Mental health week always brings a good flurry of discussion. I like people showing up and being vulnerable. It shows a human side and the truth that we all struggle at times. We just do. We struggle. It seems part of the human condition. Struggle is relative, so even the shiniest of people with the most charmed lives have struggle. You can count on it.
Of course these discussions lead to my own self reflection. I have wrestled with both anxiety and depression in my life. Over ten years ago my husband died. It was the kind of pain that left me wondering how it was possible to still be breathing. The will to live had been wrung out of me and I marvelled that it was possible my body could carry on living when there was nothing left of me. It was also pretty tempting to retreat from the world and hide away never to return. For whatever reason I ended up making a different decision and a year later ended up in New Zealand.
I am a big fan of yoga, a quality therapist, eating and sleeping well. Oh, and nature, definitely nature. There’s some general well-being things that we can do that definitely help boost our quality of life. Quality breathing is excellent as well. I can give tips, tricks and the formula that seems to work for me. In a lot of cases it’s also scientifically backed.
So today when I was doing my mental take on mental health week I kept having a line ring out from Little Fires Everywhere. It’s essentially spat with anger and possibly hate at Reece Witherspoon’s character after she judges an impossible choice of a mother and says something about how good mothers make good choices. Kerry Washington’s character says, "You didn't make good choices, you had good choices."
It’s a line that has stuck with me. One that I could argue, get defensive about and pull out some childhood trauma to counter with and the ace up my sleeve of a dead husband as proof that I too have suffered and preserved. Or what about the choices I make everyday for my kid, for the environment, for being a reasonable member of the community? Or the general exhaustion most of us carry trying to get every thing done and remembering to try and take care of ourselves along the way.
But here’s the catch. All of those things are true and here’s what’s also true. We have all had struggle and challenge. But, never did anyone tell me I was stupid, patronise me for the colour of my skin, or assume my value and contribution worth less because of the culture I am from. I have never been afraid of police for more than getting a ticket and a fine. Never have I been followed in a store because someone thought I was a thief. When I was young and worried about laying the rent I never worried about being homeless. I when never wondered if I could afford enough food for my son.
Having good choices doesn’t take away from the struggle or the challenge of your life. But what it does relieve is the extra stress and worry of all of the additional pressure of life and stress of everyday living. It takes away walking into a room and having to face a teacher who assumes my dreams or abilities or interests are worth less because of the colour of my skin or my heritage and who might even be horrible enough tell me. It removes generational trauma and stories of how my nannies were beaten for speaking their language. I might have doubted who I was at times but I never doubted myself because someone hated my culture and me by extension.
These traumas and a thousand more I will never know. I get a pass through a lot of doors that I mostly don’t even realise and certainly take for granted. The world generally applauds my success and assumes it will happen.
So when I walked in to work this morning and I was asked to write a piece on mental health there’s a lot I can pull from my own life experience. I am happy to be vulnerable and have stories to share. But when that request was followed by telling me the shocking Māori and pasifica mental health statistics in NZ my heart sank.
My shock should indicate just how sheltered I am in many ways. It’s easy to put these kinds of statistics in the too hard basket and walk away. There are no easy fixes for this one and we often want a ‘to-do’ list of options and a pathway for doing our bit and being a ‘good’ person.
This is all bigger and messier. To play our part is to get messy and make some mistakes along the way. It’s to sit in it and say, “I might not know your pain but I know pain and I am here with you.” Then it’s our job to listen. This isn’t an external job to fix or defend or explain away. Sit in the fire and let it change you.
That’s the real challenge and how we move forward together.