Friday, December 31, 2010

Hopeful about finding Work

I am hopeful that I will find part-time work in the mental health field. I would like to have a position that mirrors that of a Certified Peer Specialist (CPS). A CPS works directly with people who have a mental health diagnosis. They assist peers with recovery goals, facilitate groups, and act as a mentor. However, the position requires special training followed by intense testing, and certification. I plan on applying for the CPS training this summer.

Most of the jobs I am interested in requires CPS training and certification. Even though I am limited in that regard I am enthusiastic about finding work and will continue with the job search.

If you would like to learn more about schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, Inc., NAMI, Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Mental Health Recovery To Me

Yesterday, in group we had a discussion about recovery- what does it mean to us, how other organizations define it, and tips to reach recovery. I heard various understandings of what recovery means- change, growth, restore what was taken, etc. In addition to getting everyone;s opinion on the meaning of recovery, we read SAMHSA's 10 Fundamental Components of Recovery.

My definition of recovery is focused on action. First and foremost, recovery to me is accepting my diagnosis of schizophrenia, and taking ownership of my well being by seeking treatment and support, and getting involved in my treatment plan with health care professions. It involves speaking up about needs and asking questions. In other words, advocating for myself.

Recovery is accepting change and learning the new Ashley after receiving a mental health diagnosis- that is being real with self and capabilities by revising my needs and goals. For example, the "new Ashley" is aware of limitations as a result of the illness; I understand that I should Not work or go to college full time for the moment until I reach another phase in my recovery, which is possible!

My personal recovery plan includes sharing my knowledge with others and educating myself about mental health. Additionally, it is volunteering and performing outreach to help reduce stigma and to promote awareness.

At this point in my recovery, I am loving my recovery! Now, I am open about my diagnosis. I am comfortable with the progress I've made, however, I am continuing to strive to improve. I am hopeful that I will achieve my many goals despite living with this illness.

In my experience, my recovery has helped me mature. It has taught me some of the lessons of life that I may not have understood unless I have gone through something as intense and emotional as mental illness.

For instance, I have learned that I am not immune to a lot of things- I guess that philosophy of being immune to things comes with youth but goes away with experience and time. I would have never thought I would encounter mental illness and the things that go with it, in my experience that includes: bizarre thoughts, incarceration, and therapy; and following a regular medication regimen; and the whole recovery process, to list a few things related to mental health.

For me, recovery involved a lot of support from health care professionals, social workers, case managers, family and peers online and in-person. I am thankful for the strong foundation I experienced- the outpatient treatment program and housing arrangement, the group therapy, and NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness).

Finally, I do Not believe recovery comes with a time limit, and that it is the same journey for everyone. To me, recovery does Not equal perfection or is problem free. In my opinion, recovery does Not mean a person is "cured" of the illness. Instead, recovery is managing the mental illness which is an ongoing process that demands a lot of attention and support. However, I do believe the level of progress in one's recovery depends on the individual.

What does mental health recovery mean to you? How has recovery changed your life- whether you are a family member or a person living with a diagnosis?

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

Monday, December 27, 2010

"GIving Back" with NAMI Georgia

Several NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) Georgia trainings will take place on January 28-30, 2011 at Mercer University (Atlanta campus):
  • Family-to-Family
  • Peer-to-Peer
  • In Our Own Voice
The Family-to-Family class is 12 weeks and is facilitated by trained family members of people living with mental health. The class provides current mental health information, teaches the family member care giver how to handle relapses and crisis, and other information to help the care giver.

Opposite that, Peer-to-Peer is for the individual living with mental health. The 10-week course educates peers on relapse prevention, advance directives, and mental health education. The class is facilitated by two trained individuals living with a mental illness.

Finally, In Our Own Voice teaches people living with a mental health concern how to share their experience with mental illness in a 60-90 minute presentation. The presentation is supported by a 15-minute DVD and is led by two presenters.

I have personally received instruction from NAMI Georgia to perform outreach and I love it! In addition to that, the training was a great experience because I met other people with the same illness as me who want to help others.

All of these trainings are FREE (includes hotel, meals, and class materials!) , however, they do require a reference and a commitment to service. For more information about these trainings visit the NAMI Georgia website.

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

Monday, December 20, 2010

Religious Preoccupation

After a talk, a woman asked me if my faith contributed to my recovery because she noticed that I mentioned it throughout my speech. In addition to that, she told me that she observed people with faith as having a better outcome in their mental health recovery.

First, I came from a family with Christian values. My faith in God started to get intense during the latter years of high school, which in my opinion, is when I started having symptoms. In my experience religion plays a major role in my mental health- its delusions, its coping skills, and in my recovery. In medical terms they call my religious rituals and delusions "religious preoccupation."

Before I was diagnosed I was highly religious. In fact, I wanted to be an evangelist and to go to a Christian college. I would read my Bible for several hours a day throughout the day, listen to hymns, and meditate. Sometimes I would ignore people if they wanted my attention while I was meditating I was in such deep thought.
Also, I would carry my Bible with me everywhere I went.

When I was delusional I assumed I was a prophet of God, and I eventually believed I was Jesus Christ.
While in this state, I felt like everyone was against me and that I was being persecuted all over again like in the Bible. I sensed I had spiritual abilities where I can tell whether someone was good or evil. In the Bible this is called the gift of discernment. Those that were "evil" had black eyes, and others that were "good" glowed to me. Most of the time I sensed evil people around me which frightened me and made my anxiety level high. Also, I felt like I understood God and that I had a special relationship with Him.

To me, the Bible came alive. I started to view people as biblical characters. I believed in spiritual welfare. Spiritual welfare to me is when there is a clash in the spirits, or people, where the good and the bad do not get along. Things happen like gossiping, and cursing arise from spiritual welfare. I felt like I was in the mist of spiritual welfare and that I was a spiritual warrior.

I think that having an undiagnosed mental disorder made my religious practices go to an extreme. In other words, I was obsessed with religion. Like I said earlier, I read my Bible several times a day, and I attended church services a few times a week. And whenever, I did not do my pray or ritual in the order that I usually did it I knew I would have a bad day.

Part of my delusions involved the devil trying to get me to commit suicide. After watching a church service on television I saw the words "how to commit suicide" in the section to order tapes and CDs. This startled me and forced me to turn off the television. That same day I heard a hip-hop song on the radio that suggested to me that the devil wants me to commit suicide. I ignored the music and viewed it as the devil playing games with me, and as spiritual welfare.

I believe my religious beliefs helped me combat suicidal thoughts. However, had I not received treatment when I did I do not know how long I could have struggled with the disturbing thoughts.

Whenever I was in distress, like from the voices or other hallucinations, I would go on walks, pray, or sing hymns. I prayed a lot, in the mornings to bless my day, before meals, during times of stress, and before bed. I used prayer as a coping strategy before I was diagnosed, and did not know why I feeling confused, alienated, and stressed. Sometimes I would make up songs to sing that gave praises to God and that comforted me and made me feel like I was not alone. However, I must emphasize that I never thought the voices I heard were God, I thought the voices were the people around me.

Still in recovery, I view having this illness as a blessing in disguise. For example, when I first attended college I knew I wanted to have a business I just did not know what type of business. Since my diagnosis I have started a non-profit organization, Embracing My Mind, Inc. To me, the illness has given me a new found purpose.

Now, I do not consider myself religious, instead I see myself as spiritual. However, I still attend church and have faith. Looking back on all that I have experienced in life and with this illness I feel blessed. Blessed to be here, blessed to able to live independently despite my disorder, and content that I am able to facilitate groups and to go back to college. I am thankful to everyone who has contributed to my recovery- medical staff, family, and peers.

Even though my faith has played a major role in my life and throughout the course of my illness I am not bias to say that my specific religion or other religions are solely responsible for one's recovery even though it is a factor. I think religion, whatever that faith is, is a factor in one's recovery because of their outlook on life and on the illness.

To answer the woman's question, in my opinion, it depends on one's support network. Yet, I do believe that people with a mental health diagnosis and who have faith may have a strong support system which helps in their recovery. I think that faith-based groups like other groups offer a lot of support.

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

Friday, December 17, 2010

Mental Health Labels

How should I refer to someone living with a psychiatric diagnosis? There are so many terms that are being used to describe someone with a mental health disorder, these terms include:
  • "Consumer"
  • "Mentally ill"
  • "Patient"
  • "Client"
  • "Crazy"
  • "Schizophrenic"
For example, the word "consumer" identifies a person with a mental health concern, and only that group of people. Even though the term does not bother me I could understand how it can frustrate other people. It seems like even the medical field has separated people living with a diagnosis from the bunch.

In my opinion, some of these terms are stigmatizing. Some of the terms seem to single people out and to make having an illness a negative thing. For instance, the words "mentally ill" sounds dreadful to me. To me, it seems like the individual will never get well or that recovery is not an option.

On the other hand, "patient" and "client" seem more acceptable because the terms put mental health in the same boat as other medical conditions. Mental illnesses are another medical condition and should not be subject to the stigma that takes place now.

To me, labeling a person as "crazy" or "schizophrenic" are totally offensive. Crazy has nothing but negative connotations to me. It describes the maniac, the psychopath, and everything that deviates from the standard put forth in society. It also describes someone who lacks understanding of reality.

However, once upon a time a while ago I may have been considered crazy because I was so out of it. While I was in jail for an incident I did that was caused by my untreated psychosis I did not acknowledge the fact that I was in jail. My mind was so distorted that I thought someone was playing a really bad prank on me. I consider that state of mind as crazy because I was unaware of what was reality and what was actually happening to me. Now I do not look at myself as crazy, and I do not like it when people use the term.

The word "schizophrenic" brings back thoughts of misuse of the term from movies. It is a reminder of the common misconceptions. And the term does not view the individual separate from the illness. I am not schizophrenia, I have the disorder.

I am very interested to learn what you think about these labels. So what should I call someone living with a mental illness? How do you refer to yourself or someone with mental health?

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

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Living Independently

Do you think it is best that someone living with schizophrenia, or any mental illness, live independently or with a caregiver? I ask this question because it became a small debate in a support group.

One group participant said her doctor suggest that she live with someone even though she strives to live independently. She wanted to understand how is it that people living with schizophrenia live on their own. The therapist said that sometimes the doctor will suggest that a client live with someone because they are unstable on medication or are suicidal among other reasons.

In my opinion, I believe it depends on the situation. I would not make a generalization for all people living with schizophrenia or mental illness in regards to living independently because we are all on different levels in our recovery. In addition to that, many of us living with schizophrenia have various treatment plans that may or may not include medication. I am all for whatever works best for the individual whether it be medication and therapy or alternative treatment.

In fact, I live independently, I stay by myself, cook for myself, etc. However, prior to living independently I lived with my mother, I lived in a group home, and I had a roommate. I lived with my mother on and off for different reasons such as going to college or readjusting to Atlanta (I lived in California for a short moment).

I used to be a part of an outpatient treatment program that provided housing in California. They called the group home independent living. In the independent living establishment there was a house manager that cooked for us and sometimes distributed medication to some of us that required support. Most of us living there either had a disability or were a senior.

While I was living on college campus I had a roommate, actually a few of them. Therefore, you can say I've had quite an experience as far as the living arrangement is concerned. And I would highly suggest that other people living with a diagnosis also experiment with various living arrangements to discover the best fit.

So when I felt comfortable living myself you can imagine the excitement, but also the concern my family had for me. I must add that I live close to family and that I gave a key to a relative to feel safer. And I would also suggest to other people living with or without a mental illness to live close to friends and/or family and to give a key to a trusted individual for emergencies.

I think that living independently with a mental illness requires income, attention to the illness, and support. According to a 2008 NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) survey Schizophrenia: Public Attitudes, Personal Needs 17 percent of participants have public housing, while 50 percent depend on family for living arrangements.

However, I can imagine that some people who are not exposed to people managing their illness well do not think that people with mental health can live independently. On the other hand, the NAMI survey claims that 79 percent of the public believe an individual living with schizophrenia can live independent lives. While that statistic sounds great, the survey went on to suggest that only 24 percent of the participants understand schizophrenia.

Again, I believe living independently depends on the individual. What do you think?

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

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

My Frustration: There is more to Schizophrenia than the Voices

One of the greatest things that frustrate me about living with this illness is the fact that most people do not understand what it is even though they think they know. Sometimes I feel so misunderstood by not only certain individuals but by society. Because when I say the word "Schizophrenia" they automatically think voices and that the individual is crazy or will do something violent.

As you can imagine, it is very offensive when I hear someone refer to another individual living with a mental illness as crazy because I have a diagnosis and I do not view myself as such, nor do I view other people with mental health as crazy. I wish I can get through to other people that think that way and explain that mental health has many faces. Mental illness can affect all sorts of people, no matter what intellectual background, socioeconomic status, age, gender, race, etc. Schizophrenia is much more complicated than hearing the voices.

For me, schizophrenia made me think irrationally, do bizarre things, and to have unnecessary stress. I remember the episodes I had before I was diagnosed with schizophrenia...

At one point I thought my peers and professors were against me. However, that belief carried over to everyone conspiring against me, which was very uncomfortable because it seemed like I can feel people gossiping about me, and that I can read their minds and they could read my mind too.

I would have anxiety attacks around certain people because I felt they were evil. I thought I had the gift of discernment where I can decipher evil spirits and good spirits within people and that I was a prophet. Thinking about it now, it was all very weird, but not to me at the time. I tried to rationalize these beliefs and whenever someone doubted me, like for instance, that the professors were against me I would stop telling them information and this led to isolation.

Eventually I felt like I had a special relationship with God and that only I could understand Him. I believed that the dates on the back of milk cartoons were the real date and whatever people said the date was, was incorrect. I felt like I could not trust anyone and that everyone was out to get me, I was very suspicious.

The voices were a distraction to me. I would be holding a good conversation with someone and then one of the voices would intervene and talk about something that did not make sense or talk about the person to whom I was talking to. And when I would stop to hear what the voices were saying the voices would sometimes stop then start again after I resumed my conversation, it was irritating.

My episode with schizophrenia led me to be arrested and placed into jail and into the State Hospital. My thinking was so off I thought the sitting truck with the car keys in them was a blessing from God and indicator to take the truck. And when I got into the truck some hip-hop song was playing. I did not like the song and still do not to this day because of my interpretation of the song. I thought the song had a deeper meaning as if the devil was trying to get me to commit suicide, but I did not want to die! I tried to ignore the song and concentrate on driving the truck. I eventually crashed the truck head-on into a government building while trying to escape the police. While in custody I thought to myself the police will harm me. I even thought I was Jesus Christ for a moment, that was weird. Later, I discovered that the truck belonged to the military which made my incident a felony.

Schizophrenia is much more than the voices. It encompasses paranoia, delusions, and other things that make an individual feel stress. I am not saying that everyone with the disorder will have a run-in with police, that is not true, it is what happened to me.

I hope that if you hear someone refer to a person with mental health as crazy or something you will investigate and educate them because there are so many misconceptions about schizophrenia and mental illness.

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

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Disclosure Tips for Sticky Situations

In the previous post I briefly discussed disclosure of my illness in regards to housing, and I want to discuss this in a little more detail because people have a right to privacy about their diagnosis. It is unfortunate that some people are open to discuss their mental health, however, sometimes when they think disclosure could be empowering it does more harm than good, due to the fact that other people simply do not understand mental illness.

Although I am open about my diagnosis and experiences to friends and family, and well just about everyone, I am still selective with who I disclose my illness to. I believe sharing such information should be dealt with delicately whenever someone decides to disclose because stigma is still rampant and at work. By no means am I condoning deception, or for someone to lie about their mental health status, I am simply suggesting that people should be cautious.

Due to my experiences, these are some situations where I feel someone should be hesitant about disclosure: 1) housing, 2) employment and or school, and 3) personal relationships. While seeking a home it is your right to not disclose your illness even if you do have disability benefits. When a landlord asks, 'why do have disability benefits?' you can reply by asking their relevance or simply say 'I prefer not to discuss this.'

I would not tell my employer that I have a disability unless I needed accommodations. Someone could say that their disability requires them to have A, B, and C assistance. Even then, they do not have to specify their mental health status. In school, I have accommodations, however, I do not share my diagnosis with professors. I have them sign my assistance form from the disability office at the beginning of the semester by simply saying I have a disability and need accommodations, 'will you sign here.'

Relationships are special. I usually ask trick questions to get a better understanding of my partner's perspective on mental health. For example,I may ask what do you think about depression and if they reply that depression does not exist, that is my cue to not disclose. Other times I ask them if they ever heard of schizophrenia, most of the time they haven't and I may tell them that I work with people with the disorder and begin to educate them about the illness. Then I decipher their interest in the illness. Eventually, if I feel they can handle it I share with them that I have schizophrenia. I do not put a time limit on when I decide to disclose to my partner. Some people I tell, others I never tell and that is my right.

Just because I decide not to disclose my diagnosis does not mean I am ashamed of having the illness. I accept that I have schizophrenia and will have to work hard to manage it. Sometimes I do not find it appropriate to share like the situations I listed. However, I hope I encouraged you to take precaution in a healthy way.

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

Addressing Stigma in a Commercial

What do you think about the commercial?

I was wondering and getting upset at the fact that I have not found any commercials about mental health and then I found this one. I think it is a great commercial because it focuses on the things people living with a diagnosis endure- stigma. Stigma is misunderstanding, lack of information, prejudice, and discrimination like in the workforce or in housing. I like this commercial because it paints a realistic picture of what life can be like for some of us living with a diagnosis.

In fact, just the other day in group a friend of mine was bringing up his concern about job hunting. He said that he called a retail store and asked someone if they were hiring, the employee replied, "you cannot work you get disability." Comments like that are so ignorant, and upsetting. First, of all not everyone living with a mental health diagnosis is on disability. Second, even if someone is on disability they can still work if they choose to.

It reminds me of my own experience with discrimination...I was looking for a room to rent and found one near my school. Everything was going smooth till we discussed my income. After my potential landlord asked me why I get SSI, I told her I have schizophrenia. Then she explained to me that the house was not a good fit for me because my potential roommate may talk too much and may cause unnecessary stress to me. Lesson Learned! Never specify the illness to justify the income. Eventually I found a home and did not disclose reason for my source of income and I didn't have any problems with the landlord and roommates.

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

South Korea's "War on Dementia"

Dementia is memory loss and other interferences to the extent that daily functioning is difficult. It is caused by changes in the brain. Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia though there are several types. Dementia is a major concern in South Korea with it affecting the 65 and older population by 7 percent in 2000, to an estimated 14 percent in 2018, and 20 percent 2026.

However, South Korea's government is taking charge of dementia. Already they have created a long-term health insurance system and a dementia database. They developed the long-term insurance system by increasing the national insurance premium by 6.6 percent, to assist in the creation of centers and training to care for people with dementia. In 2009, about $1 billion government and public health insurance money was allocated toward dementia patients. While the dementia database enables relatives to register dementia patients and to receive iron on identification numbers.

The fight against dementia in South Korea extends beyond the government to the younger generations. Children are getting involved in the "war against dementia". These "dementia supporters" are learning the meaning of dementia, its symptoms, and how to care for someone with dementia.

"The 11- to 13-year-olds, for instance, were in the government’s “Aging-Friendly Comprehensive Experience Hall” outside Seoul. Besides the aging simulation exercise, they viewed a PowerPoint presentation defining dementia and were trained, in the hall’s Dementia Experience Center, to perform hand massage in nursing homes" (Pam Belluck, "Children Ease Alzheimer's in Land of Aging").

South Korea's demonstration should be mirrored for mental health concerns in the United States. More attention should be focused on mental health because it affects someone in our family and perhaps you like me. Wouldn't it be nice to have a program for youth to educate them about the basics of mental health? I believe like in many other demonstrations if we educate our youth we could not only fight stigma but help to overcome mental health.

To read the original article go to New York Times Health's Pam Belluck "Children Ease Alzheimer's in Land of Aging".

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

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Ice Cream in December

Today was the last class for NAMI's Peer-to-Peer Recovery Education Course for the year. Again, Peer-to-Peer is a 10-week educational course. We studied relapse prevention, mental health education, and advance directives.

The majority of the class graduated today- Yay! We started out with about 12 participants and 8 graduated. Everyone was very enthusiastic, they really opened when it was time to share. We celebrated by eating ice cream- butter pecan and vanilla.

I would love to facilitate another class and most likely will in Spring 2011. So keep checking back for another class!

How to Cope with Dark Seasons

I aim to empower those affected by mental illness. However, the truth about recovery is there will be many dark seasons. Still, I hope peopl...