“Don’t you find that interesting? Ashley said. “You are asking the participants of this project to be open about their mental illness, yet you still keep your experience with mental illness largely a secret? I find that so interesting! Don’t you?”
Ashley always did ask the best questions while she was a journalism student at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. Eight years later, it’s obvious she hasn’t lost her touch.
Ashley’s journalistic instincts have grown so sharp that both of us grinned when I realized she had painlessly revealed the irony of me asking the Home of the Brave participants to have previously disclosed their experiences with mental illness yet I had not. Ashley’s discovery (a direct result of her continuous “search for truth”) inspired me to talk publicly about my experience with mental illness much sooner than I had planned.
I asked Ashley what “the truth” means to her. “When it comes to people, truth is seeing beneath stereotypes and assumptions. Truth is talking about things that are ignored, forgotten, misunderstood. It’s standing against injustice and standing up for human rights.”
Not surprisingly Ashley is forthright about her own experience with mental illness. “I remember waking up one morning and realizing that I hadn’t laughed for over a year… I didn’t know what it felt like to be happy. I am sure I had smiled or laughed in that time, but I couldn’t remember the authentic feeling that came with it. I had been sad for so long.”
Ashley has since learned how to manage her symptoms and genuinely believes her mental health journey – although difficult – has made her a better person. “I just want to help people!” Ashley said during one of our conversations.
I didn’t thank Ashley then, but I am thanking her now for how she helped me talk about something I’ve kept a secret for a very long time. Ashley’s story about my mental health journey was cathartic beyond words. The heartfelt responses I received from my friends, family, colleagues and students was overwhelming and deeply, deeply healing.
So thank you Ashley and I hope you never stop searching for the truth.
Silver gelatin print
Hasselblad 80mm f2.8 lens
Ilford HP5, ISO 400