This Little Light Of Mine…

After a particularly inspired set of therapy/coaching sessions over the past couple of days, I’ve found myself walking through my apartment humming this song under my breath. “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine!” But as I’ve been humming away, a question kept percolating to the surface of my thoughts – Do you always let your Light shine? That glimmer of excitement or passion in your eyes? Your brilliant and luminescent intellect? Your fiery personality or warmness of spirit? Is it always appropriate to just unapologetically let your most authentic be on full display, no matter the venue or audience? Should our Light be toned down for work, or dimmed in our personal life to downplay our strengths and talents? Do we dip our heads and hide that sparkle in our eye and dazzling smile on our face when someone praises us for something awesome we did that can be traced back directly to that singular trait that makes us unique to the Universe?

The symbolism of Light has been used throughout history as a mark of intellect, guidance, divinity, and goodness. When you take your hand off your personal dimming switch and start shining at full wattage, it is my belief that you will attract what you are putting out into the Universe. You become a guide, a safe place to land, an inspiration for people finding their way through their own darkness. And when you are facing adversity, your Light is a warm and bright spot to guide you back through the mire to the person you truly are at your most authentic level.

Now I can hear you all saying, “Ashley, I can’t be my authentic self at work! I have haters and an insecure boss!” or “Whenever I’m the best version of myself they just knock me down!” And even “My friends say I’m just ‘too much’ and have unrealistic dreams!” Well honey, just know that you’re not alone. I have suffered from a near nervous breakdown, anxiety and panic attacks, Imposter Syndrome, depression, you name it, just from trying to dim my Light so completely that I became invisible to everyone, including myself. However, I can tell you that when you are completely at ease being your authentic self, you never have to worry about dulling your inner shine just to fade into the background. And if you face resistance from people who feel the best version of You is the one where you’re relegated to being a shadowy or muted version of yourself, it might be time to seriously reconsider the company (professional and personal) that you’re keeping. Any room where you cannot be the best and brightest version of yourself is the wrong damn room! When you open yourself up fully and let your Light shine, you will attract the right people, profession, and places for you to really grow and thrive.

So? This little Light of mine? It’s time to let it shine, let it shine, let it shine! And I think it’s time you do the same for yourself. Let it shine so brightly that folks are blinded by your scintillating wit and brilliant personality 😉 As for me, I like who I am when I’m all lit up for the world to see, and I am so thankful for the chance to finally shine as bright as the stars in the night sky after so many years of hiding in the dusky backdrop of my own life. The folks and opportunities meant to be in my life will be drawn to and inspired by my warmth and illumination. Those threatened by my shine who would condemn me to a life in the fog or in a poorly-lit corner so that they aren’t in (perceived) competition with all of my awesomeness? Well they can either get with the program or be blinded by my radiance!

I’m not dimming my Light for any soul or situation on this planet again, and you don’t have to either! Be the YOU that brings you joy, and watch how brightly the dawn of change shines in your life.


Chapter Ten: Where Do I Begin…

Hello my Cheaper Than Therapy family! It has been almost a year since I last put fingertips to keyboard to connect with everyone and share my online self-counseling sessions with the Interwebs, and a LOT has happened during that time. Shyt, a lot is STILL happening as I sit here on my couch with my dog at my feet and incense burning to cleanse the energy in my apartment. I’ll bullet point the highlights below, and then when we’re caught up I’ll resume my reunion tour:

  • Ended things with a potential boo thang.
  • Got laid off from a job I hated.
  • Followed my passion for wine into the wonderful world of Wine Education via Wine and Spirits Education Trust.
  • Waited tables at a wine bar and restaurant…poorly…she ain’t meant for service, y’all.
  • Lost some weight…gained most back. Being a stress-eater suuuuucks. 😦
  • Got offered a career opportunity so amazing and out of the box that I just KNEW it had to be a blessing from God! SIKE!!! Opportunity turned into a manifestation of the Devil on Earth with some key players (not I, said the fly…) being indicted on federal fraud charges. I’m in the clear, but holy shyt that was a stressful revelation to live through.
  • Joined a mentoring organization to insert myself into circles of wealthy and positive individuals…refuse to do the work required to benefit from said organization.
  • Lost some old friends to the passage of time because our seasons had definitely run their course.
  • Still out here trying to figure out just what in theeeeee entire fcuk these last 16 months were supposed to teach me besides how close I can be pushed to my limit before I suffer a psychotic break and require a padded room and the strong tranquilizers to settle down.

Caught up? Fabulous!  Questions or comments? Save ’em…a bish it too tired. All I can do right now is figure out what is best for MYSELF at this moment, and it does not include entertaining other people’s opinions on just WTF I am doing or how I am processing all of the emotions I’ve been tasked with carrying these past many months. This is the entire purpose behind starting the blog – to get crap out of my head without having to write a check for a copay (can’t afford my actual shrink right now anyways), but I don’t have the energy to entertain people’s well-intentioned advice. I’ve literally spent the past year with this nagging sensation that I should be documenting what I’m going through to help myself and possibly help someone else, but I would always chicken out and internalize my struggles because when you put it all down and then read your life back to you, it forces you to re-live some pretty horrible moments that you tried to bury deep inside of yourself so you can keep pushing ahead. We are all going through various levels of BS and just trying to do the best we can, but I was ashamed and embarrassed and overwhelmed by everything I had going on.

There were so many moments in the past year where I just KNEW I was about to get a win – Lord knows I’ve earned one by now – but even my wins turned into even bigger losses, and I just wanted to crawl inside myself and die. Not literally die because I’m not suicidal, but I am tired. And as much as we want to put on a brave face and say how strong we are and that we can handle anything with prayer, or by drinking water, or by eating our veggies, there inevitably comes a point where you honestly don’t think you can do this shyt anymore. But since you aren’t suicidal you don’t even get the peace that comes from knowing that an ending to your pain and loneliness and exhaustion is on the horizon. There is no fucking horizon. There is no light. There is no hope. And who wants to put these thoughts on paper (so to speak) to be ridiculed or judged by other people telling you how it’s going to be ok and just keep moving forward or how God’s got this? Who wants that? And let me tell you something, I am a proud woman of Faith but my biggest daily struggle has been not to get angry with God. To keep trusting Him even when I don’t feel Him near, to be still and not feel guilty about the stillness because there is a difference between being still and doing nothing.

I feel like I am losing the ability to be happy for other people’s victories, and that is not my personality. I celebrate my friends when they accomplish new goals and victories because that’s what a non-shitty friend does. But I’m tapped out, y’all. My every waking thought is consumed with how to get out of a hole that is closing in on me with every passing day, and that leaves zero room for me to pull from my emotional well to celebrate pregnancies, weddings, promotions, new houses, new cars, etc. I just ain’t got it. And a lot of my friends didn’t know I was battling all of this because for so long I kept the worst of it confined to a small group of those people to whom I am the closest. They were, and still very much are, my backbone when I have no more strength to stand on my own. Other folks thought I was just being a bitch or something and to those folks I say to get over yourself. Seriously. If I have been acting out of character lately, a real friend would have checked in, not checked out. Cleaning out my friends list and reassigning other people to different roles in my life has probably been the only silver lining I can think of at this time. And that’s not to say that it’s anyone else’s responsibility but mine to police my emotions, but isn’t that what we have our nearest and dearest for in the first place? To check on you when you’re down? To support you sometimes just by sitting with you in silence while you cry silent tears of hopelessness, but at least you don’t have to cry alone? Would they not want the same from me if I noticed their mood changed or they because withdrawn? No? Just me? Meh.

This return to writing, my acknowledgment of the darkest of dark places I have walked through these past few months, is being done for purely selfish reasons. I. Am. Fucking. Tired. I feel like I am going to explode from the inside, and that I will be found in my own body puddle clutching a bottle of bourbon with one hand while my dog lays next to me chewing on my hair if I don’t get some of this out of my system. The anger. The rage. The pain. The hopelessness. The loneliness. The utter desperation that comes from legit not knowing what your life is going to look like in the next 30 days, and having that idea keep you up at night clutching a bottle of bourbon instead of making you hopeful for whatever new adventure is coming your way. I’ve learned a lot about myself over the past year and change, and some of it ain’t pretty. I’ve become more emotionally vulnerable and humble than I have ever been in my life, but I hate the feeling of neediness that is associated with this new evolved version of myself. I hate needing help. And I gotta tell ya…I need help. Lots of help. But I am used to helping others and then helping myself. This is new. And I don’t like it.

I’ve got some work to do in the next few weeks, and as uncomfortable as these past few months have been I have a feeling that between now and October 1 it is about to get a lot worse. And I am afraid I won’t make it. I am afraid I will crumble and break and fall apart and be too defeated to keep fighting. But as much love and support as I get from my friends and family, I am all I really have and am the only one who can pull myself out of the darkness. I don’t have anyone who can take this burden off my shoulders and carry me while I rest and regroup. This is on me emotionally, even while I’ve been humbled to the point of accepting tangible help from outside individuals. I think it actually adds to my burden because I feel like I owe them for their generosity, and that added debt tacked on to my current situation feels like a weight is sitting on my chest.

How do you pull it together? How do you know that everything will be ok? What does ok even look like anymore? What do you do when you reach a crossroads and things haven’t worked themselves out? How the fcuk do you recover?

I know I’m not the only person going through some horrendous growing pains right now, so hopefully this post makes you feel less lonely. It won’t make you feel better to know that other people are suffering like you are right now…but maybe it will help with the deafening roar of failure that is draining whatever positivity you might have left to keep fighting.

And we must keep fighting. What other choice do we really even have? And it’s that revelation that makes me the most tired out of everything. And that says a lot about how tired I truly am.


Chapter Nine – Uncomfortable Truths

Some of the people I have spoken with over the past few days have been very dismissive of the apparent avalanche of sexual assault/harassment stories that have come to the forefront in recent months, but I think it finally occurred to me why that is.

Women- you’re dismissive because if you think back far enough, you’ll probably realize there have been times in your life where you were on the receiving end of an unwanted assault. You might not have known it at the time, but something didn’t feel ok about whatever you were experiencing- a hug that lasted a little too long; an inappropriate joke from your creepy uncle or family friend; being felt up by a cute guy at a party that made you feel gross when society said it was supposed to be a compliment. Maybe even sexual partners who did not rape you but applied so much pressure in the moment that you felt guilty if you didn’t say yes. We’ve all heard the lies men tell when they want to get between your thighs – If I don’t cum I’ll get sick/blue balls; Why are you being a tease?; We don’t have to do anything, just lay here naked with me. And we do because we’ve been conditioned to think that if we end up in these scenarios then it’s our fault for whatever might happen. We asked for it. Men can not control themselves. Boys will be boys. You look back on your own experiences, and now you might be feeling the dread of knowing that even if you had spoken up or out that it would have been *your* reputation that was ruined. Your family that would have turned on you. You start to remember all the times when something didn’t feel right or when something was done to you and for the first time you might feel like a victim. You might feel guilty for not reporting it. Guilty for giving permissions to men for their bad behavior for your entire life and not saying or doing anything about it. You might have some compassion for the women who are speaking out now, or you might feel resentment because you know you’ll never publicly name or shame the person who took little pieces of yourself from you that you’ll never get back. So you dismiss the accusers because you think they need to either get over themselves, get over the trauma, or you’re jealous that their voices will be heard on a level yours never will.

Men- some of you are dismissing these claims because if you think back you might have actually been “that guy” to someone in your past. Maybe you got too handsy at a party? Maybe you remember a time at the movies when you slipped your date’s hand down your pants and held it there while she tried pulling it back without making noise in the theater to draw attention to the issue. Or maybe you remember when you and a group of your guys took turns having sex with a girl at a party while she and everyone else was drunk and watching because that’s just what raucous young men do. It wasn’t rape if you were having sex with someone and you and your friend switched out from behind and the girl didn’t consent to a different partner. It wasn’t an assault when you grabbed the girls breasts or slapped her ass when walking past you and your group of friends while waiting for the bell to ring for next period. It was just a joke when you locked yourself in a room with a girl and pressured her into a sex act while she performed it with tears running down her face at a party. And it was hilarious when at school the next day you told everyone she was a slut and her reputation was ruined for high school and sullied for college. None of these behaviors from your past count as assaults to you because it was just fun and games. Kids being kids. Boys being boys. You hadn’t even thought about it in 10, 20, 30 years and it certainly doesn’t make you a monster. It doesn’t make you *like the men you hear about and see on TV.*

Parents – while going through all of the above feelings about your own pasts and the actions endured and performed, you realize you’re perpetuating the cycle with your own kids. You teach girls how not to get raped, but don’t teach your sons not to rape in the first place. You tell a girl that she was asking for *it* based on how she was dressed, and you dismiss the sexually deviant acts of young boys and men as “boys being boys.” It’s normal. It’s how it always has been. That’s why raising boys is deemed “easier” than girls. That’s why girls get the lectures and the curfews and the daddies threatening their dates with shot guns. Dads know how these boys are being brought up, so while they’re thinking of all the things that the date could do to his daughter that would drive him to murder, the conversations he’s having with his son before a date don’t have anything to do with respecting a girl’s space or her body. He’s beaming with pride at the idea of his son scoring and slipping him a condom so he doesn’t get the little “slut” knocked up. Y’all are upset because you’ve realized that you’re raising the next generation of predators under your own roof, but you are also too afraid to take a different stance because of how sexual deviancy has been normalized. You’ve probably also realized that some of the behaviors from friends and family are inappropriate towards your kids, and now you feel guilty for bringing them around but you know they “didn’t meant anything” and “that’s just how they are.” Uncle Jimmy has always been a little handsy. Your friend from work was checking out your daughter, but she shouldn’t be wearing those shorts around the house anyway. You make your daughter dress in layers when she leaves the house to make her as invisible as possible to members of the opposite sex because you “know how men are.”

None of this is normal. None of this is ok. Not all victims will tell our stories out of shame or fear or embarrassment. Men won’t own up to their behaviors because they don’t view themselves the same as the men being dragged through the media. If the assault wasn’t violent then there wasn’t ever really an assault, right? If it was as bad as the girl says, she would have spoken out earlier. Can’t she take a joke? You know how boys can be with their hormones. She was dressed like a whore in the first place, what did she think was going to happen?

That’s why y’all are so upset. And that’s why this cycle won’t end.


Chapter Eight – Battlefield of Perfectionism

There are times when I honestly feel the root of mental illness, depression, anxiety, etc. is the overwhelming need to be perfect. Perfection can mean different things to different people, and I will even go out on a limb and say that not all perfectionists crave perfection in every aspect of their lives (raises hand and looks around the room for validation). I have only really wanted to be perfect in those tasks and deeds at which I excelled at naturally. I wanted to be the best soccer player on the field, the smartest kid in the class, the best writer in college, and the best employee at my job. I managed to make it all the way to college feeling pretty perfect about my accomplishments, and had zero doubt in my mind that whatever I wanted in life was mine for the taking. I had never really failed before. I had never allowed myself to even entertain the idea of failing because I am a Harrell and Harrells don’t fail. We piss excellence, kick ass and take names, exude grace and confidence in everything we do. But we damn sure do not fail. Sounds ridiculous to me now, but these were the phrases used to govern my life and I never had a reason to believe otherwise. And then adulthood happened.

I dropped out of law school, moved to the other side of the country, and began working for the first time in my life. Ever. And it was horrible…but I always felt it would be temporary because I piss excellence and there was no way that I was going to stay in my rut for one day longer than necessary. This too would pass, etc. And even though I hated my job, I wanted to be the best at it to prepare myself for the day I would get the opportunity to take my perfection and apply it to something I was passionate about – something I truly loved so that I could become even *more* perfect that I was before. It was a brass ring that I chased year after year, job after job, city after city, but I was never ever ever happy. I blamed myself for my failures while holding those people who were doing *better* than myself up on a resentful pedestal, even if it was just a facade. I was jealous of their facade and the fact that they even had the ability to pretend that everything was perfect, because on an almost daily basis I just could not get my shit together enough to pretend I was as perfect as I longed to be professionally or personally.

The need, the almost obsession, to be at a certain level of your own imagination can be soul-crushing and immobilizing at the same time. The older you get and the more divorced from your dreams that you become, you make sacrifices and excuses for why you aren’t happy and even start to think that tolerance for your situation is a decent substitute, at least in the interim. I am guilty of that on an almost daily basis. The industry that I managed to land in after four years of college and a year of law school was something that I looked down on. I felt it was beneath me in almost every capacity. I did not think the people with whom I worked or who worked *for* me were beneath me, but I hated the industry I was in with such passion that it became the ruler with which I measured my own failings. And I resented the shit out of myself. I hated that I did not have an immediately identifiable passion to pursue on the side which would deliver me from my hell of mediocrity. I HATED most of my bosses who I felt were intellectually inferior to me, and more than a few of them had the emotional intelligence of a scorpion. I felt trapped by bills and responsibilities and a lifestyle to which I was accustomed. And all of these feelings of failure and rage and resentment built up inside of me year after year after year, becoming more pronounced with each passing birthday or major milestone in the life of a friend or loved one.

With these feelings came an extreme bout of anxiety and moderate depression. More anxiety than depression for me, but my perfectionist mentality made me shun asking for help and I turned my nose up at medicating the problem. I didn’t need a pill to make my life suck less, I needed to click my heels three times and land in the career of my dreams. Only then, when I was making the money I wanted in the field that I was perfectly suited to be in, would I allow myself to consider what comes next. Only once I was perfect would I concentrate on my health, traveling, dating, or on increasing my volunteer presence in my community. How could I go help out the disenfranchised when *EYE* was suffering too?!

I wasn’t sleeping. I wasn’t going out with friends. Mama loved herself about a bottle of Chardonnay each evening before bedtime. I was suffering from blinding migraines, tightness in my chest, an irregular heartbeat, and my hands were going numb. And the more my anxiety manifested itself in the physical and the more doctor’s appointments I went to in order to confirm that I wasn’t actually dying, the more shit my boss gave me (in my head) for leaving work early or taking the day off. He never actually said anything to me, but I was convinced that he was judging me and doubting my commitment to my job (that I hated) and plotting on a way to get rid of me (scorpion) before I had a chance to liberate myself from Hell and move on to my destiny!! I just had no idea what that “something” actually was, how to find out, how to afford making any major life changes while living in one of the most expensive cities in America and maintaining my autonomy. You know…the pesky little details. Sometimes life makes those decisions for you, and that temporary loss of control is exhilarating and horrifying at the same time. Perfectionist = control freak.

I cling so desperately to the idea of perfection because with that perfect life would come the illusion of stability (IT IS ALL AN ILLUSION!!!). This yearning for perfection, and as an extension my desire for stability, has made me operate from a place of fear for a very long time. I would rather be miserable with a secure source of income than take a step back (emotionally and financially), look deep inside myself to discover who I am without a job title behind my name or other people’s expectations having a predominant place in my head, discover what I am truly supposed to be doing with myself, and figure out how to make my days on this planet extraordinary and satisfying. And allllll of this added up over time gives you the glorious mess of an imperfect human being that I am today.

In my short 35 years on this planet, I have experienced a lot. I have had some amazing good times, but have also suffered some soul-snatching losses and defeats. Consistently I have been carrying guilt and pain and the burdens of imperfection for many, many years. I have measured my reality against my own expectations for my life, found myself lacking, and then consistently beat myself up emotionally for it. I fight a paralyzing fear of worthlessness on a daily basis while still being expected to show up and excel at whatever is in front of me when all I want to do is scream and cry and fade into the shadows if my star can’t shine as brightly as I feel it is meant to. And what I feel is not unique to just myself. These overwhelming feelings haunt the minds and hearts of millions of people in this country each day, but we are just now getting comfortable talking about and trying to normalize how we as humans process our emotions.

There are so many people out there fighting an all-out war on a daily basis, and their number one opponent on the battlefield is themselves. Some people think that depressed people or people suffering from anxiety are always the people who are “emo” dressed in black, sitting alone crying all the time, or who are just down-in-the-dumps. If that is all they care to understand about mental health issues, then it’s easy to ignore the symptoms in themselves or in the people they love. If a person is sad they are depressed, but if a person comes to work every day and can tell a funny joke or smile in a picture for Instagram then they are OK, right? Then they act shocked when that person takes their own life or otherwise hurts themselves with addiction or mutilation, saying things like “they were always so happy,” or “I guess you never know what’s going on with a person.” So as a parting gift for reading this post, I am going to try and post some words of wisdom for all parties so that there can be understanding, self-love, and compassion moving forward.

To my fellow perfectionists or anyone suffering from depression or anxiety my advice is the one I give myself on a daily basis: Forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for not being whatever you think your version of perfect or accomplished or gifted or blessed looks like, and try really hard to think of the people and experiences that bring you joy. Try and find peace there so that you can navigate around the noise in your own head and come out on the other side with a clarity and renewed sense of direction and purpose so you aren’t frozen in place forever. And speak with a professional if you aren’t comfortable speaking with close friends or family. An objective opinion is often helpful for showing you that while you are valid in not being content with where you are, you do have the power to change your circumstances. And if for some reason you cannot immediately change your circumstances, it might give you the strength to change you attitude about them. Perfectionism is the driving force of greatness! Do not apologize for having a high opinion of yourself and what you are meant to accomplish! But find peace in accepting where you are in this present moment, and use those experiences as tools to add to your arsenal so that when your time arrives you are a force of nature that cannot be stopped. Remind people why storms are named after people and leave your mark on the world in a way where people will speak about you with admiration for your talents and your compassion for others fighting the same battles that tried to take you out.

To my readers who do not suffer from mental illness I say the following: Do not dismiss the feelings of someone who is literally fighting themselves for their life simply because you do not understand the burden that they carry. It is not your job to give them “tough love” or remind them that there are people who are worse off than them in the world to try and provide perspective. That shit does NOT work, and they will close off the part of themselves that they allowed to become vulnerable until the cancer destroys them from the inside. Remind them they are loved and valuable and encourage them to follow their passions (or in my case, discover what their passions are), but then don’t follow it up with some patronizing sentiment that is really designed to make you feel better for helping them rather than actually being of any real assistance to the person in need. Remind them that where they are right now is a stepping stone that they can pick up and add to their personal or professional foundations to make themselves stronger for whatever is coming their way next. But do not make them feel weak for baring their souls to someone with whom they felt comfortable enough to let their walls down. Be kind. Encourage forgiveness of self. Love them for who they are right now, not for who you or they think they will become. And if you are truly scared for their health and safety, do not rest until you have gotten them the professional help they need. You would rather they be upset with you for a few months or years than cry over their absence if the burden got too heavy for them to carry by themselves.

Love yourself. Love each other. Tomorrow is a better day.



Chapter Seven – When is Karma a curse and when is your curse a blessing?

Hello CTT family! I hope everyone is gearing up to have a safe and fun Memorial Day weekend! Let’s take a moment to acknowledge the true meaning of the holiday before diving into BBQ’s and swimming pools, because we wouldn’t have what we have today if it weren’t for the sacrifices of the brave men and women of our military.

Well now that *that* has been covered, onto today’s topic at hand – when the hell is something your Karma or when is it your blessing? Can something bad that happened to you be the Karmic bitchslap of when you did someone dirty, but also turn around and become your biggest blessing?

This isn’t a long and deep post today, this was literally a thought I had this morning while cooking breakfast. They say when God closes a door that he opens a window, but is it God *and* Karma if that door actually hits you in the ass on the way out? If you are currently suffering and it’s darkest before your dawn, how does the Universe balance out lifting you back onto your feet with the rage you feel knowing someone else is delighting in your misery? Do you lessen your blessings and prolong your curse if you’re waiting for Karma to slap the taste out of their mouth too?

I have had a lot going on lately and I am sure when I have come through the other side I will share it with you all, but for now these are the questions that I need answers to at this present time.

Ok that note I hope everyone has a wonderful and safe weekend! Catch up soon!