The Edge of Forty

Every year I have written a reflective piece on the previous one on the lead up to my birthday. This year’s birthday is slightly different as it will be one of those big milestone ones as I turn forty. I am finding most people are flattering when I tell them how old I will be as say I do not look that age…but that begs the questions how should someone on the edge of forty look and how should they behave? Those younger than me are full of questions such as how does that make you feel and are you ready? Whereas those older shrug their shoulders and tell me I am still a baby or young. I am fast beginning to learn why it is the so called mid-life as feel a strange filling in the sandwich of youth and old age.

Looking back on my thirties as a whole at first they may seem quite frustrating but equally sedate after completing my PhD at thirty one and life since has been a very different journey to that of my twenties. They have brought good friends into my life that are like family who I would do anything for and love with all I have. The biggest part of this decade has been self discovery and acceptance as the ogre that lived in my head from my teens has gone and left a Fi-shaped person in its place that has the same love and respect as I give any human being on Earth that deserves them.

I have learnt to embrace life with making the most of each day and remembering to hold tight during the downs of the rollercoaster but remembering there are hidden positives and lights even at the darkest of times. Acceptance is definitely the key word to describe my thirties as have also understood what being asexual means to me and although it is very hard knowing I will never have my own child I have two lovely nieces. Equally, I no longer feel the outsider or alien that observes life rather than takes part in it as felt I did not belong or could not be what others wanted me to be. Labels and boxes are not meant for human beings and normal is a function on a washing machine!

I have also rediscovered my quirky creativeness and embraced it with open arms like a lost love, but my first love has become a greater passion with every passing year, which everyone that knows me was and is music! The written word and/or visuals are my talents to tell of my life, the tales of this planet’s citizens (not just the humans) and ensuring the forgotten or lost songs of the muted are sung for all to hear whilst spreading light and colour with my thoughts, actions and habits.

So what will my forties bring? There is hope and fear for the world we live in but determination not to let the negativity or hate drown me. On a personal level I am hoping I have final worked out my path and what that means in terms of career. As for love of the romantic nature…well I have never been one to chase it and if it is meant to be it is meant to be. The cynic in me still says it is for others not me. However, I am not scared or nervous at levelling up to a new decade in fact I am ready for it as see it as the next section in the book of my life that currently lies unwritten and that excites me…so bring it on!

© Fi S. J. Brown

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Stop judging, start loving

Every day we continually judge ourselves, often unconsciously, mutilating and deforming who we are as compare ourselves with those that are our family, friends, colleagues and peers. This internal violence can be as damaging as any punch to the face or knife to the chest inflicted by another. However, the bitter irony is how few of us really know ourselves, as judge ourselves against what we feel we should be not what accepting what we are. This is because we do not see ourselves as a person as we do others. So let us find something we love that is ours, but does not hurt another and equally not ourselves; remember it is not a matter of being good at it or becoming an expert but we enjoy doing it. So stop self judging and hating, learn to accept and appreciate who we are now not who were or like to be. Life is a roller coaster, now take a deep breath and keep hanging on.

© 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

Therapeutic Photography

When I tell my story to others I sometimes mention how I overcame years to decades of self hate, self loathing, low esteem, and general dislike for who I thought I was to how I thought I actually looked to the outside world. For readers that do not know until I was about 34 I used to think I looked like the love child of the Hunchback of Notre Dame and Frankenstein’s monster.

I could not look in the mirror, and when photographs were taken of me there were always problems. When I was a pre-teen my photograph from school showed the photographer’s umbrella reflecting in my eyes, it looked like I had mushrooms growing from them, which planted a seed in my head. By my teens I had developed Alopecia universalis, I had no hair anywhere on my body, which combined with bullying and my ultra controlling mother left me feeling like the Victorian freak of old. When in my twenties my eldest brother would continue to point and laugh at me as he had since my earliest days, like many did in the street. When he took a photograph of me, usually for graduation from university, 99% of the time my eyes would be shut; he would find this funny and equally not understand how someone could react that quickly to a flash. I am highly sensitive to many things including light, so yes my eyes seemed to break this rule, and leave me in pieces. I would be called moody as did not want my photograph taken at all, why should I when it always ended up the same way?

By the age of 28 I was having psychodynamic therapy on a weekly basis and had begun using a Fuji camera to take the town I was living in and for fieldwork in Italy. In May 2007 I decided to try take a picture of me with it against some Roman remains, with all the emotions of the past racing to the present combined with thoughts of what do I look like and how do you smile? As my camera was a digital single-lens reflex  (DSLR) I could see immediately the result, which made me jump back hitting the Roman bathhouse with my head and stared at the image it showed for a good five minutes. Was that really what the rest of the world saw when they looked at me? I showed it to one person, my supposed then boyfriend, on my return from Italy. He laughed in my face as he acknowledged it was indeed me. I was scared by what this meant but at the same time I knew the image was of someone deeply unhappy.

It was not until my breakdown and suicide attempt the following year that I began using therapeutic photography in an attempt to see me and begin to repair all the years of hate to perhaps learn to learn to love me for me. Judy Weiser defined therapeutic photography as the name for photo-based activities that are self-initiated and conducted by oneself (or as part of an organized group or project), but where no formal therapy is taking place and no therapist or counsellor needs to be involved. Why use photography, aside from it being one of my hobbies? Photography shows how I actually appeared to others, not the horizontally-reversed image from a mirror or distorted one in my head that I would have drawn. Also, a photograph could let me see parts I would not ordinarily be able to see, e.g. my profile or back, when asleep or in action, or simply being me. Unlike drawings, which are highly subjective, photographs are regarded as non-subjective as fixed in time and space. 

It was not an easy road, even looking back on those early photographs now I can see how far I had to go and come. The first part of me I began to appreciate were my eyes, they are grey-green but appear more grey when depressed, and remembered the old phrase – eyes are the windows to the soul, which I was now beginning to understand. Gradually over the years I saw this woman developing in them that I could relate to and see as the me the world did, she was not a freak or ogre nor was she this glamorous movie star, and you know what I was almost fine with it. 

In 2012, Yoko Ono launched her #smilesfilm, which I decided as I was developing my creative self as much as learning to embrace my full self why not enter a picture of me smiling? I did and in that moment I no longer saw the girl or woman of the past, I saw me in the present moment smiling and content. By March 2014 I had grown so much from that photograph that during the no make up selfie craze for cancer I made a split second decision to post one without my wig as I next to never wear make up as burns my skin if I try and do not see the point in having a chemical mask, I felt like it would be my most honest picture ever and another milestone in the journey. The photograph has 112 likes on my Facebook profile with 142 comments, as well as messages on inbox, e-mail and text, all full of encouragement. I looked at that photograph last month and smiled at what doing that had meant to me then as it does now. 

I do not manipulate images like they appear in magazines, websites and the media, so my photographs are the truest representation of me at that moment. Many of you now reading this take a selfie with a mobile/cellphone several times a day may never understand this journey but others may be where I have been. We are all beautiful in our own way and accepting how we are without resorting to extreme change can be tempting but all they can be band aids over deep wounds. I highly recommend trying therapeutic photography, do not expect results today but explore and learn to love the most amazing person you will ever know, yourself.

© Fi S. J. Brown

 

 

37 – The Life Jigsaw

Last year before turning thirty six I wrote a long reflection on the thirty five years lived, now as thirty seven is within finger counting distance I was asked yesterday what I would want from my next year. As someone that tries to stay focused on the present and thinks of others before herself this is not an easy question, however this is the answer that I have decided.

Life for me is a jigsaw puzzle; each piece shows people that made or make a difference being in it, and events that shaped or coloured our lives, good and bad. Therefore, it shows the bigger picture of what it means to be us and our life. How each shape fits together and the order they show themselves is very much like trying to solve any jigsaw puzzle without the box.

Sometimes we see an outside piece but cannot find a context for it, like a bird flying over a mountain or a bit of a rainbow in the sky, which on their own we may feel make no sense at all. Also, trying to make things work can be putting the pieces in the wrong places in our heads, even when we feel they should go together. So all in all can leave us quite literally feeling puzzled!

So for the next year I feel and would like a key piece to be revealed, as there are several missing. Not my purpose in life per se as feel we all have many purposes that change with where we are and who we are with, as well with the passing of time. I also have some incredible friends that mean a lot to me and fit together. So what will be the missing piece?

To be honest I do not know and nor do I want to know. As much as a few things in life make me wonder why do I bother or feel like the outsider watching in rather than being part of it. I have realised this is just what is “normal” for me and our experiences of life have similarities but equally difference. So bring it on life, I’m ready, tea in hand and passport in bag.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Meaning of life

This week I have been enjoying watching the incredible new documentary by Yann Arthus-Bertrand called HUMAN. It serves to make us stop and question life – “What is it that makes us human? Is it that we love, that we fight? That we laugh? Cry? Our curiosity? The quest for discovery?” Including perhaps the most profound question of them all – What is the meaning of life? I decided to take time out to actually think this through, what does it mean to me the individual with my knowledge, skills, and experiences of it and articulate my ponders to encourage you reading this to do the same.

Starting at the beginning, what is life?

Life is often said to be a journey, however for me it has always been a river. A river starts as a trickle among the hills before it sets off on its journey, encountering many sights and sounds along the way; with the different landscapes being thought of as the different influences around us. Every life is an unique that flows like a river through many twists and turns that can never be repeated nor predicted where it will go next. A flowing river makes a gentle murmur, which touches all that comes its way. This murmur is our voice that maybe one but can make a difference. The path a river carves out as it flows, the obstacles in its way, slowing it down for a time before moving free again, are all parallels of our own lives. A river’s colour acts as a reminder of these obstacles, as with scars our some visible and some invisible to the naked eye. In end a river merges with the sea, with the tunnels of near death experiences being on a boat on a deltas heading towards the sea.

The only constant is change

One of the great paradoxes of life is the ever changing nature of it. As much as we may feel we live a Groundog Day existence or have a set routine, each day is actually full of enormous and extraordinary changes that we often take so much for granted we miss the wonder of it. We assume that we will wake up tomorrow at night or that loved one battling a terminal disease will be there to visit tomorrow.

For example the view from the kitchen window looks unchanged as we look out as wait for the kettle to boil, but it is not the same view as yesterday. For it is only when we stop to look closer we can see what has changed. A few petals have fallen off the pink roses that grow to middle centre, the trees in the distance have started to turn red as now autumn in the northern hemisphere, and the birds that have been visiting the bird bath have now begun their flight south for winter.

I’ll do it tomorrow

We wait for a signal to start something new as will know when time is right but as with the constant change there is never going to be a perfect time to do anything as the whole ideology of perfection as I previously wrote on is flawed. Life is extremely fragile and changes in the blink of an eye, by procrastinating making a change we have no guarantee that time will come or be around to make the changes we want to make.

Tomorrow will also never come because it is based on the foundations of today, as when the time comes it is almost as though we cannot appreciate it as the present because we did not prepare properly for it or had such high expectations it could never live up to the way we would imagine it to be. As with living through the past, we cannot appreciate the little things right now that make it special, which is why only the present matters.

Money – a golden carrot

Life is often a golden carrot with false promises by others as well as ourselves. We fool ourselves with ideas of if only I had £250 extra per month, I could do so much more or it could go further. Unless we’re on a small income, that won’t cover anything. If we spend money on credit cards each month, we still we spend it on credit cards and perhaps more as know we have that extra a month. Money to many is the ultimate status symbol of success, showing the home they own with car they drive and all the contents therein.

However, it should not be a symbol at all as means nothing, to me it is almost fools gold. The home is bought on a long term loan, everything that has a bill is effectively rented, and every object may have sentimental meaning but does not add value to life. Since my teens I have struggled to understand how much power and emphasis we put on money. It has never been a driving force nor will it ever be for me to do things. What I mean is that I do things because I want to, not because it looks good or I’ll get rewarded for it in heaven by some god, but simply as I have the knowledge/skills/experience or wish to gain them from doing so.

 42?

Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner conceived of a theory of human development is based upon seven year cycles:

  • Ages 0 to 7: Coming into life
  • Ages 7 to 14: Stronger health & healing abilities
  • Ages 14 to 21: The emotional realm comes into being
  • Ages 21 to 28: Play that turns to responsibility
  • Ages 28 to 35: Peaking
  • Ages 35 to 42: A time of challenge and crises
  • Ages 42 to 49: Effectiveness of Earth
  • Ages 49 to 56: A growing vision and understanding of life
  • Ages 56 to 63: The crossroads – mastery of re-evaluation
  • Ages 63 to 70: A time of harvesting and spreading the wealth
  • Ages 70 +: Reflection

Ask people what the meaning of life is, many will say 42 after the work of author Douglas Adams who coined it as the ultimate answer to the meaning of life, universe and everything. Following Steiner’s patterns, at 42 we enter a cycle where by the soul works hard to impress the full forces of its personality upon the world. At this time, the soul has the opportunity to a higher state of consciousness called Spirit Self. So perhaps Adams was onto something afterall.

From my own experiences life did change at 28 as I began therapy a month before turning it but knew I had to make a change that year, otherwise I would no longer be part of it. 35 also changed me as was at turning 35 I finally accepted and had learnt to appreciate me who I am not for who I thought I was. Since then I have certainly felt a new level of understanding of not just myself but the world around me as well as start a new ‘path’ that feels where I actually belong in life and truer to me than I have been since my mid-teens.

My meaning of life

So for me life is an ever changing, ever evolving experience. Each day is full is full of patterns we recognise but new ones come in to colour in that pattern or change the shape of it so not the same as it was before. Equally, taking time to reflect each day to take in what has changed and what we have learnt, moving on from that day so no longer can hold the same pain it does today. Remembering money is a means to an ends not something we should expect or demand more of, or use it to make someone else’s life hell or put a large donation to an organisation out of guilt.

We all lead busy lives but need to appreciate money cannot buy everything or anything that has worth: the friendships that make us smile when we see a message from them on our mobile phones as they have a special place in both our hearts and souls to the people we choose to be our partners that communicating with is key so misunderstandings can be sorted out at the start not left to grow into something that then has roots and harder to remove as can no longer remember what actually started it all.

How we choose to live life either by the culture and traditions we live by to what life has taught us from our knowledge and experiences, no one way is the right. People for example that live in tribes in the Amazon rainforest are living life their way, it is not backward or primitive but what fits with their surroundings and way life flows their way. Finally, no matter what we look like, race, disabilities, sexualities, beliefs, gender etc, we all share this life as a human being, no one is greater or worse than another.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Pick a path

Life is full of twists and turns, no entries and false starts, with the path we take truly unique guided by own senses, fate and destiny. However, joining us on the path are friends, loved ones and family, each one in our lives for a reason (good and bad). Remember it is not a race but the journey that matters. Equally, if all seems lost today, overgrown with weeds or pitch black, the clearing may come tomorrow, so don’t give up and believe it again.

© Fi S. J. Brown 
   

Night whispers

I stand in line waiting for the ferry to carry me back home
As the night stretches out far and wide in every direction
And the stars sparkle like diamond speedways of light

I am in no rush to make the journey back to my homeland
For tales, myths and lies haunt me like a ghost live there
And memories of my childhood are little works of origami

The spring breezes catches my breath to make me relax
Filling it with sparklers bright and smells almost angelic
And removing the hellish voices and flooding thoughts

Those days are in the past and where they must stay
The future’s foundations are made from today not then
So into a box I lock them shut and throw the key to sea

Now I board the ferry free with a new song in my head
I cannot change what happened or those that hurt me
But I can enjoy the present and let positivity shine out

© Fi S. J. Brown

Judge and jury

What we see in others is essentially a reflection of ourselves, our projections and prejudices. Any time we judge someone, we reveal more about our character than anything else. We sometimes judge according to another’s looks/race/gender/ethnicity/beliefs/sexuality/ability/class/age but their actions and behaviour around us and others says far more than they do. We are all on a journey, that can be very hard, tiring and tearful so why be so judge and jury to others as they live it differently to us? Enough judgement and criticism, nobody is perfect, we all make mistakes. The only person we can really judge is ourselves, without giving ourselves a hard time when we do make a mistake or two. Anyone who thinks it is okay to hurt, laugh at and/or judge another can go spin on my middle finger.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Thirty Six Years

As I approach the thirty sixth anniversary of my birth, I walk up the hill with an observatory that I have climbed many times before, often in the company of a four legged friend of fur and bark. However, today I walk alone to reflect not the lens of a telescope to the stars but my mind on the journey I have taken so far to reach the point I am at today.

As I walk, I look out to a city that became my place of birth after an eleventh hour decision meant I was not born where my journey had biologically started. This city of birth is also the place of many childhood memories that now echo across where I look and make trees sway as feel their vibrations. Many of the trees look on fire, not with passion but as a warning not to dwell on the past for too long. If look close some are shedding their leaves in empathetic tears to the memories they now feel from my memories, good and bad.

I think back to my earliest days, filled with wonder to the world around me and curious to its ways like a newborn puppy yet as wise as an owl in what I seemed to know. I remembered a world that was filled with many colours, but school and family taught me that it was black or white; they replaced the songs of birds and rivers with their own drills and guns; they said I had five senses but I was sure I could pick up at least twice that; and gave me pills to sedate me from asking the questions I wanted answers to, as could or would not answer them. The grown-ups ultimately told of a world of them and us, where the humans ruled over all that l could see and deeper, wider and higher than my eyes could; they were only judged by a man named god, who had created it all and forgave if I did wrong as long as I asked him to.

As I became a grown-up myself I felt a boomerang effect, in whatever I did and wherever I went this city would bring me back. Sadly, I never wanted to be back, in fact quite the opposite, I longed to explore the world like the explorers I read about in childhood books and was not content to do it from a seat any more. At the same time, those around me were settling in “normal” life: getting a job, finding a partner, setting up home and having kids. I felt like an alien in a world to which I did not or would ever belong. Restricted to a tourist visa but not granted citizenship to this world.

Like a circus freak in Victorian times since my earliest teens I wanted to hide away, as my head said I looked like the love child of Frankenstein’s monster and the Hunchback of Notre Dane, an unloveable ogre with growths over my body, and faults greater than San Andreas. I often wondered on making my curtain call, I had enough of being a player in someone else’s movie and being used by those I thought I could trust. When I took what I wanted to be my final bow, I fell not on concrete but autumn leaves, leaving no visible scars but many scratches that I could not itch. Picking the pieces up I knew only I could glue them as there was no one but me there to add glitter or shine.

Much of my life I felt like a donkey among the thoroughbred horses in a race of life, but against the odds I completed a degree, masters two and PhD before I reached the age of 32. When I signed off my final word on my doctorate, I took my own Hippocratic Oath, never to work or study in a laboratory again! The relief felt like I had been given the chance to start again from where I had last saved, which turned out to have been almost twenty years before. So I picked up my pen and let the colours, visuals, sounds, tastes, feelings and smells of that moment release like a series of tributaries forming one big river with each ones strengths and weaknesses.

Now I return my thoughts to today, spinning around on where I stand, thinking where in each direction I could go next without the boomerang pulling me back here. I thought of people that I knew in every one, the special people who’s emails, texts, and phone calls make me smile like I could never have imagined but two years before, for it hurt my face to even try. Whereas now I could share my journey with them, sharing in tears of both pain and laughter. I do not know what tomorrow will bring, but I know where I have been. Life has a bittersweet taste but the colours, sounds, visuals and things that belong beyond my wildest dreams are within my touch, so I’m going to take a leap and follow them wherever they may take me next.

© Fi S. J. Brown