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Ashlee Thomas & The Secret Burden

What is The Secret Burden and what do you hope to accomplish?

The Secret Burden is a non-profit charity providing eating disorder and mental health support, education, and awareness based on lived experience. Our big vision is to big able to find our short film and take it on the road to raise awareness about eating disorders and eventually how a transitional wellness house. We started The Secret Burden to start the conversation, challenge the stigma and create change in the eating disorder and mental health space because we found no education and awareness when I was going through my own ED.

"[I want to] Change the stigma associated with eating disorders and mental health so people will no longer feel ashamed to seek help and medical professionals are educated on how to help." - Ashlee Thomas

Woman with long dark hair wearing black shorts and shirt looking down smiling

Is there a personal story you'd like to share?

At 14, I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa, an eating disorder that almost took my life. I was told that making my 15th birthday was an “unrealistic” expectation. However, after the support from my family and 3 months in hospital, I was able to build the foundations of what was to be the start of my recovery. It took me 7 years to recover, in which I had to gain 20kgs, deal with my trauma, face my food fears and rediscover myself. I was 14 and saying goodbye to my family.

I’m now 22 and fighting for those who are there now. Through my recovery there was so much shame, guilt and embarrassment with having an eating disorder. It was perceived that I had caused this. No one understood and no one could see, feel or know the pain that I was in both physically and mentally. My illness took away my life but gave me a new found version of myself, where I found my voice and am now using it to help others and influence a space that has since not recognised stories like mine.

What is a life lesson you'd like to share?

Your life is your choice. You write your narrative and you define the content within your book. For so long I blamed people, experiences and trauma for creating a world I didn’t want to be in, but my one freedom is choice. What I decide to do everyday is up to me. You can utilise that to create the world you want to be in or you can give that away and make someone else create your life for you.

Any business hurdles you've had to overcome and lessons you've learnt along the way?

Financial struggles are the biggest business hurdle. Coming from a background of minimal financial support, this is difficult to navigate. Having to volunteer time and energy into turning up for others and the business when you’re also working for someone else full time, a big struggle, but focusing on my why and my passion to change this space has always given me hope that this is only temporary. I have belief in “this is not forever”.

Be patient but don’t wait. Go and do the work and hustle your way into rooms and in front of people so your voice is heard, don’t wait for things to just happen.

Speaking of business, what type of culture do you hope to create?

One that pushes a person to be the best version of themselves. A culture that accepts everyone for who they are, what they bring and even the things they may not like. It’s inclusive, it’s supportive and it’s an honest space.

Do you believe diversity in a business is important?

Absolutely. All voices should be given the space to flourish in what they want to do.

Who would your business hire and why?

We would hire people who were dedicated to supporting and nurturing the health of others. They would be driven and as passionate as we are to help those have their stories told. This space is hard to work in, and there are many barriers to fight, so they would need to be with us fighting for eating disorders to be globally recognised as a real mental health issue.

What externally motivates you to do the work you do?

All the young people I mentor that are looking for hope and someone to speak up. They motivate me to keep shouting and keep doing the work, so they can feel heard and their stories can be validated.

Is there anyone who has really inspired you along the way?

My mum! She honestly has been by my side through it all. She has taught me to persist even when I wanted to leave it all. She has held up a mirror and kept me accountable.

You can connect with Ashlee here: (website opens in new tab)

Instagram: ashlee.thomas

Facebook: The Secret Burden

Spotify: The Secret Sunday Sessions


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