The Phoenix Project: What I Learned in the Psych Ward
Today’s interview is with one of my good friends, Elizabeth Frawley. She opens up about her experience staying in a psychiatric ward and taking medication, facing stigmas surrounding mental health, and her advice for coping with and recovering from anxiety and depression.
When did you begin struggling with anxiety and depression?
I began struggling with depression and anxiety in 2011, right after my dad died. I was 14 years old.
What are some of the stigmas you have faced regarding mental illness, and how have you dealt with them?
I’m often told that I don’t need medication for my mental illness, that I don’t pray hard enough, exercise enough or am grateful enough for the “good” life I was given. I was often called crazy for having to be admitted into the psychiatric ward. When I first heard those comments, I was deeply hurt. I couldn’t understand why someone would make those assumptions about an illness they don’t understand or even a person they don’t know. Those comments used to play around in my head a lot. It wasn’t until I was in therapy that I realized that those comments are not true. I just realized that some people are ignorant to the subject of mental illness and learned not to take those comments to heart.
Can you talk a little more about your experience in the psych ward? Many people have misconceptions surrounding what it is like and that people who go there are “crazy.” What was your experience overall?
When I was first being transported to the floor, I was terrified. I didn’t know what type of people I was going to encounter. Whenever you think of a psych ward, you think of a looney bin which is a common misconception. The staff was extremely friendly and always cheering you on. The other patients became my own little family. We all shared things in common and the one major thing being having a mental illness. It was really eye opening to see the different types of mental illnesses other than just depression and anxiety. We had group sessions three times a day, which helped a lot more than I thought it would. We also had craft time, which I loved. Overall, that time in my life is what saved me from ending it all. If the experience was anything different than what I had actually experienced, I don’t think I would be here today.
Many people have the misconception that recovery is a “once and done” process. What has your recovery journey looked like?
When I was first diagnosed in 2011, I went through years of trying to find the right medication. Those years were extremely rough on me mentally and emotionally. In 2015, I was prescribed Zoloft and Xanax which lead me to being suicidal. I was admitted to the psychiatric ward for a week. I was placed on medication, that I still take today, and I thought that that was it. That wasn’t the case. It wasn’t until two years later that I sought out therapy because I could no longer hold all of my thoughts inside of me. I went through over a year of extensive therapy, which is what I needed all along. Recovery is not a “once and done” process. When you are the person recovering, you pray that it will be that way, but there are so many mountains to overcome. That’s the thing about mental illness; sometimes it never goes away, and you never stop fighting. You’re constantly recovering from the fight inside of your head.
What has been your motivation to fight to stay, to rise, even on the bad days?
My family has to be my number one motivation hands down. When I was in the emergency room before being admitted to the psychiatric ward, my mom was begging me to not hurt myself. She kept saying she couldn’t bare to lose another person. It was then I realized that I couldn’t hurt my mother or my brother in such a way. They had already lost my father and I couldn’t let them lose me. They are my reason to stay and my reason to fight.
What are ways that you have learned to cope with your anxiety/depression?
I’ve had to learn that sometimes things aren’t in my control, which has been hard to deal with for the past seven years. But one thing that has always been a constant in my recovery and coping process has been music. Music is my escape from what’s going on in my head and has helped me through my entire recovery journey.
What is something you would like to say to someone struggling with anxiety and depression?
1.When you start to notice yourself having symptoms of either anxiety or depression, don’t wait to get help. The sooner you get help, the sooner you will be able to control it.
2. If you are on medication, do NOT stop your medication if you start “feeling” better. I have done this so many times throughout the past seven years and it has only lead to my downfalls. So please, don’t take yourself off of your medication. Only do so if your doctor tells you to.
3. Don’t be ashamed to have a mental illness. Don’t listen to those cruel words people say about those who struggle. You have to realize they are ignorant to the subject and maybe even try to enlighten them about it.
4. Continue to fight even when it seems impossible. Continue because your story isn’t over. Continue because this world doesn’t deserve to be without you.