Trigger warning: this post contains mentions of drug/alcohol use, suicide and self-harm
My name is Ashley. I’m 21 years old and I became blind at the age of 17 from a drug overdose. On November 1, 2016, I attempted suicide and was officially dead for 17 minutes. Ever since then, I’ve been learning how to be a blind person and cope with the reality of what I did to myself.
As the years have gone on, I have started to understand and accept myself. I have begun to realize my sole purpose in life, which I believe is to become a public/motivational speaker.
I have suffered with anxiety, depression, OCD, PTSD, and so many other mental health issues for as long as I can remember. There was never a handbook on how to cope with it when you’re 7 or 8 years old, and not many people were there to teach me how to handle my issues. A lot of the ways I have learned how to cope with my mental health was from trial and error, by myself – trying different things to see what worked best for me.
At a very young age, I found self-harm was a “positive” outlet. I also thought drugs, alcohol and cigarettes were another “positive” outlet. I later realized that they were not positive at all. As my teenage years progressed, I got worse with every birthday, every day, every year, and every stepping stone.
After my overdose, I initially thought it was my new beginning, my reboot, my fresh start, whatever you would like to call it. However, old habits die hard and I began to self-harm all over again.
Even though my life started over completely, the pain from my past life was still there. It took me a long time to just let it all go, not forget, maybe not even forgive, but to just let everything go. Then after I started letting things go, the pain loosened a little bit at a time.
Being a 17-year-old who just found out they’re blind was not easy. I struggled a lot. I stayed in bed most days.
I would never want to get up and do my therapies, I would not shower for days at a time. I was way more depressed than I ever had been, and then I figured out what was happening: I wasn’t hurting anyone but myself, which was good at first – until I realized that I was losing more people.
Knowing I was losing more people hurt more than anything, so I started trying again. I wanted people to stay in my life. I wanted people to be proud of the person I could become. I wanted to be better than before. I started doing everything that my therapists would tell me to do, in physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy.
I eventually went to Perkins School for the Blind, and that changed my life forever. I have excelled since starting Perkins. I have gone to a place I honestly never thought I could ever be.
I have done amazing things that I never thought I could because I was blind. I thought being blind would be something that would keep me from doing anything I wanted to do. Perkins made me realize that yes, I am blind, but I can still do whatever I want.
Since I first started attending I have become so much more independent. I have taken many college classes, I’ve worked multiple jobs, and I’ve done many hours of volunteer work. I have also found someone who accepts me for me and doesn’t care about my past – he only cares about my present and future.
Rocking the Road to Recovery
From the moment I found out what I did to myself, I knew I wanted to help people.
I have always been a people person – caring about people, sometimes even taking care of people. Once I understood what happened, and started to understand how I could help people, I started to try to help people.
I started out small, by writing essays in school, and then I started doing other things. Perkins has a gala event every year. Last year, I was a host and told a little bit of my story. I felt so empowered and so free that I finally said something about who I truly am. I knew that is what I wanted to do.
This past December, I did a bake sale to raise money for suicide prevention and awareness and donated it to Samaritans, Inc. The Friday before the sale, I did a presentation to a group of Perkins students. I told my story, I answered questions, and I even found someone from Samaritans, Inc. to come in and discuss some ways to prevent and be aware of suicide.
During this time, while I was in school, I was working on a podcast. NPR was doing a contest for students – I’d entered last year and didn’t win, so I tried it again because, win or lose, I did something original, something that was mine.
I told my story – no, I don’t mean I sat on the podcast for 11 or 12 minutes and talked about myself and what I did and everything. I interviewed people, I had other people on the podcast, as well as myself. It was very empowering. Again, I didn’t win, but I did get an honorable mention this time.
My story was finally getting out there, it was finally reaching people. So I decided to make a Facebook page and an Instagram page, for my cause. I call it The Phoenix: My Adventure.
On the Instagram account, I’ve posted many videos of my recovery. On the Facebook page, I have posted many videos explaining my life, some posts of different quotes from people and some YouTube videos explaining different things.
Mostly, I have been putting materials out there hoping to save someone. I don’t want what happened to me to happen to anyone else. My mission in life is to save people, by telling my story and hoping no one would repeat what I did.
So I want to be a motivational/public speaker one day, and make enough of an impact to save at least one life, hopefully more than that. Hopes and dreams will only come true if you put in hard work and effort. They don’t just happen because you want them to, they do happen but you also have to put in some work of your own. That’s all I want to do – I want my dreams to become a reality.
My dream is to talk to people, reach out to human beings, relate to them, and hopefully save them.
I have realized that once you hit rock bottom you have nowhere else to go but up: because you cannot dig through concrete.