Hannah is a 24 year-old Kiwi from a farm in Waitomo, in the King Country. She is the oldest of 4 siblings from a NZ-European family. Hannah studied at the University of Virginia, in the USA, before returning to New Zealand where she now lives in Cambridge and trains as part of the national rowing squad.

I’m a big believer that if I can talk about something freely and openly, then it doesn’t have a hold on me anymore. I find that talking to people to get a range of viewpoints and perspectives on things helps manage my feelings by looking at them in a different way. That’s probably one of the single biggest wellness lessons I've learnt, and it plays an important part in how I stay well these days.

Finding the right people to talk to was trial and error. At first, I had some trusted people in mind who I thought would be good to talk to. I learnt, though, that not everyone is a good fit for sharing deeper feelings. After receiving a couple of unexpected responses, I kept reaching out until I found the right people. I think it would've been quite easy to become down-hearted, or to have let that make me believe my feelings were invalid. I’m glad I persisted long enough to have found some understanding friends and family to talk to. They now make up my solid support network of trusted people.

I think it’s hard to overstate how important it is to be surrounded by the right people. Different people have different compatibilities when it comes to energy. It took me a long time to realise that not everyone has a positive impact by default. There are some examples of lovely people in my life, where our effect on each other is actually draining more than it is uplifting. These are people that I love but who have a negative impact on my well being. I'd always been told to love these people from afar, but it took me a long time to realise I was sacrificing my own emotional state but not doing so.

It seems obvious, but I’ve found managing my social environment to be quite a fine-grained thing. It’s about being aware of the energy dynamics with people, and aligning things so that there’s more time spent with people who lift me up, and vice versa. 

When I’m feeling upset, I think it helps to embrace and understand my pain rather than run from it. It helps me to acknowledge and accept in order to let things go. I lost a good friend and felt a great deal of grief, which I tried to cope with by escaping, repressing and avoiding the pain. I eventually found that I had to stop and be still, let myself feel the confusion, anger and hurt to let it go. I had to start feeling emotions to let them pass. I find this is good to help deal with what life throws at me.

I get a lot of benefits from being aware of my personality type. I know I am an empathetic person. This is an attribute that I’m proud of but, like anything, it does come with it’s down-sides. I find that if I’m not conscious of it, I quite easily take on the energy of other people; both positive energy and negative. If I’m not aware that I start going into a dark place. A good thing I’ve learnt is that simply through awareness, I can manage this by making sure I don’t carry baggage that belongs to other people. Doing this could come at the expense of my own well-being. I say to myself, ‘not my circus, not my monkeys’ to help manage my emotional energy from others, and it seems to help.

I see emotional awareness as working on 3 levels. The first is simply knowing that I’m doing something; a certain behaviour. The second level is recognising how it makes me feel, and the third is understanding the core reason why I’m doing it. I also practise concentrating on the sensations and emotions of the present moment in order to ground myself, so as to stay calm when I might otherwise get lost in a flood of emotions. It is also a way to listen to my needs and support self-care. I think a tell-tale sign that I’d lost my emotional awareness was that I had an unhealthy abandonment of self-care. Dedicating all my energy to others and taking on their grief, took me into an unhealthy place. I heard a quote that you can only love others as much as you love yourself. Getting used to that idea seemed a bit selfish at first, but I now realise it’s totally true.

One thing I found really useful is the book 'The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck'. I’d recommend it to anybody. I went through it and picked out the bits that applied to me. There’s a chapter on negative feedback loops which I found really useful. It helped me to break them and replace them with positive thoughts. I learnt to change my thought processes at times when I was being overly hard on myself. The Subtle Art talks about feeling sad because you feel sad - this is a negative feedback loop. Having self-compassion is my approach to breaking that. I allow negative thoughts and feelings to have their air-time, and just accept them.

I remember that everything happens for a reason, and that everything in my life so far has got me to where I am. The bottom line of practicing self-compassion and breaking negative feedback loops is to make me not feel sorry for myself, to see the silver lining, and keep a constructive outlook.

I am very much a routine type of person which helps me feel on top of things. I wake up at 6 am every morning. Even if it’s a sleep in, I wake up and go back to sleep. I think quality sleep is really important. I have a pre-bed routine (cup of tea and lie on the shakti mat) every night that helps me wind down and lets my body know its time for sleep.

I share my story not to tell everyone that I am ‘fixed’, but to provide for others an open look at what managing wellness looks like for me on a daily basis. I know I’ve returned to good mental space and health. On top of that, I certainly still have days when I feel like shit - and that’s OK. That’s part of being a normal, healthy human. I think it’s weird that it’s seen as alright to feel good, but it’s not alright to feel bad. My emotional rollercoaster used to go from the highest of highs and lowest of lows in a short pace of time. Essentially I have used tools that work for me to flatten that out into more of a gentle wave. When I sense that the waves are higher I take note and I clear my head by doing something active outdoors.

One of my favourite quotes is this, from Elizabeth Kubler Ross; “The most beautiful people we know are those who have known defeat, known to suffer, known struggle, known loss and found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness and deep loving concern. Beautiful people don't just happen”.

If you could send a note back to yourself when you needed the most help, what would it say?

Hannah experienced depression between the ages of 19-21. She was coming to grips with living away from home - at university in America - when her close friend passed away back in NZ.

How you felt as a result?

Did you take prescribed medication?
No. I was prescribed antidepressants, but didn't take them.

Were there any triggers that exacerbated your feelings?
Yes; high points of stress, traumatic events, overcrowded places and long periods of time being alone.

Was there a turning point when things started to get better?
Yes, the turning point came from my rowing coach. He forced me to see the psychologist even though I was really against it. I opened up and was able to acknowledge that there was something wrong. The more I was able to talk about my depression the less it had a hold over my life.

Things started rapidly get better when I left America and moved back to New Zealand. Being back on the farm, in the mountains, surrounded by bush, with my network of family and friends, was really important. These things helped me feel safe and supported.


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