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

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.)

Our Tree – By Charlotte Farhan

 

 

 

 

 

 

This week I have chosen a very special painting which is called Our Tree. This painting is of a time and place which I hold close to my heart. When I was 15 I was admitted to a psychiatric unit at this old Victorian hospital in Epsom, Surrey. You would have to see it to believe it! Maybe due to my state of mind and my age as soon as I arrived at Woodside adolescent Unit, West Park hospital it was as if I had entered a very strange
world, a dream like world.

The grounds were massive, the buildings were mostly derelict and secret gardens and passages had emerged due to the overgrowth of plants and trees surrounding the buildings. It was a gorgeous summer and as my world outside the hospital had ended, the new world inside the grounds of the hospital had only just begun.

Whilst at Woodside, I met a girl called Jenny. Jenny was tall, dark-haired and always wore black and never wore shoes. Jenny did not speak to anyone and seemed so shy and scared I did not know how to approach her, but I knew I had to know this girl.

Jenny and I became very close, she would only speak to me and we developed our own way of communicating when others were around us. The Doctors and Nurses did not like this and thought I was manipulating Jenny, which could not be further from the truth! One beautiful August day, after creative writing therapy Jenny and I decided to make a run for it. We had discussed it many times before and even made little plans and had looked for the best way to do it. So we pretended we were just going to the vending machine and then made a break for it. Behind our ward there were endless fields and trees. We decided to run to the furthest fence, which we knew was the edge of the grounds. In the fence there was a hole which had been previously cut out from the chicken wire, someone had clearly thought of this escape before. So we ducked under and left the hospital grounds.

Almost as if we had entered another dimension or Universe this field looked glorious and almost as if it was all that existed in this alternate celestial space , as if it had been created for us, and only us. An endless field of golden corn. As we walked through the field which was on a hill we reached the highest point and saw a gloriously large field tree on its own, as if no one had discovered it. We decided to go and take some shade
and have a rest under its large arms of luscious leaves listening to that whispering and rustling from the breeze. We sat in the shade for hours, talking, sleeping, day dreaming, hoping that we could hold on to this perfect moment in time, hoping that the realities of why we were here and the cruel world in which we came from, would not reclaim us and that we could stay there forever.

Unfortunately Jenny and I could not stay there forever. Reality claimed us back and the world cruelly gobbled us back up. Jenny never got to leave Woodside properly, several years later after I had left and Jenny had become a day patient, Jenny took her own life one cold bitter day in December. A very large part of myself died that day, I was never angry at Jenny for leaving our world, because I knew she had not left “our world” she had returned to it. Jenny had gone back to the golden field, she was home.

This painting is a representation of that world, I made the scene different by adding the surreal large moon setting in the background, which gives off a very bright white light, and this was to represent the alternate Universe we were in. I made it night-time to symbolise the sadness and loss I feel without Jenny, which is why I choose cold blues instead of vivid greens. I added pink blossom to the tree to express my love and the romance I felt with Jenny. I kept the gold in the corn field to signify the beauty and magic which was felt.

So this painting is in honour of my beautiful Jenny, this was “our tree” I hope you like it and can see what I have tried to do. Please feel free to comment and leave feedback.

Thank you for reading,

Lots of love,

Charlotte x
x x