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 Have an outdated GPS?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.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Naked

This is difficult to write about. Because I’ve been there…

Yesterday, I ran a few errands. After I stopped in the middle of the road for a pedestrian to cross the street I saw a couple of police cars stop ahead of me. Nothing seemed out the norm in spite of the blue lights. And then I turned the corner at the traffic light. As I turned I saw a naked woman sitting on the stones off the side walk. She looked familiar. She had done this before about a month ago, because I frequent the area and saw her before. Now I know why the police were there. 

Immediately, a wide range of emotions overwhelmed me—for the woman, the bystanders, but also for myself, because I’ve been there.

When I was not present, time did not exist, nor did the understanding of consequences for my actions. I was simply just there. Others say I stared off into the distance for what seemed like hours or laid in bed for days. I did not know my mind was deteriorating, my understanding was fading, and my reality was flawed. I experienced psychosis and also catatonia.

It hurt to see the woman in the street in a poor state of mind. She would be the talk of the day of the bystanders who would not understand. Where was her family? Did they give up on her without understanding, and ostracize her? 

When I headed back an ambulance arrived. It bothers me whenever the states’ budget for behavioral health services are at risk and reduced. Likewise, I hope the budget for these services are not cut for the state of Georgia for the year of 2021.

I do not fear being in a poor state of mind again, however, I dread the aftermath of waking up to reality. The reality that I was not well. The reality that I acted bizarrely. The reality that I had no knowledge, shame, and clear intent of my actions. 

Naked. It is a clear demonstration of lack of treatment. How can governments tolerate ongoing budget cuts when people like you and me are suffering or enduring significant stigma, symptoms, and shame. There is no shame in having a diagnosis, but there is shame in being a part of the problem. Stigma, budget cuts, and ignorance—these are shameful acts that must stop for our well-being. 

I do not know that woman’s story, but mine alone creates empathy for her and her family. I am grateful to have access to treatment. I am grateful for peer support. I am grateful for my family. Lastly, I am grateful for my life and recovery experience that had its highs and lows, but in the end I am a survivor of mental illness.  

Sunday, May 24, 2020

In Honor of World Schizophrenia Day

World Schizophrenia Day, May 24, 2020
There is a universal unspoken code that negates the truth about schizophrenia, it is stigma. Stigma comes in a wide range of negative beliefs that uphold myths as facts. As an individual living with schizophrenia I experienced stigma first-hand.  It was hurtful and unfair. I have been labelled "demonic." One of the most common questions I get from men I date when I decide to disclose is "are you violent?" 

Stigma translates into fear, discrimination, negative labels, and ignorant beliefs. Countless persons do not understand what schizophrenia is and do not know what recovery can look like and thus, continue to place me and my peers into a box with limitations. Stigma is perpetuated by different groups especially some religious people, world wide influential platforms such as Hollywood, and a magnitude of people all over the world. 

There are several myths about schizophrenia, here are the most common:
  1. Myth #1: Schizophrenia is a personality disorder.
  2. Myth #2: Violence is a symptom of schizophrenia.
  3. Myth #3: People with this illness are demonic.
  4. Myth #4: Schizophrenia is caused by poor parenting.
  5. Myth #5: Recovery is not possible for people living with this condition.
Let me stress that these are myths. First, the term schizophrenia was coined by a Swiss psychiatrist, Dr. Paul Eugen Bleuler, in 1910. The word schizophrenia means, "a split mind." Schizophrenia is not a personality disorder. Schizophrenia is a thought disorder.

Violence is not a symptom of schizophrenia. Schizophrenia holds a range of symptoms categorized by positive symptoms, disorganized symptoms, and negative symptoms, while violence is not a part of any of these symptoms. Schizophrenia is characterized by hallucinations, delusions, and psychosis among other symptoms.

Schizophrenia is not a moral-based diagnosis. Schizophrenia is a brain disorder. It is an invisible medical condition that means a chemical imbalance of the brain. It is caused by different factors such as environmental stressors, a brain injury, it  is also genetic and runs in families. Schizophrenia can be brought on by drug use, trauma, and other causes. Typically, the onset of this condition occurs in adolescence through age 30. However, it can develop in children. Generally, men get the illness earlier than women. Personally, I was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia at age 20.

Finally, recovery is possible for individuals living with this diagnosis. I am the evidence. I have been in recovery for over 13 years. I am fortunate that the medication treatments work and minimize symptoms. I live independently and parent my eight year old son.

Today is World Schizophrenia Day (May 24th). It honors "the father of modern psychiatry," a French physician, Dr. Philippe Pinel. On May 24, 1793, Dr. Pinel made the decision to unchain patients living with mental illness, which was unheard of during that time. His decision brought attention to better treatment, care, and a more humane way of addressing people living with mental illness. However, stigma was prevalent then and still is today.

Organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America (SARDAA), work tirelessly to combat stigma along with several other groups and organizations.

Like so many of my peers the onset of my diagnosis was chaotic. It effected my entire family, we did not know what we were dealing with nor understand how proceed along the journey of recovery. It effected my education during the third year of my undergraduate program. I did not know what the symptoms were and that I was experiencing them until it was too late. I was diagnosed with schizophrenia through legal interventions of jail and state psychiatric hospital. Through this experience I learned about my mental illness, tried different medications, and fortunately found hope to excel at recovery. I had an enthusiastic doctor, amazing cheerleader- my mother and empathetic relatives, who were thirsty to learn more about schizophrenia and to support me. NAMI Georgia paved the way for me to learn coping strategies with the aid of volunteering, peer support, and training.

If you or somebody you know lives with schizophrenia, or any mental illness, I encourage you to obtain more information about it. Get involved in a support group or clubhouse to become familiar the recovery culture through peer support or interact with persons living in recovery. Medication is not the only means to gain a quality life in recovery. 

Here are alternative ways to help cope with mental health: therapy, music, art, supplements, Buddhism, mindfulness, journalling, taking care of a pet, mastering a gift and hobby, exercise, meditation, praise and worship, adopting a support system, and volunteering, and managing a strict self-care routine to list a few coping techniques.

If you have a mental illness, you are not alone. Recovery is possible. I define recovery as the act of striving to stay in good place. I stay in my good place by mastering my self-care routine, medication, therapy, engaging my support system, working on my craft of self-publishing books, listening to motivational talks, and keeping it moving physically by walking. I praise God for restoring my mind, allowing me to have access to health insurance and medication, also for my life journey of recovery which is fulfilling. My recovery has challenged me beyond measure, but also developed me into the compassionate advocate, peer, and mother that I am proud to be.

Finally, to learn more about my recovery story purchase my book, What's On My Mind? Coping Takes Work, Volume II, which is a collection of blog entries, and additional stories by my peers, a caregiver, and my former therapist.

Lastly, here are my sources on facts of schizophrenia and World Schizophrenia Day:
Please subscribe to this blog by email and share with others. Also, if you want to share your recovery story- peers, professionals, and caregivers, and supporters, email me to learn more and lets post it on this blog. 

-Thank you.

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...