From a mental institution to helping others


ST. PETERSBURG –Swiyyah Nadirah Woodard has spent a lifetime trying to overcome one struggle after another. But with friends, family and modern medicine on her side, she has made miraculous breakthroughs and is embarking on a life full of positivity and success.

Her beginnings are recognizable to those familiar with tragedy. When Woodard was just three years old her father walked out, leaving her mom to raise both her and her siblings. At the age of five, she was molested by her brother, and later physically abused by her mother’s new husband.

“The abuse was so severe that God blocked it from my memory,” explained Woodard who has spent a lifetime coming to terms with it.

Unfortunately Woodard’s trouble didn’t stop there. In school she recalled being bullied, mostly because of her slurred speech, and retreated into herself. At eight she wanted to kill herself. Her only saving grace was that she couldn’t find any medication laying around the house to take.

Her world was yet to fall apart completely. While in his early 20s, the brother that molested her committed suicide, further tearing apart her life and that of her family.

Encouraged by her mother to open a new chapter in her life, she attended college earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

“I had no idea of the trauma that was to unfold,” said Woodard to the group of listeners at the James Weldon Johnson Library, eager to grab hold of her new book entitled, “Don’t Call Me Crazy Again,” a sequel to her 2007 debut “Don’t Call Me Crazy,” which is required reading at St. Petersburg College and some high schools in courses dealing with mental health.

The trauma she was referring to was her being diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. At 28, her life was turned upside down.  Woodard had just started her second job working in a mental health facility: “This was the start of my downward spiral,” she said.

Her symptoms were quite extreme. First she started seeing faces everywhere. “There were faces in the walls, in the rugs, in the sheets,” said Woodard. Migraine headaches came next followed by racing thoughts, hallucinations and delusions.

She was hospitalized countless times, prescribed medication to control her symptoms, medication she refused to take.

“I didn’t believe it,” she said. Woodard remembers studying Abnormal Psychology in class and her picture of someone with schizophrenia seemed the opposite of herself.

She never had disciplinary problems in school and she made decent grades, so she didn’t consider herself ill. It wasn’t until after her sixth hospitalization that she realized she was in trouble. Cocaine was found in her system and she couldn’t remember how it had gotten there, her lungs collapsed twice.

“My sister took a picture of me at my worst, that’s when I knew I needed help,” said Woodard.

For the past eight years Woodard has kept herself out of a relapse by faithfully taking her medication and practicing positivity. She immediately started writing, to get it all out and because she wanted people who are struggling with mental illness or those caring for them to know they aren’t alone.

“Sharing a story helps to end the stigma,” Woodard said to her audience encouraging them to share their own experiences with mental illness.

At 39, Woodard is now a motivational speaker who hopes her life’s ordeal will inspire people to go after their dreams regardless of their disability or lot in life.

“I believe through God any dream is possible, and I’m living proof,” she said.

Woodard encourages others to find what they love to do for free, get better at it even if it takes years to perfect their skills and create a business doing what they love. “You have to take baby steps,” she said. “You can’t be fooled by the get rich quick schemes.”

Over the years Woodard has worked to become a better person; she strives to handle her interactions with others better, to love a little harder. In addition, she writes a lot of to-do-lists and spends time visualizing her success. Something she said everyone should do regardless of whether they have a mental illness or not.

“I see a lot of talented people who will go hard for two years and if they don’t see the results they’re expecting, they quit,” said Woodard. She feels if you don’t lose faith and stick with what you love, eventually your dreams will take off and lead to success. “You want to keep going.”

Woodard wrapped up her motivational talk with food and drink and the opportunity for others to buy her books. But above, all her wish for the event was not to sell a bunch of books, but to provide others with tangible information if dealing with a mental health issue, and to know all is not lost.

“Counselors said I was crazy, I’d never be successful and I should be stuck in a mental institution for the rest of my life,” finished Woodard. “Well I proved them wrong.”

If you think you or someone you love may have a mental illness, Woodard suggests getting help from somewhere. Talking to others can help unburden the soul and lead to positivity that will essentially transform life.

To find out more about Woodard and how to purchase her books, log onto

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