Don’t you think I am trying? You are telling me that I don’t live in the real world, that my reality does not exist. So let me show you what my reality looks like and then you tell me how much you would like to live in it.
I am Tamil and born in Sry Lanka during the civil war. My dad left us unprotected when I was 2 and went with my two eldest sisters to work in the UK. My mother and her ‘cousin’ took us to India where we led a very quiet life hidden away. I had a very kind friend, Leo who visited me every night to reassure me. He told me how much he loves studying IT at Uni and one day I would like to do the same. When I was 13 my mother paid a lot of money to an agent and had me smuggled into the UK. I will never forget every word of our last conversation, how we cried and hugged, and how she promised over and over again that she would soon follow with my little sister. I had to burn any identification so if I would get caught I wouldn’t be sent back. Trafficked over land, I remained in hiding in various locations for 2 years until I reached the UK. I will never forget the BP petrol station where I was finally reunited with my father. I was 15 years old and I weighed 5stones or 35kg. I was more dead than alive. During all that time Leo was with me, my constant and reliable friend.
My father turned out to be a violent drunk who attacked me with a knife and threatened to kill me. I moved in with my oldest sister but she beat me and locked me up like a slave. I moved to my other sister but she treated me like a house maid. One day she left me with her 6 months old baby and went to Spain on a holiday with her lover, just like that, without telling anyone. Nobody cared and nobody wanted me. My father died when I was 19 and I lost residency. Since then I have no right to be anywhere because I am nobody. Legally, I don’t exist. I have no country I can prove my own and where I have the right to feel safe. I don’t have a home anywhere in this world and I am all on my own. I don’t belong and nobody belongs to me. You have no idea how frightening to be truly all alone in this world is! I made a new friend, Rachel, who began fighting my corner. I admire her, she is so strong!
I have tried every way to get back in touch with my mother and sister but they seem to have vanished from the face of the earth. I feel she sold me out. I had no money and nowhere I could stay but my sister’s jilted husband took me in, hoping that I would help him look after the two children. Instead, my voices and visions became so powerful I became a liability and I am grateful he is looking after me. Even Leo and Rachel struggle to protect me from the screaming people with burning faces that are attacking me day and night. The constant noise is deafening and keeps me awake. I live in constant panic that somebody will take me away, and most days I am unable to leave my bedroom. I was hospitalised many times and at first I always felt safer there but staff make me so angry when they tell me that my reality isn’t real. It is very much real to me!
My care coordinator introduced me to Arty-Folks and I was relieved that nobody there was telling me to give up the two people my life depends on. I loved the art straight away. It was so different from anything I knew and I loved learning new things all the time. After a few months I started to feel more relaxed and I made new friends, real ones you will be pleased to hear. I also started bit by bit to tell my story and Arty-Folks then helped me to work with the Refugee Centre to get at least a temporary visa.
Arty-Folks visited me when I was sectioned again and for the first time somebody showed an interest in my reality. Nobody had ever asked me before what the voices were saying or tried to help me make sense of my experiences. I was always told that my world is not real and to take these pills that would make it all go away. Medication usually works for a little while and then the side effects start like cramps, shaky legs, drowsiness, nausea, it’s horrible. Talking about my past made me realise how desperately lonely I am, how worried I am about my mother and sister. I think of them every day and I pray they are still alive. I worry if we would recognise each other if we met now. I remember their promise and I just can’t understand why they have not been in touch with me. I am so sad but I am also so angry because they have lied to me and they have abandoned me.
You can say that Rachel and Leo are imaginary but they are helping me stay alive. The reality you say is real and you think I should live in is one where there is no one single soul I can count on to be there for me when I am desperately sad, lost, and lonely. I prefer to live in my reality where I am hunted by pure evil but I also have two people who are always at my side fighting my corner. I attend Arty-Folks whenever I can because it’s a safe place for me where my visions and voices get quieter and sometimes even disappear when I am doing my artwork. But I am often not able to win over this immense fear of leaving the safety of my bedroom.