Talking about mental health with Ruby Gibbs

In this month’s talk, Ruby interviews Harry Kitiona.

What is your relationship like with your mental health?

It’s just like any other relationship, it needs a lot of work. My mental health needs my attention. Anything can come between myself and my mental health. It could tear it down or strengthen it. It’s up to me to maintain it, to look after it. It’s a part of who we are. You can have whatever physical gifts but if you’re not looking after your mental health then it doesn’t matter. It’s what defines you, not your physical gifts. I liken it to a muscle, at times it’s strong through stimuli, but at times it’s weak, through no stimuli, and at times it’s injured. It has been especially injured for me when a loved one dies and being anxious over some of life’s trials. But it can always be healed, it’s only injured. 

Is it something that you consider every day?

Yup exactly. Everyday I wake up and I think about where my mind is at and the decisions I make can affect that so I have to think ahead. Before I do this thing, how is it going to affect me, my family, my friends, my relationships, but most importantly, myself. 

What has your past relationship with it been like?? 

When I think back to my teenage years my mental health was not good! Because I put it down to three things, peer pressure, immaturity and not listening to good guidance. I suppose you can’t fix the immaturity thing but it can help if you have good peer pressure and if you have good guidance. As a teenager that was the most challenging when I think back on my mental health. It was those three things that I didn’t have and that has led to some regrets. It eventually affects your mental health because you have to live with those decisions, those consequences. 

When you have been at your lowest point, what has kept you moving forward?

So my lowest point was the loss of a loved one, the first one was my grandmother whom I loved. Back in those days there was no such thing as rest homes so for the last decade of her life she lived with us, mum, dad and me. By then my older siblings were moving out so I was her baby. She didn’t drive so she would have me with her all the time, in the garden. Her garden was her survival then, there was no shop nearby so she grew her own food. I was getting the green fingers off her. When she died, that was very hard for me as a 9 year old. So I started asking questions and feeling my way through it. The same feelings came up as a 54 year old losing my dad last year. He died in Australia and because of the border closure I was unable to  attend his funeral and that was hard. Losing someone you love in death affected me. But I understand that that’s the grieving process and it’s a natural thing but you still have to put up a hard fight. So I did it in a few ways, one was that I cried when I felt like crying and I talked to my family, my wife. There are times when I talk to friends as well, we all go through the same things. It seems obvious but talking is not encouraged among Kiwi men. I have to remind myself to not bottle my feelings and not think I’m too staunch to grieve. Maori men don’t grieve, they don’t show their grief. But I tell you what, I bet ya they’ll be in their room with the lights off bawling their eyes out. That’s the system we are living in, that’s the Kiwi way. But it’s just an image. It’s all acting, at times you want to act that way but it’s not who you are. You’ve gotta lean on people too. My dad died last year and I got a phone call just a couple of months ago from a friend and he rang me up and said he had heard about my dad. He asked how I was coping and I said not too bad now and he said he had been through the same thing with his dad and then we both had a cry. It was just what we needed at the time. 

How does your faith impact your mental health?

My faith is the assured expectations of things hoped for. My faith is that I will see my dad and my nan again here on this earth, under paradise conditions where no resident will say “I am sick.” We all have our hopes. That’s how my faith helps me. That’s what keeps me going. We can all have our own faith and we all can be like minded in a faith. When I’m around others with the same faith, we feed off each other. Everyone has faith and hope, in some way. 

What are some of the lessons you have learned? 

Stop chasing after the wind. In other words – keep my life simple. I liken my thoughts as a byproduct of what I feed my brain. Physically we need a healthy brain, it requires nutrient dense food, hence my plant based diet. And then healthy thoughts are dependent on what I feed it, for instance, if all I watched was violent movies I would start loving violence. Then that will affect how I handle matters. If something comes up and I can’t handle it, I’m gonna deal with it violently. In turn I will then have to live with the consequences of my actions which will then affect my mental health. It’s all connected. So, I feed my mind with positive things which gives me peace of mind. I’ve learned to keep my mind full of positivity, never empty my mind. A good friend of ours once said, if you empty your mind, it will be like an empty house and bad people will see that it’s empty and move in and settle in. So if I fill my mind with positive things there will be no room for bad thoughts to enter and settle in. Another thing for me is not to isolate myself if I’m feeling down. As soon as I do that, it’s a downward spiral. So family and friends are most important. I share my feelings with Teresa and she’s there to listen and comfort me and just give me a cuddle and I even share the same feelings with my kids. Because that keeps that open communication so if I’m prepared to let them know my feelings, it will make them feel safe to share theirs. 

What are the go to tools in your toolbox?

Again, our close friend, he once said, happy are those conscious of their spiritual need. So my spirituality is the number one. Looking after my spirituality gives me life lessons. Keeping my life simple. Showing respect and love in my marriage, treating the kids well. All those things come from my spirituality, it’s a roll on effect. It’s the top of the pyramid for me. My immediate family, my wife that I can lean on, my kids and my friends. And getting into the garden definitely makes me feel calm, people call it nature, I call it creation, call it what you want but it’s the best. My spirituality includes prayer to my God, it gives me the peace that surpasses all understanding and will guard my heart and my mental powers, that’s amazing.