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.