Schizophrenia: "We are Survivors"
Published Feb 15, 2023 • By Rahul Roy
Ashley shares how her diagnoses changed over time and how she presses forward despite the hurdles in front of her. She believes that schizophrenia is an often misunderstood health condition and that using the right support system and coping tools can play a massive positive role in a person's life.
Discover her story here!
Thank you for agreeing to share your story with Carenity.
First of all, could you tell us more about yourself?
My name is Ashley Smith and I am a mother, advocate, and peer counselor (certified peer specialist). Although I am from Atlanta, Georgia, my childhood took place in the Bay Area (California). Yet, I consider myself an adopted Georgia Peach because I've lived here for so long and embrace all of it. However, I am and will always be a 49ers fan!
In addition to the many hats I wear, I established a book coaching business called EMM Enterprise, LLC, and peer counseling business, EMM Recovery Solutions, LLC. The EMM stands for embracing my mind. It was the title of my first business. My mother and I created that name.
As a mom, I have a better understanding of my mother's heart and journey. However, she passed away in 2013, but lives on through me and our family values... I love being a mom, and it requires all of me, which I enjoy with grace. I take pride in praying with my son, Big Boy, and instilling the values my mother modeled for me. We love going to the arcade, park, and taking care of our dog.
When were you first diagnosed with Schizophrenia? What were the first symptoms? How many doctors did you see and what tests did you have to take?
First, I was diagnosised with schizophrenia in 2007. My diagnosis has evolved over time, and it is now schizoaffective disorder, which is schizophrenia and a mood disorder. My diagnosis changes from bipolar type to depressive. I don't accept it as my identity. However, it is my diagnosis. And, like other health issues I am pressing forward in spite of it.
In the beginning, I experienced a wide range of symptoms from high school to college. My family and I didn't know about the symptoms until our crisis that led to a legal intervention.
I was 20 years old when I saw a doctor for my mental health condition. Prior to the tests and evaluations that consisted of endless repetitive questions in a round-about-way, in the unknown, I maneuvered the chaos in my head until the first psychotic incident.
These symptoms progressed from depression, having bizarre beliefs such as people spying on me, following me, and gossiping about me. I thought family and friends were imposters! My hallucinations involved hearing, seeing, smelling, and feeling things that others didn't experience nor understand. For example, I saw ghosts, felt tarantulas crawling on me, and heard characterized criticizing voices that were like a noisy television program that I couldn't turn off in spite of having a remote control; my thinking and problom-solving abilites went haywire. Despite the symptoms I didn't know I had a mental illness.
On top of these symptoms, I experienced more things that were destablizing. These sensations, perspectives, thoughts, and experiences were nerve-wrecking, which is an understatement. I was on an unstoppable train that picked up speed, which nobody could stop; not my mother nor family, church family, etc.
I became catatonic, had on out-of-body experience. Anxiety, mania, moodiness, hyper-religious, and dreadful thoughts that the devil was trying to get me to take my life; EVERYTHING. This breakdown and mind war went on and on. And, it was exhausting, agonzing, repetitive, aggressive, and created an Ashley far from what everybody knew.
How did the illness evolve over the years? What were your treatments? Have you had to adapt your lifestyle (diet, sleep, work, etc.)? If yes, in what ways?
Sometimes my symptoms work around cycles. I can experience mania followed by depression. And, of course the irritability, mood swings, and anxiety always makes room. I've been on a few anti-psychotics, mood stabilizers, anti-anxiety, and anti-depressants that required adjustments for different reasons. The reasons these changes to my medication regimen varied includied side effects such as tiredness, vision concerns, and shifts in moods, which effected me in various settings and created inconveniences. As a result of these concerns I take my self-care needs very serious. I walk the park often. Make sure I take naps, and keep snacks to reduce issues with medication and irritability.
How has the disease affected your professional and personal life?
My mental health condition has forced me to reduce work hours and even quit jobs altogether. Personally, I lean on my support network and diligently stay connected to relieve daily stressors and keep a hopeful attitude about my goals and responsibilities.
How do you tackle the feelings of mistrust and uneasiness brought up from different episodes of Schizophrenia? Could you elaborate on your experiences?
I recycle my coping tools, which are a lot. Journaling, therapy, walking, and talking to family and friends helps me clear my mind. Therapy and medication management play a vital role in controlling symptoms. When I recognize an increase in stress and uneasiness I ask for more support from others and secure more frequent counseling sessions.
Other coping skills focuses on staying productive to be self-motivated, reduce anxiety, and feel better about myself. I take care of my family which is a significant motivation to practice my wellness techniques and manage recovery.
I concentrate on performing house chores to minimize depressive symptoms. I enjoy taking care of my dog, he's my emotional pet and can brighten my days. I listen to nature sounds to focus. And, I reprogram my thoughts by listenting to inspirational talks like entrepreneurship and faith-based matters. I aggressively incorporate these coping strategies to relieve tension and to improve my quality of life.
You have a blog called “Overcoming Schizophrenia”. Why did you start this endeavor? What messages do you want to convey to your readers?
I titled my blog, "Overcoming Schizophrenia" because I am hopeful about recovery and don't view myself a sufferer, but instead, I am- we are survivors. My sister encouraged me to keep a blog. In the beginning, I didn't even know what a blog was. I used it to record the knowledge I gained about my diagnosis and to reflect on my experience. Initially, I blogged anonymously, which is how I became so frank about my experiences. It was a family decision to attach my name to the blog.
I use my blog as an advocacy platform. I continue to share my recovery story and include guest bloggers and peers to share their stories. My blog carries a hopeful, open dialogue about recovery.
Mental illness has gained a lot more attention in recent years but do you think enough efforts have been done to tackle this issue? What more do think could be done to effectively deal with this illness?
The stigma of mental illness is perpetuated through the television; media, shows, and undeniably the movies. Ways to reduce the discrimination, misinformation, and ostracizing, is to make it a mandatory topic in health classes in grade school. This health education will increase knowledge, sympathy, and prejudice by involving youth, their families, and the support of the education system.
Another effective method to tackle the stigma is to continue to present individual recovery stories. These stories break the silence and put a face on the diagnosis that undoubtedly humanizes these specific health conditions.
Finally, what advice would you give to Carenity members also affected by chronic illnesses?
To my peers, their families, and caregivers, and our supporters on Carenity, I applaud you for researching this highly misunderstood health issue. I encourage you to share the knowledge and continue to breakdown the silience to help others see the truth; recovery is possible. There are many helpful components to improving recovery. Some of the avenues to spearhead wellness is utilizing our support system, developing coping tools, considering therapy, seeking more peer support, and partnering with the health team.
Biography - Ashley Smith is a peer counselor known as a certified peer specialist. She is a former state board member for NAMI Georgia and serves on the CURESZ Foundation Advisory Council.
To Learn More Visit: Overcoming Schizophrenia Blog: overcomingschizophrenia.blogspot.com
Amazon Author Page: www.amazon.com/author/smithashley
A big thank you to Ashley for her interview!
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