When you are the child of a suicidal parent

The death of my Mother is something which I have been prepared for since a young age. When you are the child of a suicidal parent you learn how to make preparations for yourself for the worst, spending years thinking of how you will cope, what this will mean for your future and how it is possibly your fault that your “caregiver” is so sad that they don’t want to live. For a child this is confusing at best and life shattering at worst. Understanding the complex nature of suicide is something most adults are unable to cope with, let alone a child still developing their own grasp on existence and surviving what life throws at them.

My Mother has Bipolar which is a mood disorder – a severe mental illness with mood swings including manic highs and depressive lows, alternating episodes of mania and depression are pervasive throughout an individuals life. Bipolar increases the risk of suicide by 20 times and The World Health Organisation identifies bipolar as one of the top causes of lost years of life and health by 15 to 44 year olds. 

My mother has always seemed to think I am oblivious, however from the age of 8 I began to see my mother slip away and her illness start to take grip of everything that made my Mother my Mother. Her moods became erratic, her temper – palpable and her tongue sharp with abusive slurs, yet still I saw nothing wrong with her, she was my Mummy and had stayed when my Father had abandoned me, so she had to be the best mother in the world , no?

The day I realised my Mother wanted to die was the day I saw her in the bath with cuts all over her, it was the time period that my mother didn’t get out of bed and the curtains didn’t get drawn, it was when she fully left me as my mother and attempted suicide several times, it was when she was put into a psychiatric hospital but left me at 11 years old with a teenager, who was unwell herself. It was when I was raped at 15 and put into an NHS psychiatric hospital and my Mother abandoned me and checked herself into a private psychiatric hospital because she was at risk, she didn’t want to save her child and care for her, she wanted to die.

Defending herself and her bad parenting jumping back and forth when it suites her, blaming everything as a consequence to her illness, attempting to let herself off the hook for just “being there” and not walking out (which I was made to feel was a tremendous task). Adults, including doctors – regularly stated to me throughout my childhood and teens: “do you realise you are the victim of circumstance Charlotte?” or asking “do you resent your Mother for being this way with you?”. My answer was always the same – no! Some adults even suggested she was abusive to me, which I was in no way ready to accept or believe, I did not understand this, admitting this would mean both my parents were unable to love me or care for me in a healthy way.

The truth is I felt sorry for my mother, I still do have an overwhelming amount of empathy for her. I feel she is stuck in a loop, a romanticised view of loneliness and melancholy has hold of her and is never going to let her go. In a perpetual spin, blaming everyone else for life’s disappointments and suffocating me with her negativity. Love doesn’t seem to be at the forefront of my Mothers focus, having been told repeatedly that life gives us choices and that no one else is responsible for our choices (advice she is never able to take herself). I was told that if she upsets me that it is “my problem”, that if I take offence that she or others have not given offence. Telling me I am too sensitive, high maintenance, a drama queen, a baby or just lacking a sense of humour. I believed these labels for a long time, occasionally these judgements come flooding back, which triggers my BPD – leading me to be unable at regulating my emotions and becoming highly unstable as a consequence.

In amongst my Mothers suicidal ideation I too started to see the allure of death and my first suicide attempt was at 12 years old, whilst my Mother was in hospital after a suicide attempt and breakdown. For 5 years I stood over the edge of a cliff, attempting to jump, still remembering the feelings that consumed me; that life was pain and death was the cure.

Children with a parent who has attempted suicide have nearly a five-fold increased risk of attempting suicide themselves, new research shows. Results from a longitudinal, prospective study showed a direct effect of a parent’s suicide attempt on a suicide attempt by their child, even after taking into account a history of previous suicide attempt by the offspring and familial transmission of a mood disorder.

Bipolar is a serious illness, as are my illnesses: borderline personality disorder, complex post traumatic disorder and psychotic depression (just to name a few), however my Mother sees her Bipolar as a badge of honour, as a get out of jail card and an explanation for everything. Never taking my illnesses seriously, suggesting that I was mimicking her, when I first showed signs at 11 – ironically relinquishing herself from all responsibility and diminishing my experiences and pain. Getting angry at me for being suicidal – the cheek! For most of my life she has made it abundantly clear that I am not worth living for or taking care of when it comes to the big stuff.

Seeing my Mother as a human being , not just a parent is possible for me, I realised that she did not choose to be severely ill when I was around 18. My Mother did not realise she married a child abuser (my Father) or could she have predicted her own illness, however she did choose to have me, I was actually planned, now this choice is one that seems to be brushed under the carpet, yet – this is the choice which I judge. They weren’t children, uneducated or religious, they made a very conscious decision, one that in hindsight was a hideous mistake.

However I am able to be grateful to my Mother for doing the basics, for giving me valuable advice and for helping me be the activist I am today. For introducing me to art, literature and my French heritage, there have been lovely times, we have laughed. The holidays we took or the deep discussions we had about life, politics, philosophy and social injustice. I admire my Mother for many reasons and I have never stopped loving her.

Is love enough? It could have been, if the foundations of my life had been maintained, cared for and not left to rot. But now? No. Love is not enough. At 34 with the relentless stress of fearing most days that I shall receive a phone call – telling me my Mother has taken her own life, I am unable to have a relationship with her. She has taken my ability to function when around her and has left me a hollow shell of inabilities. As I write this I imagine her response to this statement, she would say: “I did not take anything from you, you chose to give it away”. Mind fuckery at every corner, a grand manipulator of logic and a riddler with words.

To this day she taunts me with her last will and testament which she has be preparing for nearly 10 years, maybe longer – it feels like longer. The “death file”( which I named), is referenced at every opportunity, making it seem that she is continually putting her affairs in order so that she can take the next step. My husband and friends are understandably complaisant and reassure me that she is just being manipulative and trying to control me. This I don’t doubt to be true – however my Mother has bipolar and is at risk.

In an ideal world there would be enough support for those wishing to start a family and established parents with mental illness, there would be intervention at appropriate times, that patients who are parents within the private psychiatric services are treated as those in the NHS services with children – social workers being made aware of any dependants and assessing the safety of the child within the home. There is no doubt in my mind that my Mother needed more support when she was raising me – I feel for her with this. However she has a part to play, she had choices and she certainly could have learnt by now, after 34 years, that the psychological warfare she has taken against my mental health could have stopped before now.

Still my heart stops every time the phone rings…

Make it Stop - Art and Poetry by Charlotte Farhan
Make it Stop – Art by Charlotte Farhan

 

Infertility gave me the chance to question my abilities and accept being child free

(Please be aware that this essay is my opinion and represents my life. In no way am I judging anyone for their life choices with this piece) 

Being child-free was not my first choice; like most people the indoctrination of the projected ideal of “family”, being specifically to procreate in a hetro-normative way, had been passed down to me through relatives, religion, culture and societal norms – there was never a need to challenge this or think of a life otherwise inclined. Everything reflected this narrative, in literature, film, TV, cartoons and advertising – all showing you the eventuality of having children and it being the “right” thing to do.

My first ever fears of not being able to achieve this pre-prescribed life was at the age of 7. My fear arose upon realising that I liked boys and girls romantically, already having fancied and kissed both, my mind was now confused; to what this made me? Could I have a “normal” life, because no one else seemed to be like me? Running to my Mother in tears I tried to convey all of these fears and express the isolation that I had already perceived as my future. My Mother simply said to me:

“This is a phase and everyone experiences it, you will grow out of this and get married and have babies”

Looking back on this moment it is strange as my Mother was considered a “progressive”, she stood for equality and claimed to be a feminist (a very privileged second-wave white feminist who echoed Germaine Greer) but still in comparison to my racist and homophobic Father and grandparents on both sides, my Mother always seemed like a beacon of light in a murky prejudice swamp of people.

My Mother challenged marriage and did not think it was anything other than a legal agreement which protected you financially, often saying that she didn’t even want or need a man, just a child (me) and the two of us facing the world. However my Mother seemed convinced I was a “mother earth” type – stating I (even when very young) had always displayed maternal qualities – qualities she would say she did not possess.

At the age of 18 my boyfriend (now husband) and I got pregnant. We were living together in rented accommodation that we could not afford and could barely feed ourselves. At this point my mental health had taken another nose dive, my agoraphobia started at this point and was still having regular psychotic episodes, being very unsafe and destructive with myself due to my borderline personality disorder. Stability was no where to be found, except in one another. To make things more complicated my boyfriend is Muslim and we did not want the family to hate me and know we had sex outside of marriage (in hindsight this would not have happened as the family are beautiful people – but we were kids ourselves and scared). We decided to get an abortion.

As a survivor of CSA, rape and sexual assault the termination procedure was very triggering for me. Vaginal examinations cause me to have sever flashbacks, which causes me to experience chronic pain in my vagina and anus, this is due to complex post traumatic stress disorder. As I was at the latest stage of being able to have a termination I had to be put under general anaesthetic – reminding me of the internal surgery I had after I was violently raped at 15.

When I phoned my Mother to tell her, she at first misheard me and thought I said “I am not having an abortion”, well thank goodness this was not the case, she started screaming down the phone telling me:

“you stupid girl, you will ruin your life, you have to have an abortion”

AT 26 years old my boyfriend (now husband) and I started to try for a baby, we were more mature and intended on getting married in the near future, so we joyfully prepared for our “real” lives to begin as parents. After 3 months I got pregnant and we couldn’t have been happier, all our plans and dreams were going to be put into practice and realised. However after our first visual scan – after seeing our little life we had created; in the early hours I miscarried. It was an ordeal like no other, experiencing the loss physically and emotionally, the pain mocking you and the world reminding you that you have failed and that it is most probably your own fault.

Friends and family were either unable to comfort me due to awkwardness or the projection of their own fears, together repeating the mantra:

“this one wasn’t meant to be.”

My husband and I still grieve to this day for this loss.

Soon after the miscarriage I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) , this diagnosis was a shock and scared me so much that for another 4 years I did not address my PCOS and ignored all the symptoms and hid my head in the sand – not wanting to face it. The doctors told me that it was likely that my anorexia and bulimia had given me a metabolic disorder which had lead to PCOS. Then just before I turned 30, after almost 2 years of feeling at deaths door and putting on lots of weight even though I wasn’t eating much, I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes which I developed from having PCOS.

The girl with the eating disorder inside me saw this as the biggest failure possible. These illnesses were considered by society as “fat people sickness” deemed to be the responsibility of the overweight and lazy, the burdens on the NHS and society. For the first time since I was 11 I felt I couldn’t take back control of my body, as I always had during periods of extreme stress and emotional unrest. No longer able to starve myself like I had , especially if I wanted to have a baby.

The anger toward myself was violent, wanting to rip my flesh and fat off my body, often obsessively imagining cutting fat with scissors, wanting to stab myself in the ovaries and remove the cysts.

After the diagnosis and being at the doctors and hospital appointments weekly, the eventual conversation began about whether I wanted to have children or not and what fertility treatments were available to me. Even being referred to a diabetic midwife to get the best advice possible due to my PCOS and diabetes. At this point feeling confident we would be able to conceive. People kept telling me that the fact I had been pregnant twice before meant that it was just a matter of time and patience. So my husband and I persevered and continued to do all we were told.

We had been trying for over 2 years and we had no luck, the next step was for me to go to the doctors and ask what our options were for fertility treatments. Due to my disabilities, visiting the GP surgery  is an ordeal in itself, unable to go unassisted my husband came with me, however I went into the appointment alone as knowing there would be a lot of fat shaming, which would embarrass me in front of my husband.

Walking in, this unwanted feeling of loss surged through me – feeling emotional and anxious, adrenaline pumping through me, shaking, I sat down. The doctor asked what they could do for me. Explaining as clearly as possible my situation whilst gasping for air through shear panic. After the usual chit chat about my medication, diabetes checks and general well being – I took the plunge and asked:

“What are my fertility options?”

The doctor tilted their head in that manner which suggests pity. The following information was about to hit my ears and puncture my heart:

“Unfortunately your BMI is too high for us to give you any fertility treatment, if you can loose the extra weight before you are 35 then we can give you IVF treatment, ideally you would start fertility treatment now due to your age.”

My heart stopped for what seemed like a lifetime, the tears swelled in my eyes and throat and the rage inside me was switched on. Indignant to the ridiculous hoops, that metaphorically were too small for my fat sickly body to jump through. The doctor knew that due to my circumstances that this achievement was highly unlikely, having PCOS and Diabetes made it very hard to loose weight, not impossible but certainly challenging, especially when unable to leave your house freely and in a time constrained manner. Having lost so much weight since my diagnosis, logically my thoughts were that fertility treatment would be a woman’s right and that I had shown my commitment to being healthy. Not, however, arbitrary bureaucracy dictating that my weight fit into the predetermined “one size fits all” paradigm, due to the outdated system that is BMI testing. As a tall, big framed person – my BMI has been high even when visibly skinny.

My voice was irate, my tears chocked me and my anger made me shake – the “hysterical” mentally ill person was about to blow, you could see my doctor visibly lean back – ready for impact. Crying through my words I said:

“But how is this fair? How can you treat women this way? These rules are ridiculous and penalise people who are over weight, even if they are as healthy as they can be. Fat people get pregnant all the time, I see them!”

My doctor explained to me it was due to the area I lived in, in other areas of the country women have until they are 40 and the weight requirement is not an issue. This injustice made me feel detached and empty. They didn’t care that I was severely mentally ill, that leaving the house on my own was impossible, making regular exercise difficult. Even reverting back to my anorexic or bulimic ways was not an option, not eating now made my  pancreas produce less insulin, my liver produce more glucose, which makes my body store fat. These requirements gave me (a now 31 year old) 3 years to loose weight and then 1 year in which to conceive with IVF. To some this may seem achievable, for me I knew that the impact this would have on my physical and mental health was dangerous. That already the obsessive thoughts had begun:

“I wont eat. I will exercise excessively at home. If I am stressed I will have to start to self harm again, to keep the pain controlled and away from others. I will have to only focus on this until I get pregnant – nothing else will matter, If I don’t succeed I shall have to kill myself.”

These thoughts took over and were at the back of my mind when I told my husband what the doctor had said, pretending that to a certain extent I was OK, that I could handle this. Although there was this little voice inside me, whispering repeatedly:

“Is this what a safe Mother would do? Is this the parent I want to be – half dead by the time a baby arrives? Will I be able to regain mental stability once pregnant or once the child is born? What if we miscarry again? What if this recreates a dangerous environment for my child, such as the one I grew up in?”

In hindsight the realisation had already hit me, that was the end, the end of that dream. That the answer to all my thoughts and questions were right there in front of me. Not realising it at that point, but a valuable lesson, a pause in the rat race for the nuclear family, an opportunity not granted to most – a chance to question all of this!

Over the next 2 years keeping most of this to myself, especially because when you do tell people, they can not help themselves but say:

“This will happen for you, I will keep the faith”

Not realising how damaging these words are, making you feel like less of a woman or human – for the fact you had lost “faith” or that this will not happen for you at all. This made me feel very alone and meant my grief was shoved down and buried. More opinions from people were:

“Why not adopt?”

The answer was simple – in this country (the UK) I am considered as a severely mentally ill person, who cannot adopt. This at first seems like an injustice. Yet if you think about the fact that severe mental illness is an umbrella of disorders some of which mean you can be a danger to yourself and others, you can deduce that this is for the protection of vulnerable children and not to discriminate the mentally ill. This does not mean that there shouldn’t be further investigation, to look at how to give those who may have chronic mental illness and wish to have children more support.

You see mental illness is almost viewed in groups. It starts off with situational and circumstantial reactions to the stressful eventualities and life events we face, such as grief, stress and low self esteem which can cause bouts of depression and anxiety – normally affecting an individual for less than a year. Then you have people who have mood, personality and anxiety disorders for more than 1 year or chronically, such as: bi-polar disorder, addiction and impulse control, clinical depression, personality disorders, OCD, generalised anxiety disorder, eating disorders etc. Then there are disorders considered severe which are psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia, psychotic depression and postpartum Psychosis, as well as trauma related disorders such as post traumatic stress disorder, either complex or non-complex. 

Most people who suffer mental illness in their life time, do so for short periods or their illness does not affect their ability to lead a functional life. However some of us have severe mental illness which impacts everything in our day to day lives, our abilities to function and take care of ourselves are impaired and the likelihood of impulsive unsafe behaviour is higher. So the point I am trying to illustrate is that – there is a point to this rule – to be properly assessed makes sense. Furthermore only the individual can really know if they can or cannot take care of a child, asking themselves:

“Am I too ill to have a child and take care of that child, to not impact them in a negative way with my illnesses and disabilities?”

The realisation was clear and logical, the answer for me, personally, YES!

Asking myself continuously why the need to have children and each time it was apparent to me that all my motivations were selfish. Wanting a child so that I could experience a “happy family”, to “break the cycle” of abuse and neglect I had faced, to witness my husband be a Father so that I could experience a healthy Father and child relationship, so that if my husband died I would have a part of him still here. None of these reasons seemed good enough, seeming empty and damaging to a child.

Thinking of myself when young and the pain endured from my parents, who really should have questioned everything before bringing me into the world. Possibly concluding it was just to fuck me up and narcissistically abandon me or hold me emotionally hostage. Or maybe it was to love and be loved and things changed, as life does. Whatever the reason – the reasons were never challenged, the status quo needed to be maintained, as would have been if I was never afforded the opportunity to question my abilities as a parent. It is never a bad thing to ask yourself:

“Can I truly (to the best of my knowledge) say that upon having a child that I shall be able to look after them, emotionally, physically, fiscally and that I shall not put my child in danger due to selfish needs and ego”

Genuinely most people will think they can do this (I did too), however the statistics of child abuse, neglect and sexual abuse paint a different picture. Furthermore the extremes are not the only damage that can be done, the importance of functional safe upbringings is fundamental to bettering the physical and mental health of children collectively. Too often the selfish needs of adults cause children the most harm. Having children or caring for children is a privilege, it is not to be taken lightly and your rights to “have them” does not override their right to exist in a safe environment.

Even though grieving for what could have been, for dreams that were never realised is still a process I am very much in, the reality that having a child would be unsafe for both me and said child; makes me feel better about my decision to not pursue something that has already been taken off the table. My focus is now on imagining and realising a new life  more suitable for me.

Yes, being child free was not my first choice – in spite of this my choices now as a child-free person are limitless.

 


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Essay by Charlotte Farhan

A Kind of Healing – Art and Poetry By Charlotte Farhan

A Kind of Healing - By Charlotte Farhan
A Kind of Healing – By Charlotte Farhan

 

A Kind of Healing – By Charlotte Farhan

smoke into the night

smoke into the morning

remove

feeling

numb

a kind of healing

memories clutter

dreams smudge

nightmares form

creating

other worlds

mirrors

reflecting the storm

shackled to distraction

narratives of others

re-imagining stories

living through

our screens

blinded

white noise

like screams

sleep

is not peaceful

sleep

it does not recharge

sleep

opens wounds

scars

replaying

old trauma

faded

and cracked

smoke fills my view

smoke keeps me amused

inhaling

a remedy

a pass

to myself.

 


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This is how it feels to be the child of a suicidal parent

There hasn’t been a day since being 11 years old that I wasn’t prepared for my Mother to die. There is no scenario in which my mind has not investigated or planned; from her funeral, what I shall say, how I will feel, who will judge me as the cause of her death. This is not due to a macabre obsession or a morbid wish, this is how it feels to be the child of a suicidal parent.

My Mother has Bipolar Disorder, she was diagnosed when I was a toddler after seeking help because she couldn’t connect with me and feared she didn’t love me. My awareness of her illness was not completely realised until attending secondary school, before this point my Mother was a workaholic and never cried, she was a passionate, opinionated, clever woman who people loved to be around, the life and soul of most parties and fancied by most men. Always doing what she wanted when she wanted and never apologised for living her life. Even when she would drop me off to friends so she could meet men on trips away or when she made fun of my weight or told me I was too sensitive or too serious – my adoration for her was impenetrable, thinking of her as the best Mother in the world and wanting to be just like her.

However my Mother had a sever break down. Suddenly this vibrant woman was in bed, unable to get up, dress herself or wash, her room was dark and filled with cigarette smoke. This made no sense to me, I did not understand why she had changed; it was like Invasion of the Body Snatchers – this wasn’t my Mother. Suddenly she was crying all the time and she didn’t want to do anything, she would watch daytime TV in bed and would be surrounded by books, paper and food wrappers.

Life hadn’t been easy up until now for many reasons for both of us, having experienced depression and loneliness at the age of seven, this new darkness took it’s toll and this was when I started self harming. After seeing a program on a TV talk show about self harmers, after hearing of how these people felt the pain go away and that they actually felt even better whilst cutting, this seemed like the ideal relief. Knowing my Mother had lots of books on psychology and psychiatry I asked her if she had anything on self harm and said it was for a school project, (which for the early 90’s would have been very progressive). My Mother found me a book on self harm and I took it to my room and started to plan my first cut.

A few weeks later I caught my Mother in the bath weeping and cutting herself with razor blades, a mess of tears and blood through the crack of the bathroom door. Shocked that she did it too, shocked that she was in pain and devastated that I had possibly caused it or was going to cause more. In hindsight this is when my Mother and I truly severed our relationship, it was the beginning of the end, even though we were almost on the same page, my need for a parent and stability and her need to be alone and have no responsibilities was like a knife slicing our family tie.

Soon after this my Mother tried to kill herself and she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, I was left at home alone with our 18 year old lodger (who was very unwell herself) and was allowed to do what I wanted, structure and adult care went out the window. Upon turning 12 I stole some sleeping pills from our lodger and tried to kill myself, instead of dying, sleep was all that was achieved for almost two days and awaking to the realisation that the darkness still existed, there were still no adults or safety.

From this point on, again and again, my Mother tried to kill herself or self harmed to the point of needing hospital treatment. This is when preparation for the inevitable was my only solus – her death. Having lost my best friend to suicide and many other friends; suicide became such a possible outcome that I started being unable to determine when my Mother was actually in danger.  She would say “If I didn’t have you I would die” or “I want to die – there is no point”, always reminding me of how much I didn’t understand, how no one understood – when all the while I understood more than she knew.

After several hospital admissions, 17 ECT sessions and continued private therapy from her psychiatrist on Harley Street in London, it was clear my Mothers condition was getting worse, no cocktail of drugs seemed to help and the bipolarity of her disorder caused havoc on our lives. My Mother experiences mixed states with her Bipolar Disorder which cause her to be irritable, to have high energy, racing thoughts and speech, and over-activity with agitation and becomes an even higher risk of suicide.

This effected me as a child and teen and still does now as an adult. The instability of her impulsiveness, her recklessness and her allowing me freedoms that other children envied, which I did not like or want, I envied the children who sat down for dinner, who had curfew, got money for chores, did homework with their parents, had rules; whose parents wouldn’t discuss anal sex with your friends or discuss their many sexual escapades. In mixed states of mania she would become aggressive, argumentative and so unkind that this emotional abuse still causes me sever pain till this day; name calling, screaming, mental abuse and belittling me with the advantage of not remembering what she had said or done when she was feeling “better”.

There is one act which however hard I try – my mind cannot understand it. When I was raped at 15 and hospitalised as suicide is all I wanted, my Mother made my rape about her and ended up abandoning me and admitting herself to a private hospital (with room service, massages, ice cream) whilst she had stopped my private health insurance (as you do) so I had to go into a mixed boy/girl NHS adolescent unit situated on an old Victorian asylum ground. How could my Mother consider suicide when her baby had been violently raped, operated on due to the rape and then hospitalised? The doctors would ask me how I felt about her doing this, I would always protect her regardless of the fact I was so hurt and felt so unloved.

At 17 she became physical with me on the day I was moving out as I could not take living with her anymore, this truly became my only option to survive, she began to shake me, she slapped me and then she tried to push me into a single pane glass window on the fourth floor of our apartment building. In amidst of this she was shouting at me that I was a whore and that I had probably made up my rape. My boyfriend (who is now my husband) had to pull her off me and at the age of 19 had to confront her with some very stern words and managed to get me out of there.

Another aspect of her mixed states is that of mass overspending which she has done to the extent that all our family money is gone – to be fair my Father contributed to this too with his mental break down. However my Mother seemed to have plenty of money to buy Louis Vuitton bags and accessories, take long haul trips and buy expensive cars, but when money started to get tighter and tighter as the money became less and less, she became selfish and from 17 to 22 let me be homeless, go hungry and I had no access to medical care or dental care, I was very unwell at this time so needed a lot of extra support – but her need to keep up appearances and maintain some of her luxurious lifestyle came before my needs. Anyway it was my own fault after all for being a bad child.

My Mother withdrew from life, hers and mine and as a consequence her sadness took over our relationship and her own guilt for how she has treated me – chokes her just enough to say what a terrible Mother she was or is, something which makes me want to protect her, deny and tell her all is fine, I am fine and she is fine. But her withdrawal made me withdraw from her more an more emotionally, so to not get hurt when she eventually kills herself. Hugging her is painful, when she cries I want to stuff a sock in her mouth – when she complains about her life I want to be anywhere but near her.

Loving my Mother is not hard, liking her is impossible at this point and wanting to have a relationship with her is damaging. However the feeling that at any moment I shall get a call telling me she has died is always there, the preparations are always in place and the guilt consumes me. The illness, the Bipolar Disorder is not my Mother however her core personality and ability to care and love for me is a mixture of narcissism and emotional blackmail.

Who knows what will happen with our relationship, all that is evident to me at this point is for anything to be possible with regards to my Mother is a question of recovery and acceptance. Not forgiveness, we do not need to forgive abuse, however accepting it happened, and that it was not my fault is probably a better focus than my obsession that she will take her own life.


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Our Journey so Far – Me and my Psychiatric Assistance Dog

 

This is our journey so far…

Amadeus is a 13 month old standard poodle who is my psychiatric assistance dog and he is helping me gain some independence, access to the outside world, exercise and he also gives me things I can not get from human interaction. The conditions and illnesses which Amadeus aids me with are Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Agoraphobia, Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Psychotic Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Autistic Spectrum Disorder.

The requirement for me to have an assistance dog was in fact my last hope in having a more fulfilled life, in this able focused and neuro-typical world. Due to sever mental illnesses I have been unable to lead a “normal” life for over 11 years and some things have never been achievable.

When using the word “normal”, I use it in the sense that many things achieved by able people are taken for granted, such as being able to leave your home with ease everyday, crossing roads, being outside independently, going into shops and other establishments, speaking to strangers or service people, taking public transport, being able to drive, listening to music on headphones, meeting friends, going to hospital/doctor appointments…

the list goes on…

Very kindly a close friend of mine started a GoFundMe page and raised enough money for me to get Amadeus and all the things we needed to get the show on the road. People from all over the world donated and before I knew it, we were taking Amadeus home and the rest is history.

So in under a year I have achieved a great deal with Amadeus; starting with simply stepping outside my front door with him and closing the doors behind us whilst no one else was home – this was my first and most challenging of exercises.

Then we walked up the road and started with the closest cul-de-sac, completing this for up to two weeks at a time, then moving onto the next. Eventually mastering  three and staying in this comfort zone until I was ready to go past a busy pub and cross a small road by a large cul-de-sac. By this point I genuinely was astonished by my progress and felt a sense of freedom which would make me promise myself to never let go or go back – a lot of pressure but I have no “happy” medium abilities, it is black and white or nothing.

After this achievement my sights were set on going further up our road to a small green in front of an old Victorian prison, knowing this would be ideal for Amadeus to do his business and for me to be near some kind of nature – with trees and grass (even though it is next to a main road and very busy roundabout). This feat was very challenging, managing to do this once a week and slowly progressing to be able to do it more regularly over several weeks, before committing this as the place we would walk everyday.

By this point Amadeus was getting to be almost one and a feeling of rebirth flowed through my veins. So one day impulsively I decided to go the other way from my front gate, up the road and over a busy bridge to the cemetery behind my house, as this was something I could do without crossing any main roads  – plus it would give me an abundance of nature, things to look at and a longer walk for Amadeus.

We did it!

However this was impulsively done which was me jumping up my ladder and not safely stepping up one rung at a time, which is a trait due to my Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). This meant I was wiped out for almost two weeks due to the exhaustion of doing something so outside of my comfort zone, which of course made me have sever anxiety symptoms – even though at the time it was enjoyable, but when you get the same adrenaline from walking up the road to a cemetery as someone bungy jumping or sky diving – it can be a really surreal feeling.

My next challenge is crossing a main road in front of my house which luckily has a pedestrian crossing and then walking straight down small residential roads to a beautiful pond and recreational field. My plan is to try and achieve this, this summer, which will be my greatest achievement so far. Amadeus will be able to go off lead in the field, we can walk around the pond, watch the wildlife, sit and read or listen to music; it is something I dream about constantly.

Even though this has changed my life, there are still days I can not go out, there are days when being outside is like being assaulted by every piece of sensory information at once, leaving me unable to process details and all I can do is rest and recover.

So if you have never thought of how privileged you are to leave your home in a carefree manner and when interacting with the outside world and its tasks it is no big deal to you; then I challenge you to think of what your life would be like if you were unable to do these things?

 


As a small art project I documented my journey so far with Amadeus and distorted the images to show the different sensory issues I encounter when outside. This was challenging as simply taking the photos by busy roads was disorientating, however with Amadeus keeping me grounded and helping me feel present and real I was able to do a lot more than I thought I would. There is a slide show, all images underneath and some videos.

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“I am Fine” the mantra of unseen illness – By Charlotte Farhan


I am fine….

I AM FINE!

I. AM. FINE. picsart_02-16-06.14.31.jpg

However which way I say these three words they are always a lie. Not a vicious deceitful lie, but a lie which serves me well whilst simultaneously crushing me emotionally; with each utterance. This little sentence has become a habitual response to the question:

How are you?

Which is a very common occurrence, most people do not divulge their entire life story when asked how they are, it is just an extension to how we greet one another, a politeness (especially in England) to reply:

I am fine, thank you. And how are you?

However when you are really asked this question by a close member of your family, your partner, a close friend or even your therapist and you still only ever say:

I am fine. picsart_02-16-06.02.22.jpg

Well this kind of situation is what I am talking about and is what this art piece represents. This is about how self preservation means losing part of your identity, emotionally but more importantly the denial of your present state. Never allowing your armour to be compromised, focusing on other peoples problems and absorbing them, when asked about yourself you divert conversations as if they were on-coming traffic; as if your life depends on it – because it does.

The majority of the time I do not look “sick”, I have mainly unseen illnesses and my most debilitating of ailments is completely invisible to the eye. As well as this many people do not “believe” in mental illness or recognise certain neurological conditions, saying things such as:

It’s all in your head!

It’s mind over matter.

You don’t look sick. picsart_02-16-06.05.19.jpg

These statements are very unhelpful and also redundant in this context. Saying it is all in ones head is a correct statement, mental illness is in our encasement’s which we call heads, in our brains – our minds. It is not in our legs, nor our arms, it is very much a head thing. However saying it to someone as a dismissive statement is not a logical statement as it suggests that your mental illness or neurological condition should not be “in your head”. Suggesting that it maybe make believe or a lie to gain sympathy (which if you are a person who suffers from mental illness you will know this is an insult as there is no sympathy granted to the mentally ill, instead it is stigmatised). As for “you don’t look sick” this one is nothing more than an ignorant judgement, looking at someone with just ones eyes and not a full body CT scanner (which also can not see everything) there is no way to determine someones health or disability status.

Due to all this added conjecture to this particular scenario , it is not hard to understand why the “I am fine” mantra is a fail safe for so many. You get tired of explaining yourself, defending your diagnosis and dealing with people saying things like:

I don’t really believe in mental illness.

Mental illness is a conspiracy to control and label us.

Mental illness is just mental weakness.

i-am-fine-2-by-charlotte-farhan

So the simple solution is to pretend that you are fine, that you do not need help, that you are not “weak” or “dangerous”, for every mental illness denier there is another person who believes we should all be locked up and not trusted due to the stigmatisation and misinformation on both the mentally ill and those with criminal intent.

This may be the simplest of solutions but it comes at a cost to most. You see there is only a finite amount of space in ones emotional storage unit and the continuous throwing anything and everything that you wish to hide in there can mean that you reach a time you can’t shut the door anymore, let alone lock it. This can lead to you bursting and spilling out onto everything around you or it can mean you just implode – self detonate.

Truthfully for me it is a constant battle inside my head, of not wanting to alienate people or scare people with my overwhelming emotional instability and behavioural abnormalities – having to remain stoic by being the person who people come to, the provider, the rescuer. Against letting it all out, a completely “no shits given” attitude, a liberating freedom of being able to just be me, all parts of me at all levels of intensity. This of course is very black and white and a thought process due to my borderline personality disorder, the middle ground does not tend to exist in my world, it sometimes appears but rarely when experiencing high emotions. To pass off the “strong” persona I have to use the “I am fine” line a lot, which is a kind of middle ground, at least it is when one is trying to manage social boundaries and interpersonal relationships – which to me are like alien concepts that cause feelings of being an outsider.

Charlotte Farhan

There have been times in my past when “I am fine” was a defence mechanism as I was in denial about my illnesses and wished to hide the entire idea from myself, blaming my emotions and behaviours on alcohol, drugs and being a “bitch”, that crazy girl thing was easy to flip and present myself to the world as a “bad” person in my twenties – so I stuck to it. People even liked this persona, some celebrated it by telling me they loved my “fuck you attitude” and loved to see me being abusive to others or violent. If the other side, the vulnerable side – was presented (which was me during my teens, from 11 yrs to 20 yrs old) people looked at me as an emotional drain, a liability, dangerous, scary, I became an undesirable human. At these times of no control self harm, suicide attempts, eating disorders, psychosis, machiavellianism, disinhibition and an emotional sensitivity that was never-ending was my way of life. I learnt valuable lessons on survival and how to mimic other humans as a visiting entity from the planet “strange”, using manipulation to gain friends and taking on other identities which were visible to me as ideals, I could be the most popular person in the room or the most disliked, this was not up to my audience or friends, this was up to me and my chameleon like personality. The important thing is I have forgiven myself for being this way, knowing now this was and still is a neurological condition and a perfectly OK way to survive when you have only ever known trauma.

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Now that I am in my thirties things have got to a point that my life is more introspective and having the perspective of an “adult” allows me to look at my teens and twenties more objectively and see how and why I had to survive this way when there were no adults parenting me and keeping me safe. Being an adult in this way means that when I look back I ask different questions than I did before, such as:

Where were your parents?

How long were you left on your own?

How was it looking after yourself at such a young age?

Did you have to grow up quickly?

There is a draw back to being older however, my emotions get buried deeper, I detach more and say “I am fine” even more than ever. Wanting to be liked for me, not wanting to buy friends or manipulate them to like me, not wanting to be the extreme me who needs someone to safeguard them at all times, not wanting to be the rescuer and the “strong” one all the time. Wanting people to understand my pain more, I want and need actual medical support for my disabilities but am not at a vulnerable age anymore, so am taken less seriously. Hiding in medication and being likeable and not too intense feels like a life sentence:

But still all I can say is:

I am fine!

 


i-am-fine-by-charlotte-farhan


 

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Everyone is Watching – Art and Poetry By Charlotte Farhan

Everyone is Watching - By Charlotte Farhan
Everyone is Watching – By Charlotte Farhan

With this unseen malady,
the world is set to a different frequency,
faces move past with only apathy,
when they can’t fit you into a box,
intelligent, irrational, focused, erratic…
you seem a paradox.

Knowing people question me,
life feels scrutinised,
under the microscope,
wishing to be disguised,
not made to walk this tightrope.

Being able to be free,
not continuously analysed,
a participant, not an absentee,
hearing my voice,
without having to be patronised,
without having to prove my disabilities,
they love to give you the third degree,
have I not proved my invincibility?

We the stigmatised,
are not your problem to fix,
not here to be tamed and civilised,
neither will I be cured by your crucifix ,
“God only gives us what we can handle”
is this a joke – a chance to poke,
superstition and dogma we must dismantle,
instead with these ideas they provoke.

Everyone is watching me,
no longer left alone to recover,
my life is not something you can disagree,
they want to rip it away – uncover,
these things you can’t see,
no one would want this,
so with this plea,
stop watching me.


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Where are my human rights? Mental illness in the NHS

Over 3 weeks ago I wrote an open letter to the NHS and the Adult Mental Health Services:  https://charlottefarhanartactivism.com/2016/09/06/open-letter-to-the-mental-health-services-england-nhs/ Charlotte Farhan - Open letter to NHS

Since this letter things started to look up, after tweeting my desperation and crisis live to the world and my followers, the NHS services in my area contacted me and so did the patient liaison services at my GP surgery.

However it has now become clear that my plea for help and my right to basic medical care was in fact interpreted as an invitation for further discrimination and stigmatisation from NHS staff, leaving me defeated, suicidal and so very ill. Ableism reared its ugly head, as did the neurotypical privilege of the service providers. Surprisingly after all I have been through – I was shocked, naive some may say, but when you are desperate – hope is all you have. My hope is almost non existent now.

The main issue seems to be a complete lack of understanding for complex mental illness and disabilities as well as a lack of empathy. I understand that these bureaucrats are not medical professionals, however if they do not have the knowledge – they can get it, and if they are un-empathetic – should they be put in these roles?

Another problematic situation was the abrupt stopping of access to my medication which happened which left me without medication for several months and no doctor at my practice seemed concerned that this had happened due to me not being able to attend a review which they set for my medication, so due to my lack of ability to attend (which they were well aware of) they just stopped it. Now there are not many meds I can take for my mental illnesses, anti-psychotics make me zombie like, mood stabilisers seem to make me physically sick, most anti-depressants do not work for me, however Citalopram is a drug which minimises my anxiety disorders (C-PTSD, Generalised Anxiety Disorder, OCD, Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Agoraphobia) I take the 40g dose which is the highest (when not in hospital) – it takes the intense feelings away, the feelings which cause me to be in constant fight or flight – a hyper vigilant mind, which feels like your entire body is trying to kill you and save you from imagined danger all at once. Even though it is not a miracle cure and does not make me more able, it allows me to exist in a calmer mind set, which is a life line when dealing with complex illnesses.

As you may be aware it is dangerous to stop medication abruptly as it can cause side effects and withdrawal symptoms. Personally my withdrawal was hell and life threatening, some are lucky enough to not even experience any issues, however there is no way of knowing.

The danger I was put in by the doctors stopping my medication access abruptly led to: suicidal thoughts and plans, anxiety, panic attacks, brain fog, concentration problems, insomnia, migraines, confusion, depression, dizziness, nausea, mood swings, fatigue and irritability. 

This then had a knock on effect to my other illnesses, being under so much stress led to my diabetes and PCOS symptoms to become worse, my borderline personality disorder became more intense and more dangerous for me, intensifying my suicidal desires and my inability to regulate emotions. Also I experienced psychosis – with delusions and hallucinations due to my psychotic depression.

The ridiculousness of this is once I started to complain on social media, the doctors were made to give me an emergency prescription of 30 days, but with no accommodations being made for me to access my GP and as this is not on a repeat prescription in exactly 15 days time I shall be in the same predicament and have to go through this ordeal again, which I fear I will not survive.

In my correspondence with the NHS several things were said to me which constitute as discrimination, ableism and some were just unhelpful in a stressful situation.

Some of the most frustrating things said to me:

“it is a shame your husband can not attend evening appointments”.

Well as far as I am aware just from all the people I know in this country, none of them can access evening appointments due to normal working hours, with only one evening being made open for late appointments, this is ridiculous and very unhelpful to me a disabled person – house bound, with only my husband as my access to the world outside.

“you say you are out of medication”

This may be semantics, however saying “you say” indicates a lack of belief, what would be wrong in saying, “you have no medication, we can help with this”, this was very triggering for me and my conditions as it made me feel unheard and disbelieved.

“There are other surgeries which may offer what you need”

This made me feel so angry and discriminated against. As no real effort has been made here for my disabilities. A ramp is put in place for wheelchair users, WHERE IS MY RAMP! If they are suggesting that some one like me is so difficult and must be put through the added stress of finding another GP surgery just because a GP can not message me via email or text when they are on their way to my house, so that I can answer the door to them, well this is disgusting! This is what we are talking about… Nothing more!

“This appointment could have been had by another patient needing a home visit”

Now this is called victim blaming as well as ableism. I made it very clear that my disabilities mean my communication skills are impaired so I can not answer the phone or make phone calls, I also stated that due to my disabilities I can not go outside alone, sometimes not at all, that a handful of people are safe enough for me to go outside with (all of whom work during surgery hours), and that I can not answer the front door if I have no idea who it is (giving me a time or texting when outside is how I can open the door). Saying that another patient could have had the appointment I so desperately need is so discriminatory against my mental illnesses and has put unnecessary stress onto me when already so unwell.

This is why it has taken me 3 weeks to write another article, as I feel defeated. My only motivation is that by fighting for myself I can fight for others, as so many people have messaged me in the last 3 weeks telling me how they are in similar situations, so holding on by a thread my mission is to create change. However when the next wave of withdrawal happens whether this fight is sustained is anyone’s guess. As there are times when I am not in control of myself. For now my fight is waning but still intact.

Here are my email correspondence with the NHS (this is done for full transparency):

NHS Correspondence

NHS Correspondence

NHS Correspondence

NHS Correspondence

NHS Correspondence

NHS Correspondence

NHS Correspondence

NHS Correspondence


NHS Correspondence


NHS Correspondence

NHS Correspondence


 

NHS Correspondence


NHS Correspondence

NHS Correspondence

NHS Correspondence


NHS Correspondence

NHS Correspondence

NHS Correspondence


For more information on Citalaopram please follow these links:

Mind: http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/drugs-and-treatments/antidepressants-a-z/citalopram/

Head Meds: http://www.headmeds.org.uk/medications/10-citalopram/use_and_action

Mental Health Daily: http://mentalhealthdaily.com/2014/05/21/celexa-citalopram-withdrawal-symptoms-how-long-will-they-last/

Withdrawal symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Brain zaps: Most SSRIs can lead to a person experiencing “brain zaps” or electrical shock sensations upon withdrawal.
  • Concentration problems: a person may feel mentally slow and/or foggy when they stop the medication – this is likely due to changes in levels of neurotransmitters.
  • Confusion: Your cognitive functioning can become impaired to the point of experiencing general confusion. This confusion may be a result of memory retrieval problems, but could also just be confused thinking.
  • Crying spells: Some people report increased depression to the point of crying spells. Low serotonin can cause people to cry excessively.
  • Depression: This is a result of their brain no longer inhibiting the re-uptake of serotonin to the degree that occurred on the medication.
  • Dizziness: Feeling dizzy is one of the most common symptoms to experience during SSRI withdrawal.
  • Fatigue: It may be difficult to get out of bed in the morning or even make it through a work day. The tiredness and lethargy may be pretty severe.
  • Headaches: This is another classic symptom of SSRI withdrawal.
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability: This is because the brain no longer is receiving the calming effect of the drug and it can be difficult to regulate emotions.
  • Memory problems: It is common to experience memory problems to the point that you think you have lost your memory.
  • Mood swings:  They may persist for a long time, but will eventually subside.
  • Nausea: You may feel nauseated all day and in some cases, want to vomit.
  • Sleep changes: It is very likely that your sleep cycle will be affected when you withdraw from this drug.
  • Suicidal thoughts: It is very common to experience suicidal thoughts when discontinuing an antidepressant. Any SSRI that is withdrawn from is likely to lead a person to feeling suicidal.

If you have experienced anything similar with the NHS or you wish to help me and want to know how? Please fill in this form:


If you have an emergency due to your mental illness please be safe and contact Sane: http://www.sane.org.uk/what_we_do/support/

mental-illness-meme by charlotte farhan

Make it Stop – Art and Poetry by Charlotte Farhan

Make it Stop - Art and Poetry by Charlotte Farhan
Make it Stop – Art and Poetry by Charlotte Farhan

Waking up,
whipping eyelids open in panic,
heartbeats pound at my chest,
a frame of mind completely manic,
inside is emptiness,
depressed,
with nausea rising as if volcanic,
anxieties flood and infest,
unwanted thoughts,
borderline satanic,
the compulsions arise,
obsessed,
a lump in my throat,
gigantic,
memories pushed down,
repressed.


 

If you would like to know more please contact me via this form…

 

Time to Breathe – Art and Poetry By Charlotte Farhan

Time to breathe - By Charlotte Farhan
Time to breathe – By Charlotte Farhan

Time to breathe is a luxury,
many do not have the privilege,
a condition for recovery,
confused often with forgiveness.

Time ticks faster – lungs clench,
pressure mounts further inside,
enemies to avenge,
memories like cyanide.

There is no freedom from this tyranny,
like vines weaving through the undergrowth,
holding you to the earth – in captivity,
the past is like a murderer – cutthroat.

Time to breathe is not possible when dead,
life is your only time to salvage your liberty,
the story which follows is still unread,
the chance to respire remains a possibility.