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

 

Art Spotlight – Vulnerability

Vulnerability – By Charlotte Farhan

Vulnerability - By Charlotte Farhan
Vulnerability – By Charlotte Farhan

This piece of art represents the cognitive vulnerability of abandonment in early childhood.

The figure is genderless and ageless, almost fetus like, with an adult sized body; however retaining a childlike energy conveyed by the rough scribbles and marks made around the figure.

The colours remain playful, yet remind me of a false sense of safety and the forced love which was present in my visual world as a child.

The coarse oranges, cold blues and gender repressing pinks all mixed in with the greyness of the 1980s.

Reminding me of my plastic toys which were my main source of comfort as well as the adult world I was fully submerged in where I was a plaything, a doll or an inconvenience.

The cold as stone faces became distorted shapes and the words which hurt my childlike naivety (which should not have been heard) felt like tiny knives piercing my thin emotional skin.

Vulnerability - By Charlotte Farhan
Vulnerability – By Charlotte Farhan

This piece of art was created on emotional impulse.

A way to express myself through this period of time where I am exploring my childhood in hope of aiding my recovery and management of my mental illnesses.

A way to raise awareness, to allow for a visual representation to be seen by others.

I know I am not alone in this experience.

I would like to invite you as a reader of this to share any kind of creativity you choose to express yourself through. Contact me or visit my nonprofit Art Saves Lives International and send us a submission and we will share your expressions with others, with the hope of us all using creative outlets to communicate difficult and important subjects.

ART CREATES CHANGE!

ART CAN HEAL!

If you are interested in this artwork for your collection, for an exhibition, charity event or would like to buy a print, please use the form below:

 

 

 

Losing my Identity – Art by Charlotte Farhan

 

Losing my Identity - By Charlotte Farhan
Losing my Identity – By Charlotte Farhan

Losing My Identity is a depiction of the identity disturbance which people such as myself endure due to having Borderline Personality Disorder.

So imagine living your life with no sense of self, not knowing yourself from your past, present and future, how would this affect your day to day life?

Having a sense of self is something which as a species sets us apart from other animals and is a complicated subject within philosophy and psychology. Your identity is generally made up of your beliefs, attitudes, behaviour, personality, knowledge and what social roles you see yourself in.

Identity is formed in early childhood and then continues to progress and adapt until early adulthood, and by your mid-twenties a secure sense of self is common in most.

BPD QUOTE

We learn primarily from our parents who we are, such as are we “good” or “bad”. This also inturn makes us aware of others and how we relate to them.  With borderline personality disorder, however, the distinction between “good” and “bad” seems to remain as the only two variables in which to see themselves and others. This causes splitting which is the extreme shifting of black and white thinking, from idealisation and devaluation of the self and others.

Losing my Identity - By Charlotte Farhan
Losing my Identity – By Charlotte Farhan

Here are my accompanying poems which describe each identity which I have felt I am, at different times, never really knowing who is who, or if who I am is real.

Losing my Identity - By Charlotte Farhan - The Survivor
Losing my Identity – By Charlotte Farhan – The Survivor

 

The Survivor

She looks in control and some call her inspirational,

cold and frank, aggressive in her nature,

always confrontational.

She doesnt need you,

from love to hate she swings,

people have tried, she simply withdrew.

She is a survivor you see,

no need to gasp or stare,

her only goal is to be set free.

Some try and disarm her, given half the chance,

but some know her well,

even at first glance.

She will protect you till the end,

resilient and fierce,

in this girl you can depend.

 

Losing my Identity - By Charlotte Farhan - The Fragile One
Losing my Identity – By Charlotte Farhan – The Fragile One

 

The Fragile One

She has no skin and could break at the slightest touch,

you rarely see her,

for being in public is simply too much.

Hiding behind her older sister The Survivor,

never allowing the vulnerability to be seen,

in her life she is not the designated driver.

For she is so vulnerable and sick,

infirm and weak,

if you want to offer her help, best be quick.

 

Losing my Identity - By Charlotte Farhan - The Benevolent one
Losing my Identity – By Charlotte Farhan – The Benevolent One

 

The Benevolent One

She believes in a higher purpose,

knowing we are here for a short time,

negativity is worthless.

Giving of herself always, never saying no,

truly altruistic,

wanting to save you and never let go.

A mother earth without a brood of her own,

offering wise words,

treating you as a precious stone.

She wants to save the world, and is certain she can,

waking up everyday with a mission,

wanting to prevent the fall of man.

 

Losing my Identity - By Charlotte Farhan - The Child
Losing my Identity – By Charlotte Farhan – The Child

 

The Child

She never grew up, she couldn’t you see,

trapped in time, searching for love,

she will give her love away for free.

Crying and screaming is how she speaks,

listen carefully and you may understand,

the tears say more, running down her cheeks.

She loves you, she hates you,

extremes are all she knows,

giving you a lot to live up to.

Building fantasies in her mind,

dreaming of a family who could never exist,

always filled with worry and fear of being left behind.

 

BPD QUOTE

 

For further information on BPD please click here

Thank you for your time…

Artist Charlotte Farhan
Artist Charlotte Farhan

 

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