#myunpolishedjourney stories are stories individuals share about their journey with mental illness and recovery. Interested in sharing? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tell us a little about yourself.
Hello beautiful soul. My name is Ashlyn Means. I live in Chicago and currently attend Columbia College where I study fashion business. However, I’m originally from a tiny, tiny town called Olney IL. Did I mention it was small? Journey said it best, “Just a small town girl, living in a lonely world!” I’m learning how to navigate the big city of Chicago and cope in an industry that’s based on societies belief of a beautiful woman. I’m currently in recovery from an eating disorder that’s been following me around for 11 years. However, I’m more than that. I dog walk, practice yoga, listen to music with friends, pretend that I’m Kanye West and love spending time with my supportive family. I’m extremely introverted. I need time alone to recharge to function, but I love having meaningful friendships. I care. I have so much empathy for the world, animals and sometimes even inanimate objects. I try to be there for everyone at all times. I can stretch myself so thin that I have nothing left to give to myself. Part of my recovery is learning to be there for myself as much as I am for other people. Along with my amazing recovery team, I learned the tools to nourish my body and my soul.
What has your mental health journey been like?
My mental health journey has been far from linear. It’s looked a lot like one of those connect-the-dot puzzles, to say the least! It started with an eating disorder when I was in 8th grade. I would throw away my lunch at school, while also lacking support at home at the time to oversee my meals or lack of meals I would skip. Over time, the eating disorder held hands with my other dear friends, depression and anxiety. Depression looks different for everyone. My form of depression is seclusion. Anxiety kept me from forming friendships. Anxiety made me believe that no one liked me – that I wasn’t worth liking. As the years went on my papa (father figure/best buddy in the whole wide world), passed away from cancer. I was devastated. I stopping eating altogether for months. I didn’t talk to any friends, broke up with my long-term boyfriend and sunk into the deepest bout of seclusion yet. It wasn’t until a very dear friend told me about the struggles that she dealt with and recovery that I began to feel a sense of hope. She told me about a facility that offered eating disorder help. It was then that I took a long look in the mirror and realized, I could be skin and bones and I would still hate myself. I needed help, and more importantly, I couldn’t do it alone. In March of 2016, I started my recovery journey.
What is the biggest obstacle you’ve faced in pursuing recovery?
My biggest obstacle I face in recovery is eating with family and friends. I’m learning that food can be spontaneous – it doesn’t have to be a scary thing. In fact, food can be a place of enjoyment and connection with those around us. I can get pizza with my friends, get a flavored coffee with a date or have a helping of my grandma’s delicious food. I’m slowly learning to let go of my need for control, let my hair down and eat a damn chocolate cupcake with my best friend.
What helps you maintain recovery?
What helps me stay in recovery is the way my body feels. NEWS FLASH: it feels good to be nourished! It feels a whole lot better than being grouchy all the time because I’m starving, seeing spots because I’m about to pass out and walking across a room only to become dizzy! I stay in recovery for me. I love the stability that my body offers me now that I’m loving and taking care of it. My creative outlet is fashion, so it feels good to be able to go out and try things on without it ending in tears.
What advice do you have for someone in the early stages of recovery?
My advice for someone in the early stages of recovery is there is no problem too small. You matter. If you feel like you need help, don’t assume that “you illness is not severe enough yet” or “you don’t look like you’re sick enough to get help.” You deserve help the first moment you have a doubt in your mind that you’re not worth taking care of. Feel your pulse. Your pulse is proof that you have a purpose on this earth.