It’s okay

It’s okay to be 22 or 42 and not know what you want be when you grow up. You can also change your mind, try new things, or take wrong turns, as discover what your true path or paths really are.

It’s okay to be single. Maybe you prefer being on your own, tired of other’s crap. Perhaps you have been hurt in the past so healing, or learning self love before you try again with someone new.

It’s okay if you cannot find your Prince Charming or Fair Maiden, love comes when you least expect it. Do not chase after it, but kissing a few frogs and toads along the way is to be expected.

It’s okay to be gay. Whether you like men, women, both, or do not care as long as they have a pulse, no book or other can define your version of what love is. We do not choose who we fall for.

It’s okay not to want kids. Being a parent is not for everyone, and is a valid choice. If you cannot have children it can be very hard; however, adoption or fostering are still your choices not others.

It’s okay to have that bit of chocolate, one piece won’t change you or the world. You do not have to excuse or explain yourself to anyone, people judge all the time, even themselves.

It’s okay to feel depressed. Remember you are not alone and depression loves to lie. Not everyone will listen, some may laugh or whisper behind your back, but do not ever give up. Someone will listen.

It’s okay to be different. There is no such thing as an average human being, we are human coloured/sized/shaped. You look as your genetic lottery decided, knives and syringes do not add, look inside.

It’s okay to be you. There is no one on this planet that’s the same, identical twins are not the same person. You can dance to another’s rhythm, but you have your own so embrace it and the colours it makes.

© Fi S. J. Brown

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September third, 1990

Eight years ago this week I was writing about Roman fires as part of my PhD write up with a glass of red wine at my side, leftover from cooking my dinner earlier that evening, when an event I witnessed became a catalyst for something that I can only call a milestone in my life and fate wanted me to forever recall that very moment. Tonight I am sharing my photographs and digital art on social media as well as writing this piece, things I could only have dreamt that I could do, or that people would understand or follow them. However, it is none of these I am actually going to write on, instead it is something prompted by seeing children (re)start school after their summer break, which has reminded of the third of September 1990 when I changed schools, and the miserable seven years I had there.

As a child we are told repeatedly that our school days would be the happiest of our life, which made me question throughout my early childhood and into teenage years how miserable must life be as an adult if these are meant to be happy times! Perhaps in the more recent past they were more innocent times than then or even now to be a child, and those carefree days were led to be so happy as did not have the stresses and strains that adults experienced. I only need to look at pictures of my young nieces to worry about how sexualised the youngest is at five years old and posing like a woman four to five times here age in a bikini on a beach. The little carefree girl I played with last autumn seems a million miles from this wannabe model, a child stuck in an adult world, which in turn makes me wonder what world her and her sister will be part of as this ever changing world grows fifty shades greyer by the day.

Back in 1990 dressed almost head to toe in green (yes even my underwear had to be green) I entered a classroom with the stares of my fellow pupils and invisible sounds telling me it was not the place for me…perhaps the near accident the year before should have told me to listen to my instincts and run, but alas there was nowhere and nobody to turn to. I can still recall my classes that day, which included drama and German – giggling to myself at learning that Varter was German for father, which to my 11 ¾ year old ears sounded like farter and very appropriate for my dad! The school was different in how my old one had operated, but ultimately left me just as miserable as its predecessor with bullies and time on my own. My teachers however for the most part were excellent, and as someone that likes to learn thrived under ones like my Latin teacher that encouraged everyone no matter how good or bad you were. Her methods are ones I use myself whenever teaching or supporting someone, and still wish in part I had studied Latin at St Andrew’s University as I considered back in 1996 in tribute to her, but my PhD did involve the Romans so in a way I have done.

The impact of those year years left scars that even now I can feel throughout my body, but they are beginning to heal with the passing of time combined with good friendships that help me to see how naive and stupid the bullies were. I have achieved more than even I thought was possible when I packed my clarinet away and left them behind at the Usher Hall with a smile and the largest sigh of relief that had ever been heard in its corridors. This was just after being pushed off the platform while singing our school song and national anthem to say to me even in our final moments as pupils they did not accept me as one of their own. Ironically, I officially left a month before but had come back to play my clarinet at the request of the head of music, to which I had agreed as long as did not need to follow uniform restrictions to rehearsals! Even now I do not wish any of them ill or bad times, but as someone that knows karma eventually comes a knocking, it will do what needs to be done. My name in full is still one I struggle to own as tainted with the echoes of their laughter, but grown to prefer my shorter form as shows those that really know me to use it.

Going forward the echoes and laughter will eventually go as let the last scar heal, I promised myself I would not pick them. So what will the next eight years bring, twenty seven is far to hard to imagine…well as Coldplay sang – “You can take a picture of something you see. In the future where will I be? You can climb a ladder up to the sun. Or write a song nobody has sung. Or do something that’s never been done” – I intended to do them all and more as this woman can. What I have learnt is that there will always be some that judge and make assumptions, or make our lives hell as their own is not very good, but they do not know the real us and the best action is to show them we do not care to how far we have come.

© Fi S. J. Brown

It’s a crackpot life

Each of us has our own unique flaws, like cracked pots and vases. These cracks and flaws are not bad things but make our lives interesting and rewarding. We need to accept people as they are and look for the good in them, not dwell on negatives or taint with constant hate and jealousy. Nobody and nothing is perfect, and that’s what so priceless about it.

All too often we focus on the bad and negative, forgetting there is a lot of good and positive out there. We are human shaped, not fat or thin, flexible and adaptable not out of shape. Taking time to appreciate all the different kinds of people in our lives, better to colour in life with every crayon than colour with a single one; imagine a world in rainbow compared with sky blue. Living the crackpot life.

© Fi S. J. Brown

The whisper of 38

I sit here writing this as my thirty eighth birthday is almost whispering in my ears, and have decided to write another of my reflective pieces considering what this year been has been like and what I would like the next one to bring. Last year after being asked what I would like the next year to bring I wrote about the jigsaw puzzle of life and hoping it would mean a key piece would fall into place, which was followed by finding a physical jigsaw piece sat on the bench at a local bus stop a few days later; I still have the piece and plan to frame it to remember this year and what it has brought.

So what has the last year brought? In the past people’s negative comments were like being shot with a loaded gun, with positive ones unable to stitch up the bullet holes and would end up being pricked by the needles of others that tried to as did not always have my best interests at heart. However, I have learnt over the last decade to deal and cope with health issues particularly with my mental health, i.e. depression and anxiety to poor body and self image, which this year although tested at times, including a tearful breakdown at Easter, I have bounced back from and have served to remind me why I nickname myself Zebedee (the Jack in the box in the Magic Roundabout) as I will bounce back from whatever life throws at me. I know now I am a strong woman despite my extreme sensitivity and I may hurt me initially but it will not stop me from saying ENOUGH I will dance in the rain as the thunder and lightning roar for they will not drown me or kill me.

Did I find that key piece of jigsaw? Yes is the shortest answer but it is far from simple. I started the year by reflecting back to my teenage years, as realised I needed to learn from my mistakes from then to the present to truly be in the present and dream the impossible dream of the future not yet written. By the age of around 15 I knew what mattered to me and the path I felt drawn to, yet let myself be swept in a series of waves without remembering I could swim and could do alone if necessary. Others made recommendations which I followed almost blindly, but that only lead me up dead ends, as I did not question them and thought they knew better than I did. The truth is only we know ourselves as only we walk this life with our knowledges, skills and experiences, thus walking another’s path is like wearing our neighbour’s high heels for ten miles and wondering why we have blisters all over our feet.

I have interests and passions that I no longer hide from as thought others would bully and/or hate me for more as well as accept me as a ragdoll made up of all my many experiences and adventures in life so far not an ogreous beast my head had painted. Through the clarity of the ragdoll now in my head I saw she was also symbolic of the support and help I give others and what I learnt from them, which is stiched together not with needles that will hurt me but with love from my closest of friends. For those that try to fire bullets now do so out of jealousy, envy and greed as do not like that another stands up for themselves and that of others; putting the voice of the abuser or bully to mute and turning up those that deserve to be heard. For this is my key piece, this is what and who I am to others and must do for myself too.

So what would I like the next year to bring? Well I knew a long time ago I would never have children of my own but my youngest niece reminds me of the magical innocence and imagination we can have in this world and exploring it at times together will keep me seeing it afresh and perhaps a touch less cynical (if that’s possible); her big sister I gave a copy of my favourite book, Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince), which I hope she learns to love as much as I do in time and the messages it contains. Life as well as a path, journey and jigsaw puzzle is also a maze, which I am near to finding the centre of mine as now know I am on the right path and after finding that key piece in the jigsaw I am certain it is.

I no longer want to build a wall to protect myself from the world, but breakdown them down all over the world and use the bricks to lay new paths for those stuck behind them through discrimination and prejudice. There are some that wallow in the pond of self pity but do not realise it takes part of their soul every time they do, which I try not to do as know my wings would be singed again and this phoenix is ready to fly far and wide this coming year. So watch out, watch me fly without fearing my wings will being clipped or hitting glass doors and I will soar further than I can ever dreamed I could.

© Fi S. J. Brown

 

If

If life feels like you are trapped in someone else’s maze,
Remove their blindfold from your eyes letting in the light.
If you find yourself among the ragged men and plastic women,
Keep your individuality without a surgeon’s knives or needles.
Do not follow the monotone sound of the pied piper’s pipe,
Keep to the rhythm of your heart with its multicoloured tune.

If you feel lost in a forest surrounded by endless trees,
Tackle the roots first don’t try cut them down at the middle.
If something looks or sounds far to good to ever be true,
Listen to that instinctive reaction to run and never return.
Do not look back with painful regret if bitten on the bum,
For that creature will only return to attack again and again.

If you have friends you can trust with secrets that do not tell,
Do not stab them in the back with the knife they gave you.
If you can stop to help others without wanting fame or gain,
As others post on Facebook or Instagram to look at them.
Jealousy is filled with a bitter green liquid that envy loves,
Which spreads from outside to inside until burns you alive.

If your dreams seems to have all turned to rust or in ruin,
Use their foundations to create something even better.
If the world around you rages with thunder and lightning,
Learn to dance in the rain and jump in every puddle.
Getting wet is a simply reminder that you are alive today,
Even if the water is tears that roll down from your eyes.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Questions to ponder (and my answers)

  1. When was the last time you tried something new?
    – Last month, learning the Danish language.
  2. Do you think crying is a form of strength or weakness?
    – Strength, as letting go of what is hurting us and a sign to move on from it as best we can.
  3. Are you living or existing?
    – I try to ensure I live in the moment but some days feel like it is existing by joining the dots going from day to night.
  4. Are you holding on to something you need to let go of?
    – Yes, some personal stuff that still hurts from my past and impacts on the present.
  5. How old would you be if you didn’t know how you are?
    – Mid-70s, feel I have seen the world many times over and so many repeats but yet still room for surprises too.
  6. What makes you smile?
    – Seeing a message from one of my closest friends or my niece Isabella’s excitement at life without the jadeness we gain with age.
  7. When was the last time you listened to the sound of your own breathing?
    – The other day when sat watching autumn leaves fall around me.
  8.  What has life taught you recently?
    – Some people will always judge others by their standards or how they think life should be lived, best not give them your oxygen or time.
  9.  Can you describe your life in six words?
    – A cryptic maze with false paths.
  10. If we learn from our mistakes, why are we always so afraid to make mistakes?
    – As in admitting we were wrong or caused an error leaves us feeling exposed and vulnerable, thus open to pain and hurt.
  11. If life is short, why do we do so many things we don’t like and like so many things we don’t?
    – We dwell too much on negativity and find positivity really hard, but should focus on we do have or are not would like or had.
  12. Is it more important to love or to be loved?
    – Both, as being loved shows us what love is and we should share that with those we feel are important in our lives (not just on anniversaries and special occasions).
  13. What act of kindness were you were once shown that you will never forget?
    – My closest friends by believing in me and encouraging me when I was not able to do so for myself.
  14. What is your goal for the next six months?
    – Find the middle of the maze.
  15. If you could live one day of life over again, what day would you choose?
    – Hard to single out one day as changing things would change who I am now but days filled with good memories I would like to keep being special for their uniqueness.

What about you? What are your answers?

© Fi S. J. Brown

20 Life Lessons

  1. Normal is an abnormal word, everybody lives a life that is normal for them in an ever judging world;
  2. Life is unfair, do not expect something or behave as though you feel it owes you a favour or two;
  3. Do not compare your life with that of another’s, you have your own highs, lows, twists and turns;
  4. Your friendships can help you grow and develop, but require loyalty, honesty and respect to blossom;
  5. Life is too short, so do not waste a minute hating and/or hurting another with envy, jealousy or greed;
  6. When you feel sad and hurt by life, allow yourself to cry aloud and learn to be gentle with yourself;
  7. You are a survivor of life and will learn to dance again after the thunderstorms have crashed around you;
  8. Stop looking for that physical sign to make your decisions, it is an invisible feeling from deep within;
  9. Yesterday cannot be changed and tomorrow lies unwritten, so live in the present moment of today;
  10. You can be old at 35 but young at 70 for age does not mean wisdom and maturity but years around the sun;
  11. How smart or intelligent you are cannot be measured by exams, numbers, letters, or pieces of paper;
  12. You do not have to be an artist or musician to be creative, so let your imagination flow like a child’s;
  13. Communication is key to any relationship you will ever have be it with family, friends or work colleagues;
  14. Your actions will always speak more than words alone, so follow through but do not make false promises;
  15. Arguments are not there to be won, learn to agree to disagree from differences of opinion to your own;
  16. Trust your instincts when feeling someone is being dishonest with you and talk with them but not assume;
  17. Deal with things at the root level before they become trees and forests that overwhelm you;
  18. Your happiness does not depend upon on outside influences, i.e. anyone or anything, it is up to to you;
  19. People can be toxic to you, do not assume everyone has your best interests at heart, even your family;
  20. Be true to yourself and what you hold to be your beliefs, you do not need to defend them to anyone.

© 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

 

 

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