In 2005 Sarah Ashworth held the world by its tail.
The eldest of three children, Sarah had been a standout student at St. Mary’s College of Maryland who wanted to be a lawyer like her father and ultimately a JAG lawyer in the U.S. Navy. And she had received an athletic scholarship to play lacrosse at Syracuse University in New York.
“She was the greatest person I know,” Joe Ashworth said.
And then in 2007 the bottom fell out. After exhibiting strange behavior over a period of several months — she lost a job as a resident assistant at a college in North Carolina, she shoplifted clothes to sell on eBay, she picketed a Ruby Tuesday’s restaurant with a megaphone after being fired and once smeared Vicks VapoRub on herself in an attempt to get a better tan — she was finally diagnosed with bipolar I disorder, which involves periods of severe mood episodes from mania to depression.
“I didn’t understand because this wasn’t the Sarah I knew,” said Joe Ashworth, who lives in Annapolis. “[My wife and I] went to North Carolina and there was a person there I didn’t recognize. It was just shocking, it was 180-degrees from the Sarah I knew. You try and describe it, but unless you live through it, you can’t fathom what it’s like.”
Ashworth and four other guest speakers shared their stories — many for the first time — during a Voices of Experience: Living Well with Mental Illness discussion held Jan. 14 at St. John Vianney Church in Prince Frederick by the National Alliance of Mental Illness.
“Oh absolutely there’s a stigma associated with [mental illness],” said Kate Farinholt, the executive director of NAMI Maryland, which has 11 affiliates covering 24 counties. “And that’s partly because people don’t understand it, partly because people don’t realize how many people it affects. There isn’t anything wrong with talking about it, but there can be a downside when you bring it up and people shun you. It scares people and a lot of that are the myths and the worst situations that people see on TV. And sometimes they assume that someone who does something really bad has a mental illness, when actually they don’t.”
When Joe and his wife went to fetch Sarah’s clothes to bring her back to Maryland, he said her apartment was “like the show, ‘Hoarders,’ but on steroids.” Once, she was found walking alone on Route 5 and for a six-month period lay on the couch and was uncommunicative.
“We were just totally … I can’t describe it, we were depressed, angry, frustrated,” Joe said. “One day she said to us, ‘Mom and dad it would really help my recovery if you came with me to [NAMI’s speaker program] ‘In Our Own Voice’ and we walked into the room and I was shocked when I saw 15 other people in the room going through the same things we were because I thought we were oddballs, weirdos. We thought mental health happened to other people, not us.”
Depressive lows, manic highs
2020欧联杯预测Brandi Owens loved cheer and dance, being the center of attention, motorcycles and fast cars, but all that changed when the Waldorf resident was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, ADHD, conduct disorder and PTSD.
2020欧联杯预测“In high school, I was defiant, talked back, stayed out all night, and would leave for days at a time,” said Owens, who was later held back a year. “I lost a lot of interest in things I liked to do and was doing impulsive things and not thinking about the consequences. There were depressive lows and manic highs.”
“Depending on how the wind blew would determine which of these symptoms would emerge at any given time,” said Owens’ mother, Monique. “Somewhere life took a turn for us that we didn’t see coming. It never occurred to me that what became our culture was actually a manifestation of mental illness.
2020欧联杯预测Monique took drastic steps when her daughter was 17 to try and put her on the right path when she took her daughter to the police station for what she hoped would be a scared straight moment.
“That was my thought, anyway,” Monique said, “but from the lobby, behind the glass, three doors down and with door closed I could hear her screaming at the police officer. The officer emerged with a flustered look on his face and, shaking his head, said, ‘Ma’am you’ve got something on your hands with this one.’”
2020欧联杯预测Owens later graduated high school, but four years later she was incarcerated for real for a period of 30 days, a sentence that was reduced from four months.
“I put myself in a really bad situation,” Owens said, her voice cracking with emotion. “[My prison sentence] wasn’t long, but long enough for reality to smack me in the face. Reality set in what I was doing to myself and my family and I would cry myself to sleep. A lot of things weren’t going well for me and I didn’t know if I would make it. It’s still hard to talk about.”
2020欧联杯预测Waldorf resident Chareese Strong could be mistaken for any regular American female. The wife and mother was a college graduate, had a full-time job, was a published author, collected peacocks and loved Kit Kat bars, coffee, seafood and candied yams.
2020欧联杯预测But unlike many American females, Strong was also diagnosed with clinical depression, PTSD and adjustment society disorder.
“A lot of times, I feel I’m in a bubble, a trapped bubble, and live in fear and shame,” said Strong, whose family has a history of mental illness, including her son. “But the hardest thing for me was seeing my own child struggling with mental illness.”
2020欧联杯预测Thirty years ago, Deneice Valentine of Baltimore had a full-time job in the military and was headed on vacation when she suddenly became disoriented and confused. The symptoms became so severe that she went to the emergency room and was forced to fly home. She was later diagnosed with depression and PTSD, forced to resign from her job and plummeted into a deep depression that lasted three years.
NAMI to the rescue
Valentine said she was actively entertaining suicidal thoughts when she happened to see a NAMI poster
2020欧联杯预测“It was as if lightning had struck my heart and soul,” she said of the help the group has provided.
2020欧联杯预测“I gradually began a journey of recovery and forgiveness with humility,” Brandi Owens said of her NAMI experience. “By letting go of anger, bitterness and resentment, it was possible to work through the pain and begin to heal.”
Monique Owens agreed.
“It was at that moment I realized I was not alone,” she said. “There were other families suffering just like mine. They understood that mental illness affects more than the person with the diagnosis. It grips entire families but educated myself with training from NAMI, and I moved from anger to advocate, helpless to hopeful.”
“If we can talk about mental illness and make it safe for others to talk about it, we can really change the world,” said Farinholt, whose sister Jackie has schizophrenia. “Every time I hear these stories, it gives me a great deal of hope.”
Sarah Ashworth eventually met a serviceman, moved to San Diego and joined NAMI there. She had a difficult time when she decided to forego her bipolar medication during her first pregnancy but now has two daughters.
2020欧联杯预测“The family’s fine now, but when it struck, our family was torn apart,” Joe Ashworth said. “It was hard on us. It’s hard to say where we would be without NAMI.”
2020欧联杯预测“I’m here to share my story and to give hope and remind others that mental illness does not have to feel like a death sentence,” Strong said. “I won’t lie, it’s tough. I still have my days where I lie in bed in the dark with the covers over my head, but NAMI has helped me and continues to help me. Because of mine and my son’s mental illness, I’m able to settle into the trenches with like-minded people and give hope [to others]. I’m able to share that for people that receive a mental diagnosis, there is hope and that it does not have to be a death sentence.”
2020欧联杯预测For more information on NAMI, call 301-737-1988 or go to .