I’m thrilled to be publishing this interview with Natasha Lipman, blogger, podcast host and freelance writer / website designer / social media manager. Natasha suffers from Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, Histamine Intolerance and ME. She regularly shares insights into life and work with chronic illnesses.
Molly: I started following your blog in 2014/15, when it was still called Nutritiously Natasha. What first led you to writing about your experiences online?
Natasha: Writing has always been a form of catharsis for me. It’s a way to vent, get my mind in order and hopefully feel calmer. I actually started writing a blog before that. It was called Natasha vs EDS. I was having a really hard time managing my symptoms and thought that blogging might be a good way to figure out how I felt about everything I was going through.
During that time, I started to develop all the horrid PoTS symptoms. I felt like my life was (and should be) over. As the symptoms worsened, I embarked on an ill-informed foray into the world of wellness, which brought me to Instagram.
I started sharing pictures of my new diet, along with a little chronic illness diary. Before long, my following grew and people were asking for diet advice and the recipes I was using. It felt weird to me, especially since I prefer to throw everything in a blender or pan! But I felt pressure to join in and started Nutritiously Natasha to meet that need.
Molly: What has changed since then? What is your focus now?
Natasha: So much has changed over the years. I’ve learned more about responsible blogging, my health and how I view my life and the world. My blog quickly morphed into something more personal, so I chose to blog under my own name. I mainly write about issues related to chronic illness and disability, as well as the dangers of the wellness industry. I focus on topics that are important to me and ones I think will help my followers.
I used to feel pressure to write all the time and in a certain way. Now I really don’t have time for that. Social media can become all-encompassing and I’d rather try to live my life. Since the algorithm change, I’m not enjoying being on Instagram as much.
Molly: Wellness influencers definitely contributed to my rigid behaviours and anxiety around food a few years ago, before I was diagnosed with coeliac disease. What messages do you think we should be sharing to encourage more positive relationships with food and our bodies?
Natasha: It’s really challenging. There will always be people selling the ‘eat like me, work out like me, look like me’ message and people who respond to it. One of the biggest lessons I learned was that even though I wasn’t giving out advice, my influence had an effect. Sharing specific details about my restricted diet inspired other people to do the same, which makes me really upset to think about. In my ideal world, we’d all be able to get good enough treatment and wouldn’t need to turn to people on the internet for health or diet advice.
It’s important to remember that we curate what we see on social media. I benefited from unfollowing accounts – mainly wellness influencers and food advice – that made me feel rubbish. I still follow a few beautiful food photography accounts, but otherwise I follow incredibly talented illustrators and a lot of ‘bookstagrammers’. I’d like to find more people who will make Instagram somewhere I enjoy visiting again.
Molly: That’s interesting to hear. You’re also open about the need for fully accessible employment. As you say, many people with disabilities / chronic conditions would prefer stable, flexible opportunities to being freelance. What do you think needs to be done about this?
Natasha: There’s still a societal stigma around disability. Many people believe that disabled people don’t want to work or are making a fuss because they’re lazy. Some people will never be well enough to work. Other people’s capacity may vary. The problem is, if there aren’t jobs that disabled and chronically ill people can do safely, we end up unable to work full-time. Access means more than putting in a ramp. Of course those are important for many people, but disability is a broad spectrum, so more needs to be taken into consideration.
I completely accept that there are a number of businesses or roles where flexible working may not be possible. Some jobs are very physical and demand rigid hours in-person. However, I think we need to create more flexible, remote, accessible opportunities for young people with disabilities. For example, tech skills training and a focus on jobs we can do from home. Some organisations are starting to adapt in this way because they are losing out on valuable talent.
Molly: I agree. Are there any projects you’ve worked on that you’re particularly proud of? If so, why are they significant?
Natasha: I’m so proud of the IPF! When I was seriously ill and dropped out of my master’s for the first time, I set up a youth journalism international relations blog. It became extremely popular. Since then we’ve featured hundreds of writers from over 50 countries. As part of this, I co-founded Libyan Youth Voices, an online project which saw young Libyans tell their stories of the revolution. It was well received internationally. Because of this, I was sent to India to meet Richard Branson with the Virgin Media Pioneers. It was a great experience, although I did spend a lot of time crying in the loos because the trip was very physically demanding.
I often struggle to feel proud of my work because I know I could do so much more if I was well. When I feel like that, I take a step back and remember that considering my limitations, I’ve managed to create some pretty cool stuff – mostly from my bed!
Molly: You’ve done a lot! You should be proud of the messages you’re sharing and the communities you’ve built. What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned so far in your twenties?
Natasha: Don’t bother wasting time on people or things that don’t make you happy. I’ve got enough problems to deal with, so they’re not worth the energy drain!
Molly: Who or what is inspiring you at the moment?
Natasha: I don’t generally like the word ‘inspired’, but I gain a lot of strength and motivation from young disability activists who are speaking up and raising awareness of issues that affect them.
Molly: What are you looking forward to?
Natasha: I’ve been offered a dream job. We’re still working out access arrangements, but I’ve been promised that they will make it work. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I may be able to develop my career in the near future!
Molly: Congratulations! I hope the transition goes well. Thanks so much for your time.
End of interview.