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Ashley’s Story

ashley-smith-1 Growing with NAMI Georgia: Ashley’s Recovery

Before I was diagnosed with my mental illness I thought my symptoms were emotional concerns that could be managed with prayer and long walks alone. I did not understand mental illness or the fact that I was experiencing one at its worst-psychosis-a lack of understanding of reality.

My symptoms included high anxiety, extreme suspiciousness of family and others whom I usually trusted, and seeing and hearing people or spirits that nobody else experienced. Initially I justified seeing spirits as a godly talent that I was blessed with through faith. I rationalized hearing others laughing at me through the understanding that I had exceptional hearing, and believed the people who were laughing at me were my friends- this isolated me from them and others. In addition to that, when I heard the voices say cruel things to me I did not know that only I could hear them. The voices tormented me because there were multiple voices and they told me demeaning things about myself, which confused me.

Fortunately, I received the diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia in a state hospital. I was relieved at the diagnosis because I was facing felony charges that could result in prison time, but was reduced to a misdemeanor because of my mental state at the time of the incident. I had committed a crime while psychosis dominated my mind and reality. I had taken a military truck from the airport and led a high speed chase with the police because I was afraid for my life, believing that people were demons who were out to harm me.

My family members were very supportive and were hopeful of my recovery because of meetings with my doctor. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) played a vital role in my family’s acceptance and understanding of my condition. My doctor referred my mother to a NAMI family support group where she mingled with other families experiencing similar things. After I moved back home with my mother, my family found a NAMI educational meeting for us, which we attended and felt very welcome.

After I started writing about my experiences with mental health online in the form of a blog, Overcoming Schizophrenia, I had a desire to play a greater role offline in the lives of peers and families living with mental illness. I got involved with NAMI’s Peer to Peer education course as a mentor and started teaching others about recovery. From that point forward NAMI became a part of my life and helped me grow in my recovery by serving others with similar concerns. I got trained in several programs for consumers and worked my way up from volunteer to trainer and then to board member.

Today, I am a mental health advocate, Certified Peer Specialist, and NAMI Georgia board member; and executive director of a mental health nonprofit organization I started called Embracing My Mind. I credit a lot my opportunities in the mental health field to my background with NAMI Georgia, whose members I consider my extended family. I appreciate NAMI because they allowed me to take on leadership and to learn more about myself and peers living with a diagnosis. Now, I share my recovery story through NAMI’s Crisis Intervention Team training program with law enforcement to help them understand persons living with mental health concerns in order to better help people in crisis. Also, NAMI gives me a chance to help mold peers through training, and to share my story with diverse audiences through the In Our Own Voice program.

Now, I look at my experiences with schizophrenia with a better understanding, and focus on recovery to maintain wellness for myself and peers. I am honored to be a part of a national grassroots mental health organization. My goal is to continue to share my recovery story to offer hope and awareness to the community, and to help consumers have a greater voice in the organization like NAMI has given me.


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