Sunday, December 7, 2014

My Enemy- Depression Or My Responsibilities?

How often do you confuse your mental health deterioration and physical ailments for your mental illness, opposed to the burdens that you put on yourself with an active lifestyle?

Over the past few months I've struggled with the physical ramifications of "depression," or what I thought was my depression. I've had partial work days as the result of my fatigue and lack of energy. I've felt: drained, off balanced, and uneasy. In fact, I visited my mental health doctor and primary care doctor for help. My mental health doctor realized my poor sleeping habits were the outcome of lack of direction or not taking my medication as prescribed which was in the morning and NOT at night. Finally, when my primary care doctor performed several blood tests without issues he explained to me what my problems were, an "active lifestyle."

Now, I know what I should do to help myself with this concern of lack of energy- continue to take my medication, resume taking vitamins and create more time for self care. I've struggled with managing my self care because I want to help those around me, so I lessen my "me-time" and volunteer additional support to peers at work and friends outside of work... I cannot continue on this routine. I spoke to a peer who is also in recovery and we plan to check in with each other to hold ourselves accountable to our new self care regimens. We've practiced this before but let it go, now I'm ready to pick up our check in routine to get myself back focused and well. Peer support helps a lot, and I need it again. I'm glad I have a better understanding of my problems and situation.

How do you balance your self care for good mental health?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

My Medication Schedule

Recently, I've had to revise my medication schedule. For the last two months I've had problems staying asleep, and I've been talking to my mental health doctor under monthly basis to resolve my poor sleeping habits. On the last visit we discovered I was taking one of my prescriptions at night when it should've been taken in the morning. In fact, my pill bottle said to take the medicine in the mornings, but I wanted to change my medication regimen for my convenience. However, I'm going back to a morning routine. I will set my cell phone alarm as a reminder to take my medicine before I leave the house. I am hopeful that this change will help me sleep better. It's interesting how small changes can either create big problems or solutions. I think my sleeping patterns will improve along with my energy level and ability to manage high productivity at work.

How do you manage your medication regimen to fit within your routine?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Outcome of My Wellness Challenge

For National Recovery Month I created a personal self-care plan to enhance my recovery, I labeled it my "Optimal Wellness Challenge." My goal was to take my meds each morning at the same time, to journal, and to practice meditation and self-reflection for ten minutes for three to five days. Success would be dependent on whether I was able to create a new habit for myself. A way for me to be held accountable was to check in with a friend who was also challenging herself in different areas.

However, I did not succeed at the challenge, and I wasn't able to maintain accountability through the check in process. In the beginning we checked in every other day, and I seemed to master taking my medication on time and journaling regularly. Our communication slowly deteriorated as well as my motivation with some spurts of energy every now and then. Overall, I think I failed the challenge because I took a leap opposed to baby steps to achieve my plans.

Yet, I will try again. Next time I plan on starting my new routine two days a week and then gradually building on it. Also, I would like to reward myself for small accomplishments along the way. Therefore, I haven't given up, I will strive to create healthy new habits.

Have you created a new habit in the last six months? What did your process look like?

Do you have an idea that would help one develop a new habit?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Invisible Challenges: Self-Care

Me- On A "Good Day"
When's the last time you managed your self-care, well?- Today? Yesterday?- Or has it been that long? As a mother, employee, and volunteer, my ideal self-care activities have decreased from one extreme to another. In the past, I had pampering days that included leisure activities and visits to the nail salon, now this "me-time" has turned into tiny acts of self-reflection like maintaining my journal.

My days are filled with rigorous activities I enjoy like working with peers, sharing my recovery story to diverse groups, and caring for my son. Ironically, my job as a Certified Peer Specialist (CPS) is to model great self-care for the sake of my mental health. However, that is an ongoing roller coaster that I strive to shut down and to restore balance, but I am moving too fast to take back my control! 

Me- T.I.R.E.D. At the End of the Day
For example, besides my erratic sleep habits,  I frequently skip breakfast and sometimes lunch because I am focused on my work, this does not bother me until later... Dinner, which I usually have but is not the most nutritious, is my only full meal. After dinner and preparing my son for bed I lack energy to dedicate to myself in order to have some sort of stillness and peace, therefore I retire early. However, I get up in the middle of the night to meditate and focus on "me-time," that is- writing in my journal and checking my social media sites for feedback. 

Fortunately, I do take my medication regimen seriously and engage in the practice regularly. No matter how busy I get I always maintain good personal hygiene from my hair, to my body odor, and fresh scented attire. My appearance is not the issue, it's all internal like my mental health--invisible, but I know, if nobody else does, and that's my challenge.

In recognition of "National Recovery Month" (September) I created my "Optimal Wellness Challenge!" I challenged myself to take my medication at the same time each morning, to journal frequently, and to practice 10-minutes of meditation. Thus far, I am doing well with the activities in this order, my medication regimen, journal, and my biggest challenge- 10 minutes of self-reflection and meditation. 

I created this challenge after my sister and peer challenged me in different areas of my life. My sister challenged me to engage in seven days of positivity, which I almost completed except on the last day I had a setback which prevented me from completing the challenge of recording what I was grateful for on my personal facebook page. On the other hand, my peer wanted us to hold each other accountable for our mental health in the areas I challenged myself in- consistent timing of medication intake, journaling, and meditation. I accepted these challenges in hopes of adding on a new healthy habit and overcoming my self-care setbacks. I've engaged in the Optimal Wellness Challenge for most of the month, and Tuesday will be my last day.

Despite my poor self-care reality, I am hopeful I can fulfill the Optimal Wellness Challenge by giving the remaining days of September my final push for the better. Because I prefer to lead by example, I am doing the challenge for my well-being first, and also to encourage peers to do the same, whatever their ideal self-care plan looks like.

Are you managing your self-care, WELL? How so? If not, when will you make that change for YOURSELF?

Monday, September 8, 2014

The "Optimal Wellness Challenge"

Calling All Peers- Are YOU up for the OPTIMAL WELLNESS CHALLENGE?!

I am challenging US to practice a couple of coping tools consistently for National Recovery Month, that you would like to either add or maintain in your wellness routine for 5 consecutive days each week for three weeks. I've heard that if an individual maintains a practice for 21 days it will become a habit.

These practices may include:

1) Diet/nutrition & supplemental enhancement,
2) Spirituality-based,
3) Treatment/medication compliance,
4) Physical activity,
5) Effective communication,
6) Alternative therapy,
7) Creative practice, or
8) Other positive practice...

I would like you to choose two new habit-forming activities you would like to practice and report back at the end of each week by sending me a personal message about your progress.

I will start our "Optimal Wellness Challenge" by journaling more frequently, taking my medication at the same time every day, and to practice meditation for 10 minutes each day, starting tomorrow, September 9th.

I'll keep a personal journal on my progress and shortcomings, and blog about my "wellness outcomes" on my "Overcoming Schizophrenia" blog at the end of this month in recognition of National Recovery Month.

Show your support, and join me on OUR "Optimal Wellness Challenge!"

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

"Year of the Peer" Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network Conference

A couple of weeks ago I visited St. Simon's Island, Georgia to attend the annual Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network, Inc. (GMHCN) conference. The theme of this year's conference was "The Year of the Peer." I enjoyed the three-day conference because of the fellowship with my peers and the honor to be one of the keynote speakers among Georgia's Commissioner Frank Berry and Jana Spalding.

I titled my talk, "I Choose To Live!," which was inspired by Jen's award title. I spoke about my experiences, how I am living a quality life in recovery, and what peer support looks like. My talk encouraged everyone to talk to their neighbor and to create a title for their inspirational book. The experience was amazing because I was able to get each individual to help others with their talents and gifts.

Moreover, every attendee received a copy of my book, which was so exciting! I signed my book for others throughout the remaining days of the conference and made a lot of contacts. I also facilitated a workshop on my book: What's on My Mind? A Collection of Blog Entries from "Overcoming Schizophrenia." I offered a preview of my book by selecting specific sections to focus on  and had a wonderful discussion with the participants in my class. For example, I asked them what their "good days" looked like and what they aspired to do.

The Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network, Inc. (GMHCN) facilitates the state's Certified Peer Specialist (CPS) training in addition to several training courses such as Mental Health First Aid, Wellness, Recovery, Action, Plan (WRAP), and the Respect Institute of Georgia. The organization manages a few peer-led respite centers throughout the state. And each year during the month of August they hosts a conference for people living in recovery and who are adding continuing education units for their Certified Peer Specialist certification.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Five Ways To Gain Relief And To Cope With Voices

Today my co-workers and I offered support to our peer who was struggling with discouraging voices. She looked extremely overwhelmed and stressed. This was not the first time she sought relief with our help, however, each time we try to offer a caring hand during tough moments like this.  All three of us offered support to her in diverse ways that included:

  1. Repeat positive affirmations aloud, 
  2. Sing a song,
  3. Listen to soothing music,
  4. Give a hug, and
  5. Encourage prayer
One of the few affirmations we repeated was: "I am strong..." In addition to that we reinforced encouraging words by making positive statements about her triumph over the voices. As a group we recited the song: "Lean On Me." And we listened to a loving song on the internet through a cell phone- Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You." Also, one of us was led to give her a hug, another recited a short prayer with her. Afterwards, she looked much better, and was able to go about her day; also we felt better knowing that she was in a better place with wellness.

Hearing voices can be tormenting. I remember hearing cruel voices that sounded like evil cartoon characters, however, I was convinced they were real and were coming from the people around me. The voices aggressively stated: "You will never make it!" "You are a dishonor to your family!" and other mean statements that did not make sense to me. Although I do not hear voices today, I occasionally cope with disturbing thoughts. When negative thoughts cross my mind I change my focus on reality at that moment, or create a "good' thought such as what brought me joy recently.

Currently, I work part-time as a Certified Peer Specialist (CPS). A CPS is an individual who is living in recovery with mental illness and mentors and advocates on behalf of peers with mental illness. Sometimes my work requires that I find alternative ways to offer support to others who are challenged by their symptoms and daily concerns with others. When helping another individual cope with voices the situation encourages me to act outside the typical role as staff member. This is a challenging task, but can be overcome. Today, my co-workers and I found five strategies to help our peer find relief from the voices. Therefore, I encourage peers, family members, and supporters to practice these five steps, but not in any order, instead go down the list until the individual gets relief.

What are some other ways someone can either cope with the voices alone, or support someone who is suffering with voices?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Finding Ways To Help Myself Cope With Daily Stresses

Lately, I've been under a lot of stress with work, volunteering, family life, and promoting my book. My mental illness seems to enable me to do what I want and need to do, but I feel I need to tweak my medication, because of my challenging thoughts and depression. Whenever I experience a lot of unwanted thoughts, anxiety, and a lack of motivation to keep my house neat I know I must focus on managing my stress. To help myself with the stress, this week I organized my work into one binder opposed to keeping a lot of folders and loose papers. It helped a little for my work environment. However, my mood and home environment are my most difficult concerns, because I am less accountable to keep a clean house, and I could make up a series of excuses as to why there is a mess.

Last week I cancelled my doctor's appointment because of a valid reason that I will not go into detail about. I will reschedule my appointment ASAP because I feel like some of my symptoms are gradually returning- the irritability, anxiety, lack of my motivation at home, and strange thoughts. I do a series of coping skills to help me cope with my daily stresses including listening to music, writing a journal, forcing myself to make time to talk to friends and to hang out with them even for a short while such as less than an hour.

Last month my work gave me an opportunity to go to the Atlanta Zoo. Initially I was not excited about going, however after I put myself in that environment I realized it helped me get out my box and to experiment with alternative activities. Even thought the rain encouraged me to leave the zoo early I enjoyed it and now I look forward to going back again this summer. Below are some pictures of my adventure at the zoo...

My NAMI Georgia Book Signing

NAMI Georgia Annual Conference, Mercer University (2014)

On April 26th I shared my recovery story and first book, What's on My Mind? A Collection of Blog Entries from "Overcoming Schizophrenia," at NAMI Georgia's annual conference at Mercer University in Atlanta, GA. This event enabled me to network with more individuals who advocate for those of us living with a mental illness. I had a great experience and really enjoyed talking to others who were from all over the state of Georgia, and support mental health awareness.

I have a speaking engagement and book signing with the NAMI Family Support Group at Lake Oconee, located at Lakeside Church in Greensboro,GA at 6:30 PM. I am looking forward to sharing my recovery experience and promoting my new book. Therefore, if you reside nearby come join us to hear my story in-person click here to see flyer. RSVP at My book is available on and

Monday, March 10, 2014

My Blog Book is Here!

My first book is here! My blog book, What's on My Mind? A Collection of Blog Entries from "Overcoming Schizophrenia," is my first book and is not my last! My book shares my personal recovery story with mental illness and offers hope and awareness. This book will be a great reading for anyone affected by mental illness and is available on Amazon for under $13.99 plus shipping.

This is a great reading for individuals who are newly diagnosed with mental illness, family members, educators and students, providers, and others interested in learning about the lived experience. I hope you will continue to show your support and purchase my book.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

It's Almost Here-- My First Blog Book What's on My Mind?

I will publish my blog book, What's on My Mind? at the end of this week. You are in for a treat- its a collection of my blog entries from "Overcoming Schizophrenia"- its informative, short, and positive.... Please support me and my new book by buying it on Amazon and giving a review. Thank you!!!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Convenience vs. Crisis-- My Battle to Stay Compliant

Avoiding a crisis with the aid of medication or any form of treatment should always take precedence over convenience. I missed a couple of days of medication. I did not forget to take my medicine, instead I told myself it was not convenient. Therefore, I continued on with my busy schedule, and regretted it in the days to come. I followed up on taking my medicine after I starting experiencing the side effects of my antidepressant, my inability to maintain focus with my eyes. This discomfort prompted me to take my medication for the side effects and also my mental health medicine.

Reflecting on my actions I know how careless and risky it was to opt out of taking my medication to treat my mental illness. I've had my share of bizarre thoughts, disconnection from reality, and psychosis among several other scary symptoms of schizophrenia. I generally motivate myself to stay compliant with my medication regimen because I do not want anyone to see me when I am in a state of confusion, but I am starting to think this is not enough.

What helps you master taking medication to treat your illness?

Friday, February 7, 2014

Hope for the New Average

Despite the many deaths cancer takes each year, hope for recovery continues to play a role in the ongoing treatment and attitude of its victims and survivors. In fact, I have a close connection to the devastating toil breast cancer and other types of cancer has taken on my family. Although cancer and mental illness are very different I believe that same hopeful prognosis should be practiced for people diagnosed with mental illness, especially schizophrenia. It seems that nowadays treatment for mental illness can and does enable people to live a quality life. However, this message is not presented to the public. Instead, treatment for schizophrenia is rarely advertised, and thus, hope and life after diagnosis continues to be a myth to many.

A couple of years ago a family member believed that there was no hope for people living with schizophrenia and shared his beliefs with a room full of trainees in the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training. This training educates law enforcement on how to deescalate crisis situations with people who have mental illness. Shortly after the family member made those comments I shared my story. His perception dramatically changed after hearing my testimony, and he reached out to me and applauded my efforts to maintain recovery.

No matter how severe the mental illness, I believe there is hope for recovery. At one point in my life I was very suspicious and did not trust anyone, not even family members and close friends. My paranoia led to my almost life-threatening practice of turning away food and drink over fear that "they" (meaning everybody) tried to poison me. The illness took over and denied me to right to move, I stayed in one position without understanding of the length of duration that passed. Bystanders went on about their routine until they took notice that I had not moved an inch for comfort, or to itch, nothing, which concerned them very much. I do not know how long this routine went on but I can recall having racing thoughts or strangely no thoughts at all. Medical staff rushed me to the emergency room to keep me hydrated and alive by use of an IV and fluids. Looking back I can imagine how my future may have looked dreary, however, I had a few hopeful doctors who saw beyond my then current situation and tried their best to make my recovery a reality.

Recovery is my current reality. My recovery is not a rare phenomenon, I have a few friends who also have schizophrenia among other mental illnesses and are enjoying life managing their condition. Finally, my hope is for medical teams and families to keep hope alive for people diagnosed with mental illness. I am one of the many individuals managing schizophrenia. I am not the first and I am not the last, I am the new average.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Finding Balance

Coping with stress is easier said than done. I think stress puts pressure on my illness, which increases chances of my symptoms to flare up. Because I think stress is a trigger for me I try to catch myself whenever I feel it beginning to get out of hand. My early warning signs include: feeling depressed, drained, and whenever I neglect responding to emails in a speedy manner, isolate from those closest to me, do not uphold a clean house, and feel a lot of anxiety.

A little while ago I felt like I was beginning to feel overwhelmed. Sometimes I feel uncomfortably stressed to the extent where I feel I need to have my dose of medication increased to help me cope. Before I attempted to alter my medication with my doctor I experimented with different coping skills that helped me before. I tried to relax and enjoy my moment whenever I could by taking a bath, sitting in silence, and reflecting on the good things that happened to me. I received a spa pedicure and went shopping too. Furthermore, I wrote in my journal, listened to music, and shared my concerns with family and friends, which tremendously helped me regroup.

Now that my stress is more manageable I don't have to make an early visit to my doctor. However, I still feel some stress, mostly good stress, because of the demands I put on myself. Currently, I feel more balanced and that my tension is under control. I knew I was getting better because I took the time to clean my house and to communicate more often with those individuals in my support network.

What are some of your warning signs that you need to take a step back and to regroup. How do you find balance?

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Don't Overlook My Peers

Philippians 2:3-4 New King James Version (NKJV) 3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

My heart goes out peers suffering with mental illness, and to their supporters who are affected. Many of my peers suffer in silence, because of stigma or negative perceptions. Before I accepted treatment me and my family were a mess. I could not function to the extent that I did not know who the president was at the time. The voices interrupted my conversations and made it difficult for me to stay engaged. Years later I can still recall those uncomfortable, anxious, frightening moments when my mind was in limbo.

My advice to peers who've found a treatment plan that works for them is to share their experience with others. The lived experience is valuable. Sharing my experiences with schizophrenia is therapeutic, and can be for others too. I started sharing my experiences by blogging anonymously. And gradually over time, and with a better understanding of my illness and others I disclosed my identity.

I would not describe my experiences as easy or quick, but it was worth the process to get to where I am today in my recovery and life. Peers living with mental illness, I encourage you to choose treatment, whatever that looks like to you and practice it wholeheartedly. And to those who are managing, don't overlook our peers who are struggling, but help them by sharing your coping skills and motivation.

To my peers' supporters, don't neglect your own mental health and self-care responsibilities. I suggest you join a support group or online chat network for family members, caregivers, and supporters. This connection will help you find answers on how to cope and overcome situations.

Stay encouraged. Strive for mental wellness, it is your livelihood. And never, ever, give up hope.

-Ashley Smith

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Ashley's First Blog Book...

Greetings everyone, and Happy New Year! I've missed blogging and corresponding with you regularly, because I've been busy writing my first blog book, What's On My Mind?: A Collection of Blog Entries from "Overcoming Schizophrenia." This book is a quick read about my experiences with schizophrenia and can be purchased online at Amazon, coming soon...

This collection of blog entries was inspired by you! I shared my story with you in mind; people living with a mental illness, family members, students, clinicians, law enforcement, mental health advocates, educators, or anyone interested in the field of mental health. My hope is people will read my story and be encouraged to seek treatment, have a positive perception about people living with mental illness, and to keep hope alive.

If you enjoy reading my blog, "Overcoming Schizophrenia," you are in for a treat with What's On My Mind? This is a must read...

  • Short informative read and easy to follow, reasonably priced
  • Provides the human experience aspect of living with a mental illness
  • Encourages people to seek professional help
  • Shares a hopeful outlook on recovery living with mental illness
  • Gives another perspective on mental illness which benefits others
  • Assisting those on their recovery journey for themselves or a loved ones

I am so excited about this project and hope you will support me. This book is my first book, and certainly not my last!

Warm regards,

Ashley Smith

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...