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I started CBT again on Friday(that’s Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – just in case any BDSM fans get the wrong end of the stick, so to speak).

It didn’t start well. I had said I wanted to have the therapy in the city centre for a couple of good reasons. One of those reasons became abundantly clear when I was half an hour late because I was wandering around lost somewhere between Garston and Speke. It brought back a load of memories of panicking when I ventured out during the worst of the depression, anxiety and agoraphobia. At least now, the rest of the sessions will be in the familiar surroundings of their main city centre venue.

After that I would say it went pretty well. It was emotionally taxing – and in the end exhausting. But I think it got me to look with fresh eyes at why I’m having so many ‘low’ days lately. I slept very well last night too!

Sometimes, though, I think it would be far easier just to go back on the anti-depressants. I stopped because my emotional state was TOO level – no horrendous low days, but no inspired, uplifting ones either. (I stopped gradually and with the doctor’s supervision I should add – I never recommend trying to come off them cold turkey. I know some who have, and have done very well, but not everyone does.)

Then I think about the progress I’ve made since I did quit…

A couple of years ago, as I started to emerge from one of the darkest periods of depression of my life, I was using the affirmation “Taking back my life”, because that is exactly how I felt. Depression is often compared to a ‘black dog’. Personally I don’t find that a good analogy – I have had two black dogs in my life, and both were good for my well-being. I can not associate them with depression. To me it is more like a muddied, boggy pool which we are submerged under. We see dim shapes and shadows of reality, but they are seen through dark muddy water. Emerging from my depression at the time was like ‘surfacing’ – making my way to clearer waters – to a clearer reality.

As usual it has been a long time since I updated here. I have had some family illness issues, which have made it difficult not to slip back into that mire. On a more positive note, I have been busy with various projects. I have done courses in blog set-up, community journalism and blog management, which have culminated in me being part of a great team, running a new blog:

Well Pool (Promoting Positive Health & Well-Being)

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It’s been a fascinating project and it is interactive in that if you have things to share on the vast subject of well-being, we are always keen to publish them.

Additionally, I have set up a photography page – at the moment, just on Facebook, but I am still on a learning curve with my Nikon! The page is:

Marc Fraser Photography

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I also did a relevant post on photography and well-being on the WellPool blog called

‘Photography – My Well-Being Salvation’

But by far the biggest element in my life has been working towards an installation for World Mental Health Day, which was on 10 October 2015.

I ended up shelving the original idea for a completely new slideshow because of the aforementioned family health issues; instead I added sound to the slideshow that ran at the ‘Sticks ‘n’ Stones’ event in February. On an emotional and creative rollercoaster, I added a ‘mix’ of some music I made a few years back in algorithmic music software – generated semi-randomly – as well as snippets from discussions on self-image and how it suffers under fluctuating mental health. There were also a few snippets of speech synthesis. The end result was this:

‘A Trick of the Eye – A Trick of the Mind: WMHD version’

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The day was amazing. The staff at the Playhouse Theatre, where this and some really excellent drama, dance and workshop performances were going on for most of the day, were so hospitable. It goes without saying that their work was brilliant – like a well-oiled machine.

So that leads me back to the title of this post. Two years ago, I was taking back my life. Now I feel that Saturday has started me on the road to taking back my identity.

Before I fell into that muddy pool, the things that kept me out of the mire were artistic work as a composer working with fringe theatre, dance, performance art, etc. After the event on Saturday, I feel like I am that person again.

I am already putting ideas together for the installation that I shelved.

There has been a lot more going on with me this year – mostly positive (in the end). I have done my debut (and probably swan-song) in stand-up comedy via the Comedy Trust’s ‘Feeling Funny’ project, done more training in Peer Support, and more. Ever onwards, ever upwards.

Me at Comedy Night at The Brink

The second day of the excursion to DC was taken up with a look at the Jefferson Memorial and a moving visit to Arlington Cemetery. On this day – 28th April, the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan was on a state visit to the US. Security was high, of course.

After checking out of the hotel, and arranging to store the luggage and the car for a couple of hours while we did some further sightseeing, we went and had a closer look around the Jefferson Memorial. It was even better on the inside, in my opinion, than the external view promised. Here are some of the photos from there.

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I couldn’t resist a shot over the water of the Martin Luther King memorial – different again in daylight

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We also took a stop off at Union Station as I wanted to get these pictures of the statue of Columbus and the bell:

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After going back to the hotel and having lunch there, we picked up the luggage and the car and started out to see Arlington Cemetery. Such amazing grounds where war heroes famous and not so famous are buried with honour. The highlights for me, though, had to be John F Kennedy’s grave and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. We watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns and the laying of the wreath.

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We drove around doing a bit more sight seeing before heading back to Philadelphia. Sights included the First and Second World War memorials, the White House, the Kennedy Center and the infamous ‘Watergate’ Hotel.

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So, with a little sadness, we made our way back to Frankie’s home in Philadelphia. This was my last weekend in the States and the last trip away from Philly.

It had been a fantastic trip and I think it strengthened me for what would be happening when I arrived home. Of course, I owe so many thanks to the lady who I visited as my girlfriend, and left as my faincée, Frankie.

I have been home for more than 2 months now, so this update is long overdue. The reason for the delay is that I came home to minor disaster, which had me feeling for a few weeks as if the whole trip had been no more than a vivid dream. Thankfully, I have photos and my engagement ring to remind me of the reality of those better times. I won’t dwell on the minor disaster here, rather share the photos and some of the awesome experience of the last weekend excursion – the one to Washington DC.

For our last weekend together for this trip, we had to decide between a return visit to the Outer Banks in North Carolina, or a visit to Washington DC. It was a tough call, but as I didn’t get to see DC last time, we decided on that. In spite of the huge and obvious difference between the two places, I am glad we made this decision.

We were there for one night and left quite late on the second evening, giving us more or less a day and a half to see the sights.

After checking in to the hotel and experiencing a pretty amazing brunch buffet, complete with Bloody Marys and Mimosas (or Buck’s Fizz – Champagne and Orange Juice), we headed out to do one of the trolley tours.

For me, the highlight of this part of the visit was the Washington National Cathedral. It was with a little sadness that we didn’t have time to either get off the bus and look around there and then, or to return there the following day.

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When we’d done this one, we got off and had a snack and a drink at the Hard Rock Café, before getting on to another trolley for the ‘Monuments by Moonlight’ tour. We were so lucky with the weather for this. If we had opted to do it the following night, it would have been overcast and rainy. As it was, it was a lovely, balmy, clear evening and it made the tour rather magical.

The Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument are somewhat ‘iconic’ for me, but discovering the Jefferson and Martin Luther King Memorials was an amazing experience too. We decided that we would have to visit the Jefferson the following day in daylight.

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The final stop on that tour was the Iwo Jima Memorial – very fascinating and moving:

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After that we were all ‘toured out’ for the day and went back to the hotel.

Next up was Day 2. As I said, we went to look at the Jefferson Memorial. We also went to Arlington Cemetery and got a glimpse of the White House. Photos to follow in the next post.

We went to a concert at this beautiful location on 11 April. We hit traffic on the way, so we just had time to have the dinner we had pre-booked, go to the concert, and take a few night time shots in the conservatory.

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The concert was by ‘The Crossing’ – a chamber choir, performing a selection of conetmporary music on the theme of ‘light’. Performed in the amazing conservatory at Longwood Gardens, it was a wonderfully atmospheric show.

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The place was so amazing that I asked Frankie if we could make a return visit the following weekend. She was up for it, in spite of allergies. I can hardly describe the beauty of the place with its flower gardens, herb garden, open air theatre, lake, tree house and Italian Water Garden. They say a picture speaks a thousand words, so here is a collage of shots from both visits covering the flora.

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I will be posting more photos from the gardens when I get home, and will add links in here.

The following Sunday and Monday (26-27 April), we had a sightseeing trip to Washington DC. This will be covered in the next and last illustrated post about this amazing trip to the States.

Even when I ‘know’ what to expect when visiting the States, I am always overwhelmed and somewhat surprised. This trip, and especially New Orleans and Disneyworld, has been no exception.

Frankie’s brother, Josh, got married in Disneyworld on 7th April and we arrived on the 5th, returning home on the 8th. I was expecting a kind of exaggerated version of the UK’s Butlin’s holiday camps – not the socialist ethos of Billy Butlin’s original promise of a ‘week’s holiday for a week’s wage’, but what Butlin’s has become in the 21st century. Of course, if you put something the size of Disneyworld in the UK it would take up a large portion of the coast. Still, nice try Butlin’s!

In our stay, we did the tourist bit in two of the parks – The Magic Kingdom and Epcot. Both lived up to their promise of ‘magical’. With spectacular light and fireworks shows, parades, and of course, friendly staff. The warmth and sunshine (apart from a substantial downpour when we were in Epcot) were also very welcome. It was wonderful to go and sit by the pool and have morning coffee before the resort (we were in the All Star Music Resort) started getting busy.

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The wedding itself was at the ‘Yacht Club’, with a lunch at the Grand Floridian. It was a beautiful day in every way.

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So that was the central part of my trip. Basically, I came over to accompany Frankie to her brother’s wedding. All the rest – including getting engaged to her – built up around the event.

I am into my last week here now. The next post will cover two visits to an amazing place more locally – Longwood Gardens. The have the most amazing flower gardens, lake, conservatory (where we went to a very enjoyable concert of choral music with a dinner before hand at the restaurant), Italian Water Gardens. It is breath-taking!

For my last weekend here, we are planning a trip to Washington DC.

USA 2015 Part 2-New Orleans

As a Brit who had never been to New Orleans before, I could never have imagined anything like it. We really don’t have anything like it in the UK. I had thought it was just Jazz, Alcohol and striptease – but it was so much more!

So having got over all but a residual cough from the flu, Frankie and I went to New Orleans for the weekend of my birthday, for what was to be an amazing blow-out of a weekend. I am describing the place as a first-time visitor from a little island nation the other side of the Atlantic Ocean and as such it was just mind-blowing!

Frankie had booked us into a fabulous hotel about 50 yards from Bourbon Street – which is where the 24/7 partying goes on. First night there we went to a club on the corner where they had live music sets, punctuated with DJ sets. There were waitresses going round selling shots from test tubes and huge mock hyperdermics! I had one, but unfortunately ended up wearing more than I drank. If ever you are visiting for the first time, you have to have a cocktail called a ‘Hurricane’. Be warned though – it tastes sweet, fruity and innocent… And then you stand up and it hits you like the Louisiana humidity! One striking thing about this club was how much fun the staff seem to have there.

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What was the best part of New Orleans? The night life? The cajun cusine? The Music? The sightseeing? I couldn’t choose – I would have to say all of the above. I will insert some foodie photos at the end of this post.

The second day, we went sightseeing. Frankie grew up six years of her life in New Orleans, so she knew a lot of the best sights. She was pretty clever though when we went into Jackson square. We came into it from Royal Street and she said “Don’t turn around until I tell you to.” At first I was a bit suspicious (we spend a lot of time joking around with each other like playful young lovers trapped in the body and a half of old farts). But when I finally did turn around, the sight that hit my eyes just blew me away:

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I knew nothing about St Louis’ Cathedral, so when I saw it the sound of my jaw hitting the ground was almost as loud as the spectacular sound of the bells of St Louis ringing on the hour. It is a gorgeous building – inside and out. Here are some more shots:

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The following day – the Sunday before my actual birthday – we took a ride on the ‘Natchez’ – a genuine working paddle steamer. We had an informative narrative on the first half, until the boat doubled back, and then we had jazz playing. I requested they played ‘I can’t give you anything but love’ for Frankie, which they were very happy to play. Funny thing is that we have heard that song in different arrangements about four time since. I think it may be telling us it’s ‘our song’ – what do you think?

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All too soon, it was our last day in New Orleans – but it was also my birthday! What a fabulous evening we had! It started with an amazing meal and ended with more jazz and cocktails. It was certainly the most memorable birthday of my adult life!

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So to the foodie shots. I had so many new (to me) tastes in NoLa – from fried oysters, to jambalaya, seafood platters, muffaletta, beignets and of course Hurricane cocktails and Mint Juleps.

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And so the end of a long weekend in New Orleans furnished me with a completely fresh palette of experiences and memories. I never thought – never in my life – that I would celebrate my 57th birthday in such an amazing way.

Next step of the trip was Disneyworld, and Frankie’s Brother’s wedding. But that’s another post!

Already almost two thirds of the way through my mega-trip to the states already, and it has been amazingly eventful!

I came over to visit Frankie, primarily to go to her brother’s wedding at Disneyworld, Florida, but we planned trips either side of it and once again I’ve had an unforgettable time here. Fran’s birthday was two days before I arrived, and mine was two weeks later, so we had joint celebrations. more on that in another post – it was a major experience!

So the first big life-changer happened the second day here. I proposed to Frankie and she accepted. So we are now officially engaged. Within a couple of days we were shopping for rings and came back with some really nice ones.  Originally we ordered the emerald engagement ring pictured below, but then went out and got matching wedding rings in silver with black diamonds. So they are doubling as engagement rings too. Fran was pleased enough with the emerald ring to keep that as well so – double-whammy!

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The double selfie above was taken at Atlantic City where we were over-nighting to see ‘Celtic Thunder’ in concert. More on that in another post.

So the engagement was the second day here. By the fourth day I had come down with flu and a couple of days later, Fran had picked it up from me too. We both had a couple of very uncomfortable days – aching, sneezing, not wanting to do much at all – followed by a couple of weeks of residual coughing. I have a spirometry test planned when I return home and won’t be too surprised if there is a slight worsening in my COPD. It is still very mild, though, and I refuse to be completely beaten by it. This bout resulted in us missing one planned event – a concert of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony by the Philadelphia Orchestra (who I have listened to in recordings since I was about 5 years old!). It was sad, but we have done so much else it is easy to shrug off and think that there will be other opportunities to see equally fine concerts in the future.

There have been so many levels of adventure in this trip – from sight-seeing, to ‘partying’ (yep – never too old to party!), gourmet experiences, music and a ridiculous number of selfies – alone and with my fiancée. Whenever I meet up with Fran – which so far has been once a year, we have a blast and this trip has been no exception.

The next part of the trip is worthy of its own post, as is the one after that. Firstly, my birthday weekend in New Orleans. If you had told me 20 or 30 years ago that I would be marking my 57th birthday in New Orleans with a spectacular meal, many cocktails and an evening of jazz, I would have said you were crazy. Yet here I was with my new fiancée having a crazy weekend in the heat and insanity of Bourbon Street.

So New Orleans will take up the next post, followed by Disneyworld, Florida, and my now-future brother and sister in law’s wedding there.

The Stranglers at the O2 Academy, Liverpool last night were every bit as entertaining as they were the last time I saw them – in the mid- late- 80s!

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When I was younger and attempting to play keyboards at some serious level, I wanted to be a combination of Jon Lord from Deep Purple and Dave Greenfield from The Stranglers. There was a big problem with this: I was nowhere in their league as a keyboardist.

I was really chuffed when I learned about The Stranglers gig here in Liverpool and even more so when I was able to go. I heard about the gig only last week, and then my awesome girlfriend, Frankie, bought me the ticket as a birthday present! This is on top of the fact that I anticipate being in New Orleans with her on my actual birthday. I am very blessed.

So the gig was absolutely amazing. I have seen the Stranglers more times than any other band – the first time in 1979, where they were supporting The Who at Wembley Stadium (check out the other support too!). That gig was as surreal as it was brilliant! At that time they were touring with ‘The Raven’, which to this day remains my personal favourite of their many and varied albums.

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Being at a gig like the one last night, it was reassuring to feel – in my head – that I was in my mid-twenties again. Unfortunately, after some very arthritic pogoing, my body totally disagreed! I’m sure there are a few people who know me that don’t even want to think about that one! It was reassuring that a high percentage of the audience were my age. As Baz Warne quipped between songs “Aww this is nice – look at all the smiling faces (look at all the bald heads too!)” A couple of women standing next to me became very protective of their toes and their beers when I got started!

The Rezillos were supporting the Stranglers too. I never really paid them much heed in the dizzy days of punk – apart from that song that was on Top of the Pops called – amazingly enough – ‘Top of the Pops’.

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At such gigs now, there is always a tinge of sadness at what seem like the ‘lost years’ in my life. The last time I saw The Stranglers must have been around 1986. After that, I lost touch with them after some rather horrendous experiences with a criminal landlord who made various threats, resulting in my being afraid to leave the house – that’s a short period of my life that I haven’t talked much about on here. It was short, but enough to have had a lasting impact. Anyway, I lost touch with many of my preferred bands and musicians at that time, then later, when Jacquie became ill, I lost touch with all music.

It did make for an interesting gig last night, though – I would say about half the songs on last night’s playlist were ‘new’ to me. They did play many of their greatest hits and many of my personal favourites. They kicked off with a military band style arrangement of ‘Waltz In Black’, which brought back fantastic memories of a gig at Hammersmith Odeon where they started the show with 3 ballerinas clad in leather and lace tutus, fishnets etc. It was amazing to watch. Last night they followed that with the first two tracks from The Raven – as they had started their set at the Wembley gig back in ‘79. They also played standards such as ‘Peaches’, ‘Get a grip on yourself’, ‘Golden Brown’, ‘Skin Deep’, ‘Always the Sun’, their version of ‘Walk on By’ – ‘No More Heroes’ was left as a second encore. It made for great impact. They also played ‘Curfew’ from the Black and White album – a great surprise for me as this was another of my personal favourites.

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I read a review of the gig at the O2 Academy, Sheffield the previous night and for that one, drummer Jet Black was absent – he is in his 70s now. Glad to say that he played a few songs last night.

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At the Sheffield gig, frontman Baz Warne – who enthuses the audience and (apparently) the band with energy and humour – said in explanation of Jet Black’s absence “[He’s] having a cup of horlicks, a lie down and a rest.” Jet Black used to get some stick in the early punk days of the band as being ‘old’ (I remember reading in NME that he was in his 30s at the time). He is now in his 70s of course. But you wouldn’t know from the few songs he did last night.

The night would have been perfect if Frankie had been with me. But there will be gigs together in the next few weeks. I couldn’t help but tap my foot when the music started – and when the old classics came out, I was almost at full pogo – temporarily forgetting that this was my 57th birthday present, and where energy sporadically touched my life back then, arthritis does now!

Let’s just say that today – the day after – I ache in places I forgot I had!

This is just a quick update with a couple of photos after my post earlier today.

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It was indeed an emotional occasion – the end of an era for Nikki Greig, and all who were touched by her energy, enthusiasm, cheerfulness and empathy. She has her last day at PSS tomorrow and flies out to Australia on the 25th of the month. As I said in that post, she was the second person I met at PSS and in the process of learning to cope with depression, she has been an inspiration along with her team mate in some of the classes, Paddy.

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Of course, as she is going to Australia, the hat was obligatory while we sang ‘Waltzing Matilda’ to her. The leaving do was marked by a few tears, a lot of smiles and a generous helping of laughter (oh and generous helpings of cake too!)

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As is my habit these days, when I left, I said “See you soon!” then realized I wouldn’t and got a bit of a lump in my throat. No, won’t see you soon, but I hope to hear that you have had a blast on your travvels, Nikki.