A journey of self-discovery in New Zealand

It’s been just over 2 years since I first landed in New Zealand. I’ve travelled the country extensively, lived in my car, worked in Queenstown over the ski season, learned to surf in Ahipara, and I’ve called Wellington home since February last year. So many amazing memories, so many stories to tell, so much self exploration. And yet I feel like only now, after so many years, I’m truly discovering who I am.

I was first diagnosed with depression 5 years ago, and it was an extremely tough time – I was put on medication and had therapy, but perhaps I never fully recovered. Perhaps I never fully grasped how to deal with situations and circumstances. Never fully realised how to deal with emotions and feelings, how to come to terms with finally figuring out who I am.

For years I’ve struggled with Christianity – of wondering why I never felt good enough. Why I never felt God’s never-ending completely perfect love that so many of my Christian friends spoke of. Why God would create me in a way that makes me feel rejected and unwanted in the Church – something that is so important to who I am and how I was brought up. God knows our past, present and future before we do. He knows our likes and wants and desires, He knows everything about us. Every tiny little intrinsic detail, because He knitted us together in our mother’s womb. So why – I’ve asked on so many occasions – would He make me gay? For years I’ve questioned who I am in God’s eyes, not known who I was in my own skin – of wondering why I never fancied the guys, or forcing myself to think I did because that’s what was normal and accepted. Of being scared of being found out and laughed at – or told I’m inherently wrong. And it slowly destroyed me. But New Zealand has saved me. I’ve slowly been exploring myself – my sexuality, my relationship with God. And finally, I’ve come to accept myself – come to accept that I shouldn’t live in shame because of who I am – that I am a gay Christian woman and that’s completely OK. But perhaps I’m only just processing all of this hurt and pain – all these mixed emotions cascading over me – it’s like I’m slowly crawling out of this pit of despair and coming into the light.

The last few weeks have been an emotional rollercoaster, a lot has happened, a lot has changed – I’ve been in and out of hospital, been to the lowest point I’ve ever experienced. But slowly, finally, I’m noticing things – an accumulation of everything that’s been building up for years. Noticing changes and feelings, experiencing my senses in a way that seemed foreign a few months ago.

The below are a series of musings that I wrote in a spur of the moment kind of way. About my thoughts and feelings – about how I’m finally starting to experience so many conflicting emotions all at once. And how powerful and overwhelming and terrifying it all is – yet it’s all so liberating. These thoughts hopefully give an insight into the way depression numbs – and the enormity of finally beginning to feel…

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Depression is a powerful and completely exhausting illness to live with. It impacts my thinking, the way I perceive people and their perceptions of me, the way I deal with situations, the way I see myself, the way my mind overthinks and constantly worries. It makes you doubt and makes everything so horrible – it feeds you lies until you believe them. And it’s a terrible vicious cycle, because once these thoughts start, it’s hard to stop them. Everything feels so grey and impossible. It’s like I just sit there motionless and can’t turn my thinking off – the thoughts swirl around until they can’t get any worse – I almost feel like I’m in a dark tunnel and there’s no light at the end. I feel dazed and helpless. I feel like life is just so much effort, that there’s nothing bright or joyful in it. That my head struggles to be positive once I’m surrounded by all these thoughts.

But this morning, whilst all these horrible thoughts were going around to the point where I almost forgot where I was – I told myself to stop. To force myself to think of 3 positive things – no matter how small and insignificant they may seem. And I focussed on the comedy show on the radio – at the sounds of the laughter – at the feeling of happiness radiating from my speaker. And I thought about the cup of tea I wanted so badly even though it was so hard to get out of bed. And suddenly I felt my head shift. Like there was some light bursting through. It’s like I can almost feel my mind lifting itself out of despair. I begin to see where I am – begin to notice the little things around me that bring me some form of joy. And it was beautiful.

And this is what I want to feel. This is how I should feel when I think about my life. And despite today’s physical greyness outside, I feel positive. I see the beauty in the clouds on the hills opposite, I feel warm and content listening to classical music with the fire going. This is a beautiful moment. And I finally realise what it’s like to be happy. I don’t have to be doing something, I don’t have to be with people at a gig. I don’t have to feel left out or worry that people are having fun without me. I’m not thinking or caring about that. Because finally. FINALLY, I feel peace. I feel like this is OK. That this moment, by myself, is enough to feel content.

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I’m lying in my car with the door open. It’s a beautiful day – the birds are singing, the sun is shining, the sky is blue, I can hear the river rushing past down below. I’ve missed these moments in my car, waking up in nature – so far away from real life. Time to contemplate, time to think, time to appreciate life and the beauty of this world.

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Walking through the bush from the campground with my friends and we’re looking out for mushrooms and berries and flowers. And I started to feel emotional because suddenly it’s like I can see in colour. I can see the orange in the mushrooms, and the green in the grass and the trees, and the blue in the sky. It’s like these last few months everything has been so grey and dull – I can see the nature around me but I’m not totally, fully seeing it. But now, it’s like my eyes are open. I can see the colours – the brightness, the vibrancy. And it’s so emotional and so beautiful. It’s like suddenly my senses are open. My eyes can see, my ears can hear the birds and the river and Clem strumming the guitar behind me. I’m just overwhelmed with the sheer beauty of it all.

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Standing with my feet in the sea. The feel of the coldness seeping over my legs, the feel of the sand falling away under my toes as the sea comes in and falls back, the feel of the wind on my face. I’m seeing the beauty. I’m feeling the powerful impact of this earth, experiencing the motions of so many feelings slowly falling on me. I see the rain falling on the horizon, the blue skies dotted with intricate clouds overhead. I see the haze of sea spray on the beach in the distance. The reflection of the bright blue in the wet sand beside me. It’s absolutely incredible. And finally I’m noticing these details. I’m seeing and feeling the splendour of this moment. Gah! I can’t even explain the power of this. It’s like I’m flying, soaring in the skies – feeling free and completely full of emotion.

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The patterns in the sand, almost like fish scales. The hissing of the foam on the wave as the sea comes up to greet me. Watching the sea melting back into the sand as the wave retreats. The sound of the crashing and the constant hum of waves in the distance. The light spatter of rain that I feel on my face. The softness of the sand beneath my feet.

I feel complete wonder and awe at this moment of beauty on the beach. And yet my heart feels like it’s breaking, falling into the pit of my stomach.

So many emotions swirling around inside me. So many thoughts, feelings wrapped around underneath my skin. I feel like I’m flying but falling at the same time. I feel free, free from the suffocation that depression has plagued upon me for months, and the numb almost emptiness that it brings, and I’m finally feeling so much. Pain, mixed with joy. It’s overwhelmingly heartbreaking yet liberating.

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Standing on the beach in the darkness. The cold, wet sand beneath my feet. The sound of the sea in front of me. And looking up. Looking up at the beautiful night sky. Of all the tiny sparkles that are millions and millions of miles away. I can see the milky way, feel the complete awe at our existence – that there’s life on this small planet, out of all the darkness that stretches out into space. This feeling of complete amazement at the complexity and beauty of this life.

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Watching the powerful rise and fall of the sea against the cliff edge. The different shades of blue and green, deep turquoise and light azure. The foam that forms as the waves crash against the rocks. The spray that I can feel against my face – it’s almost like the sea is trying to reach me. The sounds. The smell. The feel. The colours. The mighty power of nature. It’s almost as if I’m in it, in the rising and falling waves. Because this is how I feel, so many emotions swirling around inside me – wanting to get out. To release, the rise and fall of everything that’s so joyous yet so painful. It’s so overwhelming it hurts.

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I see the stairway ahead of me, reaching up to the top of the rock overhead and it’s so full of meaning because this is what life feels like. Like I’m walking and trudging upwards, it’s so exhausting and tiring and draining, but the top is in sight. And yet it’s still so far. But when I reach it, the feeling of sheer exhilaration and freedom and liberation washes over me. Leaving the hurt and the ache of depression behind, and reaching out to a new life of wonder and awe and beauty. I sit here sobbing, alone on the cliff edge, feeling the sting of tears rolling down my cheeks. Because I’m no longer empty. I’m crying at the sheer magnificence of the New Zealand landscape before me, at the feelings of calm and peace washing over me, at the sounds of the bird song and the powerful sea below.

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These cuts on my arm, the outward expression of pain I’ve been unable to feel until now. And it hurts so damn much, all this pain soaring inside me that I can finally feel, and yet it’s so liberating.

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I’ve just finished a counselling session and I’ve walked up to a viewpoint over the city in the botanic gardens. And I’m looking out at the beauty of Wellington. Listening for the hum of traffic on the motorway, the beep of a car in the distance, the rumbling of an airplane taking off. I can see the sun shining on Mount Vic, the shadow of the cloud across the trees, the reflection of the buildings on the sea water along Oriental Parade, the grey clouds over the hills in the distance. And I can feel the warmth of the sunlight on the back of my legs, and how this slowly fades away as the clouds come. I’m putting myself in this moment. Focussing on the senses around me, realising that this is what it feels like to be alive.

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The above thoughts, so full of meaning and realisation that there’s something more – that I’m starting to experience all these feelings in a single moment. Putting myself back into this world, into this life. And I just want you all to understand, the strength that I’ve found deep within to get through this suffering – the knowledge that in the end, everything will be better, better than ever before.

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4 thoughts on “A journey of self-discovery in New Zealand

  1. Anette Abrahamsen says:

    Dearest Jo, Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and feelings with us all, it is such a hard thing to do that taking that step is the first proof that you are on the path to getting better.
    Yes, depression is a powerful thing and not two people will react in the same way or have the same feelings or symptoms.
    Sometimes God puts us in situations where we ask ourselves “Why???, what have I done to deserve this hardship??” and when we get through we understand, though may not be able to explain.
    I am so proud to be able to say that I know you and the wonderful person you are. Yes, you were only with our company for a short while but you still made an strong impact and my thoughts are with you through your battle.
    Sexuality means nothing these days, yet so many fear of being shut out if they do not prefer to spend their life with someone of the opposite sex.
    Stay strong my dear friend and be proud of who you are, you have every reason on the world to be!!
    Lots of love and hugs
    Anette

    • Jo Brown says:

      Hi Anette,
      So so lovely to hear from you again. Thank you for your words of kindness and encouragement – really means a lot 🙂 Definitely took a lot of courage to post but you’re definitely right – I’m on the path to getting better. And what a tough yet wonderful path it is.
      Keep in touch, love Jo x

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