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Book Review: High Tide, Low Tide by Martin Baker and Fran Houston

Hi guys! I know it’s a rare occurrence to get a blog post from me nowadays, but the truth is I’m trying hard to get more of a work/life balance, which means less time in front of screens outside of work, so recently I’ve really been trying to just enjoy my reading for the sake of enjoying it, rather than blogging. (Also, my time management still seems to be lacking … )

Having said that, Martin was kind enough to notice me as a publisher in the mental health publishing industry and wanted to know my thoughts on his book High Tide, Low Tide, and so here they are!

 

 

How Can You Be a Good Friend, When Your Friend Lives with Mental Illness?

We all want to be there for our friends, but when your friend lives with mental illness it can be hard to know what to do, especially if you live far apart. Transatlantic best friends Martin Baker and Fran Houston share what they’ve learned about growing a supportive, mutually rewarding friendship between a “well one” and an “ill one.”

“High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder” offers no-nonsense advice from the caring friend’s point of view, original approaches and practical tips, illustrated with real-life conversations and examples.

 

Perceptive, informative, interesting, educational, touching, and valuable, this book stresses the importance of a support system for those who struggle with mental health difficulties. I can’t stress enough, having my own lived experience with mental ill health in the family, how important and effective it can be to have a strong support system around you. What’s interesting is that Martin was able to provide this for his friend, despite the fact that he lives a long way away from her.

I was genuinely impressed – and I admit, a little bit surprised – by this book. I’m always really wary of self-help type books that aren’t written by industry experts in case the author accidentally gets something wrong. But everything I read was right on the mark. The book is insightful and very emotionally intelligent, without patronising the reader or the people the reader is looking to support. It gives brilliant advice, and not just tangible step-by-step goals, but emotional, mental and friendship advice too.

High Tide, Low Tide is so unique in that it caters towards friends, rather than just partners or family. It also comes from a unique angle in that Marty provides support for Fran despite living in the UK, whereas she’s in the US. It’s a nice proof that anyone has the capacity to be as helpful a friend as their own life allows or has space for. In that way I think it fills a gap in the market.

The book is very insightful. It makes you come to realisations about the human psyche and the dynamics of friendship that you never knew you always knew – until you read it in Marty’s words. For example, he talks about how setting certain boundaries is vital, how not to fall into co-dependency, and that just because a friend really wants your help or asks for your help, doesn’t mean you have any obligation to do it. I was relieved to read this, because Marty admits himself that he and Fran talk twice daily, that he has a very, very big part in her life despite their living oceans apart. He knows her friends, medical professionals, and knows about her daily routine and wellness plan. I like the fact that Marty doesn’t expect you to have such an intense involvement in your own friends’ lives, because I know I certainly found it to be quite full-on.

I will say that if you read this book, don’t be put off if you can’t do as much as Marty is able to do for Fran. Even at one point he is able to put her thought and behaviour patterns into quite elaborate analogies. He refers to the variables in Fran’s life as ‘sine waves’ and is able to help her understand herself and her life using this analogy. While it’s so useful for readers to be given this analogy so that they can use it in their own lives, I would advise readers not to feel out of their depth if they can’t give this level of insight to their own friends. It’s quite in-depth and I think this is where Marty goes above and beyond, probably above and beyond what some people can manage.

I did wonder from time to time about Marty’s role in Fran’s life. At one point he puts it upon himself to remind her, during a manic phase, that she shouldn’t be driving recklessly or smoking in a wooden house. I found this to be such a fascinating dynamic because, in my own therapy sessions with my sisters, I’ve been told over and over again not to ‘parent’ my sisters. Our relationship should be adult > adult not parent > child. And I gave it some thought and wondered whether mental illness changes this concept at all. Is it okay for Marty to sometimes become the ‘parent’ figure (in my own perception – he doesn’t use this terminology himself. He might not even see it the same way I do.) I think in this case, yes, and here’s why: because Fran tells him to ‘care, not to worry’. And I think that’s what stops him being the ‘parent’ figure. He just cares about her safety, as her friend. Is he not worrying about her or bossing her about, he’s just looking out for her as a friend.

I was also pleasantly surprised that the book didn’t leave any stone unturned and yet it’s not unbearably long or dense. It’s easy to read, accessible, and very well written and edited. It covers some important points that I knew I wanted to see going into it – especially the concept of self-care for the person providing the support. It’s absolutely vital for people who support others with mental health difficulties to look after themselves too. I speak from experience: unless you look after yourself too, you burn out and actually risk your own mental wellbeing.

The book is into easy-to-read sections, giving an insight into Fran’s life, Marty’s life, and their relationship. It also talks more broadly about bipolar disorder (the different types, with explanations of depression and mania) and other, more universal topics that relate to everyone in terms of mental health.

The book is not prescriptive, which is so valuable. It advises, rather than instructs. Marty often uses the words ‘I recommend’ rather than ‘you should’, and always reminds you that it’s up to you and your friend how you navigate your relationship in unsteady waters and uncharted territory. He’s just giving you some advice that might help for you.

The only thing I think I would change about the book – and it was very hard to think of anything, to be honest – is that I would take out the list of the names of bipolar disorder medications and the long descriptions of what they are. I think there’s always a risk of people reading this sort of thing from anyone other than a medical professional and deciding for themselves what medications they should or shouldn’t have. I’ve even heard of people reading up on medications and then going to the doctor and demanding medicines that really wouldn’t actually work for them personally. I think discussions of medications should be confined to conversations between a psychiatrist and the patient, and if they’re given certain medications, the psychiatrist should be providing them with all this info anyway. I don’t really see any benefit to that section, but that’s genuinely just my opinion.

I was honestly very impressed by this book – and I know what I’m talking about, as a mental health publisher. If you’re supporting someone in your life with bipolar disorder, this book would be invaluable for you. Don’t hesitate to give it a try. It’s a gem of a book.

 

You can hear more from Martin on Twitter at GumOnMyShoeBook 

You can buy a copy of the book here.

This info on the authors is from their publishers’ website:

About the Authors

A successful electrical engineer until illness struck, author and photographer Fran Houston has lived with bipolar disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome, and fibromyalgia for over twenty years. Fran lives in Portland, Maine, and is passionate about making invisible illness visible. Three thousand miles away 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, Martin is also Fran’s primary support and lifeline.

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ACCENT PRESS – THE DEEPEST CUT BY NATALIE FLYNN

Time for book review number 6 for my 52 Books by 52 Publishers reading challenge. Today’s publisher is…

 

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Accent Press!

Accent Press is a feisty, independent publishing company.

 Founded by Hazel Cushion in 2003, Accent Press is an award-winning independent publisher which has become a major name for dynamic trade publishing. The company publishes a range of fiction and non-fiction titles across four imprints.  Accent Press was named Specialist Publisher of the Year and was shortlisted for Independent Publisher of the Year at the IPG Awards.  

The company is divided into four imprints:

  • Accent Press – The mainstream publishing imprint provides a wide range of fiction and non-fiction titles.
  • Xcite Books – This erotic imprint was started in 2007, becoming the UK’s largest erotic publisher and winning multiple ETO Awards.
  • Cariad – mainstream romance publishing sexy, contemporary women’s fiction.
  • Accent YA – There’s a new YA publisher in town. This exciting new list aimed at young adults launches in Spring 2016.

Find out more about accent press here.

 

And the book I’m reviewing is…

 

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‘You haven’t said a single word since you’ve been here. Is it on purpose?’ I tried to answer David but I couldn’t … my brain wanted to speak but my throat wouldn’t cooperate…

Adam blames himself for his best friend’s death. After attempting suicide, he is put in the care of a local mental health facility. There, too traumatized to speak, he begins to write notebooks detailing the events leading up to Jake’s murder, trying to understand who is really responsible and cope with how needless it was as a petty argument spiralled out of control and peer pressure took hold.

Sad but unsentimental, this is a moving story of friendship and the aftermath of its destruction.

I’ve been so lucky so far in that I’ve really loved every book I’ve read so far this year for my reading challenge. All but two of them have been independent publishers. What does that tell you? Yep, that indies pack a punch and are producing some of the best literature we have out there today.

The Deepest Cut is a young adult novel. No matter how old you are, I really think it’s enriching to read young adult novels. They really are something special, and with the huge popularity it has enjoyed over the last few years, it’s only getting better.

This book is sad, yes, and it made me bawl my eyes out on more than one occasion. It’s about a boy who lost his best friend to knife crime, after all. But it’s not just about the sadness. It’s about deep, undying male platonic love. It’s about the strength of friendship and about how no human being is infallible. It’s about grief and support and mental illness, specifically Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s about peer pressure and the fragility of teenager friendships. It’s about confusion and not really knowing who you are as a kid. It’s about craving acceptance and yearning for what once was. It’s about the difficulties of dealing with change.

What I especially love is that Natalie Flynn has managed to capture the voice of a teenage boy, a troubled teenage boy, so accurately and convincingly. I was a teenager only ten years ago, and I remember having some of the same worries and thoughts and feelings that the kids do in this book, and so it felt really authentic. Equally, his mental anguish felt very authentic too. It was particularly effective because for much of the narrative the focus is on simple teenager issues, and is then contrasted with very unusual ones, which deals an emotional blow.

The sheer contrast between the Adam before Jake’s murder and the Adam after his murder makes for quite heartbreaking reading. He just suddenly cares about nothing, except Jake. Life doesn’t matter to him anymore. He’s angry and resentful at his father for not caring about him and betraying him. He’s upset and terrified of people finding out how and why he’s complicit in Jake’s murder. He’s angry at people for not understanding him. And he’s angry at everyone who won’t just let him end his own life.

The story of Jake’s murder is told over a series of diary entries which Adam is writing for his psychotherapist to read in the mental hospital. These are interspersed with current-day narratives about Adam’s life in the present, post-murder and post- Adam’s mental breakdown. This kept me absolutely hooked as a reader, desperate to know who murdered Jake and why.

The most effective aspect of Flynn’s writing, for me, was how she brought Adam and Jake’s friendship to life. Their love for each other just radiates off the page. It makes the whole tragedy even more powerful to read about. It’s very good writing.

I think it would be especially important for teenagers to read this book as it highlights, very dramatically and colourfully, how important seemingly unimportant things are, at that age. It demonstrates the danger that can befall absolutely anyone. And it emphasises the seriousness of fighting and knife crime, which is often underestimated by young teens who sometimes feel invincible.

This book is a fantastic read for people of any age. Definitely one for your shelf. Well done Natalie Flynn and Accent press. I’ll be returning for more!

 

five stars

 

 

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