When Ashleigh Singleton reflects on her life, she sees God’s grace in the many turning points that have brought her to where she is today.
“I am so blessed,” she says. “I’m just surprised over and over again by how God works.”
Singleton describes herself as a gamer and a metalhead. She is also a daughter, sister, friend and a person of deep faith. And when she’s at work, Singleton is a Peer Support Worker (PSW) with Communitas Supportive Care Network, formerly Mennonite Central Committee Supportive Care Society.
Singleton supports people on their journey toward mental wellness. It is work she loves.
“Peer support is not a job, it’s a blessing. This is where God wants me to be,” she says. “I’m mostly working in the psychiatric unit, which is my favourite place. I’ve met the most incredible people and I can relate to their experiences because I’ve been there.”
Singleton’s own journey with mental health challenges began in her early teens after her mother died. This rattled Ashleigh’s faith. “I was so angry with God,” she recalls.
Singleton’s world was turned upside-down, she lost all motivation, including a will to live. It was then that she began to experience the first symptoms of schizophrenia: malicious voices that told her that her mother’s death was her fault.
She confided in a trusted teacher and began the path to diagnosis and treatment. It was terrifying at first, but it was also the first step toward health. Although it was one of the hardest things she’s ever done, Singleton realizes that making that choice to be vulnerable and seek help was vital.
“There is no shame in asking for help, it’s a sign of strength,” she says.
The path back to faith took time. Metal music is a source of expression and comfort for her, especially Christian metal bands like P.O.D. She has reached out to musicians through social media or email and has found encouragement from the interactions she had.
After another difficult season in her life, she reached another turning point on March 5, 2021. “That’s the day I rededicated my life to Jesus,” she says. “I felt a joy and a peace like never before. I’d always struggled with my identity, trying to fit in. Now I know that my identity is in Jesus.”
It was a truly life-changing moment and while all those around her have noticed a profound change in her, she doesn’t want people to think that she is a religious fanatic. The transformation is one that has enabled her to see others in a new way.
“This experience has made me more empathetic and compassionate,” she says. “I no longer judge people; I just try to see them as Jesus would and be authentic about who I am.”
As she reflects on this journey, Singleton sees how God’s grace has been extended to her through so many people: the teacher who listened, the mental health support people who helped her find the right balance of medication, the friends and family who have stood by her even in the darkest times, especially her dad.
“My dad is my hero. When I got my diagnosis, he dropped everything to support me,” she says.
It was her dad who suggested that she look into peer support and that suggestion led to yet another turning point. She came to the realization that she was relying on others for her health and blaming God when things didn’t go as she thought they should. It was when she made the decision to choose hope and to fight for the life she wanted, that things really began to change for the better. She hopes that anyone who encounters her story will see her—and anyone living with mental health challenges—as more than their diagnosis.
“I am human,” she says. “Mental illness is a health issue like any other, that can be helped with medication, the right support and life-style changes.”
If God’s grace has been extended to her at each turning point in life so far, Singleton knows that there is more to come, and she is grateful. She is particularly thankful for Communitas and the opportunity that she has to use her life’s experiences to help others.
“I’m so happy here. I’ve made such amazing friends,” she says. “Doing this job is a way of giving back and of showing the people in my life that their efforts for me were not in vain.”
To learn more about peer support, visit peersupportcsc.com.
Above: Ashleigh Singleton shares her story.