I’d like to share a story about Ashley Windisch. I’ve known Ashley for the better part of four years. She was originally my client and became my colleague last year. 

Ashley embodies intellectual humility. She’s one of the most skilled people I have ever worked with, but also isn’t showy. She’s a thought leader with a get-things-done attitude. From a professional perspective, Ashley is someone you would want in your working group.

Ashley Windisch

Ashley the colleague doesn’t define Ashley the person. If the pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that things aren’t what they seem for the person on the other side of the computer screen.

A new role in a new environment

Ashley started her current job in March, 2020. She had returned to Canada eight months earlier after a near two year Australian adventure, which she describes as the best experience of her life. Upon returning to Canada, she moved into a small apartment – thinking it would just be temporary until she was able to fully settle in.

We all remember what happened in March, 2020, but Ashley’s situation was unique. She was starting a new role and spent a grand total of two days in the office, before the initial stay-at-home order was put in place. It’s hard enough to acclimate to a new working environment in a normal situation. Now imagine having to do that from home. 

Unfortunately, work was not the only stressor Ashley had to deal with. Ashley is immunosuppressed, having been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease seven years ago. Her doctor, concerned about her physical health, phoned her immediately and asked her to stay at home indefinitely. The coronavirus was still a mystery at the time and the doctor didn’t want Ashley to take any chances. 

What started as a two week stay-at-home order in Ontario evolved into a four month stay-in-your-junior one bedroom apartment ordeal for Ashley. Although she was able to stay connected with her friends from all over the world and her family, the lack of social contact was very difficult to endure. 

So after four months, Mara the dog entered Ashley’s life!

Mara, Ashley's dog

Mara gave Ashley the motivation to start going outside again but she was still apprehensive about getting too close to anyone. The data for people with Crohn’s disease clearly indicated that it is much harder for them to fight off COVID-19, due to the immunosuppression. For Ashley, that meant her daily walks with Mara were her only outdoor activities.

“I spent time working on me”

Ashley was able to find purpose over the past year despite the obstacles she faced. She no longer wanted her Crohn’s disease, or her recent endometriosis diagnosis to define her. She decided to take control of her health. In her words, “I wanted to get to a point where I can make informed decisions about my health by educating myself.”

Ashley also created a new normal for herself by staying very connected to her family. She speaks with her parents, her brothers and their girlfriends daily, along with her extended network of domestic and international friends.

Her new normal still comes with challenges. As a single woman, she says there are times she feels lonely because “people in my life are moving forward because they’re not constrained by health issues.” It isn’t just dating. She had planned on getting an Invisalign and renewing her driver’s license, but has been unable to do so. 

“It takes time to get back to the realization that at least I’m healthy,” she reflects.

Vaccination Day – “A shining ray of light”

It wasn’t until Ontario’s vaccination campaign rolled out for immunosuppressed individuals that Ashley could finally breathe a sigh of relief. 

“I was so happy,” she recalls. “Vaccination provided me with a bit of hope and safety to fight this. I actually cried when I got an appointment at Sunnybrook Hospital.”

She admits she’s still apprehensive because the clinical trials were conducted with healthy people and the vaccines’ effectivenesses, for those who are immunosuppressed, remain unclear. The one thing she’s certain of, however, is she was able to make this decision for herself and she ultimately feels great about it. She says she can’t wait to get her second vaccine on July 11.

What we can all learn from Ashley

I’ve often said and still believe that it’s okay to feel how you feel. The recent uptick in cases in Ontario has made me sad and frustrated – primarily because I haven’t seen my family in a very long time. I also can’t imagine what it must feel like to be in Ashley’s shoes, especially since she still manages to bring a high degree of enthusiasm and energy to work and life on a daily basis. I truly admire her.

What we can all learn from Ashley is to listen and be empathetic. Be mindful of each others’ realities and try to understand how they are feeling. 

For Ashley, I’m hoping your second vaccination date comes sooner than July 11. You deserve it!

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