Thursday, August 15, 2013

My Version of Hope- A Poem

My fingers were itching to share more about my experience on managing mental illness, to write and to share my thoughts, my therapy. I let my mind wonder and started writing a poem. I don't have a lot of experience writing poems but I ventured off into another form of expression. Below is the poem I wrote:

My Version of Hope
by Ashley Smith

I feel a better me is yet to come,  
No more naive decisions that make me feel dumb. 
Limitless opportunities are on the way,
I believe I know what I want and how not to stray. 

I see myself as the individual I long to be- free, confident, and classy, 
My experiences cannot stop me,
Not schizophrenia and depression nor anxiety.
Because ingrained in me is an overcomer of adversity.

Now I understand how to strive in my recovery,
But I cannot take all the credit when it took a caring party.
I give thanks to my treatment team, family and peers,
Including those online that opened up about their fears.

And I will never overlook my miracle from above,
Forever recovering and living a life I am proud of.
My faith keeps me going as did my mom.
And now that she is gone, for others, I will remain strong.

Within my spirit hope shed its light, 
Now I aspire to share the fight.
Join me as I dare to put myself out there,
And overcome the stigma that we bear. 

Hold them accountable, 
Oh yes, for the lies and propaganda that so freely is told,
Together we can contribute to the solution,
I urge you, to continue to speak, write, and demolish the confusion. 


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Buddhism, My Mental Health & My Happiness by Jennifer L. Myers

Jennifer L. Myers is author of the blog, Never Give Up: Buddhism, Family, & Schizophrenia. Jennifer earned her masters in Urban and Environmental Policy from Tufts University and her undergraduate from UC Santa Cruz. She has experience working with the U.S. Peace corps in the Dominic Republic, environmental non-profits, and teaching. Currently, she is working on her memoir, Never Give Up: Buddhism, Family, & Schizophrenia. The following is her experience...

Buddhism, My Mental Health & Happiness
by Jennifer L. Myers

When I was first diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2002 I had already been practicing Buddhism with the SGI (Soka Gakkai International) for 14 years. Still, I didn't have a very strong practice at the time. I attended local discussion meetings regularly, but I didn't spend much time chanting on a daily basis. It wasn't until the symptoms of schizophrenia - the voices whispering in my head, the screaming and yelling I heard outside my apartment, the feeling that I was constantly being watched and followed, the incessant fear and paranoia – grew unbearable and took over my life that I really began to strengthen my Buddhism practice by chanting consistently every day.

I was at a point in my life where I felt like I couldn't explain how I felt or what I was really thinking to anyone who would understand. I kept everything to myself because nothing that I believed made sense. I decided to focus on chanting my Buddhist chant and hoped that therein I would find the resolution to my problem. This was over three years ago. While I still deal with symptoms of schizophrenia every day, I have learned how to manage the symptoms so that they no longer have power over me. Buddhism gave me the courage to challenge the negativity in my life, to believe in myself and to fight against my own negativity as well as the evil in my environment manifested as symptoms of schizophrenia.

When I chant, I repeat the phrase Nam Myoho Renge Kyo (literally: devotion to the mystic law of cause and effect through sound and vibration) over and over, rhythmically and sonorously. This is a fundamental part of my Buddhist practice. I make sure to chant at least one hour every day, and I recite the morning prayers as well as the evening prayers. I also attend local discussion meetings once a week and I have recently started supporting the elementary school youth group, much to my great fortune. I read daily encouragement over breakfast every morning to start my day off on a positive note. All of these activities that comprise my Buddhist practice, along with the encouragement from fellow Buddhists have provided me with the hope, courage, and perseverance to never give up in the battle against my own negativity and the devilish functions that are present in my life. Without my Buddhist practice, I would have given up the fight years ago and probably would not be alive to see the light of day.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Interview: A Life of Recovery and Advocacy

I had the pleasure of learning more about a remarkable individual and advocate for mental illness. This woman is an expert on mental illness, having been in remission from schizophrenia for over 21 years.  She obtained a Masters in Library and Information Science (M.S.) from Pratt Institute and works as a public service librarian. Her name is Christina Bruni. 

1.  How were you diagnosed? How long have you been in recovery?
I had a breakdown on Friday, September 25, 1987 at 5 pm.  By 9 am that Saturday morning my mother drove me to the ER.  I was admitted to the hospital and started taking Stelazine.  The blue-eyed psychiatrist on the ward told me: "You don't want to have paranoid schizophrenia.  You have to take medication."  I was lucky I was aware that something was not right.  I've been in recovery 26 years.

2.  Who is your mentor?
My mentor is Robin Cunningham.  He was featured on the original In Our Own Voice video circa 2002 when I first started doing the IOOV presentations.  Three years later I wanted to write a Recovery Q&A for Schizophrenia Digest (SZ magazine today) where I'd interview 3 peers about hot topics in recovery.  Through the Internet, I was able to track him down and a half hour later he called me up and signed on to be a panelist.  He inspires me because for the first 10 years of his recovery he heard unremitting voices yet he pulled through and was lucky to find the newest drug that totally stopped the voices.  Robin has an MBA and rose up to become the CEO of corporations.

3.  What inspired you to become a mental health activist?
I was inspired to become a mental health activist because I didn't want others to go through endless hell.  As soon as I was placed on the Stelazine, the symptoms stopped three weeks later.  My signature story that I tell everyone every chance I get is that early, if not immediate, intervention leads to a better outcome.

4.  What is the health central schizophrenia site about? How would people use this website?
The Website is way for peers, loved ones and family members to connect by writing SharePosts that are like mini blog entries.  I write 4 news articles a month for HealthCentral on hot topics in the mental health field.  I've been paid to do this for 7 years.  I also answer the questions that people post in the Ask a Question forum.  I give feedback via comments I provide to every person's SharePost that is written.  Aside from writing SharePosts, a person would benefit from coming to our online community simply by reading the news articles I write every month.  The slideshow at the top of the homepage features an article I wrote about precautions to take during the summer when it's hot and you take SZ meds.  I was able to give this information to a friend who couldn't get it at a famous mental health organization's website.

5.  How was your experience working with SZ magazine? Please share a memorable story.
I was a contributing editor for SZ magazine for 9 years.  The story I wrote that most touches me is how Robin Cunningham's wife didn't abandon him after he told her his whole life story.  Three days after he told her his diagnosis she called up and asked him to go blackberry picking.

6.  What inspired you to write your memoir, Left of the Dial?
My motivation for writing my memoir Left of the Dial was to show how early intervention leads to smashing success for a person.  As I began to write the manuscript, I was dismayed that most of the published SZ memoirs detailed the lives of people who endured numerous hospital stays and kept going off their meds.  These individuals invariably got treatment too late in the game and continue to have symptoms.

7.  Tell me about your recovery guide: Live Life Well.
My mental health recovery guide Live Life Well will be published first.  My literary agent is shopping it to editors.  It's a lifestyle guide chock full of strategies to help a person live life well.

8.  What is your motto on living in recovery?
My motto on living in recovery is: Do What You Love.

9. What advice would you give to newly diagnosed individuals and their families?
I suggest newly diagnosed individuals and their family members investigate creating a support network.  This isn't the end of your life when you get a diagnosis: it's only the start of what can be a better life than the one you had before you got sick.

10.  What are some ways people can advocate for themselves, or a loved one?
People can advocate for themselves or a loved one by networking with others who have walked down this road before them.  Hearing other people's stories can show them they are not alone and they can pick up techniques they could try.  More than this: I suggest a person diagnosed with SZ or BP or another MI get in the game of life, set goals, and take risks to achieve their goals.  This will give them the confidence that they have what it takes to assert themselves with professionals.

11.  How do you maintain your well being?- What type of treatments and therapies do you use to stay well?
I saw a therapist in my neighborhood for 3 years from 2004 to spring 2007.  Today the enduring strength I have is that I work out at the gym like a madwoman in training for the prizefight of her life.  I only started to train competitively two years ago when I turned 46.  I can dead-lift 165 lbs which is a good thing because I only weigh 113 lbs.  A dead-lift is where you add 165 lbs of weight to a barbell and lower the barbell to the floor and lift the barbell to your thigh.  I'm proud to say I can do this with 165 lbs.  That for me is the most important strategy to live life well: to do the gym routines mostly 3 times a week as often as I can.  Training at the gym is like a wonder drug for your mind as well as body.

12.  What books would you recommend to newly diagnosed people?
I recommend: Me, Myself and Them by Kurt Snyder a person who was diagnosed with schizophrenia who writes about treatment options and about his life and what other people can do to recover.  I recommend for anyone the number-one self-help book of all time in my estimation  Karen Casey"s Change Your Mind and Your Life Will Follow.  It's a short book and I bought it to re-read.  The back of the book offers a quick guide to the 12 principles of successful healthy living.

13.  When will you publish your memoir?
The memoir will be published shortly after the self-help guide so I estimate Left of the Dial will be published by 3 years from now.

14.  Where can people go to learn more about you?
I have a Twitter account: @ChristinaBruni.  I have a website: where you can read my blog Left of the Dial and read my Tumblr account entries.  I have a Facebook author page that if memory serves is ChristinaBruni all one word not to be confused with anyone else's Facebook page.  The Facebook page is actually  Once I get 30 "likes" I might be able to get a different Facebook URL.

15. Any last words you want to share with the readers?
I'll end by telling your readers that there's always hope.  You might not see this as possible in your darkest hour yet trust me there is always hope.

Please share your thoughts on this interview.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Anosognosia- Watch this Short Video

I learned about this video on facebook. I think the video did a great job of describing what anosognosia is. The most interesting thing I learned about this issue is that there are different types of medical conditions which have this concern- not just individuals living with schizophrenia.

Initially, I did not know I was struggling with mental illness, I thought it was more emotional or spiritual concerns, which I prayed about, journal about, and tried to overcome- the wrong way by not seeking a doctor. Two situations helped me recognize my illness- brutally honest nurses and a combination of medication and education about my diagnosis. Now, that I am aware I try to maintain wellness by taking my medication, keeping doctor appointments, and giving and receiving support from others- I know that may seem easy, but it is not, it was a process for me and still is because I believe recovery is ongoing.

What do you think about the info in the video?

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

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Suicide. My Understanding

One of the strongest taboos in our society is suicide- I've heard that ministers do not want to preside over the funerals, and families do not want to discuss it with outsiders... I admit, my faith prevented me from investigating suicide because I thought it was bad. I never attempted suicide however, I felt like my illness could have made me a victim of it. I am not so judgmental about individuals who attempt suicide. Now, I have a different perspective on suicide, here's why:

Since my diagnosis of schizophrenia I have encountered people of diverse backgrounds- careers, families, faith, and experiences with mental illness, etc. Having a mental illness was my beginning of not being as naive as before about life experiences, and ignorant of understanding our differences. Like being diagnosed with mental illness, the suicide attempt of my family member came unexpectedly to me. When I found out about it I was overwhelmed with a range of emotions- disbelief, guilt, grief, helplessness, and relief that the attempt was not effective. The cause of the suicide attempt was worry over finances, regrets, guilt, and a pessimistic way of thinking. My family member was diagnosed with depression and prescribed antidepressants, which they took, and currently, no longer need. They are striving to work on their finances, forgive them self, and to change their thinking patterns. 

A peer who is also living with mental illness described the way of suicide to me- it is like having a broken leg on top of a deserted mountain without help, and longing to end the pain. In other words, suicide for some may be the only way to end their tormenting mind and symptoms. After they described it to me like this I felt like I had a better understanding of suicide for people living with mental illness. 

Before I was officially diagnosed with schizophrenia, and psychotic, I felt like the devil was communicating with me through the television and radio, encouraging me to commit suicide- I was frightened, worried, and afraid for my life. I believe receiving the diagnosis when I did saved my life! I do not know if I could have continued to fight against the devil's forces which seemed persistent. Despite the messages, I did not attempt suicide. However, I am concerned about peers who struggle with suicidal messages from the voices and other forces, and thoughts. My heart goes out to my peers who are struggling with suicide.

I hope my thoughts on suicide made you consider people with mental illness who attempt and commit it with more sympathy. Suicidal thoughts, plans, and comments should be taken seriously and addressed by a professional. Here is a first step to getting help for yourself or a loved one, call:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

How do you feel about suicide? Why- your faith, upbringing, experience, research, etc. (if you would like to respond, but feel uncomfortable please comment anonymously- your feedback could help someone)

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

Sunday, August 4, 2013

New Recovery Lives

Having experienced a range of situations, and people related to my illness, I understand how "recovery" can have several interpretations and that each meaning is arguably the ideal definition.  Recovery to me used to mean striving for a part of me that used to be, before my illness stole that life away from me. How does an individual stop comparing their recovery to their old life?

I think it is difficult for each individual to let go of their career that once defined who they were- working in the corporate world, being a teacher, and real estate agent, or a student in college, etc. I remember my mother once said, 'this is all new to you, and you have to learn the new Ashley.' I think that was great advice, because it opened my eyes to having an open mind on my recovery. I have a new life in recovery and I choose to nourish it instead of measuring it and comparing it to my life before diagnosis.

How have you learned to cope with your life in recovery?

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

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Coping takes Work

"Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead." James 2:17 NKJV 

I agree with this scripture because everything in life demands some effort to get the desired results. Likewise, taking medication to treat mental illness with no coping skills and others support while expecting the illness to go into remission is not the most effective process- there is no magic pill- mental health recovery takes work. 

My schizophrenia seems to be under control and my depression has improved with the medication, but I am still struggling and learning how to better cope with my depression. Lately I've been pushing myself to straighten up the house everyday and to go outside and enjoy the sun, even if it's only 20 minutes. I also listen to music and share stresses with family and friends. I think keeping up my appearance and getting sunlight has been the most useful coping skills I practice under daily basis. I am not where I want to be with my depression right now, but I have hope I will get there soon. Now I plan to continue putting in the work in order to better cope with my depression.

To learn more about schizophrenia visit 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...