Cathie Curtis writes, “My daughter finally succumbed to her personal struggle with mental illness and took her life four months ago at age 26. As parents we cannot let go of our children and need to find comfort in knowing that their lives will forever matter.” Cathie shares a few of Ashley’s reflections written shortly before she passed:
I entered college severely anorexic. I wasn’t really alive. But I also was so eager to learn. In high school I loved Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Sartre. I’ve always been a high achiever.
Frequently, I wonder what I’d be achieving if I wasn’t ridden with this illness. Eventually, I overcame it. I had three research assistantships. For my MA, I received a full tuition scholarship. I was presenting at national conferences. But there were dark days. Tomorrow is the anniversary of my first sexual assault. I tried to scrub myself clean with no avail. I went to my professor’s office the next day and cried. But I had so much support. It’s a feeling that I can’t describe.
I moved halfway across the country for a doctoral degree. From day one, I was physically ill. I have never seen as many emergency rooms and hospital beds in the entirety of my life. I had a subdural hematoma. My brain was bleeding. I had severe withdrawals that compromised my health. I’ve had three spontaneous seizures. But I went above and beyond to prioritize my education.
However, my institution didn’t see it that way. They ignored the fact that every research assistant under a specific professor is problematic. I lost it all during the time that I was gaining control of my life. It’s messy and not logistical by any means.
I am here because I respect and value my co-chairs and dissertation committee. I respect and value Northwestern for my acceptance. Last night, I realized that both of my professors had already submitted letters of recommendation and I almost cried. I emailed them my sentiments. These are the things that keep me going in academia when I feel like everything is falling apart. These educators are incredible to say the least.
I value education. Perhaps I’m a bit compulsive in nature. But I am ALIVE. I look at that picture of a girl on her high school graduation day that could hardly fake a smile. Sometimes, I still do that because I know that my ambitions have not exceeded my talents and I will exhibit that explicitly.
I conquered something that almost killed me and lost everything I worked for.
But there are still sunflowers. And I still open my blinds to let the sun in. Yes, it’s degrading. But I force a smile and remember that I have always given 100%, and that helps me sleep at night.
Growth is painful. Change is painful. But nothing is as painful as staying stuck where you do not belong. I grew amidst a time when I was losing everything I worked for. And no, it is not okay.
I cried because it does things to you to always come second.
More from Ashley that her mother, Cathie, recently found on her cellphone:
I seldom use this platform anymore so it’s all the more difficult to be vulnerable, but I’ve discovered this wonderful organization called “Project I Define Me.” If you know me, you know that I’m committed to destigmatization and promoting awareness surrounding mental health. Recently, I have overcome some of the most difficult things in my life and I’m proud to be where I am today. I want to empower and inspire others to do the same. Person-first language is so important and during this ongoing journey I’ve really learned how grossly misunderstood mental health is. I am more than a label or a diagnosis — I am a daughter, friend, sister, girlfriend, and PhD student. I am Ashley, and I’m here to tell you that I define me.