A child’s question – mental health

Yesterday I was asked: how do you explain mental health to a child? The child in question being 4 years old. Although I will never have my own children, it is an important to realise with an increase in mental health that we consider it from a child’s point of view and not ignore their questions. So, I felt it was an important point to ponder. N.B. I am not a trained counsellor but considering a basic course in 2016 as many have said I should be one, but use my own experiences to offer support and advice to friends.

Immediately I remembered my step-mum after my breakdown and suicidal thoughts said I could not stay with her, my dad and step-sister as was not fair on my step-sister as she was too young (I was almost thirty where as she was twelve). My own parents split up when I was eleven, so thought when I was her age I had already gone through a major traumatic experience. Equally, she was of the age when lots of changes would be occurring and have questions about life. Was she really too young to understand why I felt the way I did or was this the stigma of mental health kicking me at my lowest ebb?

My step-mum also would never let me explain fully why I was depressed to her and events had become the way they are. I was having therapy at the time so I could understand my past and how I got to where I was today. So what I had learnt from therapy, I could never put into practise, for as soon as my mum’s name was mentioned, she’d go deaf; my mum had painted her (wrongly) as a scarlet woman thus could not hear a bad word about her. It was incidents like that every time I saw her that lead to my re-estrangement with my father, as she would corner me to ask me again and again, but not give her the answers she felt I should be saying. How could I explain when what needed said was not being heard?

My family never talk about things, so all sorts that hurt me from physically to emotionally and mentally can still trigger or impact upon me decades later as cannot always move on from them. Only the other week I had a panic attack at the dentist, partly through a fear I was choking as I nearly blacked out and my fear of people coming in my face after things my brother did to me thirty years ago, which my parents never punished. I once nearly punched an optician as he came close to my face when helping me try contact lenses and my head kept thinking he was going to strangle me like my brother kept trying to do. I would never knowingly hurt anyone, so both incidents left me crying and shaking at being a fool to let the past strangle my present and possible future. However, it also tells me that I also need further therapy to move on from them.

Going back to the original question I was asked. I feel honesty is the best policy, especially with children, but just how do you tell a small child about something many adults do not understand or accept? The friend told me the child already knew they cried, got angry and took medication, but as children often do, wanted to know more. It made me consider both my nieces, one almost 4 and the other almost 5, how would I explain how Auntie Fi’s health? The eldest already asked why on why I did not do certain things. I also felt that children need reassurance and that it is not them, but their parents still love them and always will.

I thought back to my own childhood, how I used the Care Bears to show how I felt. When I was seven, my tummy felt like Grumpy Bear with a cloud on it with the drops feeling like the tears I had in my tummy. He was the only Care Bear I was never allowed to own, as my mum found his image too depressing! Ironic given it was me trying to tell her I was depressed from events at home and the bullying at school.

I looked up an image of Grumpy Bear on the internet, and immediately hit upon an idea. The friend could colour in with and/or supporting their child the image of the bear, describing how sometimes they felt like the bear, the raindrops were like the tears he cried and medication the hearts that stopped the raindrops falling as much, which together with their loved made more hearts form. My friend felt this was a good idea, but reminded them they knew their child in terms of development and sensitivity required.

Discussing mental health is not easy, whether it is with a child, teenager or adult. However, it is by discussing what it means to us and impacts our lives with family, friends and colleagues that will end this terrible stigma, which I believe should have been left in the 20th century. In many ways discussing mental health is like discussing having cancer, diagnosis under either umbrella term can change lives forever but they do not have to mean the end. We all feel like Grumpy Bear some days, needing the love of others to be the hearts when sometimes we forget to love ourselves and know it is okay to cry like the raindrops, as the sunshine after the rain is almost worth dancing in the street!

© Fi S. J. Brown


Bonfire Night

It was the fifth of November
When suddenly out of the still and foggy evening sky
Came a loud bang from the left and scream to the right
As splashes of colour glimmered for seconds above me

Smells of chemicals drifted by
Visual memories of childhood flashed before my eyes
Before jumping with another bang louder than before
Like an unseen enemy approaching closer and closer

The whistling did not stop them
The echoing of spits and bangs sounding like guns
As the red then seemed to dominate the colour above
Had the troops now gone over the top in war’s name

Sparklers waved in the distance
Catching my left eye with their hypnotic swaying song
A sign of hope that all was not lost to this new enemy
And the stars would soon return to wish upon again

© Fi S. J. Brown

The Parental Split

It is funny how some days and events are engrained in the memory long after they occurred. Twenty five years ago my parents marriage was over, the day is as clear now as then, combined with being muted of words and feelings to be expressed left me alone and unable to express the world I now felt part of. I already knew things were not right with their marriage, and my father leaving for another woman did not surprise either as already knew he was having an affair with someone else but as an eleven year old I was not able to say as much as was what my instincts had said for months. My father was the parent I could trust, my mother was not, making the blade of pain that bit sharper that felt like it cut me up day after day as she sunk in her venom like a snake.

I hurt for days to months and years after the day itself as like so much in life it is the ripple or domino effects we feel from the actions of others. It is only as an adult can I put myself in the shoes of both parents; to think of and empathise with the emotions and feelings they were going through. What that day continues to teach me is how important communication is and the children should not be left in tearful mute because the adults do not talk on issues. My father managed to highlight again how poor a communicator he and my mother are by neither expressing what the “split” actually meant. Why could someone not say it meant it was over. My step mother could not understand as I tried to explain to her things I could not change or have done differently then when in contact after a decade of paternal estrangement.

I have learnt that we need to talk to each other and accept things in life, no matter how hard they seem today because these are the foundations of tomorrow. Thus dwelling on the past means we cannot enjoy what the present has and it soon will be but a memory too. I may not speak to my father again but that is my choice as this day was the domino for times he’s hurt and/or let me down when I have tried. My mother still will never move on from that day, many a time she still sees me as that eleven year old girl, not the woman of almost thirty seven. All our actions have consequences, so remember that and the ripples they touch (the good and the bad). Life is not disposable, nor is it recycled, so appreciate those that bring us joy and love, not bring us down with negativity and jealous hate.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Night whispers

I stand in line waiting for the ferry to carry me back home
As the night stretches out far and wide in every direction
And the stars sparkle like diamond speedways of light

I am in no rush to make the journey back to my homeland
For tales, myths and lies haunt me like a ghost live there
And memories of my childhood are little works of origami

The spring breezes catches my breath to make me relax
Filling it with sparklers bright and smells almost angelic
And removing the hellish voices and flooding thoughts

Those days are in the past and where they must stay
The future’s foundations are made from today not then
So into a box I lock them shut and throw the key to sea

Now I board the ferry free with a new song in my head
I cannot change what happened or those that hurt me
But I can enjoy the present and let positivity shine out

© Fi S. J. Brown

Robert Burns

Today marks the birthday of the Scottish poet Robert Burns, with many having a traditional meal with a haggis but not me. Many of us that grew up in Scotland will remember learning his works at school, I still stumble to understand and read them now. However, Burns was part of my childhood in a different way, as my beloved great uncle Lauderdale and I would always walk along the banks of the River Nith to the Robert Burns Centre in Dumfries.

Although there was a play area outside I seldom played on it, instead we’d watch the majestic swans gliding on the river, the deer that lived on a near by hill but nobody could explain to me why they were trapped in a wire cage not free to roam and the changing colours of the leaves, like the world we live in, which was often a theme of our discussions. This was in stark contrast to the exhibitions at the centre, which would never seem change; we’d laugh when the statue inside of Burns had a paint job between visits, as the centre seemed lost in a time I did not know and my great uncle had seen and now gone.

Lauderdale helped me to see as it really is, the only time that matters is now, and life’s only constant is change, although some things may seem constant with no apparent change. Yes as an adult I would love to spend another hour in his company, and feel safe with my hand in his as he’d smoke his pipe and wear his deerstalker hat, which always made his long white beard smell. Even now if I smell it in the air, I swear at times it’s him keeping me company or checking I am okay. So Mr Burns, Happy Birthday, and once more I’ll walk along the Nith with my great uncle Lauderdale.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Robert Burns Centre


Jack was a farmer’s son, sensitive and kind to all he met. One day he was sat in the corner of the hay barn, eating his lunch of curds and whey, when a spider appeared and made young Jack jump. His twin sister Jill was eating lunch with him, laughed at her brother, pointing at him for being so silly and started to call him “Little Miss Muffet”. For he was in her eyes the little girl not the boy for she was the one that climbed the trees and helped father with the animals, he preferred to be inside with their mum and make cakes. This made young Jack cry and run out the barn, hating the spider and his sister for hurting him so, he thought one day they’ll see I’m a brave boy.

That afternoon Jill suggested they climb hill near by, Jack usually said no but thought I’ll show her that I truly am a boy and will climb it with her. So together they set off with a pail to fetch some water for the farm. Jack loved all he saw and heard, suddenly a gust of wind caught his legs and sent him tumbling down, bumping his head as he did, with Jill tumbling down beside him. On arriving home Jack’s mum sent him straight to bed with a bandage of vinegar and brown paper upon his head. As he slept the vinegar leaked through the paper to his brain, for the next day Jack was changed bitter and angry to the spider that frightened him, his sister for laughing at him and the hill for falling, he would make them pay not just now but forever.

The older Jack got the more and more people became frightened to utter his name, even a simple “Hi Jack” led to an exchange many were keen to avoid. It was rumoured he murdered people in London but that was never proven it was really him at all although known for being a lad. On his death he vowed he would haunt the world from beyond, which he continues to do even now. He points a finger unseen by the naked eye but makes all it touches dance in a shiver; the innocence he lost he uses to paint the world in a white rage; making all slip and fall like he did on that hill; and freezing all like statues for they dare not mock him like his sister did or they will end up as one.

This winter we all see and feel Jack’s revenge upon all of Planet Earth cursing his name, which gives him great delight. However, just remember spring time will come soon and will make him retreat for a few months for his angry and jealous heart and mind cannot deal with the true beauty of spring flourishing and life being born a new. His revenge shows us that our actions at all ages have consequences and can have impact beyond our lifetimes. Revenge does not pay for it only hurts others and karma will have it bounce back our way. So do not be angry and bitter as Jack at the world, the world owes us nothing and hurting those closest to us hurts us too. So embrace the world with a loving heart filled with empathy and understanding, for even the most frozen of hearts can melt with love.

© Fi S. J. Brown

I wanna hold your hand

There is something uniquely special, intimate and comforting about holding someone’s hand. Perhaps as it something that reminds us of earliest childhood, that comforting feeling when a large hand enclosed our little one, creating bonds and memories throughout our lifetimes. Then as we become teenagers we no longer want to feel the hand in ours as want to feel the freedom of not being tied to our parents or anyone else.

We touch or hold hands with the person we love as bonds us together, symbolising that two souls are touching and uniting. It may not be a kiss but a clear signal to ourselves and others of our love for another. A Pagan wedding tradition is for handfasting, which entails gentle wrapping cords around the bride and groom’s clasped hands and tying a knot, symbolically binding the couple together in their declaration of unity.

As adults ourselves, we are the ones with the big hands, which comfort and bond with our little ones. We connect with friends and strangers alike in stress and crisis. We also want to hold our parents hands as now look wrinkled and older now, they seem more fragile as the child’s and want to relive our own happy and carefree memories from childhood without the responsibilities that being a grown up has brought to us.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Dare to imagine

Walking past Summerhall (formerly home to the vet school of the University of Edinburgh) I saw an art installation outside by Mexican installation artist Antonio O’Connell called “Virus”. I took photographs and examined it from different angles before reading his note on it. O’Conell states that that we live in a “contrasting world – where imagination is a luxury for some but a necessity for others”.

I immediately thought of the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in his brilliant book “Le Petit Prince” (The Little Prince), which has a theme of while children have imagination that is capable of understanding the essence of things, grown-ups have had their imaginations encumbered by attachment to the quantifiable. They have lost the curiosity of childhood, and their lives are bound by the here and now. What we see with our eyes is merely a shell; the essential reality of things is detected only by the heart.

I first read the book in French around twenty years ago and is still one of my all time favourites. As a deep thinker with a vivid and visual mind I can see this still true of now. I have a curtains that are a mix of blue flowers, which I swear the leaves spell life or love at one point! Equally, I agree with O’Connell that it has become a luxury as we too often do not take the time to look or read with the creatives or artisans that try to look beyond the boundaries and make us do the same.

If we do not know the answer to what a child has asked us we probably look the answers up on the internet so can explain it in a way they understand. My favourite time of year is autumn, I remember asking my great uncle and later my biology teacher what was happening, despite understanding the science I see it as part of nature’s art. I love the idea that the deciduous trees are the girls of the forests where as the boys are the evergreens; the girls are in all their different coloured dresses ready for the autumn ball, but like Cinderella must disappear at midnight, hence they fall off the trees.

I think using our imaginations as to understand and appreciate what is happening in what we see, read, hear, feel, smell and taste is important as lets us experience more from this world than we can from a book or the internet alone.This in part is why do I not work in a laboratory now; I would be imagining the environment changing as I worked, the seeds or pollen from a particular tree telling me it was growing around 2000 years ago to the present day. The world is an infinite art gallery, with innumerable works of art.

Let your imagination lose, don’t be afraid of being “silly” or “childish”, it’s what matters to and part of you. For example, water from a tap, does it not tickle the fingers or is sand on a beach the stars of the ground? Meanwhile, I’m off to find beech (Fagus sylvatica) seeds that have parachuted from the trees by my house and think of what the escape from each year, perhaps taking some photographs of them too.

© Fi S. J. Brown