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

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 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

Love

Valentine’s Day will soon be upon us, that commercial day of love sold to us by companies across the world, online or offline. Telling us to take someone special out for a candlelight meal at an expensive restaurant, buy a dozen red roses for the one our hearts desire or send a card anonymously to one we secretly adore in the hope that they love us much as we do them.

However, do we really need a day to say what our words, thoughts and actions do every day anyway, no matter how unspoken they may apparently be or hidden we try to keep them. Nobody has the right to say we cannot love another due to their gender, racism, beliefs, or ability, as it is their personality ultimately that matters and makes us fall in love with them. That love being like a parent, sibling, friend, or romantic, it is universal but one size does not fit all.

The way we view love now is has changed over the centuries, and is quite different to the our ancestors. In Ancient Greece for example romantic love was not held with the high regard and emphasis we put on it; to them love for friends was considered every bit as special as romantic love. The philosopher Aristotle regarded friendship as a lifetime commitment to mutual welfare, in which two people become “second selves” to each other.

The idea of unconditional love, which is a fairly modern concept. Love was been seen in different ways by philosophers until then: for example Plato saw it as conditional on the other person’s beauty; Aristotle emphasised another’s virtues; for St Augustine it was their goodness; and for Rousseau it was their moral authenticity. It was during 18th century Enlightenment philosophers suggested unconditional love on others rather than god.

We almost expect someone that said “I love you” to mean that they loved us unconditionally and accepted us for who we are. However, when someone says to us they love us but just as a friend we feel it is a second rate love as will never have that romantic love with them. To me for a friend to acknowledge their love for me is truly special as mean I matter to them and that is every bit as important as romance. Having a loyal and trustworthy friend counts for so much, and never know what it may blossom into.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Memories

Memories are curious things, one song or smell and we are taken back to a time or event that is just a something from our past. I sit writing this in Aberdeen, at the campus of the university I attended for degree and first masters and finished almost fifteen years ago, but it is like a different world from my time at the university as now based by the River Dee as a very modern single site campus not spread out over the city. I have have visited twice briefly since my time living here, once for a job interview eleven years ago and seven years ago for a gig, making memories of the city mostly from when I lived here before.

Upon arrival by coach, just as I had when I first visited Aberdeen to an university open day in early 1997 the city’s grey stood out, it is not nicknamed the ‘granite city’ for nothing, one could say it had fifty shades of grey before it was cool! I wandered briefly around before taking the bus to my current destination with a mix of memories that flooded back and new ones being made. Sites like the Music Hall and His Majesty’s Theatre that brought back music to my ears from concerts to musicals I attended there and others that had been the soundtrack to my days living there. Street names jumped out in my memory of the events that took place on them, Market and Union Streets and others such as South Silver Street I finally knew the name of. I laughed upon seeing a bar called The Grill on Union Street that famously did not have a woman’s toilet until 1998 (it did not allow women at all until 1975) and smiled on remembering my project management lecturer saying he’d be propping up the bar if needed help with his course.

Shops and bars that were like friends but now had changed but not gone either; Ottakers bookshop where I sat many a Saturday afternoon with a tea and book is now Waterstones, and Triple Kirks the pub which was a firm favourite of many studying at Schoolhill and St Andrew’s Street without its pew seats. This in turn reminded me of an event forever ingrained in my memory – my friends doing a pub crawl with a 6ft inflatable alien called Hilary, who did it all from karaoke with Fraser to Iain’s attempts to keep it blown up before either Ewan or Rich put their cigarette out on it until they were no more. Nobody knew if Hilary was meant to be male or female, perhaps they were truly gender fluid before we mentioned such things as do now. There are also many statues in the city centre such as Edward VII and William Wallace but it is the lion war memorial that is the one I remember most as forever an almost unspoken right of passage by students in the near by Woolmanhill halls of residence to ride the lion during their fresher’s year when drunk (no reader alas I never did).

I come back to the university and sat in what is now where students would go to learn similar to I had in my day. One friend from my student days remained here and is now a lecturer. I had went to see the university library, which in my time had been a subject specific one in my part of the campus and remembered someone sneaking in fish and chips to it! I usually hid in the jurnal section so not to be disturbed but in later years  Alex and MC joined me with MC’s pile of biscuits and donuts that never got even a tut from the librarians! Computers around everywhere for students to use where as we had a few open access rooms in the building and one specifically for us within Applied Sciences; giggling at the thought of a lecturer searching for water sports but got the wrong kind, which led to a firm talk at the start of every year on being careful when surfing the internet. I thought of people I had known then and those I have contact with now, how life had panned out for us and what we expected it to.

Recently I read something that said our past is just stories we tell ourselves in the present, and being back in Aberdeen made that statement feel so very true. All the memories I have sat writing about are just stories of the five years I lived here, the city has changed but so had I in so many positive ways, equally there are many parts that remained just the same and can say the same of myself. The past may make us who we are now but the present is all we truly ever have, for the future is a whisper and not a promise. We do not skip to the end of a book to see what happens in the end, we take it page by page just as life is a page in the book of our life. Finally, life should be led like a piece of music, it can only be truly enjoyed in one direction with all that it brings with it, and dancing the rhythm of our life not anyone else.

© 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

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

 

 

The dandelion

The dandelion is a flower thought of by many as weed, regarded as one that should be dug up and thrown away as has no value or worth. However, it is actually a symbol of hope, spreading nurturance and joy even in hard places. So instead of being quick to judge another we need to help each other, spreading joy instead of hate to those we meet.

Nevertheless, some deserve to be thrown out to the rubbing pile for how they treat others, thinking they are better than us, want something we have but jealousy fires within, or expect something to land on their lap automatically. They are the real weeds and need to be removed from our lives asap as will only carry on as nobody takes the spade to remove them.

Therefore, treasure those that show us with their actions, for they’re the evergreen trees to support us throughout the seasons and like our personal army defending us against the evils of this world. Being mindful of those that pretend to be our friends, as when winter comes they’ll will show if evergreen or deciduous. Finally, see my drawing of a dandelion below, make a wish, and just maybe it will come true.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Dandelion

Friendship and mental health

There are various days and weeks for awareness to all sorts of funny things such as doughnuts to hidden illnesses such as depression. This week is mental health awareness week, quite timely as it is three years ago today since I saw two of my most special of friends; it is so long as we all lead busy lives and live far apart but make time to keep in touch.

Mental health can impact on anyone that is any gender, religion, sexuality, ability age, language etc. Yet some still stigmatise those with one of these hidden illnesses be it depression, anxiety, bipolar or schizophrenia. The person becomes lost due to a label on their health and we soon discover our true friends vs fair weather ones. Having support to cope with mental health makes a person feel they are still themselves and not a crazy person like media to entertainment portray.

On Monday I had a phone call from a friend with schizo-affective disorder in tears as is not coping with changes in his life (overwhelming him). I felt helpless but at the same time as he’s a friend I knew to just listen, reassure and empathise with him. That’s all any of us would want surely if ill?

All I ask this week is to remember to send a message to those you want in your life so they know and never stop telling them. Life is fragile but with friends it can be the difference between the glass vase shattering and bouncing.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Mindful life lessons

Happiness – Is something we feel and cannot ever be bought or sold. It is learning to be content without wanting or expecting more. Some of us feel at times it eludes us or is meant for us but not ourselves. However, learning to regain the childhood imagination and wonder at the world, accepting what we have now not want or did have.

Love – The aged old cliché is true, love ourselves before we love another. Yet, how can we accept the love of another if we do not ourselves? There is also a balancing act with the ego, so does not turn into narcissism. Loving ourselves is a life time’s work, there are no short cuts via surgery or quick fixes; learning to know ourselves and accept us is key.

Respect – Realising that how friends and/or family live life is their way, and when find our authentic life we respect their choices as we would hope they would ours. Yes not everyone does as may try tell us it is not natural or normal, which can be as painful as it is isolating making self respect hard, but it begins and ends with us as individuals.

Authentic – Living life the way that is right for us, not what someone else wants us to be by controlling it with fear or anger; nor is it copying another’s out of jealousy and greed, feeling it should be ours too. Remember, it is not who we were five years ago and nor is it who we’d like to be in another five but who we are today and this moment in time.

Confidence – There are always people who will laugh and gossip behind our backs, but if we accept who we are why does it matter? As they may be as jealous and envious of what us wish we had that they have. Nobody walks our path with us or the same as us for life, keep on walking forward because their ego and jealousy will soon trip them up.

Maturity – With the passing of time we see many of the different colours and shades of humanity, as well as good and bad. It can take many years to realise what makes our life is different to another’s, sometimes the fight to try reach that goal others have achieved is one not meant to be for us or may simply not be what is right for us right now.

Present – We all have a past and we may have a future, but the only time we really have is now. The present helps us learn from the mistakes of the past so no longer has the same pain to hurt us, equally the future is but a promise and it needs the foundations laid today if wish the promise to turn into reality. So always be aware and in the present.

Life – Is hard. It has no fixed length but is fatal in the end. So make the most of what we have, money is not a driver but a means to an ends. Looking after ourselves, being gentle during the bad times and allowing ourselves to enjoy the good is key. Treating everyone we meet as the individual they are but as an equal, in the same way we would.

© Fi S. J. Brown