Proving unseen illness in order to survive.

I have to open myself up again, for the powers that be.
I have to retell it, relive it all.
I have to prove my illnesses and disabilities, whilst fitting in the predetermined boxes – designed for some of us to slip through.
I have fallen through the lines, the pages, told “there is nothing we can do for people like you”.
“You’re too ill”.
Jumping through hoops, running up hills – against the torrential down pour of sociatal expectations.
All this is done whilst the 1%, the bourgeoisie, the privileged watch on, as they stuff their faces with our human rights.
The media uses us as scapegoats, for the ‘outraged’ to demonise us, with the misinformation they are brainwashed by – we, the ones at the “bottom”, we bring it on ourselves.
Illness is equated with laziness, disability is questioned as being unmotivated.
The seen, the unseen and no details in between.
My work is unpaid and thankless, the sick leading the sick.
I don’t want this feeling of being less than, for being unable to fit into an imaginary “type”, conjured up by able, privileged puppet masters, pulling strings, herding the “deserving” humans into their boxes, and the undeserving to their coffins.

If you can’t be crazy here, then where? – By Charlotte Farhan (upcoming book excerpt)

If you can’t be crazy here, then where?

The first time I arrived at Woodside, it was 1999, mid-summer and I was 15 years old. Woodside was an adolescent psychiatric hospital and I was being admitted as a patient. The hospital was across acres of land, an old Victorian asylum with luscious towering trees, derelict buildings, secret gardens and courtyards and the odd facility still in use, like Woodside, an elderly psych and a lock up for criminal psychiatric patients. It was other worldly, away from everything, well not everything. The hospital was next to Chessington World of Adventures and every so often when the wind caught the sound just right, you could hear people screaming as they rode the roller-coasters, whilst having the time of their lives, it was ironic and very unnerving in such a spooky setting.

When I stepped out of the car the feeling of dread hit me. This was it! I was being abandoned here, without knowing what to expect and so far from that place which was supposed to feel like home, a safe space; maybe this was the safest place for me. The adults I had seen recently seemed concerned that I was a danger to myself.

I stepped into the reception area and noticed a girl sat there. She had very fine curly blond hair tied in a pony tail with loose curls frizzing around her head like a golden halo, her body was painfully thin, and she didn’t seem to be safe with herself either as she too had visible scars. She sat there tearing up a piece of paper, with pieces floating to the ground like sad confetti, I wondered how long she had been here, why was this sad girl so sad. Before she was escorted into a room she gave me the most dejected smile I had ever seen.

I was called into a room, it looked like the interview room I had been in a couple of weeks before, when the police took my statement. Inside there was a large two way mirror a video recorder and a man sat in a chair writing some notes. Sitting down nervously in front of the man I noticed he was probably in his late 50s, with more hair growing from his eyebrows, ears and nose than his head. With no smile or warmth, he said:

“Why do you think you are here Charlotte?”

This question was difficult for me to answer because in answering it I would have to say certain things out loud which were too hard to face, so I simply replied:

“I don’t know”

The man looked at me with one eyebrow raised and omitted a faint exhale of exasperation, I felt the floor fall out from under me, I felt worthless and realised that here, wherever this place is, I wouldn’t be understood either.

“I am Dr Sevett and I am the head psychiatrist here, at Woodside. Please make sure you use your time here wisely Charlotte” he said abruptly.

I had been at Woodside for just under a week, most of the other inpatients were either shy, un-welcoming or needy. I was introduced to a patient called Natalie, a chubby girl with frizzy brown hair, pulled back into an untidy top knot. Natalie was smiley and seemed to be more adjusted than most. She offered me a cigarette, I was excited that we could smoke and jumped at the opportunity. Natalie led me into the grounds at the back of our building, which consisted of an open manicured lawn with a clustered corner of old oak trees. Natalie sat us down in the centre, which felt odd as I was more an outskirts kind of girl, but this seemed natural to her and her confidence comforted me. As we both inhaled our first puffs of nicotine and poison, Natalie leant into me and said:

‘so, do you want the low down on whose who in here then?’

I nodded silently.

‘that girl over there is Louise, she’s an ED girl and you don’t want to get on her bad side’

Natalie said this with dramatic eyes to further her point.

‘ED girl?’ I asked

‘ED. Meaning eating disorder’

Natalie said with a tone that suggested I should have already known this. I didn’t have the guts to tell her that I was also an “ED” girl. Looking over at Louise I could tell that she was withholding food, although some could still be fooled due to the amount of clothes she was wearing.

‘Who is that next to her’ I asked, as I recognised her as the girl from reception with the sad confetti.

‘That’s Chrissy, she’s also an ED girl’

Lucy and Chrissy sat there under the trees as if they were perfectly placed china dolls, however, I felt the glare of Louise’s stair as she sussed me out.

‘Over there is Cane, annoying, but harmless, he has the mental age of a 10-year-old even though he is 16, so that’s why he acts the way he does, you’ll see.’

Cane was a tall and heavy set, about 6ft – he only wore tracksuits in garish colours. His mannerisms were erratic, and his voice boomed throughout the grounds.

‘That guy over there is Alex, he’s 18. He shouldn’t be here, they will be moving him to an adult facility. He has schizophrenia, so he can be very intense.’ Natalie said this with a cautious tone.

Alex stood in a door way of an abandoned building next to woodside, he looked like a Victorian gentleman, he had vampire like skin, almost translucent. His eyes were wolf like, a silvery grey which were brought out by his jet-black hair. He was tall, and his body was slender like a ballet dancer, you could see his muscle definition – he was strong.

“Over there is Jenny, she is weird but the sweetest – she doesn’t speak to anyone, so don’t be offended.’ Natalie smiled as she described Jenny.

Jenny was sat on a bench and appeared to be drawing in a notebook, she had dark sleek shoulder length hair, her skin was Mediterranean looking. Jenny had bare feet and her toes were painted a sparkly purple which twinkled as she wriggled them in the sunshine.

‘why are you here?’ I asked Natalie with hesitation

‘I was diagnosed with clinical depression. I self-harm a lot – but not as much as I did, you?’ Natalie pulled at her sleeves as she said this.

‘Something happened to me, an incident. I was ill before but this, what happened, it broke me and now I want to die – so they put me here.’

A few days later, I entered the day room and saw the nurses un-stacking chairs and placing them in a circle, it wasn’t for our daily group therapy. as we had already done this, as we had done every morning at 9am, so this confused me. We were asked to all take a seat.

“Hello everyone, we are calling today’s emergency group for Jenny, because Jenny refuses to go to School”, a nurse said in her best patronising tone.

This confused me further; school? We were in hospital, why would she have to go to school?

“Jenny, why don’t you want to go to school today?” the nurse asked

Jenny was sat on her chair with her knees up under her chin, her arms were folded in front of her face resting on her knees, with only her exceptionally large doe eyes peering through her hair and over her arms. Jenny didn’t reply.

Nurses, Doctors and some of the patients started to discuss Jenny as if she weren’t in the room. Jenny appeared to be getting smaller and smaller and I could feel the anger inside me get bigger and bigger, before I had time to think words just burst out from my mouth:

“Why does Jenny have to go to school, why are you making her feel bad for being ill, when being ill is why we are all here, leave her alone”.

I felt exposed, I had revealed myself. The doctors were looking at me with disbelief, the nurses looked disapprovingly, but the patients seemed elated. I looked over to Jenny and she was transfixed on me, like a puppy.

Later that day whilst in my room I decided to crack open my prison like window as the humid air felt constricting, but the window was stuck. I began to rattle the window angrily, but before I could lose my cool I saw these beautifully delicate long fingers appear and with complete ease lift the window open. It was Jenny, she stood there in my room like a beautiful ghost. Natalie had told me that Jenny didn’t speak to anyone. Which is why when Jenny Said:

“Thank you, Charlotte”.

I was both startled and honoured.

Jenny and I sat on my bed that afternoon and talked for hours, we chatted like old friends, we could have been “normal” teenagers if someone had just heard us, without knowing our situation and new address. The hazy feeling had left in those moments, I was me, in my mind and my body. With Jenny I was no longer a spectator of these strange events, I was here, and I was with Jenny.

Waking up in my new permanent state, terrified; not knowing where I was, what had happened and why. As my eyes ripped open, ready to escape what they had seen, my heart relocated to my throat, my blood rushing to my legs in preparation – detachment was settling in, nothing was real, including myself. The sun forced itself onto me through my window, not allowing me a second to pretend that that everything I knew was wrong and nothing would be the same again. The sunshine seemed to mock me with its warmth and promise of growth and better days. The birds and their song were not delightful, but instead loud and domineering. The noise of rustling leaves grated on my nerves like finger nails on a chalk board. The truth would slap me in the face and pin me to the bed, I was here, Woodside; I was labelled crazy and damaged, left and abandoned.

There was a knock at my door and before I could even utter a sound a chipper voice said:

‘Charlotte are you awake?’

I unfortunately knew that I was, so just shouted:

‘COME IN’

The door flung open, it was nurse Carry – skipping in with a beaming smile. With a look which matched her personality, wild curly hair, a sun tan which suggested she took long holidays in exotic destinations, or possibly she had just fallen into a vat of orange paint. Her clothes were bright, and she wore as much sparkle as possible, she spoke with a high pitched chirpy voice, however the thing I noticed first was her kind eyes.

At Woodside Carry was my firm favourite, her bubbly, approachable nature was exactly what I needed. A sugar-coated human, which I had little experience with in my 15 years.

‘Charlotte, the nurses need to speak to you, can you come to the office as soon as you are dressed’

I sat up slowly like the living dead, nodding at Carry and then placed my head in my hands as the world was already too intrusive.

‘don’t worry it’s just a chat’ Carry said softly.

But, I was worried; the other nurses, therapists and doctors, the “professionals” were fascists, they were stereotypical of who you would imagine working in a Victorian asylum. I walked to the nurse’s office which was a glass enclosure inside the day room, so that the staff could keep a close eye on us, the patients; or at least to reprimand us – not necessarily to keep us safe. It was an obvious divider between us and them, “them” being the ones who think they are sane and us who are deemed feral loons. Although, if they had been through what we all had, what I had; would they still be on the other side of the glass? Never had the expression, “people in glass houses, shouldn’t throw stones” rung so true to me.

I knocked on the door and a very stern, yet attractive woman answers, it’s nurse Isabelle. As she opens the door the smell of her musky perfume hits the back of my throat, leaving the taste of floral alcohol on my tongue. The sound of normality from the conversations of the other nurses pass through my ears, reminding me of life before.

‘Charlotte come in’ Nurse Isabelle says with distain.

I sit on a swivel chair and feel the unsteadiness jolt me back into reality. Nurse Isabelle looks me up and down with her mouth grimacing, as if I were some smelly mongrel she found in the gutter and was now responsible for. She made me feel dirty, a feeling, along with shame – had become residents in my self-belief.

‘We wanted to have a word with you, with regards to your appearance. We feel that you are dressed too provocatively and that it is becoming a nuisance for the male nurses and doctors and distracts them. Also, you are inviting unwanted attention from the male patients’.

As Nurse Isabelle finished her onslaught of misogynistic bile, I knew then, at 15 that my gender “the weaker sex” would be forever complicit in how boys and men used me, regardless of facts, consent or my age. The clothes in question were regular clothes that most teenage girls wore in the nineties. An off the shoulder, strappy top, jeans – hardly X-rated material.

I continued to sit there, as nurse Isabelle told me how to improve upon myself, exerting her privilege and condescending me with every word that left her lips, I sunk further into my dissociation. As I felt myself float above my body I could see Jenny sat in the corner, staring at me with her big eyes, full of concern for me. Focusing on Jenny’s gaze I allowed the dishonour to wash over me.

Over the next month Jenny and I became inseparable, we had our own inside jokes, we wrote notes to each other everyday to read before bed. Jenny wrote weird and wonderful short stories for me, about the characters who spoke to her, that none of us could see. Her sense of humour was bizarre to say the least, however, I loved it. Sometimes Jenny would find dead insects and would make them the tiniest envelopes to delicately put them in and would give them to me as gifts. She called me her baby beasty or sometimes Sharon, drawing pictures for me of strange vampire like creatures which always had the same eyes. We washed each other’s hair, we took turns to lay on top of one another to feel the comfort and weight of another person, we were everything that we needed.

One day after creative writing therapy Jenny and I sat on the steps outside the reception area. It was another ironic sunny day at the funny farm, the smell of cut grass, the light of mid-summer and the sound of life beyond the grounds. The care free laughter and excitable screams of those at the amusement park adjacent. Whilst I sipped a can of coke and Jenny ate a melted chocolate bar, exasperated I turned to Jenny and said:

‘God, I’m bored, aren’t you?’

Jenny looked at me and nodded and then, in a funny posh voice said:

‘This place is driving me crazy.’

We both looked at each other and couldn’t stop giggling.

‘Let’s see how far we can go.’ Jenny whispered.

‘Where’ I said with a baffled expression on my face

‘Over there’ Jenny pointed to a field beyond woodside and the lock up ward. I had no idea what was beyond that point.

Once we got there we realised it was a corn field, it glistened in the sun like a sea of gold, as the wind moved through the corn it created waves. We had already gone further than we were allowed. Jenny found a small hole in the wired fence which we both managed to squeeze through. We were both badly dressed for the occasion, Jenny was barefoot, and I was wearing a long bohemian skirt, I had to pull the skirt up to around my waist, so I could walk through the field without getting caught by the stems of corn. The field seemed never ending, it dipped into a valley, and at the bottom was an imposing oak tree. When we reached the tree, it was even bigger than we had predicted, it engulfed the light. We collapsed in a heap among the roots, which looked like octopus arms, the earth was cool and peppered with acorn shells. Jenny and I stayed there until the sun set and felt as if we were free from our pasts, our illnesses and them – the ones who wanted to keep us here.

Once we walked back from the corn field and approached the entrance to woodside, I could see Nurse Isabelle waiting at the door with a face that brought on the feelings of being a little girl who was about to be scolded in front of her friends. Nurse Isabelle grabbed Jenny from beside me, as if I were a monster. She began to rub Jenny’s arms as if she was a small child who had just got out of the bath.

‘How could you do this to Jenny?’ Nurse Isabelle screeched.

I felt the need to die, the need to end the pain from being the “bad child” or the “crazy girl” who puts others in danger. I have never looked fragile, as a tall girl with broad shoulders certain assumptions are made. I have always been described as strong, confident, resilient and mature. None of which I have ever felt to be me, so, it was easy for people to scapegoat me when compared to someone outwardly fragile.

‘Do what, what did I do?’ I screamed franticly.

I knew Jenny couldn’t defend me or speak up, this made me look guilty. Nurse Isabelle took Jenny inside, leaving the door to hit me in the face.

A week later I was in my room listening to Tori Amos on my CD player, whilst writing in my feelings journal – something my psychiatrist had me doing. As I doodled a heart with knives piercing through it, bloodied and damaged; the door opened, and Alex was stood in my doorway in his dressing gown. He had no expression on his face, he looked robotic, lifeless. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up, and in turn I stood up and went to close my door – before I could even take a step forward, Alex started to undress. Walking toward me, he opened his gown and revealed his naked body and erect penis to me, it was as if he had pulled out a knife and I knew I would die. Alex grabbed me and pushed his weapon into my groin, disbelief became detachment. How could this be happening again I thought to myself, a “safe place” the doctors said; was this my fault – I was the common denominator. Before Alex had a chance to go any further a male nurse walked past and saw what was happening, the nurse calmly walked over to Alex without even acknowledging me and escorted Alex back to his room. No one ever brought up this incident again, however, later that week locks were fitted on our doors.

My body didn’t feel as if it belonged to me anymore, it was a shameful vessel of trauma, the reason I was here in this strange place, was because I was damaged goods and left behind to be abused further, a level of hell I did not know existed, until then. Ans little did I know that the levels of hell could get deeper and darker.

Several weeks later whilst sitting in the day room, I was staring out of the window, watching the season change. Cain walked over to me and started telling me sexually explicit jokes, he was childlike, which made me feel I could get rid of his advances easily. I stood up and went to walk away, Cain grabbed me and pushed me to the floor, his weight seemed to expel all the air from my lungs. Whilst giggling like a little boy Cain began to undress me – the room started to spin, and my body went limp, flashbacks filled my mind, confusing past and present.

Cain was pulled off me, he had me pinned to the floor and was about to rape me. But, was it my fault. Was this because of me, the questions repeated in my head.

It had been 3 months since I arrived at Woodside and autumn had arrived. In a state of denial and rebellion, my behaviour changed. I became reckless, no longer listening to the “adults”, I began allowing myself to be used by male and female patients, whilst manipulating the vulnerable ones myself, getting them to smuggle razor blades and diet pills from the outside to me. This was now survival. Jenny was my only reason for living, which the doctors took a dislike to, trying to separate us at every opportunity.

One Friday afternoon Jenny and I sat outside the main door to Woodside, watching the doctors leaving for the weekend in the “real world”, back to live amongst the “sane” people. We noticed Dr Sevett, or as we liked to call him “Dr Death”, was walking toward us.

‘Oh God, what does he want?’ Jenny muttered from under her cardigan which she had covering her nose and mouth.

‘Charlotte, we need to see you’ Dr Sevett called over.

Jenny grabbed my hand and squeezed it tightly and said:

‘Remember they don’t know us, we know us’

I smiled at her and squeezed her hand back.

I walked into Dr Sevett’s office and sat down in front of his grandiose desk, Dr Sevett looked down at me over his glasses and said:

‘Now, Charlotte, we have a problem. We feel you are too disruptive to other patients here at Woodside’

I could feel the rejection before it even left his mouth.

‘We are going to terminate your time here, after next week’ he said in a condescending tone.

I started to tap my foot repeatedly, anger rushed through me.

‘why exactly’ I asked through gritted teeth.

‘Well, you cause problems for other patients’ he winced as he said this.

Alex and Cain came to mind, as well as the doctors who complained about being distracted by my “provocative clothes”, and how they thought I was bad for Jenny.

‘I’m ill too, you know’ I said whilst fighting angry tears.

‘maybe too ill’ Dr Sevett said.

My entire existence felt as if it hung in the balance, Dr Death was sentencing me to a life as the “crazy, hysterical girl”. I wasn’t being asked to leave I was graduating from this bedlam with a higher chance of stigma and prejudice and a high possibility of suicide. It was clear to me then, I was not allowed to be the victim, I was only allowed to be the problem.

As I got up and went to leave I turned to Dr Sevett and said:

‘If you can’t be crazy here, then where?’.


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World Art Day – how art can help ease mental illness and create change.

It’s World Art Day and SANE – The Mental Health Charity asked me to do a drawing to celebrate and raise awareness of how affective art can be to help with mental illness.

Art saved my life. Not figuratively, but literally. I was at the end of the road in 2010, after suffering my 4th severe break down. I was suicidal and told that there was no support for me. I then stood at a cross road, with a paint brush in one hand and a self distruct button in the other.

Then I just started to paint.

I am able to communicate with art, sort through painful memories and help create change for others by raising awareness regarding mental health and the stigma people like myself deal with due to having mental illness.

I encourage people to find a creative outlet this world art day, you won’t regret it.

Please support SANE and if you need help or resources follow the link to find out more:

http://www.sane.org.uk/how_you_can_help/fundraise/vote_for_sane/

“Slut” – Art to end the silence on rape culture


“Slut”

is what they reduce us to

“untrustworthy”

in their minds

clear cut

dirty.

Sexuality

is not ours

brutality

from the powers

that be

shame and showers

hypocrisy

A word that has it’s own gender

men are eligible

never the offender

even when they are the violator

women are penetrable

disreputable

This word has no objective

but to stigmatise

oppressive

bias they vocalise

religion and war

the old male agenda

property

we are no more

So instead of this word

use nothing

these lines are not blurred

our bodies remain ours

its just their egos crushing

equality empowers

are you not tired of judging

(Poetry by Charlotte Farhan)


Slut - By Charlotte Farhan
Slut – By Charlotte Farhan

As women or even as girls most of us have been slut shammed. This is a sad fact of our society, a practice which has happened in many forms throughout history, although the term was apparently only brought to life in the new age of social media, with platforms readily available for people to offer their opinions on everything and one of the most prolific of discrimination women face online is slut shaming. With young girls being subjected to this from their pre-teens onward.

A girl or woman has a uncompromising task in society to be both sexy and modest, with the goal post moving back and forth, with men asserting themselves whilst diminishing women.

As well as the patriarchal agenda, internalised misogyny exists within women who themselves can be the harshest critics of themselves and other women. Their have been countless times with my female friends when they have called other women and girls sluts, whores or suggested that they are “asking for it”, these are women in their thirties and in the same breath they will also decide that if they wear “that dress” they themselves will be seen as a slut, or if they sleep with a man “too soon” they will be deemed a whore. It pains me as I know this rhetoric is damaging for us, for everyone.

Certain people are thought to be more “slutty” than others just because they belong to certain ethnicity’s or groups. Such as women of colour, in particular black women – who for a long time have been subjected to the disturbing suggestion that they are “wilder” less tame – by white people and the residual effect is still believed by many.

Sexual assault victims (like myself) can be deemed a slut just for being raped or assaulted with the perception that we must have provoked the attack or act, by wearing certain clothes, red lipstick or just because we were sexually active before hand.

The LGBTQ community can be also deemed more promiscuous or “sexually deviant”, due to archaic beliefs that this community is rooted in perversion.

Th fact is that if you are using the word slut to describe others or yourself then you are contributing to the rhetoric of slut shaming and ultimately rape culture.

Ask yourself why you are concerned by what others do with their sexuality, what they wear or how many partners they have had?

Then ask yourself why some people are exempt from this discrimination, do you judge everyone equally?

And lastly if you are shaming yourself, it maybe useful to find out where this shame originates from, it may have been some one else’s judgement you have held onto and deemed your belief or part of your identity, let go of this by unpacking it, seek support – be kinder to yourself.

If this judgement is your own, of yourself, then possibly you are internalising misogyny and this can be very unhealthy for your self esteem and self worth.

These ideas have not always existed in me, I have had to do lots of work to understand this socially acceptable discrimination. However, it is not a word I use and even if the word arises in me at moments of weakness or self loathing I am able to challenge them and let go.

We can challenge, raise awareness and let go together.


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“What was she wearing” – Art to end the silence on rape culture

What was she wearing - By Charlotte Farhan
What was she wearing – By Charlotte Farhan

 


 

“what was she wearing”

is the first question asked

“how could she be so daring”

judging her on her past

“her clothes are provocative”

society proclaimed

“her innocence is impossible”

her gender is shamed

“why didn’t she cover up”

the jury quiery

“she seems grown up”

which makes them uneasy

But still their judgement spills

“this doesn’t happen to good girls”

say the old men looking for thrills

but even “good girls” get raped

clothes don’t invite

however they might be draped

this is not black and white

they want power

not sex

they want to deflower

to treat us as objects

clothes can’t protect us

nor can the word “no”

consent we must discuss

for a better tomorrow.

(poetry by Charlotte Farhan)


When I was raped at 15 my clothes were taken as evidence. I wore a gypsy top (off the shoulder) with some black leggings. When the police said that my clothes would be used as evidence I presumed in my naivety, that it would be in case of DNA samples, which of course was part of it. However, I in no way knew until told that they would be used by the defence – against me. This archaic procedure affected me greatly, I internalised the blame and shame that was being thrown at me, believing that the responsibility was mine, that I had invited this. That women and girls are responsible for not getting themselves raped. I didn’t challenge this until much older, when I was able to see this entire situation from an adults perspective.

If I had been naked would it have been OK to be violently raped and forced to perform sexual acts, leaving me bruised and bleeding, needing surgery? The answer is NO!

If it is my fault for “dressing provocatively” then this must mean that women in modest attire or religious clothing such as the hijab or nikab, don’t get raped? Which is NOT true.

All survivors of sexual violence, assault and abuse, whether they are women, men, non binary or trans – were not violated because of their clothes or lack of. Otherwise we could assume that there is a standard “rape outfit”, a pattern in certain clothing items which were worn by victims. But there is NOT!

For example, “What were you wearing?” the exhibit at the Centre Communautaire Maritime in Brussels features replicated clothing items to those worn by victims of sexual assault. The exhibit states that it wishes to: “create a tangible response to one of our most pervasive rape culture myths” because “The belief that clothing or what someone what wearing ’causes’ rape is extremely damaging for survivors.” Please take a look at the link below.

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/rape-victims-clothes-displayed-brussels-belgium-debunk-victim-blaming-myth-a8152481.html

If you have ever thought along these lines, please think again, logically break it down and you will soon see that this is a patriarchal rhetoric which only lends itself to rape culture, WE NEED CONSENT CULTURE!

 


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“She asked for it” – Art to end the silence on rape culture


After the fact

the whispers begin

“she asked for it”

they judge

after our flesh

was broken in

our reputation

a smudge.

Why would anyone

ask for this

they poke fun

our innocense

they dismiss

our wilfulness

they insist.

No one

asks for this.

(Poetry By Charlotte Farhan)

She Asked For It – By Charlotte Farhan

 


 

This piece of art and poetry is the first in a series of art pieces confronting the rhetoric that surrounds victims of sexual abuse, violence, assault and harassment.

At 15 years old I was told by most “you asked for it” when I was violently raped, also at 15 – when admitted to a psychiatric unit (after being raped); I was sexually assaulted twice by two different inpatients, I was told “you provoked that”.

I believed them all, I believed this was true, that I was to blame because  my body was sinful, provocative, shameful or just fair game.

Doctors, nurses, parents, friends, they all said it.

It took so much time. growth and learning to eventually be where I am today; to be able to tell you all, that it’s not your fault, that it wasn’t mine either. That we are not to blame for another person taking advantage of us and violating us.

Consent was not taught in the 1980’s and 90’s. Socialised as girls we understood from an early age that society deemed our bodies to be “of service” to men, children, free labour…

I was told boys and men “only want one thing” and if I wanted a boy or eventually a husband, I had to give it to them, to keep them happy and myself relevant.

It is very easy for those unaffected to judge, they can continue their naive ideas that rape and sex are the same, that rapists and abusers are monsters – not “normal” everyday people. Never challenging the simplistic ideas we have carried through from a time when women were considered property everywhere and that their fathers owned them, eventually being given to their husbands.

No autonomy – just a body.

For anyone reading this, male, female, non-binary or trans. You didn’t ask for it – not literally, subtlety or subconsciously. You didn’t cause this, nor deserve it, this was done to you by a criminal who broke the law and broke every decent moral code there is. They did this. NOT YOU!


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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

 

How the World Silences Survivors of Sexual Abuse, Assault and Harassment – Me Too and Shame

As a survivor of child sexual abuse, rape and sexual assault there is never a day that these things are not brought up by the world around me. From rape jokes, depictions in literature and on screen, news stories about sex offenders and those who perpetuate and uphold rape culture. On top of this there are flashbacks, nightmares, and suffering from post traumatic stress disorder to contend with. This is torture, however it is the reality of victims who have survived.

Recently an old campaign was brought back to life after the revelations from the victims of Harvey Weinstein and his continued sexual offences were brought to light. The movement is called Me Too (#MeToo) and was started 10 years ago by Tarana Burke – to unify those who’ve been victimised by sexual assault.

“It was a catchphrase to be used from survivor to survivor to let folks know that they were not alone and that a movement for radical healing was happening and possible.”

“What’s happening now is powerful and I salute it and the women who have disclosed but the power of using ‘me too’ has always been in the fact that it can be a conversation starter or the whole conversation – but it was us talking to us,” – Tarana Burke

As a survivor who survives by using my trauma to educate people about sexual offences and offenders and who shares to help other survivors feel less alone through my art and writing, it was only natural for me to support the movement and join in. It felt odd as there was a sense of relief that I was not alone and that others were speaking out – however there was also the realisation of just how many #MeToo statuses I was seeing in my news feeds across social media platforms; not being surprised by these revelations as I am very familiar with the truth of how prevalent these crimes are.

Then the usual erasure started. Victim blaming was loud and clear, with those who have never experienced these crimes and trauma chiming in with their privilege – mainly white able “feminists”, such as The Big Bang Theory star Mayim Bialik. Mayim arrogantly used her platform to victim blame and projected her own opinions on those (who are in fact survivors) to suggest modesty protects against sexual offences, that not being “conventionally attractive” could also protect you.

Read the full article here

In response many survivors took to twitter to criticise this blatant ill informed and damaging piece.


As well as this many of us (the survivors) were subjected to people criticising those of us who had used the ME TOO hashtag, saying it was attention seeking, a “trend” and even people making comments such as:

“I hate people jumping on the bandwagon, with their #MeToo victim mantra”

or trivialising the movement by suggesting that women only feel harassed when they don’t fancy the man harassing them.

Fashion Designer Donna Karan was quick to blame women for their assaults and harassment by stating:

“How do we present ourselves as women?” Karan was reported as saying at an awards ceremony Sunday evening in response to a question about the accusations against Weinstein. “What are we asking? Are we asking for it? By presenting all the sensuality and all the sexuality? What are we throwing out to our children today? About how to dance, how to perform and what to wear? How much should they show?”

“It’s not Harvey Weinstein, you look at everything all over the world today, you know, and how women are dressing and what they’re asking by just presenting themselves the way they do. What are they asking for? Trouble.”

Far-right hate preachers such as Katie Hopkins used survivors (as she often does) in order to further her prejudice campaign against Muslims, as she “believes” that rape and child molestation are crimes perpetrated by Muslims and mainly against white girls.

As well as this (which is her usual rhetoric) she went on further to suggest the women who have come forward, have exchanged sex rather than being subjected to rape, assault and harassment. Clearly stating she herself is NOT a victim of sexual violence – begging the question, why comment? Well it is a simple ugly truth, Katie Hopkins uses suffering to gain financially and has no remorse for who she affects as she is blameless with her arrogant (teenager) style inability to be held accountable, shrugging her actions off, suggesting always that it is the “other” who is wrong or to blame. Many on the far-right of the political spectrum use survivors (especially children) in order to scaremonger and portray the white supremacist ideas that people of colour are feral and are more likely to rape, steal and murder. Katie’s agenda is to ban Islam, stop refugees from seeking asylum in the UK and to flip the reality of white privilege and suggest that “white genocide” is on the cards. This is why she uses the fear of sexual violence and child molestation as pertaining to certain ethnic groups over others in order to divide – but mostly for fame and capital gain.


The movement was also evolving and most of the community were quick to offer support to one another, as well as addressing the issues such as the inclusivity of men, trans and non binary people, remembering that often these are the most unlikely to come forward or have the platform to express their trauma. We addressed the issue that the movement was misquoted as being started by ALYSSA MILANO when in fact it was started by Tarana Burke as stated at the beginning of this piece, which left many rightly angry that the voices of black women and women of colour were being pushed further down and not being given the credit when it was due. Reminding us all further that #BlackLivesMatter is still a very necessary movement. We also made sure to include those who are unable to voice their #MeToo and I reminded people that there are also the children (like I was) who aren’t even aware that they too are victims, unaware that they have been abused, still being abused and who remain voiceless.

Another side emerged due to the movement – where certain survivors were criticising other survivors for taking part. My heart felt heavy reading the statuses and comments projecting their pain and anger toward those of us who have been speaking out and those who (for many it was the first time) shared their story, only to be met with one-upmanship making those who shared retreat into the shame that we are all to accustomed to. When these games are played within the survivor community they can be misunderstood and met with understandable hostility.

To the survivors who were doing this:

No one is denying that what happened to you was terrible. You have been through hell and back and probably find yourself in a purgatory like state often. However you must try not to allow yourself to be goaded in to proving your trauma. You don’t have to justify your story with evidence or ask for others to do so either. We are all hurting and the invalidation that we have endured is infuriating and the feeling of being disbelieved and unheard can send us into a panic, triggering the emotions felt at the time we experienced the trauma. This I believe can be a feeling of such isolation and desperation that jealousy can rear its ugly head, when hearing of others and their stories – especially if it is perceived the other individuals are being heard and validated, isolating you further, making the bait of competition or minimising the other very tempting. This is understandable and I admit that in my twenties feeling jealous of the survivors receiving more support from crisis and health services, those who had families who were comforted, protected and those who were not left disabled from their experience, made me feel jealous and angry. This was misdirected anger on my part, not yet strong enough to realise that I was in fact a victim; my ability to protect my abusers in my mind and see myself as the problem was only dismantled in my early thirties. I finally saw my sexual abuse, rape and sexual assaults from the eyes of an adult, not the child who had no idea what consent was and just wanted to be loved. Allowing myself to finally direct my anger to my predators and the rape culture in which we live in, through my art and writing aiding in my continuous recovery, giving me purpose in order to live each day. This is my process.

The #MeToo movement is a way for us to feel less alone, it is for us (the survivors), it is not for anyone else. People will always chime in as social media allows us all to voice every thought that rattles around in our heads. The victim blaming, erasure and triggering through abuse is a serious risk to those suffering from trauma. Your safety is important! Please do not share if you do not feel strong enough. Even though people assume I am very strong due to the fact I am open about my story. What isn’t often understood or known about me is that it took me 15 years to accept what had happened. The fact that my trauma started in childhood means it has been something I have always known, my abuse started at the age of 4 – a life without abuse is not something that exists for me. There are times when protecting myself and stepping back from my activism, art and writing is all that can be done in order to stay safe. Especially when trolled on social media by people who wish to abuse me further by using my experiences against me and to even threaten me at times.

We know better than most what abuse is and the fact that when we speak out – we are abused further, is the reality of the world we currently live in. The hope is that through education in schools on consent, that addressing patriarchal systems and toxic masculinity, allowing survivors the space to tell their stories safely, that mental health services will do better, that justice systems do not use character assassinations and arbitrary details of the victims life as the key defence, that less stigma is given to those suffering, that the rhetoric of disproportionate “false rape” claims does not over shadow the prevalence of survivors,  that we support the marginalised within survivors – people of colour, mentally ill people, people with disabilities, religious minorities, trans people, non-binary people, men and children; if we are able to start with these things then progress will come. However the need for allies who are from the  most privileged groups in our societies and who have the biggest platforms is needed and their silence or silencing of others is telling.

We don’t owe the world our stories, our lives are not “inspiration porn” and our suffering is not a currency to be used to further hate and this is only when we are believed. When we have to prove our trauma because YOU choose to believe the abusers or victim blame us – you become part of the problem, you facilitate the rapist, the child molester, the sex offender. You give them the signal that this is still acceptable and that their accountability is not an issue. Society tells YOU that the risk of a false accusations of rape is more harmful and a higher risk than actual rape, that clothes determine whether or not “they asked for it”, that men and boys can’t be raped or sexually abused, that to be a sex offender you have to appear to be a monstrous being – when the proof is all around us with well loved “nice guys” being exposed as some of the most harmful predators; such as Bill Cosby, Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris. Or people excuse behaviour due to “genius” with men such as Woody Allen or Roman Polanski. The world is full of examples of how rape culture prevails and how survivors are pushed down – making us some of the most vulnerable people in society.

Next time a movement starts or reemerges don’t trivialise it because it doesn’t mean anything to you – either step back and listen or help. Next time someone is accused of a sexual offence – don’t be so quick to react in their defence, always take time to remember the facts, remember that there is nothing to be gained by accusing anyone of a sexual offence – so why would someone do this. If you begin to victim blame – challenge yourself! If you avoid helping a loved one who is a survivor for fear of saying the wrong thing or feeling uncomfortable – push past this! If you feel the need to ask survivors for more information on what rape culture is, don’t – we do not have to hold your hand, do your own research, we are never rewarded for our emotional labour. Don’t fall for the rhetoric that rape is more prominent in certain races and religions. All I ask from you all is to do better! Unfortunately you never know if you will fall victim next or if someone you love will – in this chaos all that is left is to be kind.


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This Body Survived - By Charlotte Farhan
This Body Survived – By Charlotte Farhan

Losing Control – By Charlotte Farhan – Creative Writing

Losing Control

The mechanics within my mind make a clunking sound, grinding wheels against each other, like fingernails on a chalkboard – the sound vibrates through my ears making my eyes weep. This pain occurs intensely, it’s sensory – losing control of reality.

Am I machine? Or is this mechanical device planted inside my head? Confusion bubbling inside, like a kettle steaming and churning, spilling over.

Reality seeming far away, too far to reach. Having found it before – I can find it again. Did I ever “have” reality? Was it something tangible, that I could touch and claim for myself?

The thoughts fizzing in my brain, as if someone has shaken me up like a soda can – eventually opening me, to explode.

My faculties are dimming, my sight is heavy and my limitations are apparent, there is no resolve in this paradox.

Soon my eyes start to close, lucid dreaming begins. Seeing myself step out of my body as if it were a costume, walking toward vagary.

Is this now my reality? Or was reality something I left behind?

Consciousness is waning, leaving me like an empty vessel.

The realisation that control was never in my possession – my last responsive thought before darkness.

 


 

If you have any thoughts on this piece of creative writing please leave your comment below:

 

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