Ashley McMann Of Mindful Living Therapy: Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I Was First Diagnosed With Mental Illness

An Interview With Stephanie Greer


I can’t do it all alone. So often we are conditioned by our own adverse life experiences to believe that asking for help is weak and that we have do it all on our own. But no one can do it all alone and we only make it harder on ourselves trying to do so. There is no shame in needing support or assistance. Allow yourself to ask for help when you need it.

Navigating the complexities of mental illness can be a solitary and daunting path for many. The initial diagnosis often comes with a deluge of emotions, confusion, and an overwhelming sense of uncertainty about the future. It is a pivotal moment where guidance and wisdom from those who have walked this path before can make a significant difference. As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ashley McMann, Licensed Professional Counselor.

Ashley McMann is a recovering people pleaser, dog mom and Licensed Professional Counselor in Austin, TX. She has a passion for helping others heal from trauma, find relief from anxiety and live a life of peace and authenticity. It is her personal experience with anxiety and depression that have allowed her to show up for clients’ on a deeper level.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! We really appreciate the courage it takes to publicly share your story. Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your background and your childhood backstory?

It is a privilege to share my story and be a part of this series! My name is Ashley McMann and I am a self-proclaimed recovering people pleaser, yogi, dog mom, and Licensed Professional Counselor in Austin, TX. I have been a practicing Therapist for about six years and it is all thanks to my own therapeutic experience that I found my passion for helping others.

Apart from my professional experience with mental health, I also have a deeply personal experience with it. Anxiety and depression run in my family and I have personally struggled with each throughout my life. As a child growing up, I was quiet, shy and always in my head. And as the oldest child, a daughter at that, I was taught to be independent, to keep my feelings to myself and that my worth came from pleasing others. These behaviors led to a world of anxiety and panic and it wasn’t until years later that I learned how detrimental these beliefs were to my happiness and success. Here I am now continuously working to unlearn and rebuild, not just for myself, but for future generations as well.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

One of my favorite quotes is one by Yogi Bhajan that states “if you are willing to look at another person’s behavior toward you as a reflection of the state of their relationship with themselves rather than a statement about your value as a person, then you will, over a period of time cease to react at all.”

As someone who struggles with anxiety, overthinking and people pleasing, this quote has made such a large impact in finding peace in my life. When you are able to realize that most reactions from others are a reflection of something within themselves, you stop taking things so personally and gain better control over your own emotional and physical reactions.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you share what your journey with mental illness has been like? Can you share the moment you first realized what you were experiencing was a mental illness, and how that initial understanding evolved with time?

Growing up I was always a shy child who struggled with undiagnosed generalized and social anxiety, but it wasn’t until my sophomore year of high school when the severity of my struggles became apparent. I remember the day so vividly. I was on the bus home from school when I noticed a strange and uncomfortable sensation in my chest. My breathing became heavy and I couldn’t seem to get a good deep breath in no matter how hard I tried. I remember walking off the bus straight into my mother’s office, laying down on the floor and with a shaky voice exclaiming that I was dying. Looking back, it may have been a bit dramatic, but I was a teenage girl and I had no idea what was going on.

This exclamation sent my mother into a panic, rightfully so, and before I knew it I was lying in the backseat of my mother’s suburban on the way to our general physician at the front of the neighborhood. Due to a congenital heart defect that I was diagnosed with at birth, the first line of thought was that something was wrong with my heart. So fast forward several months, an ECG and countless tests, it was to all of our surprise when the diagnosis I received was Generalized Anxiety and Panic Disorder.

Mental health was not a big topic for discussion in my home growing up and being raised in a very religious household we were taught to go to God with our struggles. Therefore, therapy was not viewed in a positive light. However, I did attend one therapy session in high school with a Christian therapist and unfortunately had a less than positive experience. I would like to note that I have nothing against Christian therapists and believe that faith integrated within therapy can be very beneficial for those who believe. But as with any profession, there are always bad apples in the batch and this therapist was not a good fit for my needs.

Since my parents were adamant that I only attend therapy with a Christian therapist and I refused to do so after my experience, I didn’t seek treatment again until years later. The lack of treatment and psychoeducation on my diagnoses resulted in a continuation of periodic panic attacks throughout my high school and college age years.

It was when I finally went back to therapy in my mid-twenties that my understanding and knowledge of my diagnoses really began to evolve. This deeper understanding of what I had been experiencing all of those years allowed me to heal a great deal of guilt and shame I had taken on due to my mental health struggles.

Was there a turning point for you when things started to change for the better? Can you please share a story?

I was in my mid-twenties, unhappy in my career, and in a failing marriage when I finally decided it was time to give therapy a chance again. I remember my first real therapist so well. Her name was Nicole. She was warm, inviting, empathetic and allowed me to feel seen and heard. It was in my therapeutic experience with her when it finally dawned on me that I wasn’t broken or alone. In the year or so that I worked with Nicole, I gained the self-awareness, confidence, and coping skills to really begin to turn my life around. My panic attacks became almost non-existent and I realized my love for therapy, deciding to go back to grad school myself to become a therapist.

Who are some of the people in your life who have been on this journey with you? How have they either helped you or made things harder?

Over the years there have been countless friends, professionals, family, and loved ones on this journey with me. In some ways these people have helped tremendously and for others it was in this process that I realized they weren’t meant to continue the journey with me. Those who have continued the journey with me have either always been understanding and supportive or they did the work themselves to gain a better understanding and show up in the ways I needed them to.

How did your personal relationships and social interactions shift following your diagnosis, and what advice would you give to others navigating similar changes?

As I touched on above, this journey has taught me a great deal about how others react and show up in difficult moments. Those that matter will let you know through their actions and those who don’t will make themselves known very quickly. People can only show up for others as much as they can show up for themselves and that becomes abundantly clear when you are in a low moment. It was a hard lesson to learn, but I don’t hold it against others if they can’t show up for me the way I need them to. Instead, I learned to let them go for my own peace and healing.

When it comes to mental health, we have to put ourselves first. My advice to others navigating similar challenges during their healing journey would be to listen to your gut and to let go of anything that is no longer serving you well. Make healing and peace your priority and understand that in doing so loss will occur, but you will be so much better off for it.

What are 5 things you learned from your journey that you think other people navigating life with mental illness would benefit from knowing?

1 . I have anxiety, but my anxiety does not define me. For those struggling with mental illness, know that your diagnosis is just a part of you. It does not define you.

2 . I am not broken or damaged. Mental illness is a normal part of the human condition and we all have our own personal struggles. We are not broken or irreparably damaged, because of those struggles. It just means we are human.

3 . I can’t do it all alone. So often we are conditioned by our own adverse life experiences to believe that asking for help is weak and that we have do it all on our own. But no one can do it all alone and we only make it harder on ourselves trying to do so. There is no shame in needing support or assistance. Allow yourself to ask for help when you need it.

4 . I am not weak for needing medication. When I went through my divorce in my late twenties, I finally decided to get on medication after years of trying to put it off, because I had been taught that it was weak.

After two really rough episodes of depression in the following three years, I realized I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for medication. Medication helped me survive until I could thrive again. If you’re considering medication, but are afraid because of the stigma, please know there is nothing weak about needing the assistance of medication to help you get by.

5 . Healing is not linear. When I first started my healing journey, I assumed that once I “healed” from something I wouldn’t have to address it again and that couldn’t have been farther from the truth. There is no timeline for healing and it is normal for things to come up again after you’ve already processed them. Healing is a lifelong process and we are continuously learning and growing as individuals. So, remember to be patient and compassionate with yourself on your journey.

How has living with mental illness affected your relationships, both romantic and platonic? Any advice for others who are navigating relationships while managing the condition?

Since I struggle with anxiety and depression in particular, they have both made it difficult at times for me to show up in my romantic and platonic relationships in the ways that I would like to. At times I am not able to give as much to my relationships or I may need more reassurance than usual to feel secure. Over time I have learned that the best way to approach these issues when they come up is to have an open and honest conversation about them. Those who are meant to be a part of my life and love me for me have always been understanding and willing to talk through things. Those that have been less supportive or couldn’t empathize with my situation, I’ve realized aren’t meant for me and that’s okay.

Reflecting on your journey, what do you believe are the common misconceptions about mental illness that could be dispelled to support newly diagnosed individuals better?

In my own experience, I think one of the biggest misconceptions about mental health that could be dispelled in order to further support individuals in their own healing journeys, would be the misconception that we are our diagnosis. Just as someone with a physical illness isn’t defined by it, neither should someone with a mental illness be defined by their struggles. It makes up such a small part of who we are and when we realize that we can learn how to take control of our life, rather than allowing our illness to take control.

What strategies or practices have you found most effective for managing your mental health, and how did you tailor them to fit your unique circumstances?

There are too many to name them all, but there have been specific skills and techniques over the years that I have found most helpful. One of the most impactful practices for me has been Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which is the practice of challenging our irrational thoughts. I learned these skills through therapy myself, but there are tons of resources out there in the forms of apps, worksheets, and online courses to learn CBT, if therapy isn’t an option.

Some other helpful tools, for me specifically, that have been helpful are regular exercise, running specifically, cold plunges, deep breathing exercises, consistent journaling, sticking to a strict morning and evening routine, when I can, and learning how to set healthy boundaries in order to protect my peace. Becoming really self-aware with what my triggers are and what decreases my window of tolerance so that I can plan around potential disturbances or avoid them all together, has been instrumental in managing my mental health.

Looking back, what is one thing you would tell your past self in the wake of your diagnosis, and what message of hope can you offer to those who are just starting to come to terms with their mental illness?

This isn’t the end of the world and things will get easier. When I first learned of my diagnoses and was in the thick of things, I remember overcatastrophizing things in my head. I couldn’t picture or imagine how things could possibly get better and thought I would struggle with frequent panic attacks for the rest of my life. Yet here I am now, almost three years out from my last panic attack and the one before was three years prior. Thanks to therapy, medication, the support of others, and a lot of inner healing work, I have learned how to control my anxiety, rather than allow it to control me and the same is possible for anyone.

Are there any books, podcasts, or other resources that have helped you understand or manage your condition better?

There are several books I recommend for anyone on their healing journey and those are The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk M.D., and the Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown. For podcasts I love The Diary of a CEO, specifically Steven Bartlett’s most recent episode with Dr. Joe Dispenza, as well as The Huberman Lab by Andrew Huberman and Unlocking Us by Brené Brown.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. :-)

Oh man, if I could have breakfast, lunch or dinner with one person, it would be Brené Brown. I am fascinated by her work and it has profoundly impacted my own life in many positive ways. It would be an honor to just spend an hour chatting with her one-on-one on how to allow ourselves to show up more vulnerably within our day to day lives.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

If you’d like to learn more about the work I do or how to work with me, you can follow me along on Instagram, which you can find linked on my website

Thank you for your time and thoughtful answers. I know many people will gain so much from hearing this.

About The Interviewer: Stephanie Greer, PhD is the Co-founder and CEO of Akin Mental Health — a company dedicated to guiding families on their journey supporting a loved one with mental health challenges like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and severe depression. Stephanie is passionate about this topic from her own personal experience growing up with a mother who struggled with bipolar 1 disorder and found a path forward to overcome the obstacles and live well. Stephanie’s professional experience includes a doctorate in neuroscience as well as design research roles at Hopelab and Apple. Stephanie brings this personal passion together with her world-class science and technology background to support families across the US in their personal journeys supporting loved ones with mental illness. To learn more about Akin Mental Health and join our community, visit us at



Stephanie Greer, CEO of Akin Mental Health
Authority Magazine

Stephanie earned her PhD in neuroscience from UC Berkeley and uses her knowledge of the brain to translate insights from science into actionable tech products