CHAARG Saved Me | My Experience With Mental Health

My name is Natty + I’m currently finishing out my sophomore year. I’m also the founding Ambassador at West Chester University, which has grown to impact hundreds of girls on campus + I couldn’t be more proud to have started CHAARG.

So basically, before college I had no idea how impactful mental health really is. I was never overly confident in my body, but I rarely thought twice about how I looked or felt insecure to the point where it affected my daily life. I was an athlete, so I was super slim and generally thought of myself as “pretty.” My confidence was at an all time high by the end of senior year; I was in the best shape of my life, succeeding academically + athletically, + I had a solid group of friends. I never imagined that in just a few months, this confidence would be completely shattered.

Of course I’d heard of mental health issues, but I figured people were just being dramatic. Like, just stop being sad? Duh? But looking back on it, I was so ignorant + naive to think these challenges are a choice.

I went into college with the mindset of, “Oh, this is a piece of cake. What’s the big deal?” But as the first semester went on + stress piled up, I began to sink lower + lower into a dark hole. By winter break, I had gained 25lbs, poisoned my body way too much with alcohol + junk food, developed hormone imbalances to the point where I didn’t get a period for 6 months, + didn’t recognize myself when I looked in the mirror. I was so terrified of anyone back home seeing how “fat” I’d gotten + how different I was from high school that I literally avoided leaving my house for the majority of winter break. I vividly remember cancelling plans to get breakfast with my cousin after I got out of the shower + saw myself in the mirror. I had no idea who was staring back at me, + immediately broke down in tears. I couldn’t bring myself to go out in public + risk seeing someone I knew. I felt ashamed of myself + was quite honestly, in panic mode.

I was OBSESSED with how I looked. The self-hating thoughts took over every aspect of my life; I didn’t leave the house without caked on make up + sweats [trying to hide myself in any way possible], I hated eating in front of people because I thought they would judge me for being “fat,” + I was taking out my awful feelings towards myself on the people around me. I genuinely did not know who I had become.

The major wake up call//turning point came Thanksgiving of my freshman year. The night before, I decided to go to a party at a friend’s house. I was so anxious about everyone at home seeing me, but I really wanted to reunite with all the friends I hadn’t seen since summer. When I got there, I remember thinking to myself, “It’s fine. Just get so drunk that you forget you’re fat.” The next thing I recall is waking up in the emergency room with my parents – I had never been so terrified or seen them so disappointed. It turns out my mom had found me pale, cold, + unresponsive in the fetal position in our living room at 3 am. When I finally began to come to, I couldn’t stop crying. If I hadn’t gotten help when I did, I could’ve died. This was my rock bottom; the lowest of the low. Not only was I destroying my body, but I had scared my parents to death + ruined our Thanksgiving. This was not me. I knew I couldn’t stay on this path + something had to give.

Ironically, it was also over this break that I came across the CHAARG Ambassador applications, + I truly believe this was God showing me the way out. CHAARG [+ of course my family/friends] are what got me out of my rock bottom. This organization allowed me to find the inner strength that I knew I had buried within me all along. It gave me something to focus on other than my appearance. It gave me the tools to pull the real me out of that dark place. I’ve learned that struggles are what makes us strong, + it is OKAY to acknowledge when you need help + do what ya gotta do to get it.

If it wasn’t for CHAARG, I wouldn’t have 6 amazing women [aka my Exec Team] + 200 other familiar faces on campus to turn to if I need someone. I wouldn’t have the clarity to see how blessed I am to have an amazing family, great friends + awesome opportunities. I wouldn’t have learned that weight + appearance do NOT define my worth. I wouldn’t have discovered how capable I really am, + it scares me to think where I might be now had it not been for CHAARG.

Looking back, I realize I was petrified of showing people I wasn’t perfect + admitting I was slipping. However, this entire experience taught me that there is nothing more powerful than vulnerability. The only way to fix a broken inside is to open up, + ever since this realization I’ve become stronger than ever. If you’re struggling, know that you are a billion times more brave, more capable, + more amazing than you could ever possibly imagine – do what you gotta do to allow yourself to believe that. I’m rooting for you with my whole heart!

— Natalia Donohue [@fit.by.nat.inchaarg], #WCUPACHAARG

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