Throughout my life, education has been a stressful task; which only until recently – the cause of this stress and mistreatment became clear to me.
My brain is not typical and the world is set to “typical” with regards to all its structures and functions, including education.
Of course back in the 1980s there was not much available for children such as myself, deemed hyper intelligent, difficult and rude as early as infant school, going to doctors and child psychologists and being told I was on the spectrum for autism. Then in secondary school – a troublemaker, a bad influence and having an attitude problem.
Teachers would always say “I don’t understand you Charlotte, you are so intelligent, why can’t you do better?”.
All that was known to me, was that no one understood me and that I was a bad child. Excelling in subjects which I liked and failing miserably in subjects I didn’t, not even bothering – feeling like it was all a waste of time and might as well be an alien language taught by aliens.
As well as this, authority in any form would be like a red rag to a bull, as if being challenged to a duel and the victor would get to parade the beheaded throughout the school as the all hailing champion.
So teachers would be shouted at by me and my “patronising” tone became a honed skill which many would misunderstand and still do to this day.
My moods became violent with students and teachers which cemented the “bad child” label as well as the “crazy girl” label I had acquired due to my mental illnesses spilling out of me from 11 years old onwards.
So “bad child – crazy girl” was my new official name and once carted off to the loony bin at 15 – this was really the pièce de résistance, which shoved me into the labeled box which society still confines me to today.
After hospital and then art college, I descended into two different states from 2001 – 2004, a reclusive agoraphobic who only went out at weekends on class A drugs.
Then in 2004 after failing an HND in travel and tourism, as instead of writing research pieces on travel destinations and tourism operating systems; I would end up submitting creative writing pieces in a drugged up haze, these were prescription drugs, anti-psychotics and mood stabilizers. Not surprisingly I was asked to leave, proceeding to obliterate my brain with class A drugs again and alcohol for 3 years, putting myself in many dangerous positions, surrounded by criminals; lucky to come out alive, some didn’t.
After this wasted time the choice to go back to college was a hard one, however deciding to work towards getting a degree was a dream of mine. Beginning with an A level in philosophy was my starting point, which opened my mind to so much, allowing me to see myself and the world in ways that to this day continue to shape me. My tutor was inspiring, he had so much passion for the subject. Philosophy was an ideal subject for me, it is not constrained by neurotypical ideas, in fact almost the opposite.
After completing this course I decided to go on to do a full time access course at The University of Portsmouth, which is a year long course – which is the equivalent of four A-levels.
Politics, Sociology, Communication Studies and History were my chosen subjects. The staff were so kind to me and even though I had less idea of my difficulties then, they helped me to achieve the best.
Two of these tutors are still my friends and this is a great achievement for me, having never been liked by teachers before. This was when my first realisation came about of the fact I was different to most students; the tutors helped me get registered as a disabled student and supported me to the best of their abilities, preparing me to go on to a degree at TUOP.
Gaining acceptances on three different degree courses, History, International Relations and Journalism, I chose Journalism.
Once I left the comfort of the Access course, there was already a feeling that was reminiscent of school, the overlooked feeling, the feeling of being “odd” and “bad child – crazy girl” was tapping at my brain telling me she was needed, silencing her – these feelings were brushed away.
Within my first week a sinking feeling had taken over and the realisation that I would not see the end of the academic year or be successful was present.
The students were all 18 / 19 and being unable to communicate with any of them, becoming a loner, something which came naturally to me. The teachers already found me difficult due to me asking too many questions, challenging them as well as just being generally misunderstood.
One subject in particular was soul destroying; shorthand – my mental nemesis. The teacher was a strong, no bullshit woman, who displayed little empathy and did not distinguish any of us as adult students.
An abrasive tyrant and if you couldn’t keep up, tough luck!
This particular oppressor did not know her own privilege and she exerted it all over me, as if she was deliberately and provocatively dancing around me, forcing me to feel her neurotypical privilege, flaunting it.
Understandably due to this I could not grasp it and certainly could not keep up, with no study buddies and when asking for extra support I was met with a simple – no!
Desperately I sought out the advice of my personal tutor, explaining what had happened and that if given a level playing field I could do better, but he told me maybe it would be more suitable for me, if on another course.
With not much choice and being shoved out of journalism like an unwanted bag of rubbish I swapped to doing a degree in Spanish/Arabic and International Relations.
As a bilingual in French/English, spanish would not be too hard, and it wasn’t.
However International relations is where everything fell apart; as for the subject, distinction after distinction for my assignments was my average, however one day one of our lecture halls was filled with around 300 students, my anxiety came up into my mouth and after scurrying around and finding a seat at the back I sat there sweating, alone.
We were asked to form groups and that our next assignment would be a presentation. Of course having no friends and knowing there would be a “odd ones out” group, which the lecturer had to physically push a bunch of us together in; the undesirable leftovers.
Being the eldest you may think there would be an advantage, as the rest were kids, nonetheless they were even more socially inept than myself and clueless about the world. We didn’t speak one word to one another.
Nonetheless eager to not fail again, my only option was to visit my new tutor that week and explained that the presentation was something which my illnesses did not allow me to do without me becoming very unwell.
The usual story proceeded, “you are being difficult Charlotte” and being told to persevere. Following this my detachment kicked in like a superpower to protect me, becoming more and more dissociated . No longer able to go to the big lectures, no more fighting for my rights, soon it felt like the university was digesting me whole, ready to evacuate me from its bowels at any given moment. Which was exactly what happened – I was called into to see one of the head tutors, naively thinking that they were going to put some things in place for me to better my student experience and chances.
Instead, a stern, unempathetic woman stood before me, who told me that my illnesses were too severe for the university to accommodate and the only option left was for me to leave the university and come back when I was better… Better??
This made me regress almost instantly to “bad child – crazy girl” becoming very angry and emotional, crying and shouting, the tutor looked scared and hesitantly told me how to complain if I disagreed – but for now in no uncertain terms – I was off the course.
Pleading with her, “there is no cure for my illnesses”, that this was something which is a chronic condition, complex and lifelong. In a frantic panic I went to see the university therapist, hoping that a trained professional would be able to help me and possibly convince the tutors they were wrong, in hindsight maybe this was not my smartest move. Crying like a child I stormed in – saying to the therapist that this was unacceptable treatment of the mentally ill and more detrimental to my health in the long run.
The therapist said my behaviour was erratic, highly emotional and threatening and due to this agreed with the university and said ” it is best you leave Charlotte, as there is nothing we can do for you here, you are too ill”.
As I walked out of the building my body felt weightless like a ghost, plans begun in the back of my mind on how I would kill myself that week, yet again the world had ejected me and given me no choice, possibly a sign of some sort, that there was no point to me.
However instead of taking my own life, a breakdown ensued which made me self medicate, eradicating reality was the only way to stop the pain and stay with my husband, the idea of being without him – alone in emptiness was far to much of a risk. Purgatory was a familiar place, like returning home.
Then after 5 months and being patched up with sticky tape and glue, my need to achieve a degree came back.
This time deciding to approach The Open University, as I had been told this would be more suitable for me, as a completely housebound individual – unable to leave the house on my own or be taken to a university and left to fend for myself until home time, home study seemed a perfect fit.
To my delight the OU had a degree course in philosophy and psychology, a part time, six year course for a BA (Hons) degree.
My first year flew by, confidence had returned.
By year two the OU had me registered as a disabled student and had a whole load of support offered to me. Everything was going great until we got to exams, which for 3 years the OU had failed to set up home exams overseen by an invigilator; this was finally sorted in my 4th year and helped me grately.
In 2014/15, year 5 – on my last psychology level 3 module, the game changed once again and experienced a very cruel tutor who decided my illness and personality were too difficult and just stopped offering me support, contrary to the guidelines set out, she even stopped answering my emails and queries regarding assignments.
You see the OU is done online, however we have tutorials in person at least once a month, online forum discussions and day schools, none of which I can access due to my disabilities, so once again a disadvantage, but add to this a tutor who decided they would go all incommunicado on me, I was left with no way of doing my degree.
After months of arguments and back and forth emails (as I can’t use the phone) finally someone understood the severity and that this was not a case of being difficult. The OU assigned a new tutor, however no extenuating circumstances were considered in my first 3 assignments which were done with no support whatsoever. One assignment the tutor had given me such a low grade due to the fact she believed my illness was too severe to be on the course and told me that my understanding was below the OU’s standard; stating my work was suddenly below level one standards, something of which the OU disagreed with, but it was a non substitutional assignment so apparently they could not change the mark?
This brought my whole grade average down below a pass by 2 points.
One assignment which was incorrectly marked due to prejudice and neurotypical privilege, as well as a totally disregard to the support plan set out before the tutor – I was given a 30% when all my other level 3 assignments were in the high 70% mark.
This was a disaster and led me to think of a new direction, deciding to finish my honours degree off by changing my two focuses, from majoring in philosophy and psychology, changing it to a minor in psychology and major in philosophy and creative writing; adding a year on to my studies.
Bringing us to now, my first year of my new course; creative writing.
And yet again my studies are subjected to neurotypical privilege and that “bad child – crazy girl” label and persona has reared her ugly head again.
Every time I explain to my current tutor about the neurological disorders which are my disability and that due to this am not able to access all of the course due to not being able to attend, he simply says “please fill out an extenuating circumstances form” or says ” I have to treat all students the same”. This led to me having a breakdown last week and to me writing an emotionally charged email to my tutor and student support.
My tutor just reiterated the same autopilot response.
However the student support team for the first time, got it!
The passages which made me feel validated and indicated real progress were these:
I am sorry that your experience of the OU has been frustrating at times. It is a tribute to your determination and academic ability that you have achieved so much despite your conditions and the neurotypical privilege that is present in all walks of life.
This should also give the tutor greater direction as to what they need to be able to do to help you study on a level playing field.
Finally some recognition for my struggles, some validation for the fact I am neurodiverse in a neurotypical world. This is of course not the end, but the fight which has been mine and so many others is finally getting somewhere.
A new awakening is happening and I sure as hell am ready to wake everyone up, no more being silent or being marginalised.
This mission is clear and as hard as it will be, there is no going back because giving me a voice is something “bad child – crazy girl” never had.
If you have any questions on this topic or about my journey, please fill in this contact form:
Just over a year ago I decided to take down all my art for sale on my website and removed my art from galleries. This was not due to not selling work or a moody tantrum, this was in fact thought out over some time, which was needed as my mind was riddled with questions such as “will this sell” and “is this going to be popular with customers and collectors”. The part of me which was now in charge of my creativity was also doing mental spreadsheets and customer surveys.
Now I am not saying this is not a way to sell art, as there are many successful commercial artists who take to art as they would any business. However this is not for me, I am not driven by money and my philosophy is very anti-capitalistic and personally I dislike any art which is made in the hope of selling for obscene amounts of cash.
The arts have been growing more elitist and individualistic since the 20th century, which historian Walter Benjamin called “The Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” The commodity of art and creativity is now a marketable idea and product to be sold on mass, even though the world we live in is in no way accommodating to the life of an artist, unless you are the lucky few (which is mainly white, middle/upper class men) then you can not replicate the same success as any outlet which churns out art prints of generic tastes to be sold at your local department store. Visual art is taken for granted in our world, imagine the world without it? Removing these visuals from our surroundings would be an extreme shock to our senses, yet we do not value it enough. Art becomes a throw away item, something you donate or sell at a carboot sale or even toss in a skip.
My husband and I are by no means rich, we are actually under the living wage by quite a bit in the UK, which is why the pressure arises in me at the idea that the only thing I can do well and do from home due to my disabilities was not going to feed us or house us on a regular basis – making me believe that myself and my art were worthless. Which left me hollow and without purpose, so as with everything in my life, this became a question of survival.
Tackling mental illness, sexual violence, capitalism, war and being an outsider artist in general meant that automatically my work would not be considered commercial or be the kind of art that the general population wish to put in their living rooms. Nonetheless this is not of any concern of mine, as the artist my purpose is to create, the rest is not up to me. Over this year many of my followers and fans have asked to buy my art or asked where my art is on sale, but still I did not give in. The journey was not over as I still could hear the faint voice of capitalism whispering in my ear.
With this in mind the idea of selling art became something which actually started to terrify me, the thought that if I started again the muse would leap from my mind, with nothing left to nourish me. So I continued on my quest for my cathartic creativity. Which is what led me to reexamine my roots in art – the reason I had begun and the reason it had saved me from hurting myself for so many years. I remembered painting and drawing as a child when my world was falling apart around me, with no adults to guide me; my art was a comfort and allowed me to express feeling which my young brain could not process with language. Furthermore art therapy had saved me when I was in psychiatric hospitals or therapy, never did I think of “selling art” at these moments, there were no thoughts just creativity exploding from me in every direction with a “fuck you” attitude to match.
Then I thought of the other experiences with art which had suffocated me and led me to become silent. Such as secondary school when my teacher decided her and I had a “personality clash” and that I was just a disobedient child who would not concentrate on the topics at hand. Which is hard for me for many reasons. In class a blank piece of paper would be set down for me, with an objective given, such as to draw a still life of some sort – my mind could not confine itself to the simple still life set out before me, other things would appear in my vision and these would have to be incorporated, different colours emerged which others did not see. Which is what drove my art teacher mad, she would get so angry at me and I just could not understand? This was my best and favourite subject and my way of communicating but it was shut down and I stopped trying and taking part.
When later in life I decided to go to art college at 17, having only been out of hospital a short while, the intensity of my emotions and coming from an art therapy environment did not merge well within the confines of academic art. This time I had learnt from previous experiences that my voice was too loud or too raw and with the social pressures of adolescents, which made me want to conform so as to be seen as “normal” and not the crazy girl, I simply muted myself and my creative voice. Which meant yet again the teachers found me difficult, leading me to leave after a year.
With this retrospective, the mission was clear and simple; my work needed to come from the place which has been unheard and abandoned for so long. It is not pretty or comfortable, but it is my genuine voice and my message to the world – with the aim of helping others who like me have been pushed down and silenced. During my year off from the headache that is consumerism, my mind was able to redevelop the meaning behind my journey as an artist. It is true that for me the message in my work is far more important to me than if it is “sellable”, which meant that finding my voice was the most important aspect for my exploration thus far.
Now I am ready to sell my work again and put my work back in galleries, Knowing that the selling is a bonus and the galleries allow my art to be seen and my message to heard by more people. There is now no whispers asking me consumerist questions and there is no compromise to my philosophy. Now I am secure with my art and purpose which means my muse has returned.
If you ever find yourself in this predicament as an artist (of any discipline) then I would recommend a similar period of time away from the suffocation that is our capitalist, consumer driven world, find your roots in your work, work towards your purpose and do not compromise this for anything.
For information on my upcoming store please follow this blog or fill out this contact form:
The mental health system in the UK which is provided by the NHS is failing people like me everyday; so lets see why?
Here is what the NHS have to say about accessing mental health services in the UK:
Mental health, emotional wellbeing and resilience is all about how we cope with what life throws at us. It concerns the way we feel about ourselves, conduct relationships, handle stress or deal with loss.
Good mental health and resilience are fundamental to good physical health, relationships, education and work, as well as being key to achieving our potential.
This is just an opening statement on the NHS website and already there are many issues:
The first sentence implies that mental illness is only from environmental factors around us such as “what life throws at us” and completely negates to say that mental illness can also be a neurological condition which is visible to us on MRI scans. So for people like myself who have C-PTSD, BPD and suffer from periods of psychosis or someone who has schizophrenia, bipolar-disorder, dissociative disorders and many more are left already feeling like this does not include us.
It goes on to say, that in order to maintain a good life: mental health, emotional wellbeing and resilience are paramount. When someone like me sees this, the complete lack of effort to include severe mental illness appears as if the NHS caters to an exclusive group which myself and others are not welcome in. Some mental illness is not “fixable” in that there is no cure and the assumption and misinformation is irresponsible and suggests that those with mental illness can be healed with a one size fits all solution.
For us with severe mental illness the world is very different , we do not have the privilege of those who suffer from situational depression and anxiety solely. The world expects and allows us as people to feel depressed after death, or anxious after a car crash and what ever else “life throws at you”. This was not always the way, society has come leaps and bounds in the last 30 years to accept depression and anxiety in a mainstream way. This help is now widely available to the general public and society is more and more open to those who suffer from depression and anxiety as most people have had it or know someone who has. With celebrity faces, depictions in modern film, TV and literature as well as many charities and campaigns continuously running to educate the world about depression and anxiety, the world is still silent about those like myself still viewed as “crazy” or “psychotic”. Due to complex sever mental illness which are still only referenced in horror films, crime dramas, documentaries about “the criminally insane” murderers, news reports where “someone with a personality disorder has killed someone” or referenced as the go to insults for people displaying “weird” behaviours.
The NHS go on to say:
Less common conditions, such as psychosis, can make you experience changes in thinking and perception severe enough to significantly alter your experience of reality. These conditions include schizophrenia and affective psychosis, such as bipolar disorder, and can have the same lifelong impact as any long-term physical condition.
The issue here is that even within the severe mental illnesses there are some which will be focused on above so many others. With an over emphasis on Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and a general reference to psychosis. There is no mention of the most common of these disorders; C-PTSD or PTSD, there is no mention of personality disorders, dissociative disorders or to the disorders which have psychosis as a symptom. It is as if the world is not prepared to let go of the label “crazy” and still needs some of us to be under this stigmatising label so that we can be scapegoated as the deranged creatures of nightmares so that fingers can be pointed and there is a face to the monster.
This next paragraph from the NHS is misleading:
Mental illness is treatable and, with appropriate support and treatment, people do recover. Many move on with their lives and are able to care for their family, contribute to the local community, and get back into employment or training.
The sweeping statement that “mental illness is treatable” is an insult to many, it should instead read ” some mental illness can be treatable and severe mental illness is manageable with continued support and treatment”. This goes back to the generalised view that depression and anxiety are the only illnesses affecting the masses and that people can only have mental illness which is subject to your own psychological resilience.
Also some with severe mental illness like myself have symptoms from our illnesses which are depression and anxiety, so you will be offered in the NHS to have these treated rather than the severe illness which caused the symptoms of depression and anxiety. for example, I have C-PTSD, BPD and psychotic depression and due to these severe illnesses I have other illnesses which are symptoms of these, such as: GAD, agoraphobia, OCD, Adult ADHD and BDD.
And then lastly the NHS tell you what is needed but only provide one option in reality:
But this may not always be a straightforward journey. Many people only need a short course of psychological therapy or six months of medication, while others will need much more support and intensive treatment, be it medication or extended therapy.
The issue with this paragraph is again how the less complex and severe your illness is the more you are taken care of. Most people will only need a short course of medication and some focused counselling like 6 weeks of CBT if they suffer from anxiety and depression if caused by general life’s ups and downs, they may then need this again and it will be available to them throughout their lives.
However when it brushes us “the complex cases” under the carpet with the statement “while others will need much more support and treatment” this makes me very angry. As they imply they “the NHS” will provide this for us, but in fact this is NOT the case as all. You will be offered drug treatment of archaic psychotropic drugs, you will be offered short term therapy (6 weeks) and then once you have had this treatment you can not re-apply for treatment until after 6 months. So if you are not “cured” after 6 weeks, tough luck! Which as you have read is impossible for complex and severe mental illnesses.
There is no after care, the emergency lines (crisis support) they allow you to have whilst in treatment are then closed to you, (not that they answered when you were allowed to call them). Finally the pièce de résistance is that you will be told (like I have been told 3 times over the last 21 years) with no uncertain terms that “there is nothing we (the NHS) can do for you now, sorry”.
The devastation that is felt by people like me, who are unable to be part of society due to our mental illnesses due the stigma attached to us, is so overwhelming that in most cases it leads to a relapse and more often than not self-injury, suicide attempts or death. When this last happened to me last year, I suffered a further breakdown and relapse, this meant I did not take care of myself for over 6 months resulting in more ill health. If I did not have a husband who takes care of me when ill, I would have died. So what about all of those alone? What about my husband who has to deal with this on his own?
Now I ask you, is the mental health system working effectively?
Next time I shall be sharing my timeline of treatment within the NHS from age eleven to now. So follow my blog to keep up to date on my future posts.
My colleague from ART SAVES LIVES INTERNATIONAL and dear friend Jade Bryant is also exploring the NHS and its failings within the Mental Health System, please follow this link to read more and get involved by sharing your stories.
This is the beginning stages of a campaign which ASLI (our non -profit) will be running in the near future. We hope to elevate our voices and others and then we hope to take this to the government; to bring about change as well as running workshops and programs which will aim to engage better understanding within communities, so that people like myself and Jade and so many others can be included properly in society which will inturn help us with our mental health.
Thank you for your time.
If you have anything to say on this subject, or your own story please get in touch via this contact form:
“Established essayist and word-mage Karrie Higgins invites you to participate in a nonfiction writing competition on the themes of ableism, disability, access and overcoming. All submissions fees benefit the training and care of Noah Ainslie’s future Autism service dog, Appa. This competition will also serve to raise awareness of invisible illness and ableist bias.
Noah’s neurodiversity often manifests as sensory overwhelm. He has been learning coping mechanisms for six years, but still visibly struggles when it comes to conforming to neurotypical standards. He is high function on the spectrum which means he doesn’t “look like” he’s disabled. He is subjected to ableist expectations, often very aggressively and in public.
With Appa’s help, Noah will have access to the public spaces his anxiety prevents him from entering. More importantly, Noah will have a companion who loves him for who he is and does not judge his inability to conform to ableist public standards. To learn more about Noah, visit his GoFundMe page.”
As the Managing Director of ART SAVES LIVES INTERNATIONAL creating merchandise for our new online store (which will be launched early next year) is a fun project for me to take on.
We shall be selling posters, postcards, greeting cards, art prints, music, arts and crafts, T-shirts, stationery, books, online-courses and we hope to stoke items from artists around the world, so you can by from the artist through us! So as this is my baby, I decided to take the plunge and start creating.
Here are 3 NEW posters I have created the artwork for:
Music is the movement of sound to reach the soul for the education of its virtue.
“We should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once.”
“The animated bug has bitten pop culture. It makes me feel happy and free. When you don’t act seriously, you can make up your own rules.”
More artworks to come very soon…
We will also be doing competitions for artists to enter their designs to be featured on our merchandise.
Remember when we at ASLI talk about artists we are talking about all disciplines within the arts…
Such as: visual artists, photographers, writers, poets, dancers, performance artists, thespians, graphic designers, crafters and artisans, musicians, singers, cartoonists, fashion designers, film and documentary makers, journalists, bloggers… basically if you are using your artistic and creative self to make a difference we are talking to you!
If you have any questions about ASLI or wish to get involved please fill in the form below or contact us at email@example.com
So it is a new year and with this comes the assumption of an internal reset button which one can press and start again. As far as notions go this is not a bad one if approached correctly with a positive attitude and an openness to whatever lays ahead.
I do not make resolutions as this kind of fait accompli put upon oneself is a recipe for disaster and failure. It does not allow for the mystery of the upcoming 12 months and what life has planned. So instead I set goals which do not have to be finished by 2016 but have to be started in 2015. I move forward with dreams and ambitions and make sure I do at least one thing I have never accomplished before. You may think I am just rewriting the new year resolution mantra and that it is not much different, however the difference is I do not “expect” things from myself, instead I imagine my future and am lead by my dreams and encouraged by my fears.
Last year was great. I became a published illustrator with The Wishing Machine which I am very proud of. Also I had 2 exhibitions one in Portsmouth and one in London, after 2013 I decided I would take a step back from exhibitions and concentrate on new collections. Myself and Sadie Kaye decided to take over the old ART SAVES LIVES and renamed it ART SAVES LIVES INTERNATIONAL. This meant I was Artistic Director and Co-Founder with Sadie.
I also joined forces with the talented Lisa Reeve and we are working together on a new book, a new online boutique selling handmade and recycled items as well as art from ourselves and selected artisans.
In late 2014 ART SAVES LIVES INTERNATIONAL was handed over to me and I became Managing Director along with my husband Mohammed Farhan and Lisa Reeve. Sadie Kaye remains Artistic Director but has taken a small step back whilst she concentrates on many other personal projects as well as her beautiful expanding family. We have decided to reinvent ASLI, with a new mission and plan. With ASLI set to become a registered Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) in early 2015 and already with a calendar booked up with exciting events, we are excited with our new venture.