When you are the child of a suicidal parent

The death of my Mother is something which I have been prepared for since a young age. When you are the child of a suicidal parent you learn how to make preparations for yourself for the worst, spending years thinking of how you will cope, what this will mean for your future and how it is possibly your fault that your “caregiver” is so sad that they don’t want to live. For a child this is confusing at best and life shattering at worst. Understanding the complex nature of suicide is something most adults are unable to cope with, let alone a child still developing their own grasp on existence and surviving what life throws at them.

My Mother has Bipolar which is a mood disorder – a severe mental illness with mood swings including manic highs and depressive lows, alternating episodes of mania and depression are pervasive throughout an individuals life. Bipolar increases the risk of suicide by 20 times and The World Health Organisation identifies bipolar as one of the top causes of lost years of life and health by 15 to 44 year olds. 

My mother has always seemed to think I am oblivious, however from the age of 8 I began to see my mother slip away and her illness start to take grip of everything that made my Mother my Mother. Her moods became erratic, her temper – palpable and her tongue sharp with abusive slurs, yet still I saw nothing wrong with her, she was my Mummy and had stayed when my Father had abandoned me, so she had to be the best mother in the world , no?

The day I realised my Mother wanted to die was the day I saw her in the bath with cuts all over her, it was the time period that my mother didn’t get out of bed and the curtains didn’t get drawn, it was when she fully left me as my mother and attempted suicide several times, it was when she was put into a psychiatric hospital but left me at 11 years old with a teenager, who was unwell herself. It was when I was raped at 15 and put into an NHS psychiatric hospital and my Mother abandoned me and checked herself into a private psychiatric hospital because she was at risk, she didn’t want to save her child and care for her, she wanted to die.

Defending herself and her bad parenting jumping back and forth when it suites her, blaming everything as a consequence to her illness, attempting to let herself off the hook for just “being there” and not walking out (which I was made to feel was a tremendous task). Adults, including doctors – regularly stated to me throughout my childhood and teens: “do you realise you are the victim of circumstance Charlotte?” or asking “do you resent your Mother for being this way with you?”. My answer was always the same – no! Some adults even suggested she was abusive to me, which I was in no way ready to accept or believe, I did not understand this, admitting this would mean both my parents were unable to love me or care for me in a healthy way.

The truth is I felt sorry for my mother, I still do have an overwhelming amount of empathy for her. I feel she is stuck in a loop, a romanticised view of loneliness and melancholy has hold of her and is never going to let her go. In a perpetual spin, blaming everyone else for life’s disappointments and suffocating me with her negativity. Love doesn’t seem to be at the forefront of my Mothers focus, having been told repeatedly that life gives us choices and that no one else is responsible for our choices (advice she is never able to take herself). I was told that if she upsets me that it is “my problem”, that if I take offence that she or others have not given offence. Telling me I am too sensitive, high maintenance, a drama queen, a baby or just lacking a sense of humour. I believed these labels for a long time, occasionally these judgements come flooding back, which triggers my BPD – leading me to be unable at regulating my emotions and becoming highly unstable as a consequence.

In amongst my Mothers suicidal ideation I too started to see the allure of death and my first suicide attempt was at 12 years old, whilst my Mother was in hospital after a suicide attempt and breakdown. For 5 years I stood over the edge of a cliff, attempting to jump, still remembering the feelings that consumed me; that life was pain and death was the cure.

Children with a parent who has attempted suicide have nearly a five-fold increased risk of attempting suicide themselves, new research shows. Results from a longitudinal, prospective study showed a direct effect of a parent’s suicide attempt on a suicide attempt by their child, even after taking into account a history of previous suicide attempt by the offspring and familial transmission of a mood disorder.

Bipolar is a serious illness, as are my illnesses: borderline personality disorder, complex post traumatic disorder and psychotic depression (just to name a few), however my Mother sees her Bipolar as a badge of honour, as a get out of jail card and an explanation for everything. Never taking my illnesses seriously, suggesting that I was mimicking her, when I first showed signs at 11 – ironically relinquishing herself from all responsibility and diminishing my experiences and pain. Getting angry at me for being suicidal – the cheek! For most of my life she has made it abundantly clear that I am not worth living for or taking care of when it comes to the big stuff.

Seeing my Mother as a human being , not just a parent is possible for me, I realised that she did not choose to be severely ill when I was around 18. My Mother did not realise she married a child abuser (my Father) or could she have predicted her own illness, however she did choose to have me, I was actually planned, now this choice is one that seems to be brushed under the carpet, yet – this is the choice which I judge. They weren’t children, uneducated or religious, they made a very conscious decision, one that in hindsight was a hideous mistake.

However I am able to be grateful to my Mother for doing the basics, for giving me valuable advice and for helping me be the activist I am today. For introducing me to art, literature and my French heritage, there have been lovely times, we have laughed. The holidays we took or the deep discussions we had about life, politics, philosophy and social injustice. I admire my Mother for many reasons and I have never stopped loving her.

Is love enough? It could have been, if the foundations of my life had been maintained, cared for and not left to rot. But now? No. Love is not enough. At 34 with the relentless stress of fearing most days that I shall receive a phone call – telling me my Mother has taken her own life, I am unable to have a relationship with her. She has taken my ability to function when around her and has left me a hollow shell of inabilities. As I write this I imagine her response to this statement, she would say: “I did not take anything from you, you chose to give it away”. Mind fuckery at every corner, a grand manipulator of logic and a riddler with words.

To this day she taunts me with her last will and testament which she has be preparing for nearly 10 years, maybe longer – it feels like longer. The “death file”( which I named), is referenced at every opportunity, making it seem that she is continually putting her affairs in order so that she can take the next step. My husband and friends are understandably complaisant and reassure me that she is just being manipulative and trying to control me. This I don’t doubt to be true – however my Mother has bipolar and is at risk.

In an ideal world there would be enough support for those wishing to start a family and established parents with mental illness, there would be intervention at appropriate times, that patients who are parents within the private psychiatric services are treated as those in the NHS services with children – social workers being made aware of any dependants and assessing the safety of the child within the home. There is no doubt in my mind that my Mother needed more support when she was raising me – I feel for her with this. However she has a part to play, she had choices and she certainly could have learnt by now, after 34 years, that the psychological warfare she has taken against my mental health could have stopped before now.

Still my heart stops every time the phone rings…

Make it Stop - Art and Poetry by Charlotte Farhan
Make it Stop – Art by Charlotte Farhan

 

Opening Yourself up Within Therapy – Dealing with the Intensity of Reliving

Art By Charlotte Farhan
Art By Charlotte Farhan

Waking up from the intensity of nightmares and night-terrors, feels a though you have been battered black and blue emotionally and physically. The hell of thinking within your unconscious dream state that you are trapped in this dystopian creation of your own afflicted mind, causes you to wake screaming, as if you were grappling through time and space to re enter this realm of existence.

Then you wake; the truth hits you like a tyrannical fist, you try to unpick the mess of your insensible and sensible self which is tangled like forgotten jewelry left in a drawer. You lay there trying to regain some control over your faculties, you are still and lifeless – almost catatonic. The world as we know it has not been brought into focus yet, it is still a distant memory.

Hours go by and you’re still unable to move, your mind is working so hard at the puzzle that is your trauma. At this point what is real and not – is completely interlinked; woven together like a tapestry of war.

Finally you feel able to move, the world has invited you in and you feel, you can find your way there. You stick to muscle memory tasks, such as getting dressed, making a tea and sitting at your desk.

Unfortunately, your mind does not always recognise your consciousness in reality and “the real world”, so it flickers from flashbacks to memories of nightmares, interchanging as if someone had a remote control to your brain and was flicking through the channels of your life.

Art By Charlotte Farhan
Art By Charlotte Farhan

This has been my life for as long as I can remember; however it has grown darker again and is still growing with ferocity. Since becoming older and now in my 30’s, the space in my mind seems to be at capacity, which means when one cupboard or box is opened in my mind – things are now having to be squeezed tighter or rearranged, which in turn causes mess and a lack of new space for new experiences, emotions and eventually memories. Leaving me stuck in a hoarders prison – internally locked in. It is not that I wish to keep these memories or thoughts it is just they need to be processed, labeled and filed away.

Which is difficult when they are buried under years of self preservation.

Reliving trauma in therapy is my only solution, other than self destruction – which is ever so appealing. The temptation of setting fire to the mess that is my internal world seems enticing, a cathartic “fuck you” to the pain. Nevertheless my intentions are to stay in this mind until my husband dies ( which will hopefully be both of us in old age) as the thought of being without him is even more devastating than anything I have ever thought possible. This life is short as I have seen many times over, I promised myself I would spend this time understanding these illnesses which plague me day in and day out, as well as helping others who walk this tightrope of madness and sadness.

Art By Charlotte Farhan
Art By Charlotte Farhan

We will never forget what was done to us – you see. These abusers, predators and enablers, they caused so much of this. With their torture, subjectification, voyeurism, rape, incest, emotional battery and manipulation. Which begs me to ask, what do they carry with them after the fact? The best you can hope for is guilt; but this is not enough, this is not representative of what we suffer, the victims! They want pity, and sympathy for their affliction, which plays into further domination.

Reliving is a daily task, it does not end when I leave the therapy room, it does not silence the sounds of purgatory. It is in fact something those of us who have complex post traumatic stress disorder have been doing everyday and everynight since we were young.

My mind has been replaying reels of trauma – with added horror, as if my psyche wished to add special effects to my already terrifying past. Despite this, upon committing to reliving in a long term therapeutic setting and being at capacity – in my minds storage capabilities, the intensity rises further causing me to experience psychosis and physical pain.

The therapy I am having is a combination of psychodynamic, humanistic, psychoanalyticACT and CBT, this is known as integrative therapy as it uses elements from many therapies; integrative therapists take the view that there is no single approach that can treat each client in all situations. Each person needs to be considered as a whole and counselling techniques must be tailored to their individual needs and personal circumstances. 

This process is long and will be a continued managed activity of will power and a determination to use this experience as a way to contribute to the world. The idea is to turn myself, the victim into a survivor and then a thriver. These will never be whole states of mind, and knowing there will be bad days and good days and even relapses, but using the trauma to thrive even for 10 minutes is something worth committing to.

“It’s often said that a traumatic experience early in life marks a person forever, pulls her out of line, saying, “Stay there. Don’t move.”
Jeffrey Eugenides

Art By Charlotte Farhan
Art By Charlotte Farhan

Recovery is not a time period set out, it is a continued process until death. When I say I am in recovery, do not be confused and think “that’s good she will be recovered soon” this is not how it works. Recovery is about a continued focus and is an exhausting task to undertake daily, which means there will be days I can not do it or days when triggering events or stressful life experiences put the mind back into those frightful moments which we tried so hard to keep organised and tidy.

Let me ask you?

How do you recover from being sexually abused as a child?

How do you recover from sexual violence, rape, assault, stalking and being beaten as a teenager?

How do you recover from having two parents (who are severely mentally ill themselves) one abused you, abandoned you and does not love you at all, to the other who didn’t love you at birth and couldn’t attach to you and who emotionally abused you, kept leaving you with different people and whose constant fragility due to their illness consumed your life?

You don’t recover…

You hopefully survive and then spend your life recovering.

So this is me and where I am, I know I am not alone, I know you are suffering too out there, I know it is hard and you’re ready to quit! But I want you to know that you are not alone and that you need to take this slowly and realistically. Do not allow pressure from others and society; which make you conform. They do not have to live your life, you know the truth.

Living is hard.

But reliving is harder.

Art By Charlotte Farhan
Art By Charlotte Farhan

 

For a bit of history on the practices of therapy in regards to PTSD AND C-PTSD, please read on…

 

Since the re-emergence of recognition of severe trauma on human development and psychopathology in adults in the 1970s, Chu and Bowman observed there had been three generations of trauma treatment theory. The first generation of research and response began in the early 1980s and emphasized abreaction of traumatic experience in treatment. Abreaction originated from psychoanalytic traditions and describes the processes of acting out and expressing unconscious conflicts that, in itself, brings relief.

The second generation, from the late 1980s to early 1990s, developed clearer ideas of the effects of different types of trauma, for example, single incident, adult onset events such as car accidents compared with chronic, interpersonal trauma such as childhood abuse. PTSD described ongoing pathology including the former types of abuse, while complex PTSD described the latter. The global effects of complex trauma across the range of intrapsychic, relational, cognitive, and behavioral functions became a focus. This resulted in recognition of the benefits of employing a number of schools of therapy, and the elaboration of a three-stage model of therapy. This focused first on client safety and stabilization using techniques primarily from CBT, then on processing trauma memories where psychodynamic therapies were utilized, and finally on reconnecting with the wider social environment.9

The third generation, from the mid-1990s to 2000, witnessed the attack of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF) on therapies focusing on childhood sexual abuse (CSA). The first response was to polarize views, but then it motivated research that refined assessments of trauma pathology including the effects of trauma on memory, and the etiology of adult trauma symptoms, and generally supported the effectiveness of therapy. The focus of therapy changed from uncovering more instances of trauma, to building a more coherent self-narrative.

If you have any comments or questions please fill in this form and I shall endeavour to get back to you as soon as I am able:

 

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The Agoraphobic Artist – My Story

MY STORY

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My story of Agoraphobia starts when I was 16 years old. Only recently discharged from an adolescent psychiatric hospital and having wanted and attempted to die for almost 5 years, (including standing in front of an oncoming train, but being rescued by a very brave train guard) I had survived and started to believe that it was a cruel, never ending punishment. However I was struggling with so many things and was having very vivid hallucinations and believed that I was indestructible.

Then at Reading festival in the year 2000 just after I had graduated from secondary school with almost nothing to show for myself as I had been in hospital for most of my GCSE’s, I went with the attitude that life was a massive joke and I was the punch line. There I met my (now) husband Mohammed, I was in love instantly. I even told my friends I would end up marrying him, they (as usual) thought I was insane, in most medical opinions I was. Sure enough I started dating Mohammed and he was and still is everything to me.

Having never had a kind, loving male in my life, having been abused by my Father and then abandoned by him and having been raped by a classmate when I was 15 (hence the break down and hospitalisation) I had found my prince in shining armour. Mohammed gave me and still gives me more than enough love to compensate for my Father not loving me and being treated the way I had been by boys and men. Mohammed truly saved me from taking my own life when I was a child. A gift of life he gave me and I was not about to waste this gift!

So after wanting nothing more than to die, I now had swiftly changed perspectives, I didn’t want to die, I didn’t want to leave Mohammed, not for one second! This I have later found out is due to my borderline personality disorder and something which we have as suffers which is called black and white thinking (also known as splitting).

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Everything suddenly felt unsafe! The world became scarier than ever, everything was potentially going to kill me, kill Mohammed and separate us. Slowly but surly I became withdrawn and anxious and developed Generalised Anxiety Disorder. I had gone from someone on the highly at risk register to someone who was preserving my existence with such an attention to detail that it was taking over my life and caused mine and Mohammed’s life to become harder and harder. We were kids, now living on our own and we were in over our heads. After almost being sectioned in an adult psychiatric ward in Guildford at 18, I decided I had to keep my mental illness hidden as much as possible, this also fed into my reclusive behaviour and soon enough I was not going out on my own, then only once a week with Mohammed to do the weekly shop and back.

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This continued for a year, then when I was 19 I found ecstasy, a class A drug which allowed me to do things which I would never be able to do, it gave me back my flip side, my fearless side. Just 2-3 pills and I was able to counterbalance my heavy anti-psychotic drugs and fear, so that I could be like my friends and hide my torment and struggle.

I wouldn’t go out, especially without Mohammed and then orchestrated my life so that it was not an obvious problem. But soon, I was put on heavier medication and became like a zombie for a year and didn’t move really, let alone going out. I was starting to create my own world.

 

A spoon full of sugar - By Charlotte Farhan http://www.charlottefarhanart.com/
A spoon full of sugar – By Charlotte Farhan
http://www.charlottefarhanart.com/

Then just before my 21st birthday I suffered a complete psychotic break from reality and broke up with Mohammed. I convinced myself that I was holding him back and that I was not good enough for him and wanted to become my other self, my reckless other side. I couldn’t make sense of anything and felt out of control. This led to a year and a half of heavy drug use, dangerous behaviour and living life as a fearless crazy person. I changed my identity, hide my illness, made friends out of enemies and had no regard for my future, just instant gratification, the thrill of being on the edge again.

However, one day I looked at Mohammed (who I was still very close friends with and who I still loved like no other) and I realised for the first time in my life that he was my future, my partner and my family and that in order to be with him I had to confront everything.

Formidable Love - By Charlotte Farhan  http://www.charlottefarhanart.com/
Formidable Love – By Charlotte Farhan
http://www.charlottefarhanart.com/

Mohammed and I got back together in 2006, although understandably he made me work for it, I had to prove myself and I put everything I had into winning Mohammed back.

After 6 months of being back together, I started feeling the panic coming back, the fear that I would die and not get to live this life with Mohammed. So I started withdrawing again from the outside world and sometime in 2006 I went out for the last time on my own.

My agoraphobia got worse in 2010, I moved to Portsmouth and within a few months of being in the city, I decided that maybe I could start working on my exposure work for my agoraphobia, so one day I decided to take a few letters I wanted to post to the post box a few meters outside my front door, Mohammed was indoors and I felt I could do this!! As I walked to the post box, I saw a man walking towards me, I didn’t really pay attention as I was on my mission. Suddenly I caught his eye and I realised it was my attacker who had raped me when I was 15, I felt all my blood escape my body, my heart stopped, I started sweating and hyperventilating, I turned on my heels and ran to my front door, thumbling around, franticly trying to turn the key, I fell through the door and couldn’t catch my breath and vomited all over myself.

PTSD - By Charlotte Farhan http://www.charlottefarhanart.com/
PTSD – By Charlotte Farhan
http://www.charlottefarhanart.com/

I felt this was another cruel joke which a sinister God was playing on me. I knew this man lived in Portsmouth, but it is a massive city and did not think this could happen. My world came tumbling down around me and I felt trapped and frightened.

This led to me not being able to go to a “normal” university as I couldn’t attend classes, even with supervision or assistance. I was then told by The University of Portsmouth I was to unwell to study and had to leave. I took this as a massive failure and as I could’t work either I felt I was nothing.

This is when I turned to art (Art Saved My Life) and am now an artist who works from home. I started at the end of 2010 and now am a professional visual artist, illustrator, art mentor and I am an artist in residence as well as being a massive promoter of art and it’s benefits to aiding and managing mental illness. I also raise awareness and break down the the stigma of mental illness through my own art.

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It has been almost 7 years since I last went out alone, I am still able to go out with Mohammed, my Mother and a few safe friends, but this is only to certain places and it has to be all pre-planned with warning.

I do all this from inside my home, without leaving the house and it is a struggle everyday. I am still receiving medical treatment for my mental illnesses and am working towards a future when I can just pop to the shop across my road to get a pint of milk. People take for granted these little things which no one would think is a massive ordeal for some. I long for my independence and for freedom from my own prison. I take one day at a time. I am the sort of person that has evolved through all my trauma and pain to believe that we have no excuses, I have days when everything hurts me like I am covered in burns and other days when I can inspire over 36,000 followers and live out my dreams. All I know is that I am blessed to still be alive and to have the people I have around me and I will do everything in my power to help others like myself through art, change the world and I can only do this if I am alive, here and fighting the fight for us all.

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Thank you for reading my story.

All my love, Charlotte Farhan xxx

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