A YEAR ago, Brooke Hart had never used a kayak.
When she imagined what it would be like to travel the length of New Zealand’s longest lake, feelings of exhaustion, lack of motivation, wanting to give up and a lot of negative self-talk came to mind. While she hadn’t experienced any of these on the water, she most definitely had in her daily life.
Raised in Invercargill, she was about 17 years old when school had transformed from something she thrived in, to a place she dreaded going and felt disconnected from. It wasn’t until a friend suggested she get some psychological support that she was finally
diagnosed with major depression and anxiety.
“I really just started losing all inspiration to go to school and then that started blending into my social life and everything else.
“Life just became really, really difficult.’’
As a result, she was unable to attend school and found herself being moved between different mental health agencies around the South Island. What she needed was to find the right treatment for her in order to be able to manage the way her brain was wired.
After multiple attempts to do so, plenty of medication changes and regular stints in and out of hospital, she finally found the balance between taking a medication that made enough
space in her mind to get to the root of her pain through therapy.
“I definitely have a better understanding of who I am now and how I function. The tools I’ve learned help me to move through those rough patches and if I can’t, I just sit with
them until they pass.
“I like to say ‘such is life’ to get me through those hard times, but it doesn’t mean it’s easy.’’
Choosing to fight her illness every day was nothing short of a display of unrivalled strength, and slowly but surely, she began having more positive days than negative. When that glimmer of hope started to spread, she knew dedicating her life to helping others going through the same thing was what she was called to do.
The now 20-year-old is training to be a teacher while working part-time at PACT, a not-for-profit community initiative supporting people through difficult times. One of the most important things for her was educating people about mental illness.
“So many people of my mum’s generation and older just don’t understand what it’s like to be in a really bad place and feel like you have no control over it.
“We need more resources to support people living with mental illness, but it’s also about helping people understand what it looks and feels like so we can get rid of that shame and stigma.”
In a bid to communicate her message, she chose a metaphor — kayaking the length of Lake Wakatipu.
Sometime during the Easter period, depending on weather, Brooke will take on the ’Tipu.
The 80km journey will take her between 12 and 24 hours to complete, with nothing but herself and a support crew alongside her.
The reason? Because it was the most effective way she could translate what it feels like to live with depression and anxiety.
Thanks to businesses Peter Excell Building and Kayak HQ, she had spent more than 30 hours training for the journey in a donated kayak, and was getting plenty of advice on what to expect from the impending big day.
Her route will start from Kinlock with a goal to get to Kingston by hugging the Walter Peak side of the lake. So far, she has raised about $7000 for I Am Hope, Lifeline, the Mental
health Foundation and Voices of Hope.
“Even if I can’t finish it, it’s the fact that I tried.
“I think I’m tough enough that I can but if I can raise money for mental health charities and spread awareness, then I’ve done what I set out to do.”