If you can’t be crazy here, then where? – By Charlotte Farhan (upcoming book excerpt)

If you can’t be crazy here, then where?

The first time I arrived at Woodside, it was 1999, mid-summer and I was 15 years old. Woodside was an adolescent psychiatric hospital and I was being admitted as a patient. The hospital was across acres of land, an old Victorian asylum with luscious towering trees, derelict buildings, secret gardens and courtyards and the odd facility still in use, like Woodside, an elderly psych and a lock up for criminal psychiatric patients. It was other worldly, away from everything, well not everything. The hospital was next to Chessington World of Adventures and every so often when the wind caught the sound just right, you could hear people screaming as they rode the roller-coasters, whilst having the time of their lives, it was ironic and very unnerving in such a spooky setting.

When I stepped out of the car the feeling of dread hit me. This was it! I was being abandoned here, without knowing what to expect and so far from that place which was supposed to feel like home, a safe space; maybe this was the safest place for me. The adults I had seen recently seemed concerned that I was a danger to myself.

I stepped into the reception area and noticed a girl sat there. She had very fine curly blond hair tied in a pony tail with loose curls frizzing around her head like a golden halo, her body was painfully thin, and she didn’t seem to be safe with herself either as she too had visible scars. She sat there tearing up a piece of paper, with pieces floating to the ground like sad confetti, I wondered how long she had been here, why was this sad girl so sad. Before she was escorted into a room she gave me the most dejected smile I had ever seen.

I was called into a room, it looked like the interview room I had been in a couple of weeks before, when the police took my statement. Inside there was a large two way mirror a video recorder and a man sat in a chair writing some notes. Sitting down nervously in front of the man I noticed he was probably in his late 50s, with more hair growing from his eyebrows, ears and nose than his head. With no smile or warmth, he said:

“Why do you think you are here Charlotte?”

This question was difficult for me to answer because in answering it I would have to say certain things out loud which were too hard to face, so I simply replied:

“I don’t know”

The man looked at me with one eyebrow raised and omitted a faint exhale of exasperation, I felt the floor fall out from under me, I felt worthless and realised that here, wherever this place is, I wouldn’t be understood either.

“I am Dr Sevett and I am the head psychiatrist here, at Woodside. Please make sure you use your time here wisely Charlotte” he said abruptly.

I had been at Woodside for just under a week, most of the other inpatients were either shy, un-welcoming or needy. I was introduced to a patient called Natalie, a chubby girl with frizzy brown hair, pulled back into an untidy top knot. Natalie was smiley and seemed to be more adjusted than most. She offered me a cigarette, I was excited that we could smoke and jumped at the opportunity. Natalie led me into the grounds at the back of our building, which consisted of an open manicured lawn with a clustered corner of old oak trees. Natalie sat us down in the centre, which felt odd as I was more an outskirts kind of girl, but this seemed natural to her and her confidence comforted me. As we both inhaled our first puffs of nicotine and poison, Natalie leant into me and said:

‘so, do you want the low down on whose who in here then?’

I nodded silently.

‘that girl over there is Louise, she’s an ED girl and you don’t want to get on her bad side’

Natalie said this with dramatic eyes to further her point.

‘ED girl?’ I asked

‘ED. Meaning eating disorder’

Natalie said with a tone that suggested I should have already known this. I didn’t have the guts to tell her that I was also an “ED” girl. Looking over at Louise I could tell that she was withholding food, although some could still be fooled due to the amount of clothes she was wearing.

‘Who is that next to her’ I asked, as I recognised her as the girl from reception with the sad confetti.

‘That’s Chrissy, she’s also an ED girl’

Lucy and Chrissy sat there under the trees as if they were perfectly placed china dolls, however, I felt the glare of Louise’s stair as she sussed me out.

‘Over there is Cane, annoying, but harmless, he has the mental age of a 10-year-old even though he is 16, so that’s why he acts the way he does, you’ll see.’

Cane was a tall and heavy set, about 6ft – he only wore tracksuits in garish colours. His mannerisms were erratic, and his voice boomed throughout the grounds.

‘That guy over there is Alex, he’s 18. He shouldn’t be here, they will be moving him to an adult facility. He has schizophrenia, so he can be very intense.’ Natalie said this with a cautious tone.

Alex stood in a door way of an abandoned building next to woodside, he looked like a Victorian gentleman, he had vampire like skin, almost translucent. His eyes were wolf like, a silvery grey which were brought out by his jet-black hair. He was tall, and his body was slender like a ballet dancer, you could see his muscle definition – he was strong.

“Over there is Jenny, she is weird but the sweetest – she doesn’t speak to anyone, so don’t be offended.’ Natalie smiled as she described Jenny.

Jenny was sat on a bench and appeared to be drawing in a notebook, she had dark sleek shoulder length hair, her skin was Mediterranean looking. Jenny had bare feet and her toes were painted a sparkly purple which twinkled as she wriggled them in the sunshine.

‘why are you here?’ I asked Natalie with hesitation

‘I was diagnosed with clinical depression. I self-harm a lot – but not as much as I did, you?’ Natalie pulled at her sleeves as she said this.

‘Something happened to me, an incident. I was ill before but this, what happened, it broke me and now I want to die – so they put me here.’

A few days later, I entered the day room and saw the nurses un-stacking chairs and placing them in a circle, it wasn’t for our daily group therapy. as we had already done this, as we had done every morning at 9am, so this confused me. We were asked to all take a seat.

“Hello everyone, we are calling today’s emergency group for Jenny, because Jenny refuses to go to School”, a nurse said in her best patronising tone.

This confused me further; school? We were in hospital, why would she have to go to school?

“Jenny, why don’t you want to go to school today?” the nurse asked

Jenny was sat on her chair with her knees up under her chin, her arms were folded in front of her face resting on her knees, with only her exceptionally large doe eyes peering through her hair and over her arms. Jenny didn’t reply.

Nurses, Doctors and some of the patients started to discuss Jenny as if she weren’t in the room. Jenny appeared to be getting smaller and smaller and I could feel the anger inside me get bigger and bigger, before I had time to think words just burst out from my mouth:

“Why does Jenny have to go to school, why are you making her feel bad for being ill, when being ill is why we are all here, leave her alone”.

I felt exposed, I had revealed myself. The doctors were looking at me with disbelief, the nurses looked disapprovingly, but the patients seemed elated. I looked over to Jenny and she was transfixed on me, like a puppy.

Later that day whilst in my room I decided to crack open my prison like window as the humid air felt constricting, but the window was stuck. I began to rattle the window angrily, but before I could lose my cool I saw these beautifully delicate long fingers appear and with complete ease lift the window open. It was Jenny, she stood there in my room like a beautiful ghost. Natalie had told me that Jenny didn’t speak to anyone. Which is why when Jenny Said:

“Thank you, Charlotte”.

I was both startled and honoured.

Jenny and I sat on my bed that afternoon and talked for hours, we chatted like old friends, we could have been “normal” teenagers if someone had just heard us, without knowing our situation and new address. The hazy feeling had left in those moments, I was me, in my mind and my body. With Jenny I was no longer a spectator of these strange events, I was here, and I was with Jenny.

Waking up in my new permanent state, terrified; not knowing where I was, what had happened and why. As my eyes ripped open, ready to escape what they had seen, my heart relocated to my throat, my blood rushing to my legs in preparation – detachment was settling in, nothing was real, including myself. The sun forced itself onto me through my window, not allowing me a second to pretend that that everything I knew was wrong and nothing would be the same again. The sunshine seemed to mock me with its warmth and promise of growth and better days. The birds and their song were not delightful, but instead loud and domineering. The noise of rustling leaves grated on my nerves like finger nails on a chalk board. The truth would slap me in the face and pin me to the bed, I was here, Woodside; I was labelled crazy and damaged, left and abandoned.

There was a knock at my door and before I could even utter a sound a chipper voice said:

‘Charlotte are you awake?’

I unfortunately knew that I was, so just shouted:

‘COME IN’

The door flung open, it was nurse Carry – skipping in with a beaming smile. With a look which matched her personality, wild curly hair, a sun tan which suggested she took long holidays in exotic destinations, or possibly she had just fallen into a vat of orange paint. Her clothes were bright, and she wore as much sparkle as possible, she spoke with a high pitched chirpy voice, however the thing I noticed first was her kind eyes.

At Woodside Carry was my firm favourite, her bubbly, approachable nature was exactly what I needed. A sugar-coated human, which I had little experience with in my 15 years.

‘Charlotte, the nurses need to speak to you, can you come to the office as soon as you are dressed’

I sat up slowly like the living dead, nodding at Carry and then placed my head in my hands as the world was already too intrusive.

‘don’t worry it’s just a chat’ Carry said softly.

But, I was worried; the other nurses, therapists and doctors, the “professionals” were fascists, they were stereotypical of who you would imagine working in a Victorian asylum. I walked to the nurse’s office which was a glass enclosure inside the day room, so that the staff could keep a close eye on us, the patients; or at least to reprimand us – not necessarily to keep us safe. It was an obvious divider between us and them, “them” being the ones who think they are sane and us who are deemed feral loons. Although, if they had been through what we all had, what I had; would they still be on the other side of the glass? Never had the expression, “people in glass houses, shouldn’t throw stones” rung so true to me.

I knocked on the door and a very stern, yet attractive woman answers, it’s nurse Isabelle. As she opens the door the smell of her musky perfume hits the back of my throat, leaving the taste of floral alcohol on my tongue. The sound of normality from the conversations of the other nurses pass through my ears, reminding me of life before.

‘Charlotte come in’ Nurse Isabelle says with distain.

I sit on a swivel chair and feel the unsteadiness jolt me back into reality. Nurse Isabelle looks me up and down with her mouth grimacing, as if I were some smelly mongrel she found in the gutter and was now responsible for. She made me feel dirty, a feeling, along with shame – had become residents in my self-belief.

‘We wanted to have a word with you, with regards to your appearance. We feel that you are dressed too provocatively and that it is becoming a nuisance for the male nurses and doctors and distracts them. Also, you are inviting unwanted attention from the male patients’.

As Nurse Isabelle finished her onslaught of misogynistic bile, I knew then, at 15 that my gender “the weaker sex” would be forever complicit in how boys and men used me, regardless of facts, consent or my age. The clothes in question were regular clothes that most teenage girls wore in the nineties. An off the shoulder, strappy top, jeans – hardly X-rated material.

I continued to sit there, as nurse Isabelle told me how to improve upon myself, exerting her privilege and condescending me with every word that left her lips, I sunk further into my dissociation. As I felt myself float above my body I could see Jenny sat in the corner, staring at me with her big eyes, full of concern for me. Focusing on Jenny’s gaze I allowed the dishonour to wash over me.

Over the next month Jenny and I became inseparable, we had our own inside jokes, we wrote notes to each other everyday to read before bed. Jenny wrote weird and wonderful short stories for me, about the characters who spoke to her, that none of us could see. Her sense of humour was bizarre to say the least, however, I loved it. Sometimes Jenny would find dead insects and would make them the tiniest envelopes to delicately put them in and would give them to me as gifts. She called me her baby beasty or sometimes Sharon, drawing pictures for me of strange vampire like creatures which always had the same eyes. We washed each other’s hair, we took turns to lay on top of one another to feel the comfort and weight of another person, we were everything that we needed.

One day after creative writing therapy Jenny and I sat on the steps outside the reception area. It was another ironic sunny day at the funny farm, the smell of cut grass, the light of mid-summer and the sound of life beyond the grounds. The care free laughter and excitable screams of those at the amusement park adjacent. Whilst I sipped a can of coke and Jenny ate a melted chocolate bar, exasperated I turned to Jenny and said:

‘God, I’m bored, aren’t you?’

Jenny looked at me and nodded and then, in a funny posh voice said:

‘This place is driving me crazy.’

We both looked at each other and couldn’t stop giggling.

‘Let’s see how far we can go.’ Jenny whispered.

‘Where’ I said with a baffled expression on my face

‘Over there’ Jenny pointed to a field beyond woodside and the lock up ward. I had no idea what was beyond that point.

Once we got there we realised it was a corn field, it glistened in the sun like a sea of gold, as the wind moved through the corn it created waves. We had already gone further than we were allowed. Jenny found a small hole in the wired fence which we both managed to squeeze through. We were both badly dressed for the occasion, Jenny was barefoot, and I was wearing a long bohemian skirt, I had to pull the skirt up to around my waist, so I could walk through the field without getting caught by the stems of corn. The field seemed never ending, it dipped into a valley, and at the bottom was an imposing oak tree. When we reached the tree, it was even bigger than we had predicted, it engulfed the light. We collapsed in a heap among the roots, which looked like octopus arms, the earth was cool and peppered with acorn shells. Jenny and I stayed there until the sun set and felt as if we were free from our pasts, our illnesses and them – the ones who wanted to keep us here.

Once we walked back from the corn field and approached the entrance to woodside, I could see Nurse Isabelle waiting at the door with a face that brought on the feelings of being a little girl who was about to be scolded in front of her friends. Nurse Isabelle grabbed Jenny from beside me, as if I were a monster. She began to rub Jenny’s arms as if she was a small child who had just got out of the bath.

‘How could you do this to Jenny?’ Nurse Isabelle screeched.

I felt the need to die, the need to end the pain from being the “bad child” or the “crazy girl” who puts others in danger. I have never looked fragile, as a tall girl with broad shoulders certain assumptions are made. I have always been described as strong, confident, resilient and mature. None of which I have ever felt to be me, so, it was easy for people to scapegoat me when compared to someone outwardly fragile.

‘Do what, what did I do?’ I screamed franticly.

I knew Jenny couldn’t defend me or speak up, this made me look guilty. Nurse Isabelle took Jenny inside, leaving the door to hit me in the face.

A week later I was in my room listening to Tori Amos on my CD player, whilst writing in my feelings journal – something my psychiatrist had me doing. As I doodled a heart with knives piercing through it, bloodied and damaged; the door opened, and Alex was stood in my doorway in his dressing gown. He had no expression on his face, he looked robotic, lifeless. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up, and in turn I stood up and went to close my door – before I could even take a step forward, Alex started to undress. Walking toward me, he opened his gown and revealed his naked body and erect penis to me, it was as if he had pulled out a knife and I knew I would die. Alex grabbed me and pushed his weapon into my groin, disbelief became detachment. How could this be happening again I thought to myself, a “safe place” the doctors said; was this my fault – I was the common denominator. Before Alex had a chance to go any further a male nurse walked past and saw what was happening, the nurse calmly walked over to Alex without even acknowledging me and escorted Alex back to his room. No one ever brought up this incident again, however, later that week locks were fitted on our doors.

My body didn’t feel as if it belonged to me anymore, it was a shameful vessel of trauma, the reason I was here in this strange place, was because I was damaged goods and left behind to be abused further, a level of hell I did not know existed, until then. Ans little did I know that the levels of hell could get deeper and darker.

Several weeks later whilst sitting in the day room, I was staring out of the window, watching the season change. Cain walked over to me and started telling me sexually explicit jokes, he was childlike, which made me feel I could get rid of his advances easily. I stood up and went to walk away, Cain grabbed me and pushed me to the floor, his weight seemed to expel all the air from my lungs. Whilst giggling like a little boy Cain began to undress me – the room started to spin, and my body went limp, flashbacks filled my mind, confusing past and present.

Cain was pulled off me, he had me pinned to the floor and was about to rape me. But, was it my fault. Was this because of me, the questions repeated in my head.

It had been 3 months since I arrived at Woodside and autumn had arrived. In a state of denial and rebellion, my behaviour changed. I became reckless, no longer listening to the “adults”, I began allowing myself to be used by male and female patients, whilst manipulating the vulnerable ones myself, getting them to smuggle razor blades and diet pills from the outside to me. This was now survival. Jenny was my only reason for living, which the doctors took a dislike to, trying to separate us at every opportunity.

One Friday afternoon Jenny and I sat outside the main door to Woodside, watching the doctors leaving for the weekend in the “real world”, back to live amongst the “sane” people. We noticed Dr Sevett, or as we liked to call him “Dr Death”, was walking toward us.

‘Oh God, what does he want?’ Jenny muttered from under her cardigan which she had covering her nose and mouth.

‘Charlotte, we need to see you’ Dr Sevett called over.

Jenny grabbed my hand and squeezed it tightly and said:

‘Remember they don’t know us, we know us’

I smiled at her and squeezed her hand back.

I walked into Dr Sevett’s office and sat down in front of his grandiose desk, Dr Sevett looked down at me over his glasses and said:

‘Now, Charlotte, we have a problem. We feel you are too disruptive to other patients here at Woodside’

I could feel the rejection before it even left his mouth.

‘We are going to terminate your time here, after next week’ he said in a condescending tone.

I started to tap my foot repeatedly, anger rushed through me.

‘why exactly’ I asked through gritted teeth.

‘Well, you cause problems for other patients’ he winced as he said this.

Alex and Cain came to mind, as well as the doctors who complained about being distracted by my “provocative clothes”, and how they thought I was bad for Jenny.

‘I’m ill too, you know’ I said whilst fighting angry tears.

‘maybe too ill’ Dr Sevett said.

My entire existence felt as if it hung in the balance, Dr Death was sentencing me to a life as the “crazy, hysterical girl”. I wasn’t being asked to leave I was graduating from this bedlam with a higher chance of stigma and prejudice and a high possibility of suicide. It was clear to me then, I was not allowed to be the victim, I was only allowed to be the problem.

As I got up and went to leave I turned to Dr Sevett and said:

‘If you can’t be crazy here, then where?’.


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“What was she wearing” – Art to end the silence on rape culture

What was she wearing - By Charlotte Farhan
What was she wearing – By Charlotte Farhan

 


 

“what was she wearing”

is the first question asked

“how could she be so daring”

judging her on her past

“her clothes are provocative”

society proclaimed

“her innocence is impossible”

her gender is shamed

“why didn’t she cover up”

the jury quiery

“she seems grown up”

which makes them uneasy

But still their judgement spills

“this doesn’t happen to good girls”

say the old men looking for thrills

but even “good girls” get raped

clothes don’t invite

however they might be draped

this is not black and white

they want power

not sex

they want to deflower

to treat us as objects

clothes can’t protect us

nor can the word “no”

consent we must discuss

for a better tomorrow.

(poetry by Charlotte Farhan)


When I was raped at 15 my clothes were taken as evidence. I wore a gypsy top (off the shoulder) with some black leggings. When the police said that my clothes would be used as evidence I presumed in my naivety, that it would be in case of DNA samples, which of course was part of it. However, I in no way knew until told that they would be used by the defence – against me. This archaic procedure affected me greatly, I internalised the blame and shame that was being thrown at me, believing that the responsibility was mine, that I had invited this. That women and girls are responsible for not getting themselves raped. I didn’t challenge this until much older, when I was able to see this entire situation from an adults perspective.

If I had been naked would it have been OK to be violently raped and forced to perform sexual acts, leaving me bruised and bleeding, needing surgery? The answer is NO!

If it is my fault for “dressing provocatively” then this must mean that women in modest attire or religious clothing such as the hijab or nikab, don’t get raped? Which is NOT true.

All survivors of sexual violence, assault and abuse, whether they are women, men, non binary or trans – were not violated because of their clothes or lack of. Otherwise we could assume that there is a standard “rape outfit”, a pattern in certain clothing items which were worn by victims. But there is NOT!

For example, “What were you wearing?” the exhibit at the Centre Communautaire Maritime in Brussels features replicated clothing items to those worn by victims of sexual assault. The exhibit states that it wishes to: “create a tangible response to one of our most pervasive rape culture myths” because “The belief that clothing or what someone what wearing ’causes’ rape is extremely damaging for survivors.” Please take a look at the link below.

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/rape-victims-clothes-displayed-brussels-belgium-debunk-victim-blaming-myth-a8152481.html

If you have ever thought along these lines, please think again, logically break it down and you will soon see that this is a patriarchal rhetoric which only lends itself to rape culture, WE NEED CONSENT CULTURE!

 


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“She asked for it” – Art to end the silence on rape culture


After the fact

the whispers begin

“she asked for it”

they judge

after our flesh

was broken in

our reputation

a smudge.

Why would anyone

ask for this

they poke fun

our innocense

they dismiss

our wilfulness

they insist.

No one

asks for this.

(Poetry By Charlotte Farhan)

She Asked For It – By Charlotte Farhan

 


 

This piece of art and poetry is the first in a series of art pieces confronting the rhetoric that surrounds victims of sexual abuse, violence, assault and harassment.

At 15 years old I was told by most “you asked for it” when I was violently raped, also at 15 – when admitted to a psychiatric unit (after being raped); I was sexually assaulted twice by two different inpatients, I was told “you provoked that”.

I believed them all, I believed this was true, that I was to blame because  my body was sinful, provocative, shameful or just fair game.

Doctors, nurses, parents, friends, they all said it.

It took so much time. growth and learning to eventually be where I am today; to be able to tell you all, that it’s not your fault, that it wasn’t mine either. That we are not to blame for another person taking advantage of us and violating us.

Consent was not taught in the 1980’s and 90’s. Socialised as girls we understood from an early age that society deemed our bodies to be “of service” to men, children, free labour…

I was told boys and men “only want one thing” and if I wanted a boy or eventually a husband, I had to give it to them, to keep them happy and myself relevant.

It is very easy for those unaffected to judge, they can continue their naive ideas that rape and sex are the same, that rapists and abusers are monsters – not “normal” everyday people. Never challenging the simplistic ideas we have carried through from a time when women were considered property everywhere and that their fathers owned them, eventually being given to their husbands.

No autonomy – just a body.

For anyone reading this, male, female, non-binary or trans. You didn’t ask for it – not literally, subtlety or subconsciously. You didn’t cause this, nor deserve it, this was done to you by a criminal who broke the law and broke every decent moral code there is. They did this. NOT YOU!


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How the World Silences Survivors of Sexual Abuse, Assault and Harassment – Me Too and Shame

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.

“It was a catchphrase to be used from survivor to survivor to let folks know that they were not alone and that a movement for radical healing was happening and possible.”

“What’s happening now is powerful and I salute it and the women who have disclosed but the power of using ‘me too’ has always been in the fact that it can be a conversation starter or the whole conversation – but it was us talking to us,” – Tarana Burke

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.

Read the full article here

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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This Body Survived - By Charlotte Farhan
This Body Survived – By Charlotte Farhan

In the Abyss – Art and Poetry by Charlotte Farhan

In the Abyss - By Charlotte Farhan
In the Abyss – By Charlotte Farhan

 

In the Abyss – By Charlotte Farhan

Loneliness

breaks us

no longer seen

so lonely

left

in our minds

tied up

left alone

unwanted

disused

all wrapped up

consumed

in the abyss

self pity

my only company.

 


 

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A Kind of Healing – Art and Poetry By Charlotte Farhan

A Kind of Healing - By Charlotte Farhan
A Kind of Healing – By Charlotte Farhan

 

A Kind of Healing – By Charlotte Farhan

smoke into the night

smoke into the morning

remove

feeling

numb

a kind of healing

memories clutter

dreams smudge

nightmares form

creating

other worlds

mirrors

reflecting the storm

shackled to distraction

narratives of others

re-imagining stories

living through

our screens

blinded

white noise

like screams

sleep

is not peaceful

sleep

it does not recharge

sleep

opens wounds

scars

replaying

old trauma

faded

and cracked

smoke fills my view

smoke keeps me amused

inhaling

a remedy

a pass

to myself.

 


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“I am Fine” the mantra of unseen illness – By Charlotte Farhan


I am fine….

I AM FINE!

I. AM. FINE. picsart_02-16-06.14.31.jpg

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. picsart_02-16-06.02.22.jpg

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. picsart_02-16-06.05.19.jpg

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.

i-am-fine-2-by-charlotte-farhan

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.

Charlotte Farhan

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.

picsart_02-06-06-17-09

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!

 


i-am-fine-by-charlotte-farhan


 

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The importance of safe spaces and how to understand them better – Link You Life

Safe Space - By Charlotte Farhan
Safe Space – By Charlotte Farhan

A safe space is somewhere where hate speech and prejudice is not permitted. This term began to be widely understood in educational institutions and began as a space for the LGBTQ community, to be free of persecution and being silenced by heterosexual privilege. Now we have safe spaces in community groups and online – as well as on campuses and school grounds.

These safe spaces have been met with controversy that they prevent free speech and create unrealistic bubbles. This is of course not at all what they are meant to be, however privilege can make people who have not come up against stigma and prejudice in their lives, feel attacked and blamed – hence their reaction and misunderstanding of why safe spaces exist. It is in no way to silence free speech – in fact it is the very opposite, it is a place where people who are marginalised can speak out about their lives, their beliefs and not be silenced by a majority who have the platform and spotlight at all times. It encourages free speech and diversity, however it does not allow for people to bring hateful ideas into the space to force their opinions or beliefs on a minority.

There is also another kind of safe space and this is what I wish to talk about today; the online group/forum which is often used for vulnerable people. These are more like safe spaces within therapy – a place where people who have been sexually, emotionally or physically abused can come and share to help in the healing process and also shed light on the situation and raise awareness. Also this applies to groups with certain illnesses or disorders, ones such as mental or unseen illness, disabilities and so many more… As well as communities of neuro-divergent people or places people can speak anonymously.

These places can overlap – such as Link You Life, this group is not only a safe space for people to share their creativity, their lives and experiences but also it is a space with many vulnerable people in it. When you have such diverse spaces it is important to maintain structure and clear boundaries for members to follow. This way you can be as fair as possible with the group collective in mind at all times.

Trigger warnings are a method to aid in these boundaries, with the warnings in place – people can safely use the space without causing themselves adverse damage by being psychologically triggered by a post. The word triggered is overused in our language nowadays and has lost its validity and importance when in reference to trauma and serious harm, which can be caused if a person is suffering from certain illnesses, such as PTSD, CPTSD, anxiety disorders, mood disorders and personality disorders. It is not a word to be used just because you saw something you did not like or it upset you, this is just life and the reality of it.

Safe spaces are unreal, they don’t exist in our world unless created, life in fact is painful, sad and can be very dangerous for many, so if we did spend all of our time in a safe space, this would be very dysfunctional and render us unable to deal with the enormity of life and its perils. However this is not what we are asking for, we are asking for a space which we can go to and be safe to express ourselves and share our lives with others who are there for the same reasons.

So as a moderator of Link Your Life with this all in mind I take my role very seriously and I support my other LYL moderators and the members. It can mean making tough decisions and it can mean challenging ones self when dealing with others you may have never met. This is why we have a diverse range of moderators in order to maintain a non bias platform for others.

Personally due to my particular illnesses and disorders as well as my past, safe spaces are not as important to me and on this website and on my social media I do not use trigger warnings as I feel I am triggered every day – by life, so feel as an activist I must thrust my experiences as a mentally ill person and a survivor of sexual abuse and violence onto my audience and then it is up to them to un-follow me if it is too much. But this is my real life and everyday, this is outside the context of a safe space, so when I do enter the safe space – (even though my impulsive nature and black and white thinking are what shield me and allow me to be so direct), my pain and my vulnerability are given a moment to recuperate and get ready for the next battle. As well as this I see how beneficial these spaces are for others – how  space like this can give someone a voice and the opportunity to be heard, maybe for the first time in their lives and if someone has an issue with this, then they may need their own safe space to investigate, why someone being heard makes them so angry.

So the next time you hear the words “Safe Space”, be mindful of why this space exists and remember that the world is cruel and if we as individuals need to take a break, so that we can be heard or so that we can be seen – this does not stop you or anyone else doing the same.

Safe Place - by Charlotte Farhan
Safe Place – by Charlotte Farhan

 


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Piers Morgan tries to erase survivors of rape by denying our suffering

Piers Morgan who is a rent a gob for the Daily Fail newspaper has taken to twitter over the weekend to comment on Lady Gaga’s rape and her suffering of PTSD. In his comments he suggests that as Lady Gaga is a celebrity that her claim of rape and mental illness is a ploy to gain fans and further her brand. Further more Piers has said that he believes it is an illness which only military veterans can experience.

You would be forgiven for thinking (if unaware of this man) that this maybe someone who suffers from PTSD or who has been raped or possibly that they have a medical degree specialising in neurology or psychiatry. However your assumption would be wrong, this man has NO authority on these matters, he is just a hypocrite who ironically has done the very thing he criticises others of doing. He uses his platform to be controversial and his articles are click bate for anyone who wishes to be angry at “the other” in society.

As you may already be aware (if you follow my blog or art) that I suffer from C-PTSD and have done so most of my life, due to sexual abuse in childhood and then being raped at 15 and then a further 2 times being sexually assaulted in a psychiatric hospital by two male patients. I was first diagnosed with PTSD when I was 15 and later with C-PTSD, with this condition you are affected to a degree that life is no longer functional. We have flash backs which rob us of the opportunity to “move on”, night terrors, hallucinations, dissociation. I have sever pain in my genitalia due to the injuries I suffered and the operations I had due to the violent rape, I developed other mental illnesses like anxiety disorders and depersonalization, as well as having sensory disorders and neurological processing problems.

Read my survivor story here: Confronting my own blood – the aftermath of sexual violence

Here are the tweets that Piers Morgan tweeted:

Pierce Morgan victim blames rape survivors

Pierce Morgan victim blames rape survivors

Pierce Morgan victim blames rape survivors

Pierce Morgan victim blames rape survivors

Pierce Morgan victim blames rape survivors

Pierce Morgan victim blames rape survivors

Pierce Morgan victim blames rape survivors

As you can read for yourself these tweets are rife with misogyny, male privilege, and able privilege as well as perpetuating rape culture, victim blaming and creating more stigma for those who speak out about rape, sexual abuse and violence – as well as those with mental illness and/or neurological disorders.

When people such as this man use their platform to spew opinion as fact and relish in controversy it is as usual the most vulnerable who suffer. These people think that “we” the “victims” are getting some kind of glory from our suffering and illnesses, that we wish to be treated as special little “snowflakes” when in fact all we are faced with is shame, blame and being disbelieved. Piers and others like him, sit in their ivory towers, with no real understanding of what marginalised /minority groups have to deal with and just vomit their privilege upon us from great heights.

As someone who is classed as disabled due to my conditions which all stem from my C-PTSD including my neurological damage, I know what it is to have less rights, visibility, opportunity, earning ability, access to healthcare, being thought of as a danger to others etc.

I have learnt that these kinds of people are just as dangerous as the rapists, the abusers, the paedophiles, the gas-lighters, this is because they open you up again, they re-rape you, abuse you, hit you, torture you, with their ignorance, the erasure they cause and the perpetuation of archaic rhetoric which stigmatises and marginalises people. They are the little helpers to these criminals, with their spreading of misinformation and opinion dressed as fact.

Here were my tweets to Piers Morgan:

Charlotte Farhan and Piers Morgan

 

Upon waking this morning after a disturbed nights sleep from anxiety and intrusive thoughts, these tweets which flashed up in my twitter feed, re-tweeted by other survivors I know, it felt like another day I had to fight through, another day I felt shamed and judged – my C-PTSD was triggered and the adrenaline started to mount in my body, gulping down the tears and anger. Then I remembered my only role now is that of my activism, in speaking out against people and ideas like this. To survive everyday is a battle, personally I am very grateful to people like Lady Gaga for speaking out, for making people like me feel heard or at least a little more visible and not the shameful secret which society would like us to remain. As a victim who has survived I know that Piers Morgans comments will have hurt Lady Gaga as they did for me, and “hurt” is an understatement – there is no word to describe how these comments contribute to the silencing of survivors and how they normalise rape culture.

So if like Piers you are confused about what PTSD and C-PTSD is, please read this information below.

Here is a copy of the PTSD Leaflet from the Royal College of Psychiatrists:

Introduction

In our everyday lives, any of us can have an experience that is overwhelming, frightening, and beyond our control. We could find ourselves in a car crash, be the victim of an assault, or see an accident. Police, fire brigade or ambulance workers are more likely to have such experiences – they often have to deal with horrifying scenes. Soldiers may be shot or blown up, and see friends killed or injured.

Most people, in time, get over experiences like this without needing help. In some people, though, traumatic experiences set off a reaction that can last for many months or years. This is called Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD for short.

Complex PTSD

People who have repeatedly experienced:
severe neglect or abuse as an adult or as a child
severe repeated violence or abuse as an adult, such as torture or abusive imprisonment
can have a similar set of reactions. This is called ‘complex PTSD’ and is described later on in this leaflet.

How does PTSD start?

PTSD can start after any traumatic event. A traumatic event is one where you see that you are in danger, your life is threatened, or where you see other people dying or being injured. Typical traumatic events would be:
serious accidents
military combat
violent personal assault (sexual assault, physical attack, abuse, robbery, mugging)
being taken hostage
terrorist attack
being a prisoner-of-war
natural or man-made disasters
being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.
Even hearing about the unexpected injury or violent death of a family member or close friend can start PTSD.

When does PTSD start?

The symptoms of PTSD can start immediately or after a delay of weeks or months, but usually within 6 months of the traumatic event.

What does PTSD feel like?

Many people feel grief-stricken, depressed, anxious, guilty and angry after a traumatic experience. As well as these understandable emotional reactions, there are three main types of symptoms:
1. Flashbacks & nightmares
You find yourself re-living the event, again and again. This can happen both as a ‘flashback’ in the day and as nightmares when you are asleep. These can be so realistic that it feels as though you are living through the experience all over again. You see it in your mind, but may also feel the emotions and physical sensations of what happened – fear, sweating, smells, sounds, pain.
Ordinary things can trigger off flashbacks. For instance, if you had a car crash in the rain, a rainy day might start a flashback.
2. Avoidance & numbing
It can be just too upsetting to re-live your experience over and over again. So you distract yourself. You keep your mind busy by losing yourself in a hobby, working very hard, or spending your time absorbed in crosswords or jigsaw puzzles. You avoid places and people that remind you of the trauma, and try not to talk about it.
You may deal with the pain of your feelings by trying to feel nothing at all – by becoming emotionally numb. You communicate less with other people who then find it hard to live or work with you.
3. Being ‘on guard’
You find that you stay alert all the time, as if you are looking out for danger. You can’t relax. This is called ‘hypervigilance’. You feel anxious and find it hard to sleep. Other people will notice that you are jumpy and irritable.

Other symptoms
muscle aches and pains
diarrhoea
irregular heartbeats
headaches
feelings of panic and fear
depression
drinking too much alcohol
using drugs (including painkillers).
Why are traumatic events so shocking?

They undermine our sense that life is fair, that it is reasonably safe and that we are secure. A traumatic experience makes it very clear that we can die at any time. The symptoms of PTSD are part of a normal reaction to narrowly-avoided death.

Does everyone get PTSD after a traumatic experience?

No. But nearly everyone will have the symptoms of post-traumatic stress for the first month or so. This is because they can help to keep you going, and help you to understand the experience you have been through. This is an ‘acute stress reaction’. Over a few weeks, most people slowly come to terms with what has happened, and their stress symptoms start to disappear.

Not everyone is so lucky. About 1 in 3 people will find that their symptoms just carry on and that they can’t come to terms with what has happened. It is as though the process has got stuck. The symptoms of post-traumatic stress, although normal in themselves, become a problem – or Post-traumatic Stress Disorder – when they go on for too long.

What makes PTSD worse?

The more disturbing the experience, the more likely you are to develop PTSD. The most traumatic events:
are sudden and unexpected
go on for a long time
are when you are trapped and can’t get away
are man-made
cause many deaths
cause mutilation and loss of arms or legs
involve children.
If you continue to be exposed to stress and uncertainty, this will make it difficult or impossible for your PTSD symptoms to improve.

What about ordinary ‘stress’?

Everybody feels stressed from time to time. Unfortunately, the word ‘stress’ is used to mean two rather different things:
our inner sense of worry, feeling tense or feeling burdened
or

the problems in our life that are giving us these feelings. This could be work, relationships, maybe just trying to get by without much money.
Unlike PTSD, these things are with us, day in and day out. They are part of normal, everyday life, but can produce anxiety, depression, tiredness, and headaches. They can also make some physical problems worse, such as stomach ulcers and skin problems. These are certainly troublesome, but they are not the same as PTSD.

Why does PTSD happen?

We don’t know for certain. There are a several possible explanations for why PTSD occurs.

Psychological
When we are frightened, we remember things very clearly. Although it can be distressing to remember these things, it can help us to understand what happened and, in the long run, help us to survive.
The flashbacks can be seen as replays of what happened. They force us to think about what has happened so we might be better prepared if it were to happen again.
It is tiring and distressing to remember a trauma. Avoidance and numbing keep the number of replays down to a manageable level.
Being ‘on guard’ means that we can react quickly if another crisis happens. We sometimes see this happening with survivors of an earthquake, when there may be second or third shocks. It can also give us the energy for the work that’s needed after an accident or crisis.
But we don’t want to spend the rest of our life going over it. We only want to think about it when we have to – if we find ourselves in a similar situation.

Physical
Adrenaline is a hormone our bodies produce when we are under stress. It ‘pumps up’ the body to prepare it for action. When the stress disappears, the level of adrenaline should go back to normal. In PTSD, it may be that the vivid memories of the trauma keep the levels of adrenaline high. This will make a person tense, irritable, and unable to relax or sleep well.
The hippocampus is a part of the brain that processes memories. High levels of stress hormones, like adrenaline, can stop it from working properly – like ‘blowing a fuse’. This means that flashbacks and nightmares continue because the memories of the trauma can’t be processed. If the stress goes away, and the adrenaline levels get back to normal, the brain is able to repair the damage itself, like other natural healing processes in the body. The disturbing memories can then be processed and the flashbacks and nightmares will slowly disappear.
How do I know when I’ve got over a traumatic experience?

When you can:
think about it without becoming distressed
not feel constantly under threat
not think about it at inappropriate times.
Why is PTSD often not recognised?

None of us like to talk about upsetting events and feelings.
We may not want to admit to having symptoms because we don’t want to be thought of as weak or mentally unstable.
Doctors and other professionals are human. They may feel uncomfortable if we try to talk about gruesome or horrifying events.
People with PTSD often find it easier to talk about the other problems that go along with it – headache, sleep problems, irritability, depression, tension, substance abuse, family or work-related problems.
How can I tell if I have PTSD?

Have you experienced a traumatic event of the sort described at the start of this leaflet? If you have, do you:
have vivid memories, flashbacks or nightmares?
avoid things that remind you of the event?
feel emotionally numb at times?
feel irritable and constantly on edge, but can’t see why?
eat more than usual, or use more drink or drugs than usual?
feel out of control of your mood?
find it more difficult to get on with other people?
have to keep very busy to cope?
feel depressed or exhausted?
If it is less than 6 weeks since the traumatic event and these experiences are slowly improving, they may be part of the normal process of adjustment.
If it is more than 6 weeks since the event, and these experiences don’t seem to be getting better, it is worth talking it over with your doctor.

Children and PTSD

PTSD can develop at any age. Younger children may have upsetting dreams of the actual trauma, which then change into nightmares of monsters. They often re-live the trauma in their play. For example, a child involved in a serious road traffic accident might re-enact the crash with toy cars, over and over again.

They may lose interest in things they used to enjoy. They may find it hard to believe that they will live long enough to grow up.

They often complain of stomach aches and headaches.

How can PTSD be helped?

Helping yourself
Do ………
keep life as normal as possible
get back to your usual routine
talk about what happened to someone you trust
try relaxation exercises
go back to work
eat and exercise regularly
go back to where the traumatic event happened
take time to be with family and friends
be careful when driving – your concentration may be poor
be more careful generally – accidents are more likely at this time
speak to a doctor
expect to get better.
Don’t ……..
beat yourself up about it – PTSD symptoms are not a sign of weakness. They are a normal reaction of a normal person to terrifying experiences.
bottle up your feelings. If you have developed PTSD symptoms, don’t keep it to yourself because treatment is usually very successful.
avoid talking about it
expect the memories to go away immediately; they may be with you for quite some time
expect too much of yourself. Cut yourself a bit of slack while you adjust to what has happened.
stay away from other people
drink lots of alcohol or coffee or smoke more
get overtired
miss meals
take holidays on your own.
What can interfere with getting better?

You may find that other people may:
not let you talk about it
avoid you
be angry with you
think of you as weak
blame you.
These are all ways in which other people protect themselves from thinking about gruesome or horrifying events. It won’t help you because it doesn’t give you the chance to talk over what has happened to you. And it is hard to talk about such things.

A traumatic event can put you into a trance-like state which makes the situation seem unreal or bewildering. It is harder to deal with if you can’t remember what happened, can’t put it into words, or can’t make sense of it.

Treatment

Just as there are both psychological and physical aspects to PTSD, so there are both psychological and physical treatments for it.

Psychotherapy
All the effective psychotherapies for PTSD focus on the traumatic experience – or experiences – rather than your past life. You cannot change or forget what has happened. You can learn to think differently about it, about the world, and about your life.

You need to be able to remember what happened, as fully as possible, without being overwhelmed by fear and distress. These therapies help you to put your experiences into words. By remembering the event, going over it and making sense of it, your mind can do its normal job of storing the memories away, and moving on to other things.

When you start to feel safer, and more in control of your feelings, you won’t need to avoid the memories as much. You will be able to only think about them when you want to, rather than having them burst into your mind out of the blue.

All these treatments should all be given by PTSD specialists. The sessions should be at least weekly, with the same therapist, for 8-12 weeks. Although sessions will usually last around an hour, they can sometimes last up to 90 minutes.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a talking treatment which can help us to understand how ‘habits of thinking’ can make the PTSD worse – or even cause it. CBT can help you change these ‘extreme’ ways of thinking, which can also help you to feel better and to behave differently.

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation & Reprocessing):
This is a technique which uses eye movements to help the brain to process flashbacks and to make sense of the traumatic experience. It may sound odd, but it has been shown to work.

Group therapy
This involves meeting with a group of other people who have been through the same, or a similar traumatic event. It can be easier to talk about what happened if you are with other people who have been through a similar experience.

Medication
SSRI antidepressant tablets may help to reduce the strength of PTSD symptoms and relieve any depression that is also present. They will need to be prescribed by a doctor.

This type of medication should not make you sleepy, although they all have some side-effects in some people. They may also produce unpleasant symptoms if stopped too quickly, so the dose should usually be reduced gradually. If they are helpful, you should carry on taking them for around 12 months. Soon after starting an antidepressant, some people may find that they feel more:
anxious
restless
suicidal
These feeling usually pass in a few days, but you should see a doctor regularly.

If these don’t work for you, tricyclic and MAOI antidepressants may still be helpful. For further information, see our leaflet on antidepressants.

Occasionally, if someone is so distressed that they cannot sleep or think clearly, anxiety-reducing medication may be necessary. These tablets should usually not be prescribed for more than 10 days or so.

Body-focussed therapies
These don’t help PTSD directly, but can help to control your distress and hyperarousal, the feeling of being ‘on guard’ all the time. These include physiotherapy and osteopathy, but also complementary therapies such as massage, acupuncture, reflexology, yoga, meditation and tai chi. They can help you to develop ways of relaxing and managing stress.

What works best?

At present, there is evidence that EMDR, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, behaviour therapy and antidepressants are all effective. There is not enough information for us to show that one of these treatments is better than another. There is not yet any evidence that other forms of psychotherapy or counselling are helpful for PTSD.

Which treatment first?

Guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) suggest that trauma-focussed psychological therapies (CBT or EMDR) should be offered before medication, wherever possible.

For friends, relatives & colleagues

Do …….
watch out for any changes in behaviour – poor performance at work, lateness, taking sick leave, minor accidents
watch for anger, irritability, depression, lack of interest, lack of concentration
take time to allow a trauma survivor to tell their story
ask general questions
let them talk, don’t interrupt the flow or come back with your own experiences.
Don’t …….

tell a survivor you know how they feel – you don’t
tell a survivor they’re lucky to be alive – it doesn’t feel like that to them
minimise their experience – “it’s not that bad, surely …”
suggest that they just need to “pull themselves together”.
Complex PTSD

This can start weeks or months after the traumatic event, but may take years to be recognised.
Trauma affects a child’s development – the earlier the trauma, the more harm it does. Some children cope by being defensive or aggressive. Others cut themselves off from what is going on around them, and grow up with a sense of shame and guilt rather than feeling confident and good about themselves.
Adults who have been abused or tortured over a period of time develop a similar sense of separation from others, and a lack of trust in the world and other people.
As well as many of the symptoms of PTSD described above, you may find that you:
feel shame and guilt
have a sense of numbness, a lack of feelings in your body
can’t enjoy anything
control your emotions by using street drugs, alcohol, or by harming yourself
cut yourself off from what is going on around you (dissociation)
have physical symptoms caused by your distress
find that you can’t put your emotions into words
want to kill yourself
take risks and do things on the ‘spur of the moment’.
It is worse if:
it happens at an early age – the earlier the age, the worse the trauma
it is caused by a parent or other care giver
the trauma is severe
the trauma goes on for a long time
you are isolated
you are still in touch with the abuser and/or threats to your safety.
Getting better

Try to start doing the normal things of life that have nothing to do with your past experiences of trauma. This could include finding friends, getting a job, doing regular exercise, learning relaxation techniques, developing a hobby or having pets. This helps you slowly to trust the world around you.
Lack of trust in other people – and the world in general – is central to complex PTSD. Treatment often needs to be longer to allow you to develop a secure relationship with a therapist – to experience that it is possible to trust someone in this world without being hurt or abused. The work will often happen in 3 stages:

Stabilisation
You:
learn how to understand and control your distress and emotional cutting-off, or ‘dissociation’. This can involve ‘grounding’ techniques to help you to stay in the present – concentrating on ordinary physical feelings to remind you that you are living in the present, not the abusive and traumatic past.
start to ‘disconnect’ your physical symptoms of fear and anxiety from the memories and emotions that produce them, making them less frightening.
start to be able to tolerate day-to-day life without experiencing anxiety or flashbacks.
This may sometimes be the only help that is needed.

Trauma-focussed Therapy
EMDR or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can help you to remember your traumatic experiences with less distress and more control. Other psychotherapies, including psychodynamic psychotherapy, can also be helpful. Care needs to be taken in complex PTSD because these treatments can make the situation worse if not used properly.

Reintegration
You begin to develop a new life for yourself. You become able to use your skills or learn new ones, and to make satisfying relationships in the real world.
Medication can be used if you feel too distressed or unsafe, or if psychotherapy is not possible. It can include both antidepressants and antipsychotic medication – but not usually tranquillisers or sleeping tablets.

Internet rresources

UK Psychological Trauma Society (formerly UK Trauma Group): clinical network of UK Traumatic Stress Services.
PILOTS database of the National Center for PTSD (USA): published international literature on PTSD.

David Baldwin’s Trauma Pages website: up-to-date comprehensive information about trauma including leading articles.

Sane Charity – PTSD

References

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder – The Invisible Injury ( 2002). David Kinchin. Successunlimited.
Effective Treatments for PTSD: Practice Guidelines from the International Society of Traumatic Stress Studies (2nd edition) (2010). Eds. Foa E, Keane T, Friedman M & Cohen JA.
Treating Trauma: Survivors with PTSD (2002). Ed. Yehuda, R. Washington DC. American Publishing.
Adshead G and Ferris S. Treatment of victims of trauma. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment (September 2007) 13:358-368.
Bisson JI, Pharmacological treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment (March 2007) 13:119-126.
Coetzee RH and Regel S, Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing: an update. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment (March 2005) 11:347-354.
Hull, A.M., Alexander, D.A. & Klein, S. Survivors of the Piper Alpha oil platform disaster: long-term follow-up study (2002). Br. J. Psychiatry, 181: 433 – 438
NICE guidelines (update 2012): Post-traumatic stress disorder: the management of PTSD in adults and children in primary and secondary care.
Lab, D., Santos, I. & de Zulueta, F.Treating post-traumatic stress disorder in the ‘real world’: evaluation of a specialist trauma service and adaptations to standard treatment approaches (2008). Psychiatric Bulletin, 32: 8-12.
Frueh BC, Grubaugh AL, Yeager DE and Magruder KM. Delayed-onset post-traumatic stress disorder among war veterans in primary care clinics (2009). The British Journal of Psychiatry, 194, 515–520.

Halloween and the stigmatisation of mental illness

It is that time of year again – All Hallows’ Eve.

Halloween is upon us and has been all weekend, it is a celebration, a ritual and a chance to party with friends, adorning costumes and different personas for one night. With the nights drawing in and winter fast approaching it reminds us of the dark and in turn the dead.

However Halloween has become a mass capitalised practice, with shops and establishments enticing you with their decorations and latest gimmicks from the beginning of October. Making plans for this one night affair becomes about popularity and with the addition of social media – a costume contest is held with hashtags and a one-upmanship mentality.

Although this is not the scariest thing about Halloween, in fact the most frighting of attitudes and beliefs come out to play during this festivity and that is the representation of mental illness and the mentally ill. With depictions in horror films, on TV and in literature – as well as costumes depicting “psychiatric patients” or the idea of insanity being cool or glamorised.

As some one who has sever psychiatric conditions and who has had these since being a child, my thoughts on this subject are something I wish to be heard on, hoping that listening to someone who is actually mentally ill, who has been hospitalised in genuine Victorian asylum buildings in the UK, as an inpatient on a psychiatric ward, that in hearing me you will understand that my suffering, trauma, illnesses and identity is not something you get to “have fun with”. You don’t get to put it on for the night and then take it off without hearing me tell you that this is causing me and people like me to be demonised, you continue our persecution and discrimination. Whimsically you step into a piece of clothing which represents people who have been killed for their disabilities, locked away and forgotten about due to their illnesses, and tortured or experimented on because they behave and think differently to the perceived average person.

Having been stigmatised and labelled as dangerous to others, as a person who is violent or unstable – a person to be feared, a monster. I myself, have believed these things to be true, having allowed myself to be shamed into submission, thinking that in fact I am a scary, crazy villain. So I hid from it, allowed myself to be silenced, accepted family and friends stigmatising me with their fancy dress and in their language when watching horror films. Listening to people discuss my situation as frightening, something which scares them so much they can’t watch.

In the depictions of mental illness within horror films and on TV sometimes I catch a glimpse of myself, in a girl who is screaming manically and bashing her head against walls, or rocking herself in a corner or strapped down sedated in a hospital bead. I have lived these experiences, I still do sometimes. The rocking myself is a self soothing, allowing me to keep myself safe.

Yes I have done this in the dark, on a psychiatric ward – yes it was scary.

But not for you! For me!

When experiencing psychotic episodes I have smashed my head repeatedly against walls, on tables anywhere I could. As I rarely remember my psychosis or at least only fragments of it, I can not tell you exactly what I was thinking – but I can guess with almost complete certainty that it was to stop the intrusive images, the voices, the flashbacks, the pain… It was not because I was possessed or dangerous to others it was because of my neurological damage due to early childhood trauma. Which again is not scary in the spooky horror sense when explained, it is in fact a medical condition and symptoms.

Being in a psychiatric hospital is not a horror fest or a sensationalised attraction to experience. It is like any other medical facility, it is there to treat people with illnesses in a focused in-patient manner. Yes the Victorian buildings were scary and yes me and my in-patient friends would tell ghost stories and scare ourselves whilst walking through the abandoned buildings and grounds – but we didn’t think we were the monsters, we knew we were thought of this way by the outside world.

(West Park Hospital in Epsom is where I was an in-patient for 6 months in 1999)

However we had seen real horror, most of us having survived childhood molestation, violence, and emotional abuse. We knew we were only really a danger to ourselves, hacking away at our own flesh daily, burning ourselves with lighters, putting ourselves in danger as vulnerable people, not eating, taking substances to excess and attempting to kill ourselves often. We were the scariest thing around – to ourselves, but are we really people to be feared? No – we are people who have been vilified in order to hide the realities of true horror, which happens everyday in plain sight, by people you know, people you forgive and people who you look up to. Our ideas disturb the status quo and our sadness gets in the way of the idealistic idea of living a happy life. We make you uncomfortable – because deep down you know we are not different, that you could become ill or have a breakdown. Your neurology is not bullet-proof. We are not made of weaker stuff.

So I ask you to think about the depiction of mentally ill people at Halloween, I ask you to challenge your thoughts on what we look like, act like, or are capable of. Think of the backstory of a character and realise just how un-scary someones emotional distress, neurological condition or neuro-divergent ideas are in context. Think how you may make someone you know feel – who has mental illness, when you dress up as a deranged “psychopath”. Don’t contribute to this stereotype and the discrimination it allows to continue.

(These images are of graffiti myself and other in patients did in abandoned rooms during our stay at Woodside adolescent unit at West Park Hospital in Epsom, England in the summer of 1999 – during art therapy sessions. These photographs have been taken by people who site these as disturbing images of “crazy”impatient scribbling. I see them and remember letting out our pain, me and my best friend Jenny (who took her own life years later), of us together – expressing ourselves through art, this is NOT a horror movie scene or anything sinister.)