I Spent Christmas In A Mental Hospital

by Jennifer Marshall
Originally Published: 

Last week my baby girl turned four. Her long, ultra-fine blond locks hadn’t been trimmed professionally yet, and a new “Sweet and Sassy” beauty salon had recently opened nearby. So she opted for an experience over a present from Mommy and Daddy and on her birthday I took her for the princess haircut and updo, complete with sparkle hairspray and glitter heart tattoo to finish off the royal treatment.

She loved every minute of it.

Almost as much as the special-request “Pink and Purple Elsa Heart party,” similar, yet slightly different than every other little girl birthday party we attended this year. Grandma came through with a beautiful homemade birthday cake in the shape of a heart with purple and pink pastel icing and Elsa and Anna candles on top.

One day I’ll explain to her why Mommy gets choked up when we play Demi Lovato’s version of Let It Go from the ipad.

It’s all so close to real life for me.


Nine years ago I spent Christmas in a mental hospital.

At 26, mental illness struck me without a warning, and it left my entire family with an excruciating sense of helplessness and an overwhelming fear for my future.

What would happen to my marriage? Would I be able to go back to work? Would I ever have a normal life again?

We all hid behind a veil of secrecy, speaking in whispers even when it was just us at home. As if we couldn’t let the outside world find out. That something bad might happen if they knew I had Bipolar disorder. The shame penetrated my bones. Made me muffle my sobs with my pillow at night.

Why me?

Life became an unbearable burden. I didn’t know how I was ever going to pick up the pieces of my shattered life and move forward. How could I live with this illness, this secret? I wanted to give up because it would be less painful that way.

I lived the “conceal, don’t feel” mantra with friends and extended family. I was terrified of being different, being labled, being judged.

Yet no matter how much I tried to censor my side of conversations, there was something deep inside of me urging me to share my trauma. Something told me that releasing the repressed emotional anguish would be therapeutic. It’s hard to be whole and keep a secret. So I stopped hiding. I let it go. I shared my story with my friends and with the world on my blog.

That was when everything changed.


Not every winter holiday season will be magical and glittering and full of joy. Some may pass without any celebration because instead you’re in a mental hospital. And when the shock of it all is over, and medicine leads to recovery, we can breathe a sigh of relief and take the first step towards true healing by letting it go. Christmas will never be the same for me because I’m not the same person who entered that hospital.

If I’ve learned anything from living these past nine years with bipolar disorder, I’ve learned that no one is perfect. We all have our struggles, our guarded secrets. But ever since sharing the story of my illness almost two years ago, I’ve seen my relationships grow to depths I didn’t know were possible. I have richer, more meaningful relationships with the important people in my life, and have developed many new friendships as a result of being able to talk about the tough stuff I’ve overcome.

When we reveal our scars and imperfections, we set ourselves free. The door to our hurting hearts can only be unlocked from the inside. As hard as it is to pick up the key and turn it in the lock, the result will be worth the effort.

This month it’s my prayer that if you’re going through darkness amid the glittery lights of the holidays, know that it’s okay and you can find your way back to the light. Remember to not let yourself be held prisoner by your secrets. Know that help is out there and when we open ourselves up to others and let go of the shame, we’re able to allow love to flow in and heal.

Related post: The Cloud of Depression

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