Signs are like spoken word
pictures form sentences
letters are transferred
meaning is given
or even when blurred
the beginning of us
the metaphor of genesis
or the theatre of the absurd.
When waiting for a sign
one knows what to look for
the mind conjures meaning
without knowing or seeing
which is hard to ignore
constructed from nothing
like an imaginary being
or with warnings
such as folklore.
Stabilise the interpretations
surrounding images with words
can appear as
two lonely song birds
between sight and sound
so that signs
can be undeterred
in our expectations
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Somewhere among the clouds
my mind reflects back at me
creating faces in moments
telling stories with whipped cream
floating overhead they enshroud
changing colours of our family tree
searching for every branches atonement
shadows engulf my daydreams
Somewhere among the leaves
I am laid down to rest
foliage surrounds my anatomy
craving the light from beneath
rustling below my knees
knowing I am dispossessed
with the numbness of apathy
as the earth moves underneath
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I forgot about you – putting childish things aside,
although I would hear you at bedtime,
telling me our stories – leaving me horrified.
For what they did to us they must be evil,
or maybe they too are hurt inside,
with all this pain and upheaval,
maybe their inner child had died.
I feel you clawing at me inside my chest cavity,
weeping and screaming – asking to be set free,
is it you or I that acts with such depravity,
would you burst from within me just to be an escapee.
I shouldn’t blame you for hating me,
for I am but another bad parent,
however trying to hide from reality,
not wanting to be called aberrant.
You inhabit my mind and body,
controlling me in order to make me see,
requiring me to embody,
all that was lost at sea.
What is our inner child?
It is the child state that exists in all of us, which never disappears – we assume as we get older this younger self vanishes, but this is illogical. Yes, we are changed over time by our experiences but do we “grow up”? Or are the ideas of childhood, adolescents and adulthood merely symbolic of societies need to compartmentalise us into accepted groups, in order to sell specific products and life style choices.
Before the 17th century childhood did not exist as a concept, in fact children were considered “incomplete adults”. However in the west, English philosopher John Locke was one of the first to describe the stage before adulthood and change the perception toward children in general. With Locke’s theory of the tabula rasa – meaning “blank slate”, he believed we as humans are born “brand new”, a mind which is a blank canvas ready to be painted on. With this he urged parents that their duty was to nurture and guide their child toward adulthood. With the rise of the middle class and puritanism within the early frameworks of capitalism – a new family ideology was formulated as an ideal for an individuals salvation and the protection of the “innocence” within children.
“brief period of sanctuary before people encounter the perils and hardships of adulthood”
However for the poor this separation between childhood and adulthood was not attainable. Industrialisation saw children as a viable workforce and rejected that a “childhood” was precious and that their innocence needed to be protected. With the separation between the poor and middle classes becoming more apparent in the late 18th century and with reform being discussed, the idea that all children needed to be protected became an important issue, from the 1830’s onward the campaign eventually led to the Factory Acts, which mitigated the exploitation of children at the workplace. From this point the notion of childhood saw a boom in children’s literature and toys, leading us to where we are now , where childhood is seen as a sate that not only exists, but that our development is fundamental to us being functional adults, with compulsory education and more and more done to protect children from harm, childhood is now rooted in our identities as a society.
So how does this all relate to our “inner child”?
This notion and brief history explained above, further illustrates that the concept of being a “grown up” is adaptable. Our inner child is part of us – it… is us. We never “grow up” we evolve as a human through life stages but our mind is our own and doesn’t get switched through each birthday, it adapts to circumstances and learns – but we don’t lose our child within.
In fact the most adult act we can take is to parent our own inner child. Because contrary to what Rousseau states, childhood can be full of perils and trauma and without the experience we gain from living through the stages, most children are not able to protect themselves from abuse, neglect or abandonment. Which means this trauma is taken on and carried into their adulthood – often causing an individual to become mentally ill.
This is caused not only by the acts of unfit parents and abusive adults around the child, but it is also due to societies need to separate each life stage in an individual – suggesting only children cry, have tantrums, are unreasonable or selfish and so on… When in fact these are general human behaviours with no age restrictions. Yes children test boundaries and display these behaviours – which are perfectly acceptable in order to navigate societal norms and etiquette. However when a child is abused emotionally, physically or both, they often do not get to have these learning experiences and testing of boundaries, leading the child to mimic adult behaviour in order to survive. Which is why later in life when the child is able to move away from their abusers and try and function in the world these behavioural traits often arise again and again, playing out the scenarios in which they were denied at the “appropriate age”.
This is not something I know due to my degree in philosophy and psychology – this is me, I am a pseudo-adult. As if my body were a ship, the captain of my vessel is at times a 4 year old me, an adolescent me or the me who sits and writes this to you all. It took a long time to understand that I was steered by different parts of myself, but once I understood this my self management became easier.
With no children of my own and being the product of bad parents – from abuse (sexual, emotional and physical) I am probably thought to be the last person who would know how to parent my 4 year old self and 15 year old self. This is arguably true – however the first steps are listening to the children who have been through trauma, we know a lot on what not to do.
The rest is love…
Vivian C. Fox, “Poor Children’s Rights in Early Modern England,” Journal of Psychohistory, Jan 1996, Vol. 23 Issue 3, pp 286–306
“The Life of the Industrial Worker in Nineteenth-Century England”. Laura Del Col, West Virginia University
Ariès, Philippe. Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1962.
Brown, Marilyn R., ed. Picturing Children: Constructions of Childhood between Rousseau and Freud. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002.
If you feel you need to explore your inner child or are already aware but need some guidance here are some helpful links:
This art and poetry portrays the ordeal of intrusive thoughts which are brought on due to mental illness, specifically complex trauma, anxiety disorders, personality disorders and psychosis.
My intrusive thoughts have been dominating my life since I can remember. As young as 5 I recall laying in my bed and reasoning with myself, internally bargaining:
“If I die in my sleep, I wont know, I will just die and then it will be over”.
Scary things had always happened at night in my world, the dark couldn’t be trusted and nor could most adults.
As I got older my intrusive thoughts took on an internal shaming ritual, whereby ripping myself to shreds about how I looked, how I had acted or how no one loved me and I would be alone forever – hence why these thoughts turned suicidal. Repeating to myself again and again:
“you are fat, you are ugly”,
as if I were counting maniacal sheep – one named fat the other ugly.
Sometimes the thoughts can turn external and onto others, fearing you may hurt someone or even kill someone – not because you want to but because you fear you will lose your mind. I used to fear that one day whilst travelling to school or college that I would push someone onto the railway tracks. Visualising it was horrifying, playing it out scene for scene , watching others scream in horror and watching myself be carted away by the “men in white coats”.
With psychosis the intrusive thoughts are there but take on a hallucinogenic dimension. In the dark seeing evil angels looming over me or small fairy like creatures guiding me to safety, another world would open up – but what if I got trapped there? What if I wanted to stay? Reflections in mirrors can cause dysmorphic appearances, my eyes would disappear into my sockets, skin looked to be hanging off my face and seeing other people as myself.
Traumatic experiences cause flash backs which take you back to your trauma and hold you there in order to relive the ordeal again and again. Or you try and recreate the trauma and imagine a new ending – all the while punishing yourself internally, blaming yourself for what has happened to you or for what others have done to you.
Medication can help but it can be so much worse if you miss a dose or have to come off your meds for whatever reason, as well as very unpleasant side effects. There are so many drugs I have tried over the years and the ones that worked best were always the ones which left me like a zombie during the day, which is fine if you wish to be a zombie and there have been times this has suited me, to barely exist. However when you want to survive and possibly even live you can’t compromise on the “being awake” part.
The important thing to remember when dealing with intrusive thoughts or if a loved one is experiencing them, is to take this seriously – it is like any other health concern, such as finding a lump or a cough that just wont go away. Intrusive thoughts are an anxiety driven issue due to:
“THE AMYGDALA CONSTANTLY SENDING US FALSE SIGNALS THAT WE ARE IN DANGER”
Fight or flight is triggered with the obsession (the intrusive thoughts) and then the compulsion (is the bargaining – the fear) and the cycle repeats like groundhog day. Many people suffer in silence with these feelings and become trapped in their own isolation created due to living this way. So if you feel this is you or someone you know – please know first and foremost:
YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
There is support out there for you and your loved ones.
That day – 14 years ago, was seared upon my memory, Mohammed and I had decided to do our Christmas shopping and my mood was merry and our arms were tired from our bounty of goodies we had bought. Mohammed had been a bit subdued, but I had put it down to being tired from a heavy weekend partying, which had seen me turn 20. Little did I know Mohammed had been selflessly keeping a traumatic secret that weekend. We bundled into my Mothers apartment, chatty and full of smiles, feeling the childlike magic of Christmas in the air.
Then my Mother and Mohammed became very serious and both turned to me, they sat me down and said they had bad news, but not to worry as they were both there to help me. My heart sank and I knew my world would change after whatever they were going to say was said. My Mother took a deep breath:
“I am so sorry darling, but Jenny has died, she has killed herself”.
The world narrowed and I felt an immediate panic, my feet leapt me into the air and ran – I ran away from the news, halted at the front door and collapsed, my heart had just shattered and nothing made sense anymore. Not able to catch my breathe, the tears engulfed my eyes and the loss consumed me. Then I started to scream with all my might.
The night before Jenny had called me, we had been putting up the Christmas tree and I had waffled on for a bit about how this year had been hard (as usual) but the next was going to be a good year, that her and I would continue to get stronger, that the evil Dr’s who had separated us and tried to deem me a “bad influence” were going to be so gutted when they realised how amazing we were. We had so many plans – once Jenny was old enough, she would move in with me and Mohammed, we wanted to travel around Italy, we wanted to be artists together. Jenny had told me that night that she loved me, she was so proud of me because of my strength and ability to fight, she also thanked me for helping her, for giving her a chance and for loving her so much. I thought nothing of this kind of talk, as this is how we spoke to one another. Thinking back to the conversation, Jenny had been so calm, she had seemed so content and ready.
Jenny and I met in a psychiatric hospital for adolescents in 1999, she had only just turned 14 and I was almost 16, Jenny did not speak to anyone and she carried a cardigan up to her face at all times, you could only see her beautiful big eyes. We met on my first day whilst I struggled to open my window in my room, which only opened 3 inches, but it was a very hot summers day and that little crack of air was all I wanted. Struggling away suddenly Jenny appeared at my door, she glided through the room barefoot and with complete ease lifted my window up, I thanked her and then she left the room in silence. Soon after this an emergency group meeting was called – which is when we the patients have to have a group therapy session, but the focus is on one patient and a “serious” issue pertaining to said patient. Basically a group telling off and shaming ritual, this one was my first and it had been called for Jenny.
Jenny in 1999 at woodside psychiatric adolescent unit.
Jenny in 1999 at woodside psychiatric adolescent unit.
We all bundled into the main communal room and grabbed a chair and formed a circle. The head psychiatric nurse started the meeting and told us it had been called because Jenny did not want to attend school sessions, which were for 3 hours a day. Already I did not understand the big deal and why they were making this girl, who did not speak – feel bad about the fact she couldn’t face classes that day. So I continued to listen to the judgement cast upon her and then we were asked what we thought? For a moment I hesitated and thought about my status as the “new kid” and if it was wise to make myself so visible. However as my nature is to say what I think regardless of the danger or social norms, I eagerly raised my hand. The nurse asked me to tell the group my thoughts, telling them how ridiculous and strange this was, that this felt like punishment and shaming, that Jenny was clearly unwell – otherwise why would she be here and that missing 3 hours of school was not a big deal and that everyone should just calm down and let her have the day off. The doctors and nurses were not impressed, but Jenny’s eyes sparkled with appreciation and the other patients got very excited by my “fuck you” attitude and after a little more deliberating, the conclusion was jenny could stay off school that day. Later Jenny came to my room and she started speaking to me, I was the only one at first, but this was the beginning of our love, our friendship, our romance and sisterhood.
The news of Jenny’s suicide was and still is so painful, she was and is the only person who truly understood what it was to exist in that world with me, who knew me as myself, with no pretence and no manipulation of the truth. We had our own language, we wrote fictional stories to one another about misunderstood beasts, we washed each others hair, we would be tactile (which I find so hard to be), we had private jokes and our love for one another was gloriously dysfunctional and both sick and beautiful, we were everything we ever needed. The doctors and nurses thought that due to my conditions that I was a danger to Jenny, but her parents knew otherwise, they understood their daughter and the relationship we had. Eventually I was thrown out of the psychiatric hospital due to “bad behaviour” and yes you read that right, a teenager with serious mental illness and a risk to themselves was chucked out of the “safe place” that this hospital was suppose to be. Jenny remained at Woodside and we were separated. Luckily her parents let her stay for long weekends (which you had off when an inpatient) and once I moved out of my Mothers at 17, Mohammed and I had Jenny stay at our home regularly.
Jenny left me a suicide note and a poem that she had wrote for all her closest friends and family, this letter I now read on her birthday and on this day – the anniversary of her death, lighting her a candle, listening to our music, getting lost in our memories and the what ifs. Jenny keeps me alive when I am at my most suicidal, she has even visited me as an hallucination during psychosis when my mind is uncontrolled by rational thoughts and my ability to stay safe is minimal, she is there, either as herself or as a black cat. Life is so fleeting and as long as I have Mohammed this world will have me in it until I draw my final breathe, this life I live is for Jenny, and for those two little girls who found each other in the wreckage.
If you would like to know a little more about me and Jenny, here is a piece I wrote a while ago which is the story of when we ran away from hospital together – Our Tree – By Charlotte Farhan
If you are struggling and wish to seek some help for your suicidal thoughts or have too lost a loved one to suicide and are struggling with grief, please use these contacts below.