Jamie-Leigh spent years living in fear when the voices in her head grew deafening. While going into a mental health unit was terrifying, it meant she got the support she so desperately needed
Life isn’t easy, nobody has ever said it is. But one thing it is, is worth it. So, just as I’ve learnt to do, keep fighting, shake your head, and carry on. You can do this. We can do this together.
I remember the first time I heard voices – I was about 14 years old. My family were not aware of what was going on, and just thought I was acting up. I was so scared I could hear things, and didn’t know where they were coming from. I didn’t know much about voices or what I was going through at the time. I ended up running away from home, and remember being dragged out of a bush by a policeman who told me I was a silly girl and wasting police time... Neither of us understood what was really going on.
Then, about two years ago, I was in the worst place I had been in a long time. The voices started up again really badly, telling me that they were coming for me, that they were coming for my family. With all this going on in my head, I did the only thing I could rationalise at that time; I ran away from home again.
I had only made it into our local town of Thetford, in Norfolk, when the voices in my head started going crazy, and I happened to literally bump into my uncles. I remember my uncles following behind me, concerned, flagging down a passing police car.
At this point, I ran as fast as my legs could take me. When I reached the local river, I realised there was nowhere else to run. I stopped, turned round, and noticed how many police were coming towards me.
I had a huge phobia of the police, which I have only recently overcome. As soon as I realise they aren’t going to hurt me, I feel safer. But in that moment, I was terrified.
I kept walking backwards, away from them, until I ended up in the actual river. It was the middle of winter and freezing cold, but with all the adrenaline flooding through me, I felt hot. The police officers hauled me out of the water, trying to get through to me while I was fighting them off – I just didn’t understand that they were there to help.
This was the point when the voices told me that my family had been taken and replaced with shapeshifters, known as goblins. My mum arrived at the scene, but I was convinced she was a goblin who’d come to get me, and I was so scared.
I can’t describe to you what that feeling was like. My whole world was caving in around me. My family were my everything, my strength and my fight was in them, and with the voices telling me they were goblins, it felt like I’d lost everything.
The police put me on a section 136 – which is a law under the Mental Health Act allowing them to remove me from public if they are concerned for my safety, and are worried about my mental state. They took me to Wedgwood House – a mental health unit in Suffolk Hospital. I was so scared, and didn’t really know what was going on. I was transferred around the hospital, and was eventually diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD).
This is a condition where you display ‘affective dysregulation’ (emotional instability), often have cognitive distortions and impulsive behaviour. I had never heard of BPD before I was diagnosed. I remember a member of staff sitting down with me and explaining it. I felt heartbroken, and at the same time was relieved, because I finally knew what was making my life so difficult.
I was so unwell and afraid of the voices that I was self-harming every day, believing that I was punishing myself to keep my family safe. I would burn myself, starve myself, cutting, and harming myself – anything I could do. I remember being so afraid I’d forget my family in there; I would look through videos and photos and start crying, trying to remember every detail of them.
A few months on, the doctors decided it was in my best interest to be injected with haloperidol – an antipsychotic medication. At first this felt like the end of the world, because I didn’t think I was ill. But a few weeks on, I started feeling more like myself again, and I stopped starving myself.
A few weeks after that, the voices had got a lot weaker. I didn’t believe what they were saying anymore, and I realised my family was still there and OK. I got in touch with them just after Christmas, and they came to visit me straight away. Although I was still scared, as soon as I realised it was them, I felt so much happiness. But I also felt guilt, as I realised it had been them all along, and not the goblins the voices told me they were.
I continued to have the injections, and continued to improve. When I was put on other medications, I then took them all willingly, because I finally knew that I needed them.
I now take various medications, and am in a much better place, starting to feel positive and much better about life. It’s like I have a spring in my step again.
However, it’s not been a straightforward journey. I have spent a lot of time in Wedgwood, with the longest admission being around seven months, but there’s also been a lot of one to two week admissions. Now, I go to a care farm twice a week, and have met some amazing people. It’s a place I can go to get away and get me out of the house, where you can socialise, but also get out in nature and help care for the animals. We also get to play games together, and the staff are all amazing. I’ve made some really good friends there, too.
From my own experience, I’ve learnt the value of having things to reassure you, calm you, and make you feel better when you’re in crisis. This has inspired me to make what I call ‘fighting together boxes’, which are full of little things to help people in crisis. They include everything from suicide helpline numbers, to sweets, colouring pages and crayons, a book to write how they’re feeling in, and another with helpful quotes. I also include elastic bands, bath bombs to help relax people, and my Facebook details, so that people can get in touch with me if they feel alone.
When putting together the boxes, I thought about lots of bits that would have helped me to feel less alone. Now, I want to help someone else. While my voices tell me I’m a bad person, I want to prove them wrong. I want to take my family on holiday, to be there for other people, and to help someone fighting mental illness to feel less alone. That is the point of my fighting together boxes; my hope is that if they can help just one person, I’ll have achieved my goal.
A final little note from me: stay strong. Keep going. You can do this!
Graeme Orr | MBACP (Accred) UKRCP, Reg Ind counsellor says:
Jamie-Leigh had a difficult journey, with the voices of her illness distorting her world, and isolating her from her family and support. Although hospital admission helped by bringing a diagnosis and treatment, as with many people, it is difficult to accept the illness, particularly while fighting the voices. Yet, with the right medication, Jamie-Leigh reconnects with her family and health, and discovers ways to help herself and others.