By Kristy Inouye - Less than a year ago, Naomi Bagatella thought Blanche Macdonald was a cross-street. Today, she is training at the highly-reputable beauty school to become a nail esthetician - and she loves it.
Finding her passion in nail care is not something Naomi would ever have predicted. Stuck in the mindset that she needed to pursue a business career like so many people around her, Naomi spent 20 years post-secondary tirelessly pursuing all the wrong paths. “It was like I was trying to steal Cinderella’s shoe and put it on,” she says, “It just wouldn’t fit, and I was so lost. I was so lost all the time.”
After a very public breakdown, Naomi’s mental health deteriorated to the point where she was unable to leave the house, unable to get out of bed. It was during this “dark period” that nail care became a source of joy in her life. She recalls spending hours in bed - not doing anything or seeing anyone except for her parents. “All I really ever did was stare at my own hands,” she recalls. One day, she picked up a bottle of her mother’s OPI Samoan Sand.
“It’s weird because I was never into nail polish before. But in that dark place, it was the only thing my mind could handle. All I wanted was beauty and joy and nail care was the only thing that got through to me.”
In the spring of 2014, Naomi was admitted to the Emergency Room and referred to the HOpe Centre, a facility delivering mental health services. One of the Centre’s weekly activities was manicures. Men and women of all ages came together, and Naomi loved the sense of community. It was here that Naomi’s personal love of nail care
transformed into something she could share with others. “To find something that brings me so much joy and is also an opportunity to be of service has been incredible,” she says.
That summer, an occupational therapist connected Naomi with The Lipstick Project. Naomi was nervous and unsure how she would be treated because of the stigma surrounding mental illness. “I have to be honest. In my head, I thought, ‘Do they know I’m from the HOpe Centre, and still want to meet me?’ But everyone at TLP accepted and trusted me, and that felt really good.” Naomi was offered the Team Lead position, and currently holds the role at the Vancouver and North Shore Hospices where she coordinates volunteers at weekly visits.
She emphasizes that while TLP’s services have a physical effect on clients, often the more significant impact is on their mental health and wellness. “The staff at the hospice told us that after we visit, it’s all the residents can talk about until the next visit two weeks later. The effect, the joy, is much longer-lasting than the few hours spent on site. It’s so powerful.”
Naomi’s path has not always been smooth. However, her story carries with it a message of hope for anyone feeling lost, or struggling with mental health: recovery happens.“The Lipstick Project changed my life. It’s been such a gift to find something that brings me joy, and through TLP I can give it back. When I let go of what was wrong, different pieces of what had been broken in my life clicked into place.”
As many are, Naomi was worried that people might see her as being defined by her mental illness. However, she’s learning that it is only a small piece of her life history. In a few months, Naomi will graduate from Blanche Macdonald Centre. She is a foodie, movie-lover, daughter, and friend. “When I was at that crossroad again, deciding whether to continue with the same old path or try something completely new but exciting, I finally made the right choice. It’s not easy, but I want to encourage anyone out there to choose the second door. I had to re-learn to listen to my heart and instinct, something I ignored my entire life. And it all started with a bottle of nail polish!”