Depression

Depression is like being frozen in time and held prisoner in a cage with no bars. Filled with unseen, unheard, unspoken, unreleased and unhealed pain. Therapy can help give it a voice and shape, medication can temporarily numb and allow us to live, but the real difference comes from deep within. We have to defrost, work through it (slowly and sometimes repetitively) and release ourselves. It is not just the shadows that haunt, but repression of causes that may now have grown into forests as never dealt with the roots as saplings.

We still live in a world that encourages us to bury rather than express, manage rather than deal with, and silence rather than speak. This just makes us replay old thoughts like broken records, making enemies with our own being, and unable to move on as becomes lost in the forests of our own creation. There is no golden axe that can chop them down to the roots, but defrosting our feelings so no longer trapped in time, and forgive ourselves so we can be free. No more damming up our emotions as scared of the rivers that may flow from our eyes, let down the flood barriers and open our mouths to speak our feelings aloud.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Summer 2020

Summer is here, and for some of us the summer vacation/holidays have begun. However, this year with lockdown/quarantine the annual break from work has taken a different turn as for most of us it will be spent at home. Some airlines will be flying to take us away, but how many of us will risk catching Covid-19 in so doing?

It is also the time of year when we have adverts to pressurise us to loose weight for fitting into a bikini or swimming costume. The world is full of TV, magazines, and diet talk constantly reminding women of the young, smooth, skinny ideal. Men are not exempt from this either. Some blame on the rise of social media, and the narcissistic selfie culture that the late fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld rather accurately aptly described as ‘electronic masturbation’. However, reality tv shows such as ‘Love Island’ brainwash viewers with an idealised version of how both men and women should be in the 21st century. Then there are celebrities and influencers on social media, who edit their images and lives, and so when we do not match they can leave a big hole in our self confidence, self image and mental health, leading to depression and even suicide.

Despite lockdown, the pressure for the impossible ‘perfect body’ for the summer still seems to be in full swing, although much of our normal routines have changed, temporarily to permanently. Also, there have been many jokes about haircuts done during this time as cannot access a professional to do it for us. Equally, some have gained or lost weight as ways to cope with these strange times. I also realise this pressure will keep continuing as people return to their works and routines beyond the summer. Have you seen the Facebook meme entitled “When You Meet Your Friends After Quarantine,” which shows toddler girls baring their admittedly adorable bellies which they bonk together? So how can we be ourselves, comfortable in our own skins, when there is pressure to be something we are not? How do we combat these messages, and the negativity they may bring to our mental health?

It is not easy, but gratitude is a good starting point. Being grateful to our bodies for getting us through another day, and keeping going through an enormously stressful time for all human beings. For some keeping a journal writing five positive things each day about themselves may help, or even sharing them on social media to encourage others to join in. Finally, accepting that there is no such thing as a ‘perfect body‘, in fact in some ways every type of body is their type of perfect. A couple of quotes I like says it all from anon: “The number on the scale does not define your health or your worth” and “Imagine if we obsessed about the things we loved about ourselves.

© Fi S. J. Brown

 

 

T’s Song

Inspired by a friend’s experiences with autism, mental health and divorce during the coronavirus lockdown.

These four walls are not my home
I’m sat afraid and crying all alone
Trapped in a cage with no bars
There’s no freedom from here for me
Looking through the eyes of change
Shining like the evening sky’s stars
And a cold that makes me shiver
There’s no freedom from here for me

But through the darkness whispers
A light in the forest breaks
Gentle birdsong calls out my name
Singing out across the land
So high up into the heavens
There’s no freedom from here for me

I was blinded by your foolish love
Wandered from across the country
To be in the arms I thought understood
There’s no freedom from here for me
And the diagnosis nobody understands
The meltdowns as cope with uncertainty
A desert that grows barren by the day
There’s no freedom from here for me.

But through the darkness whispers
A light in the forest breaks
Gentle birdsong calls out my name
Singing out across the land
So high up in the heavens
There’s no freedom from here for me

Knowing this is where my story may end
Poor in wealth, body, mind and soul
Standing too close to the edge of the cliff
There’s no freedom from here for me
Burned out like days old cigarette butts
Awaiting fate’s final twisting tale
Defrauded of every love and need
There’s no freedom from here for me

But through the darkness whispers
A light in the forest breaks
Gentle birdsong calls out my name
Singing out across the land
So high up in the heavens
There’s no freedom from here for me

© Fi S. J. Brown

Be Kind

It is Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK, which this year is on the theme of kindness. In modern life it has be come a norm to overlook many things in life—to shrug it off, roll our eyes, and simply walk away. We avoid interaction on a very basic level unless on social media. Prior to lockdown, we missed so many opportunities to extend our human kindness to each other and ourselves.

Life was like a fast-paced chess game with no end. Trying to to stay two steps ahead of ourselves as went from A to B, our brains would be filled with worries and thoughts. We saw poverty, abuse, disease, war, hunger, bullying, and violence on the news and online, so often it was so overwhelming that we choose to do nothing. We did not have time or energy to do something someone else, as did not even make time for ourselves.

As human we have a gift that can change ourselves and others – that of kindness. It can be a smile at a passing stranger or a comment on Facebook. Equally it can be having that piece of cake without feeling guilty. It costs nothing. It is a true kindness when we don’t expect anything in return, like gratitude or reciprocation; we simply want to make someone feel better.

Finally, kindness is good for our health. Being kind regulates our heart rate; we get a warm, cosy feeling. Our brain releases dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins, all of which make us happy. So don’t be hard on yourself for any weight gained during lockdown, or the grey hairs are starting to show, we all are struggling.

Life cannot carry on as before, we need to throw away this idea of normal. We are all unique, there is no such thing as an average human life or being. Instead, lets be kind and respectful to ourselves, others and the world around us.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Coronavirus – Mental Health & Well-being

As many of us are now at or going to be at home for longer periods than usual, maintaining good mental health is as important as washing our hands and physical health.

Here are some tips for maintaining good mental health in these uncertain times:
1. Know what you can control and what you cannot. We do not need to watch television putting fear and scaremongering us. Equally, what we read or watch online can lead to mass hysteria and panic. Take all in sparingly, if at all. There are too many uncertainties that will only lead to anxiety if we let those feelings take hold;
2. Do what makes you feel safe. If that is self isolation due to existing conditions, then do not feel guilty about it, but do not isolate due to depression (I’ve been there and it’s not a path to follow). If sharing silly pictures on Facebook that helps then do so, as we can all use the laugh, but remember humour can be objective too so do not use it to turn to xenophobia or racism;
3. Get some fresh air. The garden can be a great place to focus energy into something positive, and can feel a sense of achievement. Otherwise, try go for a walk, even briefly, get yourself some vitamin D and appreciate there is more positives in the world than negatives at any time;
4. Create something new. It doesn’t have to be a work of art, a Beethoven symphony, or epic novel, but could equally be making a cake or biscuits to eat while working from home. Equally, you can use the internet to discover something new like a new band or author, which you could then download to a tablet to read/listen to;
5. Challenge yourself to stay in the present, which can be hard when worrying about an uncertain future to how much better things seemed only a few months ago. Notice the sights, sounds, tastes and other sensory experiences, using mindfulness techniques to help ground you when find your mind drifting off into negativity and hopelessness;
6. Stay connected, and reach out when needed, use social media and telephones to talk to people. Even if in social isolation, this does not mean you can speak or see someone even if it is remotely. It can be a comfort to know someone is there, even if it is just a quick reassurance that they are there.

Do not try to be a hero, a bit like the plane safety demo – only fix another’s mask when you have fixed yours. It’s ok not to be ok at any time, do not feel alone, as we are here for each other.

© Fi S. J. Brown

 

Hair Loss and Body Dysmorphic Disorder

My first blog for Mental Health Awareness Week 2019 is on my experiences of Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) and hair loss.

In 2013 researchers found hair loss could even lead to exaggerated feelings of ugliness and, in the worst cases, trigger BDD, where sufferers experience acute anxiety about their looks. Doctors found that the ‘enormous emotional burden’ of going bald could lead in some cases to low self-confidence, mental disorders and even impaired quality of life. In fact some have said those with BDD, hair loss second most common issue, with further suggestion that it affects men more than women, but I am uncertain how true this is as I felt devoid of any femininity for many years due to my own hair loss. Much of the media reporting has been on men too, but to me this just adds to the taboo of female hair loss.

With all the twisted images and lies that the media (printed and social), it is no wonder we all feel bad about our appearances , and judge them against them. Many think of eating disorders with regard to BDD, but in my case it was loosing my hair completely over twenty five years ago. Hair loss is not just a cosmetic issue, hair transplants are neither cheap or for everyone, and can have far reaching consequences – and an underlying impact on well-being.

As well as hair loss, I struggled with self identity, bullying and abuse adding to the deadly cocktail that left me feeling like a freak and ogre. I was offered no psychological help at any stage with the trauma of dealing with being 13 (I am almost 41 now) and having no hair left on my body made me wish I actually had cancer as perhaps people might understand more, or I would have had offers of such help. My hair will probably never fully grow back, it did once but fell out again a year later, and almost twice but stress kicked in. I will always remember one little boy pointing at me, and asking if I had holes in my head when he saw patches, all I could do was run away and cry.

Being laughed at by my peers at school made me petrified to spend a few days away on a school trip with them…would they try to steal my wig in the night as some would find it funny? I would not have put it past them, but I kept it on all the time and cried myself to sleep each day. I did not want to be there; I even claimed home sickness to my teachers, when in reality home wasn’t where I wanted to be either. I was suicidal and rather be dead. By the time I did escape to university, I was so scared to be social as thought it might come off, and be laughed at anew by those I lived or studied with.

I have never had sexual attraction or a sex drive, I identify as asexual, which in turn was maybe a blessing in disguise. Nobody was attracted to me, or so I felt, so perhaps it was a good thing as how would I explain my hair loss. I struggled with every day life in terms of knowing who I was, self love, and identity as to me I was always in my narcissistic mother’s shadow and hair loss robbed me of any chance to fight back with individuality. I was so sure everyone knew I was wearing a wig, pointing and laughing at me in the street, or gossiping behind my back.

It took my love of photography to start the fight back, and win the war against my BDD. Photographs as I said at the start can be manipulated, but start off by someone taking them, and as someone who hated others taking my image I think taking them myself was equally about having that control of the image. Every time a family member took one of me my eyes are shut, I am blind in one eye and highly sensitive to light, so my eyes shut with sunshine to flashes, but he would routinely humiliate me having my eyes shut to laughing at me refusing to have him take any pictures of me. When your mind already says you’re a freakish ogre, you do not need this added to the cocktail. So turning the camera on me allowed me to see me, the raw bare faced image that the camera took. Over years, and selfies became a thing, I saw myself develop like an old film photograph. Now images of me by me are like the others I take, they are snapshots in time, which I do not manipulate as would not be truly me. Recently a student at work, who was working of self esteem, had to write something positive about everyone – her’s to me was ‘different and talented’ (I had to resist giving her a big hug).

I have learnt that my body is a shell; people see an outer layer but only as we let them closer do they see the different layers that make us who we are, with very few seeing our skeleton being. I may have very judgemental people in my family, but I have never been one except of my own self. BDD can still try crawl back, but like the black dog that is my depression, this dog’s begging will not result in treats! Ignoring those, or removing them completely, that bring us harm is just as important to do with ourselves – cutting out the toxicity we have for ourselves.

© Fi S. J. Brown

 

 

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

Mindful Walking

Modern life is so incredibly hectic. Squeezing in time for ourselves between work, family, and social commitments has become an increasing narrow to invisible line. We are led to believe that being busy is good, where as idleness is bad. We must always be somewhere, doing something, and yet some still complain of being bored!

Last summer, my dad and a good friend passed away, and my mum had a hip replacement. I became overwhelmed with life to the extent that I couldn’t begin to process my losses, I knew I was not coping with life, and realised I had to go back to enjoying simple pleasures, which would allow me space to grieve alone, and help me to de-stress, such as a peaceful walk through the countryside.

I recently read that on average, we spend only three minutes out of every hour fully focused on the present moment. Who wants to go through life feeling trapped in a busy mind 95% of the time? Whilst it’s impossible to flick the brain’s off switch, perhaps we can at least press pause now and again.

You have probably heard and seen the word ‘Mindfulness’, as seems to be the latest buzz and trend, but is similar to many existing and older practises, including that of stoicism. Stoicism is at its root, a philosophy for minimising the negative emotions in our lives and maximising our gratitude and joy.

Marcus Aurelius was a stoic philosopher and Roman emperor said: “Every hour focus your mind attentively…on the performance of the task in hand, with dignity, human sympathy, benevolence and freedom, and leave aside all other thoughts. You will achieve this, if you perform each action as if it were your last…”

Within stoicism, the most important feature to maintain was noted by Epictetus is prosoche, which can be translated as ‘attention’ [Discourses 4.12]: ‘Do you not realize that when once you have let your mind go wandering, it is no longer in your power to recall it, to bring it back to what is right, to self-respect, to moderation?’ 

So what is Mindfulness? Essentially, mindfulness is about using some straightforward techniques to help let go of stress and live in the present moment, free of judgement, and ultimately find more peace and fulfilment. I try find myself enjoying the moment by taking in a scene with every sense such as paying closer attention to the texture, appearance and taste of the food that I eat, to simply closing my eyes and tuning into the sounds around me when around water, just to find a moment of calm. Then bringing my attention back to the deep inhale and slow exhale of my breath when my mind inevitably starts to wander.

Life is not an ‘one size fits all, so what works for me may not work for you. It’s about working out what feels right for you. For me I find it best when I am out walking, whether in a forest or walking down the street to work, concentrating on the world around me and try to let it hold my attention, while I gently push away any unwelcome thoughts. I equally listen to birds singing to sheep bleating, and imagining it was a conversation I was eavesdropping in on. What are they gossiping about? Has the baby lamb lost his mummy…AGAIN!?

Equally, we can write, draw, paint, and/or dance what it is we’re experiencing. I love sitting with a pot of tea writing that moment, looking up images on the internet or out my window and letting my senses paint the scene, to photographing a scene to remember the experiences I felt in that moment later, and even gardening imagining the lives the ladybirds live that I see as I weed around them.

So why not try it for yourself? Put on your shoes or boots and go exploring, there is no right or wrong way to experience the world around us, but by putting away our mobile phones or switching off our televisions to see what lies beyond the black mirror and box can be life changing. Making time for ourselves and wanting to take time out should not be seen as bad things, but good things to maintain good mental health and wellbeing.

© 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

What is the best gift you’ve ever received?

I was reading blogging prompts and ideas when I came across this one…What is the best gift you’ve ever received? The Oxford Dictionary defines the word gift as: “A thing given willingly to someone without payment; a present”, which I feel perfectly sets the tone of what to me is the best gift.

I could say my DSLR camera that has taken me on many personal journeys, both physically, mentally and spiritually. It assisted me with therapeutic photography, which in the last ten years since I was given it has in turn given me self acceptance and love. However, I put money towards it, and if I take the dictionary definition it does not fit.

Equally, the answer may be my exercise bike, which I have travelled 1000s of km on since I was given in Christmas 2017. It has given me the needed push to exercise more, even when it is cold and wet outside I can mount it, and put music on, to be taken to other places, as use my imagination to imagine where I am cycling that day.

However, for me the best gift is life itself. As someone that daily battles depression, and has had suicidal thoughts off and on for over twenty five years it may seem an odd choice. However, since 2008 when life froze for a few days, I no longer wanted to be part of it, I have grown to see it anew, returning to seeing it like I did as a child.

Why a child’s view you may ask yourself. A child lives in the moment, enjoying and noticing the changes around them. I let my imagination run wild, as I let my visual mind combined with all my senses try make sense of the world around me. Painting the world in colour, not the monochrome it had become, and shining light into the darkness of others.

There could be evil lurking round a corner determined to shatter everything around us into a thousand pieces. However, we cannot live through fear, and there is so much more good out there that needs to be seen and heard. Life is a gift, which we can unwrap daily to enjoy, big and small, and treasure the memories they bring us.

Gifts do not have to cost a lot of money, if any, to mean something special to us. It is often the person that gives us the gift that can transcend the thing we are given. With my chosen gift of life it is Tim I should thank for he was the one that saved me that weekend in 2008, and will never forget just how selfless and special that gift is.

© Fi S. J. Brown