mental health

For My Fellow Social Anxiety Bunnies

Once upon a time in my early 20’s, I visited my GP because I was experiencing persistent dizzy spells. With this being my only symptom, my clever GP thankfully figured out I was actually experiencing anxiety, with the dizziness being caused by consistent hyperventilation… like a chihuahua.. that has taken ecstasy. She referred me for 5 free sessions of counselling with a lovely lady in Manukau.

I was a little unprepared for counselling. I thought the nice blonde; possibly German lady was going to fix me right up without me participating or contributing to the sessions in any way at all. Sadly, this is not quite how counselling works and unsurprisingly, the nice German lady and I did not get very far in 5 sessions.

However, all was not lost and despite my complete lack of contribution, the lovely German lady managed to impart a couple of absolute pearls, which have resonated with me on many occasions since.

For as long as I could remember, I had held the belief that I was some kind of sub-species of human being. That everyone else around me was worthy of good things and good opportunities, but for some reason, I was not. I have no idea why I felt this way. I just did. In any given situation, I believed that everybody else deserved the good position they were in, but somehow, I was less worthy than them all. This made me feel very awkward in social situations. Perhaps you can relate.

When the lovely German lady discovered that I felt awkward (I remember her saying it because her accent meant that she pronounced her w’s like v’s, awkvard), she gave me a life-changing (although very strange at the time) assignment.

The assignment was this: To go home and make a list. The list was to contain 100 items, and it was to be made up of all of the things that I had in common with other people. This felt rather foreign because so often we are told to celebrate our differences and the things that make us unique. Nevertheless, I am a chronic obliger and the lovely German lady had assigned a task, therefore I did it.

I started the list:

  1. I have 2 eyes
  2. I have 2 ears
  3. I have a brain
  4. I have a name
  5. I have hands
  6. I have feet

I’m sure you get the idea.

By the time I had finished this simple task, I had developed an unshakeable understanding that I was in many ways, just like everybody else. Not terribly different, even from those I most admired. I certainly wasn’t some unworthy sub-species of human being.

This realisation encourages me to chase things I had previously thought weren’t for “someone like me”. Because in reality, nothing really separates me.

Why do we think this way about ourselves? Where is the justification for it? Hopefully this exercise helps you to see that there is none. That you are just as worthy as anyone around you to succeed and have good things and be found in good places.

I did have another thought while I was mulling this wee post over in my head. Perhaps, there is something on the list that you don’t have. Perhaps you don’t have two eyes, perhaps you can’t hear well, you might not have much money, maybe your upbringing was unstable, or you don’t have confidence in the way you look. Perhaps you spend a lot of time wishing that you had the one thing on that list that you are missing. Whatever it is you think you are missing, I hope that if you make a list for yourself, you are able to see that one perceived “flaw” or “lack” does not discount you. That it is one item, on a list of many attributes. That it is not worth you diminishing your own worth for one more second. You are every bit as worthy as any other human being to pursue the life you were created for.

Go get it my friend.



Own Your Story

own your story 5

Hello Friend.

I wanted to share a quote with you. It’s by Theodore Roosevelt and I really enjoy it:

“If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month”.

One of the most powerful things I think we can do on our journey to mental wellness is realise the immense power that we have to change the circumstances in our own lives.

For a long time I waited for a magical cure or a magical person to come and save me from the way that I was feeling. I thought that I was genetically pre-programmed to feel the way that I did and that my only hope was to hope and pray hard enough, and one day I might magically feel “good”.

As humans we often naturally look for circumstances or people to blame for the way that we feel. For example: “I feel depressed because somebody treated me badly”, or “I feel anxious because it runs in my family”. While there are many legitimate reasons for us to feel depressed or anxious, having someone or something to blame can often keep us stuck in these negative feelings. Because we effectively hand over control to the people who hurt us, to painful circumstances, or to our genetics. We genuinely believe that these negative feelings are beyond our control and so we wait and hope for something or someone to fix them for us.

We so easily forget that in fact, we are in the driver’s seat of our lives.

Have a think about who or what has control over your feelings. What would it take for you to feel better do you think? Someone from the past to knock on your front door and deliver a heartfelt apology? Somebody to receive a suitable punishment for the way they treated you? God to click his fingers and lift the bad feelings from your life? Some radical rearranging of your DNA?

The thing is, we can’t let our lives pass us by while we wait for these things because they may never happen. I’m not saying you don’t absolutely deserve that apology. I’m not saying that somebody shouldn’t be held accountable for their despicable actions. I’m not saying it isn’t really really hard to have genes that make us susceptible to be sufferers of mental illness. What I am saying is: these people, or those circumstances have already taken enough from you, they don’t get to determine your future.

When we are able to understand that regardless of circumstance we have the power to choose joy, it is life changing. The presence of pain does not have to equal the absence of joy.

I used to honestly believe that people who had beautiful lives were just ‘blessed’ with them. That “wonderful” was their pre-destined lot in life and not mine. That I simply had to live with and accept what was put in front of me. The further along I get in life, the more I realise that these wonderful lives we see around us are a choice, they are created by hard work, serious grit, determination and some wise choices.

Life will always throw you curveballs. The harsh reality is: we cannot control everything that happens to us in this lifetime and painful things will happen. Pain is inevitable. Nevertheless, we are responsible for the way in which we think, act, and feel in response to the curveballs.

If you don’t believe me, maybe these words from Richard Rohr will help:


If we continue to deny personal responsibility for our lives and the way that we feel about them, we feel overwhelmingly powerless. When we believe that we have no control, we can very easily become depressed. When we can accept personal responsibility, we are more likely to take the necessary steps to recovery and success.

If you have a couple of minutes, have a look at this brilliant (and short) video from Will Smith about personal responsibility. It is such a key concept.

If our lives do not look the way we want them to, we have one option: we need to take stock and acknowledge the predicament we are in. We need to acknowledge the part that we have played in getting ourselves there or allowing ourselves to stay there. In order to fix our stories, we need to own our stories.

This excerpt from Crystal Hurst’s book “She’s Still There” puts it beautifully.

“It is your duty to discover, know well, and remain aware of what’s inside you. It is your assignment to steward what you’ve been given. It is your job to get the contents within you deposited safely at their destination. It is your duty to love yourself enough to live with hope, intention, and focus.

Yes, God wants to guide and direct you, but he doesn’t live through you apart from you. He’s given you what you need, but you have a role to play and a job to do. You are a recipient of God’s grace, but He wants you to respond to His call on your life. You have everything you need to do this because you also share His divine nature (2 Pet 1:4). You have to participate consistently and intentionally in your life. That is your job. Never forget that you are behind the wheel. Your choice to live with acute awareness is the key to getting where you’ve been designed to go. I want to make this as clear as I can. It is your job in this life to know and value what makes you you and to treasure the opportunity you have to make a distinct impression with this one life you have. No one else can do this for you. Sure, other people might encourage you, call things out of you, or help you along the way by lighting your path, but the responsibility of carrying your contents carefully is yours.”

As the beautiful Brene Brown says: “If you own this story you get to write the ending.”

So my friend, let’s stop waiting for a “one day” magical cure and get out there and make our best lives happen. I guarantee you you are far more capable and powerful than you give yourself credit for.


Grace Upon Grace

Hello Again Friend,

I have called this week’s blog post “Grace Upon Grace” because it sounds much prettier than “Rid Yourself of Unnecessary Guilt”, although that would perhaps be a more appropriate title.

For me personally, years of overwhelming guilty feelings were a major contributor to overwhelming anxiety that eventually led to overwhelming depression. Guilt is such a strange, useless emotion and so, I would like to state from the beginning of this post, that you are a human being. Therefore you cannot attain perfection. We are all a little bit crap.  It’s not just you. So drop the unrealistic standards, breathe a sigh of relief, and let’s continue.

When I googled “guilt as a cause of anxiety”, a squillion articles appeared. Therefore I figured this wasn’t an issue only I had dealt with, and sharing my ideas on this could potentially help some other friends.

In church, we often quote a verse, which is very helpful when it comes to unnecessary guilt. Romans 8:1 says “Therefore there is now no condemnation [no guilty verdict, no punishment] for those who are in Christ Jesus”. Anyhow, the verse is helpful because it helps us to know that if we are feeling condemned, or shameful or guilty, that that is not God, and it is not good. We use another term in church – conviction. Conviction is helpful. Conviction is that little voice in your head that alerts you to the fact that you may have just said or done something that is a little bit crap. I.e. said or done something that violates your personal moral code. When conviction speaks, there is no guilt or shame attached, you are simply presented with an opportunity to acknowledge the mistake, confess/make amends if you need to, and move on with a clear conscience. Once guilt, shame, and fear become involved, we have crossed into condemnation territory, this territory doesn’t tend to help initiate any positive behaviour change and is just simply, not helpful to anyone, least of all, you.

Obsessing over our guilt and shame causes our mind’s defence mechanisms to come into play, suppressing our awareness of the guilty feelings and doing nothing to solve the problem. Guilt can be temporarily buried, but it will always surface again and mess up your life in many ways:

Your self-image can be distorted, because you feel as though you are hiding something, which makes you dislike yourself, as well as thinking that other people can see your “spots”. Spoiler alert: They can’t. They legitimately have no idea, mostly because your logic for feeling guilty is rubbish in the first place.

That energy you are using to suppress your guilt, takes up so much of your valuable energy, robbing you and consequently the world around you of your gifts and talents.

Feeling guilty can make you act like an asshat. People who feel guilty tend to put others down. This is one of our primitive defence mechanisms, to see others as being as rubbish as we feel.

Feeling guilty can give you a really short fuse. When we are consistently critical of ourselves, we have open wounds. If someone else prods at these wounds, we can react disproportionately.

Guilt can also make us feel paranoid. This is caused by projection, another primitive defence mechanism.

Guilt can make you sabotage your own success. We deny ourselves an achievement or prize to pay for our guilt. The problem with this is, it doesn’t work, and therefore we repeat the cycle.

Left unchecked, unjustified guilt is linked to substance abuse, sexual disorders and a variety of other self-sabotaging behaviours.

So friend, you are left with two options: to face the music and ditch this useless feeling for good or continue to kick yourself in the shins because you once nicked a cookie and blamed it on the neighbours dog.

So, how do I get rid of the guilt I hear you ask? Well, Dr Leon F Seltzer and I have some ideas.

  1. Realise that regardless of what you did, you were doing the best you knew how at the time. You used the best judgement available to you in that moment. Acknowledge that given the circumstances of that moment, you acted in the only way you saw fit.
  2. Acknowledge that at the time of your mistake, you didn’t know what you know now. It is really cruel to blame yourself for acting in a way that you would have avoided if you had more awareness or knowledge than you did at the time. “Hindsight is always 20/20”. The information was not accessible to you at the time and therefore, you cannot expect yourself to have acted as though it was.
  3. Stop being so hard on yourself for mistakes that everyone makes from time to time. You might think that by letting yourself off the hook for a mistake, you are somehow more likely to repeat the mistake. But the contrary is true. If you’re less nervous/distracted by the possibility of making a mistake you are less likely to repeat it.
  4. Even if by chance you were directly responsible for an accident, do you think anyone makes it through life without mistakes? We all have lapses in judgement. What makes you reluctant to forgive yourself? Do you really need to think less of yourself just because you’re as human as the rest of us?
  5. The behavioural ideals you have set for yourself might be too high. Someone else might have even forced these upon you. Endlessly striving for perfection is a guaranteed set-up for failure and low self-esteem.


Friend, I’ve no doubt that you have made mistakes. Be assured, you will continue to make them. But your mistakes weren’t made out of pure malice, you are worthy of grace and compassion. And when you get on the path to giving yourself sufficient grace, you’ll find there is less and less for which you even need to forgive yourself.

So my friend, this week I challenge you to give yourself a freaking break. Look back at the circumstances that make you feel guilty and I can guarantee you you were only doing the absolute best you knew how, in the circumstances you found yourself. You were not an asshat for no reason. You have given yourself a hard time long enough to cause a degree of mental illness and that is long enough.

So, confess your mistakes to whoever you know needs to hear your confession, make amends if you can and then let it go. Watch people love you anyway. You are not unforgiveable, you are not unloveable. You are a human being, and we’re all a bit crap sometimes.



Strong at the Broken Places

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” -Ernest Hemingway.

Upon hearing this quote I was encouraged to share a little of my own story with you. On paper, I’m not really qualified to speak about mental illness. But, I did fight a substantial battle with anxiety and depression, and I managed to overcome it. I am now at a point where it no longer controls my life. Nowhere near in fact.

Lately the news has been full of heartbreaking suicide statistics accompanied by descriptions of our failing mental health systems. And so, although I am in no way qualified to preach at you; it would feel far too selfish not to share the things that have helped me on my mental health journey. In the hope that my journey might just help someone else.


The Japanese have a pottery technique called “Kintsugi” or “Kintsukuroi”. Meaning “golden joinery” or “golden repair”. It is the art of repairing broken pieces of pottery with a lacquer dusted with powdered gold, silver or platinum. The philosophy behind the technique is to treat breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise. The outcome is a piece far more beautiful and valuable than before. There is an understanding that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken. The flaw is seen as a unique part of the objects’ history, which adds to its’ beauty.

Nikita Gill puts its far more eloquently than I can:


On the days when you feel ashamed of your scars,

your mind only registering how ugly they are

rather than the beauty they prove of you having survived,

remember that

there is an entire art form dedicated to filling the cracks of broken things with lacquered gold.

An entire art form that proves that even broken and damaged history of ‘an object’ is beautiful and should be treasured.


how much more you are than an object.


your survival, your journey, your scars deserved to be treasured too.


If you are struggling with your mental health right now, realise that this is all it is. A little stumbling block, a little bump in the road and afterwards you will be all the more brave, strong, and beautiful.

An incredible example of being “Strong at the Broken Places” is the late poet/author/civil rights activist (I could go on) Maya Angelou. Angelou’s list of achievements is substantial and there are many facets to her fascinating life story. For the purpose of this post, I am just going to focus on one aspect. When Angelou was just 8 years old, she was sexually abused and raped by her mothers boyfriend, a man called Freeman. Freeman was found guilty but was jailed for just one day. Four days after his release he was murdered, probably by Maya’s uncles. Following this, Maya became mute for almost 5 years. She stated: “I thought my voice killed him; I killed that man, because I told his name. And then I thought I would never speak again, because my voice could kill anyone.”

While Angelou was silent, she developed an extraordinary memory, a love for books and an ability to listen and observe the world around her. She went on to publish 7 autobiographies, 3 books of essays, several books of poetry and was credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning over 50 years. Angelou received over 50 honorary degrees and was very active in the civil rights movement, working alongside Martin Luther King Junior and Malcolm X.

In 1993, Angelou recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton. The recording of this poem won a grammy award.

Hopefully you get my point. Maya Angelou’s weakness became her greatest strength.

So friend, don’t be discouraged if mental illness is part of your journey right now. That’s all it is. Part of your journey that will sculpt strength and beauty in the days to come. Like Maya Angelou who went from a mute child to a world renowned public speaker, God will use your journey for good. Your broken places will absolutely become your strengths. That is a promise.

So hang on in there friend. Cheering you on x