Phenomenal You Series: Meet Ashley of Don’t Die Afraid
Throughout the month I will be featuring different creatives using their platforms to encourage the conversation around mental health! First up is Ashley of Don’t Die Afraid.
Ashley! It’s a pleasure to have you on YS.com and a part of this series! Tell the YS.com clan a little bit about yourself!
Hey y’all! I am Ashley Freeman, the founder of Don’t Die Afraid, an inspirational blog that empowers individuals to realize that their circumstances don’t hinder their future, instead they are stepping stones to success to reveal how resilient a person truly is. I achieve this through motivational speeches, content creation, and mental health advocacy.
I love shrimp, adult coloring books, and call me old school but I prefer talking on the phone over text messages.
Now we that we have intros out of the way, let’s talk about your Blog name, “Don’t Die Afraid.” What’s the story behind it?
I had four successful internships at NBC so when I graduated from college my dream was to join their Page Program. Pages complete a year rotating through different assignments at NBC and then once they finish they are eligible to apply for full time positions. It’s one of the most prestigious media training programs. That dream didn’t come to fruition and since my life wasn’t going down the path I planned, I became uncomfortable, nervous, and afraid. For the majority of my life, I was able to choose my classes, friends, and extra-curricular activities. School gives us a false sense of “control” over everything. However, graduation pops that bubble and makes you realize, you don’t have control.
One day I decided to get out of my funk and start thinking positive! I was interested in other things besides NBC, so I branched out and applied to other jobs. Not living my dream life made me believe that I was failing. I realized my fear of failure was preventing me from giving the world my all so instead of waiting for someone else to give me my “big journalism break”, I created my own platform, Don’t Die Afraid. My motto was, “Don’t deprive the universe of your amazing contributions because you died afraid.” It’s my own personal reminder
You’re very open about your ups and downs, but I’m sure this wasn’t always the case. Who did you first open up to about your Mental Health, and what was their initial reaction? Have you ever been embarrassed to admit that you’ve experienced depression and/or anxiety?
My ex-best friend, Rajin was the first person I opened up to about my mental health. Even though we were both pretty young at the time, I was 12 and he was 13, he really knew how to support me. His initial reaction was to embrace me and my experiences. He only lived 4 blocks away so every time I needed a shoulder to cry on, a hug, or just someone to listen- he said no problem and would appear at my door five minutes later. Rajin also found comfort in sharing his own mental health battles with me so it was easy for us to understand each other.
Years later, I shared suicidal thoughts with another best friend and she didn’t receive it well. Her reaction was to start talking about how her boyfriend made her mad. I felt like she didn’t care because my issue was life or death, so hers seemed minuscule. Since I couldn’t find support in her, it caused me to shut down and not share with people. My peers knew me as the happy girl who spreads cheer to everyone around her. So I’ve never been embarrassed to admit that I was dealing with depression, it just didn’t fit the personality that I outwardly portrayed, so instead I bottled it up and dealt with everything on my own.
Something that drew me to your mission and well, YOU, were a couple of tweets on how you were tired of our society tending to our physical ailments, and not the conditions we couldn’t see. Tell us, which aspect of the Mental Health stigma bothers you the most?
The aspect that bothers me the most is when people think that mental illness is something you can just “get over”. That type of attitude minimizes the impact of a mental illness. This prevents people from seeking treatment because they are convinced it is a personal flaw they have to self-treat. When you see a person in a wheelchair taking the elevator, you don’t tell him/her – “Get over it, stand up and take the stairs, it’s all in your head.” However, those are the responses we give when someone shares that their mental illness is hindering them from doing something. Since these conditions don’t always manifest themselves in tangible ways, we fail to understand the weight of them.
You host a #MentalHealthCheckIn every week, posing questions while sharing inspiration and positivity. How can we as a society continue to encourage the conversation and “makeover” Mental Health? What would you like to see?
We can give mental health a makeover by being honest with ourselves and others. It’s really that simple. I’m authentic with my audience during my #MentalHealthCheckIn. I make an Instagram video telling them what I’m dealing with that week, how I’m going to overcome it, and then I ask them to tell me how their spirit is doing. That realness allows them to feel safe. When people feel safe, they tell the truth and then connections are made. When people respond saying that they are having a rough week, others send them encouragement. I call my supporters my Resilient Family because that is exactly who they are.
I would like to see more people creating communities where people feel safe enough to have these uncomfortable discussions. We have lost our sense of family, back in the day people knew all their neighbors and really had a bond. Now those connections are gone and we are more focused on online communities, therefore those need to provide strong connections too.
I usually ask participants to give their 16-year-old self some words of encouragement, but this time around, let’s switch it up. Think back to your lowest moment, your first anxiety attack, etc. What words of encouragement would you have wanted to hear back then?
Ohh I like this question. My first intense series of anxiety attacks began in February 2016. It was right before I graduated with my Masters. Those fears about the future I felt when I graduated undergrad were creeping back up. The anxiety attacks persisted daily for several months. When I was on the subway, I would feel a strong urge to pee and my heart would start racing. If I could whisper in my ear back then, I would say, “Ashley take a deep breath, find someone on the train and create a story about their life. You know you love people watching. Once you’re finished read the newspaper. You are going to get to your destination safely without any accidents, trust me. Transition periods suck I know, but God is going to provide a way like He always does. When you need help, don’t be afraid to ask for it. Your tribe is here for you.”
Where can we find you (websites, social media, etc.)?
Thank you for having me on YS.com, I admire your advocacy and transparency so to be on here is an honor. I can be found all over the internet at the following places:
- Website: www.DontDieAfraid.com
- Twitter: www.Twitter.com/DontDieAfraid
- Instagram: www.Instagram.com/DontDieAfraid
- Facebook: www.Facebook.com/DontDieAfraid
- YouTube: www.YouTube.com/DontDieAfraid
- Periscope: www.periscope.tv/DontDieAfraid