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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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

World Mental Health Day (2016)

If we lived in a world like something from a science fiction novel where we could go for a full body scan at any time that would tell us what was physically and mentally wrong, which would be followed up with a customised pill to cure whatever was wrong with us, would we live differently to as we do now? Would we be free from bullying and abuse or jealousy and envy? How would we define or set limits to what a normal human body should and should not be capable of? Would a human being’s blueprint be just like we read about in science textbooks? What about individualism? Would we see that as dangerous as all should looks and feel the same with a hive mind? Is being different being abnormal?

Now consider the world we do live in. Why when someone is diagnosed with cancer, arthritis or asthma are our reactions different to dissociative identity disorder, schizophrenia, and anxiety? Why do some let a diagnosis change how they see a person was from the person they knew yesterday? Why are they now not normal, and what therefore is normal? We are not robots or clones, we do not experience this world in the same way as anyone else has or ever will again. A book can only so show much of the human experience, but does not allow for individualism that comes from being true to ourselves and living life the way that is normal for the journey we alone are on.

What about the future? In the past we may have swept problems or issues under the proverbial carpet to locking someone up in an asylum as a danger to society, but even now mental health issues are stigmatised as cannot see by looking at someone how much they are suffering mentally. More and more the world is getting darker with fear, greed, envy and jealousy, instead of light with hope, empathy, compassion, and understanding. Unless some of us start to punch holes in this darkness it will only continue until we all stagger around blind and deaf to the needs of others. Today World Mental Health Day, so let us use it as a stepping stone to hold open doors and windows with light today and every day.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Being Bald

It all started with these patches,
And brown strands on my pillow.
Tears fell like a blues harmonica,
And my words became lost at sea.
At that moment a freak was born,
Not yet thirteen and I was bald.

At school I wore a wig with a band,
And felt their eyes burning in green.
Depression suffocated me inside,
And yet outside no blood would fall.
Scarred forever when the wind blew,
And they laughed at me being bald.

By university it had gone all over,
And no funeral pyre or wake held.
So I grew to loathe how I looked,
And felt I had no human worth.
For who would love such a freak,
And just like an ogre I was bald.

Years passed until therapy begun,
And joined the dots with words.
Taking photographs was some fun,
And then I took that first selfie.
Forced to see my reflection a new,
And saw a woman, scared and bald.

That began the journey to find me,
And remove the ogre forevermore.
Realising the lab was far from me,
And wondering just where did I fit.
As I heard that bird sing in a tree,
And wished to be as free not bald.

Switching test tubes for Biro pens,
And microscope for camera lenses.
I discovered the woman I am within,
And found a rag doll not an ogre be.
Now I accept with kindness and love,
And being bald is just part of being me.

© 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

World Health Day

On this World Health Day I have been thinking how many of us have so called “hidden illnesses”? How something that we cannot see lends some to act as judge and jury of how that impacts someone’s life, making them less “normal” and/or lesser of a human being. For example, if a healthy looking person came out a disabled toilet without a wheelchair, how many would tut because feel to use such facilities they should be as the image on the door? Really should be thought more as ‘accessible toilets’ as to remind us that they need to be exactly that – accessible. So those that need to use them are enabled to retain their dignity and independence whilst doing what all of us take for granted.

Our ability to live life despite apparent disabilities (physical/mental/hidden) do not change who we are inside. When someone gets a diagnosis today, they are still who they were yesterday or last week. It does not matter what the diagnosis or label says our inability is or because our body does not do or make the same as the textbook says it should in humans, does not make them less of human nor do people want pity. I can say from personal experience, it is often more of a relief to give it a name so can try to live life and adapt (if possible/applicable) to what this means. Please try to remember that for many illnesses there are no operations, cures or answers to why it happened.

For me the friendship, love, conversation, laughter, creativity, and acceptance of others gets me through the day. There are times when I want to give up as so tired from fighting to pain (mental and physical) but with my closest friends no matter where they are I know I will survive. Whatever health issues we may have, they do not matter, the world needs all of us. It is our differences that make the colours on the tapestry of humanity. It would be a very monochrome piece if we all were exactly the same, with so called “perfect” bodies, which did exactly as the textbook said – remember even machines need repairing now and again. So viva la difference and let’s paint the world every day in our multi-colours, showcasing that is what it means to be truly human.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Santaphobos

We have now entered the time of year that a dangerous and highly contagious disease is at its peak for symptoms. The disease is called “Santaphobos“, although not fatal in itself, the disease does get progressively worse every December.

The origins of Santaphobos are uncertain, however recent research has shown overexposure to children to under the age of ten to an older obese gentleman with a white beard, dressing in red and white, chanting “ho, ho, ho” and goes by the name of Santa Claus as a key factor.

Those that sat on the knee of someone matching the above description often cried at the time but their tears were ignored as he is meant to be a sign on good. Also this gentleman would ask them questions such as what they wanted for Christmas that they did not want to answer as for the rest of the year their parents told them never to talk to strangers!

To ensure the children behaved they are also told this person will come down their chimney if they are good and deliver them gifts with his reindeer friends on December the 25th. Unfortunately, it is the lies the parents tell repeatedly at this time in his name that may result later in “Grumpy Teenager Syndrome” as the child no longer believe what they’re told by the parents.

Symptoms vary with every individual as each case is unique. However, tell tale signs may include:

  • Mentioning the word “Christmas” results in the response “bah humbug”;
  • The sound of crackers and/or party poppers makes them pop a blood vessel;
  • The idea of eating turkey makes them clench their stomach and feel sick;
  • Constantly changing the radio to avoid Christmas carols and Cliff Richard;
  • The idea of an office party makes them flashback to drinking, dancing and vomit;
  • If male, shaving their movember beard as don’t want to be mistaken for him.

There is no known cure for Santaphobos but remember it is optional to join in Christmas, and nobody should feel they have to give cards or gifts to show how much they love someone as in our thoughts and actions all year. A gift of an hour with loved ones can mean far more than a bottle of wine or diamond ring. Even spending that hour with a friend or neighbour that has no one. Finally, remember it is not a jolly time for everyone, so be respectful to those with Santaphobos as with any other physical or mental disease.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Therapy…!?

This week I have been considering the journey I have made the last decade with my mental health, the stigma I have encountered to the breaking point I reached and the help I got through therapy. A good friend posted a link on Facebook to a newspaper article with Kate Winslet’s negative view of therapy; she could outsmart the person giving her therapy and decided it was not for her. To me, I felt was very out of touch attitude and only added to make the stigma of mental health and addiction worse as could not look beyond what she felt was someone inferior to her.

My own experiences of therapy tell their own tale: It is almost nine years to the day since I started having counselling. I remember well the fear I had to send the email to the university counselling service, it was admitting I had a problem but could they help and did I really need to see a counsellor? I had only done so as my so called boyfriend had pushed me to do so as felt I needed the help they provided. Although it was something I had considered as far back as eight years previously, I never thought the time was right. However, I had decided if I had not moved in 2006, I would not see Christmas as my depression was strangling me so much and living with a narcissist mother that only wanted to control every iota of my life. Therefore, it was certainly the right time at almost twenty eight, to start to understand why I felt so depressed and suicidal much of my life.

My first meeting with Anne was like stepping into someone else’s home with the way she lit her office to the pictures around the room, so immediately felt less like I was going to another part of campus. She had a caring face with a gentle tone of voice that like the lighting made feel at ease. Over the next few months we both realised my issues were far deeper than counselling could offer, she wrote to my GP who by that time had me on antidepressants after I had become suicidal over the Christmas holidays, but he simply asked me if it was true what Anne had written and as I said ‘yes’, the letter was crumpled and put in the bin. It felt like a metaphor for my life, crumpled up and nobody really listening to me; the lyrics to Tori Amos’ “Silent all these years” rang with crumpled paper now sat in my GP’s waste basket. Anne and I tried a new tact and a different doctor in the practice after I had self harmed when in hospital for a then undiagnosed ear infection. This time action was taken and was referred to a clinical psychologist.

To say I was apprehensive on seeing a clinical psychologist was an understatement, to me that made it sound like I genuinely was crazy or mad. Our initial appointment I had to rearrange owing to a visit from my mother that left me in a state of deep depression as felt I could never be free from her clutches or control. However, when I met Ginny I met someone that was willing to go with me on a journey to explore how I got to where I was today, psychodynamic therapy. It took me longer to warm and trust Ginny as felt like it was her not listening at times or full of questions. It was far from easy at times as felt like I was left at the edge of a cliff and then was expected to return to the world, continuing my PhD research, with all these memories and emotions going round in my head that somehow I had to leave them and focus on what I needed to. It was only after my suicide attempt eight years ago that I began to realise just what it was she was getting at. By the following autumn as we said ‘goodbye’ I felt sadness as realised she had given me stepping stones to move forward in life and most importantly was no longer afraid of my mother!

Since then I have found good friends that I know I can open up to but know I do need further help to deal with some issues still unresolved. I use creativity such as writing and photography to walking around nature as my self imposed therapy. Through it all I have grown to accept and appreciate me the person as I see my mother for the narcissistic woman she is and my brother that hurt me badly as an overgrown child that depends on her so much, neither able to see or accept how much they did and do hurt me still. I also accept why my father left my mother and my many issues I felt with him leaving, not being there when I needed to support.

In addition, I have learnt therapy is something we all need at times in our life, it is hard and dark, but with professional help we can find candles to hang that show there is light and where it hides. I would go so far it is part of healthy living to know and understand it is okay to ask for help in this way, as you would a doctor for a lump on a breast or broken ankle. I am currently deciding if this is not a path I should consider myself, to become a counsellor or psychologist, as love to help others and naturally empathetic, using my creativity and love of nature. I welcome thoughts from others on this, some I have asked say it is very me as already the empathetic ear or shoulder to rest that does not judge anyone and lets someone be themselves, allow them to grow and bloom to whatever or whoever they want to be.

© 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