People are often surprised when Lisa Bails Froyd tells them she has a mental health disorder.

“They’ll say, ‘But you’re an RN!’” said Froyd. “We’re out there like anyone else. We have the same struggles as anyone else.”

Diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Froyd is a registered nurse with Southwestern Pennsylvania Human Services who draws on her experience to assist clients.

“I tell people not to be fearful of mental illness. It gives us an ability to see things differently,” she said.

Froyd, 47, is a 1987 graduate of Canon-McMillan High School. After earning an associate’s degree in criminal justice from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Punxsutawney, she transferred to the main campus to work on a bachelor’s degree.

The summer of 1990, Froyd lived in Ocean City, Md., where she worked on the boardwalk. There, she started a relationship with a man. At the end of the season, he told her he was moving back to Indiana with her. They moved into an isolated mobile home in the woods.

“I thought it was because he wanted more time with me,” she said. “It was so he could torment me.”

Froyd said the relationship was abusive – physically, mentally and sexually.

The stress of the relationship left her unable to eat. A swimmer, Froyd’s athletic frame started to shrink.

In March 1991, with the encouragement of friends, Froyd packed her things, left the home and went to campus.

“I wanted to leave, but I didn’t have a plan. He came to find me. I should have gone somewhere he couldn’t find me,” she said. “He talked me into going back with him.”

When they parked in the driveway of the mobile home, he took the keys and told Froyd to come into the house. Froyd locked herself in the car and wouldn’t get out.

“He went in and came back out with a sawed-off shotgun,” she said. “He said, “If you don’t get out of the car, I’m going to shoot you.’”

Froyd doesn’t remember how she got out of the car. At that point, she said, “I spiraled.”

“I call it going down the rabbit hole,” said Froyd.

At some point, Froyd’s mother called and Froyd told her to call the police if she didn’t hear from her again.

“He let me leave,” she said. “It turns out – I found out later – he was on parole. He wasn’t allowed to leave Maryland.”

Froyd returned to campus, but the incident haunted her. She felt unsafe.

For the first time in her life, she experienced delusions. She started fanatically preaching the Bible. Concerned by her behavior, friends took her to the former Braddock hospital in Pittsburgh. She was transferred to the psychiatric unit at Washington Hospital, where she stayed for more than two months.

The psychiatrist diagnosed her with schizophrenia, citing her age, the traumatic event and the delusions. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), symptoms of schizophrenia usually start between ages 16 and 30 and can include hallucinations, unusual ways of thinking, difficulty finding pleasure in everyday life and difficulty understanding information.

Froyd was put on a regimen of medications and discharged to her parents. While family and friends were supportive, Froyd said she was told to act like the incident never happened and to move on with her life.

“There’s a stigma,” she said. “Who wants to have a mental illness? No one.”

For years, she went off and on the medication. But Froyd questioned her diagnosis. She said she didn’t have hallucinations, even when she stopped taking her medication.

In 2002, Froyd started nursing school. It wasn’t a goal of hers to become a nurse, but she accompanied a friend who was taking the test for support. She got in.

Though the bells and alarms of the hospital environment made her nervous, Froyd made it through the first year. The second year, though, was increasingly difficult. The stress of school plus her father’s recent stroke led Froyd to withdraw from classes in spring 2003 and a second hospitalization.

“I felt very down. I went from being a caregiver to a patient,” she said.

At that time, her doctor altered her diagnosis from schizophrenia to bipolar disorder. He changed her medications, and she continued to take them for 13 years.

At first, Froyd said she let the diagnosis stand in the way of her life.

“I owned the label,” she said. “I would think, ‘I can’t do this because I have bipolar. I can’t go back to school and finish my degree, I can’t travel. It’s too risky. What if I get sick?’”

Froyd pushed herself to accomplish goals. She finished nursing school and passed her state boards. She reconnected with a former Canon-McMillan classmate and married him in 2013. In 2015, she started working for Southwestern Pennsylvania Human Services.

The events of Nov. 10, 2016, though, disrupted Froyd’s recovery.

When Dalia Sabae and police officer Scott Bashioum were killed by Sabae’s husband, Froyd felt the same horror as her Canonsburg neighbors. But for Froyd, the incident took her back to the abuse she experienced 26 years before.

“It hit a little too close to home,” said Froyd.

Froyd’s first husband is a police officer. Though they divorced in 1998, Froyd continues to feel a camaraderie with the department and their families. The murders made her feel unsafe and relive the abuse of her past. Because fall is always a difficult time of year for her, Froyd waited for the Christmas season to improve her mood, as it usually does. But as the year dragged on, Froyd didn’t improve. She felt worse.

“At work, I had suicidal thoughts. I didn’t have a plan, but I thought, ‘I could just drive the van over the hillside,’” she said.

Froyd returned to work, but a supervisor noticed something was going on. While they were talking, Froyd told her about the suicidal thoughts. Her supervisor told her she had to address it immediately and gave her options.

Froyd took two months off under the Family and Medical Leave Act. She found a therapist and a psychiatrist and started a new regimen of medication.

“It’s like diabetes. It doesn’t go away. You could die from it if you don’t take care of it,” she said of mental illness. “I first had to admit that I had a problem. Second, I had to find the right medications, and, third, I had to work on the other things, like therapy. Medication alone is not enough.”

Froyd returned to work in February and remains involved with the local chapter of NAMI and the Mental Health Association of Washington County. In addition to music and exercise, she said forming relationships with others who have mental health issues is beneficial.

“I had to realize it’s just a small part of me and let go of the stigma,” she said. “I have the potential to do more.”

For information on the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health Association of Washington County, visit www.namiswpa.org.

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