I have definitely come a long way since opening up about my mental health challenges in 2013, and PTSD diagnosis which followed in 2014. Could it be just 6 years gone? I have come to realize the best way to liberate yourself of the yoke of stigma and shame, face dem phobias and foes, is to #speakyourmind. When you do that, you without knowing give others the permission to relate and #daretohopetoo.
I run an organisation today which at barely 10 months got a US Embassy grant to principally carry out mental health awareness, advocacy and look at what structures could be put in place to facilitate mental well-being. I know there is more to come and to be done.
I share this tweet from the Global Mental Health Peer Network to which I belong too as the executive representing Cameroon, to encourage and motivate us all on this day.
#WMHD2019. Together we can prevent and reduce #suicide rates through – Raise #awareness; Eliminate #stigma; Create #support structures for those suffering; Provide safe spaces to #speak about struggles; Make sure that no one feels alone; Generate #hope! @global_peer
A special shout out to Ashley Peterson who blogs over at Mentalhealth@Home.
A Mental illness is not a death sentence. Clinical depression can only last that long. Joe is 38 and is ok with the world knowing he has been struggling with his mental health for 4 years and lost touch recently. But, #thereishope. I received him at the Integration Clinic Bonamousadi Douala Cameroon yesterday and he was hospitalised for a closer follow up and holistic treatment approach.
Ekema is a peer diagnosed with Schizophrenia 25 years ago and living with me since June 2018. He is doing so well now and is
working at the Hope for the Abused and Battered center currently running from home. He came to visit Joe and reassure him all will be well. Visit us at http://www.hope4abusedbattered.com
I want to celebrate Ekema today. It is equally his 39th Birthday. He lives with us since June after his last discharge from the Psychiatry ward. You see, I was an intern at the Psychiatry ward and on my very first day there I went into the ‘infamous cabano’ and Ekema spoke to my spirit without my knowing then we would still be together 8 months later. And so on his special day, I am sharing what I just wrote to him on Facebook because I want the world to know #itispossible and that #ThereisHope, let’s #BetheHope
Dear Ekema: I want the world to know.
I remember April 02-2018 very well. That was my 1st day there and I was told not to go into the Cabano. I was told only the most crazy are kept there…and yes, when I finally defied and went in there a few hours later, you appealed to me immediately because you spoke English and offered me your journal to read all the projects you had in there for your family and society. The only words I recall hearing and understanding were Buea, Fakoship, Lawyer Makolo…the rest I couldn’t catch because you spoke them through your ‘forest-like’ beard at the speed of lightening. Your gaze seemed piercing and you paced so ferociously in your cell. I didn’t know then I will welcome you into my home, but I knew I wanted to help you out as most as I could. 8 months later, we are still helping each other out. You are a great uncle Ekema to to the boys, and a wonderful small brother to me. I have a wonderful family in that Buea now thanks to you and the world also knows about you. On this special day of yours, as you turn 39, what else can I wish you other than that your journey here on earth keeps getting better and better? You told me last night ma it’s 5th and not 15th, I was so proud of you for that because back in the hospital you had told me you don’t know and you don’t really care because you had never celebrated any. God will help celebrate this one. I appreciate you, you are my hero, you are an inspiration to many. God bless you always dear Albert Ekema Makolo. To God be the Glory great things he has done…
More than any birthday wishes or gifts; reading and reflecting on this post will bring me such joy and appreciation for your time
- That my PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) be as visible as my RA (Rheumatoid Arthritis);
- That when my head spins like a carousel making it hard to think and act normal, it attracts as much sympathy and why not empathy, just like when my joints ache and my knee cap swells making it hard to walk;
- That when the inflammations from the RA make me writhe in pain and am more nervous, agitated and weird, it be just understood as the natural consequence of the physical pain without any allusion to my PTSD;
- That when I need to rest or stay away and just be alone doing my thing, even if I should normally be functional and ‘acting normal’, it will not be construed as having an attitude;
- That whether on any meds or not, that should not determine/grossly affect my state of health, wellbeing nor feeling of belonging;
- That my sons grow to not distinguish between my conditions but get it that I need to rest and recuperate either condition;
- That my sons shun from stigmatizing anyone be it in our extended family or not, who may be struggling with any condition be it physical or mental;
- That any friends am making henceforth know like the few I still have that I have both a physical and mental illness, that am not defined by any of them, but that I don’t tolerate any stigma of my person nor of any person living with either illness or health conditions;
- That I always remember to be grateful for all I have lived and currently live, and especially that I didn’t commit suicide as attempted February 2009 when I thought that was the best solution to my then miserable existence…
I have but 9 wishes, because the other 30 slot years of my life have oh been so graciously filled with so much to be grateful for… It is only getting better and I thank my angels and Guardian Angel for my family and my dear ‘e-family’ from whom I have learned so much and with whom I share so much.
P.s: The irony this year is, I wrote this post on Monday 15th and had an RA flareup on Tuesday 16th and was bed grounded on Wednesday 17th January. The get well soon messages on different mediums made me reflect if I had blogged about suffering a mental meltdown.
Anyways; Here is a recap of some of my previous birthday posts since the great redemption. I was born on a Thursday too so it feels special special lol
2016 Year of Love (was sick and on a 3 weeks blogging break-although I got a surprise birthday cake from the host of a TV Show I was guest on – that was so touching) ;
My birthday Vlog of that very painful 2014 (When I lost my only brother Gabriel and near lost all my mind) still holds today. Hope the message resonates
When I got there
I was scared to go near
I knew it was out of bounds
Heard it belonged to a shaggy fellow
He knew none will dare
offer to clear
all the clutter with any duster
it was an implied taboo to go any near
The reasons were never so clear
the arguements made no sense
nor did I care for either
was done with all the quagmires
I dared to ask and sure It was NO
I recalled Silent but Stuborn love
I dared to go there and did my best
the end result we both loved
a bond like none other had been born
Stigma can actually be from the source
It takes a lot to clear that out
But with love, it can be done
OH YES -ALLELUIA
I broke the Taboo
p.s: Believe me when I write pictures are too graphic of the before to share – needless to share the picture of the after. I am most grateful for the grace to go through and clean up the clutter with passion, love and affection. I was proud of my work and stayed in that space a while with love. The appreciation was tremendous. Sometimes breaking through deserves silent love and nothing more.
Unconditional Friendship tested in dire times of need and deed
This memoir is like none I have ever read before in the sense that it literally took me through high tides and low tides before I found a balance again. I am not the first reviewer of this book to say it is not a read for the faint of heart. The authors when I interviewed them told me it was merely their intention to share their complex friendship between one ‘well’ person and one ‘unwell’ person, made all the more intriguing by the over 3000 miles seperating them. Indeed, they have physically met only once and yet, Martin Baker (the well friend), is from every indication Fran Houston’s (the unwell friend) main carer. How wouldn’t he be when we know (and I know from personal experience) how easy it is to lose relationships with both friends and family when you live with a mental illness.
This memoir will challenge you and your beliefs especially about mental illness, inform you, soothe you and yes challenge you again to be and do better, be you well or unwell. One thing I find interesting is how the friendship is not only so open, but how both friends are candidly so honest with each other. They have some mantras I am already copying and loving such as Care but not Control; Give me what I need and not what you think I need; and many more al so soul searching. It is simply awesome to read all this. The way they virtually go on trips, navigate their days and engagements and plan joint projects like writing this book together you know.
Talking about style; the way this book is written makes it a very comfy read once you make peace with the soul search, because hardly any technical jargons are used. The book shows some indepth research, one which Martin also admits to carry out to learn how to better take care of his best friend. Indeed, Martin admits to have read far and wide, joined some associations and talked with lots of people both on and offline. Their book may be a guide no doubt but a very soulful and invaluable one. Fran Houston could have a Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis but she is every other friend too. Unconditional Friendship tested both in times of need and deed could not have been better demonstrated. I can’t but give this book a raving 5 star while recommending same without the least reservation to others be you well or unwell.
P.S: Kindly Check out some previous posts about this memoir and its impact on me below
Ok World, here we go with P2 while you could read P1 if you missed that
3) The Writing
Did any books/memoirs influence your writing (style, presentation, content)? If yes, why?
Many books and writers inspired us! Although not a direct influence, the book most relevant to ours is Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder, by Julie A. Fast and John D. Preston. The Stigma Fighters Anthology, edited by Sarah Fader, inspired and challenged us to keep things honest in our writing.
Did you have a writing mentor?
Not as such, but we had superb support throughout the writing process from many people. Without their help and guidance our book would not be what it is: indeed, it might never have been completed at all. Some people reviewed early drafts, others edited chapters, or suggested approaches to take with agents and publishers. It is hard to single out individuals (we recognise many in our Acknowledgements page) but we are especially grateful to Julie A. Fast and Rachel Kelly, who contributed so much, and gave generously of their time and expertise.
Which was the most difficult chapter to write in your book and why?
The most challenging to write was chapter 2, “The Illness Experience: Understanding Your Friend’s Diagnosis and Symptoms.” I’d imagined it would be pretty straightforward to describe the illnesses Fran has to deal with (bipolar disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome, and fibromyalgia). In fact, it involved a lot of research and editing to describe these complex conditions succinctly but accurately, and in a way relevant to our readers.
Which if any was your favourite chapter to write and why?
Our favourite is chapter 7, “The ‘S’ Word: Being There When Your Friend Is Suicidal.” That might seem an odd choice, but it’s a topic we feel passionate about and wanted to cover as honestly and thoroughly as possible. We hope we have contributed to a wider conversation about suicide and suicidal thinking.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and if yes, what was it?
Martin: I learned that writing a book and getting it published is hard work! Joking aside, our four year journey taught me a great deal on many different levels. I learned how to plan, write, and edit a book, and how to query literary agents and publishers. I took courses including Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) and Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST). I read widely, focusing on personal accounts of mental illness. I also learned to listen. To Fran, yes, but also to other people. Meditation, NVC (Non-Violent Communication) and other techniques helped with that. I gained hugely in confidence. I learned I had a voice, and something worth speaking out about.
Fran: Absolutely! Writing this book I really opened myself up from a vulnerability standpoint, to share everything with the world. That was really scary but there was also a freedom that I gained from doing that. It also helps us in a practical way. Just the other day when I was in depression, Marty read to me from our chapter on depression and it helped remind me what we can do to shift out of it.
How long did it take you to write and get the book published and why?
High Tide, Low Tide was published almost exactly four years after Fran first suggested the idea to me. That included planning, drafting, writing, researching, editing (and re-editing and re-editing!) the manuscript itself. It also included writing a full book proposal (which took far longer than I imagined it would), as well as querying literary agents and publishers. The later chapters draw heavily on our personal correspondence. It took a lot of time and effort to locate, organise and select from the many thousands of lines of our Skype, Facebook and text (SMS) messages, as well as letters, emails, and my personal journal. By the time we found our publisher (Nordland Publishing) our book was completely written and edited. Things moved ahead swiftly from there: High Tide, Low Tide was published within three months.
4) The Message
Do you have any advice for other writers especially on challenging subjects like mental health?
My main advice is to keep it real. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to include everything but it does mean being honest about what you put in there. Can readers tell the difference? I think so. We are very open about how things are for us, both individually and as friends. We cover some challenging subjects including stigma, discrimination, rejection, mania, depression and suicidal thinking. We include transcripts of many of our conversations, so people can see first-hand how our friendship works under these kinds of challenge. We also include times when things didn’t go so well. That’s important because it would be wrong to give the impression I always know what to do, or handle things perfectly. We get things wrong all the time! Real life is messy. How you handle the messy bits and get back on track is what matters most.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Fran expressed it really well at the end of our book, highlighting the difference we can make if we are there for those we care about:
“There are many like me who live in invisible institutions of stigma, shame, and silence, the walls built by others from without, or by ourselves from within. Dismantling these walls invites connection. Be the gum on someone’s shoe who has one foot inside and one foot outside. Stick around. It may not be easy but you can help someone make a life worth living. Maybe even save a life. One little bit by one little bit. A smile, a wink, a hello, a listening ear, a helping hand, a friendship all work together to interrupt the grasp of illness. Be open and honest, with your friend and others you meet. Judge not, for misunderstandings abound. Acceptance, understanding, and kindness can pave another way. Let’s.”
One reader wrote to us and said, “Your journey as friends reminds us that mental illness doesn’t change what friendship is all about: being there for those we love.” That’s a great answer too!
Any other writing projects, blogging etc?
We blog regularly at www.gumonmyshoe.com and elsewhere, including The Good Men Project, The Mighty, Time to Change, Men Tell Health, I’m NOT Disordered, and Julie A. Fast’s blog at bipolarhappens.com. Fran has written for the Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram. An open letter to her psychiatrist was published in The Maine Review. We love having guests on our blog, so if you’d like to write for us, check out our guidelines (www.gumonmyshoe.com/p/contact.html) and drop us a line!
Where can your book be found?
High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and a wide range of other retailers. You can find further details and links on our website (www.gumonmyshoe.com/p/book.html).
Thank you very much Martin and Fran for answering my questions. I must admit your answers will genuinely help me write a comprehensive review of your epic book.
Hello World, I love doing interviews with authors who have written on mental health, especially about their personal experiences living with any mental challenges or supporting someone living with them. It is with such profound feelings that I interview co-authors Martin Baker and Fran Houston. Their book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder is probably to my soul like none other I have read before in this genre. I will be doing a review of their book in the following days but I wanted the authors to enlighten me and hopefully you my readers and followers some more.
1) The Profile
Let’s start with a brief introduction of yourself, your background, and a tiny bit about your childhood:
I will go first (Martin). I was born in Liverpool in the north-west of England, where I lived until the age of eighteen. I graduated in Pharmacy from the University of Bradford in 1983 and spent the next three years doing postgraduate research at The Parkinson’s Disease Research Centre at King’s College London, before moving to Newcastle upon Tyne in 1987. I’ve lived here ever since. I had very little experience of mental illness until I met Fran online in May 2011. Despite us living three thousand miles apart, I am Fran’s main support and caregiver. Our transatlantic friendship has taught me a lot about living with illness, but more importantly about what it means to be a good friend.
Fran: Me next! I graduated from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in 1991, and worked as a successful electrical engineer until I was overtaken by illness. I was diagnosed with major depression in 1994 and with bipolar disorder in 2003. I also have chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. I used to live on Peaks Island in Maine. Inspired by the island’s rich history, I interviewed and photographed long-time residents. The photos and interviews were exhibited locally and also published as For the Love of Peaks: Island Portraits and Stories, a Collection. This led to me appearing on Maine Public Broadcasting Network and National Public Radio to talk about my book and the challenges of living with illness. I was also a columnist with the Island Times. I was still living on Peaks Island when Marty and I met. I moved to Portland, Maine, in 1993. I love Portland and my many friends who love me dearly. I live with a beta fish named Jewells who often makes me laugh and gives me a reason for living.
2) The Soul Journey
Martin, why? I mean, I have heard of a sibling who tried to help and even gave up, but I have never read of a friend of someone living with bipolar disorder.
That is really why we wrote our book, because there is nothing else out there specifically for friends. Each chapter starts with a question. The final chapter asks exactly what you just asked: “Why do you do it?” There isn’t one single answer. Our friendship enriches my life as much as it enriches Fran’s. I have gained so much in the time we have been friends. I believe I am a better person because of it. Ultimately, Fran is my best friend, and that’s what best friends do—they look out for each other.
Fran, did you feel guilty at any point for your mental health and the impact it was having on your friendship? If yes what did you think or do, if no please explain for us.
This is a great question, Marie! I do wonder how Marty is doing when I’m not well but I never feel guilty about it with him. Not in my mania or in my depression. I have felt guilty about it with some others. Safety and guilt go together for me. I feel safe with Marty, that’s why I don’t feel guilty. With other people, I profusely apologized for myself and my behavior when I was manic, but I also expected them to be responsible for their behavior.
Martin, can you tell us how your wife and son appreciate your having a friend like Fran, who could need you at any hour?
My family has been incredibly supportive, both of my friendship with Fran and the book we have brought out together. My wife contributed a piece to the book, and it is through my son that Fran and I found a publisher! More generally, they are very supportive of the help I am able to give to Fran and others, and the other work I do these days in the mental health arena, such as online work and volunteering with the UK anti-stigma charity Time to Change.
Do you two think the distance is helping your friendship stay alive or killing it slowly?
In some ways living 3,000 miles apart limits our friendship. Fran can’t invite me round for a meal, say, or meet me in town for a coffee. I can’t help her with chores, fetch groceries, or give her a ride to appointments like I would if we lived in the same city. On the other hand, we get to share a great deal just as easily as if we lived close together. Social media and instant messaging mean we are never really out of touch. We meet on webcam almost every day. We talk (a lot!), watch movies and read books together. In some ways it enhances our relationship. As long as there’s an internet signal we can connect, no matter what time of day it is, where we might be (at home, out about town, on vacation etc.) or what we might be doing.
Do you have any candid advice to friends of people with a bipolar disorder diagnosis? I will appreciate advice from each of you.
Martin: The key advice I’d offer is to keep the channels of communication open. For us that means daily chat conversations and Skype calls. That might be too much for some people, but however you “do the talking thing,” be someone your friend knows will be there for them no matter what happens. (And yes, that might include taking a phone call or responding to a message in the middle of the night.) Be someone your friend can trust not to turn away when things get rough. How do you do that? We sum it up as “Be who you are. Do what you can. Embrace the journey.” Don’t try and be someone you are not. You don’t have to do everything. Find your role in your friend’s support team and make it yours. There will be some bad times for sure, but also lots of good times. Share it all.
Fran: Three things come to mind. Commit yourself to your own self-care, keep healthy boundaries, and have understanding and empathy. Self-care means remembering to take care of your needs as well as your friend’s. Like taking some time off if you need it, or having someone to talk to or support you when things are hard. Keeping healthy boundaries is linked with self-care. What happens sometimes is friends get all enmeshed with the bipolar person. Someone manic can be interesting and exciting, but it can be toxic if you are not careful. Healthy boundaries means being aware of what is going on and not doing things you don’t want to do just to keep them happy. It’s ok to say no. Don’t go down the drain with your bipolar friend! Understanding and empathy means listening to your friend, to what is happening with them, and not trying to fix things or do everything….
Stop by on Wednesday for Part 2 of this exciting and yet so soulful interview