those words? I tend to stick to generic labels like good, sad, tired, or okay. In doing so I sacrifice fine discrimination between emotions for an improved chance you’ll get the gist.

The same applies to my use (some might say over-use) of emojis when I’m chatting online with friends. My phone keyboard supports some ninety emotion (face) emojis. I use eight with any frequency: thinking face, wink, kiss, laughing with tears, crying face, smiling face, sad face, and red heart. Limiting myself in this way, I can be reasonably sure the other person will understand what I mean. I use the smiley face and heart most of all. They convey genuine but non-specific humour, love, affection, and care. At least, I hope they do.

I mentioned my former self-identification as a poet. Published in 2008, Collected Poems: 1977–1984 is an anthology of my poetry between the ages of sixteen and twenty-three. Four decades later, they evoke the feelings and emotions of those distant times, sometimes down to the day, even the moment of the day. What do they convey to others, though? I shared them with people I was close to at the time. I published a book of them. I’ve read several of them at open mic events. They’ve moved some to tears. At least one to kisses. I shared a link to my poetry book recently on social media. Someone very dear to me from those days, who knew me as well as anyone had at that point in my life, who knew all my poems and had inspired the best of them, responded with “They were rather good.” I’m glad others are not as stricken with alexithymia as I am. Those four words conveyed as much feeling as all the poetry in my book combined. (Thank you.) When I mentioned to a different friend that I’d been reading some of my old poetry and she asked how it felt to do so, all I could say was “It feels good.” Was that it? Is that really the best I could do?

I’m reminded me of the song How Do I Feel by English singer-songwriter Judie Tzuke.

How do I feel when you’re gone?
The days and nights go on and on.
How do I feel when you’re here?
The days and nights just disappear.

The song evokes personal and very specific memories of one night in the 80s at a Judie Tzuke concert. I’d seen her perform live before, but hearing — and feeling — this song for the first time with someone I cared for yet never knew how to talk or relate to, was an experience that has never left me. Our difficulties weren’t solely due to my inability to express my feelings, but it didn’t help.

How do I feel? What do you want?

Forty years on, the same questions haunt me and I’m no closer to putting the answers into words. Maybe that’s okay, though. There are other ways of expressing emotions. I couldn’t describe to Fran how I felt reading her words, but she reassured me. “Your heart leaks over everything you do.”

It’s reassuring to know I’m not alone in this, as the quotation I opened with attests. If Jane Austen struggled at times to describe her feelings, I can be at ease with my own difficulties. This poem of mine was written four decades ago, but still has something to say.

Once
I should have thought it IMPOSSIBLE
(before I realised the meaninglessness
of the word) to find myself
in the midst of
yOUR dream:

perhaps
it is only in sharing something
this BEAUTIFUL that
we can realise the
MEANINGLESSNESS
of the words.

I may struggle to express how I’m feeling, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel. Perhaps I experience my emotions all the more intensely because I understand there’s no way to put them into words. I’m going to close with a line from the 2022 movie Tár starring Cate Blanchett which captures the essence of alexithymia perfectly.

We can’t always name the things we feel. We have feelings that are so deep and so special that we have no words for them.

 

Further Reading

If you’re interested in learning more, the free online questionnaire at Alexithymia Online is a good place to start. I scored 129 out of 185, where 0–94 indicates no alexithymia traits, 95–112 indicates possible alexithymia, and 113–185 indicates alexithymia.

Alexithymia Online recommend Animi, “the first app dedicated to improving alexithymia, emotional awareness and emotional intelligence” but I’ve not had chance to try it myself.

 

Photo by Denis Cherkashin at Unsplash.

 

Wednesday 7 February 2024

Top Ten Misconceptions about Bloggers and Blogging

Wife to husband on his return from the office: “What do you mean, ‘How was my day?’ Didn’t you read my blog?”

Cartoon by Denise Dorrance

Fran and I began our blog Gum on My Shoe in August 2013. In ten and a half years we’ve published 650 posts covering a wide range of topics, primarily focusing on mental health and supportive friendships. I thought it would be interesting to draw on our experience and address some common misconceptions about blogging and bloggers.

1. We Enjoy Writing

It might seem obvious that bloggers enjoy writing. Why else would we do it? In my case, it’s not that I especially enjoy writing. It’s more that I feel moved, even compelled, to write. It’s always been an important part of who I am and how I process and share my experiences. I’ve kept a personal journal for almost half a century. I’ve written poetry, short stories, articles and essays in the fantasy genre, and books. These days writing and publishing a new blog post each week is my primary focus. The schedule gives structure to my week and the motivation to keep exploring and sharing. But that doesnt mean I necessarily enjoy the process. As I’ve said previously, I write mostly because I’m scared to stop.

2. We Live Exotic Fun Lives

I’m sure it’s true of some bloggers, but the idea that I live a fun and exotic lifestyle is highly amusing to me! Like other social media platforms, blogging allows us to express ourselves in any way we choose. There are travel bloggers, fashion bloggers, and lifestyle bloggers. There are bloggers sharing content relating to the creative arts; writers in all genres, artists, musicians, dancers and more. Others, like me and Fran, blog in the health and mental health arenas.

Whatever the subjects we choose to write about, the best bloggers are those who write with honesty about their lives, experiences, and values. If we write from the heart, telling our stories openly and honestly, then our content can be a positive influence in the world, whether our readers consider our lives fun and exotic compared to their own, or not. Personally, I love living vicariously through the content my friends and others share online. It brings me closer to them, and allows me to experience things I never would otherwise.

3. We Live off Freebies

I wish! I know bloggers who do occasionally receive discounts, freebies, or samples of products and services as part, but in my experience this is much less common than people assume. I’ve received free copies of books in return for a review, but that’s about it. I’m sure I could find more opportunities for free or discounted items, but these are rarely completely free and it takes me a lot of time and energy to review books or other content and I only do so if I’m committed to the topic or creator involved.

4. We Spend all Our Time in Coffee Shops

Okay, this one is true, for me at least! I chose the photo for this article deliberately, because it reflects the fact that most of my blogging is done sitting at my favourite table in my favourite coffee shop near where I live. This has been a feature of my writing over the years. You can read about my top ten writing venues, all of them cafés and coffee shops. I’m grateful that Costa allow me to sit here for hours at a time, with my traveling set-up of phone, tablet, and Bluetooth keyboard. You can read more about my EDC (every day carry) here. Not all bloggers write in coffee shops, of course, but each of us will have our preferred time and place for writing, and for all the other activities that go towards publishing a blog post. I’ve shared my blogging workflow previously.

5. We Make Loads of Money

It’s clear that some bloggers and social media creators are very successful at monetising their content. In researching this post I came across a list of the Top 22 Successful Blogs and Hightest Paid Bloggers in 2024. I’ve no way of independently verifying the numbers but the bloggers in that article reportedly make between $40k and $1M per month. It’s fair to say that Fran and I don’t make anything like that from Gum on My Shoe! In fact, we make nothing at all, beyond royalties from sales of our books.

I’m not averse to making money as such and support anyone who manages to get a financial return on their investment in time, energy, knowledge, and creativity. Creating quality content isn’t easy and deserves to be rewarded financially as well as in other ways. Thus far, though, Fran and I haven’t explored any of the main ways of monetising our blog, such as affiliate marketing, advertising, sponsored posts, or selling content such as courses or other programs. Maybe one day.

6. We Never Run Out of Ideas

Not all bloggers post every week as we do, or to a specific schedule at all. In the early days of Gum on My Shoe, Fran and I posted as and when we had something worth sharing. At some point, I found that having a weekly schedule helped me organise my time and effort, and I’ve continued with that ever since. But whatever the frequency and regularity, by definition bloggers must have ideas to write about.

Despite how it might seem, this isn’t something that comes naturally to me. There are still times times I struggle to find a suitable topic for my next blog post. That said, I’ve come to trust the process and keep myself open to ideas and suggestions, no matter where they might present themselves. With this in mind, I’ve posted a collection of our articles on blogging, including two specifically related to blog topics and prompts. One is a list of 40 mental health blog topics from the caring friend’s perspective. The other is a collection of 21 image prompts for the mental health blogger.

7. Blogging Is Easy

There’s a misconception that blogging is “just writing,” but there’s much more to it than that. In addition to writing, blogging involves a range of skills and activities. Depending on topic and blogging style these may include idea generation, research, collaboration, editing, proofreading, image selection, layout and formatting, scheduling, keywords, search engine optimization (SEO), technical aspects of your chosen blogging platform (Blogger, WordPress etc), marketing and promotion, and responding to reader comments and engagement. I’ve described my blogging workflow previously, as well as how to choose the perfect image to accompany your blog post without breaching copyright or licencing laws.

8. Success Happens Overnight

Success means different things to different people, and that’s as true of bloggers as anyone else. For some, it might mean meeting targets such as the number of followers, readers, or page views. Others might be more focused on advertising revenue, sales, or other income from their blog. For some, it might be the number or prestige of collaborations, blog awards and recognition, or engagement with readers. Whatever success means to you, it’s important to celebrate your wins, no matter how big or small they might seem to others.

With all that said, the idea that blogging success happens easily or overnight overlooks both the very significant work involved in growing an online platform, and the gradual growth most bloggers experience. Blogging isn’t an activity for the impatient! No matter your aims, it requires a long-term commitment and a lot of effort. In my experience, most bloggers are highly dedicated to what they do, and approach their blogs seriously and professionally.

9. All We Care About Are the Numbers

Numbers are undoubtedly important, whether it’s the number of followers, sessions, readers/users, pageviews, or comments. (For the difference between sessions, users, and pageviews check out this article.) Statistics such as these can help you chart how your blog grows over time, which types of post or themes are most popular with your readers, and which promotional avenues are most effective. If you monetise your blog, it’s useful to know which strategies are working best for you, whether it’s advertising, affiliate marketing, sponsorships, or product sales.

I’m happy when the stats suggest our writing is reaching a wider audience. I’m also fascinated to see which older posts appearance in our monthly most viewed rankings. That said, numbers can only take you so far. Neither Fran or I, nor any of the bloggers we know treat stats as more important than they are, or mistake them for what really matters, which is engaging meaningfully with our readers.

10. We Never Talk About Anything Else

Okay, let’s be honest, there’s definitely an element of truth in this one! With a weekly publishing schedule, my current blog topic is never far from my mind, and I’m always on the lookout for new ideas. I’m often inspired by conversations with friends and colleagues, as well as things I see online. This article is a great example. It was inspired by a semi-humorous meme that listed ten misconceptions about musicians.

As well as Fran, I’m grateful to friends who are interested in my writing and happy to explore ideas with me. A special shout out to Jen and Aimee. It’s perhaps no coincidence that they are each creatives in their own right. Jen is a mental health public speaker who’s guested with us at Gum on My Shoe several times. Aimee has a highly successful mental health blog called I’m NOT Disordered.

The importance of blogging in my life is expressed perfectly by two of my favourite personal items. Last year, I treated myself to a t-shirt boldly emblazoned with the legend LIFE IS SHORT. BLOG MORE. The second item is a coffee mug Aimee gifted me last Christmas. It reads:

I MIGHT LOOK LIKE
I’M LISTENING TO YOU
but in my head
I’M THINKING ABOUT
BLOGGING

If all this seems a little self-important, it’s worth remembering that blogging and social media can make a real difference to people’s lives. In the words of English media personality, entrepreneur, and author Zoë Sugg, also known by her online name Zoella, “Every time you post something online, you have a choice. You can either make it something that adds to the happiness levels in the world — or you can make it something that takes away.”

Or, paraphrasing words often attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, “Blog the change you wish to see in the world.”

 

Photo by Bonnie Kittle at Unsplash.