Ashley Smith, author, peer counselor and mother

Three Pieces of Wisdom to Ensure a Good Place (Taken from Newsletter Issue 6)

I was 20 years old when I experienced my first hospitalization. My second and last hospitalization occurred at age 31. During this 11-year gap of hospitalizations I gained much wisdom. When I was first diagnosed with schizophrenia, my doctor gave me two pieces of advice, (1) take your medicine, and (2) manage your stress.

Thanks to these two hospitalizations I regained my life more quickly. I also learned a third piece of wisdom, which is to create a post-crisis plan. I encourage peers in recovery to make plans for the future.

In between my two hospitalizations, as I was recovering, I became better equipped with coping skills. I re-created my personalized Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) and I found I was finally able to maintain a good place of mental health.

First, at age 20, I did not understand my diagnosis of schizophrenia, or that recovery was possible. In fact, my undiagnosed symptoms led me to encounter both legal issues and my first hospitalization. I was anxious, afraid, and experienced a wide- range of symptoms including hallucinations, psychosis, delusions and paranoia. My hallucinations frightened me. I did not know what hallucinations were, and thus, could not articulate symptoms. My hallucinations included exaggerated evil cartoon-like voices telling me I was a dishonor to my family. In addition to that, multiple voices clouded my thinking, and disrupted my ability to engage in conversations. Different hallucinations continued to scare me. I believed the same person was stalking me, which I could not outrun nor escape. Strangers who I had never seen before knew me, watched me, and talked about me.

These hallucinations scared me so badly that I ended up taking a military pickup truck on a high-speed chase in order to escape the police, my many mind wars, and scary thoughts. My living nightmare got worse when I was jailed and hospitalized for five months. Fortunately, my diagnosis set me free. This newly found knowledge and treatment saved my life from the ongoing nightmare, which was my undiagnosed schizophrenia.

Between age 20 and 31, I participated in a clubhouse for young adults with mental illness ages 16 to 24. I stayed in the program for almost a year that provided therapy, housing, and recovery-oriented classes similar to Mary Ellen Copeland’s WRAP. It also provided a safe haven for us to relate, and to socialize in a setting without stigma. Afterwards I became involved with NAMI Georgia, otherwise known as the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Through the years I created a strong support system including peers, family, and my treatment team. I engaged online, and created a blog, Overcoming Schizophrenia. I published What’s on My Mind in 2014.

In 2018, I was hospitalized a second time. I was medication compliant, but a significant load of stress led to my last hospitalization. My diagnosis is now schizoaffective disorder. Fortunately, my support system stood strong and worked well for my recovery. With the aid of my support system, old coping skills, and hope to reunite with my son, I was in and out of the hospital and in a good place faster.

I would like to see others maintain a place of good mental health, as I have. Taking medication, working on managing stress, and developing a post-crisis plan have been vital in my recovery.