The quote, inspired by one similar from poet Kahlil Gibran, not only illustrates Emma’s experience of mental illness, it also adorns one of a series of eight cards she created during an acute phase of mental illness.
The cards, which she created while in hospital, are now stocked in three stores – one in Nelson and two in Wellington, where she lives.
The messages on the cards offered Emma some comfort and inspiration in times when she was desperately struggling to keep fighting towards wellness. She hopes the cards inspire empowerment, hope and a little more acceptance and storytelling in those who give and receive them.
As a tribute to those experiencing mental illness and the people who help them, Emma donates 10% of the proceeds from the sales to the Mental Health Foundation.
Emma first came into contact with mental health services at the beginning of 2011 when she was 19 years old, but had been struggling with mental distress during her teenage years.
The next five years were turbulent to say the least, with numerous diagnoses and treatment approaches. There were some definite highs too, with travel in Europe and Southeast Asia, and the start of her psychology degree at Victoria University, Wellington.
However, mental illness remained a significant and often debilitating presence in her life, and in 2015 it worsened considerably.
“My studies suffered; crippling anxiety and depression made attending lectures and even leaving the house an absolute nightmare. My eating disorder tightened its grip, and for several months I was in the emergency department on average once a week, being treated for self-harm and suicide attempts.”
At the end of 2015, she was admitted to Te Whare O Matairangi, the psychiatric ward at Wellington Hospital. She initially spent 10 weeks on the ward, followed by six briefer admissions.
Emma struggles to remember a lot from her earlier admissions. “I was out of control... I was self-harming, made frequent suicide attempts and I ran away on several occasions. But the admission did give me greater understanding of what was going on for me and introduced me to new skills to help manage the intense emotional ‘disregulation’.”
Now aged 25, her diagnoses are clearer: complex post-traumatic stress disorder as a primary diagnosis, with borderline personality disorder, bulimia nervosa and major depression as secondary conditions.
Though labels can sometimes cause problems – “I am a lot more than my diagnoses” – they have helped Emma to make sense of what has often been a confusing and painful existence.
They have also helped her mental health team establish a better medication and therapy approach. This, coupled with time, support from friends and a determined desire to be well, has seen Emma start the journey to reclaiming her mental wellbeing.
“A big part of my current recovery is developing the ability to become more present in my day to day life, and to be in touch with what I’m feeling and thinking. Over the last couple of months, I’ve seen a shift. I am more attuned to what is happening in my mind, my body and the world around me.”
She is beginning to rediscover the things she loves like drawing, writing, baking, reading, swimming, riding her bike, picnicking at the beach and taking walks in the bush.
Although she’s currently taking a break from her studies, she intends to return to them when the time is right and is hoping to study clinical psychology after completing her undergraduate degree.
“I am aware of how emotionally and mentally demanding the study and consequent work is. However, I hope that I can combine my training with the empathy and insight I have gained through my experiences to help others navigate the challenges in their lives.”