Bisexual actor Evan Rachel Wood has opened up about her experience at a mental hospital.
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Writing for Nylon, Wood recalls an experience she had at age 22, when she voluntarily checked herself into a mental hospital.
‘I have absolutely no shame about it,’ she says. ‘Looking back, it was the worst, best thing that ever happened to me.’
After a suicide attempt, Wood called her mother and asked to be taken to the hospital.
‘I hadn’t eaten or slept in three days. I felt like if you’d dropped me I would shatter,’ she writes. ‘I felt like nothing. But not in a way of despair like the night before. Instead, it was like I was a newborn who could barely open their eyes yet.’
‘The beautiful thing about being at the bottom is there is nowhere to go but up. I wasn’t supposed to be alive, so nothing I did at that point mattered. I had already proven to myself nothing mattered. So, I may as well surrender. I had to be vulnerable and give up some control. I had to put my shame and my pride aside. What did I have to lose?’
Asking for help
‘For the first time in my entire life, I asked for help. I admitted I could not go on without someone intervening, to pick me up off the floor. I had collapsed under the stress and pressure of being alive. My white flag was up. But dying didn’t work. Now, I must tell you, I don’t recommend having a near-death experience, at all, but I can tell you that many people who do come back end up with a very different perspective on life.’
On the way to the hospital, Wood and her mom stopped at a food truck. Her mom asked her why she had tried to kill herself.
‘I just wanted some peace,’ Wood replied.
‘And that was true. My mind was not a peaceful place. My mind at the time was filled with scars and shadows and, most importantly, so much shame. I was struggling with PTSD and didn’t know it. PTSD is considered a mental illness; it can be caused by a number of things and is not limited to brave service people. My PTSD was caused by multiple rapes and a severely abusive relationship that went on for years.’
‘I had struggled with anxiety and panic attacks during the course of my life, but this was a whole other level of fear. I heard my name in my ear while I slept, which would jolt me awake. In my hazy stupor, I would see shadows, figures of people in my room. I would scream and they would dissipate. I was afraid to be alone, but I also couldn’t be around people. I could barely leave my own house. I was too afraid to go outside. I couldn’t sleep because every little noise was deafening. I was defensive, I was impulsive, and I had no healthy coping mechanisms yet. I lost friends. I lost job opportunities.’
Mental Health in the Public Eye
‘I have the great privilege and terrible burden of being in the public eye,’ Wood states. ‘So getting help for a mental illness is not something I can broadcast because people are quick to jump on a dying animal and rip it apart, especially when that dying animal is a child actor having a breakdown.’
‘My character had already been dragged through the mud quite a bit in the press, and the main consensus was: “She’s crazy.” I had really started to believe this. Most of the time we don’t see a person with a problem, we see someone we can tear down to make ourselves feel superior.’
‘But I wasn’t crazy, and I didn’t need to be kicked while I was down—I needed help. I needed understanding. I needed to feel unconditional love. I needed to not be judged. Unfortunately, most of these things are impossible if word gets out you have a mental illness and you are a public figure. So when it came time to find a psychiatric hospital, my first concern—which most people won’t have to worry about—was figuring out a way to get help without anyone finding out about it, because if they did, any chance I had at rebuilding myself would be severely impaired by the cruelty of strangers.’
Mental Healthcare for All
While Wood acknowledges her privilege as a well-off person in the public eye, she believes that mental healthcare should not only be accessible to the rich.
‘Mental health shouldn’t be a luxury for the rich. It felt like I barely made it in by the skin of my teeth—and I am privileged. Imagine how hard it is with no health insurance or money or resources?’
It took Wood a little while to get acquainted with the place. ‘I didn’t know what to expect,’ she writes. ‘All I had seen of psychiatric hospitals was Girl Interrupted and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I had no idea what I was walking into.’
But ultimately, Wood discovered that those films did not portray an accurate account of psychiatric hospitals. She found a great deal of support at the hospital and still continues therapy to this day.
The Road to Recovery
‘I had felt worthless, and like the world was better off without me,’ she remembers. ‘But it turned out I had helped myself in a way I never thought was possible. I gave to someone who then gave back to me. And for the first time in years, I felt like maybe things did happen for a reason. Maybe there was a reason why my attempt didn’t work. Maybe I was supposed to be here.’
‘Sometimes I feel like a version of me did die that night, but a new me was born. Now my life is in a place I could have only dreamed of because I committed to do the work and I continue that work every day of my life in every step I take.’
‘I have continued my therapy. Eventually, I weaned myself off of medication. Because I felt like, once I was on my feet, I didn’t like the way it made me feel, or how it made me not feel. It got me where I needed to be, and now I am able to cope on my own. This is not true for everyone, but it is not something to be ashamed of. Everyone is different and needs different things.’
Destigmatizing Mental Illness
‘I am not always perfect, I am not always at my best, I still struggle with my PTSD, but I know that I will get through it. I have better tools now to get through what seem like the impossible times, and most importantly, I know my worth.’
‘There is no economic class, race, sexuality, or gender that is safe from their own mind. We know success doesn’t cure depression, we know that people telling you they love you doesn’t cure depression, we know that just thinking positively doesn’t cure depression. Depression isn’t weakness, it’s a sickness. Sometimes a deadly one. And sometimes all people need is to know that they are loved and that others are there for them. They may not take your hand right away, but knowing it’s there could save their life one day.’