Real life

As popular reality TV shows return for their autumn runs in the UK few stop to think of the contestants that in many ways are like actors in a play. Winners already decided to scripted arguments, edited video footage to manipulative judges comments, all make us invest emotionally in the contestants and vote in a certain way. Thus the contestants are presented in neat little packages, which are often far from how the truly are around friends and family.

However, it is not just confined to TV shows, for it is something nearly all of us are guilty of. Take a look at your Facebook profile, if have one, and see the image of yourselves that you promote to the outside world. We share our lives like the diary room on the show “Big Brother“, editing our photos to elicit a certain response, trying to look slimmer and younger than we are, to the portray of how life is and the person we want to be seen as by others.

Learning to be comfortable in who we are can be very difficult. Combined with the media and entertainment telling us we need to do x or y to become rich and successful or this is what true beauty looks like via a heavily edited photograph. Those that differ are seen as abnormal or freaks as their individuality is erased at a click of a mouse. Therefore, nowhere do we see examples of ordinary individuals as almost want to conform to these ideas.

Is it not time we stopped watching and listening? Gave ourselves a break for not being how the world paints what human beings are to be. Not everyone will have a partner and/or children, a fulfilling career does not mean one that brings lots of money and owning houses to cars are extras that should not be forced as must haves; what is wrong with renting a home or use public transport, owning a car may seem convenient but costs so much to run.

However, by all means continue watching television and posting to social media if you wish, but perhaps tuning out from or switching them off them now and again so can appreciate what we have without needing to share it, the little things that are special to each of us. Spending quality time with friends and family as life is precious and short, which is why the present is the only time that actually exists; based on foundations of the past and start of tomorrow.

© Fi S. J. Brown

A question of survival

This cage is no wilderness,
And the computer screen
Can conjure up the image
Of an Edinburgh sunset
But it doesn’t know it from
A sale at Next or Sainsburys,
So it’s up to me to remember
Birds singing, leaves dancing,
Puddles for jumping or leaping,
Skies filled oranges and reds
Memories fading as day ends.

A person thinks they make a living
But the real living is far from here
I see a dog run into the waves,
Trying to fetch his ball again,
Following the horizon and beyond
Watching dreams just out of touch.
Wishing I could soar like an eagle,
Over those hills and far away
I light a candle but blow it out
Making that wish and whisper
Believe it again under my breath.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Wabi Sabi Woman

I am a Wabi Sabi woman. I am far from perfect but what or who is? We all have quirks and idiosyncratic ways that give our personalities colour. We are all also fighting to bring down walls and barriers other people put in our way. They also may try to box us in or put walls up but together we can break them. Nobody is abnormal, failure or a freak, how we experience and live this life is different for us all. Pause to reflect the journey so far but not dwell on it and let the roots from that show who we are today. Equally, remembering what and who we are today form the roots of the future, if we’re putting off that choice or decision – do it. Finally, be gentle with ourselves and others, be a light in the darkness not one that switches off the torch.
© Fi S. J. Brown 

 

Letter to self

Dear Fiona (aged 23 and 3/4s),
I am writing to you from thirteen years in your future and have managed to scrape through to 36.75, sometimes you’ll wonder how but have learnt to focus on the present not past to pains that still scar but are covered in patches sewn by the love of friendship and think of the future but only see a cold and dark tunnel.

You are coming to the end of your time living in Aberdeen, having studied for a degree and a masters, but not sure what direction you want to go next. Well here’s a spoiler, you have another masters and PhD to go but they’re not listening to your inner voice, which you only learn with hindsight and life experience.

A freak that is the love child of Frankenstein and the Hunchback of Notre Dame is how you feel, right? Wrong, by my time you have grown to accept and appreciate who you are. No you haven’t resorted to drastic measures to change every iota of yourself as per those nightmaresque dreams you always have.

The reason for this letter is to say, you’re doing just fine. Yes, the way your life goes is not like others but that’s why life’s journey is unique and special, we can empathise and understand that of others but only we know our path. And yes it does hurt, do cry but do also try to focus on the positives that are part of that journey.

As to where you’re going to be at the age that I am now? Lets just say frustration on some things never change, no matter what we do these seem set to plague us but some will change. No matter how they seem today, like the newspapers that are tomorrows fish and chip wrappers, let them fade with the sun setting.

One final thing thing, you’re a strong woman that keeps going longer than any Duracell bunny ever could. So dry those tears that fall, not hard with your hand, but with a tissue and let yourself feel them like drops on a drum for they’re the rhythm of your heart and soul. And don’t give up, believe it again, carry on forwards.

Love Fi (aged 36.75) xx

Kindness

Kindness is something we usually instinctively know – when others give it to us it is met with a smile and when they do not we notice its absence. We often try our best to be kind as we can to our fellow human beings, but when someone is unkind to us the outrage we feel echoes throughout our body like an echo in a canyon. Continued unkindness is like a pinball bouncing around the canyon following the route of the echo.

Making someone else’s life unpleasant as we want to hurt them as feel they have something we should have or doing something we wish we could leaves a deepened tone in our shadow and bitter taste in our words. Making up lies to justify the actions makes our eyes turn darker and darker as no longer see the light and the soul’s tears become covered in increasing thick layers, till it can no longer be seen or even felt.

Real kindness does not require us to be selfless, doing so because we want to and/or we kind is truly beautiful. It costs nothing. In some ways it is a dance between our needs and wants with those of another. This world can a very cruel and dark place, so why do we not shine a torch of light that is kindness? Enough hurting and hunting for gain, for in the end would we like it if someone was doing it to us?

© Fi S. J. Brown

Labels

Yesterday I went to a show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival by Joe Sellman-Leava entitled ‘Labels’, which told of Joe growing up in rural south west England in the 1990s, the questions and comments about his dual heritage, and also examined the way we use words, the line between curiosity and fear, and the rise of anti-immigration rhetoric.

It got me thinking of the topic of labels, which I often tell people when they try put them on me that they belong on foods not human beings. We put labels in theory to group us together, but in fact they put distances between us as see someone that does not have the same label as us as different or we use them as a way to stigmatise someone for being different. When no two humans are ever truly unique, including identical twins, why do labels continue to give labels such power?

Joe told us how his surname is unique to five people, his parents/siblings/himself and the story of how it came to be. It made consider how relatively common my own surname is the UK, one name shared among 1000s of people on this small island alone, and in some ways I felt jealous for a moment of Joe’s uniqueness but at the same time how grateful there would not be the racist comments, hate and impressions his parents encountered with my own surname.

It also made me reflect on to my first name, which I hate. Why do I hate it, as it is a very strong word to use for one’s own name? Quite simply it goes back to my teenage years when I was badly bullied, any new pupil starting at my secondary or high school were told “nobody is friends with Fiona“. The stigma and pain of that cut me like a thousand blades ripping into my skin and still bearing the scars almost twenty years later. My family nickname was Oni, which my eldest brother always added “moanie” too, because I questioned things and did not want to be forced to do certain things that he or other people wanted me to do. So I use Fi, which is the name all my closest friends use and feels right when I hear or see them use.

My middle names I do not like either. Sarah is after my great aunt of the same name, in many ways my surrogate grandmother and not an easy woman to like, which my father would agree upon as told me a few years back it was only added as he registered me as it would “keep the old bat happy“! My other middle is Jane after Sarah’s sister, my actual grandmother, that died when my mother was but a toddler and so have no idea who this woman was. However, as a name it jars on my ears, as my mother would shout – “Lady Jane“, whenever she felt I had done anything to ire her as a child.

My nationality – Anglo-Scot, not Scottish or English or even British; my father was from North West England and my mother South West Scotland, thereby making me a “half-breed” (as I have been called in the past). I have never felt I could claim to be Scots or English as feel a mix of both but perhaps more culturally I identify with England than Scotland. for I am certainly no Braveheart or SNP supporter (no I don’t vote Conservative/Labour/UKIP before your mind wanders).

My father would reinforce my Englishness when any major sports events were on television, when the UK played as different nations, and tell me I should be supporting England as I was English. Both my brothers, unlike me, speak and read Scots; if I hear it spoken I have been known to ask for subtitles as don’t always follow what is being said. When I meet people from my home city I get told after saying yes I grew up here, “oh well, you don’t sound local“! Yes I have moved around the UK and lived briefly in Italy but found that remark curious and led me to ponder “well where do I sound like I’m from“?!

When applying for jobs, the so called “Equal opportunities form” many companies ask for along with an application form wants information on us relating to gender to race, religion, sexuality and disability, all of which for me are labels that we use to box people in and expect them to be a certain way before we even meet them. Do these forms really make things equal or as excuses not employ certain people, and even so they can meet some secret criteria in certain areas?

Thinking of the question of race, I often find companies try split White into White Scottish and White English not White British or simply White, I suddenly find myself questioning how the River Tweed can mark such a difference on an island that they need to have two distinct labels and which one or neither am I? I have close friends that would be identified as being of mixed race, my mother once remarked one was “half something“, to which I responded “English like me” before leaving her to wallow in the mire she’d created. I do not see race but the person I am talking to and their personality.

Thinking of race made me remember a supermarket chain, which now no longer existing in the UK, many of my friends said of their branch in Aberdeen how diverse the staff were c.f. another no longer existing chain that they were so white they were transparent! When a friend worked for the second company she found they did have a few (‘token’) non-white people working behind the scenes as were almost ashamed to have them seen and/or served by the public! Was this a reflection of late 1990s/early 2000s Britain, or was it company policy at that time?

Another question on the forms is religious belief. To me belief is a very personal thing, and because of certain events to stories in the media certain religions are seen a certain way. If someone is a Muslim, it leads to an automatic label of terrorist by many, without trying to see the media is painting a false picture of many peaceful people like you or I but identify their beliefs in this way. To me it should not matter if you worship an afro haired Martian to a man who died on a cross, as long as you do not use it as a way to excuse behaviour that hurts or exclude others.

Then there is the question of sexual orientation, this almost always gives me a heavy sigh to read, does it matter to my work who I choose as my partner in my personal life if does not impact upon on my working life? As someone that has no sexual desire, i.e. asexual, to be asked if I’m heterosexual, gay, bisexual or prefer not to say is awkward and feel I can never give a truthful answer as I am attracted to neither gender and do not identify myself in such a way. Due to our beliefs above we can use them as an excuse or reason to dislike someone due to how they perceive some that is perhaps gay or bisexual to be without getting to know them, the same way some may with their religious beliefs.

The question though I am most scared to answer is on disability, do I consider myself disabled? No I do not. However, I have been diagnosed with depression, fibromyalgia, and dyspraxia, any of them could be seen as a disability but to me they are part of the colours that make me, well me. I have been called names and labelled all sorts relating to all of these, but it is perhaps my dyspraxia that I had the worst bullying and abuse as people do not understand or know of it. Mental health I have had people find my honesty on my battles helps them be more open rather than wear their diagnosis with pain or a jumper to keep them warm as defines them now rather than let their personality not the label show.

I may continue to dislike labels, particularly when used as a way to define me that I am not. I often fall between two so how is one or either truly a reflection of me as an individual? Is it not time we saw beyond a label and saw the person? I believe by listening to those that experience different aspects of life helps us understand and grow as people. So put down The Sun, Daily Mail or The Guardian, The Times, and explore the world for ourselves not through dirty spectacles. Finally, if in Edinburgh do go to Joe’s show as it certainly is powerful stuff and thought provoking work.

© Fi S. J. Brown

End the stigma

When we search Google it uses a function called ‘autocomplete’, which means we see search predictions that might be similar to the search terms we are typing. For example, as we start to type new york, we might see other popular New York-related searches,

This function can be useful when searching. However, not all of them are positive. These pictures I found on Pinterest from someone who found what showed up when looking up terms relating to mental health. It is frightening to me how some assume or feel regarding it. How can we hope people seek help when some view mental health like this?

Remember – just because we cannot see someone’s depression, can we not see their tears; just because we cannot feel their pain, it does not mean it will go away like a headache with a tablet; just because someone hears voices, does not mean they’re going to kill others; and just because someone is suicidal, does not make them crazy or selfish.

This is why we need to end the stigma of mental health. It can only be done together. At least 1 in 4 of us will experience mental health issues in our lifetime, reach out to help someone not push them away. Hollywood and the media paint mental health one way, let us paint its true colours not the black and white they use.

© Fi S. J. Brown

   
    
   

Raindrops

Raindrops are the tears we cannot hide from. They fall from above, touching our faces or tapping on windows, almost hoping someone will stop to hear their story. We often look up to the sky with disgust, cursing not again, which only makes it worse or it stops to hide away, as nobody tries to understand or listens. When someone cries with depression, each tear is like a raindrop falling; so telling someone to stop crying or go away as too busy to deal with them, is not an answer. Just as we want to shelter from the rain or the sun to return, with depression it is wanting to be happy like the sun, but hoping for good friends or family being to be the shelter to give support and understanding.

© Fi S. J. Brown

raindrops

Semicolon

I have seen over the last month various posts pertaining to a semicolon (;) tattoo. For anyone who has not come across it, the semicolon tattoo is a mental health awareness trend among suicide survivors to self harmers, those with depression to addiction, as a metaphor for a moment when a person contemplates suicide – in other words, thinks about ending the story of their life – and yet they continue through their difficulties.

As someone that has depression, in the past self harmed and come close to suicide this trend hits very close to home. Although I have no tattoos (per se) I am not against them, just one of those things meant for others not me. Equally, I do not follow fads or trends and they quickly lose the meaning with which they were started and to those it was/is a statement. Will a mark really cause others to pause, laugh or pity another if they see it?

For me I do not need a ; on my wrist because I have a phrase on my left wrist, which in my mind is tattooed on invisible ink. Those that are close to me know the phrase, its origin and the deeper meanings. So to me it has power beyond the words themselves and does not be seen by the world to explain something very deeply personal or justify any of it.

Instead let us talk about mental health without stigmatising it further, instead of a semicolon let us put a full stop to say enough.Alternatively, use a comma, where by we pause to think of a friend and pick up the phone to text/call/Facebook them to say ‘hello’ and ‘I was thinking about you’. Finally, remember nobody is a freak or abnormal, they’re living this difficult thing we call life the best they can and in ways that are normal to them.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Imperfect

What is perfect? Does such a concept truly exist? We all seem to strive towards it, yet it seems that it is permanent flux and not something that can truly ever be grasped. How two people see perfection maybe very different; one may look to remove any trace of so called flaws or imperfections and this maybe from wearing glasses to their inability to do a task or the beliefs they may hold; where as the other may share some of these ideals, what makes it perfect to them maybe quite different, brunette vs. blond for example.

When we look for a partner we sometimes develop a fantasy of someone we’d love to have, yet even if someone looked say like our favourite celebrity crush, what of their personality? Does it not say far more about someone than an outer shell does? Sometimes we try lose weight to reach that “perfect weight”, which even if we did make, maintaining it is far harder, so is it really so perfect? Also supermarkets that want all they sell to be a certain way, uniform in shape and size, so they are “perfect” by their standards.

Take a step back and the ridiculousness of it jumps out, like the little boy in “The Emperor’s New Clothes” pointing out to all that nothing is truly perfect as highly subjective and unlikely. Imperfection or flawed is something that is frowned upon, yet can be seen wherever we turn from rust on the door handle to grey hairs or wrinkles upon our face, and the four from six glasses now left from a gift from a friend. Writers to painters and musicians all strive for the perfect work but isn’t what they create beautiful because it is not?

We see images in the media from newspapers to magazines and websites to social media altered to show someone else’s vision of perfection as how they actually look is imperfect; the image the camera took needed to be altered or manipulated to meet an idea of a perfect image. What is wrong with seeing someone how they actually are? On a person do flaws not show character and their story? In a writing song with lyrics and music it is creating a balance not reaching for a perfect blend of both. Is imperfection not in fact real beauty?

From Japan comes the aesthetic term “Wabi Sabi”, which can be defined as: “a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. It is a beauty of things modest and humble. It is a beauty of things unconventional.” Perhaps we need to learn to see this more in the world around us, not replacing something because it is old and dated, or broken and chipped, even dying hair and botox injections. Who are we really to judge something or someone as perfect, when the world around us imperfect and flawed by nature?

© Fi S. J. Brown