Natasha’s Story: Self-care is a Life Journey

NatashaNatasha’s path to self-care has taken years and throughout, she has had to learn to manage severe anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain. She credits the Taking Charge Chronic Pain class hosted at the Two Rivers Family Health Team with providing her with the tools – and support – she needed to deal with what she had been through and develop healthy ways to cope.

In 2009, Natasha had moved away from her hometown and family and friends in Waterloo Region to pursue her dream job. She had her own apartment, a great career in social work and a circle of really close friends. But a layoff and subsequent job that required her to work inconsistent hours left Natasha feeling isolated, tired and unmotivated. 

“Working those hours was just not healthy for me,” says Natasha. “I did it for eight months because I had to but I didn’t really recognize the impact it would have on me in addition to the regular, every day stressors of life. In that time, some healthier habits went out the window. I knew I needed to make myself a priority but it was very difficult.”

Natasha accepted another position in social work with better hours and her life improved greatly.

“Just before I had surgery for nerve damage from an accident at work, there was an incident at the office. One of my clients tried to end her life. I was able to get help for her in time but it was very traumatic. It brought back an earlier experience where a family member had tried to take his life. I went for surgery for the nerve damage and was better. I knew then that I needed to make self-care a priority and I did. I did everything I could to make my life better by eating well, sleeping better, exercising, getting counselling and engaging socially with positive, healthy people. I felt back on track, more balanced and focused for quite a while. But then a series of events changed my life forever. ”

In August 2013, she was in a car accident. She sustained a concussion, severe whiplash, back and several other injuries. The pain was unbearable and that’s when she began having nightmares. Physiotherapy was helping as much as it could but chronic pain, anxiety, financial stress and the challenge of managing paperwork from the accident was just too much.

“I started making plans to move closer to family for their support for a little while,” says Natasha. “But before I could make the move I was in another car accident in January 2014. I was out with a friend as a passenger in her car when she lost control and hit a pole. On top of everything else, I now had another concussion, severe leg injuries, broken bones, torn tendons, more damage to my back and post-traumatic stress disorder. Anxiety began running my life at that point.”

During her recovery, Natasha signed up for the chronic pain class and thought that it might help her. It helped her to turn to activities and habits that she used to enjoy, like aqua-therapy to keep her centered and contribute to her health and recovery. She is still working on getting better and her family and the chronic pain class has been a huge part of that. Of all, Natasha enjoyed most building connections with others attending the class.

“The chronic pain program was so helpful,” says Natasha. “I met so many people who made me feel hopeful and I learned to accept that it might take time to complete tasks, that it’s ok to pace myself. They talked about good self-care and sleep habits, foods that might make my symptoms worse, and tips for working with my doctor, like how to communicate, keep records and advocate for myself. These programs need to exist more for others in our community. I still use what I learned every day to balance what’s good for me with the pain I’m feeling. I also have to give my family – especially my mom - a lot of credit, they’ve really stuck by me. They put up with so much and have loved me through it anyways. I don’t even know if they understand how great they’ve been.”

The Waterloo Wellington LHIN and the Ministry of Health provide funding for self-care supports through community health centres and family health teams. Natasha has since enrolled in an anxiety depression group program offered through Langs Community Health Centre in Cambridge.