Natalie’s Story

Natalie’s Story

I started both my physical and mental wellbeing journey seven years ago when I found myself at a really low, unhappy time in my early 20s. I had lost a part of me which was really outgoing, social and confident. My self-worth was low as a result of a past relationship, coupled with the general pressures of needing to find your feet and purpose in your early 20s. I had started to isolate myself from friends and family and found myself feeling quite lonely. I ignored the way I was feeling for a while and eventually this resulted in anxiety and panic attacks. I found it difficult to accept that I had no control over the overwhelming feeling of panic and fear that I was experiencing. The first time I had a panic attack I made my mum take me to A&E because the chest pains were so severe and I couldn’t catch my breath. On that journey I had convinced myself I was having a heart attack. When I arrived and was checked over, the doctor explained I’d had a panic attack. This left me really confused, a bit disappointed and also really guilty that I had wasted people’s time. I couldn’t understand how this could be when the symptoms felt so severe at the time.

I had neglected my physical health quite dramatically during this time and one day I came across an old photo of me and my friends and I found it difficult to recognise myself. I thought to myself that maybe if I was fitter and healthier I wouldn’t of found it so difficult to breathe. That day I set myself a goal to start exercising and becoming fitter and healthier. At the time I thought that my low mood and anxiety was due to weight gain and feeling really unhappy with my physical appearance. I remember looking back thinking that I had such a long way to go but I knew how badly I wanted to feel ‘well’ again. My family and friends were all really supportive and would always tell me ‘you’re fine as you are, you don’t need to change we love you for you etc’… But I just didn’t see what they could see and would always respond with ‘your just being nice or you have to say that because you’re my mum!’. I didn’t tell them how I was truly feeling inside, I would just always blame it on my physical appearance. Like most people feeling this way, I wanted fast results so I tried extreme diets and tried to cut corners where I could. I soon learned from my mistakes and realised that these diets weren’t sustainable. I only ended up binge eating as a result of being too restrictive, this left me in a yo-yo cycle of losing and gaining weight.

When I started to feel like I had lost control again I took a step back and started to reflect on my thoughts and behaviours. I spent a lot of time analysing my eating habits and my emotional relationship with food. I felt low and unhappy and would use cravings to fill a gap – but would then feel worse than before. I would sometimes punish myself with extra physical exercise to burn off the bad food I had binged on thinking that would make it seem as though it never happened!

I soon realised that the relationship between my physical and emotional wellbeing was really unhealthy. I took a step back to think about my ‘why’, the purpose of this journey and what was my goal. Only I had control of my behaviours, the food I was eating, my habits, my motivation and my self-discipline. I’d call myself an emotional eater – but then realised that was just me trying to justify my behaviour! I remember having this internal debate with myself which helped me realise that it was only me standing in the way of me achieving my goals, no one else, the excuses and choices are coming from me. I had a choice, either carry on going round in circles in a physical and emotional spiral or to make a commitment. It was my mindset that needed to change in order to achieve what I wanted.

At work I didn’t share how I was feeling or tell anyone I’d had a panic attack, I was living in fear of when the next one would arise. I turned up every day keeping everything crossed that I would just be able to get through that shift. I was a high performing team member who was starting to develop and be given more opportunities to progress. I really didn’t want my anxiety to present itself at work and disrupt all the hard work I had put in over the years. For a period of time, most days at work were hazy, I was there, but I wasn’t present.

Once I started to live a healthier lifestyle with the right balance of nutritious food and exercise I started to loose weight consistently, helping me to feel physically so much fitter and healthier. I was so determined I could do it. What I didn’t realise at the time was the positive impact this was also having on my mental health. I slowly started to feel more confident, my self-esteem improved and I started to feel like ‘me’ again. Most importantly, I was able to take control back over the overwhelming feelings of anxiety and panic I was having. My mindset had shifted, I kept reminding myself that I had control over my breathing and that I was safe. This enabled me to acknowledge and understand the behaviours I could control and let go of what I couldn’t control.

There were several times where I started to feel really stressed or anxious and my instinct would always tell me to do some high intensity exercise to make it go away. Short-term this worked, but I then realised that I was hiding the way I was feeling by overcompensating with exercise, and I was doing too much because I knew afterwards it would make me feel great. Of course that was just my body fuelled from adrenaline and endorphins and my anxiety or stress would still be there. I knew that although exercise was a great outlet for me, it would not make my negative thoughts and feelings disappear, I still needed to talk out.

I believe that talking about your feelings and accessing talking therapy is amazing, I also found that I found my therapy in exercise. Five stone less of me later, I look back at that old picture and reflect on how much I have grown as a person, this is what I am most proud of. What I realise now is that I wasn’t taking my mental health as seriously as my physical health. Fitness will now always be a big part of my life, it helps keeps me fit, focused, determined and passionate about life. I know that if I want to achieve something I can put my mind to it, commit and work really hard and I CAN achieve any goal which may seem so impossible to start with. My career, my relationships and my connections with others have also flourished as a result of me changing my mindset.

I wanted to share my journey to self-love and positive physical and mental wellbeing. I hope that in doing so I may help or inspire someone in a similar situation who may be experiencing low self-worth. A lot of our self-doubt and low self esteem can come from others opinions, comparing ourselves to others or negative experiences in our lives. I have learnt that you need to love yourself before you try to make others love you too. Accept yourself for who you are, be authentic and people will accept you for you. It is a marathon, not a sprint, a lifestyle change takes time and commitment for it to be sustainable and healthy.

My awareness and understanding of my mental health has grown and I now know I need to take it as seriously as my physical health. When I start to feel low or anxious I know that I need to be proactive and reach out to colleagues, family and friends and talk about how I’m feeling to prevent a decline in my mental health in the future. I now have a healthy and balanced wellbeing over all. I don’t restrict myself from enjoying good food – I still enjoy eating cake and binging on takeaways every now and then. I know that I can carry on maintaining that healthy lifestyle the next day because it makes me FEEL great, I have learnt that how I feel is so much more important than how I look.

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