The Update You Didn’t Ask For (But Are Getting Anyway) 

Jun 18, 2024 | life, news

This is a story of how it took four years for me to finally do a thing I should have done in June of 2020. But let’s backtrack a bit. 

About a year and a half ago, I worked with a coaching friend who asked me to graph my life events, placing them as high and low points on paper. This exercise made me realize that 1.) I have a horrible time recognizing the good things in my life aside from getting married and having my two beautiful children and 2.) I’ve been wading through life with some crippling high-functioning depression since about 2020. (But haven’t we all?) 

While navigating all the changes that came with raising children, owning a business, and being married to a small business owner during COVID 2020 was a literal breakup and subsequent breakdown

I had to walk away from the business I’d spent tireless hours building for the last two and a half years. It wasn’t a decision I made lightly, but I felt trapped without many other options besides a clean break. 

Instead of allowing myself time to grieve, recoup, and think through my next best steps, I panicked in a full-on scarcity mindset, ricocheting into the next shiny marketing agency that dangled a carrot or any promise of making me the marketing director I so desperately wanted to be. 

That…turned out to be a terrible fit. (Spoken in her best Forrest Gump voice: “And that’s all I’m gonna say about that.”)

Then, onto the next shiny marketing agency that made even more promises. Things like, “We’re a family! Culture is important!” rang in my ears, offering promises the last agency didn’t fulfill. This one offered me a temp to perm position after 90 days. Health benefits! Multiple weeks of paid PTO! Two things my family and I hadn’t had since 2018. 

Fantastic. I can do this, I thought. 

The position was fully remote (because COVID), so I checked in daily via Slack, Zoom calls, and more. I was hungry. I wanted this so very badly—an agency home. 

At my 90-day review, though, the carrot moved. “More time is needed to ensure you’re a good cultural and team fit,” I was told. 

I rolled up my sleeves. I put in the hours. Late nights. Early mornings. I was committed to getting my straight A’s. My shiny gold stars. Hearing the praise from my boss that I so desperately wanted. I worked and worked, all the while having never actually met any of my team because we were all still remote (again — Covid). I wanted badly to be connected to them the way they all already were, but I never truly felt that. All the while, buried in the crevices of my heart, I knew it wasn’t a good fit, but I didn’t have any other options, so I forced it. I lied to myself and said it was the right place for me.

At the end of six months, right before Independence Day, I was again relieved of my marketing role.

Cool. Cool, cool, cool. 

I quickly turned to my freelance clients. I told myself that I wasn’t going to align with another agency. “I’m doing this by myself,” I kept internally repeating.

Until another agency offered the consistent client work that I was terrified to try to find on my own, so I stayed. And that worked well for a while. Until it didn’t. 

I kept feeling like something wasn’t quite right. Subconsciously, I was trying to make this agency my own, fitting it into checkboxes that weren’t mine to check off. One day, my inner voice said, “Ashley, you can’t keep doing this.” It was one of the quickest fight or flight responses I’ve ever had – like a literal nope, nope, nope uttered from my pursed lips as I hit “return” and sent the email explaining that I had to part ways.

While abrupt and a little scary, this shift allowed me to work more hours with my regular month-to-month clients. One of them, a locally owned and operated boutique real estate brokerage, had been a fantastic cultural fit from day one in 2021 when I picked them up as a side client at the former marketing agency.

Next: Real Estate?

Next, I considered getting my real estate license. 

I enrolled in a real estate class at the beginning of 2023 and started cramming for the tests. 

Eight weeks of in-person classes twice a week, plus homework, tests, quizzes, and my other client workload. (And the math – sweet mother Mary, there’s so much math, and I hadn’t touched numbers like these in twenty years. I’m an English major, remember?) 

To say it was a lot is an understatement, and I APPLAUD anyone who’s taken this test, especially while balancing all the other demands life throws at you as a partner, a parent, and everything else. 

After studying for many hours and taking the initial class test to move on to the next step, I learned I had failed. This meant I had to retake the class test and pass before I could go on and take the state test to get my license. That also meant the crippling anxiety that came along with the idea that I could potentially fail again and then possibly again

I called a friend after receiving that email, and I bawled. Heaving in between breaths, “I can’t fail again, C. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do next. I feel like an absolute fucking failure.” 

He did what great friends do and listened, no questions asked. 

A few days later, it struck me: Did I really want to become a real estate agent, or did I just enjoy working in real estate? After more contemplation, it became clear that it was the latter. 

Some clarification here because I want to make it as crystal clear as I can: I don’t think I’ve enjoyed working with another client quite like I have with this brokerage. I firmly believe that being impeccable with your word is worth striving for, and I would never say that if I didn’t mean it. That said, I realized that instead of being an agent, where I really gained enjoyment was from supporting the team the way I’d already been doing. And, as their reputations lead you to believe, they were kind, gracious, and incredibly supportive of my shift. 

So what next, then? I asked myself. 

Watch me Spin All These Plates

That summer (2023), while balancing our jobs, clients, and more, Oscar and I made the decision to explore an ADHD diagnosis for Alex after his teacher recommended it. Following many different diagnostic exams and a considerable number of appointments, we did receive an actual ADHD diagnosis for him. G’s diagnosis paperwork was updated to include the same. (Which, as I’ve come to understand, the neurodivergent community often refers to as AuDHD.) Over the next few weeks, I began to replay something the psychologist said to me about parents realizing their own ADHD brains when their children receive a diagnosis. When she’d said it, I thought, “Oh, that’s Oscar—she isn’t speaking to me.” However, that statement remained in the back of my mind, stuck like a piece of old gum to the underside of a chair. 

Work-wise, the summer months of 2023 were good for me. New clients and contracts supplemented my regular retainer clients. I had the freedom to make my own schedule and travel while also allowing me to support the local community I love so much by accepting invitations to serve on a handful of boards.  

Then an idea struck—what if I created a course for small business owners that taught them how to do SEO on their own? It would be perfect for businesses just getting started, solopreneurs who ARE their business, or any business owner who feels like agencies have taken advantage of their lack of marketing knowledge and want to feel more educated about the opportunities an SEO strategy can offer their business. 

I was so excited. I started planning, scheduling, creating social media content and blog posts, and following all the steps. 

And then, in the fall and early winter of 2023, my mental health took a significant fucking nosedive.  

Depression this time looked different. I wasn’t crying every day like I did in 2018. (Turns out, that was just straight-up grief.) I tried to put myself on auto-pilot, but I wasn’t getting joy out of anything. I wasn’t feeding my birds. I wasn’t singing. Aside from my assignments from a local publication where I’m a contributing writer, I wasn’t even driven to write. And even the paying prompts had me questioning, “Why is this so hard? Why can’t I just focus?” 

Every task was a slog. The internet rewarded me with tiny little hits of dopamine in the form memes, Reels, and little hits of funny. I never felt like I had actually accomplished much. I went through the motions and checked off the boxes but avoided putting myself in situations where I had to be an extrovert, something I’d previously thought came naturally.

I was extra hard on myself about any tiny accomplishment, which made my guilt and self-loathing worse. 

A Step (and Diagnosis) Forward

Then, on New Year’s Day, I finally took a step forward – I got formally diagnosed with ADHD. 

I think I’d always known my brain was different, but I couldn’t explain why or how. (And how would I know to?) 

I started devouring anything and everything I could find about ADHD in adults, but more particularly about how ADHD manifests in women, which, as it happens, is entirely different from the primarily believed hyperactivity attributed to 8-year-old boys. 

What had always remained hyperactive was my brain. It never, ever turned off. I was always thinking. Always planning things out in my head. Always thinking of an alternative or a solution to a problem.

“Oh my god, I thought – this is me!” I’ve found my people! I’m in so many of these articles, podcasts, and resources. FINALLY! Something that explained how I’ve operated my entire life. 

But as with any significant change, I went through all five stages of grief many times simultaneously. 

Denial looked like, “No, this can’t possibly be my brain. Maybe there’s something else wrong with me? Maybe I need to take another test? Maybe I need to get my bloodwork done. Maybe I have cancer.” (I don’t.) 

Anger looked like, “I can’t believe I’ve been trying to function like a neurotypical person my entire life! God, why has EVERYTHING been a fucking struggle? Can something please just be easy?!” 

I more or less skipped bargaining and plunged headfirst into a more profound depression. I think most everyone can agree that the entire month of January can eat it, but January, when you have Seasonal Affective Disorder, AND you just got a diagnosis that explains your spicy brain that you thought was only just you and “you should really not tell anyone what’s going on in there, Ashley…” it can quickly lead to chaos in the mind. And it was for a while.

In March, once the world started to thaw, so did my hibernation. I reached out to a psychiatrist and started some anti-anxiety meds and a non-stimulant to help with the ADHD to help fire me back up on all cylinders.

A New Direction. Again.

Next, I contacted a branding strategist, determined to start fresh with a clean branding slate. I’d worked with Cassie of Caslyn Branding & Design previously on our fabulous Three Brothers Painting rebrand, so I was comfortable working with her and knew her work. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Cassie again, and I am really proud of the collaboration and the steps it took to get here. 

Initially, I’d envisioned a peacock feather logo, a symbol I’ve been drawn to for a long time, for various reasons. I love the colors, and I had peacock feathers in my wedding bouquet and in my hair on my wedding day. And I’ve long been an admirer of Flannery’s peacocks that roamed all over Andalusia.

We’d tried a couple revisions, and it still didn’t feel quite right. We looked at other feathers and bird designs and finally collaborated on an abstract feather that echoes a leaf inside a soft round badge. In iconography, feathers symbolize trust, honor, strength, wisdom, power, and freedom. All things I wanted for me and my brand.

The curved lines extending from the feather top represent digital connection and add a sense of organic mathematical precision so often found in nature. The brandmark is a balance of modern digital and natural organic elements, a driving element of the entire visual identity.

So, What’s Next?

Need a digital marketing strategist? I’m still your gal! I’m dedicated to supporting small businesses across most industries, helping them tell their unique brand stories and connecting with their communities online.

However, my passion has shifted to helping female entrepreneurs and becoming their go-to digital marketing consultant. Know a coach, therapist, consultant or other solopreneur? I wanna meet them! My ideal client is passionate about their work, values community engagement, and is eager to leverage digital marketing to connect with their target audience and grow their business.

Phew. So — there it is.

There’s plenty more I wanted to include (I am verbose), but let’s save that for another update, shall we?

For now, I am thrilled to dive headfirst into a new decade, a new brand, and new goals. Plus — forty is fine when you look 29 — right?