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My symptoms didn’t fit neatly into a box

Tally was twelve when she started experience confusing thoughts and feelings of detachment. More than a decade on, she tells her story of her journey to acceptance, and why research could help future generations.

I was twelve when I began to suffer with detachment issues. It felt like reality was dissolving around me. People who once felt so close were now somehow unreachable. I would get confused about memories, my thoughts were jumbled and I was engulfed in numbness, paralysing mood swings and bouts of psychosis. Petrified and scared to reach out for help I became severely depressed and turned to self-harm in the hope it would bring me back to the present. By thirteen I had attempted suicide for the first time.

My parents and school were concerned and referred me to the child and adolescent mental health services. Soon after that, I left mainstream school. But my symptoms didn't fall neatly into any box. Over and over, doctors and nurses dismissed my crippling symptoms as teenage hormones, passing me from pillar to post. I moved through eating disorder services, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), drug services, psychosis teams and eventually in-patient centres. 

As I continued to become more and more engulfed by my illness I was served a cocktail of anti-depressants, sedatives and anti-psychotics, which for me just exasperated my symptoms. I was hopeless but nobody knew. It wasn't until my fourth admission to hospital I was diagnosed with attachment disorder and I decided to seek help outside of mental health services.

One of the biggest challenges through all of this was finding professional help from doctors who had the time to listen. I know medication works well for some people, but for me it really didn’t help, I just felt numb and like there was no other way out.

I really wanted someone to tell me what was wrong and how to fix it. I needed confirmation that it wasn’t just teenage hormones. However, when I received my diagnosis I struggled to gel with it. Attachment disorder often relates to problems in childhood, but I had a relatively calm and happy childhood, so it didn’t feel like it quite fit. But at least I had a way of moving forwards.

My friends and family have been a huge support through my experience. My friends taught me I am not crazy, I am different. My brothers found it hard to process initially, but now we’re really close and they’re a huge support along with my parents. I’m also incredibly lucky to have an ex-partner, now close friend, who understands where I’m coming from as she also suffers from mental health issues. She helped me establish ways to cope with my illness. Without her care and support I don’t know where I would be today. I only needed someone to take the time to hear me and try to understand. 

All of this support helped me to get through college and aged 24 I completed my degree. Even though I have come a long way I still suffer days of confusion, illusions and numbness. It has massively affected every aspect of my life from relationships and career progression, to the care I receive from medical professionals for cardiology problems. I can’t hide my scars and that is something I have to live with.  

And yet, I am now doing something I love that I don’t think I would have got into if my life had been different – I’ve also met some incredible people through the services I’ve used who are now close friends.

We still have a long way to go if we want people with mental illness to get the support they deserve. We need to break down stigma and make people realise that mental health is just as important as physical health. It was so hard for me to get support as a child, and I think if there had been more understanding and acceptance of mental illness, that might have been very different.

More and more people are being robbed of their childhood and there are less and less people available to help them. Research is essential if we want to ensure fewer children are left without proper help and support. We cannot treat what we cannot understand, and we desperately need to be understood. The worst part of suffering from mental health problems for me was the loneliness of it all. I support the work of MQ to prevent anyone else from suffering prejudice, ignorance and fear. It is an illness and we need to begin treating it as such.  

Last updated: 11 December 2017

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