Supporting each other through mental health struggles

Novaramedia is currently publishing a number of useful articles around the theme of mental health, including pieces on work and mental health, and one on talking therapies.

They asked me to submit something that particularly addressed mental health in the context of relationships, so I wrote this article on supporting people in our lives when they’re struggling.

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Most of us will experience a mental health difficulty like depression, anxiety or addiction during our lives. And at some point, most of us will have a friend or family member who is mentally unwell.

Our culture tends to view people with mental health problems in one of two ways. Either they have brought it on themselves and need to ‘pull their socks up’, or they have a ‘disorder’ and need help because they’re incapable of helping themselves.

When faced with a friend who is suffering it is tempting either to blame them for their problems and try to shake them out of it, or to leap into ‘rescuer’ mode and try to fix them.

Neither extreme is a good solution. We can end up angry and resentful if we hold them responsible for their problems, or burnt out from all our attempts to help. They can end up more defeated and self-critical than ever if they feel culpable, or kept in a guilty and powerless state if they can’t respond to our efforts.

As a therapist and psychology academic I am often asked to give advice on supporting friends when they’re in difficulty. Here are seven thoughts on how you can help without either rescuing or blaming. Read more…

Ladybeard panel discussion on sex

Back in April I chaired a panel discussion for Ladybeard magazine called ‘Sex: Mythmaking and Taboo’. It was an amazing night with some absolutely brilliant panelists and a super-engaged audience.

panel

You can now listen to the discussion here. Also look out for the new edition of the magazine on this topic.

ladybeard

Non/monogamy

There’s a new talk by me up on the Pink Therapy YouTube channel. Plus a whole load more really interesting talks from their recent conference.

In memory of Trevor Butt

Last week I found out that my dear friend, colleague and mentor, Trevor Butt, had died. It’s still very hard to believe that he is gone. I feel terribly sad that he didn’t have the time – freed up from work by his retirement – to explore the projects he was passionate about, and to get more of his wonderful writing out into the world outside of the constraints of academic frameworks.

Trev

Inspiration

Trevor had a huge impact on my life. It’s not exaggerating to say that I wouldn’t be where I am here, now, if it wasn’t for him.

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Embrace your inner mutant superpower

This might seem a bit of a departure from the usual stuff that I write about here, but stay with me and hopefully you’ll see the connections. It’s also the first thing I’ve written towards one of my long term projects, Everyday Horrors. This aims to bring together two popular genres of book which not many people have previously thought to combine: spooky story collection and self-help guide.

First I need to come out. Coming out is something I’ve done perhaps more than most people do in one lifetime. However this time it’s a bit different. After much reflection I need to let you know that I am a shape-shifter. Transmogrifier, lycanthrope, trickster, chameleon: call it what you will. I have the mutant superpower of magically transforming to fit my surroundings.

In the rest of this post I’ll use my own example to illustrate how you might come to identify, explore, and embrace your own inner mutant superpower.

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Update: New books!

I haven’t posted on here for over a month. Part of the reason is that I was hit with a big illness in February which took several weeks to recover from. But a happier reason is that all of my writing time has gone into working on two exciting new book projects.

Back when I wrote Rewriting the Rules I struggled to find a non-academic publisher to publish it because all my previous books had been with academic publishers. Fortunately Routledge picked it up. They publish mostly academic books but also some books for a more general audience.

After that I was keen to move into working with more specifically non-academic publishers. I was surprised and delighted when, this year, two opportunities came up at once.

First, I was asked to write a self-help style book with Jacqui Gabb based on the Enduring Love? project which I had been involved with as a public engagement advisor throughout. Vermilion publishers (part of Penguin Random House) took it up, and I’ve just finished the first draft.

EnduringLove

Then I received an email from Icon books asking if I’d be interested in writing one of their introductory comic-based books on Queer Theory. I’m a huge fan of those books already because I love the use of comics to communicate ideas and experiences. In fact I’ve just finished a wonderful project with Asylum magazine with Joseph De Lappe and Caroline Walters where we’ve collected together comics about mental health from multiple perspectives. The special issues and features based on that project will come out over the course of 2015.

With the Icon book I’m really excited to try to get key ideas from queer theory across in an accessible way, particularly drawing out what I see as some of the most useful concepts for everyday life.

QueerTheory

So it has been a very exciting time for me. I’ll be updating you more on both projects in future. They should both be out in early 2016.

Buzzfeed for Valentine’s Day

Thanks to my fab publishers, Routledge, I’m included on a Buzzfeed for a second time, this time for Valentine’s Day. I’m loving the fact that they’ve put my suggestion about not privileging romantic relationships at the very top (I sent out cards to close friends this year and it felt really good).

10 Ways To Revamp Your Relationship

The only downside for me is that it wasn’t my tip that got illustrated with this awesome Troy and Abed gif (my favourite characters on a TV show ever!) I’m going to steal it and put it here anyway. Happy Valentine’s day everyone :-)

TroyAbed

BDSM 101: Consent, consent, consent

This week I’m blogging about kink up to the film release of Fifty Shades of Grey. In the previous three days I’ve covered mythbusting, finding out more, and figuring out what you’re into. Today – to finish – I’m focusing on the most important issue of consent.

Consent, consent, consent

Despite what you might think from Fifty Shades, consent is not just a matter of having a safeword! In fact we can see from Fifty Shades itself that safewords are not enough. The first time that Christian spanks Ana she’s really not sure if she likes it. Her feelings about it change from when it happens to later when she reflects on it. She has similar ambivalence on other occasions but clearly doesn’t feel that she can use her safeword to express that uncertainty.

There are huge cultural pressures around sex. We often feel – as Ana seems to – that we must have certain kinds of sex a certain amount in order not to lose a relationship. We feel that we should ‘perform’ certain kinds of sex in order to be a ‘real’ man/woman, or a ‘proper’ straight or queer person. We feel like if we’ve had a kind of sex before we’re obligated to have it again. We feel too embarrassed or awkward to say we’re not enjoying something. We feel that because we’ve done one thing we should automatically do others. All of these are deeply problematic ways of thinking about sex which hurt us badly, but they are also really hard to completely step away from because they’re so engrained in our culture.

So, when it comes to consent, we can’t just rely on partners to say ‘no’ or safeword if they’ve stopped enjoying it. Instead, consent should be about trying to minimise the pressures that they – and we – are under, so that we can be as confident as possible that what we’re doing is consensual. How can we do this? Well it is definitely worth talking about the messages we’ve received about sex and reassuring the other person that we really wouldn’t want them doing something they don’t enjoy. We can also deliberately avoid making any suggestion that kink or sex should involve certain things (e.g. genitals, pain, orgasms, or fancy outfits) or that certain things are more or less normal.

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BDSM 101: Figuring out, and communicating, what you’re into

This week I’m blogging about kink up to the film release of Fifty Shades of Grey. Yesterday focused on finding out more. Today I’m covering how to figure out, and communicate, what you’re into.

Figuring out what you’re into

There’s a sense in Fifty Shades that the kind of ‘kinky fuckery’ that Ana finds herself enjoying is fine, but that the kind of ‘real’ BDSM that Christian is after is not okay. Please put these kinds of distinctions from your mind! People are always trying to draw lines between what kinds of play are okay and what kinds aren’t. For ages it was that missionary penis-in-vagina man/woman sex was fine and nothing else was. Then it expanded a bit to any kind of sex involving genitals was okay, but other stuff wasn’t. Now, after Fifty Shades, we’re told that a bit of light spanking and fluffy handcuffs is okay but anything ‘more than that’ isn’t. All this focus on what counts as normal, right, proper sex (and what doesn’t) takes us aware from far more important questions such as what the people involved actually enjoy, and how to do it ethically.

Fifty-Shades-Grey-Trailer

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BDSM 101: Finding out more about kink

This week I’m blogging about kink up to the film release of Fifty Shades of Grey. Yesterday was an introduction. Today I’m focusing on how to find out more about kink.

Finding out more about kink

In Fifty Shades Christian swears Ana to secrecy about their kink relationship so that she can’t talk to anybody else in her life about it. This is a terrible idea! It’s a huge warning sign in a relationship if there are areas you’re forced to keep secret. Given how common kink is there may well be people already in your life who you can chat openly about your ideas with. However there is still stigma around kink, so you might prefer to talk with people who’re already involved in BDSM.

If you’re new to kink, there is a huge wealth of information available to help you get started. It’s definitely worth checking this out and learning from people who have been there and got the Tshirt.

Tshirt

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