James Cameron is a 29-year-old from Auckland. He is the eldest of three siblings, with a younger brother and sister. James attended King’s College before completing a psychology degree at the University of Canterbury, where he flatted during the Christchurch earthquakes. Though his family has a long connection with Whangapoua in the Coromandel, James lives in Auckland where he works in the advertising industry.

I start my day with a list that gives my day structure and helps to build a sense of achievement.

I’ve got a notebook where I write out my daily lists. Every day I wake up, have breakfast, and write my list. Usually it’s re-writing the previous day’s list of things I didn’t quite get around to, and then adding to it. I don’t have to complete everything, but as I tick things off, I feel organised. If I can tick off a couple of small goals each day, I get a sense of achievement and accomplishment. It's a good feeling.

This sense of achievement is really important for me. One thing I find really hard is having no goal in sight. It leaves me feeling stuck, not knowing where to focus my energy. That's where the list and having that direction really helps me. It helps me keep on track, keeps my mind moving forward and helps me feel productive. Rather than feeling stuck, as though I’m going nowhere, I’m able to keep moving forward and keep feeling productive every day.

One of the biggest aspects of my wellness is taking notice of my emotions. I think it’s really important to acknowledge feelings, and to really “feel my feelings”. I like to dive into them and figure out where they’re coming from, what they are and what they mean. Developing my emotional awareness means I can be better at dealing with stuff that comes up.

For me, the feeling of being unmotivated is one of the main signs that helps me identify when I’m heading down an unhealthy path. I feel it’s a really important part of wellness to be able to identify my triggers and do something about them before I start to spiral down that path.  

I can identify my warning signs and do something about them before I start to feel like shit. Sometimes all that’s needed might be just to acknowledge and recognise whatever I’m feeling at the time, and then address it. If it’s stress, then once I’ve identified it I can just let it go. I make sure my goals are clear in my mind and do some work towards them, which gives me a buzz.

Understanding what certain emotions are and where they come from is key. And at the end of the day, to know why I’m feeling certain emotions is really important. That’s what I call emotional awareness. I think that's one of my biggest strengths as far as wellness goes. It calms me to know what’s going on with my emotions and whether I need to act on a feeling, or whether I need to just acknowledge it, release it and let it go.

I enjoy exercise, but I do find it hard to go for runs or go to the gym by myself - which I still try and do. I’m in a social football team, so every week I’ve got something that I’m doing. The team aspect is awesome, because it can sometimes be hard to find the motivation to exercise without having other people who are relying on me. I find it much more enjoyable to get my exercise through social team sports. It makes something like going for a run or to the gym, which can be a bit of a chore, into something fun that I really look forward to.

I know some people who do crazy amounts of exercise to stay feeling good. It’s great when people can find that, but I don't subscribe to it myself. I think everyone’s different, and there are a whole range of tools I can use to stay well. I like to make sure I’m aware of what's going on with my emotions, and talking about what I’m feeling with other people is a good way to practise that.

Having a strong bond with people I feel safe talking to helps take the burden off my shoulders, which I think is important. It’s a really hard thing to do though. I’m pretty bad at opening up and sharing things with other people, even though I’m lucky to have many supportive friends and family. I don’t like the idea of burdening other people with my problems, but I’ve come to realise that it can actually be really helpful when I do share, and let other people be there for me.

It’s about getting other people to understand the load that I’m carrying, and helping to feel like I’m not alone.

I think it’s important to know where my happy places are. I really enjoy skiing, and my bach in the Coromandel is my ultimate happy place. My bach is where I’ll go if I’ve ever got any big decisions to make. It’s a calm, peaceful place. When I’m there I can truly relax and clear everything inside my mind. I can have a weekend there and it resets me. 

It’s definitely my special place. My grandad brought it when my dad was in his teens and it’s been handed down through the family. It’s not just my special place - all my family feel a deep connection to the land there too. That makes it even more special. The connection I have to the bach, and the family history there, give it a spiritual aspect for me.

I think it’s good to have a special place where I feel at peace, a place I have a connection to.

Skiing is similar to that but is an activity rather than a place. I can ski for a day, and at the end of the day, my mind is clear. I don't know why skiing in particular does that for me, but it's just one of those things.

I also try to meditate from time to time. I need to be better and make sure I do it more often. I find it helps to shut off my mind from the busyness of the day after work, or gives me energy in the morning. I use an app which I think really helps, and makes it easier to get into.

For me, continuing to study and learn is very important. The more I can learn about what's going on with me or with others, the better.

I find it quite addictive to dive deep into a topic I’m interested in. I like to research and take on as much information as I can to expand my knowledge about the world.

I think routine is really, really important. A regular routine gives me direction, and that helps me to keep moving and keep doing things. It’s less of a physical keep doing things and more making sure that my mind is on a subject, because when it’s not focused towards something, it goes in circles, doesn’t know what to do, and gets lazy.

Even if I’m on holiday and I don’t have a lot on my plate, there are always little things I do to gain that structure.

I also find it's important to be able to switch off rather than have my mind going over and over the same things and dwelling on them. After a tough day, I try to either get outside somewhere, or watch TV, whatever works to switch off my brain. I work in advertising and my job does get stressful. It can be tough to leave the office behind at the end of the day. I find having a few favourite shows to binge is great for unwinding and helping to switch off for a short break - otherwise my mind is just going over stuff.

I know alcohol doesn’t help me, but I still indulge occasionally. It’s an interesting approach to wellbeing because I know it can trigger things, but I prefer to learn to manage things, and to know my limits. Wellbeing for me is about doing things to stay in control. It’s about learning what my triggers are, learning to know my body and what I’m feeling, and knowing how to actively manage myself, so that I can be well and still enjoy the lifestyle I want.

Something that used to be really helpful for the first three months when I was really focusing on building a lot of wellness into my life again, my dad would phone me every evening. He’d call me up and ask, "So how are you feeling from 1-10 about your day", and I’d answer using the 1-10 scale. And then he’d tell me his number for his day. And if we’d want to talk about it more we would. If we didn’t, we didn’t, and that was okay too.

Every day we’d do that. Something little like that really helps to build connection. It helped me to acknowledge all the feelings I was feeling and to know I wasn’t alone.

I think this is a great tool. Having to put a rating on it means you can’t just give the standard answer of “good” when someone asks how everything is going. It causes me to think, to share something more, and to open up.

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

James experienced depression while at university in Christchurch. There were no obvious causes for the experience.

How you felt as a result?
No energy
Weighed down
Nothing mattered - experiences I’d have previously enjoyed would bring me no emotion.
Didn’t see how things could ever improve.

Did you take prescribed medication?

Were there any triggers that exacerbated your feelings?
Being inactive. It made me feel personally “stagnant”.

Was there a turning point when things started to get better?
Yes. After the doctor finally gave me the diagnosis of living with depression, I finally understood what was happening to me and I was able to start doing something about it.


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