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

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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

What you don’t see

This week is Depression Awarenesses Week, which this year is focusing on #whatyoudontsee. As open as I am with acknowledging I have depression on social media it is not as look at me but more a listen to me not judge or mute me.
By writing about my experiences it helps give them a voice of their own that can be heard by others and thereby lose the power they try have over me. Another reason is the stigma many of us with depression (and other mental health illnesses) still suffer from and it is about time that this taboo was shattered for good. A final reason is not everyone has a voice or able to talk about depression, so I am trying to open doors in order that people feel welcomed not judge or mocked.
To anyone reading this that thinks that depression is abnormal, consider this; if I asked everyone of my friends to make a cake I would have a variety of cakes with no two being exactly the same, each one is representative of the individual that made the cake but none of them would be abnormal. In the same respect we are all shaped by our experiences, traditions and beliefs. Imagine wearing our neighbour’s underwear every day as we both live in the same neighbourhood or feeling the odd one out at family gatherings despite sharing genes. Equally, we may share the same experiences but how they impact upon us varies, and sometimes we cannot “just get over it” as the trauma is still deep even decades after the event(s) may have occurred.
When the black dog calls, it is like a dog barking constantly at me from the garden until I give in and let him in. Then he licks my face all over till it is wet, but in reality these are my tears. In the past I would sit in silence for days as not even my favourite music that got me through my teenage years would bring me comfort. However, now I get out my pen to write or put on my walking boots armed with my camera to go for a walk, sometimes take a piece of clay to make my feelings 3D, other times I go to one of the many musical instruments I play to let them become a song and also cooking or baking as help me focus on the present moment, especially making bread by hand. So for me finding coping mechanisms like these as well as loyal, loving and trusting friends is what helps so I do not give up and remembering there are stars shining and ringing even when it looks pitch black outside.
© Fi S. J. Brown

The animals of mental health

Winston Churchill and I have a few things in common- we were both born in the United Kingdom on the 30th of November and have experience of depression, to which he likened to a black dog.

To me a black dog is an interesting analogy for depression; tears fall from my eyes do leave my face feeling like it has been licked all over by a dog and equally I feel like curling up into a ball to do nothing as the world is a cold and dark place I wish to retreat from. However, unlike a dog that wants attention, the last thing I feel like doing when depressed is having attention from a group of people but a reassuring hug every so often does. When depression hits, I try to think positively of the good people and things that exist at this moment in my life, but find myself saying but do they really want or need to hear I am not coping? Some days I wish I could give them good news, yet all I seem to find is the negative and think it is better to say nothing at all.

For many that do not feel the impact of mental health or seen someone close to the battle it, they cannot understand how we look well on the outside, yet inside came be feeling so bad that we may wish to take our own lives. Some even believe as it is in the head it equals being crazy and will do stupid things as read in the media or see on TV/movies how mental health patients are and as such should be locked away from others as may kill them in a rampage instead. I have realised this is because mental health is a masterful magician making us appear to be a fluffy pet rabbit on the outside, but on the inside feel like an old rusty ornament from years of neglectful abandonment. For those it impacts it is sometimes hard to work out which we really are, is the fur others see nothing more than a mask or is the rusty one a truer reflection of what we have experienced through life? Is there any way to find the truth?

The journey of life is hard to do alone, family are not always there and maybe even the origins of why we feel as we do from abuse or other toxic actions. We also try to make friends and even partners, people we want to share the journey with and would hope they love and respect us as we do them. When we let anyone close it can be hard for any of us, let alone when battling mental health as scared of how they will react. For when they realise we are not the fluffy bunny at all, feeling our fur disappearing in front of them and that first glimpse of rust. It can may may make them run away at any moment, scared through lack of understanding or amusement that we hear voices to survived a suicide attempt. Others may try to help, but feel powerless to do so and scared to say the wrong thing around us. Which all leave us feeling naked and lost.

What can we do? First how about oiling the rusty looking rabbit? Try it, as to those of us with mental health conditions it is like giving us love and support, as it help us to feel we can carry on again today and maybe even tomorrow too. Equally, it may look like rust but give it a polish as that becomes a form of reassurance and comfort that someone else cares about us. With oil and polishing we discover that we are not rabbits at all but flowers; all of different shapes, sizes, colours and textures that with support can bloom, being whoever and/or whatever we want to be. Collectively we become like bouquets as cluster together and showcase what makes each other so special, rather than a single flower in a bud vase.

Even if do not understand mental health, how our minds can make us think so negatively about ourselves and/or life, do not let your ignorance be an excuse. Ask and learn from those that it impacts not judge and mock, as may find more people than you realise are fighting this battle. Remember appearances can be deceptive, as do not tell all we have experienced in life to get to this point and how hard every day life can be. Today maybe hell with torrential rain and grey skies, but tomorrow can be blue skies and sunshine, nothing lasts forever. Equally, the reverse can happen, what someone may mock and laugh at today may come back to haunt them tomorrow, unable to cope in the relenting rain as did not learn from before. So lets work together to end this stigma, supporting each other, being a best friend that is loyal like the dog and gnaw away at problems like the rabbit with a carrot.

© Fi S. J. Brown

flowers

 

 

 

Life Lessons

Nine lessons I have learnt in life:
1. Love – self-compassion and being gentle with ourselves when things are rough and/or black, letting go of self-criticism.
2. Kindness – random acts of kindness by others can lift our spirits, so why not be the giver rather than wait to be a receiver.
3. Resilience – when life knocks us down, don’t be out for the count, instead learn to adapt or spring back by from the punch.
4. Hope – one of the greatest gifts we can give another and helps us move on from the obstacles that block our paths.
5. Courage – not only an absence of fear but to be able face problems head, trying something different or new.
6. Mindfulness – being aware of the present moment, who and where we are now not who were or maybe in the dreamy future.
7. Gratitude – little things are like sweets in a jar mean far more than one giant bar of chocolate as can appreciate alone or in all.
8. Support – be it friends and/or family, they are keys to our growth as their love waters, enriches and strengthens roots.
9. Individuality – we all contribute to this world in unique and special ways, each one of us is a superhero with superpowers big and small.

© Fi S. J. Brown

My life purpose

I was reading an article online entitled “How do you find your purpose when you don’t know what it is?” I felt an affinity with what the article was about, as often find myself playing over again and again in my head or writing, what is my purpose in life? I then remind myself of a song from the musical Avenue Q called “For now; in it the character of Kate Monster points out who really does know their purpose and the cast sing about the importance of the present moment, with some things only being temporary. Remembering the lyrics to this song and words from a close friend help me stay focused on the present moment, i.e. living mindfully, so worry less over the things I cannot control and enjoying the good things when they come.

Going back to the article, I found four things stood out, which are listed below and then my answers to them, therein lies my life’s purpose. The four are:

  1. What am I grateful for?
  2. What are my gifts and talents?
  3. What do I love?
  4. What feelings do I want to have?

Gratitudes

  • I am grateful for being able to read and write. This makes me happy or benefits my life because to me there is so much to explore that others have said before me to writing my own experiences of life or giving voice to those that have none. So simple yet taken for granted by many as learn them at a young age but not all have the chance to learn them at any age.
  • I am grateful for being able to see and hear. This makes me happy or benefits my life because it makes me look beyond the surface level, looking deeper and longer, and hearing the songs of Mother Nature to musicians that write their own and/or play ones that paint visuals in my mind, become soundtracks to my life, and give words to what perhaps I find I cannot.
  • I am grateful for good friends. This makes me happy or benefits my life because it makes me feel loved, appreciated, and accepted in the world where many get jealous or envious, wanting more without realising what they have already, and feel like the ugly duckling now gliding down the river of her life as the swan she truly is not the ogre she thought she was.
  • I am grateful for being an empath and highly sensitive This makes me happy or benefits my life because it makes me appreciate the little things that cross my path, keep the light shining for those that are in darkness as know that it can suffocate when it overwhelms, and although I may not understand psychopaths or narcissists they show me what I am not
  • I am grateful for surviving the bad times. This makes me happy or benefits my life because it makes me know the importance of this present moment, which can change from bad to good or the reverse at any moment. They taught me lessons that I can share with others so they can survive their own and do not define me as a victim but a survivor of them.

Gifts and talents

  • I am lucky to have the gift to write my thoughts and words of others so that their songs can be heard even when I am gone.
  • I have also the gift of a vivid imagination and a visual mind, so can look at a scene to see it many ways beyond the initial glance.
  • Another gift is having a non-judgemental ear to comforting shoulder and arms to hug those that come on the journey with me.
  • I have a talent for research, looking beyond the tip of the iceberg, diving deep to see how far I can go and what lies hidden.
  • I have also the talent to realise there is so much in the world to learn, so each day I try find something new to wonder at a new.
  • Another talent is knowing myself, strengths and weaknesses, pushing myself when needed and withdrawing when needed.

Love

  • My closest friends who mean the world to me, I’d do anything for them as their place in my heart and soul is as unique as they are.
  • Walks along with nature as my guide and friend, fighting all my senses at once which one that I should taken in first or all at once!
  • Writing and/or photographing to record or give voice to a sight, sound, experience, thought or moment so has its own voice and/or image.
  • Supporting others as feel privileged and honoured that out of all the human beings on this planet that could help them, it’s me that does.
  • Exploring somewhere old afresh with a child’s eyes, as well as somewhere new where there are memories and stories to tell.
  • Mindfulness and meditation, to be centred on this present moment, realising there are more roses than thorns growing at any time.

Feelings

  • Freedom – To be me, not what others expectations or wants. Follow my path not one created or walked by others, the so called normal life.
  • Appreciated – I have no desire to be rich and/or famous, but to be appreciated by those that I enjoy having in my life as they do with me.
  • Determined – Not to give up when feel lost in the darkness or suffocating from trees I should have dealt with when were but seeds.
  • Inspired – Every day and by everything, seeing the world like a child and not taking it for granted that it will be there again tomorrow.
  • Worthwhile – I do not want to reach the age of 60 and wonder what I did with my life or why I continued to ignore what my teenage self knew.
  • Wanderlust – I would love to see more of this world with its different cultures and traditions that share similarities and differences to my own.

© Fi S. J. Brown

 

My “real self”

I was reading an article posted to Facebook on “Depression is the unavoidable by-product of not being who you really are?” I decided to ponder this and reflect on my own experiences of depression and self hate.

Looking back on my days pre-therapy I hated every part of me, frequently dreaming that I would have every part of me surgically changed, as thought I must look at total freak for the way people pointed and laughed at me in the street. My self image was so bad in waking life that I thought that I must look like the love child of Frankenstein’s monster and the Hunchback of Notre Dame, I mean why else would people do that or call me ugly to my face? I decided that as heard it so often, it must be true, I must be truly have something repugnant about physical appearance. However, at no point in time would I ever have considered plastic surgery to change it for real. At the same time I was not allowed the freedom to express myself; I always Frances’ daughter not an individual in my own right, and she always wanted the final say in how I looked from my wig (I have alopecia universalis) to my glasses and how I dressed. Any medical appointments she would come to, encase I said something she did not want said. It took me a long time to realise I am the daughter of a narcissist.

Shortly after moving to Loughborough in October 2006 I began therapy, at first I had no real reason for feeling depressed as just always seemed to be there like raindrops in my tummy as I put when I was a child. It was then I started to unravel all I kept inside and found I had razor blades inside my stomach too, as often beat myself up emotionally for things that were not my fault and/or had never had a voice to say stop or no. I had been hurt so much by life that I almost gave up just before Easter 2008 as came close to suicide, I felt like the puppet mistress would never let me be free to be me. On my return to Edinburgh in October 2009, I had begun photographing, but nowhere near as much as I do now, with a feeling of sickness and dread. I had tried to turn the camera on me for around a year by then, perplexed at the woman that appeared on it as she was not the ogre in my head. Gradually over the next few years as I returned to writing combining with my photography and finding supportive friends I saw me as a person and learnt to appreciate, respect and love this unique person that I am. I belong not in a laboratory but helping others, writing and photographing, and dressing the way that suits me!

So was my depression caused by not being who I am? Yes and no. I am far happier internally than I have ever been, I can look in a mirror and say it’s just how I am at this moment and that’s okay. Equally, I can delete or edit a photograph based on it being a picture and not make it feel so personal. However, I still have depression as there are still things from my past that hurt me and in my present but try not to let them. To me mental health conditions, including depression, are far more complex than a simple and singular explanation. I have mentioned before that we let things take root and suddenly faced with a tree and sometimes a forest of issues we should have dealt with at the start. To me it is this forest that overwhelms us as we do not know where to begin to cut it down; borrowing an axe from someone else is like trying to use their methods to solve our issues it may work but not always; and often a combination of many things help, but the most important is living for today as per mindfulness so that the roots can take hold of us. So be true to ourselves, but equally be gentle with ourselves, as we’re not all meant to be Jennifer Lawrence, Kim Kardashian, or Kelly Brook, but also note the images we see of them are heavily edited and may also have just the same insecurities as we do!

© Fi S. J. Brown

Recipe for a hug (for National Hug Day)

A pinch of love from our hearts,

A sprinkling of our soul’s wisdom,

A dash of warmth from our eyes,

A hint of our smile as infectious,

A smidgen of our fingers’ touch,

A dollop of arms fully stretched.

 

Slowly mix the above together,

Blending gently without malice,

Carefully bake but do not burn.

When finished no need to wait,

Share at once with good friends,

And they will give back one to us.

 

© Fi S. J. Brown

Hollywood Love

Movies, who does not want to see the latest blockbuster at the cinema or curl up on the sofa with a loved one to watch one? Well I don’t and I have not been to the cinema in over six years. I do not subscribe to Amazon Instant, Netflix or I love Film as there is nothing that grabs my imagination or interest to say “oh I must make sure to see that” after hearing publicity or friends talk about movies they’ve seen. Certainly when it comes to Hollywood movies it feels like I have seen it all before with the amount of remakes, sequels, prequels and even the new ones have old themes that have been done before, often better, to the point of saturation. So where is the originality and/or creativity?

Is it because the big studios do not want to take risks, rather have a guaranteed income with star names people will go see? Take the current movie about the Suffragette movement in the United Kingdom, I have nothing against Meryl Streep, but why does she have to play yet another iconic Britain (having previously played former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher) when there are many British actresses who could have played the role. The same thing echoed when Renne Zellweger first played Bridget Jones, when I thought of many comedic actresses in the United Kingdom that fitted the roll better. Have a Hollywood name and then can sell the movie not just within the United Kingdom but to America and beyond seems to be the order of the day, as providing the money to pay for the movie to be made and stakeholders want to have a large return on the costs.

However, this post is not about the creativity and/or actors of Hollywood, it is about the way movies portray love. In Ancient Greece romantic love was not held with the high regard and emphasis we put on it, instead 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. Where as today 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. So when did this switch begin and what role has Hollywood played in this?

The idea of unconditional love 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. Today we would almost expect someone that said “I love you” to mean that they loved us unconditionally and accepted us for who we are. Yet what has influenced this and caused such a shift?

From almost the moment a child is born we read to them fairy tales of a princess and prince meeting after he’s rescued her from horrible existence and they live happily ever after. I should note if you have ever read the original Brothers Grimm versions you will know how sanitised these versions are of the tales, you will never read or see Sleeping Beauty the same way again. Little girls dream of being princesses, sometimes beyond, conditioned to believe one day their prince charming will come to free them the life that traps them. Despite the fact few of us look like the so-called princesses and even fewer are a real life one.

Many Hollywood movies made in the 1980s and 1990s were aimed at the growing teenage market, particularly the so called Brat Pack, depicting how life was in an often exaggerated form to be that age. Girl meets boy, they secretly fancy each other but cannot be together until something happens. However, even when they get together there is a sting that he’s done something she won’t like so they split up until he finds a way to prove to her he loves her unconditionally. Like the fairy tales it is implied that they both lived together happily ever after. Conditioning us further to believe that this is how love is meant to be for teenagers.

The so-called romantic comedies play up the fairy tale notion of love conquering all to be with the one we’re meant to be with against the odds. They are like the teenage movie but aimed at all ages, in particular women. As a woman I am suppose to enjoy these kinda of movies as appeal to my feminine side, where as in reality most movies I enjoy are driven by a good plot and idea(s), particularly those set in the dystopian worlds as feel more realistic than the unrealistic utopian ones the romcoms portray. To me they are saccharine sweet and far from funny but add to a perpetuation of how a female and male are. They also almost exclusively heterosexual.

Another way love is shown in movies is how they show the so-called TRUE LOVE, which is filled with passion, romance, drama, desire, sacrifice, electricity, devotion! This is to typify the unconditional or fairy tale love. They long for the person that completes them or is their soul mate. We are led to believe that this love is everlasting as after all they did live happily ever after at the end of the story/movie, right? When a relationship ends we some times find people say that it was never true love they felt for him or her, which is often false, as what you felt for that person was love, it is the feelings that have changed with time. So yes (s)he really loved us and was true love, but it does not mean it lasts a lifetime for everyone.

Many movies now also have sex scenes, which show us its so called importance within a relationship. Wait stop, why is sex seen as so important these days unless due to us watching movies, TV programs, music videos and the media that have made it such an issue? For some sex is the ultimate expression of love, but in reality it is far from that, a person’s thoughts and actions is what matters not how often they have sex with us. For some it has such an important part of a relationship, a partner that does not want it is seen as weird or frigid, or force them to have it even though they have said no. The partner then looks for it elsewhere, thus affairs behind the back of this person we’re meant to love unconditionally. Many now think nothing of having alcohol and having sex with a complete stranger, which may or may not become a partner/lover in the future.

Some like myself are asexual, we have no sexual desire, but that does not mean we do not enjoy the other aspects of being in a relationship. Even within asexuality there are many differences, it is not an one size fits all definition. Equally for me sex is a trigger, I cannot watch scenes with it on as my head says please stop and I do not want to see that, so I avoid it where I can. Sex is not a dirty thing to me so do not get me wrong, it is more I feel it is something to do with someone we trust and comfortable in the company of, not a throw away line at the end of a night out with friends and the next morning it is like yesterdays newspapers best for wrapping fish and chips.

From observing the relationships of friends and family with those they love it can be seen how it is very much an umbrella term to cover many different ways we can feel about another human being. My closest friends I love unconditionally and will do anything for until my dying day as they have such a special place within me that when I think of them individually and/or collectively that I feel blessed to have them in my life. My sister in law said when she first saw my brother she knew that was the man she wanted to marry, compared with a friend that kept meeting a girl at the school gates, a fellow single mother, neither of which would have called themselves gay or lesbians then but fell in love with the person.

I often feel like the odd one out as see people in relationships and at almost 37 never experienced what it is to be in love. I never had a childhood sweetheart or did the drunken rumble as a student, as not something I looked for or did it call at my door. The one relationship I have had was nine years ago, long distance for nine months, that should have been nipped in the bud; it was a false start from the start as they did not respect me as a person nor would support me back as I was to their needs and wants.

I have had attraction once in my life, but have never told him how I feel, as like the Ancient Greeks friendship to me is just as special as romantic love if not more so. As for Hollywood love vs. real life love, I feel we need to stop being sheep or robots believing that is the way for us all, life is not an one size fits all t-shirt but human sized. Therefore, love is full of different quirks, flaws and idiosyncrasies that are unique to the love we have for the other person and they bring out within us as play out the movie of our lives.

© 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