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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:
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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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:
“what was she wearing”
is the first question asked
“how could she be so daring”
judging her on her past
“her clothes are provocative”
“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
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.
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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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…
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.
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no longer seen
in our minds
all wrapped up
in the abyss
my only company.
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smoke into the night
smoke into the morning
a kind of healing
reflecting the storm
shackled to distraction
narratives of others
is not peaceful
it does not recharge
smoke fills my view
smoke keeps me amused
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When identity is unstable life can feel as if you are staring through a mirror wondering what the “other side” means ?
Like Alice who questions the world on the other side of the mirror’s reflection – before stepping through and entering an alternative world; our concept of self is greatly developed from infancy through our interpersonal interactions and mirrored back through society. Suggesting that we have a tendency to understand ourselves through our understanding of how others see and judge us; this is thought to be how we develop and understand our own identity.
As a child we learn how our crying, smiling and silence elicits a response from our caregivers, this forms our first mirroring and understanding of how we are perceived and responded to. This continues throughout our interactions and learning.
“The thing that moves us to pride or shame is not the mere mechanical reflection of ourselves, but an imputed sentiment, the imagined effect of this reflection upon another’s mind.”
(The looking-glass self is a social psychological concept introduced by Charles Horton Cooley in 1902 (McIntyre 2006). The term “looking glass self” was coined by Cooley in his work, Human Nature and the Social Order in 1902.)
There are three main components that comprise the looking-glass self
(Yeung, et al. 2003).
As a person who has Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) – identity is something which has always been an issue for me and so many other sufferers. My entire life seems to have been an identity crisis and it is one of the 9 traits you have to have in order to be diagnosed with BPD.
The specific issues which concern the stability of self in BPD sufferers is exhibited in:
Kenji Kameguchi (1996) likens boundaries to a
“membrane” that surrounds each individual and subsystem in the family. Like the membrane around a cell, boundaries need to be firm enough to ensure the integrity of the cell and yet permeable enough to allow communication between cells. Overly rigid boundaries might constrict family relationships and limit family members’ access to one another (e.g., “children should be seen and not heard”), whereas overly permeable or blurred boundaries might lead to confusion between the generations (e.g., “who is the parent and who is the child?”
“I don’t know who I am”
“I don’t know what I want”
“I don’t know how I should handle this situation”
These questions seem harmless to most – however when you have BPD these questions are so confusing that emotional stability is compromised and becomes dangerous if we are not supported or receiving some kind of treatment. These questions are second nature and the answers come to mind with a certain amount of ease when you do not suffer from psychological identity issues – something taken for granted by most.
When you have BPD you are seen by different people as polar opposites at different points in your life or even at the same time, such as myself; I am seen by many in my life as a self righteous, egocentric, judgemental, scary, aggressive, rude person. However I am also seen by many as an inspiration, kind, loving, empathetic, polite, selfless person. Many people without BPD may encounter this kind of reaction from certain people, contradicting what makes you, you. This doesn’t phase well adjusted stable personalities as they know who they are and realise they are probably a combination of things to different people due to differing interactions and other peoples personalities. With BPD this causes self annihilation, an instability of emotions and further fragmentation and less awareness of the self.
“who do I believe – me or me or you”
In truth – at times I feel as if my identity is a game of guess who; or that this confused dissociated state is in fact a malevolent monster controlling and interchanging me – to torture me.
Friends, family and people who have crossed my path along the way will have no idea to a certain extent that these different identities exist within me or at different times in my life. The ones who remember are those who I have split, those who got to meet the protective identity, the no empathy, unforgiving, hateful identity – who has kept me alive in times of pure distress. These people have gone from being idealised to then being devalued and thrown away. The hardest part is being aware of this, of others being more aware of this – knowing I can rip you off the pedestal in which I created for you at any time just because you reveal to me that you are in fact human and fallible.
Sometimes the mirror reflects back that no one really knows me, so in turn I can’t know myself – which then brings about the depersonalisation and not feeling as if I exist at all.
The looking glass is the perfect metaphor for how this feels – knowing one reflection is in one world and another in the next. Feeling unreal or full of identities fighting to be seen or wanting to hide. Not knowing when in front of the mirror – who will reflect back.
Hiester, M.”Who’s the parent and who’s the child: generational boundary dissolution between mothers and their children.” paper presented at the biennial meeting of the society for research in child development, Indianapolis,1995.
Yeung, King-To, and Martin, John Levi. “The Looking Glass Self: An Empirical Test and Elaboration.” Social Forces 81, no. 3 (2003): 843–879.
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There hasn’t been a day since being 11 years old that I wasn’t prepared for my Mother to die. There is no scenario in which my mind has not investigated or planned; from her funeral, what I shall say, how I will feel, who will judge me as the cause of her death. This is not due to a macabre obsession or a morbid wish, this is how it feels to be the child of a suicidal parent.
My Mother has Bipolar Disorder, she was diagnosed when I was a toddler after seeking help because she couldn’t connect with me and feared she didn’t love me. My awareness of her illness was not completely realised until attending secondary school, before this point my Mother was a workaholic and never cried, she was a passionate, opinionated, clever woman who people loved to be around, the life and soul of most parties and fancied by most men. Always doing what she wanted when she wanted and never apologised for living her life. Even when she would drop me off to friends so she could meet men on trips away or when she made fun of my weight or told me I was too sensitive or too serious – my adoration for her was impenetrable, thinking of her as the best Mother in the world and wanting to be just like her.
However my Mother had a sever break down. Suddenly this vibrant woman was in bed, unable to get up, dress herself or wash, her room was dark and filled with cigarette smoke. This made no sense to me, I did not understand why she had changed; it was like Invasion of the Body Snatchers – this wasn’t my Mother. Suddenly she was crying all the time and she didn’t want to do anything, she would watch daytime TV in bed and would be surrounded by books, paper and food wrappers.
Life hadn’t been easy up until now for many reasons for both of us, having experienced depression and loneliness at the age of seven, this new darkness took it’s toll and this was when I started self harming. After seeing a program on a TV talk show about self harmers, after hearing of how these people felt the pain go away and that they actually felt even better whilst cutting, this seemed like the ideal relief. Knowing my Mother had lots of books on psychology and psychiatry I asked her if she had anything on self harm and said it was for a school project, (which for the early 90’s would have been very progressive). My Mother found me a book on self harm and I took it to my room and started to plan my first cut.
A few weeks later I caught my Mother in the bath weeping and cutting herself with razor blades, a mess of tears and blood through the crack of the bathroom door. Shocked that she did it too, shocked that she was in pain and devastated that I had possibly caused it or was going to cause more. In hindsight this is when my Mother and I truly severed our relationship, it was the beginning of the end, even though we were almost on the same page, my need for a parent and stability and her need to be alone and have no responsibilities was like a knife slicing our family tie.
Soon after this my Mother tried to kill herself and she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, I was left at home alone with our 18 year old lodger (who was very unwell herself) and was allowed to do what I wanted, structure and adult care went out the window. Upon turning 12 I stole some sleeping pills from our lodger and tried to kill myself, instead of dying, sleep was all that was achieved for almost two days and awaking to the realisation that the darkness still existed, there were still no adults or safety.
From this point on, again and again, my Mother tried to kill herself or self harmed to the point of needing hospital treatment. This is when preparation for the inevitable was my only solus – her death. Having lost my best friend to suicide and many other friends; suicide became such a possible outcome that I started being unable to determine when my Mother was actually in danger. She would say “If I didn’t have you I would die” or “I want to die – there is no point”, always reminding me of how much I didn’t understand, how no one understood – when all the while I understood more than she knew.
After several hospital admissions, 17 ECT sessions and continued private therapy from her psychiatrist on Harley Street in London, it was clear my Mothers condition was getting worse, no cocktail of drugs seemed to help and the bipolarity of her disorder caused havoc on our lives. My Mother experiences mixed states with her Bipolar Disorder which cause her to be irritable, to have high energy, racing thoughts and speech, and over-activity with agitation and becomes an even higher risk of suicide.
This effected me as a child and teen and still does now as an adult. The instability of her impulsiveness, her recklessness and her allowing me freedoms that other children envied, which I did not like or want, I envied the children who sat down for dinner, who had curfew, got money for chores, did homework with their parents, had rules; whose parents wouldn’t discuss anal sex with your friends or discuss their many sexual escapades. In mixed states of mania she would become aggressive, argumentative and so unkind that this emotional abuse still causes me sever pain till this day; name calling, screaming, mental abuse and belittling me with the advantage of not remembering what she had said or done when she was feeling “better”.
There is one act which however hard I try – my mind cannot understand it. When I was raped at 15 and hospitalised as suicide is all I wanted, my Mother made my rape about her and ended up abandoning me and admitting herself to a private hospital (with room service, massages, ice cream) whilst she had stopped my private health insurance (as you do) so I had to go into a mixed boy/girl NHS adolescent unit situated on an old Victorian asylum ground. How could my Mother consider suicide when her baby had been violently raped, operated on due to the rape and then hospitalised? The doctors would ask me how I felt about her doing this, I would always protect her regardless of the fact I was so hurt and felt so unloved.
At 17 she became physical with me on the day I was moving out as I could not take living with her anymore, this truly became my only option to survive, she began to shake me, she slapped me and then she tried to push me into a single pane glass window on the fourth floor of our apartment building. In amidst of this she was shouting at me that I was a whore and that I had probably made up my rape. My boyfriend (who is now my husband) had to pull her off me and at the age of 19 had to confront her with some very stern words and managed to get me out of there.
Another aspect of her mixed states is that of mass overspending which she has done to the extent that all our family money is gone – to be fair my Father contributed to this too with his mental break down. However my Mother seemed to have plenty of money to buy Louis Vuitton bags and accessories, take long haul trips and buy expensive cars, but when money started to get tighter and tighter as the money became less and less, she became selfish and from 17 to 22 let me be homeless, go hungry and I had no access to medical care or dental care, I was very unwell at this time so needed a lot of extra support – but her need to keep up appearances and maintain some of her luxurious lifestyle came before my needs. Anyway it was my own fault after all for being a bad child.
My Mother withdrew from life, hers and mine and as a consequence her sadness took over our relationship and her own guilt for how she has treated me – chokes her just enough to say what a terrible Mother she was or is, something which makes me want to protect her, deny and tell her all is fine, I am fine and she is fine. But her withdrawal made me withdraw from her more an more emotionally, so to not get hurt when she eventually kills herself. Hugging her is painful, when she cries I want to stuff a sock in her mouth – when she complains about her life I want to be anywhere but near her.
Loving my Mother is not hard, liking her is impossible at this point and wanting to have a relationship with her is damaging. However the feeling that at any moment I shall get a call telling me she has died is always there, the preparations are always in place and the guilt consumes me. The illness, the Bipolar Disorder is not my Mother however her core personality and ability to care and love for me is a mixture of narcissism and emotional blackmail.
Who knows what will happen with our relationship, all that is evident to me at this point is for anything to be possible with regards to my Mother is a question of recovery and acceptance. Not forgiveness, we do not need to forgive abuse, however accepting it happened, and that it was not my fault is probably a better focus than my obsession that she will take her own life.
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