Words to Live By: Natasha’s Story

Content Warning: The following material contains references to self-harm that some readers may find distressing.

Natasha is a vibrant young mother with two children, a supportive husband, and a passion for baking. Looking at her with her beautiful family, you would likely never guess that beneath the surface, Natasha is fighting a substantial battle with her mental health. (TW) After her most recent relapse, Natasha decided to write about her experience with depression, PTSD, self-harm, suicide ideation, and eating disorders, hoping that by sharing her story, she can help lessen the stigma surrounding these topics:

Mental health has always been a significant struggle of mine, with a major attributing factor being that I have Anorexia Nervosa with Bulimic tendencies. This means that I struggle with over-restricting and starving myself, but also struggle with purging on the off chance that I do eat something. This has been a struggle for me for many years, with professionals estimating that it started at latest in middle school, however it’s likely that it began even before then.

There are a lot of stigmas and misconceptions in society regarding eating disorders, which is one of the many factors as to why I don’t like talking about my experience with it. From my past experiences, I used to receive a lot of negative responses from people who knew about my struggles (i.e. thinking it was for attention, people telling me that it’s “all in my head” and that I need to “snap out of it”, or just in general being treated differently from others due to my illness). However, I have come to realize as of lately that suppressing my illness and pretending that I have it under control is doing a lot more damage to myself then I initially realized. I have also seen other people bringing awareness to the topic of mental health issues, which has helped me to accept and be more open about my own personal struggles. What a lot of people don’t realize about eating disorders is that you don’t just “get over it”. This is something that for some goes into “remission”, and that many people such as myself will likely struggle with for the rest of our lives, and may have relapses with.

My first major “relapse” with my eating disorder happened in high school after several traumatic experiences led to me being diagnosed with PTSD, depression, and anxiety. I learned to cope through my anorexia and bulimic tendencies, my self-harm, and my suicidal ideation. Unfortunately, my eating disorder at this time was something that I wasn’t able to receive medical help for. Rather, it was something that angered a lot of people around me, and I eventually learned to hide and repress a lot of the symptoms I personally experienced. The second relapse I had was shortly after I gave birth to [my daughter]. Between the extreme postpartum depression I experienced on top of everything else I already had, the grief I still felt about not being able to pursue my dream job (I had wanted to be in the National Guard since 7th Grade; however my enlisting officer lied to me regarding what physical and mental disabilities you can have in the military, and in the end I was Honorably Discharged after only about six months), along with the stress of wedding planning and trying to make everyone else around me happy, and adjusting to my new “normal” everyday life experience, there was a lot that affected my mental health. I would argue that my eating disorder was at its worst at this point in time. This was the first time that I was finally encouraged to seek out treatment. However, I refused to go inpatient, which was what I had really needed at the time. I had convinced myself (and those around me) that because I had a daughter and had just gotten married that going inpatient was unreasonable. Because I didn’t do what was medically advised, the program didn’t do much to help me. Our insurance ended up leaving us with a significantly higher bill than we initially thought we would have to pay, leaving us with no choice but to have me leave the program early.

With each pregnancy I was able to go into “remission”. My mindset while pregnant was that it was ok to eat because it was for the baby, not me. However, this also meant that once [my son] was born and I was done breastfeeding, my eating disorder came back full force once again. This time around it eventually affected my mental health in a much more frightening way. A few weeks ago, my mental health got to such a low point that I attempted suicide. In the moment, I was in such a numb state emotionally that I couldn’t find a way to care about what I was doing. I thankfully have an incredible sister who came and helped me and persuaded me to let her take me to the ER and get help. I was so scared about what my husband was going to say to me when he got there, but the first thing he said to me was “I am so proud of you for stopping and getting help”. I think I’ve known for years now that I’ve needed help, yet my eating disorder side always suppressed that knowledge. In that moment, I realized help was no longer an option but a necessity. This moment pushed us to once again seek help for me, this time with me going inpatient. My start date will be this upcoming Thursday [August 19th].

The last time I went, several people shared information about what was going on with me with others without my consent. This caused me to lose trust in people that I had previously trusted with all my heart. Some of these people still haven’t acknowledged with me what they did (one or two apologized to [my husband], however this caused a lot of frustration for him and I, considering it wasn’t him who it was owed to). This was another factor to why I chose to come forward with my story this time: It’s MINE to tell, not someone else’s.

One of the most “interesting” parts of my eating disorder (in my opinion) is my obsession with baking, but my absolute anxiety and fear of eating anything I bake (thankfully i have a lot of family who enjoy being taste testers for my business). I love baking, and would love to someday also be able to enjoy whatever I bake for my business.

The hardest part this time around is having to say goodbye to my babies and my husband, as I won’t be able to see them while at treatment. I am so grateful to the family that has come forward to help me and Jacob, and while I am struggling to accept that I won’t be the one caring for my children for the time being, they at least will be with people who I know will love them and do a good job caring for them.

Natasha says that her husband has been her biggest support system and has shown her an endless amount of patience and love, though her sisters, parents, and in-laws have also been incredibly supportive of her during her struggles. To anyone who may be facing a similar struggle, Natasha has this to say:

“Your support system is larger than you know. Even starting small and reaching out to a few people you trust is incredibly brave. Personally for me, it was easier to reach out to my personal and couples therapist this time around before anyone else. Part of a mental health specialist’s job is to help with issues like this, which makes it a little easier to talk about. Once you vocalize the need for help to one, two, or three people, it becomes easier to talk about it. Suppressing the issue makes it harder to talk about it, because over time things are building up and becoming more complicated.”

Tattooed on Natasha’s right arm are the words “to live would be an awfully big adventure,” a quote from Peter Pan. The tattoo is part of her inspiration to recover and for Natasha, are truly words to live by.

Natasha understands better than anyone that there will likely never be a permanent “fix” for her mental health struggles and eating disorders, but with support and the right treatment, she is hopeful that she can begin her journey to recovery.

Natasha’s tattoo reads “to live would be an awfully big adventure”, her inspiration to recover