There was a point in Nesa Ieremia’s life where she had given up all hope. Tipping the scales at 146kg and grieving the sudden death of her premature twins, the Auckland mother was driven to despair and began taking anti-depressants in secret, hiding the pain from her family.
But two years ago, a little voice inside Nesa’s head told her she needed to lose weight, change her life and open up to her husband Iuni (40) and four children Ioapo (12), Teofilo (11), Moelilia (8) and three-year-old Setaisa.
In an amazing story of survival, Nesa (40) gradually replaced her medication with a balanced diet and exercise regime, and shed an incredible 50kg.
Her positive attitude and determination helped Nesa overcome the tragedy of losing her twins – a girl named Sesa and a boy named Tai, who died in 2008 at just three months old.
“Their deaths hit me like a brick wall. It was so raw and so painful,” the mum of four explains.
“I was slowly digging my own grave. People would ask me if I was okay, and I would say ‘yes’ and put on a brave face, but on the inside I was crumbling.”
For Nesa, the trauma started just after she gave birth to her twins, who were born early at 23 weeks gestation.
“I always have big babies. At 23 weeks, they were the size of babies who are 28 weeks. Because there were two of them, my womb couldn’t cope.
“I was trying to hold them in for as long as I could because I knew that would give them a better chance of survival.”
Tragically, the premature twins passed away – her son first, then her daughter three weeks later. The grief was unbearable for the Samoan mum.
“In my culture, you’re supposed to be strong. I was ashamed to tell people that I was depressed.”
Eventually, though, she relented, seeking help from a psychologist, who prescribed her anti-depressants.
“I concealed this from my family and my husband,” she admits. "What a betrayal to hide this secret from them!”
During this emotional period, Nesa had her daughter, Setaisa, and began to pile on the kilos – eventually reaching 146kg.
“I hit rock bottom,” she says.
But somehow Nesa knew she needed to make major changes in her life if she was going to be a good mother to her new baby and her other children.
A previous heart condition was also cause for concern. Ten years earlier, she’d had open heart surgery to fix a hole in her artery and she knew being obese could kill her.
Nesa, who found it hard to do even one push-up, slowly started exercising and joined FitLife, a free community fitness programme. She discovered that getting active was making her happier, so she set herself a goal – to replace medication with exercise, even turning her garage into a homemade gym.
“When I was exercising, I felt better about myself. I started to wean myself off my medication with the guidance and support of my psychologist. I reached the point where I didn’t need to take anti-depressants at all.”
Gradually, Nesa went from 146kg to 88kg and gained her confidence back. It was during this period that she finally opened up to her husband about her secret struggles.
“Iuni was very supportive. I wish I’d had the courage to tell him earlier,” Nesa says.
“But I’m still very proud of myself for having the desire to make changes and deal with my grief in a way that was much healthier.”
Today, Nesa’s life is full of positive experiences. She has become a mentor in her South Auckland community, and is motivating others to overcome their hardships.
Nesa is considered such an inspiration that she was asked to become a personal trainer and help her community adopt a healthier lifestyle.
“Today I’m proud to say I am medication-free, I’m a qualified personal trainer and am helping to change people’s lives,” she says, beaming.
“One by one, people are approaching me and sharing how they too are battling depression. I’m glad I can share my story and help them through their tough times.”
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