• Ashley Paz

Choosing Me, Part I

Let's take a moment to have a conversation about taking care of ourselves. I'm going to tell a deeply personal story over the course of the next few weeks. I don't really know where to begin, but I know that there is something profound in the experience I have to share.

My prayer for her is that she always believes that she is the princess of power.

Some people won't like that I am sharing this much of my life and that's okay. I'm not sharing this for attention or sympathy. In fact, if we could avoid the whole commentary where you provide affirmation and validation that would be great. I'm doing this for me, and for the little girl in the picture above who is much bigger now and needs to hear stories like these as she navigates this world.

What I hope to accomplish from sharing my experience, is to engage in healthy dialogue about how we cope with our mental health struggles. I want you to know that it is alright to give yourself permission to ask for help when times are tough. Living in the time of this pandemic is tough. Everyone I know is going through their own personal traumas, and we need each other now more than ever. In some cases, we need more than each other. We need professional help. This is my story about getting that help.

My story starts (mostly) in early March when I fell at work. It was a freak accident caused by working with old equipment, in an old building, and not having the proper safety training. I'm the boss, it's my fault. I hit my head hard. I was disoriented for a solid five minutes, and I'm pretty sure I was blind in one of my eyes for about the same amount of time. I don't really remember anything except it hurt really bad, and I was really embarrassed because I was literally training someone on how to use this equipment without busting their head open.

I chose to not go to the hospital because I didn't want to walk into COVID central as someone with a compromised immune system. So I monitored my symptoms and sat on the sofa for the rest of the night while my husband obsessed over Dr. Google. We figured I probably had a concussion and acted accordingly by doing all of the things you are supposed to do for a concussion. Then I slept for the rest of the weekend. For several weeks my brain function was impaired with confusion, vertigo, dizziness, and fatigue.

In February I gave my board at The Woman's Club (where I work as the Executive Director) notice that I would be stepping down from my position effective May 31. I have some consulting opportunities coming up over this summer, and I knew that taking on a reform/change management position in such an established organization would be a short run. This timing provided the board enough space to recruit someone, give them the summer to onboard (when the club is closed), and get comfortable before the next club year started.

Then the entire world shut down.

This job has also been a very high-stress position which has taken a toll on my body. For the last year, I have been unsuccessfully managing chronic stress-induced inflammation caused by my Rheumatoid Arthritis. It has been a lot to manage, but I am really proud of the great work that we have accomplished with my board and the amazing team that I have developed. I know that whoever takes the reins from here will be in a great position to bring the organization to new heights. The majority of the stress from that job is that which I put on myself as a perfectionist and control freak.

Now, let's fast forward to mid-April. This was about two weeks after my head injury. I was past my deadline to have our budget completed and presented to my board, but my brain just wasn't working. The pressure mounting: working non-stop, keeping my kids on their crisis school schedule, ramping up of school board politics, worrying about my grandpa who was admitted to hospice care, realizing that a friend and employee had breached a major boundary and impending deadlines with no hope of being met. I started to go to a really dark place, and as stress was mounting my body was failing and my brain was still not operating at 100% from my concussion.

I allowed my stress and anxiety to build to a point that was dangerously unhealthy. In the early hours of April 30, I made the decision to seek treatment for my depression and anxiety. After over a week in an inpatient facility, proper medication, and enrollment in a daily partial hospitalization program I am on my way to recovery. I still have a lot of heavy work to do over the coming weeks and months, and that is work that I am committed to doing so I can be a better mom, wife, and leader. Change doesn't happen overnight, but it doesn't happen at all if you don't give yourself permission to ask for help.

It is a bittersweet moment as yesterday was my last official day as Executive Director of The Woman's Club of Fort Worth. Moving up my departure was a decision that I had to make for me and my family. They have had the position posted for a few weeks now. If you are interested you can click here to find the job description. It is really a great job, and I can't say enough wonderful things about the people. I'm going to miss that job so much, but I'm really glad to have some space to focus on myself and my family and my public responsibilities.

There is more to this story, but for now, this is what I can safely share while protecting my recovery process. We've barely scratched the surface. For a long time, I have suffered in silence. As I move forward I will be sharing more of my story, and bring you all along as I process this experience with the appropriate boundaries in place. And speaking of boundaries...

When you look at my social media, you see a happy family, happy dogs, and a well-fed life. What you see on the surface is never the full story. So many people are struggling on the inside, but that's not the happy pretty content that people want to consume. For each of the great moments documented above there are also the unseen moments of meltdowns, fights, sleeping all day, crying over homework, and even crying over work. My prayer for this journey is that my friends and followers are able to see that there is a human side to mental illness and that one doesn't have to be defined by their diagnosis.

Please be kind to yourself and assume that everyone else is doing the best that they can with the tools that they have. Peace and love to you all.