Our Journey so Far – Me and my Psychiatric Assistance Dog

 

This is our journey so far…

Amadeus is a 13 month old standard poodle who is my psychiatric assistance dog and he is helping me gain some independence, access to the outside world, exercise and he also gives me things I can not get from human interaction. The conditions and illnesses which Amadeus aids me with are Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Agoraphobia, Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Psychotic Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Autistic Spectrum Disorder.

The requirement for me to have an assistance dog was in fact my last hope in having a more fulfilled life, in this able focused and neuro-typical world. Due to sever mental illnesses I have been unable to lead a “normal” life for over 11 years and some things have never been achievable.

When using the word “normal”, I use it in the sense that many things achieved by able people are taken for granted, such as being able to leave your home with ease everyday, crossing roads, being outside independently, going into shops and other establishments, speaking to strangers or service people, taking public transport, being able to drive, listening to music on headphones, meeting friends, going to hospital/doctor appointments…

the list goes on…

Very kindly a close friend of mine started a GoFundMe page and raised enough money for me to get Amadeus and all the things we needed to get the show on the road. People from all over the world donated and before I knew it, we were taking Amadeus home and the rest is history.

So in under a year I have achieved a great deal with Amadeus; starting with simply stepping outside my front door with him and closing the doors behind us whilst no one else was home – this was my first and most challenging of exercises.

Then we walked up the road and started with the closest cul-de-sac, completing this for up to two weeks at a time, then moving onto the next. Eventually mastering  three and staying in this comfort zone until I was ready to go past a busy pub and cross a small road by a large cul-de-sac. By this point I genuinely was astonished by my progress and felt a sense of freedom which would make me promise myself to never let go or go back – a lot of pressure but I have no “happy” medium abilities, it is black and white or nothing.

After this achievement my sights were set on going further up our road to a small green in front of an old Victorian prison, knowing this would be ideal for Amadeus to do his business and for me to be near some kind of nature – with trees and grass (even though it is next to a main road and very busy roundabout). This feat was very challenging, managing to do this once a week and slowly progressing to be able to do it more regularly over several weeks, before committing this as the place we would walk everyday.

By this point Amadeus was getting to be almost one and a feeling of rebirth flowed through my veins. So one day impulsively I decided to go the other way from my front gate, up the road and over a busy bridge to the cemetery behind my house, as this was something I could do without crossing any main roads  – plus it would give me an abundance of nature, things to look at and a longer walk for Amadeus.

We did it!

However this was impulsively done which was me jumping up my ladder and not safely stepping up one rung at a time, which is a trait due to my Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). This meant I was wiped out for almost two weeks due to the exhaustion of doing something so outside of my comfort zone, which of course made me have sever anxiety symptoms – even though at the time it was enjoyable, but when you get the same adrenaline from walking up the road to a cemetery as someone bungy jumping or sky diving – it can be a really surreal feeling.

My next challenge is crossing a main road in front of my house which luckily has a pedestrian crossing and then walking straight down small residential roads to a beautiful pond and recreational field. My plan is to try and achieve this, this summer, which will be my greatest achievement so far. Amadeus will be able to go off lead in the field, we can walk around the pond, watch the wildlife, sit and read or listen to music; it is something I dream about constantly.

Even though this has changed my life, there are still days I can not go out, there are days when being outside is like being assaulted by every piece of sensory information at once, leaving me unable to process details and all I can do is rest and recover.

So if you have never thought of how privileged you are to leave your home in a carefree manner and when interacting with the outside world and its tasks it is no big deal to you; then I challenge you to think of what your life would be like if you were unable to do these things?

 


As a small art project I documented my journey so far with Amadeus and distorted the images to show the different sensory issues I encounter when outside. This was challenging as simply taking the photos by busy roads was disorientating, however with Amadeus keeping me grounded and helping me feel present and real I was able to do a lot more than I thought I would. There is a slide show, all images underneath and some videos.

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Art Spotlight – Agoraphobia – by Charlotte Farhan

Agoraphobia – By Charlotte Farhan

 

Agoraphobia - By Charlotte Farhan
Agoraphobia – By Charlotte Farhan 24″ x 30″ x 1″

 

Living with agoraphobia is like being a caged animal who fears its capture and environment. My mind passes back and forth and my panic increases with everyday that passes. Daily events round the world confirm the need to be locked away, for my own safety and sometimes others. On occasion certain parts of my mind wish to escape the confinement the agoraphobia has created, parts of my other illnesses such as my borderline personality disorder and psychotic depression bash their metaphorical heads against the bars of my prison. This illness is the child of my post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), from trauma comes anxiety and this ultimately changed my entire behaviour and personality.

 

Agoraphobia - By Charlotte Farhan
Agoraphobia – By Charlotte Farhan 24″ x 30″ x 1″
Agoraphobia - By Charlotte Farhan
Agoraphobia – By Charlotte Farhan 24″ x 30″ x 1″
Agoraphobia - By Charlotte Farhan
Agoraphobia – By Charlotte Farhan 24″ x 30″ x 1″
Agoraphobia - By Charlotte Farhan
Agoraphobia – By Charlotte Farhan 24″ x 30″ x 1″

 

We have long observed that every neurosis has the result, and therefore probably the purpose, of forcing the patient out of real life, of alienating him from actuality.

(Sigmund Freud)

 

If you are interested in this painting for your collection, for an exhibition or would like to buy a print, please use the form below:

Read about my struggles with agoraphobia and share them with a friend, help me raise awareness and end stigma toward mental illness.

The Agoraphobic Artist – My Story

The Agoraphobic Artist – How I live in the captivity of my mind

 

 

The Agoraphobic Artist – How I live in the captivity of my mind

Artist Charlotte Farhan
Artist Charlotte Farhan

Some see agoraphobia as simply not being able to leave your home or a fear of being outside. But I am here to give you a true insight into this disorder.

So lets look at its definitions:

Dictionary definition:

Agoraphobianoun, Psychiatry.

an abnormal fear of being in crowds, public places, or open areas,sometimes accompanied by anxiety attacks.

General definition:

Agoraphobia is what is known as an anxiety disorder characterized by anxiety in situations where the sufferer perceives the environment to be dangerous, uncomfortable, or unsafe.

For more information visit The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) diagnostic criteria via psych central.

So how does my agoraphobia impact my life and what symptoms do I have?

  • I have not left my home or been outside alone for over 9 years. I spend 5 out of 7 days without leaving my home at all. When I do I have to be with a trusted companion, I have a handful of friends and my husband who I trust to do this with. I have to go to familiar shops and take familiar routes. I mainly go to the supermarket, local shops, friends houses and a few outdoor and indoor activities.
  • I can’t answer the door to people, unless I know it is a friend and a scheduled meeting.
  • I find very open spaces terrifying. Such as mountains and rolling countryside, which is difficult because I also love them visually. When in these environments I am on high alert. I am able to go to these places with a companion, but feel like I am going to fall off the earth. Places I have visited like this include The Brecon Beacons in Wales, the deserts in Jordan and The Alps in France and many more, but these stick out in my mind as I felt so overwhelmed by the “exposure” of the the elements and how insignificant I am on this rock in space.
  • I find large crowds panic inducing. A busy shop, a packed cinema, a concert, festival and many other environments are either impossible on most days or need a lot of planning and even then can just be too much.
  • Bridges make me feel physically sick!
  • Most public transport is a big NO! But I can take a plane to visit family in Jordan or for a holiday as long as with my husband. Trains and the underground are the worst and most of the time I would not be able to use these at all.

This is not everything I suffer from but are the main factors within my agoraphobia.

Having had lots of treatment for my agoraphobia but none being successful, has been disheartening. My only success is in my acceptance of the illness, my ability to recognise behavioural patterns and to express my feelings of how it is to live with the condition and raise awareness and understanding, so that others who suffer feel less alone and for those who do not know what it is or how it affects a person, they are able to learn.

This is why I truly believe art is an effective tool within my treatment and general mental health. As well as being something I can do for the wider cause, by sharing my art I am sharing my experience and allowing there to be a visual testimony which will allow others to feel less alone.

Here is my latest piece of art:

Agoraphobia – By Charlotte Farhan 

Agoraphobia - By Charlotte Farhan
Agoraphobia – By Charlotte Farhan

My agoraphobia was born from my PTSD and this is very common for those suffering from these conditions.

The motivation behind my brains need to protect me is a reaction to the trauma I have suffered. Having survived childhood abuse from a family member and then at 15 being raped by a someone I knew and liked, sent my brain into a dissociated state, which in turn built up a fortress in my mind, trying to protect me from being in any further situation or from seeing the abusers again. Unfortunately, since then I have seen them, a handful of times but a handful which was enough to suffocate me and make my illnesses worse, reliving the experiences and feeling like I am a child again, or that 15 year old girl who was just looking for love and kindness not for life to repeat its torture and leave her as a broken doll who had been dragged through dirt.

quote about rape and ptsd

Although my agoraphobia is like a prison, it is also a safe house, a place where I can protect myself and feel like I have done everything in my power to prevent further pain.

Many feelings arise in me due to this forced mental committal, such as being an eternal child/adolescent, shame, guilt and vulnerability to everything. Often I am ashamed that at the age of 31 I am unable to leave my house alone, that I can not go to a shop to buy a pint of milk or far more important things, such as visiting a friend in distress, I lost my independence.

What I wish for you, the reader to remember is that no two people suffering from agoraphobia or any of the conditions I have mentioned are the same. Our experiences are our own and instead of assuming you know why, ask them or just mind your own business.

Just be mindful that there is no simple solution and please do not feel it necessary to try and dominate an individual into doing anything they are not comfortable or ready to do. We are not a “feel good” project for you to tackle, we are people living with a complicated psychological illness which does not need to be fixed by you, your empathy (not sympathy) is the most valuable of comforts. Listen to us, learn about our lives and reasons, do not judge, do not bully. If then, and only then, we ask for help or you wish to offer it, simply accept what we need and if you can help we will be most grateful.

 

mental illness quotes

 

Living with agoraphobia is like being a caged animal who fears its capture and environment. My mind passes back and forth and my panic increases with everyday that passes. Daily events round the world confirm the need to be locked away, for my own safety and sometimes others. On occasion certain parts of my mind wish to escape the confinement the agoraphobia has created, parts of my other illnesses such as my borderline personality disorder and psychotic depression bash their metaphorical heads against the bars of my prison. This illness is the child of my post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), from trauma comes anxiety and this ultimately changed my entire behaviour and personality.

Charlotte Farhan - Photography by Lisa Reeve
Charlotte Farhan – Photography by Lisa Reeve

If you or anyone you know suffers from agoraphobia please find more information via these links:

ANXIETY UK

NHS

Psych Central 

Here is another article I wrote on this subject:

The Agoraphobic Artist – My Story