Isabella is 28 years old and was born in Hamilton. She is the oldest of her siblings, with three younger brothers and a younger sister. She spent her childhood in Auckland and her teenage years in Hamilton before moving to Melbourne in her early twenties. In 2019, Isabella graduated from the University of Waikato with a Bachelor of Social Sciences in Psychology and Human Development. She lives in Whakatane with her partner, in their first home.

I find it empowering to take responsibility for my own mental health and wellbeing. No matter what goes on around me, no matter what relationships or situations I am dealing with, I am the common denominator in my life. I take myself everywhere, and I only ever get to be myself and see the world through my own eyes. 
Reconnecting to my spirit marked a significant turning point in my healing journey. Understanding that I am never alone, that I am always held and supported and loved by something far greater than myself, allowed me to get up each day and believe that I and my life could and would get better.  
I believe in a higher power because I can feel it; the semantics and dogma don’t matter to me. This faith in something greater than me has been my source of strength in my darkest of days. My beliefs help me to connect to and understand myself on a deeper level.

I remember when I first said to the Universe/God/Spirit: “Guide me to where I need to go and I will listen, I will follow, and I will trust.” From that point on, I began to notice signs and synchronicities that have guided me from a life of pain and heartbreak, to one of fulfilment and happiness.  
Reconnecting to my body after my eating disorder was a slow process. I was afraid to “be in my body”. I truly didn’t know how. I had treated my body with such disrespect and hatefulness, I really had to learn how to love myself from the inside out. To be honest, it’s still a journey I am on, but yoga has held me through these many seasons of my life. Yoga has taught me patience, the value of consistent practice, and maybe most of all, how to be present; how to show up each and every day exactly as I am and love myself there. To sit with my breath, to ground into my body, to connect my mind to my muscles and to feel the energy flowing within me, is one of my favourite ways to keep well. 
A consistent meditation practice is something I am always working on. I’m not perfect, but on the days when I create the space to sit and be still, I can feel the tangible difference in how I show up in the world afterwards. Taking the time to connect to my breath, to slow down, to empty my busy monkey mind and just be in the moment, is a powerful thing.

Meditation helps me stay connected to myself and the world around me. I often gain perspective and clarity on problems I am facing through this process. It helps me to not “sweat the small stuff”, and to be grateful for my incredible life and this incredible journey I have been on.

I’ve kept journals ever since I was young. Back then I would write sporadically but these days I have developed an intentional practice; each morning or evening I set aside time to write out my thoughts and feelings regarding whatever is happening in my life at that time.  
It’s interesting to look back at old entries and see who I was and how I was feeling at the time. Past-self Bella often gives current-self Bella little insights or words of encouragement. It’s quite a magical thing reading words I have written in the past and feeling the love and connection to those versions of self across time and space.  
I also like to write myself letters, as a bit of a ritual each birthday or New Year’s Eve. I find this is a really cool practice to acknowledge my personal growth and accomplishing goals and dreams.

Being out in nature is such a spiritual experience for me. I feel so blessed every day to live in Aotearoa and to be surrounded by such incredible scenery. I love being by the ocean most of all; a walk on the beach is such a soul-soother for me. I love how the ocean changes all the time, just like me, my life and my emotions. I love being at the beach on moody, stormy days as much as the sunny, crystal clear ones. It reminds me of the fullness of human experience, how we are here to experience it all, the good and the bad.  
Nature reminds me how connected I am to everything around me. I am a part of a greater system of life. Going on bush walks, going camping, watching sunrises or sunsets; I find these experiences are full of magic and are an integral part of maintaining my mental health.  
Being surrounded by good people is also important for me. I’ve worked really hard over the years to cultivate relationships with people in which I can show up in my fullest expression of self, and be seen and heard and loved for who I am. I am beyond grateful for the relationships in my life. I am so blessed to be surrounded by incredible people and I know I wouldn’t be here today without them.  
Following the phases of the moon deepens my connection to nature and the greater universe around me. Learning more about astrology and the positioning of the planets in relationship to us on Earth has also allowed me a greater understanding of myself and the world. When I first started to understand my natal astrology chart, I was blown away by the insights it provided. It’s my favourite thing to share with other people as I know how empowering it is to know and understand oneself.

As a psychology graduate, I am fascinated by the human experience, in all its differences and similarities. I have learnt about the power of symbolism and archetypes that lie within our subconscious, allowing common understandings to be communicated across the borders of context.  
‘Self-love’ is such a gimmicky phrase now, but coming to know myself and love myself for who and how I am, is the foundation from which my new life has been built. I learnt that lesson in the hardest of ways, but it taught me a strength I never knew I had.  
Taking time each day just for me and investing in practices and people that nourish my soul, allows me to show up in the world as the best version of myself every day. Of course, this is an ever-unfolding journey to navigate. Life gets busy and I have commitments that demand time and energy when I don’t often have any to spare. But I’ve learnt that if I don’t fill my own cup first, the quality and quantity of what I have to offer others is limited. 
I believe knowing and enforcing my boundaries is important for me to keep well. It’s something I wasn’t taught in school, or even from the people around me; I had to learn this the hard way. Respecting myself and my own needs enough to say “no” when I need to, has been transformative for my life. It goes with the self-love stuff: sometimes, I don’t have any energy to share; sometimes, I don’t have the capacity to show up for others because I am needing to show up for myself.

In relationships, especially romantic ones, in the past I allowed myself to be treated so badly because I didn’t know I deserved any better. Through learning those lessons and loving myself, I am now in a place where every relationship in my life (romantic and otherwise) respects my boundaries when I need to assert them. This took time, and I lost people along the way, but I always knew that those who truly loved me and were meant to be a part of my life, would understand and respect my needs - and they have done.  
Through my psychology studies, I have developed an understanding of the way the Western world views ‘mental health’. What I realise is that we know a lot about what can go wrong for us, and potential ways to treat such problems, but we don’t really know a lot about how to cultivate and nourish the strengths we each hold within us. Positive psychology is an emerging discipline that works to scientifically prove the benefits of some of the practices I have mentioned (meditation, gratitude, spirituality) and this is an area I am really excited to be involved with in the future.  
I also am aware that having a solely Western understanding of anything is limiting. I am continually reading and learning in my own time about various holistic healing modalities that are championed by indigenous and Eastern cultures around the world. I am looking forward to integrating all of my understandings into my career.  
I know that for my health and wellbeing it's important to nourish my body with good food and move my body through physical exercise. I believe the same amount of attention needs to be given to caring for my mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing as well.

I believe as humans we are body, mind, heart and soul wrapped up in one. Unique, amazing and brilliant, with painful experiences and blissful ones, yet we are here to experience it all.
Caring for myself on all of these levels means that I know I can handle any challenge I might face in this life. I have overcome more than I ever thought possible. It has given me strength and self-assurance I might not have developed had I not endured my struggles. These experiences are the fire in my belly that drive me forward in supporting others doing the same.

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

Isabella experienced depression during her late teens and early twenties. Challenges she faced within her family were added to by feeling a lack of control over her life.

How you felt as a result?
Disconnected from my environment and those around me
Physical pain from my emotions
Misunderstood by others
Didn’t understand myself

Did you take prescribed medication?
No. I preferred to try to resolve things naturally.

Were there any triggers that exacerbated your feelings?
Parents’ divorce
Bodybuilding competition
Toxic relationships
Self-worth issues
Self-destructive behaviours

Was there a turning point when things started to get better?
Yes. I had an ‘out of body’ experience where a wave of awareness and clarity came over me. I realised what I was doing to myself. I stopped bodybuilding. I stopped seeking validation and worth from having an ‘ideal’ body. I knew I had to turn inwards and love myself from the inside out.


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