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In the past 2 weeks I experienced a relapse and have been struggling with day to day life. Being so overwhelmed by emotion, feeling unable to move or speak. My ability to self analyse had gone, my perspective skewed and my continuous questioning of reality was a preoccupation.
Unable to take my own advice and “paint my feelings”, not able to put pen to paper to explore the thoughts swimming around my head. So I lay there watching time do its thing, with every tick tock acting as a reminder of my own failings and stagnant mood.
So a few days ago I slowly moved towards my paint brushes… Inspecting paints, finding colours and tools, making sure I did not invest too much energy for the fear of disappointment.
A blank canvas stared up toward me? Begging me to surrender myself, asking me a million questions at once. The void of white seemed oppressive and scared me back into submission.
I decided to go to my art room and look through my paintings in search of a connection to something, which I felt had seemed to have been lost. However I did not get to do this as I was distracted by a stack of unfinished paintings. Looking sad and abandoned, five paintings waiting to be brought to life but like me were stuck.
So I bundle the paintings into my arms and scurried towards my sofa, I got water and a large palette on the way. Managing to create a fort of warmth was my only real concern on such a frosty January night, determined I got the biggest blanket I could find (that I did not mind splashing paint on, as this was an inevitability with me) and I arranged the cushions into a area of ease and comfort.
Then in pure bliss I began to paint, not with any particular emotion but more a sense of ease and fluidity. I found that by concentrating on the colours and strokes of the brush I was “in the moment” being mindful and able to focus on everything I was doing as if I were in a trance or meditative state. As I was working on 5 paintings at once I did not even get to break my concentration as I had organised myself into a conveyer belt of art, continuously creating…
This is not always a possibility with my conditions but when it is there is this feeling that I am complete when creating art. As well as reaffirming that there is meaning in the action and doing of art. In the application of creativity you can arrive to conclusions and acquire clarity without any of this being involved in the image you create. This session which I managed to self medicate with in my hour of need was cathartic, the reality I was so unsure of became less important and the moments of focused clarity became the ideal and the goal which my mind has set its sights on.
My advice to everyone is that in order to silence the negative thoughts you must become proactive. Allowing the intrusive thoughts to swallow you whole will only lead to an immobile mind and body. This is not to be confused with the “autopilot” mind set, this does not lead to clarity and release, in fact it can be even more dangerous as it allows the mind to go through the motions without any awareness. Which some may argue sounds wonderful, but it gets you no where.
This is not a post to tell you all your problems can be fixed by art or painting specifically. This post is to tell you, I am struggling with it all, life in general but I am a fighter and sometimes a begrudging survivor but one all the same. There is no option but to keep going against the odds and for me sometimes picking up my paintbrush is all I can do to survive these cruel mental fragilities.
A project I have started and run as Artistic Director for Art Saves Lives International
Art Saves Lives International is committed to supporting and working with marginalized artists who may be struggling to cope with a mental illness.
Find out what we at Art Saves Lives International are doing to help people all over the world use their creativity to help them through their struggles with mental illness.
My story of Agoraphobia starts when I was 16 years old. Only recently discharged from an adolescent psychiatric hospital and having wanted and attempted to die for almost 5 years, (including standing in front of an oncoming train, but being rescued by a very brave train guard) I had survived and started to believe that it was a cruel, never ending punishment. However I was struggling with so many things and was having very vivid hallucinations and believed that I was indestructible.
Then at Reading festival in the year 2000 just after I had graduated from secondary school with almost nothing to show for myself as I had been in hospital for most of my GCSE’s, I went with the attitude that life was a massive joke and I was the punch line. There I met my (now) husband Mohammed, I was in love instantly. I even told my friends I would end up marrying him, they (as usual) thought I was insane, in most medical opinions I was. Sure enough I started dating Mohammed and he was and still is everything to me.
Having never had a kind, loving male in my life, having been abused by my Father and then abandoned by him and having been raped by a classmate when I was 15 (hence the break down and hospitalisation) I had found my prince in shining armour. Mohammed gave me and still gives me more than enough love to compensate for my Father not loving me and being treated the way I had been by boys and men. Mohammed truly saved me from taking my own life when I was a child. A gift of life he gave me and I was not about to waste this gift!
So after wanting nothing more than to die, I now had swiftly changed perspectives, I didn’t want to die, I didn’t want to leave Mohammed, not for one second! This I have later found out is due to my borderline personality disorder and something which we have as suffers which is called black and white thinking (also known as splitting).
Everything suddenly felt unsafe! The world became scarier than ever, everything was potentially going to kill me, kill Mohammed and separate us. Slowly but surly I became withdrawn and anxious and developed Generalised Anxiety Disorder. I had gone from someone on the highly at risk register to someone who was preserving my existence with such an attention to detail that it was taking over my life and caused mine and Mohammed’s life to become harder and harder. We were kids, now living on our own and we were in over our heads. After almost being sectioned in an adult psychiatric ward in Guildford at 18, I decided I had to keep my mental illness hidden as much as possible, this also fed into my reclusive behaviour and soon enough I was not going out on my own, then only once a week with Mohammed to do the weekly shop and back.
This continued for a year, then when I was 19 I found ecstasy, a class A drug which allowed me to do things which I would never be able to do, it gave me back my flip side, my fearless side. Just 2-3 pills and I was able to counterbalance my heavy anti-psychotic drugs and fear, so that I could be like my friends and hide my torment and struggle.
I wouldn’t go out, especially without Mohammed and then orchestrated my life so that it was not an obvious problem. But soon, I was put on heavier medication and became like a zombie for a year and didn’t move really, let alone going out. I was starting to create my own world.
Then just before my 21st birthday I suffered a complete psychotic break from reality and broke up with Mohammed. I convinced myself that I was holding him back and that I was not good enough for him and wanted to become my other self, my reckless other side. I couldn’t make sense of anything and felt out of control. This led to a year and a half of heavy drug use, dangerous behaviour and living life as a fearless crazy person. I changed my identity, hide my illness, made friends out of enemies and had no regard for my future, just instant gratification, the thrill of being on the edge again.
However, one day I looked at Mohammed (who I was still very close friends with and who I still loved like no other) and I realised for the first time in my life that he was my future, my partner and my family and that in order to be with him I had to confront everything.
Mohammed and I got back together in 2006, although understandably he made me work for it, I had to prove myself and I put everything I had into winning Mohammed back.
After 6 months of being back together, I started feeling the panic coming back, the fear that I would die and not get to live this life with Mohammed. So I started withdrawing again from the outside world and sometime in 2006 I went out for the last time on my own.
My agoraphobia got worse in 2010, I moved to Portsmouth and within a few months of being in the city, I decided that maybe I could start working on my exposure work for my agoraphobia, so one day I decided to take a few letters I wanted to post to the post box a few meters outside my front door, Mohammed was indoors and I felt I could do this!! As I walked to the post box, I saw a man walking towards me, I didn’t really pay attention as I was on my mission. Suddenly I caught his eye and I realised it was my attacker who had raped me when I was 15, I felt all my blood escape my body, my heart stopped, I started sweating and hyperventilating, I turned on my heels and ran to my front door, thumbling around, franticly trying to turn the key, I fell through the door and couldn’t catch my breath and vomited all over myself.
I felt this was another cruel joke which a sinister God was playing on me. I knew this man lived in Portsmouth, but it is a massive city and did not think this could happen. My world came tumbling down around me and I felt trapped and frightened.
This led to me not being able to go to a “normal” university as I couldn’t attend classes, even with supervision or assistance. I was then told by The University of Portsmouth I was to unwell to study and had to leave. I took this as a massive failure and as I could’t work either I felt I was nothing.
This is when I turned to art (Art Saved My Life) and am now an artist who works from home. I started at the end of 2010 and now am a professional visual artist, illustrator, art mentor and I am an artist in residence as well as being a massive promoter of art and it’s benefits to aiding and managing mental illness. I also raise awareness and break down the the stigma of mental illness through my own art.
It has been almost 7 years since I last went out alone, I am still able to go out with Mohammed, my Mother and a few safe friends, but this is only to certain places and it has to be all pre-planned with warning.
I do all this from inside my home, without leaving the house and it is a struggle everyday. I am still receiving medical treatment for my mental illnesses and am working towards a future when I can just pop to the shop across my road to get a pint of milk. People take for granted these little things which no one would think is a massive ordeal for some. I long for my independence and for freedom from my own prison. I take one day at a time. I am the sort of person that has evolved through all my trauma and pain to believe that we have no excuses, I have days when everything hurts me like I am covered in burns and other days when I can inspire over 36,000 followers and live out my dreams. All I know is that I am blessed to still be alive and to have the people I have around me and I will do everything in my power to help others like myself through art, change the world and I can only do this if I am alive, here and fighting the fight for us all.
Thank you for reading my story.
All my love, Charlotte Farhan xxx
“Art can permeate the very deepest part of us, where no words exist.”
I have suffered from mental illness since I was a pre-teen and have struggled to cope with very strong emotions and at times have not coped and have had to be admitted to hospital. I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality disorder and Post Traumatic Stress disorder after I had a break down and was hospitalised for my own safety after a serious traumatic event when I was 15 years old. In hospital I was introduced to art therapy and found a release and a way to express my inner turmoil which was so hard for me to voice to the doctors and nurses. My art therapist worked very closely with me and was able to see my pain and understand the language I had developed to communicate through my art.
I have struggled with these illnesses on and off for my entire life that I can remember and am now 29 years old and still suffering! Now the illness affects me in different ways. Instead of the dramatic full throttle emotions of self destruction and not wanting to help myself, now I am unable to leave my home without someone else, I have severe anxiety and have developed an anxiety disorder which affects all aspects of my day-to-day life.
Art has saved me more than once and when I had my third breakdown in 2010 I decided to find salvation in my art and creativity. I had to face the reality that my mental illness had stopped me from being able to attend a full time university and now was affecting my ability to get a conventional job. I had to make a decision for my future. I could not let myself slip even further with this realisation. My doctors, support workers and psychiatrists had no answers except for drug treatment which I have refused since I stopped all my medication in 2004. So I sat on my bed feeling hopeless and defeated. Then as if the Universe was trying to tell me something I came across an on-line gallery asking for artists to submit, as they were starting up a new website. I had to submit six original pieces and an artists CV and the decision would be made within 48 hours.
The next day I decided to do it! I put everything I had into creating art which not only reflected me but also as a creative challenge to myself. I finished my six paintings and submitted them and waited for the longest 48 hours. Then finally I got an email confirming I had been accepted and that I was now an artist. I then thought about this title, this irony and how my life had led to this point. I then invested all my time in launching my career and creating a portfolio, CV and a social media presence. As well as this I took the decision to start my degree with the Open University and to do the subjects I had always wanted to do, now I am in my third year of my part time degree, a BA (Hons) in Philosophy and Psychology.
Two and a half years after I submitted to the gallery I am doing well with my career and the future is certainly something which I know I can influence and I have some very positive days. I am now with 2 galleries, I have exhibited in a group show and have two exhibitions booked for this year. I have sold over 25 paintings and have over 19,000 likes on my Facebook page. Yes I still have very bad days! Yes I have lost lots of friends because they could not understand me or empathise! Yes I still have a long way to go! But I can also say I have a lot more ‘good days’! I have gained some new amazing friends because of my art and found my true friends in my immediate circle! And most of all, yes art saved my life!
“The best part of life is not just surviving, but thriving with passion and compassion and humour and style and generosity and kindness.”
For more info on Borderline personality disorder please visit:
And for Post traumatic stress disorder:
For info on Art Therapy:
This week I have chosen a very special painting which is called Our Tree. This painting is of a time and place which I hold close to my heart. When I was 15 I was admitted to a psychiatric unit at this old Victorian hospital in Epsom, Surrey. You would have to see it to believe it! Maybe due to my state of mind and my age as soon as I arrived at Woodside adolescent Unit, West Park hospital it was as if I had entered a very strange
world, a dream like world.
The grounds were massive, the buildings were mostly derelict and secret gardens and passages had emerged due to the overgrowth of plants and trees surrounding the buildings. It was a gorgeous summer and as my world outside the hospital had ended, the new world inside the grounds of the hospital had only just begun.
Whilst at Woodside, I met a girl called Jenny. Jenny was tall, dark-haired and always wore black and never wore shoes. Jenny did not speak to anyone and seemed so shy and scared I did not know how to approach her, but I knew I had to know this girl.
Jenny and I became very close, she would only speak to me and we developed our own way of communicating when others were around us. The Doctors and Nurses did not like this and thought I was manipulating Jenny, which could not be further from the truth! One beautiful August day, after creative writing therapy Jenny and I decided to make a run for it. We had discussed it many times before and even made little plans and had looked for the best way to do it. So we pretended we were just going to the vending machine and then made a break for it. Behind our ward there were endless fields and trees. We decided to run to the furthest fence, which we knew was the edge of the grounds. In the fence there was a hole which had been previously cut out from the chicken wire, someone had clearly thought of this escape before. So we ducked under and left the hospital grounds.
Almost as if we had entered another dimension or Universe this field looked glorious and almost as if it was all that existed in this alternate celestial space , as if it had been created for us, and only us. An endless field of golden corn. As we walked through the field which was on a hill we reached the highest point and saw a gloriously large field tree on its own, as if no one had discovered it. We decided to go and take some shade
and have a rest under its large arms of luscious leaves listening to that whispering and rustling from the breeze. We sat in the shade for hours, talking, sleeping, day dreaming, hoping that we could hold on to this perfect moment in time, hoping that the realities of why we were here and the cruel world in which we came from, would not reclaim us and that we could stay there forever.
Unfortunately Jenny and I could not stay there forever. Reality claimed us back and the world cruelly gobbled us back up. Jenny never got to leave Woodside properly, several years later after I had left and Jenny had become a day patient, Jenny took her own life one cold bitter day in December. A very large part of myself died that day, I was never angry at Jenny for leaving our world, because I knew she had not left “our world” she had returned to it. Jenny had gone back to the golden field, she was home.
This painting is a representation of that world, I made the scene different by adding the surreal large moon setting in the background, which gives off a very bright white light, and this was to represent the alternate Universe we were in. I made it night-time to symbolise the sadness and loss I feel without Jenny, which is why I choose cold blues instead of vivid greens. I added pink blossom to the tree to express my love and the romance I felt with Jenny. I kept the gold in the corn field to signify the beauty and magic which was felt.
So this painting is in honour of my beautiful Jenny, this was “our tree” I hope you like it and can see what I have tried to do. Please feel free to comment and leave feedback.
Thank you for reading,
Lots of love,