I have to open myself up again, for the powers that be.
I have to retell it, relive it all.
I have to prove my illnesses and disabilities, whilst fitting in the predetermined boxes – designed for some of us to slip through.
I have fallen through the lines, the pages, told “there is nothing we can do for people like you”.
“You’re too ill”.
Jumping through hoops, running up hills – against the torrential down pour of sociatal expectations.
All this is done whilst the 1%, the bourgeoisie, the privileged watch on, as they stuff their faces with our human rights.
The media uses us as scapegoats, for the ‘outraged’ to demonise us, with the misinformation they are brainwashed by – we, the ones at the “bottom”, we bring it on ourselves.
Illness is equated with laziness, disability is questioned as being unmotivated.
The seen, the unseen and no details in between.
My work is unpaid and thankless, the sick leading the sick.
I don’t want this feeling of being less than, for being unable to fit into an imaginary “type”, conjured up by able, privileged puppet masters, pulling strings, herding the “deserving” humans into their boxes, and the undeserving to their coffins.
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:
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 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.
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.
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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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).
We imagine how we must appear to others.
We imagine and react to what we feel their judgement of that appearance must be.
We develop our self through the judgements of others.
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:
Fragmentation – Which is in no way as dominating or persistent in BPD as it is in Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), however it still causes many issues. BPD can make it so you have adaptive personalities depending on who you are with and what scenario you are in – which to some extent most people do. BPD however causes this to be such separate fragmentations of the self that it is disturbing for us – the sufferers, to a degree it damages our personal relationships, careers, idea of self, family life and integration into society. It also affects our memories and association to people and places as our identities can separate what is dear to one “personality/self” over the other.
Boundary confusion – Also known as boundary dissolution is the failure to recognise the psychological distinctiveness of individuals or a confusion of their interpersonal roles. Boundaries are believed to be established in childhood within the family setting, when roles are clarified such as who is the parent and who is the child, with a flexibility to create close bonds and also have a separateness allowing you to build your “self”.
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?”
Lack of cohesion and continuity of the self across situations and life history – Most individuals who have secure identities do so because they remember themselves as the same individual they have always been. Noticing the changes one experiences with age, experience and gained knowledge, developing their core identity through life’s stages. BPD doesn’t allow for this due to the fragmented self which has been present throughout our lives, causing perceived gaps of identity knowledge and incompatible memories. Timelines become confusing when remembering what past events mean in regards to identity.
“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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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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Hope was a young woman who carried around sadness, as if it were a suitcase of old belongings she had lost the key for a long time ago. Hope wanted to be free of this baggage that weighed her down each day; wishing she could take flight as if she were a bird heading for warmer weather.
One day Hope felt a pressure in her head as if something was trying to escape, it pushed at her temples and made her ears pop. The feeling was excruciating and left hope feeling overwhelmed and scared. Suddenly something was in her mouth, it had made its way up her throat and was now sitting on her tongue as if it were a pill waiting to be swallowed. Instead she went to the mirror apprehensively and opened her mouth and stuck out her tongue, to her disbelief a perfectly intact leaf sat there, she reached into her mouth and carefully took the leaf out to examine. It was an ordinary leaf, from a tree or plant and it was a glorious green. Hope was very much perturbed by this turn of events, feeling very tired suddenly and still suffering from an intense headache, the only thing left to do was go to bed.
Upon waking the next morning after what felt like a years worth of sleep, Hope opened her eyes and could only see green; she wiped them and blinked repetitively, hoping it was just a dream. As the green came into focus she realised that she was surrounded by branches and on those branches grew leaves like the one she had found in mouth the night before. Hope was unable to move as she was in so much disbelief regarding these events before her. In an attempt to move her head in order to sit up, she felt trapped; her head was heavy and felt as if it was tied to her bead posts. Hope reached into her bedside cabinet and blindly hunted for a small hand mirror she knew was there, finally she found it and opened it up to see what was holding her down. When hope looked at her reflection she did not trust what she could see; it was surreal. Hope had somehow – overnight, grown branches out of her head, there was no blood or pain and the tree looked the healthiest she had ever seen a tree to be.
Hope was able to free herself from her bed and navigate her way to her bathroom, she washed her face and brushed her teeth, rustling around as the leaves touched. It was a struggle to get dressed as her head weight pulled her down – if she was not careful, but eventually she was ready to go outside. Hope lived in the middle of nowhere and had acres of land beyond her garden. This was a relief to Hope as the idea of seeing anyone right now filled her with dread as she didn’t know how she would explain her appearance. The aim she had in mind was to go to the woods and see if she could find a matching tree and maybe this would bring about some sort of explanation.
Hope ducked under her door frame and stepped outside into her garden, she looked around and the world seemed the same, nothing obvious had changed so she proceeded down her path to her gate. As Hope closed her gate and looked back at her little home she felt a sense of loss but couldn’t put her finger on why she felt this way. With no further thought she walked toward the woods and was determined to find answers.
The trees looked dense and there was a darkness – that you would think would fill you with fear, however it was inviting. As Hope approached the edge of the trees, she stopped and heard a noise and felt something moving about “up there” on her head, in her branches. Reaching into her pocket she pulled out the hand mirror she retrieved earlier and took a look to see what was going on. It was a beautiful bird, sat there looking at her; before she could think of what to do the bird started to sing. The most beautiful of melodies came out of this delightful creature, she felt calmer and prepared to carry on. Thinking to herself:
I shall name the bird Journey.
Hope and Journey entered the woods and manoeuvred their way through the trees, trying not to get her branches tangled with the foliage. Inspecting each tree she passed, looking at each leaf desperately trying to find answers to her predicament. All the while listening to Journey sooth her with song. Suddenly she heard a new tune and it was complementing Journey’s. Once again Hope got her hand mirror out and glanced to see what was happening. Another beautiful bird was sat up there harmonising with Journey. Now hope thought it only fair to name this bird too:
I shall name this bird Duality.
Hope, Journey and Duality continued on their path searching and singing together in perfect harmony. Suddenly a clearing appeared, it was a circular clearing with one lonely tree in the middle, it was huge and looked to be well over a hundred years old. It was so big you could build a small home in its trunk. Hope continued towards it and could see something glistening in the sunshine, it was hanging from the tree. As she approached it another beautiful bird flew down from the other tree and it too had something dangling from its mouth, it was a key. Both items were keys and before she could process what was happening the bird dropped the key into her hands and took a perch in her branches. Hope compared the two keys and they were the same except for their colour – one being blue and the other pink.
what could this mean?
Hope thought to herself.
The third bird joined in with the singing and looked at home with Journey and Duality. Hope put both keys in her pocket with her mirror and started to inspect the tree before her, the leaves were the same as hers, the branches were identical and the aroma was a perfect match. But how and why had this tree which naturally grew from the ground, also grown from Hope’s head and what were the keys purpose. This thought was so tiring and complex to understand, as nothing seemed real or based on the natural order of things, so Hope surmised that if and when she needed to know these things, they would unveil themselves to her in good time.
The third bird seemed to complete the harmony so exceptionally, the sound was enchanting, it made Hope feel less weighed down by her past and her sadness, it elevated her to a place which felt unlike any other, it was as if she had found her home. Not the kind of home she had left behind earlier, it was not that of bricks and mortar it was the sense that home existed inside her – meaning that she was always home and this feeling made Hope feel whole.
Hope suddenly had a thought and said:
I shall call this third bird Transcendence.
This name felt fitting as this is what she felt upon meeting this bird and hearing the symphony this trio had created made her feel that she had gone beyond ordinary limitations. Hope sat beneath the tree and lay against it, with her branches touching the other tree’s, weaving herself into a comfortable position. Journey, Duality and Transcendence began to sing a slower melody, lulling Hope with a lullaby, soon she was asleep and the sun set. As Hope slept her branches curved around her creating a blanket of leaves and all three birds nuzzled into Hope and one another.
When Hope woke up the next morning she was alone and she felt different, she raised her hands to her head and all she felt was her hair and beneath it her head, simple skin and bone. It was a relief that she had returned to her normal state, however she was sad to loose her friends, Journey, Duality and Transcendence. When she stood up and turned to the tree she had laid under all night, she was shocked to find a door. In front of the door were three little parcels made out of leaves, one was filled with nuts and berries, the second was a cup shape with water and the third was a little growing bud, ready to be planted. Hope ate the berries and nuts, drank the water and carefully put the bud in her pocket, which is when she remembered she had two keys, she pulled them out and went to the door – but neither worked which perplexed Hope very much indeed. Then she had an overwhelming feeling that this door was not for her and she felt strongly that the blue key was the correct key, so she hung it on the door knob and decided to return home.
On Hope’s journey back she started to ponder what this all meant, knowing that her life had been filled with pain from her past she wondered if this was a wake up call from some kind of higher power – such as the force which aligns us and keeps the earth spinning, the sun rising and setting and the tides drawing in and out. Was it a window into the in between, with the duality of body and mind had she found the centre, the answer to – what are mental states and what are physical states? Had she experienced a mental state which took her to another world where trees growing out of heads, bird friends, keys, magical trees and little doors were the norm. Or were these things physically there, tangible and part of the order we know to exist, just undiscovered? Or possibly she had transcended, moving beyond physical needs and realities.
Before she knew it, Hope was at her gate and could see her little home which when she left yesterday she had felt such loss, today she felt excited to return home and be amongst the things she knew to be real. Once Hope had opened the gate and walked up the path she was met by a small trinket box with three beautiful feathers beautifully attached to it, as if they were a gift tag, she knew these patterns they were from her friends; Journey, Duality and Transcendence, this made Hope smile and she knelt down to open the box, inside was a tiny note which read:
Plant the bud, watch it grow – in dirt and darkness, watch it burst through to reach the light, tend to it, water it and even when nothing moves know that growth happens from within and one day you will have a tree which will nourish you with fruit and bring you shade when weary. This growth is part of you physically and mentally, it is your journey and being beyond the limits of all possible experience and knowledge you have transcended from your past and hold the key to your future.
Hope felt a tear fall from her eye and she felt such relief, she reached into her pocket and got the pink key and placed it around her neck as a reminder of her lesson, she then hurried indoors to fetch her gardening tools so she could plant the bud. When she returned outside her three friends were all splashing away in the bird bath, chirping with delight. Hope knew this was the beginning of a new adventure and that there was no turning back.
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