The Author

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Atlanta, Georgia, United States
I am overcoming schizophrenia, and I believe others can too. Here is how I am managing my condition...

Monday, March 22, 2010

Feedback on Radio Interview

(Sorry for delay). I just posted my radio interview with Kim Iverson from January 29, 2010. If you skip ahead to the blue dot, on the box to the right, that says schizophrenia or at about 23 minutes you could listen to the interview.

To learn more about schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, Inc., the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Addiction and Mental Health

Just came back from mentoring a NAMI Peer-to-Peer class. We had another great class. This time we discussed addiction and mental health. We talked about the history of 12 step programs and various addictions. I had a really good time with the group, and I look forward to next week's class.

To learn more about schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, Inc., the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).

Friday, March 19, 2010

Overcoming Stigma One Story at a Time

Because of stigma, some people still want to see consumers (individuals living with a mental illness) institutionalized (i.e., in jail or in a hospital). This is ridiculous! Consumers can and do get better so why should We be put away, out of sight, and out of mind?!

In fact, I was once institutionalized for a situation I created as a result of my untreated, (and during that time, unknown) mental illness. I experienced a plethora of schizophrenia symptoms, yet I did not understand what was happening, all I knew was that I was extremely confused, disoriented, and scared.

I saw strange people following me, an old man on an antique bicycle and a crowd of people, heard demeaning voices (which I thought was someone playing a prank on me and was coming from my cell phone because the voices sounded like an exaggeration of mean cartoon characters). I thought I has special gifts from God like the ability to read minds and decipher evil spirits and good spirits in people. I thought I was a prophet of God and then eventually I thought I was Jesus Christ being prosecuted all over again.

I remember feeling trapped like I could not trust anyone. I thought my family was against me, I thought the world was against me. My symptoms lead me to be an uptight, secretive, irritated individual. I had unnecessary arguments with relatives, and even accused them of tapping my cell phone and hiding my purse. My undiagnosed illness lead me to miss appointments, quit my job, and to not trust family who are nothing but loving in reality.

Finally, I had enough and I left. I was missing from my family for what seemed like forever, but it was actually about a week, which was long enough to worry them to death and contemplate the worse. However, I was not hurt, thank God, or on the streets wondering around, I was in jail. This surprised everyone, including myself, before this incident I had a clean record with no run-ins with the police, not even a traffic violation.

When I woke up in jail I was so immersed in my mental illness symptoms I believed I had died and went to hell. I thought I was in hell because when I went outside and tried the foundation water and it was extremely hot and the weather was hot- this still does not make sense, I know, however, symptoms of schizophrenia impairs rational thinking and ability to make rational connections in conversation and daily activities. California, where I was diagnosed, had a heat wave.

I was institutionalized (in the state hospital and in jail) for five months because of the crime I committed. Fortunately, I was diagnosed with schizophrenia and forced to receive treatment in order to face the charges against me, and I was granted "Time-served," on the basis of my diagnosis, character references, and clean legal background. After my doctor got my consent to talk to my mother about my treatment, he told her I had a great chance at recovery and leading a normal life. This gave my mother peace of mind because before that, she contemplated being my legal guardian because my symptoms affected me so bad.

I was catatonic for a while, not moving limbs for hours at a time, did not eat or shower for days, and did not socialize with the other inmates. And, I was sent to the emergency room several times because I was not eating or drinking. Also, I was in denial and tried to refuse medication. Moreover, nurses had to get the jail guards to hold me down to give me a shot because I refused the oral form of my medication. I began to accept my diagnosis after a jail nurse told me- 'look, Ashley, we had to send to the ER several times because you were not eating... that is not normal... you are sick.'

After my family paid for my bail and I was released into the community, I participated in an outpatient treatment program for young adults (which I was referred to by my social worker in jail). I stayed in the program for 10 months before moving back to Atlanta to be with my mother and sister. When I arrived to Atlanta I immediately sought out a treatment program with the county because other options cost too much.

My sister suggested I start blogging to keep track of my recovery, and the Overcoming Schizophrenia blog was established in September 2008. She also recommended the book, Welcome Silence, which is a must read for people affected by schizophrenia or mental illness.

I had a vision of mentoring and assisting peers on their path to recovery and Embracing My Mind, Inc. was forming. I received training from NAMI to mentor the Peer-to-Peer class and then I started leading groups in the Atlanta area. This fall I plan on going back to college to get my bachelor's degree in business administration and marketing.

I continue to share my story with you because I want to reinforce the idea of hope, recovery, and a normal life for people affected by mental illness. Stigma, the invisible beast, limits peoples' access to services in the community and even support from family. If you are a caregiver, family member, or a consumer remember my story and believe they or you can and will get better with support. Thank you for reading my story, I encourage you to share yours and mine with others to reduce stigma.

Sincerely,
Ashley Smith

To learn more about schizophrenia go to Embracing My Mind, Inc., the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Discussion-Based Groups and Coalition Meeting

Today, I observed a new support group in order to build rapport with the clients. Soon, Embracing My Mind, Inc. will provide peer support services at this facility. We discussed self-esteem and low self-esteem. We had a great discussion.

By observing someone else's facilitation style it gave me ideas on how to improve on my own mentoring abilities. The group was discussion-based with no handouts or note-taking necessary. I think it was very relaxing for the clients they were able to relate the discussion to personal experiences. I will try to focus on having more discussion-based groups in order to have a more laid-back setting and to get even more participation.

Also, I participated in a coalition meeting. We discussed recovery and addiction. Groups are forming to develop some type of peer specialist for addiction and recovery, like mental illness, I am very excited about this new approach to recovery. I do not have a substance abuse concern, however, dual diagnosis or a combination of mental illness and substance abuse is a major concern.

To learn more about schizophrenia go to Embracing My Mind, Inc., the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Review of the Movie A Beautiful Mind

We finished watching the movie, A Beautiful Mind, starring Russell Crowe. After the movie I asked some questions such as:

1) What type of symptoms did John portray?
2) Why did he stop taking his medicine?
3) Is he violent towards himself or others?

Answers

The main character, John Nash, experienced hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia as a result of his illness schizophrenia. His hallucinations included his roommate Charles, Charles' niece Marcy, and government of defense supervisor William Parcher. His delusions led him to believe he was more than a professor, he believed he was a spy and could break codes by review of specific magazines and newspapers.

He stopped taking his medicine for several reasons: he could not do his work, could not respond to his wife, and could not help out with the baby and the house. Other reasons why an individual with a mental illness may stop taking their medicine may be because they believe they are cured, don't want to endure the harsh side effects, and ran out of medicine (perhaps because of money or forgot to take them).

The last question was tricky. Generally, he was not violent to himself or others however hallucinations led him to cause harm to himself and to his wife and child in the movie. In the movie, he believed that the government implanted a chip into his arm in order to get the access code to the drop box for classified packages. While in the hospital he clawed at his arm to get the implant out which never was there in reality. Also, while Parcher was about to shoot his wife and child, he pushed his wife while holding their baby to protect her, yet this still was a violent act.

Another important point the movie made was how even though John was on medication he could still experience some persistent symptoms such as the hallucinations, which is true for some people.

The great thing about the movie is that it also shows how a person can overcome the illness. For instance, whenever he was unsure about whether an individual was a hallucination or not he asked a trusted stander by.

Overall, the movie demonstrated an accurate account of the impact of schizophrenia on the individual diagnosed with it and their family and friends. At one point in the movie, Alicia, John's wife, explains her frustration and anger towards God and her husband, and then she remembers the man she married and everything is okay.

I am very pleased with the movie and recommend it to other people who are interested in schizophrenia.

To learn more about schizophrenia go to Embracing My Mind, Inc., the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).

Monday, March 15, 2010

Checking In on My Health

The other day I spoke to a relative and they told me I sounded very well. They asked me how everything was concerning my medication and how was school. I am doing very well, the medication I am on helps tremendously and I am thankful to have my mind back and am able to do activities I enjoy doing such as participating in groups and leading group sessions. I plan on starting school this fall. I know I keep pushing it back, but I am hopeful that I will actually start college again soon.

When I start school I plan on taking two classes at the most and leading one to two peer groups on the side. If it is too stressful I'll just drop one course and focus on the one course and my groups. It sounds like a lot I know, but I think I will be able to manage it if I continue to participate in group therapy and communicate with my support system (i.e., people I trust and can rely on such as my family, therapist and doctor).

I want to make something clear schizophrenia or any illness for that matter does not affect everybody the same way, and that goes for medication as well. For example, just because one type of medicine works for Bob it does not mean that that same medication will work for Sue.

Also, there are different types of schizophrenia (i.e., paranoid, undifferentiated, residual, disorganized, and catatonic), and several medications to choose from. I am fortunate that my doctor and I found a medication that works for me (I tried a few medications before finding the right one). I knew the other medications were not for me because of their side effects, the medication I am on now has little side effects that is manageable.

To learn more about schizophrenia go to Embracing My Mind, Inc., the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).

International Medical Volunteerism Conference in Atlanta, GA

The International Medical Volunteerism Conference is a free conference and is open to the general public. The Conference is on April 16th-18th, 2010 at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

Also, Embracing My Mind, Inc. will be an exhibitor, so join us! For details on Conference registration, speakers, and exhibitors click here.

To learn more about schizophrenia go to Embracing My Mind, Inc., the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).

What is Stigma?

First, stigma relates to negative perceptions often fueled by lack of education about schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. According to Mental Health: Culture, Race, and Ethnicity, A Supplement to Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General, 2001 stigma "refers to a cluster of negative attitudes and beliefs that motivate the general public to fear, reject, avoid, and discriminate against people with mental illness." Stigma can pronounce itself in self-image. The Report also states that stigma leaves such a negative impact on consumers (individuals living with a psychiatric disorder) that some people have low self-esteem and less access to resources such as housing, employment, and even mental health treatment because of the stigma associated with the illness.

The Report goes further to examine the extent of stigma in Asian cultures where "mental illness is thought to reflect poorly on family lineage and thereby diminishes marriage and economic prospects for other family members as well." Here in America, phrase and thoughts such as: "Not in my backyard" syndrome, decreased interest in birthing children because of fear the illness will pass on to them, not employing people with mental illness, etc. these are all forms of stigma at its best.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) states that one out of four adults have mental illness. A 2008 NAMI survey found that only 24 percent of survey participants of the general public are familiar with schizophrenia. This explains why there is such confusion as what schizophrenia is and is not, for instance, schizophrenia is NOT a split personality, however, the term does mean "split mind".

Mental illness is widespread and does NOT discriminate against ethnicity, race, age, gender, economic background, and any other distinguishing factors. It is crucial that we address stigma and try to eliminate it before it perverts all societies to its most inhumane means of associating with and handling consumers and their families, friends, coworkers, and others.

Education and more exposure to mental illness can dramatically reduce stigma. Therefore, learning as much as one can about mental illness limits misconceptions. What are some ways an individual can advocate against stigma?

To learn more about schizophrenia visit the following websites: Embracing My Mind, Inc., the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).

Sunday, March 14, 2010

PASS Program for SSI Recipients

After a friend told me about the Plans to Achieve Self-Support (PASS) program I did some research on it and it is a great program. The program benefits people who have Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

PASS allows SSI recipients to earn additional resources or income and put it aside to pay for education, to start a business, to fund training, etc. Under the program, the person will not lose their SSI benefits, and their SSI will not be reduced. To learn about the program click here.

To learn more about schizophrenia check out Embracing My Mind, Inc., the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).

A Beautiful Mind- The Movie


Group sessions are going very well, we get participation from most of the group members. Last week we studied schizophrenia- what it is, its types, and symptoms. Moreover, we started watching the movie, A Beautiful Mind, with Russell Crowe. We plan on finishing the movie this week.

I highly recommend the movie because of its uniqueness, in that it shows how the person with schizophrenia views reality. I would tell you lots more, but I don't want to spoil it for those of you who have not seen it... Rent it, buy it, download it, etc.- it is a must see if interested in schizophrenia.



To learn more about schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, Inc. (EMM), the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).

Saturday, March 13, 2010

New Schizophrenia Blog- Dustin Demoss

Discovered a new blog about schizophrenia. Includes personal experiences, facts, and more... The blog is called Dustin Demoss. Check it out.

To learn more about schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, Inc. (EMM), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).

Join Us on Facebook- New Feature!

ANNOUNCEMENT:

Embracing My Mind, Inc. (EMM) is now on Facebook. We hope you will visit us and become a fan. That way we can keep you in the loop as to the daily happenings with the organization. Enjoy!

Take care,
Ashley

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Peer Program/Mental Health Day at the Capitol

I participated in two events this week: 1) Fulton County, Georgia Commissioner's meeting and 2) Mental Health Day at the Capitol orchestrated by Behavioral Health Services Coalition.

I spoke at the Commissioner's meeting yesterday to advocate in favor of the Peer Program at South Fulton Mental Health Center in East Point, Georgia. The county wants to close the Peer Program, and myself and other peers spoke against this consideration.

Today, I attended Mental Health Day at the Capitol and distributed business cards to introduce my non-profit organization, Embracing My Mind, Inc. The program discussed advance directives, Georgia's budget, children and adolescents with mental health concerns, a personal story, and an overview of Olmstead.

Advance Directives are plans for consumers in the event they cannot make decisions on their own, it is kind of like a crisis plan that describes medications desired to get well again, and who may make decisions on behalf of the consumer.

A statistic I remember about children and adolescents with mental health concerns is the average age of onset is 14. This does not surprise me, in fact, I thought the age would be younger.

Overall, I enjoyed the program and networking. Also, my groups are going very well.

To my new followers (anyone who started following this blog since January 2010) I am glad that we found each other, I hope you learn something new about schizophrenia and if you have any questions related to it feel free to ask me. I appreciate all of my readers, thank you!

To learn more about schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, Inc., NAMI, Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).