Monday, December 5, 2011
The manifestation of the illness dominated my livelihood whenever I was extremely suspicious, confused, forgetful, irritable, distant, irrational, and hearing criticizing voices when nobody was around. In my mind, everyone was envious of me because I had godly talents. I thought I could read people's minds and understand them, and sometimes they could read my mind as well. I rationalized these strange beliefs by my faith in God and the miracles of the Bible. I believed I was on a mission for God and eventually thought I was Jesus Christ being persecuted again when I was arrested for a crime I committed while not in the right state of mind. The bizarre thoughts increased.
While in jail I thought a family member was playing a prank on me and I did not recognize I was incarcerated for a long time. Still institutionalized I began to believe authorities experimented on me and impregnated me with a shot while I was asleep. Then I went on a prayer fast. I remember reading a scripture in the Bible that said to remain still and to pray, and that's what I did for hours throughout the day. Eventually, jail medical staff admitted me into the psychiatric ward and labelled me catatonic, not moving my body limbs for extended periods of time. These are just a glimpse of some of the bizarre beliefs I had, I could share a multitude of other thoughts, feelings, and emotions I recall from my experience with the illness at its worse, but I'll share more with you another time.
The most frightening realization after the encounter was discovering that these emotions and feelings were fabricated in my mind, and mine only- the people I thought were against me were not obsessed with me and did not want any harm to come to me, like I thought. I remember slowly putting the truth together while writing in my diary and second-guessing myself after discussing symptoms with my doctor, and learning more about the illness in a state hospital. In fact, I think I cried after piecing together some of my encounters which were real to me, but not a reality for others. Schizophrenia can be devastating if an individual does not cling to faith and hope.
My doctor at the state hospital gave me a lot of hope. He said I could go back to college and live a normal life as long as I did two things: 1) take my medication regularly, and 2) manage my stress... I have not gone off my medication, I continue to find ways to cope with stress such as writing and communicating concerns with others, and I have not experienced psychosis in over four years since my diagnosis in 2007.
I reminiscence on this blog about the times I was not well in order to spread awareness and hope, because I made it and I believe many others can too with proper treatment, support, and diligence; and faith. If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental health concern seek professional guidance and continue to support them as you would with any other medical condition.
My hope is that people will view schizophrenia as a medical condition that can improve with treatment, support, and the right attitude... My objective is to reduce stigma, change perceptions, and to open dialogue around mental health concerns. I hope that my story encourages a change in the way people view individuals with mental health conditions and know that the illness can be managed.
I appreciate my readers and look forward to reading your feedback, thank you for making time to read my story.
To learn more about schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, Inc., Choices in Recovery, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Recently my story was featured on CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta's Human Factor. I feel blessed to have an opportunity to share my experience with diverse communities around the world. I believe it is important to share my mental health condition with the public in order to help reduce stigma. Yes, sharing my mental illness has been a process.
I remember when I started this blog in September 2008 I was unsure about its theme and how much I would disclose. Initially, I did not share my true identity, and now I am very comfortable disclosing to the public about my health condition, because I have overcome many medical and social setbacks. I believe this illness can be defeated through treatment, support, faith and hard work.
For individuals and families still struggling with a mental health concern: as you know there will be many obstacles to reach peace with mental health and to live in recovery, however, there is hope. I remember the stories my mother and family shared with me about their worries and concerns for my well-being during my own battle with schizophrenia. In the beginning we did not know I was battling mental health. In fact, I thought it was stress and emotional and spiritual battles. However, my condition worsened over time. Therefore, I encourage families to seek professional guidance when debating whether mental health is a factor.
I am so fortunate to have a family of warriors. My mother and relatives stuck by me during my most vulnerable moments. My mother got involved with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and gained a better understanding of my condition by meeting with my treatment team at the state hospital (after I gave consent).
In short, I encourage families to learn as much as they can about mental health challenges and to get involved in a support group to get more resources and support.
Lastly, I had a great experience during the process of producing the CNN Human Factor story. I am so thankful to the CNN team and my communications staff for working so diligently on my story. My experience is one of millions in America, and I am hopeful that we can "overcome mental illness together!"
Please review the Human Factor segment on CNN and blog entry, and let me know how the story has impacted you and your family.
For more info about schizophrenia visit Choices in Recovery, Embracing My Mind, Inc., NAMI, and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).
Monday, August 29, 2011
I have many goals, short-term and long-term that I occasionally update and revise. One of my short term goals was to complete the Certified Peer Specialist training program, and after three years I can finally check off that goal on my list, thank you!
Another one of my goals was to live independently. As I mentioned in another blog entry recently, I entered into a housing program with the county and moved into a group home to feel in control of my housing and life. This decision alone empowered me. And now, I live on my own. I live alone in the community of my choice and I love having this opportunity. In fact, I hope peers will have similar experiences of self-empowerment and goal-fulfillment.
I believe it is important to lead one's own recovery. Self-direction is critical to my recovery and I can imagine it being important in a peer's life as well. Recovery has various meanings to different individuals. To me recovery is being able to do what I want and need to do to add fulfillment to my well-being.
Despite the diagnosis I believe we should all have the opportunity and privilege to make decisions on our behalf, to advocate for ourselves. Schizophrenia can seem like a scary illness to manage but it is doable, I am proof!
I am interested to learn what recovery means to you? For the individual living with a mental health diagnosis: Are you willing to change along with your recovery? For family members and caregivers: are you willing to allow your loved one to make their own decisions in recovery? Why or why not.
To learn more about schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, Inc., the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Choices in Recovery, Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).
Friday, August 19, 2011
For a brief time, I did not have choices in my recovery. My life was limited by the state system in jail. In fact, I had my choice to deny medication taken from me. I was court-ordered to medication compliance, which was encouraged by my family. I am thankful my family advocated for medication compliance because it ultimately saved my life. During the time I was not well, I recognized this only after I was medicated and educated on my health.
When I was not well four years ago, I believed I was a victim of conspiracy. I thought someone in my family were playing a prank and took me to an enclosed facility with routines not of my own (jail). I believed others were against me and working together to poison me and to spy on me; I felt my life was in danger, and that I had reason to feel uneasy and suspicious. As a result, I did not speak much, shower, or eat at all. I feared someone tampered with my soap and believed it would burn my skin. All the while I thought I was okay, and did not take medication.
After refusing medication one day a group of guards along with a nurse barged into my space, held me down to the bed and gave me a shot. I refused to take medication several times after that and we went through the forced medication routine regularly. Eventually, I complied with the nurse's request and took the pills because I did not want to receive a shot. The nurses did not tell me why I was forced to take the pills, what was my mental health condition, or what the medication was.
Soon I felt some uncomfortable side effects to these pills and did not want to take them. The nurses knew why I did not want to take the medication, but bribed me with candy and beverages to take them anyway. Now, I wonder why didn't the nurses advocate for me and take my concerns to my doctor, or maybe they did with no further instruction, I don't know.
The pills interfered with my sleep, made me feel excited and jittery. I complained to my doctor with no solution. Eventually, I found an alternative route to have my concerns met. I talked to another doctor after my doctor was off shift. This helped, the other doctor gave me another medication to relieve the side effects.
One day, I asked the nurse for information on my medication. And I learned of the type of medication I was on and additional information. While reading a magazine I came across an advertisement for medication. It listed similar experiences as symptoms and I took the advertisement to my doctor to request a medication change. My doctor said no because it was not in my best interest to switch medication for several reasons including stabilization. I felt like I was not being heard and did not have any control over my recovery.
This feeling of lack of control in my recovery changed when I went to the state hospital. For the first time a doctor asked me what I wanted. They gave me options and I made a choice, which we agreed upon. Moreover, they suggested I get off the medication my jail doctor put me on because of my family's medical history. I felt like my opinion mattered and that I was in control of my recovery.
Since that hospital visit I continue to play an active role in my recovery. After I was released from the correctional facility and institution I joined a county program that offered housing among other services. My mother enabled me to make the decision to move into a group home, commonly called independent living, despite her concerns. I was in control of my recovery and life.
My treatment team enabled me to go back to college, because it was my goal. When I moved back to Atlanta with family, they suggested activities, but did not force me to do anything I was not ready for. Eventually, I got frustrated with limited social support from the community and made the decision to go to the support groups offered at my treatment center to meet people and to make friends.
I am in control of my recovery and life. I say that because treatment teams, family, and others enabled me to have options and to make a final decision that I wanted and needed at that moment in my life. Now, I live alone, I am attending college, and I lead support groups to give back to my peers and the mental health community.
Self-direction in a person's life is essential to recovery. I experienced empowerment by being able to make decisions, and I want my peers to have the option to do the same. I am an advocate for my peers by sharing my personal recovery story, and sharing resources and information to reduce stigma.
This week I completed the Georgia Certified Peer Specialist (CPS) training. The priority of a CPS is to give the individual living with a diagnosis a voice. As a peer, someone also living with a mental health diagnosis, a CPS listens to the individual and advocates for them to their treatment team. The role of a CPS is a growing movement that is established in several states across the United States.
Finally, Embracing My Mind, Inc., a mental health organization that offers peer support will have education-based recovery support groups open to the public at the East Point Library in East Point, Georgia starting Thursday, September 8, 2011. Please go to the website click here for schedule information and additional details. The objective of Embracing My Mind, Inc. is to reduce stigma, change perceptions, and to promote awareness and hope.
To learn more information about schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, Inc., National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Choices in Recovery, and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).
Saturday, June 25, 2011
Thank you, Sunlight Village Board of Directors, staff, and volunteers! I had a great experience at your mental health conference: Our Children, Our Future, on Saturday, June 18, 2011. I appreciate all your warm welcomes and support. It is nice to know I have friends in Dayton, Ohio. I would love to work with Sunlight Village again in the future! (The picture to the left, shows myself and Founder and Executive Director of Sunlight Village, Robbie Brandon)
At the conference, I delivered the speech, The Gift of Recovery: A Consumer's Perspective. I shared my personal recovery story from the diagnosis of Schizophrenia until the present. I went into detail about my recovery process because I wanted others to understand that recovery is a life-long journey that takes work, persistence, and support. I enjoyed the interaction with the audience.
Saturday, June 4, 2011
I had a great experience! I listened to some great speakers and among them was Dr. Robin Eubanks, who had a lot humor, energy, and really got the audience talking- it was interactive. Also I was able to get my questions answered in a workshop, "Choices in Recovery" (a Janssen program) about Schizophrenia. Overall, I had an amazing experience- having the opportunity to meet Dr. Roma and to be a part a wonderful documentary and NAMI New Jersey conference.
For more info about Schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, Inc., NAMI, Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).
Friday, May 13, 2011
However, during the process my family and supporters held my hand through my experience with Schizophrenia and gave me hope. I am fortunate and blessed to have their support. I started a mental health outreach group, Embracing My Mind, Inc., because I would like to encourage others to have hope. I want to give back to the community and to support other peoples' recovery process so that we can "overcome mental illness together!"
Now, I am overcoming Schizophrenia with the support of my community: family, faith-based group, treatment team, peers, professional associates, and you, my readers. I am grateful especially for my mother, because she supported me during our most difficult trials with this illness. For caregivers and family members, I am sure you can relate.
For me, the illness led me to believe that family was against me to the extent that I believed that they were even trying to harm me in some incidences. At one time, I was very upset with them for reasons that do not make sense, and that I cannot recall. My mother is my number #1 supporter, thank you, Mom, for your unconditional love and support, I could not have excelled in recovery without your special touch. Thank you!
I have come a long way in my recovery, but I did not do it on my own. I had a plethora of support. I want to acknowledge treatment groups who have helped me along the way, but I understand that they may want to remain anonymous and I respect that. To those nurses, doctors, social workers, and other treatment team members that have directly worked with me especially when my illness was most severe- Thank you. Thank you: for checking on me, sending me to the emergency room, talking me into medication compliance, encouraging me to get out of my comfort zone or room, insisting that I tend to personal hygiene, educating me about my illness, etc., etc. You saved my life, and I appreciate all of you!
With that said, I encourage all of us to support each other, we all need encouragement whether we have a mental health condition or not. I, like many of you, remember certain teachers, coaches, and other community mentors who have spoke hope into my life and who have encouraged me to push forward, and thus, impacted my life.
People living with a mental health concern especially need our support because there are so many misconceptions around mental illness. In other words, stigma or negative perceptions carried out in daily conversation, media, etc.
We can support the mental health community by donating to advocacy groups, volunteering, listening and talking to individuals with a mental health concern with respect, and correcting others when they speak inappropriately about mental illness. We can write letters to media groups to voice our opinion about the good and the bad images they portray about people living with mental health.
It takes a community to build people up, my experiences is just one of many stories, who are overcoming mental illness. If you have a mental illness I encourage you to seek treatment or to continue to mature in your recovery.
As a group leader, I've heard too often the lack of support people receive from family members. Therefore, I encourage others to seek out support and resources by participating in support groups. Support groups are meetings for people living with a mental health diagnosis who share experiences and offer support to each other.
Embracing My Mind, Inc. provides education-based recovery support groups in the Atlanta area to shelters, rehabilitation centers, transitional housing programs, and other community-based groups. Our goal is to reduce stigma, change perceptions, and to promote awareness.
My personal experience with the illness is one of three stories featured in a Schizophrenia documentary called, Living with Schizophrenia: A Call for Hope and Recovery. It portrays a positive image of what someone living with the condition can do for themselves, and for the community, with treatment and support.
The 25-minute film offers hope for those affected by Schizophrenia, and I want everyone to see this documentary because it vocalizes the untold stories of recovery, which can be possible for a lot of us living with mental health. I think this project was a great production by Janssen, a pharmaceutical company, that promotes positive images of people living with an illness, unlike many other films that show too much of the suffering and struggle, which we, individuals, living with the condition can most definitely recall, as well as caregivers, family members and other supporters. For more info on the documentary visit: www.hopeandrecoveryfilm.com
More Schizophrenia Info
To learn more about Schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, Inc., National Alliance on Mental Illness, Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).
Saturday, May 7, 2011
The premiere of the documentary, Living with Schizophrenia: A Call for Hope and Recovery was an amazing experience! My personal journey in mental health recovery was one of three stories featured in the documentary.
As a participant in the documentary I had an opportunity to serve on a panel discussion to share more information about the journey in my ongoing recovery. The panel discussion was moderated by JC Hayward, and the panelists included: Dave, Caregiver, Emily, director of the documentary, Ashley Smith, Mentor, Joshua Bell, Peer Counselor, and Rebecca Phillips, Writer.
The half hour film depicts the lives of three individuals living with Schizophrenia. I was united with some the other individuals who are featured in the film, in addition to the director of the documentary who also has a personal connection to the illness.
For me, the documentary portrays a message that Schizophrenia can be a very manageable illness and people living with the mental condition can lead normal lives. I believe this film will help reduce stigma and offer a lot of encouragement to people living with a mental health challenge, and also to family members, caregivers, and others. The film is very educational because it addresses some the misconceptions and myths associated with Schizophrenia, discusses some treatments, and symptoms.
The premiere of the documentary took place in Washington D.C. on May 6, 2011. The film which is funded and produced by Janssen pharmaceutical company aims to increase awareness and to reduce fear and stigma.
To see the half hour documentary, Living with Schizophrenia: A Call for Hope and Recovery visit www.hopeandrecoveryfilm.com.
Thursday, April 28, 2011
As a person living with mental illness, a facilitator, and researcher, it is common for a person living with a mental health diagnosis to also have a substance abuse concern. This combination of concerns is called dual diagnosis.
Even though I do not have a substance abuse concern I feel like I can relate to people with substance abuse concerns. From my experience with mental illness I once lost close relationships, college education, and my livelihood. Similarly, people with substance abuse concerns may have lost close relationships, career, and their livelihood as a result of using drugs and/or alcohol.
Peer support is very important to my recovery. It played a critical role in my mental health recovery foundation. When I was diagnosed with Schizophrenia in 2007, I participated in recovery support groups with peers (people who also have a mental health diagnosis) in the state hospital and in an outpatient treatment center where I received services. When I had a concern with isolation I turned to recovery support groups to overcome that challenge. I participated in recovery support groups to gain more knowledge about Schizophrenia and to build relationships.
There are a combination of habits I perform to stay well- I take my prescribed medication regularly, I participate in and also facilitate recovery support groups, and I give and get support from various sources including family, faith-based community, peers, and treatment team. For me, this approach works, however, I understand that everyone is different and other people may use another approach to obtain stability, wellness, and maturity in their recovery. I encourage treatment (whatever that may include) for a person in recovery to reach their well being.
I understand I am fortunate to have a lot of support because some of my peers do not have a diverse network of support. Therefore, I encourage peers to aim for more support through participation in support groups and building a better relationship with their treatment team (i.e. psychiatric doctor, psychologist, therapists, social worker, mentor/Certified Peer Specialists, etc.). NAMI provides FREE support groups for people living with a mental health challenge, and also for family members and caregivers.
Regardless, if an individual has a mental illness or not, we all need support! We need support in school, on the job, in our family, and among our peers. If someone is not ready to go to a support group I also encourage online support groups, which NAMI also provides or anonymous conference calls (Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America provides).
To learn more about Schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, Inc., NAMI, and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Sometimes my mind would take me to a place of fear, hurt, and an unsettling spirit, which started with what seemed like a strange look, or a different feeling around an individual, when in reality it was another symptom of my undiagnosed illness- paranoia. My paranoia was rampant and dictated my life prior to experiencing a crisis, which led me to jail and into forced treatment and to receive an official diagnosis of Schizophrenia in 2007.
In other words, my illness created enemies in my mind. For instance, I once believed my favorite kin was against me and I felt like she wanted me to fail, and I eventually thought she was conspiring to harm me. However, she never said anything to imply these feelings of distrust. My illness attacked those closest to me. I felt like there were barriers or issues between us, when in reality there wasn't. My paranoia and lack of trust grew against other members of family and friends, and ultimately to the world.
One day I had a revelation that everyone was against me, because I was special or had special abilities. I needed to escape! I quit my job, cashed my last check, packed my bag and left the house in hopes of renting a room in a nearby community. When the room for rent situation failed I wanted to leave the state and go back home.
However, because my symptoms were severe I ended up committing a crime and being jailed. After I was in jail and my family discovered where I was they visited me. But instead of me being happy to see them in my situation, I was skeptical; I believed they were impostures- I did not trust them and was hesitant to speak. I felt alone, trapped, and concerned. I thought someone had done something to my family. Therefore, I questioned my family before I had an open discussion with them. I asked distinct questions, for instance, I asked my grandparents what gifts they brought me for my high school graduation which was three years prior to the jail incident. Whenever, my family got a question wrong I believed they were in fact impostures and I felt very uncomfortable and distrusting.
Later, I was angry at my family because I thought they did something offensive to me- I do not remember why I was so upset back then. While in jail, I remember people telling the date, but I did not believe them. My illness made me distant and skeptical over anything and everything. For example, instead of believing someone else's word on what the date was, I thought God was sending me messages of the date and other things through milk cartoons. This shows how irrational my thoughts were at the time.
Eventually, the nurses in the psychiatric unit in jail gave me pills for my mental illness. I refused the medicine because I did not understand that my symptoms were symptoms of mental illness, and that I was experiencing an episode or a psychotic break. After they forced medicated me or I gave in a took the medication and was educated about my illness in the state hospital, I yearned for family and friends again.
However, I still had to learn to overcome isolation. I wanted to have friends outside of family, I wanted to get out of the house, and I wanted to learn more about my illness. Therefor, I started attending support groups led by my therapist at the center where I received treatment. I went to all the groups they offered which was about three groups a week. And I started building relationships with others again. After that I started volunteering and then I went back to college. However, I must emphasize that this was a process that I am still learning, it was NOT an overnight recovery plan. I consider my recovery an ongoing treatment plan that must include participation in various support groups, support from family and peers, and medication compliance.
I share these experiences with you to promote awareness on the symptoms of Schizophrenia, emphasize the importance of trust, and to spread the idea that hope and recovery are possible.
If you are someone living with a mental illness I encourage you to find someone who you can trust so that they can advocate for you. If you are a family member or friend of a person living with a mental illness it is important to gain or keep the trust of your loved one. I would suggest that you stay open minded when they share bizarre experiences with you, journal about it and support them in order to get them into treatment- any sort of treatment (i.e., therapies, medication, etc.) or to continue treatment.
For more information on Schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, Inc., National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).
Thursday, March 24, 2011
We discussed a range of Schizophrenia information: the basics or symptoms, myths, and personal testimonies. More specifically, we mentioned the need for more education and success stories in the media. Additionally, "Assertive Community Treatment (A.C.T.)" groups were discussed in regards to helping people living with a diagnosis stay involved in their treatment and to get the necessary resources to move forward in their recovery. "ACT" teams generally consist of a group of health care professionals that assist people in the healing process. Another group that was mentioned to help people stay involved in the community were: "Mental Health Courts." Mental Health Courts were developed for people who had encounters with law enforcement or jail system, mental illness, substance abuse, and/or HIV/AIDS, to stay connected to the community.
Religious beliefs and delusions (having false beliefs) was another topic. I shared experiences regarding my faith and how I did not recognize the signs of mental illness because I thought I was spiritually gifted like the people in the Bible. In short, I thought I had the gift of discernment, whereas, I could decipher "evil" spirits and "good" spirits within people. In addition to that, I did not know what a mental illness was, and I did not recognize that I needed support from a professional because I lacked insight.
Some panelists emphasized that support is crucial to a person's recovery as well as treatment, which I most definitely am in agreement with. A member of the panel even stressed that insight into one's illness was not essential to reach a state of wellness, and that relationships are key to recovery.
One barrier to treatment for some members of the black community were addressed. Some people feel like doctors are not culturally sensitive enough to help them cope with their concerns. However, there are programs being established to encourage and mentor youth black students to get involved in the medical field in order to develop a medical career in the future. One of the ways the program strives to reduce barriers to treatment is to enhance the growth of more black medical specialists to help support the needs of the community.
Finally, with the assumption that media perpetuates misconceptions about mental illnesses, panelists encouraged journalists to also bring attention to people overcoming the illness and educating the public about mental health. Yes, in some incidents people living with a diagnosis may be involved in a crime, however, journalists can also educate the public about the facts through success stories.
Overall, I had a wonderful experience serving on the panel along side influential members and contributors to the mental health field. I felt supported by each member on the panel. I feel honored to have played a role in the panel discussion and to have served on the program along side my fellow panelists. For more information on the NABJ event visit the website at www.nabj.org.
To learn more information about Schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, Inc., National Alliance on Mental Illness, Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).
Friday, March 11, 2011
Even when the symptoms of Schizophrenia tormented me, I did not know it was beyond my control. Many times, I prayed and meditated for peace of mind and for the angels to protect me as I go to my destination. I was very religious and had delusions that I was prophet of God. I prayed for protection because I felt like I was fighting a spiritual battle everyday. In other words, spiritual welfare between me and the world.
Back then in school, I felt emotionally exhausted, and I also felt like a victim because I thought professors and peers were gossiping about me. I was extremely paranoid. Paranoia is another symptom of Schizophrenia in my experience with the illness. Eventually, I began to hate my school, because I did not feel like I can connect with my peers anymore. I also isolated from family because I did not think that would understand my concerns.
Despite my frustration and lack of understanding as to what was happening to me, I never blamed anyone or myself for that matter for my mental illness when I did become aware of my diagnosis. If anything I just wanted to strive for my old life- college, family life, and independence.
Should we blame community, family, friends, and ourselves for mental illness? What about the good Samaritan idea. If we see someone who looks disoriented or distant should it be up to us to check on them and seek resources and support for them?
I remember while I was going through an episode before I was diagnosed with Schizophrenia, I was hearing voices and wondering about aimlessly. I called family and friends on the phone at a gas station, but the voices continued to infringe on my livelihood. While outside a stranger confronted me. He gave me a ride to a nearby mall at my request and then called the police because I seemed disoriented and confused. When the police confronted me they did not understand what was going on so they called my family and sent me home. Thinking about that incident, I think the man was acting as a good Samaritan. I am glad that he called the police because I would not have known how to return home, because my symptoms were so bad. However, I wish that police officer was trained to distinguish someone with a mental health concern, it may have prevented or helped in my crisis stage.
If we all acted as good Samaritans can we make a difference in someone's recovery from mental health?.... I do not believe that we, or I should, blame others for my mental illness because there is no known cause for the diagnosis and it does not have anything to do with my character. A common misconception about the illness is that it is caused by dysfunctional families or poor parenting- this is NOT true. Schizophrenia is brain disease and its causes are unknown. However, genetics and environmental factors do play a role in the onset of the illness.
To learn more about schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, Inc., the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).
Thursday, February 24, 2011
The following story was written by Rebecca Lyn Phillips, my new friend in recovery.
I’d always wanted to write. I started out a published author in 1994 with a book for teen girls, entitled “Heart to Heart.” Twenty thousand were sold. I was happy about my success, but there was something else going on in my life that I didn’t want to talk to my family about.
In 1994 I attended Kansas State University, planning to work towards a Ph.D. in Psychology. I wanted to open up a home for abused teens. I wanted to make a difference. While at K-State, however, I began to struggle with a thought and mood disorder called schizo-affective disorder. I stayed in bed in my dorm and I started to miss classes. I wanted to be in Topeka in my nice, little bed at home, not at school with all those people and deadlines. I was very depressed and everyone around me knew it, except for me.
October came and I started to lose weight. I had always been slender, but now I was missing meals at the cafeteria and I was very thin. My roommate, a friend from high school, was concerned. I started to wander around campus, aimlessly, without a direction. Finally, I went to a counselor on campus and she said maybe I could go back home. I wanted to: I wanted to be with my family and to sleep forever.
I called my dad. He came to pick me up. I felt like a failure. I didn’t know what to do. When I returned to my home in Topeka, I slept a lot and had to be hospitalized. It was the beginning of many hospital stays and I wanted to make it go away. The disorder clouded my thinking, my responses, and my emotions. I couldn’t move and I could hardly talk at times. While at the hospital, I gained strength and I met others who helped me see I wasn’t alone. I knew I was made for a purpose and through activities at the hospitals I went to all throughout the 90’s, I learned my mind could heal. I feel it has in many ways.
Now I attend groups during the day at a center in Topeka. I also have learned to be forthright about my emotions with my family. My dad and I are talking again and he and I email a lot about the day’s happenings. My mom and I attend a family support group every other Wednesday with other families and it has been great at helping us communicate better. My sister lives in Utah and she calls me and encourages me. I still feel guilty that she had to see all my pain but she’s okay about it and has her own friends.
Through my writing I gain strength. I now have a blog for cjonline. I talk about people in the community who make a difference—who care. There are people who make a difference in my life of recovery and those people I know do care. They care very much. Sometimes I feel ashamed about my thoughts and emotions, especially when they overtake me. My friends and family don’t always know what to do. I’ve gone to the hospital so many times I want to say, “no more!” My writing gives me an escape from the hospital blues. Every time I think of when I was strapped down or locked up in the name of treatment, I go to my writing and find a cause to help others who have experienced similar treatment. I know there are good hospitals and that a lot is being learned about how to treat vulnerable, mentally ill people. The ways of old need to go and new ways need to come up. That is happening and I am happy to be a part of it.
I would say I have recovered to a major degree. I still have anger and depression at times, but I have hope. This hope carries me through the bad times when I want to sleep in and not go anywhere or when I want to scream because I have to have a payee. I don’t feel accepting of all these supports in my life, but I know they are there for a purpose. So this hope carries me and defines me and I hope in my smile one can see a new me—a person who has suffered and is learning to be one with herself and give to others and try again. To me, that’s what my recovery is all about.
Saturday, February 19, 2011
Schizophrenia for me, is characterized by hallucinations (specifically the voices and visions of people or ghosts), thoughts of people gossiping about me, following me, or trying to poison me, and false beliefs or delusions...
As I reviewed old college journal entries it saddened me how prevalent my diagnosis of Paranoid Schizophrenia was. Certain phrases gave indication that Schizophrenia was dominate and slowly getting worse. I relied on God to relieve my stressful situations. Now, I will share with you some thoughts I had that I wrote about in my college journal while I was a sophomore and/or junior.
Stress played an intricate role in my symptoms that surfaced. On February 26, 2006, I wrote: "...Although I have been under a lot of stress due to financial, car, and professor conflicts, everything is okay...." Most of the time I tried to stay positive. However, I was obsessed with the idea that someone or some group of college students were gossiping about me. On March 11, 2006, I wrote: "...I have the feeling that people are gossiping about me..."
Eventually, I did not trust anybody including my closest friends, and I began to isolate myself. These thoughts and actions are portrayed in the following journal entries: (March 12, 2006) "...I am at peace with myself I do not feel bad about deteriorating relationships at school..." I went on further to write on March 23, 2006: "... I am blessed because I know I cannot trust any of my closest friends with my secrets..." As you can imagine, not being able to share information with other people, or even your best friend, can make a person feel trapped... I felt trapped, and I did not understand why.
The belief that others were talking about me behind my back got worse to include a group of individuals outside of my initial circle of support. On March 31, 2006, I wrote: "...I think I am certain of who the main gossipers are- [I listed several names]..."
Back then, I remember whenever I was under a lot of stress, (which was a lot), I would take a walk around campus (I lived on the college campus), no matter what time of night. For instance, I took a lot of late night walks just before and during finals week. During these walks, I sometimes heard voices or people laughing (at me). I rationalized the voices by believing that I had extremely good hearing, and I assumed my friends were laughing at me in secret, which made me withdraw from them and eventually everyone else.
In my mind, the stress got so bad that I needed to take a break from school. A year after the listed journal entries, I withdrew from all college courses during my junior year in March 2007. I felt like I lost my drive, focus, and motivation to complete assignments, and to even go class.
I must emphasize that during the time I journaled, I did not know I was living with a mental illness. Also, even though my faith seemed to help me get through some difficult times, my mental illness was not prayed away, and I have learned that it cannot be willed away, or slept away. (I am not by any means suggesting that divine intervention or miracles are not possible). How to treat a person's mental illness should be discussed with a mental health professional.
Now, I no longer feel trapped by my Schizophrenia. I have friends and relatives who I can trust. As I do research on the illness and remember situations from my past, or read old journal entries, I am able to distinguish reality from delusions... I am still putting together the pieces, which is refreshing to me- to know the difference. More important, I am back in college!
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, February 18, 2011
Hope to me is to hear my own voice and only my voice when I am alone. I am thankful that I tried something that manages my hallucinations and other symptoms. I am hopeful that others living with Schizophrenia may find the treatment that works for them too. And hopeful that society will find solutions to many complications associated with the cause, or causes of the illness, and to find better treatment or a cure for this concern.
Someone with Schizophrenia can live a "normal" life in recovery, which is an on-going process to manage this illness. There is no set time frame for recovery. And, I will say this again, there is no set time frame for recovery, everyone is different and may require unique avenues to reach stability despite one's challenging illness.
I am a genuine example of someone successfully managing Schizophrenia! I am still in recovery, still putting together the pieces of my past realities or product of symptoms, and I am still learning myself like many other people who may not have a diagnosis.
What helped in my recovery is treatment, hope from family and health care professionals, and education, education, education! Here are some websites on Schizophrenia and other mental illnesses:
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
- Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America (SARDAA)
- National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD)
Yes, Schizophrenia scared me, yes, Schizophrenia stole meaningful relationships from me, and yes, Schizophrenia even had the audacity to take away daily choices from me... but today, I am overcoming Schizophrenia, and you can too!
To learn more about Schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, Inc., National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).
While I am speaking to someone I may intentionally blink my eyes so that I don't seem to stare off, and I smile more. Occasionally, I nod my head so that the person I am talking to knows that I am following with whatever they are saying. And, I may turn away and then look back. Now, I have mastered these movements.
A major side effect for the medication I am taking was stiffness. When I first started my medication regimen in 2007, my peers said I looked like a robot. However, I did not feel stiff, but doctors and others noticed how I walked. In fact, my doctor gave me another medication to help counteract the stiffness. Now, I am not taking the other medicine because the side effects have seemed to fade away over time. To overcome the appearance that I am a little stiff I slightly swing my arms when I walk, which helps tremendously. Moreover, I take my medicine at night in hopes that the stiffness will decrease. Even though I manage these little things very well, I am mindful of them and continue to work at it.
To learn more about schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, Inc., the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
It is unfortunate that some people, including myself, have to endure an extreme chaotic situation or crisis, before getting the treatment we need. In addition to the ordinary stresses of life, in my experience, I suffered a nervous breakdown at the age of 20 that resulted in my arrest and hospitalization as a result of my unknown mental illness, Paranoid Schizophrenia. It is important to acknowledge the fact that I was and still am very involved in my community. I was a youth church teacher, assistant coach for the youth, student mentor in college, and a poll worker for the presidential election before the adult-onset schizophrenia disrupted my life. My family and I did not understand mental illness, its seems to have crept up on us, and stole my livelihood, personality, relationships, and ultimately my mind, before I started the recovery process.
The illness terrified myself, family, especially my mother, because she did not know if I would be able to function again. During my most challenging experiences with schizophrenia, I experienced auditory and visual hallucinations, the voices, sometimes only one, other times multiple voices, were discouraging and told me that 'I was a dishonor to my family,' the voices were cruel and confusing, especially because I thought the voices were coming from the people around me.
And the images, I'll never forget the thought and fear I had, that I was being followed. One of the images were of a man on an antique bicycle, it dreadful, no matter how hard I tried, I could not escape him, it was scary! I became extremely paranoid to the extent that I stopped eating because I thought others were trying to poison me. Eventually, I stopped taking care of myself, speaking, and even moving.
I thought the devil was communicating to me through the television and radio, trying to persuade me to commit suicide. Imagine watching a church service on T.V. and at the end of the program you see the words "How to Commit Suicide" on the screen to order tapes! it frightened me. Other times I thought I felt the devil's presence in people around and even in church, which was not a good feeling. I am glad I received treatment when I did before those thoughts got any worse, or before I acted on them.
Also, I believed I could read people's minds, and they read my mind as well- it was all confusing and exhausting. Eventually, I had no recollection of where I was, I thought family members were impostures, and my personality fluctuated depending on the severity of my delusions, which were bizarre.
I am thankful to be able to do the things I want and need to do. Also, I am thankful for treatment and all involved in my recovery (God, family, peers, NAMI, online friends and supporters like you, and health care professionals). I appreciate the opportunity to share my story with you, it is therapeutic to me and I hope beneficial to you, too. I encourage you to partake in whatever helps you or your loved one's recovery (i.e., therapy, support groups, journaling, hobbies, meditation on higher power, family and friends, etc.). My episodes and encounters around my experience with mental health are all true.
For more information about the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) programs visit the website.
Saturday, January 22, 2011
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Initially, I was forced into treatment, mandated by a judge to medication compliance. Therefore, whenever I refused to take my medication a group of staff would barge into my room, pin me down to the bed while the nurse administered a shot. We followed this routine for a few days till I gave in and took the pills they gave me.
In the beginning, I did not take the medication for several reasons: 1) I did not believe I needed them, nobody told me I had schizophrenia they just started giving me medicine one day, 2) I had a history of enduring allergies and other less severe illnesses without medication, and 3) I did not want to make the medication "weaken" my spiritual gifts. In other words, I lacked insight into what was actually happening to me- I was falling a part- I had had a nervous breakdown or psychotic break. I did not see myself failing to take care of personal hygiene, not engaging in activities and conversation with others (isolation and poverty of speech), or notice the fact that I would stay in one position for long periods of time (catatonic).
Growing up, I let colds and allergies fade away on its own. I did not want to be dependent on medication unless it was very serious like the flu. Lastly, when I noticed a change in my ability to read people's minds or to read into their spirit whether they were good or evil, I felt like the medication was interfering with my God-given talents. When in truth, the medication was bringing me back to reality!
After finally giving in and taking the medicine, another problem occurred... The SIDE EFFECTS. I would sleep all day everyday. I missed out on group therapy and free time with peers. On top of that I was extremely hungry to the state of not being able to focus, can you imagine?!
Moreover, a downside to another medication was lack of sleep. I could not sleep because I felt compelled to move about, this was restless legs. After experiencing restless legs I did not want to take my medication. (This is one of many reasons why some other people with a mental illness may not want to take their medication). I complained to staff about my new condition (restless legs) but with no avail until I caught the attention of another doctor. In the meantime, nurses bribed me into taking my medicine with candy and juice, which was a treat in jail.
Finally, a medication that controlled the symptoms with a more tolerable outcome... Stiffness. I did not feel stiff, however, medical staff would ask me how I felt and would move my limbs to test for any discomfort, because, well, I walked like a "robot!" This is what my peers called me.
Then the "talk." My doctor told me my official diagnosis- Paranoid Schizophrenia... but wait! I was NOT devastated, because I was blessed with a great doctor, let me tell you why he was great... He had a passion for helping patients. He explained what the symptoms of schizophrenia was and applied them to my specific situation. He said my illness was to explain all the symptoms I was experiencing- the voices, delusions, etc., which made me feel a little relieved, but wait this is not the only reason why he was a great psychologist.
I had a great doctor because he believed in me and in my recovery. He had hope for me! He told me that I can return to college as long as I managed my stress and take my medication regularly. He said I can lead a normal life as long as I did these things. His faith in my recovery gave me HOPE that I can do it! And now I am...
Currently, I am attending college part-time. I also volunteer and do a lot of community service in the mental health field. I live independently, cook for myself, take my medication regularly, manage my bills, etc. with the support of family, peers, and treatment team.
If you, or a loved one, is living with a mental illness there is hope. For me it began with Acceptance- meeting the demands of my mental illness in order to get well and to stay well. I take my medication as prescribed, participate in several support groups a week, and stay connected to my support circle- family, peers, and health care professionals.
To learn more about schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, Inc., NAMI, Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
To learn more about schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, Inc., NAMI, Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).
Monday, January 17, 2011
I remember the intake process, which was lengthy. I endured several comprehension, medical, and personal tests. The staff wanted to know everything- my childhood experiences, schooling, knowledge of my mental illness, the reason I was there - EVERYTHING!
In the hospital, we were provided three meals a day with flexible diets if stated - vegetarian, no pork, low sodium, etc. We earned points by good behavior- going to classes, cleaning our room, dressing in an appropriate manner, and doing whatever we were supposed to. The points went toward a store where we could purchase candy, accessories, and other items.
Whenever someone got into trouble they would lose their freedom to accept visits, go outside, socialize with others by staying in a private room, use their points for the store, or participate in additional activities or meetings. Sometimes if someone where out of control they would be trapped to a bed, or transferred to another unit.
In addition to mandatory classes and conferences with the treatment team, some of the activities included: Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, church, visits to the library, talent shows, or cookouts. The class load was diverse- exercise, learning about mental health, learning about the court system, art classes, etc. The classes were taught by health care professionals - psychologists, social workers, counselors, etc. The conferences were meetings with our treatment team to decipher if we were ready to be discharged from the hospital and return to jail to complete court hearings.
I remember when I was in the hospital my anxiety level was high. I did not like being around large groups, sometimes I preferred to stay in my room. I remember being bored a lot, to pass the time I would read, write, or exercise.
I stayed active and out of trouble. I participated in just about all the activities- even the talent show! A peer, a nurse, and myself danced to a hip hop song, it was fun. At the end everyone got a prize, we were provided a large box with various items in it- candy, smell goods, etc. to choose from.
My peers were well mannered for the most part, nobody wanted their freedoms taken from them, however, there were some that caused problems, which occasionally ruined it for all of us.
Overall, my experience was not bad. I went to the state hospital to get better and to learn more about my mental illness, which I did. It was at the California State Hospital where I received an official mental health diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. I remember my doctor discussing some of the symptoms with me and telling me that I can still go back to college and lead a fulfilling life. This gave me hope...
What are your thoughts on this?
To learn more about schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, Inc., National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).
Friday, January 14, 2011
My hospital stay was productive. I reunited with my mother and family, and participated in group therapy. I was sent to a California State Hospital because my (unknown) mental illness had gotten so severe that I became catatonic- not moving my body limbs for periods at a time. I was extremely paranoid that staff would try to poison me and thus, I stopped eating and drinking. As a result, I was sent to the emergency room several times. Also, I failed a competency test for trial, in short, I was so sick that the court hearings could not proceed and the judge mandated medication compliance and a visit to the state hospital.
My illness had taken over the loving, ambitious, go-getter, Ashley. I became angry at my mother and family for no concrete reason, the illness made everyone the enemy including my very own loving and supportive family. However, my family did not give up HOPE. And when the medicine kicked in, my mother and family were there to accept me.
In the hospital, I was required to participate in diverse group therapy. Some of the classes I took included: yoga, cardio, coping with mental illness, medication education, informational court, and an art class, (I did not take all these classes in the same period, we rotated classes like mini semesters).Whenever, I was not in class I was visiting with family.
The following is a selected parts of my diary while I was staying in a California State Hospital:
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Now I am at the State Hospital and not at the psychiatric unit in jail. I am a little nervous because of my new, large surroundings. The people are friendly, but a little intimidating because the group is larger than the group I came from which was about 16 people...
Friday, August 17, 2007
Day #2 at the State Hospital. Everybody is friendly. I switched bedrooms because a couple of my peers got into a fight. Today I also gave blood and met with my social worker, nurse, program coordinator, and doctor. I took what seems like the same interview twice today and I completed a test that focused on my reading skills. For the most part the staff seems laid back, which is a good thing. All of my peers are friendly because they are very considerate... I am still adjusting to the large group, I think I will do well here. I know that He is with me always and will hold my hand through this experience.
Friday, August 31, 2007
Yesterday, my mother and me did not visit, however, we visited today and she plans on coming back this afternoon. We discussed Supplemental Security Income (SSI), my recovery, arrest, and my newborn niece, and family. My mother says she became a member of a mental illness awareness group. I thought that was courageous and proactive. She also encourages me to apply for SSI...
Tuesday, September 4, 2007
Today was my first day participating in regular classes, I took Medication Education. My social worker and psychologist taught the class, they both shared videos, and both videos were interesting. I also spoke to my aunt, I called her at work. She told me some of the details of my case... she will make a specific prayer for me that the judge will release me without felony charges. We had a good conversation. Some of the reasons that I was upset with her is most likely a part of my paranoia, we said we would discuss it in person during our visit this Sunday.
I just spoke with my mother and she is on her way. My step-father is with her... Our visit went well. My mother is moving close to the hospital in order to visit me daily. She says that she will visit me Friday and move to the area this weekend. Seeing my mother daily will make my stay here much easier. We could talk about my classes, because she wants to learn what I am learning.
Granddad will visit me tomorrow. I am excited to see him, he goes out of his way a lot too. I am blessed to have a family that cares so much.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Today I went to Conflict Management and then I had a visit with my mother. First, in class we talked about our support system and how some people avoid their problems. We also discussed the difference between sanity and insanity. Insanity is not dealing with any problems, while sanity is. Our support system may include our peers, family, education network, and self. We had the opportunity to record our support system in different colors on circles. I used blue and purple. Second, my mother visited me earlier. She was like herself. Today she sang Christian hymns and we prayed together...
As you can tell by reading bits and pieces of my diary from the hospital stay, the hospital can be a very scary place, but it could also be a place to recuperate. My family was very supportive and hopeful that I will get better. They played an active role in my recovery from the beginning, we experienced the hospital stay together.
From the selected journal entries, a person can imagine how faith played a role in my life during this critical moment. My family and me were praying for a tolerable solution to the incident, and through faith, support- I received character references from family, church members, and others to give to the judge- and an official diagnosis, I was not convicted with a felony.
My mother became a member of a mental health support group. Both of my parents suggested that I apply for SSI. And, my hospital stay is where I gained the foundation to my recovery by learning more about my illness.
To learn more about schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, Inc., NAMI, Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).