Meghan and I first met online in November 2015 and have been friends ever since. Fran and I have hosted two of Meghan’s posts at www.gumonmyshoe.com and I’m delighted to accept the offer of a guest slot here at alwaysunstable.com. I asked Meghan if she had a topic in mind for me:
“I’m really interested to know how you and Fran are doing since the book launch and what you’ve been up to. How has your relationship been?”
The book Meghan is referring to is “High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder.” Fran and I wrote it to share what we’ve learned about growing a caring, mutually supportive friendship between an “ill one” and a “well one,” no matter where you are in the world. I live in Newcastle in the north-east of England. Fran resides in Portland, Maine, on the other side of the Atlantic. She lives with bipolar disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome, and fibromyalgia. Despite the distance, I am her best friend and primary caregiver.
“High Tide, Low Tide” was published September 2016, almost exactly four years from its inception. We’d worked extraordinarily hard throughout the previous year: writing, editing, proofreading, as well as querying literary agents and publishers. One promising deal fell through at the eleventh hour, requiring us to regroup and press on anew. We connected with Michael Kobernus and Markus Furchner at Nordland Publishing in July. We moved from initial discussions, to signing the contract, to publication inside of three months.
As all authors know, publication is the start rather than the end of the hard work! Fran and I organized our online cover reveal event (note to self: ten hours is a bit long for an online event, I was exhausted by the end!) and release party (a much more sensible four hours, held online and in person in Portland). We organized a book reading as a fundraiser for Maine mental health nonprofit Family Hope. The event was held at Blue in Portland, with the generous support of local artists and musicians. Fran was there in person; I attended live via webcam. I also took part via video link in a panel discussion on Mental Health and Social Media organised by Maine Behavioral Healthcare. There were interviews and podcasts, and approaches to individuals and organizations to promote the book.
We were delighted with our book’s initial success, and grateful for the dedication of those who supported us. Even positive energy can be overwhelming, however, and the pace of things began to take its toll. There were disappointments too as it became clear the wider exposure we’d worked so hard for was not forthcoming.
There was also the personal dimension. Ours is a very personal book, in which we explore the inner workings of our friendship and lives. Fran in particular found herself torn between wanting to promote our book, and needing to protect herself from any unwanted attention, stigma and discrimination. It was a challenging time for us both. Despite our best efforts, Fran’s energy and mood crashed, precipitating an episode of fatigue and depression which lasted through winter and well into the spring.
I had always anticipated driving our book promotion and marketing campaign, but with Fran focused on her own wellbeing (and me on helping support her do that) I found myself struggling to stay on track. Ironically, given the fact we had just written an entire book, I
struggled to write for our blog, and to fulfil the guest invitations we had been offered elsewhere. I felt I was letting myself and our book down.
By New Year it was clear we needed to regroup. And we took steps to do just that.
The first thing was to let go of the guilt; the feeling we “should” be doing more than we were able to. Fran took a deliberate step back from social media, and also limited her social interactions locally. We brought our energies in for a while. We completed a meditation course together. We watched movies, and immersed ourselves in the Brit drama Downton Abbey.
We focused on our successes. Ever since we met, Fran has worked hard to address her relationship with food and shed the weight she’d gained in recent years—partly as a direct result of her medications. She’d made huge progress, but much of the weight she originally lost had crept back. Pulling back for a while allowed her to concentrate on healthy strategies. Finally she developed from the inside out one that works. She has lost twenty pounds in the past six months in a series of controlled steps, holding her weight steady for a week or so before pressing on again towards her longer term goals. The warmer weather has also encouraged her outside. She is taking walks and cycle rides, and is committing herself to a summer full of nature.
On the writing front, I established a weekly blogging strategy, and invited guests to contribute. I find myself writing with more focus, though I still grind to a halt from time to time. Education and training are important elements of my wellness strategy. I completed the NoStigmas Ally (advocacy) training, a short course on book marketing, and am working through Rachel Thompson’s excellent “BadRedhead Media 30-Day Book Marketing Challenge.”
We have succeeded in bringing our book to a wider, professional, audience. “High Tide, Low Tide” is listed on The Counsellors Cafe website and Students’ Reading List (www.thecounsellorscafe.co.uk) and has been taken by a number of libraries, including Newcastle upon Tyne here in the UK, Warwick (Rhode Island), Portland (Maine), and Rapid City (South Dakota). Our podcast interview with John Wilson of Online Events (www.onlinevents.co.uk) is included in their Continuing Professional Development resource library for therapists and counsellors.
It hasn’t all been easy going. Spring brought serious and unforeseen challenges of my own, and we have not been able to take up all the opportunities which have presented themselves. Nevertheless, we are moving forward with renewed hope. A highlight was having my article “10 Ways to Support a Friend With Mental Illness When You’re Apart” published at TheMighty.com. To date it has attracted over 1,200 Likes.
The greatest rewards, though, are not the interviews and podcasts, the book reviews, endorsements, or even the sales, welcome though they are. The true rewards are the personal connections we continue to make and develop. A few weeks ago I was invited to meet with a group working within the Social Work department at Northumbria University. Despite having no advance knowledge of the project I felt immediately and warmly accepted and my modest contribution was both welcomed and valued.
Fran and I were recently contacted through our mental health Facebook page by a lady looking for help in understanding their relationship with a friend who lives with mental illness. She had found us through our various blogs and articles. We messaged, and she later told me it was the first time she had met someone able to understand how it was for her. She bought a copy of our book but it’s not about that. The knowledge we had been able to help another person was priceless.
“It is not only the knowledge, Martin, it is compassion, the feeling that someone understands you in an irrational situation. Others might say OK, do not talk to her then, but nobody else has understood that there is logic behind all the irrational outbursts and mood swings.”
That’s why Fran and I do what we do. That’s why we will keep turning the pages.
About the Author
Living in the north-east of England, Martin Baker is an ASIST trained Mental Health First Aider and Time to Change Champion. A member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Mind, and Bipolar UK, he is primary caregiver and lifeline to his best friend and co-author Fran Houston. Passionate about making invisible illness visible, Fran lives in Portland, Maine. You can find more on their website and blog( www.gumonmyshoe.com) or connect via Facebook( www.facebook.com/GumOnMyShoe )or Twitter (GumOnMyShoeBook).
“High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder” (Nordland Publishing, 2016) is available from Amazon, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, and selected booksellers.