If you were to ask, this is how I think most people would describe me: She’s a pretty, successful, young woman who seemingly has it all. She’s athletic, thin, dresses well, has a great career, and has it all together. A nice person who is always smiling, always happy, and it never seems like there’s ever any life struggles. She’s the girl who gets what she wants: the award, the job, the promotion…and sometimes maybe even the guy. And as a friend, she’s someone who never says no and is always there, putting others before herself. She’s a perfect daughter, a loving sister, and the best aunt. If you need something, she’s someone you can always count on.
While a majority of these characteristics are accurate, a lot of them aren’t true. This is who I wanted people to see me as, and this is how I appeared for so long, but it isn’t close to who I truly am. This is my story.
My name is Natasha, but everyone calls me Tash (pronounced like Tosh.O and not like Cash). I’ve been fortunate to have been raised and supported by incredible parents who have provided for my sister and I for as long as I can remember. We always had what we needed, and we always worked for what we wanted. Since childhood, all my parents ever asked was that I do my best, and that would always be good enough. At a young age I realized my best was better than everyone else’s, 99% of the time. I was a McDonald’s/PowerAde High School All-American (soccer), I was an honor student, and I never got into any serious trouble. For reasons still yet to be uncovered, I set a higher standard for myself: that I would be the best at everything and in everything that I did, no exceptions.
It was in high school when the best at everything took the literal meaning. I wanted to be the best in friendships, the best in relationships. I wanted to please everyone and be the perfect person; be the one everyone could always count on. This is when I first experienced my black classmates saying to me “you act and talk like a white girl”. This is when I first experienced friends (and friends of friends) saying “you’re the prettiest black girl I know”. This is when I first experienced the black guy I had dated later on would date a white friend of mine. All of these events did something to me. I don’t blame any of the people for what they said or did, but I wasn’t prepared for the experience. I didn’t love myself enough at the time to let it not bother me. I questioned how I acted and how I talked. I wondered if when someone said I was pretty it was only because I was pretty for being black. So much went through my head during this time and as a teenager I didn’t know how to handle it. Since I wanted to be perfect, I didn’t show that it bothered me at all. I started to build “the wall”. On one side was who I wanted people to see me as, and on the other was who I was….I was the only one who was allowed to see that side. That was the uncomfortable and vulnerable side. It was messy, flawed and imperfect; and that wasn’t okay with me. The next years of my life were spent acting as who I wanted to be seen as, and not who I truly was.
This perfectionist attitude carried throughout college and then into my adult life. After college soccer was finished I found it unacceptable to delight in all of the carbs I did during my playing days and started to question my self-image. I told myself that this was not the body of the perfect me that I was supposed to be. So when I started graduate school, I started working out vigorously; and even though I played soccer my entire life, I hated working out….now working out was my evil best friend. For the next 6 years of my life I was exercising at least 6 times a week, most of the time 7. In college while playing soccer I was at my heaviest - 146 pounds at most. Over the next 6 years I would hit my lightest - 111 pounds. I never felt like I starved myself. I saw it as eating the appropriate amount. I started to eat significantly smaller portions and as healthy as can be; because that’s what a perfect person in my mind did. It became so routine that I was full after just a few small bites, and that was my new normal. That was my perfect.
During this time and into the next phase of my life I battled hard with relationships. I wanted to be the perfect girlfriend….I wanted to be wanted. I soon became depressed, I was hurt, I didn’t feel I was worthy of love, and I was broken.
I’ve always been one to worry and stress about things. If a friend was ever mad or non-responsive, what was it that I did to make them respond that way; was it even something I did? How could I fix it? I must not be a good friend if they won’t talk to me. I would worry and stress over things that turned to the point of panic, and in the end they turned out to be nothing. I would stay up all night thinking through situations, going days without any sleep. I could never turn my mind off, no matter how hard I tried. I couldn’t let anything go.
Approaching 30 years old there were signs that I needed to slow down and I needed to take care of myself, but I wanted to put others first. I didn’t want to ask for help. I wanted to be the one to offer help. This was true in my personal life as well as my professional life. On the outside, no one would ever think that I had battled depression and dealt with severe stress and anxiety on a daily basis. All they saw was a pretty face, a pretty smile, and someone who seemingly had it all together. I never let it appear that anything ever was wrong in my life. I could convince anyone that I was fine and everything was perfect. At my lowest of lows I could look anyone straight in the eye and say that things were great, and they would believe me.
On October 15, 2015, I suffered a severe anxiety attack at work and was taken to the Emergency Room via an ambulance. I was scared. I didn’t know what was happening and there was a moment where I thought I was going to die. I blamed myself; I caused this. There were all these signs and if I would’ve just stopped and paid attention…I wouldn’t be here. While at the hospital the nurse said I needed to be on medication. I fought it, refused it. I associated any medication for a psychological illness/disorder as being crazy. I didn’t want people to think I was crazy. It took some time but I knew medication would help, and it wouldn’t be permanent. I’m not crazy, I’m human.
I am a young woman that has a huge heart and I care about people, a lot. I’ve been loved my entire life by family and friends. But what was missing was I never loved myself. I never thought I was good enough and strived to be better, better than the best.
Stress and anxiety are real and still very present in my life. But now that I have the self love that was missing before, I am able to be vulnerable, ask for help, and be honest with myself and those around me. Just as important as self love, I’m surrounded by an incredible community of family and friends that support me, encourage me, and love me, no matter what. I’m tearing down the wall, day by day, little by little, and inviting my community to get to know the real me and my struggles. While it’s still uncomfortable at times, it’s relieving to not have to pretend that everything is okay and that I don’t have it all together. I still have bad days, but I’m able to get through them because I start and end each day knowing I’m loved.
I am so worth loving, and so are you.