Friday, 20 May 2016

Mental Health Awareness Week: Top Relationships for Martin (Marty) Baker

Note: my VLOG from day four of MHAW is here: https://youtu.be/PWTee3VnwTg

By Marty Baker, Author & Carer, Twitter: @GumOnMyShoeBook
For Mental Health Month, I have chosen five people who in very different ways have taught me about what it means to live with illnessincluding mental illnessor support someone who does. In chronological order of me knowing them.

#1
Norman William Baker my father

Why have you chosen this person? 
I am grateful for the opportunity to explore my relationship with my father. 
How long have you known one another?
My father died when I was 18 years old. I wonder if I ever really knew him at all.
What was your first thought/opinion on this person?
My father lived with chronic arthritis throughout his adult life. I never heard him complain about the limitations illness placed on him, or the pain he must have been in almost every day. Looking back, I believe he wanted to minimise the effect of his illness on our family, and got on with life as best he could. He used a wheelchair in the last years of his life and I took pride in being the one to push him around when we were out. I grew up accepting physical disability as a norm, and do not recall ever feeling he was less than, or hearing of any discrimination or stigma from others. I was proud of him, without really knowing what he lived with. 
Has this changed?
I still respect him greatly but in recent years I realise his stoicism** taught me little about what it means to live with chronic debilitating illness. I can wish he had been more open to sharing what life was like for him. Then again, I never asked.
**A philosophy that flourished in ancient Greece and Rome. Stoics believed that people should strictly restrain their emotions in order to attain happiness and wisdom; hence, they refused to demonstrate either joy or sorrow. (The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy.)
List three highlights from your relationship.
1) The wooden toy fort he made for me.
2) Decorating rooms with my father directing me. Learning from him.
3) Discussing my choice of university (University of Bradford) and degree (Pharmacy) with him. He died before I took my final school examinations.
Have there been any low or difficult moments in your relationship? If yes, how have these been overcome?
I dont recall any family arguments or difficulties with my father. I remember the last time I ever saw him, in the hospital. I left knowing it would be the final time I ever saw him alive. I remember my mother phoning the hospital first thing in the morning (a few days after my final visit) to see how he was (or perhaps the hospital phoned her) and realising he had died overnight. I perhaps never fully grieved his death. I am not sure I understand what it means to grieve. I do not seem to have needed to do so. Death to me is a cessation. A closing. I seem able to accept it as such and move on. 
Did you have any differences of opinion, views or beliefs? If yes, what are they?
My father had a strong sense of right and wrong, but I dont know anything really about his world view. I dont recall any deep discussions or debates at home. 
List three things you have in common. 
1) If a jobs worth doing, its worth doing well.
2) An unbelief (I wont say a lack of belief because I do not see it as a lack) in religion, the supernatural, or an afterlife.
3) Our taste in comedy.
Describe this person with one word.
Stoic.
Write one sentence of something you would like to say to this person.
He died when I was eighteen. I dont know how to address a sentence to him now. I would have liked him to have known my personal journey through life, especially my family, and my more recent growth as a person.
  
#2
Pamela Jane Thackermy friend from university days

Why have you chosen this person?
PJs tenacity and her refusal to allow illness to limit her dreams, remains an inspiration to me. My failure to engage with what she was going through taught me a great deal: sadly too late to help her.
How long have you known one another? 
We met at university, I think it was in 1980 or 1981. She died in 2005 from complications arising from multiple sclerosis.
How did you first meet? 
We met through mutual friends, I cannot recall exactly how that came to be, or our first meeting.
What was your first thought/opinion on this person? 
For a number of years, PJ and I were singletons at a time when most of our mutual friends were married or in long term relationships. That gave us something in common and we were close friends for a long time. I was sweet on her, but we were never (as they say) more than friends. 
Has this changed? 
We drifted apart, during which time PJ was diagnosed with MS. I didnt know anything about the illness and didnt take the trouble to educate myself. We kept in touch sporadically. I remember a woman whose existence had been dramatically changed by illness but who was determined to make the most of life.
List three highlights from your relationship. 
1) Her visit with me when I lived in London. We visited the Design Centre together and watching PrincePurple Rain at the cinema.
2) Pemberton the beara cuddly grizzly bear I made for her. Pemberton (named for the student house we each lived in during our time at university in Bradford) lived with PJ until her death, after which he came home to me.
3) The last time I saw her, at a friends party. Her telling me I would dance with you if I could. 
Has there been any low or difficult moments in your relationship? If yes, how have these been overcome? 
Illness divided us and yet also in some ways kept us in touch. It is possible that if she had not become ill, we would have drifted apart, as I have from other university friends. Illness reinforced the connectionand yet I had no idea how to relate to her and did not cover myself in glory. In what were to be the final two years of her life I wrote letters to her almost every day, but I never picked up the telephone or went to visit hereither of which would probably have been more meaningful to her. I learned a lot about empathy and connection, but mostly in terms of my lack of it at that timeand at her expense.
Do you have any differences of opinion, views or beliefs? If yes, what are they? 
I do not recall any specific differences of opinion. 
List three things you had in common.  
1) We each wrote poetry.
2) We enjoyed a close circle of mutual friends.
3) We were each single for a long time which gave us a common bond.
Describe this person with one word. 
Courageous.
Write one sentence of something you would like to say to this person.
You deserved a better friend.

#3
Pam Bakermy wife

Why have you chosen this person?
With Pam I have learned a great deal about how it is possible to open, to embrace change in oneself and in others.
How long have you known one another?
29 years 
 How did you first meet?
At a bonfire party held by a former colleague of mine, who was Pams next door neighbour.
 What was your first thought/opinion of this person?
I thought Pam was cheeky and stubborn! We play fought over the comfy chair all evening! I went home and didnt sleep at all that night for thinking about her. I asked her out next morning. 
Has this changed?
She is still cheeky and stubborn! She relishes her stubbornness! She says her Dad was stubborn and since his passing she has to carry on being twice as stubborn, in his honour! As she says: I cant let the side down, can I?! Pam has lived with her own mental health issues in the past, has been a caring and supportive mother to her daughter (my stepdaughter) Emma and our son Mike, and supported me in all I have done.
List three highlights from your relationship so far.
1) The day we met. 
2) Our wedding day, three years later. 
3) The birth of our son, Mike. 
Has there been any low or difficult moments in your relationship? If yes, how have these been overcome?
Any long term close relationship has its difficulties and ours is no exception to the rule. We have learned to communicate much better and more openly than we used to, and move through an difficulties to calmer water beyond
Do you have any differences of opinion, views or beliefs? If yes, what are they?
We have very different senses of humour! 
Neither of us have strong political or religious views, so no contention there.
We have different tastes in what we read and write. Pam reads historical fiction and is writing a historical novel. I mainly read autobiographies/memoirs these days: in the past I have preferred fantasy. I have recently completed co-writing a nonfiction book about how to be a supportive friend to someone who lives with mental illness.
Pam has no interest in gadgets. I am never off my phone!
List three things you have in common. 
1) Our love of reading and writing. 
2) We are both home bodies, happy to be at home most of the time.
3) We both love cafes and tea shops! Pam has a t-shirt with the slogan Wheres the Next Teashop?
Is there anything youre looking forward to with this person?
Publishing our respective books!
Our next holiday together.
Describe this person with one word.
Youthful.
Write one sentence of something you would like to say to this person.
Thank you for putting up with me all these years!

#4
Michael (Mike) Bakermy son, and my closest male friend

Why have you chosen this person?
With Mike I have learned what I never learned at his age: to be open to my own and othersfeelings and needs.
How long have you known one another?
26 years 
How did you first meet?
In the delivery suite!
What was your first thought/opinion on this person?
Huge pride!
Has this changed?
Mike lives with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS/ME), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and anxiety. I have enormous respect for how he faces the daily challenges of these chronic conditions, and works to further his writing and other creative projects against the odds.
List three highlights from your relationship so far.
1) Attending his graduation ceremony.
2) Our many heart to heart conversations.
3) Mike taking his Dad out for a pint (oh wait, that hasnt happened yet!)
Has there been any low or difficult moments in your relationship? If yes, how have these been overcome?
Not too many at all. I have enjoyed a strong friendship as well as a parent-child relationship with Mike, as I have done with Emma. We treat each other with respect even when we disagree. 
Do you have any differences of opinion, views or beliefs? If yes, what are they?
Mike is more certain in his opinions and views than I am (I have always felt opinions to be more or less arbitrary, which means I have found it difficult to touch the core of my own beliefs). He is much more knowledgeable about world affairs than I am, but also more black and white in how he sees things. 
List three things you have in common. 
1) A passion for writing.
2) An interest in technology (though I do not share Mikes passion for gaming).
3) A love of banana bread!
Is there anything youre looking forward to with this person?
Sharing the excitement of our personal writing careers, especially looking forward to each of us celebrating the publication of our books.
His wedding day!
Describe this person with one word.
Lionhearted.
Write one sentence of something you would like to say to this person.
I could not be prouder of you, Mike. My son and friend.

#5
Fran Houston—my best friend

Why have you chosen this person?
In the five years since we have been friends, I have learned so much about illness, about what it means to be illand what it means to be welland (most important of all) I have learned how to be the best me I can be.
How long have you known one another?
Five years.
How did you first meet?
We met on the Facebook page of someone who was expressing suicidal thoughts. I posted the only words that came to me: Flooding light and love into your world. Someone called Fran Houston responded immediately to what I had written: Sometimes even too much love can be overwhelming.
What was your first thought/opinion on this person?
Frans comment stopped me in my tracks. We commented a little, friended, and have been friends ever since. Fran lives with bipolar disorder (also chronic fatigue syndrome, and fibromyalgia). At the time we met and for the next six months or so she was in a manic episode. I had never known anyone like her. She dazzled and amazed me. But also I could see the person inside the illness. And that person was (and is) gold
Has this changed?
Our friendship has grown and deepened immensely over the past five years, although we both felt at ease with each other from the beginning. She has moved through episodes of mania, severe depression, debilitating fatigue and painwith suicidal thinking a more or less constant companion. Through it all, Frans stubborn persistence has enabled me to help her take the next stepor to sit with her, in the dirt as she puts it, if even the next step is not clear to take. I know there are times she hates me for holding her herefor not allowing her to leave this life. But we both know I am only able to help her to help herself.
List three highlights from your relationship so far.
1) The first time Fran told me our friendship was the most important thing that kept her alive. I had the presence of mind to realise that meant she would hate me for it from time to time.
2) The moment Fran challenged me to write a book about our friendship, about what it is like to be friends with someone who lives with mental illness
3) Our meeting face to face for the first (and to date only) time, in June 2013, when Fran arrived in Southampton on board the RMS Queen Mary 2, en route for a three month tour of Germany.
Has there been any low or difficult moments in your relationship? If yes, how have these been overcome?
Being friends with someone who lives with mental illness as well as two other debilitating chronic conditions is not all sunshine and rainbows. Like any close friends we mess up, get angry with each other and with ourselves. We have yelled at each other and cried with each other. We have each learned a lot about growing and maintaining a long term distance relationship (Fran lives in the US, I live 3000 miles away here in the UK). Bottom line: our friendship works because we want it to workand because we trust each other. 
Do you have any differences of opinion, views or beliefs? If yes, what are they?
Where do I start! We have different backgrounds and life experiences, we come from different nations and cultures. Fran loves sports (especially horse racing and ice hockey) whereas I have only ever attended one sporting event in my life. She loves to travel whereas I have never been outside the UK. 
List three things you have in common. 
1) We value honesty and openness in relationships.
2) We love to talk!
3) We each delight in the written word: writing, reading, and wordplay.
Is there anything youre looking forward to with this person?
The publication of the book we have written together, to inspire and inform others who are supporting, or would like to support, a friend who lives with mental illness.
Describe this person with one word.
Genuine
Write one sentence of something you would like to say to this person.
I cannot imagine my life without you in it.