Holly is a 28-year old who grew up in Clarks Beach, Pukekohe, South of Auckland. The youngest of two sisters, Holly has Maori heritage from her Whangarei-based iwi Nga Puhi, and her hapu, Ngati Hine. After falling off her horse and fracturing her spine at the age of 21, Holly was advised that full recovery was highly unlikely, and the associated pain would remain with her throughout life. A graduate of the New Zealand Massage College, Auckland, in the class of 2011, Holly now lives in Sydney where she works as a landscaper.

I’m a big fan of goal setting as a means of staying well. Having something to aspire to certainly gets me motivated. When I tackle my set challenges, I get an awesome boost of satisfaction. Despite being told the ongoing pain and complications from breaking my back would be with me for life, and that I wouldn’t be able to live the same way I had done, I put goals in place. I made it a personal challenge to get well enough to play sport again. I love having something to strive for, even if the goals sound lofty.

My journey to wellness started in the gym. You would think that lifting weights wouldn’t be good for someone with chronic back pain, but I started slow and saw some good results. From then, I never looked back. Oddly, weight training is the one thing I can confidently say helped heal my back, and as a result, my mental state too.

Witnessing the weights I was lifting increasing at the same time as my back pain reduced gave me so much confidence. It made me realise “I am capable”. My single repetition maximum for the deadlift exercise is 120kg, and that’s without straps or a belt to assist. It’s all natural, and all pain free. I am now 15kg heavier than when I began in the gym, and I recognize how much healthier I am for it.

I find so much passion and joy in the gym, and thrive off the challenge it brings. I’m there for an hour every day after work, though if I’m tired, I take it easy. I’m not only there for my body, but also my mind. If I’m angry or frustrated, I channel that built-up energy with some good music and pump out a wicked session. I’ve taught myself that it's okay to feel angry and frustrated. What matters is what I do with those emotions and that energy. The gym helps me release any mental state that I’m in. It keeps me moving forward, mentally and physically. The gym sure is my happy place.

One change in attitude that has had really positive results for me has been my view of failure and hardship. They’re both things I’ve become more open to. When I have a sense of failure, I now know that I can always learn from it and bounce back stronger. Through failure, comes growth.

It’s been 7 years since my accident and I’m now pain free. I choose to see set-backs as a positive thing. My back injury was definitely a blessing in disguise. It was horrible at the time, but because of the things I’ve learnt as a result, I now think it’s the best thing that has ever happened to me.

I’ve learnt so many wellness tools that have helped me get through the injury and as a result, put me in such a great place today. Since these tools are now so well practised, I can apply them to whatever situation I find myself in.

Routine and prioritising are key things for me, and mental health comes first. I have a morning routine which has become habit. Every morning my alarm goes off at 4:45am and without snoozing or hesitation, I jump into my day. I’ve found this the best way to get out of bed without carrying a feeling of grogginess into the day.

Firstly, I drink a glass of water to nourish my body, because it carries me everywhere and I respect that.

Secondly, I write. This has become a big tool of mine. Early in the morning, when the world is quiet and my mind is fresh; this is my personal time. I write down 4 things that I appreciate about myself, typically along the lines of: “I appreciate my body because it works really hard during the day,” “I appreciate my stupid sense of humour,” and “I appreciate being different.” These are all good things about myself and I am intent to appreciate them. It doesn’t have to be; “I’m good at this,” or “I’m great at that.”

I follow my appreciation exercise with a gratitude one; 4 external things that I am grateful for. These are usually things like “I’m grateful for the beautiful weather today,” “for my work”, “for something nice that someone did for me yesterday,” “for friends,” or “for loving family”. Really doing these exercises with intent and honesty puts me in such a good head-space to start the day.

I follow my gratitude diary with affirmations. I simply write the first thing that comes to mind because I’m already in that positive state. This will be something like “I am worthy.” Then I close my eyes and imagine myself legitimately feeling worthy. I do about 7 of these focusing on a different positive affirmation for each one.

Even if I’m feeling tired, I could say “I am feeling energetic” and then sit - eyes closed - bringing up thoughts and feelings of what ‘energetic’ might be like. After a few moments of this (what would you know?) I open my eyes feeling more energetic than before! It has taken me years of practice - and in the beginning it was weird - but now I’m good at tuning in and really feeling. I become what I think. This is one of the tools learnt from a great wellness workshop I went to in Australia called The Hoffman Process (below).

This early morning ritual of writing and acknowledging all of the goodness in my life makes me feel so good stepping into each day. I’ve built it over the years into a habit and have noticed the positive difference it has made to my mental state. I started on the 5th of November, 2016 and I haven’t missed a single day. I suppose that shows how much I enjoy and see benefit in having routine. The whole process now includes 4 diaries; 3 in the morning and 1 in the evening. Some days I can’t do it in the mornings and that’s okay. Because it’s so important to my wellness, I make time elsewhere.

At the end of each day, in my night-time diary, I write down the best things that happened during that day. It’s like a reflection and a nice way to sign my day off. It helps me routinely set up each night for a good sleep. Sleep is an important part to my wellness, so I make sure that I get enough, and that I get good quality.

In addition to sleep, another really simple but really important ingredient in my mental health is the food I eat. I’ve researched and experimented with what really works for me. I now understand that certain foods like greasy takeaways can have bigger effects on my mind, my hormones and my moods. As a result, I encourage myself to eat ‘clean’ for the majority of the time.

My body as a whole is everything. If I don’t fuel it right, it won’t work as well. It’s comparable to not putting oil in my car! I work a labour-intensive job, so I understand first-hand the importance of eating well. Ultimately, I can’t be the person I truly am if I’m not fuelling right for my needs.

With the fast pace of Sydney life, one of the big needs that comes up pretty regularly for me is to get out into nature and just soak it in. I like to get out barefoot in the bush, breathing in the clean air, and absorb myself in the silence. It makes me feel vulnerable because it creates a situation where I am solely with myself and my thoughts. It’s great. It’s my clearing time, away from the distractions of social media. Nature changes my mood. I can walk in stressed and come out feeling so calm and relaxed. I feel at peace with nature.

Another tool which calms me is meditation. I’m a really busy person with an active mind, and meditation is a great tool to encourage slowing down and taking time to process things, so that I can keep pace with my world and my mind.

I also like to think about my wellness in terms of Kundalini – which is energy therapy derived from Hinduism. I use Kundalini to shake out any bad energy, releasing it to the surroundings. If I sense myself fighting my built-up energy and holding it, I sometimes like to do Kundalini. I have an app on my phone which guides me through the whole energy release process using music.

It understand that sort of thing might not be for everybody, but I now buy into the idea that I could be carrying good energies or bad energies depending on what might have happened throughout my day, or what thoughts I might’ve let myself dwell on a little too long. Simply helping me pay attention to whichever energies I’m feeling, and working to always keep them positive, is how Kundalini works for me as a wellness tool.

I often talk about my thoughts and feelings with close friends. I keep it positive by focusing just on my reactions to certain situations, and avoid talking about blame. Simply putting feelings out in the open is the key, and then whoever I’m talking with can bounce back with a viewpoint I might not have previously considered, or ask deeper questions. In doing so, it unravels deeper feelings and thoughts while keeping everything feeling relaxed.

If I’m wound up about something and my thinking is narrowed, sharing my feelings gets me out of my own head by giving me the chance to focus on others’ viewpoints. After talking it through, I can often come away feeling changed; feeling open and forgiving.

As a result of some of the pressures I face at work, talking through my feelings is something I need to do quite often. Being the only female in an otherwise all-male construction team often leads to feelings of exclusion and judgment. These feelings would come up in negative ways if I always kept them inside. But by discussing and exploring these feelings, I’ve been able to understand them, accept them, and then let them go.

Changing from being a person who didn’t talk about their feelings very much to someone who does it often has helped me to better manage myself. I know if I’m not expressing my feelings and talking things out, the perceived judgment and exclusion can surface as resentment. It usually does so at times when a job isn’t going to plan, when the stress-levels are already high. This is when my emotions escalate and I find it harder to remain in control.

I have one favourite friend I go to for these chats. He’s like a father figure. I know our talks have helped us both. Talking builds connection and has helped us both to clarify our problems together, deal with them, and feel strong. It’s also really relaxing.

Sometimes, sharing feelings is what I need to do, but I don’t feel like talking to anybody. When I feel that way, I’ve found that writing out my feelings on Anomy, which is an online anonymous writing platform, has been a really good release. I can write whatever I feel like and other people can read and comment. It seems weird, but I’ve found it to be a great tool, like talking to a crowd who are willing to listen. This helped me get my ‘bad’ thoughts and guilt out from inside.

Sometimes I found it more effective than writing in a book, as it gave me a sense of really releasing my feelings to others. I don’t use Anomy anymore, but it was certainly a great stepping stone to becoming more open with my feelings, which I know is an important attribute in the wellness I have today.

I think of dealing with my emotions being similar to cleaning my wardrobe. The wardrobe starts out neat and tidy, and as the days go by, I’ll always aim to fold clothes after using them and put them away neatly. Sometimes though, I just can’t be bothered. Inevitably there’ll be those times where I just stuff some clothes into it and close the door.

Over time, it’s possible for the wardrobe to become a total mess. Without cleaning it out and organising it - through these deep conversations - it can become so cluttered and disorganised that it would be a struggle just to use it. Regularly talking about my feelings helps to keep everything (semi-) organised so that the wardrobe stays orderly and easy to use, and I can avoid a total mess.

When I do notice myself getting a bit ‘cluttered’, I notice that I tend to close up physically - taking up less space, being small and holding tension in my body. I now understand that this can feed back into my mentality, and make me feel even smaller.

The tool I like to use to manage this when I notice it happening is ‘power poses’. To do them, I basically just hold a certain physical pose or stance - one that’s open, big and expressive - until I feel a shift on the inside. I open myself up and just fake it. From research I know that doing power poses can change hormones in my body, and just knowing that gives me a lot of extra energy.

I know that there a different kinds of personalities, and that I’m definitely a ‘people-pleaser’. With this in mind, I’ve learnt how to be open and at the same time, set boundaries. Actually putting a cap on the extent to which I go out of my way for others has enabled me to have much better control over my energy levels. If I’m feeling down, I’m now comfortable to tell people “I’m sorry, I can’t [be there / do that / meet you] right now. I need some time for myself and I’ll be with you soon.”

Setting boundaries for when and how my energy is given to others, when I know I need it myself, is essential. Learning to build these social boundaries for myself was a big positive change. It is essentially allowing myself to take personal time and feel good about it, without guilt or the need to please others.

My boyfriend is very understanding with this. He appreciates when I need my time to charge my own batteries first. Ultimately, looking after myself first makes me more able to help and support those around me.

If too much stress builds up and I don't take time for myself, I’ve discovered I have an alter ego that will inevitably come out. It’s the side of myself that essentially represents the tired / drained / negative / moody version of me. We gave her a name, Hayley. Hayley often comes out on a Friday after a long week, tired and hungry. Identifying her and giving her a name means we can laugh it off more easily and not get too worried about things. Associating these feelings to a different name helps me accept them and release them really easily, and avoid identifying with them.

It’s great to have friends who understand this too. Often, I will be able to dive into my tool-box of wellness and find something to make Hayley disappear. I used to fight and hide her, which consequently fed her more energy, making me even more aggravated. It’s like fighting water, you simply can’t do it. I’ve learnt to accept things, and let her flow which releases the tension. I use to be in Hayley all the time, because I did nothing to help her. I neglected her. Now all it takes is 15 minutes to look after her and help her using my wellness tools, then things are good.

Opening myself to new opportunities and trying new things is something I do nowadays. They say; “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” Moving to Sydney to get away from it all was great to ‘start fresh’. I planned to stay for 6 months but I fell in love with the place. I felt passion and joy again being here. Even though I was still in pain, I was in a positive mind frame where I could deal with it more effectively.

Another big step towards my positive mind frame - I think - was leaving relationships and going at it alone. It was a blessing in disguise. It taught me that everything I need is within myself. Other people can’t fix me or make me feel a certain way, they can’t truly change me or make me do anything. I’ve found that they can support me, which is awesome, but ultimately I’m the only person who can really help myself.

Taking the idea of going solo to the extreme, back-packing around Ireland was something I’d always had a dream of doing, until one day I finally just ‘up and went’ - no itinerary, no companions, just me. It was another really good step for my well-being. I went there for 2 weeks, with no plans but to be a solo back-packer exploring Ireland . I was already in a good place, but this helped me take that next step. Traveling by myself, I found that I didn’t need anyone or anything else to make me happy - it was all within me. I can reflect back on where I was then and where I am now, and have so much appreciation for the lessons solitude taught me.

Being comfortable in my own skin and who I am was a big thing for me. I’m a bit different; I say weird things, I do weird things, but that’s just me. I also wear trucker caps, I like to wear flats, baggy clothes and oversized hoodies. When I try to be someone people think I should be, it feels very wrong. I can see how society paints the picture that a person should ‘look’ a certain way, but in spite of that, I find trusting my gut and being the ‘real’ me brings far more contentment. None of those outside pressures really trigger me anymore.

Finding comfort and acceptance in myself means I don’t have to prove to anyone who I am. Trying to do so, in my experience, does not create happiness. I can find real happiness when it’s just me being me, doing what’s good for me.

I’ve learnt how to love myself. I was always taught to love others, which is very important, but the first person I think I should learn to love is myself. I believe only then can I truly love and appreciate others.

Balance is everything. Mental and physically. Mental wellbeing is my priority. For me it’s doing things for myself. I feel like we are discouraged from doing things for ourselves for fear of appearing selfish. I know that I’m a ‘pleaser' and will do anything for anyone, but in doing so, can often neglect myself. For me, mental health needs practice, it doesn’t just happen. It’s like training. I’m not fit just by coincidence, it’s because I’ve worked hard.

On top of this hard work, learning and understanding when I need to take it easy is important. It’s a fine line, and that’s where balance comes into it. Becoming good at balancing these needs has taken me a long time and required a lot of self-analysis, but it’s well worth it.

Another wicked tool for me has been the Muse Headband. It’s a high-tech headphone that can basically detect brainwaves. It plays sounds (softer or louder) according to the amount of brain activity happening. If my mind is still and calm, it plays soft sounds. If my mind is racing, it represents this using louder sounds.

It’s a massively powerful tool. I can literally observe my thoughts. When I notice the sound getting louder, I know to bring my thoughts back to stillness. I then hear the music soften as a result. This feedback encourages me to be at ease and be okay with whatever comes up.

Something that makes me feel connected and gives an awesome sense of community is giving my time to help others. I volunteer as a lifeguard in the weekends during the summer. It’s a great social environment, giving me feelings of belonging and worth. I became Patrol Captain of the beach which is awesome, and get to perform rescues which are amazing! I feel as though we not only save people’s lives, but also change people.

I like to give on a smaller, day-to-day basis too. I like to try to make someone’s day by perhaps donating my clothes, giving to buskers (and total strangers), or doing something else for someone. Giving makes me appreciate what I have. It shifts something inside of me. Seeing a smile on someone’s face is the ultimate gift which I get in exchange.

If I’m really pissed off at someone there’s a cool technique that I do to let that tension go. It’s simple but; when I see a stranger, without talking, I wish them all the best. It’s like going telepathic. I mentally send them energy and good vibes to have a great day. This especially works if I’m in a bitter state. It changes my attitude completely. It’s a simple way of giving without really giving.

In terms of wellness tools that have changed me, the biggest single thing I’ve experienced is the Hoffman Process. My life changed once I went on the 7-day Hoffman training camp in Byron Bay, Australia. It’s a camp cut-off from society, where I stayed with 20 other people and three facilitators (phycologists). We worked intensely on ourselves. I went into it with a totally open mind, giving everything I had and not holding back. I dove so deep into myself which brought out so many raw emotions.

It was hard. I cracked, and there were times I wanted to leave, but the whole process was a game-changer for me. I transformed. I opened. It changed my life for the better. I gained a true sense of peace. More than any other program, book, video, or conversation, it taught me tools to help me understand myself, how I think, act and behave. I practiced the tools lots and now use them to keep myself well. They’re amazing. I know everybody’s world is different and what works for me might not work for the next person, but I can’t speak highly-enough of what The Hoffman Process did for me. To people who are curious about it, I highly recommend it.

Travelling forward from depression into wellness, I used to think meant I’d never experience the bad stuff again, or ever be sad again. But the way I now view it, it’s not quite like that. I don’t think life is like that. I think life brings balance; Yin and Yang. There is no light without darkness.

I find it interesting how it’s seen as okay to be happy but not okay to be sad. I think there is an unrealistic picture of happiness which makes people search for it, forgetting that feeling sad is actually okay too. I’ve learnt to accept all of my feelings that come up, rather than view them as an issue. Knowing this, I’m a lot more okay with both the ups and downs. As far as I think, it’s okay to not be okay.

If it was possible to send a note back to yourself when you needed the most help, what would it look like?

Holly grew up experiencing depression, though the condition wasn't properly diagnosed until 14 years of age. In her early 20's, chronic pain from a fractured spine added to the difficulties of a relationship ending.

How did it make you feel?
I felt like I had no purpose.
No worth.

Were there any triggers that exacerbated your feelings?
The overuse of pain medication and the side-effects that came with that.
I stopped eating in an attempt to gain some control over at least some part of my life.

Was there a turning point when things started to get better?
Yes. I attended a 7-day workshop in Byron Bay, Australia, called the Hoffman Process. This is where I learnt a lot about myself and I became comfortable that my life was stable and healthy again.

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