Feature Friday: Ashley

My friend Ashley and I have known each other for 7 years now. We became friends by bonding over having sent boys on missions (neither of us married them ha) and then when we both developed illnesses around the same time, without really knowing what the other had been through, we eventually bonded over that too. She has been a rock in my life and I am so grateful for her.
She graduated from BYU with a Bachelor’s in Psychology. She is currently living in West Virginia because her husband is in his third year at West Virginia Med School. She has two beautiful children, a girl, and a boy. She amazes me with her kindness and abilities to be a great wife and mother. Continue reading for her story…

I’ve been a worrier as long as I can remember. I’ve always been cautious and one to calculate risk in almost every situation. Still, I was outgoing and adventurous. I had a real belief that I could impact the world for the better. The summer after my freshman year of college, I spent 6 weeks in Belize on a humanitarian trip. I organized and carried out projects, cliff jumped, and explored miles of Mayan caves and ruins. A few months after returning home, I got engaged to the man of my dreams. This was everything I had ever hoped for becoming reality, and this is when my anxiety began to set in.
I became acutely aware of how much I now had to lose. I had found the man I wanted to spend eternity with. But what if I lost him? What if I died, and he fell in love with someone else? I started to notice every ache and pain in my body and my mind jumped to deadly conclusions. My headache was brain cancer. My abdominal pain was appendicitis. I received blessings, which brought reassurance, but the anxious thoughts remained invasive. As the wedding approached, my symptoms worsened. I began experiencing GI symptoms and was certain I had a rare case of colon cancer. I went to doctors but didn’t take much comfort in their diagnoses of IBS. I was certain they just didn’t understand the severity of my symptoms. At the same time, I didn’t want further testing, because I didn’t trust my ability to cope with a terminal diagnosis. I received additional blessings and was able to find a measure of peace and hope. We were married and enjoyed a perfect day and a dream-come-true honeymoon. When we returned home, my anxiety continued to progress. That fall was when the shooting in the Aurora movie theater occurred. It paralyzed me. I experienced what can only be compared to PTSD, though I hadn’t actually been there. The scene played in my mind over and over.
Suddenly, nowhere was safe. This was my lowest point. I only went to school and home. I couldn’t go anywhere alone – not the grocery store, the mall, a restaurant. I could barely even go with my husband. I was on constant high-alert, poised to run or hide at any moment. My physical symptoms also worsened. I felt sure that I had little time left to live. I remember collapsing on the floor one day, sobbing to the Lord, finally telling him that if it was his will to take me, then I would accept it.
With the support of my dear husband and my family, I started to improve. I took small steps, which felt like huge victories. The next spring, however, I had a miscarriage. I was devastated. I felt that finally when I had trusted that everything would be okay, the opposite had happened. That year was particularly rough. I experienced an unexpected marital trial that crushed me. This time, instead of wanting to hold onto life, I started feeling apathetic to it. I didn’t care anymore.
I attended therapy and spoke with my local church leaders. I began to understand myself better. I learned tools for how to adjust my thinking patterns. I learned to look at all the options instead of discounting all but the worst. Things improved.
I got pregnant unexpectedly and the pregnancy was very difficult. From a suspected miscarriage to bed rest to preeclampsia, the pregnancy was full of complications and fear. But then my baby came. She was perfect and she gave me a motivation I hadn’t experienced before. This baby needed me to heal. I didn’t want her to live in a world she feared. I wanted her to see the joy and the beauty that surrounded her. I wanted her to see the blessings that were so abundant in our lives. I wanted her to be happy.
We moved from Utah to West Virginia that year, which was very difficult and anxiety provoking; but also a tremendous blessing. It pushed me to do things I don’t think I would have had the strength to do otherwise. It forced me into independence again. It forced me into the world. I told new friends of my struggles with this mental illness and they accepted me with kindness and support. My marriage improved dramatically. We became an inseparable team.
I have still experienced some pretty severe lows. Toward the birth of my son, I experienced nightly panic attacks that I would die in labor and that my sweet 2-year-old daughter wouldn’t understand where her mom went and why she wasn’t here to care for her. She wouldn’t remember me. I fear for the safety of my husband and children. I hate that I can’t be in complete control of their safety and health. One of the most frustrating aspects of my anxiety is that often it is the happiest moments that are the most triggering. When I have a sweet conversation with my husband, I envision him feeling that way for another woman. When I play with my children, I can see them growing up calling someone else, “Mom” or I imagine the immense grief I would experience if I lost one of them. I realize that none of these fears make sense in the context of my beliefs. I have a firm testimony in the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Plan of Salvation. I believe that I am sealed to my family for eternity. But it doesn’t take it away.
I hate what anxiety has done to me. I miss the person I used to be. I want to be that adventurous, fun-loving, outgoing, kind, faithful, optimistic person I once was. I want to be out in the world, helping others; not trapped inside my house. Though I miss who I once was, I retain hope for who I can become. I know that I am becoming stronger, more faithful, more confident, and more prepared to serve the Lord. I believe that eventually, I’ll be able to impact the world in a greater way than had I never experienced this trial.
My new mantra has become, “Live in the Moment.” My life is full of so many beautiful, blissful moments. I strive to be present. I have this illness, but I am so, so happy. I feel like the most blessed woman alive. I love my family. I love my life. I love my Savior and am so grateful for this trial. This trial requires that I put my full trust in Him EVERY SINGLE DAY. I pray constantly. I make a conscious effort to see the good all around me, and there is SO much good to see. There are kind cashiers and receptionists. There are crisp fall leaves and beautiful sunsets. There are laughing babies, story times, and tender hugs. Sometimes I feel that because I know the dark side of things, I know the light even greater. I feel such a depth of love and joy and gratitude. It is truly glorious. I don’t expect this anxiety to go away, maybe ever. But I don’t plan on allowing it to stop me from doing the work the Lord needs me to do or from experiencing the joy that can be mine.
Be still, my soul: The Lord is on thy side;
With patience bear thy cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change, he faithful will remain.
Be still my soul: Thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Thru thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
Be still, my soul: Thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as he has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: The waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while he dwelt below.
Be still, my soul: The hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: When change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.
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