This is our journey so far…
Amadeus is a 13 month old standard poodle who is my psychiatric assistance dog and he is helping me gain some independence, access to the outside world, exercise and he also gives me things I can not get from human interaction. The conditions and illnesses which Amadeus aids me with are Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Agoraphobia, Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Psychotic Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Autistic Spectrum Disorder.
The requirement for me to have an assistance dog was in fact my last hope in having a more fulfilled life, in this able focused and neuro-typical world. Due to sever mental illnesses I have been unable to lead a “normal” life for over 11 years and some things have never been achievable.
When using the word “normal”, I use it in the sense that many things achieved by able people are taken for granted, such as being able to leave your home with ease everyday, crossing roads, being outside independently, going into shops and other establishments, speaking to strangers or service people, taking public transport, being able to drive, listening to music on headphones, meeting friends, going to hospital/doctor appointments…
the list goes on…
Very kindly a close friend of mine started a GoFundMe page and raised enough money for me to get Amadeus and all the things we needed to get the show on the road. People from all over the world donated and before I knew it, we were taking Amadeus home and the rest is history.
So in under a year I have achieved a great deal with Amadeus; starting with simply stepping outside my front door with him and closing the doors behind us whilst no one else was home – this was my first and most challenging of exercises.
Then we walked up the road and started with the closest cul-de-sac, completing this for up to two weeks at a time, then moving onto the next. Eventually mastering three and staying in this comfort zone until I was ready to go past a busy pub and cross a small road by a large cul-de-sac. By this point I genuinely was astonished by my progress and felt a sense of freedom which would make me promise myself to never let go or go back – a lot of pressure but I have no “happy” medium abilities, it is black and white or nothing.
After this achievement my sights were set on going further up our road to a small green in front of an old Victorian prison, knowing this would be ideal for Amadeus to do his business and for me to be near some kind of nature – with trees and grass (even though it is next to a main road and very busy roundabout). This feat was very challenging, managing to do this once a week and slowly progressing to be able to do it more regularly over several weeks, before committing this as the place we would walk everyday.
By this point Amadeus was getting to be almost one and a feeling of rebirth flowed through my veins. So one day impulsively I decided to go the other way from my front gate, up the road and over a busy bridge to the cemetery behind my house, as this was something I could do without crossing any main roads – plus it would give me an abundance of nature, things to look at and a longer walk for Amadeus.
We did it!
However this was impulsively done which was me jumping up my ladder and not safely stepping up one rung at a time, which is a trait due to my Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). This meant I was wiped out for almost two weeks due to the exhaustion of doing something so outside of my comfort zone, which of course made me have sever anxiety symptoms – even though at the time it was enjoyable, but when you get the same adrenaline from walking up the road to a cemetery as someone bungy jumping or sky diving – it can be a really surreal feeling.
My next challenge is crossing a main road in front of my house which luckily has a pedestrian crossing and then walking straight down small residential roads to a beautiful pond and recreational field. My plan is to try and achieve this, this summer, which will be my greatest achievement so far. Amadeus will be able to go off lead in the field, we can walk around the pond, watch the wildlife, sit and read or listen to music; it is something I dream about constantly.
Even though this has changed my life, there are still days I can not go out, there are days when being outside is like being assaulted by every piece of sensory information at once, leaving me unable to process details and all I can do is rest and recover.
So if you have never thought of how privileged you are to leave your home in a carefree manner and when interacting with the outside world and its tasks it is no big deal to you; then I challenge you to think of what your life would be like if you were unable to do these things?
As a small art project I documented my journey so far with Amadeus and distorted the images to show the different sensory issues I encounter when outside. This was challenging as simply taking the photos by busy roads was disorientating, however with Amadeus keeping me grounded and helping me feel present and real I was able to do a lot more than I thought I would. There is a slide show, all images underneath and some videos.
If you have any feedback on this article please fill in the contact form below:
Now I lay me down to sleep
Art and Poetry
by Charlotte Farhan
Now I lay me down to sleep,
eyes wide open and thoughts a plenty,
to numb to even weep,
my mind full but my soul empty.
If I should die before I wake,
please know I tried with all my might,
but could not survive the heartbreak,
I have been waiting too long for daylight.
This art and poetry portrays the ordeal of intrusive thoughts which are brought on due to mental illness, specifically complex trauma, anxiety disorders, personality disorders and psychosis.
My intrusive thoughts have been dominating my life since I can remember. As young as 5 I recall laying in my bed and reasoning with myself, internally bargaining:
“If I die in my sleep, I wont know, I will just die and then it will be over”.
Scary things had always happened at night in my world, the dark couldn’t be trusted and nor could most adults.
As I got older my intrusive thoughts took on an internal shaming ritual, whereby ripping myself to shreds about how I looked, how I had acted or how no one loved me and I would be alone forever – hence why these thoughts turned suicidal. Repeating to myself again and again:
“you are fat, you are ugly”,
as if I were counting maniacal sheep – one named fat the other ugly.
Sometimes the thoughts can turn external and onto others, fearing you may hurt someone or even kill someone – not because you want to but because you fear you will lose your mind. I used to fear that one day whilst travelling to school or college that I would push someone onto the railway tracks. Visualising it was horrifying, playing it out scene for scene , watching others scream in horror and watching myself be carted away by the “men in white coats”.
With psychosis the intrusive thoughts are there but take on a hallucinogenic dimension. In the dark seeing evil angels looming over me or small fairy like creatures guiding me to safety, another world would open up – but what if I got trapped there? What if I wanted to stay? Reflections in mirrors can cause dysmorphic appearances, my eyes would disappear into my sockets, skin looked to be hanging off my face and seeing other people as myself.
Traumatic experiences cause flash backs which take you back to your trauma and hold you there in order to relive the ordeal again and again. Or you try and recreate the trauma and imagine a new ending – all the while punishing yourself internally, blaming yourself for what has happened to you or for what others have done to you.
Medication can help but it can be so much worse if you miss a dose or have to come off your meds for whatever reason, as well as very unpleasant side effects. There are so many drugs I have tried over the years and the ones that worked best were always the ones which left me like a zombie during the day, which is fine if you wish to be a zombie and there have been times this has suited me, to barely exist. However when you want to survive and possibly even live you can’t compromise on the “being awake” part.
The important thing to remember when dealing with intrusive thoughts or if a loved one is experiencing them, is to take this seriously – it is like any other health concern, such as finding a lump or a cough that just wont go away. Intrusive thoughts are an anxiety driven issue due to:
“THE AMYGDALA CONSTANTLY SENDING US FALSE SIGNALS THAT WE ARE IN DANGER”
Fight or flight is triggered with the obsession (the intrusive thoughts) and then the compulsion (is the bargaining – the fear) and the cycle repeats like groundhog day. Many people suffer in silence with these feelings and become trapped in their own isolation created due to living this way. So if you feel this is you or someone you know – please know first and foremost:
YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
There is support out there for you and your loved ones.
Here are some helpful links:
END THE STIGMA!
Leave me a comment or ask me a question:
AM I REAL?
The nature of reality perplexes most,
nothing can “be . . . ” and “not be . . . “,
so when I tell you I feel like a ghost,
please believe me.
Anything outside your mind can be unsure,
but how does something exist?
Does one have to have thunk it – to be sure,
of flesh and bone is all I consist.
Am I mentally constructed,
are my thoughts my own?
or possibly I came to this earth abducted,
or maybe I arose from my tombstone.
Is my conscious mental state related to my body?
for I see myself below,
separating self as I disembody,
left behind is but a puppet show.
The earth is like water inside a fishbowl,
diminished in size and dimensions,
all unreachable as it slips into a black hole,
staring at my own reflection.
This piece of art and poetry addresses how it feels to be in a state of depersonalisation or derealisation. I experience both as symptoms of my anxiety disorders (OCD, GAD, CPTSD and AGORAPHOBIA) as well as my borderline personality disorder.
Find out more HERE
These sensations and feelings of being unreal or not being able to know what is real or not – have been causing me issues since I was a very young child. The worst times were when my voice used to speed up and I would hear myself speaking a million miles per hour, but others around me heard me speaking at a normal speed, or when I felt objects were to large or too small causing me to question all perspective, but by far the most disturbing is when you feel like an illusion, like a left over imprint.
As someone who has a degree in philosophy and who has studied philosophy for over 10 years now, “the theory of mind” was and still is one of my favourite subjects within philosophy. It has simultaneously helped me to accept that none of us truly know what reality is, as well as further perplex me and leave me questioning everything even more.
There is not a lot of understanding when it comes to these disorders, often when people do not understand something or have not felt the things being described – it is easy for them to dismiss. However – why would anyone assume their reality is the same as another? There is evidence that we all experience the world differently without having any kind of mental illness or neurological damage.
How am I to know what you see… and how are you to know what I see…?
When I am touched does it feel the same as when you are touched?
When I eat do I taste the same flavours and interpret the textures the same as you?
Do I see the world as a “glass half empty kind of place or half full”?
Do I think the same thoughts?
The list goes on and on…
It is never as simple as “reality is reality”.
So question these ideas more, never judge another persons reality to be wrong or fake and remember that 1 in 5 people will have a mental illness at some point in their lives and some of us will have it for life.
End the stigma and learn how to better understand others and their reality.
IF YOU HAVE ANY COMMENTS OR QUESTIONS PLEASE FEEL FREE TO USE THE CONTACT FORM PROVIDED:
Dear Mental Health Services England (NHS)
I am writing to you as I have lost the will to fight for my life and am using my last amount of strength to share my desperate situation with you.
I suffer from: complex post traumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder, psychotic depression, generalised anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, obsessive compulsive disorder, body dysmorphic disorder, adult attention deficit disorder, diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome, arthritis and chronic erythema nodosum.
For the past 9 months or so I have been left untreated and unsupported by my GP surgery – which is Baffins Surgery Portsmouth and Solent NHS Trust as well as other departments. I used to have a family member who was able to take me to the many medical appointments a person like myself has, but unfortunately I no longer have this family member in my life and since then have been unable to access any care, appointments and clinics. This is because the NHS does not deem people like myself (mentally ill) to be housebound – even when they have conditions which specifically challenge their freedom to leave the house, to interact with people, to use the phone and lead independent lives. This is discrimination and against my human rights to access care.
I have asked my GP and Solent NHS Trust to help me again and again, it is not until I tweeted them in crisis (I am having a breakdown) that they have responded, and still now they keep offering me appointments which I can not get to.
Due to my conditions (which my surgery is well aware of as I have been in the mental health services since I was 12) I am unable to leave the house on my own (I have not done so for 10 years), a lot of the time I can not leave the house at all, I can not use the phone to call out or receive calls due to my disorders, my husband is my only family and he works during my GP’s surgery hours for appointments and telephone calls. When accompanied outside by a safe person, I can not order my own food, ask strangers for help or cross the road on my own. As well as this I experience sensory overload when outside, loud noises cause me physical pain, I am on high alert and most of the time can only deal with basic communication.
I have been told that people with mental illness can not qualify as being housebound, even though my conditions cause me to be this way, I was told there is nothing that can be done!
I do NOT accept this!
Since this happened I have been unable to continue my diabetic treatments, clinics and check ups as my surgery will not do home visits and all blood test clinics are in the morning when my husband is not available. So my diabetes could be getting worse I would have no way of knowing, until too late.
I am also unable to have fertility treatment as I am unable to get the help I need to qualify as I have PCOS and am now infertile.
I have something called chronic erythema nodosum which needs to be checked often to make sure I do not have any other illnesses associated with it.
I have arthritis and it is getting worse I need help as sometimes I can not move due to the sever pain in my ankles, knees and wrists, I now have a walking cane.
As for my mental health, well this is the area I have been failed in since I was first in the adolescent mental health services at 12. I have endured mistreatment from many practitioners, including victim blaming, sexual assault in a psychiatric facility at 15, by two male in patients, I have been told I am “too intelligent” to receive care, “too high functioning” and I have been stigmatised for having borderline personality disorder by many practitioners who have deemed me manipulative or attention seeking, when in fact I was in crisis. I have been left with no help or they have tried to section me, there is no in between. I was put on anti-psychotics at 15 years old and was like a zombie for most of my late teens and early twenties. I have been offered treatments which I can not get to, or things which would cause my other conditions to be triggered. I have had no treatment for my C-PTSD except for a un-completed 6 week session of reliving therapy (as my therapist left) which has left me open and more unwell than before, causing my psychotic depression to flair up and experience psychosis regularly. I was put on anti-anxiety medication as I have so many anxiety disorders and then due to not being able to be seen by a GP, the surgery put my medication up for review even though I could not attend an appointment, which meant my medication was stopped abruptly, giving me side affects to withdrawal – which has left me in constant fight or flight and suicidal. These conditions are chronic and serious and cause me to lead a very limited life.
I only have this energy because I decided to give this one last go – one last fight – before I give up. My husband has to deal with this on his own, he is terrified of what will happen to me, where is his support also?
I have been a victim to so much in my life, I suffered neglect and child abuse, a violent rape at 15, and being sexually assaulted by two male in-patients on separate occasions within the NHS Woodside psychiatric adolescent unit in Epsom in 1999 and these are just the worst events, I have suffered much more. But I survived these ordeals even though I am affected by them every day, especially living with C-PTSD, however I survived, all I ask is the chance to live, to have basic human rights, that the duty of care you have is observed when treating me and that I am not left to die!
I also know I am not alone, there are so many of us that are being failed and left to die, you don’t hear them because they have no voice, I also stand for them as I too have been silenced by this ableism, this marginalisation, this stigma and appalling treatment. The only reason I am able to fight is because I have a platform, so I am screaming as loud as I can with the hope you will hear me and help me, and furthermore with the hope you do not continue this lack of care with others, even though I am sure this will not change anything, maybe it will break the silence.
“…if you are ill or injured, there will be a national health service there to help; and access to it will be based on need and need alone – not on your ability to pay, or on who your GP happens to be or on where you live.” – The New NHS: Modern, Dependable – Government White Paper, December 1997.
“If the right to health is considered as a fundamental human right, significant differences in access to health care and the health status of individuals must be seen as violations of the principle of equality” – Implications of a Right to Health – Virginia A. Leary, 1993.
For more information: The Human Rights Act 1998 and Access to NHS Treatments and Services: A Practical Guide
HERE IS HOW YOU CAN HELP ME!
- Firstly share this open letter with anyone and everyone.
- I need the Solent NHS Trust to help me so I can have the same human rights to care as others. So here is what I need – send them this open letter:
- Tweet them at: https://twitter.com/SolentNHSTrust
- Facebook message them: https://www.facebook.com/solentnhstrustnews/?fref=ts
- Or email them: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Someone will be creating a petition for me too, so I shall add this to the post when it is up and running.
- I am also writing an official complaint to the NHS.
- If you have a similar story to this or have anything you wish to add, I would love to hear from you, please fill in this form:
My friend, surrogate sister and colleague Lisa Reeve has very kindly started a fundraiser for me to get the assistance psychiatric dog which I desperately need so that I can live a more independent life and access more help for my sever and complex mental illnesses.
Here is what Lisa had to say:
Help us raise money for Charlotte Farhan to get a psychiatric assistance dog so that she can lead a more independent life as a sufferer of C-PTSD.
Hi I’m Lisa I am writing this having battled a long term mental health condition since childhood. I am passionate about recovery and believe in helping others and the cause.
My best friend Charlotte not only has been my rock, she has been my life line through some terrible years in which I am starting to see the light again. Unfortunately for Charlotte she suffers from C-PTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder) from sexual abuse in childhood and sexual violence and assault as a teenager, due to this Charlotte has not been able to live a “normal” life and has progressively got worse, which has led to several mental illnesses such as psychotic depression, borderline personality disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, and OCD. This has meant Charlotte has no independence and has not been outside alone for over 9 years, as well as not being able to leave the house at all at times even with a carer.
I feel it is now time I give back to her some of the hope she held for me. Since being told the NHS can’t do anything more for Charlotte she has grown more isolated.
I really want to help her out of this and this is why I want to ask the world to help raise money for Charlotte to get a psychiatric service dog. Charlotte responds very positively to animals and with a dog she could in time, adapt the skills to be independent and manage her symptoms with a more fulfilled life.
As we know service dogs help people both mentally and psychically and help reduce unwanted symptoms that have a disabling impact on one’s life. Unfortunately this service is not given to people like Charlotte here in the UK, even though many places round the world do, in the UK service dogs are only given to those with psychical disabilities, children with autism and war veterans with PTSD.
We plan to take direct action with the donations raised. A puppy has already been chosen for Charlotte, a little male poodle puppy called Amadeus who is only 3 weeks old but will be ready for his forever home with Charlotte at the end of May 2016. Charlotte has a team of friends who are helping her with this as well as her husband. We have a dog behavioural trainer who is offering her time and skills, called Rebecca Smith, I shall be on hand as well as Charlotte’s other friends: Lesley and Anna, we will be helping Charlotte with exposure work and getting her used to being outside with the dog. Money raised helps towards costs for: the purchase of the puppy, veterinary care, vaccinations, a dog passport, insurance, food, leads, a dog crate, car modifications for the dog, training etc.….
Research in pet therapies reveal that a service dog can help manage symptoms by helping you feel less stressed and alone. As Charlotte spends her days working non-profit as the MD of Art Saves Lives International from home, a visual artist, the editor of ASLI Magazine, a feature writer for OTV Magazine, and she is also about to enetr her last year of her degree in Philosophy, Psychology and Creative Writing with the Open University. She is alone at home with no human contact or ability to go outside, she often feels abandoned and scared, reinforced by the fact that she cannot go outside by herself at all. She would love to be able to do what ‘ mentally able’ individuals can do and carry out simple tasks such as crossing the road and walking to the corner shop to buy milk, as well as exercising more (which will help Charlotte as a diabetic), meeting people for her charity work and as Charlotte is an artist she dreams of painting outside in the summer.
A suitable dog would be a dependable companion, helping aid her confidence and give her more freedom. Dogs are great lovers of affection and their unconditional love can help overcome self-loathing problems and inward negative thoughts.
An assistance dog would help Charlotte feel more comfortable with the idea of being able to stand closer to strangers and have more contact with others. This is a fear of Charlotte’s, brought on by her trauma, she feels unsafe and in danger around others causing extreme anxiety and emotional regulation problems. This would also positively encourage her in new situations without scanning for danger. As we know dogs are particularly vigilant and are able to assess whether this danger is real or fantasy, something Charlotte is unable to do, offering a form of logical determination and protection. The dog will also help with grounding exercises in situations that are overwhelming due to too much sensory information which will stop Charlotte from detaching as much and having debilitating anxiety attacks.
If you would like to make a donation, please follow the link HERE
As well as Lisa’s support, my Friend and other surrogate sister Bex Smith is a behaviourist for animals and will be doing the specific dog training needed.
Here is Bex’s New website: CLICK HERE
Sign up to her blog as we will be documenting the training and the story of how this will help me.
Also my amazing friend Lesley who I have been best friends with since I was 11 years old, who is like family to me, is going to be helping me with exposure work and supporting me.
And not forgetting the lovely Anna (we call each other brain twins) who has said she will help taking me to locations for long dog walks.
Being able to be independent is something I dream of daily. I know my neurological damage from severe trauma will mean I shall be different and neuro-diverse forever, but I also know that just because we live in a Neurotypical world that I do not have to accept this fate. I want to be as functional as possible, I am a victim who survived which is why I know I can do this.
I feel uncomfortable asking for help and am so grateful for Lisa doing this fundraiser for me, for Bex who is giving over her time to train our puppy and help me be independent, for Lesley and Anna who have agreed to help me with my exposure work, and for my husband who helps me every day in so many ways.
Together I know we can do this, I can see me and our new member of the family, Amadeus – I can see us waking side by side into our future.
We have already raised £410 out of our £2000 goal. (29/04/2016)
All the donations have been from my amazing family in Jordan and the Isle of Man, my supporters and followers from around the world and dear friends as well as some anonymous lovelies.
Thank you for your support.
Facts on Psychiatric Service Dogs
Just as a dog can be trained to alert to seizures and other medical conditions, a dog can also be trained to sense the changes in a person’s body when they are beginning to have a panic attack, flash back, anxiety attack, or other psychiatric condition. The dog is able to paw at the leg of their disabled recipient and interrupt what would otherwise be a debilitating and destructive behaviour for the individual. This helps the handler to refocus on their dog and work through the problem.
Deep Pressure Therapy
Just as medical wraps are used to alleviate anxiety in persons with psychiatric conditions, dogs can be trained to put the pressure of their body weight on their handler’s lap and abdomen to physically, and then mentally relieve anxiety and induce a sense of calm.
When the individual suffers from anxiety due to the close proximity of others, or due to claustrophobia in a crowded room, the dog can be trained to stand in between their handler and others to gain more personal space. The dog is not being protective, but is simply following a simple cue from their handler to move their body into the space surrounding their handler.
A frequent problem for those suffering from PTSD is to negotiate corners without the fear of what is waiting on the other side. Our dogs can be trained to go around corners in front of their handler and then alert their handler if there is someone waiting on the other side. Over time this form of therapy can assist the disabled recipient when becoming more comfortable with going into public.
There are many situations when a recipient will need to excuse themselves from a classroom or meeting due to personal psychiatric concerns. With a discrete signal to the dog the handler can command his dog to paw at the leg, making it look like the dog is seeking attention. The handler is then able to comfortably leave the situation with the excuse that his dog needs to relieve itself.
It goes without saying that any service dog’s greatest assistance is the emotional support they can offer their handler. Most disabilities present trials than can be relieved on a mental level simply by the dog’s presence. A well behaved dog can help to lower blood pressure and give a sense of ease to anyone who is near.
For further information:
Agoraphobia – what is it? https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/get-help-now/anxiety-information/anxiety-disorders/agoraphobia/
Borderline Personality Disorder – what is it?http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/borderline-personality-disorder-bpd/#.Vxd50TArLIU
Psychotic Depression – What is it?https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychotic_depression
Why is Severe Mental Illness left untreated in the NHS Mental Health Services: