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

A Fakebook of Friends

Facebook – whether we love it or loathe it, is still very much what we think of when discussion is about social media. We add our ‘friends’, at times with the most tedious of connections – you both play ‘candy crush soda’, that lead vocalist in a band you once bought a single of as fancied the vocalist for all of five minutes, the best friend from of thirty years ago at primary school, and our uncle’s dog Henry; giving a whole new definition to the word ‘friend’. However, isn’t the most tedious and fake friend on the entire network Facebook itself? Although Myspace gave us all one friend to begin with – Tom, we are not all automatically friends with or following Mark (Zuckerberg), but the sheer vastness and power of Facebook, has it now become the ultimate fake friend?!

It only takes a few days away from the site to realise quite what a stranglehold it can have on our lives. Although, some cannot go for more than thirty minutes without checking, a few days away may sound like a lifetime! The ‘so called’ friends we have no longer require nurturing or effort, their lives are presented for us to see at the touch of a screen or click of a mouse. If someone ‘defriends’ us it can “oh well their loss” to “why have they defriended me…what did I say/do?”

We end up comparing our lives with ‘our friends’, rightly or wrongly’, and nearly always find ourselves dwelling on the negative aspects. I’m sure some also glee when they read of misfortunes of people they secretly never really liked at high school, as perhaps karma is calling their name. This however can also has a negative impact on our mental health, as see others soar and fly, while we feel confined to a cage (without bars). As we feel we are not good enough, leading to self-isolation and self criticism of our every move and move, as see them through the eyes of this new friend that has taken away our ability to just be ourselves. We crave likes and hearts just to be accepted by others, and some create fantasy lives just to hide the misery, or to seek attention from these 100s of friends we are meant to have, with only one answering us back when we message for help.

So what can we do? The ‘easy’ answer would be delete the app, remove our account, but that is not an answer for everyone. There maybe people we have connected through Facebook that are worth having in our lives, enjoy talking to and seeing what they are up to. Instead, take back our profiles as our own. Posting things we love and hate, if not much is happening in our lives don’t feel we have to update every week or respond to every post that fires us up or makes us cry happy tears. Keep our eyes, and not those of the fake friend that is telling tales behind our back, open – not everything is real just as real life. Be yourself always, your real friends will accept that and be there for you as you would them.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Autumnal Opera

Throughout the November days
An annual autumnal opera plays
It is party time for all our senses
Stop, look and listen for yourself

Hear the voices of the dawn chorus
Singing myths and legends of old
As their avian friends travel south
Flying for weeks just to reach home

Every morning grass shiver in cold
Setting all dew drop bells ringing
A warning to all nature to prepare
Hibernation time is coming soon

Meanwhile the twisting pathways
Are covered in reds and oranges
Lying as the tears of the forests
Remembering those now gone

Triggering human hunting season
In shops and on webs food and gifts
And cut down trees to decorate
With bright lights and coloured balls

I watch and listen from my window
With my teapot, notebook and pen
My spirit of an old soul dreams on
But my childish eyes in awe awakens

© Fi S. J. Brown

Hair Loss and Body Dysmorphic Disorder

My first blog for Mental Health Awareness Week 2019 is on my experiences of Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) and hair loss.

In 2013 researchers found hair loss could even lead to exaggerated feelings of ugliness and, in the worst cases, trigger BDD, where sufferers experience acute anxiety about their looks. Doctors found that the ‘enormous emotional burden’ of going bald could lead in some cases to low self-confidence, mental disorders and even impaired quality of life. In fact some have said those with BDD, hair loss second most common issue, with further suggestion that it affects men more than women, but I am uncertain how true this is as I felt devoid of any femininity for many years due to my own hair loss. Much of the media reporting has been on men too, but to me this just adds to the taboo of female hair loss.

With all the twisted images and lies that the media (printed and social), it is no wonder we all feel bad about our appearances , and judge them against them. Many think of eating disorders with regard to BDD, but in my case it was loosing my hair completely over twenty five years ago. Hair loss is not just a cosmetic issue, hair transplants are neither cheap or for everyone, and can have far reaching consequences – and an underlying impact on well-being.

As well as hair loss, I struggled with self identity, bullying and abuse adding to the deadly cocktail that left me feeling like a freak and ogre. I was offered no psychological help at any stage with the trauma of dealing with being 13 (I am almost 41 now) and having no hair left on my body made me wish I actually had cancer as perhaps people might understand more, or I would have had offers of such help. My hair will probably never fully grow back, it did once but fell out again a year later, and almost twice but stress kicked in. I will always remember one little boy pointing at me, and asking if I had holes in my head when he saw patches, all I could do was run away and cry.

Being laughed at by my peers at school made me petrified to spend a few days away on a school trip with them…would they try to steal my wig in the night as some would find it funny? I would not have put it past them, but I kept it on all the time and cried myself to sleep each day. I did not want to be there; I even claimed home sickness to my teachers, when in reality home wasn’t where I wanted to be either. I was suicidal and rather be dead. By the time I did escape to university, I was so scared to be social as thought it might come off, and be laughed at anew by those I lived or studied with.

I have never had sexual attraction or a sex drive, I identify as asexual, which in turn was maybe a blessing in disguise. Nobody was attracted to me, or so I felt, so perhaps it was a good thing as how would I explain my hair loss. I struggled with every day life in terms of knowing who I was, self love, and identity as to me I was always in my narcissistic mother’s shadow and hair loss robbed me of any chance to fight back with individuality. I was so sure everyone knew I was wearing a wig, pointing and laughing at me in the street, or gossiping behind my back.

It took my love of photography to start the fight back, and win the war against my BDD. Photographs as I said at the start can be manipulated, but start off by someone taking them, and as someone who hated others taking my image I think taking them myself was equally about having that control of the image. Every time a family member took one of me my eyes are shut, I am blind in one eye and highly sensitive to light, so my eyes shut with sunshine to flashes, but he would routinely humiliate me having my eyes shut to laughing at me refusing to have him take any pictures of me. When your mind already says you’re a freakish ogre, you do not need this added to the cocktail. So turning the camera on me allowed me to see me, the raw bare faced image that the camera took. Over years, and selfies became a thing, I saw myself develop like an old film photograph. Now images of me by me are like the others I take, they are snapshots in time, which I do not manipulate as would not be truly me. Recently a student at work, who was working of self esteem, had to write something positive about everyone – her’s to me was ‘different and talented’ (I had to resist giving her a big hug).

I have learnt that my body is a shell; people see an outer layer but only as we let them closer do they see the different layers that make us who we are, with very few seeing our skeleton being. I may have very judgemental people in my family, but I have never been one except of my own self. BDD can still try crawl back, but like the black dog that is my depression, this dog’s begging will not result in treats! Ignoring those, or removing them completely, that bring us harm is just as important to do with ourselves – cutting out the toxicity we have for ourselves.

© Fi S. J. Brown