My Story: Ashley Peterson

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What were the steps leading up to your diagnosis?

I'm a mental health nurse, and in some ways that really worked against me when I first got sick. I recognized that I was experiencing the symptoms of major depressive disorder, and while self-diagnosis generally doesn't work very well, I knew that if I were to see a health care provider that's the diagnosis I would end up with.

As ridiculous as it now seems, I thought that because of my professional role I should be able to deal with it on my own. I was wrong, of course.

When I ended up in hospital after my first suicide attempt, I knew the "right" things to say to avoid being diagnosed with depression and admitted to the psychiatric ward. I didn't do myself any favors by taking this approach. Again, I thought I should be able to deal with my condition on my own. Not surprisingly, I ended up back in the hospital a couple of months later following another suicide attempt.

I was finally diagnosed with major depressive disorder, but by that time, things were bad enough ā€“ I was starting to develop psychotic symptoms. I had to be transferred to a psychiatric intensive care unit because I was so hell-bent on trying to kill myself. Since I was so ill and a risk to myself, I was treated on an involuntary basis, which made me resent the treatment team.

Those two months in the hospital were a horrible, traumatizing experience, and looking back I just wish I would have gotten help sooner, so I could have been diagnosed and treated before I got so severely ill.

What lifestyle changes have you needed to make?

I used to be a busy person, always on the go with work, social activities, etc., In the ten years since I first got sick, I've had to really slow things down, and pay a lot more attention to what my mind and body are telling me. I can't take on as much as I used to, and I need to spend more time on my self-care.

I've incorporated restorative yoga into my weekly routine, and I meditate on a daily basis.

I've been working with a naturopath and made major changes to my diet, so the things that I'm putting into my body are natural and nutritious. There is thought to be a connection between inflammation and depression, and lab tests have shown that the level of inflammation in my body has decreased since changing my diet. It's great to see a clear indicator that what I'm doing is working.

Who has been there for you? How?

My family has been amazing. My whole illness journey has been really hard for them, especially since I tend to push them away when I'm not feeling well. They've made it clear that they're not going anywhere, and I'm tremendously grateful for that.

No matter how often or how hard I fall, I know they will always be there to help me up, whether that's visiting me frequently in the hospital or helping me out financially when I haven't been able to work.

I've had various people step up to the plate at particular times, but it's really been my family that's been there the whole way along.

Everyone's recovery journey is unique, and there is so much that you can learn from both self-reflection and hearing other people's stories. Take what works for you and leave the rest, but never stop exploring.

What accomplishment are you proud of?

In 2016, I completed my Master of Psychiatric Nursing degree. Shortly after I started the program in 2012, I was hospitalized for depression. I kept up with the readings and other coursework for the online program using my smartphone from my hospital bed.

For my thesis, I chose to use a research method called autoethnography to explore how culture impacted my experiences as a nurse with a mental illness. After I completed my oral thesis defense, talking about highly personal experiences in front of a room full of people, the dean of nursing approached me and told me I had done an excellent job.

I later had two papers based on my thesis work accepted for publication in academic journals.

What accomplishment are you proud of?

In 2016, I completed my Master of Psychiatric Nursing degree. Shortly after I started the program in 2012, I was hospitalized for depression. I kept up with the readings and other coursework for the online program using my smartphone from my hospital bed.

For my thesis, I chose to use a research method called autoethnography to explore how culture impacted my experiences as a nurse with a mental illness. After I completed my oral thesis defense, talking about highly personal experiences in front of a room full of people, the dean of nursing approached me and told me I had done an excellent job.

I later had two papers based on my thesis work accepted for publication in academic journals.

What's your advice to someone else living with depression?

I think the most important thing I can say is to talk about it. Talk to your care providers, your friends, and your family.

There are a lot of amazing mental health resources available on the internet, so explore them!

Find a meaningful way to express yourself. For me, that has been writing, but find whatever it is for you that will allow you to grow and thrive.

Everyone's recovery journey is unique, and there is so much that you can learn from both self-reflection and hearing other people's stories. Take what works for you and leave the rest, but never stop exploring.

There are a lot of amazing mental health resources available on the internet, so explore them!

Is there anything else we should know?

I'm the proud mama of five lovely, little guinea pigs. They are a reason for me to get out of bed every morning, even when I'm feeling awful.

They crave routine, which has helped keep me on track. They will always love and accept me regardless of my illness. When I've had thoughts of ending my life, my responsibility to them has helped me to push through.

When it feels like there's nothing within me worth living for, it's helpful to have five little fluffballs full of reason to keep going.

About Ashley Peterson

My Story: Ashley Peterson
I'm a mental health nurse, autoethnographic researcher, blogger, and person living with depression. I firmly believe that it's important to raise our voices about mental health issues so that we can play a part in the fight against stigma.

Mental Health @ Home

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