It Didn’t Happen

So, if you know me by now, you know that I suffer from OCD and anxiety. It has been crippling at some points and sometimes is very hard to deal with. However, I have stumbled upon a method that has decreased my anxiety significantly.

I was grocery shopping the other day, and as I had loaded all my groceries into my cart, ready to put them in the trunk of the car, I noticed something on the cart handle. It was a brown mark. My brain immediately started disasterizing things and saying that it was from a baby that was sitting in the cart. I started to panic, because I had touched that handle before touching all of my groceries that I just bought. I thought they were all contaminated and that I was going to get sick if I handled them or ate them. Then a thought popped into my head – why not just pretend it never happened? Just go home, put all your groceries away and move on with life. Don’t sit around worrying or even avoid touching the groceries. Just move on! To my surprise, this worked fantastically. I was able to put that mark on the cart handle behind me and move forward with my day.

I was at work yesterday and I was sitting talking to a patient. She revealed to me that she also suffers from OCD. We chatted for a while. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a sticky mess on the arm of the chair I was sitting in. Again, irrational thoughts began flooding my mind. And then I remembered… it never happened. That was final, nothing to worry about, nothing happened. My fears and churning thoughts began to slow down and I was able to rationalize my situation.

As our conversation went on, I decided to tell the patient about my newly discovered method of defeating anxiety. I explained to her about the shopping cart handle and the arm of the chair. I told her that if you just convince yourself that it didn’t happen, thus re-focusing your mind, the anxiety will subside. It really surprised me at how well it worked.

Re-focusing your mind is key. By accepting that your crisis is in fact not a crisis, you can begin to focus on the rest of your day. If you believe that the troubling issue didn’t even occur, you are able to move on.

So, I encourage you try it. When something is really bothering you, just say in your head “this just simply didn’t happen”. It might seem a bit silly or unorthodox, but I have found it works wonders.

 

Ashleigh Singleton

Selling yourself short

Selling Yourself Short

I was recently presented with the opportunity to do some pretty important training for my job as a Peer Support Worker. The task seemed very daunting to me, and everything inside my head told me “you can’t do that, you’re not good enough” and “you will fail, don’t take it”. I ended up listening to what my head was saying and said that I was not capable of the training.
Fortunately, I have some amazing people in my life that support me constantly. My dad being the main one. He explained to me yesterday about me selling myself short. He said that sometimes I hastily make decisions, thinking I’m not good enough or I can’t do the task at hand. My dad said that that is selling myself short and not giving myself the chance to do things that I am actually capable of doing and that will better me in my career. I miss opportunities to move forward because I am constantly holding myself back.
So, yesterday I was doing some thinking about the whole situation. I realized that there are many times in my life where I don’t do something because I think I can’t. Riding the bus. Going to events at the Whale House. Facilitating groups. What my dad said, made me realize that I CAN do so much. I need to stop using the word can’t and replace it with CAN. I CAN ride the bus, I CAN go to events at the Whale House, I CAN facilitate groups, and yes, I CAN complete the training that I will be taking. I CAN and I WILL.
So, I encourage you to take a look at your own life and see where you are selling yourself short. You are capable of much more than your head lets you believe, as am I. Take time to make decisions, don’t back out immediately because you don’t think you’re good enough or you can’t do it. Have faith in yourself. We as individuals are capable of amazing feats.
Keep your head up high, don’t listen to those thoughts that undermined you. You CAN do it, and you WILL do it.

Ashleigh

Fighting on

Fighting On

As the year 2016 is soon coming to a close, I find myself reminiscing about my mental health journey. It has been full of ups and downs, many victories and some very trying times. However, I look back at where I was a year ago, and it is amazing to see how far I have come. It has been my goal this year and heading into next to really challenge myself in terms of my anxiety. I can say with pride that I have done that so far this year. I started off the year with taking the Stand Up for Mental Health class. To say it was life changing would be an understatement. David Granirer taught me that it is possible to laugh at what we are going through and not to treat our mental illness as a death sentence. When I started the class, I was quite depressed and lacking hope. However, I came out of it at the end a new person. I have more confidence, a new sense of humour and a whole new feeling of hope. I am so grateful to have taken the SMH course and meeting David because it was truly life changing.

This past summer was also a big victory, thanks to some amazing staff at the Whale House and my amazing friends. I was able to tackle my bus anxiety. I finally realized that people wouldn’t take the bus if the seats were as bad as my anxiety says they are. I watched people get on the bus and sit anywhere, not obsessively looking at their seat to see if it was "clean". With this new understanding, I managed to ride the bus to and from the Whale House almost every day of the summer. I can finally step onto the bus and quickly find a seat, sit down for the duration of the trip and not get up every few minutes to check my seat. It just doesn’t bother me anymore, and if it does, I quickly shut those
thoughts down.

In the past year, I have also been making some decisions to better my physical health. The biggest change I made was to stop drinking pop. What a change! I never realized how much pop I was drinking until I lost 30 lbs. in the first 6 months of not drinking it! I am constantly getting people commenting on how I have lost weight and it is encouraging. One of the problems with some anti-psychotic medications is the side effect of weight gain. I have gained a lot of weight over the last 15 years. But! I have lost quite a bit in the last year. It is something that I continue to work on.

One thing that I joke a lot about is eating with my hands. I would eat EVERYTHING with a knife and fork. I would use a Kleenex to take my medication. I would eat pizza with a knife and fork. I would eat sandwiches and garlic bread with a knife and fork. I would eat potato chips with a fork. However, just in the last 2 or 3 months I have really challenged
myself to start eating with my hands again. What a huge success! I think the biggest victory was going to the Peer Support Worker training day and eating my bread roll with my hands. NO one noticed but I gave myself some credit because that was a huge step. When I went to the island to celebrate my birthday with Christopher, Michelle and Cadence, I shocked them by eating my pizza, taking my medication, eating snacks and sandwiches all with my hands. Now at home, I eat my potato chips with my hands. I take my medication straight from my hand. It certainly is less cutlery to do! (haha) and also another step at not letting my anxiety control my life.

Probably my biggest success this year has been training to become a Peer Support Worker. It's been a very interesting time studying. However, I have realized that it is my passion in life to help others. It took just over 2 years to complete all of the training, but on December 2, 2016 1 graduated as a Peer Support Worker. There were times where I thought I couldn't do it and I couldn't finish my practicum. But, I had the support of so many people. I shadowed some amazing Peer Support Workers who taught me so much. I had great classmates who were always a support. I had my dad pushing me along, encouraging me to have a positive attitude, even through the low times. When I step off the IPU after a shift, 1 look to the sky and smile because I know I have found my meaning in life. I have finally found where I am meant to be. As my mom was a nurse many years ago, I know she is so proud of me going into the hospital to help the IPU patients. I have a job doing the very thing that I love. There are many opportunities coming up after the holidays!

I hope I haven't rambled on too much. I just wanted to share some of the changes and victories I have had in 2016. I notice that when I am out with people, things don't bother me as much as they used to. Riding the bus. My weight. Eating with my hands. Those are just a few examples. I have made SO much progress over the last year, and I feel like a whole different, better person, than I was a year ago. I feel like I have grown immensely and battled my illness with great victory.

So, my message to you is to keep fighting! There will always be the hard times. There will always be struggles. But! If you stay strong, determined and have a positive attitude, you can accomplish so much. Take things one day at a time — don't expect a complete overnight success. There is so much hope out there. It took a lot of trying and determination for me to make it to this point, but I know you can do it too. Keep your head up high. Be proud of who you are, and tell those people/things that try to shut you down, that you CAN do it!

Ashleigh Singleton

Blessing in Disguise

Blessing in Disguise

So, I have written pretty extensively about my journey over the last 16 years, dealing with Schizophrenia and OCD. I have found though, that I was wrong in my initial thinking that mental illness is a death sentence. When I first started hearing voices and was going through psychosis, I thought I would be turned into a drugged up drooling zombie in a padded room. This scared me so much that I went for 2 years without telling anyone that I heard voices. However, my journey has been very' different than what I thought it would be. I was very fortunate to have the Early Psychosis Intervention program parachute in right at the beginning and they brought a lot of hope and answers to what I was going through. I also from the start have had a very strong support network. So, along with medication and a lot of hard work, I have blossomed into this successful, intelligent young woman, who lives in her own apartment and pays her own bills. I have realized that having a mental illness has actually been a blessing in disguise. For the last several years, it has been my goal and fight to erase the stigma that is associated with mental illness. There just simply isn't enough knowledge out there for people who are struggling, and they continue to struggle because of that. No one wants to talk about mental illness or disclose that they have mental health issues.

I go to high schools, colleges, meetings, workshops and even the RCMP and 911 dispatchers and I do talks about how far I have come. It is so great to be able to bring hope especially to youth and young adults that are struggling because I was once there myself. I have really been blessed with an amazing father as well. We are pretty well known in the mental health community. We have been dubbed "a great tag team" and we do a lot of talks together, me sharing my story and my dad sharing from a parent's perspective. We get all these cool opportunities to share our story all over the place. We have talked to thousands of family members, mental health professionals and people going through psychosis themselves. This is such an amazing opportunity to have. My dad and I are able to go out and change lives. We bring hope to so many people where there once was none. We bring strength to families and the idea that with psychosis, recovery can be expected. You have no idea how much I love being able to do that. My dad and I have touched so many lives.

So, I would definitely say that having a mental illness has been a huge blessing in disguise. If did not go through everything I have in the last 16 years, then I wouldn't be changing lives. I wouldn’t be bringing hope to people. I wouldn't be going to high schools and helping kids who are going through their own personal hell. I get to fight stigma and be a beacon of light to not only people with psychosis but also their families. How awesorne is that? Without everything. I wouldn't have such a strong bond with my dad- I wouldn't be as close to him as I am now. There are so many amazing things on the horizon for my life and I have made it so far. It is my life goal to help others and show that mental illness isn't the end of the world.

So, if you are facing a mental health diagnosis, remember, it is NOT a death sentence. There IS hope. You CAN recover- There is so much positivity and a future out there for you.

Ashleigh

Video Games

Video Games - Waste of Time?

Video Games. Waste of Time?

Ok, so I did a talk a few months ago and there was a mother in the audience. As I finished and was accepting questions, she spoke about how her son spends all his time on video games and that she has to constantly get him to stop playing so much. Now, I know what a lot of you think about video games, that they are a waste of time. Well, this is a big subject for me because I am an avid online video game player myself.

I told the mother that it's not the end of the world that her son is so into video games. There have been many studies about how video games can affect a person. Games are actually a lot more than just staring at a screen, mashing keys on a controller. It is a fact that video games online can promote healthy, social relationships. Online video games can also be an escape from anxiety, depression and anger. I’ll speak from my own experience...

Go back to the year 2000. I was fourteen years old. My mom's health had been severely ailing for the last several years. On March 30, 2000, she passed away. I was a shell of emptiness, anger, depression, frustration and hated God for taking my mom from me. I remember however, before she passed away she gave me some money to buy myself a video game. Now, at the time I wasn't a gamer. I was into ice hockey and music. I went out to the store and bought myself Rainbow Six. I had never really played any video games on the computer before. I played the single player for a while and then discovered the online feature. My computer was very low tech and my internet was slow. However, I did have a desktop microphone. At first I just joined games and played with others, being absolutely terrified to speak into the microphone. Finally, I built up the courage and said "hello" to the group of people in my game. That's where it all started. Rainbow Six was the first game I ever got into. I went on to buy the next Rainbow Six game called Ravenshield. I met some amazing people online in that game. I think back to the hours I spent playing that game in which I was especially into the co-op mode. I loved the fact that I was fighting terrorists with people from all around the world. As I got more and more into the game, I met more and more people — people from all over, from Canada and as far away as Australia. I began talking to people. I will never forget my first online "friend", Chris. We played so many rounds of Ravenshield together that I couldn’t count. I could tell he really cared. Now, you always hear on the news that there are tons of creeps and weirdos on the internet, and I will acknowledge that yes, there are some interesting people out there. However, the internet is also the home of some of the most trustworthy, caring, understanding individuals. I began to realize this very quickly.

As I was trying to deal with my anger and depression from losing my mom, I got more into online video games. Alongside my buddy Chris, we played many different games, one we got hooked on was Shot Online, a golf game. I was able to talk to Chris about my life, about losing my mom and expressed to him how depressed was. I remember many late nights talking to him. He was there for when my "real life" friends ditched me. I had found an outlet. I was getting out my anger and frustration in a healthy way, it was my alternative to self-harm.

When I turned 16, I was diagnosed with Schizophrenia. This is where I really needed some coping mechanisms and support. I had started playing a plethora of other online video games, from Call of Duty to Left 4 Dead. I found that getting online and talking with the amazing people I had met, made the voices a little quieter, the anxiety a little less severe, the sadness a little less overwhelming.

As the years went by, I met many different people and became close friends with people of all ages, genders, races and locations. Some people came and went. Some people lasted for years. Some people are still in my life. I went from talking to no one at all in my life to talking to friends online and getting advice and help from them when I felt like I had no one to go to in my real life. I created a social environment where am not judged or criticized, and I actually TALK out my problems.

I had finally found something that gave me relief from the mental affliction inside my head. Video games. I met my best online friend a few years later, my good buddy Goose. Goose and I have recorded a ridiculous amount of hours playing Left 4 Dead online together. He is definitely my best online friend and I feel really comfortable talking to him about my illness and what is going on in my life. He is the funniest, most encouraging person I know and he can make me laugh no matter how bad I am feeling. There have been many times where I was having really bad anxiety, and I would turn on the computer and send Goose a message to play some games together. As soon as the games started, the anxiety went away. The voices calmed. I had found a reason to wake up in the morning.

I was finally introduced to the amazing game, World of Warcraft, in 2010. About a year ago, I Google’d "friendly WOW guild" and came across Two Percent. I am now part of an amazing group of people that play World of War-craft together. These people all know that I have Schizophrenia and OCD. They all I know I suffer from extreme anxiety. I have shared many things about my life with them, and they genuinely care. They can tell in my voice when something is wrong, and they are more than willing to talk about it. They are a huge support to me and huge in my support network.

You might have a better understanding now of my love for video games. I'm not the only person out there like me. I've come across countless people who actually credit video games for them not committing suicide. Video games can bring so much hope and joy into people's lives. I agree, there are negative aspects, like video game addiction, but if used in moderation, Video games can be an escape, that volume knob to turn the anxiety down, to get away from sadness. I advocate for video games because they have given me a reason to live, and they take me away from things when I am having a hard time. I also realized that I am not alone. There are SO many people out there that suffer with the same things that I do. I have a special bond with these people and we are able to talk about our illness and come together to fight it.

So, the next time you want to get on your son/daughter's case about playing video games, take a look at how beneficial they are. They might be that key in your child's life that is helping them hold on. There are countless people out there who genuinely CARE. I am lucky to know so many of them and I have a beautiful internet family.
THAT is why I play video games so often. They quiet the voices, calm the anxiety, and brighten the sadness. Video games are my joy and passion.

A big shout out to my online friends, Chris, everyone in Two Percent and especially my friend Goose. You guys bring me an incredible amount of happiness and hope. Thank you.

Ashleigh

Going Back

Going Back

I have been honored with the opportunity to facilitate a family support group with the Early Psychosis Intervention Program. Tonight, was the first night of the 4 week long group.

I sat among parents who are for the first time going through the horrors of having a family member with psychosis. I could see the pain on their faces as they described that they had no clue where their wonderful young son went. These were parents that were just trying to keep their heads above water, trying to grasp for an understanding of what their children are going through. I saw the confusion and hopelessness as they talked about their family members, their beloved children, how they are lost to this ugly, viscous animal that is psychosis. It really tugged at my heartstrings. I realized that I myself was there 14 years ago, and my dad sat in the same chairs and expressed the same agony and despair of what he saw me going through. The feeling of not having a clue what is happening to his daughter, the feeling of her life slipping through his fingers. My dad and I have been to the depths of hell and back in the last 14 years.

This evening was an eye opener and confirmed for me that I am doing exactly that I was meant to do in this life. If I can be that beacon of hope to these parents, then maybe I could show them that things DO get better over time. I have come full circle, going through the EPI program myself and now working for them. I can share my Story and
provide hope for families and people that are suffering from psychosis.

It was an eye-opening night. I am now more certain than ever that I was placed on this earth to help others in their own personal hell.

I have found my purpose.

Ashleigh Singleton

Blessed

Blessed

Today I had the amazing opportunity to be on the panel for the Early Psychosis Intervention program's annual conference. This year, the conference focused on hallucinations. The guest speakers were good, and it was especially cool to hear about others who also hear voices and it really hit me that I am not alone. I thought I was weird and different because I hear voices, but it was so cool to hear about other people's fight with mental illness and there are a lot of people out there just like me.

Being on the panel was very eye opening too. Young people shared their stories of their struggles with psychosis and hallucinations. These were brave and strong young people, to be sharing their story so openly in front of hundreds of people. It was just such a good feeling to know that my story and experiences are shared by others out there. I commend the others on the panel, they really gave an idea of how terrifying it is to have psychotic hallucinations but also how they are fighting every day for their lives.

It was an honour to be able to speak on the same panel as my dad as well. He has truly dedicated his life to the mental health system and helping families. I cannot express enough how much I appreciate everything he has done for me. I can also not express how much he has done for hundreds of other families. He truly is an amazing man, so
giving and loving for others. Yeah, hearing voices is scary, but with my dad around? I feel that much more safe. Life is good.

It is a dream come true to be able to share my story to thousands of youth and young adults. I want to be a beacon of hope to those out there who are struggling in their own life journey. I am always here if someone needs to talk. I have been presented with the amazing chance to speak everywhere such as classrooms, colleges and the RCMP. I know I have a purpose in life. I am here to do whatever I can to help others with psychosis. It is also a dream come true to be working for the Early Psychosis Intervention program, as they were vital in my recovery process, especially when I
first got sick. I truly have come full circle. I am not lucky to be doing what I do, I am not fortunate. I am BLESSED.

Ashleigh

When Things Don’t Go Right

When Things Don't Go Right

Well, it's been a while since I last posted a blog on here. I would like to inform you all that I have been doing fabulous! By utilizing my coping mechanism of living in the moment, I have been able to have a very productive and happy life for the last months. It is so good to feel happy again and not sit around worrying about things. I owe a lot of the success to my dad because he has been my pillar and support and I wouldn't have made all this progress without him.

What I wanted to talk about today is keeping yourself out of a rut. This past Monday I came home and had a LOT of anxiety. It was the worst anxiety I've had in the last couple of months. I struggled just to make it to bedtime. However, after a good night's sleep, I got up in the morning, determined to have a better day. did this by getting ready and going out to the Whale House where I always have a great laugh. I got to spend time with my friends and the staff there and they always make me feel good. Then when I got home, I immediately shut Albert down. This is the key to not falling in a rut. Every time Albert tried to get me to do things, I said NOPE. I didn't even give him the chance to get at me. I held my head up high and fought. This is what you need to do after you have a bad day. Sure, we have bad days. However, the key is to pick yourself up after a bad day and not let them pile up. Fight for your happiness. Be determined to have a better day than the last and take the steps and coping mechanisms that have helped you in the past. Remember, you have the power to shape your day. By implementing a positive attitude at the start of the day, you will find that you are far more equipped to pick yourself up after a rough day.

I can happily say that yesterday was fantastic and today is even better. I caught myself before I fell into a rut. So, when things don't go right, get up and fight harder. You will be so happy with the results and your life will be much more carefree.

Ashleigh

Right Now

Right Now

"If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present”. — Lao Tzu

I have written before about living in the moment. Worrying about the future is pointless, because 99% of the time, what you are worrying about probably isn't going to happen. It is so easy for our minds to run away from us. We start obsessing over an idea or thought and then it has a snowball effect where it consumes your mind. When I start worrying about something, I have been reminding myself that it hasn't happened yet, so why worry? It seems like such a simple concept, but living in the future and worrying about it isn’t going to get you anywhere TODAY, in the present. Depression is something that I've had to deal with for a long time. However, I have realized along the way that yes, it's important to remember the past and those in it, but the past is the past and there is nothing we can do to change it. Dwelling on the loss of a loved one or being sad about something that happened in the past is not going to get you anywhere TODAY, in the present. I find that true peace is just living in the present. Casting aside all worries and memories and just taking things as they come. Not worrying about what "might" happen or what has already happened, but just enjoying the time you are given
on this earth.

By living in the present I have realized how good I have things. I have the most amazing and supportive family and group of friends. I live in my own apartment and pay my bills, clean and do anything else that comes along. I am so blessed to have everything I have, because many other people have far less. When living in the present I realize my
great appreciation for those around me. Friendships and relationships to me are far more important than material possessions.

So, if you want to achieve peace, just take a look around you and what you have been blessed with, and say to yourself “this is good. I am happy where I am at, I am fortunate to have time on this planet." Only then will you reach a true state of peace.

Ashleigh

It Does Get Better

It Does Get Better

Last night I had the privilege of sharing my story to a family support group. It was almost surreal because a lot of the people there are in the same spot my dad and I were in 15 years ago. It was an honour to speak to all of them and I could tell my story was compelling and powerful to everyone there.

Meeting all those people and sharing my story of recovery inspired this blog to be a simple encouragement. “It DOES get better”. I remember when I was in the first stages of my psychosis and mental illness, things were very tumultuous at home. I fought with my dad on a daily basis and generally just didn’t know how to process what was happening inside my brain. Things seemed to be at their worst and a lot of times I really questioned if I was ever going to get better. Fortunately, I have a dad who walked with me every step of the way and we have done this journey of recovery together. I would not have made it this far without him and the other members of my support network.

Mental illness does not discriminate. It crosses all borders, genders, race, religion. To be frank it is very difficult to deal with when you are first experiencing psychosis. So, I want to encourage everyone that is reading this; things DO get better. I know you might be in a spot where it seems like the world is ending and nothing is going to help you or
your loved one. However, through hard work, medication and a strong support network, recovery is expected.

It was very eye opening to see families in different stages of their mental health journey. I remember what it was like when I first got sick, and quite frankly it was hell. So, I understand where you are at. Fortunately, there are so many resources and people out there that just want to help. I write this blog to encourage people and give examples on how I've made it this far. So, don't give up! There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Mental illness is not a cage, and there is so much hope for a bright future. lam a living example that with hard work and determination along with other coping mechanisms, you will be successful.

So, keep your head up. I know things seem like the end of the world at first, but it DOES get better.

Ashleigh