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

The Magic of Christmas

It is that time of year again when it’s not only bells that are ringing but tills with money spent on gifts that we hope will not be returned on Boxing Day to our ears from hearing that song by Slade or The Pogues again and again. The days have become shorter and shorter as ‘to do’ lists get longer and longer only matched by the queues everywhere we turn. The excitement reaches near hysteria as we count down to that man’s arrival with his herd of reindeer to deliver gifts on the 25th, but only if we have been good of course! For some it is extra special for marks the birth of the son of their god in a stable in area of the world that today tears of joy have been replaced by grief and blood.

Those that find themselves more ‘bah humbug‘ than ‘ho ho ho‘ are seen as the party poopers but we have to remember some of us may find it hard to find “that perfect gift” for family and loved ones, whereas others do not know if they can afford the cranberry sauce let alone the turkey or where they will be living tomorrow as the street may become home. There are of us those that live with hidden illness, from mental health to chronic pain, which want the feelings of sadness, darkness and/or pain to go away once and for all, not what Snapchat filter shall I use on my selfie today or which programs do I watch on my new giant TV first. There are also some of us that have nobody to celebrate with, as feel suffocated by the so called ‘magic’ not hypnotised.

When the clock strikes midnight on the 25th of December just remember it is but one day; it does not matter if we mark it or not for there is nothing to say we must celebrate, no matter what anyone may try to tell us otherwise. Do not feel guilty for not giving a physical gift because every day we give a bit of ourselves to those we love and those that appreciate, accept, and respect us for who we are, making an effort to be in our lives, remember this and know it can never be bought or sold. Finally, accepting who we are and what we have now not what we’d like to be/have or were/had, as well as accepting and respecting others irrespective of differences is the magic of Planet Earth not just on this one day or time of year, and spreading peace, light and love everywhere.

© Fi S. J. Brown

The Big Issue

When I lived in Aberdeen (Scotland) in the late 90s/early 00s I regularly talked on and off to a man that sold a magazine for the homeless or those in vulnerable housing called The Big Issue outside the supermarket I would go to. To many he was invisible, not even a face in the street or another human being. He was not much older than I was so really hit home to me how life could be different, he was still someone else’s son or brother. I never learnt his name and he never learnt mine but still would stop to see how the other was. Now and again I would buy the magazine but usually I would give him the ‘free‘ from my “buy one get one free” offers in my food shopping, usually fruit such as oranges, bananas or apples, as rather give him that than money as a student I did not have and felt it was better to give him something to eat as could see how thin he was. By my final year in the city I moved away from the area, however, one evening I saw him walking along the main street, we recognised each other and to my delight he had got a home a few months previously. He was grateful for what I did, which to me was nothing but giving the time of day to another human being, which was only a couple of minutes once a month or so.

Fast forward to the present; for the last two years now I have been talking to another Big Issue seller but this time it is similar but different. For a start I know his name is Donald and we discuss his bad health, his history that made him homeless, to the world around us. When I first started to give him my ‘free’ tea from the supermarket I again saw the invisibility I had seen in Aberdeen, to which I was uncertain if was due to the upper-middle class nature of the area or that people had developed a blind spot to the homeless, and simply do not want to acknowledge such people exist. However, my actions prompted others to see us talking, which I will admit caused a few funny looks at first as not the sort of thing a Morningside lady would traditionally do (I grew up in the neighbouring Grange that has a similar reputation). However, a few regulars realised that the ‘free’ hot drink we got with a loyalty card was a way to pay to it forward as I was doing. In fact, he now has to turn down drinks or keep the cups as people are generous in their support, with many of us stopping for a good five to ten minutes to catch up with him. He also has been known to be given Easter eggs by children to other delights (sweet and savoury) from the store….he’s put on so much weight his doctor said he may need to go on a diet!

I will not give to beggars on the street for I have seen a few climb into their Mercedes cars after they have finished and some have become quite rude to me when I offered them something other than money. However, those that sell The Big Issue I understand how the selling works and the revenue they can get from it, dropping a random bar of chocolate or a bottle of water to them and catching their smile as I do is something I’ll never tire of…the gentleman who chased after me to say thank you could not understand at first as had not asked for it and that someone simply wanted to give to him. Equally I am fortunate in my city that there are places like the Social Bite that help the homeless by selling suspended drinks like teas or coffees and lunches, with one in four of their workforce formerly homeless and currently running a campaign to create a small village that will give them a home, job and the help to deal with issues they may have (details here). There are organisations such as Shelter that also help the homeless. However, what matters is we remember that these people could be any of us, our fathers or sisters, aunts to nephews, and be grateful for what we have now no matter how small it may seem compared with others as life can change in seconds. Do not judge or hate another for what they have as will never know their full story, and pay it forward because we can not for rewards (financial or otherwise).

© Fi S. J. Brown

Dear Santa

Dear Santa,
I know I have not written to you in around thirty years but felt it was about time I did again. I know you judge children if they have been ‘naughty or nice’, but what about grown ups? The world is full of people that judge us from our hair style to skin colour, mock our belief in the Flying Spaghetti Monster to our chosen special loved one’s gender, and dismiss us due to disabilities but never find the abilities. They paint all in 50 shades of green, which is tainted with hate, greed and envy as they perceive or assume us to be a certain way, yet we are all one shade of red when we bleed when hurt by their ways. We also have voices are multicoloured, but others try mute or copy but never get the right shade despite the auto tune.

This year has been hard one for many, we are emotionally, mentally and physically exhausted by it all and looking forward to a break from it raining all the time. There are things that your elves just cannot make and be delivered by you, such as loved ones we would give anything to spend the day with but cannot due to health, distance, estrangement, and death. New jobs that would bring us changes that may improve circumstances, not meaning financial, to us and those we love. Improved health, physical and mental, so we can live life to the full The wisdom to accept today and make the most of it without longing for the past or wishing for the future.

This Christmas forget the iPhones and funny socks but instead bring people together with smiles and laughter. May glasses overfill with love and light not just wine or gin. Create memories to cherish over dinner not recipes that will mean disaster in years to come. To those with nobody to celebrate let someone open their door and hearts not just presents from under the tree. For some they have no home, so may they find shelter as Mary and Joseph did in the story many base this celebration on and give birth to a hope filled with love and light that lasts a lifetime.

Thank you Santa for reading my letter so far; I have now stopped with the wants to consider nobody ever asks what you or your elves want. So what do you want? Some may leave you a drink and mince pie in thanks without considering the bigger picture. Just as the elves help you, some may help us to make that dream a reality or ensure the big night goes to plan but we not always see or appreciate quite all they do. Equally, we do not always thank those that give themselves to us as we take their presence for granted, assuming they will be unchanging and there for us much like you dear Santa.

So thank you once again dear Santa and to all the elves, know even as a grown up we may make wishes for presents that you cannot wrap and put in a stocking, just like my niece asking for a pony. The Christmas magic cannot buy or bring what truly matters, the human spirit filled with love, empathy, peace, light and happiness to others, and that is my gift to you and those that read this letter. This may not sound much but it is all we need, and can be shared globally irrespective of difference, location and.address.

Love,
Fi x

© Fi S. J. Brown

Mindful living

Climb to the top of the mountain and giving praise when it warranted. Remember that we are all important, it does not matter who we know but how we are treat others. Only we walk the path that belongs to us, but embrace those that make that journey easier and those that mean us harm follow our senses to limit their damage.
 
Dare to fly and to dream, for the impossible is not what it may seem, we’re only limited by our own imaginations. Embracing who we are now not who we were or like to be, as well as what we have not what we had or would like. Remove worry, fear, and hate, live life and love it as it today, for tomorrow is but a whisper and never a promise.
 
© Fi S. J. Brown

6 am

Waking up with the sound of sunshine tapping on my window,
Nearly blinded by his beam of amber rays hitting dozing eyes.
Heart matching the beat in 4/4 time and setting toes tapping,
But this is no Morse code message but the daily dawn chorus.

Through the light comes the sound of birds singing songs,
Hiding among the green of lime to apple and oak to beeches.
The wind plays each branch of a tree like cello’s string,
Turning the sky above to blue as paints with its sounds.

Now blocking out the buses and cars making their own musical,
Human kings and queens rushing around their concrete jungle.
As the colourful sights and sounds fade away to their grey,
And try to cling on to that final note of nature’s dawn song.

But another day has begun with twenty four hours now ticking,
A page lies unwritten except for fate and destiny’s whispers.
Learning today’s lesson and laying foundations for tomorrow,
And leave all that hurt from yesterday in the past now gone.

© 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

The Glass Vase a.k.a Life

Life, in the words of one of my favourite authors (Neil Gaiman) is “a disease: sexually transmitted, and invariably fatal“. With the recent deaths of musicians and actors that we have all admired (maybe even idolised or fancied) for many years; from David Bowie to Lemmy, Alan Rickman and Glenn Frey, we feel we have lost part of ourselves as they wrote the soundtrack to our lives or a distant friend that never judged but was there in the background. As a result I have been thinking about the fragility of life, which to me is best thought of as like a glass vase held in a toddler’s hands, which could shatter in an instant.

No amount of preparation is able to prepare any of us for death only that that it will happen one day; nor can we protect ourselves or those we love from the impact of it. The shards of glass are like the bits of the person now gone; there are things we all may like or admire in a person, but equally there are bits only some people saw like the unique design that made them who they were or with the addition of flowers they became like an amazing support that many took for granted. At first we may try in vain to glue the shards back together before realising we cannot bring back what is gone, and the water on the floor increasing as the tears fall from our eyes like a river meeting the sea. Even when the shards are put in the bin, there is still part of them that will forever be part of us, as had a shared history (good and bad). Some may think getting a new vase will be the same, but it will not have the memories and identity that the one now gone had, and can never truly replace it.

However, it is important not to be scared of the vase shattering but remembering what the vase meaning is to us every day as can mean different things to different people, just as life can be different for us all. It can vary in the colours/shape/form because we all come in different ones, the only thing we share is being human and it is the diversity that is our true artistic self. It does not matter where the vase is, be it on a broken shelf in a run down house or a museum as created by some artisan of note, we all matter to someone. What that is can vary too; a vase may hold flowers that a loved one gave us to mark our birthday or Valentine’s Day, it also may have bought at an art gallery shop after enjoying an exhibition by a favourite artist or the colour fitted with the new décor of our living room. Finally, remember no vase is truly perfectly made, just as we all have flaws or hidden defects, perfection is a lie we tell each other as a way to convince ourselves as much as others. 

© Fi S. J. Brown

Life is an anagram of file

Everyone of us is born like an empty file, which over our lifetime is filled with different words, pictures and sounds that are unique to us.
There are special moments we save to our file to remember them again years later, but also those we forgot to press save on now gone. Equally, there are those we wish we could delete as bring us pain when we see them, as well as those in haste we erased with anger or in tears.
Life is full of repeats. Copied and pasted throughout the file, perhaps they are lessons we are meant to learn from. Cutting toxic people is a must for our sanities, as act like a virus on our file, but it is not always easy as a click of a mouse to remove them permanently.
Sometimes it feels like it be good if we could star a new file, but this is impossible. Stop to think of all that be lost if succeeded in aborting. Remember even if the file gets corrupted and refuses to not open, it is not necessarily the end. There is support out there that can help us.
Arial 11 in black maybe default, standard or “normal”, but there is no such thing as a standard human being. So explore the fonts, sizes and colours till find one that is us. Sometimes adding italics, bolding or underlining works, but it’s not for everyone. Find and create our normal.
As a new year approaches, a time of resolutions and possible change. Think of it like a new page on the file, how we fill it is up to us,
© Fi S. J. Brown

To be human

Question, what one universal thing connects us all? Answer, being human.
 
We may look different due to gender, genetics, and/or race, but those are part of our outer shell and we share a heart that beats to give us life. We also have differences in ability, beliefs, sexuality and personality, but do they really make a difference in making someone human?
 
Equally, what is normal? Normal is how life is for us, one person’s normal may be different to ours but does not make them abnormal or a freak. Do our similarities not make us connect but these differences teach us a different way of living life, which is no more right or wrong than the way we choose to live it.
 
Today is world human rights day, a chance not to dwell on the negatives of life but be grateful for what we have and the freedoms some of us enjoy that others cannot. All to often we want more and more yet forget how lucky we actually are and what rights we have.
 
So many for example in the UK to the US taking being able to read and write as such a given thing, we learn them us small children and skills for life. However, being born in a different culture if female may never have the chance to learn these skills. Belief and faith are personal things, if someone wants to follow Christianity, Scientology, Atheism to Pastafarianism, let them. Also disabilities, not every one can be seen outwardly, but inwardly can be a struggle just to get through the day without pain and tears.
 
Recycle jealousy, greed and anger into empathy, understanding and love. Be a candle of light and hope to others not judge and jury. The world is full of critics, so be an encourager and supporter. Also, be ourselves not an imitation of someone else or hide are true selves as scared how others will react, that’s their problem not ours. Finally, embrace what makes us unique, it would be a very boring place if we are all the same!
© Fi S. J. Brown