The Ogre

There was an ogre that lived
As bald as a newborn baby
But had lived at two and ten years
When she first walked this Earth
Writing formed only death wishes
Laughter tasted of bottle green
Dancing to another’s beat
Crying muted lonely tears
Growing the seeds of doubt
Record needle stuck again and again
Set on fire with self inflicted wounds
Collecting certificates for study
Stuck in laboratories like a monkey
Or was it jail with no key
As the train grew closer and closer
Time froze
Truth from camera lens not glasses
Picasso’s painted woman glanced
As a rag doll developed digitally
Sewn with threads of friendly love
But this was still not the whole truth
And the ogre wanted the final word
Humiliation across a brave new word
From an image cast on a black mirror
A selfie
No laughter came
After over two and a half decades
The ogre had lost the final battle and war
Blinded by the dawn light
Deafened by the dawn chorus
Leaving behind a human being
That is me
Now almost 40
And she is still just me

© Fi S. J. Brown

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Will you join me?

In a world that the visual image has been heavily manipulated and spun almost as much as the written word how do we know what we see is real and the people in them actually exist in the form we see them in any shape or form? Praising those that exemplify the fake a la Kim Kardashian to Cheryl (whatever her surname is right now) and putting them on pedestals of what 21st century beauty should aspire to be. In contrast calling someone brave for their attempts to step away from it as though they are being daring for to go without make up to choosing not to have Botox in their lips by the age of 22. Personally I find it ridiculous that we let someone’s manipulated image show us what we should look like and aspire to be as in reality nobody can look as they’re shown to be without deception to surgery. Some may say it is not their fault but sadly the golden carrot of money is often enough to make many follow blindly like a sheep or dance like a puppet on stage.

We do not need designer clothing but clothing that is made fairly for those making them under often horrific conditions to the consumer that will wear them. Fashion magazines and websites are built on insecurities that we all naturally feel and urge us to change with the seasons and years but as we all realise soon enough they come round again at least twice or thrice in our lifetimes! Fake tans to skin bleaching almost make us feel bad for our natural skin tone and heritage yet why should it, just look how stupid racism is and judging another based on their physical form of family history. Instagram or Snapchat filters for a bit of fun or help us hide behind masks as feel we fit in better so won’t be judged or laughed at…and even worse perhaps encourage more likes on social media. These likes that eat in to our self esteem that we must have so many likes in order to feel pretty or approved of by others; we are sugar coating our lives with unnecessary filters.

How can we learn that the imperfections we see in the mirror or talk to us in our heads are not things to air brush or filter away? Differences are seen as flaws not part of what makes us the unique person we are and the word ‘normal’ used for humans when there is no normal or average human being! There is no life Photoshop to change what we do not like about ourselves and lives, although I am sure we have all seen others try rewrite their history. Our individualism is under attack as now rather look and act like our favourite celebrities than the real us. However, as I said before these people are paid to edited to look the way they do to us, and make us feel bad over the slightest of things. Can we keep living in a world so fake and ultimately lose our individualism? I do not think so. So it is time to start the fight back, I refuse to bow down to someone’s manipulated idea of how a human being should be. Will you join me?

© Fi S. J. Brown

I am what I am (a.k.a Self Portrait 2018)

Five years ago I posted the photograph below with the words written upon it describing my journey recovering from Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), self-hate, and low self-esteem. Today things are very different and this entry describes how things are today. If I am honest I still did not think I could ever reach the point of body and self positivism as the negative hung around like a bad smell I could not get rid of. Looking at old photographs I can see and feel my pain with part of me wishing I had the keys to a time machine to reassure myself but know I probably would not believe myself or recognise the person as me. The ogre that once lived in my head has been truly vanquished, such are the incredible healing properties of self-acceptance and happiness. Actually, I thought I was not allowed to be happy as was meant for others and not for me. Now I realise happiness takes many forms, and I have the right to that as much as anyone else on this planet.

In an age when judgement is made so much on our physical form it makes me still at question if I fit in. Judging on physical form deeply saddens me as know there is so much to us than our shell of many colours. To those that think looks are everything consider the following: when you see an iceberg you only ever see the top of it not what it actually looks like in physical form (this is like judging someone from the clothes you see them in and only desiring the slimmest of figures); equally consider a swan that as a child looks very ordinary but becomes a beautiful and majestic bird (this is akin to judging someone based on their past alone, not who they are in the present and what they may have overcome); and finally consider if the music remained only oral and never visual with those you judge their music based on their sex appeal you could never see (this is like basing your attraction on a walking puppet controlled by someone unseen where nothing is actually real).

I know I am not an ogre but I am equally not a Hollywood A-list celebrity, but then again I would rather be the ogre than the Hollywood star! Accepting me as me has been far harder than academic study; although on saying that my PhD was one of the greatest stresses of my life to date. I am me, not the love child of Frankenstein’s monster and the Hunchback of Notre Dame as I used to think. Which was replaced with Pablo Picasso’s ‘Woman in Hat and Fur Collar’ for a bit as I attempted to readjust the mental image in my head. This was followed by a patchwork doll made up of patches that represented all the different things that make me, me, and stitched together with love from those that are special in my life. However, now I see the same image others see in my photographs and smile like I never thought I could, it used to physically hurt my face for starters. If I was to have any other visual of me it is of a Matryoshka doll, because there is more to learn about me even when you think you know me well I will always surprise you with another layer to what makes me the uniquely beautiful human being I am.

© Fi S. J. Brown

5 years ago.jpg

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

The Room

When my depression was at its worst it felt like I lived in a room with no light, be they electric or natural. I could not escape the room as I was a prisoner, but equally I held the key if I only knew where to find it. I knew there was something large covered in cardboard, that I would only notice when I finally discovered there were curtains. My knowledge of the world outside the room was from stories others had told in whispers to songs and books. Despite the darkness I had always found ways to hear and see them. Was I frightened to remove the cardboard? Yes and No. Initially I would say no as did not know any different, and yes when I found the cardboard I was frightened as uncertain of what lay behind them. It was almost better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.

One day while daydreaming and pondering curiosity challenged me to try remove part of the cardboard to see what would happen. I accepted, despite my initial fear. It led to a glint of light shining into my darkened world; creating something new that I never realised I needed so badly. Gradually I decided that I would remove the cardboard to see what lay beyond as the light I was seeing from the small gap intrigued me. Bit by bit I slowly removed it until I saw what appeared to be a large window that looked on to a large garden and rolling hills. The view made me cry as felt more a prisoner than I had ever done before, perhaps the curtains and cardboard had sheltered me from the truth. Equally I saw the room properly for the first time. It held – a music player with vinyl records, bookshelves of fiction and non-fictions, a chair, table and bed with cushions. Simple in some ways but I guess held all I really needed for living, if you could really call it that.

As days past I found myself looking more and more to the view beyond. I had not looked to try find a key to the door, which took me a while to notice even after the cardboard had come down. How was I to make the journey to the view I kept wondering, for the only openings appeared to be firmly sealed shut. Was I destined to forever dream of this world that I could see and not use any other sense? I looked at my collection of items and thought…what would happen if I smashed one of the windows, could I not climb out and escape to the world beyond? I mean, I already had scars (physical and mental) what would a few more make in the name of freedom?! I took an old jumper and tied it round my left arm hitting one pane of the window, partly in hope and partly in wishful thinking I could finally be free.

The air that came through the crack was hypnotic filling the room. Gassing me not in toxins but fresh air’s taste and tickle; it even allowed me to hear the sounds from outside like birds in song. The window then became an itch that I had to scratch, knowing I had to make a larger hole and remove myself from my prison. It was only as I had removed the largest pane that I saw a mirror in the room and saw my reflection. In it I saw the face of someone I did not know but knew she deserved my love and respect like any other. As the tears fell on my cheeks I saw what lay round my neck, the key as a necklace. I shook my head, it had been with me the whole time but it took going through all to realise it. Much like life, what we need is something inside ourselves and do not realise that until the last moment.

This left me with a predicament, did I take the door or the window? As I knew not of where the room was and what lay beyond it, but instincts said best to help myself first before trying to help others (if there were any in this place). I took my step outside the window to a ledge and took a deep breath…I was free but where to now? I saw a drainpipe so rather than jump into the garden of the unknown I would slide down slowly into it. The garden at first glance was even more beautiful than I could have imagined from the window, was this like the biblical Eden? I looked back up at my window I saw all the others were covered in cardboard too, hundreds of them. In that moment I knew my life did not belong there and to head for the hills for the garden may hold hidden dangers if I stayed too long…or even worse returned to my cell.

It was in the foot of the hills I found a cottage and where I now live; listening at dawn to the birds that bring me news of the world to enjoying the other gifts that the natural world brings. The sights, sounds, tastes, smells and feelings they bring with hope. Day by day I walk further and further up the hills, knowing one day I will reach the peak and climb over the other side. I will see how far I have come from my darkened room and know I am finally free. For now I look back with the shadow of the room, house and garden within a few miles, so still hanging over me. I am determined to reach that peak and the follow my path in the light, far away from the darkness the held me prisoner for so long, accompanied by bird song that keeps me going through day and night.

© Fi S. J. Brown

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

September third, 1990

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

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

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

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

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

© Fi S. J. Brown

The Swan

Earlier this week I tuned and adjusted the white balance of this picture, which I recently took of me with my mobile/cell phone; finding myself looking in the eyes saying ‘yes that’s me‘ and ‘quite a good photograph for a quick selfie.

For a long time an ogerous monster lived in my head that would have said something like this: ‘eww, what an ugly and loveable freak of nature you are, no wonder people point and laugh at you in the street. Delete that at once, nobody wants to see your ugly face on Facebook or Instagram. Don’t bother taking any more selfies, shows your ego is growing. Oh and may break your phone…ha ha!’

Instead another voice came out, the one I use when talking to others with my natural empathy and understanding ways, and not one I have heard myself say to me: ‘You look pretty and happy there Fi. Who cares if you see flaws or things that aren’t right in this photograph, better to knit a scarf than nitpick at yourself for no reason. Anyone that laughs and/or calls you ugly can spin on your middle finger, that’s what it is best used for!

I nearly choked on my own emotion, not for the first time, but this was in a positive way of my own doing to myself. Pondering, perhaps this former ugly duckling has finally seen her own swan-like reflection, and will glide the river of life wherever it is leading her to go. I do not need a mask of chemical colours or a surgeon’s blade to syringe to make me look beautiful; I am me, not an ogre but a swan, and that’s fine with me.

© Fi S. J. Brown

me 2017

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