Natasha Lewis built her dream career, styling hair and makeup for media personalities and models, one glamorous event, TV program and magazine photoshoot at a time. But after becoming a mother and suffering five traumatic years of loss, Natasha began a battle with depression that left her feeling alone and searching for an escape from life.
With professional help, an unyielding determination to get back to good health, and the love of her gorgeous daughter, this mother is back on top, juggling motherhood and a booming beauty business to boot. Natasha talks openly about her darkest hour and shares her tips for self-care.
Can you tell us about your career journey so far?
After completing an apprenticeship in hairdressing in 1995, I went on to study makeup artistry. In 1998 I moved from the Gold Coast to Sydney to further my career and achieve my lifelong dream of becoming a hair and makeup artist for fashion, magazine and TV. In my 28 years in the industry, I have worked at huge events such as New York Fashion Week, Australian Fashion Week, The Logie Awards and The Golden Globe Awards. I have also worked on photoshoots for magazines including Marie Claire, TV Week, The Australian Women’s Weekly and NW. My TV experience includes working with Network Ten on Wake Up, Studio 10 and the Weekend News with Natarsha Belling, The X Factor and Showtime Movie News on Foxtel. I also worked outside the media industry on big advertising campaigns for LJ Hooker and Domain.
In 2012 I completed my Certificate IV in Training and Assessment to teach hair and makeup, and in 2014 went out on my own, opening The Hair & Makeup Studio. The past four years have been wonderful, and I am extremely grateful for all the work that has come my way.
This year I became an ethics teacher at my daughter’s school and achieved a Certificate in Mentoring so that I could support youth and become a mentor with Raise Foundation.
You are the proud owner of a fabulous hair and makeup studio in Sydney. What was it like starting your own business four years ago?
Getting the keys to the studio was so exciting. The shop had been an empty shell and we built it from scratch. My husband was an amazing support, completing most of the work himself.
After we opened though, things got tough. The hair and makeup side was easy but building the business was one big learning curve. I would lose track of time because I was working on tasks I had never done before, and I remember some days looking at my watch and panicking because it was 2.55PM, the work wasn’t done and I had to get to school pick up! There were also staff issues early on, which took their toll emotionally.
People often say it takes two to three years for a business to get off the ground, well, I can definitely vouch for that. I love the business now and I am so glad I stuck it out. I have not only learnt so much about business, but also about myself.
You have a gorgeous daughter who is nine years old. How has becoming a mother changed you?
I never knew I had so much love to give until I had my daughter. Being a mum has changed me so much – I am mindful of everything I do and the impact it has on her life. I want to be a good role model for her. I am a better person because of her!
Now, you also experienced severe depression and want to share your story with others. You said that you didn’t realise you were depressed until someone said, ‘It was like walking on egg shells around you’. Can you tell us what this time was like in your life?
I was snappy, over-sensitive, arguing with my husband a lot, angry at everyone and drinking too much. In five years I lost my dad to cancer, my father-in-law to a heart attack, my sister-in-law to a brain tumour and my daughter started school. I had always been strong and able to hold it together, but one day I collapsed. I could no longer handle the slightest disruptions. I began to disengage from everyone around me. I felt alone – I could not see past it. I contemplated suicide. The pain was unbearable and I wanted to escape it. I would lay in bed awake at 3AM thinking about ending my life while my husband lay asleep beside me. What stopped me from taking the next step was the love of my daughter. My thoughts would always return to her and how I could not do that to her. And I am SO glad I never did!
How did you get through this challenging time? What’s your advice for other people who may be feeling this way?
I knew these thoughts weren’t healthy, and that something must be terribly wrong when I was searching for an escape from life.
The first step was seeking help. It was really tough admitting I had a problem, but putting my hand up and asking for help was the best thing I did. I made an appointment to see my GP and she referred me to a psychiatrist.
The psychiatrist helped me open up about my childhood and uncover feelings I had suppressed for a very long time. I had never spoken about my parents’ divorce or family life when I was young. My dad left when I was eight years old and my mum brought up three children by herself. I carry no blame, and I realise my upbringing was better than many, but there are aspects of it that I needed to face before I could heal. My psychiatrist helped me bring a lot of that to the surface. She taught me that I needed to feel the pain before I could let it go. I would visualise being the eight year old girl whose dad had just left her. The pain would manifest itself physically – my chest would hurt and the pain would cripple me. But each time I did it I felt better afterwards. Finally, I stopped suppressing my feelings and was able to heal.
I also began reading self-help material and watching motivational videos. Writing down lists of the things I was grateful for and what I loved to do with my time helped me focus on the positive aspects of my life.
My husband and I spoke to a marriage counsellor to get our communication back on track. My advice to others is to seek professional help in this area if it’s an issue for you. Professionals know exactly what to say and can give you invaluable advice.
Speaking to close friends helped me through my depression, although for a long time it was difficult to speak openly about my problems because I felt ashamed.
Talking about my issues helped me discover who my real friends are – they’re the people who don’t judge you.
Why do you think it’s important to talk openly about mental illness?
There is still so much stigma around mental illness. Sufferers often feel embarrassed or ashamed because of the judgement they receive. The more we talk about it, the more we normalise it.
When I was unwell, looking at me you would have had no idea how much I was struggling on the inside. I had a successful career, was happily married with a gorgeous daughter, owned a couple of properties – why did it affect me? It’s important that I share my story to let others know mental illness does not discriminate – to let others who may be feeling the way I felt know that they are not alone in feeling the way they do.
You’ve lived through a very difficult time in your life. What is your way of coping when you find yourself feeling frustrated, overwhelmed or burned out? How do you look after yourself?
Most mornings around 6.30AM I go for a bike ride to the beach and look around at all the beauty that surrounds me. I practice positive thinking and affirmations every day, and I truly believe this helps me stay positive. I read a lot of business and self-help books and watch motivational speeches on YouTube. I practice staying in the present moment. I give myself time out or take a rest when I am tired, and I have learnt to say no. I love meditating too – I find it really relaxing. Sometimes just painting my fingernails, taking a bath, or spending time at home in silence helps me find peace.
I love spending time with my daughter but I used to think we always had to do something big together to make it count. I have come to realise it’s the small things, like playing a game of UNO or going for a walk, that matter most. It’s the same with my husband. We love chatting over making dinner or just sitting and talking about our hopes and dreams. I no longer put pressure on myself to make grand plans all the time.
What is one dream of yours that you have yet to accomplish?
It’s difficult to define just one, but it definitely involves inspiring, motivating and helping others. Chasing your dreams might be tough but it will always be worth it!
Favourite time of the day is… the morning.
Instagram sites that inspire you… there are so many wonderful sites that I can’t name them all – anything that has a positive message or people who are helping others.
I’m happiest when… I am living in the present moment.
I’m addicted to… feeling good about myself!
Favourite wardrobe staple for work… black leggings.
Favourite wardrobe staple for weekend… my baseball cap so I don’t have to blow-dry my hair.
My role model is… strong women making a difference in other people’s lives.
Heels or flats? Flats these days.
If this story raises concerns for yourself or a loved one, advice and support is available from Lifeline.