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What’s the Upside of Psychosis? Or is there one?

December 11, 2018

Ashley Snow discovered an Upside to the Downside.

 

Professional actress Ashley Snow so radiates joy and warmth, it’s hard to imagine her trapped in depression. But for many years Ashley wasn’t able to teach, sing, dance, or participate in normal day to day activities.

 

After the birth of her first daughter Annabelle, Ashley experienced Post-Partum Depression. Three years later, at the beginning of her second pregnancy, her depression returned. With nausea so severe she couldn’t get out of bed, delusional thoughts resulting in anger, depression, and a withdrawal necessitating medication, she took a leave of absence from work and then daily life.

 

One week after her second daughter Sonora was born, Ashley experienced her first anxiety attack.

 

“Please don’t go to work today,” she begged her husband. “I can’t be alone with the children,” she explained. “I’m afraid I’ll hurt them.”

 

Her husband feared for his two young daughters and couldn’t understand what was happening to his wife and so Ashley drove herself to the hospital where she was admitted to the psychiatric ward. Three hospital stays, psychiatric counseling, and 31 medications (resulting in 90 pounds of weight gain) followed.

 

Ashley withdrew from reality and distanced herself from her daughters who went to day care. She spent days screaming and kicking holes in the walls or watching television and observing life happening around her.

 

“It was as though my soul couldn’t handle the pain and had to leave, and so was watching me from the corner. Outside myself.” The pain tormented her. It felt like every cell of her body was trying to jump out of her skin with no relief. She contemplated suicide several times though she really didn’t want to die—she just wanted the pain to stop.

 

Others described her as an “Empty Shell” with no sparkle or life in her eyes. “What you see is probably all you’ll get,” the psychiatrist warned. Her parents mourned the death of who Ashley was, but her husband believed that the college sweetheart he married the day after their graduation, would one day return.

 

And slowly she did. In 2015 Ashley experienced the faint ability to recognize time, followed by feelings she was actually in her body again. It was as if God had spoken to her, “If you find the gift in your struggle, you will heal your life.” Those words made her journal. She listed the good in every negative brought on by her psychosis.

 

*Break from responsibility
*Did not have to work
*Time to myself
*Learned I need support and help from loved ones.

 

“When I realized that my condition was actually giving me what deep inside, I wanted and feared, I finally understood what ‘find the gift in your struggle and you will heal your life,’ really meant…. I didn’t want to hurt anymore, and I knew I had to take a small piece of ownership on my recovery.”

 

After articulating her needs, her husband helped create a schedule for short amounts of time she would be active with the family, followed by self-care so she could be stronger for others. “I learned how to ask for help instead of panicking myself sick and being incapable of helping.”

 

Ashley’s interest in activities returned, she interacted with others, got to know her daughters again, and even experienced adverse reactions to her anxiety medications. Then in March of 2018, she became a motivational speaker to help others through their own struggles.

 

At a Holistic Health Expo in London, Ashley Snow lectured on Breakthrough Mapping, the name she gave to the miraculous process and understanding of her own healing. She hoped for two rows of listeners.

 

A standing room only crowd heard her lecture that “Struggle is truly resisting the challenge, running from it and hiding from it. When I faced it and stopped judging myself for how I felt, and I stopped labeling myself weak and broken,  I found a freedom not only from my own criticism, but from the crippling effects of my illness. I gave myself the blessings and stopped struggling through the challenges.”

 

Her friends and family then encouraged her to return to another stage. But theatre is a roller coaster of auditions and openings and closings. “Why would I volunteer for those highs and lows again?” She was scared that the ups and downs of theatre would throw her back into depression.

 

After seeing SHREK three times on Broadway and meeting Sutton Foster in the role of Fiona—the lonely and imprisoned redheaded Disney Princess who turns into an ogre by night—became her dream role. That summer, a terrified Ashley auditioned for the local community theatre production. Little did the directors know, Ashley was actually playing herself: a beautiful and talented woman on the outside but locked in a tower concealing a painful secret. Except now she had been given her keys out.

 

 

Is there an Upside to the Downside? Ashley Snow would say yes. She encourages those struggling with depression, panic attacks, and anxiety to ask, “What’s the benefit of my situation?” and “How can I give myself these gifts without needing to face struggle to get them?” And most importantly, she would remind them not to end life because of pain. The emotions will not last forever.

 

“It’s a storm. It WILL pass.” Hold on!”

 

Ashley has been healthy for three years, off medication and not only back to her “old self” but even better than before with the new-found knowledge of how to look at struggles and hardships with gratitude, and with the goal to share that with others.

 

Earning the role and playing Fiona was part of Ashley’s healing process. She stunned packed houses with her vibrant voice, warmth, and sincere performance. Each night backstage, I had 60 seconds to sponge Ashley green before her stage transformation. Whether in her own skin or the green of Fiona, Ashley played the role with passion. Perhaps, because she, too, was freed from the exile and imprisonment of mental illness to share a message of hope.

 

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