She strikes you as an introvert but as soon as the conversation gets going, you realise she is a woman with many passions and loads of compassion. We catch up with Ashleigh Thomas in her Brackenhurst home to speak about her life and one of her side hustles as a trauma counsellor.
Ashleigh is the third of four children, all girls, and grew up in the South of Joburg, matriculated from the National School of the Arts, where she specialised in ballet.
Dancing was one of her passions since the age of four, and she continued to dance right up to her 30s.
After school she finished a diploma in Pilates and became a flight attendant, spending her 20s and 30s between South Africa and the Middle East.
She described her life as nothing short of an adventure, and an adventure that is continuous.
Ashleigh owns a Pilates studio, runs a biscuit business on the side and also spends a few nights a week as a trauma counseller at the Netcare Union Hospital.
This is what led us to Ashleigh, her work as a counsellor to many families who lost loved ones due to Covid-19-related deaths.
‘Trauma counselling is my calling. I was introduced to it by my close friend and Pilates client Dalena, who runs a trauma counselling team. She saw potential in me and got me into the world of counselling.
‘In actual fact, I think trauma counselling chose me because not everyone will willingly give up their sleep to be with a person who is in need of some compassion, yet I will gladly step right in and do whatever I can for anyone who is hurting.
‘The best part of being a counsellor is being that small voice of reason to a hurting family, bringing comfort and making them feel like they matter. I also love seeing the staff who I’m so blessed to work alongside. This is an amazing team who have made our job so rewarding.’
But the flip side to that coin is also the hardest part of her job as a counsellor.
‘It is incredibly hard to deliver devastating news to a family and watch their lives crumble and not being able to take that pain and grief away,’ she said.
‘However, knowing I am fulfilling my duty on earth makes trauma counselling so special. It may even be something like having a revelation of what my calling really is. It makes me feel like I am able to be useful, being able to give of my time. It sure is something God has blessed me with.’
With three jobs, whether it be day or night, there has to be something that drives you?
‘Ha ha, yes, Pilates is actually my main hustle. I get the opportunity to transform lives through movement on a daily basis. Pilates is great for pain management, depression, injury rehab and back pain. I have an incredible team of clients who keep me going.
‘My second hustle is The Biscuiteer … come have a look in my kitchen, I’ll show you what I do all night.’
And let’s just say, her biscuits are something out of this world, beautifully decorated and so worth a try.
That, of course, brings us to the question: What are the challenges running three jobs side by side?
‘Getting enough sleep. My days and nights are filled with so many things!’
But she would not change any of this for the world and tells you that ‘wherever God leads her, be it as a Pilates instructor, counsellor or biscuiteer, I will follow’.
‘Life has taught me that it is important to find your passion. Get out and move more. Your body was designed to move. Have a healthy hobby that can be used as a constructive stress outlet, find the beauty in the detail, give without wanting anything back.
‘Life is so fragile and short. One day when we leave this earth, our status, bank accounts, trophies, achievements, pride, ego and all of that is left behind. The only thing you take with you is your belief system,’ she said.
- What do you love about the South?
The Klipriver Nature Reserve. It is beautiful and tucked away.
- Married or single?
I am not married, I have two beautiful Staffies, Chimo and Charlie. They are my absolute joy. With the nature of my work, it makes it difficult to share more time with anyone, so I am quite happy to be in the space I am in.
- Something very few people know about you?
I worked for a VIP family in Egypt, where I was their flight attendant. I was the only crew on board and responsible for all catering, cleaning, stocking the aircraft and more. Through that experience I discovered what I was really capable of and that I am able to function well under intense pressure.
- Do you prefer food, travel or art?
- Rain vs sunshine?
Sunshine but love rain at night.
- The word that best describes you?
- Your pet peeves?
Littering, loud noises and animal abuse.
* Text: CARINA VAN DER WALT. Photo: AFTERGLOW PHOTOGRAPHY.