Thursday, January 17, 2013

A New Culture of Recovery

There is a stigma against me and my peers, but there is also one against mental health care providers. Common stigmas of me and my peers vary from lazy, possessing a split personality, to mass murderer- ugh! The stigma of health care providers are they abuse patients, treat us all the same, or do not listen to patients' concerns.

However, I view my peers and health care providers totally different. I see my peers living independently or contributing to the household. They seem like peaceful individuals- practicing mindfulness and keeping to themselves- not inflicting pain on anyone or starting a riot. They engage in creative hobbies such as art or poetry, and other activities. My peers not only help themselves but also other peers by offering advice and a listening ear. And they're far from lazy!- a lot of the people I associate with who have a mental illness volunteer. They also work jobs that they take pride in and enjoy, part-time and full-time.

Despite what really goes on in the mental health community, a majority of our society views us differently- why? Why don't they acknowledge us striving to live "normal" lives? How can they overlook the creativity we add to our culture... Is it really fear? Ignorance? or preference in order to have a false sense of seniority? or all that combined?... Sad. Its not sad for us (people directly impacted by mental illness) but sad for them because they are losing out on great relationships, conversations, and understanding of someone with different experiences from them.

A Certified Peer Specialist (CPS) training I attended last week reminded everyone in the room that providers have helped each us in some way to reach recovery. In my experience with the mental health care system, providers like their jobs. They even had discussions with my mother to help her to have a better understanding of what I am going through. They don't talk to me like I am a child. Instead they provide resources to guide me to get the full benefit of recovery with outside supports. In fact, my state hospital doctor told me I could go back to college. My therapist recommended I become a CPS- a peer who acts as a liaison between staff and peers in order to help others in recovery.

Today, I did a presentation with a peer to a group of providers at an Atlanta hospital in the behavior health care unit. They were very interested in our stories and interactive. They came off as very passionate about their jobs and wanting to help patients... So why is there this belief that they are not encouraging or supportive of our recovery?

In my experience from California and Georgia peers are not dangerous or lazy. Don't get me wrong, I know there are peers out there who can fit the stigmatizing description like the isolated few among the general public, but the truth is most don't. And I believe my peers who have had horrible experiences with their provider, but the truth is the mental health system is changing- for the better. It is not like it was centuries ago, or even 30 years ago. Even the language within the mental health field is adopting new standards. For example instead of calling a patient "schizophrenic" or "bipolar" we are saying someone living with (diagnosis)... Nice. I used to use those terms but now I avoid them because I am not my illness I am Ashley living with an illness called schizophrenia.

Stop spreading stigmatizing messages and language- we are in a new era, a new outlook on the culture of recovery, it could only get better with us sticking together like we do online, and I'm loving it!

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

Helping vs. Enabling

I think some of my best ideas come to me during the night or while I'm in bed. I got an idea about a blog topic that I couldn't shake and had to prematurely get out of bed to record my thoughts while "they were hot." I'll start with a brief history with my English literature teacher from high school...

I always liked to write and to journal. During the last part of high school and early college my teachers and professors complimented me on my writing. I had the same English Literature teacher my junior and senior year of high school- Mrs. Parker. I really liked her because she challenged me, and she liked me too because I was a good student academically, and was more mature compared to my peers. Sometimes I would share my problems with her and she would listen and provide feedback.

She sponsored an activity I created during black history month, a trivial game for students to participate in and to win prizes. I came up with brief summaries of famous African American people who made an impact on society and randomly followed up with questions about the individual during the month of February so that my peers could answer the questions by going to Mrs. Parker and receive a prize. This information was provided during morning announcements. So this was my relationship with Mrs. Parker.

Despite my ability to articulate thoughts and understandings of the literature I read, I remember one time my writing wasn't up to par and Mrs. Parker let me know it. One day, Mrs. Parker asked me to stay after class to discuss my essay. She started off my telling me she was going to give me a "B" on my paper, because she liked me, but couldn't because I did not show understanding of the story. She explained to me what the author's message was through the main character. By her honesty and accurate grading of my paper- giving me a "D"- she helped me understand the material and let me know I was not going to get off easy because we were "friends." She had high expectations of me which I appreciated.

Moving along to the topic of mental health related concerns, despite knowing that a loved one has mental illness, I've heard from some family members that their relative would not take their loved one who is struggling with mental illness to the hospital because they loved them and did not want to leave them in that environment. The loved one may even know that they have a mental illness but are not ready or willing to move forward in recovery, with the encouragement of their family, to get seek professional assistance, because of many factors for example: fear, lack of understanding, shame, guilt, and not wanting to acknowledge that the problem will never fix itself.

Is this helping my peer or enabling them to stay out of the hospital and to struggle?

Because of my harsh "wake up call" of going to jail and being forced into treatment by a judge, I do not sympathize with family members who hide or deny mental illness. I am in favor of mandated treatment compliance, because it saved my life! I was catatonic and not moving my body, or speaking and eating, while my body and mind were deteriorating day by day without getting proper treatment, which I denied while somewhat functioning.

I understand court ordered medication compliance is not for everyone, including those who do not want to take medication. I am an advocate for whatever form of treatment works for the individual including alternatives such as art therapy, music therapy, talk therapy, exercise, herbs, etc. However, I agree that a judge should intervene in the circumstance of an individual who may potentially harm themselves, or others, and commit repeated criminal offenses while not in the right state of mind.

I think a combination of stigma and lack of understanding from family members hurt my peers more so than help them whenever they are denied from some form of professional treatment. A lot of people do not understand how places like psychiatric hospitals and clubhouses support recovery. They may hear of an isolated incidence in the news and believe that all treatment facilities are bad, or worse, get their education from Hollywood. The movies often depict the poor quality of treatment from staff members that happened a long time ago, but do not tell the truth and state that these old ways of treating and caring for people in the mental health system has changed.

It bothers me when peers struggle with extreme anxiety or paranoia, heavy and dark depression, hearing criticizing voices nonstop, and relentless rituals and obsessions, and mania that has harsh consequences; and other symptoms of mental illness without relief. I am sure the family member does not want them to suffer either, but allow it because of their ignorance, lack of acceptance, and not wanting to ruin their reputation or "good name," and this ultimately happens because of the power of stigma. I do not like it when family members enable loved ones living with mental illness to not get the treatment they need.

I do not want to imply that most family members are caught up in their appearance or other stigmas and do not seek assistance for their loved one, because that is far from the truth! It was at my family's request for the judge to force medicate me, and I never had any bad feelings toward my family for wanting to help me get well again and to seek legal assistance.

In fact, I also hear of a lot of families that go to the police as a last resort. And this concerns me too, however, the bottom line is they need help for their loved one and are seeking it by any means, which is commendable. However, some of my peers feel betrayed by family for getting police involved and they have a right to feel this way, even though I do not agree with it.

I have a few questions for you and I encourage anonymity if this is too personal, but you still want to share your story:

If you are a family member: How do you feel about families that do not take their loved one into treatment?- were there any factors or reasons I did not cover that you want to elaborate on? Have you ever had to get a judge or police involved with your loved one to get them into treatment?

If you are someone living with a mental illness: Have you ever had a run-in with the legal system by the hand of your family so that they can get you into treatment? How did this make you feel?

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

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Learning about Mindfulness

I was introduced to the idea of mindfulness in a NAMI course called, "Peer-to-Peer," back in 2009, when I became certified to mentor the course with peers who also live in recovery from mental illness. We performed an exercise of observation- I won't go into detail because I do not want to ruin the experience for those of us who will participate in the class.

My understanding of mindfulness from friends is it revolves around the idea of focusing on the present moment. Concentration on breathing patterns coincides with the habit of mindfulness. In fact, I have a couple of friends who practice mindfulness. One friend studies it in a class setting while the other performs extensive research alone, and uses it occasionally. Also, I've heard from others who engage in some forms and practices of Buddhism that they also exercise mindfulness. Each of these individuals also live with mental illness. Because it seems popular among the mental health community I am interested in it as another coping skill.

Although I have little understanding of mindfulness I tried to practice its form of observing in the present moment and deep breathing. A couple of nights ago I did a brief mindfulness exercise or my understanding of it. As I was sitting in front of my laptop I stopped working on it and closed my eyes. I concentrated on the sounds around me, the laptop and refrigerator dominated the sounds of my environment. I took a few deep breaths and realized I was tired- mentally and physically- I told myself I needed a break. Therefore, I called it quits, temporarily for the few hours while I slept. I know there is more to mindfulness than that so I did some research to have a better understanding of the practice.

I learned that mindfulness is based on Buddhist philosophy and was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn who is "a famous teacher of mindfulness meditation and founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center."

In fact, his definition of mindfulness: “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; On purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

In the beginning the practice was used to help people with a range of medical problems, however, it is not only for people who have illnesses, it can be used to help improve the quality of life for everyone.

Mindfulness incorporates a range of principles and activities:

  • Acceptance
  • Breathing
  • Consciousness
  • Non-judgmental attitude
  • Observation
  • Present tense
  • Stretching
  • Yoga
After learning more about mindfulness I would like to learn to practice it the right way to take advantage of its full benefit.

Here is where I received my information on mindfulness:

How familiar are you with mindfulness? How were introduced to the practice? Do you practice it regularly, if so, why?- What does it do for you?

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

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Terri Morgan's Book Review of Playing the Genetic Lottery

I was asked by an author to give a book review of her new novel that was published in 2012 and is based on schizophrenia from a family member's perspective. This is my first time reviewing a book, at the request of an author, however, I've been asked before, but shied away from doing it for differing factors. Terri Morgan's email request caught my attention and interest immediately, and I called her shortly after to learn more about the book and how I could help the cause.

I want to thank Terri for giving me the opportunity to write a book review for her. I feel honored to be a part of her awareness and anti-stigma effort.

Below is my book review:

Terri Morgan's Playing the Genetic Lottery- Book Review by Ashley Smith

When Terri Morgan, the author of Playing the Genetic Lottery, first contacted me by email to ask me to give a review of her new novel, she immediately informed me of her intentions, “My goals in writing this book were to reduce the stigma about mental illness, provide information about mental illness and treatment, and validate the experiences of families and caregivers.”

As a mental health advocate, individual living with schizophrenia, and also a mother, I can understand and relate to the complexity of situations acknowledged in this novel. After reading her fictional narrative about a woman, Caitlin Kane, who has unique experiences with mental illness- she was raised by two parents that have schizophrenia- I encourage students, and families effected by the illness to read this novel because it exemplifies all of the author's objectives.
In fact, as I read the novel I could nod my head in agreement at the description of scenarios and thought to myself, this author really gets it! By this understanding, I recognize that Ms. Morgan must have performed extensive research to articulate the emotions, fears, and actions so eloquently proclaimed throughout the fictional lives depicted in this story. I appreciate the unique mental health experiences represented in this novel to help educate the public, we need more examples of diverse lifestyles, the realities of schizophrenia, and its impact on families.
Schizophrenia is a very complex mental illness that has a tendency to “run in families.” There are a lot of misconceptions about individuals living with this mental health challenge. The truth about people living with this condition is they have vastly different experiences, for some individuals who are in treatment, and others who are not. Also there has been a major shift in the way the mental health system cares, treats, and supports recovery.
I have personally experienced some of the incidents depicted in this novel such as living arrangements, legal enforcement, and family support, among other similarities that parallel my own recovery. I understand that one book cannot effectively express everyone's experience. But there still needs to be a balance in portraying the lives of individuals who are diagnosed with schizophrenia and the reactions of their family. A single book cannot express the spectrum of what recovery looks like to all. Yet, Terri Morgan provides a great description of the differing lifestyles and coping skills practiced among characters who have mental illness in this novel that are realistic.
With that said, I like this novel because of the way Ms. Morgan describes people living with schizophrenia and their impact on the family, which were well articulated. As evidence of understanding the complexity of challenges brought on by the family unit as a result of the person living with an illness Ms. Morgan includes a plethora of mental health related situations.
For example, suicide is largely misunderstood in our society and the people that engage in suicide attempts or who commit suicide are commonly shamed by the community, despite their anguish as a result of suffering from mental illness. However, Ms. Morgan addresses this problem head on, and many other challenging situations, which allows the reader to see another perspective on these issues in order to ultimately alter their views on such difficult situations and to express compassion.
Also, another interesting underlying truth that I liked was bringing attention to the fact that many individuals who have mental illness engage in hobbies and careers that are based on their creativity. Other subtle learning points suggest that people who have a diagnosis are striving to cope with the daily struggles of life like everyone else- working, raising a family, relocating, and supporting each other.

However, the concerns I had as an advocate and individual living with schizophrenia was the use of the term “schizophrenic.” In my experience with peers who are living with the illness, including myself, there has been a shift in language from using the word “schizophrenic,” which is replaced by the popular phrase: “individual living with schizophrenia.” The mental health community is starting to avoid the term “schizophrenic” because it identifies the individual by their illness instead of simply stating they are an individual who has schizophrenia. However, a large majority of people directly impacted still use this word, but it will inevitably expire in the future.
Despite this concern, by the end of the novel, I could overlook the terminology because of evidence of the sincerity in the author's tone carried out through this fictional yet seemingly real story. Moreover, the educating moments such as varying treatments and therapy, assisted outpatient treatment, support groups, and countless other practices within the mental health community are invaluable.
Lastly, in another email to me, Ms. Morgan reemphasized, "my novel will help educate people about the disease, how it can be treated, and how family members and close friends are impacted when a loved one is ill. By raising awareness, I hope to raise compassion. I also hope my novel validates the experiences of families and caregivers, and helps remind them of how valuable their love and support is."
Terri Morgan author and co-author of eight non-fictional books, in addition to Playing the Genetic Lottery, her first book of fiction, is an eloquent writer on the subject of schizophrenia. I believe she is a remarkable author because of her unquestionable evidence of elaborate research on experiences with schizophrenia. She has opened the door to a minority group that is largely misunderstood and misrepresented. I support her anti-stigma efforts as both an advocate and individual living with the illness, by promoting this book because it educates readers on the myths, lifestyles, and treatments of individuals living with schizophrenia. The novel also includes discussion questions for book clubs and readers.
Terri Morgan has been writing professionally since 1980, and has written material in countless newspapers and magazines. To purchase the e-book or hard copy of Playing the Genetic Lottery, you can visit her website at or go to Some of the proceeds are donated to mental health organizations and research.

Monday, January 14, 2013


I am against using my diagnosis as an excuse for my behavior, and it annoys me whenever a peer does. I do not do that because I value taking responsibility for a my actions, diligence, and being non-judgmental (which I try to uphold, however, I sometimes fail), having this mental illness has humbled me into trying to balance my perception of other people and life situations. However, I do understand that having symptoms can impair rationality, and that is something different than what I am discussing.

With that said, I was irked by my parter's lack of understanding and insensibility to my mental health. I told him I may be experiencing mania to describe why I've been on the computer too much, which has become an issue for us recently. He asked me what "mania" was and I defined it as an obssession- which may not have been the best description. His response bothered me, he said something to the effect: 'stop trying to find a diagnosis for everything you do!' I paused and thought carefully before I spoke, and in my mind thought: you just don't get it, I am not making these emotions, and mental health concerns, up!

I had a flashback of last year's struggle with depression, and again, he was not willing to hear me out. Futhermore, when I went into a respite center he was upset that he was not the first person to know why I was going there- mmm, I wonder why?!

I don't mean to imply that he isn't supportive, because he is and has been very supportive to me, in his own way, in diverse situations.

Because mental health is my passion and purpose I engage in anti-stigma presentations frequently, and I do not bring my business home. Every once in a while he asks questions about schizophrenia and mental illness and I am glad he shows interest, and I answer his questions. Also, I share projects or presentations with my him, but I intentionally do not force mental health related stuff on him because I understand that it is my interest, and not his.

However, experiences like this remind me that I need to educate him better on my mental health concerns so that he can understand my world... He has never seen me with a range of symptoms to the extent that I cannot function- and I don't want him to- ever.

I try not to go into detail about my family life, but I needed to vent and to share my frustraton to acknowledge these sorts of experiences that I have and maybe some of my peers may also have within their personal relationships too.

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

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Mania or Something Else?

I think I've been experiencing mania, but I am not sure. I think I am in a manic state right now, because I am writing too much about mental illness. Over the last week I've written more blog entries than usual. And when I've recorded all I want to share on my blog I surf the web for other blogs to read and comment, which is not a habit, although I've come across some good blogs.
Also, I am overly excited about a couple of projects to the extent that I cannot sleep or do anything else but record my thoughts and focus on the project. I am spending too much time on the laptop, and I know it but still I engage it. Writing is very therapeutic to me. Right now it is calming my anxiousness.
Lastly, my mood had been up, way up, and then down and irritable because of small disappointments and this usually wouldn't effect me as much.
I want to know if this is a form of mania or not, and if so, how to overcome it?
To learn more about schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, NAMI, Choices in Recovery, or Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada),

Hospitalizations are Always Bad- Right?

Although I am doing well now I know deep inside that I can have a relapse despite being on medication, and become hospitalized again. I keep that in mind to humble myself and to reflect on my experiences in order to learn and grow from them.

I've been admitted to a California state hospital before, for three months, back in 2007. I do not have a lot of history of being in the hospital, but that experience alone helped me come to terms with my illness and motivate myself to stay in treatment in order to avoid hospitalization.

However, don't misconstrue my experience and goals of trying to stay out of the hospital. I do not agree that the hospital is a bad place or is the enemy, and that we should avoid it at all costs. Yet, I understand there are incidences where hospital staff abuse patients, which is frightening and upsetting, at the same time.

I can understand that some of my peers need to be hospitalized for diverse reasons and periods of time- some shorter than others and some longer than others. In fact, I've had close friends who were in and out of the hospital over the last two years, and that was upsetting to me, therefore, I can relate to family members who experience a relative in the psychiatric hospital- their worries, compassion, confusion, and hurt.

I've come to this realization, hospital stays are not always bad, because of my own experience. Prior to the judge mandating medication compliance and admission to the state hospital I was very sick. I became catatonic- not speaking, moving my body, or eating, and not even getting up to use the bathroom. During this time I had racing thoughts and sometimes no thoughts, which was even weird to me while in that state of mind. On top of this extreme symptom of my mental illness, I sensed things that other people did not experience- hearing, seeing, smelling, feeling, and tasting things that were not there. One time while I was in my jail cell alone- I was incarcerated because I stole a military pick up truck with the keys in them while not in a rational state of mind, but experiencing psychosis- I felt what seemed like a tarantula crawling on my back and I immediately scrambled to get this huge spider off of me, because I was frightened, but later realized I was hallucinating after I reintegrated into the community from institutionalization.

Also, the voices in my head were coming in and out more frequently. Instead of hearing occasional voices from time to time while alone, they started to interrupt my conversations with other people which was very confusing, because I couldn't understand what the person in front of me were saying, and I would become irritable.

My hospitalization helped me tremendously because of the treatment, education, and relationship with my treatment team was respectful and trusting. Therefore, I had a good experience in the hospital, which I am thankful for because some of my peers were not as fortunate to have had a good experience in the state hospital.

In fact, last summer I think I prevented a relapse because when my symptoms gradually worsened I sought out help through the center where I received treatment immediately. And I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and given antidepressants, which I was hesitant about taking, and I described that in an earlier post, "Fear of Openness to Medication."

What triggered my distress, anxiety, and poor concentration, was the stress of my overactive life with a lot of volunteer projects, leadership roles and personal responsibility of being a long-term girlfriend, and mother. In addition to seeking a professional, I stayed at a respite center for a few short days to recuperate. During this time I had a girlfriend babysit my son. Then I visited family out of state for a while to relax, sleep, and to refresh my mind with their emotional and physical support by helping me take care of my son. Despite being on antidepressants and antipsychotic medication, I still have moments of depression, but I find ways to overcome them with self-determination and my support system. A friend once said: "that same mind that put you in a funk can also take itself out of it."

How do you feel about hospitalization?- Has my experience and opinon changed your perspective on hospital stays, why or why not?

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

Saturday, January 12, 2013

An Excited Mind!

I am tired- mentally- tired of all the thoughts of projects I want to fulfill, but can't. I am eager to get a lot accomplished on a lengthy project in a short amount of time. I know I need to slow down, but I am so motivated, and I am very focused.

Last night I couldn't go back to sleep without typing some thoughts on my laptop. My excitement to work on a project comes to me like a sugar high and a short burst of energy rushes over me to get it started. This happens every once in a while- a thought comes to me and I must focus all of my attention on making it become a reality.

What's going on with me?- Is this a moment of mania? Are the antidepressants working better than usual and giving me more motivation? Or am I experiencing tunnel vision?

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

Friday, January 11, 2013

A Woman Like Any Other

I've meditated, procrastinated, and had writer's block on a topic I've been wanting to discuss for a very long time. It is very personal and intimate to me. I understand and anticipate both positive and negative feedback as a result of this particular blog entry, because it is a very controversial topic among the mental health field- I will try to be straightforward.

I am an advocate for women rights, including the choice to have an abortion, however, I am against abortion as a method of birth control. I also believe women who have a mental illness have a right to exercise this human privilege. However, I believe if a woman's health is in jeopardy as the result of any medical condition (not just mental illness) getting her healthy again takes precedence.

Schizophrenia is manageable. In fact, it is like many other medical conditions in that it requires a lot- patience, resources, faith and commitment to endure- which is a huge responsibility and life-long lifestyle. In addition to that, I am an example that individuals can move forward in life despite living with a mental health condition. There is a myth that pregnant women living with schizophrenia cannot stay in treatment.

Dost Ongur, MD, PhD, clinical director of the Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder Program at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, says, "Women should get pregnant if they want to be pregnant. Treatment can be arranged." Read this article for details about what this doctor says about women living with schizophrenia and their treatment options during pregnancy

As we know, schizophrenia is an ostracized mental illness. However, why should women living with schizophrenia be burdened with the social uproar when it comes to the concern of them having children? In fact, here is a comment an individual made in response to my blog entry sharing my story on CNN's Human Factor in November 2012 (click here to view the short video and to read my blog entry):

This article only increases feelings of hopelessness about our once great society.

It seems that almost EVERYONE is disabled one way or another these days. Tell me, who will keep society running when we ALL reduce ourselves to these roles where we drain more resources than we give back?

I'm sorry, but the mental-illness epidemic is no different than the obesity epidemic. It is self induced. And if you are genetically predisposed to a condition, then by all means, get treatment. But do us all a favor and don't have kids.

I don't think this person even read the article I wrote, because my writing seemed far from "hopelessness." Anyway, despite the ignorance suggested throughout this comment (mental illness is self induced, however, genetically predisposed, all at the same time), many people hold this belief- that women living with schizophrenia or any "genetically predisposed" medical condition should not have children because of risks of spreading the illness.

On the flip side, I agree with this individual in respect to the above comment, "EVERYONE is disabled one way or another..." With that said, can society rid itself of all medical concerns?- NO! But we can reduce and intervene in the occurrence of mental illness and any other medical condition.

Therefore, I plan to educate my child on mental health related concerns to help reduce noncompliance in the occurrence of him developing a mental illness, and for him to have a better understanding of his mother's illness, and so many other people's conditions.

Treatment works. There are medications that are safe for women in treatment during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Dr. Ongur states this quite clearly. In fact, while I was pregnant a year ago I stayed on medication.

When I was pregnant I discussed my medication options with my doctor, which I would strongly encourage other pregnant women to do, because there are some medications that are dangerous to the unborn child and could result in miscarriage. I made a very difficult but needed decision to stay on my current medication with the understanding that I should not breastfeed. This was disappointing- not being able to breastfeed- but I overcame it with the pleasure of having the sole opportunity to have a child, one of my many goals.

I was informed of my options to switch medications if I really wanted to breastfeed. I denied that option because of the risks of being unstable while pregnant and adjusting to a new medication that may not work for me.

My partner does not have a mental illness, so our child has a reduced chance of developing a mental illness. A lot of individuals may still wonder why even take the risk of passing on a challenging illness such as schizophrenia, however, I rarely hear such a dispute when it comes to other mental illnesses and medical conditions. Again, I will educate my child, but of course I hope he does not develop a mental illness. I hope he does not have to suffer the scary symptoms associated with schizophrenia or any mental illness, and the losses that come with it from relationships to careers, etc.

How do you feel about women living with schizophrenia being a woman like any other- practicing reproductive rights?

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

"Strength in Numbers"- Share Your Blog

I keep going back to the thought- "there is strength in numbers"- I remember thinking about it during the Certified Peer Specialist training earlier this week, and again by the network of online bloggers who either live with a diagnosis or are a family member. I appreciate my fellow blogger peers and family members of those living with mental illness who share their experiences with mental illness. As the NAMI affirmation goes: "We are experts on our own experiences"- which is true!

Strength in numbers coupled with "the shared experience" is comforting because each of us can relate and offer wise advice because we've experienced something similar. We may not have the same diagnosis, but may be able to relate to hearing voices, extreme suspiciousness of family and others without cause, anxiety, racing thoughts, etc.

In fact, I feel it is easier for me to make friends or to have a conversation with someone who has experienced mental illness in some form. A lot of my peers who I've come into contact with at meetings or online also like to volunteer or work for some good cause within the nonprofit sector. Many of my peers are also very creative- great writers, can play music, draw or paint, etc.- if only the world knew what I know about individuals living with mental illness a majority of our society would feel more comfortable and less afraid of the individual living with a diagnosis.

In these few years of recovery I've experienced a diverse range of situations including: hospitalization, personal care home, incarceration,  discrimination, schizophrenia coupled with depression, childbirth and related concerns, personal relationships, problems taking medication, anxiety, etc. and I am pressing forward despite living with a challenging mental illness, and I am finding ways to practice resiliency and to live a fulfilling life. I am thankful to the Creator, my family, treatment team, and peers online and in-person for guiding me in the right direction on this journey to recovery.

Lately, I've been in search of fellow bloggers who are living the experience of mental health through either themselves or a family member. I've been scanning profiles but often find outdated blogs, and I continue to research them.

If you feel comfortable, please share your blog with me and readers of this blog so we can acknowledge and support each other- even if I've commented on your blog, feel free to post it as a comment so other readers can find you. And if you do not feel comfortable posting your blog, you can anonymously state how you found this blog.

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

In the Moment

I am satisfied with my mental and emotional status. I believe this is because I am not as active with volunteer projects, which I have a habit of overloading myself. Also, I am not stressed about personal relationships. Generally, when I am under a lot of stress my well-being deteriorates.

Opposed to feeling overwhelmed and anxious, I feel focused and excited about the near future. I am receptive to new ideas and projects. I am enjoying this moment!

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

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Recovery Partnerships

Recently, I participated in a Certified Peer Specialist (CPS) continuing education workshop to keep my certification and to learn more information. During the training we identified recovery, our roles and responsibilities, and new Medicaid-billing policies. The training experience reminded me of interactions with mental health professionals and peers who have given me hope.

In short, recovery is a unique learning process that ultimately develops into self-direction. The CPS position is a growing dynamic that has spread across the country and is becoming internationally recognized. The position of a CPS is versatile and flexible; in that we are to act as a liaison between mental health staff and peers living with a diagnosis, and to demonstrate life coach abilities by acknowledging strengths within peers, and as a result to support their goals and plans.

Ultimately, the CPS position is to also overcome the mental health system or to help establish a new culture of recovery in that peers living with a diagnosis are self-directed, empowered, and more independent through a combination of peer support, professional assistance, and self-determination. Besides the CPS position, evidence of this new way of treating, recovering, and managing mental illness was practiced several times over the course of my own recovery, which began in 2007.

I am thankful to had come into contact with the many individuals who supported my recovery in some form. I can vaguely recall the intake process and diagnosis at a California state hospital. But I do remember the intake psychiatrist patiently discussing my medication regimen, tweaked my medications and doses, and gave me options before making changes; opposed to strictly prescribing a medication they thought would help my symptoms without my input. Furthermore, my doctor who diagnosed me with paranoid schizophrenia reassured me I would be able to move forward in life despite a permanent medical condition- my most inspiring life-changing realization.

The most intriguing concept I identified with from the training was "the shared experience." The notion that a group of individuals could build a bond, trusting relationship, and understanding of each other based on a common experience such as living with mental illness, and enduring the emotional turmoil, terrible symptoms, and fruitful recovery, no matter how unique the journey.

As I reminisce about my journey living with mental illness I remember my peers who I came into contact with in the state hospital, clubhouse, support groups, and Certified Peer Specialist training. Engaging in peer support gives me purpose- I remember participating in a WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan) class facilitated by peers and imagining myself leading recovery discussion groups.

The first time I led a recovery discussion group was in 2009. First, I mentioned to my therapist that I wanted to facilitate our schizophrenia support group. Soon afterwards she spoke with her supervisor and gave me approval to co-facilitate the meeting with her. In the beginning we would debrief after the meeting and she would identify teaching moments and my strengths. By doing this I felt empowered, and I encouraged peers to take leadership roles by co-facilitating groups in the mental health center, NAMI meetings, and other networks. I've mentored three peers into leadership positions, and it feels great!

When I attended the CPS training in 2011 I did not know what to expect. However, after the training I felt like I can make a bigger impact on peers' lives with the tools the training equipped me with. The training was intense, but also empowering. I met several peers who wanted to take on leadership roles in the community and were acting on this goal through the training. The training reinforced my goal to make it my business and career to support peers and families in recovery.

While I was in the state hospital, my mother told me I would be an evangelist one day- sharing my story about how I made it through with schizophrenia, I did not know it would become my purpose. Now I embrace my recovery and encourage peers to do same in order to help themselves and other peers.

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

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Comparisons, Perspectives, and Struggles

I, like many of my peers have experienced disturbing thoughts, anxiety, and have missed doses of medication when I should not have, over the past year. Part of me desires to be normal- I mean to not be dependant on medication daily- but I've experienced a glimpse of the consequences, which can be detrimental. I understand how critical it is to stay complaint even more so than a professional can express to me, because I've witnessed the dark side of Ashley, which has been out of control, out of character, and very scared.

Some individuals get the wrong impression about me from my blog- some think I handle my illness perfectly or that I am too optimistic- when that is far from the situation. I was not diagnosed with all the answers- I, like my peers have challenges- and it took a lot of practice, effort, and support to get to where I am today. Yes, I am proud of my recovery and have come a long way with the support of treatment and others, however, I have setbacks too, which I articulate sometimes.

There are a lot of struggles I leave off the blog because it is too personal and complicated to explain. For example my personal relationships, family life, and family struggles. Because this blog is about my illness, I leave a large part of my life out and focus on a big but also narrow aspect of my life- schizophrenia.

I do not like to be compared to because I am not into that, and I believe we should each compare ourselves to our best self. I am grateful that others look up to me, and I love to mentor peers and offer support when asked, but sometimes that puts a lot of pressure on me. I feel pressured to stay well. Yes, I maintain recovery for myself and family, but I also challenge myself for my peers that look to me for answers.

I could not have managed my schizophrenia without my peers- online, from NAMI meetings, and several other networks. I am not here to dictate anything about anybody- I am sharing my story to let others know some of the experiences a person living with a diagnosis endures- and if you can relate please comment to let our peers learn and understand from each other's experiences.

If you or a family member are struggling- recovery is a process that takes time and commitment. No matter what- there will be ups and downs sometimes beyond control. Here is something my doctor told me- 1) manage your stress, and 2) take your medication regularly- it sounds straightforward, but it is a huge task that requires one's full attention.

I understand that many of my peers do not like medication, I don't either, but I take it to maintain control of my mind and actions. However, for some, they have not found the right combination yet, it is trial and error- and I am an advocate for whatever treatment regimen works, whether it is alternative forms of treatment or traditional (medication), just DO IT!!

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

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Overcoming Schizophrenia: How I am Living with it Blog

I updated the appearance of this blog because I wanted it to look refreshed as I move forward with it. I started this blog in September 2008 to have a better understanding of my diagnosis by recording my experiences.

In the beginning I wrote about my most challenging encounter with psychosis- a range of symptoms in that I had difficulty distinguishing reality- and how it led to my incarceration, hospitalization among other experiences in 2007. Now, I continue to track my moods and setbacks living with schizophrenia through this blog to encourage peers and families to stay focused on recovery, and to also educate students and the public about it.

I jumped into recovery with a positive outlook because I had insight through a combination of education and medication at the introduction into my recovery, and I was inspired by my mother and doctor to live life despite my illness by going back to college and sharing my testimony. I got to where I am now in my recovery through a lot of support from professionals coupled with medication, family, and peers (online and in-person). The incidents that helped me the most to move forward in recovery was hitting my rock bottom (jail) and other's hope for me to get better.

The last six months have been challenging. I struggle with postpartum depression and continue to battle it. I've written about my hesitation on taking antidepressants and the overwhelmed feeling I endured, which seems to rear its head periodically. 

However, its a new year and time for me to get it together with the supports that helped me previously. I plan to take this blog further into my recovery by continuing to share my ups and downs with mental health. My hope for readers of this blog is to see recovery as a possibility if you or a family member are struggling, and to understand that it is a process like other life challenges such as getting a higher education, building relationships, and raising a family. 

I really enjoy interacting with readers to learn new ways to cope, you all push me to maintain recovery, and I like how you share your interesting experiences with mental health. Thank you.

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

Thank you for reading my blog, I like comments and welcome questions about my experience with mental illness!

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