I have to open myself up again, for the powers that be.
I have to retell it, relive it all.
I have to prove my illnesses and disabilities, whilst fitting in the predetermined boxes – designed for some of us to slip through.
I have fallen through the lines, the pages, told “there is nothing we can do for people like you”.
“You’re too ill”.
Jumping through hoops, running up hills – against the torrential down pour of sociatal expectations.
All this is done whilst the 1%, the bourgeoisie, the privileged watch on, as they stuff their faces with our human rights.
The media uses us as scapegoats, for the ‘outraged’ to demonise us, with the misinformation they are brainwashed by – we, the ones at the “bottom”, we bring it on ourselves.
Illness is equated with laziness, disability is questioned as being unmotivated.
The seen, the unseen and no details in between.
My work is unpaid and thankless, the sick leading the sick.
I don’t want this feeling of being less than, for being unable to fit into an imaginary “type”, conjured up by able, privileged puppet masters, pulling strings, herding the “deserving” humans into their boxes, and the undeserving to their coffins.
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:
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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After the fact
the whispers begin
“she asked for it”
after our flesh
was broken in
Why would anyone
ask for this
they poke fun
asks for this.
(Poetry 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!
If you have any questions or feedback on this work, please leave a comment below by using the form.
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.
“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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In the Abyss – By Charlotte Farhan
no longer seen
in our minds
all wrapped up
in the abyss
my only company.
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A Kind of Healing – By Charlotte Farhan
smoke into the night
smoke into the morning
a kind of healing
reflecting the storm
shackled to distraction
narratives of others
is not peaceful
it does not recharge
smoke fills my view
smoke keeps me amused
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When identity is unstable life can feel as if you are staring through a mirror wondering what the “other side” means ?
Like Alice who questions the world on the other side of the mirror’s reflection – before stepping through and entering an alternative world; our concept of self is greatly developed from infancy through our interpersonal interactions and mirrored back through society. Suggesting that we have a tendency to understand ourselves through our understanding of how others see and judge us; this is thought to be how we develop and understand our own identity.
As a child we learn how our crying, smiling and silence elicits a response from our caregivers, this forms our first mirroring and understanding of how we are perceived and responded to. This continues throughout our interactions and learning.
“The thing that moves us to pride or shame is not the mere mechanical reflection of ourselves, but an imputed sentiment, the imagined effect of this reflection upon another’s mind.”
(The looking-glass self is a social psychological concept introduced by Charles Horton Cooley in 1902 (McIntyre 2006). The term “looking glass self” was coined by Cooley in his work, Human Nature and the Social Order in 1902.)
There are three main components that comprise the looking-glass self
(Yeung, et al. 2003).
- We imagine how we must appear to others.
- We imagine and react to what we feel their judgement of that appearance must be.
- We develop our self through the judgements of others.
As a person who has Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) – identity is something which has always been an issue for me and so many other sufferers. My entire life seems to have been an identity crisis and it is one of the 9 traits you have to have in order to be diagnosed with BPD.
The specific issues which concern the stability of self in BPD sufferers is exhibited in:
- Fragmentation – Which is in no way as dominating or persistent in BPD as it is in Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), however it still causes many issues. BPD can make it so you have adaptive personalities depending on who you are with and what scenario you are in – which to some extent most people do. BPD however causes this to be such separate fragmentations of the self that it is disturbing for us – the sufferers, to a degree it damages our personal relationships, careers, idea of self, family life and integration into society. It also affects our memories and association to people and places as our identities can separate what is dear to one “personality/self” over the other.
- Boundary confusion – Also known as boundary dissolution is the failure to recognise the psychological distinctiveness of individuals or a confusion of their interpersonal roles. Boundaries are believed to be established in childhood within the family setting, when roles are clarified such as who is the parent and who is the child, with a flexibility to create close bonds and also have a separateness allowing you to build your “self”.
Kenji Kameguchi (1996) likens boundaries to a
“membrane” that surrounds each individual and subsystem in the family. Like the membrane around a cell, boundaries need to be firm enough to ensure the integrity of the cell and yet permeable enough to allow communication between cells. Overly rigid boundaries might constrict family relationships and limit family members’ access to one another (e.g., “children should be seen and not heard”), whereas overly permeable or blurred boundaries might lead to confusion between the generations (e.g., “who is the parent and who is the child?”
- Lack of cohesion and continuity of the self across situations and life history – Most individuals who have secure identities do so because they remember themselves as the same individual they have always been. Noticing the changes one experiences with age, experience and gained knowledge, developing their core identity through life’s stages. BPD doesn’t allow for this due to the fragmented self which has been present throughout our lives, causing perceived gaps of identity knowledge and incompatible memories. Timelines become confusing when remembering what past events mean in regards to identity.
“I don’t know who I am”
“I don’t know what I want”
“I don’t know how I should handle this situation”
These questions seem harmless to most – however when you have BPD these questions are so confusing that emotional stability is compromised and becomes dangerous if we are not supported or receiving some kind of treatment. These questions are second nature and the answers come to mind with a certain amount of ease when you do not suffer from psychological identity issues – something taken for granted by most.
When you have BPD you are seen by different people as polar opposites at different points in your life or even at the same time, such as myself; I am seen by many in my life as a self righteous, egocentric, judgemental, scary, aggressive, rude person. However I am also seen by many as an inspiration, kind, loving, empathetic, polite, selfless person. Many people without BPD may encounter this kind of reaction from certain people, contradicting what makes you, you. This doesn’t phase well adjusted stable personalities as they know who they are and realise they are probably a combination of things to different people due to differing interactions and other peoples personalities. With BPD this causes self annihilation, an instability of emotions and further fragmentation and less awareness of the self.
“who do I believe – me or me or you”
In truth – at times I feel as if my identity is a game of guess who; or that this confused dissociated state is in fact a malevolent monster controlling and interchanging me – to torture me.
Friends, family and people who have crossed my path along the way will have no idea to a certain extent that these different identities exist within me or at different times in my life. The ones who remember are those who I have split, those who got to meet the protective identity, the no empathy, unforgiving, hateful identity – who has kept me alive in times of pure distress. These people have gone from being idealised to then being devalued and thrown away. The hardest part is being aware of this, of others being more aware of this – knowing I can rip you off the pedestal in which I created for you at any time just because you reveal to me that you are in fact human and fallible.
Sometimes the mirror reflects back that no one really knows me, so in turn I can’t know myself – which then brings about the depersonalisation and not feeling as if I exist at all.
The looking glass is the perfect metaphor for how this feels – knowing one reflection is in one world and another in the next. Feeling unreal or full of identities fighting to be seen or wanting to hide. Not knowing when in front of the mirror – who will reflect back.
Hiester, M.”Who’s the parent and who’s the child: generational boundary dissolution between mothers and their children.” paper presented at the biennial meeting of the society for research in child development, Indianapolis,1995.
Yeung, King-To, and Martin, John Levi. “The Looking Glass Self: An Empirical Test and Elaboration.” Social Forces 81, no. 3 (2003): 843–879.
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I am fine….
I AM FINE!
I. AM. FINE.
However which way I say these three words they are always a lie. Not a vicious deceitful lie, but a lie which serves me well whilst simultaneously crushing me emotionally; with each utterance. This little sentence has become a habitual response to the question:
How are you?
Which is a very common occurrence, most people do not divulge their entire life story when asked how they are, it is just an extension to how we greet one another, a politeness (especially in England) to reply:
I am fine, thank you. And how are you?
However when you are really asked this question by a close member of your family, your partner, a close friend or even your therapist and you still only ever say:
I am fine.
Well this kind of situation is what I am talking about and is what this art piece represents. This is about how self preservation means losing part of your identity, emotionally but more importantly the denial of your present state. Never allowing your armour to be compromised, focusing on other peoples problems and absorbing them, when asked about yourself you divert conversations as if they were on-coming traffic; as if your life depends on it – because it does.
The majority of the time I do not look “sick”, I have mainly unseen illnesses and my most debilitating of ailments is completely invisible to the eye. As well as this many people do not “believe” in mental illness or recognise certain neurological conditions, saying things such as:
It’s all in your head!
It’s mind over matter.
You don’t look sick.
These statements are very unhelpful and also redundant in this context. Saying it is all in ones head is a correct statement, mental illness is in our encasement’s which we call heads, in our brains – our minds. It is not in our legs, nor our arms, it is very much a head thing. However saying it to someone as a dismissive statement is not a logical statement as it suggests that your mental illness or neurological condition should not be “in your head”. Suggesting that it maybe make believe or a lie to gain sympathy (which if you are a person who suffers from mental illness you will know this is an insult as there is no sympathy granted to the mentally ill, instead it is stigmatised). As for “you don’t look sick” this one is nothing more than an ignorant judgement, looking at someone with just ones eyes and not a full body CT scanner (which also can not see everything) there is no way to determine someones health or disability status.
Due to all this added conjecture to this particular scenario , it is not hard to understand why the “I am fine” mantra is a fail safe for so many. You get tired of explaining yourself, defending your diagnosis and dealing with people saying things like:
I don’t really believe in mental illness.
Mental illness is a conspiracy to control and label us.
Mental illness is just mental weakness.
So the simple solution is to pretend that you are fine, that you do not need help, that you are not “weak” or “dangerous”, for every mental illness denier there is another person who believes we should all be locked up and not trusted due to the stigmatisation and misinformation on both the mentally ill and those with criminal intent.
This may be the simplest of solutions but it comes at a cost to most. You see there is only a finite amount of space in ones emotional storage unit and the continuous throwing anything and everything that you wish to hide in there can mean that you reach a time you can’t shut the door anymore, let alone lock it. This can lead to you bursting and spilling out onto everything around you or it can mean you just implode – self detonate.
Truthfully for me it is a constant battle inside my head, of not wanting to alienate people or scare people with my overwhelming emotional instability and behavioural abnormalities – having to remain stoic by being the person who people come to, the provider, the rescuer. Against letting it all out, a completely “no shits given” attitude, a liberating freedom of being able to just be me, all parts of me at all levels of intensity. This of course is very black and white and a thought process due to my borderline personality disorder, the middle ground does not tend to exist in my world, it sometimes appears but rarely when experiencing high emotions. To pass off the “strong” persona I have to use the “I am fine” line a lot, which is a kind of middle ground, at least it is when one is trying to manage social boundaries and interpersonal relationships – which to me are like alien concepts that cause feelings of being an outsider.
There have been times in my past when “I am fine” was a defence mechanism as I was in denial about my illnesses and wished to hide the entire idea from myself, blaming my emotions and behaviours on alcohol, drugs and being a “bitch”, that crazy girl thing was easy to flip and present myself to the world as a “bad” person in my twenties – so I stuck to it. People even liked this persona, some celebrated it by telling me they loved my “fuck you attitude” and loved to see me being abusive to others or violent. If the other side, the vulnerable side – was presented (which was me during my teens, from 11 yrs to 20 yrs old) people looked at me as an emotional drain, a liability, dangerous, scary, I became an undesirable human. At these times of no control self harm, suicide attempts, eating disorders, psychosis, machiavellianism, disinhibition and an emotional sensitivity that was never-ending was my way of life. I learnt valuable lessons on survival and how to mimic other humans as a visiting entity from the planet “strange”, using manipulation to gain friends and taking on other identities which were visible to me as ideals, I could be the most popular person in the room or the most disliked, this was not up to my audience or friends, this was up to me and my chameleon like personality. The important thing is I have forgiven myself for being this way, knowing now this was and still is a neurological condition and a perfectly OK way to survive when you have only ever known trauma.
Now that I am in my thirties things have got to a point that my life is more introspective and having the perspective of an “adult” allows me to look at my teens and twenties more objectively and see how and why I had to survive this way when there were no adults parenting me and keeping me safe. Being an adult in this way means that when I look back I ask different questions than I did before, such as:
Where were your parents?
How long were you left on your own?
How was it looking after yourself at such a young age?
Did you have to grow up quickly?
There is a draw back to being older however, my emotions get buried deeper, I detach more and say “I am fine” even more than ever. Wanting to be liked for me, not wanting to buy friends or manipulate them to like me, not wanting to be the extreme me who needs someone to safeguard them at all times, not wanting to be the rescuer and the “strong” one all the time. Wanting people to understand my pain more, I want and need actual medical support for my disabilities but am not at a vulnerable age anymore, so am taken less seriously. Hiding in medication and being likeable and not too intense feels like a life sentence:
But still all I can say is:
I am fine!
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My emotions are encased in glass,
self preservation enclosed them there,
in a mason jar
for safe keeping,
fear like a snake in the grass,
simply to scare,
in my jar
I am left weeping.
Fragility is never a choice,
does the ant get to choose it’s height?
does a butterfly design it’s wings?
I hear “stay safe”
from my little voice,
“this jar is airtight”,
Outside is not for me
for I see the sadness it brings.
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