Sunday, June 2, 2019

Help without Hope

Doctors have the gift of healing. They can perform miracles and restore wellness when they believe in their work. If an individual needed surgery and had access to a surgeon this would be a great act of God. The surgery would treat the individual and restore good health. However, when the surgeon does not believe in the fruit of their works this poses a threat to recovery. Therefore, why would a surgeon perform the task, skill, and responsibility of medicine if they do not believe in their work?

I heard families and peers recall poor experiences with doctors and other healthcare professionals. These poor experiences are common. They may state that my peer can never work again, can never live independently, and cannot do what they used to do. A lot of healthcare professionals do not offer hope for recovery. Instead some healthcare professionals reinforce stigma, and doubt with lack of expectations for life after diagnosis. Some do not say anything at all, and leave us without awareness, direction, nor any sense of hope. Ironically, some healthcare professionals provide mental health treatment without hope for my peer's recovery, and livelihood. Thus, this poor prognosis kills hope for peers, caregivers, and families.

Finally, I aim to reassure you recovery is possible. My recovery is evidence that there is hope. My recovery is evidence that with hope we can overcome, and persevere the highs and lows of symptoms of mental illness. Peers, we can live a productive, and quality life despite mental illness. My experience is the evidence among other recovery stories.

Therefore, whenever a healthcare professional, or anybody, tells you what you can and cannot do with your life remind them that you are an individual, recovery is possible, and that you will strive to meet goals no matter what. Help without hope is a dead work. 

However, these things will last forever: faith, hope, and love (1 Corinthians 13:13). Hope gives me a fulfilling life. Hope can do the same for you. I urge you to hold on to faith, hope, and love, because recovery is possible. Also, cherish those healthcare professionals who do believe in their work and recovery, because together we can overcome mental illness.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Pro-Choice for Stability

Catatonic. Delusional. Psychotic. These are a few symptoms of schizophrenia, which I suffered, lived in, and endured through medication. 

Catatonic was a place of immobility, distance, and lack of awareness. I experienced catatonia during my first breakdown at age 20. My breakdown led to my incarceration and hospitalization. My catatonic state of mind left me frozen, vulnerable, and lost. While I was catatonic time did not exist. I did not hold concerns related to hygiene, socialization, nor consequence. A jail nurse, Erwin, expressed my condition, in order, to persuade me into taking medication.

Erwin said, “We had to drag you in your chair from the day room back to your cell, because you would not move... We rushed you to the emergency room three times to stick an IV in you, because you stopped eating and drinking... Please stop ignoring me... Would you take your medicine?”

I did not move for hours, and maybe even for days. Doctors and nurses visited regularly. I do not know how long I was catatonic. However, I remember their concern, frustration, and urgency to get me well again. Yet, I was stuck due to schizophrenia at its worst.

Delusions and psychosis went hand-in-hand. I experienced these symptoms simultaneously. I had a breakdown at age 20 and 31. Delusions are false beliefs such believing I was Jesus Christ, or that others spied on me. Psychosis is lack of ability to distinguish reality. For example, I believed I was involved in part of a movie scene, and training scenario, and I could not distinguish reality.

My experience of catatonia, delusions, and psychosis were coupled with mania, which is excessively high energy. I had grandiose beliefs that I was a reality television celebrity and everybody knew who I was. Finally, the most common characteristics of schizophrenia includes the voices and paranoia.

Now imagine a pregnant woman experiencing a breakdown with these symptoms. These symptoms would make anybody vulnerable and at-risk of significantly dangerous situations and consequences.

Fortunately, medication among holistic treatment options counteract the severity of symptoms of schizophrenia at its worst. Treatment helps maintain stability and a quality life. I am on medication because it works for me. I know people who engage in alternative treatment such as diverse types of therapy; cognitive behavioral therapy, dialetical behavioral therapy (DBT), electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), music therapy, art therapy, pet therapy, and several different treatment options.

I rely on traditional treatment, and therapy along with different coping strategies. I am grateful to have access to medication that fits my needs and controls my illness. I have been in recovery for over 12 years. I have a seven-year-old child and manage well. Schizophrenia is a difficult health challenge, however, with a treatment team, information, support, and access to care this illness is manageable.

Now I am 32 years old. I have come a long way. Early on in recovery I did not know enough about my condition. Stigma by society, and even healthcare professionals, hid pertinent information. Recovery is possible. There are medications that are safer for pregnancy. Due to lack of education about my condition and medication options I chose not to have my first child. A lot of medications used to treat symptoms of mental illness can have irreversible developmental effects on the unborn child. Without the input of a specialist nor medication options to treat my condition while pregnant I chose to have an abortion, in order, to avoid miscarriage or potential birth defects.

Although there are treatments that help individuals manage schizophrenia they may not work for everybody. Effective medications aim to treat the illness first. There are several medications that are deadly and may cause miscarriage or detrimental birth defects. Still, medication options vary depending on individual needs.

I am pro-choice because I had the right to choose, and peers should have options too. My doctor and I discussed medication options for my pregnancy. Over the years my medication demanded adjustment. I was fortunate to have a doctor that believes in recovery, and explored medication options with me. I do not believe abortion should be used as birth control. Abortion should be an option to all women especially for peers in recovery that have limited treatment options in that their medication cannot tolerate a safe pregnancy. Schizophrenia is a serious medical condition, and if a woman needs to stay on medication to maintain stability I support her decision. I am pro-choice for the safety, and stability of peers in recovery, and for every woman to have the choice.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Break through the Illness Web: Redefine Recovery

Ashley Smith, NAMI Georgia Member,
Panelist at Emory University,
"Living With A Mental Health Condition Panel" - April 8, 2019
Living with mental illness is not an option, however, recovery is. What is recovery?! In the beginning, I did not understand my diagnosis, nor how recovery looks. In fact, I borrowed a vision of recovery from others. My enthusiastic state hospital doctor in California told me I could return to school, which I did. My mother told me she could see me sharing with others how I made it through with schizophrenia, and I started blogging anonymously, in 2008. 

Moreover, another pivotal influence, which shapes my optimism and outlook on living with schizophrenia was seeing another individual with my diagnosis facilitate a WRAP course. Mary Ellen Copeland’s Wellness Recovery Action Plan, or WRAP, guides peers in recovery on how to manage, plan, and overcome crisis, and relapse. Participating in this person’s class inspired me to become a certified peer specialist (CPS). A CPS is a peer who supports peers in recovery by sharing one's story of resiliency.

To me breaking through the illness web is overcoming poor societal views, redefining recovery, and creating a new perception of self, and recovery. After 12 years of different phases, changes, and experience of life, and recovery, I realize recovery is striving to maintain a good place. In other words, breaking through the illness web is changing perspectives on recovery, and also dis-spelling self-stigma. Over the course of recovery my understanding of it continues to expand. 

My understanding of recovery was 1) to restore, 2) to maintain medication compliance, and 3) to stay out of the hospital, over the course of my experience. These definitions of recovery were phases in my own life with the diagnosis. Although the definition of recovery is to restore, a peer brought to my attention that the goal should not be 'to restore,' instead to improve! While I take medication to help manage my condition it was not effective. I was on medication prior to my breakdown, and hospitalization last year [2018]. Recovery cannot be based on staying out of the hospital. In fact, last year’s hospitalization ignited another phase in my recovery; growth, and a better understanding of my wellness goals. 

Now recovery to me is to keep trying to stay in a good place! However, the true definition of recovery is unique. In fact, my definition of recovery may change, but for the moment it helps me to break through the illness web. 

To learn more about the certified peer specialist (CPS) position visit the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network (GMHCN).

Friday, March 8, 2019

The Role of the Therapist

The therapist upholds much in my relationship with recovery, which is a lifestyle. My therapist helps in diverse ways such as holding me accountable to my treatment plan, routine to maintain wellness, and self-commitments, or personal obligations. My therapist helps me combat self-stigma, encourages balance and routine as well as focus on wellness. In short, my therapist plays a significant role in my treatment team that consists of my psychiatric doctor, nurse, myself, and them, the therapist.

Whenever I have unanswered questions I take concerns to my therapist. My therapist finds resolutions pertaining to unanswered questions with my doctor, and general demands at the mental health center altogether. For example, when I had concerns paying for medication my therapist made a referral to the nurse to manage my needs. Also, my therapist can assist in scheduling appointments with the doctor whenever there is an emergency. Overall, the therapist plays a vital role in helping me stay accountable to treatment, keep distance from self-stigma, and to stay focused on a holistic outlook.

I appreciate sessions with my therapist, because they are resourceful, give straightforward input, and practice consistency. Holding onto negativity is easy. Therefore, being conscious of self-stigma is important to managing recovery. Limiting myself according to lack of awareness, and stereotypes of society weighs me down. I prefer to stay focused on my strengths, which my therapist helps reinforce in therapy, and to not let widespread fears dictate my outlook. I stay above self-stigma by reflecting my accomplishments, relationships with peers, and my faith in God. Moreover, my therapist reminds me of my many options to continue moving forward.

Part of my accountability to fulfilling demands of treatment is to manage a mood journal. My mood journal helps depict causes, and effects, of moods based on daily events, which I rate on a widespread color-based scale. My better days are the result of accomplishing my things to do list. While not-so-good days are typically plagued with unpredictable stress. Fortunately, my therapist and I review my mood journal, and corresponding events to determine triggers and warning signs leading up to my poorer days.

My holistic recipe includes my spirituality, support system, and personal responsibilities. In general, I aim to give God His time by praying, reading scriptures, and listening to uplifting music that focuses on Him. I feel more at peace whenever I worship and mediate regularly. I keep a handful of persons in my circle because they are my confidants, which requires trustworthiness. My personal responsibilities give way to making treatment a priority. My personal obligations are my livelihood; my son, our home, and self-care routine to balance life better. Therapy not only helps me manage my mood but also reinforces my self-commitments to enjoy recovery and life more.

Finally, my therapist holds many roles, which holds me accountable. My therapist gives me assignment to reflect on symptoms and such by recording a mood journal. My therapist reminds me of my strength that way I do not fall victim to self-stigma. Lastly, my therapist encourages holistic approaches that builds my wellness, and recovery based on my support system, spirituality, and routine for my personal livelihood.

To engage in a greater understanding of therapist and therapy for you click on the link:

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Peer-to-Peer Advice

When I was diagnosed with schizophrenia 12 years ago my doctor gave me two pieces of information: (1) take your medication, and (2) manage your stress. Since then I manage my household, part-time job, and family obligations to my child. Still, I underestimated the importance of stress management. I was hospitalized last year due to what seemed like a decade of stressors. These stresses included financial hardship, the anniversary of my mother's passing, and birthday, the breakdown of important relationships to my support system, and lack of awareness of my triggers, and warning signs.

In short, triggers and warning signs are similar but different like a stop sign versus a yield sign on the road. Triggers are events or experiences that create negative consequences either emotionally, physically, socially, and legally. For example, a trigger may be going to a place that reminds one of a poor experience, and thus creates tension, stress, and dread, which leads to irritability and poor communication with others. A warning sign is similar, but it happens before a trigger settles. Warning signs are signs that lets an individual know they are not feeling well and require attention before symptoms and experience worsens. Fortunately, examining experiences helps one determine how to manage these triggers and warning signs better in the future.

I gained more wisdom from my hospital stay. I learned how to maintain a good place. While hospitalized I practiced a few coping strategies in order to stay focused in my place of wellness. Coping skills are essential to recovery. Recovery requires more than medication. Recovery to me is to keep trying. I define recovery to keep trying, because it is the act of striving for a better place of wellness. My coping skills include: therapy, rest, walking, writing, affirmations, trustworthy confidants, prayer, singing, reading faith-based material, motivational talks, uplifting music, and routine. The advice my doctor gave worked well for me. However, based on experience I had to focus more on stress management than anything, which meant awareness of my triggers, warning signs, and practice of my coping skills.

Finally, I encourage peers in recovery, and our supporters, to add a post-crisis management plan to ways to maintain. In other words, if medication works well do it, but focus on stress management or coping skills, and implementing a post-crisis plan. A post-crisis management plan is much like Mary Ellen Copeland's WRAP [Wellness Recovery Action Plan], or a psychiatric advance directive (PAD). They provide instructions on how to facilitate wellness during a crisis such as hospitalization. These Plans share pertinent information including how a peer functions when well, triggered, and how to best support us with preferred treatment, ideal facilities for recuperation, and preferences in how to manage our livelihood such as family, home, and communication with employer. I believe a post-crisis plan is essential to recovery because it acknowledges the many factors involved in recovery and life! Thus, from peer-to-peer I encourage us all to develop a post-crisis plan that way we can maintain recovery, stress management, and practice self-sufficiency by planning ahead.

To gain more advice on how to maintain recovery visit BetterHelp,

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

10 Ways That Shows Blogger LOVE

I posted this article on February 14, 2017, however, it is helpful to bloggers. Therefore, take notes! Thank you.

What is more important? The message, messenger, or number of readers, and comments?

I may not be the best blogger, but me and my blog, Overcoming Schizophrenia, was recognized and requested by some of the best… Huffington Post, a powerhouse and community-oriented pharmaceutical company, and organizations outside of my state, and country; including countless radio, and public relations’ requests to be on their shows, etc.

When I started my personal blog, Overcoming Schizophrenia (2008), I was scared, anonymous, however very much honest, which was at times uncomfortable for me as the blogger author, and it was overwhelming for some readers.

However, my blog has been mentioned in numerous articles, received a lot of attention from fellow bloggers, and was awarded by many of my blogging friends. I say all this to encourage you to consider my experience, reasons for my M.I.A. (Missing In Action), and maturity, love, and growth with my livelihood and online reflections in my blog.

This is for You Blogger Newbies, a few gifts to indulge, glance at, practice, or just click-n-go to another interesting blog, and article on your screen… and to my fellow bloggers those I know, and/or will get to know, please add more gifts to our “Love Day” dedication to our new blogging peers. This list should offer many don'ts, and why they are don'ts, but also increase readership, respect, and comments!!!
  1. Keep it real
  2. Never apologize
  3. Invite feedback
  4.  Be mindful of focus
  5. Go with the flow
  6. Always engage in self-care
  7. No rambling allowed
  8. Be sensitive to causes
  9.  Stay in your lane
  10. Respect privacy

Keep It Real
From Day One, I was honest and still am. Readers expect that from me… However, keep it safe and within your own style, approach, and delivery, and comfort.

Never Apologize
In the past, I’ve apologized to readers for not blogging. I stopped doing that for me. I blog because I love to write and reflect and to connect with others not because I am obligated. Finally, my reasons for not apologizing anymore is because I have legitimate personal reasons and excuses I choose not to disclose in detail with the world.

Invite Feedback
I engage readers with a question… it’s like text messaging, if you don’t ask a question you may only get a read or maybe “ok.” Therefore, ask for feedback relative to topic.  

Be Mindful of Focus
I’ve had the wonderfully talented Sade music artist singing on my blog to a few of her greatest hits; reality check, not everybody wants to hear my music while reading my blog about my diagnosis at that time. Maybe they prefer a different tune such as rock music. Maybe readers want to read and not be distracted by sounds not of their choice… I’m just saying.

Flashing colors and banners can be another distraction. Finally, too many advertisements distracts me personally, so why would I want to dump too many advertisements on readers?

Go With The Flow
Scheduling. I write whenever led. Fellow bloggers may keep a routine, which works for them. However, I don’t want to set myself up for failure, therefore I don’t tell readers I will post every week on a certain day or time of month. Yet, that may be appropriate for paid bloggers…

Always Engage In Self-care
My wellness is more important than anything, any appearance, blog and message, numbers, etc.

No Rambling Allowed
This is a blog, not a lecture, speech, or face-to-face conversation. Keep it direct, juicy, full of substance, and quality…

Be Sensitive To Causes
One time I posted a picture of fighting chickens, because I liked the shades of color and imagery. However, I quickly deleted that post because I was unknowingly offending a lot of people who love and respect animals, including online sites that I wanted to collaborate with, and to exchange links. Thus, be sensitive to groups because you never know when you want to work with others, and to never offend that collaborating partnership.

Stay In Your Lane
I live in the south, “The Bible Belt.” A lot of things I should not say, and do not say while speaking to people in public in our southern communities. However, I may disclose in upcoming books, for your information. However, for blogging you may want to channel, refrain, and touchup a few things. For example, cursing, religious direction, politics, and other controversy. I am not saying don’t be yourself, however, present in a way that is mindful unless you just don’t give a ____ (you know the rest)!

Respect Privacy
In the beginning I occasionally gave a shout out to frequent commentators; in agreement, acknowledging, etc. Despite the love, I later realized I put undue pressure on them. Therefore, appreciate frequent commentators, but don’t put them on the spot!

Depending on the blog topic, you may want to hide the “following” section that links back to readers profile pages. I removed the following section because I wanted to further respect my readers by not putting their readership picks on blast and understanding that my blog can be taboo for a lot of families and individuals, and I don’t have any regrets about leaving it off.

By the way, never forget that you are the boss; any advertisements, colors, pictures, etc. is a part of your signature and style, don't let my list override you!-just consider it. Lastly, do add to the list. Do state your reasoning for disagreement. And do share your blog!!!

Prevent Your Diagnosis from Becoming A Deal-breaker: Therapy Starts The Conversation on Disclosure

How did you disclose your diagnosis? Did your condition build a closer bond, or become a deal-breaker? There are many reasons for disclosure in relationships. Disclosing can be uncomfortable, however, it gets better. Disclosing my diagnosis is a choice, which is also an opportunity to share one of my greatest vulnerabilities, and powerful testimonies.

Generally, disclosure enhances my relationship with my friend and partner. My experience disclosing has become easier, and easier, over the course of recovery since age 20. Now age 32, I have enough experience to provide helpful insight to peers as an advocate, friend, and partner in a relationship.

My schizoaffective disorder, which combines bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia, is manageable. However, my mental health concerns demand a lot of attention. A common symptom is  mood swings. Having moody persons in my life is frustrating, because based on their mood they may either engage, disconnect, or create confusion based on poor communication, and unknown emotions that include triggers. Unfortunately, my diagnosis makes me more susceptible to having mood swings, which is annoying, but also a way of life, which demands coping skills to better manage.

Triggers are acts, or events, which stir reactions and consequences. Generally, my symptoms may  become triggered by stressful situations such as financial concerns, disagreements, and unexpected setbacks, or major problems, losses, and crisis. However, stress, triggers, and moodiness is a part of life! Yet, I do not have to settle.

When I feel triggered it disrupts my mood, and creates concerns. I manage my diagnosis with support from my treatment team, therapist, and support system, or friends and family.

In the beginning I needed guidance on ways to disclose. I addressed these concerns in therapy. Disclosing my diagnosis requires awareness, opportunity, and desire to take relationship further. I learn more about my diagnosis by articulating concerns in therapy. However, educating others on how my diagnosis effects me is an important factor in disclosure. Whenever I disclose I understand this process incorporates question and answer, stigma-busting, and education about how triggers effect my symptoms and outcomes.

Therefore, I aim to build self-awareness, practice self-care, and request additional support. First, I need support as an individual in recovery. My symptoms can be hard to detect, because they effect my mood and thoughts. My therapist helps me stay aware and accountable as does my support system.

A great reason for my disclosure is to capture warning signs that symptoms are becoming concerning. In the past, my moodiness alerted friends and partner. I am still learning how to better manage symptoms. If my friend or partner were unaware of my diagnosis these symptoms would become a significant problem for relationships.

Another reason for disclosure is to support a lasting relationship, and prevent my diagnosis from becoming a deal-breaker. Therefore, educating my partner about my diagnosis is a must for me, which I learned how to articulate.

In other words, my needs in relationships include: disclosure to support my recovery, and for understanding of my challenges, in order, to have room for imperfection, and to grow in the relationship. Relationship requires effort to function in unison smoothly. My relationships work better when I disclose.

I learned the benefits of disclosure from experience. However, as mentioned disclosure can be uncomfortable, and demands awareness and opportunity. To learn how to disclose a peer may engage in therapy for tips as I did, or get first-hand knowledge from peers. Some peers, caregivers (or care-partners) do not have access to these resources. Fortunately, the internet is creating access for people where traditional therapy (in-person) sessions did not work, but online therapy may be an option.

Therapy engages peers and care-partners for the wellness of the relationship. After an individual gains tools to interact, educate, and to disclose the next part of the process is timing, which varies. As we know, a lot of people do not want to disclose for various reasons that include: stigma, negative stereotypes, and fear of rejection, or another deal-breaker. I choose to disclose sooner than later to minimize rejection, and to focus on persons who are willing to explore my challenges, and get to know me for me.

For peers and partners therapy may be a great way to learn more about the diagnosis, oneself, and how to engage the relationship in a healthier manner. Enjoy the people in our lives, because life is stressful, and having a supportive friend, and partner can make recovery, and life, a little better and happier! Lastly, here is a read that may enhance your relationship:

Help without Hope

Doctors have the gift of healing. They can perform miracles and restore wellness when they believe in their work. If an individual needed ...