Labels. What are they? Do they define who or what we are? Or are we something bigger, greater than a simple word or two? This was my dilemma.

Yesterday, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I was feeling quite down about it and thinking “great, another diagnosis, another label that I am” You hear on TV all the time about people with PTSD. Veterans, police officers, paramedics, etc. They are portrayed as people that are crippled by their experiences and that is how they have come to their diagnosis. So, here I am, thinking that I have now been added to the group of people that have been through trauma and have difficulties with it. I was upset because it is another label that the world defines me as. Now, I am no stranger to labels. I have schizophrenia. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Anxiety. So, adding PTSD to the list really rattled me.

I found it very difficult to get out of bed today, in this mindset. I moped around my apartment and barely did anything. I talked to a close friend on the phone but had nothing to say as I was so depressed. “I am sick of the labels and diagnoses.” I said to myself. However, I managed to get dressed and take the bus to my Wednesday evening Toastmasters group. I played a role tonight in the group where I had to count “filler words” as people were speaking. That was a good thing because it enabled me to focus on something other than my own internal thoughts. As the meeting went on, I was asked if I would like to get up and share some of my comedy. I was obliged at the request. I got up in front of the group and I spoke about why I do comedy. Then it dawned on me. I am not a label. I am not a diagnosis. I am a woman, a comedian, a sister, a daughter, an aunt, a friend. I have value. Yes, I have schizophrenia, OCD, anxiety and PTSD. Who cares? We as human beings are NOT defined as labels.
I get up and do standup comedy because I want to break that stigma about mental health and its labels. When I started doing comedy, I learned that my illness isn’t a death sentence. Today I learned that you can label me with any disease on the planet, that does not define who I am, what my passions are and what I care deeply about. Diagnoses do not determine my success in life, the friends I make or my happiness. I choose to do standup comedy because it makes me happy. It makes others happy. It chips away at that stigma of labels and diagnoses.

We are not defined by our illnesses. We are intricate, intelligent, loving human beings. We all have a different life story, different interests, friends and family that love us.

As I stood in front of my fellow Toastmasters, I began to tell them that I have schizophrenia but that I wasn’t nervous because the voices in my head laugh at everything I say anyway. I began to tell them jokes of my experiences and different aspects of having a mental illness. What did my fellow Toastmasters do? They laughed. I felt that rush of adrenaline and sheer joy that I was making others laugh, making them feel good and showing that I am not defined by any of my diagnoses. I began to feel good about myself again. I began to feel worthy. Yes, I have been faced with some trying things in life, but there is no way that I am going to let these things define my happiness or my life.
As the evening ended, I was awarded the “spark plug” award for the person of the evening that energized everyone and made an impact. Getting up in front of everyone as they applauded me, I finally knew who I was.
I am not a label. I am not a diagnosis. My name is Ashleigh Singleton and I am important, loved, cared for and compassionate. Yes, I have PTSD. Who cares?

Ashleigh Singleton

Blog Dive in

Dive In

I had such a great experience today speaking at an EPI group. I met with the coordinator earlier this week for the first time. She offered to give me a ride home after today's presentation. At first I was Okay with it, but as the days went by, Albert started putting fears and doubts in my head. "What if there's germs on the seat?" "who else is she driving? will they be clean?" "she is driving people you don't know, what will they be like?" were some of the things that were churning around in my head. so, last night I called my dad, who was already taking me TO the talk, if he could drive me home as well. He really encouraged me to deny Albert the ability to make me scared of riding in the other car. He encouraged me to use the things that I have been writing about and my coping mechanisms to defeat the anxious thoughts. I woke up this morning and thought "no. If I want to be a peer support worker, I have to get used to riding on buses and getting rides from different people in different cars. I can't rely on my dad to hold my hand and drive me everywhere I need to go. I am going to take the ride and make dad proud. I am going to push my anxiety limits and take a step forward in my recovery." so, when my dad picked me up, I told him that I was going to take the ride home in the Other car. I told him I want to make steps and beat Albert. so, I did my talk and rode home with the coordinator. I experienced very little to no anxiety on the ride home. I walked into my apartment and said "I did it. I beat Albert. I feel great." I feel so accomplished. I made a big step in putting Albert in his place.

So, what I want to write about today is diving head first into battling your anxieties. Put yourself in uncomfortable places and push yourself to remain calm and adapt to your surroundings. I had to learn how to do this with Speak Up.

I call Speak Up my "exposure therapy" because I had been in very uncomfortable places, had to ride in other cars, touch door handles, greet people, touch water bottles and papers and eat lunch. I also had to learn not to rely on the hand sanitizer so much. When I first started with Speak Up and Linda, I wouldn't get into her car without using hand sanitizer. Then at lunch time, out came the sanitizer. Same thing on the ride home. I was also very fearful of touching papers when other people had touched them, greeting teachers and receiving hugs from students. However, I kept going. I put myself in those uncomfortable places and forced myself to learn and adapt and change my ways of thinking so that I could function with everyone else. This last month with Speak Up was a true testament to how far I have come. I can ride in Linda's car with no anxiety. I can drink from and touch water bottles that other people have touched. I can open doors. I can eat lunch with no anxiety. I can do all these things because I exposed myself to the fear and I said NO. I told Albert that he was not going to defeat me and ruin my life. He was no longer going to drag me down. He was no longer going to slow my progress in my recovery.

So, try it. Face your fears head on. Dive right in. At first, it's going to be scary. However, as you continue to push yourself, you will learn that those fears aren't really a big deal. You will learn so much about yourself and your ability to cope in stressful and fearful situations