Sunday, December 30, 2012

Identifying My Triggers

Over last six months I've been battling depression, anxiety and feeling overwhelmed. My doctor calls it postpartum depression, resulting from the birth of my child, but I call it "life." Prior to the birth of my son I never had a lot of experiences with depression. However, I am not sure if I agree with the postpartum depression diagnosis now, because of the several other factors which contributes to my depression and other symptoms around the time of receiving that diagnosis.

I know that stress is a major trigger for me, and I am still learning what type of stress is unhealthy for me. Despite life's many stresses, I think I've narrowed it down, my stressors include: criticism from individuals within my support system, arguing, over-productivity, and major life changes such as relocation.

Now that I know what stresses me out the most, how will I cope with the daily struggles? For one thing I need to continuously work on my communication with my support network in order to reduce unnecessary misunderstandings and confusion. I think we all can learn something new about mutual communication and cooperation. Furthermore, I should analyze what I am arguing about to see if it is an ongoing concern and who I am arguing with- to decipher whether that relationship is worth preserving?

Also, I like to stay busy, but I understand that over-productivity is dangerous for me because it can set me back despite all the good things I am trying to do for myself, friends and family, and community work. I remember prior to my first known concern with depression I had participated in a two-day intense training, facilitated a training soon afterwards, traveled a lot, and applied for another leadership position- all in one month- which was a lot of positive pressure, but still pressure. I remember I felt like I was over doing it-which I was- and was exhausted and on edge with what I had planned to do next.

Relocation- it doesn't have to be across the country as it was in my past- it could be down the street or any new environment. I admit I move around a lot- always have growing up- and I make it a bad habit to do so now. As an adult I justify a move because of convenience and to get more space. These are reasonable excuses, however, because of my mental health concern I should reevaluate my motives.

Have you identified your triggers, and if so, what are they?

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

Saturday, December 22, 2012

CHANGE: How to Release Old Ways?!

The last few days have been rough for me, however, I have not had the need to take my anxiety medication again- yay!- and my state of well-being is improving by writing regularly, and recognizing that I have the support of my therapist, family, friends and fellow bloggers. I still get tired easily and feel concerned with all the things I want to do for myself, family, the nonprofit I serve, and other mental health related projects; despite the plan I came up with my therapist to relieve and manage my stress. I will read a little more than usual to help relax, and make sure I take a nap today.

A friend of mine said to be gentle with yourself. I used to think I was superwoman and was not fragile- my opinion on this matter has changed... I am fragile and do need to be gentle with myself, I just need to learn how to master this change.

Change is difficult for me because its a change in my thinking and lifestyle, and I'm the type of person that is a creature of habit and stay in my comfort zone. I think a new setting will help me change- like getting a massage, visiting the bookstore often, and surrounding myself with like-minded friends. I recognize I need to get out of my comfort zone- and fast! Now that I have a vision of the change I want, how do I get there?

How have you made a lifestyle change? How long did it take you to (ex. lose weight, stick to a strict diet, take your medication regularly, or to just relax more if you are used to overworking yourself, etc.?). 

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

Friday, December 21, 2012

Mapping A Way to Satisfaction

I am tired and I have not even started the work I want to do today. I feel both physically and mentally tired. I have so many goals I want to fulfill- I think I should focus on coming up with a plan to get what I want, or map out the baby steps necessary to complete. Despite my stresses, writing is helping me relieve some of the ongoing thoughts and concerns constantly floating around my mind.

Financial stresses is a predominate concern for me, not for the basic necessities, but the means to get more money to satisfy my needs and desires, which will help reduce a lot of the struggle. I envision myself being a superwoman, like my mother was to me, but I just can't get past the hump in my road to success. I wish I could work and get results within a short time frame, have enough energy to balance both work and family, and be very resourceful and able to do what I want to do such as travel to visit family.

I am hopeful that I will accomplish my goals- if I just stick to the plan I will create to save money... I made it this far I might as well keep fighting for what I want because what I want, I will inevitably have, it just takes time and focus.

I already know how I am going to handle accomplishing my goals, now its time to put in the work and to make it happen!

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

My Support

As a result of my recent blog entry, When Coping isn't Coping Anymore, and comment on other online networks, a few friends and family members called me with urgency to check on my well-being. I guess I did not realize how well I articulated my mental distress, but I needed to write to feel a little relief. The concerning calls and encouraging comments really made me feel that I was important, cared and thought of, and was not alone in the battle with mental illness.

Having my support network is important because friends and family could pick up on cues from my active lifestyle or lack of, and my thoughts from online groups and identify my stressful  moments, sometimes when I can't. I appreciate others for reaching out to me, it re-energized my optimistic perspective on recovery and life.

Although I still have work to do to acquire and maintain wellness, I believe I can and will get through this difficult time with satisfaction. 

How strong is your support network?- Do you have friends and family who know you well enough to reach out to you when you are feeling down? If so what are your warning signs that you are in need of support?... Whenever you do not meet your obligations, when you are irritable, or when you isolate- what are your warning signs?

If you feel you do not have a strong support system I encourage you to seek support by participating in online networks and self-help groups to learn from peers and to establish more relationships.

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

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Plan from When Coping isn't Coping Anymore

This blog entry is in response to my last, "When Coping isn't Coping Anymore," posted on December 19, 2012...

Recently, I've been under a lot of stress, so I tried my usual coping skills that usually worked for me in the past with dissatisfaction and no relief. Accordingly, I went to speak to my therapist to learn new ways to help me cope with my stress and anxiety. Fortunately I came after most of the traffic died down in the mental health center, and was able to speak with her.

We came up with a stress management plan. The plan is to set a time frame or parameters around the time I spend on the lap top doing business. I will prioritize my work load and take more time out for myself to relax. I plan to try this new way of limiting the time I spend to my business for a week or two.

After talking to my therapist about the many things on my mind, I felt some relief and satisfaction with the stress management plan we devised. I feel safe knowing that these feelings are more stress-related than the byproduct of my mental illness, though stress can lead me to experience some symptoms of schizophrenia. Experiencing what I have with schizophrenia in the past- I do not want to go through that again, and I do my best to take care of myself to help reduce the likelihood of relapse.

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

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

When Coping isn't Coping Anymore

Since September, I've been busy with business- board meetings, conference calls, and presentations- which I am satisfied with being a part of these activities. However, I feel like I am powered on overload right now, and its not a good feeling.

Right now I have a lot on my mind. Lately, I sleep too much, forget too often, and lack motivation to carry out house chores- I force myself to do them every few of days. The last couple of days I took the maximum dose of anxiety medication that was prescribed by my doctor, it helped a little bit. I wrote in my journal and read a little to relieve racing thoughts, tension and overwhelmed-feeling, but I still felt uneasy. I've used most of my coping skills- writing, reading, listening to music and cleaning, now I need to talk to someone about this, because I do not understand what is happening to me?!- I feel like I am gradually breaking down sometimes, while other times I am forcing myself to do what I need to do, and I do get a lot accomplished. I have a lot to think about- my family, finances and LIFE in general! I am not sure if this is mental health related and this is the result of me functioning under a lot of stress? I will seek out my therapist either today or tomorrow.

How do you cope with stress and/or anxiety?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Fear to Openness about Medication

I am concerned that I may be slipping into depression that may get worse if untreated.

Prior to the birth of my child I never had a bout with depression, but as my body changed so did my hormones and my susceptibility to depression. A few months ago I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and at the time I knew I needed extra support from my my treatment team. I knew I needed to focus on my mental health because my anxiety level was up and down, it was difficult to concentrate, and I felt extremely overwhelmed and afraid my mental illness would rear its ugly head and try to destroy my recovery accomplishments. I spoke my therapist who contacted my doctor and let them know I was coming in the next morning as a walk-in, which I did and we tweaked my medication.

Now, its hard to focus and to carry out minor assignments, sometimes I feel anxious for no reason, I am extremely tired and sleep more than usual, and I feel like I am on a downward spiral. Yet, I have reason to be. I have a lot of personal stresses that may contribute to these new feelings.

Lately, I have been participating in more support groups than before. I guess my subconscious was aware of my need for additional support before I noticed I needed it. I go to two therapist-led support groups a week and co-facilitate one self-help group. The meetings really help me because I am able to get a lot of information from my therapist and peers. For example, I asked my therapist what are the common side effects for antidepressants and how long does it usually take the body to respond to it.

In the past, my doctor prescribed antidepressant medication that I filled, but did not take because I did not know enough about the medication and believed the depression rose. Now that I understand what the common side effects are and how long it could take my body to respond to it, I am more open to taking it with the new information I learned from my therapist. Moreover, my doctor said to start the antidepressant medication if I felt I needed them. I need them. I will start taking them today in addition to the medication I am already taking.

If you or someone you know is in need of treatment but is afraid of getting treatment for whatever reason, encourage educating self by asking a healthcare provider questions about treatment.

If you want to learn more about schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind Inc., National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Choices in Recovery, and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).

Friday, July 27, 2012

How is Schizophrenia Portrayed in Media

Last week's Colorado theater shooting tragedy. When I first heard about this incident I assumed media and the public would identify schizophrenia; a brain disorder characterized by hallucinations, delusions, and other symptoms loosely categorized as either negative symptoms, positive symptoms or cognitive symptoms. Schizophrenia, schizophrenia- the media is doctor and authority over correct diagnosis of individuals and their actions, overnight- I am NOT surprised! Immediately, I understood the consequences- STIGMA- shame, fear, and suffering in silence, for individuals living with this medical condition and for their families and loved ones. Initially, I did not want to address the issue because I know how it will manifest in media and ultimately in the eyes of the United States society and beyond. Remember the Arizona shooting- "schizophrenia" was immediately suspected... To me, schizophrenia- the scapegoat for horrific crimes and everything negative, in media! Sigh... So disheartening.

Well, media needs to also publicize individuals living with the medical condition in a REAL life manner- holding jobs of diverse capacities- and higher educational degrees, and wonderful talents; John Nash, Elyn Saks, Nathaniel Ayers, etc., being family-oriented, respecting laws, supporting self and peers, volunteering, managing recovery, and living NORMAL lives... Let me share with you a positive story- the one not mentioned in the headlines- about three individuals coping with schizophrenia; visit to watch the short documentary, LIVING WITH SCHIZOPHRENIA: A CALL FOR HOPE AND RECOVERY... I apologize to my peers and their families for what they are enduring as a result the Colorado theater shooting; the blame game, fear, embarrassment, and SILENCE. But there is HOPE. When we open dialogue about mental illness and educate ourselves, we are breaking the cycle of stigma- please, please educate yourself and know the truth about schizophrenia and other mental illnesses, NOT the fast-selling gossip and myths!

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

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Patient/Doctor Relationship- Barriers to Treatment and Tips for Better Care

What are some of the barriers to care in the African American community, and shared barriers for all populations? How can individuals receive adequate treatment?

I will recommend a reading that may share some factors and answers to these questions, I will also share my experiences with doctors, and what I've learned in order to support others on their journey to maintaining recovery.

Recently, I read an article about mental health disparities on African Americans in California. To read that article click here. This article particularly interested me because the study took place in California- where I was also diagnosed.

One of the experts who commented on this concern, Dr. Annelle Primm, who I've also had the pleasure of sitting on a panel discussion with in last year's NABJ event in Washington, D.C., said "due to lack of cultural understanding," African American patients are being misdiagnosed.

However, many individuals- not only African Americans- living a mental health diagnosis are being misdiagnosed. Yes, cultural competence may play a role for African Americans, but also, honesty about symptoms and other concerns with one's doctor could be a contributing factor to inadequate information leading to misdiagnosis for peers living with mental health.

Reflecting on my early mental health professional relationships- I was very uncomfortable with my first doctor. I had few doctors before receiving an official diagnosis of schizophrenia. I remember having racing thoughts and hearing voices while the doctor asked me several questions including whether I heard voices or not. Because I didn't feel I could trust him, I lied and said I did not hear voices and tried questioning him and changing the topic.

The next doctor I came into contact with, I felt like they did not understand me, and did not listen to my cry for help when I cooperated with them by complaining about side effects. The side effects of my medication made me feel jittery or excited and the need to stay in consistent motion, even when I was tired, I stayed awake and kicked my legs to get relief. I tried a few other medications and experienced more side effects.

As a result, I brought my concern to another doctor during another shift to get the attention I needed. The doctor that did not listen to my desire for help with medication frustrated me, and shut me down. I did not want to interact with her nor express myself anymore... I've had good and bad experiences with doctors, but over the process of receiving treatment I've learned it is best to be honest with my doctor and to continue to seek additional help if my needs are not being met.

I think the African American community living with mental health are not receiving the right medical support because of  lack of understanding. This lack of understanding can appear through the belief that mental illness is evidence of lack of faith, which is not true. Mental illness is not a character flaw or spiritual battle. Therefore, it is imperative individuals living with mental health concerns seek help from mental health professionals, and also faith-based communities as an additional resource not sole medical guidance and support.

Evidence of lack of understanding includes barriers to care outlined in the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health (click here for NAMI reference)- mistrust and fear of treatment. Many individuals do not understand how mental health medication works. Although I am still learning the process of different medications, I do know that treatment requires a few weeks, before taking an effect on one's relief, wellness, and improvement- for some that is a short few weeks, and for others it is several long weeks.

Another important fact is individuals on medication can still relapse despite having a regular medication regimen, because of triggers such as incidents, places, people, or stress, which could may make symptoms worse. It is critical that patients share their medical history and other medications and herbs, they are taking because this can dictate which medication the doctor wants to give, or can prescribe given accurate information.

Finally, some concerns are shared by all populations including: poor quality of care, and lack of access to mental health treatment. I've heard from peers their frustration with health care professionals because they are not listening nor doing their job well. A lot of peers feel like they are not treated uniquely in order to best meet their needs.

If I was the patient with concerns such as these I would learn as much as I can about my diagnosis. I would want a family member or a peer mentor such as a Certified Peer Specialist, to attend my doctor appointments with me so that they can advocate for me.

Also, I would go to appointments with a list of questions and make sure I received the information I needed with understanding- not all the unnecessary medical jargon. One of my questions may be about additional resources like programs that discount or take on the cost of my medication, and peer support activities and programs, to help reduce isolation and to create a support network.

Were these tips helpful to you? What other questions would you ask your doctor, if newly diagnosed, during a visit?

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

Friday, July 20, 2012

New Article and Screening of the Living with Schizophrenia Documentary

I had a busy week with interviews about my personal experiences with schizophrenia including that with Ms. Jackie Jones from Black America Web, and the the screening of the documentary Living with Schizophrenia: A Call for Hope and Recovery which was held at the Benjamin Steakhouse in New York City on Thursday, July 19, 2012. To watch the half hour film about three individuals living with schizophrenia- the misconceptions, struggles, and recovery, visit

The interview with Ms. Jones was very conversational. She asked me a few questions about my experiences and wrote a very informative article which I am excited about. Here is how the article began:

Before Ashley Smith gave a presentation before a group of law enforcement officials about schizophrenia, one of the officials had told the audience before she arrived that “there is no hope” for a person with the mental illness.

Fortunately, she wasn’t in the room when he made the remarks.

When Smith finished her talk, the official came up to her and told her he was “blown away.”

“Afterwards, he told me he hadn’t seen a presentation go so well and it was an education; he was astonished,” said Smith, who is one of the people with the condition featured in “Living with Schizophrenia,” a documentary premiering  8:30-10 a.m. Thursday at Benjamin Steakhouse on E. 41st Street in New York City.

“It’s a manageable illness,” Smith said. “There are a few misconceptions out there, that there is no hope for schizophrenia; all people with schizophrenia are violent; it’s caused by poor parenting. It’s not true.

To read this article in its entirety visit or click here.

The screening of the documentary was intimate and unique in that it gave me and opportunity to meet with and to discuss my story in greater detail with a group of journalists over brunch, and also to learn about them. The Benjamin Steakhouse set aside a private area for us to view and to discuss the documentary on their upper level, and to eat well, which I was very pleased with. Overall, the event was eloquent.

Myself along with two individuals, Josh and Rebecca, also living with the illness and who are featured in the documentary participated in the screening, which was moderated by Dr. Xavier Amador, one of the experts also featured in this film. Dr. Amador was very well spoken asking myself, and others featured in the documentary, about our experiences sharing our stories and the messages we want to share about schizophrenia from our perspectives, and that of a caregiver- Rebecca's mother Claire. He shared recent studies from different online resources, and his personal connection to his study and practice of schizophrenia.

I really enjoyed meeting with the other individuals also featured in the film. I liked hearing everyone's perspective on sharing their story, messages, and journey, it reinforces that there are many faces to schizophrenia, and by sharing our stories we can overcome schizophrenia and the stigma associated with it.

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

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Overcoming Ongoing Challenges

There will be ups and downs living with mental illness. Recently, I've experienced some bad days, which concerned me very much because I do not have a lot of bad days to the extent that I need to take a step back and to regroup- emotionally, mentally, and physically.

Stress makes my illness flare up or worsen, I know this by experience, however, fortunately I usually understand how to cope with the stresses of my life- discussing concerns with family and friends, writing, listening to music, or walking- I handle my stress like other people handle theirs who are living with or without a mental health diagnosis.

In the past, my stresses of college and finances led my symptoms to escalate to psychosis- where I heard voices that other people did not hear, saw individuals that did not exist, experienced confusion, anxiety, irritability, irrational thinking, racing thoughts, etc. etc.

A few weeks ago I experienced some bad days. In the beginning I felt jittery, anxious, and then exhausted and irritable. One morning I had a lot to do, however, it took me three hours to get out of bed despite the aid of the snooze button and alarm, which I pressed and set a few times, because I felt extremely overwhelmed and tired. I did not make my first meeting and almost was late to the second meeting that morning. The warning sign that alerted me that something was not right with me was not only the long morning in bed but also the high level of anxiety, which reminded me of my physical state during the most difficult time in my life- five years ago when my life went out of control- in my mind, and in reality, because of my undiagnosed mental illness- schizophrenia.

This feeling of anxiety frightened me, I thought to myself I've come too far to let my diagnosis pull the rug from underneath me now, I have accomplished a lot since my diagnosis for my schizophrenia to flare up and to steal my joy like it did a few years ago. I knew I needed to take a break, and fast!

Prior to the bad days my stress built up. I recently gave birth to my son, which that alone impacted my mood and hormones like it would for any new mother, living with or without a mental health diagnosis, my personal relationship has been especially challenging with our little one to adjust to, I had a lot of events to either host or to participate in- a weekend training out of town, train peers in a two day training, manage a workshop, and to attend a conference- all within a month's time, among daily life stresses for myself and family. So, I had a lot things going on in my life at the time my bad days tried to dominate my livelihood.

I did what worked for me in the past to cope with the stress, and to recuperate, by discussing my challenges with close family and friends. Accordingly, we decided I should seek professional support immediately, and the respite bed for clarity and a fast resolution to overcome my uneasiness and exhaustion.

I called my mental health clinic and requested to speak to my therapist, which we did talk that same day. As a result of our conversation I made an appointment to meet with my doctor, however, I went back to the facility the next morning as a walk-in because the appointment was a week too far out for me. I shared information with my mental health doctor on how I was feeling, what I was doing that may have contributed to my health, and what other medications I tried that previously worked for my concerns. Together, my doctor and me made some adjustments to my medication and made a follow up appointment for the near future.

To help me cope with these new stresses I went to a wellness center and interviewed for, and requested a respite bed for a couple of nights. A respite bed is a comfortable place for individuals who need to regroup but do not want to go to a hospital and their symptoms have not worsened to the extent that they need to go to a psychiatric hospital.

Accordingly, I made arrangements for my son and then checked into the respite center and stayed there a couple of nights- I would have stayed longer but I had to return home to care for my son and because I missed him. During my stay at the respite bed I relaxed- I snacked a lot- ate fruit, popcorn, etc., watched a movie with peers and got some rest.

Analyzing the situation now, I think I alleviated a hospitalization stay by immediately addressing my mental health concerns, being honest with myself and those that can help, and seeking professional advice to prevent a crisis. I recognized I needed help and sought help before it spiralled out of control. Now, I do not feel uneasy or anxious! I am thankful for my support network and access to services to help me overcome schizophrenia. I believe if my peers who are experiencing bad days recognized their early warning signs and triggers or experiences that made their symptoms worsen, and seek professional help, they can prevent a crisis.

I shared this experience with you to let you know I still have challenging moments despite taking my medication regularly, and I have overcome them through support. If you experience some bad days I hope you will recognize them and seek the support you need to overcome your challenging moments too.

To learn more about schizophrenia and to get support visit Embracing My Mind, Inc., the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Choices in Recovery, and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Paving the Way

Dear Peer,

I want to share some things with you that may be helpful in your recovery- First, having a diagnosis of mental illness does not have to limit your life and your abilities. Back when I was institutionalized, I remember my state hospital doctor giving me hope by telling me I could go back to college, and that schizophrenia is a very manageable illness. I am here to tell you, you can do the same!- Whatever mental health condition you are living with- no, it most likely will not be easy everyday, but it gets better after you overcome the initial phases of self-doubt, denial, and loss. Yes, loss, one of my most difficult realities. My health temporarily caused me to either lose or distance myself from getting a higher education, friends, family, and ultimately my sanity and myself. However, after years of hard consistency, support, and awareness of my medical condition, I have gained all that back- schooling, new friends, family, and a new life!!

If I knew back then what I know now, I would've let my mother in on my medical condition sooner from a legal standpoint, so that she could be better knowledgeable of my mental illness and to make wise decisions for me. Opposite that, if you do not have a family member you feel comfortable making decisions for you, I suggest writing an Advance Directive or a living will, while you are well, that states your preferences in the situation of a crisis or where you cannot make decisions because of your mental illness.

Moreover, I would journal even more about my recovery including medications and other medical interventions such as alternative therapies and activities that I can master later on to help me cope with my schizophrenia. Journaling does not have to be long and have correct spelling- it is a book that allows you to speak freely whatever that definition is in your mind.

Lastly, I would come prepared to doctor visits with many questions on my medications and on my recovery such as will this medication put me at risk of gaining any additional medical concerns? Do you have any recommendations on how to get affordable medication and/or treatment? Is there an alternative to medication that will help me cope with my condition? What local groups or organizations are there to support my recovery? Are there peer-led groups I can participate in? (Note: I am neither for or against the treatment and use of medication, I support whatever works for the individual. However, I continue to take my medication because of its necessity and I do not want to make irrational choices that may limit my freedom and opportunities).

I hope these suggestions have opened your mind to more possibilities in your recovery and wellness. I believe we can "Overcome mental illness together!" by sharing experiences and making your recovery journey a priority despite setbacks such as insurance, discrimination, and lack of family support. I am very fortunate to have a strong support system, opportunities to move forward in my recovery, and faith that I will do well, now what are you going to do with this information?

Take care,

Ashley Smith, Certified Peer Specialist
EMM Founder and Executive Director

P.S. I encourage you to comment on my blog entries, I often wonder if my story and suggestions are beneficial- to my peers, caregivers, and students and other interested parties- however, this information is not to replace professional medical advice. Thank you for reading!

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

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Soliders of Recovery

Mental health a problem or gift? First, I do not view mental illness as a problem, but a challenge that many individuals can cope with through utilization of one mechanism or another. A problem to me is something that is not getting any attention till it escalates and turns someone's world upside down like in my own experience with schizophrenia a few years ago. In fact, I try to stay open minded to diverse means of coping with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar disorder among many other health conditions dealing with the mind.

Moreover, I am neutral on the support of medication although I personally take advantage of its blessings in my life. To state clearly, I am an advocate for whatever helps my peer cope positively. I have come to understand that there are several positive additions and alternatives to medication including using one's creativity through arts and crafts, music, writing, singing and other artsy talents like taking care of animals, appreciating nature, participating in sports, and volunteering.

I look at my schizophrenia as a gift because it has become my ministry. While I was hospitalized and diagnosed in the state hospital five years ago, my mother told me I would be an evangelist sharing my experience with the community... and that is what I am doing today! I've had the pleasure and opportunity to travel to Canada and several cities in the United States telling others the good, bad and ugly about my recovery story that in turn brings about hope and motivates some individuals to keep pushing on- this is so rewarding to me!

My schizophrenia is also a gift to me because I am learning myself all over again and had I not experienced something this life changing I do not think I would have utilized my talents to support other individual journeys in this capacity. Yes, I did not always view my medical condition as a gift, however, now that I am mastering it with the support of family, medication, peers, and treatment team, and faith, I feel like I can use my skills to assist other individuals.

Also, having this medical concern has helped me be less judgmental. Because mental health can sometimes go undetected it is important not to assume one understands another person's concerns. Although living with a mental illness can be difficult it can also teach one to be a better person, as it has done for me.

In the past, individuals have criticized me for taking a positive view on my mental illness. I think some people were frustrated because of lack of connections to treatment team, family and community left them wondering how to cope with a serious health condition that was dominating their livelihood. Because some individuals may not see their mental health as a gift, I want to challenge them to acknowledge the good things that have risen from their experience- maybe the condition showed them who their true friends were. The illness could have enabled them to get more in touch with their true selves through art for example, whatever the blessing, I believe more of my peers will see their concern as something that can be overcome with adequate supports and hope!

Finally, I look at individuals living with a mental health condition as soldiers of faith- despite their circumstances because they learn to maneuver and to live life with or without medication. I love to see peers living "normal lives" through marriage, career/volunteering, and family life- all of which I value dearly.

I titled this blog entry "Soldiers of Recovery," because that's what we are- anyone who takes the time to study recovery for themselves or a loved one is a soldier by enduring, learning and hoping for a better future. I encourage everyone to see the positive influences of a circumstance that may have led you to have some setbacks but ultimately overcame them!

I appreciate the blessing to be able to mentor others through this blog, Embracing My Mind, and the mental health recovery campaigns I am associated with including the documentary, Living with Schizophrenia: A Call for Hope and Recovery, among several media appearances on my recovery like CNN, and the Tavis Smiley radio interview. I appreciate you for reading my feelings, thoughts, and experiences related to mental illness... THANK YOU VERY MUCH!

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

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Recipe for Acceptance and Well-being with Schizophrenia

I wrote this article for NAMI- Athens Ohio. To listen to the radio interview hosted by Tom Walker click here.

For me, understanding of my mental health condition enables me to move forward in my recovery. A combination of acceptance, support, and treatment; and faith, motivates me to strive for well-being, which is a sense of normalcy in spite of my preexisting medical concern.

How am I overcoming schizophrenia? My journey is an ongoing process that I will continue to thrive on not only for myself, but for my family, peers, and community. Now, I will share with you how I've mastered my recovery of mental health and am living a normal life.

Since my diagnosis of a serious mental illness- schizophrenia- in 2007, I've learned to cope with my condition and to keep a good attitude no matter how individuals living with or without a mental health challenge view the concern. Getting to this level of comfort was not easy. In short, I've battled housing discrimination, social judgment, and self-stigma, among misconceptions of the community made known through uneducated comments and beliefs in response to my recovery experience, and the illness in general.

Although acceptance of schizophrenia came early for me, in the initial stages of diagnosis and treatment, I could not have overcome so much in a speedy manner without the support of my treatment team, mother and family, peers, and faith, that I will manage my life once again. For me, getting support required an open mind, willingness to share personal experiences, and offer support to peers and other individuals effected by mental illness. Support from a range of connections was crucial to me because I needed a cheerleader (medial staff, family, peers, and supporter, etc.) on my side to keep hope alive and to also let me know that recovery is possible.

Although I am on medication to help treat my mental illness, among other treatments including therapy and support groups, I understand there are alternative treatments available and unique ways to reach peace and well-being living with mental health. I am an advocate for whatever healthy coping mechanism works for my peer.

The underlying factor that helped me accept my schizophrenia was faith in a higher power and a purpose in my life to assist others in recognizing there is life after a difficult challenge such as a medical concern like mental illness. In fact, when I was diagnosed and in the hospital a few years ago my mother told me that I will be an evangelist and share my experience with the community. Back then I did not know how I would share my recovery story, but my faith has always led me in each avenue I took to help benefit individuals by sharing my life dealing with this medical condition.

I was featured in a documentary, along with two individuals living with schizophrenia, that was produced by Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. called, Living with Schizophrenia: A Call for Hope and Recovery. I've personally traveled to and spoke to communities in Canada and across the United States. My story was also presented on CNN and among several other media channels. Now, I share my recovery experience with law enforcement and facilitate workshops to support peers and family members effected by mental health.

My hope is schizophrenia will be viewed as a manageable medical condition and that understanding will flourish and ultimately reduce widespread misconceptions and myths. It is an honor to share my life with schizophrenia in our community and abroad. I plan to write a book about my experiences and to manage a wellness center for individuals effected by mental health.

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

Friday, February 3, 2012

Religion a Symptom?

I presented my recovery story to law enforcement earlier this week as part of the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training program. During the presentation one of the participants asked me if religion was a symptom of schizophrenia. I did not go into depth with my answer then, but I want to elaborate on how religion impacted my symptoms during the most difficult time of my life, five years ago.

When my symptoms of schizophrenia started affecting my emotions, outlook on life, and my ability to function, I did not understand what was happening to me. Consequently, I relied on my religion for understanding of myself and for the strange experiences I had.

I am able to discuss the many symptoms I endured now, because it happened in my past, and I am coping with my illness well through medication, support, and faith. Some of my symptoms I experienced included: seeing and hearing things that others did not experience, having false beliefs, extreme suspiciousness and distrust in people I usually trusted, short-term memory loss, confusion, isolation, etc.

Religion interfered with my illness through its dominance and extremity. My religion demanded routines, several hours of study, and rationalization of my bizarre symptoms. At one point, my strange beliefs took over my mind, I thought God was communicating the actual date through milk cartons, and I did not believe other people when they told me the date. On the flip side I believed the devil communicated with me through the television and radio to commit suicide, even though I never attempted suicide.

My false beliefs went to the extent that I once believed I was a prophet of God on His mission, and then eventually Jesus Christ being persecuted all over again. Though I thought these beliefs were strange, I justified them through my faith. Schizophrenia caused me to think I could communicate with others by reading their mind, and sometimes they could read my mind too, it was all very weird, but possible through my faith.

I think religion can be a symptom for many of my peers with schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses. The extreme examples of my experience with religion and my symptoms is my personal account, religion may affect my peers differently and sometimes not at all.

Now, I label my faith as my spirituality and not as religious practices. I still hold my faith with the understanding that the impossible is possible, however, my personal encounters were a byproduct of my undiagnosed/untreated mental illness.

* I appreciate your insight and sharing personal stories, please continue to comment to let me and our peers know what you think about this topic- thank you!

To learn more about schizophrenia visit the following websites: Embracing My Mind, Inc, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Choices in Recovery, and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).

Friday, January 27, 2012


The following blog entry was written by a guest blogger:

My name is Christina Bruni and I want to thank Ashley for allowing me to be a guest blogger at Overcoming Schizophrenia. I'm the Living Life columnist for SZ magazine and the community leader and expert blogger at HealthCentral's schizophrenia community Web site.

Life is not easy-it is not always, and sometimes it is not often-golden for those of us with SZ or another MI. The respect and compassion seemingly so freely given from one so-called normal to another is not routinely given to the neediest of us in society, who do our bravest and our best to manage our schizophrenia, to manage whatever life chose to give us.

I propose-as I have in my own blog, Left of the Dial-that we fight hate with love, we send those ignorant and fearful people a healing vibe, and wish them well. More than this, I submit we cannot afford to treat each other, as peers, with less than respect, dignity, compassion and AWE. Awe for what a great job each of us does to soldier on every day with varying levels of symptoms.

We each of us will have good days and not-so-good days, and this is how it goes for all of us, so-called normal or not. I choose optimism as a response; I want to keep up a positive spirit in the face of so much resistance, because certainly hope heals.

We can choose how we respond to stigma. It carries no weight with me. Every day I come in contact with so-called normal people who, without any known or verifiable diagnnosis, act like the worst stereotype of those of us who were locked up. While they do their thing, I tell no one I was once branded as having schizophrenia because I have been in the real back wards.

I admire how quickly Ashley committed to a life of advocacy so soon after her diagnosis. My own rocky road in recovery was long and winding, yet in 2002 I decided to become a mental health activist too. We can no longer afford to feel guilty and ashamed for having SZ when we have the best role models to inspire us in the recovery movement.

My buried secret-no longer a shame-will be revealed when my memoir, Left of the Dial, is published in the fall of this year by Vantage Point Books. I wrote the book-which focuses on recovery, not illness, to uplift and inspire all of you walking this road of recovery.

There is hope and there can be happiness and there can be harmony in your head-living with schizophrenia. I take my medication every day as prescribed and I credit this as the key to unlocking the door to my success. I share my story to encourage you to look on the bright side, to always be hopeful, to not be sad or upset when others in the world are not kind to you.

I understand how hard it is living with this diagnosis; it isn't easy.

We're all in this together-let's extend a hand to each other. Together we can win.

To go to Christina's blog click here.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Blind to the Person with the Illness

Recovering from schizophrenia is an ongoing learning experience- what I learn about myself, peers, and research. Whenever I share my personal experience I try to use appropriate terminology to not offend, misrepresent, or make it sound too traumatic and without hope- Yes, schizophrenia can be a debilitating illness, however, it can also be very manageable, which I focus on the latter outcome to provide hope to my peers and families effected by mental health.

When I share my story I frequently use the phrase 'living with schizophrenia' opposed to 'suffering from schizophrenia,' because I have overcome the hardest part of the illness, to me- that being psychosis and the criticizing voices that nobody else heard. It does not bother me when someone uses either of the phrases, because everyone's experience is different.

There is no right or wrong way to describe one's experience with a mental health concern, in my opinion. Like so many perspectives on life, there is no specific style to depict one's feelings and emotions, or response to a mental health diagnosis... So why do some of us still compare and judge a person's recovery???- There is no standard like there is no normal person or perfect person, so why do some people still make comparisons?

I can go on and on about why we should not compare, but that is too easy to discuss, so why don't we take a look at ourselves and be truthful about whether we are judgmental or not and why. I used to be very judgmental before I was diagnosed with schizophrenia, not because I was mean-spirited, but rather because of my lack of life's challenges and ignorance.

I remember nurses trying to persuade me to take medication in jail, but I refused because I did not know I was battling with a severe illness like schizophrenia. In fact, I remember seeing several jail mates take their medication like candy, to me, and thinking I was better because I did not need medication. However, the truth be told I was probably one of the sickest inmates in that unit... I eventually stopped speaking, showering, moving and functioning.

Being diagnosed, in jail, has chipped off a lot of judgmental attitudes I had previously. Now, I feel like I can relate to more people of diverse lifestyles, not because we may have had similar upbringings, but rather because we have experienced something traumatic, life-changing, and stigmatizing; and more bluntly put- taboo.

Now, it concerns me when some individuals want their loved one to recover like me, because I see someone making unfair comparisons on two individuals in recovery without all the pieces to the puzzle to make a far-fetched criteria for wellness. A common question I get from some is: 'how long did take you to get to where you are now in your recovery?' Even though this concerns me, I understand this individual's intent is not to be judgmental or to harm anyone, however, it seems to naturally hinder their loved one's growth in recovery, to me, with the expectations to see results.

Like many families affected by mental health and its ups and downs, my family struggled too. More specifically, my mother and me. Several members of our family gossiped and blamed my mother for my psychic break. It did not help that my illness impacted my feelings, thoughts, and mood around my mother to make me angry, distant, and unwilling to cooperate when she tried to help. I consider my mother a survivor of the remnants of my mental health because she endured a lot to hold my hand through this entire experience; before, during, and after my diagnosis, which I am grateful for because I believe her support plays an intricate role in my recovery.

Finally, it is upsetting when individuals hold a strong opinion about mental health-related concerns when (1) they have never experienced it, (2) or never encountered it through a loved one, or (3) even researched it to know what exactly they are talking about.

Therefore, I challenge you as a peer, family member, and health care professional, and citizen, to not correct and judge an individual's experience with mental illness, and to be more open-minded, and to not place expectations on other people's lives when you do not know their personal history.

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

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