28 years ago, as the first destructive symptoms of mental illness began to appear, if I’d been able to foresee the eight desperate years that were to follow, I may have reached out for help right then, before bulimia took a firm grip on my life.
Then again, if I’d had the foresight to know the deep appreciation for the power of the mind, that this illness would give me, perhaps I would have consciously chosen the path of pain, shame, and self loathing that was about to unfold.
As a New Zealand representative gymnast, pursuing my Commonwealth Games dream, the pressure to maintain my weight and body fat percentage, lead me to start obsessing about food and then forcing myself to vomit, out of fear of putting on weight when I did give in to the intense food cravings.
It wasn’t long before a battle between food addiction and weight control was firmly intrenched, and with one hundred percent of my self worth attributed to my size, the battle was here to stay well after I retired from gymnastics.
One of the most painful parts of these years was the constant cycle of making thousands of promises to myself and then breaking them. Letting myself down over and over again. Completely losing all sense of self worth and self belief. It took so much time and energy to fit bulimia in to an outwardly normal functioning life, and keep it hidden from view. Keeping up with the lies and excuses was a full time job, it was all consuming.
Suicidal thoughts were a regular occurrence in moments of desperation. My lowest point was a frightening moment alone in a Madrid backpackers. The bulimia had been particularly rife for the last few months, I was so close to ending my life that day because I just wanted it to be over. I was broken and despondent after years of this hideous illness. I’d tried hard to stop for many years, and couldn’t, I saw no other way out. Thankfully, something snapped in me and I frantically shoved everything into my pack and went straight to the airport. I knew if I didn’t get out of there, I would not survive.
Then started the journey of getting help. It was far from an instant fix, another few painful years past before I was finally free from the constant cycle of binging, vomiting, cover ups and lies.
In the end it was an antidepressant medication that saved me from bulimia. But like any drug, there are (sometimes equally undesirable) side effects. The drug caused crippling anxiety and panic attacks. I knew that it was up to me to become self empowered if I wanted to truly be free.
Living with a mind in the grips of irrational beliefs and destructive thoughts on a daily basis is hell, but after coming out the other side of this dark place, a life-long fascination of the power of the mind was born. It was during my recovery years that I started to read self development books, fell in love with yoga, and spent six enlightening weeks of intensive training in yoga and meditation, in Thailand.
For eight long years I had experienced how destructive the mind is when negative beliefs and thoughts are left to their own devices, now I was beginning to see how equally constructive the mind can be, when harnessed in positive ways.
My process of personal growth, learning all I could about the mind, and applying this knowledge has spanned two decades, and still continues. Mental illness didn’t end with bulimia, I’m prone to depression and have plucked myself out of many black holes over the years. It’s a life long commitment to never stop learning and becoming more. I’ve taught myself how to be stronger on the inside than any outside force.
Meditation has been a key practice that has helped me become empowered to boost my own mental health. Through meditation I developed the life changing skill of being able to step back from my mind. Only then is it possible to self direct better thoughts from within. Each time I accomplish this, it’s an exciting feeling of self empowerment.
Even more exciting is that science is now teaching us that there is no place to think of practices such as meditation, positive self talk, and gratitude as 'woo woo nonsense', and if you're still in doubt, a simple self experiment would quickly prove how transformative they are.
Teaching these practices to my kids has also been fascinating. To see how quickly they respond, become enlightened about themselves, and learn how to positively handle their emotions. To watch their little minds broaden and deepen, and how they can change their mood, or increase their confidence by being proactive in directing how they think and feel. It’s really wonderful to watch.
My mission is to see that all Kiwi kids are taught these powerful, research-backed practices, so they can harness the power of their minds. I know this is the answer to changing the trajectory of mental health in New Zealand.
Sharing my mental illness story publicly is the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done, but something inside me tells me I have to do this, to rip the scab off the shame once and for all, so I can boldly pursue my mission.
I’ve reached a place where I can say thank you for the rollercoaster ride of mental illness. The hard learned lessons and empowering insights are what have inspired me to found PEPTALK, and to achieve the (some would say courageous, many would say outrageous) goal of changing the future of mental health.
One of the greatest minds to ever live, Albert Einstein said, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity”.
I believe New Zealand’s mental health crisis has given us the opportunity to create the most self aware, self empowered generation ever. I’m grasping this opportunity with both hands.
A Pep Talk is a vigorous, emotional talk intended to lift the spirits of yourself or someone else; and arouse positive feelings of happiness, enthusiasm, confidence, and determination to succeed.... PEPTALK as an organisation empowers people by delivering evidence-based knowledge and tools that build mental wellbeing and protect against mental illness, in engaging ways that are accessible, digestible, and actionable.