What I Learned After Spending Christmas in a Psych Ward

What I Learned After Spending Christmas in a Psych Ward

This holiday season, while many will be celebrating with cocktails and carols, parties and presents, some might find themselves in the same place I was nine years ago on Christmas Day: a psych ward. If it happens to you, or maybe you’re reading this and you know someone who may go through a similar scenario this year, here are some things to remember.


Don’t blame yourself.

Things happen which are beyond our control. Pointing the finger at yourself only makes the initial stage of recovery more challenging. Instead, point your finger three months down the road and remind yourself that it takes time to heal from a psychiatric trauma, and that is just what you intend to do.


It will get better.

A new year is a new start. Be sure to carve out at least a tiny chunk of time each day just for you to do something you enjoy. Go to a yoga class, meet a friend for coffee, or read a book in bed. You are important and it’s okay to remind yourself that you need attention too. Always putting the needs of others before your own and ignoring self-care can be detrimental to your mental health.

You’re not the only person this has happened to, even though it may feel this way at the time. Sometimes a stint in a psych ward is just the prescription we need to reset our recovery.


Go easy on yourself.

The transition back to “normal” life will be hard. Take lots of warm baths, soaking in the luxury not afforded in the psych ward. Read books that nourish your soul. Write in your journal until you begin to understand your journey. Someday you may want to share it so that others don’t feel so alone.


It’s going to be okay.

The first Christmas after {aka the first post-hospitalization anniversary} will be the toughest. All the feelings will come back. Don’t push them away, because that’ll only prolong the experience. Just let them come. There will probably be tears. There will definitely be sadness for the Christmas that wasn’t. But try not to dwell on what was lost, and focus instead on what was gained. Do your best to pull out the camera and take some pictures. Chances are, you don’t have many, if any, from the year before.


Know that this doesn’t define you.

If anything, the experience has made you stronger, more compassionate, and maybe it has paved the way for you to find your voice as an advocate. The truth about living with a mental illness is that once you’re diagnosed, it’s yours to live with for the rest of your life. It’s yours to manage, to curse, to medicate, and in time, it’s yours to appreciate.

There is no erasing a mental health condition. Therein lies both the beauty and the beast. The beast launches us up to heights we never thought possible, then hurls us crashing to the ground with a flick of his wrist and an, “I told you so, sucka.” But the beauty lifts us up and helps us lick our wounds, teaching us we are more than our diagnosis and we have important work to do.


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  1. For almost 2 years, I kept a post it note on my desk that said, “this is just a phase. Dont let it define you.” It was from our child care provider and she said those words to me over and over. I eventually gave that sticky note away to a coworker going through a messy divorce.

    Powerful words you share. They really hit home for me today. Thank you.

  2. Hi, I spent 3 mos this year in one for the first time in my
    Life. I tried committing suicide. I was a home school mom for 28 yes and left my husband 5 yes ago for abuse. I have 7 children and 5 grands. My kids won’t talk to me and I’m alone with no friends, and no where to go. I live at my mom’s and there is so much drama. I help take care of my sisters 2 1|/2 yr old which is overly hyperactive.and not disciplined and her 16 yr old Aspergers nephew. I am so depressed and feel like ending it all, and I have Fibromyalgia. So I don’t mean to be negative I hate feeling like I’m drowning. I did have my meds tweeked this week and trying to get better for me. Please say a prayer for me!!!

  3. Peggy Thompson says:

    For us it was Christmas 1999. You have stirred so many memories, Jennifer, many not so good but many more encouraging thoughts especially Where we are today. Thanx again for your open and honest sharing and for allowing yourself to be vulnerable in order to help others often times it is a lonely and scary journey, whether you are the consumer or the caregiver as I have been. May God continue to keep you healthy and may He always bless your work.

  4. Sweet jennifer, yet another poignant article. it evokes so many memories, both difficult and liberating. this journey has been traumatic and freeing…as now i’ve adopted the oh well, you don’t get me, or care properly for me, that’s ok, god bless you but i am moving on! for me that was a HUge lesson…and important in order to take care of myself adequately so that i can take care of my loved ones. thank you for giving me the courage to be better, to accept and appreciate the illness…i love your stand..that we are more than our diagnosis…it took me some time to get there but i truly believe that now. may you be blessed with all you need and lavished for all you do. xo

  5. Oppps forgot to add….Merry Christmas and wishing you a loving new year!

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