By Jodi Bryant
Many people feel uncomfortable talking about their traumatic pasts but Ashleigh Barchard's is literally an open book. After creating a blog about her experiences of abuse and lack of self-worth as a form of therapy and in a bid to help others going through similar trauma, she was stoked when it took off.
Ashleigh grew up with an abusive father and struggled until her mid-twenties.
"I struggled with my direction and my own thoughts, as well as anxiety and constantly feeling like I wasn't worthy and, even though I had a strong support network with my amazing family and friends, I honestly felt like no one understood and I didn't want to bug anyone with my problems," she recalls.
She began writing and found it therapeutic.
"I had been wanting to start a blog for over two years and had all the content but couldn't figure out a name for it. One of my close friends suggested Journey With Me and I loved it.
"I wanted the blog to be an open, safe space where I could share my experiences and others could too and I feel like it is exactly that.
"I believed if even one person resonated with a story, then maybe I could show them how supported they were and I was so humbled when it took off. I am blown away by the support and the growth of it in the five months it's been going. I have so much more to share and I am excited for the journey."
One of Ashleigh's posts reached over 10,000 people and she receives many messages from people who want to share similar experiences, advice or just want to be heard and feel supported. She also gets approached on the street by people expressing their gratitude for her honesty.
"I love conversing and listening to all of them. There have been a few times that I have reached out to qualified people to assist because I felt that ongoing support and assistance was required. It has definitely made me think about pursuing (a career in this field) because I have so much passion to help people in any way I can."
Ashleigh, 28, says the prevalent Northland suicide rates and its effect left her pondering how she could take things a step further from her blog and make a difference in the community, showing those suffering that they were important and valued. An idea began to form.
"As someone who has been in that headspace before, I know that the majority of people just want to stop hurting and they feel that there isn't another way. It is a subject that needs to be approached gently, with love, care and support as there are risks around discussion so I wanted to ensure I went a different angle that empowered, promoted and supported our community. I wanted to make sure the day was happy, positive and full of resources that could assist everyone."
She is talking about the Choose Life suicide event she held at Cafler Park in February. Hailed a success, the event was attended by around 500 people and featured stalls from various organisations, entertainment and competitions.
Throughout the day, a number of youth reached out for assistance or guidance and that was what it was all about, says Ashleigh.
"We had amazing entertainers and each one of them was approached because they were connected to the cause, they each had an important message to share and it resonated with so many people. I had many people of all ages approach me - some were young kids, parents and one was a lovely lady in her 80s - they all came along because they wanted to help or needed assistance in some shape or form and that to me is so special. It also reminded people that talking is a good thing, we encouraged everyone to share their stories and to reach out for help because we were there for them."
All proceeds from the day were donated to Whangarei Youth Space.
"I am an avid supporter of Whangarei Youth Space because I believe the work they do is invaluable. They provide a safe space, free healthcare, meals and overall support for 12-24-year-olds. They open their doors for anyone to help them in any way they can and the work they do is admirable.
"For anyone who wants to just talk to someone, they can utilise the 1737 number which you can call or text free anytime of the day. This will connect you with qualified counsellors who can help with resources or just by listening. We have so many amazing resources in our community to help with everything."