Twenty young Kiwis tell their stories of fighting depression in a new book, How We Got Happy. The Herald on Sunday is featuring three of them. Today, Cheyenne Harper.
I do a lot of work on self-love, awareness and openness. My number one tool for developing these traits is journaling. I write journal entries every morning and night. Initially, I wrote on a very personal level about how I was feeling, what was going on and why I could be feeling that way. I found that forced reflection achieved through writing to be very powerful for developing self-awareness.
One day, I let a friend read my words and she suggested that I start a blog, pointing out: "Imagine if this could help someone going through the same thing". The idea was intimidating, but it seemed like a great opportunity to develop further the openness I'd been working on through journaling in the hope that it would benefit both me and others. I now realise fully the power of sharing feelings. Not only does it seem to make a difference for others, but openly expressing my feelings also helps me stay well and gives me purpose. Even if it helps one person, then it's worth my while.
I got so accustomed to writing about my feelings, that it led me to be able to talk about them too. When I'm going through struggles, I speak up to my loved ones so they know what I'm going through and can help me through it. I find that when I talk openly with loved ones about my feelings and my struggles, they are actually fully accepting of it. My family has a history of mental health issues. This has been a blessing because it means that they are open to the idea of discussing mental health – good and bad. I am lucky to have such a supportive family I can talk openly with.
I now know that it's okay to ask for help. I don't have to fight anything alone. I find counsellors another great option for expressing my thoughts and feelings. Even now, I seek help before I get overwhelmed. It's empowering to have that strength. It can be hard but I believe asking for help is a sign of strength and is far from weakness. My journaling is a big part of me; I now set myself questions. In the morning I ask: "How am I feeling mentally? What am I feeling physically? What am I excited about today? How am I going to show myself love today?"
And I list five things I'm grateful for. If I start my day feeling grateful for what I have, then I've already excelled in the day. An example is: "I am grateful for my body, because it can take me places". I think it's important to get specific regarding the "why". If I put a reason behind what I'm grateful for, then it has a deeper level of meaning.
My night journaling again includes the things that I am grateful for, and also what I learned that day, which could be anything about myself, the world, or other people. I learn lots from journaling and blogging. Getting everything out of my head is great in itself but also when I read back over it, I can fully see and understand the "why" behind my feelings. It's also easier to see traits or things that have been going on in my life that become patterns I can learn from.
I have three core values on how I live my life, and strive for them every day: compassion, strength and gratitude.
- Compassion goes towards others and towards me. I think it's easy to forget the self-compassion. Like most, I got taught to be kind to others, but I think it's rarer to see lessons on showing kindness towards ourselves. The more I fill my own cup, then the more I can pour it into others.
- Strength means being resilient. When I'm going through mental or physical struggles I find the strength to get myself back up. Telling myself that I am strong can help me throughout my days.
- Gratitude is simple but effective: it is being appreciative for everything that I have.
I joined a community of women called Body Love NZ, and another one called Soul Sisters, who come together to learn how to love ourselves right to our inner cores. The workshops are not about what you look like physically but more in line with how you feel. I also attended their self-love workshops, which dive deeper into the mental side of things, learning about my inner critic and my inner mentor, which are essentially, the demon and the angel.
We learnt about intuition and the way we perceive ourselves and others, along with discovering self-worth and purpose. Being open and honest about myself and sharing experiences with other women who have all gone through similar things creates such a positive environment. No one is perfect but we can always be aware and work on ourselves to be the best version of ourselves. To paraphrase a quote from Sophia Bush, "You can be a work of art and a work in progress at the same time".
I'm good at keeping to a routine if I'm confident it will bring change and growth. I'm a well-organised person but some days, I want to be lazy and blob out watching TV all day. And those are the days I am really kind to myself; recovery is important too.
Along with my journaling routine, I meditate every morning and night. I usually do a 35-minute guided meditation from YouTube because the guide helps me stay present. If I don't do a guided meditation, I do my own five- to seven-minute words of affirmation meditation. I sit or lie and focus on breathing deeply. Every inhale, I think of words like "I am powerful", "I am beautiful", "I am strong", "I am fierce", "I am enough". Those are generally my first five and then I let the rest come to me in the moment. Also, when I get a quiet moment during the day, I tune into my breath and I notice what it's doing. If it's heightened then that tells me that I'm stressed and since I'm conscious of it, I can then slow it down and that calms me.
I love to work out; it makes me feel good whether it's walking, running, or HIIT classes. The group classes are my favourite. They are exciting and super motivating. It's nice to be able to work out with men and women, which always makes for a fun environment rather than slogging at it solo.
I've also discovered the power of podcasts and inspirational talks on YouTube. My most watched are Oprah Winfrey and Will Smith. And one that really hit home was the Think Grow podcast regarding comparison as I was really good at comparing myself to others and to my old happy, bubbly high school self.
I have replaced my time on social media with self-help resources. It's a good exercise for me and has made me more aware of the effects social media was having on me. After 9pm I plug my phone in on the other side of the room to avoid any temptation. Setting myself limits and boundaries for things that don't serve my soul empowers me.
I'm a sucker for self-help books too. I've got a whole cupboard full of them. Three books that resonated with me are: The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne - once you know the secret, you can use it in all areas of your life; The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho: a beautiful book about magic which made me believe in the Universe; The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle: about being present.
I even have Tolle's quote tattooed on my arm: '"Realise deeply that the present moment is all you ever have". It makes sense to me. The past is the past; I can't do anything about it. The future hasn't happened; I don't know what it's going to be. The only moment I have is right now. I try to live my life in every single moment of every single day as that's all there really is. For me to be present, it comes down to the little things such as eating. I slow down and really taste; it's simple, but being present gives me joy.
When I have a tough day I'll get to the ocean. Seeing it, smelling it, feeling it, even hearing it makes me relax. Grounding myself comes much easier by the ocean. I simply sit and breathe and sometimes meditate. Getting myself into a calm state of mind where I can then journal usually helps. It's my go-to.
I've discovered how important it is to ground myself before I take action, because a lot of the time I think we react instead of respond, and when we react it's generally with emotion. When I'm grounded I am calm. I can then think honestly about what's going on, and only when I'm at that point, do I respond and journal. It's usually a much clearer response too.
I've learned how to balance my life between work, play, family and friends. It's come from being a business owner, always working, doing everything for others and not for myself. So now, I balance my days with a cycle of things that I do for me, followed by things I do for others.
The things I do for me are journaling, breathing, meditating, or even things like getting my nails done. It's usually something that I do by myself. When I'm in my own space and comfortable being on my own, I feel like I've nailed everything. If I'm comfortable being on my own then I'm comfortable being with others too. I like to do things for myself, by myself: going for a hike, being in nature, or simply having a glass of wine with dinner. It's really helpful for me to have these personal little joys in my days.
I believe in God, the Universe, and that what I put out is what I attract. The Universe has my back. I understand that everyone is on different frequencies and if you're on the same frequency as the Universe then things happen. If you pray, believe and trust what you put out there, it usually comes back to you. I speak my truth and be who I want to be; I think the Universe can recognise that and it starts making things happen.
The Universe is a big part of my belief system and my self-love, awareness, wellbeing and health. It's also having something to believe in, outside of my control. When I'm stressed at work, if I need clarity or I'm trying to make a massive decision, I pray. I ask the Universe to take it off my shoulders and to guide me. As soon as I release it, I'm so chilled. The Universe has got me, and it generally does; I don't have to worry. I'll see a sign or something and that's it. I've never been that big spiritually, but over the past year I have prayed to God and the Universe because it's nice to know that someone else has control over it and I know they are there helping. The world isn't always against me; I can always ask for help.
The turning point
Cheyenne Harper is a 25-year-old Kiwi from Wellington. The oldest of three siblings, her family's ancestral roots are a mix of Māori, Danish, Irish, Scottish and Samoan. She grew up in Wellington from the age of 6 and went to Wellington East Girls' College. She graduated as a massage therapist from the New Zealand College of Massage, Wellington campus. Cheyenne now has her own business massaging athletes. She experienced depression between the ages of 20 and 24 after the deaths of two people very close to her.
How did it make you feel?
Lonely, isolated, scared, useless. I felt like I was never going to get better, as though I would feel like this forever.
Did you take prescribed medication?
Yes, for three months, and then weaned off them.
Were there any triggers that exacerbated those feelings?
University stress, family issues, social media, if I failed at a goal.
Was there a turning point when things started to get better?
Yes, opening up to my family, and talking with counsellors. Both were great, and both were really supportive.
How We Got Happy: Stories of health, hope and happiness from 20 young Kiwis who beat depression, published by Bateman Books, RRP$39.99, is available now. Check your local bookstore or online retailers.