What you don’t see

This week is Depression Awarenesses Week, which this year is focusing on #whatyoudontsee. As open as I am with acknowledging I have depression on social media it is not as look at me but more a listen to me not judge or mute me.
By writing about my experiences it helps give them a voice of their own that can be heard by others and thereby lose the power they try have over me. Another reason is the stigma many of us with depression (and other mental health illnesses) still suffer from and it is about time that this taboo was shattered for good. A final reason is not everyone has a voice or able to talk about depression, so I am trying to open doors in order that people feel welcomed not judge or mocked.
To anyone reading this that thinks that depression is abnormal, consider this; if I asked everyone of my friends to make a cake I would have a variety of cakes with no two being exactly the same, each one is representative of the individual that made the cake but none of them would be abnormal. In the same respect we are all shaped by our experiences, traditions and beliefs. Imagine wearing our neighbour’s underwear every day as we both live in the same neighbourhood or feeling the odd one out at family gatherings despite sharing genes. Equally, we may share the same experiences but how they impact upon us varies, and sometimes we cannot “just get over it” as the trauma is still deep even decades after the event(s) may have occurred.
When the black dog calls, it is like a dog barking constantly at me from the garden until I give in and let him in. Then he licks my face all over till it is wet, but in reality these are my tears. In the past I would sit in silence for days as not even my favourite music that got me through my teenage years would bring me comfort. However, now I get out my pen to write or put on my walking boots armed with my camera to go for a walk, sometimes take a piece of clay to make my feelings 3D, other times I go to one of the many musical instruments I play to let them become a song and also cooking or baking as help me focus on the present moment, especially making bread by hand. So for me finding coping mechanisms like these as well as loyal, loving and trusting friends is what helps so I do not give up and remembering there are stars shining and ringing even when it looks pitch black outside.
© Fi S. J. Brown
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The animals of mental health

Winston Churchill and I have a few things in common- we were both born in the United Kingdom on the 30th of November and have experience of depression, to which he likened to a black dog.

To me a black dog is an interesting analogy for depression; tears fall from my eyes do leave my face feeling like it has been licked all over by a dog and equally I feel like curling up into a ball to do nothing as the world is a cold and dark place I wish to retreat from. However, unlike a dog that wants attention, the last thing I feel like doing when depressed is having attention from a group of people but a reassuring hug every so often does. When depression hits, I try to think positively of the good people and things that exist at this moment in my life, but find myself saying but do they really want or need to hear I am not coping? Some days I wish I could give them good news, yet all I seem to find is the negative and think it is better to say nothing at all.

For many that do not feel the impact of mental health or seen someone close to the battle it, they cannot understand how we look well on the outside, yet inside came be feeling so bad that we may wish to take our own lives. Some even believe as it is in the head it equals being crazy and will do stupid things as read in the media or see on TV/movies how mental health patients are and as such should be locked away from others as may kill them in a rampage instead. I have realised this is because mental health is a masterful magician making us appear to be a fluffy pet rabbit on the outside, but on the inside feel like an old rusty ornament from years of neglectful abandonment. For those it impacts it is sometimes hard to work out which we really are, is the fur others see nothing more than a mask or is the rusty one a truer reflection of what we have experienced through life? Is there any way to find the truth?

The journey of life is hard to do alone, family are not always there and maybe even the origins of why we feel as we do from abuse or other toxic actions. We also try to make friends and even partners, people we want to share the journey with and would hope they love and respect us as we do them. When we let anyone close it can be hard for any of us, let alone when battling mental health as scared of how they will react. For when they realise we are not the fluffy bunny at all, feeling our fur disappearing in front of them and that first glimpse of rust. It can may may make them run away at any moment, scared through lack of understanding or amusement that we hear voices to survived a suicide attempt. Others may try to help, but feel powerless to do so and scared to say the wrong thing around us. Which all leave us feeling naked and lost.

What can we do? First how about oiling the rusty looking rabbit? Try it, as to those of us with mental health conditions it is like giving us love and support, as it help us to feel we can carry on again today and maybe even tomorrow too. Equally, it may look like rust but give it a polish as that becomes a form of reassurance and comfort that someone else cares about us. With oil and polishing we discover that we are not rabbits at all but flowers; all of different shapes, sizes, colours and textures that with support can bloom, being whoever and/or whatever we want to be. Collectively we become like bouquets as cluster together and showcase what makes each other so special, rather than a single flower in a bud vase.

Even if do not understand mental health, how our minds can make us think so negatively about ourselves and/or life, do not let your ignorance be an excuse. Ask and learn from those that it impacts not judge and mock, as may find more people than you realise are fighting this battle. Remember appearances can be deceptive, as do not tell all we have experienced in life to get to this point and how hard every day life can be. Today maybe hell with torrential rain and grey skies, but tomorrow can be blue skies and sunshine, nothing lasts forever. Equally, the reverse can happen, what someone may mock and laugh at today may come back to haunt them tomorrow, unable to cope in the relenting rain as did not learn from before. So lets work together to end this stigma, supporting each other, being a best friend that is loyal like the dog and gnaw away at problems like the rabbit with a carrot.

© Fi S. J. Brown

flowers

 

 

 

Eight years on

Some anniversaries are times of celebration, some are ones we want to forget. This weekend is a personal anniversary of days I’ll never forget, shaping and painting the foundations of the woman I am today.

I was dreading Easter 2008, I did not want to travel north or even be part of Planet Earth any more. I felt alone with nowhere or no one to go to. Yes I was on antidepressants but they only made me feel worse in every way. Also, I was having psychodynamic therapy but felt I was left on top of a cliff in a rocking chair at the end of every session. I decided there was only one way off the merry go round and the chair was ready to snap, sending me over the cliff.

Nervous breakdown and suicidal, yes and yes to both. I also self harmed, usually my feet but that weekend I used a pen to create marks in my hand to show the world finally I gave up. No matter what you may think of those that consider suicide or do it, please know it is not an act of cowardliness. Being stopped from jumping in front of a train or hanging from my dressing gown robe were not signs of being crazy but more a white flag to say I can take no more.

Eight years on, my depression is giving me a good beating recently as feel purple and blue all over from where it has kicked and beaten me with its stick. However, I have friends that are like family who I open up to, feel less the watcher of the play of Planet Earth but have a few lines, use the pen not in self hurt but to give voice to what hurts me or give voice to those that have none, and use trains to have adventures accompanied by my trusted camera.

On my left wrist are tattooed three words that say much more than they do alone, you may be able to guess them but I will not say them aloud such is the magic spell they cast upon me. They are not your regular tattoo because they are written in invisible ink. There to remind me of the journey to this present time and what the present moment holds, the good things and people, and why to throw it all away now as could not hurt them with my final actions.

So remember dear reader, no matter how dark the present moment maybe, there is always light (outside and within). Nothing in life is black and white, it is that muddy grey bit in the middle that we find ourselves living in and our normal lies within it. Normal is what is right for us and our journey, trying to conform to the expectations and ideals of others is like wearing our neighbour’s underwear! Life is multisensory and multicoloured, so lets go painting!

© Fi S. J. Brown

Breaking the invisible wall

As someone with a visual mind I often found when studying for scientific subjects it was easier if I had a visual reference or way of seeing them. It is perhaps for that reason I was drawn to the environmental sciences, not just for my love of the environment and nature but the anthropogenic (human) impacts upon them could be seen, whether that be at the present time with my own eyes or elucidated using proxies for the past such as pollen, seeds, charcoal, diatoms etc under a microscope. When it comes to mental health for many it is the invisible nature of the illnesses I feel that contribute to the continued stigma associated with them. For unless we ourselves or have a close friend/family member it can be very hard to understand let alone empathise with. We see someone with a broke leg or having treatment for cancer we wish them a speedy recovery ot luck with their treatment, with diabetes or asthma although unseen too and for life we accept that they are common human illnesses; yet one in a four adults and one in five children in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year, with 1 in 100 being diagnosed with bipolar or schizophrenia at some point in their life. What can be done? How can we break down these invisible walls that we have built to create a them and us scenario?

A bit of background to my own story. I was diagnosed in January 2007 aged 28 with depression and anxiety, however, you can look back to almost 25 years before and there were signs of both due to my acute sensitivity and bullying I experienced from when I first started school in 1983. I had counselling from 2006 to 2007 and psychotherapy from 2007 until 2009, which I have mentioned in previous entries on this blog. In the last few years as I have learnt to respect, appreciate, forgive and I guess love myself for who I am and who she’s not, I have also developed deep friendships that give back what I give them in love, respect and appreciation, which help me daily. The name of this blog is a tribute to one of them who encourages me and my creativity, so my little thank you back to him. For me, one reason I write, photograph, play or make music, and model with clay, is to let the feelings I have their own voice or become beyond what is inside me as would keep them bottled and been told in therapy how much they suffocated me for doing so, thus needed an outlet. I found creativity a great outlet, not just for my aforementioned visual mind but it allowed what I was feeling a way to be seen, they could no longer strangle/suffocate or even hurt me as they were now real and had their voice, but I retained the power that they were trying to take away from me. I also realised by sharing some of my creativity with others it meant it was no longer invisible to them, with some inspiring others to realise their battles were not alone or show how far I had come to become the person I am today.

I am currently job hunting, my past feels like a giant noose around my neck as found many do not understand that we do not fit simply into boxes and some of us do fit two at the same time. I am fed up feeling like the outsider watching in. Equally, having achieved academic qualifications while battling physical and mental illnesses is something I am proud to have achieve, but feedback I have I received is my past is intimidating but impressive…so what can I do? It is not helped by people thinking they can decide what is best for you, when you have tried and tried but just want to give up and only your closest friends saving you from going under completely. However, one thing I know is that I am determined to help inspire and help others, so they do no give up and break this stigma or invisible wall around mental health. As another way to break the wall is for us to work together, showcasing what we can and not what we cannot. In the past to try break the stigma we have created a glut of diagnoses that are really just descriptions of certain patterns of human behaviour, and have not helped. My dream? I am not sure, maybe one day I will be a creative and/or eco therapist of some kind using my passions to help others. Until then here is my hammer breaking down the invisible wall for today, will you join me?

© Fi S. J. Brown

A child’s question – mental health

Yesterday I was asked: how do you explain mental health to a child? The child in question being 4 years old. Although I will never have my own children, it is an important to realise with an increase in mental health that we consider it from a child’s point of view and not ignore their questions. So, I felt it was an important point to ponder. N.B. I am not a trained counsellor but considering a basic course in 2016 as many have said I should be one, but use my own experiences to offer support and advice to friends.

Immediately I remembered my step-mum after my breakdown and suicidal thoughts said I could not stay with her, my dad and step-sister as was not fair on my step-sister as she was too young (I was almost thirty where as she was twelve). My own parents split up when I was eleven, so thought when I was her age I had already gone through a major traumatic experience. Equally, she was of the age when lots of changes would be occurring and have questions about life. Was she really too young to understand why I felt the way I did or was this the stigma of mental health kicking me at my lowest ebb?

My step-mum also would never let me explain fully why I was depressed to her and events had become the way they are. I was having therapy at the time so I could understand my past and how I got to where I was today. So what I had learnt from therapy, I could never put into practise, for as soon as my mum’s name was mentioned, she’d go deaf; my mum had painted her (wrongly) as a scarlet woman thus could not hear a bad word about her. It was incidents like that every time I saw her that lead to my re-estrangement with my father, as she would corner me to ask me again and again, but not give her the answers she felt I should be saying. How could I explain when what needed said was not being heard?

My family never talk about things, so all sorts that hurt me from physically to emotionally and mentally can still trigger or impact upon me decades later as cannot always move on from them. Only the other week I had a panic attack at the dentist, partly through a fear I was choking as I nearly blacked out and my fear of people coming in my face after things my brother did to me thirty years ago, which my parents never punished. I once nearly punched an optician as he came close to my face when helping me try contact lenses and my head kept thinking he was going to strangle me like my brother kept trying to do. I would never knowingly hurt anyone, so both incidents left me crying and shaking at being a fool to let the past strangle my present and possible future. However, it also tells me that I also need further therapy to move on from them.

Going back to the original question I was asked. I feel honesty is the best policy, especially with children, but just how do you tell a small child about something many adults do not understand or accept? The friend told me the child already knew they cried, got angry and took medication, but as children often do, wanted to know more. It made me consider both my nieces, one almost 4 and the other almost 5, how would I explain how Auntie Fi’s health? The eldest already asked why on why I did not do certain things. I also felt that children need reassurance and that it is not them, but their parents still love them and always will.

I thought back to my own childhood, how I used the Care Bears to show how I felt. When I was seven, my tummy felt like Grumpy Bear with a cloud on it with the drops feeling like the tears I had in my tummy. He was the only Care Bear I was never allowed to own, as my mum found his image too depressing! Ironic given it was me trying to tell her I was depressed from events at home and the bullying at school.

I looked up an image of Grumpy Bear on the internet, and immediately hit upon an idea. The friend could colour in with and/or supporting their child the image of the bear, describing how sometimes they felt like the bear, the raindrops were like the tears he cried and medication the hearts that stopped the raindrops falling as much, which together with their loved made more hearts form. My friend felt this was a good idea, but reminded them they knew their child in terms of development and sensitivity required.

Discussing mental health is not easy, whether it is with a child, teenager or adult. However, it is by discussing what it means to us and impacts our lives with family, friends and colleagues that will end this terrible stigma, which I believe should have been left in the 20th century. In many ways discussing mental health is like discussing having cancer, diagnosis under either umbrella term can change lives forever but they do not have to mean the end. We all feel like Grumpy Bear some days, needing the love of others to be the hearts when sometimes we forget to love ourselves and know it is okay to cry like the raindrops, as the sunshine after the rain is almost worth dancing in the street!

© Fi S. J. Brown

End the stigma

When we search Google it uses a function called ‘autocomplete’, which means we see search predictions that might be similar to the search terms we are typing. For example, as we start to type new york, we might see other popular New York-related searches,

This function can be useful when searching. However, not all of them are positive. These pictures I found on Pinterest from someone who found what showed up when looking up terms relating to mental health. It is frightening to me how some assume or feel regarding it. How can we hope people seek help when some view mental health like this?

Remember – just because we cannot see someone’s depression, can we not see their tears; just because we cannot feel their pain, it does not mean it will go away like a headache with a tablet; just because someone hears voices, does not mean they’re going to kill others; and just because someone is suicidal, does not make them crazy or selfish.

This is why we need to end the stigma of mental health. It can only be done together. At least 1 in 4 of us will experience mental health issues in our lifetime, reach out to help someone not push them away. Hollywood and the media paint mental health one way, let us paint its true colours not the black and white they use.

© Fi S. J. Brown