I ‘nose’ depression

Please forgive the apparent typo in the title of this blog, but the nose is on purpose as relates to the topic.

Earlier today I was on Twitter when I saw this video from British television program This Morning, which is an interview with a lady called Carla Bellucci who ‘faked depression to get a £7000 nose job on the National Health Service‘. I could not believe anyone, apart from an actress, could sit on national television spouting the rubbish that falls from her mouth: ‘before I knew it, I had an appointment to see a surgeon within four weeks‘.

Not only does this beg the question why a GP referred her and that feeling down could be fixed with a nose job. As well as why the National Health Service (NHS) surgeon agreed it would pay for the operation. The situation makes a mockery of mental health, particularly depression, to be something trivial and laughable, when it can be both severe and enduring. Never mind the fact it can take over a year to see a psychologist for therapy, as the health service is on its knees as so overstretched on little money.

As someone who has battled body dysmorphia I know that seeing your body as how it is not is hard; this needs therapy not surgery. Sadly for many this seems to be seen as the route to fix what they see as wrong with their bodies. However, one operation can become ten as start finding faults that do not exist as become addicted. Little or no help is offered by surgeons, only interested in making money, and may not understand it could be part of something deeper that a knife cannot fix. People wait years for operations that need them to alleviate pain, for which there is no quick fix.

As Carla is now openly talking about this, thus making money from appearing on television programs such shows as This Morning, will her £7000 be paid back with a small donation to mental health donations? Will there be in repercussions for her lie? I very much doubt it, or if there is it will not be genuine as now so well known. Will it open the flood gates of others to falsely claim mental health to jump queues? She says she was ‘advised’ to lie, who by? If by her GP, then they also need to be investigated. She should have been assessed for the depression, maybe medication, and referred to a qualified professional in mental health.

Carla has got her fifteen seconds of fame, which I feel this was all about. In days past I would have called it a set up by so called PR guru Max Clifford. Carla is there to antagonise us all. However, more fool her as the stigma is dropping and we no longer mock or laugh at mental health conditions; those that do belong in Victorian times not the 21st century. She is an attention seeker that is best off not giving her a further voice, I hope further media outlets decide not to have her on their programs or websites. The last thing we need is another Samantha Brick or Katie Hopkins, which I feel is what she wants to become. I can only be grateful that the television show Big Brother has been axed, as could see her like Ms Brick before her appearing on the celebrity version!

© Fi S. J. Brown

Body Image and Me

This week is #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek and the Mental Health Foundation theme for 2019 is Body Image – how we think and feel about our bodies. This blog is about my experiences with mental health and body image.

Around age 12 I found something in my hair that wasn’t meant to be there. At first I thought I’d been bitten, within a few days there were three of them. I was petrified. Upon visiting my doctor (GP) he confirmed I had alopecia, i.e. hair loss. By the next again week my hair was all gone. The trauma I felt was horrific, but I was offered no psychological help to deal with it, and being British to use the old stiff upper lip to carry on as usual. When I saw a specialist I was kicked under the table by my mum to keep quiet on all. Equally, I had nobody to talk to about it in friends or family, as although my mum also has it, she will never talk about it. My head was already trying to understand my dad leaving the previous year, as well as the changes that a girl’s body go through with puberty. If I tried to ask family I was met with silence. If I cried I was told to go away, as crying only would bring other people down so never to do it.

At school things were little different to home. The majority of my school year took an instant dislike for me, our year size was in the 40s not usual 80s or 90s, and anyone new starting was told ‘nobody is friends with Fiona’. One memorable day, after music class, a gust of wind blew my wig off, and I ran back to the toilet beside the music room to fix it. Only, the queen bitches of my year saw, they not only laughed and pointed but chased me into the toilets. I’ll leave it to you dear read to decide what happened as it pains me even now write or say it aloud.

By the age of 14 I knew I was depressed and suicidal with nowhere to go, and no outlet for the feelings except to swallow them. I looked out of my bedroom window and did not dream only of escape. I wondered if I overdosed on asprin and then jumped if it would kill me, it was two floors down to the ground. I was already not keen on having my photograph taken as most school ones were awful, the mushroom used was often reflected back in my eyes, and made me hate how they looked. With my hair loss all over my body I felt a freak and an ogre. At school I hid many things under my bottle green uniform as forced by mum as well as taking the largest bag you can imagine and doubled as created fear that I would forget something so needed to take all and more with me each day. As I played in various music groups and orchestras as well as sports my bag was like I was off to climb Everest not have a day at school! Yes, this added to the bullying too, but none thought to ask me why I did it.

On my eighteenth birthday I received an unconditional offer to university, my future was away from all of this. Only, my head was still trapped as it had been. Stuck in a little room and finding it hard to make friends. The few times I did go out I was petrified. I thought to myself – they will know that’s a wig, they’ll laugh at you, it will fall off in the pub or if you go clubbing you’ll have another epileptic fit. So I stayed at home and studied, with music being the continued friend it had been through school and allowed me a few escapes from my new cage. The feeling of being an outsider never went away, and how I looked only grew worse as felt everyone else was far more pretty than I was in every way. I was blessed with friends, but one day I was visiting one and hiding in the loo after breaking down in tears I heard his flatmate say about him inviting an ‘ugly bint’ to the flat. I fled the flat in floods of tears, my friend tried to follow, but I didn’t want to be caught. Another time my wig blew off outside my flat in the pouring rain and wind, I caught it but it was covered in mud from the streets. After both I cried my eyes out at how I looked and clearly the rest of the world agreed. I had people shout in the street ‘hey ugly’ and I’d look around, only to be met with laughter. This further made my self image crumble from pieces to dust and would have blown away completely had I let it.

It was not until I was nearly 28 I began therapy, more to deal with issues from family to school than how I felt about myself as kept that under my wig. A woman in December 2006 thought I was mid-40s on a trip to London, which made me think ‘great not only am I old I look almost twice my actual age’!

It was the following year I took my first selfie with a DSLR whilst living and working in Italy against a Roman bathhouse. The image in my head – a freakish ogre, eyes shut as when any picture of me was taken they were shut. And this also was something my brother used to point and laugh at me over, as he took photographs of me after graduating from by then a degree and two masters, and would not grasp how sensitive I am to light or cannot see with one eye! The photograph I took that day shocked me – my eyes were open, and stared at it for ages on the screen – that’s me? That is how everyone is seeing me? I was shaken. By the following year despite therapy things got worse, I didn’t even care now what people thought I looked like as knew I was ugly, a freak, and unloveable. Then the weekend before Easter I tried to take my own life.

In my recovery my camera became my most valuable possession, it forced me to go outside and reconnect with nature through the eyes of a child as I had with my great uncle all those years before. I also decided it was a way to see me, as I tried to find out just who was I? I had such a controlling mum that she controlled every iota of my life at times and knew as I was approaching thirty something had to change. So in some ways I am a hipster who took selfies before mobile phones allowed you to! As I learnt to take and edit images with my camera of the landscapes and nature of the East Midlands, I learnt to use the same minimal approach to editing photos of me until they became over the years when back in Scotland to being just the same process. On returning to Scotland my love of music became as great as it had been since I was a teenager thanks to friends I made. It was like my friend Stephen had hit a gong in my face and the vibrations I felt throughout my body as I awakened both spiritually and creatively. It also let me start to see me through what became a series of lenses – ogre, Picasso, ogre, rag doll, patchwork doll, and finally me.

The major turning point was one photograph I had taken I was me and I was smiling – I thought it was actually a good photograph and pretty good of me. I submitted it to an online exhibition curated by Yoko Ono about smiles. This gave me confidence that I could overcome the self image issues and by then body dysmorphia too. On a whim I took one without my wig, and posted it to Facebook to say ‘so well yeah this is me’ – over 125 likes later it is still my most popular photograph. I also don’t wear a wig in the house (not wearing it while I write this), and even when out walking/photographing I occasionally take it off too. This Easter, 11 years on from the suicide attempt, I explained about my hair loss to my two nieces, which made me realise quite how far I have come.

So what do I see when I look at a photograph now? Can I look in the mirror? I see me, the same image that’s on social media sites, she’s how I look and I’m fine with that. Yes, I shed the odd tear in sorrow for being so hard on myself all those years. I may next to never add chemical colours in the form of make up, but that’s my choice and prefer it that way (burns my skin like too). We can see ourselves through such twisted lenses and minds, but learning about me to focusing on positives about me and taking those photographs helped me to be where I am today. So take selfies, use what lenses you like, add filters too, and maybe you will develop a positive self image too.

© Fi S. J. Brown

My feet doing the talking

This quote is often attributed to Ghandi:

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”

It reminds me of the phrase actions are louder than words as we may talk a good talk but do we actually live by them? These days of social media it all too often that people can make themselves into what they want to be seen as by the world, in some ways reinvent what they may dislike about themselves or not have and be seen in a positive light or new way. Personally I do not see what the point is in doing so as at the end of the day the only person they are truly fooling is themselves. I do not pity them but more shake my head that they feel this is their only way. Equally life has a habit of catching out the liars and thieves, frequently biting them on the bum for doing so. I have been a believer in karma for a long time so let it do the hard work and not seek out to hurt another if they have hurt me or someone I love as know she will ring their bell, maybe not tomorrow but she will, and when does catch up with folks it is best to watch from afar as she does.

On this blog I often write about mental health, my story to experiences and journey so far in life. These are but words from my memories and thoughts, and never expecting anything in return from anyone; if I have made someone stop and think or helped them feel less alone then all good. However, I have also realised I needed to do something beyond my words to help end the stigma of mental health and help those that have no voice to speak up on it or how they feel due to it. Therefore I have decided that on the 1st of July 2018 I am going to let my feet do the talk for a change and walk 20k (12.4 miles) in aid of Scottish charity Support in Mind (Scotland)It is my chance to put these words and thoughts into actions and my habits of walking to ecotherapy to help with my mental health to become part of my destiny. I would be honoured if whoever reads this (if they haven’t already done so) to sponsor me via this link, but do not feel you have to and thanks in advance if you do as greatly appreciated.

I have not fully made up my mind yet but I am considering doing the walk (if not in part) without my wig (I have alopecia universalis) as part of my long term recovery from body dysmorphia as to me that is just as important as walking this walk for those who walk in silence every day as are frightened or abused by another to recovering from their own demons of the past and present. What matters to me is to do a challenge that says to me I can do whatever fate and destiny ultimately have determined my path to be; no matter what stones I may fall over along the way I will keep walking forward and not back as put the bed what has hurt me before and let karma play her games with them. Then I will enjoy the birdsong that reminds me of friends near and far that are walking beside me even if I cannot see them in person very often. I am but one person to change the world around me and ignore the doubters. Remembering it only takes one person to believe in us and when they do the domino effect rolls out on and on, near and far, and together we can change the world for the better.

© Fi S. J. Brown

feet

Watch our language

Mariah Carey is hitting the headlines this week, not for her diva behaviour or music for once, but for acknowledging her mental health and that she has bipolar. Although she may not be a singer I like on many levels, however I have empathy with those that like myself that have mental health conditions, and having friends with bipolar I know the ups and downs even with medication can be horrific to deal with.

However, it is the language that I have seen used that disturbs me the most. Headlines that say she IS bipolar…would we say someone is cancer or diabetes, of course not so why do we say it with mental health? Why does this matter? The way language is used shapes how we see things, and in turn perceive the world around us as words evoke images and ideas. If I said my skirt today is blue and purple I’m sure you all will have an idea of those colours having seen them throughout your lives and interpret how it looks. By calling Mariah bipolar rather than saying she has it has a way to conjure up images of stereotypes from movies or TV shows of what this disease is like and continues the stigma as believe the stereotypical crazy mental health hospital patient. Their individuality is lost as seen as a label not a person. This negativity can effect their self esteem, hope for the future to accepting of help and negatively impacts on recovery to reaching out for help when they need it in the future.

The difference between physical and mental health in the ways we talk about them is from the past filled with scientific misunderstanding to social ignorance, which had those that have them seen as witches to possessed by evil spirits, or even as a sign of weakness or failing. The reality is that these illnesses can happen to anyone; they are biological and arise from a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental impingement. We can no more ‘be’ bipolar than we can ‘be’ cancer. We cannot ‘just get over it’ and is not ‘all just in your head’.

When we have an opportunity with social media to humanise or dehumanise others when we talk about mental or physical conditions, so please think and use your words carefully.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Just talk…

We live at a time when it has never been easier to contact another. With the tap on a mobile/cell phone we can speak by voice, by video, and by text with someone five minutes away to five thousand miles away. We may have 1000s of friends on Facebook, or followers on Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat, yet find in an evening we still have nobody to talk to or go to see the latest Hollywood blockbuster with us. We can send a message to say ‘hello’ but receive no replies, which makes us wonder are they ignoring us, scared of what we will say or ask of them, or perhaps their social media erroneously is showing their presence online. The light has gone green, but no traffic is flowing our way, as wonder who are true friends are, and who is truly there for us when we need it.

We have never been so connected with other people, but we have never been so disconnected. Meet up with a friend and they spend all the time staring blankly at the black mirror we keep in our bags, or take selfies to show off where they are and show off their latest look or plate of food, make others look at who they are with but mock that you are not, almost giving the middle finger to those they did not invite. Making permanent records of our lives, but only it may be far from real; creating a version that we curate as want to be seen a certain way by others, composing near fictional tales of just how great truly is for us (but may also want to create the opposite so that gain the sympathy and empathy of others). Making it near impossible to differentiate from the girl that needs help from the boy crying wolf for the tenth time, how do we know when to ask the question ‘are you okay’?

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, a day that should remind us that a conversation is two way traffic, listening does not mean gazing into our black mirrors and pretend that we have heard or even care what another has said, but being an active participant. It only takes a minute to change somebody’s life, be it a passing smile to a strange in the street to a random compliment on a tattoo they have as like the design, or like on a picture just to say we have seen it and acknowledge what its message is. No matter how dark life may seem, how hopeless and lost we feel, there will always be someone who can help, even if it is not the first person. We need to keep going and learn those that are there for us without judgement, and not tell all we tell them in whispers of gossip, but we must remember to be there for them too in return. So please reach out, tell someone that the rain has return, and tired of trying to learn to dance in the rain to our own beat as all too often it is dancing to another’s that causes the problem. Never feel alone, the darkness lies, and don’t give up.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Mental Health Awareness Week (2017)

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week worldwide, so excuse my little essay that follows. For it is a chance to start those conversations that for some are so difficult to begin we do not know how, and need to listen actively with an open mind that does not judge or laugh back. We all have good days and bad days but when those days seem to merge into one grey mess it can be hard to find the courage to ask for help as do not know who’s hand will grab ours back and those that will push us under to drown us. It is often through surviving through the thick fog we discover our true friends that will always have one hand there for us and the other with a tea/coffee to give with us; sharing experiences and a slice of cake and laughter as realise we do that thing too.

For some the image from Hollywood movies is still very much how they see someone that has any mental health condition, yet the truth it can happen to any of us at any time and we look no different to anyone else. We cannot just ‘snap out of it’ as events can leave scars that may not be visible but inside are ripping us apart days to weeks and months to years later, reliving those times again and again without them ever stopping. We may also have a brain who’s chemistry is out of sync, so need medication in order for it function, just as we may take insulin for diabetes. Finding an outlet such as writing, painting and dance can also help us, but others turn to alcohol and/or illegal drugs, as sometimes we just want it all to stop with a full stop/period.

Going to therapy is a way to express just how we feel, words aloud can be scary and ring on in our minds after we have said them. Letting in a stranger can feel as invasive as brain surgery, which is why a qualified therapist is a must. The current UK general election has even been discussing mental health provision, at a time when many services have been or being axed already perhaps this should have been considered first. Health should not have to be split into health and mental health as adds to the stigma; medicine should be holistic covering body, mind, and spirit as everything is interconnected. We are all human, we all experience this journey uniquely, and we are all loved and appreciated, just remember that. The past is gone but yet still may hurt us, the future is unwritten but we can choose a new path; yet we live in the now, we can support and be there for each other today, and we can end this old stigma on mental health for good.

© Fi S. J. Brown

A cry for help?

Why is it when someone tries (or sometimes succeeds) to take their own life do we call it a ‘cry for help’? When they may have been trying to tell us things just aren’t right but we have either been too busy or could not read the signs. How can we be there for someone when they pretend that all is alright until we have that sudden alarm call that everything is far from ‘fine’?

When I was at my most depressed I likened it to sitting on a rocking chair sat on the edge of a cliff. I could see rocks falling by the side around me yet had nobody that saw them fall but me; I knew that one day the rocking chair would snap and send me hurtling down down to the canyon below. That ‘scream’ would be my ‘cry for help’, and lying at the bottom of canyon was like hitting life’s metaphorical bottom. Sometimes the fall kills us, but sometimes when we fall we find our wings and fly. Could I have let others see the rocks falling? I tried but most were more interested in their own lives or I could not tell how I ended up on the rocking chair in the first place due to fear that led to me losing my words even in therapy. I was not strapped to the chair so yes they could have helped me escape it, but we do not always realise how much things from the past have built up to in my case a cliff one hell of a drop.

So what can we do? Be the friend that actually listens and cares in a two way form, it is not an one way street for what you or I want, it’s what WE want and can do as a partnership. I had one ‘friend’ that after hearing me say I wasn’t good would turn things on themselves before saying they were off or suddenly too busy to talk. Distance should not matter, in these days of text messages and social media a message can be sent in an instant and let another know we care and there if need someone. Yes, it can be hard to admit we are on the cliff or see a friend on the cliff but we need to let others in not shut them out. They can help us set fire to the rocking chair, not burn both of us as some may do in jealousy, envy and/or greed; a true friend does not care about splinters or shards hurting them as worried how and/or why they are hurting us, The burnt remains of the rocking chair can then be pushed over the edge. from which the ashes can act as a fertiliser to help us grow and gain the strength of a tree that formed the chair. Do not be afraid as that one person can be all that it takes to see the view from the cliff that actually shows how far we have come in life and is not the end of the journey.

© 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

World Mental Health Day (2016)

If we lived in a world like something from a science fiction novel where we could go for a full body scan at any time that would tell us what was physically and mentally wrong, which would be followed up with a customised pill to cure whatever was wrong with us, would we live differently to as we do now? Would we be free from bullying and abuse or jealousy and envy? How would we define or set limits to what a normal human body should and should not be capable of? Would a human being’s blueprint be just like we read about in science textbooks? What about individualism? Would we see that as dangerous as all should looks and feel the same with a hive mind? Is being different being abnormal?

Now consider the world we do live in. Why when someone is diagnosed with cancer, arthritis or asthma are our reactions different to dissociative identity disorder, schizophrenia, and anxiety? Why do some let a diagnosis change how they see a person was from the person they knew yesterday? Why are they now not normal, and what therefore is normal? We are not robots or clones, we do not experience this world in the same way as anyone else has or ever will again. A book can only so show much of the human experience, but does not allow for individualism that comes from being true to ourselves and living life the way that is normal for the journey we alone are on.

What about the future? In the past we may have swept problems or issues under the proverbial carpet to locking someone up in an asylum as a danger to society, but even now mental health issues are stigmatised as cannot see by looking at someone how much they are suffering mentally. More and more the world is getting darker with fear, greed, envy and jealousy, instead of light with hope, empathy, compassion, and understanding. Unless some of us start to punch holes in this darkness it will only continue until we all stagger around blind and deaf to the needs of others. Today World Mental Health Day, so let us use it as a stepping stone to hold open doors and windows with light today and every day.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Just Talk

We all have good days and bad days, but it sometimes feels like there are more bad than good until every day is like living at constant night with no light of the moon to give us hope and no stars bursting through to guide our passage. We may try to explain these feelings to family and friends, but ignored by some, laughed at by others, and may even be the source of the darkness themselves. It can feel like there is nobody to talk to as too, as others are too busy living their lives or understands quite why we feel the way we do. So inside we slowly die, but outside wear a mask or three to hide the pain or go unnoticed by others as see no physical change. Then that day comes, there seems to be only one answer, so take that white flag and raise it aloft to say…goodbye for the final time without even a whisper.

Suicide is still seen by many as a selfish act because of the action of taking our own lives and leaving behind many questions that will never get answers. However, few consider what led the person to reach that point or consider looking back there were signs but just did not see them, nor realise how something that left one person untouched traumatised another even decades on. From personal experience, wanting to wave that flag is not an easy option, it is how lonely and actually quite terrifying as realise inside is shattered in pieces and unlike a jigsaw there is no way to put them together again. Mental health is something we must talk about not push under a rug, drug until we can no longer feel or lock people up in hospitals as may hurt us (but really more of a danger to themselves than others).

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day so lets talk not about others with judgement or hate but together in supportive empathy and love. Make time to talk with those that matter to us, even if it is only five minutes, as those five minutes may form a quarter moon or even let the stars shine just for that day. To those that feel it is another of the black days, take this stardust and sprinkle it everywhere you walk, the white flag does not need to be raised. Remember that the past is gone and cannot be change, but yes it may hurt like anything even now in ways that others may never see or hear. Equally, the future is a whisper and never a promise, so make that first step today, as soon you’ll have crossed more than you ever thought we would. Today is all we have, so make the most of it. So lets talk about anything to everything.

© Fi S. J. Brown