Friday, August 28, 2020

Hope Combats Self-Stigma


    In addition to the symptoms of this thought disorder, stigma is a great challenge, especially self-stigma. I believe it is among the top barriers to wellness. When I was diagnosed with schizophrenia it seemed that my identity crumbled. I used to cling to my college student role. My symptoms took away my motivation to study, speak, and do activities which usually gave me joy and a healthy outlet. When I dropped out of school I felt like I was less than. In the beginning, I did not know what my recovery could look like, I thought I would not be able to live a fulfilling life. 

    However, I was fortunate to have a lot of support and hope despite my health challenges. My doctor, mother, and treatment team gave me hope. When I was diagnosed my social worker, Elaine, referred me to a housing program and clubhouse which was empowering, because I was surrounded by peers with similar diagnoses. The program engaged us through recovery-oriented meetings, fun group activities, such as outings in the community, and a range of different classes like cooking. I am grateful I had access to the clubhouse and to treatment. A combination of peer support, therapy, family support, education, and goal-setting, helped me minimize self-defeating thoughts. 

    I have come a long way. I channeled my energy to grow at life. I worked diligently to live independently. I lived in a group home, rented a room from a family, and had a roommate. I learned how to negotiate my housing agreements in spite of a fixed income. I accomplished returning to work by volunteering. Moreover, I practiced what I learned to build myself up again after hospitalization. By taking on the work of goals and a series of building blocks I developed an enriching understanding of my recovery. Seeing peers manage the condition played a significant factor in my motivation to press forward in addition to the energy I put into my self-care.

    Over the years, I learned how to focus on hope and goal-setting. Journalling, reciting affirmations, and cheering myself on along with my support system helped me overcome limitations that I thought I would not be able to maneuver. I have been in recovery for over 13 years. I volunteered with NAMI and other organizations, participated in group therapy, and became a peer counselor that empowers me to keep moving forward.

    I accept I will have setbacks due to the nature of my illness. Mental illness raises many concerns like a wide range of various symptoms that effect mood, thoughts, behaviors, and the ability to function in different settings. I experienced the voices, a break in reality, mania, depression, catatonia, and the list goes on. I believe the stresses of life worsens the symptoms. I manage my condition by striving to follow a balanced routine that includes medication, therapy, walking, writing, spirituality, etc.

    Mental illness is an invisible beast that most people do not understand. I aim to identify my needs, empower myself, and to be my best cheerleader despite the passing of my mother, who was key in the beginning stages of my recovery. Still, I hold on to hope that I will overcome setbacks through reflection on experience, using my coping tools, and embracing support from others.

    My diagnosis stole my identity, but I created a better one which is the woman I am and also becoming. I encourage you to overcome self-defeating thoughts that bring you down. 

    For my peers and our caregivers: accept the fact that there will be great challenges, but also great triumphs in recovery. Everybody has different goals, needs, and concerns with this condition. Lastly, hold on to hope to accomplish your goals- whatever they are, because you are resilient, unique, and an overcomer. 



Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Reset, Restore, and Refresh Yourself to Better Health

I had a relapse and hospitalization a couple of years ago. It felt like I would never get home soon. The days were long and repetitive with hospital staff, peers, and the same boring, enclosed areas within the white walls. 

It was hard being away from my son, but I went to another place by singing praises to my higher power and also to him in spirit. When I got home I cherished our bond harder by taking lots of pictures of us. Accordingly, I learned how to reset myself and replenish needs to conquer the illness. 

I did this by returning to the basics of self-care. That is to focus on getting adequate rest, practicing better eating habits, and managing stress, which required a lot of self-care. I attended intensive therapy sessions. We discussed a range of stress management techniques that would work well for me. I created a psychiatric advance directive and crisis plan.

I performed light exercise by walking my neighborhood. I exercised my mind by completing word searches. I listened to inspiring talks on YouTube. Therefore, I really dug deep within. I worked hard to stay in my good place.

I leaned on my higher power. Also, I recited affirmations and spoke my life's upgrade with conviction into the air. These activities became habits. I performed a range of additional behaviors that became routine. 

Now when I find myself struggling I activate this regimen. It is refreshing- putting more time into self-care. To me building inner-strength is delegating more time to me. Investing more time into self-care develops a better person. 

I believe we all hold the ability to master resiliency. It is about tapping into your good place by making yourself a priority. While relapse and hospitalization may reoccur I know how to reset, restore, and refresh myself back to better health. You can too. When is the last time you pampered yourself? -Put your stresses on hold and made yourself a priority? 

Lastly, meditate on these questions for yourself: where can you go to replenish yourself? What did you read in the past that helped you? Who encourages you to press onward? What quote empowers you? What healthy activities relieve you? How can you make time to add this to your routine and enhance your well-being? 

When will you activate your new routine? Let's go!

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Lost but Not Forgotten

Have you ever been lost? Have an outdated GPS? Lost your keys? Or, simply lost yourself in a relationship? I have too, but more than that I lost myself. I lost my sense of direction. I lost time. I lost my ability to function. I lost my capacity to decipher reality. I lost Ashley.

In the beginning, back in June 2007 my family filed a missing person’s report with the police. My mother thought the worst when the detective called. Nobody knew what happened. Finally, the detectives discovered my whereabouts. I was jailed. I was 20 years old with no criminal history, but that changed when I experienced a breakdown.

A few months prior to my breakdown I was a junior at a private liberal arts university. I made the Dean’s List my freshman year. Thereafter, my academic excellence gradually declined. I was a student mentor, cross country team runner for three years, a youth assistant coach for home-schooled children, and also a youth church teacher for the AWANA (Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed) program. When I had my breakdown I dropped out of school, relocated, isolated, and developed excessive paranoia over associates and relatives.

One Sunday morning I got ready for church. I did not stay for the morning Bible study. I was afraid of my fellow church members, they seemed demonic and out to kill me. I went missing for a few days. During my absence I was in a daze and unable to think clearly. I did not trust anybody including family. I did not seek help, support, nor understanding. I did not know I was lost in mental illness until I was hospitalized a few months later. In jail, I lost track of time, understanding of my incarceration, and myself. 

While I was in the psych ward of the jail I became catatonic. I did not move for several days. I laid in bed in my cell alone, thinking racing thoughts and sometimes no thoughts. The nurses, doctors, and guards did not forget me. My family did not forget me, but I did.

Finally, when I came back I remembered, and longed for my old self. The Ashley in school. The Ashley at work. The Ashley I used to be- sociable, ambitious, and creative. I did not know mental illness nor what recovery could look like. I used to desire my old mindset and life, but now I do not, because I created my new norm. Still, a part of me is that old Ashley, but with a different approach to life.

Today my norm is striving to live well in recovery, which looks like continuously trying to stay in a good place. I seek peace, not happiness, because happiness is fleeting. I aim to maintain a routine that includes praise and worship, light exercise, okay diet and sleeping habits, plus a lot of coping techniques to carry out checks and balances on my mood, thoughts, and actions. I was lost, but not forgotten. I hope others like me will accept that they were lost, but not forgotten. To my peers- keep striving to stay in your good place and run after recovery, you are not alone.

Hope Combats Self-Stigma

    In addition to the symptoms of this thought disorder, stigma is a great challenge, especially self-stigma. I believe it is among the top...