Mental Health & Wellness

Buckle Up! My Mental Health Journey

“You’re so sensitive!” a family member would snap at me.

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A young , nervous Ashlei, preparing for a piano recital.

As a child, I cried over everything…. When I didn’t get what I wanted. When the boy on the playground hurt my feelings. When I lost a hula-hoop competition at P.E. When my mom yelled at me a little bit too loudly. You name it!

Family members young and old would scold me for almost always crying at the drop of a dime. I vividly remember feeling those emotions so intensely that the outer points of my lips would feel heavy and begin to droop into a trembling frown, my face would become red hot, and my eyes would well up with tears, anticipating the scolding that I knew was to come simply for having feelings and expressing them.

Over the years I learned to control my emotional eruptions more effectively. In high school, I took a course that gave me some insight into why people think, feel, and behave the way they do — Psychology. Just two days and a couple of reading/homework assignments into the course, I knew this is what I wanted to study in college.

I began at the University of Florida as a freshman (Go Gators!) with my heart set on studying psychology. I felt pressured by my parents to study something in addition to psych, because they had me convinced that a bachelor’s degree in psychology was worthless and a waste of time. (False.) So, I added on a pre-medicine concentration, like every other freshman student and their mother.

Freshman Ashlei taking a break from studying to enjoy a Gator game day

Life at UF, and away from home for the first time, was not easy for me. I had a classic case of imposter syndrome due to struggling academically for the first time. You mean I actually had to study in order to do well in my classes?! Who would’ve thunk it! Moreover, I was battling the demons of my childhood sexual abuse that I had managed to completely suppress for nearly 10 years. I found myself spiraling into a deep depression, questioning my identity, and I didn’t know how to get myself out of it. Unnamed family members would tell me to “just get it together”, “study harder”, and “think about all the good things in life instead of the bad things,” but for some odd reason, this advice was of no help. I felt as though I had nowhere to turn.

Within this depressive episode, my entire life changed. I was at rock bottom. I attended twice daily counseling sessions with a mental health counselor. I began taking antidepressants. I began to dig deep into my childhood trauma, exploring the thoughts, feelings, and flashbacks I had suppressed for so long that had eventually eaten me up inside. I ditched pre-med and decided to focus on psychology, while gradually coming off of my antidepressants. Reflecting on my first counseling experience, I felt that unique sensation from being in a therapeutic setting. I valued the expertise and work of my counselor, and thought that maybe I could bring this same feeling to others in the future. Who knows!? It was initially a fleeting thought, but I continued my psych studies in hopes that I’d figure something out along the way…

Fast forward 1 year, I was sitting in my Abnormal Psychology class, waiting for the professor to come in and begin teaching about 10 minutes late per usual. However, someone else came in — A counselor from the Alachua County Crisis Center. (Shoutout to Manny L.!) He briefly spoke about a volunteer opportunity that involved serving as a phone counselor for the ACCC and National Suicide Hotline. I was immediately intrigued and took a flier. I went home, applied for the position, and got a call back! I was to begin my training within the next couple of weeks.

The imposter syndrome that I felt when I first arrived at UF was nowhere near present when I started training to be a phone counselor. I felt comfortable in the therapist role, engaging in realistic role plays with the trainers acting as suicidal/in-crisis callers. I was in my element! I looked forward to finishing the intensive 6-week training, and was even more eager to begin serving real people on the phone lines. My sensitivity, my intense desire to help people in pain, and my connection to others and their stories all began to make sense to me. My once-shunned sensitivity was now a strength.

My time as a volunteer phone counselor for the ACCC & NSH solidified for me that I wanted to continue studying psychology, and become a mental health counselor one day. This was apparent to me when I began to absolutely dread giving my time to restaurant and retail jobs for money, while I completely craved giving my time to the phone lines for the free-99. I matriculated through my psychology degree program in order to graduate from UF and move onto the next phase of my life — Graduate school.

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Graduated Ashlei, celebrating by taking part in the traditional tossing of the mortar board cap

I pressed on and pursued my master’s degree in Counselor Education — Clinical Mental Health Counseling from the University of Central Florida. (Go Knights!) Every step of the way, every course, every research lab, every practicum and internship let me know that I was in the right place, fulfilling my destiny. I have never felt more complete and fulfilled serving others as a mental health counselor. That same environment that nursed me back to a positive mental health became the one that felt like my natural habitat, except now I was on the other side of the room. I graduated from UCF as a budding mental health counselor.

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Counselor Ashlei, posing for the first time as a mental health professional

Yes, I’m a therapist and I’ve been depressed before.

Yes, I’m a therapist and I’ve been on antidepressants before.

Yes, I’m a therapist and I see a therapist myself from time to time.

Do you expect your physician to never have a broken bone, medical condition, or illness? Would you storm out of your dentist’s office if you discovered they developed a cavity in college? Would you discredit your plumber if their own toilet clogged every now and then? Would you shun any of these professionals for seeking a doctor, dentist, or plumber for themselves?

Well, my personal answers are: no, no, no, and no. But I’ll let you formulate your own opinion on that! My point is, we are human. Unless you’re Sophia the Robot reading this. (Haha!) Even therapists need therapists sometimes! Just like our physical health can take a turn for the worse sometimes, our mental health can too. And just like you go see a doctor when you’re sick, a dentist when you have a toothache, or seek a plumber when your toilet does the unthinkable… It’s important to seek professional help if your emotional and mental wellness are struggling. Moreover, it would behoove you to not wait until that stomach or tooth pain gets unmanageable before you go seek professional help and to not wait until your emotions start to… You know the rest.

The mission of this blog site is to facilitate the creation of ideas and discussions surrounding mental health awareness and services by producing relatable and thought-provoking content. Furthermore, the vision of this blog site is to serve as a hub for mental health information and advocacy. I intentionally kick-started my blog by sharing my own journey in mental health because I know how daunting it can be to be open and honest about mental health issues with even just ourselves, let alone our friends, family, and ultimately a mental health professional. How can I promote mental health awareness and counseling/therapy services without being honest about my own journey? How can I speak from a position of power as a mental health professional as if I have “always had it together”, without sharing how I got to this point? I am humbled. I am open. And I am honest about my path, in hopes that it will strengthen and encourage others. As a firsthand witness, I believe in the strength and effectiveness of counseling/therapy and strongly advocate for those struggling to take advantage of such services. 

I went from being that shy, tearful, sensitive, and abused little girl — To a resilient, intelligent, determined, unstoppable woman, and now therapist, thanks to my having sought mental health services. How will you share your journey in mental health? How has your mental health journey manifested into other parts of your life?

Comment and subscribe to stay connected, and be on the lookout for more mental health and lifestyle talk to come!

National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

Be well. ♥

–Ashlei

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6 thoughts on “Buckle Up! My Mental Health Journey

  1. loved 💜
    made me tear up just a little… beautifully written .. amazing translation of your experiences into prose without “arrogance of experience”…. keep on keeping on 🌸

    Liked by 1 person

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