Mental Health Awareness Week (2017)

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week worldwide, so excuse my little essay that follows. For it is a chance to start those conversations that for some are so difficult to begin we do not know how, and need to listen actively with an open mind that does not judge or laugh back. We all have good days and bad days but when those days seem to merge into one grey mess it can be hard to find the courage to ask for help as do not know who’s hand will grab ours back and those that will push us under to drown us. It is often through surviving through the thick fog we discover our true friends that will always have one hand there for us and the other with a tea/coffee to give with us; sharing experiences and a slice of cake and laughter as realise we do that thing too.

For some the image from Hollywood movies is still very much how they see someone that has any mental health condition, yet the truth it can happen to any of us at any time and we look no different to anyone else. We cannot just ‘snap out of it’ as events can leave scars that may not be visible but inside are ripping us apart days to weeks and months to years later, reliving those times again and again without them ever stopping. We may also have a brain who’s chemistry is out of sync, so need medication in order for it function, just as we may take insulin for diabetes. Finding an outlet such as writing, painting and dance can also help us, but others turn to alcohol and/or illegal drugs, as sometimes we just want it all to stop with a full stop/period.

Going to therapy is a way to express just how we feel, words aloud can be scary and ring on in our minds after we have said them. Letting in a stranger can feel as invasive as brain surgery, which is why a qualified therapist is a must. The current UK general election has even been discussing mental health provision, at a time when many services have been or being axed already perhaps this should have been considered first. Health should not have to be split into health and mental health as adds to the stigma; medicine should be holistic covering body, mind, and spirit as everything is interconnected. We are all human, we all experience this journey uniquely, and we are all loved and appreciated, just remember that. The past is gone but yet still may hurt us, the future is unwritten but we can choose a new path; yet we live in the now, we can support and be there for each other today, and we can end this old stigma on mental health for good.

© Fi S. J. Brown

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A little something for World Health Day

By the age of 7 I knew there were tears in not just my eyes but my tummy too. I was sad from school and things that even now feel like razor blades self harm if dwell on them. I did not understand what they meant.

By the age of 14 I knew these tears meant I was depressed but had no outlet for them. Turned away if talked to family and a school guidance teacher that did not understand the wounds bullies leave behind.

By the age of 21 I knew I was an outsider looking in on the world and felt I did not belong. The music that helped so much in my teens now felt like they sang of a life I would never know and forbidden entry to.

By the age of 28 I knew therapy was a must and began to admit openly I had depression. A scary label but it would not define me as a person and would not let the stigma scar me as memories had before it.

By the age of 35 I knew the image inside my head was wrong, I was not an unloveable ogre or Martian that observed earthly activities. Depression still lingered but it was never going to make me take my own life.

I am approaching 39 with optimism. The tears in my tummy are still there but no longer sting as they did. The ogre is vanquished forever to be replaced by a rag doll, made from parts of my story and sewn in love.

Today is World Health Day, which this year focuses on depression. It does not mean someone is crazy and should be locked up. Nor does it mean walking on eggshells around them. Talking is good, listen never judge.

© Fi S. J. Brown

A cry for help?

Why is it when someone tries (or sometimes succeeds) to take their own life do we call it a ‘cry for help’? When they may have been trying to tell us things just aren’t right but we have either been too busy or could not read the signs. How can we be there for someone when they pretend that all is alright until we have that sudden alarm call that everything is far from ‘fine’?

When I was at my most depressed I likened it to sitting on a rocking chair sat on the edge of a cliff. I could see rocks falling by the side around me yet had nobody that saw them fall but me; I knew that one day the rocking chair would snap and send me hurtling down down to the canyon below. That ‘scream’ would be my ‘cry for help’, and lying at the bottom of canyon was like hitting life’s metaphorical bottom. Sometimes the fall kills us, but sometimes when we fall we find our wings and fly. Could I have let others see the rocks falling? I tried but most were more interested in their own lives or I could not tell how I ended up on the rocking chair in the first place due to fear that led to me losing my words even in therapy. I was not strapped to the chair so yes they could have helped me escape it, but we do not always realise how much things from the past have built up to in my case a cliff one hell of a drop.

So what can we do? Be the friend that actually listens and cares in a two way form, it is not an one way street for what you or I want, it’s what WE want and can do as a partnership. I had one ‘friend’ that after hearing me say I wasn’t good would turn things on themselves before saying they were off or suddenly too busy to talk. Distance should not matter, in these days of text messages and social media a message can be sent in an instant and let another know we care and there if need someone. Yes, it can be hard to admit we are on the cliff or see a friend on the cliff but we need to let others in not shut them out. They can help us set fire to the rocking chair, not burn both of us as some may do in jealousy, envy and/or greed; a true friend does not care about splinters or shards hurting them as worried how and/or why they are hurting us, The burnt remains of the rocking chair can then be pushed over the edge. from which the ashes can act as a fertiliser to help us grow and gain the strength of a tree that formed the chair. Do not be afraid as that one person can be all that it takes to see the view from the cliff that actually shows how far we have come in life and is not the end of the journey.

© Fi S. J. Brown

The strangest feeling

Last week I kept getting baby thoughts in my head, a miracle birth much like the one many were to celebrate later that week, which followed a day later by an old friend announcing the birth of her daughter after years of health issues. I was genuinely overjoyed as know how far she has come to get where she is now, achieving many things that to me still seem and are impossible for different reasons. The smile on my face however was not to last as I received a message on Facebook to tell me news of a girl I was at school with twenty years ago, she had overosed and taken her own life. Both people knew each other but one had been an off and on friend for over twenty five years and the other had been one of the bullies that reduced me to tears and suicidal thoughts throughout my teens. I felt numb. As someone that writes and campaigns for an end to the stigma on mental health as well as being naturally empathetic, I wondered what had happened to the girl I had known and had she secret torment that had no voice. It was not a sign of weakness or selfishness to take her own life,  as when the rocking chair at the edge of the cliff breaks, it takes a very strong person to fling on, I have been there and it is not a pretty view or one I ever wish to see again.

I scanned my year photographs from high school that I intended to burn years ago and sent them to the girl that told me the news. I saw people’s faces and names I had not seen in twenty years trickle down my Facebook news feed as comments came in on pictures she and others posted. I could not bring myself to ‘like’ anything as was like being back in the playground with her usual French taunt in my ringing in my ears. Was I being selfish? Feeling that my pain was important as they were my experiences and memories of this girl, but ultimately felt they should be secondary to her friends and family dealing with the aftermath of suicide. It all left me with the strangest of feelings; nothing in life can prepare you for it and know what is right or wrong to feel or say. It comes at a time when I am considering setting up an organisation to support, spread awareness and educate on invisible illness such as depression to fibromylagia and endometriosis as feel along with my writing I need to take it to the next level but uncertain what way just yet. Perhaps her death shows how much pain we carry with us; we may have nobody to share it with or know where to turn. Just remember dear reader someone does care and will listen without judgement, never ever give up and always rember my mantra, believe it again. 

© Fi S. J. Brown

The Rowing Boat

Depression can leave you feeling like you’re sat lost on a wooden boat in the middle of the sea. Rowing every direction but forward as you fear the unknown that lies ahead and the pains from the past although distant still leave a bitter sting. Every wave that hits the boat makes it feel like it will soon break into hundred pieces, leaving you stranded with cuts from clinging on to the driftwood and fearing that you will never be rescued, becoming just another one that was lost and drowned at sea.
 
It is at that moment that you should pause, not stop to give up but pause. Let the tears fall from your eyes like rain to a forest for you’re not a robot or desert. It does not matter if you did not pack flares to show your light to others because it is within you. Listen for the birds for they are wise and are your friends and are there even when you cannot see them or think that there are none. Shut your eyes and count to five, repeat this three times, and now look to see the land you never saw before.
 
As you and your boat head to the land do not expect it to be heaven or hell, take each moment as it comes and tackle any of your problems as they occur before they suffocate. As you reach the shore, make a note place your boat somewhere that it can remind you of your journey to get there. Now as you land, take that first step on the beach feel the grains with your hands and feet, you are like those grains; a small grain in a big world, but also each one matters just as you do to others.
 
© Fi S. J. Brown

Tori’s lyrics

10 years ago the lyrics of this song and many others by Tori Amos haunted my ears and tears would fall from my eyes when I heard her sing as each one felt like I could have written them myself. Lines such as “I got the anti-Christ in the kitchen yellin’ at me again” made me think of my mother who I then called ‘she who must be obeyed’, as I was frightened of her, nothing I did was right if did do not do things her way but now know she is a narcissist and need to carry on being me regardless; “I hear my voice and it’s been here, silent all these years” as I  started having counselling to try make some semblance of why I felt my life was painted in monochrome and saw myself more like Princess Fiona the ogre from Shrek than the princess, through a journey that was just as rocky as any shore with no lighthouse in sight, not realising I am the lighthouse; and “So you found a girl who thinks really deep thoughts, what’s so amazing about really deep thoughts” not realising how powerful they are and what a gift they can be to inspire others. Now life I see as multicoloured and multi-sensory, grateful for the special people that make me laugh and smile for being in it and the importance of living mindfully. Today is Tori’s birthday, so a timely reminder to myself of all I have overcome and remind others not to give up, making that first stepping stone today is possible as things do change for the better.

© Fi S. J. Brown

 

 

R*A*I*N*

When the world feels claustrophobically overwhelming, trying to be gentle with ourselves can be the last thing on our minds. That is when we need to stop, look at the sky, catching the RAIN falling in our hands and remember the following:
 
R – Relax, take that time out away from what is hurting us, even if it is a five-ten minute tea or coffee break. With every sip think of a beach and feel the grains of sand under our feet that at times may feel like quicksand dragging us down but keep walking on and let the sea’s rhythm match our heart.
 
A – Accept that this moment maybe feeling like it may be the end, there is nowhere to go or friends to turn to; but there are, just stop on the beach and listen out for the birds singing as they are nature’s messengers carrying messages filled with love, peace, hope and light from friends near and far.
 
I – Investigate the forest that lies up from the beach. At first it can seem like we have got ourselves lost but to move forward we need to clear the trees that block our path; cut from the root so remove the source of the pain. There maybe false starts to dead ends while doing this but it happens to us all.
 
N – Nothing lasts forever, so when we see daylight as the forest clears and the storm ends pick up the red shoes that sit at the side of the river and dance. Then take the first step on the stepping stones on the river and follow whether they lead but do not look back as cannot ever be changed.
 
© Fi S. J. Brown

Breaking the invisible wall

As someone with a visual mind I often found when studying for scientific subjects it was easier if I had a visual reference or way of seeing them. It is perhaps for that reason I was drawn to the environmental sciences, not just for my love of the environment and nature but the anthropogenic (human) impacts upon them could be seen, whether that be at the present time with my own eyes or elucidated using proxies for the past such as pollen, seeds, charcoal, diatoms etc under a microscope. When it comes to mental health for many it is the invisible nature of the illnesses I feel that contribute to the continued stigma associated with them. For unless we ourselves or have a close friend/family member it can be very hard to understand let alone empathise with. We see someone with a broke leg or having treatment for cancer we wish them a speedy recovery ot luck with their treatment, with diabetes or asthma although unseen too and for life we accept that they are common human illnesses; yet one in a four adults and one in five children in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year, with 1 in 100 being diagnosed with bipolar or schizophrenia at some point in their life. What can be done? How can we break down these invisible walls that we have built to create a them and us scenario?

A bit of background to my own story. I was diagnosed in January 2007 aged 28 with depression and anxiety, however, you can look back to almost 25 years before and there were signs of both due to my acute sensitivity and bullying I experienced from when I first started school in 1983. I had counselling from 2006 to 2007 and psychotherapy from 2007 until 2009, which I have mentioned in previous entries on this blog. In the last few years as I have learnt to respect, appreciate, forgive and I guess love myself for who I am and who she’s not, I have also developed deep friendships that give back what I give them in love, respect and appreciation, which help me daily. The name of this blog is a tribute to one of them who encourages me and my creativity, so my little thank you back to him. For me, one reason I write, photograph, play or make music, and model with clay, is to let the feelings I have their own voice or become beyond what is inside me as would keep them bottled and been told in therapy how much they suffocated me for doing so, thus needed an outlet. I found creativity a great outlet, not just for my aforementioned visual mind but it allowed what I was feeling a way to be seen, they could no longer strangle/suffocate or even hurt me as they were now real and had their voice, but I retained the power that they were trying to take away from me. I also realised by sharing some of my creativity with others it meant it was no longer invisible to them, with some inspiring others to realise their battles were not alone or show how far I had come to become the person I am today.

I am currently job hunting, my past feels like a giant noose around my neck as found many do not understand that we do not fit simply into boxes and some of us do fit two at the same time. I am fed up feeling like the outsider watching in. Equally, having achieved academic qualifications while battling physical and mental illnesses is something I am proud to have achieve, but feedback I have I received is my past is intimidating but impressive…so what can I do? It is not helped by people thinking they can decide what is best for you, when you have tried and tried but just want to give up and only your closest friends saving you from going under completely. However, one thing I know is that I am determined to help inspire and help others, so they do no give up and break this stigma or invisible wall around mental health. As another way to break the wall is for us to work together, showcasing what we can and not what we cannot. In the past to try break the stigma we have created a glut of diagnoses that are really just descriptions of certain patterns of human behaviour, and have not helped. My dream? I am not sure, maybe one day I will be a creative and/or eco therapist of some kind using my passions to help others. Until then here is my hammer breaking down the invisible wall for today, will you join me?

© Fi S. J. Brown

The power of three

For three minutes I would like you take time out your day to do the following. Sit down, read all through then shut your eyes, doing each bit in turn.

As you shut your eyes count to 3, 1…2….3… Good now repeat, 1…2…3… and repeat one last time 1…2…3…

Well done but before you open them pause a little longer. Now think of three friends; can be anyone, thinking of why or what makes them matter to you. Now think of three special gifts you have; perhaps somewhere to live, access to running water, or the ability to read and write. Now think of three luxuries you have that may forget actually are luxuries; a car to drive to travel from A-B at any time, access to the internet to find anything you want to know or buy in seconds, and freedom to be ourselves not what someone else wants or says we should be.

Now as you open your eyes look right; what three things do you see that you have bought, do you ever or will you ever use them? Now turn and look left; find three things that were a gift from someone else, what makes them special and priceless? Now look forward; what hopes and dreams do you have, what’s really stopping you fulfilling them? Now as you stand up, take a glance behind to see how far life has changed the last three years.

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, the dark feelings associated with it are extremely painful; it is not selfish or easy to say we just cannot cope anymore. However, it is important to remember we are loved by others near or far, and more than we realise at times. These cannot ever be bought or sold, unlike the gifts that don’t have to be bought to show appreciation or love, and luxuries we all too often take for granted as forget not everyone has.

Nothing in life lasts forever, so call/message/write to three people you thought of above, even if not physically here now, still write. Think of three things that make you special to others by being in their lives. Finally, take three steps forward, these are three steps towards your hopes and dreams.

© 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