Saturday, December 19, 2020

Race & Mental Illness With Ashley Smith Interview - Living Well With Schizophrenia


This is the third and last interview I had with Lauren from Living Well With Schizophrenia. I appreciate Lauren for shedding light on theses issues. Also, I encourage you to subscribe to her YouTube channel. Thank you so much, Lauren. Enjoy everybody.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Who's Jerry? by T.M. Jackson - Book Review

    Who's Jerry? by T.M. Jackson is a profound children's book on how families persevere through challenges when a parent lives with schizophrenia. It is an excellent children's book that is filled with love, resources, and empathy for families affected by this health challenge. I highly recommend this book for individuals to use as a tool to educate children about schizophrenia. 

    As an advocate for individuals like myself who lives with schizophrenia I appreciate the message. This book is special to me as a mother who is in recovery. When I read the nature of Jackson's request for a book review I immediately jumped on the opportunity to support her. Schizophrenia is a widely misunderstood medical condition that even adults have difficulty comprehending let alone explaining to youth. Therefore, Jackson's calling to articulate this specific health challenge in a children's book is significant. Jackson beautifully illustrates the bond, confusion, and triumphs in managing schizophrenia. I encourage  you to purchase this book today and to share it with your children, school, and community.” 

-Ashley Smith, Author, Blogger, and Mental Health Advocate

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Peer Support & Coping Skills Interview with Lauren from Living Well With Schizophrenia

 


The "Peer Support & Coping Skills," video is 2 of 3 interviews by Lauren from Living Well With Schizophrenia. In this video we explore what a certified peer specialist (CPS) does and how peer support helps. 

I encourage you to learn more about the CPS position to train to become a CPS or to meet an individual who can support your recovery.

If you haven't already I want you to view Lauren's YouTube channel, Living Well With Schizophrenia and to subscribe. Lauren is a peer in recovery and she provides information on what it's like to live with mental health and how to manage. 

Thank you Lauren for this opportunity to share my experience and to help the cause that is to promote awareness about mental health recovery, and to assist others on their journey to empower themselves through the lived experience. 

Do share this video. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Just Be Supportive


    When I was trapped in my mind's chaos I did not recognize the signals to seek heightened professional treatment. The signals were people's strange facial expressions as they stared at me, my family's determination to see me voluntarily hospitalized, my poor appetite and sleeping routine, and my aimless desires, which consistently shifted and even confused me. I said things that sounded bizarre, but I could not challenge them because my focus sporadically changed to the next thing before I gave it consideration.

    I have a good memory and could recall difficult moments. Those times when I was ignored, dismissed, and overlooked. I remember those close to me who I thought would be some of my greatest advocates, but disappointed me. I choose to focus on the solution and not my sad incidents with people. More importantly, I know the individuals who took the time to investigate my situation, and tried to help.

    I choose to focus on the individuals who encouraged me the most. Some healthcare workers and law enforcement are compassionate, love their jobs, and do care. The state hospital doctor who diagnosed me, jail nurses and social worker, the officers, therapists, doctors, my family, and several individuals who I am fortunate to know. I wish I could remind them of how much their diligence makes a difference, and how they personally impacted my outlook on recovery. They instilled hope for me to be hopeful about recovery, and still empowers to this day.

    My therapist of a few years challenged me to focus on how to manage. She helped me identify strengths and equipped me with information to access certified peer specialist (CPS) training. Over the years a few therapist offered a lot of coping skills to overcome daily stressors and symptoms.

    Reflecting on my last experience with law enforcement. I'll never forget the compassion I saw in the officer's eyes, the one who drove me to the hospital. The officer at the intake department who stopped to listen to me ramble about how great God is. I am grateful how my state trains law enforcement to work with people like me who may experience crisis. I am fortunate to tell them my recovery at the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training in the past.

    When I did not respond to the calls and text messages as usual my friend visited my home to learn what was going on with me. How my family took lead in caring for my son while I was hospitalized. Or when they advised me to go to the hospital. In the beginning, when I was first hospitalized at age 20 my mother told me I would share with others about how I made it through. I didn't know what that could look like. I'm glad my sister explained to me what a blog is, funny I struggled to be consistent at employment and had several jobs, but I maintained my volunteer work with NAMI Georgia for ten years and blog since 2008. I am thankful for my experience, but most of all my hope.

    Finally, I want to offer some suggestions for supporting me and my peers. Let us know the signs that you see when we are struggling and have a conversation before it turns into crisis, and becomes a demand without explanation. Be honest and direct when you think hospitalization is necessary. Continue to learn more about our individual needs and take care of yourself so that you can support us better. Trust is an important part of relationships as you know, don't lose it. Lastly, recovery looks different for everybody, don't assume and compare us. Just be supportive.


Sunday, November 8, 2020

Dear Peer

 Dear Peer,


    If I could send younger self a message when I was diagnosed I would tell myself to focus on two things: 1) stress management, and 2) self-encouragement. I would emphasize the importance of focusing on oneself, and not on others' perceptions of me due to the diagnosis. I would tell myself that most people will not understand, but that's not my problem. I would aim to reprogram the focus onto developing coping skills, an enriching self-care routine, building a stronger support system, and broadening my understanding of recovery, which is unique. I define recovery for myself as trying to stay in good space. 

    I would teach my younger self a few quick coping strategies such as how to manage anxiety, overcome depression, and identify a manic episode. Therefore, to relieve feelings of anxiousness manage house chores to get my mind off stresses and worries. To reduce the likelihood of experiencing my low places of depression - grasp the warning signs early on. Learn the subtle changes in routine, mood, and outlook, which indicates the beginnings of a downward spiral. For me that is poor sleeping habits, being easily irritable, not keeping my home tidy, and being bogged down by various stressors. Now when I identify the early warning signs I invest more time into my self-care regimen. My self-care is about finding peace of mind through praise and worship, writing, reciting affirmations, and walking.

    Occasionally, I maintain a mood journal to track mood swings to recognize concerns with mania and depression. I acknowledge great days, okay days, bad days, as well as my triggers. I record daily events and monitor them by keeping a color-coded scale for different moods. Pink represents great days, green—okay days, and yellow, orange, or red are for my bad days which worsens into the color red. To sum up these coping tips—keep a routine, rotate coping techniques, and stay on top of triggers and warning signs.

    Finally, I would advise my newly diagnosed self to get into therapy. Over the years, I learned how a therapist can help individuals rediscover their unique strengths and teach different coping skills. However, I can't go back in time to share these tips so I'm sharing them with you. To overcome the challenges of living with a diagnosis focus on yourself, manage the best way you know how, and never stop trying to find your good place in recovery whatever that looks like.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Parenting & Schizophrenia Interview with Lauren - Living Well With Schizophrenia


In my interview with Lauren from Living Well With Schizophrenia we discuss some of the challenges of parenting while living with a diagnosis such as schizophrenia/schizoaffective disorder. As a mental health advocate I aim to continue to empower you with information to change perspectives that is to fight the stigma of mental illness, and to connect. 

In short, Lauren and I talk about my experience in recovery and how I manage symptoms and crisis as a mother... This is the first of a few interviews that we did. 

To learn more about Lauren's advocacy and recovery story subscribe to her YouTube channel, and visit her website, Living Well With Schizophrenia: https://www.livingwellwithschizophrenia.org/

Thank you Lauren and Rob for the opportunity to provide insight into this much needed discussion for hope and awareness. For our viewers- thank you.



Friday, September 25, 2020

Experience is Key

Since 2007, I learned how to regroup, develop coping strategies, and to hold on to hope. Still, I am studying myself and ways to manage. Living with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder takes work, and it is also rewarding.
 
In the past, I loss myself to catatonia, delusions, psychosis, paranoia, anxiety, fear, and hallucinations. I am grateful for access to treatment, support, and mentors in recovery. I've  seen the end of the world's spiritual war in my head. I've anxiously ran away from the people following me. I lost my sense of reality, rationality, and ability to problem-solve. My faith kept me grounded but also led me astray on the road to mental confusion. Prior to my diagnosis I rationalized my hallucinations and delusions through my faith. I heard the voices in my head talking about you and me. I saw the shadows and spirits from the corner of my eye. I read their minds as they read mine. I experienced the many symptoms of schizophrenia, and rediscovered myself, developed my new identity, and perspective on life. I am not my mental illness.

I learned how to overcome and to bounce back through many struggles, the subtle stresses, common stresses, and significant setbacks. This condition is challenging and due to its severity I know I have a higher chance of becoming unstable again. However, I believe I can get better. This hope- this understanding and vision sustains me through difficult moments. I have come so far. I cannot let go.

Although my mental crisis led me to be institutionalized in jail and the psychiatric hospital, twice. I am hopeful. I am mindful of my triggers and daily stressors. I am a survivor and equipped with something greater than a pill, dollar, book, and friendly gesture. I have experience. I have hope. I have the key to master resiliency.

Living with any mental illness is difficult. However, experience is an asset that nobody can steal. Through symptoms, medical setbacks, and dark moments I encourage you to remember your loss, your support, your hopes, and to believe that you can come back stronger than before.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Hope Combats Self-Stigma


    In addition to the symptoms of this thought disorder, stigma is a great challenge, especially self-stigma. I believe it is among the top barriers to wellness. When I was diagnosed with schizophrenia it seemed that my identity crumbled. I used to cling to my college student role. My symptoms took away my motivation to study, speak, and do activities which usually gave me joy and a healthy outlet. When I dropped out of school I felt like I was less than. In the beginning, I did not know what my recovery could look like, I thought I would not be able to live a fulfilling life. 

    However, I was fortunate to have a lot of support and hope despite my health challenges. My doctor, mother, and treatment team gave me hope. When I was diagnosed my social worker, Elaine, referred me to a housing program and clubhouse which was empowering, because I was surrounded by peers with similar diagnoses. The program engaged us through recovery-oriented meetings, fun group activities, such as outings in the community, and a range of different classes like cooking. I am grateful I had access to the clubhouse and to treatment. A combination of peer support, therapy, family support, education, and goal-setting, helped me minimize self-defeating thoughts. 

    I have come a long way. I channeled my energy to grow at life. I worked diligently to live independently. I lived in a group home, rented a room from a family, and had a roommate. I learned how to negotiate my housing agreements in spite of a fixed income. I accomplished returning to work by volunteering. Moreover, I practiced what I learned to build myself up again after hospitalization. By taking on the work of goals and a series of building blocks I developed an enriching understanding of my recovery. Seeing peers manage the condition played a significant factor in my motivation to press forward in addition to the energy I put into my self-care.

    Over the years, I learned how to focus on hope and goal-setting. Journalling, reciting affirmations, and cheering myself on along with my support system helped me overcome limitations that I thought I would not be able to maneuver. I have been in recovery for over 13 years. I volunteered with NAMI and other organizations, participated in group therapy, and became a peer counselor that empowers me to keep moving forward.

    I accept I will have setbacks due to the nature of my illness. Mental illness raises many concerns like a wide range of various symptoms that effect mood, thoughts, behaviors, and the ability to function in different settings. I experienced the voices, a break in reality, mania, depression, catatonia, and the list goes on. I believe the stresses of life worsens the symptoms. I manage my condition by striving to follow a balanced routine that includes medication, therapy, walking, writing, spirituality, etc.

    Mental illness is an invisible beast that most people do not understand. I aim to identify my needs, empower myself, and to be my best cheerleader despite the passing of my mother, who was key in the beginning stages of my recovery. Still, I hold on to hope that I will overcome setbacks through reflection on experience, using my coping tools, and embracing support from others.

    My diagnosis stole my identity, but I created a better one which is the woman I am and also becoming. I encourage you to overcome self-defeating thoughts that bring you down. 

    For my peers and our caregivers: accept the fact that there will be great challenges, but also great triumphs in recovery. Everybody has different goals, needs, and concerns with this condition. Lastly, hold on to hope to accomplish your goals- whatever they are, because you are resilient, unique, and an overcomer. 



Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Reset, Restore, and Refresh Yourself to Better Health

I had a relapse and hospitalization a couple of years ago. It felt like I would never get home soon. The days were long and repetitive with hospital staff, peers, and the same boring, enclosed areas within the white walls. 

It was hard being away from my son, but I went to another place by singing praises to my higher power and also to him in spirit. When I got home I cherished our bond harder by taking lots of pictures of us. Accordingly, I learned how to reset myself and replenish needs to conquer the illness. 

I did this by returning to the basics of self-care. That is to focus on getting adequate rest, practicing better eating habits, and managing stress, which required a lot of self-care. I attended intensive therapy sessions. We discussed a range of stress management techniques that would work well for me. I created a psychiatric advance directive and crisis plan.

I performed light exercise by walking my neighborhood. I exercised my mind by completing word searches. I listened to inspiring talks on YouTube. Therefore, I really dug deep within. I worked hard to stay in my good place.

I leaned on my higher power. Also, I recited affirmations and spoke my life's upgrade with conviction into the air. These activities became habits. I performed a range of additional behaviors that became routine. 

Now when I find myself struggling I activate this regimen. It is refreshing- putting more time into self-care. To me building inner-strength is delegating more time to me. Investing more time into self-care develops a better person. 

I believe we all hold the ability to master resiliency. It is about tapping into your good place by making yourself a priority. While relapse and hospitalization may reoccur I know how to reset, restore, and refresh myself back to better health. You can too. When is the last time you pampered yourself? -Put your stresses on hold and made yourself a priority? 

Lastly, meditate on these questions for yourself: where can you go to replenish yourself? What did you read in the past that helped you? Who encourages you to press onward? What quote empowers you? What healthy activities relieve you? How can you make time to add this to your routine and enhance your well-being? 

When will you activate your new routine? Let's go!

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Lost but Not Forgotten

Have you ever been lost? Have an outdated GPS? Lost your keys? Or, simply lost yourself in a relationship? I have too, but more than that I lost myself. I lost my sense of direction. I lost time. I lost my ability to function. I lost my capacity to decipher reality. I lost Ashley.

In the beginning, back in June 2007 my family filed a missing person’s report with the police. My mother thought the worst when the detective called. Nobody knew what happened. Finally, the detectives discovered my whereabouts. I was jailed. I was 20 years old with no criminal history, but that changed when I experienced a breakdown.

A few months prior to my breakdown I was a junior at a private liberal arts university. I made the Dean’s List my freshman year. Thereafter, my academic excellence gradually declined. I was a student mentor, cross country team runner for three years, a youth assistant coach for home-schooled children, and also a youth church teacher for the AWANA (Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed) program. When I had my breakdown I dropped out of school, relocated, isolated, and developed excessive paranoia over associates and relatives.

One Sunday morning I got ready for church. I did not stay for the morning Bible study. I was afraid of my fellow church members, they seemed demonic and out to kill me. I went missing for a few days. During my absence I was in a daze and unable to think clearly. I did not trust anybody including family. I did not seek help, support, nor understanding. I did not know I was lost in mental illness until I was hospitalized a few months later. In jail, I lost track of time, understanding of my incarceration, and myself. 

While I was in the psych ward of the jail I became catatonic. I did not move for several days. I laid in bed in my cell alone, thinking racing thoughts and sometimes no thoughts. The nurses, doctors, and guards did not forget me. My family did not forget me, but I did.

Finally, when I came back I remembered, and longed for my old self. The Ashley in school. The Ashley at work. The Ashley I used to be- sociable, ambitious, and creative. I did not know mental illness nor what recovery could look like. I used to desire my old mindset and life, but now I do not, because I created my new norm. Still, a part of me is that old Ashley, but with a different approach to life.

Today my norm is striving to live well in recovery, which looks like continuously trying to stay in a good place. I seek peace, not happiness, because happiness is fleeting. I aim to maintain a routine that includes praise and worship, light exercise, okay diet and sleeping habits, plus a lot of coping techniques to carry out checks and balances on my mood, thoughts, and actions. I was lost, but not forgotten. I hope others like me will accept that they were lost, but not forgotten. To my peers- keep striving to stay in your good place and run after recovery, you are not alone.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Naked

This is difficult to write about. Because I’ve been there…

Yesterday, I ran a few errands. After I stopped in the middle of the road for a pedestrian to cross the street I saw a couple of police cars stop ahead of me. Nothing seemed out the norm in spite of the blue lights. And then I turned the corner at the traffic light. As I turned I saw a naked woman sitting on the stones off the side walk. She looked familiar. She had done this before about a month ago, because I frequent the area and saw her before. Now I know why the police were there. 

Immediately, a wide range of emotions overwhelmed me—for the woman, the bystanders, but also for myself, because I’ve been there.

When I was not present, time did not exist, nor did the understanding of consequences for my actions. I was simply just there. Others say I stared off into the distance for what seemed like hours or laid in bed for days. I did not know my mind was deteriorating, my understanding was fading, and my reality was flawed. I experienced psychosis and also catatonia.

It hurt to see the woman in the street in a poor state of mind. She would be the talk of the day of the bystanders who would not understand. Where was her family? Did they give up on her without understanding, and ostracize her? 

When I headed back an ambulance arrived. It bothers me whenever the states’ budget for behavioral health services are at risk and reduced. Likewise, I hope the budget for these services are not cut for the state of Georgia for the year of 2021.

I do not fear being in a poor state of mind again, however, I dread the aftermath of waking up to reality. The reality that I was not well. The reality that I acted bizarrely. The reality that I had no knowledge, shame, and clear intent of my actions. 

Naked. It is a clear demonstration of lack of treatment. How can governments tolerate ongoing budget cuts when people like you and me are suffering or enduring significant stigma, symptoms, and shame. There is no shame in having a diagnosis, but there is shame in being a part of the problem. Stigma, budget cuts, and ignorance—these are shameful acts that must stop for our well-being. 

I do not know that woman’s story, but mine alone creates empathy for her and her family. I am grateful to have access to treatment. I am grateful for peer support. I am grateful for my family. Lastly, I am grateful for my life and recovery experience that had its highs and lows, but in the end I am a survivor of mental illness.  

Sunday, May 24, 2020

In Honor of World Schizophrenia Day

World Schizophrenia Day, May 24, 2020
There is a universal unspoken code that negates the truth about schizophrenia, it is stigma. Stigma comes in a wide range of negative beliefs that uphold myths as facts. As an individual living with schizophrenia I experienced stigma first-hand.  It was hurtful and unfair. I have been labelled "demonic." One of the most common questions I get from men I date when I decide to disclose is "are you violent?" 

Stigma translates into fear, discrimination, negative labels, and ignorant beliefs. Countless persons do not understand what schizophrenia is and do not know what recovery can look like and thus, continue to place me and my peers into a box with limitations. Stigma is perpetuated by different groups especially some religious people, world wide influential platforms such as Hollywood, and a magnitude of people all over the world. 

There are several myths about schizophrenia, here are the most common:
  1. Myth #1: Schizophrenia is a personality disorder.
  2. Myth #2: Violence is a symptom of schizophrenia.
  3. Myth #3: People with this illness are demonic.
  4. Myth #4: Schizophrenia is caused by poor parenting.
  5. Myth #5: Recovery is not possible for people living with this condition.
Let me stress that these are myths. First, the term schizophrenia was coined by a Swiss psychiatrist, Dr. Paul Eugen Bleuler, in 1910. The word schizophrenia means, "a split mind." Schizophrenia is not a personality disorder. Schizophrenia is a thought disorder.

Violence is not a symptom of schizophrenia. Schizophrenia holds a range of symptoms categorized by positive symptoms, disorganized symptoms, and negative symptoms, while violence is not a part of any of these symptoms. Schizophrenia is characterized by hallucinations, delusions, and psychosis among other symptoms.

Schizophrenia is not a moral-based diagnosis. Schizophrenia is a brain disorder. It is an invisible medical condition that means a chemical imbalance of the brain. It is caused by different factors such as environmental stressors, a brain injury, it  is also genetic and runs in families. Schizophrenia can be brought on by drug use, trauma, and other causes. Typically, the onset of this condition occurs in adolescence through age 30. However, it can develop in children. Generally, men get the illness earlier than women. Personally, I was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia at age 20.

Finally, recovery is possible for individuals living with this diagnosis. I am the evidence. I have been in recovery for over 13 years. I am fortunate that the medication treatments work and minimize symptoms. I live independently and parent my eight year old son.

Today is World Schizophrenia Day (May 24th). It honors "the father of modern psychiatry," a French physician, Dr. Philippe Pinel. On May 24, 1793, Dr. Pinel made the decision to unchain patients living with mental illness, which was unheard of during that time. His decision brought attention to better treatment, care, and a more humane way of addressing people living with mental illness. However, stigma was prevalent then and still is today.

Organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America (SARDAA), work tirelessly to combat stigma along with several other groups and organizations.

Like so many of my peers the onset of my diagnosis was chaotic. It effected my entire family, we did not know what we were dealing with nor understand how proceed along the journey of recovery. It effected my education during the third year of my undergraduate program. I did not know what the symptoms were and that I was experiencing them until it was too late. I was diagnosed with schizophrenia through legal interventions of jail and state psychiatric hospital. Through this experience I learned about my mental illness, tried different medications, and fortunately found hope to excel at recovery. I had an enthusiastic doctor, amazing cheerleader- my mother and empathetic relatives, who were thirsty to learn more about schizophrenia and to support me. NAMI Georgia paved the way for me to learn coping strategies with the aid of volunteering, peer support, and training.

If you or somebody you know lives with schizophrenia, or any mental illness, I encourage you to obtain more information about it. Get involved in a support group or clubhouse to become familiar the recovery culture through peer support or interact with persons living in recovery. Medication is not the only means to gain a quality life in recovery. 

Here are alternative ways to help cope with mental health: therapy, music, art, supplements, Buddhism, mindfulness, journalling, taking care of a pet, mastering a gift and hobby, exercise, meditation, praise and worship, adopting a support system, and volunteering, and managing a strict self-care routine to list a few coping techniques.

If you have a mental illness, you are not alone. Recovery is possible. I define recovery as the act of striving to stay in good place. I stay in my good place by mastering my self-care routine, medication, therapy, engaging my support system, working on my craft of self-publishing books, listening to motivational talks, and keeping it moving physically by walking. I praise God for restoring my mind, allowing me to have access to health insurance and medication, also for my life journey of recovery which is fulfilling. My recovery has challenged me beyond measure, but also developed me into the compassionate advocate, peer, and mother that I am proud to be.

Finally, to learn more about my recovery story purchase my book, What's On My Mind? Coping Takes Work, Volume II, which is a collection of blog entries, and additional stories by my peers, a caregiver, and my former therapist.

Lastly, here are my sources on facts of schizophrenia and World Schizophrenia Day:
Please subscribe to this blog by email and share with others. Also, if you want to share your recovery story- peers, professionals, and caregivers, and supporters, email me to learn more and lets post it on this blog. 

-Thank you.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

How to Restore Your Motivation and Manage Depression

Regaining motivation is tough but it is possible.
Resiliency is an inherent gift. In spite of setbacks we learn how to manage. However, some of us unconsciously turn to quick coping strategies that may spiral out of control and lead to an unhealthy lifestyle. These quick fixes may include but are not limited to smoking, substance abuse, overeating, abuse of prescription drugs, and dysfunctional relationships. Ultimately these habits may lead or worsen depression and our mental makeup. 

My depression looks like extreme exhaustion, lack of motivation, oversleeping, poor eating habits, irritability, isolation, anxiety, no excitement, and minimal fluctuation in mood. This is not me. Depression may also include: poor hygiene, suicidal thoughts, recurring hospitalizations, and suicide attempts. Depression looks different for everybody. However, the common denominator is feeling low, unlike ourselves, and suffering in a mediocre state of mind and lifestyle. If any of these feelings define you right now, I encourage you to seek professional help such as counseling, calling a hotline, reaching out to law enforcement (specifically, a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) officer who is trained to help in crisis situations), and to seek mental health treatment by a professional.

Generally, restoring motivation may look like gaining different rewards for various assignments and tasks. Frequently, people utilize money, dessert, and a range of other rewards. These do not apply to mental health issues. In fact, people who do not suffer from lack of motivation and depression may offer suggestions that sound good. Still, they do not understand the magnitude of the problem. Dealing with mental health concerns is different. Trust me I have experienced the lows of depression and lack of motivation and it is disruptive to my routine and ability to function.  

Reaching the motivation to act is challenging but it is possible. I have schizoaffective disorder which is a combination of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. My schizophrenia symptoms are minimal, but the mood swings are an ongoing battle. I experience the vicious cycle of mania followed by depression and the wide range of its detrimental effect it has on me. Every day I strive to understand my mental health needs. Sometimes I catch my fluctuated moods, while other times my support system acknowledges the shifts and tells me. 

Finally, to help overcome challenges with depression and lack of motivation I carry out a range of coping strategies that may help you or somebody you know. I do not perform these activities in any particular order. When I recognize that I am on a downward spiral I reach out to family and friends more often. I get moving with a stroll around the block for about 20 minutes or more. These walks enable me to feel the sunlight that helps rejuvenate me. 

Occasionally, I keep a mood journal which identifies my highs and lows according to a scale such as the doctor’s office of 1 through 10; 1 feeling in crisis mode, 10-excellent. My mood journal helps me determine whether I am more balanced, manic, or depressed when managed over the course of a several days in order to see a pattern. Cooking and other task becomes a significant chore that is difficult to overcome. Therefore, I cook more meals when I feel up to it or eat more snacks and stock up frozen dinners. Other times I carry out responsibilities in short increments of time. 

Ultimately, I reach out to my treatment team. I seek therapy and medication adjustment. In the past, I took both antidepressant and anti-psychotic medications. Now I am on a mood stabilizer and anti-psychotic. I understand some people do not engage in medication regimens. I am an advocate for whatever works best for my peers, however, I use medication to help me cope.

From peer to peer I hope this article provided insight and support. Again, I encourage you to seek professional attention if you are suffering from depression. There is no such thing as light depression. Do not minimize your symptoms. If you are experiencing depression and it effects your daily lifestyle and routine, I urge you to contact a professional for guidance. 

Also, I wrote a book that discusses the benefits of therapy, Coping Takes Work. It is a collection of rewritten blog articles. Therapy helps the whole person, try it again and again to restore your best self and also your motivation. 

Lastly, we are resilient. Continue to strive to stay in your good place, whatever that may look like. Recovery is unique to everybody. Please share these coping mechanisms to help peers, caregivers, and professionals to support the journey of recovery on how to restore motivation and to manage depression. 

Here is a resource to help manage during the dark times: 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255

Friday, March 13, 2020

The Best Investment

The best thing about this recovery journey is the process of developing self-awareness and enriching self-care habits. I agree, the greatest investment is in yourself.

I think we leave the door open to conflicting ideas about self-care by watching television and other people. To me self-care looks like pampering myself, creating time to reflect, and doing things that I enjoy. However, this was not always my outlook. 

I engage in self-awareness by acknowledging my needs, concerns, and feelings. I am grateful for devoting time to praise and worship. My spirituality soothes me, but also energizes me to keep tying to have a good day. 

One of the most profound coping skills that I engage in is writing. My journal is my comfort blanket in a way. I write letters to my higher power, myself, and sometimes to my mother. Writing clears my mind.

Are you engaging your needs and feelings? Do you give yourself enough self-care to reap the benefits of a better state of being?

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

We Got This

I have been declared insane by society. I have been feared. I have been labelled. I have been disappointed by many because of rejection. I lost my mind, twice due to psychosis, but I came back stronger than before. We are not to blame for this illness, nor the stigma that society places on us. I am whole. I am worthy. I am strong. I am better today because of who I am and what I've been through. I have a mental illness, but it does not have me. I will continue to try to overcome. I will continue to aim to cope daily. I will continue to fight in my spirit, in my walk and self-care routine, because I must, in order, to live.

I commend my peers for striving to overcome the fight. The fight against self-stigma. The war within our minds, and the struggles we aim to endure daily. I stand with you not simply in symptoms nor words, but through this fight called life, stigma, and mental illness- the label, the confusion, the pain that we must preserve through every day. Remember this- you are not your mental illness. You are uniquely made. Different from a lot, and blessed like many. You are strong through this struggle. I encourage you to continue to cope as best as YOU can.

WE got this, one step at a time, one push through the weather, another attempt at daily hygiene, medication, leaving the house, getting out of bed, and accepting support from others even though they truly do not understand this battle. Yes, we can. Yes, we will- try again, and again to live through mental illness, life, and everything negative that others and situations put in front of us.
Like the gossip, I will keep moving forward. Like the rejection, I will smile. Like the misunderstanding, I will stand firm. Like the loss, I will live for them. Like the hospitalization, I will continue to keep trying because I must try for me and for me first. I am a priority. I am loved by my God/Goddess. I am uniquely made and powerful. I will get through these trials. I did before. I will again.

Have a GOOD day. We got this!

Friday, March 6, 2020

Stigma- The Threat Against Romantic Relationships

"You alone are enough.
You have nothing to prove to anyone."
- Maya Angelou
As I scrolling through one of the private groups on social media a woman shared that she was engaged. She noted how this was important, because she had given up on relationships due to her mental illness. As an advocate for mental wellness it is particularly challenging for me to date, because most cannot handle the label- my mental health status. I have battled this at times, but in the end I keep advocating, and accepting myself and mission to fight stigma.

Living with mental illness is challenging because it is an invisible condition. Therefore, people have stated that I do not look like I have a mental illness, or that I have been delivered and do not need medication. These statements are supposed to be compliments, but they reinforce the reality, which is stigma still persists.

When I was hospitalized I knew a peer who had one visitor- her husband. He later told my mother that my peer's family does not know she is in the hospital and the couple will not disclose her hospitalizations. Just a few weeks ago a man purchased a copy of my book, Coping Takes Work. Prior to purchasing the book we talked about PTSD and other conditions. I learned that his ex-girlfriend had a mental illness, he admits it was challenging to be in the relationship with her. He did not understand, but wanted to and brought my book.

For me I've heard many discouraging statements from ex-boyfriends such as I would have chose you if you did not have a mental illness. The first question after disclosure is "are you violent?" and other harsh things. This lets me know they are not for me because they do not understand my condition due to stigma. However, it seems better if they aim to understand mental health concerns and keep an open mind.

I cope with the reality that potential partners will not understand my condition by reminding myself of past healthier relationships, but moreso focusing on myself. I accept my mental health condition. It is challenging, but I hold on to hope for better days and relationships.

When Depression Creeps In...


Although depression looks different for everybody there are a few characteristics that remain the same: exhaustion, depleted energy, poor hygiene, isolation, and limited emotional responses to otherwise uplifting events. For me, exhaustion plays a significant role in having depression. Simple tasks seem like a chore. My body feels like it cannot build enough stamina to do what I want and need to do. I’ve experienced poor hygiene in the past when I was in crisis mode. Like many individuals, when I am not well I shy away from conversation and people. When I should be excited or happy, I am not.

There are varying reasons why people get depressed: loss of a job, grieving, bankruptcy, finances, separation in a serious relationship, genetic predisposition, disappointments and loss, poor weather, etc. Whatever the reason for depression we need to identify signs and continue to try to overcome it before it consumes us. Focus on building your coping skills.

Therefore, when depression creeps in or when an individual sees signs that they are going downhill it is crucial to take action to reduce its impact and severity. Some of my warning signs include but are not limited to having an overfilled trashcan and getting behind on household chores, experiencing drained energy where I do not have enough to cook a meal, and wanting to isolate.

Part of my self-care regimen includes: walking, journaling, and listening to positive messages on YouTube. When I begin to feel off-balance and down I aim to cling to my routine. However, I rejuvenate myself through longer than usual naps. Generally, I take an hour nap, but when I feel that I am struggling I will make time for longer naps and take them more frequently in order to keep up with demands such as caring for my son. In other words, I take longer naps while my son is in school and a shorter nap after he gets home to spend time with him and to do homework.

Still, taking naps and sticking to my routine does not solve all issues. I stock up on frozen dinners, I try to keep the main living areas of the house in okay shape, and encourage myself to keep trying to get through the days. When my walks get cut short and there is not a lot of sun I rely on listening to nature sounds on YouTube at home to feel at ease and connected to nature.

A final resolution for me is to adjust my medication with my doctor and to share concerns with my therapist in order to create more coping strategies. Depression is an invisible beast that places stress on everybody involved. Resting, walking, journaling, and communicating with my treatment team is essential to minimize the severity of depression. Yet, sometimes depression cannot subside.

I value my support system; family, friends, and treatment team for supporting me. My family and friends help me with my son by babysitting him on the weekends. This gives me an opportunity to regroup while my son has quality time outside of the house with others. My treatment team listens to my concerns and helps me create solutions.

I have tried a few antidepressants and mood stabilizers. I understand that due to my bipolar condition and having schizoaffective disorder that doctors must be careful creating my medication regimen, because mixing certain medicines can worsen my illness and trigger other symptoms.

In short, when depression creeps in I encourage us to take naps to produce more energy, try to stick to our routine, get support from others, and reduce the stress of household demands. Also, visit your doctor and therapist more frequently until there is a handle on the depression. Lastly, we are more than our illness, poor moments will pass. Try to focus on a range of coping skills and never give up.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

New Book Release: In Love with My Spirit- Again! Journal

In Love with My Spirit- Again! Journal:
Prayers, Affirmations, and Questions to
Empower You

My new book, In Love with My Spirit- Again! Journal: Prayers, Affirmations, and Questions to Empower You, is available in paperback on Amazon. This is a 30-day journal that includes short prayers, affirmations, and self-reflection questions that is divided into two parts. The purpose of this journal is to empower you through spirituality in order to facilitate self-awareness.

It is important to note that I am spiritual and respect different ways of acknowledging and identifying with a higher power. As you know, I overcame significant mental health challenges. My spirituality, therapy, and support system paved the way to developing my ability to master resiliency.

However, this journal is for everybody who believes in a higher power. Therefore, I encourage you to purchase a copy of my book for yourself and others to further connect with your God/Goddess by building on these short prayers and affirmations, also self-reflection questions.

This world is plagued with negativity. However, lets continue to choose the God/Goddess of our understanding and enjoy the fruits of positive energy and self-empowerment. Therefore, purchase my book, In Love with My Spirit-Again! Journal, today for yourself and another. I wish you well on rediscovering yourself through this 30-day challenge. All the best, Ashley Smith

Click here for the link to Amazon.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Upcoming Webinar: Mental Health Matters


Upcoming webinar this week! Register ASAP and ask questions. Make sure you capitalize the M's in the web address and sign up... This will be an amazing discussion on mental health.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Changing the Cycle Foundation Presents the 7th Annual Removing the Mask Event


Upcoming Event where Ashley Smith will present her story and book. Atlanta, Georgia area. $35 Tickets, lunch and refreshments included. Go to the website below, click on "Donate" and include your name and Ashley Smith's name in the comments section for the special rate. To register visit: changingthecycle.org

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Minimize Stress and Maximize Health

When my eight-year old son said I looked tired and stressed I knew I had to work harder on my health plan. His little voice was on replay in my ear. Generally, he does not talk to me in this manner, but he was concerned and also suggested I take a nap. I understood the subtle attack on my health which my stress created. I had to act quick to prevent crisis and redirect my focus on strengthening my wellness routine. 

Therefore, I went on overtime to manage my stress and reverted back to those coping strategies that helped in the past. This meant disciplining my mind to engage in more reading, concentrate on completing word search puzzles, walking around my neighborhood more than once a day, and repeating affirmations, and listening to motivational speakers for more positive messages in order to uphold healthy and productive thoughts.

Whenever I cannot sleep I force myself to get out of bed and to carryout activities that will help relax my mind. I read self-development books to enrich my focus on staying well. I finish word search puzzles to practice concentration skills and to relieve my racing thoughts and to minimize self-induced distractions such as television or eating when I am not hungry, and other methods of procrastination. 

To reinforce clarity, I walk circles in my neighborhood for 20 minutes to an hour. As I walk, I clear my energized thoughts and create a new agenda to accomplish projects and self-care demands. Most days I repeat affirmations and unique principles to remind myself of my strengths, hopes, plans, gifts and talents to carry out goals. I keep such pep talks simple and empowering:

“I am stronger than I was yesterday. I master discipline. I am determined. I am enthusiastic. I can accomplish this goal. I will overcome setbacks. I am creative. I welcome the spirit and energy of determination, optimism, and diligence…”

I listen to motivational speakers on YouTube every day for several minutes and even for hours at times while I am getting ready, walking, performing house chores, or meditating on gratitude and my higher power. Other times I listen to the sounds of nature to calm my mind.

Moreover, when I aim to minimize my stress levels I avoid watching the news early in the morning or late at night. That way I have more control over my mood and energy. Watching the news early in the morning or late at night stirs a range of emotions such as frustration, sadness, fear, and more stress about the events on television that I cannot address.

Finally, I focus on stress management daily and make these coping strategies a part of my routine. In other words, I perform these practices interchangeably to overcome stress and to get the most from my self-care routine. Yet, when all these tactics still fall short I rely on additional coping tools. My other coping methods incorporate reaching out to my therapist for more sessions and also getting back on sleep medication and other medicine to help relieve anxiety. 

How does the stress management activities that I discussed support your self-care plan? 

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Excerpt from Coping Takes Work: When God Brought Me Back...

Here is a glimpse of the thoughts going through my mind as my God was bringing me back to reality and recovery. This is an excerpt from my book, Coping Takes Work: 

“My body stated trembling, and I started crying profusely. I was frightened, but suddenly reconnected. Reality hit me. My mind was warring with itself, and I was the victim - but also the instigator! As I became unstuck, I had an epiphany. God told me what everybody else already knew. My illness was at its worst, and my thinking was off-balance. My thoughts were spiraling out of control, adding to the turmoil. I was detrimentally unstable. I could not control my crisis, myself, nor my life at this point. I was losing myself, but I was the last to recognize the dominant indications of my poor state of mind" ("Introduction").

To read more purchase a copy on Amazon today.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Excerpt from Coping Takes Work

Author of Coping Takes Work
"It seemed as if everybody was obsessed with me and everywhere, I went, somebody was watching. Every comment I made somebody was listening. Every step I took somebody was monitoring" (excerpt from Coping Takes Work, "Introduction" by Ashley Smith).

I was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 20. Common symptoms of my condition include: severe suspicion and paranoia, seeing and hearing things that others do not, false beliefs, anxiety, and loss of reality, etc. Fortunately, my mental illness is manageable. I am a single-parent and still enjoy life despite living with mental health challenges.

Support my mission to offer mental health awareness and purchase a copy of my book, Coping Takes Work from Amazon, click here.


Monday, January 20, 2020

His Legacy: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was our light in spite the nation’s dark existence. Dr. King fought for several human rights campaigns, and stirred American society to consciousness. He led the civil rights movement against the systematic oppression that the notorious Jim Crow culture and laws executed. 

He was more than a minister, human rights activist, father, husband, and brother in the struggle, and in the spirit. Dr. King became a legend because he fought for what was right; equality for all. I appreciate this holiday in his honor.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Choose Hope

In the past, somebody criticized me for being too positive on my blog. The truth is I write blog posts when I am in a good place. I have highs and lows just like everybody else. I choose to practice optimism and to envision a hopeful outcome. Applying a hopeful attitude is intentional. I work very hard to stay hopeful. As you know, this condition is life-long and can be saddening when compared to other conditions. 

Recently, I reflected on the idea of not having this medical challenge. If I did not have schizophrenia I would be able to work full-time. If I did not have schizophrenia I would not have to endure question and answer sessions about my health when I get involved in a romantic relationship. If I did not have schizophrenia I would enjoy life more...

Fortunately, I cut myself off this downward spiral. I reminded myself that everybody has challenges; they may not be severe such as a mental illness, but yet, and still severe. I am grateful for this life journey; challenges, blessings, lessons learned and all. I have my five senses. I am physically mobile. I have stable housing and food supply. I have a beautiful child who is in good health. I have family and friends who genuinely care about us. I have a strong support system. I have access to treatment and healthcare. I am very fortunate for all of these things and refuse to take them for granted. Therefore, I have a serious health condition, but I still have a wonderful life. 

In short, I hold on to hope by reconditioning my mind daily with positive messages. I listen to motivational speakers who remind me that I am enough. I am important, and that I can apply my whole self to experience life to the fullest, like you. I read affirmations and principles such as the 42 Ideals of Ma'at. I remind myself that I am loved, powerful, important, and amazing by how I choose to live and to view the world. I choose hope. I aim to embody hope by acknowledging my higher power and giving thanks for restoring my mind, livelihood, and peace in that I have another opportunity to be appreciative, correct mistakes, practice wisdom, love life, and everything along the way.

Lastly, I encourage you to choose hope. Continue to learn, connect, and to hope for a better future... It may be difficult, but so is life. However, hope in spite of living with schizophrenia or any challenge is possible. 

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...