Photographer & Mental Health Advocate

Lifestyle & Mental Health Blog of Ashley Jacklyn

Twenty-five lessons I've learned this year!

Today is my twenty-sixth birthday and like many bloggers, I want to share twenty-five things I have learned this year! I know everyone does this but we forget that everyday alive is a blessing, especially someone with a mental illness. I also try to celebrate life for those that didn't make it because of their illnesses, this post is dedicated to them. 

1. Take more photos.

Okay I know I'm a photographer and this one might seem redundant but it's not. When I say take more photos, I mean record EVERYTHING! Life flies by so quickly, you'll wonder where the time went and if it weren't for my photographs, I'm sure the small, beautiful memories I had throughout the years would have been forgotten. It's okay to forget, so don't beat yourself up, we're humans but when you have photos, those moments will forever be alive.

2. Love more.

I can be such an emotional person, that it is probably assumed that I am an extremely loving person. Half of that is true, I am an extremely emotional person BUT I find it difficult to show love. This year has taught me to love more, in little steps, each and every day. I'm not going to make this a cheesy post but Brian has been so patient with me and has taught me so much about life. I'm so thankful to have someone like him who's so caring, understanding of my illness and loves me as I am. This is why I want to love more.

3. Be honest, always.

This has been my whole life motto, something I truly try to achieve everyday. This year, I've been helping others live an honest life, to show them how important it is to be honest with who they are, no matter what. I think if you can't be honest with yourself than you'll never be able to succeed. I know they say "Honesty is the best policy' and I don't want to be so cliche but this is extremely important.

4. Laugh at yourself more.

I admit, I don't joke much. I don't know how to joke and even if I were to try, people wouldn't get it. I've been called arrogant many of times because I don't laugh at people's jokes. It's not on purpose, really, but I am trying. And the first place I'm starting is to laugh at myself! I am very klutzy and find myself in very odd situations. Take yesterday for example, I went snorkeling and forgot to add sunblock to my butt and now I am sitting on ice writing this because my bum is the color of a cherry!

5. Spend time with family.

There's a song I listen to called "Sunscreen", it's basically a poem about life and in the song the person talks about family and how they are the link to your past and your future. This year I wanted to make a bigger effort being around my family, especially my baby brother. On Sundays, Brian, Andrew and myself go to different spots and have lunch together. My kid brother is in that stage where all he says is like "yea, okay, whatever" or just stares at me like I'm an old lady and can't relate. Either way, I make it my purpose that Andrew knows he is loved by both Brian and I.

6. It's okay to cry.

I'm not sure why people think crying is such a weakness. It's actually the totally opposite and a sign of strength. Whenever I cry, I think of it as a release of negative energy leaving my body. I even have this saying that when it rains I'm usually in a somber mood (which is only like 1 out of 10 times correct but let me think I'm magical!) and because I am sad, so is the world. BUT I think rain is also a way of cleansing the world of negativity and you never see the rain embarrassed to fall. So why should we be? 

7. Appreciate nature.

I've always had a deep connection with nature but this year I went on a trip to Puerto Rico. My island where I was born and I found something amazing, I found nature in all of her glory. She taught me to love my body more than any person or book could teach me. She showed me her confidence that she is who she is and if no one liked it then they could leave. But even though she was difficult and had her moments of ugliness, the people still found her to be the most beautiful thing. Waterfalls are powerful and dangerous, still beautiful. The ocean is vast and deep, still beautiful. The forest is thick and filled with animals, still beautiful. You too, despite it all, are still beautiful.

8. Explore, even if you're scared.

You all know how terrifying flying is for me; it makes every inch of my body, soul and mind hurt and no I'm not a masochist but I do it because I know that's where change comes from. We don't grow in our comfortable bubbles, we grow when we are forced to venture out into a world of unknown. And trust me, if I could stay in my bubble of comfort all the time, I would! But I want to travel the world and let the world travel my mind, let the world get to know me and I learn about it. This year I've been in a lot of uncomfortable situations and yet, I have never felt so alive. Yes I am scared to travel but I don't want my fear to hinder me. Don't let it hinder you either, you got this.

9. You're stronger than you know.

This lesson is associated with the former one. Because I allowed myself to be in uncomfortable situations I have learned how strong I really am. Of course I'll still stress when I travel, my anxiety doesn't go away just like that but I can think back and see how strong I was and able to do the other trips which give me the strength to press "book it" on future ones. You too are stronger than you know.

10. Sleep more, you'll miss it.

I think about all of the sleep I lost because of my insomnia. I know it's not something I could control but if you can sleep, do it! As we get older it's like being exhausted is the norm but why does it have to be like that? Just because we get more responsibilities, we still have to take care of ourselves.  This year I've learned to just relax and sleep when my body needs it. So sleep, it's okay!

11. Always do what you love, at least on the weekends.

I know it's difficult to be able to find time for everything, let alone find time for the things you love to do but you have try. I hear people make so many excuses as to why they can't do what they love and I call bull shit. If you can't make what you love a full time job, make time to do it after work or on the weekend. You owe it to yourself to find happiness. Stop the excuses and do it. (I'm rooting you on!)

12. Self love is the best love

I cannot stress this enough, self love is the best love. I mean think about it, most of our teenage years we're made to hate ourselves and then our twenties is the time we try to figure out who we truly are. I wish I could go back and love myself the way that I do now. Knowing what I know now, I believe in the power of loving oneself first before you can love someone else. I know society will want to make you feel like you're being narcissistic but you have the right to be selfish. You have the right to get to know who you are. Don't ever let anyone tell you that you are selfish for loving yourself first, they are either afraid of that idea or never had the chance to love them self. 

13. Leave situations that don't aid in your growth.

This is a simple lesson that we somehow have a lot of difficulty with. I've learned a lot about growing and letting go of situations that were not benefitting me anymore and I learned how to leave them too. Whatever your situation may be, if you're not learning and growing from it, why are you wasting your time? Get out of that situation, no matter how hard, you owe it to yourself to go where there is growth. Change is scary but it is the only constant thing we know besides having the knowledge that ice cream is the best dessert ever!(Fight me if you disagree!)

14. Money isn't everything.

"But Jack you have so much stuff and go on so many trips." Hold up one second and let me look at my bank account. Guys, please listen to me when I say designer brands are not worth it! In high school I wanted the best Nike's or Jordan's, if you weren't dressed right, your status was nothing. So I would beg my mother to buy me sneakers that I got rid of in the end anyway. My mother was my only parent at the time, working her ass off doing what she could for me. I can't believe how selfish I was to want crap just because all the "cool" kids were wearing it. Thankfully I grew out of that stage faster than normal people and realize it's all a damn game. To me, family is above money. My family and Brian's family are the only things that I truly care about. Money is just man made bullshit to divide people. I'm not oblivious though and I know in order to make memories with the people I love, money is needed and that's where its importance comes into play.


15. Work out to have fun, not lose weight.

I've toned a significant amount since last year and it was all because I had fun. In the beginning it was to prove to myself that I could actually keep up with a regimen and not give up so easily; I wanted to learn discipline in a way that I always avoided. As a child, I saw my mother have problems with her health and always attributed it to her weight. She would work out but I never thought she was happy doing it, it was for all the wrong reasons. Now having finished my regimen, I realized I actually enjoyed working out because of the way it made me feel and how it pushed me beyond what I thought I was capable of doing. I also get to work out with Brian and that's a huge plus, but I didn't do it because I hated my body, I made sure to come into this with a positive mind set. Not to say that there weren't days where I felt pretty crappy about myself, I just reminded myself that I love who I am in my before and after.

P.S- I don't constrict myself, I eat what I love. <3

16. It's okay to not have all the answers.

Ugh, THIS. IS. SO. HARD. My mental illness plays a factor in this one; it's like if I don't have the answers, I NEED to figure it out. Nevertheless, I acknowledge my issues on this and am changing for the better. I know that in order to grow, i have to be accepting that I won't have the answers to everything, heck life would be boring if I did. So here's to more work on being okay with be uninformed/wrong!


17. Let yourself heal.

Healing is fundamental necessity for growth. This year I noticed that there were situations in which I thought I was healed but come to find out that I still held some pain. We are so good at trying to run away from our pain, that we don't see the disservice we are doing to ourselves by not going through the process of healing. Healing isn't suppose to be easy, it isn't suppose to be quick and it sure as hell isn't suppose to be on other people's terms. Do it for yourself and no one else!

18. Read more.

I used to love reading as a child and somehow lost interest as I grew older. I don't want to blame school because I really loved it, yes I'm a nerd, but it was definitely a factor. I remember my favorite book series being "A Series of Unfortunate Events," sorry to disappoint you all but I didn't really get into Harry Potter until my best friend forced me too, thanks Rei! I find excitement being able to travel into different worlds just by reading books. This year, I've read two books, "The Handmaid's Tale" and a photography book I can't remember and I'm almost done with "Sad Girls." I know it isn't much but I am slowly working my way up to at least reading 10 books this year. If you have any suggestions, pleaseeeeeeee let me know! 

19. See the world through a child's eyes.

My pups are my children, you can't fight me on this just because they're dogs. Yes I know they're dogs and children are more of a challenge, that's cool, I don't want that challenge. But my pups help me see the world through the eyes of a child. I get to play with them, rolling around on the floor or throwing the ball and chasing them around the house. Together we get to make so much noise and it's okay because we're having fun. As we get older, we tend to lose that child in us because society says so and I for sure know that I won't ever lose my sense of wonder because of my pups, Aubree and Emmy. I thank the heavens for allowing me to have such beautiful souls to be on this journey with me. If you don't have animal compainions, try to find ways to be a child again and see the world for it's beauty. 

20. Cook more, your wallet will thank you.

I love going out to eat, it makes life so much more easier having someone else do all of the work. But it does put a huge hole into my wallet every month. Brian and I are blessed to be able to use "Hello Fresh" where we get three days worth of meals that we can make home to cook. It has definitely saved us time and money but it is expensive. If you can, I say take the time out to shop and get the ingredients needed to make your favorite food. It will be a lot of fun and you can make it however you please. And if you can't cook, I'd advise you to learn because it is truly important. 



21. Celebrate every day.

I've always been one to celebrate as many holidays as I can get away with. I know it sounds odd but my mother took so much time and effort to make the holidays special for my family. I learned from her the importance of celebrating as much as you can. It doesn't have to be extravagant affairs but simple moments, even acknowledging a moment and speaking it out to the universe can suffice.  For small victories, even defeats, celebrations should be an every day thing. You'll see how much more valuable life will be.


22. Take time for meditation. ( anyway you see fit)

Because I have a mental illness, I've had a huge amount of people telling me that yoga or meditation can heal my anxiety. I know their hearts are in the right place but neither of these things help my anxiety. I find peace in dancing, taking photographs, working out at the gym and being by the ocean. Something about beauty in movements make me calm, I guess it's because that's how my mind is, a beautiful anarchism! I've met people who believe in the power of yoga and meditating by themselves in a room and I believe everyone has a right to meditate anyway they see fit. These things just never worked for me and that's okay. The only thing that truly matters is that we take steps back and look at the world we are creating. Mindfulness is always key to a beautiful life.

23. Be humble.

We are viewed as a narcissistic world and you could even assume this post is just that because I've plastered my face in these lessons but it's not. Being humble is understanding that the world does not revolve around you and just because you have thousands of followers on Instagram does not means you are more important than someone else. We are all equally important and a following on a social media account should NOT quantify that. I believe social media is a double edged sword, it can protect those that want a voice but it can also marginalize and isolate. Even in the communities that I surround myself in, I feel like I'm never enough. I've accepted that as long as I am humble and stay in my truth then I'm okay. 

24. Your circle of friends might be Small.

It sucks that it has taken me so long to be okay with this idea. I was always so jealous that people I knew had so many friends. I equated a lager group of friends with more love given to the person and it made me envious. Now that I am older and my friends are off on their own journeys, I realize that my circle of friends is small because it's real, at least for me. It'll be different for us all but once that realization sets in you'll only be able to count your true friends on one hand. Please listen to your gut, trust it when it sends off radars that someone isn't truly your friend. I believed and loved so many people only to be hurt by them in the end. It would have saved me a lot of pain and time if I just was accepting with the facts. Small does not mean less, remember that. 

25.Speak up even if your voice shakes.

I wanted to end this with a quote I always say to people who are dealing with mental health issues. We are already so stigmatized by society because we are wired differently, that it takes a huge toll on people. I don't want anyone to feel like the are not worthy of life and love because they have a mental illness. I want all of us to speak up for ourselves with roaring voices or shaking ones, as long as we see that we need to be our own hero's first. That is the first step, speaking up and being able to walk on a Ted-x stage saying these words truly taught me something. I am not perfect but I am perfectly made the way I should be, as you all are. Thank you for coming on this journey with me, it's a truly beautiful thing to see another year alive. I cannot wait to keep advocating and writing my truths to show the world, it's a scary tasks but I have enough love from my family, friends and you all as well to do this.