This is how it feels to be the child of a suicidal parent

There hasn’t been a day since being 11 years old that I wasn’t prepared for my Mother to die. There is no scenario in which my mind has not investigated or planned; from her funeral, what I shall say, how I will feel, who will judge me as the cause of her death. This is not due to a macabre obsession or a morbid wish, this is how it feels to be the child of a suicidal parent.

My Mother has Bipolar Disorder, she was diagnosed when I was a toddler after seeking help because she couldn’t connect with me and feared she didn’t love me. My awareness of her illness was not completely realised until attending secondary school, before this point my Mother was a workaholic and never cried, she was a passionate, opinionated, clever woman who people loved to be around, the life and soul of most parties and fancied by most men. Always doing what she wanted when she wanted and never apologised for living her life. Even when she would drop me off to friends so she could meet men on trips away or when she made fun of my weight or told me I was too sensitive or too serious – my adoration for her was impenetrable, thinking of her as the best Mother in the world and wanting to be just like her.

However my Mother had a sever break down. Suddenly this vibrant woman was in bed, unable to get up, dress herself or wash, her room was dark and filled with cigarette smoke. This made no sense to me, I did not understand why she had changed; it was like Invasion of the Body Snatchers – this wasn’t my Mother. Suddenly she was crying all the time and she didn’t want to do anything, she would watch daytime TV in bed and would be surrounded by books, paper and food wrappers.

Life hadn’t been easy up until now for many reasons for both of us, having experienced depression and loneliness at the age of seven, this new darkness took it’s toll and this was when I started self harming. After seeing a program on a TV talk show about self harmers, after hearing of how these people felt the pain go away and that they actually felt even better whilst cutting, this seemed like the ideal relief. Knowing my Mother had lots of books on psychology and psychiatry I asked her if she had anything on self harm and said it was for a school project, (which for the early 90’s would have been very progressive). My Mother found me a book on self harm and I took it to my room and started to plan my first cut.

A few weeks later I caught my Mother in the bath weeping and cutting herself with razor blades, a mess of tears and blood through the crack of the bathroom door. Shocked that she did it too, shocked that she was in pain and devastated that I had possibly caused it or was going to cause more. In hindsight this is when my Mother and I truly severed our relationship, it was the beginning of the end, even though we were almost on the same page, my need for a parent and stability and her need to be alone and have no responsibilities was like a knife slicing our family tie.

Soon after this my Mother tried to kill herself and she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, I was left at home alone with our 18 year old lodger (who was very unwell herself) and was allowed to do what I wanted, structure and adult care went out the window. Upon turning 12 I stole some sleeping pills from our lodger and tried to kill myself, instead of dying, sleep was all that was achieved for almost two days and awaking to the realisation that the darkness still existed, there were still no adults or safety.

From this point on, again and again, my Mother tried to kill herself or self harmed to the point of needing hospital treatment. This is when preparation for the inevitable was my only solus – her death. Having lost my best friend to suicide and many other friends; suicide became such a possible outcome that I started being unable to determine when my Mother was actually in danger.  She would say “If I didn’t have you I would die” or “I want to die – there is no point”, always reminding me of how much I didn’t understand, how no one understood – when all the while I understood more than she knew.

After several hospital admissions, 17 ECT sessions and continued private therapy from her psychiatrist on Harley Street in London, it was clear my Mothers condition was getting worse, no cocktail of drugs seemed to help and the bipolarity of her disorder caused havoc on our lives. My Mother experiences mixed states with her Bipolar Disorder which cause her to be irritable, to have high energy, racing thoughts and speech, and over-activity with agitation and becomes an even higher risk of suicide.

This effected me as a child and teen and still does now as an adult. The instability of her impulsiveness, her recklessness and her allowing me freedoms that other children envied, which I did not like or want, I envied the children who sat down for dinner, who had curfew, got money for chores, did homework with their parents, had rules; whose parents wouldn’t discuss anal sex with your friends or discuss their many sexual escapades. In mixed states of mania she would become aggressive, argumentative and so unkind that this emotional abuse still causes me sever pain till this day; name calling, screaming, mental abuse and belittling me with the advantage of not remembering what she had said or done when she was feeling “better”.

There is one act which however hard I try – my mind cannot understand it. When I was raped at 15 and hospitalised as suicide is all I wanted, my Mother made my rape about her and ended up abandoning me and admitting herself to a private hospital (with room service, massages, ice cream) whilst she had stopped my private health insurance (as you do) so I had to go into a mixed boy/girl NHS adolescent unit situated on an old Victorian asylum ground. How could my Mother consider suicide when her baby had been violently raped, operated on due to the rape and then hospitalised? The doctors would ask me how I felt about her doing this, I would always protect her regardless of the fact I was so hurt and felt so unloved.

At 17 she became physical with me on the day I was moving out as I could not take living with her anymore, this truly became my only option to survive, she began to shake me, she slapped me and then she tried to push me into a single pane glass window on the fourth floor of our apartment building. In amidst of this she was shouting at me that I was a whore and that I had probably made up my rape. My boyfriend (who is now my husband) had to pull her off me and at the age of 19 had to confront her with some very stern words and managed to get me out of there.

Another aspect of her mixed states is that of mass overspending which she has done to the extent that all our family money is gone – to be fair my Father contributed to this too with his mental break down. However my Mother seemed to have plenty of money to buy Louis Vuitton bags and accessories, take long haul trips and buy expensive cars, but when money started to get tighter and tighter as the money became less and less, she became selfish and from 17 to 22 let me be homeless, go hungry and I had no access to medical care or dental care, I was very unwell at this time so needed a lot of extra support – but her need to keep up appearances and maintain some of her luxurious lifestyle came before my needs. Anyway it was my own fault after all for being a bad child.

My Mother withdrew from life, hers and mine and as a consequence her sadness took over our relationship and her own guilt for how she has treated me – chokes her just enough to say what a terrible Mother she was or is, something which makes me want to protect her, deny and tell her all is fine, I am fine and she is fine. But her withdrawal made me withdraw from her more an more emotionally, so to not get hurt when she eventually kills herself. Hugging her is painful, when she cries I want to stuff a sock in her mouth – when she complains about her life I want to be anywhere but near her.

Loving my Mother is not hard, liking her is impossible at this point and wanting to have a relationship with her is damaging. However the feeling that at any moment I shall get a call telling me she has died is always there, the preparations are always in place and the guilt consumes me. The illness, the Bipolar Disorder is not my Mother however her core personality and ability to care and love for me is a mixture of narcissism and emotional blackmail.

Who knows what will happen with our relationship, all that is evident to me at this point is for anything to be possible with regards to my Mother is a question of recovery and acceptance. Not forgiveness, we do not need to forgive abuse, however accepting it happened, and that it was not my fault is probably a better focus than my obsession that she will take her own life.


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Jenny’s Suicide Gave me a Reason to Stay Alive – By Charlotte Farhan

That day – 14 years ago, was seared upon my memory, Mohammed and I had decided to do our Christmas shopping and my mood was merry and our arms were tired from our bounty of goodies we had bought. Mohammed had been a bit subdued, but I had put it down to being tired from a heavy weekend partying, which had seen me turn 20. Little did I know Mohammed had been selflessly keeping a traumatic secret that weekend. We bundled into my Mothers apartment, chatty and full of smiles, feeling the childlike magic of Christmas in the air.

Then my Mother and Mohammed became very serious and both turned to me, they sat me down and said they had bad news, but not to worry as they were both there to help me. My heart sank and I knew my world would change after whatever they were going to say was said. My Mother took a deep breath:

“I am so sorry darling, but Jenny has died, she has killed herself”.

The world narrowed and I felt an immediate panic, my feet leapt me into the air and ran – I ran away from the news, halted at the front door and collapsed, my heart had just shattered and nothing made sense anymore. Not able to catch my breathe, the tears engulfed my eyes and the loss consumed me. Then I started to scream with all my might.

Jenny and Charlotte in 1999 at woodside psychiatric adolescent unit.
Jenny and Charlotte in 1999 at woodside psychiatric adolescent unit.

The night before Jenny had called me, we had been putting up the Christmas tree and I had waffled on for a bit about how this year had been hard (as usual) but the next was going to be a good year, that her and I would continue to get stronger, that the evil Dr’s who had separated us and tried to deem me a “bad influence” were going to be so gutted when they realised how amazing we were. We had so many plans – once Jenny was old enough, she would move in with me and Mohammed, we wanted to travel around Italy, we wanted to be artists together. Jenny had told me that night that she loved me, she was so proud of me because of my strength and ability to fight, she also thanked me for helping her, for giving her a chance and for loving her so much. I thought nothing of this kind of talk, as this is how we spoke to one another. Thinking back to the conversation, Jenny had been so calm, she had seemed so content and ready.

Jenny in 2001 at our apartment in Guildford.
Jenny in 2001 at our apartment in Guildford.

Jenny and I met in a psychiatric hospital for adolescents in 1999, she had only just turned 14 and I was almost 16, Jenny did not speak to anyone and she carried a cardigan up to her face at all times, you could only see her beautiful big eyes. We met on my first day whilst I struggled to open my window in my room, which only opened 3 inches, but it was a very hot summers day and that little crack of air was all I wanted. Struggling away suddenly Jenny appeared at my door, she glided through the room barefoot and with complete ease lifted my window up, I thanked her and then she left the room in silence. Soon after this an emergency group meeting was called – which is when we the patients have to have a group therapy session, but the focus is on one patient and a “serious” issue pertaining to said patient. Basically a group telling off and shaming ritual, this one was my first and it had been called for Jenny.

We all bundled into the main communal room and grabbed a chair and formed a circle. The head psychiatric nurse started the meeting and told us it had been called because Jenny did not want to attend school sessions, which were for 3 hours a day. Already I did not understand the big deal and why they were making this girl, who did not speak – feel bad about the fact she couldn’t face classes that day. So I continued to listen to the judgement cast upon her and then we were asked what we thought? For a moment I hesitated and thought about my status as the “new kid” and if it was wise to make myself so visible. However as my nature is to say what I think regardless of the danger or social norms, I eagerly raised my hand. The nurse asked me to tell the group my thoughts, telling them how ridiculous and strange this was, that this felt like punishment and shaming, that Jenny was clearly unwell – otherwise why would she be here and that missing 3 hours of school was not a big deal and that everyone should just calm down and let her have the day off. The doctors and nurses were not impressed, but Jenny’s eyes sparkled with appreciation and the other patients got very excited by my “fuck you” attitude and after a little more deliberating, the conclusion was jenny could stay off school that day. Later Jenny came to my room and she started speaking to me, I was the only one at first, but this was the beginning of our love, our friendship, our romance and sisterhood.

The news of Jenny’s suicide was and still is so painful, she was and is the only person who truly understood what it was to exist in that world with me, who knew me as myself, with no pretence and no manipulation of the truth. We had our own language, we wrote fictional stories to one another about misunderstood beasts, we washed each others hair, we would be tactile (which I find so hard to be), we had private jokes and our love for one another was gloriously dysfunctional and both sick and beautiful, we were everything we ever needed. The doctors and nurses thought that due to my conditions that I was a danger to Jenny, but her parents knew otherwise, they understood their daughter and the relationship we had. Eventually I was thrown out of the psychiatric hospital due to “bad behaviour” and yes you read that right, a teenager with serious mental illness and a risk to themselves was chucked out of the “safe place” that this hospital was suppose to be. Jenny remained at Woodside and we were separated. Luckily her parents let her stay for long weekends (which you had off when an inpatient) and once I moved out of my Mothers at 17, Mohammed and I had Jenny stay at our home regularly.

My beautiful Jenny a few month before her death.
My beautiful Jenny a few month before her death.

Jenny left me a suicide note and a poem that she had wrote for all her closest friends and family, this letter I now read on her birthday and on this day – the anniversary of her death, lighting her a candle, listening to our music, getting lost in our memories and the what ifs. Jenny keeps me alive when I am at my most suicidal, she has even visited me as an hallucination during psychosis when my mind is uncontrolled by rational thoughts and my ability to stay safe is minimal, she is there, either as herself or as a black cat. Life is so fleeting and as long as I have Mohammed this world will have me in it until I draw my final breathe, this life I live is for Jenny, and for those two little girls who found each other in the wreckage.

Poem by Jenny left in her suicide note
Poem by Jenny left in her suicide note

 


If you would like to know a little more about me and Jenny, here is a piece I wrote a while ago which is the story of when we ran away from hospital together – Our Tree – By Charlotte Farhan 


If you are struggling and wish to seek some help for your suicidal thoughts or have too lost a loved one to suicide and are struggling with grief, please use these contacts below.

Sane – Mental Health Charity – UK

MIND UK

International Suicide Hotlines