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:
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.
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.
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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However which way I say these three words they are always a lie. Not a vicious deceitful lie, but a lie which serves me well whilst simultaneously crushing me emotionally; with each utterance. This little sentence has become a habitual response to the question:
How are you?
Which is a very common occurrence, most people do not divulge their entire life story when asked how they are, it is just an extension to how we greet one another, a politeness (especially in England) to reply:
I am fine, thank you. And how are you?
However when you are really asked this question by a close member of your family, your partner, a close friend or even your therapist and you still only ever say:
I am fine.
Well this kind of situation is what I am talking about and is what this art piece represents. This is about how self preservation means losing part of your identity, emotionally but more importantly the denial of your present state. Never allowing your armour to be compromised, focusing on other peoples problems and absorbing them, when asked about yourself you divert conversations as if they were on-coming traffic; as if your life depends on it – because it does.
The majority of the time I do not look “sick”, I have mainly unseen illnesses and my most debilitating of ailments is completely invisible to the eye. As well as this many people do not “believe” in mental illness or recognise certain neurological conditions, saying things such as:
It’s all in your head!
It’s mind over matter.
You don’t look sick.
These statements are very unhelpful and also redundant in this context. Saying it is all in ones head is a correct statement, mental illness is in our encasement’s which we call heads, in our brains – our minds. It is not in our legs, nor our arms, it is very much a head thing. However saying it to someone as a dismissive statement is not a logical statement as it suggests that your mental illness or neurological condition should not be “in your head”. Suggesting that it maybe make believe or a lie to gain sympathy (which if you are a person who suffers from mental illness you will know this is an insult as there is no sympathy granted to the mentally ill, instead it is stigmatised). As for “you don’t look sick” this one is nothing more than an ignorant judgement, looking at someone with just ones eyes and not a full body CT scanner (which also can not see everything) there is no way to determine someones health or disability status.
Due to all this added conjecture to this particular scenario , it is not hard to understand why the “I am fine” mantra is a fail safe for so many. You get tired of explaining yourself, defending your diagnosis and dealing with people saying things like:
I don’t really believe in mental illness.
Mental illness is a conspiracy to control and label us.
Mental illness is just mental weakness.
So the simple solution is to pretend that you are fine, that you do not need help, that you are not “weak” or “dangerous”, for every mental illness denier there is another person who believes we should all be locked up and not trusted due to the stigmatisation and misinformation on both the mentally ill and those with criminal intent.
This may be the simplest of solutions but it comes at a cost to most. You see there is only a finite amount of space in ones emotional storage unit and the continuous throwing anything and everything that you wish to hide in there can mean that you reach a time you can’t shut the door anymore, let alone lock it. This can lead to you bursting and spilling out onto everything around you or it can mean you just implode – self detonate.
Truthfully for me it is a constant battle inside my head, of not wanting to alienate people or scare people with my overwhelming emotional instability and behavioural abnormalities – having to remain stoic by being the person who people come to, the provider, the rescuer. Against letting it all out, a completely “no shits given” attitude, a liberating freedom of being able to just be me, all parts of me at all levels of intensity. This of course is very black and white and a thought process due to my borderline personality disorder, the middle ground does not tend to exist in my world, it sometimes appears but rarely when experiencing high emotions. To pass off the “strong” persona I have to use the “I am fine” line a lot, which is a kind of middle ground, at least it is when one is trying to manage social boundaries and interpersonal relationships – which to me are like alien concepts that cause feelings of being an outsider.
There have been times in my past when “I am fine” was a defence mechanism as I was in denial about my illnesses and wished to hide the entire idea from myself, blaming my emotions and behaviours on alcohol, drugs and being a “bitch”, that crazy girl thing was easy to flip and present myself to the world as a “bad” person in my twenties – so I stuck to it. People even liked this persona, some celebrated it by telling me they loved my “fuck you attitude” and loved to see me being abusive to others or violent. If the other side, the vulnerable side – was presented (which was me during my teens, from 11 yrs to 20 yrs old) people looked at me as an emotional drain, a liability, dangerous, scary, I became an undesirable human. At these times of no control self harm, suicide attempts, eating disorders, psychosis, machiavellianism, disinhibition and an emotional sensitivity that was never-ending was my way of life. I learnt valuable lessons on survival and how to mimic other humans as a visiting entity from the planet “strange”, using manipulation to gain friends and taking on other identities which were visible to me as ideals, I could be the most popular person in the room or the most disliked, this was not up to my audience or friends, this was up to me and my chameleon like personality. The important thing is I have forgiven myself for being this way, knowing now this was and still is a neurological condition and a perfectly OK way to survive when you have only ever known trauma.
Now that I am in my thirties things have got to a point that my life is more introspective and having the perspective of an “adult” allows me to look at my teens and twenties more objectively and see how and why I had to survive this way when there were no adults parenting me and keeping me safe. Being an adult in this way means that when I look back I ask different questions than I did before, such as:
Where were your parents?
How long were you left on your own?
How was it looking after yourself at such a young age?
Did you have to grow up quickly?
There is a draw back to being older however, my emotions get buried deeper, I detach more and say “I am fine” even more than ever. Wanting to be liked for me, not wanting to buy friends or manipulate them to like me, not wanting to be the extreme me who needs someone to safeguard them at all times, not wanting to be the rescuer and the “strong” one all the time. Wanting people to understand my pain more, I want and need actual medical support for my disabilities but am not at a vulnerable age anymore, so am taken less seriously. Hiding in medication and being likeable and not too intense feels like a life sentence:
But still all I can say is:
I am fine!
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Chained to my past like a prisoner, with only sorrow to comfort me,
at night the mattress swallows me whole, it becomes pitch black,
let me escape this anguish, this nectarous misery – let me be free,
my torment clenches me tight with gripped arms – holding me back.
Recollection chokes me with the thought of violence,
memories leave me for dead, crying for liberation,
no ability to speak up – I offer silence,
chains are pulled tighter constricting me in my damnation.
Punishment is not a fetish when it is kept unseen,
my head is pulsating, the pressure is mounting in my veins,
steel and blood mixed with sheets I am always unclean,
whose hands are those, the ones holding my chains?
If you have any questions on my work, if you wish for me to exhibit in your gallery or would like to purchase a piece , please contact me via the form below, thank you.
Waking up from the intensity of nightmares and night-terrors, feels a though you have been battered black and blue emotionally and physically. The hell of thinking within your unconscious dream state that you are trapped in this dystopian creation of your own afflicted mind, causes you to wake screaming, as if you were grappling through time and space to re enter this realm of existence.
Then you wake; the truth hits you like a tyrannical fist, you try to unpick the mess of your insensible and sensible self which is tangled like forgotten jewelry left in a drawer. You lay there trying to regain some control over your faculties, you are still and lifeless – almost catatonic. The world as we know it has not been brought into focus yet, it is still a distant memory.
Hours go by and you’re still unable to move, your mind is working so hard at the puzzle that is your trauma. At this point what is real and not – is completely interlinked; woven together like a tapestry of war.
Finally you feel able to move, the world has invited you in and you feel, you can find your way there. You stick to muscle memory tasks, such as getting dressed, making a tea and sitting at your desk.
Unfortunately, your mind does not always recognise your consciousness in reality and “the real world”, so it flickers from flashbacks to memories of nightmares, interchanging as if someone had a remote control to your brain and was flicking through the channels of your life.
This has been my life for as long as I can remember; however it has grown darker again and is still growing with ferocity. Since becoming older and now in my 30’s, the space in my mind seems to be at capacity, which means when one cupboard or box is opened in my mind – things are now having to be squeezed tighter or rearranged, which in turn causes mess and a lack of new space for new experiences, emotions and eventually memories. Leaving me stuck in a hoarders prison – internally locked in. It is not that I wish to keep these memories or thoughts it is just they need to be processed, labeled and filed away.
Which is difficult when they are buried under years of self preservation.
Reliving trauma in therapy is my only solution, other than self destruction – which is ever so appealing. The temptation of setting fire to the mess that is my internal world seems enticing, a cathartic “fuck you” to the pain. Nevertheless my intentions are to stay in this mind until my husband dies ( which will hopefully be both of us in old age) as the thought of being without him is even more devastating than anything I have ever thought possible. This life is short as I have seen many times over, I promised myself I would spend this time understanding these illnesses which plague me day in and day out, as well as helping others who walk this tightrope of madness and sadness.
We will never forget what was done to us – you see. These abusers, predators and enablers, they caused so much of this. With their torture, subjectification, voyeurism, rape, incest, emotional battery and manipulation. Which begs me to ask, what do they carry with them after the fact? The best you can hope for is guilt; but this is not enough, this is not representative of what we suffer, the victims! They want pity, and sympathy for their affliction, which plays into further domination.
Reliving is a daily task, it does not end when I leave the therapy room, it does not silence the sounds of purgatory. It is in fact something those of us who have complex post traumatic stress disorder have been doing everyday and everynight since we were young.
My mind has been replaying reels of trauma – with added horror, as if my psyche wished to add special effects to my already terrifying past. Despite this, upon committing to reliving in a long term therapeutic setting and being at capacity – in my minds storage capabilities, the intensity rises further causing me to experience psychosis and physical pain.
This process is long and will be a continued managed activity of will power and a determination to use this experience as a way to contribute to the world. The idea is to turn myself, the victim into a survivor and then a thriver. These will never be whole states of mind, and knowing there will be bad days and good days and even relapses, but using the trauma to thrive even for 10 minutes is something worth committing to.
“It’s often said that a traumatic experience early in life marks a person forever, pulls her out of line, saying, “Stay there. Don’t move.”
― Jeffrey Eugenides
Recovery is not a time period set out, it is a continued process until death. When I say I am in recovery, do not be confused and think “that’s good she will be recovered soon” this is not how it works. Recovery is about a continued focus and is an exhausting task to undertake daily, which means there will be days I can not do it or days when triggering events or stressful life experiences put the mind back into those frightful moments which we tried so hard to keep organised and tidy.
Let me ask you?
How do you recover from being sexually abused as a child?
How do you recover from sexual violence, rape, assault, stalking and being beaten as a teenager?
How do you recover from having two parents (who are severely mentally ill themselves) one abused you, abandoned you and does not love you at all, to the other who didn’t love you at birth and couldn’t attach to you and who emotionally abused you, kept leaving you with different people and whose constant fragility due to their illness consumed your life?
You don’t recover…
You hopefully survive and then spend your life recovering.
So this is me and where I am, I know I am not alone, I know you are suffering too out there, I know it is hard and you’re ready to quit! But I want you to know that you are not alone and that you need to take this slowly and realistically. Do not allow pressure from others and society; which make you conform. They do not have to live your life, you know the truth.
Living is hard.
But reliving is harder.
For a bit of history on the practices of therapy in regards to PTSD AND C-PTSD, please read on…
Since the re-emergence of recognition of severe trauma on human development and psychopathology in adults in the 1970s, Chu and Bowman observed there had been three generations of trauma treatment theory. The first generation of research and response began in the early 1980s and emphasized abreaction of traumatic experience in treatment. Abreaction originated from psychoanalytic traditions and describes the processes of acting out and expressing unconscious conflicts that, in itself, brings relief.
This painting and poem is from my upcoming exhibition; which tells the truth about my rape and sexual abuse, through visual art, poetry, shadow boxes and my story; my hardest and most painful work to date.
With therapy this process of healing is ongoing, these pieces of work which are still being created and crafted are a way for me to understand, cast out the nightmares which have convoluted my reality, addressing the issues victims of sexual violence (like myself) have to face in today’s world which is heavily influenced by rape culture and victim blaming.
Sharing selected pieces of visual art and poetry (such as these below) before my exhibition is launched is to reach audiences far and wide.
Sexual violence is not prejudice it can happen to anyone. This exhibition is for us all, women, men and children from every ethnicity, social background, sexuality, religion and lifestyle. With doing this, the hope is to give us a voice to tell those who have abused and violated us that we can take the power back that was taken from us, to tell those unaffected how our lives are a daily struggle and to tell the world that there is still so much to do, so that we can end sexual violence for good.
My power was taken.
I am affected.
My life is a daily struggle.
I am a victim and I am a survivor.
I Am Still Bleeding – By Charlotte Farhan
When you look at me you don’t see blood
my violated self concealed
words which remain misunderstood
as if my sex had been revealed
not a little girl but forced womanhood
left feeling helplessly desecrated
as I had been in early childhood
forsaken; flowerless and humiliated.
Maybe you saw me as a flower bud
not pretty; but ripe and eager to grow
violently picked and dragged through mud
grappling innocence; never to let go
my tears washing my shame in a flash flood
not knowing; if there will be a tomorrow
now reminded of the intrusion by my menstrual blood
in a world with no desire to know.
If you have any questions about this painting, poem or the upcoming exhibition, please fill in this form: