Wahine Wisdom – A Self Love Story
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and I knew I wanted to get behind this initiative and engage with others in a meaningful way. So I asked myself what was my end game? What was the message I was trying to communicate with others?
The answer is HOPE.
I want more women to realise that there is hope, that things can and will get better if they just realise that asking for help doesn’t make you a weak person. It takes real courage to choose to fight back and conquer those negative thoughts and feelings that can affect us and impact our lives in ways that leave us feeling helpless and completely alone.
Depression and anxiety are my two very unwelcome acquaintances that like to visit me completely unannounced to try to sabotage me and steal my happiness. They first appeared in my life when I was 11 years old and have stuck around ever since. Navigating my way through life with these two sucky sabotagers lurking around all the time hasn’t always been easy but as cliche (and probably annoying) as it sounds, every year as I’ve got older I also got a little wiser in turn. I try be a kinder to myself, to learn from my mistakes and lord knows there have been plenty to learn from!
If you’ve struggled with or are struggling with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, you’re not the only one. Not feeling good enough, feeling unworthy and unloved, rejected, excluded, out of your depth, unattractive, disinterested, unmotivated, stressed, burnt out, exhausted and emotionally drained. There are so many others like you and I experiencing these exact same thoughts and feelings. Their stories may differ but their emotional experiences are like a mirror image of our own.
When I reached out to some incredible women I know and asked them if they’d be interested in contributing to this piece I was writing I’ll be honest, I was expecting a lot of them to say they were just too busy. Time is an especially precious commodity these days and something these five women don’t have a lot of so the fact that they were willing to lend me a little of it for this passion project of mine means so much.
These women are all exceptional humans who are uniquely and unapologetically themselves and what you see on their social media platforms is exactly what you get from them in real life which is why I love following them. They are authentic in the way they choose to interact and connect with their followers (which is probably one of the main reasons they all have so many!) and that is something I admire.
They each responded in the most generous and selfless way imaginable and to say it left me speechless and moved is an understatement.
I have shed a fair amount of tears working on this article while reading each of their stories. They are honest and brave and I truly feel honoured that they trusted me enough to allow me to share their stories with all of you.
Jess Quinn, Anna Reeve, Aroha Harawira, Catherine Tuivaiti and Sharyn Casey, thank you so much for making time to do this. You have such incredibly generous hearts and I know there will be women who will see pieces of themselves in you and your stories. Thank you for choosing to use your platforms to help empower and inspire others.
Lastly to everyone who reads this, I hope that this helps you to realise that you truly are not alone in this. We can all find strength and courage when we choose to support one another in this fight. Take care of your mental health and wellbeing because it’s THE most important thing you can ever do for yourself. We owe it to ourselves and our loved ones. Making ourselves a priority and practicing self care and love makes us better daughters, sisters, wives, mothers, friends and women in general and damn it ladies, we are so worth it!
I’ll be sharing a more in depth look into my personal journey with my anxiety and depression soon but I felt this week it’s especially important to highlight how diverse our experiences with mental health can be.
For me, a positive state of mind has been something I’ve been really lucky to have for the most part of my life. After losing my leg to cancer at the age of 9 I jumped back into life, not looking back. I recently had a conversation with my Dad who told me that him and my mum weighed up for a considerable amount of time whether or not to seek help for me once I was in remission. More as a precaution and to help me overcome the trauma I’d faced but they both noticed that I looked absolutely fine, and I was. Dad went on to explain just how much thought himself & my mum put into it, he remembered saying, “hell, if we make a wrong choice here, we are really going to regret it”. Don’t worry Mum, Dad, you didn’t.
That’s the thing with mental health, it’s completely different for all of us. There is no right way to diagnose, treat or prevent. It’s not something that can be done by comparison to another person. I often talk about “our mountain”. We all have a mountain, from the outside your mountain looks different to mine & the next person but the effect it has on our life will be exactly the same.
It hasn’t been all rainbows and flowers though. My mountain got significantly steep & rocky when I hit adolescence. I was about 5 years in remission and the reality of what I had just been through and understanding the impact it was going to have on my life was really hitting home. Regardless, I kept it all to myself, to the point where the people close to me are only just understanding now just how much I was struggling since I’ve started writing, on the outside, it was all smiles. I don’t personally think is very healthy to bottle up but it’s just the way I am. I knew I was going to be ok, and in hindsight I’ve come to the understanding that it was just a process I had to go through in order to get to where I am now. But I found myself in a place where every night I would be in tears in my room asking over and over again, “why me?”. People were constantly telling me, “everything happens for a reason”, I honestly just wanted to punch them in the face. What possible goodness could come from me losing my leg?
I was so aesthetically self conscious that I didn’t wear anything shorter than knee length for 8 years. It got bad. I didn’t want to go to social events. I didn’t want to leave the house. I wanted my old life back, I wanted to be able to play all the sports I used to play and not have the constant frustration of what I couldn’t do physically. I no longer cared if there was a light at the end of the tunnel, I didn’t want to be in the tunnel, period. And I don’t mean that in a way that I wanted to die, I loved life, I always have and I always will but I didn’t want to be in the circumstance that I’d found myself.
I honestly don’t remember a significant moment that pulled me out of that place but a lot of it had to do with me sharing my story and seeing the impact I could have on other peoples lives. This was huge for me and bit by bit, without even realising it, I was ABSOLUTELY & UTTERLY obsessed with my life. To the point where now, I wouldn’t change a thing. Sure, every single day is a physical challenge but so much good has come from what I’ve been through that I couldn’t imagine living any differently. And I think that’s the answer. We all face battles, struggles, hardships, it’s about finding a way that you can use those experiences to better your life or to better someone else’s. Had I not done that I would’ve been going round and round in circles hating the life I had instead of finding ways to love it, and my god do I love it.
I, like many other woman, dreamed of being a mother from a young age. I wanted to be a reasonably young mum, so when I met and married the man of my dreams in my mid twenties everything seemed to be coming to fruition. We hit a speed bump, we needed fertility treatment to get pregnant and I was only 26. It was tough and not fun to get through, but after 2 transfers we were pregnant…with twins! Our one embryo that we placed back split into identical little babies. I was SHOCKED to say the least, it wasn’t something I was expecting or prepared for. I think this is where the start of my anxiety and depression kicked off. I was so so scared, but felt so guilty for feeling that way. This was a baby/babies I had always dreamed of, along with my husband who had actually always wanted twins, we had gone through hell and back to even get pregnant and suddenly I was feeling petrified and not so lucky after all. It wasn’t what I had “signed up for”! How was I to manage two? Then came the awful pregnancy, vomiting 20 times a day isn’t exactly an easy thing to go through, neither is an emergency c section delivery of premature babies followed by a stint in NICU.
I was told that as soon as I saw my babies I would be filled with love for them, that all the struggles of pregnancy would disappear and I’d be “obsessed” with them, love them with everything I had, and never be the same again etc etc. Except when I saw them for the first time none of that happened, sure I knew I must love them because they were my babies that we had tried so hard for. But when I saw them sleeping in their plastic incubators, separated from me and all hooked up to wires not a lot stirred in me. To say I felt like the worst person/mother in the world was an understatement. So I did what I think a lot of people do in this situation, I plastered on a big smile, gushed about my boys, and decided to fake it till I could make it and kept doing that for months.
That single moment was such a mistake, little did I know it was “normal” to not bond right away with your babies. Especially after such a traumatic 9+ months getting to that point. I should have spoken up then and talked to people about how I felt, as then I would have received the support and help I needed. I didn’t, so everyone saw what they thought was super mum juggling premature twins and “loving my new life”. Inside I was drowning, I felt awful amounts of guilt and to top it all off the boys weren’t exactly easy babies. Collic and reflux isn’t fun, and I felt more and more frustrated that all they would do is cry and puke on me, all day very day. I felt extra guilty with how I felt as I knew they were sick and couldn’t help it. Talk about a double edge sword.
I spiraled into post natal depression and anxiety and I felt ashamed to tell anyone about it, which of course made it worse. It was thoughts like that that escalated how bad I felt. I was alone with my feelings as I didn’t want people to know I was a “bad mum” and an awful person for not feeling “like I should”. It was so so silly, I didn’t tell anyone about it because I thought it wasn’t normal to feel that way. I was seriously struggling with my mental health and not feeling like myself in any way when I finally broke and told my husband and mother how I felt.
They of course were so shocked as I had faked it so well. That’s the thing, people can act or seem so fine when they really aren’t. We are good actors when we need to be. From the moment I spoke about it and shared my issues I got the help and support I needed, it instantly felt better for talking about it. I then started to see a psychologist who specialised in PND and everything started to fall into place and I got better. The first thing I learnt was how talking about how I felt was the most important thing I could do, no one could help unless I was open and honest. It was funny as I felt like I was a part of this new club, motherhood uniting people from all walks of life, but I felt so alone. I hadn’t come across anyone who had felt like I had, it was being kept secret, which is what lead the women I have since spoken with to feeling like I did and falling into a dark hole.
Since then I haven’t felt ashamed, I know I am an amazing mother and all that I went through helped me become that. There is no need to be ashamed and I actively promote talking about those hard times, as we should be open and honest which helps to make us feel like we aren’t alone. There is nothing worse than feeling like you have no one to relate to or no support during such a pivotal part of your life. Reaching out and being open and honest about how you feel is so scary, I get that, but not doing so leads you down a road that is much worse. Trust me.
As a child, I used to struggle with very low self-esteem and anxiety because I was bullied about my weight. I would often pretend to be sick because I was so anxious about going to school. I started starving myself and obsessing about food when I was 13. It gave me a sense of control when there were so many other elements of my life that I had felt I couldn’t change. I struggled like this through the rest of my high school years, bingeing on food and then punishing myself by not eating a thing for days. I eventually sought help years later when I was living in Melbourne and my workmates intervened after they witnessed me drop 18 kilos in 3 months. With the help of a psychotherapist, I got well and have never relapsed.
Since then I’ve learned some strategies that really work for me when I realise something isn’t quite feeling right in my head. Running is my personal favourite self-help tool but for you it could be yoga, doing weights at the gym, walking or something totally different. Movement produces feel-good endorphins and helps us to clear our minds of worry and clutter.
I also cannot more highly recommend speaking to a professional. I’ve been going through a bit of a rough patch recently and recognising how I felt; I decided to seek the help of a new psychotherapist (my last one has retired). It’s so helpful to be able to talk to someone who you don’t have to censor yourself for and to have strategies suggested on how to best manage your thoughts in times of crisis and sadness.
Being in the netball world, is something I never truly dreamed of. I have 5 sisters and 4 brothers so I found more joy in playing/wrestling/fighting at home with them. I am a direct product of at the right place, at the right time, seen by the right people. And there started my move at 14 years old, away from my home town of Kawakawa, Northland, to Auckland in pursuit of a black netball dress.
But my dedication and passion has never failed since then. Being dropped for the first time was a big heart break. But was also something I was aware I could fix. And that I did. But to follow was the worst. I can count being dropped/left out of the Silver Ferns 8 times in 2 years. My desire had always stayed the same but my heart could only take so much. Only my close friends and family (as well as my poor husband) had the pleasure of seeing me lose it. I had walked into an environment that didn’t like ‘big’ girls like me. An environment that hadn’t had anyone speak up like me before. I had always been an advocate for the game. And how all women (and men) could play. I found out that I was not one to pretend everything was ok. I tried it. And I didn’t like the ‘me’ it created. I walked around like my heart wasn’t in a million pieces when the ferns were singing the national anthem. Or that when fellow team mates had commitments with NNZ that didn’t involve me.
I know this may seem pathetic, and too often I’d hear ‘it’s just a game’. But it’s MY game. I left my family as a kid. And grew up fast to become resilient and strong. Only to have it taken away too fast, and often without reason. Pretending I didn’t hurt made me a rubbish sister. A grumpy Aunty. A sour daughter. And a sad wife.
I have since found that letting myself feel the pain of disappointment and ‘what next’ has helped. I cried when I wanted to. And warned people that I’m not going to be fun to be around for a few days. But to keep trying with me. I sat back and remembered the things being a silver fern had helped me achieve. And all the things I now had time to do. Netball has changed my life. I have been given a platform to speak on behalf of the girls that look like me. That talk like me. To show them that it had never been easy. But it was certainly worth every tear. While I fancy myself a great actress (hold for applause), pretending I was ok didn’t make it easier. My family and friends, and my favourite husband in the world, knew how to handle me once I told them what kind of Cathrine to expect. I am proud of the me I have become today. Because I fought so hard to be her.
I’ve been on both sides of the coin when it comes to mental illness, I had an ex partner with bi polar and I myself battle depression and anxiety. If I’m honest I did my best to help at the time when I had a partner going through it but I was so young and had never experienced anything like that. I gave it my absolute best to help but I would handle it differently now that I’m older and have more knowledge on what I was dealing with, so my advice if you’ve got a partner going through it is to talk to their friends and family, ask them for help, talk to professionals and read up so you can help them in the right way. It can be a real battle when they don’t want to or can’t help themselves so you need back up so that you’re all united and strong.
When my depression strikes, it’s like someone has put heavy weights on every part of my body, my ankles, my shoulders, my eye lids, my head, my back, just getting out of bed and downstairs to the couch is the hardest thing in the world. I have to sit down to brush my teeth because it takes so much energy. My anxiety flares up differently, it’s a terrifying fear, my heart races, I feel like I’ve ruined everything for everyone and it’s all my fault, I can’t breathe properly and I’m super on edge feeling like everything is crumbling around me and there’s nothing I can do. But you know what, there are things I can do, everyone is different and everyone has the way that works for them but this is what I do:
- I need to exercise on a regular basis, even if it’s just a walk, I have to start the day with something.
- When my anxiety flares up I vocalise it with someone that I trust, my husband can spot it just by the way I breathe, but if I’m at work or something I have to say it out loud and because these are people that know me well they’ll go through it with me – Why I feel that way, ask me questions to break down that it’s not actually as bad as I think it is, there’s something cathartic about saying out loud.
- When I get ready in the morning I listen to an upbeat, sing along playlist that makes me feel good and sets the tone for the day.
- Restorative yoga, my cousin got me into this and it’s a game changer is teaches you to stop and breathe, let yourself go, it’s not stretchy yoga, it’s literally relaxation for your brain.
- I’ve read both of John Kirwin’s books and they changed my life with little tips and tricks that he uses that have worked for me almost every time, there’s so many to name but I really recommend reading them.
The thing to remember is you can get through this, don’t let it win, You can take control of your brain even when you think you can’t, fight the battle and win the war against depression, because I promise you that you can and there’s heaps of people surrounding you ready to help.
Where to get help:
If you are worried about your or someone else’s mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.
Or if you need to talk to someone else:
• LIFELINE: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• SUICIDE CRISIS HELPLINE: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633
• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
• KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757