Ashley C. Ford is busy. And for her, that’s a good thing.
She’s the host of the podcast “Fortune Favors the Bold”; she hosts an interview-based show called “Profile” by BuzzFeed News; she was recently listed on Variety’s “The New Power of New York List”; she’s written cover stories for magazines like Allure, Marie Claire, and SELF, along with essays and articles for many more; she’s writing a memoir, focused on her relationship with her incarcerated father, titled Somebody’s Daughter; and in between all of that, she also managed to model for underwear darling MeUndies. Oh, and she got married last year and adopted a dog a few months ago.
So yeah, she’s busy.
But how does she manage her mental health? And why does she choose to be open and honest about her struggles?
The Stories She Told Herself
Ford’s own history with anxiety and depression has given her an understanding of how hard it can be for people to discuss their mental health status.
“At the beginning of my journey, I wish I knew that the stories I was telling myself, about how nobody wanted to hear about how I felt, were blatant lies,” she said. “That’s what depression does to you: it lies.”
She had received some kind of message, either directly or indirectly, from those around her that it was not okay to share or discuss that part of herself. Opening up to people — her brain decided when she was still growing up — was not safe.
Today, she better understands the importance of being bold about her emotions when she can.
“If there are people around you who don’t care how you feel, then those people shouldn’t be around you,” she said.
It’s also more difficult to pretend that her mental health doesn’t affect her or those around her. Her emotions are physically front, center, and obvious to her husband, Kelly Stacy. Being newly married, there is constantly someone around who can not only check in but simply observe her mood. Even if her depression is threatening to take over, she now isn’t able to tell herself that no one cares. She says he can just sense if something is going on with her.
“If I act like everything’s okay, then I’m feeding that thing [my depression],” said Ford. “But when I put it out there, and I let this person know what I’m dealing with, I can trust that person to be compassionate with me but also not let me wallow.”
Boundaries, Boundaries, Boundaries
If hiding away in the bedroom for a week isn’t a possibility, thanks to the caring support of her husband, then how does Ford move forward during challenging times?
It should come as no surprise: productivity.
Being productive helps Ford not compound her depression or whatever’s making her feel poorly; she says that “for better or for worse,” productivity is a key component for a healthy state of mental health. By being active, she’s able to not stay in the stagnant and heavy grip of depression.
“I like to be doing things and making things,” she said, “it makes me feel like me. Even when I feel bad, I still need to be doing as much of that as I can be to be connected to myself, my goals, my hopes and the idea that I’m moving toward something.”
For Ford, her work matters a great deal to her, but she doesn’t let it define her. Because she’s recognized the joy, fulfillment, and benefits of staying productive, work is an incredibly important part of managing her mental health.
If someone has a lot of projects going on, that can easily transform into burnout. Burnout, something that affects millions of people in the United States alone, happens when the need to be constantly working starts to affect the “medium priority” tasks in our lives until people become paralyzed by the idea of completing them.
Burnout seriously affects the mental health of an entire generation. Ford maintains a balance between continuing to work for the sake of her mental health, without becoming overworked and burned out, with the help of her husband as well as an assistant.
If it’s not on Ford’s calendar, she’s not doing it. And her assistant holds the key to the calendar. This includes speaking engagements, interviews, and other tasks that need to get done for Ford’s career, as well as scheduled down-time, travel, and much needed breaks.
“Being protective of my time and making time for myself has only increased my enjoyment of my work,” said Ford. “Not just, ‘oh I feel better,’ but I also make more money and do more interesting things.”
The idea of creating boundaries with her time began even before she hired her virtual assistant and signed with a speaking agency. It all comes down to asking for help when you need it. Ford prioritizes a healthy amount of sleep and regular breaks from work because she knows it will only help her be a better writer, or with whatever creative endeavor she’ll be engaged in that day.
Therapy Pauses the Tape
Therapy is also a huge part of Ford’s mental health management, though she’s struggled to find therapists who are a good fit. She understands that the “search for the right therapist is ultimately always worth it,” though.
Therapy offers the chance for someone to interrupt the mental tape, often playing on a loop, of negative feelings and self-talk.
“I know it’s working with a therapist when I leave feeling like I have work to do,” she said. “I need to leave feeling like I understand a little bit more about myself.”
Going to therapy, with someone that can listen to and acknowledge her pain and process, allows her the opportunity to confront the lies that her depression and anxiety have been telling her.
With So Many Passions, Who is Ashley C. Ford?
Ford is a writer, a host, a speaker, a model, an author — but she’s not interested in defining herself in any of those terms. Although she is a creative spirit, and has to be in order to maintain forward momentum, her identity is an ever-evolving amalgamation of the parts that create her whole being.
“The majority of me is still being built,” said Ford. “I’m very much like a 2-year-old in that way. I’m excited to hit all the milestones coming up, and I probably won’t even know they’re there until they’re right on top of me.”
For more on Ashley C. Ford, check out her 99U talk, her site, and even her apartment.
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