This is part of a series of interviews concerning mental health and its role in today’s society. With these interviews, I hope to shed light on how common mental health conditions really are, as well as to amplify the voices of those in recovery.
NOTE: content warning for mentions of v//mit, trauma.
Could you introduce yourself? (name, age, etc.)
- My name is Natalie. I’m a 17 year old female from southern Pennsylvania.
What has your experience with mental health been like? (what diagnoses do you have, when did they start, how do they affect your life?)
- My battle with mental health started around the age of 7 years old. I was in and out of hospitals at such an age due to the fact that I kept throwing up and my parents had no idea what was wrong. In reality, unbeknownst at the time, there was nothing physically wrong—it was anxiety.
- After that, I was soon diagnosed with emetephobia (the fear of vomit and nausea) and OCD. As I grew up, it overtook my life. Every activity, interaction, etc. was swallowed up by anxiety and the overwhelming fear of throwing up. I was in and out of therapists for years until I found my current one.
- As I grew up, I developed what was post anxiety depression that would manifest free I had relapsed in anxiety. Eventually, I noticed that the depression lingered even without relapsing, and I was soon diagnosed with a form of Seasonal Depression.
- Recently (last year), my family and I experienced a house fire. It was absolutely devastating and left my family and I with lasting imprints of trauma and PTSD. Eventually, these all became too much to handle alone, so I sought help at a psychiatric center in Philadelphia, I have been anxiety-relapse free since then.
What has recovery been like? Who were your main support systems during recovery?
- Throughout my life, recovery ended up being everything I expected it not to be. I found myself confused every time I relapsed in anxiety or depression, it hurt knowing I sought such intensive and constant treatment over the years and I was still sick. My therapists were wonderful throughout my journey, but I got older and needed to continue moving on. My friends and family had my back and encouraged me along the way, which I am eternally grateful for.
- Treatment at the psychiatric center was rough. It was all virtual due to Covid and I was exposed to my greatest fear throughout it: vomiting. Videos, pictures, imitations; overall intense exposure therapy that left me infuriated at my parents at the time for signing me up for such torture. After eight weeks, I was discharged and was utterly surprised that it had actually worked. So many years leading up to what felt like a final battle, though the fight is far from over.
What would you tell yourself if you could go back to the beginning of your recovery/mental health journey? What advice might you have for people who are just beginning their journey to recovery?
- If I could go back all the way to the beginning of my journey, I’d tell my little seven-year-old self that there will be ease for this. There will not be a cure, but there will be help. This road is long, but you are going to grow so much stronger than you imagine. You will continue to walk in and out of this like a champion and you will have God on your side the entire time. The frustration, anger, sadness, confusion, hopelessness, and pain is worth it. Feeling better is worth it.
- If you have recently began your mental health recovery journey, I will tell you right now that it is not an overnight process. Everybody’s journey is different; some people heal within a month and some people heal within ten years. It’s different for everybody, including you. There’s a lot involved, healing is far from linear and it does not follow a schedule. Relapsing is part of healing. Frustration, sadness, and setbacks are part of healing. This is all part of the process that will prove how much strength you really hold.
What are some things you wish people realized about mental health conditions? What can others do to support people battling with mental health conditions?
- I wish people would educate themselves more about mental health issues rather than blowing it aside. It’s one of those situations, I feel like, where ‘if you don’t experience it then it doesn’t exist’, which is quite obviously not the case. People hear about it or see a post about it and tend to blow it off without acknowledging the severity of these cases and how it’s affecting people, which I wish people were more cognizant of.
- Helping others who struggle with mental illness is so crucial. People dealing with these issues are so beyond grateful knowing that they have your support, even if they may not express it clearly. It depends on their situation. If they talk to you about their mental health condition(s), listen to them and do your research. Find effective methods that would be sufficient in distracting, easing, or helping them in any way. Make sure you do things the correct way and don’t push anything—people with these struggles sometimes don’t have the energy or stability to receive help at the time. If someone is in obvious and immediate danger, consider calling a hotline if they are directly in harm’s way and you’re sure of it. Do not get involved with personal situations unless asked or if someone is directly in harm’s way or danger. That is important.
What are your thoughts on the school education system in terms of mental health awareness and curriculum? Do you think they should do better? If yes, how can they do better?
- In my opinion, the school education system in terms of mental health awareness/help needs to be better. Back when I was in the fourth grade and still endlessly struggling with my issues, even while seeing a therapist outside of school, my school guidance counselor was a big source of grounding. I’m aware that she’s not a licensed therapist for each individual person, but I believe there should be more meetings with parents AND children. Transparency and consent is very important, so the person dealing with these issues should be included in most plans and dialogue.
Do you feel like there is a stigma surrounding mental health and treatment? If so, why do you think it exists? What do you think we can do to break down this barrier?
- The stigma around mental health has been and remains deafening. A year or two ago, I lied on my ADHD testing because I was scared of not being taken seriously if I were to be diagnosed. So many people refuse to seek help, therapy, or medication because they don’t want to be seen as “special” or “mentally sick” or “mentally unstable”. The majority of people with mental health issues have dealt with these stigmatized thoughts and have made themselves worse by prolonging seeking treatment or help. Reducing the stigma around receiving therapy, medication, or any kind of help is imperative as catching g mental illnesses early is a crucial part to recovering well. Catching it later on still makes it possible to recover, but the earlier the easier, in most cases.
Is there anything else you would like to share or talk about?
- The last thing I want to note is just not to give up. I know you’ve heard it said a hundred thousand times and it may not mean much anymore, but from the bottom of my heart—it gets better. I survived and so will you. ♡︎
Thank you! You can follow Natalie at @natalie.ann1021 on Instagram!