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).

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...