A Bit Mental (Lilo The Waikato)

Lilo The Waikato
Image credit: Lilo The Waikato (used with permission)

Yesterday I watched a great piece of television, and what’s more it was on mainstream television channel TV3.  The scheduling wasn’t great but at least it got there.  The programme was all about raising awareness of depression, and that has to be a great thing.  If you want to watch it, here’s the link.  It will be there for a couple of weeks.

Inside New Zealand – A Bit Mental – Special – On Demand – TV3.

Location map of Waikato River, North Island, N...
Location map of Waikato River, North Island, New Zealand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Bit Mental is a documentary about Jimi Hunt, a New Zealand man who has struggled with depression for two years.  As part of his recovery he created a challenge for himself of travelling down New Zealand’s Waikato River… on a $8 lilo air mattress (in other words cheap!)… and in doing so raising awareness for depression.  If you’re not sure what a lilo is, that’s the yellow thing Jimi is floating on in the picture above.  Just plastic and air.  He went through 11 in the whole trip as he succumbed to punctures.

He described it as:

“a ridiculous journey to raise awareness for a super serious problem.”

For those in other parts of the world, the Waikato River is our longest river at 425 kilometres.  There is some gorgeous scenery but some very serious white water known as the Huka Falls, as well as a few hydro power stations to get through.  In other words it’s a crazy journey that no one had done before on a flimsy plastic lilo, but Jimi did it.  The link above will give you the full story.

Jimi was told by his doctor that his depression had a chemical basis, rather than psychological and so his recovery was about correcting that chemical balance.  I admit I was slightly concerned when he commented that he wasn’t bad enough to need medication.  It was one of those things that just didn’t sit right with me.  Maybe because I was ‘bad enough’ to need medication.  Was he saying that because I needed depression I was much worse?  To me, I was just different.  I decided to drop the issue in my head, maybe I was seeing things that weren’t there (it happens often!).

Back to Jimi’s recovery, he was challenged by his doctor to get some exercise, get fit and set some goals.  And so Lilo The Waikato was born with his aim to raise awareness for depression and funds for Lifeline (a 24 hour telephone counselling line).

The Huka Falls, Waikato, New Zealand
The Huka Falls, Waikato, New Zealand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The thing I really liked was that along the journey Jimi set himself up so that he had to ask for help, something which he recognised as key to his recovery, and something that he took a while to learn.  He had to ask for accommodation (the journey took about two weeks) and meals.  He had to ask for the occasional tow.

It was a practical reminder of how asking for help is so important when struggling with depression, and mental illness.  I guess it rang home to me because it is something that I recognise I have struggled with at different parts of my mental illness journey.  Some parts would have been so much easier, and less painful had I asked for help at the time.  Jimi recognised it as something that would have made a big difference to his recovery too.

What Jimi did was pretty amazing.  You wouldn’t get too many people who would take on such a challenge, let alone while raising awareness for mental illness.  And what’s more, there were many people (including more than 20,000 Facebook followers who encouraged, supported and followed his journey).

All this got me wondering, as I watched the programme, what awareness and support could be raised for other mental illnesses?  There is no official hierarchy of mental illnesses, but I’m inclined to think that depression is a little more ‘acceptable’ to the general public than other mental illnesses.  So what if there was a person with say, Schizophrenia or Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) who could raise this kind of acceptance?  Would it work?  Would the general public just say “s/he’s crazy”?

No doubt plenty of people said that Jimi was crazy.  It’s certainly not something that I would choose to do.  But people got behind him and supported his cause.  It would be great to see more people backing a greater awareness of all mental illness.

Currently there is a woman, Annie Chapman, who is walking the length of the North Island – using the Te Araroa Trail (1600 kilometres), here in New Zealand to raise awareness of the need for better treatment options for those with mental illnesses.  It’s a completely different undertaking being a protest walk (known here as a hikoi) with community meetings along the way.  What interests me is that her Facebook followers amount to under 200.

Why is there such a difference in support?  I guess there are a lot of reasons, but I wonder whether the need to ask for help when you’re battling depression is more acceptable somehow to the public than the nitty-gritty of treatment options for all mental illness.  I don’t know, and perhaps I’m not being fair, but it does raise the question of what is acceptable to the public and what is too much?

What I do know is that what these two people, and probably others I haven’t heard about, are doing is fantastic.  Whatever is done to make mental illness easier to talk about, and more widely acceptable has to be great.

“One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.” 

―    Friedrich Nietzsche


Peace on Earth

Merry Christmas

from New Zealand

New Zealand’s Pohutukawa flower (the NZ Christmas Tree) Image credit: Sarang/Wikipedia.com

Christmas in New Zealand arrives right on time for a summer celebration.  While I see pictures of Christmas celebrations in the snow from around the world, that seems completely foreign to me.

We have the usual pine Christmas Tree in our homes, but the real tree of Christmas (and probably the most well-known symbol of New Zealand Christmas) is that which produces the flower above.  The Pohutukawa tree.  If there are plenty of the red flowers out in time for Christmas, we know that summer will be a good one. Most of these trees are found in the North Island, where I spent my childhood, so I have lots of good memories of them, although they’re not that common down here in the south.

I grew up having a hot Christmas dinner of roast turkey and ham, but really it always seems a little crazy considering the warm weather outside.  Now days, and today’s plans with my family, will be around the barbeque outside followed by pavlova and fresh berries for dessert.

So that’s my Christmas plans, but I have to admit that I’m not big on the whole Christmas theme.  The reason I think I struggle with it is this expectation that everyone will be on their best behaviour, and we are cheerfully ‘nice’ to people who during the rest of the year, we perhaps don’t want a bar of.  If only we could use Christmas to find peace in our world and in our families.

I wish for a Christmas that spells the end of war. 

I wish for a Christmas that spells the end of hate, and a return to loving our neighbours.

I wish for a Christmas that contains no crime.

I wish for a Christmas where we all stay safe from harm.

I wish for a Christmas of love, especially for those grieving as a result of crime and war.

I wish for a Christmas of peace.

There are no doubt millions of people in this world who wish for the same, regardless of any religious beliefs they may or may not have.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could take those individual wishes and turn them into both an individual, and global reality?

Santa Claus, presents and singing Christmas Carols are simply not what matters, in my mind.  What matters is working out what each of us, as individuals, can do today to turn this planet towards peace.


Two years ago my family celebrated Christmas with a new child, my niece L.  She was born about six weeks before Christmas.  It was to be our last Christmas with everyone there, as my father died suddenly four months later.  It was a stressful time for us as the earthquakes had started to hit Christchurch and while we were all together, it was a difficult time.

A baby in our midst lightened the mood and promised of good to come.  She bought hope.  We had no idea of what trauma we would go through in the months to come, how much we would lose, and how much pain there would be.   But somehow L’s presence in our family gathering offered us hope and joy.  And no doubt today, she will continue to provide that to me.

And that’s on my mind as I’ve picked out this music (complete with snowy scenes for those who need that to connect with Christmas).  The lyrics veer towards a Christian understanding of Christmas but I don’t think that needs to exclude anyone.  We can use Christmas to celebrate new life, regardless of our religious beliefs.  That’s what I’ll be doing anyway.

I wish you all peace, love and hope as you celebrate your Christmas.  Enjoy the young.  Take joy in their lives.  And most of all, find a way to be at peace with yourself, and with our fellow beings.

“Oh look, yet another Christmas TV special!  How touching to have the meaning of Christmas brought to us by cola, fast food, and beer…. Who’d have ever guessed that product consumption, popular entertainment, and spirituality would mix so harmoniously? ” 

―    Bill Watterson,    The Essential Calvin and Hobbes

Related articles