The Author- Ashley

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Atlanta, Georgia, United States
My name is Ashley and I am a lot of things, read this blog to learn more... Thank you for visiting my blog!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Decisions: Preference vs. Convenience

Recently, I called the mental health center to reschedule my appointment with my psychiatric doctor whom I've been receiving services from for three years, and to my surprise he no longer works there. Because I really like receiving services from this doctor I sought him out online and found another practice where he works, and received his phone number. I spoke to him directly and learned where I could schedule another appointment to see him elsewhere. I called the new agency and asked about their process of becoming a new client and if they accept my type of insurance, which they do. Now I am considering switching centers to continue receiving mental health services from my doctor.

My experience with mental health doctors has either been okay or really good. During my recovery I've come across two doctors out of five who I think are passionate about their practice and who sincerely  listen to my concerns beyond asking me the routine questions about self-harm, and whether or not I am hearing voices. One of my favorite doctors waited after hours to have a meeting with my mother to discuss my treatment and any questions she had. This same doctor told me I could return to college after receiving my diagnosis of schizophrenia. My current doctor is awesome because he was flexible. When I wasn't able to maneuver to the center because of another medical issue that landed me in the hospital for a while my doctor increased the amount of pills in my order and even had a telephone session, which showed me really cared about my well being.

The obvious concerns I have about switching agencies include: wait time, frequency of doctor visits, and support groups with options to meet my needs, and location convenience. My current mental health agency is near public transit, but the agency where my doctor transferred to is not near public transportation routes. However, I do have access to another method of transportation which is my health insurance that offers rides to any medical appointment with advance notice, but I've never used it because I did not need it in the past.

What do you think are some other concerns I should take into consideration before transferring to another agency in order to keep a great doctor?

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

Sunday, November 10, 2013

My Antidepressant Decision and Update

I decided not to go off my antidepressants. A little while ago I posted a blog entry about my idea to stop taking my antidepressants with my doctor's approval. I said I would wait to discontinue the antidepressants until I met with my doctor... I appreciate your feedback on this important concern.

Recently, I had a disturbing thought cross my mind and tried to erase it by thinking of happy thoughts, which worked, however, it reminded me of how frequent those thoughts were before I was on antidepressants. One major reason why I decided to stay on my antidepressants is because I think this specific medication helps keep my disturbing thoughts at bay. Finally, me and my doctor decided to stay on the antidepressant, but to stay on a lower dose, which satisfies me. I believe I made a wise decision. I will postpone discontinuing my antidepressants for the time being.

Lately, I've upheld a very busy schedule, and I am content with it. For me, having a busy schedule helps me stay focused on my goals because I have to plan most tasks more carefully and to follow a strict agenda.

For additional info on schizophrenia visit:Embracing My MindNAMI, Choices in Recovery, and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).

Monday, October 7, 2013

Celebrating Mental Illness Awareness in October

The month of October honors people living with mental illness in diverse ways...

In fact, in 1945 the United States government made the first week of October, "National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week." However, in 1962 the word "Physically" was removed to honor all people with disabilities. And in 1988, the government expanded the calendar recognition to promote the entire month of October and also changed the name of the holiday to National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and the theme for 2013: "Because we are EQUAL to the task." Campaigns to raise awareness around disability employment issues, and to celebrate the diverse contributions of workers living with disabilities is carried out during this month.

Moreover, the certified peer specialist (CPS) position recognizes and supports people living with mental illness who want to work with peers affected by mental illness by becoming certified as a peer counselor. CPSs learn about the stages of recovery, how to communicate with and advocate for peers, and to facilitate self-help meetings among other duties and responsibilities. To learn more about this certification visit: www.gacps.org

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a grassroots non-profit organization that is dedicated to providing advocacy, education, support, and research to children and adults affected by mental illness. Each year NAMI celebrates mental illness awareness month during the first full week of October. This year, NAMI is celebrating mental illness awareness week (MIAW) October 6-12, 2013. Please support mental health events and programs in your area especially this week!

Atlanta Area: Attend the Whole Health & Wellness Conference on Saturday, October 12th from 1-4 PM at the College Park Recreation Center in College Park, Georgia. Furthermore, I will share my experience living with mental illness among other presenters. Founder and visionary of the conference is Mrs. Kenya Rucker Phillips. For details about this conference visit the website: www.whwcatlanta.com

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Time to Stop Meds?

I take one anti-psychotic for my schizophrenia, one anti-depressant, and another med to counteract the side effects. I understand that my medication for schizophrenia is a lifelong commitment, however, I've heard from others that depression for some may be temporary.  With  that said, sometimes I feel like I do not need to take my anti-depressants, but I will not stop taking them until I get my doctor's support...

To quickly tell you about my background with depression, I developed postpartum depression after the birth of my son. I started taking the anti-depressants a little over a year ago after experiencing some symptoms which were probably triggered by a lot of "good stress"- having a baby and managing my new way of life. I remember my symptoms of depression included having a frequent overwhelming feeling, intense anxiety, lack of motivation, poor diet, and sleeping more than usual among other symptoms. When I became aware of my symptoms I spoke to a professional as a "walk-in" at the center where I receive treatment.

At first, I was afraid symptoms of my schizophrenia would return which prompted me to seek help. However, I was diagnosed with postpartum depression. I did not immediately take the meds until I spoke with a professional about possible side effects, which did not seem unbearable at the time.

After being on the meds for a while my doctor and I tweaked my doses. And I have experienced some side effects such as poor concentration that requires me to take another med to counteract the side effects.

Now, I feel like I can cope with a lower dose of medication and would like to try to go without anti-depressants completely and to lean on a lot of my coping skills for support. Recently, I asked my doctor if I could discontinue use my anti-depressant medication, but he advised me not to until I met with him face-to-face to determine my well being. However, he did approve of me taking a lower dose of meds by breaking my pills in half.

I am optimistic that I will be able to transition off the anti-depressants well, sometime in the near future. I plan to meet with my doctor soon. I will keep you updated on my appointment and plans to discontinue use of my anti-depressants. In the meantime, I will most definitely continue to take all my medicine until otherwise advised by my doctor.

Question: If you were diagnosed with depression and have discontinued use of anti-depressants, how did you know you were ready to stop taking the meds, and how did you transition off of them mentally and emotionally?

To learn more about schizophrenia and depression visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Friday, September 27, 2013

My Recovery- Stamped and Approved by Me!

September 2013 is National Recovery Month... Recovery Month promotes the societal benefits of prevention, treatment, and recovery for substance use and mental disorders, celebrates people in recovery, lauds the contributions of treatment and service providers, and promotes the message that recovery in all its forms is possible. Recovery Month spreads the positive message that behavioral health is essential to overall health, that prevention works, treatment is effective and people can and do recover.                               
  • With proper care and treatment, between 70 and 90 percent of persons with mental illnesses experience a significant reduction of symptoms and an improved quality of life. (the National Alliance on Mental Illness, NAMI)
September 2013 also represents my five year anniversary for maintaining this blog, which I started in 2008. At the same time, September is my birthday month, yay!

As I reflect on my journey of recovery that began in 2007 at the age of 20, I can look back with peace of mind, and joy, to see and experience maturity in recovery. Since my diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia in a state hospital in the summer of 2007 I have created a new life for myself that is no longer defined by my academic achievements and failures, but consistent invalueable experiences in the mental health field that has molded my recovery; my involvement in the lives of my peers, advocacy, and volunteer work.

There is life after diagnosis of mental illness, I am proof! I have accomplished many of my short-term and long-term goals which will continue to change along with my ongoing recovery plans and responsibiliites. Some of my goals that I have made included: living independently, obtaining my driver's license again (it was taken from me for the incident I committed that landed me in jail), and becoming a Certified Peer Specialist (after three attempts to get into the training), among other accomplishments. Now I hold several leadership positions in the mental health community, including board member, mentor, trainer and advocate.

I say all this to emphasize that an individual living with mental illness can fulfill their goals- whatever they are. Therefore, I urge you- whether you are an individual living with severe and persistent mental illness, a family member, educator, or professional, etc., to have hope for a better future for people affected by mental illness, because success is defined by the individual and it is attainable. In fact, I've overcome many obstacles such as not having health insurance, having a fixed income, and being looked down upon because of my mental health condition, but I've endured!

My hope and goal is to finish college, become a homeowner, and to gain full-time employment among many other goals, which I believe I can reach as long as I maintain consistency in being compliant with my treatment regime, surround myself with like-minded people, and to have faith!

Recently, I found myself so stressed and tired at another daily challenge that I had to use self-talk to encourage myself to keep pushing forward. I told myself aloud, "I can do this. I can do this, there are people who are willing to help me. I can do this." And this statement helped me to look at the positive side of situations and to keep going.

Thank you for reading about my struggles and joys- I hope my experience will motivate you to see strength, hope, and the endless capabilities in yourself, whether you have a mental illness or not. Thank you.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

My Version of Hope- A Poem

My fingers were itching to share more about my experience on managing mental illness, to write and to share my thoughts, my therapy. I let my mind wonder and started writing a poem. I don't have a lot of experience writing poems but I ventured off into another form of expression. Below is the poem I wrote:

My Version of Hope
by Ashley Smith


I feel a better me is yet to come,  
No more naive decisions that make me feel dumb. 
Limitless opportunities are on the way,
I believe I know what I want and how not to stray. 


I see myself as the individual I long to be- free, confident, and classy, 
My experiences cannot stop me,
Not schizophrenia and depression nor anxiety.
Because ingrained in me is an overcomer of adversity.


Now I understand how to strive in my recovery,
But I cannot take all the credit when it took a caring party.
I give thanks to my treatment team, family and peers,
Including those online that opened up about their fears.


And I will never overlook my miracle from above,
Forever recovering and living a life I am proud of.
My faith keeps me going as did my mom.
And now that she is gone, for others, I will remain strong.


Within my spirit hope shed its light, 
Now I aspire to share the fight.
Join me as I dare to put myself out there,
And overcome the stigma that we bear. 


Hold them accountable, 
Oh yes, for the lies and propaganda that so freely is told,
Together we can contribute to the solution,
I urge you, to continue to speak, write, and demolish the confusion. 




 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Buddhism, My Mental Health & My Happiness by Jennifer L. Myers

Jennifer L. Myers is author of the blog, Never Give Up: Buddhism, Family, & Schizophrenia. Jennifer earned her masters in Urban and Environmental Policy from Tufts University and her undergraduate from UC Santa Cruz. She has experience working with the U.S. Peace corps in the Dominic Republic, environmental non-profits, and teaching. Currently, she is working on her memoir, Never Give Up: Buddhism, Family, & Schizophrenia. The following is her experience...

Buddhism, My Mental Health & Happiness
by Jennifer L. Myers


When I was first diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2002 I had already been practicing Buddhism with the SGI (Soka Gakkai International) for 14 years. Still, I didn't have a very strong practice at the time. I attended local discussion meetings regularly, but I didn't spend much time chanting on a daily basis. It wasn't until the symptoms of schizophrenia - the voices whispering in my head, the screaming and yelling I heard outside my apartment, the feeling that I was constantly being watched and followed, the incessant fear and paranoia – grew unbearable and took over my life that I really began to strengthen my Buddhism practice by chanting consistently every day.


I was at a point in my life where I felt like I couldn't explain how I felt or what I was really thinking to anyone who would understand. I kept everything to myself because nothing that I believed made sense. I decided to focus on chanting my Buddhist chant and hoped that therein I would find the resolution to my problem. This was over three years ago. While I still deal with symptoms of schizophrenia every day, I have learned how to manage the symptoms so that they no longer have power over me. Buddhism gave me the courage to challenge the negativity in my life, to believe in myself and to fight against my own negativity as well as the evil in my environment manifested as symptoms of schizophrenia.


When I chant, I repeat the phrase Nam Myoho Renge Kyo (literally: devotion to the mystic law of cause and effect through sound and vibration) over and over, rhythmically and sonorously. This is a fundamental part of my Buddhist practice. I make sure to chant at least one hour every day, and I recite the morning prayers as well as the evening prayers. I also attend local discussion meetings once a week and I have recently started supporting the elementary school youth group, much to my great fortune. I read daily encouragement over breakfast every morning to start my day off on a positive note. All of these activities that comprise my Buddhist practice, along with the encouragement from fellow Buddhists have provided me with the hope, courage, and perseverance to never give up in the battle against my own negativity and the devilish functions that are present in my life. Without my Buddhist practice, I would have given up the fight years ago and probably would not be alive to see the light of day.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Interview: A Life of Recovery and Advocacy



I had the pleasure of learning more about a remarkable individual and advocate for mental illness. This woman is an expert on mental illness, having been in remission from schizophrenia for over 21 years.  She obtained a Masters in Library and Information Science (M.S.) from Pratt Institute and works as a public service librarian. Her name is Christina Bruni. 


1.  How were you diagnosed? How long have you been in recovery?
I had a breakdown on Friday, September 25, 1987 at 5 pm.  By 9 am that Saturday morning my mother drove me to the ER.  I was admitted to the hospital and started taking Stelazine.  The blue-eyed psychiatrist on the ward told me: "You don't want to have paranoid schizophrenia.  You have to take medication."  I was lucky I was aware that something was not right.  I've been in recovery 26 years.

2.  Who is your mentor?
My mentor is Robin Cunningham.  He was featured on the original In Our Own Voice video circa 2002 when I first started doing the IOOV presentations.  Three years later I wanted to write a Recovery Q&A for Schizophrenia Digest (SZ magazine today) where I'd interview 3 peers about hot topics in recovery.  Through the Internet, I was able to track him down and a half hour later he called me up and signed on to be a panelist.  He inspires me because for the first 10 years of his recovery he heard unremitting voices yet he pulled through and was lucky to find the newest drug that totally stopped the voices.  Robin has an MBA and rose up to become the CEO of corporations.

3.  What inspired you to become a mental health activist?
I was inspired to become a mental health activist because I didn't want others to go through endless hell.  As soon as I was placed on the Stelazine, the symptoms stopped three weeks later.  My signature story that I tell everyone every chance I get is that early, if not immediate, intervention leads to a better outcome.

4.  What is the health central schizophrenia site about? How would people use this website?
The healthcentral.com/schizophrenia Website is way for peers, loved ones and family members to connect by writing SharePosts that are like mini blog entries.  I write 4 news articles a month for HealthCentral on hot topics in the mental health field.  I've been paid to do this for 7 years.  I also answer the questions that people post in the Ask a Question forum.  I give feedback via comments I provide to every person's SharePost that is written.  Aside from writing SharePosts, a person would benefit from coming to our online community simply by reading the news articles I write every month.  The slideshow at the top of the homepage features an article I wrote about precautions to take during the summer when it's hot and you take SZ meds.  I was able to give this information to a friend who couldn't get it at a famous mental health organization's website.

5.  How was your experience working with SZ magazine? Please share a memorable story.
I was a contributing editor for SZ magazine for 9 years.  The story I wrote that most touches me is how Robin Cunningham's wife didn't abandon him after he told her his whole life story.  Three days after he told her his diagnosis she called up and asked him to go blackberry picking.

6.  What inspired you to write your memoir, Left of the Dial?
My motivation for writing my memoir Left of the Dial was to show how early intervention leads to smashing success for a person.  As I began to write the manuscript, I was dismayed that most of the published SZ memoirs detailed the lives of people who endured numerous hospital stays and kept going off their meds.  These individuals invariably got treatment too late in the game and continue to have symptoms.

7.  Tell me about your recovery guide: Live Life Well.
My mental health recovery guide Live Life Well will be published first.  My literary agent is shopping it to editors.  It's a lifestyle guide chock full of strategies to help a person live life well.

8.  What is your motto on living in recovery?
My motto on living in recovery is: Do What You Love.

9. What advice would you give to newly diagnosed individuals and their families?
I suggest newly diagnosed individuals and their family members investigate creating a support network.  This isn't the end of your life when you get a diagnosis: it's only the start of what can be a better life than the one you had before you got sick.

10.  What are some ways people can advocate for themselves, or a loved one?
People can advocate for themselves or a loved one by networking with others who have walked down this road before them.  Hearing other people's stories can show them they are not alone and they can pick up techniques they could try.  More than this: I suggest a person diagnosed with SZ or BP or another MI get in the game of life, set goals, and take risks to achieve their goals.  This will give them the confidence that they have what it takes to assert themselves with professionals.

11.  How do you maintain your well being?- What type of treatments and therapies do you use to stay well?
I saw a therapist in my neighborhood for 3 years from 2004 to spring 2007.  Today the enduring strength I have is that I work out at the gym like a madwoman in training for the prizefight of her life.  I only started to train competitively two years ago when I turned 46.  I can dead-lift 165 lbs which is a good thing because I only weigh 113 lbs.  A dead-lift is where you add 165 lbs of weight to a barbell and lower the barbell to the floor and lift the barbell to your thigh.  I'm proud to say I can do this with 165 lbs.  That for me is the most important strategy to live life well: to do the gym routines mostly 3 times a week as often as I can.  Training at the gym is like a wonder drug for your mind as well as body.

12.  What books would you recommend to newly diagnosed people?
I recommend: Me, Myself and Them by Kurt Snyder a person who was diagnosed with schizophrenia who writes about treatment options and about his life and what other people can do to recover.  I recommend for anyone the number-one self-help book of all time in my estimation  Karen Casey"s Change Your Mind and Your Life Will Follow.  It's a short book and I bought it to re-read.  The back of the book offers a quick guide to the 12 principles of successful healthy living.

13.  When will you publish your memoir?
The memoir will be published shortly after the self-help guide so I estimate Left of the Dial will be published by 3 years from now.

14.  Where can people go to learn more about you?
I have a Twitter account: @ChristinaBruni.  I have a website:  www.christinabruni.com where you can read my blog Left of the Dial and read my Tumblr account entries.  I have a Facebook author page that if memory serves is ChristinaBruni all one word not to be confused with anyone else's Facebook page.  The Facebook page is actually  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Christina-Bruni/115777698476088?ref=ts  Once I get 30 "likes" I might be able to get a different Facebook URL.

15. Any last words you want to share with the readers?
I'll end by telling your readers that there's always hope.  You might not see this as possible in your darkest hour yet trust me there is always hope.


Please share your thoughts on this interview.



Thursday, August 8, 2013

Anosognosia- Watch this Short Video

I learned about this video on facebook. I think the video did a great job of describing what anosognosia is. The most interesting thing I learned about this issue is that there are different types of medical conditions which have this concern- not just individuals living with schizophrenia.





Initially, I did not know I was struggling with mental illness, I thought it was more emotional or spiritual concerns, which I prayed about, journal about, and tried to overcome- the wrong way by not seeking a doctor. Two situations helped me recognize my illness- brutally honest nurses and a combination of medication and education about my diagnosis. Now, that I am aware I try to maintain wellness by taking my medication, keeping doctor appointments, and giving and receiving support from others- I know that may seem easy, but it is not, it was a process for me and still is because I believe recovery is ongoing.

What do you think about the info in the video?


To learn more about schizophrenia visit NAMI, Choices in Recovery, and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Suicide. My Understanding

One of the strongest taboos in our society is suicide- I've heard that ministers do not want to preside over the funerals, and families do not want to discuss it with outsiders... I admit, my faith prevented me from investigating suicide because I thought it was bad. I never attempted suicide however, I felt like my illness could have made me a victim of it. I am not so judgmental about individuals who attempt suicide. Now, I have a different perspective on suicide, here's why:

Since my diagnosis of schizophrenia I have encountered people of diverse backgrounds- careers, families, faith, and experiences with mental illness, etc. Having a mental illness was my beginning of not being as naive as before about life experiences, and ignorant of understanding our differences. Like being diagnosed with mental illness, the suicide attempt of my family member came unexpectedly to me. When I found out about it I was overwhelmed with a range of emotions- disbelief, guilt, grief, helplessness, and relief that the attempt was not effective. The cause of the suicide attempt was worry over finances, regrets, guilt, and a pessimistic way of thinking. My family member was diagnosed with depression and prescribed antidepressants, which they took, and currently, no longer need. They are striving to work on their finances, forgive them self, and to change their thinking patterns. 

A peer who is also living with mental illness described the way of suicide to me- it is like having a broken leg on top of a deserted mountain without help, and longing to end the pain. In other words, suicide for some may be the only way to end their tormenting mind and symptoms. After they described it to me like this I felt like I had a better understanding of suicide for people living with mental illness. 

Before I was officially diagnosed with schizophrenia, and psychotic, I felt like the devil was communicating with me through the television and radio, encouraging me to commit suicide- I was frightened, worried, and afraid for my life. I believe receiving the diagnosis when I did saved my life! I do not know if I could have continued to fight against the devil's forces which seemed persistent. Despite the messages, I did not attempt suicide. However, I am concerned about peers who struggle with suicidal messages from the voices and other forces, and thoughts. My heart goes out to my peers who are struggling with suicide.

I hope my thoughts on suicide made you consider people with mental illness who attempt and commit it with more sympathy. Suicidal thoughts, plans, and comments should be taken seriously and addressed by a professional. Here is a first step to getting help for yourself or a loved one, call:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

How do you feel about suicide? Why- your faith, upbringing, experience, research, etc. (if you would like to respond, but feel uncomfortable please comment anonymously- your feedback could help someone)

To learn more about schizophrenia visit NAMI, Choices in Recovery, and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).

Sunday, August 4, 2013

New Recovery Lives

Having experienced a range of situations, and people related to my illness, I understand how "recovery" can have several interpretations and that each meaning is arguably the ideal definition.  Recovery to me used to mean striving for a part of me that used to be, before my illness stole that life away from me. How does an individual stop comparing their recovery to their old life?

I think it is difficult for each individual to let go of their career that once defined who they were- working in the corporate world, being a teacher, and real estate agent, or a student in college, etc. I remember my mother once said, 'this is all new to you, and you have to learn the new Ashley.' I think that was great advice, because it opened my eyes to having an open mind on my recovery. I have a new life in recovery and I choose to nourish it instead of measuring it and comparing it to my life before diagnosis.

How have you learned to cope with your life in recovery?

To learn more about schizophrenia visit NAMI, Choices in Recovery, and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Coping takes Work


"Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead." James 2:17 NKJV 

I agree with this scripture because everything in life demands some effort to get the desired results. Likewise, taking medication to treat mental illness with no coping skills and others support while expecting the illness to go into remission is not the most effective process- there is no magic pill- mental health recovery takes work. 

My schizophrenia seems to be under control and my depression has improved with the medication, but I am still struggling and learning how to better cope with my depression. Lately I've been pushing myself to straighten up the house everyday and to go outside and enjoy the sun, even if it's only 20 minutes. I also listen to music and share stresses with family and friends. I think keeping up my appearance and getting sunlight has been the most useful coping skills I practice under daily basis. I am not where I want to be with my depression right now, but I have hope I will get there soon. Now I plan to continue putting in the work in order to better cope with my depression.

To learn more about schizophrenia visit NAMI, Choices in Recovery, and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).

Friday, July 26, 2013

Thank You Jennifer

Thank you, Jennifer for having me as a guest author on your blog. I appreciate you for letting me share my story on how I started Embracing My Mind. Click here to read my story. Click on the title to learn more about Jennifer's blog, Never Give Up: Buddhism, Family & Schizophrenia. Thank you. Ashley Smith

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Women are Worthy- Radio Interview Archive

Here is a link to the one hour long radio interview from June 1st I had with Jackie Charles on Women are Worthy. Also, check out Women are Worthy facebook page. Please listen to this interview- a range of situations are mentioned here- myths, dating, diagnosis, and suicide, etc.

To learn more about schizophrenia visit NAMI, Choices in Recovery, Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).

Embracing My Mind NEW Website

Embracing My Mind has a new website. Visit EMM's website today: www.emminc-recovery.org

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Coping Skills to keep me Afloat

I've been feeling depressed- lack motivation to do anything and a desire for more and more sleep- but I am no longer settling to live in it. The last couple of days I forced myself to set up some form of routine that included a walk in the sun, and I think it temporarily helps my depression. Also, I've created some affirmations on my facebook page that lifts me up a little.

I think much of my depression is the consequence of my many stresses. Now, I am trying to reclaim control of my mood and to maintain some form of motivation- no matter how minor it seems.

Today is a good day for me because I feel like working on my projects. Now I need to maintain a routine that will help me stay motivated to help change my current state of mind- any suggestions?

I will not give up on my mental health... Please share some coping skills I could use to help me get out and stay out of my depression.

To learn more about schizophrenia visit NAMI, Choices in Recovery, Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Side Effects- ugh! Lesson Learned!

Have you suffered with the side effects of your medication in silence?

Despite the progress I've made in my recovery I still have setbacks. Recently, my doctor changed the dose of my medication and as a result I've been experiencing some side effects. Initially, I did not know I was experiencing side effects, and I assumed my concerns were happening because I was not taking my medication at the same time daily or that it may have only occurred as a result of me missing a dose.

Moreover, I noticed the side effects were starting to bother me more and more to the extent that I had poor concentration which prohibited me from maintaining eye contact with others, and my ability to read, write, or do any type of work that required attention. Although these side effects were not as bad as some that I've had in the past such as feeling jittery or having restless legs, they were still bothersome to me.

My lack of concentration bothered me very much because in the past people complimented me on my ability to maintain good eye contact. So when the concern of my eye contact was brought to my attention by a relative I don't know why, but I became embarrassed and I shied away from explaining what was really going on with me.

After discussing these concerns with my doctor I felt more confident that I was able to manage the side effects better; and my doctor prescribed me another medication to counteract the side effects. Now, I am not embarrassed anymore and I've had discussions with my family so that we all can be on one accord.

Three things I've learned from this experience: (1) to not assume things when it comes to my mental health and to share even the most minor thing with my doctor, (2) to always communicate with family and/or supporters about my concerns, and (3) to not be ashamed or embarrassed by my experiences with mental illness.

If you would like to learn more about schizophrenia visit NAMI, Choices in Recovery, or Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).

Friday, May 31, 2013

Women are Worthy Radio Interview June 1st

I will be a guest speaker on Women are Worthy, a fox affiliated radio station on Saturday, June 1st 10-11 AM Eastern Time. Hosted by Jacqlyn Charles. To listen to this live interview on mental health and women concerns visit: www.am1270wyxc.com and to call-in to show your support: (770) 382-1270. Also, like women are worthy facebook.com/womenareworthy page.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Crisis Plan- Do You Have One?

I need to create a better crisis plan because my current plan involves me addressing concerns to my treatment team, which is also needed, but I should include some members of my support network into my crisis plan. I realized my crisis plan needed improvement when I  hesitated on a couple of questions, for example: "who do you want to make decisions for you in the event you can't?" This shows me that I need to sit down with a couple of individuals in my immediate circle to make sure they understand my preferences and how I would like to be treated in the event I need them to make decisions for me. 

Do you have a crisis plan? Are your supporters aware of your preferences in the event of a crisis?

To learn more about schizophrenia visit NAMI, Choices in Recovery, and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Support Groups Play an Intricate Role in my Recovery

Lately I've been slacking in recovery and not participating in support groups for a number of reasons. I think depression has been creeping up on me as a result of not going to support groups and working as much. I lacked motivation to carry out house chores and to complete other easy tasks until recently (yesterday). For me I must have a productive schedule in order to stay well. Being productive to me is either volunteering or working, and engaging in advocacy. I recognize that I must stay involved in support groups to maintain and strengthen my coping skills like other treatment regimens such as taking my medication.

Last night I went to a support group which made me analyze what was going on with me. I had not been to a support group in about a month and being back was refreshing. Now I realize that going to support groups every week is still vital to my recovery.

If you would like to participate in a support group whether you are an individual living with mental illness or a family member I strongly encourage you to visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) for free educational classes and support groups.

To learn more about schizophrenia visit NAMI, Choices in Recovery, and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).

Monday, May 20, 2013

My Progress into Independence and Recovery

I've been in recovery for over five years and have learned a lot about it along with my peers. To me, crucial steps to recovery are consistency, risk-taking, and trust. An individual must be willing to participate in their recovery and hold trust in their treatment team and treatment regimen- whatever that is. Before they get to a place of cooperation one must step outside of their comfort parameters trust their treatment team, and do something different to help themselves in recovery, and to also maintain that new lifestyle.

For me, that was going to support groups. When I moved back to Atlanta I didn't have resources to engage in quality outpatient treatment programs, but I did have access to mental health care which I did take advantage of. I got involved in a patient assistance program by the pharmaceutical company and took part in the support groups led by my therapist in my local treatment center. I went there to 1) get out of my house, 2) socialize with people, and 3) to learn more about my diagnosis. And a few years later I still participate in support groups which has helped my recovery tremendously.

Although recovery is challenging it does get easier with time. My biggest struggles were accepting life-long treatment, not being able to go back to work, and putting independent living on hold to recuperate. Today, I've managed to overcome most of these challenges. However, I still have concerns with medication compliance. Despite these concerns I've managed to take my medication for three consecutive weeks and I take pride in my daily successes.

Sometimes I have to take a step back and appreciate my daily accomplishments such as taking my medication on time, doing the dishes and other housework, and carrying out assignments promised to others. Completing these tasks could be challenging especially when depression creeps up on me and motivation becomes an issue, or I forget to do things.

Despite my initial struggles I've learned that I can go back to work, and volunteering has been my bridge and experience to get back into the workplace. Now, I've been living independently for three years- making arrangements for myself and paying utility bills and rent, and I am so proud of myself! Getting to independent living was a process- I stayed in a residential program for almost a year and then with my mother again, where I did contribute to the rent.

Today, I mentor peers in recovery by example. I encourage peers to take risks and to engage in advocacy for others. And I am enjoying life in recovery! Despite all the stigma around schizophrenia I surround myself with supportive people and networks. I am overcoming schizophrenia!

My next steps are to find permanent employment with benefits in mental health advocacy and to get off of disability income. I would like to be a homeowner and I believe this is attainable. I think my progress into independence and recovery is ongoing, however these successes can deteriorate if I do not stay compliant on my treatment plan, trustworthy of my treatment team, or stop taking risks that better my recovery lifestyle.

How have you, or your loved one, taken risks in recovery? What are your next steps in recovery?

To learn more about schizophrenia visit NAMI, Choices in Recovery, and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Truth about Living with Schizophrenia

To me, living with schizophrenia is bittersweet it keeps me alert and aware of my mental illness, while at the same time I enjoy life despite my challenges. I am more cautious about my mental health and my antennas are always up. I must be mindful of the possibility of my symptoms flaring up, and to stop it immediately from recurring by sharing concerns with my therapist and psychiatric doctor. I am afraid that my symptoms may interrupt my current recovery lifestyle of living independently; therefore, I am compliant with the prescribed medication regimen my doctor recommends and adamant about taking it as directed to get the full benefit.

Sometimes when I am home alone and I hear a faint sound, I pray it isn't a voice only in my mind, and I remain still to listen and to make sure it isn't. Other concerns is forgetting to take my medication. As described in a recent blog entry I used to skip doses if I forgot to take it in the morning time, which is when I take my medicine, but now I do not do that to avoid the consequences of poor concentration and my discomfort in that. Despite my concerns of experiencing hallucinations and other symptoms I have a good lifestyle because I have access to treatment and support, and I partake in it.

Maintaining wellness demands attention and a lot of support. I surround myself with supportive people- family, friends and peers because without the support, the stigma of schizophrenia would silence me and take away my livelihood. However, I do not like how the media labels perpetrators as having the illness whenever they terrorize the community. The truth is people living with schizophrenia are productive citizens of our community. We deserve respect, quality jobs and homes, and to be treated fairly in the health care system and in the community.

Despite living in fear of my symptoms coming back I do have a life... Yes, there is life after diagnosis of schizophrenia. I do enjoyable things, like volunteer, go to the park, and talk to family. Yes, I am concerned about my mental illness but I do not let it consume me all day everyday. 

If I were to give advice to peers, I strongly encourage building an effective support network and also building rapport with their treatment team. Always having someone to trust such as a peer or a family member that knows they have a mental illness and treats them with respect is crucial. An individual living with mental illness does not have to suffer in silence, we do not have to go through the process alone!

To learn more about schizophrenia visit NAMI, Choices in Recovery, and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).



Sunday, May 12, 2013

Medication Compliance- Challenges and Coping Skills

In general, I take one anti-psychotic and one anti-depressant medication once in the morning time. Taking medication can be challenging for me especially if I forget to take the medication in the morning. In the past, I used to skip my dose of medication if I forgot to take it in the morning, but I would not take it in the late evening, because I did not notice the effect it had on me the following days. However, I do not do that anymore, my body and mind has changed over the years and I must take my medication every single day to avoid the consequences, which include my partner taking notice and the discomfort I feel in that, and risk of my many symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia flaring up.

Now, I recognize a change in me whenever I miss a day of medication, for me I lose concentration or eye contact with people and whatever is in front of me. This tendency makes me feel very uncomfortable because I like to keep eye contact with people, which I am generally good at it.

I understand there are a lot of routines I could do to remember to take my medication such as keep a pill container for every day of the week, to set my alarm, or to take my medicine when I do a daily practice like to brush my teeth, I have tried a few routines. Now, that I know there are ill effects if I do not take my medicine daily, I am even more prone to remember to take it in order to avoid my ramifications of embarrassment and discomfort in front of my partner and others, or worse disorientation caused by my mental illness.

Another reminder of why I need to stay compliant on my medication is my past experience of jail time, my family's concern during that delicate situation, and the accomplishments I've made since my diagnosis. Yes, taking medication is a life-long challenge for me but it is necessary for me to manage my severe mental illness and to take charge of my life!

If you are an individual living with a mental health diagnosis, do you notice any changes in yourself when you do not take your prescribed medication, for whatever reason? 

If you are a family member, do you notice when your relative is not taking their medication, if so, what are the initial signs?

I understand that what I am asking you is very personal, therefore I encourage you to respond anonymously if you do not want others to identify you online in order to participate, educate, and to relate to others. Thank you for taking the time to read about my challenges and ways that help me to cope!

To learn more about schizophrenia visit NAMI, Choices in Recovery, or Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).

Friday, May 10, 2013

Recognizing My Challenges- Motor Skills, Memory, etc.

In general, mental illness can effect a person's mood, behavior, cognitive skills, and speech, and thus, a person's ability to function in the workplace, school, and/or social situations. When I had my psychotic break in 2007, I was not able to think rationally, complete assignments, or to stay focused. I heard voices that hindered my ability to engage in conversations with others. 

In fact, I failed a competency test provided by the correctional system in California that requested answers to general questions such as who is the president of the United States and what is the date; my mental illness oppressed my understanding to the extent that I could not answer these questions.

While I was in the state hospital recuperating; taking medication, and learning more about my diagnosis I even recognized my motor skills were not up to par. Whenever my mother visited me we would exercise because a side effect of my medication caused me to walk very stiff- some peers made fun of me and called me a "robot." While we exercised I noticed I moved my limbs very slowly and I could not speed it up even when I wanted to.

Prior to my psychotic break, other people described me as sharp, and a person who had a good memory. However, as a direct result of my mental illness my motor skills, memory, and socialization skills are challenged. Sometimes, I feel like my memory, reactions, and understanding are delayed. 

Recently, I had discussions with peers who are also living with a mental health diagnosis that are different than mine, and who recognize similar delays. I am so glad I am not the only one who experiences this!

I think the anti-psychotics helps me with my cognitive skills. I can think clearly, complete assignments, and play an entire game of Scrabble in under eight minutes online. And I do not hear voices. My memory still needs improvement. I have short term memory loss sometimes. 

In addition to the medication, I believe playing word games such as Scrabble and writing in my journal and this blog, helps me practice focus and speed which improves my motor skills and reactions. Although, I know my memory and cognitive skills could be sharper, I believe my engagement in Scrabble and writing helps me in these areas. 

If you are an individual living with a mental illness, have you noticed delays of any kind as a direct result of your mental illness?

If you are a family member- have you noticed a delay of any kind in your relative as a direct result of their mental illness?

Comment. I would like to hear from you and how you cope with this! Thank you.

To learn more about schizophrenia visit NAMI, Choices in Recovery, and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

New Recovery Sisters in the ATL

A few months ago an Atlanta woman contacted me on the Embracing My Mind facebook page. She let me know she was also living in recovery from mental health. She complimented me on my supportive efforts and invited me to view her blog, which I did. On her blog, I found diverse articles on maintaining recovery and wellness, and other interesting topics. Also, she is very supportive of the GLBT community and people of color.

Recently, I had the opportunity of meeting this individual in person through a temporary job opportunity that gives a voice to peers in treatment. When I met her I thought to myself her name sounds so familiar- "Stephanie McClain,"- and she thought the same (Ashley Smith)! As we brainstormed our mental health affiliations we realized our introductions initiated online a few months prior.

Now that we know each other in person we plan to support each other's online advocacy efforts via blogging, Youtube, and other social networks. I look forward to collaborating with her online!

Stephanie started blogging in 2012, she says, "Blogging is my form of expression; it heals my past, my feelings of anger, anxiety, depression, and fears." For more information about Stephanie and to link to both her blog and youtube page visit her awareness sites via www.nubianalove.com

To learn more about schizophrenia visit NAMI, Choices in Recovery, or Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Learning more about my Symptoms and Diagnosis

A few weeks ago I asked the question: "Mania or Something Else?"... Well, I got an answer to my question, plus some!

I visited my doctor a couple of weeks ago and he confirmed I was experiencing "hypo-mania," which is what fellow blogger assumed I was experiencing. To my understanding hypo-mania is similar to mania however not as extreme where incidents lead to harsh consequences like arrests.

When I was in this state of mind I was obsessed with working on my laptop, I blogged more frequently than usual, and I felt like I was on an upward swing, which was a little unusual, this lasted for about a week and then quickly spiraled down into irritability. After sharing how I was feeling with my doctor we tweaked my medication...

I am glad I have a better understanding of myself, now I know how to identify my hypo-mania moments!

However, my discussion with my doctor lead to another indept discussion- I shared previous moments of hypo-mania which as a result made him believe I may be living with schizoaffective disorder, which is bipolar disorder and schizophrenia combined. The incident that put me into jail a few years ago may have been the result of my experience with mania.

To catch you up on why I went to jail- I took a sitting pickup truck with the keys in it from the airport because I believed it was a blessing from God and my escape to get back home across the country, which I thought was my emotional refuge. I was not thinking rationally at the time because I heard a lot of criticizing voices and had strange beliefs like I was Jesus Christ, everyone was demon-possessed, and I had an outer body experience in that I felt something or another spirit was controlling my body and driving the truck. I later discovered that the pickup truck was a military truck and I was facing serious charges including a felony.

Fortunately, I was diagnosed with schizophrenia, which woke me up to the fact that these symptoms were not going away, after receiving treatment and learning more about my diagnosis.

Now, a few years later I am wondering whether I have an accurate diagnosis... I do not think my doctor changed my diagnosis however it is something to think about.

For individuals living with a mental illness, do you believe you have an accurate diagnosis, why or why not?

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

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A New Culture of Recovery

There is a stigma against me and my peers, but there is also one against mental health care providers. Common stigmas of me and my peers vary from lazy, possessing a split personality, to mass murderer- ugh! The stigma of health care providers are they abuse patients, treat us all the same, or do not listen to patients' concerns.

However, I view my peers and health care providers totally different. I see my peers living independently or contributing to the household. They seem like peaceful individuals- practicing mindfulness and keeping to themselves- not inflicting pain on anyone or starting a riot. They engage in creative hobbies such as art or poetry, and other activities. My peers not only help themselves but also other peers by offering advice and a listening ear. And they're far from lazy!- a lot of the people I associate with who have a mental illness volunteer. They also work jobs that they take pride in and enjoy, part-time and full-time.

Despite what really goes on in the mental health community, a majority of our society views us differently- why? Why don't they acknowledge us striving to live "normal" lives? How can they overlook the creativity we add to our culture... Is it really fear? Ignorance? or preference in order to have a false sense of seniority? or all that combined?... Sad. Its not sad for us (people directly impacted by mental illness) but sad for them because they are losing out on great relationships, conversations, and understanding of someone with different experiences from them.

A Certified Peer Specialist (CPS) training I attended last week reminded everyone in the room that providers have helped each us in some way to reach recovery. In my experience with the mental health care system, providers like their jobs. They even had discussions with my mother to help her to have a better understanding of what I am going through. They don't talk to me like I am a child. Instead they provide resources to guide me to get the full benefit of recovery with outside supports. In fact, my state hospital doctor told me I could go back to college. My therapist recommended I become a CPS- a peer who acts as a liaison between staff and peers in order to help others in recovery.

Today, I did a presentation with a peer to a group of providers at an Atlanta hospital in the behavior health care unit. They were very interested in our stories and interactive. They came off as very passionate about their jobs and wanting to help patients... So why is there this belief that they are not encouraging or supportive of our recovery?

In my experience from California and Georgia peers are not dangerous or lazy. Don't get me wrong, I know there are peers out there who can fit the stigmatizing description like the isolated few among the general public, but the truth is most don't. And I believe my peers who have had horrible experiences with their provider, but the truth is the mental health system is changing- for the better. It is not like it was centuries ago, or even 30 years ago. Even the language within the mental health field is adopting new standards. For example instead of calling a patient "schizophrenic" or "bipolar" we are saying someone living with (diagnosis)... Nice. I used to use those terms but now I avoid them because I am not my illness I am Ashley living with an illness called schizophrenia.

Stop spreading stigmatizing messages and language- we are in a new era, a new outlook on the culture of recovery, it could only get better with us sticking together like we do online, and I'm loving it!

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

Helping vs. Enabling

I think some of my best ideas come to me during the night or while I'm in bed. I got an idea about a blog topic that I couldn't shake and had to prematurely get out of bed to record my thoughts while "they were hot." I'll start with a brief history with my English literature teacher from high school...

I always liked to write and to journal. During the last part of high school and early college my teachers and professors complimented me on my writing. I had the same English Literature teacher my junior and senior year of high school- Mrs. Parker. I really liked her because she challenged me, and she liked me too because I was a good student academically, and was more mature compared to my peers. Sometimes I would share my problems with her and she would listen and provide feedback.

She sponsored an activity I created during black history month, a trivial game for students to participate in and to win prizes. I came up with brief summaries of famous African American people who made an impact on society and randomly followed up with questions about the individual during the month of February so that my peers could answer the questions by going to Mrs. Parker and receive a prize. This information was provided during morning announcements. So this was my relationship with Mrs. Parker.

Despite my ability to articulate thoughts and understandings of the literature I read, I remember one time my writing wasn't up to par and Mrs. Parker let me know it. One day, Mrs. Parker asked me to stay after class to discuss my essay. She started off my telling me she was going to give me a "B" on my paper, because she liked me, but couldn't because I did not show understanding of the story. She explained to me what the author's message was through the main character. By her honesty and accurate grading of my paper- giving me a "D"- she helped me understand the material and let me know I was not going to get off easy because we were "friends." She had high expectations of me which I appreciated.

Moving along to the topic of mental health related concerns, despite knowing that a loved one has mental illness, I've heard from some family members that their relative would not take their loved one who is struggling with mental illness to the hospital because they loved them and did not want to leave them in that environment. The loved one may even know that they have a mental illness but are not ready or willing to move forward in recovery, with the encouragement of their family, to get seek professional assistance, because of many factors for example: fear, lack of understanding, shame, guilt, and not wanting to acknowledge that the problem will never fix itself.

Is this helping my peer or enabling them to stay out of the hospital and to struggle?

Because of my harsh "wake up call" of going to jail and being forced into treatment by a judge, I do not sympathize with family members who hide or deny mental illness. I am in favor of mandated treatment compliance, because it saved my life! I was catatonic and not moving my body, or speaking and eating, while my body and mind were deteriorating day by day without getting proper treatment, which I denied while somewhat functioning.

I understand court ordered medication compliance is not for everyone, including those who do not want to take medication. I am an advocate for whatever form of treatment works for the individual including alternatives such as art therapy, music therapy, talk therapy, exercise, herbs, etc. However, I agree that a judge should intervene in the circumstance of an individual who may potentially harm themselves, or others, and commit repeated criminal offenses while not in the right state of mind.

I think a combination of stigma and lack of understanding from family members hurt my peers more so than help them whenever they are denied from some form of professional treatment. A lot of people do not understand how places like psychiatric hospitals and clubhouses support recovery. They may hear of an isolated incidence in the news and believe that all treatment facilities are bad, or worse, get their education from Hollywood. The movies often depict the poor quality of treatment from staff members that happened a long time ago, but do not tell the truth and state that these old ways of treating and caring for people in the mental health system has changed.

It bothers me when peers struggle with extreme anxiety or paranoia, heavy and dark depression, hearing criticizing voices nonstop, and relentless rituals and obsessions, and mania that has harsh consequences; and other symptoms of mental illness without relief. I am sure the family member does not want them to suffer either, but allow it because of their ignorance, lack of acceptance, and not wanting to ruin their reputation or "good name," and this ultimately happens because of the power of stigma. I do not like it when family members enable loved ones living with mental illness to not get the treatment they need.

I do not want to imply that most family members are caught up in their appearance or other stigmas and do not seek assistance for their loved one, because that is far from the truth! It was at my family's request for the judge to force medicate me, and I never had any bad feelings toward my family for wanting to help me get well again and to seek legal assistance.

In fact, I also hear of a lot of families that go to the police as a last resort. And this concerns me too, however, the bottom line is they need help for their loved one and are seeking it by any means, which is commendable. However, some of my peers feel betrayed by family for getting police involved and they have a right to feel this way, even though I do not agree with it.

I have a few questions for you and I encourage anonymity if this is too personal, but you still want to share your story:

If you are a family member: How do you feel about families that do not take their loved one into treatment?- were there any factors or reasons I did not cover that you want to elaborate on? Have you ever had to get a judge or police involved with your loved one to get them into treatment?

If you are someone living with a mental illness: Have you ever had a run-in with the legal system by the hand of your family so that they can get you into treatment? How did this make you feel?

To learn more about schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, NAMI, Choices in Recovery, or Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada)?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Learning about Mindfulness

I was introduced to the idea of mindfulness in a NAMI course called, "Peer-to-Peer," back in 2009, when I became certified to mentor the course with peers who also live in recovery from mental illness. We performed an exercise of observation- I won't go into detail because I do not want to ruin the experience for those of us who will participate in the class.

My understanding of mindfulness from friends is it revolves around the idea of focusing on the present moment. Concentration on breathing patterns coincides with the habit of mindfulness. In fact, I have a couple of friends who practice mindfulness. One friend studies it in a class setting while the other performs extensive research alone, and uses it occasionally. Also, I've heard from others who engage in some forms and practices of Buddhism that they also exercise mindfulness. Each of these individuals also live with mental illness. Because it seems popular among the mental health community I am interested in it as another coping skill.

Although I have little understanding of mindfulness I tried to practice its form of observing in the present moment and deep breathing. A couple of nights ago I did a brief mindfulness exercise or my understanding of it. As I was sitting in front of my laptop I stopped working on it and closed my eyes. I concentrated on the sounds around me, the laptop and refrigerator dominated the sounds of my environment. I took a few deep breaths and realized I was tired- mentally and physically- I told myself I needed a break. Therefore, I called it quits, temporarily for the few hours while I slept. I know there is more to mindfulness than that so I did some research to have a better understanding of the practice.

I learned that mindfulness is based on Buddhist philosophy and was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn who is "a famous teacher of mindfulness meditation and founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center."

In fact, his definition of mindfulness: “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; On purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

In the beginning the practice was used to help people with a range of medical problems, however, it is not only for people who have illnesses, it can be used to help improve the quality of life for everyone.

Mindfulness incorporates a range of principles and activities:

  • Acceptance
  • Breathing
  • Consciousness
  • Non-judgmental attitude
  • Observation
  • Present tense
  • Stretching
  • Yoga
After learning more about mindfulness I would like to learn to practice it the right way to take advantage of its full benefit.

Here is where I received my information on mindfulness:

How familiar are you with mindfulness? How were introduced to the practice? Do you practice it regularly, if so, why?- What does it do for you?



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

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Terri Morgan's Book Review of Playing the Genetic Lottery

I was asked by an author to give a book review of her new novel that was published in 2012 and is based on schizophrenia from a family member's perspective. This is my first time reviewing a book, at the request of an author, however, I've been asked before, but shied away from doing it for differing factors. Terri Morgan's email request caught my attention and interest immediately, and I called her shortly after to learn more about the book and how I could help the cause.

I want to thank Terri for giving me the opportunity to write a book review for her. I feel honored to be a part of her awareness and anti-stigma effort.

Below is my book review:



Terri Morgan's Playing the Genetic Lottery- Book Review by Ashley Smith


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When Terri Morgan, the author of Playing the Genetic Lottery, first contacted me by email to ask me to give a review of her new novel, she immediately informed me of her intentions, “My goals in writing this book were to reduce the stigma about mental illness, provide information about mental illness and treatment, and validate the experiences of families and caregivers.”

As a mental health advocate, individual living with schizophrenia, and also a mother, I can understand and relate to the complexity of situations acknowledged in this novel. After reading her fictional narrative about a woman, Caitlin Kane, who has unique experiences with mental illness- she was raised by two parents that have schizophrenia- I encourage students, and families effected by the illness to read this novel because it exemplifies all of the author's objectives.
 
In fact, as I read the novel I could nod my head in agreement at the description of scenarios and thought to myself, this author really gets it! By this understanding, I recognize that Ms. Morgan must have performed extensive research to articulate the emotions, fears, and actions so eloquently proclaimed throughout the fictional lives depicted in this story. I appreciate the unique mental health experiences represented in this novel to help educate the public, we need more examples of diverse lifestyles, the realities of schizophrenia, and its impact on families.
 
Schizophrenia is a very complex mental illness that has a tendency to “run in families.” There are a lot of misconceptions about individuals living with this mental health challenge. The truth about people living with this condition is they have vastly different experiences, for some individuals who are in treatment, and others who are not. Also there has been a major shift in the way the mental health system cares, treats, and supports recovery.
 
I have personally experienced some of the incidents depicted in this novel such as living arrangements, legal enforcement, and family support, among other similarities that parallel my own recovery. I understand that one book cannot effectively express everyone's experience. But there still needs to be a balance in portraying the lives of individuals who are diagnosed with schizophrenia and the reactions of their family. A single book cannot express the spectrum of what recovery looks like to all. Yet, Terri Morgan provides a great description of the differing lifestyles and coping skills practiced among characters who have mental illness in this novel that are realistic.
 
With that said, I like this novel because of the way Ms. Morgan describes people living with schizophrenia and their impact on the family, which were well articulated. As evidence of understanding the complexity of challenges brought on by the family unit as a result of the person living with an illness Ms. Morgan includes a plethora of mental health related situations.
 
For example, suicide is largely misunderstood in our society and the people that engage in suicide attempts or who commit suicide are commonly shamed by the community, despite their anguish as a result of suffering from mental illness. However, Ms. Morgan addresses this problem head on, and many other challenging situations, which allows the reader to see another perspective on these issues in order to ultimately alter their views on such difficult situations and to express compassion.
 
Also, another interesting underlying truth that I liked was bringing attention to the fact that many individuals who have mental illness engage in hobbies and careers that are based on their creativity. Other subtle learning points suggest that people who have a diagnosis are striving to cope with the daily struggles of life like everyone else- working, raising a family, relocating, and supporting each other.

However, the concerns I had as an advocate and individual living with schizophrenia was the use of the term “schizophrenic.” In my experience with peers who are living with the illness, including myself, there has been a shift in language from using the word “schizophrenic,” which is replaced by the popular phrase: “individual living with schizophrenia.” The mental health community is starting to avoid the term “schizophrenic” because it identifies the individual by their illness instead of simply stating they are an individual who has schizophrenia. However, a large majority of people directly impacted still use this word, but it will inevitably expire in the future.
 
Despite this concern, by the end of the novel, I could overlook the terminology because of evidence of the sincerity in the author's tone carried out through this fictional yet seemingly real story. Moreover, the educating moments such as varying treatments and therapy, assisted outpatient treatment, support groups, and countless other practices within the mental health community are invaluable.
 
Lastly, in another email to me, Ms. Morgan reemphasized, "my novel will help educate people about the disease, how it can be treated, and how family members and close friends are impacted when a loved one is ill. By raising awareness, I hope to raise compassion. I also hope my novel validates the experiences of families and caregivers, and helps remind them of how valuable their love and support is."
 
Terri Morgan author and co-author of eight non-fictional books, in addition to Playing the Genetic Lottery, her first book of fiction, is an eloquent writer on the subject of schizophrenia. I believe she is a remarkable author because of her unquestionable evidence of elaborate research on experiences with schizophrenia. She has opened the door to a minority group that is largely misunderstood and misrepresented. I support her anti-stigma efforts as both an advocate and individual living with the illness, by promoting this book because it educates readers on the myths, lifestyles, and treatments of individuals living with schizophrenia. The novel also includes discussion questions for book clubs and readers.
 
Terri Morgan has been writing professionally since 1980, and has written material in countless newspapers and magazines. To purchase the e-book or hard copy of Playing the Genetic Lottery, you can visit her website at www.terrimorgan.net or go to amazon.com. Some of the proceeds are donated to mental health organizations and research.


Monday, January 14, 2013

Excuses?!

I am against using my diagnosis as an excuse for my behavior, and it annoys me whenever a peer does. I do not do that because I value taking responsibility for a my actions, diligence, and being non-judgmental (which I try to uphold, however, I sometimes fail), having this mental illness has humbled me into trying to balance my perception of other people and life situations. However, I do understand that having symptoms can impair rationality, and that is something different than what I am discussing.

With that said, I was irked by my parter's lack of understanding and insensibility to my mental health. I told him I may be experiencing mania to describe why I've been on the computer too much, which has become an issue for us recently. He asked me what "mania" was and I defined it as an obssession- which may not have been the best description. His response bothered me, he said something to the effect: 'stop trying to find a diagnosis for everything you do!' I paused and thought carefully before I spoke, and in my mind thought: you just don't get it, I am not making these emotions, and mental health concerns, up!

I had a flashback of last year's struggle with depression, and again, he was not willing to hear me out. Futhermore, when I went into a respite center he was upset that he was not the first person to know why I was going there- mmm, I wonder why?!

I don't mean to imply that he isn't supportive, because he is and has been very supportive to me, in his own way, in diverse situations.

Because mental health is my passion and purpose I engage in anti-stigma presentations frequently, and I do not bring my business home. Every once in a while he asks questions about schizophrenia and mental illness and I am glad he shows interest, and I answer his questions. Also, I share projects or presentations with my him, but I intentionally do not force mental health related stuff on him because I understand that it is my interest, and not his.

However, experiences like this remind me that I need to educate him better on my mental health concerns so that he can understand my world... He has never seen me with a range of symptoms to the extent that I cannot function- and I don't want him to- ever.

I try not to go into detail about my family life, but I needed to vent and to share my frustraton to acknowledge these sorts of experiences that I have and maybe some of my peers may also have within their personal relationships too.

To learn more about schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, NAMI, Choices in Recovery, or Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada),

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Mania or Something Else?

I think I've been experiencing mania, but I am not sure. I think I am in a manic state right now, because I am writing too much about mental illness. Over the last week I've written more blog entries than usual. And when I've recorded all I want to share on my blog I surf the web for other blogs to read and comment, which is not a habit, although I've come across some good blogs.
Also, I am overly excited about a couple of projects to the extent that I cannot sleep or do anything else but record my thoughts and focus on the project. I am spending too much time on the laptop, and I know it but still I engage it. Writing is very therapeutic to me. Right now it is calming my anxiousness.
 
Lastly, my mood had been up, way up, and then down and irritable because of small disappointments and this usually wouldn't effect me as much.
 
I want to know if this is a form of mania or not, and if so, how to overcome it?
 
To learn more about schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, NAMI, Choices in Recovery, or Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada),