Mental Health Collection: Ashlee's Story (Part 1 of 2)
Ashlee Schmidt is a powerhouse. On one hand, she is a counselling therapist, a researcher, a teacher. On the other? She is a mom, a lover of tea, and has phenomenal style. She reached out to us after seeing our previous posts in our Mental Health Series, and we are thrilled that she did. We visited her practice, had oodles of caffeine, and had an honest conversation - it was fantastic.
In order to share the goodness with you, Ashlee is guest blogging this week! In her first blog post, Ashlee opens up about her own mental health in a vulnerable and beautiful way. See below for her story...
(For Part 2, click here)
(Ashlee is fabulous! Those glasses? Damn!)
I am passionate about mental health, and I want to contribute to the good fight by sharing my personal - and professional - journey on the road of mental health. When Grounded Goodness asked me to write blog posts for their mental health initiative, I was happy (and nervous) to help. They asked me questions about my mental health experiences, and why I got into counselling. Easy enough, right? I've been doing this for years!
However, I am struggling to identify my role in the mental health community in Saskatchewan. I have been sitting in front of my computer for three weeks: reflecting on all of my contributions, learning opportunities, and why I do what I do. Yet the more I sit and think, the harder it is for me to write. Why am I having a difficult time writing about my role in mental health? Why am I struggling to identify my reasons for studying psychology over the past 14 years? Why did I choose to become a mental health professional in the first place? Many questions to consider.
My biggest road block right now? I am a mental health counselling therapist, and regardless of how I guide my clients by feeling comfortable with their struggles, and accepting themselves just the way they are, I do not. I am a hypocrite. So, I have decided to sit down today and write openly about myself, without wondering how others might perceive me or these blog posts.
This is a vulnerable moment for me, but after speaking with Amanda and Rebecca from Grounded Goodness, I knew it was my time to share my story. I was diagnosed with Bipolar II and Generalized Anxiety Disorder some time ago. This was not a surprise to me, at all! I spent many months researching the disorder for a research project at the University of Saskatchewan. I had read it all, and worked with many patients enrolled in the study. I always knew I had a certain uniqueness in personality, but could not identify what it was until I was diagnosed.
But my struggles with mental health have been a gift, not a burden. I have always been at the top of my class. I work incredibly hard to complete assignments. I attain a high level of achievement in everything I do. I work hard at being the best mother I can be. And when needed, I get the help I need. For example, my requesting a referral to a psychiatrist was one of the best decisions I ever made, as it helped me finally accept who I was. It also created meaning that had the potential to help others. I feel confident knowing that I am helping people in their mental health journey.
My personal struggles with mental illness are difficult for me to share, but it is getting easier the more I speak about them. While it is unethical to discuss my diagnoses and what works for me in session, I can relate to a lot of the struggles people experience. That is a gift in my profession. As a counselling therapist, I know most have difficulty accepting diagnoses and freely discussing them. Why? Because mental health - despite many efforts and initiatives - is still stigmatized. Mental illness is not negative, it is not scary, and it is not something you make someone feel badly about. And perhaps most importantly, it is not something you need to make yourself feel badly about. It is an illness. It is everywhere. It is nothing to fear.
I have worked in mental health for 15 plus years, in various capacities. Recently deciding to open a private counselling practice - Aspen & Oak Professional Counselling - was a no-brainer. I saw a need in our community of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, and I jumped on it. These much-needed services are guided by years of research and statistics that support teaching, studying/education, and direct experience working with those affected by mental ailments/illness/disorder. The therapists at Aspen & Oak are not afraid of tackling mental illness, and we will not turn anyone down if they need our help in supporting their journey in mental health.
I will leave it there for today, but I do want to share that some of the clients that I’m most excited to work with are children. They're incredible. I'll talk more about that tomorrow, so stay tuned!
I know, I know – but WHY does Ashlee like working with kids? You’ll need to read Part 2 tomorrow, as Ashlee shares more of her story. It’s a good one…you won’t want to miss it! Thank you Ashlee - we are very grateful for your willingness to share in this space. You are amazing.