The process of capturing a moment has become so saturated in our life, where we process a moment through the lens of social media. Everyone has smiling faces and their world is peaceful and we live for a heart associated with a picture. In actuality, as a society we are so far removed from the reality of life that we have stopped capturing our personal milestones of happiness and even sadness in our lives. I went into photography with the idea that I would like to capture milestones… couples’ milestones, family milestones, life milestones… what I didn’t expect to find was a major heart for passion projects and capturing moments that my clients value - those truly in between moments, some of happiness and some of sadness, and some of hope!
In the last few months, I have wonderful opportunities to capture a ‘fed is best’ shoot, milk baths, powerlifting momma, a surrogate maternity session, and most recently a mental health awareness shoot, featured below. I will be personally investing in my own passion portrait soon with local photographer Lisa Kollberg - so stay tuned. All this because I believe that moments, no matter the size, or the emotion, should be recorded.
“Sometimes the strongest among us are the ones who smile through silent pain, cry behind closed doors, and fight battles nobody knows about..” We have this stigma of what mental health LOOKS like but do not comprehend that mental health will affect sometimes the closest people in our lives .When we dig deeper and listen, we can hear the struggles, the loneliness of our minds, and the struggles that we ALL face but don’t share regularly. Fear of sharing our struggles, whether due to fear or confusion.
Natasha Arena a native of Kearny, New Jersey and a graduate of Holmdel High School with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Arts from Brookdale Community College and Ramapo College. She currently resides in Nutley, NJ and works for the New York Jets. Arena considers herself bicoastal as she has spent some time living in Southern California. She is an avid soccer player, loving daughter and sister, and a great friend.
Without further adieu…
NKB: What is your motivation behind this blog post and interview?
NA: To talk about things that people don’t necessarily talk about depression, anxiety, difficult times and overcoming it. Growing up you are often shielded from the realities of life, but as you get older you experience different things and you have to learn how to cope and deal with them.
NKB: Is there an event in your life that has brought you here, to talk about this?
NA: Yes, on July 16, 2016 I lost my grandma. Her passing was super hard for me, for my family. I was in the room when she took her last breath. Being in the room as someone I felt was as close as a mother to me took her last breath - that is something I can’t undo - nor would I. She had lung cancer. Later that year, December 5, 2016, we lost my uncle to esophageal cancer. I had a lot to overcome, it has been the most difficult season of my life.
NKB: May I ask, what has the grieving process looked like for you? It can be different for everyone, I imagine your family has also been dealing with their passing’s in their own ways as well.
NA: After my grandma passed, I took a whole week with my family to just be. Adjusting back to life changed so much, it was so surreal. I felt depressed and wanted to stay in bed all day. I couldn’t communicate what I was feeling to people. Months went by and I went to see a therapist in November. Then my uncle passed.
It was really challenging. I was having anxiety and panic attacks, everything made me feel like I was crawling out of my skin. I couldn’t relate to other people, how did they not feel what I was feeling? How do they not see how much this hurts?
NKB: What was your family like then?
NA: Moving through life and coping but not dealing. It was like there was an elephant in the room. Two pinnacle people in our family were gone. The house (family home) was more quiet. The voices that usually filled the room weren’t there.
NKB: Did seeing a therapist help?
NA: It was good to see other people about what was going on. You realize that the others in your family are going through something similar but it’s hard to discuss this with family. It was easier to communicate with someone outside of our family circle.
NKB: How has running played a part in all of this?
NA: A year of going through the motions, I needed something to get me out of the funk I was in. In 2018 I turned 30. I wanted to take new steps in therapy and set a goal of a half marathon for myself. When I completed that, I thought, why not do 8 more races and qualify for the 2019 NYC Marathon? I have been an athlete my whole life playing soccer and softball, so this athletic goal was good for me. But what I didn’t know was that the goal I set for myself ended up being a wonderful thing for my family. It encouraged my family to come together and support this time in our lives - to battle the grief together- something my grandma definitely would have loved to see. Although I am certain she would call me CRAZY for running 26.2 miles
NKB: What goes through your mind in each run?
NA: How can I be the best person I can be? But at the same time, keeping morals I grew up with? How family and friendships change, how have I changed. I have learned that people come into your life for lessons and moments and others become life partners!
NKB: Who in this process has been instrumental for you?
NA: Definitely would be my grandma, I would go to her for everything - sometimes before my mom and dad. Career advice, relationship advice, moving to California. Doing something that she would make fun of me for but also would be proud of - like this race is something I pride myself on. Also my mom, dad, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins is who I also run for I hope that I don’t only lend my athletic ability but also a voice for them during this experience. We are all going to be a part of it on the day of the race. To come together as a family. They are not going to be running with me, but they will be cheering me on from the sidelines and supporting as she would have. She would never run a marathon, ‘what are you doing you crazy girl!’ she would say.
I wanted to do this because I want people to know it’s ok to talk about mental illness, it’s ok to deal with mental struggles and get help. Many people see it as a sign of weakness, especially in my big Italian family - the secrecy and hiding. But you just have to talk about it and it’s ok. That’s why I wanted to do this.
NKB: What do you think you will do going forward, after the race?
NA: Running marathons, going back to school for my MBA at Ohio University, continue working for an amazing organization like the New York Jets whom I have always loved and felt the support back, traveling and seeing new things, and meeting someone to spend my life with. Being there for my family will always be important to me, and being with each other often is what I always strive for.
NKB: Do you feel like you’re stepping into your grandmother’s role?
NA: I would love to be the backbone of the family. I think if people compared me to her, it would be my greatest achievement. I hope to someday be as wonderful as her.
NKB: If you could say one thing to each your grandma and your uncle, what would you say to them?
NA: “ Am I doing a good job?” They always had the answers… with my grandma I wish I had one last conversation with her. With my uncle, one last laugh.
NKB: Anything you want to leave us with?
NA: Spend time with those who matter most, less on those who don’t make you a better person. When you are going through tough times, stick with those who are there for you and those relationships. The day my grandma passed, my cousins and I had dinner plans, but instead we diverted our plans because my grandma asked to see us. We needed to be there for her like she was for us. That is something I will never regret - being there when she needed us. I want people to know they should live for themselves and those in their corner whether it be just a few or too many to count, do more of what makes you happy.
Here are some images of Natasha living her fullest life <3
If you would like to support her marathon fundraising goal, click here:
SUPPORT FRED’S TEAM - In Loving Memory of Bubie
This story has an uplifting ending, but the mental health struggle doesn’t stop here, sometimes the pain is too great and love ones cannot cope.
As Lady Gaga recently said at the Grammys “ So if you see somebody that's hurting, don't look away. And if you're hurting, even though it might be hard, try to find that bravery within yourself to dive deep and go tell somebody and take them up in your head with you." I leave you with this action to reach out - a simple ‘hello, how are you doing’ to those you love may in fact save their lives in that moment. If you want to do more, there are organizations like this one for which you can donate to help those who are struggling and those who have lost. In Loving Memory of Kristen Harkness, 2/22/08
If you are struggling personally and can’t speak with someone you know and who cares about you, please reach out to National Suicide Prevention Hotline: Call 1-800-273-8255
Want to share your milestones? your journey? your story? Reach out!