Novmber is Men's mental health month, and so I wanted to take the time to talk to mental health as it is close to the heart of MindKai.
Quiet disclaimer here - I am no expert and I sure don't have all the answers... but I do know that there is power in talking about mental un-wellness rather than sweeping it under the carpet and ignoring it.
If anything I feel slight imposter syndrome in writing this blog - I have not suffered the depths of despair that have led to uncontrollable anxiety or depression or any other form of mental dis-ease... so what do I know?
What I can say is that my path has been crossed by those who have and they in turn have had a massive impact on me.
Their experiences have often stemmed through childhood traumas raising their ugly head, and sometimes they have hit me like a tonne of bricks that I never saw coming.
Every experience is different, but in each one, a learning is to be had.
My earliest exposure to "mental health" was in college when one of the most popular girls in school at the time took her own life. I knew of her but did not know her we were in different years.
The news rippled around school, and I remember a lot of the kids affected were in my kapahaka group and they were absolutely devastated and struggling to process what their friend had done.
At the time, I remember thinking to myself: "what does someone so young go down that path when they seemingly are what every other of their peers wished they were?" People said it was because her parents were divorcing, or that she had broken up with her boyfriend... but no one knows except for Rihannan.
I learnt three things from her:
- That mental health does not discriminate when it comes to age. You can be young and depressed. Rihanan was around fourth form (now known as Year 10) so around 13-14 at the time.
- That there are massive ripple effects from things like this. Yes, it is one person's choice, but it crawls and reaches out far and wide and impacts so many people in different ways - even people they may not even know.
- That what people reflect on the outside, is not necessarily how they feel on the inside.
I met Tamara in France working on yachts. She was Australian, full of life, stunning and an absolutely beautiful soul. Her head was so screwed on - she had several rental properties at home and was financially supporting her family a lot. She was thriving in France, until she wasn't. Someone she worked with in a superior role put the moves on her, and she did not reciprocate. He was in a position to get her fired, and he then went on to tar her name across the various agencies to stop her from getting jobs elsewhere.
She went into a deep depression and ended up staying with us for a bit while she tried to sort herself out and find work. She had people depending on her, and no matter how hard she tried, she felt like she couldn't get a break. I remembered having many a night of deep conversations with her. I listened to her, offering advice, and supporting her how I could.
The last time I saw her, she'd decided to go home to visit her family and sort out a few affairs and just reset. She was so happy, and in a good space... or so I thought. The next thing I would hear is that she had taken her life and I was in complete shock. Could I have said something differently when we last spoke? Did something happen whilst she was home, or was this her plan all along?
From Tamara I learnt:
- People can do things that will have a profound effect on others.
- Just because you have your life seemingly together, it does not mean that you actually do.
- As a person on the outside, you can't always make a difference no matter how hard you try - but you can find comfort in knowing that you tried everything you could.
GC is an incredible soul and to this day one of my most treasured friends (despite not seeing her for a very long time). She is intelligent, beautiful, well-spoken - but equally a tough cat to deal with!
As I would get to know her, I would learn she often suffered from anxiety and could shut down and lock you out of her world when she was going through something. This could happen at any time, and you just weren't sure who you were getting sometimes.
She would eventually confide that when she was younger she was quite compulsive and suffered from an eating disorder as she became obsessed with losing weight and exercising and being the perfect her. Whilst she was seemingly ok - she still had moments of regression and alcohol was a catalyst.
What GC taught me is:
- Mental dis-ease comes in many shapes and forms.
- That this is a lifetime battle that ebbs and flows.
- That mental dis-ease can start small and just get bigger and bigger over time.
From the moment I met HM I tried very hard not to like her... she had come to cover a role for one of my friends, so I didn't want her sticking around in case it became permanent and my friend couldn't come back! The problem was - I fell in love with her immediately! She was full of fun and smiles, and we had so many common interests and laughs together.
One thing about HM that didn't quite match up with me, was her love for drugs. It was not my thing and some nights she would just disappear and despite my efforts to keep up - I never could! She always showed up the next day, smiling, laughing and like nothing had ever happened with stories to tell from her night escapades!
We would end up going our separate ways and meet up a couple of years later in Australia. She seemed to be thriving! She was into her fitness, super skinny and looking so healthy. Gosh, I just felt yuck when I compared myself to her, she seemed to be living the life!
Little did I know that HM was going through some big shit. She was coming to terms with some terrible things that had happened to her in her past and she was pummelling her body and breaking it. She was actually really sick, and really unwell - despite how she looked on the outside. She was over-training, under-recovering, dieting heavily and focusing only on what she looked like on the outside and paying no attention to what was happening on the inside.
In her words she had: "For years used alcohol as a numbing agent for past trauma. Then for years the alcohol turned into drugs to have a wild night and get as high as possible. To get higher and higher and to FEEL FREE and HAPPY. Then those wild nights turned into a lifestyle. Then the fun turned into hospital visits for either herself or her friends. And of course, I didn't know any of that, until she had done the work to heal and share it.
To this day she is like a massive inspiration to me. When I am in her presence, I am just buzzing with an incredible impulse to go out and slay the world! MOST AMAZING LADY EVER!
This is what I learnt from HM:
- The power of resilience and how giving yourself the time to heal is the greatest thing anyone can do that is dealing with mental health challenges.
- How learning to love yourself means you can walk away from those who don't serve you and lean in to those who do.
- That sharing your experiences openly is healing. It helps you find your purpose and passion for life, it stops you for feeling ashamed of who you were and instead to be proud of the phoenix that has risen out of the ashes.
GB has the gift of the gab and you always feel like he knows so much more than you - his mind just thinks differently.
At some point he just seemed to have lost his spark and I could tell something was up. Turns out he had been remembering things from his childhood that were scary and he was struggling to find a way to process that whilst juggle all of the other balls he had going on between family, work, sports and similar.
He got himself into counselling to work through that, and the result was a pivot in his focus and a re-assessment on what was important to him, and what wasn't.
What I learnt from GB is:
- It takes bravery to open up to others and let them in to know what is going on in your mind.
- Navigating mental health within the workplace is no easy thing. It requires checks and balances and appropriate support mechanisms in play.
- The only person who can successfully work their way through mental dis-ease, is the person themselves.
There are two men who have perhaps been the biggest catalyst for the creation of MindKai - my cousins.
One has been going through anxiety for some time following the passing of his mum, and the other would take his life during the 2020 lockdowns.
Both ones I feel and felt clueless about how I could help - but in my own small way, MindKai became my give back to try and make a difference using the knowledge that I have.
Here is what I have learnt from them:
- That mental health can impact anyone... even your whānau.
- It is hard to find a way to reach out, and to ask if people are ok, especially if silence is what you receive in return.
- That sometimes all you can do is concentrate on what is in your power to do.
He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.
What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, people, people.
So from all the lessons I've learnt, here is what has become more approach:
- Don't be afraid to ask the tough questions. You don't need to be a therapist – a simple "How are you?" or "I'm here if you want to talk" can mean the world.
- We might not always have the answers, but being there, offering support, or just sitting in silence can be a lifeline, and
- Our connection to whanau and friends can be a powerful tool in the fight against depression - everyday connections that can make a significant difference.
Of course, if you want to reach out one step further, MindKai is here to help. Our custom facial oils are a little way to invite those we love to give themselves some self care a on the daily and to remind them that they are worthy and important. It might even be that conversation starter that you have been looking for.
Lets not forget that depression and mental health issues aren't easy battles, but nor do they have to be a solo journey.
Stay connected and stay compassionate - kia kaha, and much love from MindKai!