Most people’s understanding of my health condition is informed by tragedy and sensationalized coverage in the media.

My illness—schizophrenia—is surrounded by negativity and several false myths including:

  • Myth #1: People living with schizophrenia are violent
  • Myth #2: People with this condition are controlled by demons
  • Myth #3: Schizophrenia is a personality disorder (it isn’t)
  • Myth #4: People with schizophrenia are crazy and should be institutionalized
  • Myth #5: Recovery from schizophrenia is not possible

These beliefs are wrong and (sadly) lead to social alienation, discriminatory housing practices, and stigma. Schizophrenia is a serious health condition but those who live with it do not receive the same degree of empathy, help, and respect that people with other serious health conditions do. No health challenge should bring shame.

The truth is there are effective treatments, counseling, self-help meetings, alternative therapies, and support programs that help people with schizophrenia cope with difficult symptoms.

I am a daughter, sister, mother, and mental health advocate on a mission to dispel these damaging misconceptions. My experience is NOT the exception but unfortunately, positive stories about people living with schizophrenia don’t generate much media coverage.

My strong faith propels my conviction to change these negative notions so people with schizophrenia are treated with the fairness and respect they deserve.

This is my recovery story.

What Is Psychosis?

I was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2007 when I was 20. Despite making Dean’s List my freshman year of college, my grades had started to slide and I lost my motivation. I couldn’t muster up the energy to press forward the way I’d always done in the past. I was struggling and dropped out of school my junior year. I decided to move from Georgia (where the university was located) to my home state of California, to be closer to my family.

I had always been a good student and a motivated athlete. In high school, I played volleyball, basketball, and ran track. I was a member of the school band and did martial arts. Church was a big part of my life, too. Back then, I attended services regularly and taught Bible school to little kids. I felt accepted and took pride in all of my associations, activities, and accomplishments. I continue to worship and pray daily to my higher power.

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During college, I was part of the cross-country team and stayed active. Having a busy schedule focused my energy, distracted me, and helped me manage stress.

Shortly after relocating, my mind began to deteriorate. Hallucinations, bizarre behavior, and irrational thoughts—symptoms I hadn’t noticed before—started to plague me. I wasn’t sleeping much, and my thoughts were becoming increasingly disorganized and chaotic.

I became suspicious and felt as though I was being watched and monitored by everyone—relatives, friends, and even strangers. I thought the security cameras mounted on local buildings were recording my every move. I thought strangers knew who I was and were whispering about me as I walked by.

The voices were constant, and it was agonizing. I thought I was being laughed at and the gossip I perceived damaged my confidence. But I rationalized it, chalking it up to my exceptional hearing. I tried to make what I thought was snickering, cursing, and offensive backtalk stop but I couldn’t. I wasn’t able to make clear associations. I was in another world mentally that overpowered all rational thinking.

On top of all that noise,  I saw angels, demons, and ghosts. Everyone was spying on me with their solid black, lifeless eyes. I had the sense I was always being followed but when I turned around to catch them, no one was there. It all seemed so real.

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Suddenly I became desperate to return to my former home in Georgia where I’d be safe there and away from the torture. I tried using public transportation to get there and although I rode it every day and knew it well, I got confused and overwhelmed. I was pleading with the voices, begging them to leave me alone but they wouldn’t.

That’s when I noticed the unattended truck—the sign I had been looking for. Surely, my Father in Heaven had positioned it in my path for me to use to get out. I jumped in and sped away.

When the police started chasing me, I hit the gas harder believing I was Jesus Christ and they were demons sent to prevent God’s plan for my escape. It was a full-on psychotic break.

The head-on collision (I hit a building but wasn’t hurt thanks to my seatbelt) did not bring me back to reality, nor did my arrest. When the police caught up to me, I was terrified. They put me in handcuffs and brought me to jail where I spent several weeks.

Still Misunderstood

Time passed but the delusions and confusion persisted. I stopped eating thinking everyone was trying to poison me and lost 30 pounds. Being in jail was traumatizing. When it was time to inspect my cell, I found myself stuck in a rigid position. I was catatonic—another symptom of schizophrenia.

The guards didn’t understand my medical condition (I didn’t yet either) and started yelling at me to move but I was frozen. When I didn’t respond, they thought I was being defiant and dragged me out across the cold, hard floor.  A little later, it happened again.

I was nervous and stressed before my first appearance in court. Again, I froze in place while traveling there. When I didn’t get off the bus, they strapped me into a wheelchair and pushed me into the courtroom. I remember feeling anxious and very, very afraid.

Eventually, a judge ordered an evaluation in a state hospital. They kept asking me if I had been abused by a child. (Another myth!) I was raised in a close and loving family. For the first time in my life, I became a patient. I saw a psychiatrist and received a diagnosis. This was entirely new territory for me. I had never been on medication or worked with a therapist.

My mother was my tireless advocate. She learned all she could about my condition. My social worker was wonderful, too. Five months after my arrest in June 2007, the social worker helped me find supportive housing for young adults with behavioral health issues and connected me to an outpatient program where I learned about recovery.

Getting Through the Darkness

In the program, I was introduced to the teachings of Mary Ellen Copeland (Wellness Recovery Action Plan, or WRAP) and became educated about my illness. I was taught coping strategies for times I felt “off-balance”. I learned to recognize stress triggers and warning signs of psychosis. Therapy helped me gain confidence and revealed my strengths.

Today I prioritize taking care of myself and my young son. Managing stress is one of the most important components of staying well when you have schizophrenia—or any other mental health diagnosis!

Keeping to a routine helps. Eating a healthy diet matters. Exercising regularly—walking is my favorite way to move—makes a difference. I also find writing therapeutic.

Years ago, my sister suggested I blog about my experiences. At first, my blog posts were anonymous but then I realized my writing might help others. A peer in recovery walked me through the steps of self-publishing and those blog posts eventually became a book. What’s On My Mind? Coping Takes Work was published in 2014.

A Good Life with Schizophrenia Is Possible—I Am Proof!

My recovery story is not unusual. Many people with serious mental illness don’t learn about it until they have s a crisis. I probably had symptoms during high school (paranoia mostly) but since they didn’t interfere with my functioning or disrupt my social life, it wasn’t addressed.

Today I feel the worst is behind me. Medication really helps but has been tweaked and adjusted frequently over the years. That’s something that just goes with the territory. I continue to sharpen my coping skills and though I still struggle—I was hospitalized again in 2018 when the stress of being a single mom and working full-time overwhelmed my ability to cope—I know that I am resilient.

Sadly, my mother passed away a few years ago. I work hard to carry out her vision of hope and recovery for me. I have so much purpose in my life—I am passionate about my work as a peer counselor and love being a mother.

Schizophrenia is a thought disorder, not a character flaw. If you meet someone with schizophrenia, do not fear them. Show them sympathy, curiosity, and compassion instead. Respond to them the way you would respond to anyone else with a visible medical condition, like a broken leg or cancer. We all have struggles.

Help me get the truth out and dispel the myths. Share my story. Look beyond their diagnosis. People with schizophrenia are individuals working hard to overcome challenges just like everyone else. Find out what their life is like and don’t ask questions like, “Are you violent?

Violence is not a symptom. It does not bring justice to our humanity.

*To learn more about Ashley’s journey, read her blog, Overcoming Schizophrenia.

Last Updated: May 27, 2021