I’ve moved to Substack!

Hey, it’s been a while! I’ve moved over to the writing platform substack with a newsletter! You can subscribe for free for weekly articles on mental health, mental illness, culture and short stories. There’s also a post every Sunday just for paid subscribers. Last week I looked at how it took eight years for me to clear my overdraft, and in recent weeks shared how I found a publisher for my mental health book.

If you’ve enjoyed my posts here on Stumbling Mind over the years I’d love to see you over on my substack page, and subscribe to The Salty Mental. I’ll also include updates on my new book I’m currently writing!

I’ve Written A Book! Writing ‘Living At The Speed Of Light’

I’ve wanted to write a book for years. More specifically, I’ve wanted to write a book about my experiences of mental illness. So about five years ago, I started putting together a memoir, of everything I’ve been through living with Bipolar disorder. When it was finished, I sent it to a few publishers….but it wasn’t what they were looking for. I shelved it, believing no one was interested in hearing my story. In early 2019 I told myself I’d send it out one last time, not with much hope or expectation of anything coming of it. This time though, the response was different. The publisher, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, were willing to work with me, if I made some changes. We discussed it over a couple of weeks and came to the decision that the book could work as part memoir, part guide to living with Bipolar disorder.

I put together a proposal of what the book would look like, and wrote a sample chapter. The answer; they liked it, and I had a book deal!

Now I just had to write it. I couldn’t use my original manuscript, I had to start from scratch. I had four months to get it as perfect as I could. It wasn’t an easy process. Writing a book is bloody hard work! Anyone that writes a blog, journals, or talks about their mental illness on social media knows that it’s draining. After a day spent writing about my experiences for the book, and sharing my insights and advice, I was emotionally exhausted. I had to look after myself during those four months and talk it through with people close to me, like my partner Jimi. Then I sent it to my publisher. I was so nervous to press send on that email! I didn’t need to be – there were changes I needed to make, but nothing stressful. Before I knew it, the editing process was complete.

Of course the book needed a name – and the one we finally decided on – Living At The Speed Of Light. I felt it really explained what life can be like sometimes living with bipolar, with changing extreme moods ruling your life.

Now the book is available to preorder! It’s out officially on 18th March 2021. It’s for anyone who lives with Bipolar, who feels they may have it or is newly diagnosed. It’s for those of you who have someone in your life with Bipolar, and you want to learn more about it, and ways you can help. It’s also for anyone that just wants to know more about Bipolar from someone who’s been through it, and lived with the condition for nearly 20 years.

I’m immensely proud of this book. I wrote it thinking about what I had needed when I was first diagnosed with Bipolar disorder. I needed someone who had been there, that had found their way through the maze of this ridiculously complex illness and had advice and knowledge to share. I would have wanted a story I could relate to, and tips for living and thriving that actually made sense. My goal is that Living At The Speed Of Light will help people with Bipolar disorder, and it will help others understand what it’s like to live with. If it helps one person, then it’s all been worth it.

Hiding Behind A Smile

What do these photos say to you? You probably see a happy, smiling young person, enjoying life. The reality is I was ill in each of these photos.

I’d either just had a diagnosis of bipolar, or was about to be diagnosed. You can’t see it, but I was all over the place mentally – either depressed or manic, it was relentless and I felt stuck in a never-ending loop. I don’t remember being stable for more than a week at a time. Mania made me confident and almost euphoric, but at the same time I was dealing with delusional thinking and spending thousands of pounds that I couldn’t really afford. Then there was the irritability and anger that made me act out and say terrible things. Crushing depression left me feeling hopeless and stuck. I was also struggling with bulimia and in no way was I taking care of myself physically. To be honest, it was a shitty time in my life. Somehow through it all, I was working full time, spent the weekends partying with friends and going to festivals and gigs. I never stopped and I was always, always, smiling.

By that point in my life I’d become an expert at pretending everything was fine, hiding behind a mask and smiling through the pain.

It’s obvious with hindsight what was about to happen; I crashed. I became deeply depressed – the worst I’d ever felt. I was suicidal and couldn’t work, couldn’t go out, could barely function enough to have a shower. It forced me to confront what I’d been going through for years and start searching for a reason why. The answer was bipolar, and that started me on a long road of learning and acceptance. It taught me I have to be honest. I couldn’t hide anymore.

It’s easy to see a smiling face and assume everything is totally ok. But it’s not enough to just assume. Someone you love could be hiding how much they’re struggling and you may never know.

So ask the difficult questions; tell them you’ve noticed signs that something isn’t quite right. Reach out to them if they suddenly become withdrawn. Listen like you’re really listening, mean it when you empathise with them and ask how you can help. The mask will slip, and how you act when it does will make a huge difference to that person.

I wish I’d been more open about how I was coping. I wish I’d told the truth back then. But here I am now, being authentic and honest. It’s never too late to stop hiding, to let people in. I’m always blown away by the support I have from family and friends. It’s not always easy for them, and we communicate our feelings to each other when mental illness makes life tough. I have lost friends but, the ones that really care will stay by your side.

How to Help Someone with Bipolar Disorder

I’ve had a diagnosis of bipolar disorder since 2012. It’s been a rough journey and I’m still learning more about the condition, even now. My loved ones have been on the ride along with me, and we’ve had to learn together how they can best support me. I’ve put together what I believe helps – and a little about what doesn’t.

Learn their triggers and warning signs

Talking to your loved one about their triggers for an episode, and warning signs that one is about to happen, can help you help them. Triggers vary from stress, difficulty sleeping or insomnia, or a physical illness. Keep an eye out on major events happening in their life and how if they’re feeling overwhelmed it could lead to a bipolar episode. Ask them about their warning signs so you know what to watch out for. For instance for me, warning signs of a manic episode include; sleeping less, spending more, fast speech and having much more energy than usual.

Try not to become too controlling. Telling them what to do, how to look after themselves and taking over complete control of their life (such as their finances) can lead to your loved one pushing you away.

Let them share their experiences with you

If you can offer your support and listen free of judgement, your loved one with bipolar disorder will trust you more and will be more likely to open up if they’re struggling in the future. Listening and having empathy for someone’s situation doesn’t mean you have to totally get it. You don’t have to have been through the same thing in order to be supportive. Listening attentively can be a powerful tool.

Learn more about bipolar disorder

It shouldn’t be up to your loved one to answer every single question you have. From my own experience, it can be incredibly draining explaining every little detail about how bipolar impacts my life. If you can show you’re committed to learning more, it will show you respect love and support them. A great place to start is Bipolar UK who have tons of information about the illness. They also run support groups in the community and have an ecommunity on their website.

Make a plan

Before an episode of mania starts, make a plan together. First off, they’ll be more receptive to your ideas. They’ll be more in control and be able to look objectively at previous episodes of mania. Decide together what will help them, and what support and help they want when they are seriously ill. Write down your decisions, and keep them in a safe place for when you need them.

Help them stick to healthy routines. Again to keep them healthy, and during an episode, you could help them stick to a routine. Making sure they have regular meals and a sleep routine will either help to keep them well, or be in a healthier place when the mania/depression ends. 

When they’re manic, join in with their activities. During an episode you could do things together with them. If they are being creative, join in. It shows you’re interested in what they are up to, and means you can make boundaries on how long they spend on the activity. Again, don’t force them to stop, but remind them of other things they need to do that day, or that they need to eat, sleep and look after themselves.

Talk through their behaviour

Sometimes when someone is very ill, their behaviour can be challenging.  It’s difficult to understand and to deal with. Often when someone is manic/ hypomanic, they can be very disinhibited. Their behaviour could be embarrassing for you. It might be strange and they act oddly around you and others. It could even be upsetting or aggressive. It’s important that you talk about this, and don’t let it fester. It probably isn’t the best time to talk to them right there and then, because in a manic or hypomanic state they might not listen to reason. Actually, they almost definitely won’t. They won’t be able to see your point of view. So, its best to wait until they’re stable.

Write down what you want to tell them, so you don’t forget what it was they said or did. Writing it down can help you cope with your own feelings, without reaching boiling point. Calmly discuss their behaviour, and how their words or actions made you feel. Try not to judge or be overly critical. Remember that they were ill at the time, and would not have been aware of how much they upset or concerned you. Tell them how their actions and words made you feel. Don’t accuse them of acting in a certain way or generalise; instead turn it around and explain how you felt at the time.

Don’t panic! Some symptoms (like psychosis) can be scary and daunting to deal with. Try to stay calm and follow this advice.

if you’re worried about a loved one, make sure you seek help. This could be through their GP, psychiatrist or community mental health team. You’re able to attend appointments with them, which can help in a number of ways; you can offer support, you may have insights into their behaviour they do not, they may have trouble remembering what’s been said and you can help them make decisions about their care, or advocate on their behalf.

Lastly, it’s ok to find it difficult! It’s ok to be angry with them if they’re offensive and rude during a manic episode. It’s ok to be upset and frustrated when they’re depressed. Make sure you take care of yourself, so you’re in a better place to support them.

How To Help A Friend With Depression

Depression is common, but it’s also common for people to freak out and not know how to support a friend. Below, I’ve listed a few ways in which you can help a friend with depression.


Listening, real, active listening, can be your superpower. Hearing what someone has told you means you can then validate their feelings, and make them feel less alone. Ask questions to get more information, rather than assuming you understand. Instead repeat back what they’ve told you in your own words, so they can see you’ve heard. Don’t make it about you and your own experiences, listen and show empathy; do this by showing your interest in what they’re telling you, through your words and body language.

Help them find support

This is easier said than done, but if you can help them get the ball rolling, by encouraging them to make that first phone call, taking them to appointments, or even advocating for them at appointments, it’s better than doing nothing. Depression can make people isolate themselves, and that includes accessing therapy and going to appointments. Check up on them and encourage them to continue with their treatment, by doing one of the above.

Offer to help practically

Practical help can be just as vital as listening. Knowing your place is a mess for instance, can make you feel guilty and worthless. They might need help shopping for groceries and essentials, or help tidying their home or room. It’s important to not take over and do absolutely everything for them. It can make them too reliant on you, or even make them feel guilty and like a burden. Try to share out the workload if you can, or offer to do something they absolutely feel they can’t face.

Don’t pressure them – but don’t exclude

When someone is depressed, they’ll be less sociable. It might feel frustrating when they’re invited out, but refuse to go. Don’t pressurise them or make them feel guilty for not going out. This doesn’t mean ignoring them completely though. You can still include them by extending an invitation. Try saying something along the lines of, ‘we’re going to the pub, you’re welcome to come if you’re feeling up to it.’ Acknowledging they’re having a difficult time, will make it easier on them if they feel they’re not ready..

Be patient

It can be a slow process for your friend to start feeling better and more like themselves. They’ll have good days when you think they’re ok, but then this could be followed by more bad days. Recovering from a bout of depression isn’t linear, and even when they’re in the middle of the storm, they might have days when they seem absolutely fine.

Stay in touch

Don’t let a friendship drift because they have depression! Staying in touch can make all the difference to them, especially during a time when other people might pull away, because they don’t know how to deal with it.

Learn about depression

One of the best gifts you can give a friend is simply learning more about depression. This doesn’t mean showering them with advice and ‘have you tried?!’ it’s reading up about what it’s really like, the signs and symptoms and what kind of support is out there. If you know the signs and symptoms, you will be more aware if they or someone else in your life becomes depressed. You can also share with them any information you’ve found on support groups etc.

Take care of yourself

Make sure to take time for you. Practise your own self care, and set boundaries around how much help you can provide, such as how much time you can spend on the phone talking to your friend.

And remember, this is still your friend. They haven’t suddenly changed into a stranger. You can still treat them and talk to them how you would at any other time.

How To Sensitively Talk To Someone Having Suicidal Thoughts

It can feel incredibly tough to talk to someone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts, but it’s so important to have these conversations. We often worry about making the situation worse if we talk about it, but actually, we could just end up alienating that person by not talking about it. Language is a powerful tool, and the way we use it can have a huge impact on someone’s life. It’s important to use language sensitively when talking to someone about suicidal thoughts.

Suicide and having suicidal thoughts is often stigmatised. People are often afraid to talk about it, but that’s the best way to remove the stigma.

I have felt suicidal in the past, and the people around me have been scared and confused as to what they can do and how they should help. It doesn’t have to be complicated. I’ve spoken to close family and friends about how to talk to me when I might be suicidal, and I wanted to share here what helps me.

Active Listening

You don’t have to be an expert to talk to someone experiencing suicidal feelings. Active listening is a good place to start. It’s all about giving the person space to talk, without interruption. When it’s your turn to listen, don’t spend the time planning what to say next. You can’t rehearse and listen at the same time. Think only about what the other person is saying. Don’t jump in with advice, instead listen and really hear what they’re saying about their feelings and emotions. Be nonjudgemental – because only they know the thoughts and feelings and you can only find out what they are by listening. Wait for them to pause, before asking questions, and those questions should be just to clarify what’s been said. So really you could call it being a sensitive listener.

Choose Your Words Carefully

Using the correct terms around suicide shows you’re compassionate and understanding. If you use the word ‘commit’ you’re suggesting it’s a crime. Suicide in the UK hasn’t been illegal since 1961. If someone has heard you using this term, they might be less willing to open up about their thoughts when they’re struggling. Instead use terms such as ‘died by suicide’ or ‘took their own life.’ Showing you’ve changed your language shows you’re willing to be there and listen.

Don’t Avoid The Subject

You don’t have to give advice when someone opens up to you, so don’t be afraid of talking to someone about suicide. You can point them in the direction of help – whether that’s helpline numbers, their mental health team, or calling the emergency number. You can help them by taking them to an appointment, or to A&E, if it’s an emergency. We often worry talking will trigger someone into doing something drastic, but having a listening ear and someone to talk to maybe just what they need.

Show you care by showing empathy. Empathy is about even if you’ve never experienced what they’re going through, you can appreciate the way they feel. Try not to share your own experiences, instead, ask them questions that give them the opportunity to be honest. It’ll encourage them to think about their thoughts and feelings in a way they never have before.

Remember – not to speculate about suicide you may have read about in the news, especially if it’s about the method. This can be triggering for people that may be struggling with difficult, intrusive thoughts.

If you are in crisis and are concerned for your own, or someone else’s safety, call 999 or go to A&E

Samaritans – 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org. The Samaritans are available 24/7 and are completely anonymous.

Managing Sleep

I know a ton of us, especially right now when we’re under lockdown, are struggling to get a good night’s kip. How can a lack of sleep affect us? I’ll also look at some tips and advice that have helped me along the way.

Why is sleep so important?

Sleep refreshes us, it keeps us going. But when you live with Bipolar disorder, or any mental health condition really, a lack of sleep can have a major impact. Sleep disturbance is very common if you live with bipolar disorder. Disrupted sleep is a symptom of mania, but it an also lead to manic and hypomanic episodes. Studies have shown that 25 – 65% of people with bipolar, who had a manic episode, had experienced sleep disruption before the episode.

Breaking down the different types of sleep disturbances

Insomnia – is having problems getting to sleep, and staying asleep, or not sleeping enough. It’s a common problem for many people with mental health problems. Hypomania and mania often lead to insomnia.

Hypersomnia – This is the total opposite of insomnia. Over sleeping affects one third of people with bipolar disorder. It often happens during periods depression, where all we want to do is sleep.

Irregular sleep-wake schedule – This is when your sleep routine goes out the window. The irregular cycle can interfere with treatment.

My own experience

I struggle with insomnia, a lot. It’s incredibly frustrating, and to top it off, for me it often leads to mania. If my sleep is disrupted for more then three days in a row (say, I get 2-3 hours a night) I can become very ill, very quickly. Not sleeping is a major trigger I’ve realised over the years and I have to keep an eye on it, and try my best to get a good night’s sleep. I’m also the type of person that when I’m depressed, I feel absolutely knackered all the time. All I want to do is sleep, and even when I get a good 8 hours, I still feel exhausted.

So what have I learnt to help me sleep?

Get some exercise – Honestly knackering yourself out can help knock you out for the night. Tiring out your body through exercise lifts your mood – and helps you sleep. It doesn’t always mean going for a run, or doing aerobics at home. Sometimes I just have a dance party in my lounge – why not! Just don’t exercise a few hours before bed, because it’s too energising and will keep you up. I realise not everyone can exercise all the time when you live with mental illness. Even a gentle walk is better than nothing.

Avoid screen time – Blue screen is baaaad for sleep. Try to stay away from the television, your phone, computer or laptop, at least an hour before you go to bed. Instead, start your bedtime routine. Read a book, even make a plan for the following day.

Routine – When I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, my psychologist wouldn’t stop banging on about sleep hygiene. What this means is having a solid evening routine you stick to. It helps your mind relate certain tasks and sensory experiences to preparing for sleep. Wahing your face, brushing your teeth, moisturising your body are all a great start. Try incorporating calming hobbies and interests into your routine, such as reading a book in bed or in a quiet corner of the room you sleep in. Make sure you go to bed at a regular time at night, and wake up the same time every morning. I tend to have a ‘night off’ from my routine once a week on a Saturday night, but go straight back to it the next day.

Reflect and Plan – Keep a journal and write down what you’ve done that day. It can help you sort through your thoughts and focus on something that might be worrying you, instead of those worries popping up when you’re already in bed, trying to sleep. Writing is cathartic, and can help you understand your anxieties, and work through them. Listing on paper what you have to do tomorrow, can stop you fixating on those plans when you’re laying in bed.

Avoid naps – If you can, or keep them short if you need one. I love a good nap, but I know if I nap in the afternoon or evening, I won’t sleep at night!

Keep your bedroom for sleeping – Limit watching television, or working on your laptop. Try keeping a tidy bedroom that feels relaxing to be in.

Avoid alcohol and caffeine

Get up– It might seem counter intuitive, but if you can’t sleep (say after 30 minutes) get out of bed and try doing something relaxing. Otherwise it’s frustrating to stay in bed worrying why you can’t sleep. Even if you’ve been up during the night, try to get up at your regular time.

I hope some of these tips help you to get a better night’s sleep. If you’re really struggling to sleep, go and see your GP or psychiatrist, who might be able to give you additional support and further treatment.

Bipolar Myths Debunked

People with Bipolar disorder are just moody

There’s an idea that bipolar disorder is just mood swings – something everybody has, so isn’t a big deal. It is though, very different from everyday mood changes. The highs and lows are extreme and can feel like they come out of the blue, or there is no reason for you to be acting the way you are. These mood changes can last several days, weeks, or even months. The difference from bipolar mood changes to regular mood swings is huge. With bipolar, there are incredible, sometimes terrifying for the person living with it, changes in energy, activity, sleep and mood. I’ll give you an example of what bipolar isn’t; you wake up happy, in a good mood. Later on, you start to feel grumpy and irritable. It might be because of something that happened at work, you haven’t had enough coffee, or it may feel like just ‘one of those days.’ At the end of the day, you somehow find yourself happy again. These are normal mood changes – if you think about it, we rarely stay in the same mood all day!

Mania makes you productive, fun and generally in a good mood

Mania might start out as fun, and you’ll feel like the life of the party. It can make you articulate, quick thinking, and exude confidence. But it can quickly morph into an unrelenting monster. That good mood can quickly change into irritability and spontaneous bursts of anger. Spending can spiral out of control, and you could find yourself in serious debt. Impulses take over, and you may start taking more risks and become more reckless. It may result in a loss of control of your thoughts and actions and even losing touch with reality.

You will lose your creativity if you get treatment

I’m a creative person, I always have been. Instead of medication hindering my creativity, stability has enhanced it. I’m clearer of thought, more focused and less forgetful. I’ve even managed to secure a publishing deal during my longest period of stability. It’s a myth that can be damaging, and stop people from seeking treatment they desperately need.

You’re either manic or depressed if you have bipolar

This isn’t true. Bipolar is a complex condition. Many people with the disorder experience what’s called mixed episodes. This is when you feel highs and lows at the same time, or in very quick succession. Also, it’s possible for people to experience long periods when they feel stable, with balanced moods. It varies from person to person, but some can go years without having an episode of mania or depression.

There’s only one type of bipolar disorder

Bipolar I – Someone with this diagnosis will experience manic and depressive episodes.

Bipolar II – Is mostly categorised by mostly depressive episodes. Someone with bipolar II will have experienced at least one hypomanic episode..

Cyclothymia – This doesn’t meet the requirements for a diagnosis of Bipolar I or II, but still can seriously impact your life.

Bipolar disorder otherwise not specified – This is when someone has bipolar – like mood changes, but it doesn’t fit the same pattern of the above.

I hope this clears up some of the myths and misconceptions around bipolar disorder. If you have any questions, pop a comment below, or ask someone you know with the disorder. It’s always good to ask questions, and learn from people with lived experience!

Journaling for Mental Health

Writing and journaling is a cathartic, therapeutic experience. I started a journal when I was first diagnosed with Bipolar disorder. It helped me accept the illness, and work through the ups and downs of living with mental illness. It gave me a better understanding of myself, and encouraged me to be proactive and find coping strategies for everyday life. Basically, writing about our experiences, feelings and worries helps our overall our mental health. Why would you not want to start one.

Journalingyour thoughts and feelings, is like decluttering your mind. It can feel like we have so many files filled with negative thoughts and emotions, it’s always a good idea to sort through them from time to time. This where a journal can help. It’s a helpful habit to get into!

Why should you journal?

Keep a notebook with you, or even sticky notes, it doesn’t matter, as long as you have some paper and a pen or pencil. You can journal on your phone, laptop or computer, whatever feels comfortable for you.

Process difficult emotions

Journaling will help you deal with difficult emotions and events. Having something written down can help us our feelings and emotions. It might be you discover how you really feel, or it brings up emotions about an experience you didn’t realise you had. It can help us understand why we react to events in a certain way, and it can help us realise coping strategies and triggers.

Help in difficult times

If you’re going through a rough patch, writing keeps your mind occupied and focused. Anything creative can help when we’re having a difficult time, but writing can also help you make sense of what you’re going through. Journaling can help you during uncertain times, when you’re feeling isolated, or when you’re going through a stressful period. Write down all the concerns, worries and stressful thoughts that you’re experiencing. Putting it all down on paper, helps you process your emotions and feelings. It can help you get to the bottom of why you feel the way you do – and what you can do about it. If you can’t do anything about it, it can act like a release. Writing down, getting those negative thoughts and feelings out of your head and reading them through, is really beneficial.

You might just want to rip up the notes you’ve made, and throw them away. It can feel that those thoughts no longer have any control over you. And it’s cathartic just to write, rip up the paper and move on!

Journalingcan also be challenging mentally. It can bring up difficult emotions and feelings. It’s important to take care of yourself if you’re exploring difficult topics. Let someone close to you (in real life or online, they both count), know that you might need to talk to them about difficult emotions this has brought up for you.

I’m finding there’s great power in journaling – it helps process difficult emotions and make sense of them. I’ve found things out about myself I didn’t even realise, after reading back old journal entries.

How To Deal With Imposter Syndrome

That feeling you get when you’re doing well, achieving and everything is working out, but somehow you feel like a fraud. You tell yourself over and over,

“I’ll never be good enough”

It’s called imposter syndrome and it makes us feel insecure as hell.

It leaves us feeling as though we’re not worthy of our success, that somehow we haven’t earned it. We feel that no-one is interested in what we have to say and any attention we do receive is unwarranted.

So often we have feelings of failure that pop up to ruin our day. It stops us from sharing our ideas and applying for opportunities that deep down we know we’re capable of.

I’ve been struggling with this recently. I’m being commissioned and published regularly in magazines and on websites. I have some long term contracts do curate social media feeds. I’m writing a bloody book. Sounds super awesome right? But I can’t seem to enjoy it. When I first started out as a freelance writer, I celebrated every little win. Now though, I can’t seem to. I have this feeling of dread that I’ll be found out as a fraud, and it’ll all come crashing down. 

So how can we deal with this feeling?

The first thing I do is to talk about it. I’ll sit down with my partner and get it all out of my system. It doesn’t mean I need a response, or supportive words. Sometimes just verbalising the feelings is enough. 

If you suffer from imposter syndrome, it probably means you’re a bit of a perfectionist. Learning to let go of perfectionism, and everything being just right all the time, can leave you feeling more contented with your work. 

It’s important to realise that it’s inevitable that we will make mistakes. You can’t go through life without making them. What’s important is that we learn from the mistakes we make. 

I like to look at things logically. I might feel a certain way, like I’m a bad writer. I’ll look at this objectively and logically. “Have I been told this?” “Where’s the evidence?” “Why would my work be published if it wasn’t good enough?” 

What I’ve also learnt as I’ve got older, is many of us are just making it up as we go along. I thought by my 30’s I’d be this in control wonder woman who had all the answers. I was very, very wrong! You’d be surprised how many people feel the same way, and don’t really have everything sorted, even if it seems they do!