As someone who is erring on the side of agnosticism, and who studied the science behind mental health within a degree, I found our conversation really interesting. Tamika, you challenged me to think laterally, to recognise that sometimes things don't have to have a rational reason, and that actually everything does happen for a reason, whether or not we understand what or why that is. I certainly have found some peace recently from remembering the latter. Thank you for sharing your story with us.
My name is Tamika and I’m 22. I’m one of 13 so I come from a really big family. At one time there was maybe 8 siblings in the same house, so I was used to being around a lot of people, never really alone, always together even if we weren’t talking. When you grow up with so many siblings, you kind of want everything but you also have to share everything. Now I look back, I know that we had enough, and I’m glad I wasn’t overly spoiled. I grew up with what I had and needed at the time.
I went to school at Mossbourne Community Academy, which was really strict. But it was really good for me, it helped me with my grades even if we did call it a prison. I was about to do my GCSEs and go on to City of Islington College, but my older sister was at Chickenshed. I had been to see some of her shows and always used to think ‘Why are there so many people on stage!?’ At the time I didn’t think too much about what it was all about, the people, I just went there to see the show.
Jayde said that it would be a good place for me, but I really wasn’t sure. I wanted to be more practical. That’s what people say in general, your parents and teachers you know, you need to get a job with a steady pay. But I liked drama, even though I didn’t think I would go into that field. Either way, I ended up going to the open day. I still really wasn’t sure, I didn’t even really want to go. I was in bed and something just drew me out, let me go. That’s when I knew I had to go there. I liked City of Islington too, and I went to their open day looking to do geography. That sounded steady, sounded cool. But I was lured, spiritually in my belief, to Chickenshed. It was where I was meant to be.
My mental health problems started at Chickenshed. My auntie has had some mental health problems, and I didn’t realise that until I was older. I feel like everything happens for a reason. I do sometimes look back and wonder if it’s genetic, but I don’t think the doctors were ever saying that. I was in my last year of foundation degree (2017/18) at Shed when it got bad. As a person I wouldn’t know if I was stressed out, I’m always just going and going, and doing stuff. I don’t realise that I need to slow it down, but that’s who I am. If I sit down I feel like I have nothing to do. I felt like I didn’t have much to do at that time, with teachers taking creative control over the final show at certain points because as students we couldn’t combine our ideas. Maybe not having enough to do was a factor in the decline of my mental health.
During that time I went through a phase of drinking a lot with a friend. We would drink everyday after Shed. I didn’t realise it was a problem, you often can’t. It was like a spotlight and I couldn’t see what was going on outside it. Drugs and alcohol, they factor into a lot of reasons why people develop psychosis. After a while, I started hearing the voices. I thought the voice was a boy that I really liked from Shed who had rejected me. When I look back on things it wasn’t really about me. When people reject other people, it’s more a projection of their own feelings. It’s obviously about you but it’s not a reflection of you. That hurt me quite a lot and was one of the reasons I was drinking really. But it wasn’t just about him either, I had become addicted to alcohol, to the feeling of drinking. It was a lot of things: the drinking, the boy, the show, and for me it was a lack of faith, a lack of religious belief.
I feel there were a lot of spiritual things going on for me at that time which led me to the path I was on. There was a period of 2-3 months where I went through a lot of things with the voice, did a lot of things that I thought were right but really nothing made sense. I really believed the voices because of my first encounter with them. I was walking by a building and asking God for a sign as to the truth of the voice. I looked up to the left and this shop, which changes its sign regularly, and the sign said ‘If you’re looking for a sign, here it is’. I started to think that God was real, that my experience was real. I began having beliefs that I didn’t have before. It wasn’t rational, it couldn’t be explained in an analytical way and it didn’t make sense to me. I constantly felt out of control and I just followed it because I knew it was true, I knew there were things that I didn’t understand, that were magical. That’s what lead me to the mental health facility. I was doing things that were crazy.
After I started taking medication I was calmer. It helped in the mental facility. But when I came out I could still hear the voices. I was battling having side effects that were impacting my life more than the medication was helping. I was fighting something that no one understood. So, I stopped taking the medication and started trying to ignore them. I started back at Chickenshed and was able to move onto the BA degree. Throughout the whole process, Chickenshed were very supportive, giving me good marks when I was ill because of the work that I had done before. For me Shed has always been a place that I call my home. I can fully express my passion for drama. The BA was hard at first, but it became easier when I was off the medication and felt more like myself again. I don’t know how I did it, but I ignored the voices for a while.
It was only at the end of last year that I started to gain my faith back in God. I grew up in a family who went to church every weekend but still had the worlds view of having to see it to believe it. We didn’t really care about our faith. My Dad was religious, and I think I would have liked to have had more of his influence asserting our faith. But the whole psychosis started with me believing in God. Thinking that someone could see my thoughts and make a sign at that exact time. There’s no way that anyone but God could have done that. But then I spiralled from thinking He could hear my thoughts to thinking everyone could. I lost my belief that God was real and started to think that the devil was. I became spiritual in a weird way, thinking about demons, devils and karma. Somewhere along the line though I felt that He picked me up and made me feel that He was supporting me throughout my journey.
I don’t know what triggered me to feel like I was going to believe in God again. I think it was just time. I was trying to find clarity for what had happened. I just didn’t know. I was going through a lot of therapy and the therapist just said you know maybe you have to be content with not understanding it. There were moments where I was so confused again, wondering if God was actually real. I had this bible app that I wasn’t really looking at too much. It popped up with a notification one day with a verse that said ‘Why do you doubt me?’. That was God standing there and directly speaking to me, guiding me back on the right path.
After that moment I just knew. God is real. It was parallel to what happened at the beginning. A direct sign that couldn’t have been from anyone else but Him. I go to church more now, write gratitude lists and see everything as a sign from God. He balances me out as a person. It’s provided me with an understanding and a clarity. It makes everything easier to see. My third eye has opened.
You can be wrong and right at the same time, happy and sad. I’m still developing but balance doesn’t have to look exactly how you think it should, it doesn’t have to be perfect. I’m trying to be my best but sometimes I have to just say ‘Tamika, you’re not perfect’. I try not to resist the process. Everyday God is teaching me. Sometimes the voices do come, but I see that as the devil trying to harness our fears, using our minds as a crutch because that is all he can do. I just pray on things and let it be.
In terms of the Space Between Us, Tamika joined the group late due to her mental health, however this is what she said about the project: "The experience is another example of how we are all the same. You can have different ages and then come together with someone like Elsie and feel like you have been through very similar things despite being at a different point in your life. Sometimes we get boxed into only hanging out with our own age group, our own culture or race. We often don’t look at the possibility that a person who is so different from us has something that we have too: similar interests or mindsets. It’s just opened the door to limitless possibilities. I really loved it and everything that it stands for."
Written by Holly with Tamika
Through this project we hope to tell the stories of many different people, celebrate a multitude of perspectives and provide a platform where individual voices are valued. If you would like to share your story with us, please get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by sending us a dm on Instagram @growinghappyuk