Be Kind

It is Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK, which this year is on the theme of kindness. In modern life it has be come a norm to overlook many things in life—to shrug it off, roll our eyes, and simply walk away. We avoid interaction on a very basic level unless on social media. Prior to lockdown, we missed so many opportunities to extend our human kindness to each other and ourselves.

Life was like a fast-paced chess game with no end. Trying to to stay two steps ahead of ourselves as went from A to B, our brains would be filled with worries and thoughts. We saw poverty, abuse, disease, war, hunger, bullying, and violence on the news and online, so often it was so overwhelming that we choose to do nothing. We did not have time or energy to do something someone else, as did not even make time for ourselves.

As human we have a gift that can change ourselves and others – that of kindness. It can be a smile at a passing stranger or a comment on Facebook. Equally it can be having that piece of cake without feeling guilty. It costs nothing. It is a true kindness when we don’t expect anything in return, like gratitude or reciprocation; we simply want to make someone feel better.

Finally, kindness is good for our health. Being kind regulates our heart rate; we get a warm, cosy feeling. Our brain releases dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins, all of which make us happy. So don’t be hard on yourself for any weight gained during lockdown, or the grey hairs are starting to show, we all are struggling.

Life cannot carry on as before, we need to throw away this idea of normal. We are all unique, there is no such thing as an average human life or being. Instead, lets be kind and respectful to ourselves, others and the world around us.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Real Dystopian Life

Thinking about the false images and stories that the media and internet are filled with. Where the truth is hidden like the tip of an iceberg we will never see the bottom of; scratch the surface and the only thing we get is a bit cold, but dive down and discover a whole new world exists full of tunnels that once discovered there is no turning back. Back on the surface they are sensationalised and toxic norms that want us to fit into tidy boxes, which make those that don’t question their beliefs and sanity, rather than throw away the boxes we were never meant to fit into in the first place.

Twenty four seven news, advertisements, publicity and entertainment is the diet we are fed direct from the black box in the corner to the black mirror in our hands. How can we tell if it is a promotion for a new film, or a car commercial that looks more like it is selling perfume than something to drive. It makes us scratch our heads and overthink, which results in us remembering the product longer than we thought and even consider buying one as given it that much thought.

With celebrities famous for the slightest thing ready to cling on to the false spotlight above them. Only a few walk away from the false light, because it becomes as addictive as the white powder that they are given to sniff and become locked in contracts they can never escape. Whilst influencers prey on the vulnerable in a bid to try grab that light onto themselves, and begin to believe their worth, which is in fools gold not real money. Filled with toxic smoke and mirrors, which are really best left alone.

We are currently in the midst of a global pandemic, our every day lives have almost stopped with a full stop with the noise of sirens and flashing lights in the background. Those that at the turn of the year were in jobs that were seen as unskilled, have become essential to keeping our countries and world running. As the media plays on and on with updates upon more updates, creating fear and worry, making trying to adapt to this changing world harder and harder. Many feel their comfort blankets have been taken away and replaced with ones of different colours and textures, but are meant to hold on to the familiar faces still there on the black boxes and black mirrors, as though that should bring us comfort.

And so, as I now sit here, staring into the screen of my laptop, finding myself looking at my friend’s latest posts on social media and answering emails from work. None of them seem to offer any real hope or break from the falseness that infected our world long before the virus. The door to the outside are out there, they just forgot to let everyone know they could tune out at any time. My suspicion is that they do not want us to know that we have the key the whole time.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Education and Disability

This is a bit different from my usual writing. However, I decided to share it as I had saved it to my drafts on my work email and had sat there for five months without a home. It is based on notes I have made from experiences and courses I have done on disability, education, and low- and lower-middle-income countries.

Education is a fundamental human right and essential for the exercise of all other human rights. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) sets out the responsibility of states to provide an inclusive education system at all levels. Article 24 states that people with disabilities have the right to education on an equal basis with others and without discrimination. The CRPD committee’s General Comment on inclusive education further articulates the right to education for people with disabilities.

However, learning environments are not always inclusive and safe places. They can be sites of physical, verbal, psychological and sexual violence, and social exclusion. For children and young people who are perceived as ‘different’ and who do not fit into dominant cultures in societies, schools can actually be alienating and marginalising spaces. Moreover, violence in educational settings is a daily reality that denies millions of children and young people the fundamental human right to education.

However, despite global progress in achieving universal access to education, more than half the 65 million children with disabilities in low- and middle-income countries are not in school. They face multiple barriers to receiving an education including inaccessible schools, inaccessible teaching materials, prejudice and discrimination from teachers and bullying from peers. The situation is particularly concerning for girls with disabilities,as they are at an increased risk of violence, which can also lead to families choosing not to send them to school. In conflict settings, the risk of gender-based violence increases for all girls. Leaving them in a cycle of poverty and inequality that extends throughout adulthood.

Globally, we are facing a learning crisis. Not only are children out of school, but once in school, they are failing to learn. Children with disabilities experience lower levels of enrolment, attainment and literacy. The attainment gaps between children with disabilities and children without disabilities are growing, and children with disabilities are being left behind.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Back to Normal!?

It is said the only 9% of Brits would life to return to ‘normal’ once lockdown is over. This has caused others and me to address the elephant in the room…just what is this normal they want to return to and is that not impossible in light of everything that has, is and will happen over the next few weeks?

I feel the impact of the coronavirus, covid-19, will impact on life much the same as the end of World War 1 (WW1) and Spanish Flu changed life at that time. We are not fighting our neighbours or another country, but something that might very small, yet to some is potentially fatal across the world. Six million men were mobilised during WW1, and of those just over 700,000 were killed. That’s around 11.5%. In fact, as a British soldier you were more likely to die during the Crimean War (1853-56) than in WW1. Those that returned were forever changed by their experiences, with what today we would call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The frontline may have changed, where the soldiers have been replaced with medics in hospitals, but it is still a war, which is far from over.

For every day people, unemployment will rear its ugly head, and economies of countries will drop, as the price of living will increase, making the poorest around the world struggle even more than before. Equally, our routines of meeting up with friends and family to shopping at the supermarkets will continue to have to be restricted. The virus will still be around, and we will need to be diligent as it has and will mutate making it harder to deal with. Vaccines will not be developed overnight, proper trials will need to be done before they can be given to the public, there cannot be and should not be any shortcuts to this.

Time at home, especially those not used to it, with restrictions on what we can and cannot do will change how we are now and in the future. Some saying how this experience has increased mental health awareness, but has it? Mental health is so much more than depression and anxiety, although the experience may make people more understanding of how others feel that do. With too much time on our hands we are liable to overthink; for example, the little things about partners we love and hate amplified like never before, questioning just who the person is, and the what if’s that will go round and round in circles in our heads as try make sense of a situation that there is little sense to be made of.

So how can we return to the world we knew before lockdown? That world does not exist, for the changes keep happening, which for many with autism spectrum disorders in particular is hard to cope with. It is said ‘we are in this together’, but are we? How we are and will have experienced it, as with any experience be differently unique to us. Normal is used to describe something that actually never existed, and will not exist in the future. For example for many in Britain being married with two kids, a house, car and dog is one way to live life, but calling it normal to me is wrong, as there are many ways to live life. Even in the 41+ years I have been alive it has changed, take gay marriage that for many now is accepted, but twenty years ago it was still hard to acknowledge one had feelings with someone of the same gender. Personally, I find it harder for people to accept I am asexual, and what that means than if I had come out as gay.

I’ll finish with the words a friend once used to say to me – ‘normal is a function on a washing machine’. We are not artificial machines, we are the sum of our genes, environment and experiences, and normal is just being ourselves not collectively. So I personally won’t be going back to my old ways, as this experience is teaching me more about myself each day.

Stay safe and at home, but if out there doing your bit, thank you.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Locked in

Outside windows birds sing so loudly and freely
Inside we are the ones trapped in a cage with no bars
Tunes sweeter than the Easter chocolate now gone
As the bitterness of lockdown continues to bite us

Cloudless blue skies taunt like playground bullies
Making our tears the only water drops that will fall
We caged the animals in zoos and circuses for fun
Now we have been given karma’s gift from Earth

Just how long it will our collective sentences be
With our white mountains now made of toilet rolls
Office pens replaced by bits of penne or fusilli
And the only alcohol left is in the hand sanitiser

Few metallic beasts still roam the empty streets
Counting shrieking ones with flashing blue lights
For we all silently chant “we’re in this together”
But none of us want to ride on that beast’s back

The black box sells us fear in the name of news
As we click off and onto the web no spider made
To a book of the many faces we have ever known
And hide behind a mask that no virus can attack

How can something so small cause so much hurt
Yet we do it too with our words and actions daily
A finger that points now covers our muted mouths
Silencing the hate as the panic grows inside us all

One day this will be just another footnote in history
A human war that waged across the whole world
When a cough becomes less of a threat once more
Will we learn the lessons of 2020 that engulfed us

© Fi S. J. Brown

Coronavirus – Mental Health & Well-being

As many of us are now at or going to be at home for longer periods than usual, maintaining good mental health is as important as washing our hands and physical health.

Here are some tips for maintaining good mental health in these uncertain times:
1. Know what you can control and what you cannot. We do not need to watch television putting fear and scaremongering us. Equally, what we read or watch online can lead to mass hysteria and panic. Take all in sparingly, if at all. There are too many uncertainties that will only lead to anxiety if we let those feelings take hold;
2. Do what makes you feel safe. If that is self isolation due to existing conditions, then do not feel guilty about it, but do not isolate due to depression (I’ve been there and it’s not a path to follow). If sharing silly pictures on Facebook that helps then do so, as we can all use the laugh, but remember humour can be objective too so do not use it to turn to xenophobia or racism;
3. Get some fresh air. The garden can be a great place to focus energy into something positive, and can feel a sense of achievement. Otherwise, try go for a walk, even briefly, get yourself some vitamin D and appreciate there is more positives in the world than negatives at any time;
4. Create something new. It doesn’t have to be a work of art, a Beethoven symphony, or epic novel, but could equally be making a cake or biscuits to eat while working from home. Equally, you can use the internet to discover something new like a new band or author, which you could then download to a tablet to read/listen to;
5. Challenge yourself to stay in the present, which can be hard when worrying about an uncertain future to how much better things seemed only a few months ago. Notice the sights, sounds, tastes and other sensory experiences, using mindfulness techniques to help ground you when find your mind drifting off into negativity and hopelessness;
6. Stay connected, and reach out when needed, use social media and telephones to talk to people. Even if in social isolation, this does not mean you can speak or see someone even if it is remotely. It can be a comfort to know someone is there, even if it is just a quick reassurance that they are there.

Do not try to be a hero, a bit like the plane safety demo – only fix another’s mask when you have fixed yours. It’s ok not to be ok at any time, do not feel alone, as we are here for each other.

© Fi S. J. Brown

 

Rat in a cage

Rat in a cage
Rat in a wheel
Rat in a race
Like a rat in a cage
Treat me like a criminal
Treat me like a puppet
Treat me like a number
Treat me like a failure
Use me like a tool
Drain me till I’m empty
Leave me out in the rain
Watch me turn to rust
Treat me like an experiment
Just another rat in a cage
Like a rat in a cage
Treat me like I’m prisoner
Leave me until I confess
Blind me til I’m lost
Freeze me until I’m cold
Beat me till I bleed
Grind me until I’m dust
Push me til I break
Wire me until I conform
Treat me like an experiment
Just a rat in a cage
Another rat in a cage
Another rat in a cage
Another rat in a cage
Rat in a cage
© Fi S. J. Brown

To Me (for Valentine’s Day)

Do not feel this day is only for lovers,
Love yourself and forget the others.
Twist from left to right to form a hug,
Or fill tea or coffee in your prized mug.

Stop counting flaws in worried fear,
Self-love is something sing and cheer.
And for all the tears you have shed,
Forgive yourself in whisper to the head.

Flowers and chocolates are nice things,
But a temporary fix for the heart strings.
Embrace your talents and value yourself,
Do not leave them making dust on a shelf.

Know your worth cannot be bought or sold,
And do not follow the path of fool’s gold.
You are free flowing like an endless wave,
An unbound spirit that few grasp or crave.

Embrace not in a passionate lustful kiss,
And fill with inner compassionate bliss.
Your light is bright like the stars at night,
Shine on knowing everything is alright.

© Fi S. J. Brown

A Lesson in Self Love

This weekend I have been thinking about school, and what they do or do not teach us. We are taught about relationships, but they miss out the most unique and complicated one of all, which we can never walk away from. That is our relationship with ourselves.

Every flaw we magnify like it was a volcanic crater, finding ourselves like a Swiss cheese not the work in progress we are. We do not let wounds heal, as seldom give ourselves time out, or pick away again and again at the scabs so continue to hurt us. Every mistake we judge ourselves, sentencing to years and life, which we would never demand of another, unless for some heinous crime. We wear masks, as frightened that others may not like the real us, and wear them so often we do not know or love ourselves.

As this year is 2020, maybe we should see ourselves with clarity and/or sharpness of vision. Put down the rose tinted glasses and masks, and see ourselves afresh. Nobody is perfect, but we are normal; human beings trying to make it through this journey with the only guaranteed companion ourselves. The scarecrow, tin man, lion, and Dorothy are all parts of ourselves that we need to survive. So let’s follow the yellow brick road, being wary of false wizards, and enjoy the journey…wherever it takes us and the steps along the way.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Y2K – Looking back and Forward

Almost twenty years ago at midnight clocks were waiting to strike twelve at the start of a new millennium. I remember my friend Iain’s sister asking me ‘how will we know if the world has ended’ – she like many others were caught up in the ‘millennium bug’ hype. With Iain himself saying the first words I heard of the year 2000 – ‘I can’t get my cork out’ (he meant champagne for those of you with dirty minds). The world was changing with every bang of fireworks I saw rippling across the city, and almost felt an innocence was being lost (not sure if was my own, the world or both).

Twenty years on and the world continues to change, with one step forward and two backwards as we no longer accept old ways and embraced new ones (not always for the better). I am still a free spirit that does not like being caged, and finally found the key to that freedom as rid myself of the beast in my head that let negativity to self hate make their own nests. We have never been so connected, but yet I feel more apart than ever. The 2010’s were a frustrating decade as well, but surviving the battles just make me more determined than ever to bite back with karma at my side.

As to the next twenty years, what will they bring? We don’t have the jet packs to flying cars we thought we would have, but the robots look less human yet Siri and Alexa are in many ways the things of science fiction books. We need to continue to focus on the good in life, not comparing our lives with others, and be empathetically compassionate. Fear has been allowed to suffocate us for too long, it’s time to fight back with light to conquer those that want darkness and slaves of us.

Meantime, whatever it brings we are stronger together than apart, and hope the start to the third decade of the 21st century brings us all happiness, good health (mental and physical) and all we could wish for.

© Fi S. J. Brown