High Tide, Low Tide: Our Transatlantic Best Friendship
—by Martin Baker
“I know what you could do, Marty! You could write a book about what it’s like to be friends with someone with bipolar disorder.”
October 2012. The English Lake District. With those words, my American best friend Fran changed my world. Not for the first time. We’d been friends since meeting online the previous May. We would not meet in real life (as they say) until June 2013, but despite living 3,000 miles apart, we’d grown a strong, mutually supportive friendship that had weathered episodes of wild mania, depression, debilitating pain and fatigue, with suicidal thinking never far away.
Fran Houston, my best friend, lives with bipolar disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS/ME), and fibromyalgia. These are her diagnoses. They shape her days, but they are not who she is. As we shared our lives through social media, voice, and video calls, we learned what needs to be common knowledge, but isn’t: that caring relationships between “ill ones” and “well ones” are not only possible, but can be deeply and mutually satisfying.
We also learned it doesn’t matter where you are in the world—which is great, because friends and loved ones often live far apart. In the Internet era no one is too far away to be cared for, or to care. That is our message, and it is a message of hope.
Four years on, and our book—High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder—is about to be published. It’s been quite a journey. We hope our book will inspire and inform others who want to support a friend with mental illness. But High Tide, Low Tide is neither the only, nor the greatest, reward.
Fran is still alive. She has told me many times she would not be here if it was not for our friendship. There’s no way to know how true that might be, but I take her words at face value. To some, that might appear to put an inordinate strain on me and our relationship, but it doesn’t. We are not still friends because either of us is afraid of what might happen if we were not. We are friends because we want to be, and because—well or ill—that is how a committed friendship works.
I am more than I was. These five years have challenged me to be the best I can be. More, they’ve helped me discover who I am. I knew little about mental illness, stigma, and discrimination before I met Fran. I knew less about empathy, compassion, and caregiving. I still mess up, of course, with Fran and with other people. But I’ve grown. I am more aware than I was. I am more than I was. I am a better friend, father, and husband—a better man—than I was or would otherwise have become.
I have found my tribe. I never felt I belonged anywhere, outside of my immediate family. I found a best friend, but also the joy of connection with people at home and the world over; people who know how to live genuinely and honestly. That is joy indeed. I have found my voice and discovered I have something to say. I have found my place in the world.
High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder, is released by Nordland Publishing, October 2016.
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, Martin is primary caregiver and lifeline to his best friend Fran Houston. Passionate about making invisible illness visible, Fran lives in Portland, Maine.
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