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

Rat in a cage

Rat in a cage
Rat in a wheel
Rat in a race
Like a rat in a cage
Treat me like a criminal
Treat me like a puppet
Treat me like a number
Treat me like a failure
Use me like a tool
Drain me till I’m empty
Leave me out in the rain
Watch me turn to rust
Treat me like an experiment
Just another rat in a cage
Like a rat in a cage
Treat me like I’m prisoner
Leave me until I confess
Blind me til I’m lost
Freeze me until I’m cold
Beat me till I bleed
Grind me until I’m dust
Push me til I break
Wire me until I conform
Treat me like an experiment
Just a rat in a cage
Another rat in a cage
Another rat in a cage
Another rat in a cage
Rat in a cage
© Fi S. J. Brown

Brave the Shave – Not in my name

I caught MacMillan Cancer’s ‘Brave the shave’ advert on television this morning, which I previously posted about. How is this campaign still going and winning awards? Oh yes, it brings them in millions of £. I cannot believe they still do grasp how insensitive this is. Not only does it trivialise hair loss, which has been a source of many tears and self loathing for over twenty five years for me.

Loosing our hair is very different to shaving, unless you experience it for yourself, you cannot grasp the emotional and mental changes that go with hair loss. Would we ask people to paint bruises on their body to empathise with victims of domestic abuse, neglecting the emotional and mental abuse that can accompany it? It is distasteful.

The advert has people looking in mirrors desperate to see how they look now, with hair loss mirrors become something to hide from as scared of the image they now show. Shaving hair is not empathetic, I mean why would you choose to look this way? Hair loss isn’t all in one go either, it can be a slow process of waking up to hairs on the pillow, which are only matched by our tears, until it is gone. It is heartbreaking.

This plays up to the narcissistic, attention-grabbing, selfie generation that want to show they are doing good things for charity, but it is really all about them – lapping up all the whoops and grins from others. As they spend the follow period showing us how their hair is regrowing, never sparing a thought for us that it will never grow back, and forgetting the cause as they do too.

Go on bra walks, run marathons, or make cakes, but please think before you pick up that shaver in someone’s name.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Visions and Sounds

Sight and sound are equally important in the way we experience the world, yet the visual dominates.

Sound has an important role to play in nature and human societies. From the bird song that breaks out to let us know dawn of a new day has begun, the use of drums by some cultures as a form of aural communication, and the songs we sing to accompany of life’s journeys, to the speeches made by orators that move us by their words alone. What we hear influences how we feel and what we do.

As technology has advanced, the world has become an increasingly noisy, confusing and disturbing place. However, the visual still overides the sound. Social media has reinforced the visual with Instagram, Snapchat and even Facebook focusing on it. How many reading this have tried the filters on them, or the new age app to see how we will look when older? YouTube is about the moving image, but it is still more watching than listening that dominates it. Furthermore, loosing our eyesight is seen as far worse than our other senses – research found in medical students almost 60% considered blindness worse than deafness while only about 6% considered deafness worse. Yet, we can buy a pair of reading glasses from a supermarket for our eyes, why is it not that simple for our hearing?

We live in a world of fake and manipulated images, so how can we believe what we see as real? Equally, what we hear is just as fake – from the latest pop song that the vocals maybe the vocalist’s own mixed with others then autotune to produce the voice we hear streamed in our ears, to the mainstream news stories told by reporters as fact but maybe spun or based on slight truths. In many ways we live in George Orwell’s 1984: “The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.

Perhaps we let visual dominate as we like to see the world through rose tinted glasses, and by listening we are forced to hear things we may not want to. Equally, by listening properly we have to engage in a way we are forgetting, as have become too addicted to the little black mirror that has more technology in it than took a man to the moon fifty years ago.

So what can we do? Use all our senses, not just our vision and hearing. “Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity. The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply. When we listen with curiosity, we don’t listen with the intent to reply. We listen for what’s behind the words.” Roy T. Bennett,

© Fi S. J. Brown

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

Tribes, literacy, and language loss

Today is the International Day of Literacy, which often makes me think of anthropologist Wade Davis work on languages. According to Davis half the languages of the world are on the brink of extinction. Imagine what it must be like to be the last person that spoke, read, and wrote your native language with no way to pass this knowledge. This happens every two weeks on average to someone around the world. Davis states that this means within a generation or two we will lose half of humanity’s legacy.

As you read this, you may think doesn’t matter, we all speak English and/or wouldn’t it better if there was one language for all, would we all not get along better then? Sure, but let’s make it Icelandic, Liki or Kazakh. Perhaps now we can empathise and understand what it may be like not to have anyone to speak our native language, read books to websites, or write stories and songs to share with others. For many of us a world where people could no longer speak, write or read English seems unimaginable given how much is spoken, written and said in it daily. By losing languages we’re losing more than a solitary voice in the dark but a way of life, customs and traditions.

The following quote is from Stephen Corry who is director of an organisation called Survival International that ‘champions tribal peoples around the world. We help them defend their lives, protect their lands and determine their own futures.’
“Every time another tribe becomes extinct and their language dies, another way of life and another way of understanding the world disappears forever. Even if it has been painstakingly studied and recorded, a language without a people to speak it means little. A language can only live if its people live, and if today’s uncontacted tribes are to have a future, we must respect their right to choose their own way of life.”

So as we go about today speaking, reading, and writing in our various languages on Facebook to E-mail and text think about this. Also, consider not just how lucky we are to have the gifts to do so, because they are gifts that not all humans have the opportunities to learn these even now in the second decade of the 21st century. Equally, embrace our diversity in all its beautiful colours that enrich the world, even removing but one colour from the rainbow would change the world around us forever before it’s too late.

© Fi S. J. Brown

The Sunshine

When the blood flows of innocents it has no colour, race, or religion,
Far away few hear their cries but at home it echoes throughout the land.
The sun is a spotlight to these hideous crimes with a ruby tainted glare,
Scarring those it touches with marks that will never be washed away.

Some sing songs of revenge with a bitterness as sharp as any sword,
As the hate boils inside them as it did those that struck the initial blow.
Never learning that violence is not an answer to this twisted circle,
For those that teach do not know the real question from spin and lies.

Dealers will always have the aces but never the joker in the pack,
Laughing and dancing to their old Machiavellian rhythm and beat.
Empathetic love would deafen them but few now know that path,
As follow distractions with false gods into darkness far from light.

On and on this tainted sun will shine on across this broken world,
Stranded in a desert wishing for but one drop of tearful rain to fall.
On and on this tainted sun will burn those that try for the moon,
In a dystopic reality that is far from a fantasy written by the stars.

© Fi S. J. Brown

A Woman of Planet Earth

Around 49.6% of the world’s population identifies as female, giving a total population of around 3.52 billion, and 101 man for every 100 woman. Despite this near even split there are still places in the world and people that see being female as a second class citizen, and even third class below the oxen that pull the cart. To mark International Women’s Day here are a few thoughts on being a woman on Earth.

One of the greatest skills so many of us take for granted as we read and write posts on Facebook to texts and emails on our phones is the ability to do both read and write. We learn the fundamentals at such an early age that unless we have struggled with either, perhaps due to dyslexia, we think nothing of being able to do so. So why is it that in many parts of the world this is still taboo? To anyone that laughs or scoffs at these people for being backward or stuck in the dark ages take a minute to realise how lucky you are to read, write, vote, drive, own your own home and post freely your thoughts on social media.

I went to an all girls school, which in some areas of the world it is unthinkable such a thing could exist. The grades I achieved gave me a foundation to be very fortunate with my academic studies to achieve a doctorate along with two masters degrees and an undergraduate degree, despite many thinking I would never achieve anything like that in life. I have friends throughout the world that continue to fight to be heard because they were born female and to ensure the next generation have it better than theirs. Fighting against traditions such as child marriage to widow abuse or FGM and breast ironing as can see these are not a way forward, in some countries it is holding them back from achieving improvements in developing as nations.

Women are our friends, mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins and grandmothers, we matter as much as any human or living creature on this planet. We need to work together not apart to create change be it locally to globally but grassroots is where that change begins…I have seen it with my own eyes through the work of friends in Africa and Asia. We can be the change and light in the world for others.

© Fi S. J. Brown