I am what I am (a.k.a Self Portrait 2018)

Five years ago I posted the photograph below with the words written upon it describing my journey recovering from Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), self-hate, and low self-esteem. Today things are very different and this entry describes how things are today. If I am honest I still did not think I could ever reach the point of body and self positivism as the negative hung around like a bad smell I could not get rid of. Looking at old photographs I can see and feel my pain with part of me wishing I had the keys to a time machine to reassure myself but know I probably would not believe myself or recognise the person as me. The ogre that once lived in my head has been truly vanquished, such are the incredible healing properties of self-acceptance and happiness. Actually, I thought I was not allowed to be happy as was meant for others and not for me. Now I realise happiness takes many forms, and I have the right to that as much as anyone else on this planet.

In an age when judgement is made so much on our physical form it makes me still at question if I fit in. Judging on physical form deeply saddens me as know there is so much to us than our shell of many colours. To those that think looks are everything consider the following: when you see an iceberg you only ever see the top of it not what it actually looks like in physical form (this is like judging someone from the clothes you see them in and only desiring the slimmest of figures); equally consider a swan that as a child looks very ordinary but becomes a beautiful and majestic bird (this is akin to judging someone based on their past alone, not who they are in the present and what they may have overcome); and finally consider if the music remained only oral and never visual with those you judge their music based on their sex appeal you could never see (this is like basing your attraction on a walking puppet controlled by someone unseen where nothing is actually real).

I know I am not an ogre but I am equally not a Hollywood A-list celebrity, but then again I would rather be the ogre than the Hollywood star! Accepting me as me has been far harder than academic study; although on saying that my PhD was one of the greatest stresses of my life to date. I am me, not the love child of Frankenstein’s monster and the Hunchback of Notre Dame as I used to think. Which was replaced with Pablo Picasso’s ‘Woman in Hat and Fur Collar’ for a bit as I attempted to readjust the mental image in my head. This was followed by a patchwork doll made up of patches that represented all the different things that make me, me, and stitched together with love from those that are special in my life. However, now I see the same image others see in my photographs and smile like I never thought I could, it used to physically hurt my face for starters. If I was to have any other visual of me it is of a Matryoshka doll, because there is more to learn about me even when you think you know me well I will always surprise you with another layer to what makes me the uniquely beautiful human being I am.

© Fi S. J. Brown

5 years ago.jpg

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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

F is for…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Fi S. J. Brown