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

Prisoner F

Sticks and stones they threw in words and laughter bruising my skin,
Painting all in shades of purple, blue and red that nobody could see.
Hurting feet with a blade to answer why as rivers fell from my eyes,
Feeling trapped like prisoner all in green on life sentence at row M.

Outcast as nobody dare make friendship with the one with my name,
Only a fool would try but soon learnt to toe the unwritten party line.
Writing SOS notes in Latin hoping someone would hear my cries,
But would never take a final bow as wouldn’t give that final pleasure.

As stage was set for the final act I was pushed out and shown my place,
Forever on the sidelines not upfront with those I journeyed long with.
About to be released into the world with freedom as served my time,
For a bespoke crime that had been created for me by my fellow inmates.

They say that time can heal the pain but can never heal my scars,
Forgiving and forgetting actions now memories only takes me so far.
But I have no place for hateful thoughts or plotting my revenge,
They are but footnotes in a journey that they’ll know or understand.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Memories

Memories are curious things, one song or smell and we are taken back to a time or event that is just a something from our past. I sit writing this in Aberdeen, at the campus of the university I attended for degree and first masters and finished almost fifteen years ago, but it is like a different world from my time at the university as now based by the River Dee as a very modern single site campus not spread out over the city. I have have visited twice briefly since my time living here, once for a job interview eleven years ago and seven years ago for a gig, making memories of the city mostly from when I lived here before.

Upon arrival by coach, just as I had when I first visited Aberdeen to an university open day in early 1997 the city’s grey stood out, it is not nicknamed the ‘granite city’ for nothing, one could say it had fifty shades of grey before it was cool! I wandered briefly around before taking the bus to my current destination with a mix of memories that flooded back and new ones being made. Sites like the Music Hall and His Majesty’s Theatre that brought back music to my ears from concerts to musicals I attended there and others that had been the soundtrack to my days living there. Street names jumped out in my memory of the events that took place on them, Market and Union Streets and others such as South Silver Street I finally knew the name of. I laughed upon seeing a bar called The Grill on Union Street that famously did not have a woman’s toilet until 1998 (it did not allow women at all until 1975) and smiled on remembering my project management lecturer saying he’d be propping up the bar if needed help with his course.

Shops and bars that were like friends but now had changed but not gone either; Ottakers bookshop where I sat many a Saturday afternoon with a tea and book is now Waterstones, and Triple Kirks the pub which was a firm favourite of many studying at Schoolhill and St Andrew’s Street without its pew seats. This in turn reminded me of an event forever ingrained in my memory – my friends doing a pub crawl with a 6ft inflatable alien called Hilary, who did it all from karaoke with Fraser to Iain’s attempts to keep it blown up before either Ewan or Rich put their cigarette out on it until they were no more. Nobody knew if Hilary was meant to be male or female, perhaps they were truly gender fluid before we mentioned such things as do now. There are also many statues in the city centre such as Edward VII and William Wallace but it is the lion war memorial that is the one I remember most as forever an almost unspoken right of passage by students in the near by Woolmanhill halls of residence to ride the lion during their fresher’s year when drunk (no reader alas I never did).

I come back to the university and sat in what is now where students would go to learn similar to I had in my day. One friend from my student days remained here and is now a lecturer. I had went to see the university library, which in my time had been a subject specific one in my part of the campus and remembered someone sneaking in fish and chips to it! I usually hid in the jurnal section so not to be disturbed but in later years  Alex and MC joined me with MC’s pile of biscuits and donuts that never got even a tut from the librarians! Computers around everywhere for students to use where as we had a few open access rooms in the building and one specifically for us within Applied Sciences; giggling at the thought of a lecturer searching for water sports but got the wrong kind, which led to a firm talk at the start of every year on being careful when surfing the internet. I thought of people I had known then and those I have contact with now, how life had panned out for us and what we expected it to.

Recently I read something that said our past is just stories we tell ourselves in the present, and being back in Aberdeen made that statement feel so very true. All the memories I have sat writing about are just stories of the five years I lived here, the city has changed but so had I in so many positive ways, equally there are many parts that remained just the same and can say the same of myself. The past may make us who we are now but the present is all we truly ever have, for the future is a whisper and not a promise. We do not skip to the end of a book to see what happens in the end, we take it page by page just as life is a page in the book of our life. Finally, life should be led like a piece of music, it can only be truly enjoyed in one direction with all that it brings with it, and dancing the rhythm of our life not anyone else.

© Fi S. J. Brown

The strangest feeling

Last week I kept getting baby thoughts in my head, a miracle birth much like the one many were to celebrate later that week, which followed a day later by an old friend announcing the birth of her daughter after years of health issues. I was genuinely overjoyed as know how far she has come to get where she is now, achieving many things that to me still seem and are impossible for different reasons. The smile on my face however was not to last as I received a message on Facebook to tell me news of a girl I was at school with twenty years ago, she had overosed and taken her own life. Both people knew each other but one had been an off and on friend for over twenty five years and the other had been one of the bullies that reduced me to tears and suicidal thoughts throughout my teens. I felt numb. As someone that writes and campaigns for an end to the stigma on mental health as well as being naturally empathetic, I wondered what had happened to the girl I had known and had she secret torment that had no voice. It was not a sign of weakness or selfishness to take her own life,  as when the rocking chair at the edge of the cliff breaks, it takes a very strong person to fling on, I have been there and it is not a pretty view or one I ever wish to see again.

I scanned my year photographs from high school that I intended to burn years ago and sent them to the girl that told me the news. I saw people’s faces and names I had not seen in twenty years trickle down my Facebook news feed as comments came in on pictures she and others posted. I could not bring myself to ‘like’ anything as was like being back in the playground with her usual French taunt in my ringing in my ears. Was I being selfish? Feeling that my pain was important as they were my experiences and memories of this girl, but ultimately felt they should be secondary to her friends and family dealing with the aftermath of suicide. It all left me with the strangest of feelings; nothing in life can prepare you for it and know what is right or wrong to feel or say. It comes at a time when I am considering setting up an organisation to support, spread awareness and educate on invisible illness such as depression to fibromylagia and endometriosis as feel along with my writing I need to take it to the next level but uncertain what way just yet. Perhaps her death shows how much pain we carry with us; we may have nobody to share it with or know where to turn. Just remember dear reader someone does care and will listen without judgement, never ever give up and always rember my mantra, believe it again. 

© 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

World Book Day 2016

Today is World Book Day. My immediate thoughts are taken back over twenty years to my high school biology classroom with Mr Dickson as I learnt the subject for my standard grades. He told my class that the longest book some people will read other than our exam paper would be a catalogue that came through the door selling clothes to household goods. It simply took my breath away that some could ever read so little in their lifetime. Coming back to the present I find myself wondering how many now would not read anything more than Facebook posts to Tweets, which brings a few tears to my eyes.
 
However, given the average reading age of the UK population is 9 years – that is, they have achieved the reading ability normally expected of a 9 year old, should I really be so surprised? I discovered recently that The Guardian newspaper has a reading age of 14 and the Sun has a reading age of 8. As someone who reads a lot each day, websites to academic journals to books (fiction and non-fiction) I realise part of me takes for granted this skill and the academic study I did. I first started to learn age four and my eldest niece is beginning to master it, which is beautiful to see. Unlike writing, which I could not do on starting school and still so tiny that many ask for a magnifying glass!
 
Books are ways to get lost in adventures or learn how to do new things, sharing one with a child with funny voices is something enjoyable and laughing out loud on the bus when caught should be smiled upon. However, I am aware some find this difficult due to dyslexia, I cannot imagine how difficult it can be in a world that focuses much on the written word, especially that upon the screen. Nevertheless, books should not be confined to the classroom or bedtime, but instead of mobile phones stuck in our hands with our faces and hands glued to them replace them with a novel, play, poetry, or kindle. Ask friends for suggestions and get caught reading something other than your Facebook news feed, as may find unlike when at school you may enjoy doing it.
 
© Fi S. J. Brown

Art and mindfulness

Look around you, what is the closest piece of art you can see? It maybe a copy of a painting as your computer or phone’s wallpaper, it maybe a tapestry on the wall, a photograph framed of a memory, which now all that remains is that solitary image, a vase made of glass or clay with flowers freshly picked from the garden, a doodle drawn while talking on the telephone last night, the mug that holds the now cold mug of tea, or a piece of music on YouTube. Art is everywhere and anywhere around us, fighting for our eyes attention before letting the other senses join in the party. We all live in our own museums and art galleries of our own device and curation.
 
Now imagine you came from a distant future, try to see through the eyes of some futuristic persona, and look at the piece of art you chose again with fresh eyes. Each one is full of unique colour, shape, purpose, texture, age, and design. Note in your mind or write down what your piece of art has. For example: I’m looking at cross stitch that hangs in the middle of my bookcase, which has my name and birth date upon it, but there is a flaw in the A as one x was stitched in the wrong place. Also, the child does not look like me as it has blonde hair and I am a brunette. Finally, I look at the flowers of pink and purple falling like rain from the sky that match the umbrella or parachute I’m attached to as I come to land in a gap between four houses.
 
Works of art gather meanings beyond the surface because we give them one; sometimes trying to understand the mind of the artist that made, but it could also be something that we have added sentimentality to, maybe it is an every day object that we do not look at beyond the function of it, and occasionally it is seen as something disposable as was only belonging to that one moment. By considering seeing them with eyes of the future we see new meanings that they may have otherwise never had, as the way we see them is based past and not what they mean to us now. We get so used to seeing the every day around us, they lose their original stories and why or how we chose to have them. What would archaeologist of the future think?!
 
This is like seeing our problems and/or issues, by seeing them with fresh eyes we can see them a different way and see how they impact on us now. For example realising the abuse we suffered as a child occurred twenty five years ago, but acknowledging the amazing things we have done despite this pain and beautiful person we are that would hurt nobody. Equally, it maybe a regret for not taking an action, which we feel may have brought us happiness and/or success, but remember we have things in the present that also make us happy with their own successes. Be focused not just on the present moment but appreciating what we have now is what matters.
 
© Fi S. J. Brown

The Glass Vase a.k.a Life

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

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

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

© Fi S. J. Brown

Bonfire Night

It was the fifth of November
When suddenly out of the still and foggy evening sky
Came a loud bang from the left and scream to the right
As splashes of colour glimmered for seconds above me

Smells of chemicals drifted by
Visual memories of childhood flashed before my eyes
Before jumping with another bang louder than before
Like an unseen enemy approaching closer and closer

The whistling did not stop them
The echoing of spits and bangs sounding like guns
As the red then seemed to dominate the colour above
Had the troops now gone over the top in war’s name

Sparklers waved in the distance
Catching my left eye with their hypnotic swaying song
A sign of hope that all was not lost to this new enemy
And the stars would soon return to wish upon again

© Fi S. J. Brown

The Parental Split

It is funny how some days and events are engrained in the memory long after they occurred. Twenty five years ago my parents marriage was over, the day is as clear now as then, combined with being muted of words and feelings to be expressed left me alone and unable to express the world I now felt part of. I already knew things were not right with their marriage, and my father leaving for another woman did not surprise either as already knew he was having an affair with someone else but as an eleven year old I was not able to say as much as was what my instincts had said for months. My father was the parent I could trust, my mother was not, making the blade of pain that bit sharper that felt like it cut me up day after day as she sunk in her venom like a snake.

I hurt for days to months and years after the day itself as like so much in life it is the ripple or domino effects we feel from the actions of others. It is only as an adult can I put myself in the shoes of both parents; to think of and empathise with the emotions and feelings they were going through. What that day continues to teach me is how important communication is and the children should not be left in tearful mute because the adults do not talk on issues. My father managed to highlight again how poor a communicator he and my mother are by neither expressing what the “split” actually meant. Why could someone not say it meant it was over. My step mother could not understand as I tried to explain to her things I could not change or have done differently then when in contact after a decade of paternal estrangement.

I have learnt that we need to talk to each other and accept things in life, no matter how hard they seem today because these are the foundations of tomorrow. Thus dwelling on the past means we cannot enjoy what the present has and it soon will be but a memory too. I may not speak to my father again but that is my choice as this day was the domino for times he’s hurt and/or let me down when I have tried. My mother still will never move on from that day, many a time she still sees me as that eleven year old girl, not the woman of almost thirty seven. All our actions have consequences, so remember that and the ripples they touch (the good and the bad). Life is not disposable, nor is it recycled, so appreciate those that bring us joy and love, not bring us down with negativity and jealous hate.

© Fi S. J. Brown