When Ashleigh reflects on her life’s journey so far, she sees God’s grace in the many turning points that have brought her to where she is today. It fills her with hope.
“I am so blessed,” she says. “I’m just surprised over and over again by how God works.”
Ashleigh describes herself as a gamer and a metalhead. She is also a daughter, a sister, and a friend. She is a person of deep faith in God. And when she’s at work, Ashleigh is a Peer Support Worker (PSW), supporting others on their journey towards mental wellness. It is work that she loves.
“Peer Support is not a job, it’s a blessing. This is where God wants me to be,” she says. “I’m mostly working in the psychiatric unit, which is my favourite place. I’ve met the most incredible people and I can relate to their experiences because I’ve been there.”
Ashleigh’s own journey with mental health challenges began in her early teens after her mother passed away. Ashleigh was close to her mom and her death made an impact on Ashleigh’s faith.
“I was so angry with God,” she remembers.
The trauma of this loss became a turning point. Ashleigh’s world was turned upside-down, she lost all motivation, including a will to live. It was then that she began to experience the first symptoms of schizophrenia: malicious voices that told her that her mother’s death was her fault.
She confided in a trusted teacher and began the journey towards diagnosis and treatment. It was terrifying at first, but it was also the first step towards living a healthy life. Although it was one of the hardest things she’s ever done, Ashleigh realizes that making that choice to be vulnerable and seek help was vital.
“There is no shame in asking for help, it’s a sign of strength,” she says.
The journey back to faith took a little longer. Metal music is a source of expression and comfort for her, especially Christian metal bands like P.O.D. She has reached out to musicians through social media or email and has found encouragement from the interactions she had. After another difficult season in her life, she reached another turning point on March 5, 2021.
“That’s the day I rededicated my life to Jesus,” she says. “I felt a joy and a peace like never before. I’d always struggled with my identity, trying to fit in. Now I know that my identity is in Jesus.”
It was a truly life-changing moment and while all those around her have noticed a profound change in her, she doesn’t want people to think that she is a religious fanatic. The transformation is one that has enabled her to see others in a new way.
“This experience has made me more empathetic and compassionate,” she says. “I no longer judge people I just try to see them as Jesus would and be authentic about who I am.”
As she reflects on this journey, Ashleigh sees how God’s grace has been extended to her through so many people: the teacher who listened, the mental health support people who helped her find the right balance of medication, the friends and family who have stood by her even in the darkest times, especially her dad.
“My dad is my hero. When I got my diagnosis, he dropped everything to support me,” she says.
It was her dad who suggested that she look into Peer Support and that suggestion led to yet another turning point. She came to the realization that she was relying on others for her health and blaming God when things didn’t go as she thought they should. It was when she made the decision to choose hope and fight for the life she wanted, that things really began to change for the better. She hopes that anyone who encounters her story will see her – and anyone living with mental health challenges – as more than their diagnosis.
“I am human,” she says. “Mental illness is a health issue like any other, that can be helped with medication, the right support, and lifestyle changes.”
If God’s grace has been extended to her at each turning point in life so far, Ashleigh knows that there is more to come, and she is grateful. She is particularly thankful for Communitas and the opportunity that she has to use her life’s experiences to help others.
“I’m so happy here. I’ve made such amazing friends,” she says. “Doing this job is a way of giving back and of showing the people in my life that their efforts for me were not in vain.”
By Angelika Dawson
Hear Ashleigh tell her story in her own words in this video from the Schizophrenia Society of Canada: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqpQzs09N8c
To learn more about Peer Support, visit peersupportcsc.com
Communitas Supportive Care Society is a faith-based, registered charity providing care in communities across British Columbia to those living with developmental disabilities, mental health challenges, and acquired brain injury. Learn more at communitascare.com