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

A little something for World Health Day

By the age of 7 I knew there were tears in not just my eyes but my tummy too. I was sad from school and things that even now feel like razor blades self harm if dwell on them. I did not understand what they meant.

By the age of 14 I knew these tears meant I was depressed but had no outlet for them. Turned away if talked to family and a school guidance teacher that did not understand the wounds bullies leave behind.

By the age of 21 I knew I was an outsider looking in on the world and felt I did not belong. The music that helped so much in my teens now felt like they sang of a life I would never know and forbidden entry to.

By the age of 28 I knew therapy was a must and began to admit openly I had depression. A scary label but it would not define me as a person and would not let the stigma scar me as memories had before it.

By the age of 35 I knew the image inside my head was wrong, I was not an unloveable ogre or Martian that observed earthly activities. Depression still lingered but it was never going to make me take my own life.

I am approaching 39 with optimism. The tears in my tummy are still there but no longer sting as they did. The ogre is vanquished forever to be replaced by a rag doll, made from parts of my story and sewn in love.

Today is World Health Day, which this year focuses on depression. It does not mean someone is crazy and should be locked up. Nor does it mean walking on eggshells around them. Talking is good, listen never judge.

© 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

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

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

 

 

Time, age and life

Are we aware of the passing of time? I saw a band I loved twenty years ago called Ocean Colour Scene being interviewed recently and found myself saying but Simon (Fowler) doesn’t look like that, forgetting how long it had been since I watched him perform last and often listened to their music on vinyl, CD to MP3 and sometimes YouTube. It got me thinking about my age, particularly with assumptions I have encountered and cultural traditions. It is no secret that I will be 38 later this year, but feel stuck in a wilderness where I am too old to be young and too young to be old. Am I middle age and having a crisis or part of an existential crisis?

We see pictures in the media and on websites that tell us anyone over 30 is “past it”. We almost obsess with youth and looking younger than our physical age. I meet people surprised I have not got a partner and/or kids as the age most people have or expected to. Even when I explain it is one of those things that just never happened for me they find it strange; my love life history is as barren as many deserts. I felt for years it was meant for others but not me as thought who would real want to be a partner to a freak like me? The negativity I put upon myself I realise was immense, and perhaps the age old adage of loving yourself first was quite true. I have begun to understand the companionship a partner can bring but do I can let myself be vulnerable with my heart and soul, giving it to another and hoping they are gentle?

I have always felt older than my physical age, I have close friends in their 70’s that I feel more affinity with and understanding that many of my peers, yet doubtful I will ever reach that actual age. I have always admired those that are older than me for their wisdom and knowledge; spending time with my great uncle was my favourite time in childhood, when not let loose among the shelves of a bookshop, collections of a museum or gallery, at an art sale buying a new painting to adorn the family home and listening to music (often live with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra).

I have been called an old soul to an indigo child by some as seem older and wiser than my peers. I have feelings I know things from my past without remembering reading about them or seen a pattern emerge for at least the second time in this lifetime. One of my childhood memory is of my parents’ frequent dinner parties in the 1980s; I was to take the coats of their guests and put them on my parents’ bed (before going to my own bed). However, I always ensured they knew where the light switch was; many found me amusing to strange, for as I showed them I would say how important it was to know where the light was in the world as there so much darkness already. Something I echo now decades later, as often tell others to be the light and not turn someone else’s off or leave them alone in the dark.

Am I young or older, or does it really matter? We can be old at 25 but young at 75. As someone that has followed mindfulness for almost a decade I know the importance of the present moment, trying to let the negativity I put on myself become neutral if not positive. Tomorrow is not promised to any of us, so perhaps I need to remember the advise I give others and just let what is meant to be, be, and let go of expectations of others, we are whatever is normal for us. I do not believe in fairy tales but I know I am a phoenix that can come back from the ashes as I am a survivor of life. Grasping opportunities that come my way and learning lessons from my past, as I take my next step on the stepping stone that is the journey of my life.

© Fi S. J. Brown