Ashlyn Harris did not have a storybook childhood. She tells Ambitious.com that when she was growing up in Florida, her family was poor, sometimes having to rely on food stamps. Her parents went through an ugly divorced, and her mother became an alcoholic. A brother went “over the edge.”
Soccer was her escape.
“I needed to get out,” she says. “I knew if I could play, then maybe it’d be my way to college and I could get out of that situation.”
Harris earned a scholarship to the University of North Carolina, and for a long time, she didn’t look back. Although she was often lonely at Chapel Hill, “I didn’t go home. There were too many terrible memories.”
Today, Harris is involved with a nonprofit called To Write Love on Her Arms, which supports people seeking treatment for depression, addiction, self-injury or suicidal impulses.
Even though millions of families are affected by mental illness, “everyone is scared to talk about it,” she says.
“I want to make sure people know it’s OK to talk about it — not hide it and not isolate themselves.”