Do you wear a wig Auntie Fi?

Do you wear a wig Auntie Fi?” This was a question to me from my eight year old niece. She is super observant and sees things many of us wouldn’t at her age or older. When she asked part of me wanted to deflect it, but realised she was of an age that I should be able to tell her, and her sister (aged 7), such things. However, doing so would become the probably the hardest conversation I have ever had.

It was not as though I could take my time to plan what I was to reply, but knew I had to use kid friendly language and not make them upset by what I said, especially as I was meant to be giving them a bedtime story and did not want to cause nightmares. So with a deep breath, I looked her in the eyes and answered her – yes I do and took off my wig.

Both girls came onto the bigger bed beside me as we chatted. What followed with both was like no other conversation I have had about my hair loss, as most of the time previously I could not, or was silenced by certain family members for opening my mouth (even to doctors treating me). Their first questions were not at all childish – why have you no hair, how did it fall out, why does it fall out? Explaining that my is sick body, and likes to kill hair cells like it would kill a disease, which both understood. The youngest was shocked but did not laugh or joke, just sat beside me as though it was just another bedtime story.

The eldest asked me what the proper name for it was and how does it happen, would it happen to her? So I reassured her, and introduced them to the concept of our immune system. In return both showed a compassion beyond their years – it doesn’t look like a wig Auntie Fi, you’re just as beautiful with or without your wig Auntie Fi. I had to stop myself crying at their beautiful and humbling replies. The only time I lied was when they asked if another family member wore a wig as knew she’d make my life living hell for saying yes she does. She doesn’t talk about it, even when mine fell out there was no compassion or loving support, and she later prove to me yet again how vile she can be.

I was explaining how sad it can make me feel, and how hard it is to actually talk about it, with both curled up around me to reassure me as their dad (my brother) came in the room to see if they were asleep. Both explained to daddy what had happened, and this made me break down in tears. The youngest asked if it was tears of happiness to her daddy – he said how brave I was and how hard it was, which made him hug me followed by both girls. Together the girls continued to reassure me, as I hugged them both goodnight, and said how amazing they were.

I decided I’d better tell the other family member as we were all at her house. Her reaction as ever was vile – of course they could tell it was a wig as you badly need a new one (she loves to make me feel bad about myself and be insecure in myself)…problem is she cannot understand it is obvious to her as she knows it is a wig and will always be obvious to her when someone is! Then the narcissism turned up a notch – you did not mention me, you’d better not have mentioned mine! As I turned after saying no, I felt weird – on the one hand I’d been brave, but on the other felt shit from the remarks she’d made, and wondered why I had bothered to tell her. I went to my room and cried aloud. My brother knocked on my door to see I was okay…I said yes apart from those remarks as he hugged me then let me be.

The next morning I awoke to a card from the eldest (see pictures), which she wrote with no prompting from anyone. She said I was to read it when only us in the room, which I did, and began to cry again. I put my arms out for a hug – she does not always give or want hugs – but this time came leaping into my arms and I reassured her once more that she was not upsetting me, and how amazing she actually is. With a big smile she returned to her seat as we plotted that day’s activities!

This all has reminded me that my hair loss is nothing to be ashamed of, and is just part of what makes me, me. If that family member wants to be that way it’s her business not mine. Equally, if children ask questions – being honest with them is best, but explaining in ways they will understand, and they may surprise you with what they do/say next.

© Fi S. J. Brown

The Privilege of Old Age

I haven’t written for a while as much has been happening in my life that’s left me more than a touch stressed and emotional.

Where to begin… My semi-estranged father has cancer, he developed secondaries and is now terminal – he is also paralysed in what he calls god’s little joke over the Easter weekend. He recently turned 81, an age neither of his parents reached and both died before I was born (three years and eight months respectively). Discovering his mother and grandmother died of breast cancer through a throwaway comment from my mother has added a layer of stress I did not need to have. As he has no siblings I have no idea of any personal risk to myself or nieces.

Weirdly I only saw my first pictures of his parents in the last month after my eldest brother took to scanning old slides my father had taken in the late 1960s to early 1970s. It was funny to finally see images of people that shared genes with, but I felt no connection to or reference point other than being my father’s parents. My brother also scanned slides of my father from fifty years ago, which included him posing with a mug of tea…I guess some things in the genes I never realised before! Those that have seen the few I have posted to social media have seen the physical resemblance between the two of us.

I am also dealing with my mother, who is waiting for a hip replacement operation (she is not in pain and is muscular) but is not quite prepared for how big an operation it is. Her worry is understandable but trying at times to out do my father for my emotion, ensuring I worry about her over him. It is hard being an empath when she is an emotional vampire and knows what she is doing as plays the victim like the narcissist she is. She turns 75 in August, retiring at the start of the year, but does not realise the people she often calls old are younger than she is! Her parents died when she was young, and have only heard snapshots of what either were like as people and never seen an image of either of them.

My father calls me the English one, and yes I have always felt more connection to England than Scotland. I am hoping to visit his home town this year to see the streets and places I know family lived to try understand part of me as feel I do not know where I belong or who I take after beyond much of my interests are similar to his. So many questions but realising that I will never have the answers. That is perhaps what is hitting me the hardest after our estrangements over the years, and feeling I never knew him as a person. I could not even tell you what his favourite colour, television show, or song is for example.

This makes me in turn wonder about both sets of grandparents – how they lived their lives, their interests and what they would make of the world today. As neither grandparent saw true old age it makes me wonder not only will my siblings and I see it, how different the world would be from the one I have seen many changes in my almost 40 years in another 40. The world feels like it is in such a mess right now I also wonder will there be anything left in 40 years time or would I recognise it as the one I grew up in. In one year I will be older than my father was when I was born. Makes me laugh when I explain the pre-internet world to younger people makes me feel like a dinosaur some days, but I am an old soul too that compounds things further.

Last Sunday I saw one of my mother’s best friends that has severe dementia in a care home, which has the worst reviews you can imagine…! I am the first to admit I cry easily but seeing a woman in her mid 80s reduced to a child with a television blaring whilst water and food were out of reach made me sad for her and angry at her daughter having known how badly she treated her. I felt like I was feeling the pain and loneliness of all the older people that have nobody. B is a gentle soul but nobody deserves to be left in the care of others that only work there due to the free parking (I joke not). It feels like we are so obsessed with youth that we do not want to consider the other end of the spectrum, and may yet end up living in a world like Logan’s Run.

Seeing B made me realise my sad reality, unable to have children with no financial savings or home of my own that there would be nobody to be there for me. Yes, I have close friends but would never expect anything of anyone, although I would be first to be there for them and help in any way I could. As for my siblings – my eldest brother is as useful as a chocolate teapot that’s been put in a microwave, the other is caught up with his with and daughters so rarely speak, and my sister is hardly part of my life.

The privilege of old age comes at a price, do I really want to pay it? Do we really want to live longer, or dare I say forever as the pay offs from here do not seem to be worth it. Almost an illusion like the one to look younger; surgery, needles and knives create masks but cannot change what’s going on inside our bodies…why have the face of a 35 year old when your body is that of a 70 year old!? Surely if we do achieve old age we should be proud to of it, an achievement like any other in our path. Respecting older people should be part of being human, but alas like so many things these days it is becoming less and less.

Tomorrow is always a whisper away that all too often we try to put off things until it comes but of course it never does come (or until we have no further option). If anything old age should tell us not to put things off and enjoy them while we can now. Life changes in the click of a finger, for better and worse, which is why living mindfully is so important. It is too short to have regrets or not taking opportunities. I may not be a risk taker but I’m learning to swim (not jump head first without looking or keeping my toes dipped in and out) and embrace what my life is all about…if I reach my 70s or 80s it will be a privilege I will be proud to have achieved.

© Fi S. J. Brown

A Woman of Planet Earth

Around 49.6% of the world’s population identifies as female, giving a total population of around 3.52 billion, and 101 man for every 100 woman. Despite this near even split there are still places in the world and people that see being female as a second class citizen, and even third class below the oxen that pull the cart. To mark International Women’s Day here are a few thoughts on being a woman on Earth.

One of the greatest skills so many of us take for granted as we read and write posts on Facebook to texts and emails on our phones is the ability to do both read and write. We learn the fundamentals at such an early age that unless we have struggled with either, perhaps due to dyslexia, we think nothing of being able to do so. So why is it that in many parts of the world this is still taboo? To anyone that laughs or scoffs at these people for being backward or stuck in the dark ages take a minute to realise how lucky you are to read, write, vote, drive, own your own home and post freely your thoughts on social media.

I went to an all girls school, which in some areas of the world it is unthinkable such a thing could exist. The grades I achieved gave me a foundation to be very fortunate with my academic studies to achieve a doctorate along with two masters degrees and an undergraduate degree, despite many thinking I would never achieve anything like that in life. I have friends throughout the world that continue to fight to be heard because they were born female and to ensure the next generation have it better than theirs. Fighting against traditions such as child marriage to widow abuse or FGM and breast ironing as can see these are not a way forward, in some countries it is holding them back from achieving improvements in developing as nations.

Women are our friends, mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins and grandmothers, we matter as much as any human or living creature on this planet. We need to work together not apart to create change be it locally to globally but grassroots is where that change begins…I have seen it with my own eyes through the work of friends in Africa and Asia. We can be the change and light in the world for others.

© Fi S. J. Brown

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

F is for…

I seem to have an issue with the letter ‘F’. My own name of ‘Fiona‘ sent tears of bitterness and sadness to my teenage self, bullied and abused for being myself, which others found something to pick holes in till I felt I resembled more a Swiss cheese than a human being. “Nobody is friends with Fiona” any new pupil starting my year of high school was told, one that tried was reputed to have been pushed and shoved along a corridor for daring to try to break this. Depression often called.

This in turn lent to me turning ‘Fiona‘ into ‘Freak‘, for who would want to befriend or date this girl that looked like the love child of Frankenstein and the Hunchback of Notre Dame? I could not look in the mirror for its contents scared me that felt it would laugh back at me or even shatter to cause seven more years of misery. I had people stop and laugh in the street or in their cars pointing and laughing at me, so thought why do I not just die and end this miserable existence?

It was only through using my camera to record the world through my eyes that things started to change. I took a picture of myself in Italy and saw the real me staring back at me; nobody was laughing, pointing fingers or mocking me for having my eyes shut. However, I did not understand who this woman was and nearly did not stop to find out as decided the next year whilst on antidepressants to finally end it, jumping under a train seemed the best way to make my curtain call on life.

I was caught just in time but the misery was far from over. In the following few days I was told by family they were coming to “take me back to Scotland where I belonged”! I never felt so frightened in my life, ringing round social services to mental health helplines, nobody would answer me what I should do. Eventually I got a brother based in England to get them to stop and finally I could breath, and put down my dressing robe rope that was in hand to hang from the tree in my garden.

The years that followed I did end up back in Scotland but some things were different, I end up seeing me the woman not the ‘freak‘ of my head. She was and is highly intelligent, quirky and creative not a freak of a mad scientist that needed to be put down like a sick dog. I also learnt instead of ‘Fiona‘, my friends could use ‘Fi’ and I was mostly alright with that even if didn’t feel always me. However, the F decided it wanted to change from ‘freak‘ into a new word – ‘Failure’.

I have spent now three years with this F word teasing me like the others before it. I feel a failure to humanity, that some how I am not living life the way it is meant to be, always an outsider watching in. Unable to do the ‘normal’ things people do like gain a ‘proper‘ job or move away from where I don’t belong to having partner/companion of my own. My high school physics teacher remarked on how I could always do the advanced stuff but not the basics, which feels like an echo of my life.

However, tonight something has clicked in my head, I feel a new F word is dawning, that word is ‘fine‘. I am ‘fine‘ the way I am, not everyone leads life the same way and it is okay to follow our own path not going the same as every other one. I have no idea what my purpose to what my dreams really are, but that’s okay as I am not frightened. Where will I be this time next month or year, I do not know, but what I do know is that all will be just ‘fine’ in the end and suitably Fi-shaped.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Pick a path

Life is full of twists and turns, no entries and false starts, with the path we take truly unique guided by own senses, fate and destiny. However, joining us on the path are friends, loved ones and family, each one in our lives for a reason (good and bad). Remember it is not a race but the journey that matters. Equally, if all seems lost today, overgrown with weeds or pitch black, the clearing may come tomorrow, so don’t give up and believe it again.

© Fi S. J. Brown 
   

Normal…a redefinition

How a dictionary defines normal can be very different to how as people we do, ask hundred people and you will get a hundred definitions. Equally, ask the same hundred people what they define as abnormal, and you will get the same result. This is because our life experiences to the people we meet adding different colours and layers to how we see the world. With the advent of social media to the cult of celebrity these too add to this perception we have of the world. Seldom do we stop and think of what is normal and/or abnormal and do not question it.

We pass judgement every day; be it how best to serve tea or coffee to how to dress ourselves and the partner we choose to have in our lives (if at all). They all serve as means of self-expression, that is to say they say “this is my way” of living life. The choice of partner you will already have opinions on, some maybe tutting or swearing at the thought anyone may want a partner of the same gender as themselves to choosing not to have a partner at all. So which is the normal way? Simply put all of them are and none of them are.

Even people that claim not to be judgemental make judgements every day, knowingly and unknowingly. So on deciding if another’s choice partner as in the above example is normal or not we are making a judgement, not on morality or ethics but based on our personal sense of normality.

In defining what is normal, we need to look at our own lives, where we make judgements and where others judge us. Whilst doing this we also need to consider not just why we think this way, but what is the root of this belief and why we have these expectations of others and equally ascribe them to ourselves.

Expectations of ourselves and/or others can be due to our families, beliefs, and cultures we grew up in to the ones we find ourselves living in now, which by breaking these can lead to estrangement and even death. Equally, we need to learn not to be hard on ourselves and/or others for failing to live up to these expectations: For example, in some areas of the world you would be expected to be married with at least two children by 21, but we have to remember that may not happen for all and trying not to be judgemental on someone that by 25 is single and a virgin. How can we ascribe the actions or personality of ourselves and/or another normal and/or abnormal just because they are different to our own?

So should the word normal in this case be left like many prejudices and stereotypes be left in the past? Just because we do not agree with, have no knowledge, expect life/another/ourselves to be a certain way, is it really abnormal? Equally, should we expect others to agree with and/or collaborate with our ideas of what is and is not normal? Have they not also got their own, just as valid, ideas and ways of expressing what is normal to them?

Let us return to defining what is normal, a friend once said “it is a function on a washing machine”. Normal in real terms is what is right for us and our journey, trying to conform to the expectations and ideals of others is like wearing our neighbour’s underwear! We also try to put labels on ourselves so can find like minded people, only do this if you must to let them explore your world but remembering not to judge them by our ideas of normal, for we are not them, have not and never will experience their journey their way.

I am currently writing a short book exploring the above themes, to find just what is normal to us, the journey to find what it is but always remembering that one size will never fit all, and finally accepting what we have found, which can be just as difficult as the prejudice we can encounter from others.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Great Uncle Lauderdale

Perhaps because I never knew my grandparents, who died before I was born, the previous generation to my parents enchanted me in childhood. Their wisdom gained through living in times I could only imagine and how different the world that changed around me daily through my young eyes but to them must have felt like a different world to them. A place filled with hard times and bloody wars they had survived to be met with the concrete jungles of corporate buildings of fifty shades of grey and a sound like drones of bees in a hive, which were growing across the land instead of old forests of greens, reds, oranges and yellows filled with unique sounds, smells, words and tastes.

My guide to the world then was my Great Uncle Lauderdale. His role was to awaken me to use all my senses, look for every colour and shade, take in the changes at home and away. When we were together, be it in his little room away from the noise of my great aunt playing a game his father had made with a home-made die or walking along the River Nith proudly with a man who looked like a slim Santa Claus and Sherlock Holmes in one, perhaps the beard, hat and pipe gave him even greater wisdom beyond his years. He was a gentle man, I never once heard him angry at anyone. He gave me powerful gifts and insights, which he encouraged me to use in oral and written form.

I was not related by blood to my great uncle but the memories I share of him for nineteen years play back in my mind as happy times. A person that I will forever be grateful that touched my young life and showed me the world as I continue to see it. Earlier this month marked 110 years since his birth, so wanted to write a little thank you note and feel his presence once again, remember the times of happiness in a childhood that had many tears. In the autumn leaves as I walk I can smell his pipe and we’ll go one day again to walk along the river. I may have felt his passing as he died those years ago but his gifts to me will never die and it is these gifts I share with you now in my writing.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Greatest accomplishment

I was recently asked what do I considered to be my greatest accomplishment to date and why?

I took a moment to think. Many may expect it to be my academic qualifications, after being almost written off  at a young age due to developmental dyspraxia to end up having a degree, two masters and a PhD by the age of 32 is a fair accomplishment in anybody’s books. However, I see what I learnt formally as an experience, the qualifications say nothing about me as a person, or the journeys that took to get there. Some people in this cannot read or write, so I am humbled to have such gifts. Equally, life is all about learning and as a friend’s mum showed in Pakistan it is never too late at 65 to learn to write your own name.

I thought of the people that have come into my life, which I have helped (directly and indirectly) to get on the path they want to be on or been there when they needed someone to listen. However, I felt that was egotistical as it was what I had done for them, and almost felt like I was trying to take possession of what they had achieved, or belittle achievements that they should shout across the world not taken as something I achieved. I would never want to take such ownership, as prefer to sing songs along with my friends than autotune it with my own beliefs, traditions, and interpretations on how their song is sung.

I considered posting my recent photo post to Facebook during the “make up free selfies” for cancer of me without my wig (as make up free is the same as any other picture of me). Although that took a lot to post and the response from friends old and new, near and far, overwhelmed me like a tsunami of support. That photo became a symbol of something beyond the vanity of some that I read about online for me. However, I could not say it as again to me showed was a thing of ego and pride, for as proud I am of making a statement it is not an accomplishment as it is part of me and not any different to posting any other photo.

Perhaps I was being hard on myself over the selfie, for a few years back I could not even look at a photograph of myself or look in the mirror such was my poor self-image. However, does posting a photograph of any sort if it is of us really become an accomplishment worthy of praise? I know last year I was in tears with myself posting a photograph to an exhibition curated by Yoko Ono as knew I could not have done it a few months before, it was like self-evolving to the point I could post the above photo. Was I was being adversely harsh on myself, and did not want to sing my song encase others laughed, mocked and judged me?

I finally decided my great accomplishment was self-acceptance and love. From the internet to magazines, printed press, friends and family all have an opinion on what we should be like, who we should be, and what should matters to us – when in reality the only one that walks this journey is ourselves. Those that are closest friends accept us for who we are, the flaws we see they see as part of our character, it is a shame we often cannot accept ourselves. For it is being able to put both hands up and saying I accept this shell of a body I have, I may not have the looks, the money or dream job but this who I am – 100% human.

 

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Valentine’s Day

Happy Valentine’s Day to all my friends

The most important love of all is self love as to accept is extremely hard but once we do it is like a weight being lifted from crushing our hearts and torturing our souls; then there is the love of friends and family, who love and accept us for who we are irrespective of the flaws and imperfections we may see in ourselves; finally, when someone loves us in a very special way, so that we let ourselves be vulnerable by giving them part of us, which is reserved only for them, and they leave a mark forever sketched in our minds, bodies and soul.

Wherever you are in this world, remember you are loved and it does not need a special day to say it, as every day our words and actions show just how special we are to others. However, it is always good to show people how much we appreciate them being in our lives. A gift does not mean spending vast amounts of money, but creating something by us. It matters far more than any bought gift, as comes from within and shows our unique love for another. So my gift to you all, my friends, are my words and these flowers.

Love
Fi xx

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