Ashley Ruhlig

@ashley-ruhlig | contributor
Hello! I'm Ashley, and I am so blessed to be able to share my story with you. I have always tried to find ways to be relatable, encouraging, and simply spread hope for others who are walking similar roads as I am and have. I am in love with the Lord, and He has created something beautiful out of me and the story He has given me. I thrive on HIs grace and on really good cups of coffee day in and day out.
Ashley Ruhlig

Depression Is Like an Ink Spill Surrounding Me

Depression is like an ink spill. It’s is like walking through a place of vivid color. There’s sunshine. Crisp fall leaves of vibrant reds, oranges, yellows.. and all is peaceful and full of subtle beauty. Suddenly though it’s like someone spilled ink on the pretty picture you’re in — all around the edges, and it’s slowly soaking up toward you from all directions. A spill may be because you’re feeling inadequate. A spill because you weren’t the best wife, mother, friend that day. A spill because Mother’s Day is around the corner and you’ve done nothing about it. A spill because you got the 6-month call to go get your MRI check up. Most of the time though, spills are there for absolutely no reason you can come up with. But they seep in towards you, covering up what’s vivid around you, and it’s completely overwhelming and debilitating. If that weren’t enough, you begin to realize that it’s only your world, or the piece of paper you’re on, that is being soaked in the ink, and from what you can tell, everyone still sees everything in their pictures just fine. Everyone else’s world still continues (at least from your eyes). It gets overwhelming as you try to clean up the mess around you. It takes so much time. It feels isolating. It feels heavy and empty and lonely, but you can’t express it. The mess feels completely stupid. It feels like you put it there yourself, yet you don’t 100 percent know how it got there. It just crept in. The why is evasive. For the people who hide their depression, it’s easily overlooked. Some may not realize they’re drowning in the ink. So many try to pull themselves out without wanting to put on that they’re stuck. Usually because they don’t know how to talk about it. People want to know why you’re feeling the way you feel so they can fix it, but in raw reality, you can’t express the reasons you’re suddenly drowning again. Every time I hit this rut, I am clueless about how to deal with it. I am clueless about how long it will last. I am clueless how to express that it’s not necessarily because of a situation or something that happened. I am clueless about how to help it. Every time I hit this rut I feel incredibly stupid. There’s a perception I get of what others must think. Maybe some people just roll their eyes thinking “here she goes again.” Sometimes I wonder if it’s perceived as attention lust, when in reality it’s my way of trying not to isolate. I wonder if people think, “well, goodness, she is so blessed and people show their love to her all the time, so what in the world is her problem?” Or “Why can’t she have more faith. I thought she was strong in faith.” These are my inaccurate and unfair perceptions, and I think those are reasons I pull away. For people who don’t even put on the front, I can for sure see why. The thing is, the mess takes time. No one can fix it for them. It’s merely a work through it, wake up and feel like you can see again, type of thing, at least for me. Depression is weird, and it’s not talked about enough. There needs to be a safe place for it. Perhaps this is a vulnerable place to be, but it needs to happen.

Community Voices

Isolation.
Right now it feels ridiculous. I'm 33. I know that people older than me are at work today, and it feels completely awkward.
It's nice, but it's going to get lonely quick.
It's necessary, but it's feeling very over-dramatic.
It's recommended, even mandated, but super irritating.
It's letting others care for you when you know you are perfectly capable. (I hate this.)
Honestly, this is chronic illness though. Isolation. Lonely. Over-dramatic. Irritating...
It's living with something you can't explain fully.
It's having restrictions that feel stupid.
It's trying to remember what you need when you feel like everyone else is judging you.
It's avoiding a sickness that is no big deal for others, but could ruin your life in one swoop.
It's a constant anxiety and worry and isolation....
Isolation is complicated and simple in one.
Day one has been easy and so, incredibly hard too.
I'm not a fan, because I'm 33.

Ashley Ruhlig

Depression Makes Me Feel 'Ugly'

In the middle of a depressive episode, I feel so ugly. Not necessarily physically ugly, but mean, emotional, unapproachable, short. It takes so much energy to tuck that ugliness down because I feel, deep down, it’s me, not them. The episodes come about at the most random times. Yesterday, I hung out with friends and had such a great time, but today, I feel like I can’t face people. Usually I can identify my episodes, and know when they are coming, based on life and tiredness, but many times they sneak up and leave me suddenly not wanting to engage in anything. Spring, summer, winter, fall — doesn’t matter. Though late winter seems to be a safe bet for me. However, it seems like each season there’s a week, or weeks when I feel low. These episodes leave me feeling unworthy, incapable, sloppy, worthless, hollow… I cry all the time, over everything, usually alone so people won’t ask. I get angry easier, I get irritated faster, I snap more quickly, I leave a path of destruction that is still there when I come out of it, causing even more anxiety and clean up in the end. The people who stick around and refuse to question my faith are the ones I keep. They don’t throw in a “love God more and things will be different.” They don’t shame me with “you should haves” and “you need to’s.” They get it. Every assumption made about me is more vivid. Every word means more. My body hurts more physically. Every action is harder. Leaving the house is near impossible, and I simply carry on out of obligation and responsibility, but those things are heavy and hard suddenly. I either can’t care, don’t care or care too much in the middle of it. I feel like I need to just be with someone, but I don’t want to be around anyone. I want to talk about it, but I feel like the “shame phrases” will be thrown out, causing more guilt, so I don’t talk about it, which makes everything so much worse and plummets me down darker roads. I don’t know how to articulate it. Nothing causes it, yet everything causes it. Everything is irritating. I just want to sleep all day, but I lay awake all night. I replay conversations. I hope I didn’t bite too hard. I wonder if I bit hard enough sometimes. I worry about what people think about me. I worry about what God thinks about me. This list of “feelings” could go on and on. I post this here with some anxiety. But I also post it with awareness. Before I actually started experiencing depression, I was absolutely clueless about it. In fact, I was one that believed if you “trusted God more,” or if you “fixed your life,” or if you “were thankful enough,” depression wouldn’t be a factor. I was so wrong. It isn’t selective based on your faith, or gratitude, or life situations. There is no way to explain it fully because it is so inexpressible. But please, love those with these episodes. Show some grace to them. Many times they are left in a puddle of shame after getting through a time of depression, and many times they know it. It isn’t an excuse, but it’s a fact, at least for me.

Ashley Ruhlig

The Kind of People You Need on Your Congenital Heart Disease Journey

There are times in congenital heart disease (CHD) world when you have appointment after appointment, test after test, question after question (and many are not answered) – and you just start to keep these things to yourself. It’s not because you don’t care to share it with friends and family, and even immediate family sometimes, but it’s just that you can’t bear to see the worry, the panic, the concern creep across another face another time. You suddenly feel like you are not only dealing with your own worry and emotions, but now you have to reassure, comfort, and explain to everyone else. I fall into this all the time. You get tired of the judgments because you want to live life, but others think you shouldn’t. You get tired of the questions that you wish you knew answers to first. You don’t want to explain this test thing again because it’s almost too complicated for you to even understand. You no longer share with everyone that you are heading to the ER, again, because of some funky feeling in your chest that usually ends up being digestive issues or a medication adjustment. You don’t know how to tell yet another person that somehow your heart function is destroying the rest of your body, like your liver, so you stop talking about it. You stop talking about all of it. You quit telling people you have tests. You stop sharing that you are going to another specialist for yet another part of your body that your crappy circulation caused. You stop sharing your own feelings because you just don’t want to deal with others’ feelings caused by you. I think this is why I fall into the extreme loneliness of my disease. While others are completely at liberty to have feelings, opinions, and questions about this messy road, it gets tiring. And while it’s not supposed to be my responsibility to care for those feelings, it’s overwhelming because I feel I caused those feelings. However, if you’re in this CHD boat with me, you know you need a support system. I learn to keep it basic, and keep it to trusted, healthy people in my life. By healthy, I mean they know how to handle their own emotions. They can express worry, but they know that they can’t dump it on me. They are allowed to offer advice and opinions, but they also understand that I can leave those behind if I decide it’s not best for my situation. They understand that they won’t understand, and that’s OK. I find people who treat me like a person. A person who doesn’t want to project pity every time I’m with them, or even to acknowledge me as “sick.” I want to be a person who isn’t labeled or treated as weak, but still have the support system that doesn’t freak out when I need to just sit down. I have my certain list of prayer warriors that can just send up a request when I am heading to the ER, who won’t panic until they need to. Just hear this advice – find your people. You need them. Don’t withhold the major things from your close family, but use your judgement on if they need to know every little ailment you face, because you have enough emotions and drama to deal with – and no one wants the helicopters of worry at every turn of the heart road. If you have family that can deal with their own worry and know how to channel their emotions in such a way that it doesn’t eat at you, share it all. If you have family in your life whose worry is a constant stressor in your life, know that it isn’t your job to constantly deal with their feelings, just because they feel like they need to be all up in yours. I would withhold from those who show up at your work to discuss your personal health stuff in front of your coworkers, or call every hour on an appointment day when they know you have an appointment that day, or the ones that tell your spouse how to tame you from living, or they express strongly that they “know” this drug, supplement, oil, or treatment is way better than what your doctor prescribed because of some article, commercial, website, or person told them it worked for them. I get it. They care. They worry. They want control over a life that you don’t even have control over, but it’s stressful. But care shouldn’t look that overwhelming. Find the people who will simply be present if you need them. They will only offer advice that you ask for. They understand that they will never understand. Find your people. Your trusted, emotionally healthy people who can be stronger for you, rather than lean all of their worries on you. Getty Image by fizkes

Ashley Ruhlig

What I Wanted to Tell the Girl in the Waiting Room at the Heart Clinic

As I sat in the waiting room at the congenital heart clinic today, I saw a mom with her pre-teen daughter sit down across from me. As I watched the girl fiddle with her phone and squirm, I remembered the days of being that age and experiencing a long day at the doctor’s with lots of tests and pizza afterwords. I longed to comfort the girl, even though she was playing it cool. Perhaps that was a nudging from God and I missed it, but I felt funny barging in while her mom chatted with friends about her daughter. Looking back there are so many words I would tell myself as I walked this road of heart stuff, but there are also things I’m glad I didn’t really know until they came along because I think God did the best work prepping me for those moments. After spending another entire day in a busy place, being told to hold my breath, breathe hard, breathe fast, walk hard, lay still for hours, wear irritating breathing masks, annoying wires, get the skin scrapped off in eight different areas of my chest, receive two IV’s, and go without coffee – it’s hard to feel like a person. In fact, when I was that girl’s age, I didn’t feel like a person most of the time in the middle of my parents and doctors chatting about me while I sat between them. If I could have told her anything, it would have been along these lines: You are human, and you are worthy, and you are able. Keep striving for those things you want to do, because there are so many things we are told not to do, and we begin to cancel too many of the the things we can out. I believe that living a vivid, vibrant life is something to pursue fully. Your family will worry. They will sometimes annoy you. That’s OK. They can deal with it their own ways, but remember you are you. Your heart is yours and now is a good time to make your faith yours too, because that is the most valuable thing you can have right now and for the remainder. Hear out your options and choose the one that suits you. Only you know the beats of your heart and only you can decipher what is a smart move and what is a bad one. Sometimes you won’t know the difference, and that is when faith enters the scene in fullness. Stay humble in the midst of the victories you have, but stay bold in the face of uneasy battles. It’s OK to feel sorry for yourself for a little bit, but move forward and know you are blessed because your perspective is unlike anyone else’s. You know the true value of life. The life ahead will be full of tests and office visits, but it can also be full of what truly makes your heart tick. Do what you are called to do, and don’t let limitations defeat you. Sometimes it is scary to step out and be vulnerable in the things you can do, because you think your heart can’t take it, but I promise you – if you don’t pick up that guitar, go on that trip, serve in that area, follow that nudging – you will never feel alive. Those are the things that keep you human and alive. Be smart and get the nod from your doctor, because they want you to live and be alive too. They are on your side, whether sometimes it feels like it or not. Share your story. Others need to hear it who are facing the same battles as you. No two congenital heart patients are alike, but we can all relate with one another like no one else can. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Getty image by Kerkez