Art saved my life – my ongoing struggle with mental illness

“Art can permeate the very deepest part of us, where no words exist.”
(Eileen Miller)

internal thought - By Charlotte Farhan

 

I have suffered from mental illness since I was a pre-teen and have struggled to cope with very strong emotions and at times have not coped and have had to be admitted to hospital. I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality disorder and Post Traumatic Stress disorder after I had a break down and was hospitalised for my own safety after a serious traumatic event when I was 15 years old. In hospital I was introduced to art therapy and found a release and a way to express my inner turmoil which was so hard for me to voice to the doctors and nurses. My art therapist worked very closely with me and was able to see my pain and understand the language I had developed to communicate through my art.

Our Tree By Charlotte Farhan

I have struggled with these illnesses on and off for my entire life that I can remember and am now 29 years old and still suffering! Now the illness affects me in different ways. Instead of the dramatic full throttle emotions of self destruction and not wanting to help myself, now I am unable to leave my home without someone else, I have severe anxiety and have developed an anxiety disorder which affects all aspects of my day-to-day life.

Art has saved me more than once and when I had my third breakdown in 2010 I decided to find salvation in my art and creativity. I had to face the reality that my mental illness had stopped me from being able to attend a full time university and now was affecting my ability to get a conventional job. I had to make a decision for my future. I could not let myself slip even further with this realisation. My doctors, support workers and psychiatrists had no answers except for drug treatment which I have refused since I stopped all my medication in 2004. So I sat on my bed feeling hopeless and defeated. Then as if the Universe was trying to tell me something I came across an on-line gallery asking for artists to submit, as they were starting up a new website. I had to submit six original pieces and an artists CV and the decision would be made within 48 hours.

power of growth by Charlotte Farhan

The next day I decided to do it! I put everything I had into creating art which not only reflected me but also as a creative challenge to myself. I finished my six paintings and submitted them and waited for the longest 48 hours. Then finally I got an email confirming I had been accepted and that I was now an artist. I then thought about this title, this irony and how my life had led to this point. I then invested all my time in launching my career and creating a portfolio, CV and a social media presence. As well as this I took the decision to start my degree with the Open University and to do the subjects I had always wanted to do, now I am in my third year of my part time degree, a BA (Hons) in Philosophy and Psychology.

Two and a half years after I submitted to the gallery I am doing well with my career and the future is certainly something which I know I can influence and I have some very positive days. I am now with 2 galleries, I have exhibited in a group show and have two exhibitions booked for this year. I have sold over 25 paintings and have over 19,000 likes on my Facebook page. Yes I still have very bad days! Yes I have lost lots of friends because they could not understand me or empathise! Yes I still have a long way to go! But I can also say I have a lot more ‘good days’! I have gained some new amazing friends because of my art and found my true friends in my immediate circle! And most of all, yes art saved my life!

“The best part of life is not just surviving, but thriving with passion and compassion and humour and style and generosity and kindness.”

(Maya Angelou)

That day By Charlotte Farhan

 

For more info on Borderline personality disorder please visit:

http://www.mind.org.uk/mental_health_a-z/8037_understanding_borderline_personality_disorder

And for Post traumatic stress disorder:

http://www.mind.org.uk/mental_health_a-z/8026_understanding_post-traumatic_stress_disorder

For info on Art Therapy:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art_therapy

 

Obstructive - By Charlotte Farhan Suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder is an ordeal on the best of days. BPD can cause obstructive behaviour due to it being a wildly misunderstood illness. This has lead me to hide my BPD from physicians and at times begrudge therapy, medication and leave mental health services. From the age of eleven I have obstructed treatment and then craved a cure, feeling abandoned and hateful towards the continuous changing of physicians and facilities. My art is here to break down and challenge stigma as well as educate.
Obstructive – By Charlotte Farhan

 

Photos of Charlotte Farhan’s group exhibition at The Art House, Southampton

On the 2nd of August I went to the opening of the group show Summer Exhibition at The Art House in Southampton, which was exhibiting 2 of my paintings.

It was such a lovely evening and many of my dearest friends came along to support me and to see the exhibition.

There were some beautiful paintings in varied styles and of many different subjects.

Here are some photos of the exhibition, enjoy!

 

 

 

Our Tree – By Charlotte Farhan

 

 

 

 

 

 

This week I have chosen a very special painting which is called Our Tree. This painting is of a time and place which I hold close to my heart. When I was 15 I was admitted to a psychiatric unit at this old Victorian hospital in Epsom, Surrey. You would have to see it to believe it! Maybe due to my state of mind and my age as soon as I arrived at Woodside adolescent Unit, West Park hospital it was as if I had entered a very strange
world, a dream like world.

The grounds were massive, the buildings were mostly derelict and secret gardens and passages had emerged due to the overgrowth of plants and trees surrounding the buildings. It was a gorgeous summer and as my world outside the hospital had ended, the new world inside the grounds of the hospital had only just begun.

Whilst at Woodside, I met a girl called Jenny. Jenny was tall, dark-haired and always wore black and never wore shoes. Jenny did not speak to anyone and seemed so shy and scared I did not know how to approach her, but I knew I had to know this girl.

Jenny and I became very close, she would only speak to me and we developed our own way of communicating when others were around us. The Doctors and Nurses did not like this and thought I was manipulating Jenny, which could not be further from the truth! One beautiful August day, after creative writing therapy Jenny and I decided to make a run for it. We had discussed it many times before and even made little plans and had looked for the best way to do it. So we pretended we were just going to the vending machine and then made a break for it. Behind our ward there were endless fields and trees. We decided to run to the furthest fence, which we knew was the edge of the grounds. In the fence there was a hole which had been previously cut out from the chicken wire, someone had clearly thought of this escape before. So we ducked under and left the hospital grounds.

Almost as if we had entered another dimension or Universe this field looked glorious and almost as if it was all that existed in this alternate celestial space , as if it had been created for us, and only us. An endless field of golden corn. As we walked through the field which was on a hill we reached the highest point and saw a gloriously large field tree on its own, as if no one had discovered it. We decided to go and take some shade
and have a rest under its large arms of luscious leaves listening to that whispering and rustling from the breeze. We sat in the shade for hours, talking, sleeping, day dreaming, hoping that we could hold on to this perfect moment in time, hoping that the realities of why we were here and the cruel world in which we came from, would not reclaim us and that we could stay there forever.

Unfortunately Jenny and I could not stay there forever. Reality claimed us back and the world cruelly gobbled us back up. Jenny never got to leave Woodside properly, several years later after I had left and Jenny had become a day patient, Jenny took her own life one cold bitter day in December. A very large part of myself died that day, I was never angry at Jenny for leaving our world, because I knew she had not left “our world” she had returned to it. Jenny had gone back to the golden field, she was home.

This painting is a representation of that world, I made the scene different by adding the surreal large moon setting in the background, which gives off a very bright white light, and this was to represent the alternate Universe we were in. I made it night-time to symbolise the sadness and loss I feel without Jenny, which is why I choose cold blues instead of vivid greens. I added pink blossom to the tree to express my love and the romance I felt with Jenny. I kept the gold in the corn field to signify the beauty and magic which was felt.

So this painting is in honour of my beautiful Jenny, this was “our tree” I hope you like it and can see what I have tried to do. Please feel free to comment and leave feedback.

Thank you for reading,

Lots of love,

Charlotte x
x x